If a Leopard Can’t change his spots, what hope is there for me?

My devotional reading today in Jeremiah was aided by a quote from Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will shared by John Meunier on his blog, which reads,

[T]he Scripture sets before us a man who is not only bound, wretched, captive, sick and dead, but who, through the operation of Satan his lord, adds to his other miseries that of blindness, so that he believes himself to be free, happy, possessed of liberty and ability, whole and alive. Satan knows that if men knew their own misery he could keep no man in his kingdom.

Luther knew that apart from a miraculous work of grace in our lives our bondage to sin and death is absolute and total.    The most frightening thing about our bondage is that we cannot see it.  It has become such a natural part of our lives, so ingrained in our being, that we cannot imagine a life any different.   We even begin to approve of those who do the same things we are doing, or who remain in a bondage similar to our own (Rom. 1:32).

Which leads me to the passage in Jeremiah that spoke to me today:

Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil (Jer. 13:23, NIV).

leopard

So long as we think we are essentially good people who occasionally do bad things we remain blind to our disease, and thus to the cure.   It’s not until we are brought to a place where we cry out with Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?” that we are on our way to freedom.   We would not know that about ourselves – that we are wretched – unless the Holy Spirit revealed it to us by a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.    Rather,  we would tell ourselves “peace, peace” like the lying prophets of Jeremiah’s day (Jer. 6:14), and we would gather around ourselves teachers who would tell us the same (2 Tim. 4:3).

We are born into sin in the same way a leopard is born with spots, and you and I, left to ourselves,  can no more change that state than a leopard can change his skin.    Ephesians 2:1-4 reminds us that we are “dead in our sin” and we walk according to the course of this world, feeding the passions of the flesh.   We can do no other unless God intervenes…and God did!

Jesus did not die on a cross just so you and I could remain in bondage to our sin, applying superficial healing to our wounds, but to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).   If you are in the pit of despair today, and you are beginning to see your wretchedness – your spots – and despise where your sin has brought you, then REJOICE!  You could not and would not see this for yourself, but only through the supernatural work of God in your life, destroying the work of the devil which has for so long kept you blind to your disease.   And what God has begun in you He will see to the finish!  Continue saying YES to Him, and you will, by God’s grace, find yourself free…a NEW creation!  (2 Cor. 5:17).

A friend recently asked me, incredulously, “You mean I can be FREE from the lustful thoughts that have kept me in bondage for years?”   The answer to that is the same answer Paul received when he saw his spots in Romans.    He knew that left to himself he could not change his spots, or free himself from bondage to sin and death.  There was only one answer for him, and for us today:

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:24-25)

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You Can Be Free, Completely Free, from Self-Gratification

*My wife and  I created this website to help men and women find freedom from sexual sin, grow in holiness, and find hope and healing for their broken marriages.   The following post is not meant to be offensive or attention-seeking, but to address a very real issue affecting countless individuals (and their loved ones) which is talked about so little.   In my experience, men need to hear the following, and I thank God for His mercy in my life, and His grace, apart from which the freedom I now know, and you can know as well, would be impossible.   The following testimony and advice is for those men and women who suspect (or know)  they have an addiction and are seeking a way out.   

freedom_sunrise

You can be completely set free from the sin of self-gratification.   From this day forward, it never has to be part of your life again.   Imagine that!  Complete freedom from being a slave to your desires!

I’ve had many conversations with men who for years have been trapped in bondage to sexual addiction, like I was, who break down in tears when I tell them I have been free from self-gratification for over 2 years along with the lustful thoughts which once consumed my thinking.   Weeping, they tell me what I know all too well because I was once in their shoes:

Nobody ever told me I could be free from this.

