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Thursday, February 19, 2015

To Wear or Not to Wear . . . . the Yoga Pants Discussion

I'm going to chime in on the "yoga pants/Christian cleavage" debate here.

No, it is not the most urgent issue facing the Christian church, but yes, it is part of the larger discussion of Christian living because everything we do in the body matters. The only way we have to live out our faith is in the body; souls are unseen; they depend on the body to express what is inside. 

The Internet has been electrified. Blog watchers are astounded, shocked, indignant. In the international realm of the blogosphere, where anyone can have almost any opinion and can write of virtually any personal experience they've had or conclusion they've drawn, one woman has had the audacity to post the unbelievable. 


On January 6, 2015, this Christian woman, Veronica Partridge, blogged of her decision no longer to wear leggings (yoga pants) in public. The Internet has come alive with responses, both written and videoed, many of them disparaging. Her decision has been called "ridiculous" and "absurd." Some have even gone so far as to question her husband's marital faithfulness and insinuate that he "put her up to this" because of some deep issue of his own. And some think that she is doing this to make herself feel "more faithful." 


Frankly, in regard to many of the responses, it is more than a little awkward to see men and women discussing this topic in their klieg-lit studios, the men attempting to appear "above it all" and the women with lazily-crossed bare legs and short-skirted outfits. They seem to totally miss the point - the female body has power. That's pretty much the basis for the discussion in the first place.


The other point that seems very obvious to me is that no one has denied that yoga pants do indeed invite men to entertain lustful thoughts. I think the word "cause" might be too strong; after all, no one can make another person sin. But we can certainly make it easier for someone to stumble by what we do. 


Just listening to the young male journalists discuss this issue with silly grins on their faces is very telling. One young dude said that he liked yoga pants [for women] and that they "livened up his day." What is that supposed to mean? Have an idea? Another brave guy even admitted that yoga pants were "hot." Uh-huh. I think we understand that language.


A Christian man who wrote a very transparent response to this issue admitted that when the girls "sporting yoga pants or leggings . . . saunter through the door" of his local coffee shop, he will "catch myself peeking."


Guess it's pretty universal then. The appeal is there. No one has proven otherwise.


Here then are a few of the common reactions the public (and journalistic world) has had to Veronica's post and the VQ view of each of them.


  • "Saying that women should guard what they wear is disseminating the idea that a woman's body is dirty or shameful."
VQ view - The idea that a woman should guard what she wears speaks to her power and value. A diamond is cared for differently than a river rock. The sexual force of a woman (expressed in the design of her body) is not evil, but it is very powerful. That power should be protected and used appropriately. What is actually dirty and shameful are the thoughts and leers of uncontrolled men; being viewed as "hot" isn't really a compliment, but today's woman thinks it is.  
  • "Men are not so simple-minded that they have to lust after a woman's body in tight or revealing clothing. They need to take cold showers and cool it."  
VQ view - If that is so, then why is there even such a thing as pornography? Why do 68% of young adult men view porn at least once a week?  And why are men 543% more likely to view porn than women? (see porn stats) Is it only "simple-minded" men who are attracted and even addicted to pictures of female nudity? Could it be that God put a radar in the male psyche that responds to the female body and that our culture is exploiting that in wrongful ways?
  • "Men will look, regardless. Wear a garbage bag, and they will still lust."
VQ view - This statement, though it has been made in reference to the yoga pants debate, seems in direct opposition to the above point of view. But, taken at its own value, it implies that clothing is a superfluous entity, that it makes no difference what a woman wears anyway. I again point to the pornography empire which has made billions by using unclothed women. It does make a difference. Remember the pin-up gals of the World War 2 era? How come the popular ones weren't pics of girls in long skirts and full blouses? Yeah, I know the imagination can still be depraved whatever a woman is wearing. But come on. You can't expect reasonable people to believe that clothing makes no difference in this issue of lust. The whole of modern and past culture tells us differently. Only an ignorant person would claim otherwise.

  • "A woman should have the freedom to dress any way she chooses. She is not responsible for the way a man thinks."
VQ view - Western culture rebels against restriction and does not want to be told what or what not to do (or wear, in this case). One female host said that after an issue with a former boyfriend, she would never let anyone tell her what to wear again, not even a boss.  Okay; that's insightful. I'm sure she's a delight to get along with.


The prevailing attitude is "I can do what I want, and no one better challenge me." And the funny thing is that Veronica Partridge began her blog post with a disclaimer, saying that she was sharing a personal decision and was not telling others what they should do.  Some responses referred to this and admitted she had the right to her own view and decision. But many still felt that they needed to defend their own "right" to wear whatever, whenever. Makes you wonder if they didn't sense the truth of what she was saying . . . 


