As long as I live there will be something worth fighting for, worth writing for, and worth dying for.

Friday, July 31, 2009

To Be One: A Review

I have to say, sometimes God's timing is just so cool. Too cool.

These past few days, I have really been trying to focus on what is next for me. Life is not easy being nearly 24 and nowhere near where you thought you would be five years ago. There have been struggles-- many. There have been emotions like a roller coaster-- excitement, then paralyzing fear. So many decisions lie before me, and I just know that I can't make them all.

God always shows up at the perfect time.

I did my podcast interview yesterday- issue 1: resolved.

I worked on my website today (speaking of which, I still have work today)- issue 2: nearing resolved status.

I attempted to write a book proposal while babysitting- issue 3: postponed.

I am really struggling with this whole marriage idea-- enter "To Be One."

Circumstances lately have flung the concept of marriage to the front of my mind, which is not where I prefer it to be. In fact, I have a ministry based on the idea of it not being there. Nevertheless, it is there, with its usual baggage of unanswered questions, freakouts and what-ifs. Mark this down as a moment that has truly shaped my perspective on relationships leading to marriage.

To Be One: The Review

"To Be One" in my opinion is a must-have video for any family with teenagers or single young adults that wants to see God honored in their childrens interactions with people. Three very unique love stories are covered in this video, and covered completely from start to "finish", including interviews with the six sets of parents. "To Be One" presents beautifully the idea of marriage modeling the love of Christ for the church. I just cannot get over the excitement it created for me just realizing I am the bride of Christ!

It is unique. It is fresh. It is real. It is personal. There is no acting. No props. These are real bonafide human beings with real hurt and apprehension, with real faith and real love. It is so refreshing to see, and again, a must have for any youth ministry, single young adult ministry, parent, or single young adult. It is a message that, I think, if heard, will revolutionize marriage in America. Let it start with you. Visit their website: and get your own copy now.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get...Gardening

Yes, that's right. They don't go anywhere; the tough people garden.

Today is supposed to be a scorcher here in DC. An absolutely unbearable 90 degrees. At 8 this morning, the temperature was nowhere near 90 degrees. In fact, it was a gorgeous summer morning. Perfect really, maybe just a little on the muggy side. After a short walk to the mailbox, I got an itching to go into the back yard and play in the garden. My discovery was a terrible one. Our garden is very green. The problem is, the green things were weeds.

So, I donned gardening gloves and grabbed a rake and shovel and went to work. In the quiet of the morning, tearing away at thistles and grass, I had an interesting time of reflection on life. I thought of growing up with a farming grandfather. How blessed. He taught me the meaning of hard work. He taught me all I know about seeds, soil and harvest. Every year, I helped plant, prune, thin, debug, and eventually harvest. It made for some interesting childhood experiences, including a garden rake to the skull courtesy of my younger brother. (It was an accident).

To this day, grampa still keeps a garden in his yard. I visited it last week while I was in Ohio. I walked through the rows of corn, searched the kiwi bush for any fruit, picked some blackberries and some blueberries, looked over the cabbage and the broccoli, trudged through the squash hills and the tomato patch. Fond memories there. So much I learned, so much I am grateful for.

Today, though, as I tore up weeds and cleared out the debris from a summer harvest, I learned some more life lessons.

1) Weeds grow anywhere. It doesn't matter if your plants can't grow there, the weeds sure will. Our soil is rocky and full of clay, not exactly conducive to vegetables, but the weeds love it. I pulled one today that had a rock entangled in its roots.
In our lives, weeds work the same way, don't they? It doesn't matter if we can't function in an environment, weeds always seem to be able to withstand it. In fact, at times, they even embrace and thrive in an environment where we struggle to hang on.

2) Keep changing. This is good on so many levels. If you dig at the soil, first off, you introduce oxygen, which is good for plants. Second, if you harvest something, plant something different there. Grampa taught me that. If you plant corn in one part, corn won't grow as well there again. Farmers in Ohio will rotate their crop. One year, there is corn, the next soy, the next snap peas and then they go back to corn again.
We have to keep changing. Sometimes, that can be frustrating, but to everything there is a season. Our spiritual lives can go dry if our worship is always the same. If we read 5 Psalms everyday for a year, that's fine. But the next year, we will 'get less out of it.' Our spiritual growth will start to plateau. We will still grow, but we won't be as fruitful as if we had changed things up.
The same applies to our ministry. Things change. Weather changes. Climate changes. Our world changes. The things that worked 15 years ago, are going to be less effective now. It's time to switch it up.

