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Posts tagged ‘healing’

To the Sons and Daughters of Divorce

SOURCE:  Paul Maxwell/Desiring God

Few things are more traumatic than a car accident — 2,000 pounds of steel and glass bending and scraping, with no respect for the limits or boundaries of the human body inside. There’s a path of healing that every victim of a serious accident must take.

Children with divorced parents have experienced a different kind of violent, traumatic collision. And every child of divorce must likewise walk a path of healing. It will, of course look different for different sons and daughters, but no one can deny that the emotional and relational bleeding needs attention, likely long after the papers are filed.

A chorus of adults with long-divorced parents will dismiss in unison: “I’m not broken, thanks very much. I’m not a project. I’m fine. It’s not even a big deal. I’m not a victim, and it certainly doesn’t deserve this much attention.”

I totally get that.  Depending on the day, I might say the same thing if I read my first two paragraphs.

My parents divorced when I was nine. I’m not a victim, but the break still broke me. It wounded me in ways I could not control. Years later, because I didn’t have the resources to work through things as a nine-year-old boy, certain forms of brokenness seem native and normal to me.

Divorce “attacks the self, because the self is formed within the belonging and meaning provided by the family. When it is destroyed, the threat of lost place and lost purpose becomes a reality. Without place or purpose, one becomes a lost self” (Andrew Root, Children of Divorce, 21). More than losing myself, though, I lost the ability to relate to my heavenly Father. I certainly didn’t think that God had anything to say, or even cared, about the mangled, overturned vehicle in our living room. I’m sometimes still tempted to think that way today. But he does. He speaks. And he cares.

Right now, we’re just focusing on what you (and I) experienced, and how you can heal. This isn’t meant to judge divorced parents, or to deter parents from getting divorced for legitimate reasons (abuse or adultery). The point is to see how, as children of divorce, Jesus Christ is a light in dark places, a hope for the broken, confused, and lonely. We will piece together some themes from Scripture to explain how God understands and relates to children of divorce, in ten points.

Divorce Does Affect You

1. Everyone in a family is organically, emotionally, spiritually connected.

Paul explains, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14). While not the main point of the text (primarily speaking about marriage between a believer and unbeliever), we can note three things:

  1. The family is a unit — an organically connected singular entity (“because of his wife . . . because of her husband . . . as it is”).
  2. The child’s spiritual well-being is interwoven with the integrity of their parents’ marital well-being (“made holy . . . made holy . . . they are holy”).
  3. A broken marriage, therefore, has breaking effects on the child (“Otherwise your children would be unclean”).

2. For a child, experiencing a divorce is experiencing a violent storm.

Malachi argues, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth” (Malachi 2:15). Ah, yes. “What was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” In the Hebrew, “A child of God.” What does the child experience? The Lord enters the scene to explain what happens to a child when parents fail to guard their marriage “in the spirit”: “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless” (Malachi 2:16). There is always violence in divorce — a scary, violent, destructive storm within and all around the family.

Divorce Tears What Cannot Be Torn

3. Divorce does not just separate parents.

“So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). “I know.” We use a metaphor for divorce: “It’s like getting gum out of a rug. It can’t fully be done.” Okay. We forget that the spouses aren’t the only ones who get “separated.” The gum metaphor certainly doesn’t capture what happens to a child of a divorce. A marriage can be separated, at least in some ways; A child cannot. A child is an irreducible unit — a singularity cannot be separated from itself. And yet, we are. What the parents experience relationally, the child experiences internally.

4. Divorce separates you from you.

So when your parents — your first example and measure of relational unity and security — were separated, you were torn in a way that a human is not built to be torn. There is no “gum” and “rug.” There’s just you. You’re one “thing,” and now you feel like you’ve been cracked in half into two things. Even if you don’t experience the emotion explicitly, you still feel and experience and respond to the tension, because the separation is real.

Regardless of whether the divorce was justified or biblical — completely aside from any of those questions — divorce was a violence you experienced. What man “separates” in divorce happens to you, too. What happens between Mom and Dad happens in you. “There is no soundness in my flesh . . . because of the tumult of my heart” (Psalm 38:7–8). The effects are far-reaching, often more than we are immediately aware. Depression, anxiety, addiction, anger, compulsions, and distractions, are all possible effects of being torn, and very often, we are not even aware that these things might be related to the “accident.”

Facing Brokenness is Freedom

5. Brokenness is not unrighteousness.

Scripture uses many different metaphors to speak ethically, but theologians have used at least two terms that are relevant here: the “forensic” and the “renovative.” The “forensic” is legal. It’s declarative. It’s right and wrong. Scripture uses the terms “righteous” and “unrighteous” for the forensic (Acts 24:15). The “renovative” is felt — it’s inside of you. It is helpful and hurtful. Scripture uses the terms “holy” (1 Timothy 2:8) and “broken” (Psalm 44:19; Psalm 69:20; Proverbs 29:1; Ephesians 4:22). To put it in a crass and reductionistic way, the forensic is the external evaluation, and the renovative is the internal state of affairs. In order to heal, we need to be able to distinguish between our brokennesses.

6. You didn’t do anything wrong, but you still have to heal.

Popular therapy for children of divorce will say again and again, “You didn’t do anything wrong.” That’s a forensic category. And it’s true. Your parents’ divorce is not your fault. But, unfortunately and tragically, it still breaks you. You are still, in a real way — in an on-the-ground, in-your-fibers sense — overwhelmed by weight too heavy to lift and twisted in knots too complex to untie in a single counseling session.

The choice given to the child of divorce is not whether or not they should experience the brokenness of their parents’ divorce, but whether they will consciously process or unconsciously suppress the breaking. Henri Nouwen explains, “What is forgotten is unavailable, and what is unavailable cannot be healed.” Likewise, to intentionally face the reality of being broken is not to face defeat, but healing.

