Teaching Purity

Two weeks ago, I was in Magnolia, Arkansas speaking at a purity conference for teen girls.  We had a great time and I was so blessed by the women there and their hearts to serve, lead and mentor their youth.

I have literally had months to study the topic of purity and to ask the Lord to reveal His ideas and His ways for teaching it.  I’ve been angered, convicted and overjoyed all in the same breath as He has shown me what purity really is and how we live it out.

While I could probably write a book, I’d like to share just four key things that may help you as you address purity in your own life or in the life of a young person in your care.

1) Purity is not a program.

I am a conference junkie.  Hello, I am a conference and retreat speaker!  I think programs can be great tools, necessary and highly effective.  I even teach an abstinence program through a local pregnancy resource center called CARE (Center for Adolescent Relationships Education) in public schools.  However, perhaps our modern approach to teaching purity needs an overhaul.  In the early 1990’s, the True Love Waits program was launched.  This program taught abstinence to Christian teens and encouraged them to make a pledge to remain a virgin until marriage.  It didn’t take long for musicians, church leaders and youth pastors across the nation to grab hold and the program caught fire.  Rings, jewelry, t-shirts, books, Bible studies and even more programs were born out of the True Love Waits movement.  Yours truly was right in the middle of it!  I remember where I was the night I signed my pledge card and I don’t regret that decision for a moment.

But, here’s the problem:  abstinence and purity are not the same thing.

For two decades, Christianity has been screaming this theme.  Ask a teenager.  They will tell you if they don’t have sex until they are married, they have remained pure.   Wrong.  There are so many other ways to be impure.  On the flip side, if a teen has had sex already, they assume they are no longer pure and never can be again.  I won’t even go into the implications of that belief on victims of abuse and rape.

In my experience, most “purity” conferences and programs largely focus on providing tools for remaining pure (or for abstinence).  You know, the DO’s and the DO NOT’s.

“Do believe you’re beautiful and worth waiting for, so…”

“Don’t be a flirt.”

“Don’t dress like a floozy.”

“Don’t watch R rated movies.”

“Don’t compare yourself to supermodels.”

“Don’t be alone in the back seat of a car with a boy.”

“Do stand up to peer pressure.”

“Do go on group dates”

“Do make sure your parents approve of the guy.”

“Do wait until you are sixteen to date.”

“On second thought, don’t date at all.  Kiss dating goodbye.”

And the list goes on.

While the intentions and motives behind providing this advice and instruction are usually very good and while the information and setting of boundaries can be great, this approach is not best.  Giving students tools without foundational truth is a band-aid approach.  The minute they find them-self in a heated situation where lust, hormones  and emotions are ignited the only thing they will be kissing goodbye is that pledge card!  So, purity is not achieved through a good program.

2) Purity to God is ONLY achieved through Christ.  No amount of good choices will EVER make someone pure.  Walking the aisle on your wedding day wearing white and having intercourse for the first time that night does not make you pure.  The fact that Jesus Christ came to this earth and offered Himself as a pure and sinless sacrifice is the only hope you and I have for purity.  The fact that God, in His sovereignty, love and GRACE chose to allow us to claim the righteousness of Christ by faith, is the ONLY thing that makes you or me pure in the eyes of a holy and righteous God.  Period.  Nothing else even comes close.  So, stop teaching purity as morality through a program for good behavior.  Teach purity from the perspective of the gospel.

3)  Purity in behavior is a TOOL for promoting the gospel.  Because God desires to have a relationship with us and with others, He works through the Holy Spirit and His word to make our behavior pure so that He can use us to show His glory and spread His gospel to others.   He gave us a body, just as He did Christ, so that we can accomplish this purpose.  That is why, teen, you were born with a body.  Your body — no matter its shape, size or ability — is a tool for promoting Jesus and His work on the cross.  (see number 2) This is why we don’t go straight to heaven when we become a believer.  God desires to use you here for His purpose.

4)  Purity is corporate and purity is personal. The Bible teaches that the body, both the body of believers (1 Corinthians 3) and the individual body (1 Corinthians 6), are to choose purity.  Why?  Because God decided the body —your body — is a temple.  A study of the old testament temple and the new testament descriptions of the body (this is where a book could come in!) lead us to three important facts:

