How many of us have responded to trials by figuratively shaking our fists at God and saying, “This isn’t fair!” Or, maybe just tearfully crying out to him, “No, Lord, I don’t want this…I can’t handle it…it’s too much.” I have, on more than a few occasions, done both. Contentment and trust in the Lord are like the waves that crash in from the ocean.

They wash over me as I fix my faith upon him, and then, as the waves slowly recede, I look away from him and get ‘caught’ in the “snare of the compare.”

At The Gospel Coalition’s Women’s Conference in June 2012, Carolyn Mahaney gave a great talk on this subject of comparing ourselves with what God brings into the lives of others. She spoke on John 21, focusing on the dialogue between Jesus and Peter on the beach. After being told of the painful death he would one day endure, Peter’s response to Jesus echoes what so many of us would say: “But Lord…what about this man (referring to John)?” (v. 21). Jesus’ response was the most loving and caring thing he could have said: “What is that to you? You follow me!” (v.22).

I’ve heard so many relationally and sexually broken women express this same kind of struggle: “Lord, why does this temptation of being attracted to other women persist? Why won’t you just remove it completely? Father, why didn’t you allow me to learn of my husband’s porn struggles before we got married? Why do my friends all seem to have happy, sexually whole marriages—and I don’t?

While we live on this earth, we may receive some of the answers to the questions that arise from our hurting and confused hearts. Other questions, however, will remain unanswered. This may feel unendurable in our information-saturated culture, where we seek for and demand quick answers. Yet the most loving, helpful counsel isn’t to have every nitty-gritty detail made available, but rather to hear and reflect on what Jesus said to Peter: “You follow me.”

Yes, to follow hard after Jesus, to be fixed upon him and to let him lead, instruct, teach, and counsel us (Psalm 32:8) through our valleys, temptations, heartaches, and pain. When we are faced with circumstances we don’t want and which are out of our control, Jesus calls us to trust of him. This is faith, expressed in love (Galatians 5:6), and it will look different from woman to woman. Living with unanswered questions is one way the Lord draws us to trust in his heart for us.

What would be some ways to live this out?

• Resolving daily to follow Jesus, and to receive the losses which will come from having to refuse influences which tempt you          towards emotional and sexual lust
• Letting go of or allowing significant space between you and a friend in a relationship that has become life-consuming for you
• Courageously and humbly seeking help from others for your marriage when the pain from your husband’s sexual sin is so              overwhelming
• Confessing to a sister in Christ or a spiritual leader that you are ensnared in sexual sin and that you can’t battle it on your own    anymore—you need help!

What Peter couldn’t understand when Jesus commanded him to follow him at all costs was that soon the Spirit of Jesus would be sent into his soul. It is the Spirit, living within us, that gives us constant communion with Christ, enabling his grace to do its work within us, to follow and obey.

Will you say this to him now? “Yes, Jesus, I will follow you today, and not look behind, or to my right or left, or seek to compare myself to others in their walk with you. I will allow you to do your unique work within me, as I make my home in you.”

Updated 5.8.2017

In June 2012, I attended The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference in Orlando, FL, with 3800 women from across the USA and from other countries. Many more women also listened in via a live web stream, adding another 1200 or so women to the attendance.

The theme of the conference was “Here is Our God,” and speakers unfolded Scripture with passion and vision, helping us to see the treasure of Jesus and God’s Word to all of us. The entire conference is available online for free on The Gospel Coalition’s website. I encourage anyone to listen for excellent teaching from the Bible.

There was, however, one disappointing reality about the conference that disheartened me as the Women’s Ministry Coordinator for Harvest USA and as Ellen, a woman needy of God’s grace and truth for my own brokenness. I’m referring to the fact that, in the course of the eleven talks I attended, I heard only two very brief comments related to sexuality. Both of these were just a quick phrase or sentence that mentioned an aspect of sexual brokenness with which women struggle. In other words, in the eleven talks which constituted about 660 minutes of Bible teaching and application, there were only ten seconds’ worth on how the gospel of grace intersects with the sexual brokenness of women!

