Tag Archives: Marriage

Marriage Isn’t For You (or your spouse)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources to help your marriage:

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

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

My sermon: Sacred Roles: The Husband

Tell Her Everything, Then Tell Her Nothing

This post is a follow-up to the last one which asked “Are you REALLY “struggling” against Habitual Sin?”    Recent events have convinced me that it’s time to be real about the sins that are killing us and hurting others, and my wife and I pray these posts will encourage you, challenge you, and give you hope for a future in Christ, and therefore in freedom.   

When you are ready to confess your sins to your spouse there are two things you need to know and do.

1.  Tell her everything 

Before we get to the specifics let me address a common question asked:   Do I have to tell her?   Yes.   You have been using your body in ways that suggest it is your own, and it is not.   If you are a Christian, your body belongs to God (1 Cor. 6:19-20) and if you are married, it additionally belongs to your spouse (1 Cor. 7:4).   When you are involved in sexual sin, whether online or otherwise, you are both desecrating the temple in which God dwells (your body) and depriving your spouse of a right that belongs solely to him or her.    So yes, you must tell your spouse, and you must tell her everything.

Everything inside of you will want to minimize.   Don’t do this.   You will be tempted to scale back what you have actually done.   And you will do this under the delusion that you are being noble and kind, sparing your fragile wife from pain she can not handle.  

Don’t do that.  It’s not for you to decide what your wife can handle.  You forfeited that right when you started looking at things you shouldn’t be looking at, and touching things you shouldn’t be touching.

This means instead of telling her you simply look at porn “every now and then” you tell her the truth, which is more like, “I look at it every chance I get, and when I’m not, I am thinking about when I can.”   Instead of telling her that you have been with one woman but only briefly and it meant nothing, you tell her the truth, which is more like, “I’ve been with 9, and I had feelings for one.”

My wife puts it this way:

When you first reveal your sin, it’s like cutting her heart with a knife.  It’s incredibly painful.   During this time you (the betrayed spouse) wonder if you can ever trust again.   When later, it is discovered that there is more involved, that you only got part of the story, it’s like taking that wound and pouring salt into it, and the question of whether or not I can ever trust again is magnified 100 fold.

And be sure of this, the whole truth will come out.   Jesus promised this…

Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.  Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops (Luke 12:2-3)

I have proven this to be true countless times!  So tell your spouse everything.  To stop short here only defrauds the entire process, making a sham of repentance and thus closing off the power of God to restore what your sin has broken.

2. Tell her nothing

After you have confessed everything, offer no excuse.   Do not attempt to rationalize what you have done, minimize it, or justify it.   You have basically three responses from now on:

I’m so very sorry, and, You’re right, and, I love you.

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Whether or not you are truly broken over your sin will be evident by how willing you are to bear the pain, the shock, the hurt-filled and angry words that your spouse is about to unload on you, not just after the initial confession but for days, weeks, months and perhaps years to come.   Yes, it gets better, but how better it gets and how quickly it gets there is determined in large part by whether you are experiencing godly sorrow over your sin or just worldly sorrow (see 2 Cor. 7:10).  Godly sorrow reckons with the fact that your sin has been against both your wife AND God, and you are desperate to make amends because you desire nothing more than to be in fellowship with Christ.   As such, you will look like Christ who bore your sins without uttering a word, without defending himself, but became a meek and lowly lamb.    This is the posture of the truly repentant.   If you are merely worldly sorrowful, then you are really only sorry that you have been found out and that which you truly love (your sin) cannot be indulged in any longer (at least not for now). You can be assured that you will be back in the pig sty before long.

How do you know if you have godly sorrow vs. worldly sorrow?   It’s easy:  You won’t care what becomes of your life from here on out, so long as you have Jesus.   You won’t care if the entire world crumbles around you, that you have to give up your plans for the future, or that you have to even die for your sins, so long as you can be made righteous.  You will want so badly to bear your wife’s pain and suffering that you will take any abuse that might come your way, no matter how she might respond (yes, even if she responds in kind in order to “get even”), because you own the fact that your sins have brought this upon your house, and now you must make restitution.

So you tell her nothing, apart from I’m sorry, I love you, you are right, and so on.

Do these 2 things.  And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Stay tuned for how to win back his/her trust.

What Freedom Looks Like

This is a recent Facebook status my wife wrote:

I know there are some pastor’s spouses who lament not having a real “pastor”. But, I am grateful and blessed to have my husband as my pastor! He ministers to me and I know his heart. I get the privilege of watching him walk out his faith everyday, so when he speaks truth to me it helps me that much more. What a gift this man is to my life and my soul!

