Gratitude: The antidote for lust

With Thanksgiving around the corner I wanted to share this post about gratitude from last year. The truths found here still resonate with me today, and for that I’m thankful. God is good, and worthy of our praise and thanks!

Desire Mercy

I’ve had a few management interviews at Amazon where I work.  One of the standard questions asked in the process goes something like this:

How do you handle stress in your life or keep from being negative?

I use this occasion to tell them about my faith in God and how an attitude of thanksgiving is something our household strives to uphold daily.  I tell them about the “Thanksgiving Tree” we made which hangs on our wall, comprised of cut-out hands of each family member where the fingers (which look like a turkey) are filled in with things for which we are each thankful.    I tell them how each night before bed we go around the family and share a praise – something to give God thanks over – before we pray.

Thankfully, thanksgiving and praise has become a cornerstone of our home.

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And it’s a good thing, too.   Paul…

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Satan Fans the Flame of Disordered Love

so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs (2 Cor. 2:11).

I suppose one advantage of being in bondage to sin for so long is it made me well aware of the enemy’s tactics.   I hung around him long enough to have some understanding of his “designs.”    There are many tactics of Satan,  but I’d say one of his favorites is making us think our actions are normal and natural and even reasonable.  Have you ever said to yourself or someone else, “Well this is just who I am” or “I can’t help it, I’m made this way” or perhaps, “It just felt right, how could it be wrong” or even, “Love wins“?

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This is because each of us “is tempted when lured and enticed by our own desire” (James 1:14).   Satan doesn’t really need to bring anything new to the battle for our hearts.  He just needs to fan the flame of what is already there.   

For every one of us that could be a different thing.  My desires won’t be the same as the next guy or gal.   For some it might be lust, for others it might be disordered sexual desires, for some it might be food, for others it might be control, for some it might be fame, or perhaps money or it could simply be a desire to devour any kind of impurity (Eph. 4:19).   In all of us is this desire which wants to disobey, to rebel, to reach for the forbidden fruit even though we know God said no and even though there are plenty of trees from which to pick from all around.   Our radar zeroes in on the one forbidden thing.

This is the curse of sin and it stains us all.  Satan doesn’t need to do anything more than to blow on the hot embers of our desire and when we act upon them, James says this desire then gives birth to sin (we act on that desire), and as we continue to act on this desire because we think it’s just natural, normal and reasonable, it brings forth death.   The death here is a spiritual death, one described by Paul in Romans 1:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done…Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them (vs. 21-32).

The death is a spiritual death, by which we are slaves to our human desires.    The early church father, Augustine, called our plight one of “disordered loves.”    All of us, no matter who we are, love the wrong things.   None of us are without excuse.  All have these disordered loves and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).   If we do not “come to our senses” as the Prodigal Son did and say yes to the Spirit of God convicting us of our sin, we will continue to slide down this road where we are no longer able to hear or know truth, but instead we find ourselves doing what God says not to do and even give approval to those who do (Rom. 1:32).

Satan fans the embers of human desire which feel normal to us, and as we worship the creature (our desires) we fall prey to the delusion that we are fine, even justified, in our sin.

We need to be aware that Satan is a master at making our desires appear to be natural, even holy.   The prophet Jeremiah said we will dress the wounds of the people and say “peace, peace” when the reality is, there is no peace (Jer. 6:14).   Paul saw clearly what Jeremiah saw, that our hearts are deceitfully wicked and prone to love the wrong things (Jer. 17:9) and rather than justify love for loves sake he cried out, “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).

Scripture repeatedly warns us to be vigilant and watchful over our hearts and the hearts of others.   The Puritans did this through daily introspection and examination, naming their desires and lining them up with God’s word to see if they were holy desires or fleshly ones.   We would do well, perhaps, to adopt some of their rigors.  But being rigorous without first repenting, without first coming to our senses and realizing Satan has used our desires against us, we will not know freedom.   The good news is this:   When we humble ourselves and cry out along with Paul our need to be delivered from this body of death which loves the wrong things, we are given a new heart.  The Holy Spirit recreates us as new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17) and instead of being a slave to our desires we become slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:15-23).

A good practice is to ask yourself often whether or not the things or people you love are ordered after the wisdom of God or the wisdom of this world.   There is a way which seems right to humankind, but in the end it leads to death (Prov. 14:12).    Don’t be ignorant of Satan’s designs on your desires.   Take delight in the Lord, and discover that His word is true, you will be a new creation, with new desires (Psalm 37:4).

