My Surrender

Once a heart of stone now flesh

A gift bestowed on one You adore.

My emotions stir afresh

Into my heart Your love does pour.

 

For I know so well this darkness

That I give thanks for that which is Light.

Once trapped in a pit of hopelessness

I now soar to an unfathomed height.

 

It is here I kneel and surrender

where there is no pride or shame

my sin You bore on the cross

and my just punishment you claim.

 

Such love is wonder beyond wonder

such truth I cannot grasp

Your grace I can but ponder

your every mercy makes me gasp.

 

There are no words or songs

Of thanks for the freedom I now know

from the sin and from the wrongs

under whose weight I once bowed.

 

I nearly knelt before my enemy

Who accused and declared blame

But now I choose my own King

Whose sovereignty I proclaim.

 

For my name is written on His hands

and His on the tablet of my heart

and from one another

ne’er shall we part.

Gentle Heart

Gentle heart, you surprise me.

How did I not know your desires?

You begin to race at his glance.

I wonder what hope he inspires?

Eyes hidden behind a curtain of hair

I act as if I don’t notice his gaze,

Like he is just one in a sea of people

When his presence has me in a daze.

I try to stifle the audacious hope

that his heart beats the same as mine.

 

 

Encountering Mystery

I had spent a very, very long time trapped in a space mentally and emotionally which felt like complete hopelessness and loneliness, clinging to a tiny shred of hope. It was like the glow of a single, twinkling Christmas light in what felt like an otherwise black abyss. I had started going to Crossroads about 10 months before, and a series of events had made me curious enough to begin asking, “Is there a God? And if there is, is God good? Who am I to God?” This ended up with me landing in India, going to some of the darkest places I could imagine, and challenging this God to show up.

I experienced a moment there that I will never forget. Crossroads partners with several homes in Mumbai and Kolkata, India, that rescue girls and women from sex trafficking. I was in the first group that went to Kolkata and we spent one of our days there putting on a day camp for the girls. We sang, we danced, we played, we taught each other songs and we also did some crafts. One of the crafts was to make a beaded bracelet or necklace. The different colored beads stood for things that were important to us or things we wanted. Examples would include hope, friendship, love, wisdom, etc. I was making a bracelet with one of the girls when she noticed the beads I had chosen to use. “No, no, no. More love.” I was confused, and asked her what she meant and she smiled and laughed at me. “You!” She pointed. “More love,” she said as she pointed at my bracelet, which barely included that color at all. She then proceeded to dismantle my entire bracelet and fill it with the color of love.

My heart broke in the most wonderful way possible in that moment, like walls around it were crumbling. It was as if all the darkness I felt like I was covered in turned into a liquid and puddled at the bottom of me and suddenly, the world seemed to be made of color. Of light. This child who had been through so much could see the very thing I felt I lacked but that I so desperately longed for and she piled it on, unabashedly. She taught me to worship as we sung, “Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say, Rejoice!” I was overwhelmed, I was baffled, I was in the process of becoming. If this young girl who had experienced the true darkness of mankind so fully could worship God, could call out for love with a hungry heart, than certainly there was something special happening here. Some kind of extraordinary goodness that could say, “Even in this place I will give you joy. Even in your suffering, you will know love. Loneliness is a lie because there is a God that loves you and is always with you.”

It wasn’t the first time or the last time that I encountered the Mystery of God, but it planted a seed of faith so deep inside of me that it successfully took root. I began a steadfast pursuit of this God that comes close, who moves in our lives today. While I’ll never fully know or understand God, I feel called into this Mystery that is. I get a sense that not only am I welcome to explore the character and nature of my God but that my desire to know God brings joy. When I begin feeling alone or discouraged, I look back on this moment and I remember how God used the ordinary to speak about the extraordinary and I rejoice.

