Sunday, March 1, 2015

To Drown in Grace

Over the past several weeks, I have felt a roller coaster of emotions such as I had never experienced before. Alternating feelings of intense stress and incredible relief, happiness and frustration, joy and pain, love and anger, loneliness and the need to be alone. I have had days when God seems the benevolent Father who overflows my cup with provision, and days when all I could see of Him seemed to be the underside of his foot as I felt crushed by abandonment.

I have failed in so many ways as a friend, as a sister, as a daughter, as a student, and as a wife. I have spoken in haste and said things I regret, laughed at jokes that were in no way funny, failed to speak kindness because silence was more comfortable and convenient. I have held onto bitterness from words I have long since claimed to have forgiven, and compared myself to others in a way that reduces them to mere objects of my envy. I have failed to honor my husband by keeping my eyes on him alone and by uplifting him with godly encouragement and consistent fervent prayer. In short, I have epically failed.

I say all of that to show you why none of that matters. Why? Because God looks down at my broken, messy, failure of a self and His first response is not to run or criticize or condemn, but to stay and wait. He stays and waits for me to run like a little child to my Father and crawl into his arms. He stays and waits for me to tell him I'm sorry for the millionth time, to ask him what I am supposed to do next, to beg him for the forgiveness He's already given but I struggle to accept.

In all of this, He never left me. He never smashed his fist into my stubborn skull in anger. Never once did He turn his back on my suffering or my success. And more than all of that, He was always right there waiting to offer me grace. More grace than I could ever drink in. More grace than my heart, or this whole world, could ever hold. 

Over the past 5 years specifically, I have become a woman I would probably never have even accepted as a friend 5 years ago. I have been addicted to comparison and to compliments, full of anxiety, restless and irritable, and nearly joyless in my constant hurry to meet all the requirements of the perfect college student, the perfect girlfriend, the perfect wife, the perfect Christian. Never able to gain fulfillment from any of those things or efforts. If you knew me in high school, you probably don't know me now...which might explain why my faraway siblings sometimes have trouble remembering who I am now. That used to hurt me, but now as time has gone by, it only solidifies my understanding that I really have changed. In some ways, for the better. In many ways, for the worse.

The only thing that hasn't changed is the grace of God. The only one who hasn't failed me is my Savior. And if I could spend every moment nestled in the crook of his strong arm, I would gladly give up all my books and all my earthly fascinations...just to finally see the curve of His face, the smile on his lips, the scars on his hands. Just to drown in his grace for an eternity in a Heaven that won't care who I am or who I'm not. A Heaven that will only care to bow in worship at the feet of her King.

Where the failure of me is hidden by the glory of Him--my Creator--Father, Savior, Counselor, Friend.

Friday, November 14, 2014

What Do We Do with Darkness..