3) You may not be able to change the location, but you can change the soil. As I said, our garden is in our back yard. The soil is full of rocks. Last year, when we first turned up the soil, it was solid red clay. Plants don't grow in red clay. But we really have no other option, we have certain spots for our garden. That's it. So, we bought a bag of Miracle Grow potting soil and worked it into the soil. Now, it can sustain vegetation (other than weeds).
We may be stuck in a place, by contract or by whatever else. If our location can't change, we need to change the soil. We need to work to effect change so that, even if we end up moving, something can still grow there. If you aren't growing there, chances are not many others are.

4) Adversity is good. No one likes 90 degree weather plus humidity. Except plants. Plants thrive in adversity. They need warmth, sun and water. Things we don't really care for. That thunderstorm may throw off your ball game, but the squash plant is elated. The blazing sun may make you melt, but the bean plant seed is perfectly cozy.
Or how bout them bugs? Who honestly likes worms? Or bees? No one I know of. We don't make pets of these things, but they are a plant's best friends. Worms are naturals for putting oxygen into soil. Bees pollenate the blossoms.
Situations in your life may not be comfortable. Embrace them. God brings trials for our good. He brings them to help us grow. He wants us to bring forth fruit. He wants us to be productive.

Next time the going gets tough, get gardening.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

To Be One: A new Approach to Marriage

It's a heated debate in some circles. Depending on who you ask there are different guidelines, different definitions, different opinions. Even with all of that, we still stand firmly on what we believe to be truth backed by human right. Many could probably not discern the exact difference between dating and courting, but they will still tell you they will never do one or the other.

Here's an idea. Let God lead. I really like that idea. The liking of that idea is exactly why I am still single, but it also is why I am content. It is out of my hands.

This is exactly the idea that is put forth in the new documentary To Be One. I will admit, this is a shameless plug, I know one of the young ladies in the film. After all that she has done in prayers for my ministry, I saw it fitting to return the favor for hers. Her story is told in the video. A story not of falling in love but of choosing to be love. I know her story, and it is beautiful. It is inspiring, as all love stories are. But most of all, it is a story of surrender to God's leading, to God's control. It is the story of two lives with a heart-felt desire to do what would most honor and glorify God and a story of joy in that process.

Stop by the site, view the trailer, and, by all means, buy a copy of the DVD. After all, who doesn't love a good story?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Physical Boundaries: How Far is Too Far

I don't usually do this, but when a topic comes up three times in the same day, it leads me to believe it is something I am meant to address. This particular topic: the area of physical touch. Guys and girls, especially teenage guys and girls are always asking. Always pushing the limit. Wanting to see how far they can go. Wanting to know how far is too far. What is the Biblical standard? Where is the line?

Fasten your seat belts, this is going to be a rough ride. Truth is not meant to be soft and cushy. Soft and cushy truth is a truth that is easily manipulated and avoided. Soft and cushy truth isn't truth at all, it is just soft and cushy. Truth has a back bone. Truth has a voice. Truth fights. Truth stands. There is a reason the Bible (Truth) is referred to as a sword, and a two-edged one at that. It gets you coming and going.

If there is one thing I am very passionate about, it is the sanctity of sex. I believe it is good; I believe it is God-given; I believe it is meant for the marriage relationship of one man to one wife. That is all truth, with Biblical basis.

So what's the deal with pushing the limits? Why all the gray areas? Because we are human and we want what we want and are not willing to accept the standard God has given us. That willingness is really all it comes down to. Are we willing to accept the boundaries God has given us? We like to put conditions on guidelines. We are constantly searching for loop holes. How can I bend this rule? How can I avoid this one?

It reminds of something that happened earlier today with one of the girls I babysit. She was hopping around on one leg. When I inquired, she informed me she had jumped off the shed in the backyard. Mind you, this shed is a solid eight feet tall and she is nowhere near half that height. What little idea made her think she could do it? Her brother. He informed her that she could jump off the top of the shed. She did. She got hurt.

Trying to seize a teachable moment I knelt down and asked her who was in charge, her mother or her brother. Her simple response was, "Well, mom wasn't outside then." I countered by saying, "But does your mom want you climbing things that are high up in the air?" Another clever counter-response: "But the wooden playset we had was higher." So, I tried yet again, "Did your mom give you permission to be on the shed?" The response: "Well, see, Miss Jessica, we were already up there and mom came out and told us to get down because we weren't allowed up there. At first I was going to do the right thing and go down the way we came up, but then he told me to jump, so I jumped." She is six, and is already half way through law school.

