There is an epidemic in the church today. It’s rampant in not only the church-proper, but also para-ministries and various evangelical organizations. It is the epidemic of “selling Jesus.” We, as a church, have become borderline obsessed with how we market the message, so much so that some are even overlooking the Messenger. We get caught up in gimmicks, selling points, and marketing strategies. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the tools of the modern church. Everything from True Love Waits to the modern, hipster “God is cool, just look at how cool our church is” mentality – the mindset of selling Jesus like a used car is rampant among Christians today.

I believe whole-heartedly that the intent behind these objectives is pure – to reach the world for the sake of the cross. But I don’t believe the methods are necessarily as effective as some might assume. Yes, we should utilize modern tools to exemplify the relevancy of scriptures, but it should never be at the expense of the true heart of the message. And this epidemic is not restricted to any one denomination or church size. It happens in the tiny church and the mega-churches. It happens in Baptist churches and non-demominational churches. When the heart of scriptures is compromised for the sake of appealing to the masses, Jesus is cheapened to a used car salesman promising you the “best deal.”

Jesus is not the best deal, He’s the only deal. He’s not a good idea, He’s the idea-originator. He’s not just a good way, He’s THE way.

For the sake of this blog, I will use True Love Waits as the guinea pig. I read a blog tonight by a girl who decided to take off her True Love Waits ring, not because she wanted to start having pre-marital sex, but because she realized she was buying into the promises of the “deal” and not falling in love with the deal-maker. Let me be more specific. She put on the True Love Waits ring because she was promised that if she followed through with the simple steps of the TLW program, she would see the results she wanted. And to a young girl, that translates to something like this: “I want a knight in shining armor. Okay, I really want a knight in shining armor and I want to meet him by the time I’m 21. And I want to marry him at 23. And we will start our family at 25. And we will be done bearing our three perfect children by the time we’re in our mid-thirties. And we’ll retire young. And we’ll live happily ever after. Because God said so. All I have to do is put on this True Love Waits ring and refrain from doing ‘the deed’ until we’re married. All this just for waiting? Done.”

Nowhere in that dream-perfect scenario is the why. Why wait? What’s the point?

Oh sure, you’ll probably be taught that waiting will prevent unwanted pregnancies. Nothing guarantees not getting pregnant better than not having sex, after all. And sure, you won’t get any STDs if you don’t have premarital sex. And girls, you need to understand that boys want to have sex for physical reasons, but girls want to have sex for emotional reasons. When you have sex before marriage, you give away a piece of your heart to a boy who never cared about having it in the first place. All he wanted was that moment in the back seat of the car with you. And when he’s done with that, he’ll be done with you.

That’s the message I heard over and over again. Every church I was a part of, from high school to college. That’s the message I heard from my mother, too. And granted, those are all legitimate reasons to abstain. But it must be pointed out that from the ages of 16-25, all young people are convinced that they are invincible. All young people have the “that will never happen to me” mentality. If you are older than 25 reading this, you know it’s true. If you’re younger than 25 reading this, you think it’s true for everyone else except you. And that’s precisely why it’s true for you, too. It’s just a fact of life.

But honestly, that message didn’t resonate with me very well. Even as a goody-goody girl, the only thing that really scared me out of having premarital sex at that age was the idea of what my mother would think. And for most young people, they’re not really that scared of their mothers. And for most people, fear is not a good or healthy motivator.

So what, then? How do we teach our young people to wait? What’s the purpose? The world would tell us that there’s really no good answer to that question, so we might as well leave it up to them, tell them we won’t judge them, and hope for the best. The church would tell us that True Love Waits (or the equivalent thereof) is the best way to teach them. But the statistics would beg to differ. I think the problem with a program like True Love Waits is not the intention, but the method. When we try to motivate teenagers (or anyone, really) out of fear, most will not respond. Some will, of course. And we herald them around as the beacons of light, the pillars of chastity. And maybe they are. But waiting to have sex until you are married should be for one reason and one reason alone – because God teaches us that we should.

