Just say “no”?

There’s a movement in the States called “The Abstinence Movement”. It’s generated out of Christian churches who are wanting to elevate a Godly perspective of sexual purity and honour in a sex-soaked culture that de-values sexual purity and promotes the sexualisation of women, children and … well … pretty much everyone and everything!

The heart behind the movement is to encourage young people to make a commitment to abstain from sexual intercourse prior to marriage. In some cases, young people participate in “purity ceremonies” where, before their parents and members of their church, they pledge abstinence – inclusive of putting a ring on their wedding finger – until they get their actualwedding ring.

This movement receives government funding as a social health strategy.

In recent times, the government has been reassessing their funding of the movement after research conducted indicated no discernible difference in the sexual activity (loss of virginity, promiscuity, sexual regret or transmitted diseases) of those who were IN the program when compared to those who weren’t.

Clearly the message of “just say no” – even if accompanied by a piece of jewellery! – is not enough on its own. We need a sound understanding of sexuality and sexual purity rather than reducing it to a simple statement or a once-off pledge.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 gives us something of God’s perspective on this area of our personal discipleship.

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; … learn to control your body in a way that is holy and honourable … no one should wrong a brother or sister or take advantage of them.” (condensed)

As leaders, parents and ‘adults’ in the worlds of our young people it falls to us to help them grasp a full awareness of God’s design for our sexuality – that within a covenanted married relationship the full expression and exploration of sexual intimacy would bring a couple to unity and an incredible depth of relationship.

We all need to establish a firm grounding in the truths of this beautiful gift God gives to us in order to equip us to navigate a world that distorts and detracts from what He designed us to experience. The “no” we would encourage our young people to say is to the counterfeit joy and satisfaction that is offered in our sexually broken culture. God has a bigger and better “yes” that needs to be before us always.

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Discerning Drinkers

It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a fan of Diet Coke. It’s my beverage of choice. I like the bubbles – that’s the main appeal – and it works for me because I’d rather eat my calories than drink them and when I have the caffeine-free variety, essentially it’s just brown bubble water that I’m drinking – and I’m ok with that! 🙂

Basically I don’t drink any other soft drink. Not Coke, not even Coke Sugar Free – not Pepsi (Pepsi Max, Pepsi Light, Pepsi Next etc), not Sprite or Fanta … just Diet Coke. If I’m on a plane or at a restaurant and they don’t have Diet Coke I’ll just drink water – that’s how loyal I am to Diet Coke! 🙂

The thing is though, if I am SUPER thirsty …I’m somewhere really hot and I’m NEEDING hydration or I’ve been exercising or something … I’ve been known to lower my standards and drink one of the aforementioned beverages! It’s a compromise and it goes against my inner-sensibilities – but there are some times when the desperation of thirst overrides my discernment and my better judgement!

You hear stories of survival in extreme situations – Stuart Diver trapped in the Thredbo landslide, Aron Ralston of “127 hours” fame (a rock climber who got his hand stuck in a rock and famously severed it in order to free himself) etc –  where people have got so desperate for hydration that they drank their own urine! Because ultimately, thirst is a need that MUST be satiated! In the end, the need of our body will override any stigmas or distaste in order to get what is required to sustain the functions of the body.

In John 4:7-26, Jesus uses this basic human need to illustrate the most fundamental of spiritual needs. He meets a woman at a well, where she has come to get ACTUAL water, and speaks to her about the needs of her heart that can only be satisfied by “living water” – that is, relationship with Christ Himself.

This woman has been married multiple times and is living with a guy who isn’t her husband – you can appreciate something of the brokenness she must’ve experienced in her life. She’s drawing water in the middle of the day – possibly to avoid the other women of the town (unfortunately, we can too easily imagine what the attitude and action of people might have been toward her). Some speculate that the reason for her multiple marriages is infertility – there was no greater stigma than being unable to bear children and it would’ve been an acceptable grounds for her husbands to reject her.

As innate as our physical need for water is our soul need for relationship. It’s how we were made – created in the image of a relational God to experience fullness of relationship in Him. Our need for relationship is a powerful driving force in our life, a desire that seeks fulfilment, a need that propels us to do whatever we must in order to satisfy it.

Jesus talks about a kind of relationship that wholly satisfies – found in the love of our Heavenly Father and made possible for us through Jesus Himself – where our deepest needs and hearts desires are met completely.

When the object of our heart is Him, the focus of our devotion, the source of understanding of ourselves, the sense of acceptance, value and belonging is met in Him and through the love He pours out upon us we find our need for relationship satiated. When we are no longer relationally “dehydrated” we are then far more discerning in our relationships with others. We are better positioned to GIVE because our needs aren’t tied up in them; we process praise or criticism more appropriately, we handle disappointment more effectively – in fact we are disappointed LESS OFTEN because our expectations are more realistic, we are less influenced by others’ opinions and pressures.

Imagine the transforming impact on your relationships if you were so fulfilled in relationship with Jesus that you didn’t NEED anything from others – rather, you were just able to enjoy what they DID give you and to give generously to them. THAT is the invitation Jesus offered the woman at the well and offers still to us – “whoever drinks what I give them will never thirst again”.

