Contending for Purity in a Promiscuous World

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From incredibly naïve to extremely conservative, Christians have long had a wide-range of expressions when it comes to sex and sexuality. Most often, those expressions have been negative or conversely overly idealistic only resulting in false preconceptions shattered.  Those of you who have followed my blog have read my views on singleness, marriage, and the importance on living into our calling regardless of which state we find ourselves in.   By this point some of you can even quote what I always end up saying: that God designed sex as the fullest expression of human love and intimacy and that He delights in it.  That God’s first commandment was for us to procreate and that through intimacy we can grow and bond in incredible ways that are meant only to be shared between two people in the committed and loving relational bond of marriage.  Unfortunately, because we live in a fallen world, God’s original design for complete trust and gracious vulnerability has been lost.  Instead, sex has been used as a way to manipulate, abuse, and destroy others.  When this happens, God grieves over the loss of shalom.  When one of the greatest gifts God ever gave to humanity is used flippantly or without regard to the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of another it breaks His heart.  And yet we continue to do it over and over again.

Before I go further on this topic, I need to address one thing.  I am not here to judge.  If you have had a less than ideal experience with sex because of abuse or manipulation, my heart sincerely goes out to you and I want to offer to you the fact that there is indeed help through Christ our Lord.  Conversely, if you have been the one to misuse this precious and sacred gift because of selfish reasons or simply feeling passion in the heat of the moment, God offers to you His deepest forgiveness and peace.

My place is not to judge those who have engaged in sexual relations outside of marriage, but it is to challenge you to realize the high standards God places on those of us who consider ourselves His children.  If you do not consider yourself a Christian you can simply disregard this message.  It has nothing to do with you.  Live your life the way you want to because life is short.  But if you are sincerely desiring to be a man or woman after God’s own heart, you will understand the value of keeping the marriage bed pure and you will be able to grasp the stern warnings that God gives to those who do not follow the Scriptures.

This blog post is not meant to go into a theological rant about why sex should be saved for marriage.  If you are part of a Bible believing church, I am going off of the assumption that you have already heard this all before.  Probably too many times.  And if you haven’t, then I will assume that you may go to one of those super conservative churches that doesn’t even bother talking about sex at all – which is equally dangerous.  Instead of scaring you with statistics or telling you all the dangers of breaking God’s law, I simply want to offer some suggestions for those of you who are truly desiring to remain pure before marriage but find it incredibly hard to do so.  After all, who doesn’t struggle with this type of thing?  Regardless of your past experiences you can make a new commitment to stand strong.  By immersing yourself in prayer and Scripture, you will gradually discover that following God’s laws trumps indulging in your own passions.  And when that happens you crave the things of Him rather than the things of this world.

So where do we begin?

  • Make a commitment. This may go without saying, but it is truly the most important step.  If you are not motivated to follow through with purity, it won’t happen.  Equally important is having a partner who also shares this same commitment.  If only one partner is interested in staying away from the physical, it will be bound to happen.  But it’s not just enough to say you want to stay away from the big one.  You need to decide for yourself what you feel right and comfortable with.  That’s a choice only you and your significant other can make.  Some of my friends shared their first kiss on their wedding day or waited until being engaged to start holding hands, others had different ideas.  But the main thing is that you know what those ideas are and that you talk them out with your partner.  That way you can both stand strong when temptation comes.  Also, although it is important to know WHAT you are committing to, it is also important to know WHY.  If you don’t have a strong enough motivation you will also fall.
  • Have accountability with teeth. It’s not enough to just trust yourself and your partner to stand strong, you also need good back up support.  This is difficult in a world that screams “promiscuity.”  It is hard to be the only one in your circle of friends who is waiting, but if God is the first and foremost focus of your life you will find the motivation. Have a friend who is older and more mature in their faith walk with you through the various challenges you may face and have someone you can confess things to without any fear of judgment.  This is important in any relationship not just because of physical reasons, but also because it will help establish a firm base for when you do decide to tie the knot.  Listen to your friends when they mention red flags or when they voice concerns.  Don’t shut them down, ignore them, or get defensive.  Use each opportunity as a chance to learn more about yourself and your partner.
  • Avoid the appearance of evil. Simply put this means staying away from those pesky “danger zones.” This can be different for each person.  Basically what you want to do is avoid situations in which people would right away assume you are engaging in certain activities (even if you really aren’t) or where you would personally find yourself in a compromised position.  This may mean not being in secluded places with your partner or leaving their place at a reasonable hour and not spending the night.  These things are important if you are truly trying to minimize the risk of doing something you may later regret.
  • Know Scripture and Pray. I know this is placed last in this list, but it really should be first.  If you don’t know the Scriptures you may think these types of activities are really no big deal…but the longer you spend time reading God’s Word and truly getting to know Him, you will see just how much He loves you.  God’s great love for us is the source of all comfort, hope, and healing.  It is precisely because God doesn’t want to see our hearts getting broken that He so solemnly warns us to save the very best we have to offer only to our mate.

