Monday, April 26, 2010

The Purity Pyramid

One of the things I hear held up as a virtue—and I hear it in our culture as much as I hear it in the church—is the idea of being a virgin until marriage. Interestingly enough, the Bible does not hold up the ideal of virginity – the Bible holds up the ideal of purity.

Purity is not the absence of sex. Purity can be achieved in a marriage that is very sexually active. Purity is, among other things, placing sex in its proper perspective.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how we all have these dynamic, energetic forces within us called sex drives. God gave them to us. His purpose was not exclusively for us to have fun in marriage, nor was it to have children. Certainly, in this world, those are byproducts. Likewise, the harnessing of our sex drives builds civilizations. I maintain, however, the foremost purpose for God giving us our sex drives is that it drives us ultimately, if we channel it well, toward God.

An essential element of this drive to God is purity. To help us visualize this, I want to share with you something I shared with my congregation a couple of weeks ago. I’m calling it THE PURITY PYRAMID. At the base, I’m placing the concept of the holiness of God. It all starts with God. It was God who said, “I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy” (Lev. 11:45.)

Even with the recognition of God’s holiness, it is still difficult to live pure lives in our culture. We do well to remember that, as Christians, we have the PRESENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. He came as God’s gift:

And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit"Acts 2:38.) [ESV]

Paul tells us that God demonstrates His grace by making us new people when we become Christians. That being so, Paul asks how can we dare live against God’s chosen wishes for us:

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we've left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn't you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!
That's what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we're going in our new grace-sovereign country
(Rom. 6:1-5.) [The Message]

Now, when we become Christians, God does not make us do the right thing. Otherwise, we would simply be glorified computers. Yet, an understanding of God’s grace coupled with the Holy Spirit’s power, should motivate us to choose lives of purity, and live by these choices:

If you are guided by the Spirit, you won't obey your selfish desires. 17The Spirit and your desires are enemies of each other. They are always fighting each other and keeping you from doing what you feel you should. 18But if you obey the Spirit, the Law of Moses has no control over you (Gal 5:16-18.)[CEV]

I want you to know that if you have been baptized into Christ, you stand pure before Him. And you have been given the power to live like him. You have the Spirit living within you.

Now we have reached the third level of THE PURITY PYRAMID. Looking toward a Holy God, recognizing the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, we pursue “Godly Choices.” These choices include choices of purity.

I think this is what Jesus had in mind when he told us in his sermon on the mount, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Mt. 5:8.) [NIV] The heart in scripture typically is not a place of emotion. Rather, it is the location of the will. It is the place we make our choices. Jesus calls us to resolve to make choices of purity. Paul reaffirms this in Romans 12.

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you (Rom. 12:1-2). [The Message]

Guys, picture yourself helping your wife wash the dirty dishes. She washes, you dry. Imagine you taking those clean dishes and placing them back in the dirty dish pile. She would probably take one of those dishes and break it over your head! Why? You don’t put clean dishes back into the dirty dish pile. Likewise, after God goes through the cross and cleans us up, do we jump back into the dirty dish pile of the world. No, we make pure choices.

The by-product of each step of THE PYRAMID OF PURITY is Christlikeness. Paul wrote that he wanted to know Jesus intimately, share in the power of His resurrection AND His sufferings, so as to become more like Him (Phil. 3:10.) This is our ultimate desire as well. Sex is not just about sex; it is also about God. The choices we make help us to know him more deeply and walk with Him more closely, or we position ourselves further away. I am struck by how God does not want to rob us of a good time; rather, he wants to enhance our time here on this earth.

He knows us better than we know ourselves. To trust Him is to experience life.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1. Say it ain’t so, Stephen Ambrose. For two decades, Ambrose has been, perhaps, my favorite biographer and historian. This morning, Tim Archer sent me a link to an article claiming that records reveal that Ambrose heavily exaggerated the amount of personal time spent interviewing one of his subjects—Dwight Eisenhower. Having already been accused of plagiarism in BAND OF BROTHERS, this scandal does not bode well for his legacy.

