Thoughts From My Quiet Time: Reclaiming Lost Ground

In my last post, I talked about surrendering to God. Surrendering can mean many things; sometimes it means letting go of something, but sometimes it can mean NOT letting go!

In surrendering ourselves to God, we agree, we resolve, we commit to opposing everything in our life that is un-Godly. Or at least to try. To work at it. To make it a priority. BUT! If I stop resisting something, if I allow myself to become complacent, to just give up and accept it as part of my daily definition of “normal,” then I will have surrendered to it and not to God.

It can be as something as simple as a hardness of the heart that I’ve learned to accept, an area of unforgiveness, resentment, or anger – however justified in my mind – that I have ceased to oppose or worked to resolve. I just accept it as “the way things are.”

In doing so, I accept defeat. In effect, saying, in THIS area, God is not sovereign. In this, I “cannot win”…or don’t want to. In holding on to that anger, in nursing that grudge, in accepting that addictive behavior, I show where have I given ground over to the Enemy.

But the more you give him, the more he will try to take. Each step backward is a foothold for the enemy to advance further into your life.

Victory in Christ means not accepting defeat in your life. Find every piece of ground where the enemy has gained a foothold, and renew the offensive to reclaim it! Turn to God, acknowledge it to Him, then seek and accept his equipping to oppose and defeat it.

Challenge: Lord, show me daily, minute by minute, which battles I’m not fighting that I should be.  What footholds has the Enemy gained, what areas of my life do I need to reclaim? Teach me to live daily in the victory you have secured for me on the Cross.

 

There Is No “Sorta” With Sin

During a recent perusal of various Christian blogs on my reading list, I stumbled across this article from Britain on how to deal with the rise of cohabitating couples, many of whom are in long-term partnerships which include shared assets and property, as well as children.

How should the church approach cohabiting couples? Two perspectives

It speaks of the struggles a partner may face, especially the female, if the cohabitees split up.

How should a Christian organisation, devoted to supporting marriage and family life, approach cohabitation? There is a juxtaposition between advocating strongly, and singularly for marriage, and supporting the millions of children in this country whose parents cohabit, and who could be left vulnerable to financial insecurity and homelessness should the relationship break down.

Though the articles purports to be from a Christian/Church perspective, there is no mention of the Biblical prohibition against adultery.  No mention of sin, or of the inevitable consequences of willful sin.  No, it’s all about how to best address the problems of this demographic by both providing for their needs, while gently suggesting that those in married relationships are more stable and secure.  About how we need a more “enlightened” policy with regards to our cohabitating brethren.

We often see questions like this: How should we approach this or that demographic within our church?  How do we “deal” with cohabiting couples, teen promiscuity or alternative lifestyles? More and more as homosexuality becomes mainstream, churches are faced with the same question of how to approach the issue of homosexuality? How do we treat or respond to homosexuals and homosexuality if we want to be seen as a more approachable, enlightened church?

Answer:  We treat them the same as everybody else.

There are no special categories of sinners.  With apologies to my Catholic brethren, there aren’t categories of sin. It’s not venial or mortal:  ALL sins are mortal.  It’s an all or nothing relationship. Sin is binary. 0 or 1. On or off. Yes or no. It is, or it isn’t. There is no “sorta” with sin.

So, when viewed in that context, homosexual sin is no different, no better, no worse, no more or less under condemnation than heterosexual sin.  Sin is sin.  We don’t get to ignore the ones that make us uncomfortable.

If I’m a man, chilling at the beach, ogling women in bikinis, I’m in exactly the same category as if I’m man, chilling at the beach, ogling guys in their speedos:  Sinner.

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman{or man} with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her{him} in his heart.” Matt 5:28

If a church is conflicted about how to address the problem of cohabiting couples, teen sex, or homosexuality, then it definitely has a problem; but perhaps a far bigger problem than how to tune their outreach ministries to appeal to these seeker-groups.

It’s actually pretty cut and dried.  Reeeeeal basic.  If you are going to preach the Word, then be true to the Word.   The Bible is full of examples, both metaphorical and actual, of people being forced to choose between what they want, and what the Word of God says is permissible; the two being almost universally at odds.