While there is no complete guarantee that you will never fall, I do believe that by making a prayerful commitment with your partner you can easily avoid most pitfall and most temptations.  Remember, marriage must be built on complete trust and mutual understanding and acceptance.  This happens best when we respect each other’s boundaries enough to learn how to wait.  May God bless you on this waiting journey.

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The Edinburgh Rain and the Issue of Homelessness

A_Man's_Best_Friend It’s another blustery autumn day in downtown Edinburgh.  I zip up my coat prepared with a hoodie and sweater underneath and I brave the soon-to-be winter weather of rain, rain, and more rain.  Since moving to Scotland I have discovered one thing: the weather can be cruel.  It is no respecter of persons and it is not afraid to tease you with a hint of glimmering sunshine only to disappear for the rest of the day under a thick cloud of rain, hail, and wind.  I have also discovered something deeper: in Edinburgh, just like in most major cities of the world, there is also no shortage of people who are homeless.

Everywhere I look I spot people living on the street.  In the past two months since moving to this wondrous city voted as one of the best places in the world to live, I have begun to notice some of their faces.  I have begun to enter into some of their stories.  Across from the HMV store sporting the latest CDs and DVDs is a young woman whose husband abused her and then left her and her three children alone – she is from Bangladesh.  A little further down the road is a retired war vet whose PTSD has driven him to the brink of delusion.  Then there is the group of homeless street youth who flock together outside a local church with the thought that somehow their life will be better without their parents.

Since Edinburgh is a bustling city, it is often easy to ignore these people.  To see them as a blur or to look the other way when they put out their tattered coffee cups to beg.  Sometimes in smug indifference I tell myself that there is no way I can help all of them, so why bother.

I often am transported back to a time when I was living in Toronto (a major Canadian city) and was oftentimes approached by people seeking to take advantage of a naïve passerby.  I am reminded of the times I have stopped to help one individual only to be bombarded by 10 more requests.  These experiences have often left me at a place of conflicted motives – wanting to help, but being afraid of what the outcome could produce.

Yet, lately I have been thinking about the homelessness problem from a different perspective.  It is no secret that many people who live on the street have mental health issues.  For some issues of addiction, delusion, or what could be termed psychotic outbursts have driven them to the point of not being able to take care of themselves.  For example, I think of a fine gentleman, a former professor at the local university who somehow acquired a mental illness later in life which has since rendered him on the streets shouting about who knows what.  Yet deep inside he still harbours the awesome brilliance of a math genius.  On the other hand, we also see people whose families were unable to take care of them sometimes demand their loved ones to leave without properly safeguarding them for the dangers that lay ahead.

You see, mental illness, just like the Scottish rain is no respecter of persons.  According to a recent study put out by Sian Rees of the Public Health Resource Unit the United Kingdom has seen a direct correlation between mental illness and homelessness.  Rees displays how issues such as psychosis, suicidal ideation and attempts, and substance abuse are more prevalent among this population than in the general society.  Rees also demonstrates that the most prevalent illness of those who find themselves homeless is schizophrenia with anywhere from 20-35% holding this diagnosis.*

While there is no simple formula for solving the homelessness crisis, there are a few practical ways in which we can all work towards a more equitable society.  Firstly, we can acknowledge those on the street as we walk past them.  Many people who are homeless miss out on the natural love and warmth we so often take for granted.  Even a simple smile or “hello” will be sure to brighten up anyone’s day.  If we have a moment we can even ask them about their story – some may be more than willing to have a listening and non-judgmental ear.  This all comes from the core conviction that each person is a unique being created and loved by God.

