Amazing Sex, A Broken Promise of True Love Waits

“Sex is AMAZING!!”  I don’t know what is more uncomfortable, sitting in wood and metal row chairs in my high school chapel or  hearing a very young youth pastor shout “sex is amazing!”

He quickly followed up, explaining that this was second-hand knowledge because he was still a virgin. Regardless, he assured us that if we obeyed God’s word by remaining sexually pure until marriage, we would have fulfilling and amazing sex.

A valiant effort, because we should be talking about sex.

I appreciate his willingness to urge us to follow Christ in the most personal of ways, but I feel betrayed by his message, and others like it.  True Love Waits is a noble effort indeed, but not everything they told us was true and it lacked the depth and power of the gospel.

They told me there are a number of benefits to abstain, ones that I even agree with to this day: less emotional baggage in your marriage,  reduced risk of sexually transmitted diseases (infections?), a lower chance of an unwanted pregnancy.  Amazing sex was one message I heard repeatedly.

Broken Promises

I pinned a lot of hope to this guarantee of amazing sex, because I understood there were many things out of my control.

Even in marriage a pregnancy could be unexpected, but I knew for me that a baby would never be unwanted.

The man I married may not be a virgin, what a bitter pill that was to swallow!  This fact could bringing unwanted emotional baggage as well as risk of STDs/STIs. This seemed unfair, for all my “purity,” so amazing sex was my reward.

It was pretty frustrating, and terribly disappointing when sex was uncomfortable for a long time into our marriage.

I feel betrayed by this message, and wish things had been discussed more openly and realistically.

Theologically inaccurate messages about sex

It drips with theological errors.  It’s very reminiscent of the prosperity gospel which boils down to the notion, “If I do the right things, then God will reward me.”

If I keep myself sexually pure, I will have a great sex life.

Friend, that is not how it works.

You can use your money faithfully according to God’s word and still face financial hardship.  Following the Lord in your lifestyle and extending that to your foods and exercise does not guarantee you a disease-free existence.  You may go into your marriage sexually pure and have issues in your sex life.

I blamed myself when sex was not amazing.

I was frustrated and like many women out there, I blamed myself unnecessarily.

Why wasn’t this working?

Where was the great sex I was promised?

What did I do wrong?

Why were friends who did not wait, not struggling like I was?

For the life of me I could not figure out what my sin along the way had been.  These questions aimed at God were full of anger and were moving towards bitterness.  I just knew I had done it all right,  why was still suffering?  In a very technical sense, I didn’t do anything wrong, but I had several errors in my thinking.

1. I believed a false equation:

Sexual purity before marriage = Amazing sex when married.

My anger came in because I also assumed the converse,

Frustrating and painful Sex = I sinned somewhere along the line.

Here is the truth that I now accept: There are no recipes for life that add up all the time for everyone. I know this to be true because God’s word shows it to us.

Job obeyed and lost everything, he remained faithful even in his loss.  It was God’s prerogative to allow suffering and loss into Job’s life.  Paul had a thorn in his flesh, he pleaded for it to be taken.  God responded that his grace was sufficient for Paul; we have no reason to believe that thorn was taken away when Paul had enough faith.  Finally, in the life of Jesus we see that obedience does not guarantee ease.  Jesus lived a sinless life and he was still mocked, flogged and killed.  He suffered, more than any of us will ever understand. Yet God did not give him a perfect life for his obedience.  Hebrews 11 reminds us of so many souls who were faithful but didn’t see the promise.

Obedience does not guarantee a perfect life.  Obedience did not guarantee me amazing sex.

2. I believed that my husband would compare me to previous partners.

This message was powerful, I can still see the faces of the woman and the man who first told me this.  They told me “If you have sexual relationships, you will always carry them with you. Even when you are in a marriage relationship you will recall your previous partners and probably compare them to your spouse.”

After six years of marriage, I finally believe my husband when he tells me that he doesn’t do this.  This message was so deep in my soul, this awful fear of comparison, that I thought my husband must be lying to spare my feelings.

Here is the truth that I now accept: My husband repented of his sins and literally walked away from his past life.  God redeemed him by Christ’s sacrifice and made him a new creation.  Now, all of that is so hard for our human minds to comprehend, but my husband may walk in the same body but he is a totally different man than he was before.  He does not compare me to women from his past, in fact the thought of those experiences sicken him and hurt him emotionally.