Women responding to her post have been enraged that someone should dare to suggest they should not wear something they like. And the men have said "hey, keep wearing the yoga pants if you want." Presumably, non-Christian men because they like the "perks," and Christian men because they feel it is their responsibility to take control of their thoughts and that their Christians sisters shouldn't feel burdened with their problem.  That's admirable, and even true on one level. But the deeper issue is that we are our "brother's keeper." Not to the degree that we must take total responsibility for his soul, but that we are to, as Romans 14:15 says "live in love" towards others. The writer was speaking of eating meat sacrificed to idols and how it could cause a "brother" to stumble in his faith. If what one eats could be serious enough to be considered, I think an article of clothing could as well. The goal should be to help one another on toward godliness, not put obstacles in the way for him or her to climb over.


"So let us concentrate on the things which make for harmony, and on the growth of one another’s character. Surely we shouldn't wish to undo God’s work for the sake of a plate of meat!" - Romans 14:20, Phillips 


Yet, on the other side, to conclude that men cannot help themselves is to sell short the grace of God and the strength He has placed in them. Men are exhorted in 1 Timothy 5:2 to act toward the older women as "mothers" and the younger women as "sisters." If men were to put this into place, it would certainly add a great deal of restraint, both in regards to pornography and  to thoughts about women in real life situations. 


This brings us to a similar blog post, this time by a pastor, Jarrid Wilson, with the title "The Problem with Christian Cleavage" and then revised to "The Importance of Modesty and Self-Control." Unfortunately, the original post has been taken down, but I have read his revised version. He has been criticized by some for an extreme view, but I thought his article was well written and his point well taken. 


It seems that he was primarily addressing those in the Christian community and calling on young women to guard their clothing and on young men to guard their minds.  Where is the problem with that? For generations, the church has addressed issues which are pertinent to the day and which are causing many to stumble. It has never been popular, but it has been the right thing. Pastors are the "watchmen" over the souls of their congregations and the world. Like the prophets of old, it is their solemn duty to identify the dangers and warn us. 


I applaud Pastor Wilson for taking his duty, his ministry and his family (he is a husband and soon-to-be father) seriously and putting out the word that we need to be careful. He's right. Christian women aren't always as careful as we should be. That's no more critical than saying that Christian men still struggle with the temptation to lust. The fact is, both men and women need reminders in this area of sexuality because it is so powerful and so intrinsically part of our beings. 


I am a woman who was raised as a child in a tradition of simplicity and modesty of dress. As an adult, I chose to embrace that style as my own. I have always lived with a close eye on my outward appearance and a heightened awareness of modesty; it is my comfort zone. I make no excuses, and I gladly stand where I am, but I realize others may not have that background. Yet, as the mother of a teenage son and the wife of a man who is also a pastor, I see from another angle that there is validation for taking care in the way we dress. I have to admit a sense of frustration with Christian women whose short skirts or cleavage-baring tops have me telling my son "Try to focus on her face." I do feel a degree of incredulity at women who claim Christ as Lord and yet make clothing choices that hug the curves and cling to the form and show way too much skin. I really don't get that. It seems to be living in oblivion to reality.


And yet, as a woman who has lived her entire life in the church world, I also admit frustration with the overdone attempts to "protect our men." I have heard statements made (with good intention) that were too hard on women, that did seem to make the female body a thing of shame, something to be hidden from babyhood. I have heard talks which seem to emasculate men, making them out to be powerless against sexual lust unless women helped them out. 


Perhaps the biggest pet peeve of mine, as a musician, was the "piano curtain" modesty shield. While I totally understand the whole "pianist on an elevated platform, legs in view, etc." to me it seemed that it was distrustful of women, that it doubted we could dress or sit decorously. I'm sure that was not the reason, and, perhaps, for me, that was my own bit of rebellion, my own statement of " it's your problem, not mine" my own version of pretending that a woman's body has no affect. In the end, I need to take my own advice; if a piano curtain helps others to godliness, then it is all right. Since I don't fully understand the temptations of men, I cannot expect to understand what they find helpful. A point of clarification though. . . some religions (Islam, for instance) would take this to the extreme, claiming that a woman's very body is inherently sinful and a tool to make men sin. There is a need for balance and good biblical sense and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.