Secondly, we can work towards a greater understanding of the issues of homelessness and poverty that surround our communities.  We can take a moment to learn about mental illness and the various ways in which our society stigmatizes those who find themselves in this camp.  We can also realize that although in many ways we have made great improvements, there is still much work to be done in terms of funding and resources. We should not automatically assume that someone who is homeless has chosen this lifestyle for themselves, has intentionally neglected getting a job, or is lazy and unmotivated.  Rather we should aim to see each individual as God sees them and try to be empathetic and accepting.

Lastly, we can help in practical ways.  It definitely is impossible to help the thousands that line the streets of Edinburgh each day, at least on a practical level.  Nevertheless, there are other ways in which we can acknowledge the distress many face on a daily basis.  Whether it’s volunteering at a local halfway house, buying a soft fruit or chocolate bar and giving it to a street person on your way out of the local grocery store, or simply offering a few words of encouragement, we are showing that no one has to live life on their own.

Homelessness is not a problem that will be solved easily, however, with determination and the right attitude, we can at least begin to make an impact.  Next time you are in a major city, I want to encourage you – don’t just walk past the blur of faces, take time to really think about who each person is.  Understand that each person has a story.  Understand that you also have a story.  And understand that even in the wake of mental illness, that story of incredible resilience and strength does not change.  Once we recognize this, we are well on our way to creating a fairer and safer world.

  • Information and statistics from the city Sian Rees undertook is found here:  http://www.crisis.org.uk/data/files/publications/Mental%20health%20literature%20review.pdf

3 Blessings and 3 Hidden Challenges of Attending a Christian University

everything-changes They knew exactly how to market to me.  Pumping and vibrant praise music wafting through the school, prayers before every class, professors who truly care about student needs, and those colourful envelopes in our student lounge inviting people to write thoughtful messages to you are what first drew me in to Tyndale – a trans-denominational university and seminary in Toronto, Canada.  Yet during the five years I studied at Tyndale – long enough to earn both my bachelor’s and my master’s degrees in theology related fields, I found that Tyndale was so much more.  It is a place where prayer happens, where testimonies are shared, and where community is built and fostered.  It is a place where you are challenged to grow – academically, spiritually, and socially, and where you make the best friends you ever will in your entire life.  I wouldn’t change these five years for anything in the world.  It was not always easy, and Tyndale, like any other organization in the world is imperfect and has its flaws, but somehow Tyndale and I found each other and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Nevertheless, there is a time and place for everything and all good things must come to an end.  So instead of finding myself sitting at a desk writing an essay or listening to yet another lecture on predestination or the charismatic gifts, I now find myself typing on a computer in Edinburgh during my daily allotted free time which is almost over.  I am reflecting on a question that has recently been asked to me here in Scotland: “How did you find going to a Christian university?  Was it worth it?”  My answer is all at once – yes, it was amazing and totally worth it, and no, I wish I would have done at least one degree at a secular institution.  And I am about to share why.

This may come as a complete shock to my newfound Scottish friends who get to attend university for free (#jealous), but going to university in Canada can be fairly expensive.  And when one chooses to go to a Christian school it can be even more expensive.  In fact, when I calculate all the money I spent on my two degrees from a Christian university I can honestly tell you it would have been enough to buy a decent sized starter home in my hometown.  So was it worth it?  Yes and no.  I’m about to share 3 reasons why I absolutely loved going to a Christian university alongside 3 snares that would make the older me reconsider.  Here we go:

Things I loved:  1) There is no denying that if you go to a Christian school where the Bible is accurately taught and proclaimed you will grow in your faith.  Through almost daily chapels, small group prayer times, classes, and even just informal interactions, I learned to see the Bible as so much more than just an ancient book.  I met Christians who didn’t just spout off random verses, but actually deeply lived into their reality.  I also made friends from a wide range of denominations and learned that people who believe differently from me are not “wrong,” but simply have another worldview.  These experiences of being transformed and hopefully of me transforming others have been worth it in and of themselves.