If you have couples living together, sleeping together, outside of marriage,  then they are in sexual sin.  Sounds archaic and overly simplistic in today’s more enlightened, liberated society, but that’s the simple truth.   If we are more worried about keeping people happy (as society defines it), than about teaching them to be obedient to the word of God, than we risk loving them to death.  We are, in the long run, not doing them any favors.  Too often today it comes down to being true to the word of God OR preaching a squishy gospel that soft coats the hard edges of truth in order to be more palatable, more “relevant,” more inclusive.

When faced with the problem of how to deal with sexual sin, whether homosexual or heterosexual, the conversation should go something like this:  If you people want to call yourselves Christians, then you need to live according to Christian principles.  What that means is that you move out, find your own places, and stop having pre-marital sex {{insert shocked gasps, I know}}.

If you are teens experimenting with sex: stop.  Plain and simple.  You don’t just cut back — you cut it out.  If you are cruising YouTube for the sexy videos or Webshots for the drunken Spring Break candids…STOP.  Alcoholics cannot afford to just cut back on their drinking, they need to stop, because there is no middle ground.  You are either drinking, or you’re not.  You are either sleeping with your girlfriend, or you’re not.  You are either engaging in homosexual acts…or you’re not.

Binary. Either/or.   Yes or no.  Do, or do not.  There is no try.

There’s no easy answer for the “issue” of homosexuality.  So much of our culture these days is so affirming, and tolerant, and supportive, and all be-true-to-who-you-are.  “Baby, I was born this way!” sings Lady Gaga.

Except that, the practice of homosexuality is quite simply forbidden by the Bible.   So where does that leave you? The same place as everybody else:  with a decision to make.

Do you be true to yourself, or true to God?  If God doesn’t allow promiscuity or adultery between heterosexual couples, do you think that homosexuals get a “bye” because they’re special?  A highly vocal chunk of society would have you think that, but it’s simply not true.

The Body of Christ should respond in love to those struggling with sin of any kind, but a love based on the truth of the Scriptures.  Granted, we risk being branded “intolerant” or “haters” if we do, but the truth is that there is no one more intolerant of sin than God.  God HATES sin.  But he loves us enough that he sent Christ to die in our place, that we might have a way out of the sin and death towards which our earthly wants and desires will inevitably lead us.

~ Steve Berven

Just One Little Thing

Wow, March 9th, 2010 was the last time I posted anything here.  One might suspect I wasn’t taking this web ministry seriously.  And I haven’t been.  I’ve let far too many things get in the way.  There’s always something, one little this or that which gets in the way.   I’m always too busy doing other things, letting other things come between me and God.   Turns out, I’m not the first one to have this problem.I ‘m sure we’ve all heard and read the story:

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.  “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’

And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.  And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:18)

This story is almost universally used as a warning and admonition against greed, excessive wealth, and coveting possessions rather than seeking after God.  And sure, there may be a piece of that here; but I think such a narrow interpretation actually misses the broader point Jesus was trying to make.  Jesus wasn’t so much warning against the dangers of money or wealth specifically, but rather, he had narrowed in on the one thing that was coming between this man and his relationship with God.  While in this case it happened to be money, it could be anything, really.  This rich, young man came to Jesus with what seemed to be a genuine desire to serve…but also a strongly-developed sense of his own piety. In his mind, in the finest Pharisaical tradition, he had faithfully kept all of the Commandments; and perhaps he had…all except for one:

“Thou shall have no other Gods before me.”

I think that Jesus saw both the man’s genuine faith (given the gentle way in which He spoke to him), as well as the man’s rather self-sufficient pride.   Jesus could tell that, despite his profession of conscientious obedience to the Law, this young man still wanted to be able to keep a hold of This One Thing…in this case, his money.   The Bible tells us that God is a jealous God who wants to be first in our life.  He wants it all, everything about us: our hopes, our dreams, our desires.  He wants to be first in all of this, and yet, so many of us try to work out a deal.  We bargain with God, trying to hold back just This One Thing that we don’t want to give up.   It might be our daily office gossip, or a root of bitterness at an ex, an addiction to alcohol, pornography, crude jokes or anything else outside the nature of God that we try to hold onto. We hold back on that one “little secret” that we figure maybe God will let us have.  After all, we’ve been so faithful in so many other areas, right?  We tithe, we go to church, we don’t cheat on our wives or steal or lie.  We “DO” all the right things, so we figure we can probably hold on to this one, little indulgence, and God won’t really mind.  Right?

Wrong.

