Modesty–Not a Function of Bathing Suit Surface Area

Imagine that we were playing a game where we described our siblings to each other using only one word. One single word to communicate as much as possible about someone we’ve known really well for our entire lives. When you asked about my brother, out of all the words in the English language available to me (and after a long, thoughtful pause) I chose the word “modest”.

What would you think about him?

I suspect that you’d think that he had some particularly impressive attribute or great strength by which he could exert some social dominance in all of his relationships, but he doesn’t. He lives in a nice neighborhood and drives a nice car, but it isn’t the kind of “nice” that makes people gasp. He dresses OK but not impressively. When he talks to you he seems sincerely interested in what you have to say and doesn’t often bring up his impressive quality or drop names. He’ll help out at the community work day and volunteer to get your mail when you are on vacation. Despite his social power, he is just generally and all-around nice guy.

For example, I’d pick the word “modest” if my brother was a Harvard-trained neurosurgeon who invented a new technique in herniated disc surgery. He lectures extensively and doctors come from all over the world to learn from him. He can make as much money as he wants to make, and pretty much every neurosurgeon in the US and Canada knows his name. Nevertheless, his neighbors only know that he is a doctor. His house is nice but not opulent. He cuts his own grass. He gives most of his money away. He never brings up his days at Harvard. His car costs under $30K. He is the assistant coach for his son’s pee wee soccer team. If a stranger met him for the first time, somewhere other than his medical office, he would be very impressed–by what a nice and helpful guy he is (and no other reason).

Let’s go back to the start of the game. This time, when you asked me about my brother, I told you that I don’t have one. When you asked about my sister, out of all the words in the English language available to me (and after a long, thoughtful pause) I chose the word “modest”.

What would you think about her?

I suspect that you’d think that she dressed super frumpy.

I’d pick the word “modest” if my sister was a Harvard-trained neurosurgeon….

Modesty is a way of thinking about yourself and others. And, like every other way you can think about yourself and others, it will, by necessity, affect the way you live your life and relate to others.

Christian modesty recognizes that I am made by God, at God’s initiative, for a purpose—the exact same purpose that all of my brothers and sisters share. I, as one part of us (the Church), am to bear something of the awesomeness of God into His fallen world where Satan is its prince and power. At any cost, up to and including death, I must manifest the message of God in word and deed. With all the benefits endowed at my creation, while empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit, I am to bring something of the power, beauty, skill, love, hope and joy of God to the world for two reasons—to express worship to the author of every good and perfect gift, and to further the work of God in drawing His people to Himself.

But, sadly, Genesis 3 impacts us all. This hostile world thoroughly enjoys power, beauty, skill, love, hope and joy—but spins them in worship of the creature rather than the creator. I must never underestimate my vulnerability to this temptation’s allure. It is such a small slip from proclaiming that God is powerful, beautiful, skillful, loving, hopeful and joyful to wanting others to credit me with being beautiful, skillful, loving, hopeful and joyful. Look at me! Treat me like a god—I’m glorious! Praise me! Aspire to be close to me!

“Look at me!”–herein lies the need for modesty. Christian modesty is sincerely desiring to live in such a way that the power, beauty, skill, love, hope and joy manifested in my life are pointing to God (worship of the Creator) and not to me (worship of the creature).  Our problem is never that we have too much power, beauty, skill, love, hope and joy. These attributes look like our Father, and it is impossible to look too much like Him. Nevertheless, “Look at me!” feels so overwhelmingly compelling. How do we maintain a heart of modesty?

Satan has a strategy that he markets heavily with, sadly, quite a lot of success. His reasoning goes like this—if you are tempted to want people to look at your greatness, don’t look great. Don’t be too beautiful, too powerful, or too joyful. Dial it back!

Imagine my imaginary neurosurgeon sibling trying this approach. If she said, “I’ll try to have fewer positive outcomes so I won’t tempt my colleagues with jealousy”, would that honor God? If she quit studying so she could become less excellent and more mediocre would that promote the Kingdom?

