To all those who are broken and fumbling: (and all those who think they are not.)

“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”  He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”  Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” -Matthew 19:16-22

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When Jesus revealed the rich man’s need, he stood back, aghast at the request. How? How could he give up everything? What kind of benevolent Messiah would ask that of his followers? He worked hard for what he had and no loving God who would make that a prerequisite for entrance into his Kingdom. Surely it is the law that holds the power of salvation! Surely i’m a good person, surely…I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.

Jesus looked at the disciples and claimed that “It is harder for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” As his disciples scratched their heads at this, wondering how their Master could endorse such a narrow way, Jesus said that those who would inherit eternal life would be those who left everything behind for him.

My quasi-Christian American civil religion doesn’t allow for this kind of cognitive dissonance. We want to take up our platforms and raise rabble over so much, but when Jesus’ words hit us squarely between the eyes and challenge and provoke us, we are more apt to close the Book and go on with the way we like, as we have done many times before.

I don’t believe that Jesus is slandering the rich or diminishing God’s goodness with his strong words. I believe he is illustrating the law apart from grace, he is decrying selfishness and raising rabble about our tricky penchant for idolatry.

I grew up in a loving supportive Christian family where my Mom and Dad were both present and loved God with reckless abandon and, in many ways, raised me to fall in love with Jesus and to truly believe what he says. I grew up in a youth group where for many kids, this was not the case. I have since ministered in youth groups where this was not the case. And you know what? I love those kids.

One of my favorite things about them is that they are abundantly aware of their need. They are well acquainted with their brokenness and their doubts. There’s so much that I want them to know about the Gospel and selflessness and truly taking hold of the life God is calling them to, and that can be very very difficult at times. But I don’t have to convince them that they are desperately in need of a savior. They are so aware of that. And there’s a lesson in that.

The rich man walked away from Jesus because he wanted the Kingdom of God as a sort of side item in a combo meal he paid for with his “good” works. I want my wealth, my security, my self-assuredeness of works righteousness and if that’s good enough for my perfect life, that is good enough for eternal life.

And Jesus stood in the face of that flimsy theology and spoke directly to his need that he would not admit he had. Our pride swells and our spirituality buckles under the weight of the brokenness we believe we are hiding.

It has been an unbelievably difficult week for me. My friend Max went to heaven on Friday. My mother found out that she has cancer in one of her kidneys. That mocking voice in the back of my mind has been whispering threats and doubts and insults and hurling me to the conclusion that I am powerless to stop the tides from pulling me under and filling my lungs with water, but you know what? God has revealed to me in all of this that I am powerless. I am irreconcilably broken and I have not arrived and I will not arrived until the day I embrace my Jesus in his Kingdom.

It is out of our abundant need that the seed of the gospel is watered and grows. It is in having the humility to admit that we are broken beyond any repairs we could complete ourselves and must look outside of ourselves for the truth of Jesus to hit us squarely between the eyes and cut us deep.

My friend Max was one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. He lived his life without fear of failure because he knew who was holding him. Before he died, he wrote a note in the hospital about how he picked up his Bible and hugged it to himself. “The very Word of God is heavy on my chest,” he penned. Max, at any moment’s notice, would’ve been willing to sacrifice everything to be in the will of God. He spoke boldly to others about the love of Jesus. He figuratively had the very Word of God heavy on his chest at all times.

So in brokenness we find respite.

In loneliness, we are comforted by God’s very breath.

In adversity, we rise stronger than before we were knocked down.

In humility, considering others as better than ourselves.

In obedience, denying ourselves, picking up our cross, and following Jesus, wherever he leads and laying whatever he says aside for the sake of the Gospel.

We are all in desperate need. We all have brokenness coursing through our veins and to say otherwise is to deny the fundamental realization that brings us to Jesus in the first place. We are beset, but our completeness is in Christ alone.

