More Than Words

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“Testimony” is a word steeped in religious and legal overtones. Church-goers know it traditionally as an emotionally charged story to convict people to get right with the Lord. It usually involves sexual sin, out of wedlock pregnancies, STDs, drugs, rehabilitation, and everything else that defines a free for all society. And on the internet, you can read “How I Turned Sexual Temptation Into A Blessing” and “Delivered From Sexual Addiction.” The same soap operas can be heard in churches today. Should we take it for granted today that everybody has had sex by 14 and that the idea of chastity can only provide punch lines on late night TV? That’s the message teenagers are getting. They are being tossed words that provide them with only entertainment. Unfortunately, many parents think sex-laced, broken but forgiven drama is the only way to keep them on the straight and narrow. If you didn’t know better, you would think Tom T. Hall was leading every church service with “Faster horses. Younger women. Older whiskey. More stories.” Testimonies are certainly effective witnessing tools. But it seems today that the Christianity presented to the world is less about saying yes to Christ and modeling our lives after him and more about recovering from tragedy and having a story to tell and about making sure not to make anybody feel uncomfortable. As blogger Libby Anne recently wrote:

“I was one of those good little evangelical children who listened to speakers talk of pasts full of drugs and sex and their changed lives and wished that I could have a “testimony” as powerful as theirs. Christianity had the power to change lives, to completely transform people—or at least, that’s what I was taught. And those whose lives reflected that—those who were in the past addicts or criminals but whose lives were changed by Jesus—were the proof of the transforming power of Jesus.”

We have indeed reached a low point when purity is not considered a powerful testimony or the transforming power of Jesus, when Christianity requires a fall into the depths of depravity to be authentic. For youth groups, hearing about another person’s sexual exploits often plants the seeds of what they’re missing in their impressionable minds. And when these “times of sharing” come around, it is only those who engaged in premarital intercourse or other illicit activity who come forward to rehash their sordid tales — not those with no sexual history. But it’s about more than words. Let’s face it. There are not too many teenagers who are going to get up and tell their non-story of waiting on sex after hearing the details of sexacapades in the city from their peers – because it leaves them even more self conscious about being different. Not many are going to walk out on a limb of chastity in such an environment– especially guys. They will always see personal testimonies of sexual behavior as sexual conquests, just with a little guilt written on their faces. Even worse, experience-based testimonies reinforce the widely accepted belief that fornication and adultery are inevitable for everybody and that you get a lot of attention when you do “stumble.” Breaking news for the church — Teenagers love attention. Most don’t get it at home.

These stories also validate the error of visually-based ethics. “I know it when I see it” replaces all standards set forth in the Bible. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart would feel quite at home today. They also present men as being inherently unable to control their desires and reinforce the belief that women are objects as well as victims. “Well, I met this guy” becomes as predictable as the doxology. In these fallen and repentant testimony roundtables, purity is presented as an ideal, a “project” to keep working on, something to dream about – as a way to prevent STD’s, teen pregnancies, and to uphold family (i.e., church) honor. But that’s what happens when the world comes into the church. The spiritual nature of sex gets detached from the physical body, the logic behind waiting is never addressed, everybody gets homogenized into a nice rainbow, and the truths presented in the Bible become hazy relativity. After hearing Brother Mike retell his alcohol binge out on the streets with a different prostitute every night and waking up in an emergency room after falling into a gutter, the definitions of “purity” and “self control” become quite hazy indeed.

Premarital sex today is glorified in all shapes and forms; from the bedroom to the boardroom, from the streets to the pulpits. But testaments are about more than words. They’re about more than what we do. They’re about more than what we see. They’re also about what we don’t do in the process of reflecting Christ’s love in our lives and respecting the dignity of other human beings and God’s creation. They’re about remaining faithful if you accepted Christ as a child and about the capacity to serve as mothers and fathers for those children who don’t have them. I encourage everybody on the journey of chastity before marriage to stand up and let your voices be heard and church leaders to step away from the world and reconsider the witness of inexperience, the witness of something more than words.