I know in my head, but not in my heart. Yes, my identity is rooted in Christ theoretically. But functionally, I see it is rooted in my failure and weakness. Yes, God can be trusted: I would tell you I believe that because I know it to be true. But I don’t act like I do. Just because He is trustworthy, does not mean I trust Him. I know I should pray, but I don’t want to talk to Him. I know I should read His Word, but when I do, I just feel farther away.
I don’t meet His standards, His law is almost like to Greek to me when I am this dried up. I’ve never been so parched in all my life, and I know parched. I once was so dehydrated I needed 5 bags of IV fluid to get my strength back. This is so much worse.
This is the darkest night I’ve been through, and in the morning, it isn’t gone. The dawn doesn’t come..and the stars play hide and seek with me..I’m too tired to play. When I fall down in the mud, I want to stay down..because getting up requires that I expose it to Him and wash the grime off again. That bath is never a pleasant one until it is over..and even then, a nagging reminder that it ever had to happen is enough to send me spiraling down again. Into shame-filled lies that are somehow more comfortable than the gracious power of the truth.
What do we do with our faith when we wake up every morning with a knot in our throat that just won’t go away? What do we possibly say to the Life-giver when we wish that life would just end because it has become too much to carry? What do we do with our worship when prayer feels like an act, when songs of joy sound like mock performances to a God who knows I’m just masking my pain? When Job’s heart and life were falling apart, how could he say “blessed be the name of the Lord” and not feel like some sort of fraud? I know God knew His pain, but He could have stopped it. He could have kept him from those painful conversations with his friends that made him feel more alone. But He didn’t. Why?
You may say it was to bless him. But He could have blessed him anyway. Why the total heartbreak? The betrayal? Why the sickness and the grieving and the ruin of all of his hard work and plans? God had a purpose, yes. He blessed him in much greater measure afterwards, yes. But in the blackness of that suffering, how could he have possibly kept his faith that God was still good and still listening?
I’m still asking for the answer to that question. When I pass the so-called friends I had until they didn’t want me anymore. When I wake up miles away from my husband and sick with the temptation to run to an addiction that will numb my loneliness. When I hear news that family members are sick and scared and hurting. When hopes for the future are dashed, and my hard efforts in the present seem completely useless. When the bank account is running on empty, and my physical and mental energy is depleted more than ever before. I’m still asking. The question that the psalmist asked--the question the Savior asked on the cross. “My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me? I cry all day and all night, and you don’t hear or answer.”
Maybe He does and I just don’t hear. Maybe He doesn’t and I just can’t see the reason why. In my head, I know I have a Father who loves me, who listens, who knows, and who cares. I know in my head He’s watching me write this, maybe even sharing the tears in my eyes. But, I’m still asking..because my heart doesn’t feel His presence and doesn’t believe the truth when the lies are so heavy and strong. The morning will come..but it hasn’t. And I don’t know when it will.

He does.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Bring Sweet Ashley home to a Forever Family!

I'm an Angel Tree Warrior

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Friday, August 30, 2013

A Deaf Blind Mute

Musings on Stubbornness
Some days I would be better off being deaf, blind, and mute than none of those things.  Mostly because I already act like I block out God.
I would be better off deaf than only a selective hearer. I hear,  but do not listen unless what He says is what I want to hear. I am too stubborn to absorb his truth and welcome it into my life.

I would be better off being blind than only a shallow seer.  The things I see are only at the surface.  I don't see the big picture--His majesty,  His goodness. I see only as far as I choose to. And most often, that is no farther than the end of my own nose.

I would be better off mute than only a mutterer. When I speak loud, it is for no eternal purpose. It is to be angry or frustrated with my life, a life that millions would give everything for. It is to make myself appear larger and stronger than I really am. But when it comes to things that matter forever--things like the gospel and grace--I am quiet. Quiet enough to know that my life which should shine like the moon in the night sky is little more than a flickering miniature candle.

I often wonder at the mercy of God to use such a stubborn vessel to carry His message. So many days I bury it so deep within me that I can hardly find it.  When I go to speak words of truth, I find that my life and my heart will not adequately back them up. When I look for my next step, I look in the mirror instead of the Word. When I listen for an answer, there are so many inner voices telling me what I want to hear that I am incapable of hearing His. Still and small, somewhere in the recesses of my soul longing to be heeded.

My prayer is that my ears, my eyes, my mouth, and my heart would be open. Open to Him.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Choice

Musings on Healing

A few months ago, my mom told me she had been reading a book that changed her perspective on many circumstances in her life and in our family. Though I have not yet read the book as I intend to, its title has been etched in my mind since then: Healing is a Choice. Simple, really. But I couldn't get around the truth in those words.

The doctor cannot force his patient to get well. The abused cannot heal until they refuse to accept such abuse. If we do not want our cuts to become infected, we have to choose to put painful disinfectant on them in order to protect them. In short, all healing must be chosen in order to be real or lasting. That does not mean that healing will not hurt. It likely will. But, brokenness needs healing at whatever cost.

