Sex in the Name of Love

I have been abstinent for more than four years. When I recommitted myself to the Lord and to living a holy lifestyle, someone told me that I wasn’t really living a difficult life of abstinence because I was single. He went on to say that couples who are practicing abstinence together are the real MVPs the only legitimate members of the celibacy team. In retrospect, I imagine he was insinuating that I was abstinent by default and not by choice. I don’t think it ever crossed his mind that a young woman in her 20s would choose a sexless life. Who could blame him? The movies we watch, the songs that we jam to, and the television programs we DVR encourage and entice us to indulge in sex. The more we indulge, the more our carnal desires are titillated and seduced into exploring that which God designed to be sacred.

Sex is a natural, biological act that almost everyone will experience at some point in life. It is the ultimate experience of ecstasy that we will find on this side of Heaven, and once we have tasted that ecstasy it seems almost impossible to go without. When I met my fiancé, I was nervous for this very reason. I knew that sex before marriage was not an option and I didn’t care how fine he was, I would not compromise. Ironically, the fact that he believed in Jesus was not enough to convince me that we held the same convictions about sex. (Yes, there are singles in the church who struggle with sex) On our first date, you could imagine my surprise when he asked me about the purity ring that my father had delicately placed on my right ring finger on my sixteenth birthday. I never anticipated that we would discuss these things so soon, but I’m glad we did. It was then that he told me that he, too, was saving himself for his wife. When he told me of his recommitment to purity, I knew that he was serious potential.

In a world where sex in relationships is the encouraged norm, my fiancé and I have chosen to remain abstinent until we get married next spring. Abstinence is probably one of the most challenging tests we have faced, but there are a few reasons why we know this is the best decision for us.

  • God loves sex.

You read right. God didn’t just create sex for reproduction; He created it for pleasurable connection, romance, and intimacy. Yes, God loves sex! In fact, God intended for sex to be so wonderful, so life-altering, so magical, and so sensational…that only marriage is strong enough to handles its effects (Click to Tweet!). He knew that a connection this powerful outside of the intended confines of marriage could be destructive. Voddie Baucham said it best: [paraphrase] Sex is like a fire. Inside of a fireplace, it’s contained and it’s heat comforts, soothes, warms, consoles. Outside of the fireplace, fire is vicious, wild, dangerous, and catastrophic. The number one reason why we aren’t having sex is because we want to honor God. I believe that one of the reasons why God commands us to wait is because in a marriage, he is the glue that holds it together. Consummation without covenant is displeasing to God and leaves Him out of the equation. He longs for us to protect and preserve the marriage bed because anything else is simply settling for second best.

  • Premarital sex is selfish

It is impossible for lust to be satisfied, yet it constantly begs for more and more. Operating as the opposite of lust, love gives wholly and fully of itself. Tim Keller says that [married] sex is a radical self-donation. Covenantal intimacy seeks to protect and pleasure your spouse. Lustful passion wants to be pleased and pacified without much significant thought of the other person. We get the phrase “true love waits” when we take into account that real love isn’t hasty or irrational. It waits until it’s time to blossom and mature into all that God ordained it to be. No matter how much I love my fiancé, if we dabble into sexual sin it has tainted what God originated to be a selfless donation of love into unbridled selfishness. I am not protecting the heart and soul of my mate when I lie with him without promising to love him until death separates us. I am putting my feelings, my desires, my lusts before him and everything else. Love sees no need to hurry ahead of God; it waits for His perfect timing. Even Jesus waited to give His life—the ultimate self-donation of love—until the Father granted Him permission and announced that it was time. Sex before marriage says, “I’m not thinking of you. I’m not caring for you. I’m exposing you because I’m thinking of myself and what I want.” (Click to Tweet!)

  • Premarital sex breeds distrust and insecurity

Growing up, my mother always said that it is impossible to cultivate a trusting foundation when premarital sex is present. She pointed out that when you see couples who struggle with trusting one another you are seeing the fruit and repercussions of premarital sex.   In a marriage, sex has the power to reinforce the unshakeable covenant that was established; however sex beyond the confines of marriage exposes and deconstructs the trust that may have once stood unwavering. How can this be? Well, it’s simple really. If I give my body to a man who has not committed to me in marriage, then I have given a piece of myself that he did not earn. In the heart of every woman lies a yearning to be deeply desired yet fiercely protected by her man. A woman cannot help but swoon over a man who finds her sexually attractive, yet cares enough about her heart to practice discipline over his own body. When a man denies sexual indulgences because of his fear of the Lord and his love for his woman, she can trust that his accountability to the Lord governs him more than his sexual urges.

My fiancé is very committed to our decision to remain abstinent until marriage. Honestly, that choice is one of the things that has proven his commitment to me. I have no doubts that he is faithful to me because I know who governs him. He is not his own man; he answers to the Lord. My mother and I have had countless conversations about relationships and one of her nuggets of wisdom that I will keep with me is this: Jesus is the only one who keeps a man faithful to the woman in his life. There is no amount of will power that is strong enough to keep a man from physically or emotionally stepping out on his woman. Only the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit will cause a man to withstand temptations (because they will come) and remain faithful to the Lord and to his wife. However, if that man is not submitted to the Lord, then who holds him accountable to his actions and conversations with other women? Something bigger than himself must have a hold of the man, and if he cannot control his urges with you… what controls them when you’re away? These were the types of thoughts that marred my mind when I foolishly engaged in sex before marriage in a previous relationship.

Sex before marriage destroyed my self-esteem. I knew I was sinning against God but I was more compelled by my obsession for affection that I handed over my most precious gift as if I’d forgotten that all sales were final. During that season, my heart begged for more. I had affection but I lacked security. Someplace deep down I was forced to face the reality that I was worth more than empty sex in a relationship that promised no future. I knew that my heart was worth my weight in gold, and more than I wanted to be touched, I needed so desperately to be known. Once sex became a factor, it was much easier for me to believe the lies and excuses that constantly barraged me. Lust caused me to turn a blind eye to the dysfunctional aspects of my relationship and I somehow convinced myself that sex would make me forget about our deficiencies. It only heightened them. I never trusted him because when my heart wanted to be known and understood most were the moments when sex was initiated almost as if to stifle my cry for love. Each encounter became more taxing on my soul.