Ten seconds?! Hear me out: I’m not disparaging TGC or the Women’s Conference; but this void spoke loudly to me, and I’m assuming it also communicated something to the thousands of other women who were listening. Perhaps many were hoping, praying, wondering if our God and his Word had anything to say to those who have quickly become addicted to the new craze of “mommy porn?” Or if there is any gospel hope for women who are in emotional and sexually broken relationships, with men or women? Or if there is grace for the woman in a marriage scarred by serial adultery and a husband who is addicted to porn?

I want to assure you, if you are a woman in any of these circumstances, that there is much gospel hope, grace, and truth for you! I actually met with one such woman in my office two weeks after the conference, who stopped by our Harvest USA display table at the conference to get more information.

Join me for the next few blog posts as I apply the rich teaching I heard from this conference, to the relational and sexual brokenness of women! Jesus said, “[The Father] has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18-19, ESV). Jesus, our God, promises this to all women—including daughters of God who are heavy and ache with the pain, shame, and fear associated with sexual sin.

Has this been your experience, that you never hear pastors or Christian leaders talk about sexuality? Do you feel, as I do, that you need good biblical information on this in order to walk with sexual integrity?

Updated 5.8.2017

Why didn’t God bring up masturbation in the Bible?

I came to Christ in 1971. I came to Christ as a teen as I was struggling with a constant habit of masturbating. Nobody knew that, because nobody would talk about it in those days, so I kept it to myself.

But as a young Christian I was told there was such a thing as a “concordance,” and you could look up all the words that were in the Bible! I got all excited and when no one was around, I looked under the letter “M.” As I found not a single reference to the act, I thought, “Looks like God’s not going to talk about it, either!”

That experience left a big question mark in my heart. Is masturbation right or wrong? All I knew was that I couldn’t stop. I tell people that before I came to Christ, I thought a man ought to be able to go to bed and go to sleep without having to masturbate first. The first time I acted out after I became a Christian, I thought, “It’s back! It didn’t go away like you were hoping.” That reality was devastating. But God’s silence on the subject made it more of an inward battle than it really had to be. Even if it was only a habit I couldn’t stop doing, I needed to be able with talk to people about it.

Around fifteen years ago, I went to a “Promise Keepers” meeting where the theme was worship. God spoke to my heart that weekend and said, “Bob, you are not worshiping me, and you know it.” Worship had become a mere formality in my life. I had a checklist in my mind and as long as we read the Scriptures, prayed, sang good old hymns, and had a theologically sound sermon, I assumed worship happened. But I was just going through the motions. It was far from what God had in mind about worshipping him.

A few months after the conference, I started dealing seriously with my sexual struggle. It was then that God reminded me about what true worship really was. Worship is about giving all of you, all of your heart, to something. Worship has to do with what you are living for. It was then that I realized that even though I was not truly worshipping God, I was worshipping something. I learned that my continual movement toward masturbation and pornography was an act of idolatry (false worship).

This discovery helped crystallize what repentance should be about. Now I knew what I had to turn from—and where I had to turn to. I had to be honest with what was going on in my heart. When life became confusing or boring or scary or whatever, masturbation and pornography was a place of escape, adventure, pleasure, and, in a word, life for me. I needed it, like an addict needs his addiction. I had to be honest about my fantasies and my preference for these things, rather than waiting on God.

It hit me: I didn’t have to know whether masturbation was right or wrong. All I had to know was that this activity was shutting God out of my thoughts and inviting in a substitute which seemed to calm me down and give me a break in life that I desperately needed.

God didn’t bring up masturbation in the Scriptures, but he did say we were supposed to bring every thought captive to Christ Jesus. And bringing my thoughts captive to the idea that my heart truly is an idol factory helps me be honest with the thoughts that go through my head. There is still a desperation in my heart to try and make things work out my way and I do need to repent from that.