Something to consider: perhaps those faces, those friends, those dear leaders DO still carry the burden of their past sexual experiences.  Having walked away quite scathed by the prosperity gospel, I wonder if they made the same mistakes I have made, and am still prone to make: a reliance on self to overcome sin, rather than Christ.

3. I lacked understanding of my anatomy in two very important ways.

First, while I was a virgin on my wedding day, I had been sexually aroused long before that night.  Sadly, I was exposed to pornography a very long time ago, and I spent years bound to it.

One of the ways I lacked understanding of my anatomy is related to this experience.  I trained my body to shut off that arousal response, while looking at pornography, while masturbating and eventually while kissing my husband while we were dating and engaged.  While I felt the conviction that looking at pornography was wrong, I somehow thought that orgasming was “wronger” and tried to maintain control of my sin by never allowing myself to experience that.

You may not know much about muscle memory, so I will summarize it.  Our bodies retain our experiences, and just like you can train for a sport, you can train your body to respond the way you want it to respond.  I taught my body that arousal cannot lead to orgasm.

The blessing of marriage didn’t re-train what I’d told my body for years.  It took a long time to recognize that, I was in my second pregnancy when I realized this was part of the problem.  I went through body work and lots of prayer and conversation to start this healing process.

Secondly, I totally underestimated the hymen.  I actually can’t shed much light on this for you either, but that pesky, strong hymen caused me a lot of discomfort.  I wish I understood this better at the time, because I would have given myself a lot more grace to “work” through this issue.

“Well, you weren’t really pure before marriage, you were just a virgin.”

You may be tempted to disregard my entire post because you have noticed that I did act in sinful ways in regards to  my sexuality before I was married.   “Aha!” you may say, “This is why your sex life got off to a rocky start, the whole pornography/masturbation thing.  Your sin caused your pain.”

Have you read Soul Virgins?  I did the summer before we started dating, and it led me to repentance and so much healing.  I agree, I was not pure because our sexuality is so deep and wide and it is not confined to what we do with our genitals.  Please read this book if you have not.  The message of abstinence before marriage is not enough, God wants us to be soul virgins.

At least I had some realistic expectations.

Now these things, didn’t really hurt me because I sort-of understood that sex is just like everything else in life: full of ups and downs.  If we are teaching kids to guard their sexuality and then promising them vigorous sex lives we should probably let them know there will be bumps along the way.

For example: Birthing vaginally requires recovery, and it may not be six weeks on the dot.

Birthing surgically affects women too, just because the baby came from an incision into the womb doesn’t mean she is free of the need to recover (news flash: she’ll still bleed for awhile) she may even have discomfort from her scar healing (this could affect blood flow to the pelvis).

Breastfeeding is a hormonal response which may decrease libido and may also lead to very scant cervical fluid even when aroused (buy this if you face that Sensation Massage Oil).

The exhaustion of parenting may mean you need to sleep more than you need to connect sexually.  And a dozen other things, like loss, death, financial concerns, busy lifestyle.

While special, really fun and emotionally satisfying, sex just isn’t that different from relationships.  Placing too much expectation on it and your partner will lead to frustration.

We must do better, but how?

My one suggestion is this: we need the gospel in every aspect of our lives.  The ones that we don’t discuss because it feels intimate and private, as well as the ones that we don’t discuss because it makes others uncomfortable.

We must be aware of pride creeping into our walk with Christ.  That is what the prosperity gospel really is.  It is rooted in looking out for ourselves, to secure a good life here on earth and looking into ourselves for a process to obtain that good life.

We may profess that Jesus’ sacrifice is the means of our salvation. We often default to pride, believing that our actions maintain salvation and earn us favor.  Our behavior does not secure God’s favor, my correct actions and even my correct motives do not promise perfection.

We are not animals obeying to get a treat from our master.

Pride is stealth and dangerous.  If God works in our hearts to bring the gospel into all of our lives, we can have some hope that future generations, friends, and our children can have realistic expectations of intimacy and sex.

No Major Regrets

I do think because of God’s grace towards us, we brought very little baggage into our marriage.  I am thankful that I have been able to work through all of this in the security of our marriage.

I must interject: it is not the marriage certificate or the staunch determination never to divorce that brings the security.  It is that I am married to and intimate with a man who understands he is nothing without Christ. A man who turns to Christ when there is something he doesn’t know how to handle, a man who always acts patiently and graciously with me.  I’m married to a man who didn’t ever give up on me when my heart was hard and angry about our sex life and who may have literally pushed through some things to bring us to a healthier and happier sexual relationship.

