The Blood of Jesus Saved a Wretch Like Me

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You won’t be free until you see the cross of Jesus Christ for what it truly is.   This is why St. Paul said that he desired to know and preach nothing else besides Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).  The words of that wonderful hymn are true:

Would you be free from your burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood
Would you o’er evil the victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood

The writer of Hebrews says this about Jesus, our sacrifice:  “He entered once for all in the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscious from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:12-14).

Would you be free?  Would you be purified in your mind and heart and enabled to serve the living God with a clean heart?   You must know the power of the blood shed on the tree of Calvary.

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One of the biggest obstacles to our freedom is our tendency to minimize our sin, thereby minimizing the cross.   After many years of theological education which taught me all the many theories about why Jesus died on the cross none of it had any power to change my life like the simple truth:

Jesus had to die to save a wretch like me.   

Sin is a serious thing to God and the cross is proof of this.  Sin is not just inconvenient, or messy, or harmful, or depressing, or selfish.  Sin is deadly.  Sin destroys.  Sin is of such seriousness that it required God’s own Son to die in order to deal with it.   If you have any doubts about how serious God takes our sexual immorality or other habitual sins just look at the cross and see his bloody Son.   

I remember the day I first saw Jesus on the cross as though for the first time after nearly 36 years of being a Christian.   I had just completed a strongly recommended assignment while at Pure Life where I locked myself away in a chapel for about 6 hours and wrote out everything that came to mind in Charles Finney’s Breaking Up the Fallow Ground exercise.   When done, I gazed at the 20-some pages of offenses I’ve committed against this God I claimed to love and my heart was crushed like never before.    As I wept over the utter wretchedness of my life I looked up at the cross on the chapel wall and cried out,

HOW???  HOW COULD YOU DIE FOR SUCH A MESS LIKE ME???  HOW COULD YOU DO IT!!?? WHAT SORT OF LOVE IS THIS??!!

In that moment there was no longer  a question of WHY Jesus died for me.  I knew in my heart of hearts that there was no other way.  The WHY was morphed by HOW.    How could God do this for me?  I remember shouting,  I am so unlike You!  I became mesmerized by this holy, awesome, wholly-other God who would put on flesh and bones and shed His righteous blood for a wretch like myself.   Give me this Jesus!   I no longer wished to argue about nor doubt why he died for me but desired nothing more than to live for a God who showed such love for me!   There was no doubt in my mind and heart that from that moment on I would make Jesus the Lord of my life forever, and that I would one day be with Him in glory.    I knew the price with which I had been bought, and it was now a joy to honor God with all my heart, mind, and strength, including my body (1 Cor. 6:20).

My hope and prayer for you who are reading this blog is that you would see the cross this Easter season for what it truly is.    The why is simple:  He had to die to save a wretch like you and I.   The how is marvelous:  What sort of God is this who would do such a thing for you and I?   When you see the cross for what it is you will know that you know that you know that you are Christ’s and He is yours.

If you are serious about putting to death your habitual sin then I challenge you do print out the Breaking Up the Fallow Ground and read it, pray over it, and do it.   Take as many hours or days as it requires of you, and ask God to show His Son to you as though for the very first time.   He will do it!

A pastor friend of mine who came to me for help after decades of bondage took this exercise seriously and sent me the following text:

I am free! The surrender is as complete as I can do for the moment.  I have the assurance that I am Christ’s and He is mine.  There is NO more condemnation!  I am walking out of this sanctuary as a new resurrected person in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, desiring to walk in holiness and to do things not my way, but His.   Praise God! Thank you Jesus. I have the assurance of my personal salvation for the first time in my life!  Praise God for His mercy, His patience, and His faithfulness!

He has been free for over 2 months now, praise be to God.    Will today be the beginning of your freedom?     Run to the cross.   There is power in the blood!

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Share your Testimony!

I love getting an opportunity to share how God has delivered me from the bondage of sexual sin and how He has redeemed much of what I had broken through my pride and disobedience.  In February I got to share my testimony in a chapel service at Bryan College.   If you would like to listen to it you can do so HERE

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I am working on compiling some testimonies from readers of this blog whom Amy and I have had the joy of walking with towards freedom and healing.   If you have a story you would like to share, please send it to my email at cjwh74@gmail.com  Unless you tell me otherwise, I will scrub any names so as to protect your anonymity.  

God’s word tells us that we shall overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Rev. 12:11).  So let’s hear some testifying!  Looking forward to rejoicing with you!