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:25).

Salvation is Supernatural

My devotional reading this morning was taken from Acts 1:5, You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.    William Law writes in his book The Power of the Spirit that Christ commanded his disciples to wait for this gift of the Spirit before they bore witness to the world about what they humanly knew of His birth, life, teachings, death and resurrection.  

Law continues, 

As salvation is in its whole nature the inward birth and life of Christ in the believer, so nothing but this “new creature in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17) can bear true witness to the realities of redemption.  Therefore a man, however expert in all Scripture learning, an only talk about the gospel as of any tale he has been told until the life of Christ has been brought forth, verified, fulfilled and enjoyed through the power of the Holy Spirit in his soul.  

 

No one can know salvation by a mere rational consent to that which is historically said of Christ.  Only by an inward experience of His cross, death and resurrection can the saving power of the gospel be known.  For the reality of Christ’s redemption is not in fleshly, finite, outward things – much less in verbal descriptions of them – but is a birth, a life, a spiritual operation which as truly belongs to God alone as does His creative power.

We must never forget that Jesus said “you must be born again.”   Salvation truly wrought is always a supernatural act of God whereby God takes a heart bent on bringing glory to self and transforms it into one that seeks only to glorify God.  All that is good and all that is evil comes from the heart, and thanks be to God we have a God who loves to do heart transplants!  (Ezek. 36:26).  

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Come, Holy Spirit, come.   

 

I was dead…But God!

Sunday nights has been a time of Bible study at my church and we have been walking through the book of Ephesians.    Last night we came upon my favorite stretch of 10 verses in all of Scripture:  Eph. 2:1-10.

This passage is so meaningful to me because it so accurately captures the truth about me, and I suspect you, too.   In this post I want to address a few high points from last night’s discussion and close by giving you a way to personalize this scripture in a way that I hope blesses and encourages you.

Paul begins by saying you were dead in your sins and trespasses.    Dead.  He does not mean physical death here but spiritual.   There was a time before coming to know Christ (he is writing to the saints of Ephesus) where our spiritual capacity was flat-lined.  Nothing within us could say yes to God.   Nothing within us could please God or be of use to Him.   We were dead.

Dead in our sins and trespasses, Paul says.   The word translated as “sins” here is hamartia, a Greek word which literally means to “miss the mark.”  Far too often we relegate “sins” to the very egregious acts of wickedness we see on the evening news, but Paul has more than that in mind when he writes we were “dead” in hamartia.    To “miss the mark” means we fail to be who we ought to be or could be.   It is to say that despite our best intentions when we wake up in the morning we so often fall short of the glory of God by breakfast time.   William Barclay, a prolific commentator of the Bible, while describing hamartia asks these pointed questions:

Is a man as good a husband as he might be? Does he try to make life easier for his wife? Does he inflict his moods on his family? Is a woman as good a wife as she might be? Does she really take an interest in her husband’s work and try to understand his problems and his worries? Are we as good parents as we might be? Do we discipline and train our children as we ought, or do we often shirk the issue? As our children grow older, do we come nearer to them, or do they drift away until conversation is often difficult and we and they are practically strangers? Are we as good sons and daughters as we might be? Do we ever even try to say thank you for what has been done for us? Do we ever see the hurt look in our parents’ eyes and know that we put it there? Are we as good workmen as we could be? Is every working hour filled with our most conscientious work and is every task done as well as we could possibly do it?

If you felt the stabs as I did when reading those questions, you understand how true it is that “all have sinned (missed the mark) and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

Paul goes on to describe what being dead in sin looks like.   It is to follow blindly the “course of this world” and the “prince of the power of the air” which is the spirit at work in sons and daughters of disobedience.  It is to be a slave to desire, desire being defined as that which is forbidden.   There is something inside all of us that wants what we ought not want.  Something in our very nature makes us desire not God but our own passions.   Our will, or what I call our “wanter,” is dead, able only to please the self (even our good deeds are over-shadowed by a desire to please selfish interests rather than bring glory and honor to God, which is why God calls all our good deeds “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6)).

