Tag Archives: sex

Two Upcoming Conferences

I’m looking forward to attending two weekend conferences coming up, both of them addressing our sexual brokenness and the healing that can be found in Christ.

The first conference is the last weekend of April and is the Pure Life Ministries Annual Conference.

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This will be my first time attending their annual conference since graduating from their live-in program back in 2012.   My wife will be attending with me and I am excited to introduce her to a place which has held a special place in my heart for the last many years.

The second conference is the Sexual Integrity Leadership Summit in Atlanta the first weekend of May.

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I’m excited to attend this conference as I continue to discern what God has in store for me in future ministry (both in the ongoing work within myself and sharing that with others who struggle with compulsive, addictive behaviors).    One of the speakers at this conference, Jay Stringer, has written an excellent book I highly recommend:  Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing.

Please pray for those of us attending these conferences that God may use them to draw us closer to Christ.   And, if you are looking for a place to spend a weekend which promises to be a rewarding experience for your spiritual growth, consider registering!

Dear Heterosexual: You are not forgotten

It’s been just over a week since the United Methodist General Conference voted on whether or not same sex marriage and LGBT clergy will be allowed in the UMC.

The fact that this issue has so captivated mainstream thought and life, and has been the key issue of debate every quadrennium in the UMC is quite impressive. Why?  Because according to a Gallup poll in 2018, only 4.5% of Americans self-identify as gay, lesbian or bi-sexual.   In this study, 95.5% of Americans identified themselves as straight.   What is so impressive is how the sex lives of 4 out of every 100 people has so captivated our consciousness, both within and without the Christian community.

It got me thinking:  What about the other 95% of us?  It can feel as though we have been forgotten.   It can feel as though our struggles and our sins are of little consequence.  With the spotlight so intensely focused on what 5% of the population is doing behind closed doors it’s easy to minimize or even justify our own struggles.

With 95% of Americans uninterested in marrying someone of the same sex it seems strange that nearly 100% of our conversations about sex have little to do with what all of us, gay or straight, are struggling with, such as….

Pornography

I wish we discussed this in the church more than we discuss homosexuality.   I wish this were seen for what it is – the epidemic destroying our lives – and our church leadership took it every bit as seriously if not more than homosexuality.   While we obsess over the 5%, consider these statistics regarding pornography

The porn industry generates 13 billion dollars in revenue in the US alone.
1 in 5 mobile searches are for pornography
69% of the internet pay-per-view market is pornography
51% of pastors say pornography is a real temptation
64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month
71% of teens hide online behavior from their parents
9 out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls are exposed to pornography before age 18
Average age of first exposure: 12
68% of young adult men and 18% of young adult women use porn weekly.
This sin, legal to view and purchase everywhere, affects every one of us.  The struggle is real, and it is destroying more families and lives than gay marriage ever will.  Our nation’s legalization of gay marriage pales in comparison to the overwhelming acceptance of pornography in our culture and our failure to address it.

Premarital Sex

Even before pornography began to flourish with the advent of the Internet, virtually everyone was having sex outside of marriage.  A study published by the USA Today in 2006 showed that 9 in 10 women born in the 1940’s had premarital sex.  The median age in 2003 of those having sex for the first time was 17.  Of those interviewed in 2002, 95% said they had sex before marriage.

According to one study, 61 percent of Christians said they would have sex before marriage. Fifty-six percent said that it’s appropriate to move in with someone after dating for a time between six months and two years.

While everyone is talking about who 5% of our population is now allowed to marry, the church has often failed to offer to the struggling rest of us a healthy, positive view of sex and why God intends it to be reserved for marriage. We have failed to offer a positive, affirming, theologically rooted understanding of singleness and celibacy.  We do not teach well what it means to have a body created in God’s image to be used for God’s purposes in unique ways as a single person or as a married couple.   (Read my review of the excellent book, Faithful: A Theology of Sex. Better yet, get the book!).

Sexting

While our Church directs her focus on who can and cannot get married or be ordained, our youth are floundering as we turn blind eyes and hearts to their struggle.   Sexting, which is sending sexually explicit material through mobile devices, is a growing phenomenon among both youth and adults.  40% of all teenagers have sent and received sexual material through their phones.  You can read more stats here, and this CNN article suggests that over 60% of youth are using apps on their phones to send sexually suggestive material.  It’s worth checking out, parents, to learn ways to safeguard your kid’s online behavior.

I know firsthand the reality of these struggles, and know all too well the pain they bring to bear on all of one’s relationships.  Even more, I know the guilt and shame surrounding these behaviors and I know how easy it is to minimize and justify these things because they are done in secret.  Because so few will admit they struggle in these areas, and because the church spends so much time talking about the 5% rather than the other 95%, it’s no wonder there is so much confusion in our churches regarding sex ( and given our negligence here, it’s no wonder we struggle to speak the truth in love when it comes to the important matter of homosexuality, gender confusion, and more).

