01 Jun 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 means that our focus needs to be on Jesus through every struggle we face and looking at the goal toward which God is calling us.
Click here to dig deeper into what Ellen is saying on Ellen’s blog: Women: Running the Race Well—Part 4.
01 Jun 2017
I hope my first three blogs in this series have helped you consider taking some practical steps to increasingly live with sexual integrity in your life and your relationships.
We’ve looked at how, by faith, we need to throw off anything that distracts or hinders us (blog 1); to learn how to persevere through tough times and not give up (blog 2); and to watch over our hearts to discern when discouragement and discontentment will set us up for failure (blog 3).
In this final blog on making progress in living a life of sexual integrity, here’s the fourth thing we need to do: to keep Jesus and the race he ran in the front of our minds and hearts. It’s this fourth thing that undergirds all the others in pursuing sexual integrity.
We need to take encouragement to put on the mind of Christ, who himself kept one primary goal in his mind during his race.
It’s both an encouragement and a challenge for me to ponder this exhortation: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13, ESV).
Peter’s words encourage me when I’m weary or discouraged. Sometimes life feels overwhelmingly tough, even when it has nothing to do with sexual integrity! Or sometimes old temptations rise back up, and I can feel shame in finding myself struggling with the same thing again. But if I prepare my mind for action, I can turn towards God and trusted friends for help and encouragement right when I need it.
Just last week a friend helped me become “sane” again when I was struggling with the seedling of an old sin pattern that emerged again. Her text message to me read, “We need to pray together about this before it grows into something bigger!”
In pride, I hesitated at first but then welcomed the invitation to confess, examine, and pray with someone about the situation. My friend helped me set my hope on Christ, that he would give me what I needed, and that kept me from spiraling inward and getting stuck in examining my temptation, rather than fixing my eyes on Christ and his very present help for me.
Now, there’s everything right in examining our hearts and gaining clarity on the temptations facing us, but we can do that and not take the next step. It’s the next step that is crucial!
I needed to have my thinking reoriented by both the present grace and the future grace that Christ gives me. I needed to hope again in what God can do in and through my present struggles (read that verse in 1 Peter again).
Peter’s words challenge me that I must also put my hope in the grace which is to come: the ultimate redemption which will fill the earth upon Christ’s return. It’s so important to practice redemptive remembering both backward and forward: that Christ has finished his race and that the glorious and final overcoming of sin, death, and the kingdom of darkness is coming. It is still yet to come, but it IS coming!
OK, you say, how does looking ahead help me now in my present struggles with pornography, or sexual fantasy, or unholy relationships that I get myself entangled in?
Remember earlier when I said to put on the mind of Christ, who himself kept one primary goal in his mind during his race? We need to realize that Jesus had us in mind when he endured temptation and suffering!
Hebrews 12: 2-3 says, “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…Consider him who endured such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Thinking about, reflecting upon, meditating on Jesus’ sufferings and his obedience through everything he endured is the key way we faithfully walk our race of faith.
Our mind is to have Christ in mind; our goal is to honor Christ, to glorify him, in how we grow to trust him and live for him.
Jesus’ mind was to have us in his mind; his goal was to anticipate the joy he would have when his death and resurrection secured our place with him.
“…who for the joy set before him endured the cross…”
There is a finish line. Look at it, like Jesus did. All of human history is moving toward Revelation 4 and 21, which speaks of Jesus sitting on the throne, the One who will wipe away every tear from our eyes. All sin, death, suffering, every struggle you have had in running this race of faith will be overturned; everything will be made new (Revelation 21:5).
And then you will fully believe that it was all worth it.
Sisters, don’t live and act like this life is all there really is. Don’t live out of the acronym FOMO (fear of missing out) and think and live sexually in ways that dishonor Christ because you are not getting your needs met.
RUN, sisters, RUN this race of faith with sexual integrity! Find running companions. Don’t try to go solo. As Hebrews 12 says, when our hands are drooping and our knees are wobbly and weak, God sends encouragement through other believers, other runners in the race of faith.
Let’s together help one another to grow in living with sexual integrity, urging one another to look to Jesus when this dark world distracts or entices us.
We can persevere in this life of faith by considering Jesus: our great High Priest, our Loving Savior, the One who sat down on the throne…and is coming again to complete the work he has started!
You can watch Ellen talk more on this subject here in her video, Running the Race Well—Part 4. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
25 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 what Ellen calls “staying in our lane.” God has marked out a path for us, and it is in that very path that we grow and prosper. Not outside of that lane.
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.
To read Ellen’s blog on being single and dealing with temptation, just click on this link here. 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.
