One Thing You Lack

One of the greatest joys this blog has brought Amy and I is the opportunity to help others find freedom in Jesus Christ from the bondage of sexual sin and hope for their shipwrecked marriages.    Few things are more satisfying than getting to walk with a man from his complete bondage to pornography and lust into complete freedom in Christ.   It’s like witnessing resurrection.   The dead coming to life.

And few things sadden me more than watching a man or a couple walk away from the freedom Jesus offers.

The story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22) has helped me grasp why people walk away.

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In this story, a man who has great possessions asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.   The rules which God has required of everyone, and all of us, he has kept from his youth.   Today he would be your average Christian who obeys the big commandments and adheres to his or her church membership vows.    Yet he is missing something vital to the well-being of his soul, and Jesus knows what it is.

You lack one thing:  go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, then you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.

For this man who had it all, and did all the right things, he lacked one thing,  and that one thing would make or break him.    Tragically, he walked away unchanged.

Tragically, a large percentage of the men who contact me asking how they can be free from sexual addiction,  walk away unchanged like this rich young ruler.   The reason is because they are unwilling to let go of the one thing which they, like the rich ruler, think they cannot do without:  self-gratification.     When they come and ask the question, “How can I be free from my addiction to pornography?” and then go on to tell me all the things they have tried and done, programs they have attended, counseling they have paid for, filters they have installed, I then say to them,

One thing you lack:  swear off of self-gratification – masturbation – forever.

This is rarely a welcomed invitation, but I suspect it’s not a surprising one.   I imagine the rich young ruler had a sense of the idol of his heart when he approached Jesus.   He was hoping, perhaps, that Jesus would validate him all the same and allow him to keep the thing he cherished most.    He went away sorrowful and unchanged because he was unwilling to part with the one thing which kept him chained.

He might have reasoned with himself, Why can others have things and not me?  Or, why doesn’t everyone else have to sell all their stuff?   The one thing we lack is different for all of us, but for the sexual addict – just like the money addict – it’s not difficult to name.

When I tell people they have to give up self-gratification to be truly free, they have a sense that this is truth.  But it’s a costly one for them to face.    The few who take that narrow road find that their lives are new, changed, abundant.    Those who choose an easier path, in my experience, remain chained.

For the sexual addict this really should be no surprise that you have to cut your addiction off at the root.    It’s obvious that the alcoholic must give up drink and being around drink.  The drug addict must cease all contact with substances which give them a high or a low.   A time of detox is expected where the body goes through withdrawals where it feels like life as they know it is ending.   The gods we bow to are jealous and do not let go of us without a fight.    If you are reading this and are addicted to sex, lust, pornography, whatever, then why should you expect the path to freedom to be any easier or any different?

If you are reading this and are addicted to any thing or any one, then you instinctively know the thing or person you need to “cut off.”   Jesus was serious when it came to extricating ourselves from sin.   If you struggle with lust, even with the intent of lust, then you are an adulterer, he says.   Therefore, you should cut out your eye or cut off your hand if these things cause you to sin.  It’s better to lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell (Matt. 5:27-30).     The principle here is to get to the root of the problem and be done with it.   For the sexual addict, if you are unwilling to extricate self-gratification from your life then you will always be tethered to your addiction.    You might put band-aids on it for periods of time now and then, but you’ll never be free.  

This should sound liberating to the person who has found they have never been able to kick this habit completely.    I’ve yet to meet a man who has accepted the invitation to give up self-gratification completely who is still struggling with pornography.    When Jesus looks at us and calls us to give up something that has become controlling in our lives, he does so out of love.   Read Mark 10:17-22.  You see that before Jesus told the rich young ruler to go sell everything he looked at him and “loved him.”    It is out of love that Jesus is calling you to take up this cross and follow him.   He believes you can do it, is willing and able to equip you for the battle, and has a promised land waiting for those who will accept the call.

What is the one thing you lack?    I pray you not walk away today unchanged.

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The Glorious Question….what’s your answer?

I think one of the most glorious questions in history is the one Jesus asked the invalid of 38 years in John 5:

Do you want to be healed?

Imagine!  The creator of the universe asking this man that question!   But it isn’t a question he asks only of this man.  He asks it to every one of us.

Do you want to be healed?  Do you want to be made well?  Do you want to be whole?    How we respond to that question is every bit as important as the glory of the question itself.