And then I met the love of my life. He was a man who hung onto my every word when I spoke. He was the man who thanked me just for taking time out of my day to spend it with him. He was the man who chose to hug me after our first date rather than kissing me. He was the man who spent hours with his mentor learning how to best protect me. He was the man who took the time to learn the things that made me cry, laugh, and think. He’s the man who I still catch staring at me as if I’m the only person in the room. He’s the man who, on my birthday in front of my friends and family, got down on one knee and asked me if I would allow him the opportunity to love me for the rest of our lives. He is the one for whom I have been preserving myself, and he has decided to join his life with mine without me ever having to give anything of myself. What sexual sin threatened to steal forever, hope in Christ has restored! He never tried to take anything from me. All he set out to do from the beginning was to give and build and grow. I am better because of him, and on our wedding day he will be worthy of all of me.

One of the most amazing things about God is that we can all come to him and lay our weariness at His feet—yes, even our sexual frustrations. Living a sexless life is not easy, but God always rewards our obedience. If you are struggling with sex, I will pose the question a dear friend of mine asked me: “Ask yourself what is connecting you to the person you are dating. Are you truly compatible from each other outside of the bedroom?” This is important to think about, especially if you are considering marriage.

Remember, there is now NO condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. It’s never too late to make a new decision about sex in your singleness. All it takes is a “Yes” and Jesus will grace you for the days to come. Don’t focus on what you think you’re missing, but all that God is storing up for your good and for His glory.

Now You See Me

Last year I was at a point in my single life when I was uninterested in men who were uninterested in me. Fed up with dead-end “friendships” with emotionally unavailable and unresponsive men, I prayed the prayer I almost regretted. I asked God to protect me from men who didn’t have my best interest at heart. If he wasn’t the man I would marry, then you could count me out.

But what if that prayer is slightly off the mark? What about the men I could positively impact during my season of singleness? What about the men God would call me to serve alongside? What about the men who have never experienced the beauty of femininity, confidence, and grace from a woman who loves Jesus? What if asking God to hide me is selfish? What if there is a more powerful prayer?

Photo Credit: m_bartosch via FreeDigitalPhotos.net, royalty-free

Photo Credit: m_bartosch via FreeDigitalPhotos.net, royalty-free

When I met my boyfriend, he was more refreshing than an ice cold glass of water on a sweltering summer day in the south; more refreshing than a warm shower on a wintry night; more refreshing than a hearty meal after a season of fasting; more refreshing than… well, you get my point. I wasn’t paying any attention to him, but he saw me. Shortly after we met, I had a lunch engagement with my mentor. There she challenged me to ask God what this young man’s purpose was in my life and what purpose I should serve in his life. Every man you meet is not going to be your knight in shining armor. Every man is not your potential, and should not be treated as such. You may be who God uses to show him how Christian women conduct themselves. You may be who God uses to show him that all women are not seductive and manipulative. You may be who God uses to minister the gospel of Jesus through your testimony of purity and unwavering dedication to Christ. Our purpose in a man’s life could lead to a wedding ring, but our first order of business is to demonstrate the love of Christ.

Although I knew I was beginning to develop feelings for him, I kept everything in perspective by allowing Jesus to guard my heart, emotions, and intentions. All I asked was for Jesus to be glorified in however this relationship was to progress. Some time had passed since my last lunch date with my mentor. This time when she asked about my budding relationship, I told her I believed he was the one my heart had been waiting for. She asked me how I knew. I told her, “Because God allowed him to see me.”

I have always looked this way, written this way, and loved this way. Like an abstract sculpture that few people notice, people have walked past me with little appreciation, but only one man stopped to see me for the masterpiece that I am.

It was that moment when I realized the stunning beauty of those words. This man’s eyes had been opened and he had the vision to behold the beauty (and flaws) that make up who I am. He knows me because he wanted to know me. He listens to me because he wanted to listen to me. He understands me because he wanted to understand me. But he loves me because he sees me, and he sees me because God opened his eyes and placed me in his line of sight.

So, what if the more powerful prayer isn’t to be hidden but to be seen by the man who is sent from God? To be hidden can be lonely, but to be seen and known is the deepest desire in the heart of every woman. Asking to be visible makes us ready for God’s use. Let’s be unafraid to be seen by men. Let’s ask God for His purposes for the men in our lives. Let’s ask God to lead people in our lives we can impact, and who will positively impact ours. Let’s be willing vessels for His good during our singleness. Let us be fully seen by Jesus, and ask to be seen by the man who will vow to love us until the end of time.

Pouring Into the Pitcher

Lately I have been so grateful for the people in my life. There are friends who God brought into my world who are impacting me in ways I didn’t think were possible. There are even brand new people who He’s using to demonstrate His love to me in new dimensions. As I arrive home from church, I can’t help but praise God for today. I’m grateful for this very moment because right now I am fulfilled and loved and happier than I’ve ever been.

Two years ago I met a young woman in college through an organization I was president of at the time. I didn’t know then, but God knew that one day she would be one of the most pivotal people in my life who would encourage me to fully embrace myself and, in turn, embrace a new level of depth in Christ. That woman is named Ashley Breaux.

Ashley and me, 6/15/2013

Ashley and me, 6/15/2013

I have many wonderful friends and they all mean so much to me, but Ashley is a special lady who has been influential in my current season because God has allowed her past to bring healing to my life. Everyday I am amazed at how much she looks like Christ. She’s an inspiration to me and I’m proud to know her and call her my sister and friend. Here’s some inspiration she shared with me today. I pray it blesses you the way it blessed me.

