Tag Archives: Lust

John Piper’s plan to defeat lust, Part I

There are as many methods out there for overcoming addiction as there are addictions.   In my experience, not all of them are created equal.   I stumbled upon a technique to overcome lust offered by famous reformed pastor and author John Piper which I would file in the “less than” category only because I and many others I know have tested this technique most of our lives only to find it wanting.

What I want to do is share that technique here, offer some of my thoughts about it, and then in a follow-up post offer what I believe is a more helpful way forward if you have tried this technique only to find yourself frustrated by your lack of progress.

The steps Piper proposes for a person struggling with lust are short and sweet and have the useful acronym “ANTHEM” to help us remember.   It goes like this:

Step 1: Avoid all possible temptation.

Step 2: Say, “No!” to every lustful thought.

Step 3: Turn your eyes towards Christ.

Step 4: Hold onto a promise from God.

Step 5: Enjoy Jesus more than sinful pleasure.

Step 6: Move away from idleness and find something to do.

Let’s take a brief look at each one of these steps.

Step 1: Avoid all possible temptation.  

Right out of the gate this plan sets you and I up for failure.   Unless you plan to gouge your eyes out, lob off your hands and live as a hermit removed from society forever, you will fail every day at avoiding all possible temptation.    No matter which way we turn, we are inundated with lustful imagery and imaginations which are unavoidable this side of heaven.   If your first goal is to hide from temptation you will be sorely disappointed at every turn.

On a deeper level, this first step misses the heart of the issue.   Temptation is not the problem.   Our hearts are.    The need to get a fix, or to cope with life using lust or any other drug, is what we need to address.   I need a program that will liberate me in order that I can live, not hide under a rock.

Step 2: Say, “No!” to every lustful thought.

This is a good idea, but perhaps there is a better way. I’ll return to this later.

Step 3: Turn your eyes towards Christ.

Always!

Step 4: Hold onto a promise from God.

I actually like what Piper has to say about this step.   Far too often we give up prematurely, assuming that if we have done the right things (said “No!,” turned our eyes towards Christ) than the temptation should leave us.   But our addiction is persistent and will often knock on our door many times throughout the day, relentlessly.   It’s important to hold on.

In recovery we call this white-knuckling it.   Gripping to whatever we can until the obsession abates.   It can work for a spell, but generally leads to acting out at some point or another.   I’m not thrilled with how Piper reduces a struggle with something as cunning and baffling and powerful as lust to a simple “Jesus and me” transaction.   You can’t do this by yourself, clinging like a lone rock climber to the face of a cliff.    You need others to hold your line.   More on that in the next post.

Step 5: Enjoy Jesus more than sinful pleasure.

I can appreciate what Piper is going for here but let’s be honest.  This is like telling a child they should like vegetables more than cookies because veggies are good for them.   Piper fails to take into account here the seriousness of addictive/compulsive behavior and the very real ways that both our minds and bodies have been rewired to such an extent that lust is not only pleasurable (or else we wouldn’t do it!) but salvific.    In other words, our drug of choice has become our god, and after years of abuse it is impossible to think of life apart from that god.   In the mind of an addict, we will die without our drug.

Telling someone to enjoy Jesus more than the thing which has become their everything serves only to heap more shame and guilt on the addict who will no doubt feel that they should enjoy Christ more but does not.   Building into a program a step which almost guarantees failure is, in my opinion, not the best use of a step.

Step 6: Move away from idleness and find something to do.

This is good advice but in my experience there is a better way.  While finding “something” to do is certainly better than acting out with lust, nothing is more powerful than discovering a program that works for you and then sharing that with others.    Ongoing recovery depends not just in finding something to do when you’ve failed to “avoid temptation” but actively working with others who struggle as you do and teaching them the steps that have brought you freedom.

To conclude, Piper’s plan has embedded within it steps which, in my experience, only serve to heap greater shame on a person who already feels like an utter failure.   Avoiding temptation and enjoying Jesus “more,” while grand ideals in their own right, do not seem to appreciate the ways addiction works.

Another issue I have with this technique is the solitary nature of it all.   There is nothing within these 6 steps as stated which would suggest you cannot do this alone.   Just the opposite, in fact.   This program appears to me to be about behavior modification – something you can do on your own if you just pull up your bootstraps and try harder.   If only you stop doing certain things, and do other things better, you’ll defeat lust in your life.    Behavior modification may make the outside look good, but it leaves our souls untouched, even shriveled.

That, my friends, has never worked for me long-term.   If it has and is working for you, than by all means continue doing what works.   But if you are like me and countless others, thank God there is another way!  I’ll say more about that in the next post.