Over the past two years, I have learned more about brokenness than I ever wanted to...physical, mental, emotional, relational, material. Broken. Deeply. When relationships tear, when home is relocated, when my body is weak, when my mind is exhausted, when my heart is pulled in one thousand directions, broken in one million pieces, and alternately frozen and thawed with the changing of the seasons..this is when I realize that I cannot deny the brokenness in my life. This is when I realize that wallowing in regret and self-pity only cause the cracks to widen as I sink deeper and deeper within myself.

Isolated. Shaken. Teetering on the fence between reckless abandon and debilitating caution.

And as I stand there, attempting to maintain my balance, I am reminded, "This is my choice. Healing is a choice." And I make it. I sit down on the rails and calmly step down onto the ground beneath it. I find that all I need to balance between dangerous extremes is a foundation of Rock, solid enough to withstand my stumbling but soft enough to cradle me if (and when) I fall down.

Because the truth is, all life is broken. Human existence, at its very core, is flawed. Flawed because it is not all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful, or all-understanding. (Perhaps the last one is the most unsettling.) We are flawed with sin and all the shame and guilt it carries, with insecurities and doubts and fears, with pride and selfishness and obsessions. We cannot see clearly because we were born with a cloud inside of us that obscures reality. It is called humanity.

What do we do? How do we begin to heal? Who do we turn to?

Have you ever noticed that zen gardens, places for healing, are typically made up of three components? Water, sand, and rocks. I would suggest that healing involves these three.

What do we do? We wash ourselves in the water. Take the plunge. Dive deep.

How do we begin to heal? We flip the hourglass and let the sand keep running- the past is in the past. We walk barefoot. We feel the grains slip through our fingers and relish every single one.

Who do we turn to? The Rock. Our Rock. And all those seemingly insignificant "living stones" He put beside us to help us keep standing as the waters rush over us.

As ridiculous as it may sound, sometimes the best feeling in the world is to be broken...broken and in the arms of one who can see our brokenness and still see us. To recognize that God knows and still loves. To see that our spouses or future spouses know and still love. To understand that our children know and still love. To know that our friends know and still love.

Healing IS a choice, one we make daily as we face our pasts and our futures. Whatever is broken in us needs to be taken to the water of Scripture for cleansing and comfort. We need to let the sand run and live our life moment by moment, founded on the Rock of Ages.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Hardest Words for Me to Say

In true literature-loving perfectionist style, I have found my tragic flaw--independence. Huh? Am I being serious? Yes, I am. And I'll tell you why.

Because I want to look invincible, I will not say that something is hard for me. Because I want to look smart, I will not say I don't understand. Because I want to be right, I will not say that I have been wrong. Because I want to look unaffected, I will not admit that I am hurt. Because I want to look strong, I will not reveal my weaknesses. Because I want to appear Christlike, I struggle with every part of me to admit when I am anything but Christlike.

Now. You might say that this is dishonesty, not independence. At the surface level, you would be completely right. But it's more than that. It is independence--I need to prove that nothing gets to me, that I adjust at the drop of a hat, that I am steel in the face of pain, temptation, and upheaval. This is the heart of the imperfect perfectionist. I am breaking, but only I should see that. I am failing, but noone else can know.

Let me give a couple of examples:

1. In 2nd grade, my mother almost pulled her hair out after picking me up from school with a stomach ache for the third time that semester. "Ash, you were fine this morning. What's going on?" I would sit in the passenger seat and bite my nails. "I don't know. It started really hurting this morning before English class. And we had a test in math today..will I even be able to make it up?" My mom shook her head pathetically. "Of course, honey." And we wound our way home on the crazy Pennsylvania streets.

In case you didn't catch what was happening, it was test anxiety to the extreme. I was a straight A student and terrified of writing an answer wrong on the test. My insides didn't get butterflies, they got bees. Buzzing angry bees that were not the products of jittery nervousness but of fear. What if I couldn't be perfect? What if I wrote a wrong answer and the teacher saw? What would she think of me? This sort of internal conversation took place before every test until I later learned to control it.