When it comes to God's standards, we do the same thing. Instead of doing what we know to be right, we are more worried about what exactly is wrong. Especially in the area of physical touch. It seems everyone wants to know how close they can get without crossing the line. In order to establish that, we need a line. That's when things get fuzzy. For one person, the line is at holding hands. For another it is at kissing. There are a lot of lines. To an extent, that's ok. I believe there is room for personal preference and conviction, but I do believe that there is a line for us to see and it is drawn way before the act of sexual intercourse.

In fact, picture yourself standing right next to God. Right next Him. Put a pencil in your hand reach down and draw a circle around you and God. Congratulations, you have found the line. For many of us, we are so far from God that the line is way out there. The further you are from God, the further out your line. In all reality though, the line should be right there. Right next to God. Why? Because God is holy, as is sex. They belong in the same bubble, and guess what. You belong there too.

This is the Scripture reference I site for a standard of physical contact: 1 Thessalonians 4:6 "That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter:..."

Before you all cry that I have taken the verse out of context, let me inform you that the context of sexual purity is exactly where this verse falls. Here is your context: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.

So, let's set a new standard. Sex is holy. It is good, and get this, God wants us to have it, hence the reason for our sex drive. Do not equate pleasure with permission. This is a common problem. I hear it more than I care to admit.

"Jessica, I think we went too far, but it felt good. It wasn't bad. It was a 'special connection.'"

Let's break this down.

"I think we went too far" if you think that, then you are probably right. Guilt is normally a good indicator of wrongdoing.

"but it felt good" right again! It was made to feel good. It is supposed to feel good. If it didn't you wouldn't be here. However, just because it feels good does not mean it is right.

"It wasn't bad" partially true. It wasn't bad as in the opposite of good. It may not have 'felt' bad, but it was wrong.

"It was a 'special connection'" Right again. That is how our sexuality is designed. Regardless of whether or not you 'go all the way' every step you take toward a bed strengthens the 'connection' you have with each other. It's called hormones.

So, since our feelings are not to be trusted, we have a problem. We can no longer determine when we are in over our heads. We are no longer a good judge of how far is too far. Exactly why God makes His standard very clear.

He basically says, "I called you to be holy, so you need to control your body and use it the way I tell you to."

Our bodies are to be holy. Holy simply means set aside for a purpose. Holiness is a big deal to God. A HUGE deal. If you doubt that, read through the Pentateuch and look at the tabernacle and everything that had to be done to keep the tabernacle holy. Holiness is the crux of who God is. Holiness is the crux of our relationship with Him because if it were not for holiness, there would be no need for Calvary. Tell me, though, how can you be holy while you are snogging with your boyfriend/girlfriend?

Can you be holy while snogging with your spouse? Absolutely. The marriage bed is honorable. I think God gets excited when married people snog. They are enjoying intimacy as He intended. Outside of that context, you are playing with fire, and I doubt that makes Him happy.

On top of all that, we are instructed to watch out for each other. That portion of verse 6 is my battle stand for modesty as well. Too many times I hear, "Well, I can wear whatever I want to, it's his problem if his mind wanders." Wrong. We, as Christians, should be making every attempt to protect the purity of each other. Now, does that mean we walk around in potato sacks? No! But that means you keep covered what you believe God would have you keep covered.

In the area of sexuality and physical touch it means you keep your hands off. It should be noted here, that anything that gets you turned on, or whatever you want to call it is messing your sex drive, no matter how you slice it. I've worked with teenagers who have 'gone too far' without going all the way. Usually to the young lady, it was just innocent. To the young man, it is so much more. So where is the line there? If kissing makes either mind wander, then you don't kiss. If you don't like that, too bad. You can make up for it, once you are married.

Honestly, my advice is to get that line as close to the holy of holies as possible. I tell people to draw it to protect the weakest area. Think of a fortress. A castle. There is a secret tunnel leading into the castle. Your castle is now under attack and you have reason to believe the secret tunnel has been compromised. What do you do?

Well, you board the doors to the tunnel shut. You then barracade them, just in case. Then you lock the door to the room where the tunnel is and barracade that one, maybe even set a trap. Then you position guards in the hallway just in case something gets through all of that.

The same it should be with purity. Your body is a castle. A temple. Something meant to be holy and you are under attack. The devil is well aware of a weakness. A way to snag you. He is after the core of who you are. He is after your sexuality. If he can get you to fall. If he can draw you out, he can take you down.

Too often, instead of bolting, locking and guarding, we run down the tunnel, just out of range of his darts and razz him. Eventually, we fall. I have seen it so many times.

