Friday, March 23, 2012

Happiness and Purity

My husband and I recently began attending Mars Hill Church in Portland. It was good timing, because the Driscoll's had just launched their new New York Times bestseller Real Marriage, and the church is currently finishing up a topical sermon series based on the book (though, as always, Christ and the Bible are still centric to the series). This has been really great for us, God is working through everything we are learning to refine us and to improve the overall health of our marriage. It has also been very enlightening for me to watch the various interviews that the Driscolls, have had on television and see the reactions of the people who interview him.

One interview that has received a great deal of comment, is the one they had on The View. The reaction of the women on that show to the idea that sex is created by God as a gift for marriage alone, was very interesting and while not overtly hostile, they did have quite a negative reaction to the idea. I realized something that, as a married woman, I had momentarily forgotten. The world interprets sex as being an "ultimate thing" as though there is no real experience of love and affection outside of a sexual relationship. In our western society, we also tend to have our own, personal, happiness as our greatest goal. These two idols clash together to become the focus of our lives. Sexual relationship has now become viewed an ultimate activity that is necessary in order to pursue what we have established as our final goal, personal happiness.

The Bible, however, has very different and somewhat surprising things to say about what our ultimate goal is and what we need to do in order to achieve it. Biblically, our ultimate goal for this life is not personal happiness, but a relationship with God in Christ. The Bible does not even promise that we will be happy, what it does promise is that as we trust and serve our God we will find joy in Christ. It also promises suffering and persecution for those who desire to live a godly life. II Timothy 3:12 says "Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted..." Matthew 5:11-12 goes even farther, saying that persecution that comes because of Christ is a sign of blessing and should bring us joy: "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven..." Persecution will come, suffering will come, and joy is promised. What is not promised is happiness.

Additionally, the Bible shows sex to be a gift from God to those who are married, as an important part of married life (evident in creation and in the book of Song of Solomon). It does not say that sex will bring happiness in marriage, just that it is a gift to be enjoyed within marriage. And it definitely does not say that sex is necessary in order to obtain fulfillment. Ultimately, true fulfillment is only found in Christ alone, not in sex or relationships. This can be seen throughout the Bible in the lives of Paul and of Christ. No one can say that Christ did not live a full life and was not fulfilled while he was on earth, and yet he never married, he never had sex, and he was persecuted to the point of severe, traumatic, horrific death on the Cross. No one can say that Paul was not fulfilled, and yet he also suffered terribly, never married, and was not sexually active. 

I use these examples because it is very easy to write-off what I, as a married woman, have to say on this subject. But, let me assure you, that I have found it to be very true in my own life. I did not marry until right before I turned 27, and I only had one boyfriend (apart from the man I married) during my time as a single woman. There were times when I felt lonely, frightened, scared, tired and unloved, and though I never actual had sex, I did make some mistakes in my physical relationship with guys during that time. But ultimately God did show me how I was fulfilled in him. I found that sex was not necessary to fulfillment as a Christian, Christ and Christ alone (solo Christo), was and is necessary. As a married woman, I find that, despite being married to a wonderful man of God who truly loves me, there are times that I feel lonely, tired, fearful, and even unloved. During those times if I try to find my fulfillment in my husband, I find no fulfillment. But, when I turn to Christ and seek fulfillment in Him, fulfillment and peace are found. My husband and I are more fulfilled and and more at rest and peace with each other when we both do this than we are when we look to each other and our relationship.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Monday, It's all about God: Our God is Pure

The purity of God is generally something that is assumed, and not generally something that is discussed at great length. But I though that it was only appropriate to discuss this topic considering that this blog is all about purity and striving to understand it. The dictionary definition of purity is: "Freedom from adulteration or contamination." To adulterate something is to cause it to become poorer in quality based on what is added to it. Because God is God, far above and beyond anything we could ever fully understand, anything that caused him to change, especially anything that came from us, would take away from his purity. To contaminate, means to "make something impure by exposure to or addition of a poisonous or polluting substance."