Father Edwin Leahy (Catalyst Notes)

Father Edwin Leahy is impressive, although he doesn’t think so. There’s some videos below that explain a lot of what he has done and what his work is. Some of his insights as he spoke:

  1. Racism is America’s original sin.
    1. White people in power knew what they were doing, starting in the 1800’s, to neutralize black males who were now free, and that neutralization continues today.
    2. Most of the students he is responsible for at his all boy school are missing fathers. They need help discovering and amplifying their voice.
  2. Be quiet and listen. Folks in the community will eventually tell you what they need.
  3. Tell people, ‘God loves me to the cross. But also, love others.’
  4. Recognize attitudes versus the vastness and vagueness of “culture.”
    1. Whatever helps or hurt my brothers and sisters helps or hurts me.
    2. Tend to their hearts.
    3. Create community.
    4. Create leadership opportunities.
    5. Accepting the Other and where they are.
  5. Be okay with arguing; sometimes provoke fights. It’s not okay to stay comfortable.
  6. Remember: the orchestra tunes to the first violinist.
  7. Develop listening skills.
    1. People will teach you how you can best be of service to them.

He said, “I wasn’t called to be successful, I was called to be faithful.” A great joy is seeing boys who graduated return as fathers with their kids.  They are designed to be a community that bears one another’s burdens. He told a story of an expelled student who was a Junior and he never left. He sat outside his office for two days and the Father told the other boys, “No, he’s out.” The next morning, the kids hid him. During attendance, they’d call his name as absent when he was there and then stopped. They spent the year avoiding each other and his Senior year the Father welcomed him back.

Why is there a fence around this school in downtown Newark? It marks off holy ground in the middle of a city in struggle. Like Moses, in the middle of the ordinary we encounter the extraordinary. Remember: Not all fires destroy; some fires ignite us.

Just a little bit about Father Edwin Leahy and what he does.

Remember…

What a Day

As I was working today, out of nowhere, the thought crossed my mind, “Ask for prayer from Colin _________.” So weird. I worked on the same team as him for a few months maybe 5 years ago and ran into him once at church. I’m not even friends with him on facebook or linkedin. But I felt pushed to act so after an internal debate, I sent him a message that said:

Hey Colin, I don’t know if you remember me but we worked together at ___________ and you gave me some pointers about God (thanks again, btw)? Well, I was just sitting here working and felt super prompted to ask you for prayer. I don’t know WHAT I’m supposed to ask you to pray for but… it’s a really strong push so I’m just going to put this out there. I hope all is going well for you. Thank you, Kara

He ended up replying to me, thanking me for being obedient. He asked for us to talk on the phone (because he felt God prompt him to pray for me over the phone). When I saw his message I sent him my availability and number. Then, as I was making brussel sprouts later (because yum) the thought passed through my mind, “Give them your tickets.” And I was like, NOPE. See, I had these two tickets to see Mumford & Sons and I was super excited because I couldn’t get tickets to see them when they came through a couple years ago. Unfortunately, my friend backed out of going to see them because she decided to go to Germany so I’d been trying to find someone to go with. On Sunday I had even prayed about finding someone to go to Mumford. But then this… I kind of tried to pitch the idea to God of selling them instead, if God didn’t want me to go,  but that didn’t sit well. The more I tried to find a way out of it, the more certain I was that I was supposed to offer them to him. Maybe he’d say no? Maybe it was about obedience, not sacrifice?

So he calls and I ask if he likes Mumford and he’s kind of indifferent but says he’ll check with his wife. We chat a little and he prays prophetically for me. During the prayer, he says that all kinds of doors are going to open for me, with business and (this word slipped my mind, but I sensed community or a growing togetherness). He said that I’d know what to do because God would shine a light on those things; that God would make my path clear to me. He thanked God for hope, and said that I was entering a new phase; a time of thankfulness and that there was great power when I give thanks to God. He said that God enjoys watching me (I sensed delight), that I’m like a little bird soaring into the sky, flapping my wings, soaring and tweeting. Then he saw freedom from my past, gave thanks to God for healing from the past and it’s redemption through God.

I thanked him. I told him I actually had a tattoo of a bird soaring into the sky, wings spread, which I got over a year ago when I kept seeing the image in my head. He suggested that God was affirming that vision. I also said that I was getting ready to speak on grace and I would be talking about ex’s and my past. I hadn’t realized until his prayer that I needed the encouragement and comfort of these words. Then we ended the conversation after I thanked him for what felt like a dozen times.

