Sexual purity


Today, April 20, we fly to Port Au Spain, Trinidad, to speak at a marriage conference for Trinidad and Tobago Urban Ministries. Our partnership with TTUM spans 17 years, starting when we took a group of families to serve on our second family missions trip for Grace Chapel. We “clicked” with Ashoke and Stefanie Bachew and their vision for these little islands and have been fast friends and ministry partners ever since. What a welcomed opportunity to return this week for their second bi-annual marriage conference—and how different it is to be going “alone” and not traveling with a team of 25-30, and not hauling hundreds of pounds of supplies for Backyard Bible Clubs! Paul’s sentiments: “This is a whole lot easier!!"

Backing up to Easter, we had a most delightful time hosting friends in our home for Easter week. We had a blast together and learned some new games, including “Tenzi” and "Jousting with Peeps” (use your imagination). We laughed a ton, had deep ponderous discussions, and thoroughly enjoyed every moment shared. Easter Sunday morning, we all attended church together and were most surprised when one of those being baptized related in her story that she had been a young African girl born with “knocked knees” and seemingly relegated to a life lacking mobility until she was sponsored to be surgically repaired at the CURE Hospital! I could barely contain my excitement as these worlds . . . church in Arlington and CURE in Africa . . . intersected in such a life-giving way. A bonus moment on Easter Sunday! The celebration continued in our home as eleven of us gathered around our table, connected by our love for the Risen Lord as well as our love for one another. It was a great day.

Our houseguests from California brought a lot of life and energy to our home during Easter week, starting with Easter Sunday breakfast.

Joyce was born and raised in Africa, and her “knocked knees” were surgically repaired at a CURE Hospital in Africa. Years later, Easter 2016, she was baptized in Arlington, MA.

Our delightful gathering on Easter Sunday, with much talking, laughter, and fellowship.

Between March 4 and April 9, we’ve hosted the H.I.M. marriage conference, Engagement Matters, and Worth It. I guess you could say we’ve been on a relationship roll.  

The weekend following Easter, April 2-3, our Engagement Matters conference was held in Andover, MA, at the home of Seth and Melanie Bilazarian. As always, stimulating conversations and probing questions were exchanged in an attempt to help these couples sort through important matters which will have an impact on their married life. We always tell the couples at the beginning of the weekend, “There are at least three potential outcomes of this weekend. One possibility is confirming that you are right for each other and that your timing is good to move ahead towards marriage. A second possibility is that you’ll decide you’re headed in the right direction, but you could benefit from more time before you decide on marriage. The third possibility is that you’ll decide you are not right for each other and though that’s a painful discovery, it’s far less painful to decide that on this side of the altar than the other.”  Our belief is that some marriage problems can be avoided with good pre-marriage work.

We are so thankful for our Engagement Matters teammates Ryan and Kelly Plosker, Carl and Cathy Blatchley, and Melanie Bilazarian. We are all kept very busy through the weekend, interacting with the couples formally and informally. We all have such deep hearts for each of them to make wise, God-honoring decisions.  

Most of the couples who attended EM April 2–3 . . . though some had already slipped out before this photo was snapped.

After one of the mildest winters in a while, the last thing we expected was that a snowstorm would cause the cancellation of our speaking to the Park Street Church Union group on Monday, April 4. Very fortunately, it was able to be re-scheduled for Thursday, the 7th, and we spoke to a packed room of young marrieds on the subject of marital sexuality. We were very impressed with the thoughtful questions submitted after our presentation, which were answered in the remaining 45 minutes of the evening. We were reminded that as pervasive as “sex” is in our culture, few seem to have a place to go with their questions, especially if seeking Biblical guidance. It was a great evening . . . 