  • Like the pre-Christ temple, your body and the church body are to be used as instruments of worship to Jehovah God.  Want to live a life of purity?  Live a life that focuses on using the body as an instrument of worship, Monday through Sunday.  Nothing made Jesus’ blood pressure rise more than the day He approached his Father’s house (the temple) and it had become a den of thieves!  (John 2:12-23) So, learn to worship.  In other words, put your love for God on display everyday.  Don’t feel like you love God enough to really do that?  Go back to the gospel.  Learn the gospel. (see number 2) There is NOTHING more important.  You have a body for the very purpose of worship and this is the method by which God will use you to reach others.  When your focus is on worshiping God with your body, making healthy and smart choices about how to use it suddenly become quite simple.  Don’t you think?
  • Like the pre-Christ temple, your body is a house for the Spirit of the living God.  The very presence of God dwells — lives — in you. (Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 3, 6)  I know when I finally, truly understood this it gave a whole new power to the word CONVICTION.  I couldn’t watch, listen to or allow anything impure into my mind or presence without feeling the grief of the Holy Spirit.  Teens need no other motive for purity than this; to understand the living God is present in their body.  He’s in the classroom, in the movie theater, on the couch, in the back seat of the car, at the restaurant and at the party.  He is not hanging around outside the body hiding somewhere in the shadows, watching from a distance.  He is right here, IN you.
  • God has the right to use your body as His house and for His worship because He owns you.  Gaining heaven means losing your rights.  For the believer, it’s not, “well, it’s my body and I can do what I want with it.”  If you want a relationship with God; if you want entrance into His kingdom, then you give up your body to Him.  The word teaches that you were bought, purchased, and redeemed at a price.  It cost Jesus His very life with the Father in glory to save you from your sin and to rescue your body from death and total destruction.  You did not one thing to deserve this.  He freely offers you the gift of this miraculous salvation.  He freely offers you life.  It comes free to you, but it was not free for Him.  True Love didn’t’ wait.  True Love died on a cross for us long before we knew Him.  If you desire purity, you surrender all to Him because He is worthy of nothing less.

I’m praying God will use this approach to purity in the lives of many youth and adults.  I’ve personally spoken to nearly 90,000 teenagers over the last decade and from my experience, sometimes I think we (adults) don’t give them enough credit.  We think there is no way they can “get this.”  So, we apply band-aids and hope for the best.

Will you just trust the Father?  Trust the Holy Spirit to work.  Boldly teach your children the truth and allow Him to do the rest.

I know from my own life, I am so thankful that my decisions as a teen (not that I always made the right ones!) were not based on, “what will my parents think?  or what will my friends think?”  but on “what will my Jesus think?”  And, although I often failed Him, I was always confident in His love for me and I knew my relationship with Him would win because He was always faithful to pursue me again.  This is only true because I was rooted in His truth.  I was taught His word and HIS WORD WORKS.

 

Arguing Over Politics (From a guy who needs to stop)

Ferguson, ISIS, the Affordable Care Act, “discrimination laws” — there is no shortage of turmoil in our world and no shortage of suggested “solutions” to the problem. I would also assume that many of you have been driven to rage at the Facebook status of someone who just doesn’t “get it.” Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you lean, you believe your conservative/liberal policies are obviously best, and only a complete dunderhead would disagree.

But what if I told you that the issues you argue about are not the issues you are actually arguing about? An example from G.K. Chesterton will help me clarify:

When someone is sick, they go to a hospital.  In some cases, doctors will disagree on what has caused the illness, and they might even disagree on the best course of treatment.

Political arguments are usually thought of like disagreeing doctors. Both sides agree that there is a problem, just not what is the best way to treat it. But as Chesterton points out, there is one major difference. In medicine, all doctors agree on how a healthy body should look and function. And while they might not agree on how to make that body healthy, they still are working toward the same ideal on what a healthy body is. 

This is why political arguments are often pointless: We have reached a point in our culture where there are many competing ideas on what constitutes a good and healthy society, how it should look and how it should function. Political policies are meant to achieve different goals.  When your “dumb” friends don’t want the same end results as you, then of course they will think different policies are best.

I’d be willing to bet most of you are like me — meaning you have never actually convinced someone to vote your way or take on your morals just by arguing with them. As Christians, we see moral decay, which should be pointed out; but then we think we will convince non-believers that the things such as abortion, same-sex marriage, legalization of marijuana, etc., are really bad. We use all sorts of methods such as such as picketing, boycotting and hoping our political heroes will really “give them the business” on a cable news talk show.

I have a question for us all: How’s that working out? It’s not. Those things might be fine to do, but truly, there’s only one person who changes hearts and minds and that’s Jesus. We can post 24/7 on Facebook and Twitter (guilty), sit around and complain with our friends over morning coffee or even try to tell people how to vote from the pulpit, but it will be all to no avail if we are not reaching people for Christ.

When you talk to someone about the news of the day and what should be done about this fallen world, you have to understand that, as a Christian, you are starting from the presupposition that God has a will for this world and our goals should be to make the world resemble that will. If you are arguing with someone who does not accept that presupposition, you’re wasting time and probably pushing them further away from the gospel. 