I heard from him a little later that his wife likes Mumford and if they could arrange a babysitter they’d love the tickets. Later tonight, he confirmed they were good and I sent him the tickets. As hard as it was, I am thankful that God would use me to bless a couple with a nice night out. I want to remember that it’s more about generosity and obedience than sacrifice. Anyways, that’s it. Just felt like I should record this somewhere.

A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Six)

I’d strongly suggest starting at Part 1, it’s probably worth it. We’re diving into “The Talk,” in chapter 8. It’s maybe the talk we should have gotten, but most of us didn’t, and even if we did, most of us didn’t listen.

Sex isn’t just physical. Sex in more than just physical. Way more.” (132) Many of us might feel the truth in this statement, but often don’t act that way. Society doesn’t tell us this either: hook-up culture is rampant. If you’re being safe and it’s consensual, enjoy. Satisfy those physical urges, right? But sex is more because you are more. You are way more than a body. Think this isn’t true? “If sex is just physical, then once any physical damage was healed, that would be the end of it. Granted, there may be some residual trust issues to work through. But every pastor, counselor, and victim knows the flood of emotions associated with sexual abuse goes way beyond trust issues.” (133) Andy Stanley walks through several more examples, including rape, to help highlight the fact that sex goes way beyond the physical.

He then looks at the connection between sexual addiction and alienation from fathers. Having talked to dozens of men with these issues, something else was revealed: “The men I’ve talked to would be quick to tell you their sexuality and their sexual struggles are not just physical. Something other than their male appetite for sex was driving their self-destructive behavior. Many of these men had given up on actual sex.” (136) Consider this, if sex is “just sex,” why the sense of betrayal when someone in a marriage has sex with someone outside a marriage? Why is that one of the deepest cuts you can make to the trust in your relationship? Or why do people care about the sexual history of the person you date? It comes down to our desire for intimacy. “You may find this difficult to believe, but you have an appetite for intimacy… knowing fully and being fully known… There’s a significant and mysterious connection between one’s sexual experience and one’s capacity to experience relational intimacy.” (138)

What does this mean? It means the sexual choices you make now will influence your marriage later. It means that what we do now has an impact on what we can experience later. Pretending something isn’t true (like intimacy being important doesn’t help you, it sets you up for disappointment. “The heartbreaking consequence of our sexually liberated culture is that single men and women are undermining their own potential for sexual fulfillment later in life.” (141) The more partners you have, the more your experience of sexual intimacy decreases. This is the outcome of separating sex from the significance it has to us beyond the physical.

“What is touted as safe for the body is dangerous for the soul. While your body is designed with the capacity to successfully accommodate multiple sex partners with no apparent consequences, you are not.” (143) And this isn’t just your history; it’s the history that will impact and influence your future partner for life. While we can certainly alter our path now, it is worth noting the difference between forgiveness and consequences. The past doesn’t necessarily remain the past: you bring into your bedroom memories, guilt, comparison (or the fear of it), etc. This isn’t saying that you shouldn’t be with anyone who has a sexual past. It IS saying that you should understand what that was and what repercussions it may have.

“Over 30 percent of the couples that come to us for premarital counseling are already living together. Of the remaining 70 percent, most are already involved sexually. You might assume couples who are living and sleeping together have worked through the sexual challenges created by their sexual histories. Not so.” (144) Why? This goes back to the earlier chapters that mention that adding sex to a relationship stunts the ability to build healthy relationships. Andy Stanley requires those going through premarital counseling to cease sexual activity before marriage, and they have those living together make separate living arrangements as well. Why? Taking sex out of the equation makes talking about issues easier. “Those who comply thank us later. And only 7 percent call off the wedding.” (145) He gives other examples for why this no sex before marriage is a good idea, but I think that the gist of it is pretty clear. Working to preserve your purity now makes a path for deeper intimacy in the future.

