25 May 2017
Running my race of faith well and with sexual integrity is tough! If I’m going to make progress in living a life of sexual integrity, I need to handle four things well. First, I need to intentionally throw off distractions and everything that hinders me (my first blog on this). Second, I need to persevere, learning that hanging tough in rough times is when I most experience Christ’s strength and comfort (my second blog).
Now, another thing: I’ve come to see how crucial it is to watch over my heart and be aware of when discontentment is hovering and lingering. I need to be honest about painful circumstances and deep disappointments that I’m facing.
Why these things? What do they have to do with living a life of sexual integrity?
Because disappointment tends to grow into discontentment, and discontentment can lead us in one of two directions. Which direction you go in is critical.
Positively, a growing sense of discontentment in my life can lead me to run to God, which is exactly what he wants us to do. Hebrews 12:1-13, which is the passage I’m looking at in all these blogs, says that I’m to run the path “marked out for us” (NIV). This path—filled with disappointments and discontentment—is the one God will use in my life to transform me.
I need to stay in this lane.
In other words, sexual integrity (living honestly and intentionally within God’s stated boundaries for sexuality) is not something that is just handed to us. It is pursued and embraced as we wrestle with the fallenness of our own hearts and all of life in general. God intends that trouble and pain would draw us to himself in dependence and humility.
Hebrews 4:16 says beautifully, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (ESV). I would suspect that, like me, millions of people throughout history have crumpled down at that throne with aching and disappointed hearts. The One sitting on the throne graciously welcomes disappointed and discontented people!
Look at Hebrews 4:16 again. Do you see it? Jesus embraces us when we run to him with aching and angsty hearts!
What surprises many people is that pornography, and even sexual fantasy, are not primarily fueled by sexual lust. Lust is a key part of it, but it first begins in a heart that is failing to handle disappointment and discontentment well.
But on the negative side of disappointment and discontentment, it can lead us in a dark and dangerous direction. Instead of going to Jesus, we go anywhere and elsewhere. Why? Because our painful emotions seek relief, seek escape, seek comfort.
Recently a woman confessed how years of looking at pornography created a fantasy world in her mind. It was a quick and easy place of escape when trouble came. Her fantasy world was simply more appealing than the real world in which she lived. It was as if her heart said, “That path God marked out for me? I’m not going there!”
What surprises many people is that pornography, and even sexual fantasy, are not primarily fueled by sexual lust. Lust is a key part of it, but it first begins in a heart that is failing to handle disappointment and discontentment well.
In the case of this young woman, emotional lust and a craving to feel good (loved, pursued, celebrated) propelled her towards the unreal world of sexual fantasy and pornography. The places in her life that were disappointing to her (her singleness, her loneliness in not having women friends, and some tough, physical trials) seemed to vanish in the hours she spent online.
So, what was this woman to do—just “sit” in her disappointment? Should she believe the lie that echoed in her heart: “This is your lot in life. Just deal with it!”?
Absolutely not! Jesus calls her to himself, not to a fatalistic resignation about her life. As I said in my second blog, God isn’t calling us to merely gut it out.
Jesus wants her to fix her eyes on him, trusting that he is with her on this path and that he will provide what she needs. Her life is filled with trials and temptations, but also with an abundance of mercy and comfort from God that is readily available to her.
He wants her to stay in her lane, fixing her hopes on him rather than frantically escaping her troubling emotions. Jesus, who is with her on this path, is the reality her heart really needs. Made-up worlds in our minds, sexual or not, can’t offer lasting comfort or peace!
To run the race of faith with sexual integrity, we must be honest about how we struggle with discontentment. I struggled for years with my own escape to fantasy life, but I’m thankful that I’m not tempted to look at porn or to rent movies that are sensual or sexual. I’m saying this to encourage you, that it is possible to overcome deep-seated sin patterns!
However, when the stress of ministry and responsibilities are high, I can be tempted to run after Netflix, Redbox, or the hundreds of free DVDs at the public library. And when I give way to escaping into entertainment in an unplanned way, out come the salty snacks. Unplanned eating leads to overeating for me.
Running in the path marked out for me means fixing my eyes on Jesus when life is simply hard, when nothing seems to go well. It means calling out for help to Jesus and to his people, confessing my weaknesses, burdens, and the sinful temptations that lurk all around me.
