01 Dec 2010
Starving Our Temptations—Part 1
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.
- 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.
09 Oct 2010
Same-Sex Attraction IS a Church Problem
This article first appeared as a religion column in the Philadelphia Daily News with the title “Churches that don’t acknowledge homosexuality build a difficult barrier.”
Twelve years ago, Oprah Winfrey interviewed J.L. King about his book, On The Down Low, which documented multitudes of black men who regularly engaged in sex with men.
Often husbands and fathers, they do not identify as “gay,” but they do live secret and radically disjointed double lives. In fact, King pointed out that African-American churches are “unrealistic about the number of men leading double lives.”
Recent accusations about a well-known Southern minister in a mega-church of African Americans have brought this discussion back into the limelight. King cites blatant hypocrisy: ministers who condemn homosexuality from the pulpit, then have sex with men in the pews.
His concern is that the church all too often condemns homosexuality rather than admits its presence among members and leadership. The picture King paints is that church leaders often mistakenly convey the message that this is something that happens “out there” and not “in here.”
Yet anyone can struggle with same-sex attractions and homosexuality, regardless of race and ethnicity. It is part of the human predicament. In a sense, it’s a subcategory of the major human dilemma. What is at the essence of the greater human dilemma? Just this: the Bible says that we react to confusion, life’s circumstances, hurts, disappointments, and pain by developing plans and strategies to make life work apart from God. We all develop approaches to life that say to others around us, and to God as well, “I have a plan for my life—don’t you get in my way.”
This is the nature of sin, which extends to what we do with our hearts and bodies, sexually speaking. How we handle sex reveals what we believe about God. Our use or misuse of sex always reveals whether we’re living lives of submission to God or rebellion. For all of us, then, one of the key questions of life is whether we’re willing to call God “boss” and let him meet our needs his way.
The white church is also hesitant to admit that its members experience these kinds of problems, as well as the propensity to live double lives of hypocrisy. Yet homosexuality seems to be a more hidden reality in African-American, Asian, and Latino churches. Perhaps the white church has just lost its sense of shame; that is, it has lost an awareness that something is terribly wrong, while African-American and other ethnic churches still hold on to some appearance that, biblically speaking, same-sex attraction is not a good thing to be open about or celebrated.
I don’t know how many black churches have become pro-homosexual. This is not a bad thing, but avoiding the real struggles that people experience is.
Keeping silent about these struggles puts those in the African-American church in a bind. The barriers to admitting the truth and seeking help consequently remain very high. These barriers must be broken down in the African-American church. This can happen only when these real heart issues and problems are discussed openly and honestly. That’s also when people who struggle with same-sex attractions might be encouraged to talk about it sooner so that they can understand how much God cares and longs to meet them in the midst of their secret struggles. The pop psychologist Dr. Phil is right on here. He often states boldly and frequently on his TV show, “What can’t be admitted can’t be changed.”
A passage from the Bible, I Thessalonians: 4:3-5, states, “This is God’s will, that you abstain from sexual immorality; and that each of you learn how to control his own body in holiness and honor; not in lustful passion. . . . ”
Admittedly, these are hard words to take in, especially in our ‘sex is my own business’ culture. But they are also life-giving words that transcend race and ethnicity. In this sense, God’s words to us are truly multicultural in nature.
26 Dec 2009
The God Who Is Always Near, 24/7
“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.
18 Dec 2009
The Richest of Fare—A Table Set for Us
“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!
04 Nov 2009
Taste and See That the Lord Is Good
So let’s continue on with some more thoughts on people and food addictions. What are we to do if we are compulsive eaters? If we run constantly to food, snacks, bingeing on Boston creme-filled donuts, potato chips, or super chunk peanut butter chocolate ice cream, or whatever foods are most irresistible to you?
Well, first of all, we need to realize that what we’re hungering for really isn’t those items. Those goodies do taste good, and they can be enjoyed in a way that doesn’t numb but delights you…but only if you know what your heart is really hungering for.
Psalm 34: 8 says that we are to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (ESV); we are blessed when we take refuge in him. We might also say we are blessed when we feast upon him through relationship with Jesus, through prayer, through trusting and obeying him, through surrendering our lives. Having him be my banquet table allows me to enjoy and delight in the gifts that are presented to me.
This is so similar to people addiction or the ‘worship’ of people. A few posts ago, I wrote about how women (and men too) can be enthralled with each other, or seek to ‘feast’ upon each other through emotional connecting, nurture, affection, etc. This fixation really isn’t about a certain woman or person or people in general. Like food, it’s about our souls seeking what they were created for: satisfaction. But true satisfaction can only be found through the only One who fills us, the Bread of Life, Jesus. This is great news for us and gives us so much hope, even if we are people or food addicts!
What things or people are you seeking to find satisfaction in, apart from Jesus? How have you tasted and seen that the Lord is good, even more than your ‘addictions’ and temporary satisfactions?
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, Lucy sees Aslan, the great lion, for the first time. She was afraid, and rightly so. Lucy whispered to Mrs. Beaver, “Is he safe?” “Safe?” Mrs. Beaver replied, “Of course he’s not safe! But he is good; he’s the King, I tell you!”
Lewis meant for Aslan to be a picture of Jesus—not an exact imitation, but a type. And so this line from the well-loved book has been quoted extensively. I’ve mostly heard it quoted to counter the unbiblical view that following Jesus is a path of ease or boredom. Or the quote is meant to show the ‘wild’ side of God, that he is God, the supreme ruler, and that we can’t contain him in our boxes of comfort. But does that mean that we can’t call him ‘safe’?
I do agree that devotion to Jesus is one of joy and radical surrender, and I do agree that God is God, that he rules and reigns as loving creator and LORD. However, I wouldn’t have said it the way Lewis said it. God is safe, and he is good. In him, our fears, insecurities, and anxieties get swallowed up by the safety of his loving refuge, his very presence. No, he’s not boring, and no, he’s not a genie in a bottle we pull out for our means. This is the radical nature of who he is: He is a powerful king, yet very safe!
“Keep me safe O God, for in you I take refuge. I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord.’ Apart from you I have no good thing!” (Psalm 16:1-2)
Loving people well and living holy lives with our sexuality requires a good, powerful, and safe God. We have one friends! We have One!