Monday, December 1, 2014

A Wedding Day without Regret

I was sent Samantha Pugsley’s article “It Happened to Me: I Waited Until My Wedding Night to Lose My Virginity and I Wish I Hadn’t” by a good friend of mine. He said that it had been making the rounds on social media and as of this writing it has been shared nearly 150,000 times. I was very intrigued by the title of her article so I dove in.

After reading Ms. Pugsley’s blog post I thought I would write a little response to her. Please read her blog post before you read my response to her blog post, that is the way these things should work!

At the outset I want to say that I respect Ms. Pugsley’s opinion and her thoughts as it relates to sexuality, virginity, and marriage. I know many other people who would affirm and celebrate her well written take on these issues. I don’t want my response to come off as mean-spirited or heavy handed, but I understand it might be viewed that way by some!

My hope is that my response would be generous, hopeful, and that it might provide a deeper way to view sexuality, virginity, and marriage. Whether or not I achieve that in these brief comments remains for you to judge!

True Love Waits?

I, like Ms. Pugsley, went to a True Love Waits rally when I was young, though I was several years older than 10. I actually attended several True Love Waits rallies and each time everyone signed the pledge card, and I mean everyone! I am fairly certain they knew to keep playing the same song until every single person came down to the front to declare that they were ready to wait until their wedding night to have sex! Everyone signed the card. Everyone was committed to their cards until wedding night do you part. So I understand where Ms. Pugsley is coming from when she describes the pledge that she took at the age of 10. These events, however well intentioned, can come across as emotionally manipulative and guilt-driven.

Where things began to diverge between our stories is what we were hearing from our churches at it relates to sexual activity. She says (and I fully believe her) that her church proclaimed that if you engaged in extramarital sex you would go to hell. I know that there are many churches that teach that and teach how dirty sex is and how it is to be avoided at all costs or you will burn in the fire!

The only problem with that teaching is that it doesn’t originate from the Bible.

The Bible never says that extramarital sex will send you to hell anymore than it says that marital sex will send you to heaven. That would counter the clear narrative teaching of the Bible that your works are NOT what either justify or condemn you before God. It is supposed that if you are a good person and don’t do all of these sinful sexual things then God will love you and take you to heaven, but that is a gross misunderstanding of the biblical text. Good people do not the kingdom of God make. Forgiven people, on the other hand do the kingdom of God make. The basis for our acceptance before God is not our performance, but trusting in life, death, and resurrection of God’s son Jesus.

I am saddened by the guilt and shame that Ms. Pugsley experienced after her wedding night and which tormented her for two years and then for many years beyond that after finally confessing to her husband. Guilt, shame, and hiding are never the will of God, they are the exact opposite of what the kingdom of God looks like.


Identity

Ms. Pugsley describes the church “applauding my righteousness” for taking a stand against having sex before marriage and her identity being totally wrapped up in her refusal to have any sexual relations or thoughts with anyone else who wasn’t her husband. When she declares to her future husband that she is “waiting” until her wedding night he applauds her because, in Ms. Pugsley words, “it was my body, my choice, and he loved me.”

We all form identities for ourselves and we all tell ourselves stories which make us feel good about yourselves. We may place our identity in our family or our role as a father or mother, we may place our identity in our vocation or in our hobbies. We may also place our identity in our righteousness (our rule-keeping) and this can be the most tragic thing of all.

The Bible tells us that our identity is bound up in God. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that we are created by a Creator and that this Creator’s image is upon us. This is where our identity must be anchored, in something (or someone more accurately) who is eternal, someone who can bear the weight of all of our longings and expectations. If you build your life on your success and you wake up one day and your success is taken from you then you will be devastated. If you build your life on your reputation and you wake up one day and your reputation has evaporated then you will be devastated. In the same way if you build your identity on your righteousness (on your personal virginity!) and then you wake up one morning and it is taken away from you then you will be devastated.

Why? Because anything you build your life on besides the eternal God will be taken away from you, and if that thing you built your life on is what what made you feel happy, secure, and righteous and it goes away then you have no where to turn but inwardly, to guilt, shame, and despair. You will, to paraphrase Ms. Pugsley, fall off your self-made pedestal. Who can put us back together again then?

The book of Ecclesiastes says that God has planted “eternity” on our hearts. If we choose something which is not eternal and plant that in our hearts we will have to continue our exhausting search for new plants regularly and continually--for that thing, that person, that experience, that job, that achievement, which will finally and fully justify us. But a new plant or tree here or there will never satisfy us; we need a whole new garden, new soil and deeper roots to connect us to our eternal Creator--to bear the weight of our eternal longings, for someone greater to actually put us back together--for good.

You Are Not Your Own

Ms. Pugsley finishes her post with a great flourish--espousing the dominant secular dogma of our culture--your body (and by extension your whole life) is solely yours.

