Happy Friday!

Did you fast last weekend? How did it go? I fasted from checking and writing email. Why?

When I’m feeling lonely or disconnected from people, going online to check my email or checking my phone for text messages is what I do to have my heart soothed and comforted (that is, if I hear from anyone!). But when I reflect on why I do this so frequently, I realize that I am not going to the Lord for my comfort.

When I turn from the Lord to something else in order to pursue life, comfort, security, value, feeling loved etc., this is when I have fed the temptation rather than starved it. I’ve found that a common thread in the hearts of women who become ensnared in sexual sin of any type is the emotional pain they feel. That pain must be soothed, denied, or escaped from at any cost, and it is through sexual encounters, a fantasy life, or emotionally entangled friendships that the pain is soothed and calmed—for a time.

But when we move in that direction, it comes at a cost. What we feed on grows. What is growing in our lives becomes the focus of our lives. Will that focus lead to Christ-likeness or to a deeper enslavement to my sin patterns?

One initial step for you to grow in Christ-likeness, rather than in patterns of sin, is to think about the following:

1)     Can you name the desires in your heart that seem to rule over you? Desires can be holy or evil, depending on the motive of our heart.

2)     Can you identify the paths you walk in order to soothe those desires? This connects with the ‘fasting’ exercise I mentioned in my last blog post. What we can’t give up for a week, a day, or an hour may be something we are using as a way to feed and nurture sinful desires.

3)     Take one passage of Scripture and reflect daily on the passage that you have chosen, meditating on the qualities listed that you want to see growing in your life. Let me suggest one of three: 2 Peter 1:1-11, Galatians 5: 22-26, or Colossians 3:1-12, as these are passages that describe qualities of Christ-likeness. Focus on Christ first, not your sin that must be done away with.

4)     Find a ‘safe’ person to pray for you and help you think through how you can develop ongoing habits that will nurture your soul in Jesus and starve out your flesh. A safe person is someone who consistently lives a life of following Christ, is honest about their own struggles, is self-controlled with her mouth, can listen with wisdom, and can speak words of grace and truth back to you.

These are just some initial steps to take. Are there other things you’ve found in your spiritual journey that have been helpful as you’ve sought to turn from temptation?

Updated 5.10.2017

If we want to ‘starve out’ our specific areas of temptation to sin, let’s not miss the thing we so obviously need: to know what they are! What immediately comes to your mind: Do you obsessively hop onto Facebook to stalk certain people? Do you casually cruise over to websites that are “borderline” pornographic?

Do you pop into chat rooms to “just” talk, but you know you’ll soon be exchanging sexually graphic messages? What books, music, and movies arouse your senses in ways that lead you to sexual arousal and self-gratification? Whose verbal affection and/or touch, whether guy or girl, is something that you feel you can’t live without?

Sisters, the above scenarios (and hundreds of other specific things that may have come to your mind) really aren’t the main things that need to be starved out. They are the fruit or manifestations of deeper, more profound heart-temptations that are within you. To starve them out, you must go below the surface sin struggle and get delve into what you are craving. Are you desperately lonely and seeking companionship? Are you sad and brokenhearted and seeking to feel comfort—even just a drop of attention or affection from someone? Are you bored with life and just want to feel alive? All of these are very specific areas of pain and struggle and longing for which Jesus must be your covering, your comfort, your heart’s clothing.

Here are some diagnostic questions to ask of your heart:

1).        What activities, people, habits, or commitments are a part of your daily life? Some of mine are my cell phone and texting, my computer and checking email, my French Press and coffee.

2).        How long can you go without any of the things you just listed?

3).        What kinds of feelings surface when you “fast” from these things for an hour? Half a day? An entire day?

The feelings that surface when we fast from any regular or habitual activity (anything that we feel we “have to do” and suspect may have a hold on us) will help us to discover root causes to our temptations and sin struggles. Try to fast this weekend from one thing you came up with in question #1, and jot down the feelings that surface during that fasting period. I’m going to fast from checking and writing email, so I’ll join in on this.

What will you fast from? What do you think your heart will display? What will you learn about the heart within you that drives what you do?

Updated 5.10.2017

Today, I want to share more thoughts on living in light of Romans 13:14, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (ESV).

If we’re going to be women who resist the pull of our flesh towards sexual temptations and relational idols, and grow as daughters of God who make no provision to invite temptation to lurk nearby, we must understand the two commands in this verse.

First, we are to daily clothe ourselves in Jesus, rather than any other thing. Being “clothed in Jesus” is another way of saying that we are to live and respond to life by faith and in surrender to the amazing truth that Jesus lives within us. We are his in regards to all areas of life. We are not our own and have no right to say, “Jesus, I love and worship you, but in this area, I’ll take care of things myself.”