God wants us to look like Him and use our strengths to point others to the source of them!   Only the devil wants you to hide your light under a bushel (or put it out). Mediocrity is not an ambition that honors our Lord Father.

Modesty isn’t achieved by buying a bigger swimsuit or taking your diplomas off the wall. Modesty is a way of thinking (or more accurately believing).   It is not obtained by taking external behaviors. Rather, godly behaviors flow from the modest heart. Jesus didn’t call it a hard and narrow way for nothing! Modesty, like all the virtues, requires a life-long fight of faith to constantly pull our eyes off ourselves and put them on the Lord.  It is a fight to remind ourselves why we’re here, whose we are and what our purpose is. It would probably help us to constantly remind ourselves that the “why, whose and what” is exactly the same for every Christian—I am here because God wants me here. I belong to God without condition or reservation. My purpose is to worship God and carry His life and message into the world.

At the end of the day, my “why” and “what” is not determined by my family, my job, my wealth, my appearance, my reputation, how many people like me or how successful I appear. My imaginary neurosurgeon sibling is not more valuable or meaningful in the Kingdom because of her wealth and social clout. While it is impossible to imagine a scenario where she should be less excellent at her craft, it is possible to imagine scenarios that would require her to do less of it in order to integrate her craft into her whole-life calling. Perhaps she’d need to see fewer patients in order to be more involved with her children, her aging parents or to be more active in another ministry that God has called her to. She has a Lord. She has a Lord Father. She is, truly, a princess. “Neurosurgeon” is only a means (not an end) from an eternal point-of-view. “Means” can frequently vary due to a wide variety of situational variables. “Ends” never do. 100 years from now, nobody will call her “Dr.” [“Princess” is the greater title]. In heaven, the only thing that will matter about our accomplishments (no matter how impressive) will be whether they were worshipful. A cup of water in Jesus’ name will outweigh donating millions for the praise of men.

The world and flesh and the devil may tell her that being a world-famous neurosurgeon is at the core of her identity.   She is modest enough to know that all the accolades the world can offer would pale in comparison to being princess in the Kingdom of God. She is adopted into the very family of God at His initiative. That is her identity, and it is all of grace—nothing that she could accomplish in this world could rival it.

A person who believes that they are adopted by God and are a beloved prince/princess of the Kingdom can stand strong in the face of temptations to use their physical beauty, their wealth, their prestigious job, their heroic exploits, their generosity, their connections to powerful folks, etc. to earn the praise of men. What is the praise of men compared to being beloved of God? We have more than we can hold already. Now we’re free to love people and bring boatloads of power, beauty, love, joy, hope, skill and work to the battlefield in the name of Jesus to the glory of His name alone.

Why would I want anyone to “Look at me!” when they could see my Lord Father in me?

Oh for the grace to repent and believe!!!


EPILOGUE: Some of you are wondering why I didn’t focus on the impact of a woman’s beauty on the temptations of men.  There is one simple reason–that is not necessarily an issue of modesty.  That is an issue of love.   But, again, the order is significant–love is not a function of the surface area of the suit.  However, bathing suit surface area may be a function of love.

The tendency of history is to blame women for the failures of men.  Personally, I’m just sick of the “modesty” emphasis that goes like this–women have a modesty problem and it tempts men to lust.  The far more common reality is that men have a lust problem that tempts women to immodesty.  Satan laughs as the whole thing spirals downward with causes and effects fueling each other.

Blaming women is not the way to stop the spiral.  Nor is it helpful to blame men, or the television or the rich and famous trendsetters of the culture.  We could dress our daughters like the Taliban and it won’t solve the problem.  Let’s stop the yelling and finger-pointing and start loving each other better.  I think that would work.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:  ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’   But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”  Galatians 5:13-15

Thoughts on Sexual Orientation

Sam and Julie were found dead in the house where they’d lived together for the past 2 ½ years. Sam’s body was found intact on the living room floor. There was a large rock by his head. Julie’s unclothed body was found mangled on the kitchen table…

The object of the game was to figure out how they died by asking 20 (or less) yes/no questions. The reason it was hard was because Sam and Julie were goldfish. Because the guessers assume they are people, they tended to ask the wrong questions and then be led further astray by the answers. Nobody suspects the pets.