That Jesus has to ask the question speaks volumes, doesn’t it?  I know from personal experience that the answer to that question is not always what we might expect.    The reason for this is explained just 2 chapters prior to this story:

And this is the judgment: the light has come in to the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (John 3:19)

Jesus is always asking the glorious question to us, every day,  and we often tell him no.   It’s true that the reason is because we love our sin more than God.   Like Gollum with his Precious, we are not keen on parting from the thing which has become our favorite god, the thing we have bowed to time after time.   Even though it threatens to destroy us and everyone we love, we cling to it nonetheless.

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Do you want to be healed?    The question offers us a promise that seems too good to be true because we know how evil we are.   We know the power of our Precious.   It has held our attention for so long, with such intensity, that the thought of it being gone from our lives invites all sorts of other questions:    What will I do without it?   What will be expected of me if I’m healed?   What will I run to when I feel alone?  And the big one…

What if it doesn’t work? 

Isn’t that the biggest fear?   What happens if you put all your eggs in the basket named Jesus and it doesn’t work?  What if you step out in faith, go all-in, take the plunge, and you discover that there is no one there to catch you?

If you feel that way you are not alone.  I remember feeling that way, and I talk to many others who do, too.   Particularly if they are professing Christians.    The reasons come in many shapes and sizes but can generally be summed up one of two ways:  We love our sin too much to want to be healed and/or we are afraid God cannot make good on his promise to heal us.    We have more faith in the power of our sin than we do the power of God to heal.   It’s as though we want to protect God from failure.    Oh, how prideful we are!  Is there any limit to our evil?   

This is why for so many of us it is not until we are at the end of our rope that we will say yes to the question, Do you want to be healed?   It won’t be until we have exhausted every other resource, every other “program,” every other step, and have hurt everyone who loves us that we will then hear the question as though for the first time and cry out like the invalid of 38 years, “Sir, I have no one else!”

When we realize there is no one else, we lose the fear of falling into nothing because we see our sin has already brought us there.   I remember when I first heard the words, “God hasn’t brought you to this point to just make you better, but to make you new.”    I so desperately wanted those words to be true!   Though I couldn’t imagine it could be true of me, I knew that either God had to do a miracle in my heart or I was dead.    There was no one else.  I had tried it all.   God was either going to prove Himself as more powerful than my Precious, or there was no God, and the gospel was pointless.

Thanks be to God, He has been more than faithful!   His word is true, and His promises are real.   He says to you and I time and time again throughout Scripture, in fact, more times than any other command, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”

If you have heard Jesus ask you the glorious question, do you want to be healed?  tell him yes!    Do not be afraid, for He is with you, and will never leave nor forsake you.   Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37)….not even defeating your Precious and creating a new mind and heart inside of you.

Do you want to be healed?   

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Our Father has Great Expectations

Last night I had the privilege of hearing Julie Ziglar Norman, daughter of Zig Ziglar, share her testimony at the Women’s Care Center of Rhea County banquet. At one point she shared a story about a poor grade she received in school for a speech she gave to her class. When she asked the teacher why she received a low mark, her teacher explained,

Julie, I know who your father is. I expected better from you!

That story got me thinking about our Heavenly Father, and the expectations upon those of us who believe, and are thus given the right to be called His sons and daughters (John 1:12).

And yet, unlike Julie Ziglar Norman’s teacher, it’s rare these days to have someone in our life who calls us up and out of status quo Christianity.  It’s rare that we expect much out of ourselves,  too, even though we claim to be children of the King.

Paul had great expectations for those who would follow Jesus.  He urged Christians to live lives worthy of the calling they have received (Eph. 4:1).   He insisted that he was leaving the past behind and pressing on towards the prize ahead, that upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:12-14).  Paul expected big things.

Jesus, too.   It was Jesus who said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).   In a world where no one expects much from us anymore, and we expect little from ourselves, these words of Christ get twisted to mean all sorts of things.   And yet the truth remains:  Jesus expected great things from us.   In fact, he trusted us to such a degree that he ascended to heaven, leaving 11 men behind to continue the mission for which he gave his life.   Jesus expected they could do it.

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Of course, we don’t do it alone.  Any good that comes from us is not because of our natural ability but because of who our Father is and His grace at work within and through us.   And our Father will not expect out of us that which He is not willing or able to provide a way for us to achieve.

In this way He is unlike our earthly fathers.  As a dad of 5, I expect some things from my children. Some of them good, I hope, but not all.  Sometimes my motivation for expecting certain things is not good (like when I want them to be quiet just because I don’t want to be disturbed).  My expectations are often selfish. This is because I’m sinful, like all earthly fathers.  But our Heavenly Father is not like me (thank God!).  His motives are always pure and I can trust that His expectations are grounded in love, and my living up to them is always for my good.