Staying in my lane also means that in the toughness of life, I submit to God’s authority as my loving Lord and allow my heart to go where Mary’s did. When faced with an unbelievable task, to do something that was impossible because of who she was, she replied, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Oh, to grow in that kind of peaceful trust of God when the path marked out for me is different from my plans and even my desires. With Christ in us and beside us, we can run this race well! We can stay in our lanes with our hearts fixed on Jesus.
You can watch Ellen talk more on this subject here in her video, Running the Race Well—Part 3. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
17 May 2017
In the Bible, living out one’s faith is sometimes referred to as a race. A race we are called to run well—and that includes living with our sexuality. Living a life of sexual integrity involves perseverance—and that is something Jesus enables us to do.
Click the following link to dig deeper into what Ellen is saying on in this blog: Women: Running the race well—Part 2.
17 May 2017
For women who desire to run their faith race well—and that includes living a life of sexual integrity—it’s important to know that Jesus doesn’t expect us to just gut it out. No, as I said in my first blog, Jesus enables us to throw off distractions and to run the race with perseverance when it gets tough.
1 John 3:8 says Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil—and that means our unbelief and all the sin attached to it. Living a life of sexual integrity, particularly during times of struggle, shows our commitment to cooperating with Jesus in what he wants to accomplish in us.
And that is, that we persevere, that our faith is for the long haul.
But how do we persevere? How do we run and hold on over a long distance?
First, we need God’s strength to do it. We need to know that the Holy Spirit pours out strength and courage when we are fearful and weary in the battle against sexual sin. I remember a woman I met two years ago who boldly took a step that she knew would be extremely costly to her. She went to a mentor in her life and was honest about being emotionally involved with a married man. In the days following her confession, she felt the anguish of letting go of something which had become intoxicating to her. Intoxicating and dangerous.
But she still had the desire, although weak by that time, to persevere and to walk in sexual integrity. She knew that faithfulness to Jesus meant being willing to part with anything that could hijack her heart from love and obedience to him. That was a costly obedience! When we persevere like this, not only will sexual integrity grow in our lives, but we will also experience Christ’s strength and comfort through our costly obedience.
Secondly, we need God’s discipline to reshape us. Discipline, as described in Hebrews 12:5-11, doesn’t mean a scolding or bearing the brunt of harsh punishment. When Hebrews 12 talks about God disciplining us, it describes God as a father caring for his child.
The goal of God’s fatherly discipline is our holiness; that is, we increasingly become Christ-like in our character, growing in maturity and bearing good fruit throughout our life.
His discipline can come in a number of ways. It might come in the form of someone asking you difficult and humbling questions about your online life or about a relationship in which you’re involved. It might be someone challenging you about a relationship that isn’t good for you. It can be through God not giving you something you desire because what you want might lead you far from him. God’s discipline is tough love! But you have to see it as love!
“God’s discipline is tough love! But you have to see it as love!”
Thirdly, we need to be changed from the inside out to persevere. We need to see that God’s discipline does not just mean outward changes in behavior. God is always targeting our hearts first! God is always wooing us back to him. Yes, discipline should result in changed behavior, but for it to last, for it to deeply please him, for it to be real in our lives, it must flow from a heart that is being changed from the inside out.
Finally, we need to humbly recognize that sometimes God will allow us to experience the consequences of sin when we refuse to turn from it. This is also a form of his loving discipline: to convince us that when we turn from his path, we are in a danger zone.
I think of someone I knew who held on to her sin until all was lost: ministry, marriage, relationship with her kids, and all of this in a very public way. Into this person’s life came God’s rod of loving discipline. The sin was found out, her marriage crumbled, her children left her, her job was lost. All of it so painful, but all of it was allowed by God as a loving and rescuing wake-up call.
Amazingly, the discipline worked! She persevered through the valley of humiliation and is now growing more and more as a humble, Jesus-loving person who is running with integrity in her life.
Jesus said to his followers in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (NIV).
Perseverance is costly obedience over the long haul, but it’s empowered by the ongoing rest we receive in leaning into Jesus.
Are you weary, sister, in your battle against temptations and sin? Go to Jesus, who welcomes the weary and gives strength! Are you hurting and perhaps feeling the anguish of having let go of a person or situation for the sake of holiness? Run to Jesus; he is gentle and desirous to give you rest!