It’s not even about my husband’s admirable character, it is Christ alive in us.  I don’t regret my choices, but I believe as the body of Christ, we have a long way to go to share a gospel message about sexuality.

 

Why I’m Rejecting Christian Inspiration

I'm Rejecting Christian InspirationChristian Inspiration, those pretty pinnable images give me the warm fuzzies. I am sure there are some doctrinally sound ones out there, but I’m rejecting them.  Here is why:

Often times, these verses are taken out of context or are loose interpretations what the Scriptures actually say.

If you pop over to Pinterest and search for some of these keywords, you’ll see what I mean. Isn’t this beautiful?

When I see that I have this deep sense inside me that “Wow, God says that about me!  I won’t fail in my endeavors.”

Or this peaceful image from a simple google search:

A breath of fresh air, am I right?  God wants me to be still, be at peace.

Christian Inspiration images often take the Word out of Context.

When you look at the context, do you find this encouraging ?  I do, but it goes so much deeper than the images above.  Reading God’s word in proper context reveals that Psalm 46:5  is not about you or I as individuals becoming immovable forces, it is about God. The feminine pronouns are not even referring to a female human being. This passage is not a inspirational phrase to stick on our walls and feel like “I’m God’s girl, I got this.”  This is about how God is our refuge, our peace while the nations rage.

Everyone’s favorite is Psalm 46:10 right?  Peace. Stillness. Our chaotic world NEEDS this right? Yet this verse is almost NEVER quoted in full.  This is not about us feeling safe, happy, peaceful, restoring our introverted souls in the  midst of modern life.  It is about God being glorified among the nations.  Psalm 46 is about God as our refuge, God’s power and God’s glory revealed to all people.

Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
    how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Christian Inspiration images sometimes aren’t even quoting Scripture.

I once scrolled through a pin my friend liked:

How encouraging.  What a lovely image. Yes, I just need to have faith! If I have FAITH God can turn this mess into something amazing.

The assumption is all too often that it’s about me, God can turn my mess of finances into abundance, or my poor health to wellness. It is all too easy to see something like this and let it creep into our souls.  Sure we are on guard about pornography, cultural views on sexuality and relationships.  Are we on guard about these little phrases that sound like truth but are really the creeping in our our me-centered religiousness? Since the fall, our default is sin and without God’s word in our heart and the leading of the Holy Spirt, we will move away from the truth.

When you look at the meme it is easy to assume it’s what the Bible says.  Let’s take the next step and read the actual verse:

I will restore to you the years
    that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
    my great army, which I sent among you.

Joel 2:25

Well, the quote in the image still kind of fits with the actual verse. The temptation is to ignore the context, and focus on how the verse serves us.  Do we even recognize that this temptation exists? The context of Joel chapter two is that God brought judgement to his people for their sins.  He brought judgement and they found they needed him and turned from their sins and God restored them.

So, I’m going to reject this meme and replacing it with this:  All I need to do is obey the Lord.

Too Often Christian Inspiration Focuses on Me.

I recall being in a young adult Bible study in my friend’s home.  We went over a text and we were asked to reflect on it.  A friend started his response, “what this means to me is….” and everyone kinda nodded along.  My soul felt on fire because if I remember one thing from How to Read the Bible for all it’s Worth, it is this: “the Bible can never mean what it never meant.”  My friend was taking his experience and putting it into the Scriptures.

That may seem like semantics to you, but when we fail to understand what the authors meant in the original context, we are unable to understand it fully.  We open ourselves up to wrong interpretation, which can only lead to wrong life application.

When we need encouragement it needs to come from God’s word.  We must put our situation in the   context of God’s word. This is not about me.  It’s not about you.  This about what God is doing on this earth. He calls us to him repentance. He calls us to worship him.  He calls us to live for him so that others may see his Glory and worship him as well.

So, dear friends, know God’s word.  Ask the Holy Spirit to give you discernment, to convict you of sin, and to lead you into all truth.

Grace and Essential Oils: Keep Going When It’s Just Too Hard

grace-essential-oilsGrace and Essential Oils are the reason I’m sitting here, propped up on my mom’s couch. Life is just too hard lately, but I have to keep going.

It’s just a few minutes past 10, my son and youngest daughter are sleeping on the futon, and my oldest is keeping my mom awake in another room.

I’m supposed to give my mom a massage, a 30 minute one.  She gave me one, then I wanted to put the kids to bed, around 7:30.  The littlest fell asleep around 9.  My son fell asleep a few minutes ago. My firstborn is still awake.