I think the same thing is true about homosexuality. We approach the subject with an incorrect assumption and therefore ask some wrong questions and get led astray by the answers.

What if homosexuals don’t even exist?

We have an assumption (Dallas Willard would call it an “idea”) based on culture, popular opinion and personal feelings, that people who experience same-sex attraction are fundamentally different than people who do not. We have categories (“heterosexuals” and “homosexuals”) and everyone fits in one of those boxes. Most consider it a self-evident truth that there is a significant substantive difference between the two. It is believed as strongly as the difference between “black” and “white” was by many in the pre-civil-rights days. “They” are fundamentally different than “us”.

What if that assumption is wrong? What if there is no substantive difference whatsoever between someone who desires homosexual intercourse and someone who recoils at the very thought? What if the universal experience of all humanity since Genesis 3 is that we desire some things that God forbids and are repulsed by some things that God desires?

What if everyone’s day has enough trouble of it own? What if God’s grace is sufficient for each of us? What if we’re all at war with the same enemies using the same weapons as soldiers of the same kingdom but our battlefields are as varied as we are?

What if you aren’t different than me? What if you aren’t a “homosexual”—you are just one of 7+ billion people who really really really wants something that God has denied them?

What if none of us is a special case?

We’ve bought into the lie that people who desire sexual relations with someone of the same sex are fundamentally different than people who don’t. Then we’ve used our logic to conclude that, to be fair, they shouldn’t have to fight a battle that other people don’t. Since the heterosexual subspecies has the opportunity (at least in theory) to experience sexual release according to their tastes, then the homosexual subspecies should as well. Surely God wouldn’t require some people to carry a significantly heavier/different burden than others…

Yet, He does. Some saints are living in countries where persecution is likely and many saints are at zero risk. Many saints are living in circumstances where adequate food is as unavailable as adequate medical care while many saints will never know a minute without overwhelmingly attractive opportunities for gluttony. Some women who have dreamed of being a mother since they were children will never have a baby (some others not even a husband). Some men will never see, some will never walk. Some will never know a day free of debilitating disease.

The fact that our temptations, resources, enemies and opportunities are extremely diverse and unequally distributed has no bearing whatsoever on our individual meaning or worth. Nevertheless, it certainly will affect each individual’s experience of the life to which he has been created and called.

We are all equally post-Genesis-3 people. We all, to one degree or another, have to deal with a seemingly overwhelming combination of lust and fear and greed and laziness and pride and anger and envy and disappointment and so on and on and on and on. It isn’t hard for me not to sin in the areas of illegal drug use, physical violence or homosexual activity. But the fact that I do not even experience temptation in any of those areas does not mean that I am fundamentally different than someone who does. I have a “temptation fingerprint” that is unique to me, but it is not meaningfully dissimilar to 7 billion others’. If I feel that I’m in a separate class/subspecies of people than you because my “fingerprint” does not contain elements that yours does, it only means that the pride aspect of my temptation fingerprint has won yet another skirmish.

All of us, without exception, experience temptation—we sometimes crave what God has denied, and we sometimes recoil from what He has given. The specific appearance of the temptations common to man is diverse. The ultimate meaning and goal of them is not.

I remember going “orienteering” in ROTC. We had to find flags in the woods with only a compass and written bearings and distances. I was better at finding ticks than flags because it is harder than it sounds to go straight in a particular direction in an obstacle-infested environment. I’d frequently stop and hold the compass against my stomach to check my bearing while counting my paces. Nevertheless, everything in the environment conspired to lead me off target. On a few occasions I managed to get close enough to a flag to see it. I’d then ignore the compass, focus on the flag and run to it. Those were the only flags I found. I think this is the picture in Hebrews 12:2—we are to be looking to (eyes fixed on) Jesus as we run with endurance. Jesus is to be our orientation!

If we are Christians, our sexual orientation must be Jesus Christ. Our vocational orientation must be Jesus Christ. Our family orientation must be Jesus Christ. Our financial orientation must be Jesus Christ. Our ministry orientation must be Jesus Christ.