My motivation for telling you something so personal is because there are millions of people who think that freedom is impossible.    They believe the lies of this world which suggest such things as “boys will be boys” or “you just have to when the urge hits” or “if you don’t you’ll go crazy” and on and on they go.    And who can blame them?  By nature we love to hear anything which will affirm the desires of the flesh and no one is saying any differently.    I was 37 years old, a dead-beat dad, soon-to-be divorced husband and washed-out pastor before reading for the first time in my life the following:

A man will never have a pure heart as long as he equivocates about the sinfulness of lust and/or masturbation.  He must decide once and for all that both are wrong in God’s eyes.  If he is indecisive on this point, he will never have the courage to win the battle that lies before him.  His constant waffling will weaken any resolve to do the hard thing.

Likewise, the one who is looking for the path of least resistance in life will also lack the determination to fight for a pure life.  Purity and godliness do not mean enough to him to warrant the effort.  When convicted over his sinful thoughts and actions, he will find ways to excuse, blame-shift or otherwise justify continuing to live in his sin.

~ Steve Gallagher, “At The Altar of Sexual Idolatry” pg. 37

Why hadn’t anyone ever told me that before???   The truth Gallagher speaks is drowned out by the sort of “advice” I came upon from so-called Christian author John Shore, who attempts to steer his readers away from pornography not (and this is important) because it is sin and offends God but because it’s bad business.   Our motivation for giving up porn is not, Shore argues, because we wish to be holy but because, as decent people, we don’t want to support an industry that exploits women (that pornography exploits women is of course true, but not the whole truth).  But listen to what he says about self-gratification:

Again: you will masturbate. Don’t even bother trying not to…So, inside the sanctity of your imagination, give yourself permission to have at it. Go wild, big guy. Doing that is your private business, and your right.

Dear reader, if you are struggling with sexual sin, run far away from such worldly advice as this.    If you want freedom the first thing you must recognize is that you are a slave to your flesh, and taking matters into your own hands will forever keep you in the bondage you already know is real.    If that is a “right” you wish to defend, you will forever be a slave to the wrong thing.  

In my personal experience as well as that of many men whose stories I’ve had the honor of hearing, the common denominator in their inability to find lasting freedom from sexual addiction is their unwillingness to accept what Steve Gallagher says in the quote above.    Time and time again I hear stories from men who found freedom from pornography use for a period of time, but because they never closed the door on masturbation, the old habits eventually came back….and usually with a vengeance.    St. Paul writes,

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Rom. 13:14).

And St. Peter reminds us that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).    If you find freedom elusive or impossible I would wager it’s because you are leaving the door cracked open, giving provision for your flesh, by self-gratification.    So long as you do this you will never find the freedom you long for and of which the world needs to hear more about.   Jesus did not die on the cross so that you and I can remain slaves to our fleshly desires.  Boys may be boys, but isn’t it time to grow up and be a man?  

So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free! (John 8:36).

For more on this topic, see:

The Sin of Self-Gratification: Taking on the “M” Word:    Part I  Part II  Part III  Part IV

Brokenness and Forgiveness: Our Testimony

Last Sunday Amy and I were at Scioto Ridge UMC in Hilliard, OH, sharing how God has healed the brokenness in our lives and restored our marriage.   It is our prayer that if you found our blog today God will use our story to give you hope, and to lift your eyes to the One who has made all the difference in the world:  Jesus Christ.

“Brokenness and Forgiveness” from Scioto Ridge UMC on Vimeo.

So You’ve Cheated? Know Your Rights.

One of most common questions I get asked by men (I’m writing this as a man to other men, but the following advice applies to women caught in the same) who have been unfaithful in their marriage (whether through pornography use or a physical affair) is this:

How can I win back her trust?

The answer to that question will vary from couple to couple, but the foundation is always the same.  That foundation gets laid when the offender acknowledges what his rights are, which are these:

Did you catch them?   They are very important, so take a moment to write them down.    To say it another way, in case you missed it the first time, the rights that are yours as the unfaithful one in a marriage are these:

none

Speaking from personal experience, the longer it took me to realize this foundational truth – that I had no rights – the longer I delayed healing and the rebuilding of trust in my marriage.   The moment I stepped out of my marriage in unfaithfulness was the moment I forfeited whatever rights I had.