2) I made incredible friends.  Sure, I probably would have made friends had I also gone to a larger university, but there is something special and sacred about the friends you make when your university has less than 2,000 people.  You become a tight-knit group, almost like a family.  Throughout my school days, I never once lacked a friend to pray or share with.  Plus, outside of my university, I can’t think of all that many friends who would actually truly enjoy an evening spent in the Word or going to church functions.

3) I got to know Toronto (or insert city/town here).  A vibrant Christian school doesn’t just keep its message of hope and peace to itself, it goes and spreads it out to the world.  Through a series of both international and local opportunities to serve, Tyndale students have gone out and tested their strengths and gifts in a variety of settings.  Personally during my time at Tyndale I have volunteered for credit with a pregnancy centre, helping to TA a discipleship class for first year students, a local nursing home, and a variety of different churches of various denominations and ethnic compositions.  Additionally, I have gone out with other Tyndale students to deliver sandwiches to the homeless or spend a day with the street kids at Urban Promise.  These experiences have been incredibly rich.

But school does not also come without its challenges.  Here are 3 things a Christian university may never tell you upfront when you are going through the stages of admission, but which you will soon discover.

  • My time at Tyndale did not accurately represent the real world. There is a time and place to be part of the Christian bubble.  If you are young (demographically or in your spiritual walk) it is important to be nurtured and loved in a safe environment where you will be affirmed and taken care of.  Tyndale did that for me.  For the most part, people at Tyndale live upright and moral lives which was important for me coming straight out of highschool.  However, what I was unprepared for once I left Tyndale was the real world. I was incredibly naïve about things like drinking, drugs, or sex.  I had a concept that people did that, but when people who identify as Christians started joining the party scene or moving in with their significant others I was at a loss.  In that regard, while going to a Christian university strengthened my interior, it did not teach me how to stand strong in my witness from the outside.
  • Christian universities often pressure their students to date. With the “ring by spring” and the amount of weddings and engagements that have taken place throughout my studies, I have seen how a strict desire to be pure before marriage has rushed many a student into a lifetime commitment they may or may not have truly been prepared for.  That’s not a blanket statement of course.  Many of my friends remain happily married.  But to think that everyone should be married by 20 or 21 is an unfair assumption.  I think Christian universities in general would be much better off affirming the gift of singleness for a season and showing that people who are single are just as much human beings as people in serious relationships or those who are married.
  • There is no way around this – if you study the Bible academically, there will be periods of Bible burn out. No one likes to admit this fact, but once you learn the ancient languages and once you can throw around a few key theological phrases, it will be incredibly hard to see the Bible devotionally or sit through a church Bible study where others are muddling through a text you have successfully conquered.  In these instances, humility and a willingness to continue to learn are key.  We cannot forget the reason for our theological studies in the first place or else we are going to revert to some type of faith crisis – exactly what we have been trying to avoid.

So, looking back would I recommend others to go to a Christian university?  Absolutely, but with caution.  My times at retreats, meeting with my spiritual director, and even just goofing off at student events have shown me that university should be so much more than just what we study.  But my time in the real working world has also taught me that if you come in to a Christian school completely naïve, you probably will also leave completely unprepared for what lies ahead.  What then?  Don’t just depend on your professors and the staff for your spiritual nourishment.  They are key to making you have a good experience, but the responsibility also lies with you.  If you want to make the most of your time in the academy, you must get out there and get involved in the real world.  Don’t just hide behind the cloak of hermeneutics, but learn to live incarnationally with a purpose and a mission in mind.  If you do, then I truly believe your university experience will be incredibly worth it.  If you don’t, I’m afraid you may never progress from spiritual infancy to adulthood.  The choice is yours.  Only you can decide how to make it.