It is fine to point out problems in the world, but keep in mind that no political solution will change a human being. Only Jesus can do that. And when it comes to turning hateful over political debates, may He start by changing the hearts of those who claim to follow Him. 

The Ripple of Ferguson

As I sat watching the news coverage of the events in Ferguson, MO last night, I had mixed emotions and many thoughts.  Although I am not directly affected by the chaos, I asked the Lord to show me what I can learn and how I could be used to help — if that is even possible.  I want to share with you what He spoke to me.  You may not like it.

I really don’t want to address the death of Micheal Brown.  Yes, it is very, very sad.  However, I do not know what happened.  I was not there and the reports have not been released.  So, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

The issue I want to address is the issue of authority.  Where does authority come from?  Why do people really dismiss it?  And how does this include me?

As with everything else, the Bible has clear answers.  From the very beginning, the issue of authority has been at the forefront.  In the garden, Satan used the issue of authority to attack Eve and the chaos of sin entered the world.  Her creator had commanded she and Adam not eat of a certain tree.  The enemy planted a lie in her mind that went directly against what God had said.  Satan was really, really good at deception then, and he is really, really good at it now.  Eve usurped the authority of God and chose to be her own authority, as did Adam.  And therein lies our every trouble.   Virtually every problem you can imagine in this world stems from this event and this issue.  That is a huge statement, let it sink.  When Satan has his way, we always care more about ourselves than we do about God.  We always think our way is better for us and we are convinced we somehow deserve what we want regardless of what He says about it.  We usurp the authority of our creator and the enemy wins a battle in our life.  The Bible calls this sin, caused by our own pride, self-centeredness and unbelief in His truth.

Turn on the news and you will see the battle raging.  Satan has planted lies in the hearts and minds of people.  God’s word, truth, says this:  “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”  (Romans 13:1-2)  Check out the next two verses: “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”  In other words, if you do good, you won’t have any reason to be afraid of the authorities.  Really! Gee, should we be surprised at the Bible’s wisdom?   I’ve never in my life been afraid of getting shot by a cop.  Why?  Well, I’ve never been a trespasser or a thief and I would never show an officer disrespect.  If I have been the one in the wrong — like the time I ran a stop sign and the time…okay, times…I was speeding — I knew I had rightfully earned my tickets.  (Although, generally, I don’t get a ticket because I have also learned to earn favor and forgiveness by being extra sweet when policemen approach my window. :))

Now, I know some of you are saying, “what if the authorities are bad?”  Bad how?  Like if they begin to agree that robbing someone’s house is no problem and you should get away with it?  Okay, that is a bad cop.  Like if they allow your husband to beat you and your children, allow people to cook meth on your street and men to abduct and sell girls into the sex trade?  Okay, that is corruption.  We should rise up against it because the Bible never agrees with supporting and upholding sinful behavior.  But, if authorities are working to stop the bad guys and keep the good, innocent guys safe, submit to their authority.  They have reasons for what and how they do things.  Submit because they’ve gone through training and you haven’t.  Submit because they have the good guys interest at heart.  Submit because God, your ultimate authority, SAYS YOU SHOULD.

So how does this apply to little ole’ me.  Two ways:

1) I am a parent.  Are you?  This issue of authority begins early.  Do you remember when your child hit that 18 month mark?  (I realize you’ve tried to forget.) Do you remember telling them NO, them looking you straight in the eye and proceeding to do the bad thing anyway?  Did you teach them what it means to submit to your authority then?  As parents, we are the ones who instill this in our children and ultimately in our society.   I can’t fix what has been done in Ferguson, but I can fix what happens or doesn’t happen in the Rowe house.  I will, as my parents did, teach my children what it means to listen to and respect authority.  My first grade son just left for school less than an hour ago.  He knows it is his job to obey his teacher, to follow the rules and to submit to the authority of his principals.  Every rule in place is for his safety, protection and learning.  If I didn’t agree with the rules, then my child would not attend or I would work to help get the rules changed.  But, I won’t encourage disrespect or lead my child to believe they can act out because they are part of a “messed up, corrupt system.”   Whether I am with my children or not, they understand that they are children.  Being a child means you are not the boss.  They know that if I have entrusted their care to someone else, they can trust that person and that person has authority over them whether they are at school, church or in the big slide line at the fair.  Teaching children obedience is far from easy.  There are days I feel like I am talking to a brick wall and I have to pray the Lord will guard my mouth and give me patience to not lose it!  (Can I get a witness?)  But, I know this issue of authority will translate to their adult life.  If my husband and I, with the Lord’s help, can pull this off, our children will be able to work peaceably under a boss, they will be able to learn from those who know more than they do and they will be able to succeed.  MOST IMPORTANTLY, above all else, my prayer is that they choose to submit to the ultimate authority of God in their life.  They will heed to His word and His will because they will understand that they are not supreme.  The world does not in fact revolve around them.  They are not number one.  He is.