On a personal note, I thank Kerri and The Coffee & Christ Show in Huntsville, AL for asking me to share my story. You can watch it here: http://kerrichronicles.com/the-coffee-christ-show-talking-celibacy-one-of-gods-greatest-gifts/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2014/07/everybody-has-a-past.html

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The Middle Of Which Fence?

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Can people straddle the fence on social/moral issues of the day and still claim to be Christians? According to the Bible, we cannot. As Matthew 6:24 tells us: No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” In other words, you have to choose God’s side of the fence or Satan’s side of the fence. You can’t sit in the middle and claim “I don’t have an opinion.” And in the case of homosexual unions, you can’t say “What does anybody else’s sexuality matter to me? It’s not my business.” This may come as a shock, but it is your business if you’re a Christian. Taking the neutral road appeals to our popularity-driven culture. You may think it prevents you from making enemies. You may think it shows you’re a “sensitive” person. Did Jesus make enemies? Did he try to hide his identity? How can anybody hide under a cloak of neutral comfort knowing what Christ did on the cross? If we are going to affirm he is our savior, then we must be willing to defend him and sit on his side of the fence.

Which fence are we talking about though? When it comes to sexuality, the lifestyle choice for a Christian is not homosexuality or heterosexuality. But’s that the choice the news media play up to and churches have bought it. However, the fence is not between a committed relationship in marriage or a committed relationship in a homosexual union. It’s between choosing marriage or choosing celibacy. For some, that will seem too divisive, too black and white. But it is biblical. Those are the only two lifestyle choices offered in the Bible. No gray area. Unfortunately, many churches today do not see those two choices. They only see one – marriage and family – because that’s the vote of the majority. They’ve drawn the wrong line in the sand. The only other choice they comprehend is homosexuality, because so many church leaders and pastors have had their noses buried in newspapers and 7-Eleven tabloids and haven’t spent enough time reading God’s word. Some churches even take current culture into account when teaching their younger generation sexual standards. For example, this is how the Southern Baptist’s Ethics Commission described Jimmy Scroggins’ recent remarks at their 2014 leadership conference:

“He pointed out that today’s culture is marked by morally ambiguity, access, radical autonomy and that porn is a given, sex is expected, Gay is Ok (he lamented that even when he gave a very sensitive talk on homosexuality in his church that teenagers saw him as a bigot), and marriage is a capstone not a cornerstone). Scroggins challenged that these cultural trends have to inform how we teach and train teens in our churches and homes.” http://www.dennyburk.com/a-point-of-agreement-with-matthew-vines-and-the-future-of-evangelical-reflection-on-same-sex-orientation/

It may be news for the Baptists, but cultural trends do not change the word of God or alter how it’s presented to teenagers. It is twisted thinking like this that has put a Christian principle like celibacy in the same camp with pornography, fornication, and pedophilia. Idolizing sex while ignoring celibate singles is just as bad, if not worse, than straddling the fence between Christianity and Satanism. It’s the primary reason women are viewed as objects, why we have a staggering number of abortions every year, why teenagers have turned to premarital sex, and why pornography is the biggest business in this country. Young people only see their options as heterosexual sex or homosexual sex, instead of marriage or celibacy. The wrong fence. The wrong issues.

Marriage and celibacy both fall on the Christian side of the fence. It is a beautiful design and choice that fits in nicely with the other sacred dichotomies. However, recognizing both lifestyles does require a little more thinking than the secular marriage/homosexual stereotype. It requires more openness about sexuality than the taboo approach it receives in churches today, where silence is the norm. It requires us to face the reality that marriage and family is not the only valid Christian lifestyle. It requires churches to loosen their grip on the golden calves of sex and children and to reexamine their definition of marriage. Recognizing celibate values does not validate homosexuality or reinforce the middle of the Christian/non-Christian fence. Instead, it strengthens families in the long run because it balances the celibate’s concerns for Christ with the married person’s concerns for the world. It’s not a fence. It’s a personal choice. And a Godly one. The word “celabacy” may smack of catholicism and homosexual scandal. But that’s the best word we’ve got at the moment in the English language. The word Apostle Paul chose was “unmarried.” How would that be defined today? How wide is your fence?