I remember what it was like to have a dead wanter.  I didn’t wake up and decide one day to ruin my life, but a series of bad choices to indulge my own desires led me down a road that deadened whatever spiritual life I once had.   My will was completely enslaved to my own desires, and I could not say no to temptation.   When I woke up in the morning I knew that when the opportunity presented itself, I was going to cave.    Self-control, a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), was elusive to me.

Enter into this mess, this mess of being dead to sin, enslaved by a will that wants to please only oneself, dragged along by the course of this world and the passions of it, enter the most beautiful two words in all of Scripture as far as I’m concerned:   BUT GOD!  (Eph. 2:4).

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BUT GOD, who is RICH IN MERCY, because of his GREAT LOVE, even when we were DEAD in our sin, made us alive with Christ!   It is a supernatural work of the same God who breathed stars into existence who took this dead heart and made it alive and sensitive to the things which please God.   Over time, this God took a dead “wanter” and made it new!   God will take a will that is bent on pleasing self and free it to do His will and His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).  Rather than being under the spell of this world which makes us sons and daughters of disobedience, and therefore subject to God’s righteous wrath, we become obedient children of God whom Jesus calls “friends” (John 15:14).    How awesome it is to know that God wants you and I to be his partners in ministry in His world, that He has work for you and I to do and has made us alive in Him so that we can be about His work, bringing Him glory in all we say and do! (Eph. 2:10).

We closed our study last night by handing out the following re-write of Ephesians 2:1-10, and reading it while listening to the song Redeemed by Big Daddy Weave.   It’s a good practice to make the scriptures personal, to read it as a letter addressed personally to you.  I’ve adapted it for you here, and invite you to read this incredible passage as you listen to the song (included below the text).    Feel free to print it off and read it often, every day if you have to, until they become a reality in your life.   You were dead….But God!  

Ephesians 2:1-10

I was dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which I once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 I once lived among them in the passions of my flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and I was by nature a child of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved ME 5 even when I was dead through MY trespasses, made ME alive together with Christ—by grace I have been saved— 6 and raised up with him and seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward ME in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace I have been saved through faith, and this is not MY own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of MY works, so that I may not boast. 10 For I am what he has made me, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be MY way of life.

Are you looking for reasons why? Don’t be common

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man (1 Cor. 10:13).

I used to devote a lot of time trying to discover the reasons why I was an addict.   The world constantly told me that there must be some reason I indulged in pornography or other destructive behaviors and if I could discover those reasons and understand the emotions behind them I could love myself in more healthy ways.

I remember one trip to Texas my wife and I took to see a renowned psychotherapist who was a leader in the field of sexual addiction.  On my last day with him he shared with me the findings of the many psychological tests I took that weekend.   He said to me, “Chad, it’s obvious to me that you have ADHD.   This explains why it has been so hard for you to have any lasting recovery or focus on the things that are truly important.”

I broke down in tears.  Finally!  Decades of failure could be explained by a medical condition which could be fixed and maintained with a little blue pill!   I flew home to North Carolina armed with a prescription and the “good news” that I was essentially a good man with a medical disorder which caused me to be selfish.

My mind and heart were so darkened by sin that I willfully and joyfully latched on to the wisdom of this world as medicine for my soul.   But the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God (1 Cor. 3:19).

Finding an excuse for our sin, a person or condition or history to blame, is as old as the first story of sin in the garden of Eden where Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed his wife.    While there certainly may be many factors contributing to our poor decisions the fact remains they are our decisions, and they reflect what is in our hearts more than what is in our past (Matt. 15:18-20).

The truth God wants us to see and reveals to us through His word is that we are sinners, every one of us, and the sin which overtakes us is not new.    The truth is that we have a sinful nature and love sin.   We love ourselves more than God and others (one of the primary reasons why self-gratification must be eliminated).   “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9).  David said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity (sin), and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).  Paul said “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) and John, “if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves” (1 John 1:8).   Jesus teaches that it is what’s inside the heart which defiles us (Matt. 15:18-20).   Sin is common, and so is our quest to justify it, excuse it, or find reasons for it outside our own hearts.  

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As sinners, we are tempted by the lusts and desires which reside in our hearts.    We do not all struggle with the same sin, “but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14).

You and I won’t find freedom in a blue pill or in any worldly wisdom which suggests we need to love ourselves more or understand ourselves better.    The truth is simple: You do what you do because you are a sinner and you love your sin more than God.    It will require a supernatural work of God, the Great Physician, not a prescription from a psychiatrist, to free you from your love of self.