How easy it is to be oriented to our desires rather than to our Lord! This is the very essence of sin. It matters not whether my desires lead me in a direction that is socially acceptable or not. It matters not how heinous others judge the behavior that follows to be. Ultimately it matters that my orientation is not Jesus. Everything that is not of faith is sin (Rom 14:23).

A boat’s orientation is not the direction that the wind and current is pushing it (no matter how forcefully)–it is the direction that the captain is steering. Likewise, a person’s sexual orientation is not the same thing as his feelings of sexual desire! It is possible (actually expected since Genesis 3) to experience sinful desire while being oriented on Jesus. (“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things that you want to do” Gal 5:17). Maintaining a Christ-focused sexual orientation (while also maintaining a Christ-focused vocational orientation and family orientation, financial orientation, etc.) is what someone does who is loving the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. This singular, comprehensive, whole-life Christ-orientation is the whole point—it is what walking by faith strives to accomplish. This is the calling of God to His people. Are you oriented to Jesus? Anything (and everything) else is an idol.

Satan’s power is in the lie. Don’t believe it. You are not a “homosexual”—you are a person created in the image of God and adopted into the holy family of our Lord Father. You are a prince or princess in the kingdom of God! This ongoing flesh vs Spirit dissonance will end one day, and then our Christ-orientation will reign unchallenged in our hearts. Maranatha! But until then, God has promised us enough trouble for every day (Matt 6) and that our temptations, which are common to man, will be accompanied with a means of escape (I Cor 10).

There was a time when our temptations defined us, but no longer (I Cor 6). God defines us now—we are His beloved sons and daughters. Our calling is the singular calling of the Family business—manifesting the truth and beauty and glory and love of our Lord Father in the midst of a painful, hungry, dying world. Sin is the kryptonite of the Church. What else cripples truth, beauty, glory and love? We work out our salvation with fear and trembling because it really hurts this side of heaven. Jesus warns us, but he also equips us—better still indwells us. He doesn’t send us out for Him–He calls us to go with Him.

Your temptation fingerprint is not identical to mine, but it is not meaningfully dissimilar. We are all in this together without division. There are not two kinds of Christians in the world separated by the nature of their temptations–there is one kind and one kind only. It is a tempted kind; a beloved kind; a fearing/trembling kind; an adopted by God kind; a suffering kind; a secure in the hand of God kind.

A holy kind.

If God has adopted us into his family, why would we want to define ourselves by the nature of our temptations? Honestly, the only reasons I can think of are pride or an attempt to justify or excuse our idols.

Don’t believe the lie that there is something wrong with the same-sex-attracted saint that isn’t also wrong with the all the other saints. Sin–it is what is wrong with all of us. When the lazy man is born again his recliner is still comfortable and ESPN isn’t less delightful than housework. When the porn user is born again his eyes will still long for the sites God denies them. When the heavy drinker comes to Christ, beer is still delicious. When the glutton joins the church, pizza still tastes way better than salad. After the impatient man comes to Christ, the slow car at the front of the left turn lane will still elicit a strong emotional response–and it will feel very unnatural to not express it. When a same-sex-attracted person is truly born again, the Holy Spirit will turn off their homosexual desires like a light switch. If that is not their experience, salvation is questionable at best.

That sounds so ridiculous when you write it out!–but don’t we sometimes give that impression? Why do we treat same-sex attraction differently than every other temptation?! The only reason I can think of is that we believe the lie that, unlike other temptations, same-sex desire makes you a fundamentally different type of person. It is like a variation of racism.

Let’s never tire of reminding each other that Jesus is better than what our post-Genesis-3 flesh craves. And, although our feelings to the contrary are overwhelming at times, we are one people with one calling. The associations and distinctives that the world values so highly do not fracture our singular identity or mission in the slightest. Since there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free (Gal 3), why would there be gay and straight?