She concludes with this advice, “If you want to wait to have sex until marriage make sure it's because you want to. It's your body; it belongs to you, not your church. Your sexuality is nobody's business but yours.”

You are the captain now. You actually have always been the captain, and it is now time to ascend to your natural rank and set sail with absolute freedom and abandon, unshackled from anyone and anything that dares speak a word of correction or direction. After all, who knows better than you what is going to make you happy and provide you meaning?

St. Paul would submit (and I join him) that God knows. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
You are actually not your own, you are God’s. And not simply your heart and soul (the so-called ‘spiritual’ parts of you), but your entire physical body. All of it belongs ultimately to your Creator. God has created us in his image, to bear his image to the world around us, and we do this by how we honor our Creator with our physical bodies. Your body doesn’t belong to the church, but it does belong the eternal God and he invites us to live our lives not for ourselves, but for him.

Why?

“Because you were bought with a price.”

The price you put on something is the value you believe that thing is worth, this is what someone should pay to receive this. The higher the price the higher the value. What type of value must we have if the price for our lives is the very life of God’s son?

What are we worth to God?

The life of God’s son. God puts forth his son for us. This son bears all of our rebellion on himself on the cross. He bears it willingly and lovingly to demonstrate how valuable we truly are to him.

Paul says---this sacrifice of God’s son, this love, this Jesus is the reason why we should honor God with our bodies. Not because we believe sex is dirty and bad (it isn’t!) or because we are more moral or righteous than others (we aren’t!) or because we want to control everyone like robots (we can’t!), but because of what God has done through Jesus in us and for us--he now has the rightful claim on our bodies (and the whole earth). And we can trust this God with our lives (and our bodies) because he is a good God who invites us to obey him not to earn his acceptance, but because we have already received it through our trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Our Wedding Day

“Ten-year-old girls want to believe in fairy tales. Take this pledge and God will love you so much and be so proud of you, they told me. If you wait to have sex until marriage, God will bring you a wonderful Christian husband and you'll get married and live happily ever after, they said. Waiting didn't give me a happily ever after.”

I still want fairy tales to be true. I admit it. Happily ever after, it seems, is written somewhere down deep within us. In our culture (and even within the church) we see marriage (wrongly) as the ultimate goal, the final fulfillment that will lead to our happily ever after. Ms. Pugsley’s church told her that sexual purity and marriage to a good Christian gentlemen would usher in the dawn of her true happiness, the beginning of her happily ever after. That is a fairy tale indeed.

Human marriage can be good and beautiful, but it is not ultimate. It a gift which our creator God has given us not for our happily ever after, but to point to us to our ultimate happily ever after which is to come. The Bible begins with a wedding in the garden of Eden, where God walks his daughter Eve to her husband Adam. The Bible also ends with a wedding in the renewed Eden, the wedding at the beginning of our eternal life with God in the new heaven and new earth.
The book of Revelation paints the wedding scene this way--

“Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
“Hallelujah!
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
 
Let us rejoice and be glad
 and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready.

Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.”

 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

This is where all of history is headed--to a glorious wedding day between the people of God and the son of God.

In the end, true love, gospel love has not waited for us, but has come for us and initiated a relationship that will culminate fully on our wedding day to come. We who have been washed by the healing hands of our future bridegroom Jesus are making ourselves ready for his return for us.

A wedding day without regret.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Joy of Gospel Repentance

When most people (even Christians) hear the word "Repent" they may think of old time revivals or extremely conservative churches that are continually yelling at their people and often using the word "Repent" over and over again to make people feel guilty for all the ways that they have sinned and fallen short.

Is that what you think of when you think of repentance?

Repentance is not about guilt, but about grace. It is actually God's grace to us to restore to us the joy of our salvation and see the Kingdom of God flood through us and flood through our city.

To repent means to "turn", to re-orient your mind, heart, and entire life to a new normal. In spiritual terms it means to turn away from your sin and turn towards the Lord. This is the basic definition of repentance and it is at the heart of the message of Jesus.

Why?

Because all people have turned away from the Lord and gone on our way. We have not turned to God, but away from Him. We have sought to create our own meaning, purpose, and joy outside of God and this has fractured our relationship with God.
Isaiah 53:6a says "We all, like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned their own way." We all have turned away from the Lord and looked to other things to bring us what only the Lord can bring us. Because of this reality that exists within us we need to turn back to the Lord and return to Him and that happens through repentance.

Their is an initial repentance that exists, a one time act of repentance where God saves us and we become children of the Kingdom. In that moment we pass over from death to life and are welcomed into God's family by trusting in Jesus Christ. But repentance is not simply a one time act and then we move on from it because we continue to sin and turn away from God even after God has rescued us.