 

Better Than This (or, manifesto destiny)

“The difference between me and my parent’s generation, the culture warriors, is that I actually know people on the other side, and I like them.” -Russell Moore

I write this not to clarify my positions or to postulate some new and radical philosophy of political engagement. I don’t write this to endorse anyone or convince you to change your mind about whoever you have decided is best to lead this country. In fact, I really don’t care.

US politics this go around has been a three ring circus of epic proportions, with less actual discussion of policy and enough vitriol and libel slung across enemy lines to level a nation, which is what I fear.

I was born into a very specific sect of Christianity , which shapes and informs my (many) opinions on everything from abortion to same-sex marriage to the refugee crisis. And as a minister of a Gospel which I believe gives life to all who receive it, I am horrified at the trends I’ve seen rock our nation to its core the last several months.

My politics would probably be categorized as center-right if you’re one of those people who desires tidy boxes with which to organize all the things that you couldn’t possibly wrap your head around without such a system. But I identify myself as an Independent, because I believe party lines in a post Reagan world are more divisive and ugly than helpful. I want to learn who the candidates are up and down the ticket, as to make wise and informed decisions.

Now, I hope that doesn’t make me sound too engaged in the political system, because I also consider myself, if such a term exists, politically agnostic, in that I don’t know if these partisan political circuses are even remotely the way things ought to be (and I have a sneaking suspicion that they are not.)

Hillary and Donald are human beings, deeply flawed human beings with whom I am so disgusted with. I don’t believe either of them are honest and I don’t believe either of them are what we need. But they are, apparently, what America wants right now. And as much as the conservative and liberal media would want you to believe otherwise, they are human beings created in the image of God.

I hear echoes of Israel crying out for a King to lead them into a new age of peace and prosperity. Whispers of God’s people crying for a messiah, and not recognizing him when he appeared.

I have friends who I love deeply, believers and non believers alike across the spectrum of republican and democrat and everything else. To the politicians, they are a voting block. But to me, they are friends and family members, who are human beings created in the image of God. They all have lots of opinions, lots of data and theories to justify that one of these candidates is the obviously better choice.

I don’t write this to exalt the merits of either of them or change your opinions about which one of them is Adolph Hitler in disguise. I don’t even write this to slander either of them. This is less a discussion of politics and more one of basic humanity.

Because one of the most heartbreaking things I see in this time are all of those people whom I love and are created in the image of God at each other’s throats.

I am blessed to have all different kinds of friends. My Facebook page isn’t an echo chamber resounding with opinions that resemble my own. And I think that keeps me honest. It reaffirms my calling as an evangelist, not to win people over to my side of an argument but to proclaim God’s goodness across the massive scope of humanity. I believe that his kindness draws us to repentance. It is my job to love you no matter how we differ. And I don’t apologize for that belief.

But I urge you, my friends and neighbors and strangers who read this blog: do not let the mean spiritedness of our current political climate let you hate those with whom you disagree. Don’t fling fiery darts across your news feed or tweetstorm the ignorant into oblivion.

To my Christian brothers and sisters, specifically: remember the life to which you have been called. Remember that your identity rests not in a politician or platform, but in a person named Jesus Christ. Do not sully your witness by being the very agitator you cry out against.

Ideological divides are no excuse for ugliness. If our presidential candidates will not act like adults, the responsibility falls into our hands. It is my hope that I and those I love will treat one another with dignity. Love as Christ loves. We are better than this.

Words are a Weight (On Loving the Church When it Hurts.)

“The Church is a whore, but she is my mother.”

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Several years ago while I was in college, I wrote those words on my Facebook page under the “Religious Views” section. The quote is often attributed to Augustine, but is rumored to have been said by Martin Luther and a host of other church fathers. I was a frustrated young millennial, seeing the overwhelming hypocrisy of the body that nurtured me and raised me into the man I was. I saw political jargon shouted from pulpits, taken as Gospel by racists and adulterers, one and all. I saw small huddles of men in the parking lots, filling their bodies with smoke and decrying those who spent their weekends at the bar, claiming that the world was going to hell in a handbasket and there was nothing we could do about it but curse the filthy sinners that filled it.  I heard the women gossiping in their Sunday School rooms about why so-and-so wasn’t here this week and did you hear that Pam was cheating on Jim with Ron Swanson?