Expectations are an agreement between you and God. [They represent] a trust in his sovereignty and him being for your good. And joy in disappointments is the same! When you make a commitment to live in the moment…you are allowing God to write your future and not worry about it. To live without expectations for yourself, others, and life in general is to live without faith.

Everyday I remind myself I am indebted to God for bringing my friends into my life. I have truly seen the face of God through my community of sisters. If you have a great band of friends and loved ones around you, celebrate them! Call them. Send them a text message. Let them know how much you love them and need them and appreciate them.

Ashley, this is my small way of letting you know I love you and I’m excited I get to be a part of your life…and that you’re a part of mine. As you’ve so eloquently said before, I finally get to pour into the pitcher that freely pours God’s love and grace into me.

Old Faithful

This past weekend was one of the most fulfilling weekends I’ve had in a very long time. They were full of wonderful friends, fantastic adventures, new people, warm conversation, and joyous hope for the future. Saturday morning I attended a beautiful baby shower for my dear friend Santana and her husband. After I left the shower, I was blushing with excitement. It was a beautiful afternoon with perfect, sunny weather. I wanted to be romanced, so I turned to the One who loves me most. I decided to see a movie and spend time driving around talking to Jesus. I ended up driving to a department store and meandered inside for a bit.

I’m a simple girl, but for some reason I found myself drawn to the jewelry section. This is usually unlike me. However, I began to glance at the rings and admire their shining magnificence. As my eyes scanned the selection, a certain beauty commanded my attention. I reached for it and read the inscription around the silver band. Believe. I slipped the ring onto my thumb and it was a perfect fit.

ring

Tears sprang to my eyes as I admired the ring on my finger. I felt the spirit of God amplifying lessons and examples of his faithfulness in my life over the course of the last two months. He has been steady, loving and correcting me unconditionally. As memories of his faithfulness swirled through my mind, I felt a strong impression that he wanted me to use this ring as a reminder. My life has been on a calculated ascent ever since I began to dare to believe all that God says about me and all that he says I am. That’s how salvation begins for us all, when we decide (as a response to God’s awakening, not our own doing) to believe he is true and good. Yet, I knew that this thing was to be a reminder for me everyday to consciously decide to believe God on a consistent basis.

  • I believe Jesus is enough for today

I am fully persuaded that all that I need in life is in and flows from my precious Jesus. There is no real fulfillment outside of having a personal relationship with a God who brought me from death to life. There is no room for discontent in my life because Jesus is the source of all of my satisfaction. Does this mean that we don’t need money, friends or family? No! This simply means that we should understand all we need–all things good–comes from him. Therefore, he is my Superior Pleasure above all other things. As long as Jesus is on the throne, we shall never face a day that isn’t full of hope in him.

  • I believe God is for my good

Every good thing comes from God and God does not withhold good things from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11). Not only do I believe that God does good things, but that he wants good things for me more than I want them for myself! Consequently, I can rest and trust his timing, his placement, and even his delay because I know he will come through for me.

  • I believe I am loved and accepted

I am not a mistake. God decided (it was in his perfect, detailed plan!) to create a woman who looks like me, smiles like me, laughs like me, thinks like me, loves like me. I am a purposeful, hand-stitched creation that God yearned to see in the world so that I could bring him glory and impact people for his kingdom. I am accepted and loved by God. It doesn’t matter who else has beautiful hair, a nice smile, or even who can write better than me. This world has space and a need for my particular personality, my particular words, my particular influence. Be grateful for the person God made you to be because it doesn’t matter how many people you think look, work, learn, or perform better than you do… God has a sphere of people and lives that only you can touch. You are special. You are loved. You are important. You are needed. You make a difference.

Blinking back tears, I took the ring to the register and paid the cashier. I find myself staring at it often and remembering that I do believe God in all these areas of my life and more. It’s not always been easy, but it’s worthwhile to trust a God who cannot fail.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. Psalm 85:10-11, ESV

I love how the people of God declare that love and faithfulness are friends and righteousness and peace are intimate. It’s a beautiful picture of the goodness of God and the wonderful life he offers us. When I read this passage, my heart swelled. This depiction of faithfulness flooding from the ground like a geyser and righteousness shining down from the heavens creates an image of the earth being an incubator of the goodness of God.

Photo Credit: Andreas Tille, Creative Commons

With such a beautiful, biblical description of God’s faithfulness erupting from the ground, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the infamous geyser in Yellowstone Park is named Old Faithful. Nature in all its magnificence only scratches at the surface of the awe-inspiring glory of God.  Everywhere our feet trod is covered in faithfulness; everywhere the sun beams light and heat radiates in righteousness. What a picturesque truth! The faithfulness of God is inescapable. It’s who he is and it’s all around us.

Single and Satisfied through Community

I am fully persuaded that being in a healthy, thriving, God-centric community will change your life. Really. I have witnessed the greatest expressions of God’s love, majesty, grace, healing and power through my small group. At the beginning of this year, God placed it on my heart and the hearts of a few other ladies to dig deeper into His word and into community. I remember a conversation I had with my friend, Kristi, about how desperately I needed a community of sisters who wanted more of Jesus. So we went to God and by his grace we began to meet with some ladies who shared our desire for more. We came with no plans, goals, or expectations except that we would facilitate a place every week for us to encounter God. People have asked us what we do on Wednesday nights to which I simply retort, “We open the Bible and see what happens.”

Today I am especially filled with unspeakable joy after this past Wednesday’s study session. We’ve just recently begun reading and discussing Captivating by John & Stasi Eldredge. Anyone who knows me (or follows me on Twitter) is aware that I am a huge supporter of Captivating because God used it to begin healing my heart. Naturally, this seemed like a great study for our group because I believe God wants to heal the broken hearts of the women in His Church (Click to Tweet!). Wednesday afternoon I asked God to do something new and fresh, to melt our hard hearts until we’re ready to be vulnerable and open to our desires, our dreams, and our wounds (so they can be healed). Simply, I wanted God to come. He always does, but I wanted something special.