While the term purity is not one that is used very often of God in the Bible, we know that God is pure based on other things that are said of Him in his word. Numerous places in the Bible speak of God as being both "eternal" and "unchangeable".

Hebrews 6:17-18 says "In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of his purpose, interposed an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us."

And Deuteronomy 33:2a says "The eternal God is a dwelling place, And underneath are the everlasting arms..."

These are just two of the passages that deal with these two parts of the nature of God that show his purity. No one has ever added to God. No one has ever contributed something to him that he was lacking. God has always been who he is, and he will always be who he is. He is not corrupted or changed and he  cannot be corrupted or changed because that is who he is. This is a part of what the name of "I Am" means, which is the name he gave himself when he first began his plan to rescue the people of Israel. God is. He is God, he is divine, he is holy, he is complete.

Note: All definitions on this blog are from The New Oxford American Dictionary, unless otherwise noted. 

Guard Your Heart, Day 4: Disciplines of the Mind, Part 3

Today I am finally finishing up the passage we have been looking at, in Proverbs. Proverbs 4:26-27 says: "Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil." These verses could simply be talking about keeping in mind the things of God and considering carefully where you are going in a broader, more general sense; but they could also be talking about planning where you will take your next step. Considering that the Proverbs tend to be both deeply spiritual and highly practical in nature, I am inclined to believe that both are the case here. With careful planning of where you are going and what you are desiring to do, and subsequently presenting and committing your plans to the Lord, you are much more focused on your goals and therefore less likely to fall into temptation and sin. This needs some explaining, so I will begin with an illustration from my own life.

Before we met, my husband and I made a lot of mistakes and poor decisions in our dating relationships with others. But God was gracious and forgiving, and as we repented of our pasts he forgave us and replaced our foolishness with wisdom. When we met we were both determined to be wise and to honor God in our relationship. For us this meant that we started our relationship with planning. We were very clear with each other that dating, was solely in order to discover if we were meant to get married and we agreed that if, at any point, either of us thought that we might be a good match for a God-honoring marriage, then we would break up. We wanted to be pure towards each other and before God. So as we were in the planning and discussion stage of our relationship we decided that we would in everything, and at all times, strive to have a relationship that would not keep us from being friends if we ever broke up.

This meant there were certain things that we did not do because they caused us to become too emotionally invested too early on. One of these things was holding hands, not that holding hands is bad, but for us, personally, this caused too close of an emotional connection. For me, personally, it meant that I strove very hard not to allow myself to think too specifically about a future with Brian. The whole time we were dating, until we became engaged, I never allowed myself to imagine our wedding or think about having a certain number of children with Brian. Let me stress that these things were personal applications of our desire and determination to be pure towards each other and not a prescription for how everyone can be pure in their relationships. I am merely using this as an illustration on how this passage can be applied in a practical manner so as to be pure in one area of life.

Additionally, I would like to stress that we must always be alert to grace. There are practical things we can do that will help us to remain pure, but we must never substitute these things in our minds for the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and the atoning work of Christ on the Cross*. In planning, we plan our time carefully in order to help us not to fall into sin, but this does not mean that if our plans fail, or do not work out properly that we have no means of remaining pure. True purity is found in Christ alone, and while there are practical applications of the state that we are in, that of being saved by grace through faith in Christ, nothing can fill in for the work that Christ has already done on our behalf. The Bible, practical planning, and self-discipline, are all means to help us in living out what we already have and already are in Christ.

*For those not as familiar with Christian terminology here are some definitions for you: 
1. To sanctify means to be set apart as holy. 2. Holy means to be dedicated or consecrated to God. 3. Consecrate means to be sacred; devoted to God for His purposes. 4. To atone means to make amends or reparation. Sanctification is generally considered an ongoing process that is accomplished by the Holy Spirit living within us. Atonment is the work that Christ did on the cross, and was completed when he rose from death to live forever. That our sin is atoned for does not mean that we are done with sin once we become a Christian. Christ died not only for the sins we committed before we were saved, but also for the sins we commit after we are saved. It is as though Christ gives us a clean page that only the good things we do are written on, and even our sinful motives in doing those good things are taken away in him.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Guard Your Heart, Day 3: Disciplines of the Mind, Part 2

I have a very limited amount of time to write today, so I am just going to launch right into it. Proverbs 4:25 says: "Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you." While meditating on this passage, I wondered what it would mean and what it would look like to "Let your eyes look directly forward" and to keep your gaze "straight before you." And as I meditated on the passage and thought about it, I realized that, for the Christian, sin is behind us and Christ is before us. Not to say that we will never sin again, we most definitely will, but as Romans 6:17-18 states it: "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness."

