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It’s Not about Abstinence

Every now and then someone asks me if I’m engaged. No, I’m not. They ask if I have a promise ring. I laugh. Then they ask if the band on my hand is a purity ring. At one time, I would have said yes. Now I’m more hesitant.

The ring is a simple, silver band with a line of seven crosses etched on one side and “John 3:16” on the other. My parents gave it to me for Christmas about five or six years ago. They didn’t call it a purity ring, but it fit perfectly on my ring finger.

SONY DSCI remember my hand feeling heavy and I would play with the ring constantly. Now I’m used to the weight of it. But after a while of wearing anything, you stop being so consciously aware. It doesn’t attract your attention until it attracts someone else’s.

On the occasion that someone does notice my ring, it comes as something of a surprise. Like when a new acquaintance comments on your eye color. “Oh,” I say. “I guess my eyes are blue.” It’s such an unconscious fact that it’s startling to have it pointed out.

“Yes, I do wear a ring.”

“Is it a purity ring?”

“Um, I suppose…it could be…in a way.”

The difficulty is my ring doesn’t mean to me that I’m “waiting until marriage.” It’s no “true love waits” message. Sexual abstinence can’t prevent sin. Jesus said adultery happens as soon as lust enters your mind (Matt. 5:27-28). Sin doesn’t begin with the physical act. Sin comes out of the heart.

Wedding rings signify vows made between two people. They’ve committed themselves to the needs of each other. Instead of abstinence, the goal is faithfulness. In all ways, not just sex. The ring reminds a spouse to be faithful to their partner while also saying their partner has promised to be faithful in return.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

God proved himself faithful to me even before I loved him, even before I knew him. He gave me his son; his son gave me his life. And he continues to love me every day. Jesus Christ is the love of my life (Isa. 62:5). That’s why I wear my ring.

My ring reminds me to be faithful to Jesus. And it reminds me that Jesus is faithful to me (Matt. 28:20). He’s promised to love me and do everything for my good. I’ve promised the same for him. We’ve made our vows.

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Posted by on September 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

When God Gives You Red TOMS

Credit: stephenjohnbryde, (https://flic.kr/p/7Yq5ix)

Credit: stephenjohnbryde (https://flic.kr/p/7Yq5ix)

My friend Christina once prayed for a pair of red TOMS shoes. She wanted to have them…but not enough to buy them for herself. So she asked God. But red TOMS didn’t mysteriously appear at her front door the next day.

A few years later, Christina had forgotten and moved on. Then a friend shared a peculiar thought with her. The friend said the other day she felt a strong urge to buy TOMS for Christina. “What color?” Christina asked.

Red.

Even though the friend had shrugged off the idea and didn’t get the TOMS, Christina still heard God saying, “You forgot, but I will never forget what you ask for…even this small thing.” Christina eventually got her shoes another way and remembered how God gives importance to her most trivial desires. Like a good father, he listens to his daughter ‘s heart, no matter how small the request.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” –Jesus (Matthew 7:7-11)

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

The Last Time I Thought of Heaven

A fellow hiker wandered off the beaten path.

A fellow hiker wandered off the beaten path.

Farther up on the trail, somewhere amid the steep rock face, my two companions trekked together at a steady pace. I had fallen behind somewhere around 13,000 feet above sea level. Due to the altitude, every 10 steps forced me to stop for breath. I was alone and exhausted, next to a stream of travelers on pilgrimage to the summit. I wondered whether it was really worth it to continue.

But I had vowed to climb the mountain that day, and I knew there wouldn’t be another chance this summer. Occasionally my two companions ahead would appear above me as small moving figures. Slow and stumbling, I couldn’t muster the strength to catch up. I gritted my teeth. Maybe they were too far to catch, but I could still meet them at the top. I couldn’t give up if they were about to reach the summit. My pride kept me climbing, one jagged rock at a time.

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).

At church the day after summiting the mountain, the pastor asked, “When was the last time you thought of heaven?”

I could remember exactly when. I was racing down the mountain with my friends. Hail pelted down on us like gravel thrown by a temperamental child. We could hear thunder but didn’t dare stop to see if there was lightning. We all prayed out loud for safety.

“Dear God, get us down from here,” I gasped, trying to move quickly without slipping on the wet rocks. “Rescue us, Lord. I don’t want to go home yet. I don’t want to go home yet.”

“Do you know what it is to groan?” the pastor asked.

I smirked. My whole body was groaning. It had started groaning well before the summit.

The pastor said a groan is a yearning and longing. It comes from an unsettled place where there is no relief. He said all of creation groans for relief from the present suffering. All of creation longs for heaven. “Do you groan for heaven?” he asked. “Or are you looking down instead of looking up?”