What did you think of Piper’s technique?

 

 

God is not content with 99% of you

Luke 15 is one of my favorite chapters in the bible.  It’s what I preached from Sunday.  I spent most of the time in the story of the prodigal son but ended with the story of the lost sheep.   Here, Jesus asks an important question of his audience full of sinners and religious professionals:

Which of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open country, and go find the one that is lost until he finds it?

 

The answer to this question is one that might surprise us:   NONE OF US!  We are quite content with the 99, aren’t we?  If one foolish sheep goes and gets itself lost we are not going to jeopardize losing 99% of our profits for one dumb sheep, right?  That would be bad business.  99% is not a bad return in our economy.    Besides, the one lost might count as a write-off.

But this story isn’t about us. It’s about our Heavenly Father.   Jesus is trying to show us that unlike us, this Hound of Heaven will not rest until He finds and brings home every one of His own.   When we wander off the path and get stuck in a thicket, we can count on our Good Shepherd hunting us down till found.

jesus-sheep

At least two applications come to mind, the first being more obvious than the second.

First, God is not content with just 99%.  He is a jealous God and wants all of His children, or sheep, home.   He is not interested in preserving the flock that is at the expense of the flock that should or could be.  This means He will move out from our little church pastures where we have grown comfortable with ourselves and the 99 we have in attendance to go hunting the dark corners of our communities in search of the one that is missing.   He will not rest till every lost soul is found.    And therefore neither should we.   We are to be like our Father in Heaven, discontent with the number we have and always seeking to find the one hung up in the bushes out back.

Second, yet every bit as important, I sensed the Lord saying to me that I am all-too-often content with giving Jesus 99% of my heart when he wants it all.   Far too often I think it’s a good return on my investment if I can give God most of myself while holding back parts here and there.   I assume that God is like me, content with the 99 and willing to write-off the part I’ve withheld.    But God is not like me.  He is a jealous God and wants, and deserves, everything I have.

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

Back when I was addicted to pornography I got good at minimizing this sin by focusing on all the other good things I was doing (pastoring a church, going to seminary, adopting children, etc).  I convinced myself that God would be satisfied with the good I was doing and overlook this “one little black spot” in my life.

Perhaps porn is not your “one thing” but something else.   Maybe gossip is your thing, and you know it’s wrong and you shouldn’t do it, but believe 99% of your heart is good, what’s the big deal about this one thing?    Maybe it’s an addiction to any number of things or people.  Maybe it’s anger, or fear, or envy, or lustful thoughts, or bitterness, or lying,  or crude speech (Eph. 4:25-32).  It is so easy to comfort ourselves in the pasture made up of the 99%, where we go to church, attend Sunday school, pay our tithes, and give a dollar now and then to the beggar on the street and think God doesn’t care about the one dark corner of our heart hung up in the brambles.

The good news is that God does care.   I know that may not sound like good news at the moment.   It may sound like judgment.   And it is.  God’s word judges our hearts and minds, but never for the purpose of condemning us but to free us.   He is a holy God who “yearns jealously over the Spirit which he has made to dwell within us” (James 4:5).   If there is part of you which is lost, which is inconsistent with the will of the Holy Spirit, God wants to correct it, heal it, and free it.   He wants us enslaved by nothing in this world (1 Cor. 6:12).

So God is not like us.  He wants ALL of our heart, ALL of our SOUL, ALL of our STRENGTH , and ALL of our MIND (Luke 10:27).   If God wants this, then He will impart to us the grace by which we can accomplish living fully unto him rather than partly, or even mostly.    We can trust all of our heart and mind to Jesus because he is a GOOD shepherd and knows exactly and completely what is best for us (John 10).

What is your 1%?    Pray with me…

Dear Jesus, I thank you that you care enough about me to want everything.   Forgive me for being content with giving  you what I thought was most of me when you want all of me.   I give you permission to seek out and find and bring home the parts of my life that are lost and in darkness.   Expose them for what they are and help me to see my sin in the way you see it.  I don’t want to be enslaved by anything, and ask you to take complete control of my heart, my thoughts, my desires, my words, my body, my will.   Thank you, Jesus, for loving me enough to save every bit of me.   Thank you for forgiving me.   Amen.

The story of the lost sheep ends this way:

I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven  over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Luke 15:7).

Heaven is rejoicing over you!

 

 

Let’s Get Heavy!

I want to be very heavy.