The church, when operating as she ought, is a hospital for the broken.  She is to be the place where sinners like you and I, the 100% of us, can be real about our struggles without fear of being shamed or judged so that we might discover the transforming power of grace at work in each of our lives, healing our brokenness and restoring our communion with God and each other.  And yes, that includes our sexual brokenness.

This is not to say the church has nothing to say about marriage, or shouldn’t address the 5% of our population, but it is to say that as we look at the landscape of sexuality around us, we must admit we are deeply broken and in desperate need of healing.   As I read Scripture, it says that judgment begins in the church, not upon those outside (1 Cor. 5:12).  Perhaps the most faithful and God-honoring thing we can do at such a time as this is to look within ourselves and bring to the cross our own struggles and sexual brokenness.   Perhaps the best thing we can do as a church, particularly this day as we enter into the penitent season of Lent, is to beat our chests and cry out, “Have mercy on me, Oh Lord, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

My hope and prayer for the church is that we are offering places of healing for all people, no matter what their struggle.  I don’t want to see us become so fixated on one sin that we forget that we are all sexually broken.  We all need healing.  We all need to have our minds renewed.  We all need to lay our sexual selves down at the altar and offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2).   We all must remember that our bodies our not our own, but have been bought with a price, and we are to therefore honor God with how we use them.

The one way in which “all means all,” (a refrain often used by those fighting for affirmation and acceptance), is truly accurate is in the sense that we are all broken and are all in need of a Savior who not only can forgive us, but can transform our desires into holy affections, pleasing to God and for the glory of His name.

So, to the 95% of us out there who are struggling, please know you are not forgotten amid the cacophony of voices, both gleeful and despairing, over the results of General Conference.  And you are far from being alone.  I hope you’ll seek out a church this Lent to offer up your own struggle to the lover of your soul, and find a brother or sister to walk alongside you as you both recommit to surrendering your bodies, and what you do with them, to the God who made you.

Faithful: A Theology of Sex

I just finished Beth Felker Jones beautiful book, Faithful: A Theology of Sex.   This book is a must read for every Christian, in my opinion, especially these days where there is no

faithful

shortage of confusion over what it means to have a body that is created by God and is good.   There is a uniquely Christian way to think about our bodies, one that has always been and will always be counter-cultural.   Beth Felker Jones does a wonderful job guiding her reader through the many pitfalls that exist when we either dismiss bodies as unimportant or fixate on them as idols.

One of my favorite lines was this:

When God kills pornication and raises up, from that dead thing, redeemed and good desire, God makes space for true fidelity.

“Pornication” is a suitable substitute for the biblical word porneia, which refers to sexual immorality, but more than that, it is the air in which we breath which distorts our understanding of both sex and the proper, God-glorifying use our of our bodies whether we be celibate in singleness or sexual in marriage.

I appreciated the author’s insistence that our bodies are not meant to be slaves to our desires, and that our desires are, at every level, corrupted to some degree by sin.   We must always be vigilant to bring our desires before God and be ever willing to submit our bodies to his will and purpose.

Also, referencing the quote above, I appreciated how she points the reader to the hope that in Christ, our desires can be transformed and redeemed, that we can be made new and go about living as embodied people, as icons reflecting God’s faithfulness to us through our (peculiar) ways of being faithful to God and each other in both singleness and marriage.

The Church so desperately needs these words today so that we can adequately address the pornication both inside and outside our walls.   Historically, we have been very adept at saying what we are against – don’t do that! – but we have failed to offer what ought to take it’s place.   I commend to you this book as a fitting answer to our growing confusion over what our bodies are created for and how faithful sex matters…really matters.

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.

Sober? Or Holy?

One of the unique features of  SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) is it’s sobriety plan.   Unlike AA where the boundaries of sobriety are easily demarcated (no drinking), sex apparently has a lot of gray area.   As such, each person, along with the help of their sponsor (mentor), defines a sobriety plan unique to the individual.

I knew guys who had sobriety plans which stated they had to remain completely abstinent from pornography.   I knew others who thought pornography was OK so long as they did not sleep with prostitutes.  Others had a sobriety plan which stated they could not masturbate more than twice in one week.   Anything more than that was a “slip” which meant they were no longer sober.

Everyone had a different definition of sobriety based upon their own understanding of themselves and their struggle.  A sponsor’s task was to help the sponsee formulate and stick to a plan.  Each member of the group supported each person’s individual goals for sobriety and it was considered improper to question the adequacy of the sobriety plan of another.

Looking back, it’s remarkable to me that as a professing Christian and practicing pastor I never thought to question this.  I probably even thought it compassionate.  Or maybe I thought how wonderfully liberating it is to not have anyone telling me what is best for me!   Knowing myself, probably more of the latter.

Jesus no doubt would have been banned from an SAA meeting because he would not have tolerated such “compassion” to one’s self.   Nor would he flinch from asserting authority where needed.    He would have set the bar much higher than any one of us would set it ourselves and he would demand our pursuit of it.   Jesus would say to us today, just as he did then, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

Jesus didn’t call us to be sober.   He called us to be holy.