In college, I had a friend who met the man of her dreams. Early on they just talked about sex. Then they started talking about it alot. They started laughing about it. Joking about it. Then, they started snuggling in the lounge. They started to listen to music with sexual undertones. Three years later, I received word of a horrible break up. I'll never forget the message she sent me:

"Jessica, what he didn't tell you is that he broke up with me the morning after he slept with me."

Christian girl. Christian guy. Christian college.

Yet another young lady sent me a story about how she and her boyfriend snuck off campus often. They would drive to a vacant field thinking "Now that we are off-campus the 'no touching rule' doesn't apply." In his truck, they would make out, at night. At first it was innocent. One night, it was no longer. She said it started out making out, then before she knew it she was just mere moments away from giving up her virginity. She came to her senses and called off the whole encounter. Fortunately, he had enough self control to honor her wishes and drive her back to campus, but she could have just as easily been raped.

Christian girl. Christian guy. Christian college.

Know your own weakness and build that boundary strong. You are not invincible. Protect your body. Draw a boundary that you know will stand. Draw it as close to God as possible and know that He will be honored by that, as will your future spouse. It isn't about what feels good. No one is going to tell you it doesn't feel good, but feeling good and honoring God can often be polar opposites.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Open Door Church

I am finishing up the first draft of my first-ever book. Two potential publishers are lined up and will be receiving a manuscript proposal soon. Honestly, this all has not happened the way I thought it would. Oddly enough, at times it seems perfect, just...slow. I like to run ahead of myself, so I have been thinking about what next. It's true, if this is a dream of mine, I need to sell out to it. Sold.

I've been thinking about what books to write next without distracting myself from finishing these. I don't know that it is possible. Two book dreams are on the drawing board, one more recent the other the oldest dream I have had. A book entitled "Unloved." A book intended to wake people up to the fact that, for Christians, there should be no unloved. But there are.

We are a closed door church. Ushers are bouncers, standing at the door and accepting those with the appropriate social status and skin color. It's a righteous weekend club, where we come and sit in air conditioning on soft cushioned pews in our pretty dresses and snazzy suits. It's like a country club, without the valets. Why have we stopped reaching out? Why have we categorized grace?

I spoke with a mother the other day about her chidren, three of which can be little rascals at times. She apologized for their stubborn will and admitted that they were hard for her to handle, that they had some chemical imbalance treatable by Omega-3s. After she finished, I looked at her and confessed that those three were the three I got along with best. That shocked her.

That's always how it has been for me. Maybe because, statistically, I was supposed to be one of those kids, I have always had a heart for the 'trouble children.' Give me your rebels, your disheartened, your broken, there is grace at the foot of the cross. It's the cocky, nosey children I don't tolerate well at all. I like to be able to function without having everything I do questionned, "Miss Jessica, why are you doing that? Why does that look that way? What is that for? Who are you talking to?" It takes every grain of grace in my body, and some I don't have, to keep from responding tartly, "None of your business kid."

I've always been drawn to the unloved. That kid sitting alone in the back of the classroom. That girl who struggles with her self-esteem. Kids who are labeled as retarded or problematic. I love those kids. You know, the ones no one else is supposed to love. During summer school, one girl in particular spent hours at my desk, nearly in tears because she couldn't understand math. For one of her English papers she wrote about how she got made fun of and her teachers had called her stupid and slow. A righteous anger burns up in me when teachers do that.

It's the same thing we do as a body of Christ. The moment someone steps across our threshold, we size them up, stare them down and determine whether or not they meet our standard. Newsflash: our standard doesn't matter.

I heard this song today, and wanted to share the lyrics. They are perfect and I am so grateful for Jonny and the impact he is making with his music.

He's been preached at a million times
so he can tell you what's wrong and right
but he still sits with a heart of stone
'cause condemnation is all he's known.

But what if we took a different route,
got to know him from the inside out,
showed him that we're all the same
and told him about amazing grace.

'Cause he needs love, he needs love,
lots of it before he'll ever open up.
He needs grace from God above,
but from us he needs love.

(she we they)

If she doesn't somehow catch an eye,
she'll sleep out in the cold tonight.
So she works the corner with fishnets on,
just blocks away from a house of God.

She claims she'll never go inside,
just doesn't think that it would feel right,
but what if we stepped out to her,
with love that she doesn't have to earn?

I bet the world would change if it knew love
well we know His name so it's up to us.
We gotta reach our hands to wash some feet
go another mile to find a need.

We gotta step off of our pedestals,
if we want a change that's radical.
If we're gonna serve the least of these,
then love is what we really need.

"They Need Love" by Jonny Diaz