I remember when I was giving over to sexual sin all the time I felt very light.  I did not have any real direction and could be swayed any which way with the slightest push.   The last book I read was always the best book, and anything novel, or new, was king.  When talking to others I was a yes-man, eager to have their approval and liking, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with what they were saying.   The compass of my life was always spinning, pointing in whatever direction my desires for that day led.   When talking with others I was not fully present but easily distracted and lifted away by the slightest breeze.

C.S. Lewis writes in his book, Weight of Glory,

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Another image of his comes to mind, I believe it’s from The Great Divorce, and I am sure I am not remembering it correctly but the word-picture I recall him painting of our bodies in heaven are such that they are heavy, or weighted, with holy desires and purpose.   On earth we were light and flighty, but in heaven we are solid and immovable.    We are full of the fullness of His glory.

An-Eternal-Weight-of-Glory

I believe God is preparing us to know such weightiness even now, and that we can know it in greater and greater degree, or from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18), as we pursue Christ and His holiness.   Paul writes,

So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…  (2 Cor. 4:16-17).

Like I said, I want to be heavy.  Don’t you?   I want this “eternal weight of glory” ever increasing in my inner-man, out-weighing day by day the outer-man which is wasting away.   I don’t want to be tossed to and fro by my fleshly desires which are too weak and fickle when compared to the incomparable glory of God and the treasures He has in store for those who will seek Him and His righteousness first, above all else.

The “momentary affliction” which we must all bear as our “outer-man” dies is worth it!    I pray that God will give you and I the strength we need for today to grow up in Him, and to bear the weight of His glory for the world to see.    Let’s get heavy!

 

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.

fasting

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.

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

How to Be Set Free From the Sin of Self-Gratification

This Sunday, November 3rd, marks the 2 year anniversary of the beginning of the end for Chad Holtz.   This was the day of my youngest son’s birthday, but even more importantly, it was the day a friend dropped me off at Pure Life Ministries and, though I didn’t know it at the time, the beginning of my new life.    In a very real way, me and my son Brody now share a birthday.  

Since that time I have come to know freedom over sexual sin and it’s bondage in a way that 20 years of effort never provided.   This freedom has changed everything for me, from restoring my family, my dead marriage, my ministry, and most importantly, a real, authentic, abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.   

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It’s my desire to see other men and women set free – truly free! – from “every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Heb. 12:1) so that we all can bring honor to the God who has made this freedom possible, and experience the refreshment that only Jesus can bring to our souls when they are his (Acts 3:19-20).  

The greatest hindrance to your freedom, as it was to mine, from sexual sin is hanging on to the lie that masturbation (self-gratification) is OK.    This is the door which if left cracked open, Satan will always find a way to lure you out.   It is imperative that this door be slammed shut, and sealed off for good.   

I used to laugh at this because I thought it not only impossible but unnecessary.    And yet, even as I mocked, I did not know freedom.   In my defense of gratifying myself I was unwittingly admitting that I was bound to something, or idolized something, which I could not and would not surrender!   I could not say with Paul, “I discipline my body, and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).

How well do you discipline your body?   

For the sexual addict, to not do something first about masturbation is akin to the person with unhealthy lungs saying they will alter their diet and exercise while continuing to smoke.  

So on this week of my anniversary of experiencing nearly 2 years of freedom from self-gratification, I want to share with you how you can do it, too.   On this blog is a series of 4 posts which address this issue, and I’m sharing them all here in one easy-to-find post for your ease of reference.   Parts 1 and 2 deal with answering the question: Why is this wrong?    Part 3 offers practical steps to eliminate temptation in your life and part 4 offers practical steps for adding Christ to your life.    You don’t want to “put off” without “putting on” something which will strengthen and nourish you.  

While these post deal specifically with self-gratification, the principles at play here would suit anyone struggling with other hang-ups and habits.   You might need to adjust some of the practical steps to suit your struggle, and I pray the Holy Spirit will guide you in that process.  

I pray this helps you as it has helped me and others, and may God grant you the strength and the will to do His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). 

Part 1: The Sin of Self-Gratification 

Part 2: The Sin of Self-Gratification 

Part 3: Putting Off the “Old Man” 

Part 4: Putting On Christ 

 

The Sin of Self-Gratification (Part IV): Putting on Christ

This is the fourth and final part to a series dealing with lust and how to find victory.    Part III deals with the things we need to “put off.”  If we don’t put off, we can’t put on.   I hope you’ll find both an aid in your desire for holiness.