You can watch Ellen talk more on this subject here in her video, Women: Running the race well—Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
10 May 2017
In the Bible, living out one’s faith is sometimes referred to as a race. A race we are called to run well. One part of our life to run well is how we live with our sexuality. A life of sexual integrity doesn’t just happen—it takes serious steps to run this race well!
Click here to dig deeper into what Ellen is saying on Ellen’s blog here: Women: Running the Race Well—Part 1.
10 May 2017
In 2013 I finished the Philadelphia half-marathon with integrity, even though I wasn’t on board with the race’s motto: “For the Love of Running.” I don’t love to run, and in fact I walked the entire 13.1 miles! My form was less than professional, and my running clothes were not high-end gear, but I did finish the race. I finished what I started. That was my integrity, the principle for which I strove for: Finish well what you started.
I did it by keeping the finish line in mind. One step at a time. Not getting distracted by the scenery along the race, like the beauty of Rittenhouse Square or the exotic landscape of the Philadelphia Zoo.
Women who desire to live with sexual integrity—with themselves and in their relationships with others and with God—also need to run the race of faith well.
Which means throwing off distractions and hindrances, like how I finished the half-marathon.
Hebrews 12:1-13 gives us many rich truths to consider in this regard, but let’s start this discussion with the importance of throwing off the endless distractions we all face in this world and the sins that easily trip us up.
After the 2014 Philadelphia Marathon, there were four tons of discarded clothing collected along the marathon route!¹ Serious runners start the race wearing gear that can be tossed off in the first miles as their bodies warm up. These articles of clothing are helpful at the start but a heavy hindrance once underway.
Similarly, we need to recognize and be willing to part with not only obvious sin but also influences in our lives which distract and hinder us from loving Jesus in our pursuit of sexual integrity. We need to take seriously the influences which can weigh us down and make it easier to walk into sinful situations.
“The key here is not so much the thing itself but the impact it has on us. Sexual sin most often has a seemingly ‘innocent’ beginning—when a potential hindrance or distraction is given room to grow, when a temptation is managed rather than run from!”
People, forms of recreation, activities, and so on may be good things but may also have a power in our lives to pull us away from following Jesus. A person or relationship can easily hijack our heart’s contentment in Christ. A form of entertainment can quickly become our default source of comfort or escape from the stresses of life. A ministry or work scenario can put us near someone to whom we’re growing in an unholy attachment, even to the point where we feel we need that person’s affirmation to be okay or feel secure.
The key here is not so much the thing itself but the impact it has on us. Sexual sin most often has a seemingly ‘innocent’ beginning—when a potential hindrance or distraction is given room to grow, when a temptation is managed rather than run from!
Hebrews 12:1 says that not only are we commanded to throw off hindrances, but the sin which so easily entangles us” [emphasis mine]. The idea here isn’t sin in general, like “Lord, please forgive me of all the sins I’ve done this week,” but rather the specific sins that we are more likely to give into—our characteristic sins that easily tempt us.
In my life, I’ve not generally been prone towards anger, coveting things, or lying, but I have at times been prone towards people-pleasing, worship of comfort, selfishness with my time, fantasy, and abuse of food. And that’s just for starters!
Over the years of walking with Jesus, I’ve had my fantasy life cleaned up, food has now become an occasional distraction, and I don’t crave people’s approval of me anymore. I’m not entangled by these things anymore. However, worship of comfort and possessiveness with time? Those are an ongoing part of my race of faith in which I need the throne of grace to be open for heart-business 24/7, and I need others to help me grow.
What about you? What are the sins that easily trip you up? What are the sins that seem to precede sexual sin in your life? Women who battle against various forms of sexual sin usually give way to other things first: things like unbelief, laziness, exposure to questionable entertainment, dabbling in inappropriate physical affection with someone, and withdrawing from other believers.
No one floats or coasts into holiness or Christian maturity. Years ago my battle against fantasy had to be serious: meditating upon God’s Word, not allowing my eyes to take in things which tempt me, prayer, confessing immediately to others. I had to lay aside many hindrances and potential distractions so that they wouldn’t grow into sin.