Repentance does not save us. Christ alone saves us through his mercy. The Bible does not teach us to practice a life of repentance so that God will keep saving us and keep loving us. The Bible teaches us to practice repentance to restore to us the joy of our salvation, to bring us back to the healing love of God. God initiates repentance towards us, so it is a gift and grace of God to invite us to return to Him and have our hearts and lives re-connected to the joy of Jesus and disconnected from finding joy outside of Jesus.

Repentance is not something to fear, but something to welcome because it is God who is inviting us to repent and turn back to Him. We are already in the family and loved by Him and repentance is a reminder to our hearts of this reality that we can easily forget.

There is great joy in gospel repentance. And that is the type of repentance God longs for us to practice before him and in our churches and communities. There is a great difference between gospel repentance and religious repentance.

Religious Repentance is me-centered.
Gospel Repentance is God-centered.

Religious repentance (RR) is about atoning (making up for) my sins through better behavior.
Gospel repentance (GR) is about trusting in the atoning work of Christ to cover all of my behavior, good and bad.

In RR I am grieved because of the consequences of turning away from God.
In GR I am grieved because I turned away from God at all.

In RR I believe if I am a better man that God will be pleased with me.
In GR I believe that God is pleased with me because Jesus is a better man.

In RR I only repent because of my unrighteousness. (the bad things I have done)
In GR I repent of the unrighteous and righteous things I have done knowing it is only through Jesus that I am justified.

In RR I repent less and less because every time I do it it crushes me because my life is built on my performance. Every time I have to repent I feel like I have failed so I repent less and less.
In GR I repent more and more because every time I do it it restores the joy of my salvation b/c my life is built on the performance of Jesus. Every time I have to repent there is a little bitterness, but there is greater sweetness because of what Jesus has done for me to forgive me.

My hope for you is that you respond to the call of gospel repentance, that you turn from finding meaning and value and purpose outside of God and turn back to Him again and again to be reminded that true meaning, value, and purpose is found only through Him and what He has done for us through His son--Jesus Christ.



Sunday, April 20, 2014

Back from the Future


Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,[b] “Rabboni!”
-John 20:11-16

I am writing this early on Easter Sunday, just as the darkness is beginning to break into the dawn of another morning. It was perhaps this time of the morning when Mary and the other women went to the tomb to see their dead friend Jesus. The Sabbath had ended and so now they could go see the grave where Jesus had been placed.

But Jesus was not there. Mary Magdalene later returned to the tomb to see again for herself that Jesus was truly not there. And she began to weep. Not only had this man been tortured and crucified, but now someone had apparently stolen his body so they could not even properly take care of his dead body with their spices.

Then she spots a man whom she presumes to be the gardener and she asks where they have taken the body of Jesus.
Then the gardener says her name, "Mary", and immediately she realizes it is Jesus.

I have always imagined the great tenderness and love by which Jesus uttered Mary's name, the way you might say the name of a child who has been hurt or is crying. This is way Jesus says Mary's name and reveals himself as the risen Christ.
And here we have the true beginning of all things. In a sense, Jesus Christ is the ultimate gardner. It was through Jesus that all creation came into existence, that the Garden of Eden was planted and grown. And now we see Jesus in another Garden, taking care of this garden as one of his first acts in his resurrected body.

GK Chesterton writes "On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.

This is the first day of the new creation, the glorious future that has now invaded the present.
Jesus has come back, if you will, from the future, to inaugurate God's kingdom right here and right now. Now death is seen as foreign, not simply a natural part of the circle of life. Eternal life is what we are made for, what we are designed for, and through the resurrection of Jesus death has been defeated. The true circle of life begins with life and ends with life!

We are a resurrection people. Paul desires to know the power of the resurrection, to live life with a different kind of power, one based in the future world God is making through us right here and now.
NT Wright writes “Jesus's resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord's Prayer is about.”

On earth as it is in heaven. Now the mission of the church begins, bringing about the glorious shalom of heaven into the broken places of this earth, bringing the future right here into the present. Seeing death swallowed up by the beauty of resurrection. We are now to join God in attending to the garden of new creation, to use our marriages, our jobs (no matter what they are!), our money, our hobbies, our everything and anything to see the garden of new creation bloom in radiant splendor.

Jesus says "Now it has begun!" And so we must get to work, get our hands down into the dirt of the soil of this world with the certain hope that the new world is already here, though we still only see it dimly. The resurrection is no mere metaphor, it is the great reality of the world, the truest thing which has ever happened in history, and to it we must continue to come back again and again.

So into the new world we march, not knowing all that we will experience or encounter, but sure of whom we will meet there, the one whose hands still bear the wounds of the cross, but whose voice calls out to us by our very names and invites us to proclaim that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

NT Wright sums up what it means to follow the resurrected Jesus this way, "Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world ... That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God's new world, which he has thrown open before us.”

The new world awaits! Let us go and discover it together and marvel eternally at all that our God has done for us.