Not all parents operate this way.  MANY, by example, teach their children to disrespect authority.  Many teach their children that respect is earned and that they don’t have to respect or listen to people they don’t like.  This is a lie Satan has planted.  We should be teaching children that respect is not dependent on how others treat us, but on how we have determined to treat others.  As a speaker who has spoken to over 85,000 students, I assure you, disregard for authority and disrespect are a problem.  I’m trying to tell you this problem begins in the home and ultimately with the parent’s position and belief about a higher authority.

2)  I need to check my own life.  What God reminded me last night, is that I need to refresh my commitment to teaching respect for authority in my home.  I need to support my husband as he parents our children. I need to check my own heart and surrender my own pride.  I need to be the example by continually submitting  to the authority of God, knowing His great love for me and recognizing that He has my safety and learning on His heart.

So, I guess the question is this: Do YOU have an issue with authority?

The truth is, Ferguson impacts us all.

Christians and Injustice, Anger, and Compassion

This article was written for the Baptist Trumpet and was primarily aimed at an audience of members of the BMA of America. Also, this article really has nothing to do with Batman. 

Not a day goes by without seeing some kind of turmoil on the news. These past few days have been exceptionally bad. ISIS is committing genocide. In my home state of Missouri, an unarmed young black man was killed in Ferguson several days ago, and there has been rioting and looting as a result. I’m guessing most of you have heard of these events. 

Do any elements of these stories make you angry? They should stir up something inside of you. Recognizing injustice and being angry about it is a Godly trait — meaning God Himself abhors injustice. Speaking from personal guilt and observation, a great many if not most of us have some big problems about how we respond to injustice. We create a great paradox: 

Our anger at injustice is driven by compassion. We see evil things happening to people who don’t deserve it from people who seek to gain power and we feel compassion for the victims.  Why is it then that we often completely forget to be compassionate when it comes to addressing the problem. Often, our responses become self-centered rather than compassion-centered. Here are a few pitfalls we ought not fall into that lead to hateful words and actions:

1. We get defensive (usually over something we aren’t even involved in.) Humans like to make categories, especially when it comes to things like skin color. (Personally, I think the modern concept of “race” is a huge lie and tragedy.) For example, in Ferguson, the cop who shot Michael Brown was white and Brown was black. Brown’s friends and neighborhood, mostly black, are very understandably angry and see this event as an act of racial profiling and express this in TV interviews etc. But rather than trying to understand why they would feel this way, we immediately go, “Wait! I’m white (let’s face it, the BMA of America has virtually no African-American presence and so I’m confident most of the readers of this column are white) and I’m not a racist! Those people are wrong and now they’re making it a race issue!” Then we firmly entrench ourselves on one side of the black vs. white ungodly, false dichotomy Satan has used mightily for centuries instead of remembering that we should be on the side of justice. Remember, above all things, you are a representative of Christ. Christ is your source of identity. Identity for the Christian should never start with being a Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, American, white, black, Hispanic, Baptist, Presbyterian, etc. 

2. We get hateful. Once entrenched in our position, we start to make general statements. “All of those Iraqis/people in Ferguson are thugs/terrorists and they ought to go wipe them out.” I remember several years ago, in Baptist churches, more than one person saying of the Middle East, “I say nuke them all and let ‘Allah’ sort them out.” This kind of speech has no place in the Christian mouth. In fact, the assumption that everyone of a certain area means to do harm to everyone else is so demonstrably false it’s crazy. For example, initial reports indicate that many of the looters in Ferguson are from out-of-town groups. ISIS has destroyed many mosques. There are many more victims than perpetrators. I could go on, but ultimately the hateful Facebook comments and things that come from our mouths can often be traced back to point number three. 

3. We forget. We forget that no one will ever “get away” with anything and that it is not our job to make sure everyone “pays” (Rom. 12:19). We forget that God knows that humans have a tendency to cause chaos and that He has set up laws and governments to keep order and subdue wrongdoers so that we do not take matters “into our own hands” (Rom. 13:1-7). We forget that it is our job to be citizens of the Kingdom and take God’s glory into these dark situations so that His light will shine (Rom. 13:8-10). And, most importantly, we forget that we, as believers were enemies of God but He died for us anyway, and we have no reason to feel superior to anyone (the whole Bible). 

May God be merciful to me for when I’ve let anger take over the compassion that caused it in the first place.