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Rom. 12:1-2)

How do we have our minds transformed?   By presenting our entire selves to God in all things.   It is not enough to just throw off the old nature.  We must, as Scripture commands, “put on Christ.”    Below are some of the means I have incorporated in my life which have, by the grace of God, transformed my mind from a lustful, selfish thing to one free to do God’s bidding.    I, and other readers, would love to hear your own ways of “putting on Christ.” Please share in the comments!

put-on-christ

1.  Wonder and Wander in the Word

There is no substitute for God’s word.   Gorge yourself on it.   Read it with the spirit and abandonment of Peter who said, “To whom shall we go?  Only you have the words of eternal life!” (John 6:68)  For those of you who are in ministry it is very hard to read Scripture for yourself.   If you are like me, I felt I read Scripture a lot because I was preparing a sermon, a bible study or even worse, trying to prove my point via a blog post or some other media.

This is not edifying for you!    Pray that God would give you ears to hear what the Spirit wants to say to YOU in this moment, to change you, recreate something new in you that is not currently there.    God’s Word is powerful and effective at changing hearts.  It will come alive to those who come hungry and thirsty.

A nightly practice of mine for nearly a year was to read 3 stanzas of Psalm 119 every night (and 4 stanzas on the 7th night – in this way you have read the entire Psalm in a week).    I read it in hopes of one day being able to identify with it.  Over time I found, to my great surprise, that the Scriptures were working on me and I was looking more and more like what I was reading.

2.  Pray, Pray, Pray

We need regular dialog with our Father.   Set a goal at first to spend 15 minutes in prayer each morning before doing anything else.  Find a prayer rhythm.  I know some who love to sit and pray.  Others write out their prayers.   Others, like myself, like to walk and talk aloud to God.   I take my dogs for a walk and pray aloud.  I never knew this was how I would pray best until being forced out of my routine one day and stumbling upon this exercise.   In other words, be open to change!

Knowing what to pray is important, too.   While at Pure Life I learned the Mercy Prayer, developed and taught by Rex Andrews.   This prayer, I believe, was one of the biggest contributing factors to my own transformation.  Praying this prayer is a prayer directly in line with God’s will for not just your life but everyone.    I pray it all the time even now.  When I am stressed, angry, when my will is being crossed, when I don’t know how to pray for someone who comes to mind, when temptation arises, etc.   When you ask me to pray for you, this is what I am most likely praying.   Learn this prayer and pray it. It will change your life!

Mercy Prayer

1) Lord, I thank You for_________.

I thank You for saving him. Thank you for what You have done and are doing in his life.

2) Make__________ to know Jesus (more). Help him to increase in the knowledge of God. Destroy speculation and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and help him to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

3) Make__________ poor in spirit. Bring him down Lord, but please do it gently. Help him to see his neediness. Help him to see himself in light of You. Put him in his rightful place Lord.

4) Fill ___________ with Your Holy Spirit. Immerse him in Your Spirit Lord. Come to him in power and in might. Baptize him in fire Lord.

5) Life___________.

Life him according to Thy lovingkindness. Pour out Your life giving mercies into his soul.

6) Bless__________. Lord, bless him in everything he touches. Bless him spiritually, physically, and financially. Bless his loved ones. Do for him Lord, instead of me.

7) Mercy__________.

Flood him with need-filling mercies. Pour them out in super abundance. Find and meet every need in his life as You see it Lord.

3.  Read and Study Religiously

You need to fill you mind and heart with wisdom and instruction from godly men and women.   Seek out spiritual writers who are focused on repentance and holiness and matters of the heart.

A powerful, daily study guide is Steve Gallagher’s Walk of Repentance.  This will take you day by day through 24 weeks of studying the word which will get to the heart of many things in your life and give you a new hunger for God’s word in the process.   His first book, At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry is also must reading for anyone struggling with sexual sin of any kind.

Other books I highly recommend, which helped me see a life of repentance as a daily practice:

Roy Hession’s Calvary Road and We Would See Jesus

Many of the spiritual classics are excellent as well.  Fenelon’s Seeking Heart, for example, is a wonderful devotional that will help aid in spotting pride in your life and putting it to death.

4.  Find a Fast

Victory over lust came for me when I started fasting.    I didn’t realize the benefits of fasting until I actually did it.   I knew all about it (or thought I did), preached about it, talked about it, but never really did it.   And even while doing it I wondered what the use might be.   But God revealed that to me soon enough.

For me a good fast is 24 to 48 hours.   For a number of months I fasted for 24 hours once a week (one of my weekend days).    What I learned during this time was the most valuable lesson anyone struggling with lust needs to learn:

You can say no to your flesh!  (and you won’t die doing it). 

Having lived such a defeated Christian existence for so long, always giving over to my flesh whenever I desired, saying no to food when I was hungry helped build my spiritual muscles.    I was growing in that fruit of the Spirit I lacked most: Self-Control.   When I learned that I could say no to food, I knew I could also say no to lust when the temptations arose.