I’d seen the faces of disgruntled youth, trying to fit into the world of religion like a kid’s piece into an adult’s special edition Thomas Kinkade puzzle, larger than life and filled with loud primary colors clashing with the tiny diminished hues of a portrait where they didn’t belong. Begrudgingly nodding, but not convinced that the Gospel could be summed up in these words: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?”

My understanding of the mercy and goodness of God was skewered by the inconsistencies I saw all around me, and I was pissed. So, when my mother called me in my dorm room and said we needed to talk, my heart momentarily stopped. Had someone died? Had I been caught in some elaborate lie? All of my sins were called up before my swirling head. What could it be?

“The preacher and one of the deacons showed up at our house today to talk about you.”

Oh, God. This is it. I’m going to be excommunicated. Can Baptists even excommunicate people?

Apparently, someone had seen that section of my Facebook. They went so far as to print it out and hand deliver it to the pastor with feigned concern. The concern, you ask? That i’d used the word whore.

Not that they wondered if I was losing my faith.

Not that I came across as angry or missed the point.

That I had used a word.

I saw red.

My blood boiled at the thought of all that work done to expose me as a pottymouth. Forget context, forget the state of the thing I loved with all of my heart. But I said a dirty word.

And far be it from them, adults, to come to me, an adult, to talk about this indiscretion. They brought it to my parents, because obviously I wasn’t old enough to answer their fears or questions. Maybe my mind had been polluted by the big, bad Christian university I was attending.

For the first time in my life, whether real or perceived, I felt like an apostate.


I sat across from a room full of students, all of them looking to me for answers. What did I know? I was just a volunteer chaperone at summer camp.

The church gives us no respect, they don’t see us as people.

How can we carry on the work of the church when we are adults if we’re never allowed to have a say now? Where do we fit in?

Why do they treat us like we’re little kids?

I listened to their fears and their desire to be part of the Body, to really take part and contribute. To some, it would no doubt sound like blind idealism of youth. But as they spoke, I felt that weight pressing on me as well. The adults may have many excuses: they are too broken, too sinful, too young, they don’t understand doctrine or the Baptist Faith and Message. They don’t get it.

But did they themselves even understand the particulars?

Do I? Do any of us really have what it takes to live beyond reproach and advance the Gospel? (How glorious a gift God gave us, entrusting us with a task for which he makes us able to carry out!)

I encouraged those students. I prayed with them. I cried with them. And I held out hope that someday, things would change. Someday, they would feel valued. And maybe so would I.


Apostasy.

The word rang in my ears. As the quiet hum grew deafening, I pondered the implications. What would happen if I just left it all behind? Is it worth it? If there is no place for me in the community in which I was raised, is there any place for me at all?

I spoke to my pastor later that day over the phone. It was a strange conversation, full of awkward silences and unruly dissonance. I tried to explain to him the manner in which I used the quote, tried to outline my frustrations, but overall hope that I held. The church is a whore in every sense of the word. She has sold herself to politicians and to the world. She has shouted in outrage at the sins of a broken world while waiting for night to fall, so she can join the debauchery. She has traded gossip for prayer, and has been the Pharisee, blind to the log bursting from her eye while trying to excise the splinter from another’s.

But she is my mother. She birthed me, raised me, loved me, taught me who Jesus is and baptized me in his name. I am grateful for her witness, stained though it may be. I love her with all of my heart though she vexes me so.

The conversation stalled, but picked back up as he continually brought up that word. I had committed what seemed to be an unpardonable sin. These were the dregs of legalism if I’d ever saw them. To dismiss the words of a church father because you don’t understand them? In my soul, my frustration raged. I tried to remain calm, but as a college freshman, I was full of knowledge but wisdom and a healthy temperament had yet to show up on my course list.