God’s idea of holiness is not subject to change based upon our understanding of ourselves or our personal struggle.   God is not impressed with our sobriety plans and how well we uphold them, particularly when they fail to meet His plan for holiness in our lives.    Jesus said that anyone who even looks at a woman with the intent to lust has already committed adultery (Matt. 5:28).   Thus, pornography (not to mention sleeping around), is not just a “slip” that may or may not jeopardize a sobriety plan but a sin against a holy God.  It’s adultery, and God hates it.

Likewise, the man or woman who equivocates about masturbation is bargaining with God.   Limiting the occurrence to twice a week (which may be a victory for some) may earn a person a sobriety chip at their next meeting but it is not going to be a sacrifice pleasing to God.   God wants our heart- all of it – and a sobriety plan which allows for “just a little sin a few times a week” is a poor path towards God’s will for us, such as…

Be holy, for I am holy (1 Peter 1:16) or,

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4:3)

God wants more for us than sobriety.   God wants us to be holy.

The same is true for the Christian who feels they are not addicted to anything.    There is a corollary here between the addict pursuing sobriety and the Christian pursuing God.

In the same way the sex addict gets to choose their sobriety plan we are now part of a Church culture which allows the Christian to dictate their own plan of salvation.   Respect for authority is nil.  We all have our own ways of “doing church” and “worshiping God” and if anyone tells us we are wrong we will happily find another “group” that will accept us as we are and demand little if nothing of us in return.   Pastors in every circle seem to fear man more than God and have long abdicated their sacred calling to disciple people to holiness in favor of catering to congregants felt-needs.   We dare not question anyone’s “salvation path” in the same way it is uncouth to question anyone’s sobriety plan.

Pleasing our own self-interests is not a game only addicts play.   It happens among the best and the soberest among us. 

Jesus said that the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many (Matt. 7:13).   The way forward, Jesus says, is through the narrow gate.    The road may be hard, but it is worth it.   It leads to a life beyond “recovery” and one the Scriptures call “new creation.”

So what should we do?   New creation doesn’t happen unless the old one dies.  Addict or not, it’s wise to follow Paul’s advice to the Corinthian church and,

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Cor. 13:5)

Does the power of God reside within you, enabling you to say no to your flesh?   Is your heart’s desire to please God and bring Him glory for the sole purpose that He is God?   Do you long for holiness in your life?   Do you allow others to have an authoritative voice into your life to help squash the tentacles of pride and the deceitfulness of your own heart?   Are you walking in the Spirit or in your flesh?

How we answer these questions could reveal a life that is either chasing after sobriety (as an addict or a church-consuming Christian) or one that is chasing after God’s own heart.    The former seems to be what the masses are doing and it leads to death.   The latter, Jesus said, is a path few will find, but it leads to life.

So what will you choose?   Being sober?  Or being holy?

When God Doesn’t Listen

I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I cried out to God to change me.  To take away the desire to look at pornography, to lust, to cheat, to lie.     The number of bruised palms from slamming the steering wheel after driving away from yet another indulgence I vowed just the day before I wouldn’t do.

The tortured yearnings of an addict.

We cry to God.   No one seems to be home.

There is a reason for this.    And the reason is not because I wasn’t working the steps hard enough or making my daily phone calls to my sponsor.   It’s not because my counselor just doesn’t understand addiction.   It’s not because I suffer from some childhood father or mother wound.    It’s not because I don’t know how to pray.

No.   The reason God seemed distant despite my emotional pleas for help is a simple yet hard truth:

I loved myself, and my sin, more than God.  

There is a passage in Psalm 66 which cuts through all the excuses and charades we as addicts are encouraged to play in our culture today.    It reads,

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened (Psalm 66:18)

God knows the heart.  He sees our innermost thoughts and motives.   God sees what and who we love and knows when our cries for deliverance stem from a selfish desire – such as restoration of a marriage or career or reputation – rather than a desire to serve and honor a holy, jealous God who demands our sole allegiance.

And so it is that God will turn a deaf ear towards us in our darkest hours until our worldly sorrow is replaced with godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10).     Worldly sorrow, the sort of sorrow that regrets the consequences of our addiction, leads us deeper and deeper into the pit.    Godly sorrow, the sort of sorrow that reckons our addiction as sin and despises it for how it offends God, leads to true repentance, and therefore, life.

Be honest with God.   Confess the love affair you have with your sin and ask God to help you see your sin the way God sees it.     This is a prayer God is sure to hear and desires to answer.

Psalm 66 is not without hope.    Hear this great promise found within it, and may it be your testimony as well:

For you, O God, have tested us;
You have tried us as silver is tried.

You brought us into the net;

You laid a crushing burden on our backs;

You let men ride over our heads;
We went through fire and through water;

Yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.