You might think abstaining from sex outside of marriage is only for teens. It’s not meant for newly single adults, right? Or maybe you think that if the damage is done, is it really worth stopping at this point? Ask yourself this: “Has sex as a single… made your life better or more complicated? If God is a heavenly Father who loves you and wants the best for you… and he knows sex apart from marriage will complicate your life… what would you expect him to say about it?” (148) The thing is, each time we sexually engage with a person and then it ends, we end up hardening our heart a little more. Insulating ourselves a little more (the opposite of intimacy). We lie to ourselves, we say it was meaningless, that we’re over it. This is true of all of us, if we really look at ourselves. If we look at our choices and the effects it has. If we look at how we relate to people.

“All regret is difficult to live with. Sexual regret may be the most difficult. So we lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves we haven’t done anything wrong. It was his fault. Her fault. You were young. You were drunk. All of which may be true. But you’re still guilty. Nobody wants to feel guilty. So we create narratives we can live with and move on. Or attempt to.” (150) When we acknowledge this (some might call it sin), things shift. When we change our path from sexual encounters to preservation for marriage (let’s call this an act of repentance), things break free. You move towards a healthy understanding of sex and intimacy in relationships. It’s how you engage in that process we’ve been calling becoming.

A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Five)

I really didn’t mean for this to be a 14 part series or whatever, but I’ve learned so much from this that it’s super hard to trim it all down. While I recommend starting at Part One and reading through each post (each post hyperlinks to the next), I think you’ll still glean nuggets from this if you don’t.

Chapter 6 is for the male readers, but how do I skip a chapter? So I moved forward with reading “Gentleman’s Club,” whose purpose is not to shame but rather inspire guys to become gentlemen. “And not gentlemen as in the flashing neon sign outside a strip club. Real gentlemen don’t spend their discretionary time and money in strip clubs. Don’t believe me? Ask strippers. They know.” (101) Looking back at previous chapters, this one asks guys to step out of their child-like ways and step into the ways a gentleman views and treats a woman. And guys, this is some premium stuff. Why? “If you get this right, you’ll be in high demand. Become a gentleman and you will be the man most women are looking for.” (102)

Let’s take a few steps back to a time not so long ago when women were seen as commodities (like pork, oil, gold, real estate, cattle, etc.): they were assigned a certain value and then used as a means to procure other things of value. This means they were used the same way money is: sold, bought, traded, used for reward, given away, etc. They didn’t have a say in the matter because they were commodities. Furthermore, “Prostitution was legal, encouraged, and in many places, part of religious tradition. In ancient Rome men used prostitutes as a form of birth control… Once a man had an heir, it was easier and more convenient to withhold sex from his wife and take pleasure elsewhere.” (103) Andy Stanley goes on to say (and stick with me until the end here) that men treated women this way not just because of the culture, but also because of what men are. He says that without social or legal guidance, this is their ‘default,’ if you will. Why? Because in places where social or legal protection isn’t present, this type of treatment continues in our world even today. “Women’s rights have evolved. Men have not. This is why the porn industry is recession proof. In the US it’s illegal for men to own, trade, abuse and discard women. So men can only fantasize about it. And we do. To the tune of about ten billion dollars a year.” (103) Then Andy dives into the sex trade as well as the thousands of women and children fundamentally enslaved for sexual use in our country today.

This unsavory aspect is not hidden in the dark corners of society. Rather, women as a commodity is portrayed in television, movies, music, etc. Why? “It’s the promise of sex that sells. But it’s not just the promise of sex. Let’s be grown-ups about this. It’s the promise that this product will increase a man’s potential for gratifying himself sexually with a sexually attractive woman, with the option of discarding her for another when he chooses.” (104) Where does this leave us? Men continue to act like they did millennia ago and women are often complicit in the view of themselves as a commodity. So what’s a guy to do?