I can hardly turn my neck, I think I overdid it on Saturday. I saw one of my amazing chiropractors this afternoon, she confirmed that my neck is a mess.  It is so uncomfortable, I feel like I could vomit.

My day was actually pretty good, aside from needing a new neck.  My husband works overnights at Amazon Fulfillment, so he crawled in bed at 5:30 this morning.  I woke up and nursed the baby, and then went to pick my mom up to drive her to work.  Her truck wasn’t starting, so we are thankful to have this car to make life easier when it’s bumpy. GRACE, that car is grace.

Deep Relief

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Have you tried Deep Relief?  It’s amazing and it usually works essential oil magic on my aches.  Apparently something else is needed though, because ouch…I’m still achy, and also I should have washed my hands before touching my eye.  Carrier oil for the win, Thank God it was in my bathroom.  That is grace again, saving my day.

Clarity & Coffee

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After taking my mom to work, I brewed a cup of coffee, served my kids bread and butter, which I also enjoyed.  I took care of a business call and got the kids ready for their playdate.  I love calling it a playdate, it’s really a childcare trade.  She takes mine for 2-3 hours on Monday, I take hers for 2-3 hours on Wednesday, so we can do our WAHM thing. GRACE, those two hours working without interruption were lovely.  I used a drop of clarity on the back of my neck and paused to inhale it to keep me going while I worked. I was really pleased with the amount of work I got done, but there is always more.  I tend to put my self-worth in the things I do.  I tend towards a very protestant version of salvation by works.  I think the inability to finish most tasks as a mother and a working mother is God’s special design, to remind me: GRACE.

“And he gives grace generously.  As the Scriptures say, ‘God opposed the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

James 4:6

I’ve been proud for far too long, and that sin slips into my heart far too easily.  I think that is part of why God gave me children.  They are an enormous blessing, and I am so thankful for each of those miracles.  Being a mom is a joy, but it is the most effective way to show me my inadequacies.

Motherhood has revealed so many sinful tendencies in my heart.  For a long time, I tried to “do better, try harder.” The salvation by works I mentioned earlier.  In that crazy cycle, I am set up for pride or self-hatred.  Both are self-focused.

For it is by Gracegrace

God is so gracious towards me, and gently reminds me over and over again of my need for him.  He has called me to motherhood, he has called me to be his child, he has called me to rely on him.  Yes, I still have strength and I ought to use them for his glory.  Yes, I have weaknesses, and like Paul I begged God to take them away.  His word to Paul, Paul’s word to the Corinthians is everything this essential-oil loving, natural leaning, grace-filled mama needs:

“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-11 NLT

The essential oils are wonderful, they really do help my mind and body in so many ways.  All I really need is God’s grace.  Calling me to repentance, calling me to walk with him, calling me to rest when I am hurting, calling me to be Christ before my children.  His grace holding me while I miss my husband who works long, awful hours and sleeps while we are awake.

It is all I need. On a day where I fell asleep writing a blog post.  On the happiest moment I could imagine, I can’t do anything without God’s amazing grace.

amazing-gracehow-sweet-the-soundthat-saved-a-wretch-like-me

Do Everything Without Complaining

w31-d9-instagramLet us Do everything without complaining is a tall order given by Paul to the church, to me. Let us dive right into to day 9 of Losing My Religion, Finding My Savior.  Again, I was challenged by the series Regarding Joy.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Philippians 2: 14-16

Do everything without complaining

When I was on a missions trip to Jamaica, in 1998 there was a very effective rule to combat complaining.  “Every time you complain, you have to pay $1.” I have tried to use that to keep myself from complaining throughout the years.  Yet, even yesterday I complained to the postman “people complain about everything.”

It is annoying to listen others complain.  More importantly, it is destructive to complain.  I could probably pull up some holistic health research to show how it actually damages your body, but I won’t.  Paul instructs the believers to do all things without complaint, because complaining is destructive to Christ’s body.  If doing all things without complaint or argument makes us blameless, innocent and without blemish, that clearly indicates that the opposite is also true.  Complaining and arguing snuffs out the light in us.

Not a Secret

Have you watched the film, “The Secret” ?   I easily understand the science behind it.  I learned some of these principles in school for massage therapy, and witness the effects of negativity on my client’s bodies.  As I study the use of essential oils, I can easily grasp the science behind “The Secret.”    I think we all understand the emotional aspects of it though, don’t we?  Honestly, who wants to hang out on Friday night with Debbie Downer?