Chastity – An Intellectual Component Of Love

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John’s definition of chastity – Saving sex for marriage.

People fall in love and marry on at least four different levels: Physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual. But after the industrial revolution, the intellectual and spiritual components fell by the wayside. Man lost pride in his own ability to create something of value. He lost the ability to craft something with his hands. Mechanized machinery took over the work place and assembly lines made it easier for Americans to compromise quality if they could save a penny. With the introduction of contraception in the 1920s and women’s newfound freedom, intellectual compatibility was more about an enlightened state of freedom and rights- and less about the intellectual knowledge of mankind and Godly wisdom. The ability of a woman to have it all was now more important than what she knew. Her money and power became more important than her virtue. Abortion became her passport to equality. The Greatest Generation is history. Now the digital age has made immorality even easier for both men and women. We have many times more computing power on our desktops that Apollo 11 had on board when they launched to the moon. Yet, most of that potential is wasted on pornography and games. One giant leap backwards for mankind.

To bring chastity back to the equation, maybe it’s time to revive the intellectual component of love. Unfortunately, most churches present chastity to the next generation using secular assembly line models of “tough love” that wash the hands of parents for any failings of their offspring. For example, Mr. and Mrs. McAllister of Country Club First Baptist have an awesome testimony of waiting on marriage and 50 years of faithfulness together. Instead of presenting an intelligent story like that, his church opted again for more gripping testimonies of “I did it because I thought he loved me” and “I thought that’s what it took to be a man.” More drama. More visuals. More Sex and the City. More parents sitting at home on Sunday mornings. Compelling stories are just that – stories. It’s a well known fact in anthropology that cultures only changed when presented with examples. Not decrees. Churches are very adept at decrees against many things which can be seen: Tattoos, cigarettes, drug addiction, alcoholism, gambling, profane language, babies out of wedlock, pornography, etc. Most actions they take on these issues are short term and reactionary, a Band-Aid approach to human tragedy. They can provide the abused and divorced mom and three kids shelter for three days. But how is that addressing the bigger problem of spousal abuse? It’s not so easy to identify invisible virtues like chastity, charity, temperance, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility – and use them to prevent tragedies like spousal abuse. The Bible tells us “Ye shall know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16). The hard part is that most of these virtues cannot be seen by the naked eye.

The Bible warns us about ignoring invisible virtues: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse (Romans 1:20).” For example, look at the patience a mother has in the animal world with her offspring. Or look at what she will do to defend them. Observe the order of a flock of geese in flight. What does chastity look like?

I dare say most people think chastity is just a matter of will power and cold showers and those who practice it are missing out on the human experience and are to be pitied. It’s actually a conviction way beyond will power. Many think it’s the same thing as asexuality, a neutered existence, cold and heartless, with no appreciation for beauty in the opposite sex. The truth is just the opposite. God made sex. It is beautiful. Some of the most sexual and passionate people I know live lives of chastity. Chastity forces us to explore what it means to be human in light of all God’s creation and to examine the inner workings of our soul on an intellectual level that married life cannot approach. Since our bodies are temples of God that have not been opened to uninvited guests, all of the china is still in the cabinets and all the jewelry in its boxes. Thus, those who practice chastity are able to completely empty their temple for their love. With our temples intact and brain chemistry unaltered by sex, we are more capable of becoming friends with not only who we think we are but with who we really are. We are able to see ourselves as a whole person and not just a “better half” in marriage. We are forced to face the reality of all of our imperfections and accept them as part of our uniqueness.

As St. Therese of Lisieux said: “I know of one means only by which to attain to perfection: Love. Let us love, since our heart is made for nothing else. Sometimes I seek another word to express love, but in this land of exile the word which begins and ends (St. Augustine) is quite incapable of rendering the vibrations of the soul; we must then adhere to this simple and only word: To love.”

How Do I Know If I Have The Gift Of Celibacy?

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While I don’t think there is a universally accepted checklist that will help everybody arrive at the answer to that question, I do think there are a few common denominators that can serve as general guides.