 

 

 

Addiction and Spiritual Malpractice

Below is the video of yesterday’s ADDICTION sermon.   It’s a sermon I would never have been able to preach a few years ago.   Why?  Because I was committing spiritual malpractice.

For many years as a pastor I would look at pornography or engage in other lustful pursuits during the week before preaching a sermon on Sunday.    I knew I was committing sin, and felt terribly guilty about what I was doing, but justified it by convincing myself the good I was doing on Sunday outweighed the evil I was doing the other days of the week.   I convinced myself that God can and does speak through donkeys and would bless my efforts despite my habitual ass-likeness.

I realize how outrageous this sounds to many of you.  How can you be so  blind!? you ask.   But this is precisely what sin does to us.  It blinds us to the truths of God.  Paul calls us “darkened in our understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in us, due to the hardness of our hearts” (Eph. 4:18).  It doesn’t happen overnight.   The spiral of degradation takes time, dragging us deeper and deeper into it’s grip until the things which seemed so obvious before are now blurry, unclear, and suspicious.    When living in sin the Bible reads less black and white and a lot more gray.

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Jesus called such practitioners of religion “whitewashed tombs” (Matt. 23:27).   They looked good on the outside but inside their hearts were decaying, ugly, far from God.   They were blind to it, though, just as I was blind to the darkness of my own heart and the effect it had on others.   A blind shepherd cannot lead sheep anywhere good, nor to any place they have not been themselves.   A preacher who is looking at porn on Saturday cannot expect God to bless his or her efforts on Sunday.    We grieve the Holy Spirit, and thus short-circuit the mighty work God wishes to do in our churches when we live under the bondage of habitual sin.

Oh the number of Hail-Mary-Prayers I threw out there on Sunday morning!  Hoping that somehow, someway, God would be pleased to overlook what I had been looking at all week and bless “the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart.”   What a fraud!   Granted, all good things come from the hand of our Father, and it is only because He is rich in mercy that I was not struck down dead in the pulpit and, I pray, I did not make a shipwreck of too many people’s faith (A couple years ago I wrote a letter to my former church, repenting to them for my spiritual malpractice, asking them to please forgive me.  To this day I pray for them and anyone who had the misfortune of sitting under this “blind guide,” that God would bless them and keep them and fill their heart and minds and souls with every good thing.   I praise God today that they have a pastor whom I believe loves Jesus and knows His power to save.  Praise God for answered prayer!).

The truth is, pastors, if we cherish sin in our hearts God will not listen to our prayers (Psalm 66:18).    If our private lives are such that we are not walking in the Spirit but in our flesh then our prayers that God bless our people, heal their wounds, superintend our words, and pour out His Spirit on His church have no guarantee of being heard.   We are committing spiritual malpractice and must repent.   We must cry out to God to give us a spirit of repentance, that He would open our eyes and our hearts so that we might see ourselves in light of His Holiness.   We must cry out that He would soften our hearts so that we can see our sin and how much it displeases God.   When we do this, the scales will fall from our eyes and we will know.    No longer will God and His word be gray to us.    The delusion will dissipate and we will begin to expect God to heal the wounds of His people and pour out His Spirit in a mighty way on Sunday because He has done it in our own hearts every day of the week before.

Pastors, let us not fool ourselves into thinking that the state of our churches as they are in this country are signs of God’s blessing.   Many of them stand today only because of God’s mercy.   Jesus died on the cross to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).   If we are not witnessing strong-holds coming down in our churches, then we must not point fingers at them but at ourselves.    What strong-holds are in MY life?   What am I not believing God can deliver me from?   Stop committing spiritual malpractice on yourself and your sheep.    “Repent, and turn again, so that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19-20).

That Could Still Be Me

Yesterday I received a phone call from someone I was involved with in my past.   It’s been nearly three years and this came as quite a shock.  I’m not sure how she found my number.   The conversation was short and one-sided. My side.   I told her that the person she thinks she is calling no longer exists and that she should never call or contact me again.   Ever.   And I hung up.   Later I told my wife all about it.   She figured this would happen sooner or later and hugged me and thanked me for telling her.  All is well at home.

The most haunting, frightful thought for me surrounding that phone call was this:  That could still be me.    Three years later this person is still seeking thrills over a phone line, consumed with lust and chained to fleshly desires.   It’s a living hell which I know all too well.   And but for the grace of God, that could still be me.  