However, what Paul gets at here is not motivated by our dreams for life, our desires for relationships, financial gain and health.  Have you ever been told that you were sick (or broke or lonely) because you needed to have a positive attitude?  It’s a bit like salt on a wound, isn’t it? Remember, Paul is writing from prison, he understands that this Christ-like attitude is not about our own gain.

Living without complaining or grumbling is a joyful response to the work of God in us.

Yet we still tend to complain

I remember thinking that the Israelites begging to return to Egypt at the Red Sea was CRAZINESS.  They just witnessed the plagues including the passover, yet here they were, seemingly moments later not trusting God to deliver them.

Still, I do the exact same thing. I know God spared my life, worked miracles on my behalf.  God has been faithful and true to his word.  Even as he provided finances from unexpected avenues, I complained.  “How will we every have money for a house?”  “Our emergency fund is so tiny!!”  “I can’t breastfeed!” Even though I have a healthy, strong baby.

When I complain I demonstrate that I am unconvinced of God’s great love for me, and his precious purpose  for me.  It shows I do not understand where God brought me from, or where he leads me.  Complaining lets the world know that I do not trust God.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  .  .  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:18, 28-30

Living without complaining reflects that we trust him

Not about me

It glorifies God when we live without complaint.

It is natural, albeit impolite, for me to to roll my eyes at someone being annoying.  Wishing someone would just get their act together, and reminding him or her of that is a natural response.  Feeling frustrated that someone is asking for money, not abnormal.  Complaining about my husband’s shortcomings, or my kids behavior is so very average.

Grace. Kindness. Mercy. Compassion. Love. Generosity. I demonstrate these things when I do not complain about my situation, or other people.

“that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,”

Should my words justify my emotions, or should they reflect the nature of Christ?

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

I am his witness, as a part of his church – his bride.

Living without complaining  glorifies God.

only hope for the world

 

Interested in listening to the sermon? Click the image belowRegarding Joy

Obedience

Paul lives in obedience, that obedience leads him to prison.  He follows the lead of Jesus who also exemplified obedience, even to death.

I struggled with where we were financially, professionally and socially for a very long time.  At times, I still struggle.  God is shaping my heart, and part of that is the realization that God may lead us places that we do not want to go.

Ginny Owens sings “If you want me to” and it has always spoken to my heart.

The pathway is broken
And The signs are unclear
And I don’t know the reason why You brought me here
But just because You love me the way that You do
I’m gonna walk through the valley
If You want me to

‘Cause I’m not who I was
When I took my first step
And I’m clinging to the promise You’re not through with me yet
so if all of these trials bring me closer to you
Then I will go through the fire
If You want me to

It may not be the way I would have chosen
When you lead me through a world that’s not my home
But You never said it would be easy
You only said I’d never go alone

So When the whole world turns against me
And I’m all by myself
And I can’t hear You answer my cries for help
I’ll remember the suffering Your love put You through
And I will go through the valley
If You want me to

Work out your own salvation

It doesn’t mean that we have secure our own salvation.  We are sustained by the grace of God, not our own works. We put our salvation in practice, this is how we work it out.

I walk in obedience, I repent many, many times a day.  I fail, but God empowers me.  So I stay here, resting in the knowledge that God is good, faithful and true.  I trust the plan of God, even when I can’t see it and even when I don’t understand it.

Unity in Devotion to Christ

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Losing My Religion, Finding My Savior has changed my understanding of unity in the Body of Christ.

Unity is found in devotion to Christ.  It is not achieved by maintaining the status – quo and allowing brothers and sisters in Christ to live in ways that oppose the Gospel. Unity in devotion to Christ, his example, his gospel.

 

 

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,  complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  Philippians 2:1-5

Unity in Christ

I grew up with a deep respect for authority, and I think perhaps this idea mutated from a healthy place.  It became an unwillingness to question leaders whose actions were inconsistent with the gospel.

My dislike for confrontation meant that I also did not challenge other believers when their words and actions were not Christ-like.  Maybe I considered it “giving grace” to make it sound better, but the truth was I didn’t want to rock the boat.

I confess that this meant  that there were people I liked, and people I didn’t like.  Instead of loving and caring for them, and being willing to have an awkward moment so that Jesus could be glorified, I just wrote them off.

Unified on the Surface

One of the things that Tom Orlando points out in this sermon is how we have adopted “Reagan’s First Rule” in the church.  As republicans don’t criticize other republicans, Christians don’t criticize other Christians.  We have brought the practices of the world into the church. We’ve adopted an “us” versus “them” mentality. Unity in the body is not a surface solidarity where we attack a common enemy instead of addressing the problems in our group.