Our allegiance, our hope, all that we are, is no longer devoted to our own gratification, but to the honor and glory of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Christ is before us and our ultimate destination is heaven, with him. We have a powerful and wonderful tool for purity in this one truth, that Christ lived the perfect life that we were, on the whole, completely incapable of living. That he died the death that we could never die. To pay the price that we could never pay, so that we could have life in Him. If we fix our eyes on who he is, and give our time, emotions and purpose to seeking him out, we will find ourselves living much more purely than we could ever hope to on our own. We can only do this with the help of the Holy Spirit, his work in our lives, to change us and mold us, is the ultimate thing that will keep us pure and like Christ. So ask Him today to make you more holy, to make you more pure, and to give you the strength to put aside the things that are distracting you and focus on what is before you. Christ and His kingdom.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Guard Your Day 2: Disciplines of the Mind, Part 1

Now I come to looking at the actual passage that first inspired me to write about the importance of guarding the heart.  Proverbs 4:23-27 says:

"Keep your heart with all vigilance,
   for from it flow the springs of life.
 Put away from you crooked speech,
   and put devious talk far from you.
 Let your eyes look directly forward,
   and your gaze be straight before you.
 Ponder the path of your feet;
   then all your ways will be sure.
 Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
   turn your foot away from evil. "

Oh how I love the Bible! Not only is it true and spiritual, it is also practical and applicable to our lives across the board, across cultures, and across the centuries. God first gives us new life in Christ, but then God also speaks to us by his Spirit through his word. Not in the same manner that we speak to each other in conversation, this is a common misunderstanding. In fact, the truth is much more astounding and much more amazing. That as we seek to know the words that are written and the context of the passage, God makes himself known to us and changes our hearts deeply and wonderfully. If all we seek is a conversation, we will still find God and meet with him through his word. But we cannot fully understand what he is speaking to us until we submit to his word and to understanding what he is saying, rather than interpreting what he is saying based on our lives and circumstances.

In light of that, the context of the passage is that of a father instructing his son and teaching him to be wise. Proceeding instructions include staying away from evil and wickedness and avoiding companions that will draw you into an unwise lifestyle. That is something that I will write more about another time. But these particular verses have to do with the mind and thoughts, disciplining the mind in order to keep your heart from sin. The structure of the passage starts with the goal "Keep your heart" and the means "with all vigilance" and the reason for doing this "for from it flow the springs of life." It is followed up by practical application on how to do this.

"Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you." Even the words we say are important to keeping our hearts before God. For everyone, depending on their circumstances and struggles, this will look slightly different. For me this meant thinking and speaking soberly and thoughtfully about men, not disrespecting them in the way that I talked and doing the same with relationships. This also meant a period of time when I did not watch much television and completely forgoing "chick flicks" because they encouraged me to think lightly about sex and relationships and hardened my heart to conviction the way that I behaved towards the opposite sex and thought about relationships.

That is all I have time for today! We'll have to finish up the rest of the passage tomorrow, or tomorrow and for a day more more following.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Guard Your Heart Part 1: We Need Jesus

Proverbs 4:23 says: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”* This is an idea that I have always liked, but only began to understand about 6 years ago, right before I met and started to date the man who is now my husband. I had many theories and many ideas about what this was and what it looked like, but it took me a long time to understand it, as I imagine is the case for many others. This is why I am actually going to spend several days on this topic, looking at guarding your heart from several different angles.