I don’t share this to boast apart from boasting about the mighty work God has done in our lives – as individuals and as a couple.     It’s hard to believe that just 2 years ago at this time we were sitting in divorce court, far removed from one another…

And far removed from God.

The above quote from my lovely wife is a testament to the miraculous, reconciling work God has done in each of our hearts to restore our faith in Him and in each other.   This is what freedom looks like for me.   And it’s glorious!

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This same woman who once told me that if God existed He must be a monster for creating a monster like me will be the one doing the preaching this week as she speaks at our church on the sacred role of being a faithful wife.    Neither of us would have dreamed such a thing could happen 2 years ago.   But that’s what God does – greater things than we could think or imagine (Eph. 3:20).

That’s what freedom looks like for us.

Do You Want To Be Healed?

What is freedom, and what is bondage?  Many Christians try to have it both ways.  They want the freedom of living their own lives, inviting God’s presence on their terms, but never entering into the life of liberty in the Spirit that God intends for them.  Undeniably lukewarm, they possess the worst of both worlds.  They neither live in horrible, outward sin nor in the wedded bliss of the first love.  Since they love their lives in this world, they will not abandon their lives to Jesus.  Therefore, they do not really get to enjoy the pleasures of sin nor the glorious, overcoming life in the Spirit.  Instead, they live in a dismal, gray world which exists between the two extremes – all under the nice sounding title of “being balanced.”  The reality is they live in a spiritual ghetto.

 

~ Steve Gallagher, “Living in Victory” (pg. 150)

 

For a long time I lived in the spiritual ghetto described above.   I became convinced that I had a “shadow side” which was simply part of my make-up.   So convinced was I of this that I insisted others must learn to either love me “as is” or get out of my life.    I once even told my own mother to never speak to me again because she was “toxic to my recovery” as an addict.    What was so toxic?    Her telling me that I was in bondage to sin, not sex, and freedom could be found in Christ.

When you are an addict – to what or whomever – the promise of freedom can sound like  a cruel joke.    When one is so wrapped up in a sinful pattern, as I was, it is nearly impossible to hear truth as something liberating rather than infuriating.  

There is a beautiful story John tells in his gospel of Jesus coming upon an invalid of 38 years.   Jesus asks this man what might at first seem to be a curious question:

Do you want to be healed?   (John 5:6)

Do you want to be healed?  What a glorious question!   And how equally terrifying!   An outsider might find this a curious question, but the one bent over from sin for decades knows it’s import.   We know this question is not always met with a resounding YES! welling up from the depths of a broken, needy heart.   We know that there is a huge part of ourselves that loves darkness more than light, that cherishes our sin like Gollum clinging to his Precious, that doesn’t want to face the responsibility that true freedom would entail.   Yes, it’s a pig sty, but it’s my pig sty, we cry. 

I have a hunch that Jesus learned to ask this question early on in his ministry after encountering far too many people who refused to be made well.  They refused the freedom offered them because they did not believe it possible to achieve.  

Do you want to be healed?

The question still lingers for each of us today whether you be an invalid, an addict, an impatient spouse, an uninvolved parent, a greedy employer or a prideful pastor.   

Jesus does not ask a question of us that he is not fit to deliver upon.   When he asks, he asks in hopes that perhaps this time you have had enough with living in a spiritual ghetto and would like to taste and see that the Lord is good.   He would love to introduce you to a life of freedom where his exhortation to “go and sin no more” no longer sounds like a cruel joke but an invitation to a life you never dreamed possible…until this very moment.

Do you want to be healed? 

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O Ye Of Fickle Faith

Two days ago I got some news that I wasn’t expecting, which ruined for the moment the plans I was making for myself.   My wife, knowing my concern and sadness, sent me the following text while I was driving to work:

I’m sorry honey!!!  God is in control of our lives even when others make mistakes.  Keep your hope in God.  He knows what is best and when it’s best.   I love you.

The past few days I have been asked by a few friends if I could pinpoint one of the primary differences in my life today as compared to the life of 2 summers ago.   My answer, in large part, is found in the spirit of that text.

God is in control.  Hope in God.   God knows what and when is best.  Trust Him.

It is easy to believe God is in control when things are going your way.   When you wake up to a bright, sunny day, when the coffee is hot and strong, when the car starts and has plenty of gas, when your boss gives you a promotion, when you are healthy, when your spouse is on your side and your kids are being obedient – in all these things we give thanks to God, as we ought.

But what about when there is a raging storm outside, when the coffee pot is broken, when the car breaks down on the side of the road, when you show up to work and are given a pink slip, when you get diagnosed with cancer, when your spouse cheats or leaves and when your kids drive you crazy – in all these things we tend to think God is absent or to blame.