Tell me about yourself!

Have you ever watched “Sunrise” in the mornings? Have you seen the “Cash Call” competition? A registered phone number is randomly selected and called. If they answer within five rings they win $10,000 (or more if it has jackpotted!).

You can imagine there’s a whole lot of screaming and repeating things like “are you serious!?” and once that has died down the hosts often say to the winner, “tell us something about yourself.” [The only thing the viewer submits is their name and where they live – nothing else is known about them.]

It intrigues me to listen to what they say – things like “I’m a mother of 3” or “I’m a retired architect”; “I have 3 cats and a budgie” or “I’m 29 years old”. Continue reading

Why we do what we do …

The most powerful driving force in our lives, what motivates us more than anything else, is our need for love. We are all addicted to love. Our greatest needs (beyond the physical stuff required to sustain life) centre around love; our need for value and acceptance and to know a sense of inclusion and belonging. Fundamentally, everything we do comes out of this core need. We may all express it in different ways, but at the heart of us all is an overwhelming yearning for love.

The reason we are all the same in this is because that’s how God created us! He made us to experience and enjoy intimate relationship with Him that would be fuelled and secured by the most incredible love. Where our value, belonging, sense of self, position and purpose would all be found in relationship with Him and in light of all HE is.

The problem came, way back in the garden, when ‘we’ turned our back on God and made it impossible to be in intimate relationship with Him.  The incredible gift of Jesus to us made it possible to be restored – but the reality of our brokenness and fallenness is we don’t experience the fullness of this relationship on earth as it will be in Heaven.

So we go looking to fill the void that is left. In varying degrees we find ourselves filled with God’s love, satisfied in His heart and thoughts towards us and the Spirit’s presence in our lives. But there is a shortfall.

While we are all the same in that we each HAVE a “Love Void” – we are also each unique in how it is shaped, how it will manifest and where we will look to fill it.

This is shaped by so many different factors: age, gender, life experiences (positive & negative), upbringing, intellectual and emotional development/capacity, country and culture, health status, spiritual life and experience … so many things that impact how our Love Void presents in our lives.

EXPERIENCES – FEELINGS – BEHAVIOURS

All of our life choices, our behaviours, attitudes and responses follow this similar pattern. Something happens – an ‘experience’ – that could be positive or negative, helpful or harmful … and it will illicit an emotional response – a ‘feeling’ – happy, sad, rejected, affirmed etc (again, all unique to us – the same experience can result in varied emotional responses for different people) … and this shapes our behaviour.

For example, we experience the loss of a friend (for any reason – death, falling out, moving away etc) which causes feelings of grief and loss, sadness and loneliness which leads us to behavedifferently as a result. We might become more guarded, less likely to open up to a new friendship. We might become more clingy and needy or more protective and cautious. We might become more thankful and celebrate life more in light of an increased knowledge of how fleeting it can be.

EVERY behaviour is borne of a feeling which is informed by an experience – inclusive of our ‘experience’ of God. How we do relationships, the lifestyle choices we make, how we spend our money, how we approach study and success, how we engage in faith and church life, where we work, where and how we live … all of these things are behaviours that are fuelled by feelings which are sparked by experiences. And in the engine room, the mechanism that is generating all of the motivation and activity, is our need for love.

God invites us to draw from Him, to gain our sense of self, value, acceptance, belonging and love in Him. He is unchanging, His heart towards us is love, and He is faithful. By His Spirit He works with us to refine and mature us and to use all of our experiences for our good and His glory.

In love with love

Consider this quote from Pastor Jeff Benson

“There would be very few people from any race, creed or religion that wouldn’t agree with the idea that marriage (and pre-marriage) relationships must be built on a foundation of LOVE … not just to ensure that they go the distance, but also for them to be the wonderful thing they are meant to be! 

The problem, however, is that the world typically defines love in an upside-down-inside-out kind of way. 

All too often the music we listen to or the movies we watch define love by the romantic feelings that we have towards someone when we open up our heart to them. 

This is a HUGE mistake, because essentially these heightened feelings are that of the need to be loved, not love itself … they represent a self-seeking desire rather than the selfless love that God calls us to place at the foundation of our relationships.”

Love is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot and used in a plethora of contexts. “I love my Mum”, “I love chocolate”, “I love this song”, “I love my dog”, “I love football”.

When it comes to relational love, many have tried to define or describe it …but more often than not, as Jeff said, the focus is on the feelings of in-love-ness. What it feels like to be the object of another’s affection. What it means to have all your sense of self tied up in the attention and opinion of another. Love is defined in measures of romantic gestures …the lengths another will go to in order to demonstrate how in-love they truly are.

“You hang up!” “No, YOU hang up!” – it must be love!

In the absence of a Biblical understanding of love and the subsequent personal implications of that, we are at the mercy of our feelings and others to define that for us.

We need to start with God who IS love and look to Him; to His word to align ourselves with what is on His heart for us to know and embrace. What IS love? What will it look like in MY life? How does it INFORM my feelings and responses?