2. I am totally pleased about Colt McCoy’s draft selection. He has no pressure upon him and he can show everybody how they were wrong by not drafting him higher.

3. By scrupulously avoiding writing about present-day politics, I have been made aware of how much my political feelings affect my life. It feels like so much of who I am is not addressed in my writing. However, that’s better the alternative.

4. The final day of school cannot arrive fast enough. Some things never change.

5. Ben Roethlisberger received a six game suspension last week from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for exercising poor judgment. Could it be American culture is making a moral shift?

Have a great week!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Courage of D-Day

I remember watching SAVING PRIVATE RYAN for the first time back in 1998. The movie made a visceral impact on those of us in the theater that night. I left wondering if exposure to that movie would ultimately reduce the amount of young men and women serving in the armed forces.

That did not happen. Never has there been more awareness of the cost of war. We live in a culture that encourages young people to sacrifice for their country, even if it means being killed or maimed. Yet, we, for almost a decade fought a war in two nations, Afghanistan and Iraq, with forces supplied by volunteers.

Last week, I wrote about how God did not create us to be individuals, who are isolated or apart. Rather, he designed us to be part of a community – that is one of the reasons why he gave us the church. God also created most of us to create the community of marriage and family.

Gary Thomas writes in his book, Sacred Marriage, that God’s priority in marriage is not our personal happiness. We live in a culture that tries to tell us that if we are going to get married, then by all means, do it to find happiness.

God’s priority is that marriage helps us to be more like Jesus. Consequently, there is a cross in the center of our marriages.

We don’t idolize romance. We don’t make an idol out of marriage. What we need to understand is we are flawed entering into these marriages, marrying other flawed human beings. Together, in this process, hopefully, we have learned enough about being satisfied with Christ, and we have learned enough about what it is to depend upon Christ, that in those rough points in our marriage, we can stay together in a community of faith because the cross of Jesus is at the center.

We, in the church, must redefine sacrifice. We must broaden the definition of acceptable terms of what is sacrifice. We think nothing of asking 18-year-olds to surrender their lives for the country. But, we think it terrible to ask 18 year olds to sacrifice their lives in a bad marriage. The assumption is—it will never get better; therefore, let them leave the marriage.

Again, we think nothing of asking 18-year-olds to sacrifice their lives in War. We feel no regret encouraging them to risk war wounds, which could lead to lives filled with pain. We consider the cause worth the sacrifice.

Yet, we think it's awful to ask an 18-year-old to sacrifice and live in a marriage in which the spouse does not respond to servant leadership. We consider the emotional pain of a bad marriage to be too great. The cross, asks us to reconfigure our assumptions about marriage.

It is time that the community of faith has input in the lives of married Christians. Marriage and divorce are not private matters for couples; they affect the entire body of Christ.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1. At last I found it! I have been waiting since 2004 for the soundtrack for PETER PAN to come out. I’m talking about the most recent version with Jeremy Sumpter. My kids all love that movie. I like the movie and love the music. iTunes has it now, so I downloaded my favorite pieces. Great stuff. “Flying” is the piece that Disney has used the past few years in their commercials for Walt Disney World.

2. NBC! You’re showing family movies like the Mormons use to make. SECRETS OF THE MOUNTAIN was great, clean, family entertainment. Thanks.

3. I checked out one of the 100 Greatest Movies of all time from the public library last week. It is a silent movie made by and starring, Charlie Chaplin. The name of the movie? CITY LIGHTS. I have got to tell you, I was enthralled. Was it a comedy I saw, or a love story? I am not sure. I laughed out loud, but I found the ending amazing poignant and moving. The payoff is definitely waiting until the ending. Now, if I can only convince my entire family to sit through a silent movie. Perhaps if I get them to begin, they will not want the movie to end.

4. I am pleased say no one has left yet in our series on sexuality, not even our guests. Thanks to God for that blessing.

5. I don’t know if I want Colt McCoy to be drafted high or low this week in the NFL draft. I suspect the lower he goes, the better off he will be in his future career.