2. Over the past 4 years, I have lived in 7 different locations for a short amount of time. Lots of moving from house to house, dorm to dorm, job to job, circumstance to circumstance. I went with the flow without too much trouble; being a person who is fairly unattached to physical stuff has helped. But, to be honest, this moving around shook me to my core in many ways. I was transplanted from school to school, church community to church community, home to home, neighborhood to neighborhood. I'm sure many people know all too well how this feels. But I didn't know how to say how I felt.

Displaced. Rejected. Lonely. Afraid. Overwhelmed. Add in all of the temptations from school and the new environments and it would not be an overstatement to say I was on the brink of exploding. Many days I still am (just ask the ones who know me best). And all of this is nearly impossible to share if I am not writing it down. Why? Because I should be able to handle it and I don't know how. Because they want more from me and I don't have it to give.

3. At work this past week, one of my bosses was explaining a new merchandising process to me. Within seconds I was confused completely. After about 5 minutes of her talking about how to punch in the numbers for our inventory, she looked over at my blank face. "Does that make sense?" I looked everywhere but her face for about 10 seconds before mustering my strength enough to say without slurring, "Actually, I don't understand this machine. Can you reexplain it more slowly?" A year ago, it is unlikely I would have done anything but nod and let her know I had it under control...

You see, the truth is I'm often wrong..and weak and ignorant and unprepared and hurt. But I don't want to need anyone's help or advice or charity.

Ultimately, this perception of life is directly against what the Bible teaches, against God's character, and in opposition to His will for my life. He wants me to come to Him and say "I can't but You can. I'm weak but You're strong. I'd lose alone but with You I'll win. I'm nothing without You. I.need.You."

And there it is. I hate those three words. They cut me. You mean..I couldn't do it?! You mean I failed?! That makes me inadequate, a failure, a mistake, a reject...

Wait. Hold the phone for a second. What is wrong about my thought pattern here? I am identifying myself by what I do and don't do, not by who I am. Because I make a mistake, I become one. Because I have experienced a failure, I am one. Because my efforts were not enough, I am not enough. But all of this is a BIG.FAT.LIE.

The Devil wants me to believe it so I never get up again. He wanted me to stay so scared of playing the wrong keys that I never learned to play the piano and worship my Savior through song. He wanted me to stay so scared of taking tests that I gave up on my love of learning. Today he wants me to stay so consumed with my falls into sin that I give up on fighting it because winning seems impossible. He wants me to feel ugly and rejected and out of place because such lonely painful feelings will push me farther into sin to numb them, and farther away from the God who wants to heal me.

In realizing all of this, I have created a mantra that I should be repeating every minute until it sticks permanently: Father, Spirit, Jesus, I need You. Six words I need to burn into my brain. Six words that display my dependence on God for everything.

I need the Father when I feel like the prodigal son. I need the Spirit to comfort and convict me. I need Jesus to wash me clean, to guide me, to be my destination as I run the Christian race.

Bottom line: It isn't wrong to need the Lord. It is right to need Him! Every minute, everyday.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On What Matters, What Doesn't Matter, and What is of Infinite Importance (cont'd)

Musing on God's Values--Part 2

Today, I will continue to go through the values chart I was working off of 2 days ago. We are on the fourth grouping--actions, appearance, and attitude--and I pray we will get to the end today as well. For now, let's recap all 7 combinations and remind ourselves of what we learned so far. First, God wants our obedience out of knowledge of His infallible and just character. Second, real love is not shown in words, but rather revealed in kindness and proven through sacrifice. Third, formal membership means nothing without meaningful committed friendships and fellowship with the family of God.