We ended our conversation, still on opposing sides. This man was my pastor. I felt bad because I felt I owed him respect, but didn’t feel like the best way to show it was to give in and apologize. At that point in my life, I didn’t understand the value in picking your battles and if my time in the religion department had taught me anything, it’s that any topic could be a hill to die on.


In hindsight, I forgave those who didn’t understand and learned to be a little more discerning in the words I choose to say. I realized that in choosing love over bitterness, the quote I had been so adamant about was playing itself out in my life.

Sometimes the Church will choose legalism, even if you know better.

Sometimes the Church will misunderstand, even if you have the best intentions.

Sometimes she will harbor secret (or not so secret) sins and run after idols that vie for her affections, even as you call for her to repent.

But we do not exist as islands, we are not some distant relative of the beaten and beraggled Bride of Christ. We are her. We exist as one Church to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light. We exist as deeply flawed, inexcusable sinners who do so much damage to the name of Jesus with our various failures and broken intentions.

But we choose to forgive the inexcusable in others because Christ forgave the inexcusable in us, as Lewis says.

Because though the Bride sometimes feels like she is barely hanging on, torn apart and stitched together again and again, she is loved by a Groom who will do anything, who paid everything to buy her back from the idols that have wrapped their tendrils around her heart. And as she gasps for breath amid the broken reality she chose, she finally sighs in freedom because her lover has rescued her and made her whole.

I love the Church, I am the Church.

And if you claim the name and mission of Jesus, so are you.

Rhema (or, Idol Hands Sit Idly.)

Emboldened by words left unspoken,
Crumbling beneath all that I have broken.

As I scramble to rearrange the jagged pieces,

To complete a puzzle named resentment.


Wordless, I have no thoughts left to pen,
I have no utterance to be uttered,

No rhymes left to usher in.

I have held all my cards close to my chest,

And I wish I could say I tried my best.
So I guess the letter I would’ve written would sound like

This:
Dear Future Me,

You’ve got so many stories left to be told, A blank canvas soon to be dripping with red and blue and gold. Do not give in, do not give up.But stand.

Stalwart and proud of the man you have become.

A man who knows what is past and what is to come. One who weighs his legacy like his idol hands weigh on his conscience, and idol words sit enshrined on tongues of fire racing around and around as if chariots set ablaze.
I speak because there is an inferno resting inside my bones, as I wrestle against flesh and blood and deny the calling which I have received.
To be simultaneously saint and sinner, to wage war on these rebellious legs that carry me to places I know better than to be.
Oh God, may my futile words be few.
May my lips tremble when I speak your truth, and may my heart be laid upon a blazing altar for you.

You are my past, present, and future. It’s always been You. So forgive my idol thoughts and my idol ears and my idle soul sitting idly by, waiting on You to move.
Jesus, rid me of deceit, of anger, and of my broken heart. Let me embrace the calling you have poured out upon me as you envelop all the idols that strive to gain a foothold in my life in refining fire.
“I love you Lord, and I lift my voice. To worship You. Oh my soul, rejoice! Take joy my King in what you hear. May it be a sweet sound in your ear.”

Of Intentions and Idols (Let Us Run)

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I sat with my class in a corner of the sanctuary, music played throughout the building, people sang and prayed and worshiped. I saw children running, only to be stopped by concerned parents and shushed by the present clergy. This was a sacred place, a holy place to encounter the divine.

And on the stage, one might’ve expected to see a pulpit rising above the crowd. But instead, there stood several monolithic statues, faces etched from stone, frozen in time forever, or at least until the years ate away at them, paint faded and crumbling. These were the gods and goddesses of the Hindu faith, impersonal sentinels with stony faces looking toward their devoted worshipers indifferently.