So, to some degree, I know a little of both sides of this fence, and at this point in my journey, here are some other things I think I know:


1. A woman's body has power.

2. After the Fall in the Garden, sexuality was skewed and clothing was designed by God to cover nakedness. ( As I read it, that's pretty much the way it is).
3. Clothing design today trends toward revealing the feminine form by tight-fit or by exposure, not covering it.
4. Men have an internal radar that cannot ignore the female body. They are powerfully affected by sight. Exposed skin, clinging clothing invites their eyes.
5. We are responsible to help others on toward godliness, not hinder them.
6. Men are commanded to control their passions and thoughts by God's grace.
7. Women are instructed to dress in "respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control." (1 Tim. 2:9, ESV)
8. Yoga pants/leggings have sex appeal; they draw men's eyes. I haven't heard anyone deny it. 
9. Veronica's decision not to wear leggings or yoga pants in public was made out of a desire to honor God and her husband and other men. She was courageous and she was right. 
10. Ultimately, in the way we dress, think, act and "whatever we do, " we are to do it all "to the glory of God." (1 Cor. 10:31, ESV) That's the filter that brings it all into focus.
-- VQ


Sunday, February 8, 2015

What Satan Doesn't Want You to Know About Lust

You don't need to be told that everyday we are "invited" to indulge in sexual lust. And, it isn't even considered something to "tsk, tsk" about anymore; no, it's winked at and giggled about. But do we really understand what lust is? Me-love. Yeah, it's just a sickening fattening of the ego, a gorging of the inner desires that, in the end, brings brokenness instead of happiness. That's why we need Christ: His power is the only antidote to the poison of self. 


She reclines on a sandy beach, wearing a sultry smile and little else.  Her heart beats a little faster as she looks at the camera; men will find her attractive and gaze at her image with longing.  The promise of admiration feeds her desire for power . . . .

He is drawn to her picture; her beauty makes his pulse race and his senses go on high alert. He consumes her with his eyes, momentarily sating his appetite for pleasure  . . . .

Men like to look and women liked to be looked at - it’s the way humans are wired. And God made it that way. He called it good.

But something called sin entered the picture; and with one act of rebellion, everything was skewed. Human relations tilted and twisted, and self-centeredness became the core from which man and woman operate.

Self-Centered Sexuality
Genesis 3 records the sad account of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. This was a turning point for mankind, and the dynamics of human relationship have not been right since. Men and women find it difficult to understand one another. The distinctive traits of each have become irritants to the other. And the beautiful sexual force between them has been skewed.

 Since the “fall” of mankind, Satan has experienced tremendous success by using our sexuality against us. Knowing the power of womanly beauty and the magnetism of manly appeal, he works through our self-centeredness and tempts us to satisfy our own cravings at the expense of others. Men and women both are susceptible to sexual lust because it nourishes the inner beast- men, of pleasure and women, of pride, and both of power.

Because Adam listened to his wife’s voice above God’s law and followed her into sin, man is extremely susceptible to feminine charms and can very easily succumb to a woman who seduces him. Since Eve persuaded her husband to sin with her and used her influence to lead him astray, woman is drawn to gain power over men and can easily disrespect them by treating them as eager little boys.

Scripture tells us that we must not be ignorant of Satan’s ways of working. We need to be alert and watchful because the enemy prowls our minds like a beast of prey, seeking for someone to devour.  (I Peter 5:8) We can defeat him only if we know God’s truth and use the power of the Spirit.

Power and Pleasure: a Toxic Mix
In this dynamic between the sexes, it is helpful to understand the basis for male and female behavior.
Let’s begin with why men look.

On the surface that seems simplistic. Of course we know why. Men are visual, sexually aroused by sight. But there is a deeper why.

In the great waltz of the sexes which reaches its grand finale in the marriage relationship, the beauty of the woman plays a significant role; it draws the man to her. The Creator meant that the man would long to cherish, enjoy and protect this beauty forever and commit himself to her. In marriage, the woman’s beauty and the man’s beholding is a sacred thing.

But when a woman’s beauty is used as a lure for the men she meets it becomes an entirely different matter. And when a man looks at a woman in lust there is nothing sacred about it.

A woman who chooses to dress provocatively in public and invite the gaze of every man who sees her may think it wins her admiration. And it does gain attention, but not for her sake. When a man is looking in lust, he does not necessarily include her, as a person, in the mix.

 In other words, when lust is the motivation, a man wants the beauty for his sake, not for her sake. He desires her beauty because it brings him pleasure. She could as well be a poster as a live woman. The feelings he is indulging are self-centered, not her-centered. He might have no feelings of affection for her as a person, only for her anatomy as a woman. It is as if he is a hungry man and she is a plate of food; he desires to consume her so he might feel satisfied. He cares not what the food feels.