. . . and, an appropriate lead-in to the following weekend, “Worth It!”  Our annual purity conference (the pre-engagement, pre-marriage conference we host), geared for families, was beset with challenges this year, from speaker availability to logistics. Our “normal” line-up of NFL couples had scheduling/family conflicts of all sorts, reducing our “headliners” to Don Davis (retired) and Matthew and Shahrzad Slater. At the ninth hour, the Slaters had to cancel due to the funeral of his aunt in Mississippi (though they kindly recorded a message to the attendees which we showed during the conference), so Don carried the NFL ball alone this year.  He was up to the task!  He also was accompanied by a stellar line-up of Nate Parks (executive director of Camp Berea), Paul Friesen (director of H.I.M.), Kate Wylie (wife of figure skating Olympic Silver Medalist Paul Wylie), Lisa Friesen (professor of athletic training at California Baptist University), Chris and Dorothy Greco (speakers, writers), and Adam Rowe (youth pastor for Grace Chapel Wilmington). All of the speakers led both plenary sessions and workshop sessions, and they all truly knocked it out of the park. 

Hosted by Trinity Baptist Church of Nashua, the packed crowd was fully engaged in the day as the “gospel” of relationships was proclaimed. The audience, made up of parents and teens, was delighted with the clarity of the messages, especially against the back drop of a culture whose confusion regarding these subjects only increases. There is such relief in hearing truth spoken.

Here are some of the comments written on evaluations at the end of the day:

"Excellent speakers.  All of them.  I took something from each talk.  Thank you!!”  (15-year-old male)
"I appreciated that nothing was sugar-coated.  It helped me realign my thoughts on what really matters in life.”  (15-year-old male)
"I loved attending with my teenage daughter.  It opened up opportunities for us to discuss topics we had not, and gave me the way to do it.  I wish I had known these things when I was a teen.”  (female parent)
"I recently asked God to please show me someone that was going through the same struggle of staying pure.  I am so happy this conference exists and I am thinking of so many people to bring next year.  This conference helped me get closer to God.”  (17-year-old female)
"Really appreciated the candor and vulnerability of the speakers.” (male parent)
"Getting to spend the day at 'Worth It' reinforced what we have been attempting to teach them about relationships.”  (male and female parents)
"The things I learned today will change the things I do in the future.”  (14-year-old female)
"Most of the speakers were fun so it helped teens who were not thrilled to attend.”  (female parent)
"You guys fit so much into one day! Well done. Thank you so much for your ministry!  God bless!”  (female parent)

We all agreed that it was one of the best “Worth It” conferences ever, and for that, we say “Thank you, Jesus!”  All praise is His!!

Paul Friesen opens the day with passion and humor, instantly helping all attendees relax.

Kate Wylie uses some volunteers to illustrate how hard it is to have a foot in both worlds.

Lisa Friesen challenges the teens with the question, “What is your BRAND?” (Belief, Reason, Accountability, No, and Dream)  As our “token” single, she was winsome in affirming her trust in a very personal God who continues to meet her as she trusts Him for her future mate.

Adam Rowe addressed the issue of media and technology, hitting hard on the destructive nature of pornography.

Don Davis wrapped up the day with the good news of forgiveness and the hope of redemption.

In the absence of the rest of the NFL crew, Paul creatively had a DVD made of interviews with the couples who would’ve been there. The DVD featured Benjamin and Kirsten Watson, Danny and Stacia Woodhead, Matthew and Shahrzad Slater, Ryan Wendell and Meridith Bartman (who are engaged to be married in July), as well as Don Davis.  It was really well done (thanks to the creative work of Jake and Kaylee Gosselin) and was a great addition to the day.

It takes many helping hands to put on such a conference, and once again Jim and Sue Martis and their able team pulled it off with excellence.  The day went like clockwork and we are deeply grateful for the many who helped make it so.

The aftermath . . . cleaned up and packed away . . . these folks stayed ’til the end. So grateful for them!

The dust had barely settled on “Worth It” before Lisa and I flew to California on Sunday while Paul happily stayed home to work on a myriad of house and writing projects. I had the joy of spending the week with Kari, Brandon, and Ana, while Gabe was with his pastoral staff team from Grace Baptist Church, Santa Clarita, attending the “Together for the Gospel” conference in Louisville, KY.  Oh what fun it was to have five delicious days with Brandon and Ana (and their mama, of course.)  Brandon and I had “sleep overs” every night, ensuring that the day would close with reading some childhood favorites. Baking, going to the park, playing “Candyland” and doing some special outings filled up the days and all too quickly I was boarding a plane for Raleigh, NC, where I joined Paul who was officiating the wedding of Parker and Katie.  