These areas in which we seek to be queen of our universe are generally linked to our fleshly desires, such as being emotionally or sexually comforted, whatever the cost. Or being #1 in someone’s thoughts or affections, regardless of how unhealthy the attachment to that woman or man might be. Or pursuing (via pornography and other venues of media) a consistent stream of material that fuels our self-constructed worlds of romantic and sensual fantasy.

Later this week, I want to explore help us discover a) our specific areas of fleshly pull and b) the specific wisdom Jesus has for each of us in taking steps toward cutting off the fuel supply to our lusts.

For reflection:

  • Jesus conversed with, pursued, spent time with, loved, healed, and forgave sin-ensnared women throughout his ministry while on earth. Often the church has been silent about the sexual sin patterns with which women are struggling. Read and reflect upon Psalm 139; think of it as a prayer you might say to Jesus as you seek help and freedom from your addictions to people’s attention and affection, to your five-, ten-, or twenty-five-year masturbation pattern, to your inability to stop having sex with others. Jesus knows you in these struggles and loves you so much that he wants to free you from them.
Updated 5.10.2017

As I enjoyed the days of Thanksgiving holiday, a friend and I committed to help each other with individual health goals for December. (Why wait till January 1 for resolutions, right?) For starters, I’ll try to hit the elliptical at the gym twice a week, and also try one more time to be diligent about drinking lots of water. No time like now to get a fresh start!

But ohhh—the pull of our fleshly desires just doesn’t die easily. They don’t just go away, do they sisters? They need to be starved, slowly slain, dried out. You choose the adverbial phrase that resonates most deeply with your own experience as a woman seeking to live and relate in holy ways.

Romans 13:14 is a verse that speaks to this ‘holy starvation’ process that we’re all called to as followers of Christ. It says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (ESV). Somehow, putting on the clothes—that is, the character—of Jesus Christ while simultaneously learning how to starve our unique patterns of temptation and selfish desire is the spiritual combination that leads to the changes God wants to make in our lives.

And unlike typical January resolutions, which tend to be self-focused, the changes God is making in us leads to a growing desire and ability to love other, which is the larger context of chapter 13: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (v. 8).

I’ll explore these thoughts a bit more in my next posts.

For reflection:

  • Read these passages to learn more of what it means to be “clothed” in Jesus: Colossians 3:12-13; Galatians 3:26-28.
  • What desires of the flesh keep you from loving people? Don’t think just in terms of big sin but of everyday, little ways that you make provision for selfishness in your life.
Updated 5.10.2017

My time with the Lord each morning is 99.99% of the time accompanied by a mug or two of robust coffee. My musings this morning come from Hosea 7:8, Psalm 106:35, and Psalm 32:9. These verses refer to how God’s people “mingled” themselves with the pagan nations. They had been specifically commanded not to do this, but, much like us today, they wanted what they wanted and did it anyway.

Braiding. Mingling. Entangling ourselves. The allusion of oneness where there is no oneness. Christ alone can dwell within us, and Christ alone can truly complete us, fill us, be a faithful and safe receiver of our love, adoration, attention, worship. And yet we are all tempted to spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically entangle ourselves with creation.

For those inclined toward relational and/or sexual idolatry, it can seem so beautiful, so ‘natural’, so right because it feels good: the emotional and sexual rush that happens when the images are clicked to from one to the other; the soothing endorphin release that happens when reading those emails of verbal, emotional, sexual connection; the free-falling lostness into a fantasy world of love and romance that seems to exist with that person on the other side of the IM chat.

You know you’re stuck. You feel the enslavement, the addiction of it all. You fear being found out. Jesus knows these things, and his mercy to you is compassionate love poured over you. His mercy to you comes from his holy heart which knows the misery that sin brings, the anguish and ways of pain that just are a part of living in this fallen world. Are you in pain because of your sin?

To pain-filled, sin-captive hearts, Jesus does not say merely, “Do this or do that!” So here’s where Psalm 32:9 comes in. Our Lord wants so much more than for us to follow him like a bridled horse or mule who is yanked here and there. And I would suggest to you that he even has more for us than the beautiful picture of a sheep listening for the familiar and safe voice of a trusted shepherd. What Christ calls us to is the tender relationship of Bride to Bridegroom. Of relationship. Of love and faithfulness woven together.