In Mathew 5:28, Jesus called out men who indulge their predilection to visual adultery. And in 2 Timothy 3:6, the Apostle Paul warned against men who invade the hearts of vulnerable women for their own fulfillment, be it financial, spiritual or sexual. Men, without the grace of God at work in their hearts, have the tendency to become voyeur-predators, taking visual advantage of women to satisfy their own desires.

This is why God’s idea of married love makes so much sense. When a man chooses to love a woman and protect and cherish her in a marriage commitment, he is truly loving her as a person and as a woman. He isn’t using her beauty for a sexual fix; he is loving her as a total person and sexual pleasure is a wonderful part of that relationship. In a Christ-centered marriage, the eyes of love are not self-seeking. There is true delight in the one whom God has given; there is affection and commitment.

Power and Pride: a Dangerous Brew
Women don’t escape the selfishness of lust; they are just often on the other side of it. A woman may enjoy making a man look, not because she really cares about him, but because of the thrill she gets from her power. She may like the fact that a man enjoys looking at her, but it may be because it makes her heart pound and her cheeks feel flushed. It feeds her pride. She feels wanted and desirable; his feelings may matter only as they serve to gratify her. She may not be interested in belonging solely to him in a marriage relationship because there are others whose eyes she’d like to tempt and whose admiration she’d like to win.

Over and over, in the book of Proverbs, King Solomon warned his son about the dangers of the seductive woman. In Proverbs 23:28, he describes her in a visual image that resembles a lioness on the hunt, lying in wait for prey. A man can find himself the target of a woman’s quest for dominance through sexual means, and, if he gives in, he will discover that he is reduced to a mere “crust of bread” because of his lack of control. (Proverbs 6:26)  Adam Clarke’s Commentary on this verse remarks that, in biblical times, a prostitute could be hired for as little as a loaf of bread. Thus, God’s Word is saying that a man can sell his own dignity and integrity for the price of a call girl.

Sacred Sexuality
C. S. Lewis’ character Screwtape, writing from the perspective of a “senior tempter” mentoring his nephew Wormwood, says “Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s [God’s] ground…He [God] made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy [God] has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He [God] has forbidden. ” 1

When men and women focus on sexuality as “personal fulfillment,” temptation is lurking nearby. Sexual intimacy wasn’t given to us as a platform for pleasure or power at another’s expense.  God’s good gift of sex was meant to be enjoyed by a married man and woman for mutual delight and emotional nourishment and, in a deeply mystical way, as a reflection of the unity between Christ and His church. To lightly hold this sacred bond and use it for selfish purposes is a desecration.  

1 Corinthians 13, called by many “The Love Chapter,” showcases the attributes of love grounded in selflessness. It is a good idea to read this chapter often and remember its admonitions when facing sexual temptation.

1.      Love is cherishing another person, not expressing selfish appetite.
2.      Love is long-term commitment, not short-term gratification.
3.      Love is sexual attraction plus . . . ; lust is sexual pleasure only.
4.      Love is God-honoring intimacy; lust is primal indulgence unrestrained.

Sexual lust, in essence, is self-centered desire. But Satan doesn’t want you to know that. He hopes that you will not see the ugliness behind following self. He doesn’t want you to know about the havoc in countless homes or the tears and shame and brokenness. He wants to dazzle you with the idea of full indulgence to self’s wishes; he calls it good, but he has always been a liar. In reality, he runs the slaughter-house of souls.


Christ calls us to die to self, and have our minds renewed by His Spirit. He asks us to surrender our whole selves, including our sexuality, to His Lordship, because surrender is the pathway to fullness of joy. He will always provide an escape from sexual temptation and will bless those who commit their passions to His keeping and plan. 

Notes

C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperCollins, 1942), 44.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

some personal musings about heaven

I'm listening to the Gaither Vocal Band sing "These are They" and thinking about heaven this morning.  Outside the widow of the spare bedroom that I call my "writing studio," it is snowing, white flakes drifting down and piling up, prompting our church to call off services today. 

Heaven is a favorite topic of mine, perhaps because I was reared in a home and church atmosphere where it was a natural part of discussion. Around the dinner table, we talked about it; in church, we sang about it, and in our joy or sorrow, it was our passion. 