Lets fix our eyes on Jesus! No post-Genesis-3 person maintains that orientation unchallenged. Each day, although experienced 7 billion different ways, has but 1 purpose—the glory of God. Sin, of any and every type, is the thing (the only thing) we can do to thwart it. In the end, we never will thwart it—we can only temporarily hide, besmudge or appear to delay it. We will all manifest His glory in the end—in our salvation or condemnation. Oh to be among the saints on that day!

What is my orientation? Really—how will I know? Should I look at my life and make my best guess?

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom 8).

In the end, my orientation is what I actually set my mind on—not what I feel like setting my mind on in the heat of temptation’s moment. This is hard enough for all of us, but I recognize that the pain is not evenly distributed. For what it’s worth, compassion exists. I’m with you in this, and I love you.

Grace and peace to you from our Lord Father.

The Ultimate Level Playing Field

If you asked me to list some awesome, but unnecessary, things God did when creating the Earth, right near the top of the list (even ahead of the design of owls and the smell of really good fried chicken) I’d put the fact that water (even really dirty water) turns pure white at the top of waves and when it flows over rocks.  Seriously–why should it do that?!  That is nothing but pure style on God’s part.

If you asked me to list some of the awesomest Christian doctrines that are totally unlike other religions, right near the top of the list I’d put the fact that the playing field is totally level in everything that God really cares about.

Jesus said that the whole law and the prophets hangs on these two commandments–to love the Lord with all your heart all your soul, with all your mind and all your strength.  And the second like it–love your neighbor as yourself.

The ramifications are, really, quite dizzying.

If, ultimately, ministry and worship can be simply defined as the Christian’s obedience to these two commands, then you can’t even begin to imagine a scenario where someone or something can preclude a truly born-again believer from being able to hit it out of the park at any bat.  While education, resources, particular circumstances or environments can have a huge effect on the earthly impressiveness of our actions, God doesn’t concern himself with earthly impressiveness.  Man looks at the outward appearance but our Lord Father looks at the heart.

The command is to love Him with all your (not someone else’s) heart.  This is great news for the profoundly wounded and autistic brethren.

The command is to love Him with all your (not someone else’s) soul.  This is great news for those raised in harsh, non-Christian environments who had a poor spiritual formation until salvation later in life.

The command is to love Him with all your (not someone else’s) mind.  This is great news for the saints with low-IQs and others who had no opportunity for education.

The command is to love Him with all your (not someone else’s) strength.  Let the poor and socially-marginalized brethren rejoice (and high-five the widow who had two copper coins someday)!

This means that nobody is on the B team.  Everyone has as much potential to be pleasing to God as Billy Graham did when he walked into a packed stadium.  This is because Billy’s rewards in heaven won’t be based on his stats–they’ll be based on his love.  If Christian history tells us anything, it tells us that, unlike the case of Billy Graham, the two don’t always go together.

The Holy Spirit is not more inclined to indwell the beautiful, wealthy, strong or influential.  A socially un-powerful person (too old or young, too poor or too weak, etc.) can actually care about someone (a rare and delightful gift) and leave a beautifully fragrant wake of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control wherever he goes in the power of the Spirit to the glory of God.  A brother locked away in solitary confinement can delight in the love of his Father (we’re never solitary!) and can pray prayers that love through the thickest of walls in the power of the Spirit.  Someone knocked unconscious and lobotomized by a persecutor can manifest just how much better Jesus is than the world (you can brain-damage a man, but not the Spirit who indwells him).  The Holy Spirit can change a “vegetable” into a “testimony” without any additional assistance from us.

Kill him, and he now loves better than anyone left on the planet.

Think about the ramifications of this–if ministry and worship are merely the manifestations of real love in the context of real life, then a person who wants to engage in real God-honoring ministry and worship that matters or “counts”, can do it at any time and in any place God puts him (with whatever means God grants him).

I stop ministering when I go where He hasn’t called me to go or do what He hasn’t called me to.  Sin.  Ultimately, sin is the kryptonite of ministry and worship.  What else precludes love?

What if I believed that I had no less potential to love than Billy Graham had when he walked into a packed stadium?  How would today be different?

Why wasn’t my day more different?