Through the discipline of fasting I have learned that I am no longer a slave to my old self but can willingly choose to submit my body in righteousness and make good decisions when I’m tempted in other directions.

Speaking of fasting, this will be my last post until Easter.   During Lent I will be fasting from social media and blogging, along with my weekly food fasts.

5.  Journey in a Journal

Whether you type it out on a Word document or like to hand-write in a notepad, it will do you well to write out your trials, struggles, and, as you’ll come to see, victories.   Keep a record of God’s work in your life.  Write down what He is saying to you in your time in prayer and the word.  Talk about what it’s like to walk in victory.   Take note of how your thoughts wander and where.   During your journal time you will notice areas where you might need to tighten off on the “putting off” and other ways you need to “put on.”

Well there you have it.  I pray these bless you as they have blessed me over the past 2 years and continue to do today.

 

Grace and peace,
Chad

The Sin of Self-Gratification: Putting off the “Old Man” (Part III)

It’s time to die.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is…Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away  (Col. 3:1, 5-8)

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There is no getting around this.  In the same way an alcoholic wanting freedom must radically reorganize his or her life, the person struggling with sexual sin must do the same.   Jesus said that if there is something in our lives that causes us to sin, to take a scalpel to it (Matt. 18:9).   Be ruthless, Jesus says, in your pursuit of purity.    Half-measures will get you nothing.

The old nature will not go without a fight.  For a time it will seem like the most unnatural thing in the world to deny yourself the thing you crave.   The enemy will whisper all sorts of lies to you, seeking to convince you that you don’t have what it takes to win this battle, that just “one more time” won’t hurt, that tomorrow is a new day to start over, or even talk you out of your conviction that this is sin.   If you are like me, these trials will seem impossible to bear, particularly if you are not used to saying no to Self.   This is a battle for your heart, and it feels so hard and strange because the Holy Spirit is calling you out of death.  Before, when you were dead in the old man, your conscious was seared.  Pleasing Self came as naturally as breathing and we had many fellow breathers, breathing the same air, telling us all is well.

Remember, Scripture promises that trial will come and we should consider them joys!

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4)

You are being fashioned and formed into the image of Christ.   God does this for His children (Heb. 12:6).  Reckon yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ, and choose to crucify the flesh.  I promise to you the struggle you feel is the dying gasps of a dead man, kicking and screaming for a right to speak.  You will either give it another breath, allowing it to grow stronger, or you will bury it for good.   It will not always be as hard as it is today.    It won’t be long before you find yourself overwhelmed by the realization that it’s been months since you last even felt the urge or desire to gratify yourself and you’ll be washed anew by a sense of God’s power and presence in your life, and the newness of it all.    There’s nothing like it, friend.   It’s freedom unlike you’ve never known before.

Do you want that?   Then you will have to take some drastic steps.

1.  Starve the Pathos

For some, a complete detox is necessary.   Sex, unlike alcohol or other drugs, is everywhere.   An alcoholic can keep drink out of the house and avoid going into bars but the man or woman controlled by lust is in danger the moment they open their eyes (and there is little reprieve in their sleep, either).    Therefore, removing oneself from all the triggers is sometimes an absolute must.   And it is worth every sacrifice.   I went away to a place called Pure Life Ministries and their Live-In program for 7 months and it saved my life, after years of trying everything else.   If this is the sort of plan God is nudging you towards, don’t ignore it.   Don’t write it off as impossible.   I’d be happy to talk privately with anyone who wants more information about this route.   If we made it with 5 kids and no money, you will too if God is calling you to this. (Pure Life also has an Over-Comers at Home program, one geared for both husbands and their wives).

In any event, it is absolutely imperative that you cut off the source of that which is causing you to stumble.    Jesus said to gouge out the eye if it causes you to sin.  Get real with yourself, the world you live in, and the things that trip you up and do something about it.

2. Kill The T.V

You just gotta.    If you are struggling with lustful thoughts and images which lead you to self-gratify now and again, kill your TV for at least 3 months.    We’ve been without one for 2 years and don’t miss it (a miracle in itself seeing as how we watched a lot of it).  We have one TV in our house in our kid’s room that they use for cartoons and games, and we have a family movie night once a week.   But that’s it.   You will be surprised by how much life you’ve been missing by just this one thing!