To go off topic for a moment.  I feel encouraged by this sermon in the midst of this embarrassing election year.  It is so relevant as I think about the presidential election and the believers response to it:  the church is to reflect Christ, not the culture.

“We are not advocates for the concept of Christianity.  We are advocates for Jesus Christ and his Gospel.  Sometimes, that means looking in the church and saying, ‘that’s not right.’ ” Tom Orlando

What are we unified about?

I knew unity was important, I could quote the church’s mission statement, unity is a part of it. I was missing what Paul was talking about though.  We aren’t unified to live driven lives.  Our unity is not about a set of behavioral rules. Unity doesn’t mean I’m working towards the goals set forth by the church planners.

The church is unified in the understanding that God loves us;  God redeemed us through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The Spirit is at work in our lives. Our lives guided by Christ’s example.  Let’s review Paul’s encouragement to the Philippians as he mentions Christ’s example.

  • Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.  Do nothing. No thing. nothing.
  • Count others more significant than yourselves.
  • Look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
  • Christ emptied himself and took the form of a servant.
  • He humbled himself by become obedient, to death on a cross.

Changing me

This view of unity changes me.  I can’t claim to live unified because I follow the rules, I have to live Christ. I cannot simply live Christ in a vacuum and ignore my family in Christ.  When I see obvious sin or subtle deviation, it is unity to confront it (according to God’s word Luke 6:42, Galatians 6:1 ).

Feel free to pray for me on this one, because I still tend to ignore the things I see that are wrong.  I’m terrified to hurt people, I’m afraid even writing this post, I don’t know where to begin.  The American church, by and large, reflects a consumeristic, selfish society.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. Philippians 1:27

 

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Worthy of the Gospel, Relearning Suffering, Finding Freedom

sufferingRelearning the place suffering has in my salvation.  Relearning how to be worthy of the Gospel, Finding freedom as I continue Losing My Religion, Finding My Savior. How many times I have to learn this same lesson? As many times as it takes for me to hear, understand and internalize it, I suppose.

Reading Philippians 1:  As per usual, I invite you to listen for yourself and see what Holy Spirit reveals to you.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.  For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Worthy of the Gospel

Here I have it again, a gentle reminder of how my life is to be a reflection of the nature of Christ and what he has done for me.  I cannot make myself worthy of salvation, only he does it.  To be honest, I tended to view the fruit of the spirit as a list of character qualities I need to work on.

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,  envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:18-23

Does my life match this description of belonging to Christ?  It’s pretty black-and-white when you read the text.  Jealousy is one I have battled, especially as we have suffered financially.  Well, the American sense of suffering, we’ve never been homeless or hungry.  Yet, if I belong to Christ, then I KNOW that God is in control. I trust he leads me where he desires. If I believe that, then what place does jealousy have in my heart? none. none.

Suffer for the Gospel

I’m not united with Christ so that I can have a better life.  It’s not so my marriage is better and I am healthier.  It may be the case, but following Christ is not about me at all.  It’s about God and his glory.

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Of course, my experience is that by following Christ and his words, I find peace in decisions.  Following him DOES make my life better in dozens of ways.  That can’t be the reason though, would that not make me  some sick form a a rice christian? I don’t come to Christ to avoid pain and suffering.

I took a class in my sophomore year of college called “Missionary Life and Ministry.”  It was one of the most emotionally challenging classes I took.   Thinking of missionaries whose spouses died, children died, or those who died themselves in service; I never reconciled to the decision to go, if it might endanger my family.  Yet, I wondered for years, why God never led me into missions abroad.

Losing My Religion Brings Freedom

Again, this that phrase is scary and bold. It does not mean I have abandoned Christ.  It does not mean I abandon my savior for my own selfish desires.

No, it means that I found the “Christianity” I claimed and clung to, was actually shackling me in behavior modification, something that can be manipulated by people.

Losing my religion has brought me freedom because everything is Christ at work in me.

My response to my children, how I act in stress, how I live my days is not about choosing joy, working harder, trying more, earning more, striving.  It’s laying down my life and saying, “God, work in me.  Lead me where you will, and help me to reflect your beauty, your passion, your love, your holiness, your power.”

 

 

 

Live Christ

live christTo live Christ, I had to let go of so many things.  The things I briefly discuss today exemplify why I call this “Losing My Religion, Finding My Savior”  I hope you have time and willingness to hear the words. Regarding Joy, Part 4 it is full of truth and convicted me in so many ways.

