The all important morning watch

Next to receiving Christ as Savior, and claiming the filling of the Holy Spirit, we know of no act attended with larger good to ourselves or others than the formation of an undiscourageable resolution to keep the morning watch and spend the first half hour of the day alone with God.
~ John Mott

I read these words during my devotion time this morning and was struck by their truthfulness.   I can testify that the greatest blessing or hindrance to my spiritual well being rests on how and with whom I spend the first moments of each day.

I can also testify that this truth is the easiest for the enemy of our soul to minimize, distort and steal.   If you are like me you have probably had that internal dialogue that says things like this:

I just don’t have time.

I’m not a morning person.

I will make up for the time I missed today, tomorrow.

I don’t feel like it.  I’ll do it when I feel like it.

I don’t know how to spend time alone with God.  It feels forced or fake.

All of these are excuses manufactured not from the Spirit of God but by the enemy who knows that if he can distract us from the first part of the day, he can have the whole day.

One of the things I have to guard against is the lie that I can bank up grace and spiritual fortitude.  I have thought at various times in my Christian walk that since I spent an hour with Jesus yesterday morning, and since I’m too busy this morning, I can coast.

But trying to stockpile grace when it’s convenient for me to do so, and expecting it to sustain me for the days ahead while I’m too busy works as well as collecting multiple days worth of manna worked for the Hebrew people seeking the Promised Land (see Exodus 16).

Why?  I am convinced it is because the One who created me and you knows better than we that with each setting and rising of the sun we must acknowledge our desperate need to abide in Christ today.   Apart from me, Jesus said, we can do nothing (John 15:5).   When I think that yesterday’s grace is sufficient for me today I presume upon the gracious gift of God, using it in vain (2 Cor. 6:1).

When I wake up and tend to a thousand other perceived needs besides spending time alone with God I am saying I have the power to manipulate yesterday’s manna to be good for today.  I am taking control of a gift that was never mine to begin with.

The quote above from John Mott reminded me of a few key things.    First, keeping a morning watch is an act of will, not emotion.   There must be an “undiscourageable resolution” to make the first part of our day the Lord’s part.   There will be plenty of times where we will not feel like it.  There will be plenty of times where other things, even good things, lobby for our time.    But if it is true that apart from Christ I can do nothing, than even these good things must wait until I have spent sufficient time alone with God today.

Second, this undiscourageable resolution is formed, not innate.   It will go against our nature to lay aside a morning watch with God.   It doesn’t come naturally to any of us.   Hopefully you can receive this as good news!  You aren’t a terrible person because you don’t feel like spending time with God this morning.   What is true, however, is that you are human and acting and feeling precisely the way God’s word says you will.   The will to spend time alone with God is something that must be formed in each and every one of us.   No human since sin entered the world has desired this naturally but every great man and woman of God who experiences the fullness and richness of God’s grace each day have been formed into such people over time.   You can be, too.

Finally, it’s of the greatest good to ourselves and others.  Our Father in Heaven who created the days, who proclaims that His mercies are new every morning, knows His children can’t experience the abundant life nor have the capacity to love others well if we don’t first rest in Him.   The greatest gift I can give to those I love, who may be demanding of my time and resources, is to rise early enough to spend time with my Creator and soak in His mercy.

During my time at Pure Life Ministries the first task I was given was to spend the first 20 minutes of each morning with God.  Ten minutes reading scripture and 10 minutes in prayer.   Over time that was increased bit by bit.    A year later those 20 minutes blossomed into 90 minutes of the most precious time of my day.   It is without question the habit formed which is most essential to my well being and my ability to love others well.  When I neglect this, I, and those I love, suffer.  Leaders at Pure Life tell me that the number one cause of relapse is when people minimize this morning time with God and begin to think yesterday’s grace will carry over today.   Setting a time aside to be with God each morning is as essential to our recovery as breathing is essential to life.

I want to encourage you today to determine to begin being formed in new ways.   Resolve to set a morning watch and then taste and see how God honors this with not only a greater capacity to love and be loved, but also changes your desires.    Please feel free to share with me how God shows up in your life over the upcoming weeks and months!