Have a great week!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Community, Cross and New Creation

Community, cross and new creation—these are three motifs that come to us from the pen of Richard Hayes. You can see these symbols in some of the passages relating to the work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I understand there’s more to the passages; however, consider what we see in Matthew’s words,

20But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us" (Mt. 1:20-23.)

Here you see community in that the father, son, and Holy Spirit and are working together. You see, symbolically, the cross in the sense of the Son denying self in His willingness to become human. (Philippians 2 talks much about this.) You, literally, see new creation in the birth of Jesus—God becoming a man—with the Holy Spirit facilitating this progress.

Since before time, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have related to each other; they are part of a community. In Genesis one and two, the Godhead looked at Adam and saw that it was not good for man to be alone. God created human beings to live in relationships, just as God lived in a relationship

as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So, to reflect the image of God, it was necessary to create at least one other being there and so God created woman.

It is because he made a woman, this man and woman should begin reflecting what it was to be made in the image of God. And, of course, they go on to have children, and they show how to relate and live in community as a family. (Unfortunately, as you can see in Genesis 3-4, the first family also offers examples of how NOT to live in relationship and in community, in a family.)

Fast forward to the New Testament. It is interesting to me, when you get into the New Testament, you see Pharisees and teachers of the law, coming up to Jesus. Notice how they typically approach him. Did they come up to him and say, “Say, Jesus, we want to ask you some questions about marriage and how we can make marriage better or what marriage should be like?”

No, typically, when they go to Jesus, what do they want to talk about? Divorce. They want to focus on what should be, in humanity, the exception, not the rule. And, so, they want to talk about the negative and not the positive. You see this in Mark 10.

Back then, you had different thoughts from different Rabbis about what was an acceptable divorce and what was not an acceptable divorce. These teachers of the Law come to Jesus and, to test him, basically ask, “Okay, who’s saying it right? Who’s giving the right answer? Who’s teaching it the right way?”

In verses five and six, Jesus says, 5"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. 6"But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.'

Did you notice in verse 6 what Jesus did? He took them back to the garden. He went back to creation. And, what is he taking them back to? Is he taking them back to divorce? No, he is taking them back to marriage, and what marriage should be.

Then, in verse 9, Jesus says, “9Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." You see what Jesus does? He makes another move. He takes them to what? Discipleship. The Cross. He connects marriage to being a follower of Him.

He paints this picture – if you are really serious about marriage – then, you need to understand there is a connection between marriage and following me. So, he very much plugs marriage into himself.

But that is not all. He is calling marriage a new creation, a work done by God. It is a community, like the Father, Son and Holy Spirit form a community.

And Jesus, again, puts marriage in the realm of relationship. This time he is talking about a relationship with himself – the Son. That is why, we need to understand, when we look at marriage–the manner in which one behaves in his marriage is an external symptom of his relationship with Jesus. Now, that’s very important and very critical to understand.

In marriage, you are a new creation, formed by God, living under the cross, for the purpose of building a godly community.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1. Time Magazine did a cover story on the iPad last week. It was a good read. I suppose this will be the salvation of the magazines and newspapers that are still left. In the future, probably a year or two, I suppose the PC companies will be coming out with their own versions of iPads. Of course, they tried this ten years ago and they did not catch on. But there is something about Steven Jobs that allows him to see into the future and begin a trend.

2. I saw where my buddies Tim Archer and Steve Ridgell are doing book-signings all over the country. I think we, here at Shiloh, are going to use their book LETTERS OF THE LAMB as a resource next spring when we study Revelation in our Bible classes. I really enjoyed reading the book and think it is going to be helpful for those of our church, who choose to make it a conversation partner. What I did was read a chapter a day and just spend some time thinking about the images from Revelation, practical teachings from LETTERS, and allow them to point my mind toward God. I highly recommend this book. (No, they are not paying me for an endorsement! However, feel free to write the authors and encourage them to do so.)

3. I read THE TIME TRAVELER’S GUIDE TO MEDIEVAL ENGLAND, by Ian Mortimer, over the weekend. It discusses life in England in the fourteenth century. I can sum it up in one word---“ouch.” What a painful life it was back then!