Live Christ

Paul says “to live is Christ, to die is gain.”  He believes that it is literally better to die, than to live.  It’s not figurative. Yet, he states:

But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, Philippians 1: 24-25

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my frustrations stemmed from the fact that I did not share Paul’s view.

Gospel Community

Paul relied upon their prayers, concern and care to bring encouragement.

Yes, and I will rejoice,  for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. Philippians 1:18-19

I was afraid to share my fears, my frustration, my disappointment, because I didn’t want to appear faith-less.

I will also be as bold to say, that I was surrounded by beautiful, intelligent, successful people.  Sharing my frustrations meant admitting I didn’t measure up.  There was a great deal of pressure, and I don’t believe any of it is intentional.

The culture of the “American Dream” is full of values in opposition to the Gospel, but it has pervaded the American church. Somehow, we have determined hard work, resourcefulness, freedom to be gospel, when they are not.

Since I didn’t measure up to the values of the American church, I couldn’t really be vulnerable and dependent upon my church family.

By the Holy Spirit

Everything is possible by the Holy Spirit, meaning none of this is possible on our own.  It is super-natural.  The Holy Spirit is God at work in our lives, on this earth.  He brings us to repentance, salvation, holiness, brings comfort, courage, wisdom and instruction.  Not in our own cleverness or determination.

For a short period of time, I worked at my old church. I was in a meeting about 15 years ago, and my dearly loved pastor said “we are implementing this program to make sure that 70 years from now {this church} is still here, sharing the same values.”

I thought it made great sense, nothing checked in my spirit that there was something critically wrong with that statement.  The program, vision, mission that they set forth is eloquent and technically accurate.  At the end of it it says, “by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Again, every word of that statement is good, biblical, true.  The spirit behind it is the belief that the things we do allow the spirit to work. It’s not lighting candles, making sacrifices or praying rosaries, but how is that not religion? I thought my good choices, reading God’s word, serving in ministry, loving others sanctified me. I had it backwards.

Guilty, guilty, guilty!

I can’t find the gif I want for this post….the teacher from The Incredibles shouting that Dash is guilty of putting a tack on his seat.  My daughter cracks up every time.

All of these things, the Holy Spirit convicted me of, comforted me in my sorrow over this “me centered” view of God, and teaches me how to live Christ.  So, as you read this, remember that I know deeply that I am full of sin and the only goodness in me is Christ.

 

Finding Joy in the Advancement of the Gospel

Find Joy in the Gospel

Losing My Religion, Finding My Savior Day 3 is inspired by this sermon.  Do I find joy in my circumstance, or do I find joy in the gospel?

Roman prison, more disgusting than I imagine

It is easy to slip into poor interpretation of Scripture.  Poorly interpreting Scripture leads to poor application.  I’ve said, “What this verse means to me is _____?” far too many times.  Once, I  recognized this error in a friend and offered him my copy of Reading the Bible for all it’s Worth (affiliate link).   See, we often go straight to application of God’s word, without understanding the context or original meaning.  In order to have good theology, we cannot miss those things.

paul writing

Is this how you imagine Paul writing his letter to the Philippians?

We are separated by time and culture, and not enough of our preaching includes the details that are necessary to understand God’s word.

Prisons were not like this image at all.  They were cells dug out underground, approximately 12′ deep.  No designated place to empty your bladder or bowels.  There was no one to bring you fresh straw to sleep upon. No cleaning crew to tidy your space. Those things only happened if a loved one came and took care of that. Does that change your view of Matthew 25:36?

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.  And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Philippians 1:12-17

 

A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

That was my day yesterday, the day I was SUPPOSED to publish this.  When “Little baby, don’t eat that poop” is not the worst part of your mom-day, you know it is rough.  All I can say is that running water is my favorite aspect of modern life.  A day without it working properly is hard.  Showers, dishes, laundry, all depend upon it.

Find joy in suffering

Years back, with a new baby and my husband’s job loss and interview after interview and a tight budget, I was frustrated.  I thought I had followed God’s will, and I was not experiencing financial freedom (despite working that debt snowball).  My husband is a faithful, honest, and hard-working man, yet he didn’t have the dream job.  After several months, he wasn’t even getting calls for interviews.  Bitterness crept in and I was starting to question God.  I thought I was suffering for the sake of the gospel.  After all, all things work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose?

purpose is God's glory

How did Paul find joy in his circumstance, but I could not in mine?