Praise-in-Storm

I confess that I often lack the faith to believe God is in control of all things, that all things work according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11).    I confess that I often lack joy when I face trials of various kinds, which are designed for the purpose of increasing my faith (James 1:1-4).   I confess that when I feel persecuted or tormented I far too often become self-absorbed rather than see this as an opportunity to bear witness to the glory and majesty of God (Luke 21:12-13).

In Mary Beth Chapman’s moving book about hope and struggle through the tragic death of their daughter she shares how they, as a family, had their faith deepened.    While the pain was still very raw, she describes how her husband, Stephen, would go into his sound-proof recording studio in their home and scream at the top of his lungs,

You give and you take away!   Blessed be the name of the Lord!   You give and you take away!  Blessed be the name of the Lord! 

He was quoting Job 1:21.   I had tears in my eyes as I read that for the first time, and again as I type them here.   Why?  Because it’s a faith I find so humble, trusting and vulnerable.    It’s one I see so often lacking in myself, and sadly, in much of the church world.

It is a faith that gives God glory in the midst of the storm, even though, paradoxically, it names Him as the author of it. It’s the faith of Job.   Though he lost everything dear to him, he refused to curse God.    His ruminations over what happened to him neither led him to believe God was absent nor that He was to blame (in a pejorative sense) but rather, God is the author of all things and that He is good and trustworthy.    If God is truly good, and if God is truly in control, then whatever befalls Job is re-imagined through that lens.   This is ultimate trust.  This is ultimate faith.    “Yet though you slay me,” Job said, “I will trust in you” (Job 13:15).     Job knows that life and death occur by God’s hand, according to the counsel of His will, and it’s all good for those who love God (Rom. 8:28).

 
And lest we think this God is archaic, one of some ancient, Old Testament understanding of God, Jesus reminds me that it is the God he knows, and trusts explicitly.   Sent to earth to die a horrible death, he prayed that this cup – one predestined by His Father – be spared him.    The pain he was about to endure he did not attribute to an absent God nor did he blame him, but instead prayed, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”    Like Job, Jesus prayed, “Yet though you slay me, I will trust in you.”

This trust resulted in an Easter miracle.

Granted, this God offends our modern sensibilities of what is “good” and “loving.”   It isn’t one that appeases the masses, or tickles itching ears who long to have their best life now.

My wife remembers all too well the many times she was told by a godly woman that the pain her husband (me) was inflicting upon her were opportunities for her to repent, to run to God, to worship Him.   For years she resisted this counsel, believing instead that if God were love He must be absent, or to blame, or did not love her very much at all to allow this suffering in her life.    She couldn’t stand to hear from women who testified that if she would only trust God, she would one day be giving Him thanks for her afflictions (just like David does in Psalm 119, numerous times).

Today, however, she is doing just that.   As her text above demonstrates, my wife has learned that the faith she thought she had was a fickle one, tossed and torn by the events of any given day.    Today, by the grace and mercy of God, she stands as a Job-like example to me of one who strives to pray, “Though you slay me, God, I will trust you!”

Seeing such faith in action leads me, and I hope you as well, to pray, “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!”  (Mark 9:24).

I Killed Him

Due to illness we did not attend church this morning but had family worship at home.   Being Pentecost Sunday I read Acts 2 and we discussed the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church.   But this post is not about that.   It’s about the conversation that took place because of my 8 year old son’s curiosity and fear over a confession I wrote in the margin of my bible.

I didn’t quite understand the worry in his face when I asked if anyone had any questions following our bible study.   Maddox looked as though he were about to cry as he pointed with a shaky finger to the words I scribbled in the margin…

I killed Him.

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“What does this mean, Daddy?”   The question opened up an opportunity, no doubt initiated by the Holy Spirit, to talk about something every Christian needs to remind themselves of often, for we so easily forget.

I killed Him.  It’s what I wrote in the margin of my Bible next to Peter’s sermon in Solomon’s Portico, where he is rehearsing once more the history of Israel and their guilt over murdering the Messiah.    Acts 3:14-15 reads,

But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead.

I killed Him.

At some point over the past year during my devotional reading the Spirit spoke those words to me, placing me there on the scene – at Pilate’s sham-of-a-trial, at the walk towards Golgatha, at the foot of Calvary – hissing and jeering the entire time, insisting that I will not allow anyone, not even God, get in the way of my own self-interests.

I was there, driving the nails through the hands and feet of the Author of Life, because my sin and shame made it His passion to let me.

I killed Him.