Jeff Colon, President of Pure Life Ministries, said, “The reason why I don’t go into sexual sin anymore is not because I can quote a Bible verse; it’s because I love Jesus.  Sinning is like crawling up the Cross and spitting in His face.  He died for me.”    I can testify to the truth of this.

When that truth comes to life in your life, you’ll know it.   You’ll stop looking for excuses and reasons for your sin and know you do what you do because God’s word is true about us:  we are sinners.   But you will also know the remedy:  Run to the cross.   Fall in love with Jesus.   He paid the ultimate price for you and He alone has the power to free you from a heart that is common.

Jesus is looking to make you UNcommon today.   He can do it!  Will you let Him?

 

 

From Ashes to Beauty

In my last post (Marriage Isn’t for You (Or your spouse)), I shared some resources for marriage which Amy and I have found helpful.   But there were two I left out which would be of great benefit to you if you are 1) a couple seeking to rebuild a marriage after infidelity or 2) you are a pastor or counselor seeking resources to help you help others.

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The first is a book by Jeff Colon, President of Pure Life Ministries, called From Ashes to Beauty.  Jeff knows first-hand the wreckage sexual sin will bring to a home and he and his wife have been powerful examples of what a life surrendered to God looks like.  God used Jeff’s sermons and presence at Pure Life while I was there to help turn me around and his wife, Rose, was Amy’s counselor-by-phone.    The book, From Ashes to Beauty, offers sound spiritual truth and practical advice essential for rebuilding and revitalizing a marriage, particularly if it is one affected by sexual sin.  I can’t recommend this book enough!

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The second is for husbands.  It’s called The Complete Husband by Lou Priolo.   What I liked about this book is how it challenged me on every page to take responsibility for my marriage and give me practical, biblical tools with which to do so.   Every chapter contains an exercise of some sort geared towards making you think through and act upon your role as a Christian husband.

Check out these resources.   You’ll be glad you did.

Marriage Isn’t For You (or your spouse)

I have seen this blog about marriage being shared so much lately by so many different people that I thought I’d actually read it.  It’s written by a fairly new husband who shares the advice his dad gave him about marriage:

marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”

It’s a call to live selflessly for one’s spouse, which I don’t disagree with.  It is true that marriage, or any relationship for that matter, shouldn’t be about self but about others.   As a Christian, my marching orders from God are to consider others more highly than myself (Phil. 2:3) and to love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:31).  Certainly that must include my wife, and, shockingly, everyone else.

But the idea that a marriage is all about my spouse, or that the chief goal of marriage is to make another person “happy” is not at all the goal of Christian marriages.

The goal of a Christian marriage, and the goal of any relationship for that matter, is to be made holy.

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God’s will for me and my wife, and for you and your spouse, is that you become more like Jesus (1 Thess. 4:3), which is to become holy.   The way we are made holy is an ongoing, life-long process that is done in community with others.   Marriage, like a church, is one of those places where you quickly learn the Self that has for so long steered your ship needs to die.  Realizing that you are no longer your own man (or woman) and that you do not even have authority over your body (1 Cor. 7:3-4) but that your spouse does is often a painful realization.

But coming to this realization is not for the sake of making your spouse happy.  It’s to make us holy.

What ought to be happening in our marriage is what ought to be happening in our relationship with Christ, and what happens in our relationship with Christ ought to be happening in our marriages.   In both relationships we are told we are not our own.   We have been bought with a price and your duty – married or not, family or not, kids or not – is to glorify God (1 Cor. 6:20).

When we subvert this focus and make marriage all about making our spouse happy we fall prey to the lie that says happiness is the goal of life and become full of pride in thinking we can provide it.

The best gift I can give my wife is not happiness, but Jesus.

So yes, marriage isn’t about you.   But it isn’t about your spouse, either.   It’s about bringing glory to God.   If you will focus on pleasing your Husband in Heaven you will have something far more valuable than happiness:   JOY and PEACE.   And these can never be taken away from you, regardless of the circumstances of your relationship.

Resources to help your marriage:

Check out Gary Thomas’ book, Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy.  

My wife, Amy’s, sermon: Sacred Roles:  The Wife

My sermon: Sacred Roles: The Husband