Facing God After Divorced Parents

7. Marriage and divorce communicate something about God’s love.

Parents represent in a priestly and prophetic way, for good or ill, Christ’s attitude toward their children (Ephesians 6:1-4). This happens, not only in the direct relationship of parent-to-child, but in an exemplary and indirect way in the public, parent-to-parent relationship lived before the eyes of the child (Ephesians 5:25-33).

And so, in divorce, parents communicate a view of God’s love that speaks more powerfully than words. It is important to recognize, then, that there will always be a painful proverb in the back of your head that has its root in that experience. It’s not the same for everyone.

“Love doesn’t last.”
“Failure in love is always my fault.”
“I need marriage to escape my loneliness.”
“I will never get married.”
“God’s ready to leave me any moment.”
“My love isn’t enough to keep people together.”
“I’m not enough.”

All lies.

But lies are powerful when they have good material to work with. Divorce is a fertile ground for lies of justified self-hatred. Children of divorce, myself included, have always searched too hard for love. Like the song goes, “I fall in love too easily; I fall in love too fast; I fall in love too terribly hard for love to ever last.” We are searching for a sense of home, a way to convince ourselves the lies in our abandonment and loneliness won’t have the last word.

8. God’s has a special affection for you.

What do we see in the texts we’ve looked at so far? A condemnation of the divorced? No. It’s not even about that. What do we see? God’s caring hand for the child. For you. Even if you’re an adult. These texts are God speaking, and naming violence that you’ve experienced. Malachi 2:15 is God saying, “You’ve been in a car accident, and you need to heal.” He says, “I’m looking after you. My eye is on you. You are my child.”

We see God’s protective care for children of divorce. We see the structures that he has set up to care for the weak, and his grief over the violence that breaking these structures does. God is the lifter of weight. He is the untier of knots. His specialty is in redeeming — in healing, restoring, and strengthening. His forte is in trauma, and in complex pain — not always in fixing or explaining right away, but in being-with (Isaiah 43:2).

He has a singular and unique affection for you: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). That verse probably means nothing to you. In fact, it may make God feel further away. The ‘father’ pictures in Scripture have never been anything but painful for you. That doesn’t change the fact that God does show perfect and intimate compassion to you the way a good father should. He does.

Facing Others After Divorced Parents

9. God is building you to help others.

Through sorrow and tragedy, God gives you an awareness of the world. A sixteen-year-old with divorced parents is, in a sense, more aware of the world around them than the same sixteen-year-old without divorced parents. We all fight through adversity, of whatever kind, so that we can fight for the weak down the road.

“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter” (Proverbs 24:10–11).

These verses flip suffering on its head. If we had divorced parents as a child (and faint, because it’s too much for us), it is so that we can rescue others when we’ve been made strong. In the end (and even in the midst) of your healing path awaits a unique strength that will not only deliver you, but will allow you to carry others through the same journey, fighting the same voices, healing the same wounds, building the same faith and perseverance.

10. Reach out to others who have walked this hard path.

Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” To put it tritely, experiencing the divorce of parents is just really, really hard. There’s no escaping that. It comes with tears. It comes with being very afraid. It comes with anger. You carry the bitter weight of having divorced parents.

I don’t presume to know your situation, what your parents are like, or what your family has gone through. All I know is that it must be extremely painful, and that God knows your pain. By his grace, it will not destroy you, but make you stronger (Isaiah 42:3–5). Paul realized that he went through an affliction “so that [he] may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4). He is a man who once “despaired of life itself” who now “[does] not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1). He learned to be strong because he was weak (2 Corinthians 12:9), and God is still using him to comfort Christians in chronic and excruciating pain all over the world.

I don’t think I have found more help in my own journey of healing than in seeking help from others who have walked the same paths — who have had to do the hard work of finding Christ through the weeds of having divorced parents. Look for other sons and daughters — of God, and of divorced parents — and walk with them.

You are not pathetic. You are not alone. You deserve to be deeply loved, and you are deeply loved by God. He will carry and keep you.

 

Why Hasn’t God Healed Me?

SOURCE:  DR. LARRY KEEFAUVER/Charisma Magazine

The invitation had just been given for anyone who needed prayer to approach the altar. John came forward, kneeling in silent contemplation–silent except for the tears streaming down his cheeks.

I stood behind the prayer rail and knelt in front of him as he extended his hands to grasp mine. His body trembled as he sobbed. Behind him stood his wife, one hand resting on John’s shoulder and the other raised heavenward as she prayed silently and wept openly.

“I just got back some tests on Friday,” John whispered. “The doctors say I have prostate cancer. Pastor, I don’t know if I have enough faith to go through this. Will you pray for me?”

As I anointed John with oil and prayed with him for healing, my mind pondered the phrase “enough faith.”

For years I have heard preachers imply that faith in some way is quantified. The myths seem to circulate unabated: “If Susan had just had enough faith, she would have been healed,” or “When Bill’s faith gets strong enough, he will be healed,” or “If everyone in this room all believed at the same moment, then all would be healed.”

But is healing really based on your faith alone? What should be your perspective when God doesn’t heal immediately?

If you are to understand why God doesn’t always heal now, you will have to peel away the layers of myth that have been so tantalizing to embrace. You will have to dig deep into the Scripture for yourself instead of consuming the “fast food” of your favorite popular name-it-and-claim-it theologian. And you will have to decide to walk by faith instead of simply mouthing the platitudes of faith that have so easily supplanted God’s Word in your daily confessions.