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I’ll do anything…but that

It’s possible to tell if someone is truly serious about kicking their sexual sin habit (or any habit) within the first few minutes of conversation.   You can tell by what they are willing to give up.   If they are willing to give up anything and everything, then you have an ideal candidate for real change.   But if they give the Meatloaf answer-

i-would-do-anything-for-love-but-i-won-t-do-that

– then chances are not so good, at least not yet.  

The difference between the person walking in the light and the person still ducking in and out of shadows is all too often their degree of willingness to do whatever it takes to be transformed.   

Jesus said that if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out.  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  For it’s better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell (Matt. 5:29).    To put it another way, if you want to be free of the sin that weighs you down (Hebrews 12:1-2), you will need to radically reorient your life.   It may mean a new job. It might mean a moving to a new town.  It might mean cutting out TV. It might mean unplugging from the internet – forever.   It might mean dropping your friends.  It might mean burning your CD collection.  It might mean any number of things, all of which will be absolutely necessary for you to be set free.   That thing you are thinking about right now that you can’t imagine going without or can’t imagine doing is probably the very thing God will require of you.    

For the rich young ruler it was his wealth that he needed to cut out.   Jesus, looking at him and loving him, told him exactly what he needed to drop if he wanted to inherit the life of the ages.   Tragically, he walked away sad, for he was unwilling to part from the thing Jesus demanded of him (Mark 10:17-27).    Don’t be like that guy.   Don’t be a meatloaf, willing to do anything….but that.  Be willing and ready to do whatever it takes, no matter what the cost, in order to be rid of the sin that binds you.    New life is possible, but it doesn’t come without dying first. 

Pray with me:  Jesus, I’m scared.   I want to trust you with everything – my future, my family, my friends, my stuff – but I don’t know how.   Teach me.   Open my heart to you.   Help me to open my hands to you as well.  All that I have is yours.   Make me willing and able to give you everything, even my very life.   Amen.

 

 

 

 

Join my XXXChurch Online Support Group!

Dear readers, I’m excited to have been invited to lead an online accountability/support group for men struggling with sexual addiction/compulsion through XXXChurch‘s platform, X3Groups.

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The group I will be leading will meet every Monday morning at 9AM (EST).   All the information about signing up or about other times available with other great group leaders can be found at the X3Group website.

I can only host 10 group members so hurry and sign up!    If you know of someone who could use this in their life (and who are we kidding, we all need it!), please share this with them.

Please keep this ministry in your prayers!    May God set many who are in bondage free!

 

Pastor finds freedom from sexual sin

This past Sunday I kicked off an 8 week Recovery sermon series as a way to prepare our community for the Recovery @ Dayton ministry we intend to launch November 6.   To hear more about all of that you can check our church webpage HERE.

Sunday’s message was titled, “I Don’t Need Recovery” and addressed the reasons we all do, and why Jesus is central to it.    My wife, Amy, and I were blessed beyond measure to be visited during that weekend by Rev. Tim Dilley and his wife, Deb.   Tim and Deb became friends of ours through a time of crisis in their lives when pornography threatened to destroy Tim and everything he held dear.   Today, nearly 6 months later, he is a new man, thanks be to God, and shares his testimony for the first time near the end of this message (it begins around the 31 minute mark).

Here’s the entire message.   I pray it blesses, encourages and challenges you today!

Don’t Waste Your Life

This week I had the privilege of attending a memorial service for the clergy and spouses of clergy in our conference who have died in the past year.  As each person’s name was read and a candle was lit, those in the conference hall who were impacted by that person’s life would stand.

Each year I get to witness this powerful event and each time I leave with the same words ringing in my ears and heart:

Don’t waste your life.

I remember how a few years ago I wasted countless hours staring at images on a computer screen, or, if I wasn’t in a place where I could act out on my sin of choice I was wasting countless hours thinking about it.   But for the grace of God I would still be wasting so much time and energy indulging in activities which blessed no one and hurt everyone.

Few, if any, would stand at my memorial service if that cycle of insanity had never been interrupted.