So the question is WHY does He teach us to wait? I’ve only heard it explained ONCE by one person – my pastor, Robert Morris (a veritable heavyweight when it comes to Biblical knowledge, theological foundation, and Spirit-filled wisdom. Yes, I think this highly of him.) My pastor taught (in his series “Dream to Destiny” which is completely awesome, by the way) that God teaches us to wait for sex until marriage because sex in any other context other than monogamous, heterosexual marriage teaches us to lie. It teaches us to hide – from our parents, from our friends, from ourselves. And when we learn to lie to others and even to ourselves, we learn to lie to God. And then we start thinking that we can hide things – you know, from the omniscient, omni-present One. Premarital sex leads to deception, pride, and destruction. Bottom line.

Whoa, that’s some heavy stuff right there. And while unwanted pregnancy would be really difficult, especially when you’re 16, Mtv has glamorized it enough that it doesn’t seem all “that bad.” (After all, you might just be on TV for it.) And while STDs would be a big inconvenience, not all of them are life-threatening. And they probably wouldn’t happen to me anyway, right? Only gross people who sleep around too much get those, right? And yeah, it would be a drag to give my heart away to a boy who just wanted my body, but I would get over it. And they always say “that which doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.” So wouldn’t having premarital sex just make me a stronger person?

We can justify ourselves into believing anything we want to. But the real test comes when we realize we’ve become good at deception. Does the idea of hiding from our parents bother us? Does the idea of hiding from our friends? Does the idea of hiding from God bother us? Maybe it doesn’t. But maybe it should.

The point, after all, is not that programs like True Love Waits don’t have the right intentions. They do. And God bless them for it. The point is that they don’t often teach the right motives. And this happens all-too-often in the church today. And it, in turn, ends up leaving people feeling like they’ve been “sold” on a concept of the “perfect life” with these “easy steps.” Let me be the first to say, there is nothing easy about following Christ. It requires sacrifice on a daily basis. For some of us, on an hourly basis. For some like me, sacrifice comes by the minute. We die to ourselves to gain what Christ has to offer. It’s a victorious life, but it is not a life without a little effort on our parts. Salvation is free, absolutely. But the abundant life? Well that takes a little work. And when the church stops trying to sell the abundant life like an infomercial (“three easy payments of $19.95”) we’ll be well on our way to rearing up the next generation in Spirit and in Truth, not in gimmicks and in tactics.

I’m going to stop trying to sell the benefits of Jesus and start living out the benefits of following Him. Want to join me?

I had the privilege of reading the birth story of a friend of mine today. I knew bits and pieces of her story, but I had never heard it told from beginning to end, all the details included. As I read her story, I was moved to tears at the courage through struggles, the faith, and the joys that came from patient endurance. I didn’t know her during that time of her life. All I see now is an amazing mother who takes pleasure in the tiny details of her son’s life. I see a mother who makes every occasion a special occasion. I see a mother who savors every moment with her son in a way I don’t see with many moms. I always wondered where that behavior came from. She seemed like Wonder Mother to me. Now I know why. She is operating in an attitude of gratitude. The struggles, the challenges, the utter fear she faced giving birth to her son also birthed a deep gratitude in her that I don’t even know she’s fully aware of. But those of us who know her see the fruit of it.

It got me thinking about my walk with Christ. It got me thinking about the repercussions of walking a life of daily thankfulness for what we have in Him. What if we savored every moment with Him? What if we paid attention to every detail of His? What if we cherished every moment we had with Him? What if we made every deal a big deal, every moment a special moment, every day as if it was the last? How much deeper would our faith be? How much happier would we be? How much more blessed, more fulfilled, more joyful would we be?

My friend doesn’t know it, but she has inspired me to live like she does.