The cuties I spent a week with in California. I can never get enough of the grands!

The wedding was a celebration of so many great things, and we enjoyed every minute of it. We’ve shared many important moments with this family through the years and it was such an honor to share this milestone event with them. Every time Paul does a wedding, he’s flooded with responses from those unfamiliar with a Christian perspective. He most often hears, “I’ve never heard marriage spoken about that way. You’ve given me something to really think about.”  What a privilege to proclaim God’s good design for marriage to a world that desperately needs to hear it.

Held at the beautiful Carolina Inn on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, the ceremony was a declaration of the gospel of marriage.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity to encourage marriages, we welcomed the opportunity to do a mini-marriage conference for the Trinity Park Church.  Connected by Corrado and Penny Grieci (former New Englanders and long time friends), we spent the morning with a very receptive and warm audience.  It was a bonus to catch up with the Griecis as well.

Friends from Trinity Park Church attended the marriage seminar on Saturday, April 16.
After the wedding festivities ended, we spent Sunday reconnecting with James and Joe Yardley, both who attend UNC-Chapel Hill. After church, at which Joe was playing keys, we had a lively conversation over lunch. It was so encouraging to catch up with these two college students (who we’ve known since they were 1 and 3 years old) whose hearts are for the Lord. Next visit, my 88-year-old second cousin, Sis, who is a lifelong Raleigh-ite. Impressively spry and a delightful conversationalist, our time with her passed far too quickly. We rounded out the day with Roy and Jenny Kelly, beloved friends who used to live in New England. It was great to catch up with them after not having seen them face to face in such a long time. More important relationships!

Back home, briefly, for a day of counseling, and now we’re off to Trinidad for a week.

Forty years ago today we were counting the final four days until we would be united as husband and wife. We’re both finding it hard to wrap our minds around 40 years! While thousands of memories swirl in my head as we anticipate reaching this milestone on Sunday, April 24, the overwhelming sentiment centers on the faithfulness of God. We sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness” at our wedding and believed that “morning by morning new mercies we see.” We have clung to “All I have needed Thy hand has provided” and we affirm, “Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

Humbling. Blessed. So loved. The most important relationship of all: He loves us and promises to be faithful. That’s the key to our 40 years together. All praise is His.
Our wedding party . . . sooo late 70’s. Love it!

It WAS "Worth IT"

Admittedly, there are times of discouragement in ministry (and in life), and about 10 days ahead of our annual event "Worth It" was one of those times.  With a blockbuster line-up of speakers and a fabulous venue booked at Bethany Church in Greenland, NH, we fully expected an overwhelming response to this potentially life-changing—and at least reinforcing to God-honoring-relationships—values conference.  

Ten days out, we had 250 registrations and were discouraged.  Adding to our disappointment were the "excuses" for not coming, ranging from "we're too busy" to "we're having a fund-raiser for our summer missions trip" to "I don't want to make my kids go and they don't want to."

Really?  With the chaos surrounding relationships and the confusion regarding why choosing sexual and emotional purity escalating, it seems that very few things should outrank the importance of spending 1/365th of the year focused on such life-changing tipping points from God's perspective.

Fortunately, we marshaled the prayer forces and by the day of "Worth It" were thrilled to have 410 attendees.  Though still short of our hoped-for number, we were really grateful for this great group of teens and parents who placed such a high priority on this important day.

Increasingly convinced that the relationship choices we make pre-maritally have a very big impact on eventual marriage choices, we are more and more passionate about speaking into this generation of teens who have been lied to their whole lives by a virtually godless culture.  The messages come at us — fast, furiously, and authoritatively — that the only thing that matters is your personal happiness, however fleeting that may be, and whatever it takes to gain it.  The average college-aged woman in our culture (and it goes without saying that men also live this belief) no longer believe that sex and love are connected, and sadly, the Christian community statistically isn't distinctly different in terms of unmarried sexual behavior.  Most have resigned themselves to the "if you can't fight 'em, join 'em" mentally and have given up hope that sexual and emotional purity can be lived out.