There was something new in the air. I could feel it almost as soon as we sat down. Ironically, all of my notes for the discussion were wiped away from my phone seconds before we began. Clearly, God wanted to come in to the meeting and have more control than I did. The spirit was so sweet. Everyone was happy, hopeful, excited. Even those who began to share difficult and tough situations began to experience a shift from doubt to faith–the change was visible on their faces! There was a moment when I asked everyone what their favorite movies and stories were when they were younger. Every single countenance began to glow as we welcomed the rush of nostalgia.

“Sleeping Beauty!”

“The Lion King!”

“Cinderella…the one with Brandy and Whitney Houston!”

Suddenly everyone burst into song and infectious laughter. Someone shouted through laughter and shining eyes, “Oh! My heart is racing right now! I feel good!” In that moment, we were all little girls again in the presence of our God… in a place where nothing and no one could harm us. Not even the memory of pain was able to penetrate that circle of love.

By the end of the night, we were all so full of life and hope. The energy in the room was intoxicating. We had abandoned our agenda over an hour ago and were fixated on Jesus and the perfect love He gives that we sometimes reject. We often feel unworthy, undeserving, or that it’s too good to be true. But as I looked around at all these women, I was experiencing God’s love.

As we prayed to close the night, we were shouting and celebrating each prayer that was lifted up to God. We were celebrating being women. His women. His daughters. Together. Black women. White women. Filipino women. So different. All broken, but wanting Jesus.

One woman prayed, “In this moment, we are all fulfilled. May we always keep this moment of wholeness in Christ and community.”

She was right. And as she prayed that, the audible sighs that escaped from everyone’s mouth was confirmation. We were fulfilled. We weren’t thinking about the men we didn’t have or the weight we haven’t lost or the job we didn’t get. We were whole. Complete. Radiant. Captivating.

God’s gentle, loving spirit led us into a new place of hope that I don’t know many of us have experienced before. I know I haven’t. There was something so sweet about what happened there that night. We allowed God to love on us and He did it so well. I woke up Thursday morning feeling drunk on love. I’m loved. I’m accepted. I’m pursued. And in a circle full of ladies, I was completely fulfilled. (Click to Tweet!Giggling, blushing, singing, hugging and fulfilled.

If you ever doubted that godly female friends could enrich your life, let the story of my community change your mind. I have seen the face of God through the women in my small group. Don’t think that it’s impossible to reach fulfillment in relationships until you get married. That’s simply not the truth. (Click to Tweet!) My heart is expanding, my prayer life is increasing, my life is receiving deposits of Jesus with every word my friends speak into my life. We look forward to Wednesdays because we know we’ll leave feeling better than when we arrived, and we know Jesus will be there. I’m fully persuaded that God, too, looks forward to Wednesdays because there is always a place where He is welcome in our homes and in our hearts.

My friend noted, “Who would have thought, as women, to feel that fulfillment did not require a single man in the room!” (Click to Tweet!)

It’s an incredible thought. I have never been more fulfilled in my life. A younger me would never believe that the experiences I’ve had could be enjoyed without a man on my arm. But, as the Cinderella song that my girls and I love to sing says:

Impossible things are happening every day.

When I think of God’s love overflowing, I think of Him pouring wine into a glass until the red liquid runs on the table, the carpet, everywhere. When we reject His love, it’s like we’re trying to mop up the wine with Bounty napkins. Why do we do this? God is telling us, “Drink it! Take it all! It’s for you!” In our hearts, we can’t comprehend why anyone would pour wine into a full glass, but His love can’t be contained! But we steadily try to mop up the ‘mess of love’ because it’s too much, it doesn’t make sense. All He wants is for us to drink and let Him love us. Don’t wipe away the offer, drink it in!

— from the heart of Ashley Breaux, 6/19/2013

The Prayer I Almost Regretted

It was at a point of brokenness, heartbreak, and frustration with myself and painful situations that I prayed the scariest prayer to ever leave my lips.

Lord, if he isn’t the man I will marry, then don’t bring him into my life.

Sounds harmless, right? Wrong. I wasn’t mindful that I serve a jealous God who loves me more than my mind can comprehend. I wasn’t thinking about God as my Father who would do absolutely anything to protect my heart from intruders and invaders. I believe He was eager to answer this prayer because in about two years not a single man has tried to win my heart.

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Photo Credit: Glenda Ortero (glendali), royalty-free

I didn’t know that the answer to the prayer would mean:

– lonely weekends void of dates (Scandal re-runs and Words with Friends, anyone?)

– battling insecurities and self-doubting thoughts of inadequacy (Am I good enough?)

– nearly no male companionship (Hey, boys, remember me?)

– struggling with jealousy (I want to be happy for her, but when will I get my chance?)

I don’t think I realized what I was asking for when I made such a serious request. As time had gone by (and still no one on my doorstep with flowers), I had progressively retracted my trust in God and foolishly whined and complained to Him. How silly am I! Who would point their finger at God and complain about the very thing they prayed for?

How dare you answer my prayer, God? You knew I didn’t mean it.

The amazing faithfulness of God blows my mind because He answered a prayer that hurt my pride and heightened my weaknesses, but He’s doing it for my good. Had I not had these moments of solitude, I would never be in the place of learning and valuing dependence on Him. I am remembering and embracing the fact that I need to be single.  It’s in my total singleness that God is perfecting me, shaping me, refining me, and making me whole. Is it for a husband? No. It’s for Him! And if a lifelong partner happens for me in the future, then he will get the benefit of all God is working in me right this moment.