If you’re heartsick this Monday—maybe you were doing some braiding and mingling over the weekend—don’t try to undo yourself by being a spiritual horse or mule. That same Psalm 32 contains two other amazing promises which say the Lord’s love and songs of deliverance surround his people (see verses 7 and 10):

  1. Come to Lord Jesus, a Bridegroom full of mercy and worthy of your devotion.
  2. Acknowledge where, how, and when you’ve been mingling with this world. Where, how, and when has sin led you away from him?
  3. Ask him to instruct, counsel, and teach you in the way you should go (verse 8). Do you need to talk to someone? Ask for prayer? Seek accountability? Are you being nurtured from God’s Word? Are you seeking time with people who enthuse you and provoke you to fall in love with Jesus? People who sing and shout and whisper courage into your heart—words that remind you it is worth it to live for King Jesus and his kingdom purposes?
  4. Ask him to open your spiritual eyes to his mercy which soothes you, then invigorates you to robust obedience.
  5. Listen—those songs of deliverance are being sung over you!
  6. Trust that Jesus loves you, forgives you, is making you new, and is setting you free. One step of faithfulness at a time. Just one step. Take your next step of obedience.

Then enjoy a mug of coffee with him tomorrow morning—or now!

Updated 5.10.2017

Here are some final thoughts about how our souls become attached to what they should be detached from. How does Christ enable us to remain attached to, or in an abiding relationship with, him? The ideas of being ‘aroused’ and ‘awakened’ are key for us to consider.

The Bible’s use of ‘arousal’ mostly refers to sexual arousal, meaning that the body’s sexual sensitivities are stirred. But our souls and emotions can also be ‘aroused’: stirred, moved, touched.

Being aroused from sleeping seems to describe the brief time between slumber and being fully awake. “She was aroused from her deep sleep and woke up,” for example. I wonder if this is a way for us to also consider how our emotions and thoughts can be stirred in a direction that then leads us to be ‘awakened’ towards acting upon those emotions and thoughts. We can either acti upon them in either a Christ-ward direction, abiding in him and his Word, or in a selfish and sin-ward direction.

Psalm 34:8 says to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (ESV). Galatians 5:16 instructs us to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Both of these verses speak to the issue of what and who will arouse or awaken you. What do the taste buds of your heart hunger for? Seek to attach to? The promise of Galatians 5:16 is that we will not gratify our sinful desires as we walk in the Spirit, which is another way to describe what it means to abide in Jesus: being filled with and directed by his Spirit. Those sinful desires come from our sinful hearts being aroused and awakened to worldly things rather than the Lord. Sinful cravings can be for things like:

  • physical or emotional pleasure at any cost
  • escape from emotional pain at all costs
  • fearful avoidance of any circumstance or encounter that might lead me to feel rejected
  • being number one and made much of by those in my life

To be aroused by, awakened by, and attached to holiness and the things of the Lord isn’t a series of steps per se; rather, it is a radical relational reorientation towards a person: Jesus.

What do you think about the idea of attachment vs. abiding?

Updated 5.11.2017

Let’s consider some more thoughts on what God’s Word would have to say to us about ‘holy attachments.’

Part I highlighted John 15 as a key passage for understanding God’s design for our attachments or ‘connections’ with people. Jesus was in his last earthly hours with the faithful eleven disciples. There had been talk of him leaving, of troubles, sorrows, death. In effect, chapter 15 describes for the believer what life in Jesus looks like.

Life in Jesus is more than coming to the temple. Life in Jesus is not merely following rules. Life in Jesus isn’t about us down here and him up in heaven. Life in Jesus is exactly that: in him. He carefully helps us to understand this with the analogy of a vine and branches, of fruit being born through the branches as they abide in their source of life, the Vine—Jesus.

The theory of abiding is so much richer and more hopeful than attachment theory! When I attach to something or someone, I’m stuck to it, clinging, grasping, holding. The picture Jesus draws for us in John 15 is one of “oneness” and shared life. We experience this oneness with Jesus through faith, through his Word abiding in us, and believing in him. It’s a lifestyle of increasing, loving obedience.

None of us, however, experiences this oneness with Jesus without being tempted to abide in something or someone else. Relational habits and sexual habits that have been a home for us, and to which we’ve become attached, can and must be dismantled by the vine dresser! This is Father God.

Part III will discuss how awakenings and arousings fit into the picture. We’ll unpack this into specific scenarios of relational and sexual attachments that are anything but safe.

Part 1., Part 3.

Updated 5.11.2017

What wakes you up in the morning? An alarm? The aroma of freshly brewed coffee? The cry of a child? Habitual body clock? And when you wake up, what rouses you to actually get out of bed…to move into the day: a sense of responsibility? Desire? The need to…um…use the bathroom? Time with the Lord through Bible reading, reflection, and prayer?