What sort of rights am I talking about?   Well, at the risk of sounding simplistic, ALL of them.   There are things about a broken marriage which will look different from a healthy one until trust is restored, and the sooner you recognize that the better.   Your marriage is no longer one of equal footing (if it ever was).   So what does this mean in real life?

  • When she hurts your feelings you don’t tell her that she has hurt your feelings.   Most likely she was trying to.   Suck it up.
  • When she calls you all sorts of names and her anger is bearing down on you with both barrels, you bear it.   Don’t assert your “right” to have your argument heard, and don’t try to tell her she is sinning against you with her words or actions.*
  • When she wants to stay up until 3am talking about her fears you listen.  Don’t assert your “right” to get some sleep because you have to work in the morning.
  • When she wants to cancel a family vacation or alter other routine events, comply.  If friends and family object, defend her.
  • When she wants to convert your office space into a scrap-booking room, help her do it.
  • When she wants to look through your cell phone every hour, or have access to your laptop, or wishes to know every move you make every minute of the day, be grateful she wants to be involved in your life so intimately, and thank her for it.

There came a point where I was so broken over the sin I had done and the pain my actions had brought upon my wife that I no longer had the will to rise up and assert myself.    The sooner I stopped asserting myself, the sooner healing began and trust was restored.   The more I fought that, the more miserable we both were. Here is a handy chart to demonstrate that:

degreeofmisery

A person who has experienced true brokenness over their sin, who understands godly sorrow over worldly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10), will willingly lay down their rights.    This is not something any of us can do on our own.  We must have the Spirit of God at work within us, constantly remaking us into the image of Christ, who “though in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).

We must become like Christ towards our hurting wives, and bear them and their pain the way Christ has borne ours.  You, like Jesus, have no rights.  

How long, you ask?  How long until I can eat where I want to eat?    Well, here is a helpful chart I made that depicts the length of time your rights are withheld:

norights

This is not a hard and fast rule, but the longer you have been sinning against God and your wife the longer it will take to establish a good foundation.    Of course, the ideal you are shooting for is where both partners surrender their rights to each other, “submitting to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph. 5:21).     And no, you do not have the right to tell your wife she is to submit to you out of the fear of Christ.   You lost that right, too.    With God’s help, she will willingly give that back to you when you have done the hard work of following the above advice.

Guys, believe me, it’s worth it!

* While the offended party may indeed be sinning against God and you with their anger and bitterness, it’s crucial you understand 2 things:  First, you caused this.   Second, it’s not for you to point this out to her.    Your primary duty is to pray for her and to intercede on her behalf to God, bearing her sins in the way Christ bore your own.    The longer your wife sees her daggers falling on a humble, prayerful, loving target the sooner those daggers will lessen, become duller, and soon cease altogether.

Does Jesus want me to be clean? #LukeActs2014

Do you want to be healed? Jesus asked this question to a man who had been crippled for 38 years (John 5:6).   What a glorious question to be asked by the Creator of the Universe!   There is no question that Jesus wishes for us to be clean. The only question left unanswered is directed at each one of us: Do you want to be well? The Psalmist declared, “If I had cherished sin in my heart you would not have heard me” (66:18). God wants us healed, but sadly, far too many of us love our sin more than God, and more than the freedom we have come to think is impossible for us. But nothing is impossible for God!

John Meunier

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”And immediately the leprosy left him. (Luke 5:13, NIV)

I am faced with the question today. Do I believe that Jesus wants me to be clean? Do I really believe that?

Do I really believe that if Jesus reached out his hand, I would be clean? Clean of every dirty little secret that I don’t tell anyone. Clean of guilt and fear. Clean of the disease that lurks in the depths of my soul, cutting deals with me. “You pretend I’m not here, and I’ll let you keep trying to hold your life together by your own efforts.”

If I believe Jesus wants me to be clean, it means a couple of things, at least. First, it means dirt is not my only destiny. The sun does indeed shine and light does exist beyond the darkness. Second, it…

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Are you on a Confession Cycle? Stop It!

A passage in James talks about the effectiveness of confession.   It reads,

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed (James 5:16).