So, the bitterness, jealousy and insecurities are vanishing into thin air by the grace of God. My grievances have been turned into thanksgiving. I am thankful that God was eager to answer my heart’s prayer (this process is torture to my flesh, but my heart is ever grateful) because He knows what it cannot handle. I am thankful that even when my heart ached from loneliness, I was protected from heart aches from unhealthy relationships. I am thankful that when no one is calling my phone or asking me out, I have a God who longs to spend every waking moment with me. He is diligent and steadfast in His love. All the love I need to be whole flows from Him.

It was the scariest request I have ever prayed, but  now I am bursting with joy and hope. I am loved. I am never forgotten. I am protected. I am kept.  I have a God who goes to war for my heart with more strength and intentionality than a girl could hope for in ten thousand warriors. And He is holding my life and my future in His hands.

Leave a comment & join the discussion! What is the scariest thing you have asked God? Was the answer what you expected?

Take It Off

I have been waiting for this moment for countless days. Every other monotonous task and chore I’ve performed has been a sullen prelude to the time when I would sit down and give written form to my sundry pensées. I’ve been juggling my thoughts inside of my head like a standard circus act for some time now, and when I finally get into a comfortable rhythm, more thoughts are thrown into the mix, thwarting my concentration and focus. I’ve done an amiss job of keeping these spheres of thought going in a smooth rotation, and I can sense that I’m about to drop some of them this very instant.  

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Those who know me are familiar with my extreme ardor for literature. There are days when there’s nothing I’d rather do than cuddle under a blanket with some Starbucks and a lengthy novel. American literature is my favorite because our history is so rich and pregnant with endless narratives. Literature has the unique ability to bring form and life to the grandest of historical events and the most mundane moments. It holds the power to shake a nation with the horror of slavery like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. It brings holy fear, conviction and revival like Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It fuels hope and inspiration like the Ain’t I A Woman and I Have a Dream speeches. Literature takes snapshots of history and molds them into tangible works of art that we can learn from and carry with us forever. I was confronted and comforted by a parable written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in the Dark Romanticism era, The Minister’s Black Veil.



This story is centered around a young, gentle, and well-liked minister named Mr. Hooper in 18th century New England. One day Hooper ambles into his church donning a black, crepe veil over his face which obstructs everything save his chin and mouth. His parishioners are incredibly frightened down to their core at the spectacle. They tremble as he makes his way from the back of the church, down the aisle, and takes his place behind the pulpit to deliver his sermon. Hours, days, weeks, months go by and the black veil remains intact. No mortal eyes have connected with Hooper’s for longer than anyone can remember. Finally, his wife (the only one who isn’t afraid of him) begs for Hooper to remove his veil for her even if but for a moment. He refuses and she abandons him; she cannot bear to be married to a man who she can look at but cannot see, who she can know but never understand.

As I became engrossed with this story, I, too, was desperately curious about the purpose of Hooper’s veil. Never once was it removed, even when the children who once admired him ran from him in sheer horror. Surprisingly more people are saved than ever before because they liken their sinful state with the man behind the black veil. Still, most are ghastly afraid.

At the end of the narrative, Hooper is on his deathbed when he’s asked to remove his veil once and for all as he tiptoes into death. His response caused my heart to race.

“Why do you tremble at me alone?” cried he, turning his veiled face round the circle of pale spectators. “Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil? What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crape so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin; then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived, and die! I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!”

Hooper’s observation knocked me in my chest with blunt force. As my teacher’s edition curriculum so perfectly notes, this story’s theme is about the unwillingness and inability to reveal our true nature. Hooper compares three relationships: friend to friend, lover to lover, and man to God. Revealing our true selves requires vulnerability and trust. The point of the matter is that most of us walk around with our own black veils intact. Basically Hooper is saying that people shouldn’t shudder when they see his veil because we are hidden behind our own veils–our unwillingness and inability to be vulnerable.

The last couple of weeks have been unusually difficult. My faith, prayers, joy, peace, and zeal for God were low while my insecurities, weaknesses, struggles, and fears were heightened beyond my own control. At least I didn’t think I had any control over them anymore. I found myself going through the “Christian girl” motions: hosting Bible studies, serving at church, attending prayer meetings, interceding for others. The truth is my heart wasn’t in any of those things, but I didn’t want to admit it to anyone else or to myself. As much as I wanted to share the tempest in my heart with my small group, my closest friends, and my parents, I just couldn’t bear to remove my veil. I didn’t want to hear the typical, “Just pray about it,” “God loves you,” “There’s grace for you,” answers. I know all of those things, but there is something else that needed to be challenged and shaken in my prideful, double-minded heart. I needed to do more than talk to God about how I felt. Prayer is what you make it. It is possible to pray and remain the same because it’s not our prayers that impressive God; it is our faith that pleases Him most. The veil in the Holy of Holies was torn so I could freely enter because Jesus came to earth, bled and died, and resurrected, yet I have carried my own veil of unwillingness to expose my greatest fears, weaknesses and sins to Him. This black veil began to turn my heart to ice and it was becoming easier to tolerate distance from the One who first loved me.

Thankfully, I had a friend who, like Hooper’s wife, demanded the black veil be torn away. My refusal wasn’t indignant, but flippantly disguised with the familiar phrase we all use when we don’t want to be bothered or pitied: “I’m okay, really.” I expected him to be like the others–tell me he would pray and then move on about his day. That’s what Hooper’s wife did to him. When he refused to remove the veil, her frustration at his declension drove her to abandon him. My friend didn’t leave me to rot like Hooper’s wife. No, he was persistent even when I tried to assure him I didn’t need anyone touching my veil. “I refuse to leave you alone,” he said. “I don’t want to push you to tell me, but I will push with you to overcome. You [are] priority tonight.”

Whoa.

He didn’t know it then but he used a God-given key to unlock a well of hope in me. It wasn’t so much what he said with his mouth, but the overwhelming sense of love and protection that reverberated from his action. He cared…and I was reminded of Jesus who never leaves me even when I wander away from Him.