The truth is, while the lack of faith may hinder healing, healing does not depend on faith. I have witnessed both the faithful and the faithless being healed. And I have seen those of great faith die. In fact, everyone Jesus healed eventually died.

Those around the tomb of Lazarus lacked faith, and certainly Lazarus was in no position to exercise faith–he had been dead four days (see John 11:39-40). Yet Lazarus experienced a wonderful healing: He was resurrected.

A man once said to me after a friend’s funeral: “Life’s greatest enemy is death. She lacked faith. She doubted. So she lost and thus died.” Yet this deceased friend was a believer who had surrendered her life to Jesus as Lord and Savior. She lives eternally with Christ in heaven. How silly to suggest that people die because of a lack of faith. Does this mean that people with enough faith will never die? Of course not!

If death were the enemy, why would Paul write, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” or “We walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (Phil. 1:21; 2 Cor. 5:7-8, NKJV). We must avoid the myths of faith and healing and embrace the truth revealed in Scripture.

The Myths of Faith Healing

Some believers focus exclusively on faith as the key to healing. Yet Jesus healed many who apparently had no faith. Some were healed because their friends had faith. Others were bound up by demonic spirits and healed by exorcism, even against their wills.

The truth is that God heals. The myth is that God always heals now at the initiative of our faith.

Faith teacher Frederick K.C. Price has asserted: “The seventh method of receiving healing–[which] I believe is the highest kind of faith–is the highest way to receive healing…If you believe you receive it, you will confess that: ‘Bless God, I believe I am healed. I believe I have received my healing…I believe that it is so. I believe that I can walk in divine health all the days of my life.’ You are reading after one man who will never be sick, and I’m not being presumptuous.”

Myth is mixed here with truth. The highest kind of faith is, “I believe in Jesus,” not just, “I believe.”

It is true that faith must be our initiative. But even our initiative comes through the prompting of the Holy Spirit: “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Our faith helps us receive healing, just as the lack of faith hinders healing. But healing does not depend on faith. Healing depends on the Healer.

Healing is the will of God. Canadian evangelist Peter Youngren wrote: “Jesus clearly shows us God’s will in healing…the Word of God declares that ‘great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all’ (Matt. 12:15). When Jesus healed all, He was obviously doing the will of His Father, because He only did that which the Father wanted Him to do.”

Youngren adds: “This is why you can come with boldness asking God for healing. God is on your side. He wants the best for you. He is good.”

So, if God wills all to be healed, then can your faith move His hand to heal you? In the words of the Hertz rental car commercial: “Not exactly!”

Your faith moves Him to save you (see Rom. 10:9-13; Eph. 2:8). And in your salvation is your healing: “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses'” (Matt. 8:17; Is. 53:4-6).

But your faith does not effect your healing now. When you are healed rests entirely on what the sovereign purposes of the Healer are.

Consider this biblical example. In John 5 Jesus healed one paralytic at the pool of Bethesda though a multitude thronged that place daily to be healed. Why was one man healed at that moment while others were not?

John 5:19 gives the answer when Jesus confessed, “‘Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.'”

Bible scholar Jack Deere correctly observes that the initiative for the miraculous in Jesus’ ministry did not begin with Him but with the Father. “He healed only the people He saw His Father healing,” Deere writes. “The only firm reason for the healing of the paralytic that we can derive from the context of John 5 is that the Father willed it, and Jesus executed His Father’s will…We are ultimately faced with the conclusion that sometimes the Lord works miracles for His own sovereign purposes without giving any explanation for His actions to His followers.”

The second myth about healing is that if you stand fast in faith, you will be physically healed in time and space. Ken and Gloria Copeland have declared that healing will come if we have faith in our hearts and God’s Word in our mouths. But, they add: “It may take time for it to manifest in your body. So stand fast in faith, giving thanks to God until it does. Focus on God’s Word, not on physical symptoms.”

In what do we “stand fast”? The “rock” on which we stand isn’t faith or healing but Christ alone–the Healer. In Hebrews 10:23 we are admonished to hold fast to the profession of our faith. But in what is our profession of faith? Certainly, it is not in faith or in healing.

Be careful that your faith is not in faith itself–or, worse yet, in a faith teacher! Just believing hard enough, long enough or strong enough will not strengthen you or prompt your healing. Doing mental gymnastics to “hold on to your miracle” will not cause your healing to manifest now.

So what is faith? It is more than believing in your heart that God heals. The truth is that God is the God who heals. Faith is trusting the God who heals. Faith is a radical, absolute surrender to the God who heals. Faith is not holding on for your healing but holding on to the God who can do the impossible.

The truth is that your healing may manifest in eternity, not in time. If your trust is in God who heals, then when He heals you is secondary to belonging to the Healer. Certainly you will thank Him if He heals you today. But if your healing comes beyond death in eternity, will you praise Him now for that?

Paul did just that: “‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’ The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:55-58).

The third myth about healing is that if you just confess your healing, you will be healed right now. But you should confess the Healer, not your healing.

In his best-selling book, The Bible Cure, Dr. Reginald B. Cherry encourages us to “speak to the mountain” of our illness when we pray. That is important in prayer. But praying it and saying it won’t make physical healing manifest now.

Positive confession does not effect healing. If that were true, anyone who believes in mind-over-matter mental exercises could heal people. Only Jesus heals.

Our confession should be in Him, not in being healed now. Jesus sternly warned: “‘Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven'” (Matt. 10:32-33).

It’s time we throw out the lies that cloud the truth about faith and healing. It’s time we embrace the scriptural truths that shatter shallow myths and bring us freedom to confidently trust God.

Freedom in the Truth

When God doesn’t heal now, you can apply essential truths about faith and healing that are anchored in Scripture. I’ve identified four key actions we should take when we face a serious illness:

1. Have others join their faith to yours in bringing your infirmity to Jesus. “When the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them” (Luke 4:40; Matt. 8:16; Mark 1:32-34; 2:3-12).