As a young girl struggling with the ideal of purity, but lacking many of the tools necessary to live it out, God gave me the wisdom to search the scriptures. I hope you will too. The verses following 4:23 read: “Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4:24-27). 

Now this passage is clearly talking about much more than just sexual purity but, it can be applied to purity when it comes to the disciplines of our mind, which is what this passage deals with. Disciplines of our mind, which ultimately, can only be accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, changing us and making us like Christ. Because, ultimately, it is God who watches over us, guards and protects us.

So, before I give you my understanding of these verses and how they apply to the topic of purity, I want to remind you that ultimately, it is only by the grace and love of God that we are at all even remotely able to live purely and to discipline our minds to be pure. It is God and God alone who gives us the strength to do all these things, so today I am just going to end on this note, and tomorrow I will talk about the passage further. God is good, God loves you so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for you. So whatever disciplines you learn to practice, He is the one who ultimately gives you the strength to live purely before him. The danger with this sort of blog is that I give all sorts of practical advice and forget to remind you of God and his grace and love and goodness. He is a great and loving and wise and wonderful God, and we desperately need him for all things.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Monday is: It's All About God Day

As a Christian, my first purpose, my first desire, and my ultimate priority needs to be to bring glory and honor to God. But, we are also called to enjoy God. As the Westminister Shorter Catechism states, "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever." Our lives as believers are to centered on Christ, to the glory and praise of God the Father, through the changing and refining work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It's all about God, our lives and our interests, our passions and desires, all point to one thing, that we were made in the image of God, created to reflect Him to the world. Because of this, I am going to make Monday my "All About God Day", starting next week I am going to write on a different character trait or attribute of God. I am also going to write how each specific attribute relates to us as followers of Christ and specifically how it connects to purity in our lives.

Today I am just going to present you with an overall passage, it is found in Romans 11:33-36, which says:

*"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
   or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
   that he might be repaid?”
 "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen"

God rules over and has charge over all living things. There is nothing in creation that is not under him, including us. He is the ultimate Lord and Master. He owes no-one anything, for no-one has ever given or loaned to him a single atom. What a mighty and glorious God he is!

When was the last time you really praised God? Not thanked him for what he has done for you, but just praised him. According to the dictionary on my computer (mac) praise is: "To express warm approval or admiration of." Have you admired God today and told him about how much you admire him? Have you ever been in the habit of thinking through who he is and how much he deserves to be honored for who he is? If you have not, then I would like to encourage you to do so today. It is a habit well worth forming. And once you have praised him, enjoy him. Not only is he wonderful and mighty and powerful, but he also loves you and lovingly made you.

*(The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Purpose of this Blog

My purpose in writing this blog is to explore and record my thoughts on a topic that has been on my heart for nearly a decade. Though I am not a theologian or a pastor, I have spent nearly 10 years working on developing a solid theology of purity and I believe that through prayer and searching the scriptures God has given me a keen insight into this subject. Through this blog, I plan to keep a record of my thoughts as I work on writing a book about this subject, the title of which will be the same as the title of my blog.

Who am I writing to? I am really writing to three groups. Firstly, to those who are discouraged and troubled because they have failed and fallen in this area. Young women who are seeking and struggling to understand purity. To you, I love you and I understand because I have walked that path and been in those shoes and I know the heartache, confusion and pain that you have experienced. Secondly, to those who have yet to face the temptations of the world, those who have not yet been tested, but will be facing temptation and trial in the future. I have also been where you are, and I want to teach you what God taught me, but without the agony and distress of failure and disobedience. And thirdly, to you women who are considering Christ, who do not yet understand what purity is all about and why it is important to Christians. Many of you, I know, find Christians to be hostile, judgmental, and hypocritical in this area. Let me show you the heart of God, as much as I know of it, in this area, and I hope you will be amazed as I once was.

Please take what is helpful, leave what isn't, and tell me if you believe that anything I write is not Biblical or godly. I love accountability and even if I don't agree with what you say, I will appreciate that you said it. My prayer and petition to God is that He will use what I write here to help and serve Christian women and women who are considering Christianity, to the glory and praise of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.