For the first time in a long time I was vulnerable with my friend and expressed to him what had been eating me alive. He comforted me and I realized, “This feels good! It’s nice to come from behind this veil.” So, day-by-day, I am removing these layers (because it doesn’t come off in one big swoop) of protection and choosing to show myself–the whole me, the broken me, the ugly pieces of me–to a God who loved me before I ever made a single mistake.

BlackVeil-16pflll

It is so freeing to be vulnerable with someone–whether family member, friend, lover, or God–and feel wholly loved, accepted, and cherished despite the myriad of weaknesses that mar my life. This week I am challenging myself to take off my black veil for Jesus and allow Him to touch my brokenness. He’s a Healer. There’s nothing He cannot solve within my desert soul. If you are struggling with vulnerability, I exhort you to be free! It’s never easy to be open and naked and exposed to the opinions of man or the holiness of God, but amazing transformation is available when you decide to take it off.


What about you? If the black veil represents an unwillingness to be vulnerable, what are the things that keep your veil intact?

Christ Died for Dead People

Our view of God is much, much too harsh and much, much too small. Some of us have grown up with the mentality that God is mean and waiting (dare I say hoping?) on our failure so that He can strike us down. May I encourage you? When God sent Jesus to die, we weren’t just a hopeless people; we were dead. Sin doesn’t make us bad; it makes us dead!

God’s view of a sinful humanity on the earth: dry bones.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

God looked down on earthly carcasses and His heart swelled with compassion and His love said, “Jesus, it’s time. Go bring them to life. Go make a way for My children to come to Me.” This means that God the Son died for already dead people. We were not just in bad shape. We were not just getting by. We were definitely far from living a whole life. We had no life. Can you imagine the conversation between the angels the day Jesus was crucified? I like to think they were gazing into each other’s eyes, hoping one of them had the answer for the madness happening on earth. “Maybe Michael has the answer! Find Gabriel! Gabriel will know. Why is Jesus, the Son of God who stood with His Father when the world was fashioned…hanging from a tree and becoming a curse for a bunch of dead people? What is God’s interest in these people?”

Oh, and does He ever have interest in us! This is the God we serve; a God who stretched out His hand toward a dead humanity and loved us fiercely! There’s nothing mean about this God.

But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

How astounding is it to read this scripture again with the fresh realization (or reminder) that our sin made us dead. We can never doubt God’s love for us ever again, no matter what we do, because He already sent Jesus to die for us in our state of death.

Flash forward to today. Jesus’ mission has been accomplished! Holy Spirit is here on earth, empowering Christians all over the world. Yet when we miss the mark, we allow a humanistic view of God tell us that there’s no way He will forgive us this time, or He doesn’t want to hear my prayer again, or because I sinned again now He definitely won’t bless me in the area of (fill-in-the-blank). God is not a mean God! Know that even when we fall short, He’s the parent who runs to His child’s side the moment we call on His help. What parent do you know would watch their child fall off of their bicycle and into the street, and wouldn’t immediately run to their rescue? How much MORE caring is the Lord God Almighty? When we fall — and we will all fall — God’s grace is sufficient! Even though there may be consequences to our sin, His love is outstanding and He is faithful to walk with us through the consequences.

I want two things to resonate with you today.

1. Christ died for dead people. Since this is true, you know that He loves you enough to see you through the difficult days and trying moments of life. Even when you make a mistake, God is eager to grant you grace and mercy. A God who died for dead people will surely rescue those He has brought to life.

2. God is not mean. I don’t care what anyone tells you about God; go study God’s character for yourself! God is compassionate and beautiful and just and bursting with glory, love, and splendor waiting to be explored. Surely He could never be a mean God.

If anyone told you otherwise, then someone lied to you.

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan.

Many people would agree with me when I say that this past election was the most intense (and by intense, I mean brutal) political season my generation has witnessed yet. During that time I kept most of my opinions to myself, but many of my observations were troubling. The division, disrespectful comments, and blatant hatred caused my heart to ache. I expected some of this conduct from people of the world, but absolutely nothing could prepare me to witness this behavior from those who know and love the same God I serve. My prayers shifted from the election; I honed in on the Church and her heart toward people who look, act, and think nothing like her.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:10-12, NASB)

Paul encouraged the church at Ephesus to remain strong so that they would be well armored to stand against the schemes of the devil. Satan is not a person; we don’t duke it out with an actual physical being, but Paul says we will stand up against his schemes. The dictionary defines a scheme as a plan, an underhanded plot. What, then, is Satan’s major underhanded plan against the kingdom of God? He wants us to turn on each other rather than fighting against his evil powers. If the devil can get us to destroy one another, then he won’t have to! When we attack one another, we are literally doing the devil’s job for him. We become an accomplice to the kingdom of darkness when we operate in any spirit that opposes God’s holy nature. 

What Would Jesus Do?

In Matthew 16, we see Jesus telling His disciples about His horrible death, His burial, and His glorious resurrection. Then, something interesting happens.

Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get [thee] behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interest, but man’s.” (Matthew 16:22-23, NASB; also recorded in Mark 8:33)

Can you imagine how Peter must have felt to hear such a response from the Lord? To add a little context to what was happening, Jesus had just asked the disciples who they thought He was. Peter was the one to whom God revealed that Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus then marvels at this, and blesses Peter, spiritually promoting Peter as the rock of His church (Matthew 16:17-19). It’s after this that Jesus goes on to tell the disciples about God’s plan for the salvation and redemption of the world through His death. Peter, probably feeling pretty great about himself after Jesus’ affirmation, decides to stand up and defend the Lord. How often do we try to prevent that which God has ordained for “righteousness” sake? Peter probably thought he was exhibiting the sort of stance Jesus would be proud of. How wrong Pete was.