It reminded me of the scripture of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. In a nutshell, Jesus was having dinner with a pharisee when a sinful woman showed up unannounced. She brought a beautiful jar filled with very expensive perfume, so expensive it cost a year’s salary. She knelt at Jesus’ feet, wept, kissed them, and poured her perfume on them. The Pharisee was shocked that Jesus was allowing her to touch him, seeing how sinful she was. Jesus, in all His wisdom, launched into a parable and challenged the pharisee’s ideas on what grace, love and forgiveness really mean. He ended with this: “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” You can read the whole story in Luke 7, verses 36 to 50.

I think the point of the story is that the level of our gratefulness determines the level of our faith, our joy, the level of grace we show others. The level of our gratefulness directly affects our walk with Christ. Just like my friend, who knows in a deep, personal way the price she paid to have her sweet baby boy, we can only go deeper into a walk with Christ if we know what price He paid for us to have a relationship with him.

In my own life, I’ve been pondering this a lot lately. I think of my own children and how much I love them, how I would do anything for them, even die for them. But could I, would I ever consider asking them to die so that you could have life? Could I ever lay down their lives as a price for the mistakes you’ve made? You many not even know me. You may not even like me. You may not even accept the gift my child would give with his life. But would I ask my son to die anyway?

God did.

When I think about the weight of that, I am flabbergasted. Utterly flabbergasted. And that’s when the gratefulness kicks in. Oh Father God, thank You for asking your son to die for my mistakes, for my failures, for my shortcomings. For the sins I’ve already committed, and for the sins I’ve yet to commit. For the sins I’ve overcome and the sins I can’t seem to shake. When I start thinking about that, really start pondering it, I’m overwhelmed. Grace is life-changing. Mercy is overwhelming.

God is so good, truly. And if you don’t know that yet, you can. If you can’t wrap your mind around the idea that God would forgive you, knowing what you’ve done, you’re not alone. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and we all reach a point in our lives where we can’t believe He could really forgive even us. But He did. Oh the glory of it – He did!

And our responsibility, our only responsibility, is to accept it. That acceptance conceives an attitude of gratitude that, once birthed, transforms our lives into something we never could have imagined on our own. That, my friends, is a miracle only God Himself could perform!

 

If you would like to read my friend’s birth story, you can find it here. But be forewarned, you’ll need a tissue (or two).

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Things My Kids Say: No. 002

Random Kid at Chick-fil-A Playground to Virgil: Stop following me around.

Virgil: I can’t stop following you around.

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Things My Kids Say: No. 001

My son is a zany little fellow, always coming up with something crazy to say. I’ve been told over and over again that I need to be writing these things down. But some of them are just too funny not to share. So I decided to start a new feature on my blog: Things My Kids Say. I say “my kids” because I know that in the not too distant future, one precocious little eight month old will be joining her brother in witty toddler banter. I’m thinking long-term here, folks.

So without further adieu, I bring you Things My Kids Say, Issue no. 001.

Virgil: (After screaming out randomly with a look of sheer terror on his face) Mommy! Addie is coming to bite me!

Really, Virgil? Your not-quite-eight-month-old sister, who still crawls on her belly and has no teeth is coming to bite you? At what, .00005 miles per hour? Run, son. You should definitely be afraid…

I love being a mom. It’s a lot of fun, most of the time. But if I were painting a picture of Cleaver-esque perfection in my home, I would be lying to you. For all the love, for all the fun, for all the smiles, for all the laughter, there are just those days. You know what I’m talking about. Days where all you want to do is find the nearest UPS Store and ship those suckers off to the first taker.

Today has been one of those days.

I’ll just break down a few of the conversations I’ve had with my son.

Conversation One:
Me: Virgil, don’t take your shoes off in the car, ok?
Virgil: Ok, mommy. (A few minutes later as we’re driving down the road…) Mommy, my shoes are broken!
Me: (After looking back to see what was going on) Ok son, just don’t take them off. I’ll fix them when we get out. (They weren’t broken.)
Virgil: (A few minutes later) Mommy, my socks are funny!
Me: (After looking back again) Son, I told you not to take your shoes off! You’re not supposed to take your shoes off in the car!
Virgil: Well, I did!
Me: (uncontrolled laughter)
Virgil: Mommy, I’m funny!