A lot of folks, especially those of my own religion, would compare this scene to that of an ancient city in an ancient world that bears no resemblance to our own. But that is not true. It is a world we live in, and a world we find ourselves entrenched in, even in the Christian faith.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to travel to a Hindu temple in Charlotte. It was an interesting experience, one where I gained much respect for the people, but also came away with a deeper understanding of my own sinfulness.

This particular instance was a more vivid depiction of idolatry than I’d ever seen in my own American dream-ridden life or in the lives of the people around me. It’s a lot less subtle when you watch people literally bowing down to and offering food to statues who will never be able partake of it. But what I saw there was a reflection of my own heart and my own proclivities.

Tim Keller, hearkening back to John Calvin, says that our hearts are idol factories. This means that something about human nature points to the inescapable fact that we are wired for worship. And if God is not the center of our worship, we will surely find something to take his place. I saw people in that temple physically bowing down to idols, participating in what we would call idolatry, but hey! At least they are honest about it.

Myself and so many of those I love fill their lives with a plethora of distractions and luxuries that we like to pretend have no ultimate grip on our lives. And idolatry barely ever starts out as a bad thing…Idolatry, in its simplest form is making good things ultimate things. It is where admiration turns to obsession, where appreciating God’s good gifts becomes focusing more on the gift than on the Giver, where want becomes overwhelming need.

Here’s a good test for whether or not that thing you love is an idol to you: If it were to be taken away, could you go on living? Obviously, I’m not talking about enough food to live or water. But the point is that the problem doesn’t lie in the idols themselves, many of these things are innately good gifts from God. But the problem is somewhere deeper, the problem is inside of us, in our hearts. We are desperate to worship, but not so desperate to be obedient to the thing we worship. Which is why worshiping God seems so difficult, because of what that demands of us.

But the catch is that you cannot worship anything without obeying it, whether you realize it or not. All this makes me thing about that anti-smoking commercial that was floating around a while back. Here it is:

The thing is, whatever you devote all of your time, energy, and devotion to will stop being a good gift to be used and start making the rules for you. You build your life around the thing you idolize. We turn good gifts like sex into porn, prostitution, and nymphomania. We turn food into gluttony or anorexia and bulimia. We make something good sinful and let it reign over our lives. Instead of God.

I have a lot to learn about idolatry, but I see it in my everyday life. My prayer for myself as well as for those who are reading this is that we will return to Christ, worship him as he ought to be worshiped, and place our affections on him, and not on the idols that we hold dear. It is God’s desire for us to seek first the Kingdom, and it is my desire that that would be my desire as well.

“You never go away from us, yet we have difficulty in returning to You. Come, Lord, stir us up and call us back. Kindle and seize us. Be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love. Let us run.”-Saint Augustine

Fight For Joy (grief after three years)

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I feel like I’ve written endlessly about the topic of grief. As if it is the only constant in life, where all relationships, in one way or another, end up. As if it not only holds all the cards, but stacks them neatly into a house that could crumble at the slightest breeze. As if death has the final say, and we are always haunted by its specter.
But for me, writing about what I feel is catharsis. So, it’s probably telling that I haven’t written anything in a while. That sometimes you move into that stage of grief where feeling anything is an outright challenge.  This blog began for me as a desperate attempt to come to grips with the goodness of God in a world that sometimes indicates anything but.

And, as I believe life is a journey and we never stop learning, I don’t have any neat and tidy answers for you. I can’t tell you with absolute sincerity that I never have doubts or fears. I can’t tell you that I don’t find myself crying with little provocation. I can’t say that I don’t get a knot in my chest when I think about the people in my life who are gone way too soon. I can’t tell you that injustice doesn’t make me question why.

I think about absence, which hurts a ton more than outright rejection, and my mind is drawn back to the good times, which overwhelm me in the way that simultaneously feeling joy and pain does. How two opposing ideals–joy and pain–can be so irrevocably intertwined and cause me to understand myself even less.

