On Sex, Jesus and Telling the Truth.

Recently, I listened to a teacher speak about God’s intent for sex. He’s a good guy, a mature Christian, who told some very nice stories about hand holding with a girl he liked in junior high. He talked about God’s hand in his marriage at age 18 and how happy he is abstinence education is taught at his kids’ school.

Some of you were unaware such people still exist. They do. Actually, there are lots of them and he was making a solid point.

However, the week before, I stood at the same podium and told the same audience that 1 in 3 American girls and 1 in 6 American boys will be sexually abused/raped before age 18. That means, statistically, six people listening had a sexual history vastly more complex than hand holding in junior high. Not to mention the people like me who, for years, thought when it came to sex and everything else, that free and unrestrained meant the same thing. (They don’t but more on that later.)

I struggle with this disparity all the time.

Working just from statistics, we know hand holding in junior high is hardly a majority experience. To ignore that fact will make lots of people smile, nod and vow to never ever bring up at church what their 20’s actually looked like – or their 10’s.  When we pull on masks to fit in, we meet the literal definition of the Greek word hypokritḗs – a stage actor wearing a mask. The tragedy of it is, by hiding the conflicting or confusing parts of ourselves, we bury the exact things Jesus died to redeem.

There absolutely is a high biblical standard for sexuality – read it.  We’re just so far from it, to some it sounds like crazy talk. But that’s the way culture works, and frankly, this post isn’t about defending a biblical worldview OR judging how people live. It’s about being honest with who you are, how you got there and how to let Jesus into that in a platitude-free way.

Because, standing in the temple 700 years after Isaiah predicted it, Jesus said:

“THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED…” Luke 4:18

Read it again: “To set free those who are oppressed”  …. For whatever reason.

I know people, Christians and non, who are struggling with dirty, black secrets; ones they are sure would prompt their immediate rejection should they surface. Shame is heck of a thing, its chief and most insidious lie being: “I’m the only one.”

That’s the lie that keeps people bound up and smiling at church, but cruising the self-help section at the bookstore, wondering how much Oxcontin it would take to make the pain go away.

That exercise, my friends, is sponsored by the enemy because he knows, as long as you stay strong, with the lid on tight, he can use your shame to control you.

But are you ready for the world’s best news?

In him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5 NIV.

As dark and nasty as the secret is, it vanishes when the light comes on. It may light up a lot of residual dirt and garbage, but at least you can see it clearly and make a plan to clean it up. Jesus called himself, “The Light of the World,” but it only works if you switch it on.

This is such a present tense value of following Jesus, and to me the highest and best calling of the church: To be people who chose to trust him, who chose to let his light shine in every dark room – even ones we kind of prefer dark.

So, if you’re dying of secret shame, look for those people – the ones who are fine with their old cracks and bullet-holes because the light shines through them in interesting ways. Often, these people are the ones who will jump into the breach with you and keep his light shining, until you can both see the way out.


*as ever friends, my views are my own and not that of my employer.

On Razor Wire and Worship.

My fascination again with concertina wire. I'v...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Christmas Eve, an inmate with a shaved head and a white jumpsuit walked up to me carrying a clipboard.

“Um sorry, I just need you to initial this,” he said. “It tells the State of Texas you’re aware that, if there’s a riot and you get taken hostage, they won’t negotiate for your release.”

“Oh, ok,” I said. Scribble, scribble.

Walking through gate after locked gate topped with loops of razor wire, a guard named Rose told us attendance would be high for our Christmas Eve service because “there were females” – a skeezy bit of information I could have done without. But Rose, I suspect, doesn’t suffer Christian naiveté well and didn’t want a bunch of happy, clappy dopes milling around the yard hugging inmates for Jesus.

“Ladies, these are murderers, rapists and drug addicts and some of them haven’t seen a woman in years,” she said.

What am I doing here? is a fine question to ask when entering a medium security prison full of maximum security offenders, but I’ve found, if I’m really following Jesus closely, I’m bound to wind up in prison or under a bridge in Long Beach, or on Skid Row in LA or in the Zambian bush.

My friend Beth is an author and despite being single, childless and never incarcerated, she co-wrote a book for men in prison, teaching them how and why to pray for their children. She goes to prisons to give her book away, but this unit is a little different, a little scarier, so she asked Sam and me to come too.

“They don’t deserve it,” Sam hollered as I was talking him into it. “Those people have killed people, they are in prison for a reason.”

Of course he’s right and so is Rose. They don’t deserve visitors on Christmas Eve. They don’t deserve mercy. They don’t deserve grace.

And neither do I.

But I got it anyway, and isn’t that the good news of Christmas?

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” says the Apostle Paul. “Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.” Romans 3:24

Inside the gym, two guards sit above the crowd in something like lifeguard stands. In the corners are cages with doors that open only to the outside. Guards hunch in them with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets in their guns, while a few other guards mill around the room. Should these ten or so people lose control of the nearly 500 inmates, their only choice is to slam the doors and lock the building down with everybody, including us, inside.

That idea was intolerable to Sam.

“Listen,” he said to Beth and me as we sat quietly in the speaker chairs up front. “Nothing’s going to happen, but if it does, I want you to run into the corner by the guard cage. There’s not much I can do but get my ass kicked while taking a few of them out.”