I don’t want to go home yet.” The words echoed in my ears like a plea of guilt. I had groaned to reach the top of that mountain, but when I headed back down, I wanted desperately to return to the base, even more so than to return to my Father in heaven. I wanted to get down, not up. I even asked him to leave me here.

The truth is I am all too content down here. I breathe easy at this low altitude. It’s more natural for me to visualize reaching a mountain peak, and groan to get there, than to do the same for heaven.

But when I reached the summit, the pain in my body disappeared. I forgot that I was tired. The view stretched out in front of me like a Thanksgiving feast laid on the family table. Between that and my friends again at my side, I was too distracted to care about the ordeal it took to get there.

That’s how I imagine heaven. Revelation 21:3-4 says heaven will mean death and pain have ended and God has come to live with his people. We will be reunited and never again groan. With that to look forward to, why would I settle for sitting in the rocks alone, trying to catch my breath? Why do I look down at the dirt rather than anticipate celebrating with friends as we finally admire the view?

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Know Your Calling, Know Your Limits

My boss called her Mother Teresa. While other compassion workers burned out after three or four years, she survived through 12 and hasn’t quit yet. It was my first missionary interview of my internship, and my boss wanted me to find out her secret to perseverance.

We scheduled to talk over lunch, walking down together to the conference center’s dining hall. The line extended out the front door. Just returned from Africa, the missionary wrapped her arms around herself as she shivered from the cold mountain air. Inside there was a cacophony of voices and clattering utensils. I had to raise my voice with each question and hoped that my recorder could catch the missionary’s answers. Over hot dogs and tater tots, she explained her diagnosis of compassion organizations’ cause of death.

From studying the book of Luke, she realized Jesus knew his mission and wouldn’t allow anything to sidetrack him from seeing it to the end. Her own organization, focused on education for poor children, was tempted by distractions and almost drowned under them. Providing medical care proved to be outside of its capabilities. One student’s treatment for tetanus racked up $20,000. With hundreds of children in its care, the organization could easily fold under such financial strain.

“It comes down to: ‘Do I trust God with the life of the students?'” she told me. “We can’t provide everything.”

The organization’s limitations have forced her to learn to say no. When a child she has watched grow up falls ill, she cannot take the organization’s resources to save that child’s life. A single mother from outside the organization’s service area pleads for her children to be helped, and the missionary can only listen to the mother’s story, recommend other ministries that may serve her neighborhood, and pray for God’s grace. She knows to help one child might endanger the rest.

Credit: Pierre Holtz (hdptcar), Creative Commons (https://flic.kr/p/2pjxNf)

Credit: Pierre Holtz (hdptcar), Creative Commons (https://flic.kr/p/2pjxNf)

“These needs are so pressing, and my heart is so full of compassion for those who are in that situation,” she said. “It’s just breaking for them. I will take what I have and go do that for them. That’s why organizations fail.”

They collapse under the burden God alone can carry. So the missionary turns instead to prayer and struggles with God. She asks the hard questions that may never be answered.

Confronted by intense injustice and suffering, she said, “I found myself more and more driven to prayer than I had ever been before, even while a part of me was saying, ‘It doesn’t work. Why bother?’ And yet what God was teaching me was that my relationship with him was more important than the answers to the questions. But that wouldn’t have come without the struggle.”

She is limited, but she continues to follow her calling to bring hope to hurting children, doing what she can and trusting God to do the rest.

 

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

My Antidote to Feeling Overwhelmed

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The view from Meadowlark trail near Littleton, Colorado.

It was two days into my internship, and I was already overwhelmed. And perhaps a little depressed. It had been three days since moving to a new house, a new city, a new state. There were no familiar faces. Every conversation meant introductory questions. “What’s your name? Where are you from? What did you study? What are your life dreams? Who are you?

For an introvert, the burnout was inevitable.

Usually I hide away for a day or two and feel better. I retreated to my basement bedroom, yet I knew all the new-ness would just be waiting until I ventured out. The only solution would be to grit my teeth, push through, and work the unfamiliar into familiarity. Down there in the basement, I began to feel lonely for the people who already know me intimately. I missed the people who can sit in a room with me, and we don’t have to say a word.

While I was wondering why I had ever left home and questioning my life’s direction, a simple verse came to mind.

Be still, and know that I am God.

I took a deep breath, and the stress began to dissipate like steam. This verse from Psalm 46 has often been a balm for my soul, but its power intensifies in context. Open the psalm in a new tab, on your phone, or in a leather-bound Bible. It only takes twenty seconds to read.

The two-second summary would be this old worship song says God is big, powerful, and in charge. He’s called our refuge and fortress, and he puts an end to the world and all its violence. After taking the world by the shoulders and shaking her up a bit, God announces in verse 10, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in all the earth.”

