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

A third reason why we may change our minds on what Scripture has historically about the acceptability of homosexuality has to do with the company we keep. By this I mean, consider what you are reading, seeing, and viewing in today’s media. I’m not advocating we turn off the TV or stop reading articles and books that take positions different from our own, but we need to be careful that those positions may alter our view—not because of their reasoning, but because of the status of the person writing the material.

One author I have always enjoyed for his devotional work is Henri Nouwen. During the last years of his life, however, Nouwen’s theology openly shifted not just regarding homosexuality but also regarding the uniqueness of Christ and his work as the only way to God. Only after his death did some of the reason for that shift become apparent: Nouwen himself secretly struggled with same-sex attraction. Couple that with dabbling in eastern religions, and Nouwen began to shift his own views. It wasn’t so much his own wrestling with Scripture that brought about this positional shift; it was what was going on in his own life. But Nouwen’s status, huge and imposing in the Christian world, had and still has a powerful impact on those who read him.

Who we listen to really does matter. Again, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t read anything that differs from our own viewpoint, or anything that differs from an historic Christian doctrinal position. We need to have our own positions, and the historical Christian position is sharpened by interacting with how the current culture is thinking. But we also have to be aware that when someone we admire begins to shift his or her position on what the Scriptures say, that can have a significant impact on us. We can be swayed not merely on the basis of a reasoned argument, but because we don’t want to look “out of step” with people whose thinking we have admired.

Have you ever been swayed to a different position than what the Scripture has historically taught (on anything) because someone you admired or respected took a different position?

Part 1., Part 2.

Updated 5.10.2017

Last week we looked at the strong and intense cultural pressures that are attempting to sweep all faith and all religion out of the marketplace of life. But there are other powerful reasons why many Christians today are changing their minds on homosexuality.

One major reason people give in is because of their own personal struggles or the struggles of someone they love and care about. Dealing with same-sex attraction is not easy, especially so in this culture of ‘anything goes’ sexuality.
There is no quick fix; there is no easy formula that will result in change. Obedience to Christ and his word is a tough path to walk for many, and the struggle can go on for years and years. To struggle against something so life-dominating is wearisome.

That goes for lots of things: addictions like substance abuse or alcohol or gambling; chronic depression; anger or bitterness over what life has dealt you. The way out is not to just give in and allow yourself to be defined by life-dominating behavior; it never is.

Unresolved personal pain that accompanies a poor theology of suffering and sanctification can also cause one to question God’s word. An inability to understand what it means to struggle with sin—as opposed to struggling against sin—leads to despair in the face of continued temptation. Add to this an inability to understand the powerful force of our sinful nature, and the stage is set for eventual compromise. Around Harvest USA, we often say, “The heart wants what it wants when it wants it.” This is its nature! Knowing how to face this reality is crucial.

Personal struggle or pain is very often the driving force when someone changes his or her mind on long-standing Christian doctrine. “Doctrine is life,” as Martin Luther once said, so one’s understanding of doctrine is not something that stands apart from the stuff of life that hits us all the time. Pain and suffering pushes into doctrine—as it should—but life needs to be informed and understood by doctrine, not the other way around. When one’s sociology informs one’s theology, we then live in a world where anything goes—and Scripture eventually gets turned on its head and made to say what it clearly doesn’t.

Where does your own pain or the suffering of someone you care about press upon you to alter what Scripture says? Do you understand the difference between “struggle with sin” as being distinct from “struggling against sin?”

Part 1., Part 3.

Updated 5.10.2017

What causes someone to change his or her mind on long-standing Christian doctrine? I recently ran into a woman from my church who, knowing my profession, told me that she was now unsure if Harvest USA’s position on homosexuality was helpful or biblical. She wondered if perhaps this was God’s gift after all. Who are we to tell someone their feelings about their own sexuality are wrong?

The encounter really shook me. I know this person. She is no novice to the faith. She knows the gospel. She has been in my church for more than a dozen years. I wanted to engage her in a conversation about why she no longer believes the historic doctrinal position on sexuality, but she wasn’t interested in dialoguing about it. She only wanted me to know that she now feels the “old” way of thinking is judgmental and mean-spirited. Then she walked away.

There are a number of reasons why someone like my church friend would be willing to change his or her mind. For one thing, we live in a culture that is actively engaged in confronting and dismissing truth found in the Bible. Religion is now viewed as oppressive, the reason for why we experience wars and interpersonal conflict today. If someone really wants to be free and follow his or her heart—well, religious belief is the obstacle that needs to be swept aside.

The Bible and what it has historically said about same-sex desire is swept up in this cultural tidal wave. To believe something that contradicts acceptable cultural norms is to appear dated, judgmental, and oppressive to people who want to live out their sexuality any way they please.

Even ordinary Christians buckle under this cultural pressure. Do not underestimate the cultural forces that moves and influences us, even to the point of adopting unbiblical positions. Particularly with this issue, the pressure to give in and change our minds is incredibly high, maybe the highest it has ever been. Increasingly, the historic, long-standing position of the church on homosexuality is under attack in the media, in our institutions, in our traditions, and even within the church itself.

Do you find yourself having a hard time resisting this cultural pressure? Do you find that it would just be easier to change your mind and be free of the pressure and the potential ridicule that other people might heap on you? Sometimes people change their mind not because of new evidence or persuasive reasoning, but because they are tired of not fitting in.

Part 2., Part 3.

Updated 5.10.2017

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.

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

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