The message in this passage is not just about money, but about WHATEVER it is we are letting come between us and true faithfulness to God’s calling in our life.   Hebrews 4:12 tells us:

For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

Jesus looked into this man’s heart, his soul, and saw what his “One Thing” was: his wealth.   So Jesus zeroed in on that, and basically told him to put his money where his mouth is; be faithful not just with your words, but with your wealth.  Again, for some of us it might be the magazines we shouldn’t be reading, the TV shows we shouldn’t be watching, the websites we shouldn’t be visiting.  It doesn’t even have to be anything overtly “sinful,” but simply anything that we covet or obsess over, anything that takes the place of a fuller relationship with God in our heart. It could be the football games on Sunday that won’t “let” us go to Church.  The favorite TV drama that only comes on the same night as the small group Bible study we’ve been meaning to attend, but…

This passage emphasizes what we should already know:  that Jesus can see into the deepest, most hidden corners of our heart.  We aren’t hiding anything from Him; we aren’t fooling God. There’s no drawer, closet, cupboard or box we can hide our “This One Thing” in that God won’t find it.  Maybe you think you’re hiding it from everyone else…but HE KNOWS.  He’s always known.

Moreover, I think it’s important to note where Jesus says, “hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God.” Trust.  Trusting in something else besides God as the source for our strength, for our security, for our guidance and our hope can also be that “one thing.”  Do we listen to the words of Oprah or Dr. Phil more than those of Jesus?  Do we rely more on Stephen Covey or Rick Warren to find our purpose than we do on God? Do we want to do it our way, throwing in a prayer every now and then to keep God updated on how it’s going, maybe ask for a little help in what we’re doing, not even questioning if that’s what God really wants for our life, for fear that the answer might turn out to be “no?”

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)

Even as I’m writing this, I’m thinking of all those “one little things” that might be coming between me and my Lord.  Considering that there shouldn’t be anything on that list at all, it’s rather disturbing.  And humbling.

I also find it interesting that upon hearing Jesus’ response, when the man turned and walked away in sadness, Jesus didn’t chase him down, back-pedal on his answer, or try to find a little more “seeker friendly” message.  Jesus simply preached the Truth.  What the man chose to do with that information was up to him.  The man chose to reject the message; and Jesus let him walk away.  Jesus didn’t water down his message, didn’t soft-coat it or dance around the hard facts.  Communicating the Truth was more important to Jesus than meeting this man’s “felt needs.”

In this interaction, Jesus acknowledged to his disciples that many will hear the Truth, will fully understand the implications of His message…and still choose to hold onto the world instead.  Choosing to rationalize and justify, to hem, and haw, choosing to hold onto what they want instead of reaching out for what God has in store for them.  Compare and contrast the response of the rich man here, with another famous rich man.   A certain Zaccheus who, upon hearing the word of the Lord, couldn’t wait to get right with both God AND those he had wronged, doing so with a joyous heart.

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”  (Luke 19:8 ESV)

In response, Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” (Luke 19:9 NASB) I think this shows that it’s not the condition of your wallet or your bank account, but the condition of your heart that matters.

“…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21)

So when we think we are being righteous, and faithful, all the while stubbornly holding on to just This One Thing,  we need to remember:

It only takes one.

Nobody is getting hurt…again.

You are alone again.  You like it that way.  Less muss, less fuss.  Fewer distractions, less demands on your time.  You value your free time, time to do the things YOU want to do, right?  Problem is, you want to surf the Internet for pornography.  It started simple enough.  Just swimsuits, alluring models in skimpy clothes.  No biggy.  Then it was those celebrity “fan sites” with half-dressed celebs being drunk and provocative.  Man, ain’t those paparazzi the greatest!  Then you moved on to lingerie. Maybe a Victoria’s Secret catalog that came in the mail by accident.  No harm there, just a little skin, right?  Pretty soon, though, things go from bad to worse.  At first it was just “art appreciation.”  Fine photography revealing the human form.  No harm in that, right?  Besides, if those girls didn’t want to be looked at, they wouldn’t have posed for the pictures, right?

Then, just like with alcohol and drugs, you start needing harder stuff to get a buzz.  It’s a daisy-chain of addiction, one site leading to another to another, each link taking you deeper and deeper into darkness.  Over time you find yourself going places no man should ever go, looking at things no man should ever see.