Where are your inner thoughts leading you? Do you find that in times of stress, confusion, boredom, loneliness, or fear that you turn to find relief in pornography, masturbation, or other sexual temptations? If so, see your behavior as flowing from your heart, a heart that is living for and consumed by a need for comfort and relief, and not a life that is growing in dependence upon God and the things in which he delights. Repentance is very practical and relevant when we see it from this angle.

Updated 5.10.2017

Life in this world is often brutally painful. Our bodies break down as we contend with disease, injury, and death. Our relationships can be a source of great blessing, but also crushingly painful. Even the physical world lashes out with hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc. And, to top it all off, we are often our own worst enemies—making repeated foolish decisions that lead to guilt, shame, and damaging ripple effects in our relationships, workplaces, etc.

When you look at our world—and your own heart—do you believe chaos is reigning? Do you believe that God is present in the midst of you most painful trials? Consider the encouragement found in Hebrews 12:1-3:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (ESV).

The final thing I want to consider in this passage is the declaration that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. This means he is exalted, in the place of highest honor. And it is significant that he is “seated.” This is the posture of a victorious king—seated on his throne, ruling over all, his enemies vanquished, his task complete. Earlier, Hebrews urges us to see that Jesus is ruling over the universe. He upholds everything by the word of his power (1:3). Everything has been made subject to him. Nothing is outside of his control. This is the truth, even though we do not yet see it (2:8).

The last point is crucial. Living the Christian life requires faith because there is still so much brokenness in the world and in our lives. The kingdom of Christ is advancing, but there is a long way to go and much that will not be set right until the new heavens and earth. But in the face of all the existing ills, Scripture urges us to believe that nothing in this broken world is random. Chaos is not reigning—Jesus is, and, having reconciled us to the Father through his sacrifice, he will accomplish his ultimate purpose of preparing us to be with him forever. He is committed to seeing us through to the end of this race. Remember: He is the perfecter of our faith.

Sadly, this race is grueling and filled with snares. We are called to perseverance because the race is hard. But Jesus is lifted up to encourage us. This passage teaches us that as we fix our gaze on him, considering what he endured out of love for us, we are strengthened in our weariness, emboldened rather than disheartened. Verse 4 challenges that we haven’t suffered to the point of shedding blood. The contrast, of course, is that Jesus was slaughtered for us.

So where do we find the power to live differently? How do we cast aside the weight that slows us down and the sin that trips up our feet? By faith, clinging to the hope that Jesus finished the race and is now committed to seeing us through. He is not still running ahead;he has finished. He is now seated, his smiling face, filled with an expression of love, is turned toward us, urging us on at every step.

Hebrews 12 goes on to talk about the painful reality that God disciplines his children. Our trials and temptations don’t reveal his absence, but point, albeit painfully, to his presence with us, the proof that we are his adopted children.

Why do we need to cast these things aside? They are robbing us of joy and slowing us down on our journey home. They make our already arduous path all the more difficult. We are pointed to Jesus’ suffering so that we will know that our suffering matters too. Just as Jesus is lifted up and exalted, ruling over the universe, so there is glory and honor awaiting us as we suffer through the brokenness of this fallen world. We are called to “count it all joy” in the face of trials because God is using them to produce steadfastness and to ultimately “perfect” us (James 1:2-4). Trials turn up the heat in our lives, purifying our faith, of greater worth than gold (1 Peter 1:3-9).

Do you believe that God’s purposes are being accomplished in the midst of your most painful trials? What does it mean to you that Jesus has suffered first and is now victoriously seated, and awaiting your arrival? May God give us the grace to cling to his promises in the midst of the pain of life and to see with eyes of faith the great cloud of witnesses who have survived the race and cheer us on. Above all, may we look to Jesus sitting on the throne, exalted, reigning, and overflowing with love and joy and delight in us.

Updated 5.10.2017

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

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