In 2013 I wasn’t a fast runner or a top finisher in the Philly half-marathon, but I did cross the finish line! You can run your faith race well and increasingly grow into being a woman of sexual and relational integrity—persevering one step at a time.
Running the race of sexual integrity well is possible through the love and grace of Jesus! But experiencing that love and grace means we commit to throwing off sin and distractions. This process of laying aside must be intentional sisters!
You can watch Ellen talk more on this subject here in her video, Running the Race Well—Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
06 Apr 2017
In my third post, we need to look at how renewing your mind requires “putting off.” If you’ve been looking at porn for any length of time, you have a toxic waste dump in your mind that takes time and intentionality to clean up.
The first blog in this short series talked about the importance of taking thoughts captive, which means considering them in God’s presence. In the last blog, we looked at specific ways to engage God, turning temptation into opportunities for worship. In the language of Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4, both of these blogs were focused on the importance of “putting on.” This is a crucial aspect of the Christian life: becoming the man or woman God has created you to be.
This time, I want to briefly consider the importance of intentionally “putting off” things that keep you stuck in old patterns of thinking and behavior.
By the end of our introductory group at Harvest, as men grow in sexual obedience, they usually begin to experience conviction in other areas of their life. First, they start intentionally battling against their roving eyes. They realize that this “low level” exploitation of others, reducing them to commodities to consume, is part of their bigger lust problem.
A renewed mind is the result of both “putting off” and “putting on”
They also begin to realize that their engagement with certain cultural items or events is a problem. Some men realize that listening to sports radio with the incessant ads for strip clubs is a hindrance to keeping their minds focused on Christ and his kingdom. Because it calls to mind past experiences or fantasies, they choose to abstain from listening.
A renewed mind requires an active fight against a culture that continuously tilts toward the pornographic
Many have a growing conviction that various forms of entertainment (like movies and cable TV shows depicting nudity and sexuality), not only entice them to sin, but are actually dishonoring to God. They become spiritually attuned in ways they hadn’t been for years, since they’d been searing their conscience through their sin. Many are awakened for the first time to the importance of all the seemingly small decisions they make throughout their days, learning that there is a growing cumulative effect from what they see and do.
What we watch and hear sinks in and impacts our hearts. We are constantly bombarded by messages running counter to God’s calling and Christ’s kingdom. A renewed mind requires an active fight against a culture that continuously tilts toward the pornographic.
Conversely, men who continue to indulge their flesh in these outwardly less significant ways, struggle to make real traction overcoming their enslavement to pornography. So, some questions for you:
Where do you need greater conviction of how your use of entertainment might be part of the problem, keeping you stuck in a pornified way of viewing the world?
Are you actively fighting against the “second look” when you see someone you’re attracted to?
Where are the broken views of sexuality in our culture affecting your heart?
And, as we’ve been discussing in the past couple blogs, are you more quickly engaging God when that happens? Are you living with an increased awareness of his presence?
A renewed mind is the result of both “putting off” and “putting on.”
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This means an important part of renewing your mind is breaking the ways we’ve been fitted into the world’s mold.
You need to realize that pornography has radically warped your worldview in all kinds of ways: views of sex and sexual activity, diminishing the intrinsic value of all humanity, and prizing people according to “sex appeal.” If you’re married you need to understand this: A significant reason why many are dissatisfied with sex is because we’ve bought into lies about sexuality. Unrealistic lies that lead us to use our spouses rather than give to them; lies that need to be addressed by the truth of God’s Word.
Until you start intentionally distancing yourself from all the ways this twisted worldview is being reinforced, you will not experience a renewed mind and you’ll stay stuck in patterns of sexual sin. But consider what is available to you: living joyfully within God’s will and design for your life, experiencing the blessing of his presence as you keep in step with his Spirit, and knowing what is “good and acceptable and perfect.”
Your loving, heavenly Father wants you to know freedom from the curse of broken, insatiable sexuality as you enter the wide, spacious places of his love and renewal.
To see Dave talking more about this issue, click on Dave’s video blog, Pornified Mind: Reclaiming your thought life, Part 3. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
To begin reclaiming your mind from the accumulation of porn’s images, you are going to have to do the hard work of “putting off” patterns of behavior that keep you enslaved. But oh, it is so worth doing so! Click here to read Dave’s related blog.