Living as both single and sexually faithful might feel impossible. For someone who is single, committing to live within God’s boundaries seems foolish in our current culture’s celebration of sexual ‘freedom.’ But for Christians, we find comfort in knowing our loving and holy Lord has a design for every aspect of life. Jesus is present always to help us stay the course of the race of faith, and he constantly holds out forgiveness and mercy when we fail. Jesus and the Bible are also wise and practical when it comes to our street-level fight against sexual sin and temptation. Jesus stands ready to help when we turn to him as we face struggles and temptations.
So let’s consider one important tool in this battle to help us as single men and women: identifying and fleeing triggers.
In the world of addictions, the concept of a ‘trigger’ is significant. It refers to people, places, experiences, and things which stir up thoughts, feelings, memories, and desires connected to certain behaviors.¹ A food addict may be triggered to overeat by the sight of pastries or criticism from a parent. A TV addict may binge watch while important work is left undone, triggered by feeling lonely or work-related stress. A trigger prompts a person to move towards a harmful behavior which soothes or numbs troubling and painful life experiences. In other words, it’s a temporary pain killer. But then the pain comes back, stronger than ever. And a cycle is set up.
Identifying triggers isn’t meant to make us live as suspicious, joyless Christians who avoid people or good gifts!
For a single person battling sexual temptation, it is crucial to identify the triggers which prompt us to move towards various pain-reducing behaviors like viewing or reading pornography, crossing physical boundaries with a person, or engaging in sexual fantasy and masturbation. Let’s be clear: married people also must battle sexual sin! However, singles committed to walking in sexual integrity do not have this context for sexual expression, so fleeing sexual temptation will never involve having God-blessed sex such as married persons enjoy.
Identify your triggers
Emotions and feelings – What emotions are most troubling to you? Which are difficult to ‘sit with’ or bring to the Lord in prayer? In addictions counseling the acronym HALT is often used to teach that feeling hungry, angry, lonely, or tired are common triggers which addictive behaviors serve to soothe or numb. With the men and women who come to HARVEST USA, we add boredom, sadness, and relational pain. Sexual sin (with people, self, via technology) often is an attempt to avoid internal pain in our lives, which is usually tied to external, troubling situations.
Circumstances – What are the situations which seem to most often precede your fiercest battles with sexual temptation? Is it work-related stress? The holidays? Family gatherings? Church-related events? Large gatherings of people or times of aloneness? Traveling and being out of your normal routine? Having downtime or a vacation?
People and relationships – Do certain people or relationships seem to consistently trigger the feelings that are troubling for you? On this side of heaven, not all relationships will be redeemed or ‘safe’ for us, so identifying individuals we need to avoid can be challenging for Christians to consider. After all, aren’t we supposed to love our neighbor? Yes, and sometimes loving God and loving people wisely (Philippians 1:9-11) means being aware of relational dynamics which pull us away from Christ, rather than towards him and obedience. Wisdom will necessitate having firm boundaries with people with whom you have participated in sexual sin; those who constantly tempt you towards lust and selfish fantasy; people who consistently discourage and disrespect you and your boundaries; and those who are manipulative, deceptive, and hurtful with their words.
I know that seems like a lot to keep track of, but with focus and intention, it can become second nature. Learning what the triggers are in these three categories will help you not just to know what to avoid; you can make those triggers the things that prompt you to run to Jesus, and that’s the best part of doing this. Identifying triggers isn’t meant to make us live as suspicious, joyless Christians who avoid people or good gifts! The goal is increasingly running towards Christ and running away from sexually sinful activities that we use to soothe difficult experiences.
What we need to understand is that when we use things repeatedly to get through life, those things we use become our functional gods. They become idols to which we run, they become the things we worship, and that’s no different than what Israel did when they ran to and worshipped idols made of wood or clay.
The process of learning how to flee triggers and temptations can mean taking various steps of faith, such as:
- Contacting close friends to pray for you, with a call or quick text
- Setting up an accountability relationship for honesty and prayer
- Putting into place intentional steps to grow in your faith, like doing daily devotions
- Willingness to limit technology and media if they are strong temptations
Do you see how practical it is to identify your triggers? It’s a way to bring Jesus into your struggles, and to experience the joy that comes from living in new, better, and God-glorifying ways.
For more help in this vital aspect of faith for singles, consider HARVEST USA’s mini books, Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart, What’s Wrong with a Little Porn When You’re Single?, and How to Say No When Your Body Says Yes: Finding True Satisfaction.
To see Ellen talking some more about this issue, click on Ellen’s video blog, Sexual Integrity for Singles: It’s not a tragedy, and it’s not impossible! Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters (together with the accompanying written blog) in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.