That's why we do "Worth It."

Because God's Word hasn't changed. His heart for His children hasn't changed. His design hasn't changed.

So we try to build a very convincing case for purity in 2014.  We want to give hope.  We want to be prophetic. We want to challenge youth to trust the goodness of God's design and the power we have in Him to live it out.

Before the day began, the team gathered to pray for all that would happen in the day.

Barbara Steele and Kit Hendricks welcomed the over 400 attendees
of the day at the registration table.

Tim Carpenter, family pastor at Bethany Church in Greenland,
welcomes everyone to the "Worth It" conference.

That's the message that was proclaimed throughout the day on April 5.  Jess Bousa kicked off the day with a stirring and lively message on the good news of the gospel and the Word of God, saying that it is "not a prison sentence, but a permission slip."  Jess speaks with such credibility as one who was far from God during his high school years when he became very familiar with cops and jails through multiple arrests connected with drug abuse and dealing.  God got a hold of him in a big way while serving time at a court-ordered stay with Teen Challenge, and 14 years later, Jess is married, has two children, has his MDiv and then some, and has planted Restore Church in Havre de Grace, MD, which two years into existence has 650 attendees and 3 campuses.  Great start to the day!

Jess Bousa preaches it at Worth It!

Kirsten Watson followed with a passionate talk on "You are Worth It."  Starting with a very effective illustration, she offered a crisp $20 bill to anyone who wanted it.  After she had folded it, crushed it, stomped on it, and thrown it to the ground, there were still the same number of hands raised of those who wanted it.  Why?  Because it was still worth $20 — even though it had been “through a lot."  Her message was shaped by the intrinsic value of each human being, not based on what they had been through — or what they had been spared — but by the love of God Himself, who calls us by name and whose image we bear.  It was very powerful . . . and convincing.

Kirsten Watson speaks to the individual worth and value of each person.

Two workshop sessions and lunch followed the opening plenary talks, and the line-up of topics and speakers was top shelf.  Adam Rowe, youth pastor for Grace Chapel in Wilmington, MA, spoke on media and how to make God-honoring choices in this very dynamic, high-risk arena.  Christopher and Dorothy Greco (Chris is the Theater Arts Director at Lexington Christian Academy and worship leader at Grace Baptist Church, Hudson, MA) spoke on LGBTQ issues facing the community of Christ.  Their story was compelling and their teaching on how to love and give hope to those struggling with sexual identity was sensitively handled with compassion and truth.  Kirsten Watson did a workshop on making the "second most important decision of your life: marriage!", and Kate Wylie spoke on the perils of popularity.  Danny Woodhead and his mom, Annette, spoke together on how to parent in the midst of so many cultural pressures, especially those that accompany athletic prowess.  Nate Parks spoke to parents on how to be in touch with their kids who are facing incredible pressures vastly different from those faced by parents when they were youth.  And Lisa Friesen spoke on how to prepare for college in terms of values and beliefs you need to have in place before you step foot on a campus—so you can have a "blast" in college.

Danny and Annette Woodhead were a real hit as
a son/mother team speaking on parenting principles.

All of the workshops were relevant, practical, and well-received.  We were SO thankful for such a quality team.

Two more plenary sessions in the afternoon rounded out the day.  Kate Wylie spoke on why purity is worth it.  With raw honesty and vulnerability, Kate shared how she had "bought the lie" that "technical virginity" was all God was really interested in and that with all her Christian boyfriends, the only line not crossed was sexual intercourse.  She explained how betrayed she felt when each relationship ended as she struggled with feeling used and then abandoned.  She also shared how that trajectory changed when she was finally taught the heart of God's design for purity.  She and her fiancé embraced boundaries consistent with Biblical purity and it profoundly and positively impacted their relationship.  She offered hope: to those "lacking experience,” to keep on holding the lines, and to those who had already crossed lines, the hope of forgiveness and the challenge to make adjustments.  