Three years ago from last Tuesday, one of my dearest friends was involved in a hiking accident and fell from a hundred feet and died. 

I’ve written it so matter-of-factly so many times because I need to understand it as reality. Sometimes, even three years later, it’s so hard to fathom, impossible to comprehend. The unfortunate thing about trying to wrap your head around something so much is that it leaves you with a terrible migraine.

Tuesday, I came back to my hometown and spent the day with some of my closest friends. We all went to the park we used to hang out in and then the cemetery. Sitting around Jordan’s grave was different this time. Before, I’d almost always go alone. But surrounded by the friends he helped knit together, we laughed, we talked, we cracked jokes and reminisced. It is times like those that give me hope, that show me, no matter what, that I am not alone. That the God of the universe who I so love to question, knows exactly what I need and pours it out lavishly. That he is not content to leave me in my grief that feels so like fear, as Lewis says, but instead shows me perfect love to cast out fear.

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Out of His Love, he replaces that feeble house of cards with stone and mortar, and refuses to give some immovable fate the victory. He is a God who loves his children so much that even in their pain, he gives them good gifts, relationships that do not end with this side of eternity, reasons to rejoice though the pain is sometimes so intense.

Leo Tolstoy said that “only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.” And I do not always believe that is true. But on days like today, I do.

I do because on this week three years ago my world was shattered. I was like a flattened house of cards, but I know a carpenter who was also called the great physician and binds up all my wounds and floods my weakest moments with his insurmountable strength.

I’ve learned after these 3 years to fight for joy. And you will fight. Because it is by no means easy to be joyful, but on days like today I believe it is not only necessary, but possible.

True Love Weights (or, the one about sex)

“Are you married?”

That would always be the question from the time I was about 14. During any conversation with a person I just met, their eyes would casually drift over to my ring finger on my left hand and they would see the small silver ring that I wore with pride. This ring that symbolized purity. This ring that made the bold statement that I would be saving sex as a gift only to be experienced with my wife. This ring that symbolized everything that I would soon find out stood in stark contrast to the culture around me. This ring I wore not out of faithfulness to God’s standards, but as an ostentation. A show. A lie.

Because what is purity, and what does it involve? Is it simply abstaining from an act with someone else until marriage? Because if that’s all it is, I’m doing pretty good. But what if it’s more? What if it involves, like Job, making a covenant with your eyes to keep from looking at another lustfully? Have I succeeded? Can I succeed? Can any of us?

About four or five years later, as I watched that little silver ring fall out of the 3rd story window of my dorm room and into the grass below, I’d settled on an answer.

Before I continue to tell you my story, let me back up a bit more and write about when I first got that little silver ring. If you aren’t familiar with certain strains of evangelical Christian culture, you may not know about True Love Waits. It’s an organization that is built on the premise that  complete abstinence until marriage is integral to God’s design for human sexuality. After taking a class on the matter, there was a big ceremony where all the participants would get a small silver ring to wear as a symbol of purity, of their intent to abide by God’s way with regard to sex.

So don’t get me wrong, I fully support and agree with that message and, as both a Christian and a youth minister, I advise others in the same way. But my experience in this “class,” left a lot to be desired. For one, we heard the message in its simplest form, stripped of all context “don’t have sex  because Leviticus says so.” And further on, “don’t have sex because you’ll get an STD.”

I have very little respect for the husband-wife duo who were tasked with teaching us what scripture says about sexual relationships. Rather than hear and understand why one’s sexuality is so important, why waiting until marriage is a good thing, we simply heard, “NO!”

Everything built on the premise that sex is dirty, ugly, taboo.

Everything built on the lie that sex is not a good thing.

I now believe that sex, in the confines of marriage between a loving husband and wife, is good and holy, and reflects the Father in more ways than we can name. I believe it is important to speak about it, and not pretend it doesn’t happen. I believe that sex is good, and if it should be talked about anywhere, it is most definitely the Church’s responsibility to reclaim sexuality in the way it was intended, rather than treat it as an unmentionable obscenity.