 

Paul followed God’s it led him to prison.  He is likely surrounded by his own filth, and he mentions disputes with other preachers of the gospel.  Yet, he had joy and I did not.  He says “Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”  That is it, his joy was in the gospel going forward.  My search for joy in a good marriage, motherhood, work, relationships, a good church was just as futile and misplaced as those who search in drugs, money and sex.

 

Find joy, despite loneliness

This illumination of God’s word changed me forever, in the best way. However, it was still a lonely path. It felt like I left EVERYTHING behind, for one thing.  Does that remind you of anything you’ve read?   I didn’t feel I could speak to any of my old friends.  How could I possibly share my experience without hurting them? How could I even mention what I’d learned without seeming like I was chastising them?  It would appear to be speaking against leaders that I loved deeply.  I didn’t know how, so I stayed isolated.

Building new relationships was not easy, because my work schedule was the same: evenings and weekends, and we still didn’t have a car.  So for a year, we went at it mostly alone (aside from Sunday interactions and a few text messages).  It was lonely, but I found so much comfort in the Lord.  So much peace at understanding my purpose being his glory.  We found joy in the humility of knowing that God revealed this to us.  We learned how to find joy in difficulty, by the grace of God.

find joy

God completes the work in me, as perfectly as he began it.

He who began a good work

God completes the work in me, just as perfectly as he began it.  This is post 3 of a 31 days series: Losing My Religion, Finding My Savior.  For the next 18 days, I will continue sharing the ways in which Holy Spirit convicted me of placing my trust in myself, even when I believed myself to be trusting and following Christ. If you want to catch up, you can go here and read all my posts in the series

Starting with Scripture

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:1-6

Context

This letter is written by Paul, who is imprisoned in Rome.  He writes to the church at Philippi. God used Paul to plant the church through some incredible circumstances. You really ought to re-read that passage Acts 15:36-16:40. In story, it shows the truth of Philippians 1:6:  God does the work in our hearts.

I deceive myself

God begins the work in us and he carries it on to completion.  I’ve never been one to think that  works bring my salvation.  I do not light candles, pray rosaries, make sacrifices. I know that Jesus did that on the cross and did what I cannot do.  However, I slip into trusting my actions to keep me close to God.

Our actions don’t keep us right with God. Christ did that work, Christ is doing that work. 

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2: 12-13

Like a sheep

All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:6

I want to reiterate that I really believed myself to be trusting God, and following Christ.  My actions were mostly good, mostly biblical.  However, my heart slipped away and I began unconsciously trusting my righteous choices to keep me close to God. I’m like the sheep that the good shepherd left the fold to seek out.

Slipping into sin, even with good actions

Pray. Read the Bible. Fellowship with other Believers. Have you heard this short list of things to do?  They are wise things to do, I consider them blessings that enrich my life, when I do them. Did you ever consider it to aid in your salvation? I now realize that I have.

The subtle, oh it is so subtle, belief that these actions aid our salvation is pride at work in our hearts. Sin starts in our hearts long before it gets to our actions, it is stills in even others cannot see it. Matthew 5:21-30

A polluted garment

We have the ability to do admirable works, talent and intelligence can bring us very far, but none of it has any worth if it is not God at work. It matters not if we carry this into our personal life, our home, or our ministry,  trust in our actions is not trusting God. None of it has any value if it is not God at work.

We have all become like one who is unclean 

and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. 

We all fade like a leaf, 

and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Isaiah 64:6

Let me repeat that, none of our attempts have ANY value. If the things we do are not born of the leading of the Holy Spirit, it’s all for nothing.

Our actions don’t keep us right with God. Our actions don’t bring people to God. Christ did that work, Christ is doing that work, Christ will do that work.  As his children, we have the honor of participating, but we do not bring it about.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:14-17

We need not fear, God is at work in our lives.

Faith and Fear

We need not fear.  Perfect love cast out all fear, after all.  His love for us is perfect.  God is faithful, we can trust him with our salvation. If we trust him with our salvation, surely we can trust him with our personal lives, with our ministry endeavors.  We don’t need to build in structure to ensure that God’s will goes forward, it will. We can certainly have structure, but it has no value in and of itself.  It may tend to lead our hearts astray into trusting the plan, the organization, the good acts.

God will complete the work in me

I am so humbled by God and so thankful how he worked in my heart through this sermon, which brought my attention to his word.  I didn’t even ask, God did it.

Philippians 1:6

 

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