Friday, July 30, 2021

In Praise of Purity

"How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing (and perhaps, like you, I have met it only once) it is irresistible." 
- C.S. Lewis, in Letters to an American Lady

(I'm re-posting this for a friend who is choosing sexual purity.) 

I am calling our people to a revivalist lifestyle. This is for me, too. This includes a call to holiness and purity. 

I recently filled out a recommendation for someone who wants to go to Bethel School of Ministry. I like how the form connects revivalism and holiness. 

Linda and I have counseled premarriages and marriages for decades, and have many stories of couples who waited to have sex until they were married. Linda and I waited, too. This helped secure a foundation of trust to build our relationship on.

Here is one story about relational purity. It's an example of the beauty of holiness.

A few years ago Linda and I did premarital counseling with an engaged couple. We use the FOCCUS premarital inventory. It's so well-put-together, giving us an MRI of the relationship. It asks all the questions related to issues we want to get into. Most couples enjoy taking the inventory, and end up talking about a number of important things they have not yet thought of.

Jason and Andrea had known each other for many years. They dated for several years. She was working on a graduate degree, and he managed a business. The FOCCUS survey led us to talk about sex.

"Have you had sex together?" we asked them.

"Neither of us have ever had sexual intercourse or come close to it," they responded in unison. Andrea said, "When Jason told me he loved me and was interested in pursuing marriage, I immediately told him, 'There's no way I'm having sex before I get married.'"

"How did Jason respond to this?"

"He respected me for it," said Andrea, "and never has pressed himself on me."

Jason added, "It's not always been easy, because I love Andrea and look forward to sex in marriage. But I agree with her. God wants us to wait, and we are waiting."

I stopped.

I was stunned.

This was a holy moment.

Jason and Andrea are two attractive, intelligent, and successful people with great futures. Yes, they are Jesus-followers, but many Jesus-followers who get married have premarital sex because "they can't wait." 

I don't wish to judge them for that. Yet, I want to bow before Jason and Andrea and do a little worship! Who are these rare, unusual people who take the road less traveled and delay gratification? Especially in our sex-addicted culture where sex is used to sell everything from hamburgers to vacuum cleaners.

From my pastoral POV I see lots of sex addiction. Sometimes I wonder, falsely I am certain, "Who is not a sex addict today?" Have you ever seen, or counseled one? Addiction is a monster. The French word for addict, as Gerald May has told us, is attache. Attachment. Claw-like attache. Being married or shacking up (I'm not talking about the book The Shack) cannot cure this. 

Our culture of sexual freedom has, ironically, imprisoned many. A sex addict outside of marriage will be a sex addict within marriage (unless The Transformation happens, to be accomplished only by grace).

Somehow, Jason and Andrea escaped the prison house of "sexual freedom."

We told them we were proud of them. Delayed sexual gratification displays self-control and breeds trust.

Linda and I abstained. In my abstinence I was not some religious legalist. I was so screwed up sexually that I just wanted God to heal the garbage of my heart so that, should I marry, I would not infect my life partner and children. When I told Linda I would not be asking her to have sex with me, I asked how this made her feel. She said, "Safe." I didn't love her only for her physical beauty. I wanted her heart. The two are different.

While dating, I waited several months before I kissed her. I will never forget that kiss! We were walking in a park, and it began to lightly rain. A little voice told me, "It is time!" I asked for her permission. She said yes. That kiss lasted only one second, but mega-volts of lightning came through her lips! From then until we got married we kissed only occasionally, and then only for a second or two. Our love and trust and respect only grew. This was wild and unbelievable to me, a former drug-alcohol-fraternity-sex-womanizer. A foundation of faithfulness was being laid from which we have never diverted (for forty-six years).

I don't see that often. When I sat in my office with Jason and Andrea, I got those feelings that have to do with my understanding of real, deep, growing Jesus-love that lasts a lifetime. Because Jason and Andrea have no history of sexual partners and have not sex-partnered with each other, I predict they will stay faithful to one another. They are disease-free, physically and spiritually. In this they are...  pure.

The odds are greatly in their favor. Their children will be blessed. They will pass marital fidelity to their kids. And maybe a couple of children whose parents are named Jason and Andrea will lead the counter-revolution to purity?


A few resources on Jesus-following and sexual purity include:

Every Young Man's Battle, by Steve Arterburn and Fred Stoeker

Every Young Woman's Battle, by Shannon Ethridge and Steve Arterburn

Moral Revolution: The Naked Truth About Sexual Purity, by Kris Valotten, Jason Valotten, and Bill Johnson 

On morality from our Christian theistic worldview, see Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament.

And, Linda and I plan on writing our book on Relationships.


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Free to Not Be Who I Am

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.
 But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which 
God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. 
And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.
Philippians 3:13-15

Some people counsel others to "Just be who you are." I think that's bad counsel. But it is an alternative in a godless, secular culture.