You have it all worked out in your head, have all your excuses and justifications lined up like bullets in an ammunition clip, ready to be fired off on full auto if your conscience ever tries to rise up and suggest that your lifestyle might not be the healthiest, your moral choices not the most sound.  I mean, after all, they’re just pictures, right? What’s the big deal? Nobody is getting hurt, right?

How many of us out there have used these excuses ourselves at some point?  Whether it’s our online poker habit, the slots at the Indian Reservation, our drinking, shoplifting, or pornography, the excuses all end up sounding pretty much the same.  It’s just a few beers, right?  It’s not like I’m drinking the hard stuff.

I’m not spending THAT much at the mall every week, right?  And besides, it was on SALE!

No, really. This will be the LAST time I hit the Blackjack tables, just until I can earn back the money I lost last week…

No matter how wrapped up in it we get, no matter how many chains we bind ourselves with, no matter how many other areas of our life we sacrifice to our addictions, we always somehow manage to clear the air by insisting that, hey, what’s the big deal? Nobody is getting hurt.

But it’s both a truth, AND a lie.

Because, you see, someone IS getting hurt. YOU.  YOU are getting hurt.  You are harming yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  You’re relationships are suffering, what few you might actually have left.  You’ve withdrawn from the world, slowly cutting off family, shutting out friends.  When you let yourself become a slave to these compulsions, these addictions, you are bringing the promise of ruin and pain into your life.

So when you say that “nobody” is getting hurt, what you’re really doing is calling yourself a nobody.  You are saying that you don’t matter, that it’s okay for you to get hurt.  Oh sure, you’d never intentionally hurt anyone else.  THEM you care about.  You?  Eh, it’s okay if YOU get hurt.  No big deal.  You’re just a nobody.  Nobody cares about me, really, so why should I care about myself?

And the really tragic thing?  Somewhere, somewhere deep down inside, you might actually believe it, too. 

Because, truth is? You don’t really believe all those excuses you’re so good at making.  You don’t really think it’s no big deal.  You know it’s wrong, but because you’re an addict, you won’t…or can’t….stop.  The guilt is tearing you apart inside, but instead of dealing with the guilt, you medicate the pain.  With your addiction.  You “use” to feel good, even for a little bit, to escape the pain you feel.  But you still know, somewhere down inside, that it’s wrong.  And so you feel guilty, ashamed.  Swear you’ll quit.  But you can’t.  So you drink to escape the guilt that’s driving you to drink.  It’s a vicious cycle that is tearing you apart and robbing you of health, life, and love.

So, let’s be honest here.  Someone IS getting hurt. You.  But it’s not “only” you, either.  Maybe you’ve never punched anyone, never screamed or yelled, never “abused” or hurt someone.  Maybe you’ve never hit anyone with your car while driving drunk, or never forced a young runaway girl to pose nude for a website to pay for the drugs you got her hooked on; but not all hurts leave scars you can see.  You’re hurting your wife, your girlfriend, your parents, your kids.  Your co-workers, your friends.  People who want to know you, who want you to chose THEM over the porn, or the poker, or the alcohol.  They are hurting, feeling the pain of rejection, of abandonment, of self-doubt.  Even if you never lift a finger farther than it takes to click a mouse button, you are still hurting people.  You are passing on a legacy of hurts that they will carry with them throughout the rest of their life. 

So don’t believe the lies.  Stop telling yourself that nobody is getting hurt.  You’re not a nobody.  You are somebody, somebody who God wants to know Him, to find in HIM the healing, the love, the acceptance that maybe you don’t think you deserve, or will ever find.  God wants to give you His love, whether you deserve it or not.  As a matter of fact, the less you “deserve” it, the MORE He wants to give it to you!

Jesus *said to them, “{It is} not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt 2:17 NASB)

And understand that you can’t fight this alone. Trust in God, and He will bring people into your life that can help you find healing, help bring restoration and connection and wholeness where you’ve allowed your addiction to cause brokenness, destruction and pain.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.  (1 Cr 10:13 NASB)

Stop hurting yourself.  Stop hurting those around you.  Stop telling the lies that no one…not even you…believe anymore.  It won’t be easy; but with the help of God, it doesn’t have to be impossible either. 

 

Here’s are some recommended resources for those struggling with addiction, especially sexually-based addictions:

http://www.13waystoruinyourlife.com/

http://www.pornaddicthubby.com/

Trapped in Temptation
http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/CBNTeachingSheets/Pornography.aspx