Jesus, in His perfect knowledge and wisdom, knows that He is being faced with a scheme in disguise of a caring disciple. Jesus does something remarkable! He doesn’t scold Peter, judge him, or even address him. He addresses Satan: the spirit or principality that was attempting to come against God’s plan for the salvation of humanity. Of course, Peter doesn’t know that when He was expressing His strong assertion he was being used as an accomplice to speak against what God had ordained. Jesus knew this, but he didn’t attack Peter; He attacked the spirit.

Too often Christians are anxious to attack one another for the sake of righteousness or because we think our efforts will impress Jesus. But, we must ask ourselves, are we cooperating with God’s spirit of love or with Satan’s spirit of division? We must fight against principalities and powers by wearing the armor of God, using the fruits of the Spirit, and spending much time in intentional prayer. Rather than judging the less fortunate, why don’t we attack the spirit of poverty? Rather than despising homosexual people, why don’t we attack the spirit of sexual immorality? Rather than attacking the President or other elected officials, why not attack the spirits of darkness that come against the Church? If you find yourself frustrated with certain things or people, channel that frustration to its rightful place! Be frustrated with Satan and his grip on our generation. Be frustrated with the power of darkness that cannot be attributed to one person’s name or face or skin color. Be frustrated about the lies being told to helpless and hopeless people. We are supposed to be full of compassion. As long as we keep attacking people, we are losing. The fight is SPIRITUAL. We have to combat demonic forces. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians have the power to wage spiritual warfare against the kingdom of darkness, unless we fall for the scheme of Satan, get distracted and kill each other.

We are the army of the Lord. We should fight against the powers of darkness with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as our General. However, if we allow Satan to distract us, rather than advancing toward enemy, we’ll begin to aim our swords at each other. When that happens, Christians are left bleeding and dying — at the hand of their own brother or sister! — and the enemy can laugh as we defeat ourselves. Refuse to be a puppet manipulated by the devil to destroy people Jesus died for.

Love is a mighty weapon. When we begin to love what God loves (people) and hate what God hates (the kingdom of darkness), then we will never be confused as a member of Satan’s army. We must stop destroying our troops, and begin waging war against the devil… together!

He won’t know what hit him.

Good Thing Training: Lessons from Ruth Part II

The last time we gathered together our protagonist had just begun her journey with Naomi, her dead husband’s mother, to live with her. We pinpointed some important lessons of singleness, following God with reckless abandonment, courage, and obedience. You can read that post here.  I must encourage you all to delve into the wonderful story of Ruth on your own. There are so many lessons to learn, but I didn’t include every one in this blog post. Seek them out and share what the Lord reveals to you! Many weeks have gone by since our last session and we shan’t waste another second.Our story continues in chapter two, and the setting is Bethlehem.

Class is in Session!

Jessica on Why She Admires Ruth

“Ruth was a courageous woman! She was bold enough to follow God in the midst of not knowing… She was selfless, faithful and consistent. I believe that Ruth’s story is so admirable because it is a prime example of the reckless abandonment we should exhibit when we intentionally follow Christ.”
  • Ruth was mission-conscious 

And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” Ruth 2:2, NASB

During the Revolutionary War there lived a woman named Mary Hays (or Molly Pitcher as she was fondly nicknamed). Mary was responsible for fetching water for the parched soldiers who were fearlessly fighting in approximately 100-degree weather.One day during combat Mary’s husband collapsed beside the cannon he had been firing. (It’s debated whether Mr. Hays had been wounded or had suffered from heat exhaustion.) His wife, Mary, did something remarkable after that. She stepped over his body and took his place behind the cannon, and began to take fire.

Photo Credit: "The Heroine on Monmouth, Molly Pitcher," Public Domain

Photo Credit: “The Heroine on Monmouth, Molly Pitcher,” Public Domain

What would cause a woman to do such a thing? It was the same spirit operating in Ruth: mission-consciousness. Mary was aware that everyone was on that field for a specific purpose, and even when devastating realities faced her, she took action and continued to work toward the goal of freedom from oppression.

Ruth’s circumstances were less than favorable. Her husband was dead; she was childless; she left her home and family in Moab; she had just arrived in a strange land where Naomi was the only soul she knew. These situations are strenuous and intimidating enough to cause any of us to buckle underneath their weight. Ruth didn’t lose heart, even while facing the greatest challenges in life. We can gather from Ruth 2:2 that one of the principle tasks Ruth sought to complete was to provide for Naomi and herself. She makes herself useful because she is aware that she is responsible for Naomi’s life, caring for her the way a daughter might care for her elderly mother. Ruth’s mission as a single woman was to care for her mother (or spiritual mother), and she held that responsibility above any other desire or factor. Ruth understood that the ministry of the single person is established through submission to the authority of parental figures. (Stay tuned for a forthcoming blog post on The Ministry of Singleness) After sojourning from Moab to Bethlehem, I find it uncanny that the first thing Ruth sets out to do is get to work! Rather than dwelling on her circumstances or remaining in the doldrums, she remembers her mission, purposefully steps behind her “cannon” and sets out to bring her new life to fruition by faith in action. If Ruth had not allowed her circumstances to discourage her from following Naomi and God to Bethlehem, consider how foolish it would have been had she pitched a tent of self-defeat and sunken into depression after she’d arrived. Once we’ve made the decision to follow God into the unknown, we must use the power of yesterday’s “yes” to Him to fuel faith into today’s obstacles. Remember, even when God moves you to the place of destiny, sitting idly is detrimental to your growth. Had Ruth dared to succumb to the temptation to wallow in despair, she would have never ventured into the field where she encountered the man who would change her life. Purposeful singleness paves the way to purposeful destiny.