Don’t try to face sickness alone. An essential key to healing in the New Testament is the power of corporate faith and praying in agreement with others (see Matt. 18:19-20). When you gather with others to pray, the presence of Christ dwells in your midst. Because He is the Great Physician, with His presence comes healing power.

Throughout the healing miracle accounts in the Gospels, we observe that friends brought the sick to Jesus. In Mark 2, a paralytic man was brought by his friends to Jesus. The Syro-Phoenician woman brought her daughter to Jesus (see Matt. 15:22; Mark 7:24-30). A father brought his demonized child to Jesus (see Matt 17:14-18; Mark 9:17-27; Luke 9:38-42).

Join your faith with others to seek the Great Physician. When sickness has weakened, fatigued and discouraged you, seek out others who will pray in faith.

2. Seek to receive a touch from God. The woman with an issue of blood exercised her faith by going outside and searching for the Healer. She did all she knew to do to reach out through a crowd and touch Jesus (see Matt. 9:20; Mark 5:25-27; Luke 8:43-44).

When you are sick, you might be tempted to isolate yourself from settings in which you can touch and be touched by the presence of Christ. At times, you may not feel like going to worship services. You may feel too weak to sing and praise God. You may be too tired and discouraged to call the elders of your church to anoint you with oil and pray in faith for you.

Resist this temptation to stay at home in isolation. Healing flows through the body of Christ. His body is the church. Break out of your loneliness and seek the Healer.

3. Submit yourself to the authority and will of Christ, trusting Him as your Healer. The centurion’s faith in Christ opened a door for his servant to be healed (see Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). Likewise, the authority for your healing does not rest in you or your faith. Claiming your healing and speaking the right words do not guarantee your healing now or at any future time. Your faith opens a door for you to receive your healing from Christ.

I prayed with a woman who demanded that God heal her. When I questioned her attitude, she exclaimed, “I have the authority as a child of God to command God to fulfill His promise of healing for me.” She believed a common myth that has been spread by some faith teachers, who believe that we can command God to do our bidding.

Our authority isn’t over Christ but in Christ. We reign with Him in heavenly places (see Eph. 2:4-7). The sons of Sceva presumed to have healing authority but quickly learned that authority rested in the person of Jesus, not simply in the repetitious use of His name (see Acts 19:13-16).

The truth is that all authority for every matter, including healing, rests in Jesus: “‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth'” (Matt. 28:18). From Christ we receive imparted authority to say what He says and to do what He does. Submit to His authority for your healing.

4. Believe on His Word, not someone else’s advice or counsel. Whenever Jesus spoke the Word, people were healed (see Matt. 8:8, 16; Luke 7:7). The psalmist said, “He [the Lord] sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions” (Ps. 107:20). Listen to the Word of the Lord for your healing. No one else’s word, faith or assurance will do. When God doesn’t heal now, trust His voice and believe His Word.

Proverbs 4:20-22 reads: “My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart; for they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh.”

When God doesn’t heal now, trust His Word–not your circumstances or human advice. God has not abandoned you. He’s not taking a vacation. He is right there by your side as you put your trust in His tender care.

 

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Dr. Larry Keefauver is a former editor of Ministries Today magazine and founder of Your Ministries Counseling Services and PowerHouse Families. He is the author of Lord, I Wish My Teenager Would Talk With Me(Creation House).

Abandonment: Forgiveness

SOURCE:  Living Free/Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W.

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”

(Colossians 3:13 NLT)

Children abandoned by one or both parents often harbor resentment and unforgiveness toward those parents. And they become victims of their own unforgiveness.

The Bible has much to say about forgiveness. We need to start by understanding the forgiveness God offers us. The Bible teaches that we have all sinned. Every one of us. And with sin in our life, we cannot spend eternity in heaven with our holy God. But God found a way . . . He sent His only Son, Jesus, to earth to die on the cross and pay the penalty for our sins.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. (Romans 5:8-11 NLT)

“While we were yet sinners” Christ suffered and died on the cross so we could be forgiven. His forgiveness is a gift. We could never earn it or deserve it. All we need to do is reach out and take it by trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Maybe a parent abandoned you. Maybe the parent lived under the same roof with you but neglected you. Whatever happened . . . God calls you to forgive. Not because they deserve it. But because Jesus is willing to forgive you even when you don’t deserve it. How can you do less?

In fact, Jesus calls us to love those who have wronged us . . . and to pray for them.

“But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45 NLT)

Your life will never be whole . . . you will never be healed from the scars of abandonment . . . until you take this step. Are you ready?

Father, I’ve had such bad feelings toward my parent(s) so many years. I believe that because of Jesus you have forgiven me though I certainly don’t deserve your forgiveness. I receive your gift of forgiveness. Help me to extend that same kind of forgiveness to my parent(s). In Jesus’ name . . .

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These thoughts were drawn from …

  Restoring Families: Overcoming Abusive Relationships through Christ by Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W.

Do You Want To Be Healed

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors [AACC]

38 years in a bed. Next to a pool. Sounds relaxing doesn’t it?

But as we read on, the story says the man was alone and horribly crippled. Probably twisted feet, pencil thin legs and atrophied muscles barely covered by a thin blanket. Why? Because this was the pool of Bethesda near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. There was something miraculous about this pool. Periodically the water stirred, and the first one into it was instantly healed.

Suddenly a commotion just inside the gate caused everyone to turn and look.