Christianity came in with a whole new game that, when correctly applied, radically transformed the role and status of women in the world: Jesus revealed that God loved the ladies just as much as he loved the guys and this was revolutionary. “Just do a quick mental review of what you know about how other religions allow, and in some cases encourage, men to treat women. We are deceived into thinking that we are simply more sophisticated. Wrong…We’re not more sophisticated, we are more Christian.” (106)

So what’s the big deal? Jesus taught that God would understand our love for him through how we loved others, and others include women. While this might have been challenging for the Jews, this was upside down for the Greek and Roman cultures whose gods didn’t care for humans or their relationships with each other. It’s like when John wrote about Jesus talking to the woman at the well and his disciples were surprised. “The Greek term translated as surprised is translated in other sections of John as amazed. One translation says they marveled. Men didn’t talk to women in public.” (108) While the action Jesus took elicited this response, his interaction with the women drastically elevated her from her previous status. Merely by acknowledging women and engaging with them, he was elevating them in ways that nobody else was in that time.

Furthermore, Jesus was intentional about his inclusion of women. He wove them deeply into his story line in such a way that it would be impossible for them to be edited out. “For example, if it had been possible for the gospel writers to have navigated around the fact that women first discovered and announced the resurrection, I’m sure they would have. But there was no way past the truth that it was Jesus’ female followers who were up before dawn to visit the tomb.”  (109) Even then, and even in the bible, it captures the attitude towards women in that time when it says in Luke 24:11, “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed like nonsense.”

Jesus emphasized again and again our equality with one another before God. The fact that this was not generally believed to be the case is clarified through the reiteration of this in the bible, like in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” If people already knew this, lived it, it would be unnecessary to state. Furthermore, sexual expectations were applied in Christianity to both genders. Whereas in all other cultures, faithfulness and purity fell solely on the woman, in Christianity both genders were expected to remain chaste prior to marriage and faithful to one another until death divided them. Why did this need to be called out time and time again in the Bible? Because this was counter cultural. And if you didn’t, women were afforded greater rights than ever before in divorce. Where before, women had no rights but could be divorced without cause. When Jesus was asked if a man divorcing his wife was acceptable, he replied in Matthew 19:4-6 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Jesus called them all to a higher standard. What was the response of all the male disciples to this new standard? They told Jesus that if this were true, than it was best to not marry at all. 

So, alright, women are valued by God just as much as men are, and we’ve got Jesus saying that the only reason any person can dip out on a marriage is infidelity, but what about how we treat each other? Ephesians 5:28 says, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” I Peter 3:7 states, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner.” Again, consider why this even had to be stated: Jesus was elevating women above the station socially accepted by the culture at that time. And ladies ought not get fired up about that weaker partner stuff. There were violent, oppressive times, and often that violence was directed against that who had less strength physically, legally, socially, etc.

Today, in the United States, women have improved substantially on the rights they possess, but guys are still being guys. “By now men should have adopted the Golden Rule as it relates to sexual expression: do unto women the way you want men to do unto your daughters and sisters.” (114) A man applies this attitude to his life not because laws command it, but because he chooses to act in a way that will empower him to have a healthy sexual relationship that lasts a lifetime. “So guys, do you want to become the person the person you are looking for is looking for? Or are you content to get by with whatever you can with whomever will allow you to treat her that way?” (115)

Chapter 7 (The Way Forward) starts by reminding you that this isn’t just for your mother, sister and the women you date. Being a gentleman means that every woman is given the same dignity that you would show someone who made in God’s image. He challenges guys to examine their entertainment: music, movies, television shows, venues. You can’t escape the suggestive but you are able to eliminate exploitative. How do you tell the difference? “Exploitive (sp) is when you feel compelled to tackle your mom before she sees what’s on the screen.” (120)

Music? If you have a song that calls women bitches, whores, etc. delete it. There’s plenty of arguments for why this is okay (it’s cultural, I already paid for it, I don’t agree with it, etc.) but it comes down to this: “Words matter. Words are not only an expression of culture; they shape culture. They have the power to direct culture.” (120) If you turn a person into an adjective, it becomes easier to treat that person as an adjective than a person. Andy Stanley uses the example of what he read and witnessed in Rwanda and how Jews were labeled in Germany leading up to WWII. I could present similar examples in America when we look at the history of black people in this country, the Japanese during WWII, the labeling of Native Americas prior to their systemic eradication, etc. “If I can convince myself that you are less than human, I can treat you as such. Words matter. Labels are powerful. Adjectives are empowering. So do yourself and your future a favor and drop the derogatory adjectives. Especially toward women… A culture that degrades women is a culture that should be abandoned…not defended.” (122) Andy Stanley says that eventually, you’ll give yourself permission to degrade them and suggests that if you disagree, you go back and re-examine your last pornographic experience.