If I listened to those teachers from my church, I wouldn’t have believed any of that. I would be afraid of sex, or just as bad, like a child told not to eat the cookies from the cookie jar, or our first mother told not to eat of the tree, I would’ve run headfirst into a lifestyle I wasn’t at all prepared for.

So my experience with “the sex talk” was an unpleasant one, at best. But I wore the ring anyway.

Maybe it made me feel holier than I was. Maybe it gave me a sense of security in that, hey maybe I had raging hormones and looked at every girl I saw with lust in my heart and my mind wasn’t nearly has pure as my left hand ring finger was, but at least I wasn’t lying like my friends who still wore their rings, even though I knew for sure that they’d been anything but pure.

And what about pornography?

The place I never wanted to go, but went anyway.

It wasn’t enough for me to just imagine it, like any good millennial, I was a very visually immersive teenager. What I desired in my heart, I needed to see with my eyes. And when those images met my retinas, they never left. And though I wore a ring around my finger, I didn’t wear it around my heart.

So flash forward back to the year I threw the ring out the window. I was majorly conflicted. See,my freshman year of college, I joined a group called “Dude Church” which acted as an accountability group where a bunch of guys got together and talked about sexual temptation, porn, and lust and prayed for one another. What becomes problematic about a group like that is, no one likes to let loose their dirty little secret, and rather than become supportive, it can easily become another avenue to heap shame and condemnation on yourself in the prison of your own mind. Honesty is freeing, yes, but it is also the scariest thing you can do.

So, keeping my confessions to a bare minimum, selectively choosing what to say and what to leave out, I’d trapped myself in my guilt. Rather than believing that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus, I defaulted to the shame I’d learned to embrace in my True Love Waits class.

And the “wait” became more of a “weight” on my chest, a noose I’d tightened around my own throat. And with all my emotions pulling me higher and higher, I could not longer breathe.

So that moment on the top floor of my dorm was pivotal for me. It was the turning point between the version of me that I wanted the world to see and the one that actually existed. It was when I began to finally understand that when I leave this world, I want to leave it as a man with no secrets, as a man who finally understands the grace of God as a transformative force, rather than an empty, ostentatious formality.

So, thinking about whatever I believed purity was, I’d decided that I was not. And I took off the ring and watched it as if fell. And I didn’t go look for it later. For me, symbols are powerful. A ring was more than a ring. It was a false impression. It was a source of pride I’d put in myself and my ability to stay away from that dirty thing called sex. And as long as I didn’t cross the line, I was fine.

But that’s simply not true. Wasn’t it Jesus who said that lust and adultery are one in the same? That the intentions and motives of the heart make you just as culpable as if you’d committed the act itself?

And now, years removed from shedding the ring, I don’t believe that God’s impression of me is tied to how I squandered the gift of purity I’d mistakenly made into an idol. I believe that God’s view of me is tied to the sacrifice of Jesus that we celebrated last weekend at Easter. That the grace of God in Jesus covers all my sins past, present, and future.

And the lust, pride, anger, and idolatry I’ve so willingly ran headfirst into, that was washed away at Calvary and I am free.

Purity isn’t something that, once you’ve ruined, you can never get back. Purity is a process. One where you fall down on your face and rise again. Because if the Gospel has taught me anything, it’s that God’s approval of me is not contingent on a list of rules I keep, it is contingent only on Jesus Christ.

For clarity’s sake, I absolutely believe in God’s design for sex. I believe that abstinence until marriage is a key to joy. I believe that sin is serious, so serious that Christ had to die and defeat death for it to be erased. But I believe in a God who saves, who redeems the unredeemable, who sets us free from destructive patterns.

If your purity becomes an idol, you are sinning.

If what people think of you is more important to you than what truly is, please reevaluate your addiction to self. Because before God, all of our sins are out in the open, and we cannot hide.

Be honest. Be forgiven. Be free.