A Man, followed by a large crowd, walked through one of five alcoves. With humble determination, He moved to the crippled man’s side. Whispers fill the air. “Is it Him?” some ask. Every ear strains to hear what He might say as He kneels tenderly next to the man. And then, with a quiet strong voice full of power and grace, He asked, “Do you want to be healed?”

The broken man feebly hangs his head and utters an interesting reply, “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.” His answer only goes to affirm the depths of his hopelessness. Not “yes” or even “no”. Just discouragement and despair…

Even more interesting is the edict He gives in response. “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off. (John 5:1-9 MSG)

Jesus asked him — Do you want to be healed?

Each of us, at some point in our lives, have heard Him ask us the same question. Whether it’s physically… emotionally… relationally… or spiritually. Too often, we answer with the same timidity he did. Our pain is too deep. The hurt has been lodged in our heart for way too long. The doctors have tried everything. Hopelessness fills our souls…

When you really think about it, healing starts with a choice. And it is always for His glory.

Meditate on these words. Treasure them up and ponder them in your heart:

“But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 ESV)

“O LORD, my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.” (Psalm 30:2 ESV)

“Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14 ESV)

“And many followed Him. And He healed them all.” (Matthew 12:15 ESV)

“He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV)

“Do you want to be healed?”   The next time He asks you that heartfelt question, reflect on these verses before you answer.

And yes, He is always waiting and willing to turn our lives around.

Laugh Again

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC)

Kids smile an average of 45 times an hour, and they will “belly laugh” 1 time every 7.5 minutes. By the time we become an adult that drops to 15 times a day. In hospitals it is nearly 0.

When was the last time you had a good laugh?

The popular saying, “Laughter is the best medicine” is not actually a bible quote. However, the concept comes directly out of the book of Proverbs — “A happy heart is good medicine, and a cheerful mind works healing…” (17:22 Amplified Bible)

The focus of this verse is inward — on a happy heart. The function of the verse is outward — working healing. What’s interesting is that the word translated “medicine” in this verse, literally means the “removal of a bandage — the healing of a wound.” (Strong’s Concordance)

Dr. Thomas Sydenham, a seventeenth-century physician, claimed that “The arrival of a good clown exercises more beneficial influence upon the health of a town than of twenty mules laden with drugs.”

Determine to let your thoughts and attitudes reflect the “joy of the Lord.”  He is in control, and His love toward us is steadfast.  A cheerful disposition out of the overflow of our heart will often bring healing to those we come into contact with.

Stop living with your head hung down, focusing on the negative, and being a joy- sucker. And get away from those who are.

The results of such living is a “drying up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22b).

An old Sunday school chorus goes, “If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it…”

No matter what — smile!

Laugh again.

Laugh often.

Bring back the joy. It’s ‘a medicine’ that will turn your life around.

 

Do you want to be healed?

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC)

[John 5:1-9]

38 years in a bed.

Next to a pool.

Sounds relaxing doesn’t it?

But as we read on, the story says the man was alone and horribly crippled. Probably twisted feet, pencil thin legs and atrophied muscles barely covered by a thin blanket. Why? Because this was the pool of Bethesda near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. There was something miraculous about this pool. Periodically the water stirred, and the first one into it was instantly healed.

Suddenly a commotion just inside the gate caused everyone to turn and look. A Man, followed by a large crowd, walked through one of five alcoves. With humble determination, He moved to the crippled man’s side. Whispers fill the air. “Is it Him?” some ask.

Every ear strains to hear what He might say as He kneels tenderly next to the man. And then, with a quiet strong voice full of power and grace, He asked, “Do you want to be healed?”

The broken man feebly hangs his head and utters an interesting reply, “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.” His answer only goes to affirm the depths of his hopelessness. Not “yes” or even “no”. Just discouragement and despair…

Even more interesting is the edict He gives in response. “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off. (John 5:1-9 MSG)

Jesus asked him — Do you want to be healed?

Each of us, at some point in our lives, have heard Him ask us the same question. Whether it’s physically… emotionally… relationally… or spiritually.

Too often, we answer with the same timidity he did. Our pain is too deep. The hurt has been lodged in our heart for way too long. The doctors have tried everything. Hopelessness fills our souls…

When you really think about it, healing starts with a choice. And it is always for His glory.

Meditate on these words. Treasure them up and ponder them in your heart:

“But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 ESV)

“O LORD, my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.” (Psalm 30:2 ESV)

“Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14 ESV)

“And many followed Him. And He healed them all.” (Matthew 12:15 ESV)

“He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV)

“Do you want to be healed?”

The next time He asks you that heartfelt question, reflect on these verses before you answer.

And yes, He is always waiting and willing to turn our lives around.

God’s Prescription: Pain Relief & Healing

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by  Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Life Abundant: Pain Relief and Healing

All our dysfunctional behaviors, our poor decisions, our sin can be boiled down to one issue.

We don’t like pain, we are addicted to comfort, and instead of following [God’s] instructions for pain relief, we reach out to the store shelves of the world and pull out world’s salve that falls way short of the advertisements and empty promises.

The Holy Scripture tells us that Christ’s mission in coming to earth was to forgive and to save … to provide “eternal salvation” for us. He came to deliver oh so much more than just our redemption. He brought us eternal freedom, fulfillment, peace and joy. Healing in every area of our being is now available for us.

You see, often times, we have a hard time believing the healing He brings is actually available for us here on earth. I know that not all our physical and psychological illnesses will be made whole now. But even though we struggle, His peace and comfort can melt away pain and renew our mind in powerful, relieving ways. Our biggest illness is spiritual, so connecting with Him and maximally absorbing Him will have a powerful impact on our other ills. (Our science actually shows this to be true.)