Then he trotted to the back door, where he, Steve and Jeff shook hands with every inmate as they filed in – an experience Sam later described like a dream sequence for all the things he could see in their faces. Their gratitude shocked him though. “Oh my God,” he said. “You can’t imagine how happy they are we’re here.”

Lots of churches, either by omission or design, teach that following Jesus is a long exercise in securing personal blessing – more safety, more comfort, more happiness – but that isn’t really what the gospel says.

Jesus said, six times, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” He also said, “I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.

Freedom Songs

Beth is small and soft-spoken but the Holy Spirit swirls around her like mist, and when she took the stage, the room went dead silent. I mean you’ve never heard such silence. She talked so plainly about prayer and the love of God, that when she finished, the men leaped to their feet and roared for her. Many of them sat right down and began reading her book.

Then Steve got up and asked an inmate in the first row his name.

Cory.

Steve read John 3:16 like this:

“For God so loved Cory, that He gave His only begotten Son, that if Cory believes in Him, Cory shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge Cory, but that Cory might be saved through Him.…”

Cory has already been judged and is living the brunt of that verdict, but as the prison worship band played, I watched Cory close his eyes and sing about Jesus, holding his hands over his heart as through it might break. The band got louder and the voices grew stronger until the singing of 485 men got so loud, I couldn’t hear my own voice.

I need you Jesus to come to my rescue, where else can I go? There’s no other name by which I am saved. Oh capture me with grace, I will follow you. – New Song

Can you imagine this? Hundreds of men, the worst of the worst, locked up in one of the unholiest, meanest places in the State of Texas, worshiping Jesus with their hands in the air, creating such a joyful noise that the room was nearly vibrating. I have no doubt we captured ground in that dark place.

I prayed for those men and the countless people they’ve hurt. Then I prayed for the people who hurt them first, setting them up for this heinous cycle of death and destruction – the very cycle Jesus interrupted.

For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death – See more at: http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Death,-Defeated#sthash.pTKm07Ei.dpuf

He crushed it people. Redemption is here. It’s our choice to live like we believe it.

For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death – See more at: http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Death,-Defeated#sthash.pTKm07Ei.dpuf
For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death – See more at: http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Death,-Defeated#sthash.pTKm07Ei.dpuf

Merry Christmas.

Thanks Mom and Dad.

A few nights ago, I was soaking in a tub of lavender bubbles, reading a book with glass of wine, when a song came on my favorite 70’s soft rock station: Billy Joel – Just the Way You Are.

Don’t go changing to try and please me, you never have let me down before, mmm hm mm mmmmm.

Seventies soft rock was the soundtrack of my childhood…Gordon Lightfoot. Elton John, Dan Hill and Stevie Nicks.

Anytime I hear their songs, I feel like I’m four again, standing on a bench with my nose up to the birdcage, or at my mom’s heels while she makes lasagne and I melt crayons on a warming tray covered with tin foil. Those songs lodged deep as I rode in the backward backseat of our Oldsmobile station wagon, with AM station KJR on the radio.

Just the Way You Are turned my bathroom into our 24th street house, with the yellow counter tiles and red shag carpet, and for one little moment I felt in my bones just how safe and loved I was as a child, how careful and intentional Jane and Mike Quirk were as they worked their heads off to create something I thought everybody had.

In the 70’s and early 80’s, my dad floated private school educations and bought Christmas trees so large they had to be wired to the living room walls with eyebolts and fishing line. Suddenly I was eight again in the 42nd Street house where strawberry birthday cakes were baked and consumed on a deck with long views of Mt. Rainier and a pile of kids milling around my mom.

That’s what being cherished looks like, and I know now it was no accident. No small thing.

It’s no small thing when your Dad scours every record store in the greater Seattle area looking for Dan Hill’s Greatest Hits because you said you wanted it for Christmas, never imagining a universe where Dan Hill didn’t have a Greatest Hits album.

It’s no small thing when he spends $300 to make a summertime marshmallow roast on a clam-covered beach even more awesome by lighting up the Hood Canal with illegal fireworks.

It’s no small thing when your mom spends eight hours behind the wheel of a yellow Bayliner hauling you and your friends out of cold, glassy water so you can shriek and giggle as you ski on top of it; or when she kicks off your every birthday for decades with a scratchy cassette tape song performed by kid singer named Captain Zoom.

That’s what devotion looks like. That’s a way of saying to your kids, “you have no idea how much you matter.”

0310Not all kids had or have that, but I did and so did Sam. Here’s some visual evidence that sadly lacks Sam’s mom Betty Jo, who went home to Jesus too early for our taste.

But as one reader pointed out to me this week, even rough childhoods can be redeemed. She’s done some hard work on hers and built a snug, little haven of imagination and delight where her children know they are prized. That’s what God and redemption look like in her world.

Mike and Jane Quirk are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this June – a feat that deserves the week in France we’ve got planned, actually it deserves a week on Mars, but the South of France will have to do. None of us is perfect, not them not me, but if life’s like a report card, sometimes the grade that really matters is the one you get for effort.

So for all of you parents out there who scour Pinterest for cupcake recipes and sing little songs to your kids at night, keeping ever alert for the shimmering intangibles you can shower on them just so they know they are important and beloved, this one’s for you.