There was a period of time, about 3 years, where I faithfully attended a 12 step group for sexual addicts.   Every week I would confess my faults to other men going through the same struggles, and I would hear their confessions, too.  At the end of each confession the group would respond with an appreciative, “Thanks, Chad.”   I felt good for getting it off my chest, and felt safe sharing my struggles with these men.   There is something liberating about not having secrets.

But I’ve come to learn that liberating is not the same as healing.    Being an addict as I was, I became rather fond of the intimacy shared with a group of other broken people, just like I was, who could share our faults openly without fear of rejection or correction.   I knew that I could confess my sins and hear, “Thanks, Chad,” every time.

cycleI talk to a lot of people these days who have grown addicted to the liberating effects of confession yet have not discovered the healing such confession is meant to bring.  They are stuck, it seems, on a “confession cycle,” forever spinning their wheels, confessing the same sin over and over and over and over again, never knowing victory.  Is that how life is supposed to be?    As a Christian, I can’t believe it is.   I cannot believe Jesus died on a cross and sent us the Holy Spirit just so that I could struggle forever with the same sin until I die or he returns.

Sure we will have struggles. Sure we will be tempted and sure there will be times we fall.   But for the person who is maturing in their faith shouldn’t there be more victories than defeats?  Shouldn’t the spiritual fruit of self-control (Gal. 5:23) become more and more evident in our lives?    Is it true that if we walk by the Spirit we will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16), or not?    Is it true that the reason Jesus came to live and die was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), or not?

I am convinced the answer to all of those questions is YES.   Victory over the chains that have us enslaved is possible for every one of us!  God not only desires to set you free, but He has the power to do it.   But how?  How can you get off the Confession Cycle and start walking in victory over habitual sin?   James 5:16 directs us to at least two things:

1. Proper Confession.   James says that our confession is to lead to our healing (Confess your sins to one another…that you may be healed).   The word “healed” is the same word used through scripture for “cure” or “to make whole” or “to bring about one’s salvation.”   If we are not experiencing this through our confession it is not because God’s word has failed but because we are not properly confessing!     2 Cor. 7:10 reads,

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

If you are stuck on the confession cycle it may be because you have not yet experienced godly sorrow over your sin.  We have not yet seen that our sin is first and foremost an affront against a holy God.  We have not cried out like David, “Against You, and You only, have I sinned!”  (Psalm 51:4).   Rather, we are more concerned about our circumstances and the trouble our sin is causing our personal lives.

When we see our sin through God’s eyes we are filled with godly sorrow and our confession will lead to our healing.   Godly sorrow is not the same as feeling shame or guilt.   It’s a sense of being undone (Isa. 6:1-5). It is calling out with Paul, “Wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).   The answer comes no sooner than the confession rises from our heart:  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (7:25).

2. Righteous Prayer. The remainder of this verse on confession is often left out, yet it’s critical if you want to find healing.   James says that the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective.   James seems to expect that our confessions should involve someone who is solid in their faith and can point them in the right direction.  Who are you confessing to?  Is it someone you know to be righteous?  Are they striving to be holy?  Do they desire to be like Christ in all they say, do and think?  Has he or she experienced victory over sin?

12 Step programs are great in that they can connect you with a sponsor – a mentor of sorts – who can guide you through the steps, and who has some level of sobriety themselves.   While this is good, it is not best.   If you find yourself riding a  confession cycle I would encourage you to find a righteous person to walk beside you, who can pray for you and with you, and who will lead you to the only true source of lasting victory over sin: Jesus Christ.

The Confession Cycle is an exhausting, defeat-riddled existence to live.    It is not the life God has in mind for you.   He has given you His Spirit.   The same power that raised Christ from the grave is at work in you who believe (Eph. 1:19-20)!

Dear reader, God has so much more in store for His children than a defeated existence where we continually confess the same things over and over again.    Examine whether you are confessing properly and whether or not you have the right person or people around you who can pray in such a way the heavens open and all hell breaks loose!

Praying with and for you,

Chad