In Paul’s second letter to his protege, Timothy, he writes the following words:

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and suffering… (2 Tim. 3:10-11).

This passage, like the memorial service, reminds me of 2 things.  First, we all have an aim in life.  We are all aiming towards something, so make it a good something.   And second, there are people watching and following that aim.   In the margin of my Bible next to this text I have written the initials of each of my children, reminding me that they are following my lead, along with a prayer to God to help me lead well.

Try this:  If you have children, ask them what your aim in life is.  They are disarmingly honest.   My goal is that each of my children would believe my aim is Jesus, and they would follow me in that pursuit.

When caught up in the selfish pursuits of addiction it is impossible to lead well.  Don’t waste your life!  Live in such a way that when your name is called out and a candle is lit, the whole world will wish to rise up and give praise and thanks to God for a life well lived and an eternity well deserved.

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How to Overcome: Fight, Fast, Flee

A friend who attended the Pure Life annual conference this past weekend reminded me of some helpful advice which if followed can make the difference between a person overcoming addiction or falling prey to it.  The principles are these:   Fight, Fast and Flee.  

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Fight

Overcoming does not come without a fight.   It requires a battle mentality.   We must not forget that we have an enemy, prowling around like a lion, seeking whom he might devour (1 Peter 5:8).

We must not be surprised when temptation comes, or think we have done something wrong simply because we are being tempted.   Temptation provides us with an opportunity to resist the devil and say no to our impulsive desires.   We must remember that no temptation has overcome us that is not common to man, and that with every temptation God provides a way out (1 Cor. 10:13).

So many times I thought I was struggling, or fighting, against my addiction when really I was caving in at the first signs of  battle!  Develop a warrior mentality.  God has called you to be an over-comer, a victor, and has equipped you with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1) and filled you with the same power which raised Christ from the dead!   You, dear reader, are a fighter, and it’s time to win some battles.

For more on this topic read “Are you REALLY struggling against habitual sin?”  

Fast

Overcoming does not happen without fasting.   Fasting is not just giving up food.  It can and often includes giving up things like TV, internet, social media, secular music, drinking, a hobby, or anything else which feeds the flesh.

When we say no to things which we think we need for periods of time (and in some cases, forever) we build our spiritual muscles as well as our confidence in our ability to withstand temptation.  When I began fasting from food for 24 hours once a week I was surprised to discover how much that practice would help free me from my own addictive behavior.   Learning to say “no” to a growling stomach helped me to see that I was not a slave to my desires and could therefore also say “no” to temptations to lust.

If you are not experiencing lasting victory over your addictive behavior then I commend to you the practice of fasting.

For more on this topic read “How Fasting Saved My Life, and Might Save Yours, Too.”

Flee

Overcoming does not happen without fleeing.   1 Cor. 6:18 says to “Flee from sexual immorality.”   Run!   Get as far away from it as you can!

Psalm 1 says a blessed man is one won’t walk in the way of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of scoffers.   The word-picture here is a person who first walks by something enticing and rather than continue walking (or better yet, run!) he stops and stands around, taking in the scene.   Soon he is no longer standing but sitting in it.

One way to flee is by not giving the devil an opportunity to entice us to stand or sit around in our sin (Eph. 4:27).   If you struggle with sexual sin it is imperative you put filters on your computers and phones, along with accountability software which sends a list of websites viewed to your accountability partners.   Covenant Eyes and X3Watch are just two of many great places to start shopping for that kind of support.

Jesus said if our eye causes us to sin, gouge it out (Matt. 18:19).    The meaning here is to take sin seriously.  When temptation comes, run!  Get out of that situation as fast as possible.   Get a friend on speed-dial who you can call and talk with, who will help lead you back to God’s truth.    Whatever you need to do, flee!

 

FIGHT, FAST, and FLEE.   Apply these principles to your daily walk with God and see if He does not grant you the strength and victory His word promises.   We are more than conquerors in all things through Christ who loved us (Rom. 8:37)!

 

Please feel free to share how you have experienced victory when applying these or other principles.

The Blood of Jesus Saved a Wretch Like Me

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

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

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

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

cross

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

Jesus had to die to save a wretch like me.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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