This isn’t the God we’re used to hearing about in our modern worship. We sing about God’s wonderful love, not his drive to be known throughout the earth. But when I’m in trouble, it does me no good to hear I am loved.

What I want and need to hear is who loves me.

So when I remembered, “Be still, and know that I am God,” I heard, “Be still. Quiet those anxious thoughts running circles in your head. Don’t you know who I am?

“I am the great I AM, the eternal one, the all-powerful King of kings. I am unchanging and unmovable. I can destroy the world in a breath and recreate it again with a word. I am in all places at once and see all things. I knew you before your birth because I am your Creator and Father. I have not and cannot forget you. I care for you and your concerns because I am love incarnate. You belong to me, and I will ensure your best good.

“Calm, child. I am God.”

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Psalm 46:11

 

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Lessons from Excess Baggage

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him (Mark 1:16-18).

A few months back, I began dreaming of traveling the world. I didn’t know how it would happen, but I fantasized about packing all I owned into a bag and working from my computer as I set out on a global exploration. I wanted a new adventure.

Eventually, my material possessions grew burdensome. They felt like so many ropes tying me down. The idea of dragging all that stuff to wherever I would move next made me shudder. I started reading blogs about minimalism, simple living, and how to pack for round-the-world trips.

So my housemates and I had a garage sale. I put more items in the sale than anyone else, but even when we bagged up the leftovers to be donated, I realized there was still more that I could live without. I went through my wardrobe piece by piece, setting aside anything I could bear letting go. “What if I need it?” became the most hindering question. But the more I chose to let go, the easier it was to do. I learned to tell myself, “It’s nice to have, but I won’t miss it.” Now my closet is nearing empty, all my kitchen supplies are bequeathed to my housemates, and my furniture has been divided among several college students.

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The donation pile at my house continues to grow.

Instead of experiencing loss, I’m relishing the freedom. It feels liberating. Simply letting go can sometimes be a healthier choice than hanging on. I’ve found this to be true with my material belongings as well as with my relationships.

Recently God told me it was time to let go of a relationship I had wished would change. I had invested myself in hope so much that I couldn’t imagine ever moving on. God said I needed to give up the relationship to his control. At first my instinct was to cling even tighter. It felt like to let go would mean losing something I never had anyway.

But God didn’t see it that way. He wanted me to let go so I could gain, not lose. When I finally did give in, God took care of the hopes and feelings I thought would never leave. He freed me.

Ridding myself of material baggage has made it easier for me to begin my next adventure, and in the same way, losing emotional baggage unburdens me so I can gain new relationships God is preparing for me.

A season of my life is ending so that a new one can begin.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him (Mark 1:19-20).

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

The One Who is Faithful

Credit: Dewayne Neeley, Creative Commons (https://flic.kr/p/j1XaUb)

Credit: Dewayne Neeley, Creative Commons (https://flic.kr/p/j1XaUb)

“What has God taught you recently?”

The man paused for a deep sigh. He leaned forward on the couch and clasped his hands in front of him.

“He has told me he is faithful. If you want to learn something, know God is faithful.”

I nodded in agreement. My own experiences have taught me the same lesson.

But besides loving Jesus, I had little else in common with the man in front of me. Emmanuel is the director of a ministry that serves rural villages in Ghana. He grew up there, and now his children are my age. Through slow but articulate English, he shared how God has remained faithful throughout his life.

Emmanuel began ministry work in 1989. He chose to serve the Lord while other Africans he knew wanted to earn “a good life for themselves.” He made the foolish decision in the eyes of the world, as the apostle Paul would say (1 Cor. 1:23). Yet while others struggled to have a good life, God was faithful to Emmanuel.

Of his four children, two have graduated from college, one is currently in college, and the youngest will soon enroll (by God’s grace). Emmanuel’s siblings cannot say the same for their own children. As a ministry leader, Emmanuel has been invited to many countries, including America, Canada, and Japan. He knows some people who traveled to America for a better life and, in 10 years, have not seen as much of the country as he has. “How many of them have stayed in a five-star hotel?” he asked with a laugh, adding, “And they have not been able to go home since coming here.” He described never having to buy his own food while traveling because people invite him to meals in their own homes. Next week, he will attend a pastors’ conference and will meet several well-known Christian leaders.

His face shone with gratefulness and awe for his good life. Emmanuel chose to serve the Lord, and God has been faithful to care for Emmanuel.

In my own life, God’s faithfulness has been a recurring theme, especially in the last seven months since losing my first full-time job. At church last Sunday, we sang a hymn I can’t even remember except that it had a line about God being faithful. I almost cried, thinking on how true his faithfulness has been for me. Even when I have lost my way, even when I have been weak, God never left me.

Instead, he said, “Oh, dear child, trust me. When you don’t know the way, let me guide you each step. When you don’t have the strength, let me carry you each day.”

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2014 in Uncategorized