First, I think most people with this calling come to know Christ as a child and have a vivid memory of that event, including all the emotions surrounding it. For me it was a day of excitement. I remember feeling a wall of protection around me, one that was higher and thicker than even my parents could provide – protection from other kids laughing at me, questioning my beliefs, being left behind because I didn’t go along with the crowd, etc. It was a relief knowing that my life didn’t have to go down the same road. I was able to understand the significance of that day and its long term significance in a real grown up kind of way. One of the things that really intrigued me was eternity – forever and forever and forever . . . etc. I got dizzy thinking about it. My parents helped me find the Bible verses that described heaven and I knew in my heart that’s where my destination would be.

I accepted Genesis 1:1 as being just as real as the toes on my feet. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” I was able to close my eyes and visualize that, and still can. To me that meant that no teacher, preacher, or even my mom and dad knew it all because they didn’t create it all. And it meant that sex fell into that realm. It meant that my biology teacher could draw the molecules of the atmosphere and strands of DNA on the chalkboard until he was blue in the face, but he didn’t know it all. It meant that I could smile with content as he displayed the monkey to man evolution chart. I took comfort in knowing there was something left for me to discover when I got older. Even more important, as complicated as things may seem on this earth, it could all be distilled down into one single verse. God made it all.

Which brings us to mystery. If God made it all, is it possible for anybody to understand it all? At first, that question seemed frightening. My biology textbook in the 7th grade was bigger than my Bible. But I was eventually able to understand that all the biology books in the world don’t compare to what God knows. Even more important, I understood that textbooks could only describe the world and molecules of H2O – that it was God who made it and is still making it today. And I found that the Bible validated my love for mystery: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God (1 Cor 3:19). I think my love for mystery is one of the keys that initially pulled my heart out of the world of marriage and family and into the world of celibacy and God’s concerns. So not only is it not possible for everybody to know everything, God never intended it to be that way. It’s comforting today to know that the most technical jargon in any field of study is complete foolishness compared to God’s wisdom. Cloud storage with RAID mirroring technology you say? Complete nonsense God says.

The world of the sacred cannot be expressed without art and I think artistic ability is another trait often found in those called to celibate life. I was aware very early that the beauty I saw was very different from the beauty the world saw. Specifically, for me, it was the small details and patterns found in nature – seashells, water ripples, leaf veins, clouds, etc. I drew everything I saw. While other boys were focused on cheerleaders and getting some action behind the football field bleachers, I was focused on tree ring patterns and spider webs. Did anybody think that was cool? Did that win me any popularity contests? No. During my senior year, they voted me the quietest person in the class. But I didn’t care. I was able to look beyond superficiality and ignore them. I think an appreciation of uniqueness and individuality is also common. My mom can still tell you about the hours and days I spent studying spider webs and mounting them for display. I was able to see how different they were – just like fingerprints, just like humans – and came to the conclusion that the beauty of a woman could not surpass the splendor I saw in the natural world, in a mere snowflake.

Sensitivity to other people and “the least of these” (Matt 25:40) I think are also common denominators. Whether it was a bird with a broken wing, a spider ‘s web demolished by a falling limb, or a dog that couldn’t find his home – I felt responsible for them. I learned that, even though God made them all, I couldn’t save them all. And I learned that empathy is something the world does not reward. Guys are not supposed to be sensitive today. They’re not supposed to take time out of their multitasking lives to help someone because it might rob them of a precious dollar. All of our society, including churches, validates the macho man image scavaging for his next dollar, the next hookup, the next sexual consequest, the next easy way out. So the person choosing this life will have to tolerate rejection and lead a countercultural life that is not easy for the masses to relate to.

So countercultural will his life be that I feel he will feel compelled to publically share his convictions. Even Matthew 19 tells us that there will be some who have “renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Renouncing something requires making it public. That’s pretty much taken for granted for those living in monastaries and convents. But it’s more of a challenge for those outside the Catholic church, living in main street USA and dealing with the stereotypes of the day.