Matters                         Doesn't Matter                       Matters Infinitely

1.Obedience               Routine rule-following           Understanding why one obeys
2.Love in kindness      Love in hollow words            Love in sacrifice
3.Friendship                Membership                         Fellowship
4.Actions                    Appearance (to an extent)     Attitude
5.Stability                   Seniority--or superiority         Service
6.Justice                     Pleading not guilty                  Mercy and grace
7.Purity                      Pride                                     Passion for holiness

4. So here I go. I am convinced that most Christians who read this chart at first momentarily shuddered at my statement that appearance doesn't matter. Of course, you may say, it's not the most important thing, but it does mean something. I mean, after all, we need to make ourselves presentable testimonies for God. Our bodies are not our own and we must treat them with honor as God's temple. Haven't you ever heard of modesty or cleanliness!? Let's be clear with each other. My reply to that would be a gracious yes. But, I heartily disagree with the fact that our physical appearance in itself has any bearing on our relationship with the Lord or our fellowship with our brothers and sisters.

Let me give an example. There is a young man who is recently married, working two jobs to make ends meet, and continuously attending church with his wife to grow in his relationship with the Lord. His wife is pleased with the scruff and facial hair on his face and has asked him to keep it there so she feels it when she kisses him. They are cutting costs by mending the clothes they have had since high school, rather than buying new things with the paychecks they are saving to buy their first home. Despite the tight financial situation, there is always enough to tithe and participate in God's work. She grew up in a home where both her mother and all of her sisters had their ears pierced at young ages and wore jewelry often as part of their daily beauty routines. She was also taught to keep her hair long because the Lord clearly thought it was beautiful that way and her husband probably would too. It showed her beauty and it showed that God had provided her with a head-covering that showed His ultimate glory. She was more than happy to keep her hair long and flowing (though neatly trimmed) for others, most importantly her Creator. So..I now have two simple questions: Does his appearance matter to God? Does her appearance matter to God? If you say yes and think you are disproving me, think again. Their appearance only matters because of their ATTITUDE. And in this case, their attitudes are merely out of love for each other, their families, and the Lord. Let's be careful NOT to confuse the two.

God can have a thriving relationship with a woman who wears a veil, a hat, knee-length hair, shoulder-length hair, bob-style hair, necklaces, no necklaces, jewelry, no jewelry, makeup, no makeup, pants, skirts, knee-highs, boots, flip-flops, or kimonos. He doesn't care if she's wearing an evening gown or a pair of sweats. He wants her HEART. He wants her MIND. He wants what's INSIDE of her. And the same goes for men. God knows the motivations of our hearts and will judge them righteously. They are not for others to assume or ever know.

Granted, women (or men, for that matter) who flaunt their bodies for others who are not their spouses to lust after are revealing an attitude that disregards the value of purity. A man who is consistently unwashed and unshaven (though he has the means to be) is pretty blatantly disregarding the comfort of those around him and the Biblical principle of cleanliness, likely through an attitude of laziness which God does not condone. However, in many cases, appearances designed to capture the lustful or jealous attentions of others are recognized not by the clothing itself, but by the visible attitude of the wearer. And if we on occasion do feel the urging of the Spirit to address a physical appearance concern with another, it should always be approached from the angle of Scriptural principle, godly attitude, and subjection to the conviction of the Spirit not the laws of men.What I am saying is this: WE ARE NOT THE FASHION POLICE. FASHION "TEACHING" IS NOT IN GOD'S WORD FOR GOOD REASON! Any mention of dress in the Bible, aside from the clothing in the old Jewish law as symbolism, is meant to discount its importance entirely in order to stress the value of something vastly different--attitude. Spirit, conviction, demeanor. It's about the inside. Check out what these Scriptures have to say and see for yourself.

1 Samuel 16:7
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Romans 2:27-29
And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

Matthew 23:27-28
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Isaiah 53:2
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
John 7:24

"Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
2 Corinthians 5:12
We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart.