Kate Wylie teaches on the subject of "purity is worth it" and her vulnerability was deeply moving.

Nate Parks, director of Berea, was our final plenary speaker and he offered the hope of forgiveness and the challenge that "what you plant will grow."  Rather than viewing purity as a set of rules to follow, Nate was convincing that you must choose to plant seeds of love for God, His Word, and His ways, so your heart will produce a harvest of righteousness.  Because what you plant will grow.  He was engaging and energetic and his simple message was the perfect ending for the day.

Nate Parks, the farmer, explains that "what you plant will grow."

Tucked in here and there was lunch, directed by Jim Martis and an amazing volunteer crew orchestrated by our event coordinator, Susan Martis, who helped with everything from packet preparation to lunch preparation and clean-up, as well as book sales, and all the myriad of details needed to facilitate such a day.  A panel of all the speakers fielding a few questions and recommending a few books, and many, many side-bar conversations filled in some “non-structured” time.  During the panel, the crowd was inspired by the testimony of Danny and Stacia Woodhead (former Patriot, now Charger and one of the best running backs in the NFL) who remained pure throughout their eight-year courtship.  Quite a story of hope!!  Another highlight was hearing from Lisa Friesen, the lone single voice of the day, who exudes contentment and purpose in life as she waits for the Lord to bring the "right" man into her life. She knocked it out of the park when she shared that her decisions for purity had already delivered some great dividends.  "When I eventually met my college boyfriend’s wife, I was so thankful I could look her in the eyes and know that I had honored her and her husband had honored her long before she was on the scene, by how we had honored each other."  Very, very powerful.

All of the speakers participated in a panel Q and A in the late afternoon.

Lisa Friesen enjoys a moment with Danny and Stacia Woodhead.

As the day ended, our previous discouragement which had dissipated days earlier had been replaced with overflowing gratitude.The team gathered to thank the Lord for the incredible ways He met us during the day, and we could only give Him all the praise. 

He is worth it!!

Here are a few excerpts from the evaluations handed in at day's end:

Despite the resistance from the girls leading up to the conference (“This is my 5th, time – I GET it, Mom!”, “Saturday is my only day to sleep!”, “I have voice lessons, can’t go.”, “I have my last driving lesson, if I miss it – I won’t get my driving license for MONTHS!”), making the effort was definitely worth it!  It was a wonderful day. Thank you and your dedicated team for all they do to pour into our lives the saving grace and love of God and Jesus.  (Mom of three teenage daughters) 
Down to earth, funny. (13-year-old son) 
The stories, content, and presentation styles of each workshop were beneficial. (Mom of teenage son and daughter) 
Being involved in something so deep with my daughter is opening up new doors for both of us. (Parent) 
I was basically dragged here by my dad, and I came with low expectations.  It blew me away how honest and real you guys were.  I feel like I can directly relate what I learned to my life and am inspired to live a life of purity.  (13-year-old gal) 
We have been back 3 times because my kids wanted to come back. Thank you! (Parent) 
This kind of conference that helps our families confront and talk about sexual issues is so needed. Thank you for your presentations. (Parent of 13- and 16-year-old teens) 
We were so thankful to attend with our 3 daughters and have them hear that they are Worth It. (Husband and wife) 
Great selection of books, and staff were very helpful in helping in selection of books.
It was way better than I expected and I will recommend this to my friends. (13-year-old gal) 
Bethany was a great facility and staff were very helpful and friendly.
Being there with all four of my very athletic boys and hear them hear from other athletes was huge. (Parent of 4 teenage boys) 
My biggest take-away is knowing that God needs to be the center of my life and relationships.  (18-year-old guy) 
Really liked the way lunch was so organized. 
It was so beneficial to be able to have an open conversation with my teen about God’s plan for sex and have him be receptive. (Dad of teenage son) 
Thank you so much, this was so helpful before I go off to college and begin a relationship. (Teen)
All praise is His.  

At day's end, we paused to thank the Lord for the amazing way He had met us.