When I was a campus pastor at Michigan State University in the 1980s I had many meetings with new students. I would begin the conversation by asking them, "Tell me, who are you?" 

When I was a college freshman I could not answer this question. I think back and remember how others viewed me. I was...

...drug user
...alcohol abuser
...failure animal

I didn't let others see my insides. Even if I wanted to reveal my heart, I was unable to because I never addressed the self-question, never asked, "Who am I..., really?"

Looking back I see myself as...

...lacking confidence
...easily manipulated

Outwardly, especially when I was drunk, I celebrated who I was. Inwardly, the party was over. I was mired in the Eriksonian "identity crisis," a prisoner caught between ego identity and role confusion. 

Looking back, should I have celebrated this? No way! Should I have "accepted who I was?" No, thank God.

Don't celebrate who you are. Instead, look at what you are meant to be. You need more change (as do I). 

If you are a Jesus-follower, celebrate Christ, not the "you" that you are now. You have been purposed to be like Christ. He is the paradigm of true humanity.

God wants to set you free from this world's current identity confusion. What you can be and be transformed into is what matters, not the current "you" that others, or you, think you are. This is no small matter. Your answer to this will influence everything you do in life. And, contrary to how our identity-celebrating culture embraces this, it is not easy. 

In the winter of 1970 I was on a tiny stage in DeKalb, Illinois, playing my guitar in a band in front of a small crowd. That's when my release from who I was began. The thought came to me, "I am screwed up." When I heard this, I didn't feel condemned. I felt truth. That's when the voices of friends who said they liked "me" and thought I was "fun" began to lose their influence.

Every rescue begins with repentance. A few days after this I looked away from my self, and began to look at Jesus. I was being set free, not to be who I was, but what I was always meant to be.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Small Groups in the Church - One of My Necessities


Someone (again!) asked me, "John, how do I grow spiritually?" I love that question. Here is my answer.

I have been a follower of Jesus for fifty-one years. (!!!)

I have also been in a small group (aka a "home group"; a "cell group") for every one of those years. For fifty-one years!

I see being in a small group that meets weekly or bi-weekly as essential to my Christian growth. Linda and I will never not be part of a small group.

Here is my spiritual growth trajectory.

1. I meet with God, alone, regularly. This is often called "devotional time."

2. Linda and I meet weekly with a small group of Jesus-followers.

3. Linda and I never miss Sunday mornings and other gatherings. We have always taken Hebrews 10:25 literally - Do not neglect meeting together, as some have..."

It looks like this!

How I Begin the Day Focused and Expectant

7:30 AM. I begin this day slow.

I read Scripture. This morning I am reading from Romans 4. I don't read fast. I stop a lot. I pause, and ponder. I listen to God's voice.

Then, from Proverbs. I'm re-meditating on Proverbs. I've done Proverbs many times. This morning, I'm starting over. Because, I need wisdom. Not from earthbound people. But from God. Transcending wisdom.

Within these sayings will be found 
the revelation of wisdom 
and the impartation of spiritual understanding. 
Use them as keys 
to unlock the treasures of true knowledge.

Proverbs 1:2 (Passion Translation)

I study Scripture, and I meditate on Scripture. I have spent fifty-one
 years doing this. This discipline deepens the spiritual streams that are carved in my heart.

How then does a man gain the essence of wisdom? 
We cross the threshold of true knowledge 
when we live in obedient devotion to God.

Proverbs 1:7

Now I am going to watch, for (at least) the tenth time, the Eugene Peterson video (above). It focuses me.

After that, I'll add a dash of Dallas Willard. The Holy Spirit will enter into these things and focus me on what my life is really about. I'll begin another day clear-eyed, filled with expectation of all God is going to show me, and lead me to do.

My three books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (co-edited with Janice Trigg)

I'm currently writing:

Deconstructing Progressive Christianity

Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart

Then, Linda and I then intend to write our book on Relationships.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

"Breaking the Chains of Shame" - Sermon 7/25/21

Here's my sermon "Breaking the Chains of Shame"

July 25, 2021

Redeemer Fellowship Church

Breaking the Chains of Shame - A Few Resources



I'm preaching this morning at Redeemer on "Breaking the Chains of Shame."

Here are two excellent resources.

For more on freedom from shame see Lewis Smedes's excellent Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve. This is one of the best books I have ever read!

Check out Curt Thompson, The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves.  

Take every thought captive. 2 Cor. 10:5 - We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 

For help on how to do this, see Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds.

The opposite of "shame" is "acceptable." See the best book on "grace" -s Philip Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace? 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Spiritual Formation Posts 2010-2015

Payne Theological Seminary

Here are posts I made from 2010 - 2015 on the broad theme of Christian Spirituality. Which means things like: spiritual formation, spiritual renewal, spiritual transformation, spiritual restoration (all these terms are different!), corporate spirituality, discernment, cultural discernment, spirituality and the church, and some others.

Live Unveiled Before God