1 Peter 3:3-5
Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
1 Timothy 2:9-10
Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. 

***(Notice what is being said here; the focus is on a comparison. Gentle spirit> fancy appearance. Good works> fancy appearance. Is he saying "no gold, no expensive clothes, pearls are evil as are braids and dresses"..? Clearly not. He is saying that what we think matters doesn't. Our actions and good works are what matter because they ultimately reflect an attitude of service, kindness, and Christ-like character).***
James 2: 1-10
My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? 
If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 

Look at that last charge. It is solemn. Not only is judging based on only appearance harmful, God calls it sin. It is clear that God has, in the most reverent sense, far better things to do with His time than to pose as our stylist. If we have a clear conscience about our appearance, we should be able to be safe in the fact that God will judge and His children won't.

ALL of that being said at last, it is important to speak of what DOES matter and that is our actions and our attitude. Are our works proving our faith in Christ? Is our attitude one of reverence and submission, care and compassion? For men, is your attitude one of servant leadership and love, devotion and discipline? Our attitudes inform our actions, our hearts and minds are responsible for telling our bodies what to do. God cares very much that these are aligned with His Word and His will.
Matthew 5:16
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Ephesians 2:10
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Hebrews 4:12
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Romans 12:1-2
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

5. Likely the clearest way to illustrate God's view of stability, superiority, and service is to go over the qualifications of deacons and elders in the Scriptures. When God is looking for someone to lead His people, He does not want a man who will abuse His power or use it inconsistently. See the following two passages (emphasis once again mine): 

1 Peter 5:1-5
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

1 Timothy 3:1-7
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

There is a lot in these verses but I just want to point out a few key things.

First of all, the idea of superiority or seniority is of absolutely no use to God when he looks for a leader. "God is opposed to the proud", an elder is "not to lord it over those allotted to his charge", deacons are specifically not to be "new converts, that they will not become conceited". Superiority is pride in the worst sense because it implies not only an overemphasis on oneself, but a marked condescension toward others.

Secondly, it is vital to notice the stability God requires of leaders (and thus of all who desire to show spiritual leadership). They are to be "temperate, prudent, not addicted to wine, peaceable", they are to be fathers who control their families and keep them from unruliness, and they are to be examples to those under their authority. Overall stability is a key concern. There is an absence of excessive anger, drink, or talk. He cannot be controlled by anything other than godly character. As Christians, nothing should control us other than the Holy Spirit.

Lastly, it is a spirit of service which should drive us, not a need for compensation. We should be "free from the love of money" and serve "not for sordid gain". In order to lead by example, we must be servants not tyrants. The world will see our conduct and may through such conduct be led to Christ. Christ is OUR example, the Chief Shepherd Peter mentions. Peter was a product of His gracious shepherding and learned from the perfect servant leader.

Here are several more passages to illustrate God's values in this area.

John 12:25-27
He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.

1 Corinthians 4:1
Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

Colossians 2:5
For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.

1 Corinthians 4:6-8
Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

Mark 10:42-44
Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.

6. One of my favorite images in all of the Bible is the image of a courtroom. The fact that Christ has paid my pardon, that the Righteous Judge is able to let me go free on the basis of His blood, is still too much to comprehend. The verdict over my head is "Not Guilty" in prominent letters. However, there are a few things I'd like to go over about the courtroom regards to salvation and also in regard to further sanctification.

Our handy chart says three things: 1) Justice matters to God, 2) Pleading not guilty [on our own merit] doesn't matter to God, and 3) Mercy matters infinitely to God.

                  First, I see in the Bible that God is undeniably always a just God. He also requires us to be just.

Psalm 89:14
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before You.

Isaiah 61:8
For I, the Lord, love justice, I hate robbery in the burnt offering; and I will faithfully give them their recompense and make an everlasting covenant with them.

Psalm 106:3
How blessed are those who keep justice, Who practice righteousness at all times!