Watching TV in and of itself is not sin, but if you are in bondage to any sort of lust than continuing to subject yourself to the “spirit of this world” found in TV shows and advertisements is to play with fire.    Scripture says not to give the devil a foothold (Eph. 4:27).   Purity won’t come by simply desiring to be pure without making any life-changes.   I realize that for most Americans this is like asking them to give up their first-born child.   You may be thinking this is impossible because your wife and/or kids will mutiny.   And they might, at first.   But you will be surprised what God will do with a family when you determine that you are going to get your life right before God and lead the way God has prescribed.    Trust God to make a way for you and your family and count on the blessings that will follow with real quality time together, not to mention the absence of continual temptation being pumped into your home, lulling you to sleep.

3. Manage Your Music

What sort of music do you listen to?  If it is not music glorifying God then chances are good it glorifies the flesh.  The person caught up in self-gratification doesn’t need to fill their senses with others who are also self and/or lust absorbed, whether it be music or anything else.   Ask yourself this:  Does my music (and TV and reading consumption) pass the Phil 4:8 test?

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

If Jesus were having coffee with you right now and wanted to listen to some music, what would you play?   Would Jesus be blessed by your playlist?

2 years ago I would have scoffed at such advice.   You sound like a fundamentalist! I would have sneered.   My mockery was a veiled attempt to hide my own powerlessness and bondage, as well as my own refusal to die to myself.   Forget about labels and what following this advice might sound like to others.  Your best thinking has gotten you to where you currently are.   Remember, God doesn’t want to make you better, He wants to make you new.  Freedom does not come without a price.  What is it worth to you?

4.  Interrupt the Internet

The internet has opened up a world of fantasy for the person who struggles with sexual sin.  I don’t think I need to tell you how easy it is to access things that are not going to be good for your sanctification.   If you must be on the internet for work or school then it’s essential to install a filter and/or accountability software on your computer(s) which lets someone you select to get weekly (even immediate) updates of sites you visit (see XXXChurch for some free resources.  Covenant Eyes is another good one which I’ve used in the past).

While it’s easy to point out the dangers of pornography that the internet makes readily available, there is another, and in some ways even more sinister predator lurking:

Social Media.

The sin of self-gratification is a symptom of pride.   Lust of any kind has at it’s root the sin of PRIDE, which sets the Self at center stage and insists on having what it wants, when it wants it, how it wants it.   Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc., are prime vehicles for stroking our egos and fanning the flame of pride in all of us, which doesn’t need much of a breeze to spread into a raging fire.   While these things can all be used for good, for the person ensnared in self-gratification it can be a severe stumbling block.   If you are someone who loves to debate, loves to have your opinion be heard (and thinks the world will somehow implode without it), loves to check to see how many “likes” or “retweets” your blog or idea generates, then friend, you have a battle with pride to fight.

Interrupt this madness. Unplug.   I did it for over a year and it made a world of difference.   While I use it sparingly today, I still take time to unplug completely (during Lent, for instance) to ensure my pride is kept in check.

5.  Guard Your Go’s

There are some places a person who struggles with lust doesn’t need to go.   Some places have far more visual stimuli than others and you need to take account of the sort of places you go that trigger your flesh.  Malls are one example.  Pools and beaches are another.   My family has gathered at the beach every summer for vacation since I was a young boy.   This past summer, after I had graduated from Pure Life, Amy and I opted not to join the family for vacation.  It was a wise choice for us.  And I’m convinced it spared me from losing whatever gains I had made in my spiritual growth over the previous 7 months.   My purity and my faithfulness to both God and my family are worth far more to me than a week at a beach.

This list is far from exhaustive and perhaps you have some others you’d like to add.   Please share!    But cutting corners on the above by justifying why this or that is actually OK in your life will prevent you from achieving the freedom you seek and need.   Be decisive.   Be the surgeon on sin Jesus commands.

It’s time to die.  But Jesus does amazing things through death!

In the last and final post on this series we will examine the other crucial component:  Putting on Christ  If you just take off the above you will be left naked and vulnerable.   Stay tuned for the fun, life-giving stuff.

Praying with and for you,
Chad

The Sin of Self-Gratification: Taking on the “M” Word (Part II)

Introduction: In the second part of this series I intended to outline some practical ways you can break free from the sin of self-gratification, particularly if this is a habitual problem for you.  However, as I got to writing I felt God leading me back to the issue of the heart, for that is where it all begins and ends.   Before we can even think about the “hows” of freedom we must reckon with the Why and the Way.   Both are the same:  Jesus.    Thus, the “hows” will come in part III and IV.    What follows here will sound harsh and heavy to some and salve and grace to others.   I know that when I was in the depths of my sin, which I called an addiction, I took offense to those who shot straight with me.   Looking back, I can see it was God’s mercy and the Holy Spirit drawing me.   My pride blinded me to it all, however, until I lost it all.    I don’t want you to have to lose everything before you wake up to real dangers of the fire you are playing with and the distance it has and will put between you and God.   I pray that God would use my offering here to draw us all closer to Himself.