Conversation Two:
Virgil: (After leaving Chick-fil-A) Mommy, I want your coke!
Me: No, son. No more coke. You’ve had several drinks of it. That’s enough.
Virgil: Mommy, I want your coke!
Me: No, Virgil. No more coke today.
Virgil: Mommy, can I have some of your coke? Pretty, pretty please?
Me: No, Virge. No more coke.
Virgil: Mommy, can I have your coke?
Me: Virgil, you’ve had enough coke today. No more.
Virgil: (A few minutes later) Mommy, can I have your coke?
Me: Yes, when we get home.

Conversation Three:
Me: Virgil, did you just take that toy away from Addie? You made her cry! Give it back to her right now.
Virgil: Mommy, she wants (insert other random toy here).
Me: No, she wants that toy. And you took it from her. Give it back right now or I’m counting to three.
Virgil: Mommy, she needs you to feed her!
Me: Virgil, give her the toy because if I get to three, I’m taking it away from you, too.
Virgil: Mommy, she needs to take a nap!

Conversation Four:
Virgil: Mommy, can I have some ice water, pretty, pretty please?
Me: Yes! (I get up to walk to the kitchen.)
Virgil: Mommy, can I have some ice water, pretty, pretty please?
Me: Yes, sweetie. I’m getting it.
Virgil: Mommy, can I have some ice water, pretty, pretty please?
Me: Virgil, I’m getting it!
Virgil: I want the blue cup!
Me: (Grabbing the blue cup…)
Virgil: No! I want the nother blue cup!
Me: (Grabbing the other blue cup…)
Virgil: No! I want the red cup! (Proceeds to melt down and refuse any water, in any cup, no matter the color.)

Conversation Five:
Virgil: (After coming out of his room during nap time when he knows better) Mommy, I need my big monster truck!
Me: Virgil, go back to bed.
Virgil: (After coming out of his room again) Mommy, I need to tinkle!
Me: Then go tinkle and then go back to bed.
Virgil: (After coming out of his room again) Mommy, I need to dance!

Yes, this is my life these days – reasoning with a two year old. All the while balancing a soon-to-be eight month old on my hip, who insists on having her fingers up my nose, in my eye, or pulling off my earring at all times. It’s not a glamorous life by any means. We went out for lunch today and I thought to myself how nice it will be when I can accessorize again. For now, I’m stuck with stud earrings and headbands thanks to one grabby infant and one rambunctious toddler.

But when I think back on my day, however exhausting it has been, I have to give myself a little credit that I’m even capable of holding an adult conversation after dealing with crazy all day. It reminds me of the commercial where the mom is so used to talking baby talk all day, she starts talking that way with her husband until he takes her to a play. She leans over to him during the performance and whispers “dynamic use of iambic pentameter.”

Yes, I can relate. Perhaps I need some iambic pentameter in my life. Or perhaps I could learn to better assess the literary elements of Mickey Mouse Club House. Oh well. A glass of Pinot Grigio will suffice. Here’s to motherhood!

I hope I never forget the way Addie talks all day in her little four month old way – with a long string of “ah-goos” and raspberries. I hope I never forget the way she lights up when anyone she loves is near, smiles a big, toothless smile and squeals with delight. I hope I never forget how she looks on her big brother with a longing to be right in the middle of whatever he is doing.

I hope I never forget how Virgil says, “Good night, sweet dreams, I wuva you,” every night when I close his door for bedtime. I hope I never forget how he asks me for “one more butterfly kiss” every night when I tuck him in. I hope I never forget the way he says his bedtime prayers, always with a sweet, “I wuva you, Jesus. Amen!” I know He heard that!

These are such precious times with our babies and even though we are right smack dab in the middle of them, I still find myself nostalgic for them. I hope I never forget the precious little moments of our life, for these are the pearls of a beautiful, blessed life.