To begin reclaiming your mind from the accumulation of porn’s images, consider seeing the images from an entirely different perspective – how they point in some small way to the Creator who alone is worthy of our focus and attention. Click here to read Dave’s related blog.
30 Mar 2017
If you’ve been engaging pornography for any length of time, you have a toxic waste dump in your mind that takes time and intentionality to clean up. The last blog considered the importance of “taking thoughts captive,” and looked at the wrong way we try to deal with the accumulation of thoughts and images in your mind. Once you get the first step right, you’re on to the next one.
“Taking our thoughts captive” means bringing them into the throne room to consider before the King. What does this look like practically? I’ve never studied the martial arts and haven’t even watched UFC for years, but the little I know is the strategy of using your opponent’s strength, weight, and momentum against him. I want to challenge you with this same approach in learning how to renew your mind.
The answer is to begin acknowledging your Creator at those very places where you’re tempted to idol worship… in the midst of temptation we need to intentionally engage God.
Consider a couple of ideas: First, anyone you’re tempted to lust after is because you’ve caught a microscopic glimpse of the glory of God in what he has made. Our enemy is unable to create; he can only take the good gifts of our God and twist them out of shape. The essence of idolatry is to worship the creature rather than the Creator. Humanity is without excuse before God’s judgment because “his eternal power and divine nature” are evident in the world he made (Romans 1:18-20). This means when you behold the beauty of the world God made, including the other creatures inhabiting it, you’ve glimpsed God’s power. You’ve seen the wonder of your Creator’s handiwork. In the created world you’ve caught a glimpse of his majesty and, ironically, this is an avenue of escape from the temptation. The answer is to begin acknowledging your Creator at those very places where you’re tempted to idol worship.
As I mentioned in the last blog, in the midst of temptation we need to intentionally engage God. Part of this is confessing the pull of your heart to idolatry, but – more importantly! – to ask for eyes of faith to see him as infinitely more glorious than anything he’s made. Meditate on passages like Isaiah 40 that describe his glory and majesty in ways we can just barely comprehend (like holding the Pacific Ocean in the palm of his hand!). And realize at the same time that he is wonderfully present with you – the One who spans the heavens with his fingers and carries the little lambs in his bosom (Isaiah 40:10-11). And this promise is lifelong – from birth we are carried, even down to old age and gray hairs (46:3-4). The One who is more glorious than you can imagine, whose power made creatures you’re tempted to worship, invites you to know him.
Part of temptation’s lie is that we’re “missing out” – God becomes the “heavenly buzzkill,” who is out to ruin your good time. The lie is that he wants to rob you of “life.”
Secondly, talk with him about his promises. Part of temptation’s lie is that we’re “missing out” – God becomes the “heavenly buzzkill,” who is out to ruin your good time. The lie is that he wants to rob you of “life.” Years ago, I remembered reading Psalm 36:8, “They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.” I felt a visceral reaction in my heart against that truth, a bald denial that God is a God of pleasure who wants to feast us and delight us. Do you believe he is a God of pleasure? How have you experienced blessing in your relationship with God? Recount times when his promises were a source of life to you. Remind yourself of those specific promises. Ask him to refresh your spirit with the truth. Like the psalmists, we must learn to rebuke these inward lies with the truth: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalms 42:5-6, 11; 43:5). The call is to begin embracing those promises and asking God to undo the power of that lie. Acknowledge to him the ways that you continue to see him as a killjoy and ask him for the grace to see him for who he truly is.
In the face of temptation, we are prone to shrink away from God in guilt and shame. Instead, I want to challenge you to move toward him in these specific ways. Realize that whoever you find desirable is merely reflecting by angled, dusty mirror the glory of their Creator and ask for eyes to see his glory and majesty. And push back against the lie that he’s holding out on you. Jesus said it plainly, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” If there were life in sexual sin, you wouldn’t be reading this blog! Behold his beauty, believe his promise and come to him for life!
To see Dave talking about this issue, click on Dave’s video blog, Pornified Mind: Reclaiming your thought life, Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
To read Dave’s blog, you can click on the title here: “Renewing Your Mind from Pornography: “Taking Thoughts Captive.” These short videos and blog posts can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s, and women’s groups, etc.