In the first part (read HERE) I attempted to explain that this is first and foremost a matter of the heart.   If you are stuck in a cycle of self-gratification (masturbation) you won’t have real freedom until you lay down all your excuses and rationalizations for doing it and reckon it for what it is:  sin.   You must come to a similar place as King David in Psalm 51 who cried out,

Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment (51:4)

Without first repenting, the road towards holiness, which is God’s will for your life (1 Thess. 4:3), cannot begin.    Let me say a word here about what repentance is NOT.

Repentance is not being sorry that your life is a mess because of your mistakes.   For many years I cried out to God to help me stop doing the things I was doing but my motives were selfish.    I was sorry that I got caught or sorry over how all this made me look to others or sorry that others were upset and disappointed in me.   I was fearful that I might lose my family, my job, that someone “important” might find out, and even sorry that my work in ministry, which I took great pride in, might be hampered by my sinful choices made in secret.

I have found that many Christians, particularly those in some form of ministry (self included), want freedom from their addiction to pornography or self-gratification because they sense that it is preventing them from being all that they could be in their vocation.   This is not repentance but spiritual pride.     A great example of this is found in Acts 8 with the story of Simon the Magician.   Simon became a Christian and desired to be great in the work of the church.   When he saw the power the apostles had to impart the Holy Spirit he craved it for himself.  He wanted to be used mightily by God!   Who doesn’t, right?   But Peter’s admonition is sobering to all of us who desire to be great in our ministries:

You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you (Acts 8:21-22).

Friends, if you desire freedom from your addictions or hang-ups so that you can be a better pastor, youth leader, worship leader, Sunday school teacher, husband, wife, parent, friend – whatever – then your heart is not right before God, nor are your intentions.   Freedom comes only when we see ourselves in the pure light of God’s holiness and desire nothing more or less than to be in fellowship with him.   When we realize that without holiness we will not see the Lord (Heb. 12:14) we are on the path of godly sorrow which leads to life rather than our selfish worldly sorrow which brings only death ( 2 Cor. 7:10).

When I realized this about myself it changed the way I pray.  No longer do I pray as I once did, asking God to increase my ministry or make me useful or even great in His kingdom.   Instead, my constant heart’s cry is that I might know Him more fully, intimately and truly.   And not only that I would know Him, but that He would know me.    That I would be counted among his friends.   Jesus said his friends are those who obey him (John 15:14).   I want to be Jesus’ friend!   Do you?

God’s word declares that those who are “in Christ” have had their flesh crucified with Jesus and are raised again to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).   Paul goes on to say in that same chapter that those who have been united with Jesus in his death have been set free from sin.   Therefore, “let not sin reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Rom. 6:6,12).   He concludes,

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (6:13-14)

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Sin will have no dominion over you!   This is GOOD NEWS!    Jesus didn’t die on the cross for you and I just to make us better, more well-adjusted people in the midst of a fallen world.   He died to destroy the works of the devil and to make you and I into NEW creations!  (2 Cor. 5:17).    The extent to which we are not walking in this newness of life and freedom from sin is not because God’s word has failed but because we refuse to die.   Our pride tells us we are just fine with God and God is just fine with us.  We sing “I Am a Friend of God,” convincing ourselves that if we sing it enough it must be true while lacking the self-control and the obedience that comes from being crucified with Christ and alive in His Spirit.

The reason I am spending so much time on this, even at the risk of coming across as harsh, is because I would still be dead in my sin if it weren’t for people speaking hard truth into my life.   I assume most of my audience here are church-going people who have convinced themselves over time that their life with God is an 8 on a scale of 1-10 but would be a 10 if they could just rid themselves of this “one little problem.”     I know this because I said the  same thing for over 20 years!   It wasn’t until God’s word pierced my heart and showed me that my so-called “righteousness” was nothing but filthy rags so long as I justified my lust as an addiction I was saddled with as opposed to sin which Christ died for.

But upon seeing it for what it truly is – sin – the remedy became a reality in my life.   Not overnight.   There is a phasing out period that many will experience.   But the bondage will be gone.  No longer will you feel as though you cannot say no when temptation strikes but you will find that you have a real choice in the matter: to obey or not.   It is the Spirit of God at work within you, causing you to will and to do His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).   As we learn how to put off the “old man” and put on the “new” we will find that there is great joy in obedience and great freedom in holiness.

I hope you’ll join me for the next post as we examine practical ways we can put off the old and put on the new.