4. I survived the first sermon in my series on sexuality yesterday morning. Actually, I am gratified at the response.

5. Dare I hope for a good season from the Rangers?

Have a great week!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Is Sex Spiritual?

Is sex spiritual? In my new series beginning this Sunday morning, we will be pursuing the answer.

In the Garden, it was not good for man to be alone. Not only did it hurt man, it hurt his relationship with God, and God desires to for his relationships to be close, personal, and intimate. Even before the Fall, before Eve was created, the potential in the relationship between God and Man was not reached.

But, God allowed Adam to name all the animals, subtly creating the understanding within Adam that none of the animals was a suitable companion. And then when God brought Eve to Adam, the idea expressed in Genesis 2:24 was practically that of Adam jumping up and down in excitement proclaiming, “This is it! This is it! At last, this is somebody who is meant for me.”

So why did God want to bring in the competition? Why did God allow someone else to move in on his territory? Because God understood that done well, a relationship with Eve would help Adam grow closer to God.

Adam’s relationship with Eve included sex. Obviously, a sexual relationship helped Adam and Eve have children. Still, that was not the only purpose. The concept of “leaving to cleave,” is built upon that first marriage. Adam and Eve, in order to cultivate a healthy sexual relationship physically, mentally, and emotionally, had to learn how to cultivate a healthy sexual relationship spiritually.

That meant Adam and Eve had to look after the interests of the other, serve the other, to seek what was best for the other even above his or her own need. In short, the more Adam and Eve became like God, the healthier their sexual relationship became. The more healthy Adam and Eve’s sexual relationship became, the more they grew to be like God.

I am convicted the same holds true for us today. Good sex is a spiritual training exercise for godliness. (I can hear some husband say, “Great, I’m going to tell my wife, ‘Practice, practice, practice.’”) Marvelous. But hear me out.

When I say “good sex”, I am presupposing several things. These include:
1. A man and woman who are married to each other.
2. A husband and wife who have surrendered their lives to Christ.

The reason is simple, with God being the compass; this husband and wife will be much more inclined to serve each other. In doing so, they become more Christlike. Have you ever heard of the vicious cycle? This is the good cycle.

We, humans, think about sex every day. Instinctively, we will keep at it until we get it right. This is one the few areas of life that we will not quit. This is not an accident. God is hoping this desire will lead us to “experiment” by giving ourselves to our mates, surrendering to our mates, serving our mates, and living unselfishly. As we do, our sexual experiences gratify us more. And in the process, we become more Christlike.

Here is the catch. Every decision we make affects our sexuality. And, our sexuality affects every decision we make.

A man cannot treat people like objects, be mean to his coworkers, cheat on his income tax, and expect to be a kindhearted, tender husband in the bedroom. Consequently, his sexual satisfaction will be diminished because his wife will have trouble surrender herself to a self centered, deceitful bore.

On the other hand, a woman cannot be a shrew, undermine her coworkers, disrespect her boss, and expect to be cultivating and experiencing an outstanding sexual life. Few husbands find Jezebel to be a good draw for the bedroom.

Is sex spiritual? Absolutely. Is spirituality sexual? You bet.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1. I never get over how amazing Leadership Training for Christ is. It is so well run, instructive, and inspirational. Thanks to Tim Henderson and literally hundreds of volunteers for making it go.

2. I love preaching at a church where I can preach a four week series on sex. And this suggestion to preach on the subject came from our Prime Timers!

3. I am predicting Butler vs. Duke and Connecticut vs. Stanford in the two b-ball championship games. :) Okay, in all seriousness, the winners will be Duke and UConn.

4. I was sorry to see the Baylor women lose last night. Words of wisdom: "Wait until next year."

5. Today I am taking off to enjoy my kids, who are themselves enjoying a school holiday. Part of this day I am spending introducing my younger children to the blessing that is ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. I've seen this mini-series/movie probably a dozen times; it never loses its magic.

Have a great week!