Micah 6:8
He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

                    Second, I see that God doesn't care if we try to say we are righteous without Him. He knows we are not. What use is it to come before an Omniscient judge and say we haven't committed a crime? He already knows we have.

Numbers 32:23
But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out.

Romans 3:23
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

1 John 1:9-10
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

                  Third, mercy and grace triumph over justice. They are of ultimate importance to God because they are a foundation of His character and the basis for our salvation.

Jeremiah 31:20
“Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a delightful child? Indeed, as often as I have spoken against him, I certainly still remember him; Therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him,” declares the Lord.

Matthew 5:6-7
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy

Matthew 18:32-34
Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.

It is clear what God expects. I will not overstate what is stated hundreds of times in His letter to us. But let me make one final comment on this. Even after we are saved, God does not want to hear us plead not guilty before Him on our own merit. We must confess our guilt, our sin, our crime, but in doing so bring before His throne the blood of Jesus Christ. Just think of it! At the cross, 3 things were simultaneously true that seem impossible; We were utterly sinful, with GUILTY plastered across our foreheads. God was utterly just, laying our sins upon Christ as He suffered for us. And God was utterly merciful, casting our sins far from us, taking away our rightful punishment, and giving us the gift of salvation which we could never deserve.

7. This topic is a difficult one to say the least. Nobody wants to discuss purity because it so clearly shows us all for what we are--broken, weak, sinful humans. There is not one of us who has never been tempted by wrong, by pleasure, by excess. We foolishly still try those "broken cisterns"  hoping they will somehow mend although they never do. But in this area, as in all the others, I believe there is confusion in the church. There is a silence that breeds shame, a moral decline that damages our testimony, and a lack of encouraging accountability so necessary between brother and brother, sister and sister.

However, before I get too bogged down in human views on this subject, I need to explain what God says about it. In short, God says purity is extremely important. He hates when we use our "technical" purity as justification for pride and judgmental behavior. And ultimately, God expresses that our passion for holiness like His is what will grow in our struggles for purity, both the physical/sexual and the completely inward kind.

Why are we silent? Because it hurts to be exposed, to reveal our guilt and our weakness, to share struggles with others we somehow believe ourselves to be above, to acknowledge a problem that is so widespread yet so torturous to begin fixing. Why are our morals declining? Because as a body we have started to lose the reverence for God that makes impurity much easier to withstand, to back down when we should be standing up, to be quiet about the truth because it is not palatable to the world, the youth, or sometimes even the church at large. Why are we not accountable to each other? Because we lack the foundation of trust and spiritual companionship necessary for firm accountability to happen. We should be challenged and uplifted at the same time in a good accountability relationship. This can be a difficult dynamic to create when there is not a mature and spiritually grounded friendship already in place.

So what does God have to say about purity in itself? Let's look to His word.

1 Timothy 4:12

Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.
Psalm 24:3-5
Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood

And has not sworn deceitfully.

2 Corinthians 11:2-3
For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.

James 1:27

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
2 Timothy 2:21-23

Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.

Titus 1:15-16
To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.

1 John 3:2-3
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Purity in each of these cases is an inward reality. God often speaks of the "pure in heart" and I love what Paul says in 2 Corinthians about the "purity of devotion to Christ". I could have gone through and listed every verse that includes God's instructions to flee youthful lusts and not to commit adultery, but we all know where to find them. The Bible is beyond clear that God desires our physical and moral purity. But, it is important to notice that purity stems from faith. Our standing as children of God and disciples of Christ inclines us to purify our hearts before Him. In Titus, those who are "defiled" are also "unbelieving", while "to the pure, all things are pure". What does that phrase mean exactly?..I wondered too. Here is what Matthew Henry has to say about this phrase in Titus and also about 1 John 3:3 ("everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure") in his commentary:

                        [Titus 1:15] To good Christians that are sound in the faith and thereby purified all things are pure. Meats and drinks, and such things as were forbidden under the law (the observances of which some still maintain), in these there is now no such distinction, all are pure (lawful and free in their use), but to those that are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; things lawful and good they abuse and turn to sin

                         "[1 John 3:3] Urges the engagement of these sons of God to the prosecution of holiness: And every man that hath this hope in him purifies himself even as he is pure, 1 John 3:3. The sons of God know that their Lord is holy and pure; he is of purer heart and eyes than to admit any pollution or impurity to dwell with him. Those then who hope to live with him must study the utmost purity from the world, and flesh, and sin; they must grow in grace and holiness. Not only does their Lord command them to do so, but their new nature inclines them so to do; yea, their hope of heaven will dictate and constrain them so to do. They know that their high priest is holy, harmless, and undefiled. They know that their Go and Father is the high and holy one, that all the society is pure and holy, that their inheritance is an inheritance of saints in light. It is a contradiction to such hope to indulge sin and impurity. And therefore, as we are sanctified by faith, we must be sanctified by hope. That we may be saved by hope we must be purified by hope."

We can take away from all of this that inner and outer purity is a result of the soundness of our faith in Christ and our knowledge of God's holy character. This goes back to what I mentioned in the first grouping discussing our reasons for obeying God's commands.

Now you may wonder why I have included pride in this set, as it seems rather disconnected. I would argue that it is far from disconnected. Why is it that we cannot be open about our impurity? Why is it that sexual struggles and lusts and wrong desires are "secret sins"? Because we are too proud to admit that this is a battle we all fight with the devil--and even lose. God has no room for pride or for dishonesty in His heaven. He does not want to see pride and secret shame in the hearts of His children, both for His own glory's sake and for the sake of their own well-being. If we seek to grow in purity in all areas of our life, God is clear that there is one thing He does not value: our pride.

Proverbs 8:13
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverted mouth, I hate.

Proverbs 29:23
A man’s pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor.

1 John 2:16
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

When discussing this topic, I find that it is always more helpful to share a real-life illustration than a fictional one. So I will tell you a story. At my student women's Bible study, I was asked to co-lead a Scriptural discussion about sexual purity. Daunting task, to put it kindly. I had no idea what to say about it and prayed consistently that I might be humble enough to handle it well. Me and my sweet friend who was my co-leader had a long meeting before the study to discuss how we internalized the Scriptures in our lesson. What were our struggles? How was God helping us grow in this area of our walk with Him? What were some Scriptures He'd been using to speak to us? What were some ways that we could challenge and encourage our sisters? And I have to tell you, her honesty and gentleness was an enormous example of how purity and an understanding of God's character work together. No pride. No "I'm doing better in this than you are. Why are you so messed up? Are you even saved?". No unrealistic cold turkey goals or climb-down-your-throat Scriptures. She was just herself. Broken, but leaning on Christ for strength and growth. Giving me an example to do the same.

This is what I'm talking about. God desires our purity and requires it. He hates our pride and hypocrisy. But what He wants most is worship, adoration, devotion, obedience, honesty, humility, and praise. In our weakness, He is strong. In our failures, He is infallible. In our brokenness, He is Healer. So before we condemn others for their lifestyles (even if it is right to hold them accountable for such lifestyles), we need to take a look at ourselves. I wouldn't be writing this if I didn't know all too well what struggle and pride feel like. But if what matters to God is transparency and inner attitude and knowledge of Him, I can humbly come before my readers and say. We are all human. But, God is holy. The more we grow to be like Him, the less we will need to indulge ourselves.

EVERYTHING on the far right side of the chart is something we can either do or learn or appreciate TODAY. I can understand why I obey today. I can sacrifice for another today. I can enjoy fellowship today. I can adjust my attitude today. I can serve today. I can praise God for mercy today. I can pursue holiness today. The more we align ourselves with God's values, the less we will worry about pleasing the world or each other and simply revel in the goodness of our Creator and Savior.