However, the extent to which we believe our Father expects great things from us is, without question, the same extent to which we will live worthy of such a calling.    If you don’t truly believe that Jesus gave his life to “save us from our sins” (Matt. 1:21), to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8), and to “set the captives free” (Luke 4:18), then most likely you will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.   I know very well what that is like, living for years under the descriptor, “Addict,” rather than the truth, a sinner saved by grace.

I had more faith in the power of my sin than I did in Jesus Christ who overcame the world (John 16:33).

Do you know who your Father is?   He is expecting great things from you.   Today, I encourage you to look to Him rather than your sin.   Run to the cross and there you will find the power to resist temptation and grow in righteousness.     Our Father expects great things from you and I. Let’s press on towards the prize!

How Fasting Saved My Life, and Might Save Yours, too

Lent begins tomorrow.  It is traditionally a time set aside each year where Christians deny themselves something for a period of time as a means to identify with Jesus who fasted for 40 days in the wilderness while being tempted by Satan.    Having grown up in the church fasting was something I knew about but, oddly enough, never practiced.   That all changed, however, when I realized I was dead.

It occurred to me while I was at Pure Life that the words Paul uses to describe dead people in Ephesians 2 applied to me.   Yes, I was a seminary graduate and a pastor and a life-long member of church.   But I was dead nonetheless.    Here’s what Paul says:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph. 2:1-3).

What are dead people, according to this passage?   They are those who follow the course of this world, who are disobedient, who live in the passions of their flesh and they carry out the desires of the body and the mind.    Dead people.

(I will resist the urge to post the “I see dead people” clip from the movie, The Sixth Sense).  

As this passage sunk into my heart I realized that I was dead.  I was a rotting example of those who “have the form of godliness but deny its power” (2 Tim. 3:5).   And the simple reason was because I denied myself nothing my heart desired.  I lived according to the passions of my flesh, and was a slave to any thought that entered my mind.

Now to be sure, this is not just the plight of addicts.   Those of us who justify our behavior  by saying things like, “That’s just my personality” or “This is just the way I was created,” are in many ways just as dead as those of us addicted to lust or self-gratification or any other substance or person.    Every one of us were born into sin and our natural default is to live in the passions of our flesh. Therefore, we need to recognize that any appeals we make to our natural selves (i.e. This is just who I am) is an appeal to that which ought to be dead.  If you are in Christ, you are a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).    Paul writes,

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).

Living by faith in the Son of God means that I must trust Him when He calls me to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him.  I must trust that the life He promises to give me is far greater than the one I would choose on my own left to my desires.

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This is where fasting saved my life.   While at Pure Life I began a habit of fasting for 24 hours once a week.   I would allow myself water and coffee but no solid food.  I have to confess the reason I started was not because I was trying to be spiritual or because I knew its benefits.  I started simply because someone whom I trusted told me I should do it.    So I did.   What happened next astonished me.

When my stomach growled and the desires of my flesh screamed “EAT!,” I said, “NO.”   For the first time in my life I was telling my body NO!   The first 24 hour fast was terribly difficult, but the next week was not quite so bad, and the week after that not as bad as the last.    Soon it became easy for me to hang out in the kitchen with everyone else as they were preparing their dinner and though I was starving I was not tempted to eat.    Soon after that I began a practice of rising early from bed Saturday morning and making pancakes for all the guys in my dorm – all while on an empty stomach and knowing my next meal would not be till dinner that night.

It dawned on me one morning while flipping pancakes that here I stood in the midst of temptation yet I was not a slave to any of it.   Without realizing it at the time I was strengthening my spiritual “muscles.”   Since I knew I could say no to food when my stomach growled I became increasingly confident that I could also say no to lust or any other temptation that came my way.  The fruit of the Spirit which includes “self-control” began to take root in my life from the discipline of fasting.   I began to see how I, too, could identify with Jesus and say, I don’t live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).

In this way fasting saved my life.   New life begins when we first have our eyes opened to the fact that we are dead, and slaves to our body and mind.   When God brings us to that point, we are able to accept and trust the good news which declares,

 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing;it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:4-10).

If you are tired of being dead, try fasting.   It may save your life, too.

How would you answer this question?

My mom, Lyndell Hetrick Holtz, who has an amazing testimony of her own (you can read all about it in her book:  Confessions of an Adulterous Christian Woman), reminded me of this question yesterday.    I posted it on my Facebook page and a friend printed it off and put it on his office wall.   Not a bad idea!   Here it is: 

ImageSo how would you answer this question?