Understanding that Christianity is not about happiness and self-fulfillment is a common trait. I do not feel comfortable in prosperity driven churches, where numbers of children and financial portfolios are more important than God’s word. In a real way, we are aliens from another planet and know our time here is but the blink of an eye when compared to eternity.

Finally, I think we are able to adore other single brothers and sisters in Christ as unique creations of God and value their friendships on a level that surpasses romance and sex.

What Does Sexism and Ageism Look Like?

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Most people think of Ageism and Sexism only in corporate terms, such as intentional job discrimination against women or the elderly. Hence, these practices are not given much thought outside the legal world. But as noted on my blog many times, something doesn’t have to be illegal to be wrong. A classic example can be found in today’s purity groups that target “teenagers” and “girls.” Is purity and saving sex until marriage biblical? Of course it is. However, there is nothing biblical about limiting purity to only teenage girls. Shortsighted church leaders have been heading down this road for quite a while, all the way back to the first abstinence groups of the 1990s. This is a pernicious problem that has its roots in parents who do not have the spiritual maturity to address such issues, parents who do not have the common sense to disregard social stereotypes and rely solely on the word of God. It does not take virtue to have a child. But many spiritually immature parents think problems like sexual immorality can be tackled using the world’s standards of common denominators and sex surveys. And preachers think they can solve the problem by bringing the world into their churches.

John: “Excuse me ma’am, why is your purity conference only for girls?”

Mom: “Well, everybody knows only girls wait. Take a look at the surveys. We don’t want boys harassing our girls.”

The result of this kind of fatalistic, common denominator approach to sexual ethics is that it reinforces the status quo. It tells boys that nothing more can be expected of them. It tells them they are expected to act like animals on the prowl. It tells them they are not expected to wait until marriage to have sex. In short, they are exempt. Speaking of math, what happens to the marriage equation when . . . only girls wait? What will they be waiting for? Mr. Playboy who doesn’t know what purity is? It’s not possible to raise the standards for daughters today, but at the same time lower the standards for daughters in the future. It more than cancels each other out.

Yes, some church organizations and youth leaders and parents may have good intentions with their mother/daughter purity conferences, girls’ purity retreats, father/daughter purity balls, etc. But good intentions are only as good as their faithfulness to scripture and long term results. Nowhere in the Bible do we read where sexual purity is limited only to women. As a matter of fact, the person in the Bible that had the most to say about purity was a guy who lived the life, Apostle Paul. How would you feel about inviting him to your next cookie and tea retreat? Actually, this stereotype points to one of the root causes of teenage pregnancies today – parents who didn’t wait until marriage and who don’t know how to conduct a biblical and civilized discussion about sex between themselves. And it points to the fact that many mothers don’t expect their daughters values to rise any higher than theirs, thereby continuing the destructive cycle from one generation to the next.

Ageism is another fallout from focusing on surveys instead of the word of God. Just as with sexism, it is a pernicious problem that has metastasized to all corners of religious organizations. “It is used as a means to keep homosexuals out of nonprofits,” one prominent psychologist recently told me when talking about mentoring organizations. “If you’re over 40 and single, it’s assumed you’re gay.” So mom, if age limits give you a sense of comfort, keep in mind that you are actually shooting yourself in the foot, that by blocking access to godly mentors you are actually crippling any chance of your child holding out until their wedding day – especially if that day comes later in life. There may come a time when they have to swallow their pride and come to terms with the fact that they don’t always know best; that there may be others members of the body of Christ who know best in this area. And most importantly, they need to realize that Christian ethics are not played out on a soccer field with pep rallies and points.

When the Bible references age or sex, it is usually in regards to shattering stereotypes. For example, Sarah conceived in old age to give birth to Isaac; Elizabeth conceived in old age to give birth to John the Baptist; Moses climbed Mt. Nebo at the ripe old age of 120. Who was the first person to see Christ after his resurrection? Was it one of the apostles? No. It was Mary Magdalene.

Ageism and sexism may look innocent outside a courtroom and in the confines of a church. All for the good of the children, right? But the destruction they are wreaking on the ethics of tomorrow is far greater than any courtroom case today.