There are lots of things that wake our bodies up and lots of other things that then move us from our just-wakened state into an aroused or “active” responsiveness. I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on how, in similar ways, our souls and affections are awakened, aroused, and then move into ‘attachment’.

We all experience some level of attachment to behaviors, people, relational dynamics, and emotional patterns. Habits form, and sometimes these habits are the fruit of attachments that are not healthy, not holy. Unholy, habitual patterns are called besetting sins in the Bible and patterns don’t “just happen.” They form over time as we are awakened and aroused somehow, in some way, and take little steps towards these unthealthy patterns.

Attachment Theory in biblical categories is something I’ve been delving into in recent months. I’ve been spurred on by my own heart’s bent towards attaching to certain emotional dynamics in relationships and by hearing the stories of many women. I minister to women who wrestle in some way on the spectrum of female same-sex attraction, from emotionally enmeshed relationships to sexualized relationships as a lifestyle. A key concept in our counseling is understanding attachment theory.

In a sentence or two, attachment theory acknowledges the impact that healthy or unhealthy emotional bonding with our primary caregivers impacts the way we navigate our emotional bonding with other people. This bonding, or attachment, can be expressed in ways that are holy, Jesus-centric, and boundaried. Or our attachments to people can be enslaving, fueled by idolatry and self-protection.

Scripture thankfully has much to say about holy attachments that go much deeper and wider than how we regulate our emotions in relationships. True to form, Jesus our Savior and Restorer of all things broken thought that holy attachment was so important for his followers to understand that he spent a good chunk of time teaching about it in his last hours with them. Check out John 15; we’ll delve into the passage more on Part 2.

Part 2., Part 3.

Updated 5.11.2017

“Be to me a rock of refuge to which I may continually come” (Psalm 71:3, ESV).

Psalm 71 might seem like an unusual (or unexpected, at the least!) place to go for a Christmas-week meditation. “Come on Ellen…you must at least go to Psalm 22, Luke 1-2, or Isaiah 9!”

Well, isn’t it great how our Lord, the Wonderful Counselor, opens up his Word to us in new ways? I’ve gone to Psalm 71 a lot in recent years for the insight it gives on how our mouths are to be used. Being a woman who vocationally depends on her mouth, words, and speech, this psalm is full of the truth I need daily.

Recently, however, some new thoughts have emerged from this psalm that I want to share with you this Christmas week.

“…to which I may continually come.”

‘Continually’ is a solid word, indicating ‘always, habitual, lifestyle.’ We continually come to Jesus because he is continually available. He is always present. He is an “all the day,” “at all time” Savior, Redeemer, Rescuer, and Lord. Always. This is what I’m calling his 24/7-ness, which invites us to a lifestyle of responsiveness to him. David lives, speaks, and hopes from a 24/7 responsiveness to the Lord.

David had the freedom of heart and faith to express his 24/7 neediness of God, to God, but David didn’t stop there. This song is also full of expressions of living continually before the Lord in hope, in worship, in trust! This is where Christmas leads us: the Word made flesh and living always with us. This is Luke 1-2 and is absolutely Psalm 22’s Messiah. This is life in a fallen world that is being redeemed and in which the Lord Jesus is present to us through his Spirit.

Where have you been running to continually? Where, what, or who is your “rock of refuge,” especially in the holiday season, which for many is so challenging, painful, lonely, disappointing? Today, be reminded of Psalm 71:3’s Christmas hope for you: Jesus is continually available for you in temptation, in struggle, in the ‘groaning’ you may be experiencing in the battle against sin. He came so that now, by faith, we experience him coming to us in our weaknesses and in our worship, as we believe upon him to be our Rock of Refuge.

Updated 5.19.2017

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isaiah 55:1-2, ESV).

Rich “food,” or “fare,” should be capitalized here, as this fare, this banquet table is Jesus! When we have the taste buds of our hearts re-oriented and set on what is true, on what is sweet and good, we are led to Jesus, the table in the presence of enemies (Psalm 23:5). Jesus comes to us in our disordered desires and confused understandings and gives us himself.

We at Harvest USA have the amazing opportunity to enter into conversations with people week after week and to experience Jesus bringing peace where turmoil has been reigning. He reigns in thirsty hearts who come to him in the midst of deserts, of unholy attachments and behaviors that have left them unsatisfied and experiencing a “continual lust for more” (Ephesians 4:19, NIV).

This Christmas season, you may be invited to many types of tables…to snack, graze, feast. If sexual sin, emotional idolatry, addictive and life-dominating menus are what you’ve been ordering from, Jesus invites you to come to him to delight in the richest of fare. There is hope for you to taste and see and know that he is good!

Updated 5.11.2017

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