My childhood was rich in church and campmeeting attendance, and in those days, nothing got the saints to shouting like a message about heaven. I recall walking into an outdoor camp tabernacle on a Sunday morning, part of a gathering of families in their Sabbath finery. Little girls in dresses with sculpted bows tied in back, little boys looking uncomfortable in dress shirts and pants and mothers holding babies with cherub cheeks and wide eyes. As the service began, the morning dew would be fading and the sun would be rising in the sky, promising a scorching afternoon when the crowd would seek shade under the trees or in a cabin with a good fan (there was little air-conditioning in those days in that place). But all the focus at the moment was on the service as the musicians would lead the congregation in rousing numbers from the paperback songbooks and the people would stand and heartily sing. There would be announcements and an offering received and a couple of special musical numbers from the song evangelists (these would be delightfully mellow and harmonious, deep in spiritual sentiment and hope). Then, as mothers waved fans on paper sticks and fathers removed suit coats because of the heat, the preacher would announce his text, asking the people to stand as the Scripture was read. No doubt on this fine Sunday of campmeeting, he would talk about heaven. It was a message that fit the morning - the day was bright with sunshine, the people of God were praising Him, families were together, friends were enjoying each other's company, a delicious meal was waiting in the dining hall, hearts were filled with the realization of redemption and the joy of sins forgiven, and for that half-hour (or longer:), it seemed a small taste of the delights of heaven. He would tell us what the Bible had to say, and my small heart would thrill to hear about the streets of gold and all the things that made it seem like such a happy place. We might even stand at the end of the service and sing "What a Day That Will Be."

Over the years, I have grown into a more mature understanding of heaven (though undoubtedly limited still). My appreciation for that place has increased with every trial I have endured, with every death of someone I love, and with every parting from those I hold dear. Heaven has become even more desirable as I have gotten nearer to it. 

In recent years, there has been numerous "first-hand accounts" published about heaven. The writers of these near-death experiences range from young to old, from New-Age philosophers to evangelical believers. Our fascination with the afterlife proves that there is something deep within the human psyche which was made for eternity. 

To some, heaven is a place of light or peace or just a time of rest when all the fun of earth is over. But the Bible tells us that it is much more than that. The only One who can really describe heaven is He who is preparing it. And He left us with a few glimpses that persuade us of its glory. From those descriptions in John 14, I Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21- 22, we know a little of what heaven will be.

Heaven will be the absence of evil, the erasing of the fractures and smudges of sin, the total envelopment of light and rightness. It will be the triumph of goodness and holiness. It will be real and lasting health, wholeness of body and spirit that will make our best days here on earth seem pale and sickly. It will be a celebration like none other, all the best parts of holidays, vacations, family reunions, revivals and worship services, campmeetings and conventions and special events.  Heaven will last forever and seem always like "today." Heaven will fill up our souls and satisfy us in every way. It will be serenity and security and tranquility, and at the same time, energy and activity and inspiration. It will be eternal rest and yet eternal creativity. It will be bright and new, and yet, like home. It will be worth every surrender of self, every trial of life, every refusal of temptation, and every sacrifice of earth. 

But for the one who knows Christ as Redeemer and Friend, the best thing about heaven will be eternal togetherness with the most important One of all. Relationship is surely part of the reason for man's creation and for Jesus' death on the cross. And heaven will be unbroken relationship, with God and with others. I can't fully comprehend being in the very presence of Jesus, and yet, I look forward to it more and more. To be in the embrace of the One who sacrificed His very life for me and who loves me in spite of my failings and imperfections and who daily gives me the grace and strength to even serve Him - what a wonder that will be! Oh Jesus, I want to see you! And then I seriously look forward to spending time with the people who are in heaven, heroes I've read about in the Bible, faithful people from the past who have inspired me, and those from my own earthly family who have already made it there. Just being together in that place in His presence will be joy untold. And I think God looks forward to having all His family finally together forever. What a day that will be indeed!

It seems to me that the reality and permanence of heaven should inform every action, every decision, every goal here on earth. 2 Peter 3:11 reminds us that we should decide what kind of persons we will be in light of the fact that the earth will be destroyed and that eternity is forever. And I think we can better handle the injustices, the persecutions and and the sufferings of this world when we can hold fast to the next. 

My husband once said something in a sermon about heaven that I often think about in this context. He remarked that no one would get to heaven and be surprised to be there; those who enter heaven will be expecting to be there by God's grace. They will have made a choice for Christ and followed through faithfully. Steve Green sang a song some years ago that expressed this determination:

Heaven is my passion and prize
The goal on which I firmly fix my eyes
Reward of the faithful, desire of the wise
Heaven is my passion and prize.  
- "Heaven" by Jon Mohr/Randall Dennis



There have been many other wonderful songs written about heaven. I include the following link because I love the words, the hope of the message, the rise and fall of the melody and the setting in which it was sung.  Like me, I hope that you have decided to be part of the "they" on that great and wonderful day. 





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