Erotic images, from Netflix to Showtime and HBO to porn, teaches us three lessons:

  1. One body isn’t enough.
  2. A real body isn’t enough.
  3. Your future wife’s body won’t be enough. (122)

Some guys might think that their hunger for this will go away when they meet the right person, but it doesn’t. He’s stuck because would never marry the kind of woman he watches in porn and other sexual content, but he can only find sexual gratification with the “bitches” and “whores” he consumes through that media. Furthermore, his hunger for other women and for the bodies he sees on the screen subtly (or not so subtly) pushes his spouse to feel insecure and inadequate. “Now if you think I’m making this up….ask said counselor if the scenario I’m describing sounds familiar. What you’ll quickly discover is that this is not a scenario the counselor hears occasionally, but weekly. Porn is job security for marriage counselors and divorce attorneys.” (123)

It comes down to this: if you want a healthy, happy, sexually-satisfying relationship, you’ll leave other women out of it. Google the effects that porn has on your brain. No bueno, my friend. “Internet porn takes advantage of the brain’s neuroplasticity to create new pathways. This is what gives Internet porn its addictive quality… The more porn a man consumes, the more severe the changes to the brain.” (124) Which ends up meaning that a real-life body won’t be able to stimulate you the way porn does. Crazy, right? You’d think that there’s nothing like the real thing but every time, porn will win and you’ll end up disappointed. “This is why more and more men need porn as a stimulant for sex. One body doesn’t do it for them. Their wives’ bodies don’t do it for them…In their efforts to experience the same high they find through porn, men crush the romance right out of their marriages.” (124-125) You’re creating competition for your wife’s body, and she’ll lose every time. Not because she isn’t beautiful, or she isn’t amazing, but because your brain isn’t wired to deal with what porn is.

To finish this part up, his last parting words to men on this topic is to be honest. If pornography is something that you’re going to bring into the relationship and keep, then she deserves to know what she will be competing with. That as lovely as she is, that she will never be enough to satisfy you sexually so you’ll be pleasuring yourself to other women. This isn’t sarcasm but sincerity. This issue is as important to know as debt, diseases, etc. She’s not a commodity being consumed on the screen after all, but a real person seeking real connection with someone who loves her faithfully. “You may get a little credit for being transparent if you tell her up-front. But you ain’t gonna get nothing but couch time if she discovers the truth later. You have something to fear either way.” So do the right thing and don’t head into marriage with this kind of secret. The other option is to accept, right now, that erotic imagery is destructive and to walk away from it, because that’s part of the preparation we keep talking about. Prepare now so you are ready then. You need time for recovery. Using pornography is an addiction (if you didn’t google the effect of porn on your brain and don’t believe me go google it) and addictions take time to recover from. Start now to prepare the future you for success.

Andy Stanley ends this chapter with a really big ask for anyone whose been consuming porn consistently for even a couple years: take a year off from dating, hooking up, meeting up, staying over, etc. For 365 days. Why? “You may hate me for this. In your current state you are incapable of treating a woman with the respect she is due. Incapable. I’m not saying you don’t know how. I’m saying you can’t do it… Your behavioral patterns have worn deep ruts. Your mind just goes there, doesn’t it?” (128) So he’s saying take time to heal. To renew yourself and create new patterns. Unsubscribe. Filter. Find new friends. Do not believe the lie that this is a sacrifice; it is an investment. Staying in a pattern of consuming erotic imagery is the sacrifice: the sacrifice of a healthy sex life, a healthy relationship and a happy future. Just think about it.

Want more? A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Six)