Jessica on Ruth’s Character

“I believe that this particular Ruth-like obedience produces a selflessness that separates us from our fleshly desires and prevents us from being distracted. Ruth’s mind was on working, not being qualified for marriage. She was faithful in gathering from the harvest. God recognizes the things we do to serve and please Him, our reckless abandonment and the way we treat His people.”
  • Ruth was in the right place in God’s timing

So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. Ruth 2:3, NASB

Isn’t it amazing how God’s timing works? Her first day out to work is the day that she stumbled across Boaz’s property. In another translation, it says that Ruth “happened by chance” upon Boaz’s field. Know that we serve a God who is Sovereign; nothing happens by chance! God is an active component in your love story. God is the one who will strategically place you and your future spouse in the right place in His timing. God is involved in the romantic aspects of our lives just as much as any other facet. Surely the God who strategically planned the rescue mission of salvation before the foundation of the world, and who fearfully and wonderfully handcrafted you and I, would have an active role in our love lives. We must trust God and follow Him because He knows our future spouse. He knows exactly what they are doing at this very moment, what they’re thinking, and what they’re praying. We must trust God to set us in the place to be found by this man, and God will lead him to that exact spot. It’s important to note that Ruth wasn’t looking for a mate; it was probably the furthest thing from her mind (mission-consciousness at work). Yet, God knew who He had for her and so He bypassed what she may have wanted for herself at the time, and gave her exactly what she needed. God will soon give you what you didn’t know you wanted.

  • Ruth’s Reputation Yielded Favor

Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?” And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.” … Boaz replied [to Ruth], “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among stranger. May the Lord God, the God of Israel… reward you fully…” Ruth 2:5-6,11-12, NLT

Character is what sets us apart from any other person with similar talents, qualities, opportunities, or capabilities. Ruth’s character is what caused the news about her arrival to buzz around Bethlehem. It was unheard of for a foreign Moabite (Can you hear the whispers? “She’s a MOABITE? Dear, heavens!”) woman to travel from her distant land, live with her mother-in-law (to whom she has no lawful allegiance since the death of her husband), and work to ensure their survival. Why would she do such a thing? I think it’s imperative to note that before anyone knew her name, Ruth’s reputation had gone before her and opened doors of favor and opportunity. Never once did the foreman mention her beauty. Although we can imagine that Ruth was stunning; this isn’t what impressed him. The excellence in her work ethic is what made Ruth significant in the eyes of the foreman…and in the eyes of her suitor. Excellence is born through impeccable character, and it affects every facet of your life. If people inspect our lives, our attitudes, our work habits, would they see the testimony of good character and Jesus Christ? Do your work habits make you rise above the rest of the women in your class, church or workplace? What would be the report if someone asked about you?

Jessica on Her Report

If an eligible man asked his companions, “Who is Jessica McGinnis? Where did she come from?” I think the response would be: “Oh, Jess. She’s a nice Christian girl. She seems like she really loves Jesus. She talks a lot, though.” I hope the response would be, “Why, that’s Jessica McGinnis. She’s a sweet Christian girl and is so passionate about pursuing God. She’s faithful in serving Him. She’s an encourager and her words are seasoned with grace. She has a certain je ne sais quoi about her. She’d be a great, godly wife!”

In verse 14, we see Boaz has invited Ruth in to dine with him and his workers. Not only does she sit in the seat reserved for Boaz’s reapers, but he personally serves her. Boaz, being the distant relative of Elimelech, is considered the redeemer for Naomi and Ruth. He can redeem them from their current struggles, and give them the comfort Naomi longs for. Yet, their redeemer is serving Ruth hand-and-foot. Sound familiar? What a powerful picture of our own Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who has the power to transform our lives, yet the humility to serve before He saves. Small wonder Jesus is born from the lineage of Boaz.

  • Ruth’s need for mentorship

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but stay here with my maids. Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them… Ruth 2:8, NASB

Boaz gave Ruth specific instructions: Listen to me. Stay with my maids. Look at where and how they work, and do what they’re doing! I am a huge proponent for mentorship. Everyone needs a mentor. Boaz had skilled women in his field, and he wanted Ruth to learn from them all that she could. Mentors are set in place to tell you where they were, show you where God has brought them, and to help elevate you to the place in life where they are. More importantly, mentors should help propel their mentees to places they may never reach. How many of the other reapers had received the same treatment from Boaz that Ruth had? None of them were his wives. Yet, Boaz wanted Ruth to learn skills from them so that she would be in the place to receive the blessings to come.

Jessica On Ruth vs The Other Women

Boaz could have chosen any of the other women in his field. [They had been there for years, probably] God set Ruth apart! It wasn’t her beauty, though I’m sure Ruth was beautiful and being a foreigner wasn’t what made her mysterious [She was set apart] because of her boldness, obedience,courage
and tenacity.

If you don’t have a spiritual mentor, please ask the Lord to present godly women who have the qualities you hope to attain in your life. A mentor helps you walk through your Christian walk and gives godly advice based on the Word of God. They offer prayer, counsel, and a special friendship that every man and woman should have. To know that there is someone who is dedicated to praying for you and encouraging you in the Christian faith is absolutely priceless. The Body of Christ needs each other. God is calling all of us to specific purposes and destinies, and we need one another to ensure we get there. Ruth needed those other reapers to show her all they knew. Her obedience to Boaz’s request, once again, set her up for more favor. She didn’t have to listen to Boaz, but Ruth’s teachable and obedient spirit submitted without hesitation. Obey the Lord’s voice and the wise counsel He sets before you, for obedience is the breeding ground for God’s grace to be exhaled upon you.

Next time we will gather around the third chapter of Ruth. I encourage you to study the next chapter with me so we can enter into dialogue about these great truths God has for us.

Question: What would be the report for you? If an eligible man asked his companions, “Who is this girl? Where did she come from?” what do you think would be the response? What would you hope to be the response?

Class Dismissed!

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Special thanks to Miss Jessica McGinnis for her contributions to this blog post. Please visit her blog: That’s Jess the Way It Is, and follow her on Twitter: @JessForJesus.