The prophet Isaiah tells us the Messiah will come to bind up and heal, to release and set free (while we are here on earth). Jesus Himself referenced this passage as captured in Luke 4:17. Think about this: Christ came not only to forgive you, but to restore and release you. This is the central passage in the entire Bible about Jesus. He fulfilled every prophesy, testifying to the truth and then dying for us, bringing ultimate healing and shalom to our lives and His relationship with us.

Today, take Jesus Christ at his word … as the healer of all the broken pieces within you … Who unites them into one whole and healed heart. Think what life would be like if you believed that promise. Think about what keeps you from believing His promise? What do you believe in more strongly than His promise and the incredible body of evidence He has compiled? Why do you believe that something else?

What you will believe — Jesus’ promises and teachings, or your own theories — is your decision.  So choose well. Your life depends on it.

Dear Father God, I pray and ask You to release me from all bondage and captivity, as You promised to do. Open my eyes to the cheap imitators that promise healing, but only lead to more pain and distance from You. Take all my broken pieces and give me an all-receiving heart … make me whole. I know, Father, that You will not do this at a distance, so I desire to be as close to You as I possibly can be … show me the way to You, my Lord, and Savior. I pray in the name of the One You sent to forgive me, save me, and heal me, Jesus Christ–– AMEN!

The Truth
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.  Isaiah 61:1

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  John 10:10

You Matter To God

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

We’ve all read the story of the woman who had an issue of blood for 12 years.

You know her; she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, hoping to be healed. Let’s look more closely at her story to understand how deeper healing takes place. (Read Mark 5 and Luke 8 for the story.)

Here is a woman who was an outcast. She was labeled an unclean woman, socially unacceptable, undesirable, and dirty. Jewish law mandated that if someone touched an unclean person, they would need to go through the Jewish purification ritual in order to regain their rights to enter the temple. She was an untouchable woman and people kept their distance. She had spent all her resources to find help, but she only got worse. This woman heard Jesus coming and thought to herself, “if only I can touch his cloak, I will be healed.” And to her surprise, she was!

Immediately she tried to escape the crowd unnoticed. Remember, she touched Jesus and, according to Jewish law, that made him unclean. How embarrassed and scared she must have felt when Jesus turned and said, “Who touched me?” If she identified herself then, everyone would know what she had done.

Let’s step back for a moment and look at the larger story here. Jesus was heading to Jairus’ house. Jairus was a Jewish leader, a ruler of the synagogue. Yet he approached Jesus for help because his young daughter lay dying. Jairus was a daddy before he was a religious leader, and so he fell at Jesus’ feet begging him to heal his daughter.

It was on the way to Jairus’ home with the crowd pressing in that Jesus stopped and asked who touched him? I wonder in that moment what Jairus thought and felt? Did he feel impatient, anxious for Jesus to hurry up and get to his house? His daddy’s heart wanted his daughter healed. I wonder if he also felt a bit angry at this woman for distracting Jesus and taking valuable time away from a more pressing need. I suspect he might have even felt angry at Jesus for not prioritizing his daughter’s life threatening illness over this woman’s chronic bleeding problem.

Jairus was a person of influence and importance. He was a leader: he spoke and people listened. He risked everything to beg for Jesus’ help and now Jesus was wasting time asking who touched him while his daughter lay dying.

Do you ever feel like Jairus? God isn’t moving fast enough for your emergency? Angry and impatient that other people’s prayers are getting answered while you are still waiting?

Jairus was a daddy and wanted to see his daughter healed. But, dear readers, one of the lessons of this story is that this unnamed woman had a daddy too, and her daddy cared about her needs and knew she had no one who begged for her healing. Jesus stopped and called her forth because he wanted her to know something very important. Listen to his words. He said, “Daughter, go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” He wanted her to know that her daddy (the Heavenly Father) saw her suffering and told Jesus to help her too.

Jesus wanted her to know that she mattered to God.

Although her culture rejected her, God did not. Although she was judged to be unclean, Jesus declared her whole. He wanted her to know that she was a person of value and worth. Even in a pressured moment, Jesus took the time to have a conversation with a nameless woman who felt unclean, unloved and unimportant. He wanted her to know who she was. She was a daughter of a daddy who cared.

How about you? Perhaps your mother abused you. Maybe your husband rejects you, or people don’t understand you. You feel like an unclean women, like damaged goods. If only you could touch his cloak, you’d be well. I have good news for you. Daughter, go in peace and be freed from your suffering. God wants to help you. He wants you to know that you matter. You are important to him. He sees you and knows you and he is never too busy with more important people to meet your very personal need. You are not nameless, or worthless, or hopeless. You have a daddy, he’s called Abba (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). Believing that is the beginning of your healing.

As for Jairus, Jesus didn’t forget about his concern–although Jarius probably felt that way when he got word that his daughter died. Jesus turned to him and said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” What did it take for Jairus to walk those next miles home, heavy with sorrow, still clinging to faith? Perhaps that’s where you are right now. You feel hopeless or angry or disappointed. But Jairus trusted what Jesus said to him and, because he did, he saw a miracle. Jesus took Jairus’ precious daughter’s hand and said, “Honey, wake up.”

What is Jesus saying to you right now, even in the midst of sorrow, heartache, broken dreams and shattered promises? Can you trust what he is saying and continue to walk in faith? That is healing.

He says to you right now, “Honey, wake up”.

7 Things Forgiveness IS…

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Ron Edmondson

I often wonder if the reason we don’t forgive as we should is because we don’t understand the subject well enough.

Here are 7 things that forgiveness IS:

Letting go of a right to get even – You give up the right for revenge when you forgive someone.

Moving forward – Forgiveness is like saying, “It hurt. I didn’t like it, but I’m moving forward with my life in spite of the pain.”

Dropping resentment and grudge – Forgiveness releases the angst towards the person who did the injury.