All of my betrayal, lust, selfishness, pride – all the pain it caused all those I thought I loved, all the depression, anger, loneliness, and despair  – was on his shoulders as I hoisted him up on the cross to die.

I killed Him.

It’s a heart-wrenching thing to realize, that you killed the Author of Life.   If you are so fortunate to have the Spirit whisk you away from your current place and set you down at the foot of the cross I assure you you will never be the same again.    When you see the weight of sin this Sinless One bore for you, for all the world, the veil is torn and religion dies, only to be replaced with what John Wesley called “a heart strangely warmed.”     Religion is replaced with holy passion and yearning, and sin – that which enslaved you the day before  – loses it’s deathly grip.

It’s easy to lay the blame elsewhere. It’s easy to watch the death of Jesus unfold like a bystander then rail against the social powers-that-be, the evils of society, the injustice of a fallen world.    I was once a pastor who was so wrapped up in the social sins I saw, in large part because I did not want to see the personal sins within.   Getting wrapped up in the social evils which make for good Facebook or Twitter fodder was far more appetizing (and crowd pleasing!) than sitting alone at the foot of Calvary, weeping over my own sin which put my Jesus there.

I don’t ever want to lose sight of the cross or my explicit hand in the whole bloody affair.   I don’t ever want to lose sight of the fact that Jesus was on that cross for me, dying for the very things that made me take a hammer to his hands.   I don’t ever want to lose sight of the fact that I killed Him.

And yet, amazingly, He still loves me.   What a Savior!

 

Son, Come to your Senses

Yesterday my wife and I were talking about the radical lengths required for real reconciliation to transpire.     We both agreed that as a couple we both had to abandon our right to have rights and humbly confess that we were both in need.   She for different reasons than I, obviously, and perhaps she will speak to that from her perspective in a later post.

As the outright offender in our marriage, it might seem obvious that the very least I or anyone in my position can do is take a posture of complete and utter servitude and humility, willing to surrender any and all rights for the one betrayed.    Yet you would be surprised to know how many people refuse to come to this place (and how long it took for me to get there myself!).   They are sorry (at least they think they are) for what they have done, and they desire to reconcile with their family but they want to do so on their own terms, or at best, expect some compromise in the negotiations.    The following sentiments are expressed far too often by people who want reconciliation:

She expects me to leave my job!  Is she crazy?  I want to get back together but she’s totally unreasonable! 

She’ll take me back but only if I drop all my friends.   It’s she or them, she says.    I want our marriage to work but her ultimatums are ruining our chances!

She says that for us to work out I need to give up the internet.    I don’t mind cutting back some, but I have to have it for my job.  She doesn’t get it. 

Such negotiations are the exact opposite of the truly penitent.   As Amy and I thought about the sacrifices necessary to reconcile we were reminded of the story Jesus tells of the prodigal son in Luke 15.    When this son “comes to his senses” after living unfaithfully as a son to his father, he determines to return home and say,

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.   I am no longer worthy to be called your son.   Treat me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:18-19).

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Absent from this confession and plea are any grasping for rights.     The son returns with head bowed and heart torn, willing to be treated as a slave rather than a son.   Can anyone imagine this prodigal returning home to say that he is sorry for squandering everything and betraying the love and trust of his father, but dad, I want my old room back?    Dad, don’t ask me to clean the pigsty cause I’ve been living in it long enough.   Dad, you need to show me some consideration, as I’ve been through a lot.  

Let me be blunt.  If you have been unfaithful to your spouse and are bargaining in these ways or others you are not truly repentant.  You haven’t yet come to your senses like the prodigal son and are deluding yourself into thinking you still have rights.    The tension and angst your feel and the reason reconciliation seems so impossible is because you won’t die to yourself completely but still hold out hope that you can keep some of the old man around, though perhaps dressed up in new clothes.

If there is any hope for restoration you are going to have to be the first to die.     A necessary part of that death is a dying to self – to your rights, your dreams, your ideas of what the marriage ought to look like, your former life altogether.    This is the path so few are willing to walk.   But I can assure you that you do not walk it alone.    You can know that as a forgiven sinner, as you walk a path of humility before your spouse and others whom you’ve hurt, that you are walking the path of Jesus, who took your sin upon his sinless shoulders like a lamb being led to the slaughter (Isa. 53).    “Consider him,” the author of Hebrews writes, “who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb. 12:3).

If the Son of God, who did not deserve it, could endure with patient humility such hostility from us, surely you, who does deserve it, can endure the evacuation of your rights for the sake of true repentance and reconciliation.

If not, then son, may you soon come to your senses.

 

 

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!

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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: 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)

Romans-6

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.

Selfish_Fotolia_40585031_XS

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.