The Sin of Self-Gratification: Taking on the “M” Word (Part I)

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

It was April 21, 1989 when I first discovered masturbation and the pleasure I could bring myself.     I was 14.   I recall the date because I went with family that night to watch the opening release of Field of Dreams, a movie that remains one of my favorites to this day, but not the memories accompanying it.   Throughout the film I had this sense of guilt.   I was a Christian, and my spirit was telling me that I had likely taken a bite from a forbidden tree.

But I liked it too much to listen to what the Spirit was saying.   Rather than heed that voice, I went in search of justifications.  I scoured book stores for anything written on the topic (not an easy task in 1989) and found a few that relieved my guilt.   Masturbation, they argued, was normal and natural and part of being a sexual being created by God.   Some counseled that one should be wise in their use of it, because it could, if indulged in, lead to other problems.

At 14 I didn’t know that it was possible to justify anything and everything under the sun.   At 38 I’m just beginning to understand.

Few people in our highly sexualized culture, let alone our churches, will say what Steve Gallagher said in the quote above.   While a number of people will speak out against the sins of pornography or adultery I have noticed that many fail to address masturbation.  It’s the elephant in the room.  But it’s the root which feeds everything else.

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Self-Gratification

Self-gratification is what I prefer to call masturbation because it names it for what it truly is:  a selfish act.   For over 20 years I locked myself in isolation to indulge my flesh, telling myself again and again that I deserved this, that I needed this, that everyone else is doing it, that I’m not hurting anyone.    I had turned my back on the light that I initially had, telling me that this was an offense against God, and over time my conscious became seared (1 Tim. 4:2).   Paul diagnoses what happened over time to me and to anyone else who indulges in self-gratification (of any sort):

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  (Rom. 1:21).

Over time, self-gratification deprives us of God-glorification, which is our created purpose.   The light we once had grows more and more dim, and soon we find we are in a “far away land” living among pigs (Luke 15:13ff).   Meeting our own needs and desires becomes the aim of our lives and it seems fine because, quite frankly, it appears everyone else is on the same path.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that pornography served as a useful tool in aiding my self-gratification.    I had already justified in my mind that pleasing myself was OK so it wasn’t hard to convince myself that adding means (like pornography and then online chatting) to enhance that experience only made good sense.   I mean, it would be silly to deny myself that sort of pleasure, right?

Yet Scripture is full of commands for us to live in ways that make a Self-Gratifying Christian an oxymoron.    You nor I can continue to walk in darkness and claim we know God, or that God knows us.   Consider just a few words:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”  (1 Peter 2:11)

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”  (Col. 3:5)

Jesus said that if we have even the intent of lust towards another woman we have already committed adultery in God’s eyes (Matt. 5:28).  The longer I went justifying my addiction to myself the further along the road I was that leads to destruction, of which Jesus said many are on.    Peter said of men like me,

They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!  (2 Peter 2:14).

Over 20 years of locking the bedroom or bathroom door to bow to the altar of self led me to do some ugly, dark things.    It was not uncommon to lock myself away in a hotel room for days to please myself.   Not even the real risk of losing my wife, my kids, or my job as a pastor would wake me up to how self-obsessed I really was.

I am choosing to be vulnerable about where I was in my sin because by doing so, I believe, the power of God is made more evident.   I am writing this so that you can know that there is freedom from the bondage of self-gratification.   John writes,

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God (1 John 3:8-9).

It’s true!  It has been nearly 2 years since I last succumbed to the sin of self-gratification.   I say this not to boast in myself but in God who has delivered me from something I thought could never happen.   I also share it because as a man who struggled for so long in that area I longed to hear other men testify about what “freedom” really meant for them.    The world needs to know that there are men living who don’t masturbate or entertain lustful thoughts.   It’s a lie of this world that says you deserve it, you need it or that it’s normal and acceptable by God.    Not until we desire to please God more than ourselves will we ever be truly free and live in the victory God desires for His children.

In the follow-up post I will address some practical ways you can be set free from the sin of self-gratification.    But before we get there, if you are someone who has long lived behind the belief that this is a “struggle” you have, I urge you to take a moment and consider whether you are truly struggling or simply giving over.   The man or woman who is consistently walking in righteousness who “slips” can say of him or herself they are “struggling,” but not the person who is habitually failing in this or any other area or sin.   Paul writes,

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Cor. 10:13)

If you truly desire freedom, God can and will set you free.   The first step towards that freedom is admitting that this is sin, it is selfish, it drives a wedge between you and God and others, and will only lead to destruction.

How beautiful though is the freedom that comes through Christ!

Go to Part II HERE.