Last night my wife and I gave thanks to God for this reminder of where we once were and where we are today.   Perhaps I was in need of a reminder of what God has saved me from and the ridiculousness of it all.   Because it really is, you know?    God made something so wonderful and yet millions of us settle for a cheaper, fake model.   We are fixated by pixels on a screen or a voice on a phone line or a stranger in a hotel.   AND NONE OF IT IS GOOD ENOUGH.    More is always desired and necessary and yet the itch never stops.   It’s absolutely ridiculous.   Yet at the same time it seems like the most powerful, intoxicating, necessary thing  and we can fathom nothing better, in heaven or earth.   Such is the pull and delusion of sin.  

Indeed, as Augustine said, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee, O God.

I was shaken by the thought that that could still be me.  Three years later I could still be a slave to my desires and passions, ruled by my flesh, no doubt divorced, alone, estranged from my kids and family, wanting nothing more than a cold pizza for breakfast and an internet connection.    That could still be me.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ Jesus broke the chains of the devil in my life and set my heart and mind free!   It is a wonderful thing to be able to say, “The man you seek no longer exists.”    God has made good on his promise to make a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17)!   The old has passed away, behold, the new has come !

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If you are where I was three years ago, and where she is still today, think about where your life will be three years from now if you continue on the path you are on.   All your best thinking has brought you to this point, and you have to admit it’s ridiculous and a mess.     Will you accept the offer of life that Jesus extends to you even now?    He loves you madly, and has gone to great lengths to prove this to you!   The fact that you are reading this now is a sign of His mercy on your life.    He is trying to break through the delusion of your sin and bring you to a place where you can, as though for the first time in your life, hear His words – pure words – afresh and new.      Matthew 4: 16 says,

For those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.

You have been there long enough, haven’t you?   Do you wish to be there still in three years?    It only gets darker and more hellish, my friend.

This morning during morning prayer time my wife and I prayed for that woman who called.   We prayed that God would flood her with need-filling mercy, that He would save her soul, that He would open her heart to receive the good news that Jesus more than satisfies and can do far more than we can even ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).    It’s the same prayer we pray for you, dear reader, every day.    In three years time may you, too, be able to say, that could still be me, but thanks be to God, it is no longer I!

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.

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).

Keep It Simple, Stupid

They were both very passionate about their position, this fact made obvious by the increasing volume with which they both argued their point and the speed with which they cut the other off in order to insert a new point.   I sat on the couch nearby, forbidden to enter the fray, and for perhaps the first time ever, felt grateful for being so restricted.    The discussion was over the rapture – when it might happen, who would be around before and after, and how world events were playing into the hands of biblical prophecy.  Behind closed eye-lids I rolled my eyes and to this day, 2 years later, can remember but one piercing thought:

Despite such passionate convictions on secondary issues like this and many others, all of us here have one thing in common: We are here, in “rehab” for sexual addiction, and therefore all of our theological posturing sounds stupid.    You may be right about the rapture, but if you are addicted to pornography or serial adultery (or any other habitual sin), those arguments aren’t doing you any favors now, nor will they in the future.

When I arrived at Pure Life, the director of counseling discerned exactly how I needed to be handled and issued a gag order on me with regards to talking theology.   I wasn’t allowed to enter into any theological discussions while a student there in large part because he discerned such discussions fed my pride.   He was right.  He was also right about the other part:  such discussions concealed a wicked heart, making me feel I was “good” simply because I talked about God a lot.

What I really needed was a return to the simplicity of the gospel.  I needed to get back to the basics.   I needed to return to the cross.

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

It is so easy to be distracted by issues and soap boxes and theologies.    It is so easy to get mesmerized by the dust kicked up around us by our words and blogs and comments and arguments and before we know it we believe being a Christian is about proving ourselves and our beliefs as “right” over and against others.

All of this stinks of pride, and it’s repugnant to God (Prov. 16:5).

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I am grateful for men like Billy Graham, who turned 95 yesterday, and for decades of ministry stuck to the simple, clear, clarion call of the gospel: Repent and believe in Jesus and be saved from your sins.    The cross is where the blood of Jesus was made available to destroy the works of sin and death in us, and without that sacrifice and our trust in Jesus we will remain lost.

Every time I find myself wanting to argue about this or that, or chase some rabbit trail about secondary matters, or let someone on social media know what I think, I am doing well when I bite my tongue and remember to keep it simple, stupid.   Anything pulling me away from the cross is nothing but a distraction from what really matters, and what will truly transform my life and the lives of others.

Lord, keep me simple and focused.   Amen.