A choice – Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it’s a conscious decision made by the injured party.

A step towards healing – Forgiveness releases a weight from the shoulders of the injured, opening the door for emotions to heal.

An opportunity to display grace – There is no greater picture of God’s forgiveness of us than for us to forgive one another.

The removal of a roadblock – Forgiveness removes the barrier between us and living at peace again with ourselves, others, and God.

I know these are difficult. I know some of the pain runs deep. I can’t describe it for you adequately, but I can tell you that forgiveness IS all it’s claims to be. If you truly want to be free of the hold the injury has on your heart, forgive the one who injured you.

To Forgive or Not To Forgive: My Choice!

 SOURCE:  Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

Forgiveness: The Reason and the Responsibility

We hear the following phrase a lot, but often in the wrong context or delivered from an impure heart:

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free – John 8:32. 

Forgiveness requires that we face the truth: the truth of Christ’s forgiveness; the truth of our own need for forgiveness; the truth that if we are ever to be free we must receive Christ’s forgiveness, and forgive those who have hurt us.

You see, in order to experience true freedom, we must forgive those who have caused us harm or disappointment … even when that means forgiving ourselves. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. But God treats us much better than we deserve … because of Christ Jesus. When we turn to Him, He freely accepts us and sets us free from our sins.

How can we do less? Forgiven by the Lord, we have the power, the reason, and the responsibility to forgive others. Forgiveness is not a feeling we need to muster up, it is an actual choice we make. When you realize it is a choice, then you must consider, “what are my options?” So let’s take a look.

Door #1: You don’t forgive. You remain aloof and detached, or bitter, resentful, angry, and vengeful. A terrible side effect is that people still have power over you. That’s because you need to extract some payment or amends from them … an apology, their suffering or an experience of pain, a sacrifice, or penance. And they can withhold it as long as they want and play you like a puppet.

Door #2: You do forgive. It becomes easier to let go of the bitterness, revenge, and entitlement. You experience freedom from the past. You have an opportunity to grow something better with them. Or you can totally disconnect from them because now you don’t need anything to make the “transaction” complete. You have relieved them of their debt, so they can’t “withhold” anything from you to string you along. Now you are letting God be their judge. And He is much better at determining their consequences and doling it out to them.

Sometimes it is hard to let go. In fact, when we have been deeply hurt, it may not be possible to forgive … on our own, that is. But it is important to remember that we don’t have to do it alone. Through the power of Christ, God has forgiven us. When we truly and humbly accept that, we have the perspective and power to forgive anyone else for any transgression against us. That’s real freedom! Your decision, so choose well.

Today, examine your heart. Identify relationships where there is uneasiness, anger, bitterness, resentment, revenge, sarcasm, or irritation. You probably have to make a decision about forgiveness. If you are struggling to forgive, ask God to help you. He loves you. He cares and He is able. Look at your other option. It is more painful to withhold forgiveness than it is to forgive.

Prayer

Dear Father God, I’ve kept these feelings of resentment and unforgiveness buried much too long. Help me to face the truth … and then to forgive myself and others. I now realize that forgiveness isn’t about others feeling good. It is for me to feel better and be right with You! Thank you for your mercy and forgiveness. Help me to show the same to others, even those who have hurt me. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One who paid for my forgiveness, Jesus Christ;  AMEN!

The Truth

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:23-24

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

John 8:32

Forgiving Your Spouse After Adultery

SOURCE:  Cindy Beall

Four lessons from my journey of regaining trust in my husband.

Editor’s Note: In 2002, Cindy Beall was a happily married wife to Chris, her husband of nine years. Chris had been on staff with a church in Oklahoma City for only six weeks when he made a confession that would change their lives forever: He had been unfaithful with multiple women over the course of two and a half years, and he was pretty sure one of those women was now pregnant with his child. He also admitted an addiction to pornography. 

His complete inability to control his addiction had left Chris utterly broken, humbled, and repentant. Over the course of several weeks and much prayer, Cindy sensed God calling her to stay in her marriage. The following is an excerpt from her book, Healing Your Marriage When Trust Is Broken, which tells the story of how God redeemed their marriage, making it “better than new.”

Every week I receive e-mails from women who ask many questions about getting through infidelity in their marriage.  Of all the questions I am asked, one of the most common is, “How did you learn to trust him again?”

And every time I give the same answer: “I am still learning.”

I would love to be able to come up with the perfect algebraic formula that shows exactly how to restore trust. But that isn’t going to happen—not because I barely squeezed out of algebra with a 71 percent, but because trust and forgiveness don’t exist in the land of numbers. They are born of God’s grace, mercy, and healing.

You don’t have to have endured infidelity in your marriage to lose trust. Trust can be broken in many different ways. I am still on my journey of having my trust restored in my husband, but I have learned a few things that I hope you will find helpful.

1. Trust means taking a risk.

My husband works hard to regain my trust, but I still struggle. I wish I could say otherwise, but I’d be lying.

Isn’t that the way it is with all of us? I’ve come to realize that we are all capable of doing things we never imagined we’d do. So trusting a person is a risk. We must learn to trust people, but we must also realize that people will fail us. It’s part of life. But if we place our utmost trust in our heavenly Father, we will never be let down.

There is a mental battle going on inside me as I strive to trust my husband more every day. I engage in this battle on a regular basis, and it can be exhausting. But the more I do it and believe what God has shown me, the easier it becomes.

I stand on the one thing that is trustworthy and never fails. I stand on the Word of God. Praise Him that His words are sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). There is power in them, and when we claim them, believe in them, stand on them, and trust in them, we will be lifted up. We will find peace.

2. Replace anger with forgiveness.

We’ve all been wounded. I am no stranger to the pain I see in the eyes of so many people. We can try to cover it up and “get over it,” but if we don’t truly forgive, we will be stunted individuals going about our lives and becoming more and more embittered. Forgiveness is essential. It’s also possible.

The Bible doesn’t mince words when it comes to forgiveness. We don’t have to wonder what our heavenly Father thinks about the idea. He’s the author of forgiveness, and we’d do well to follow His commands. Matthew 6:14-15 says, “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, you Father will not forgive your sins.”

Ouch. That stings a bit, doesn’t it? Especially when you’ve been wounded by someone you’ve loved as unconditionally as possible. It sounds like a cruel joke to expect us to just let it go, doesn’t it?

Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” If you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you know that you have a sinful nature. If we don’t recognize that nature, we won’t recognize our need for a Savior. We also need to understand and remember the true meaning of God’s love. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). If we truly understand God’s forgiveness, can we really withhold our forgiveness from those who have hurt us?

3. Stop nursing your wounds.

It can become second nature to tend to our wounds with such care that we begin to identify only with the wound and not with a life of healing or restoration. When something reminds us of our pain, we nurse the hurt and then just can’t get past it. It’s almost as if we forget that we, too, need a Savior. We’re so busy saying, “Look at my hurt!” that we forget to give it over to God.

Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sure, I haven’t been unfaithful to my husband physically, but I have committed sins, too. And when we sin, we are not just sinning against one person; we are also sinning against our heavenly Father.

I know how hard this is. I am profoundly aware of how badly my flesh wants to throw my husband’s sin back in his face when he gets mad at me for something small. I know how easily I could remind him of his failures and make sure he knows just how picture-perfect my marital resume is. But reacting like that will never bring about forgiveness.

4. Don’t wait until you feel like forgiving.

One of the harder parts of forgiveness is that we don’t always feel like forgiving. The problem is that feelings are often misleading and erratic. I learned a long time ago that you rarely feel your way into positive actions, but you can act your way into better feelings. You may not really want to wake up at five for that morning run, but you do it anyway. Afterward, you are so glad you made the extra effort because you feel good and have more energy. There is great satisfaction in making a choice to do something that your flesh was yelling at you not to do! You acted your way into a feeling.

How to know you’re healing

The results of forgiveness look different for everyone. Some relationships will be mended in spite of betrayal, and some will end because of it. The key, though, is to make sure you are healing from this wound. You don’t want to get a knot in your stomach every time you think about this person, especially if he or she is your spouse.

Here’s one way you can know you have healed from a wound caused by someone else: You cease to feel resentment against your offender. My mentor says, “You know you’ve healed from the hurt that someone else’s actions have caused when you can look back on the situation and it’s just a fact.”

We all make mistakes. We all have done things we regret. We all need forgiveness. And we all need to extend that same forgiveness to others—not just today, but every day.

It’s time to forgive.

——————————————————————————————–

Taken from: Healing Your Marriage When Trust is Broken. Copyright © 2011 by Cindy Beall.  Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR.  Used by permission.

Cindy Beall is a writer, speaker, and mentor to women. She and her husband, Chris, share openly about their journey of redemption through Chris’s infidelity and pornography addiction.

A Christian Psychology of and Response to Homosexuality

The Counseling Moment Editor’s Note:  The below article taken from a lecture by Dr. Sam Williams is lengthy but well worth the time invested to read.  It presents an excellent, truthful, and graceful Christian perspective of this ongoing topic based on research under-girded by biblical thought.

Source:  Taken from a lecture — Biblical Counseling Coalition by © 2011 Sam R. Williams, Ph.D.

Homosexuality has not been a biblical abstraction in my life. That doesn’t mean I am coming out of the closet here. The skeletons in my closet don’t look quite like that; they are probably worse, and they are not the topic of this lecture, thank God.

What it means is Dale: my best friend in college coming over to announce that he was gay and therefore intended to kill himself on his 23rd birthday–and then me spending the next year talking him out of suicide.

What it means is Roger: my roommate while in grad school, who died of AIDS before medicine learned how to keep people with HIV alive. Our last conversation on the phone a few hours before he died was one-way because he could no longer speak. It was just me sharing the gospel with him, trying to point him to Jesus again, knowing that was the day he would meet the Maker.

Dale and Roger, both dear friends, responded to same-sex attraction (SSA) by “coming out of the closet” and adopting a gay identity, a much less popular step to take in the ’70s than in 2011.

But of course things have changed, to the point that such a step now may earn popularity points.

In a Gallup poll in 2010, for the first time a majority of Americans, 52%, called homosexuality morally acceptable, while only 43% said it is immoral.

For younger evangelicals, homosexuality is not a moral abstraction for them either. For them it brings familiar and friendly faces to mind immediately. For me now, as an elder in my church and a counseling professor in a Baptist seminary, I think of Terry and Karl and Dave (and I could go on) committed Christian men who came for counseling because no matter how much they tried, their sexual compass pointed more to men than women.

These men have had to grapple with the meaning of same-sexual desires.

• Does this mean I am Gay?

• Was I born this way?

• Did God make me this way?

• I surely wouldn’t set my own compass in this direction. If God’s design is for heterosexuality, what happened to me?

• I don’t think I chose this, so can I choose my way out of it? Can my sexual compass be reset, redirected through prayer or some array of spiritual practices or through counseling or therapy?

• If I didn’t choose to point my sexual compass in this direction, is it sinful?

• Do I repent of SSA…or is it merely a temptation and that I need to resist it as one would any temptation?

So that is the topic of this lecture – A Christian Psychology of and Biblical Response to Homosexuality.

How to think about the homosexuality of my friends was one of the first major cultural challenges I faced when I became a believer in my late twenties. The condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible didn’t make sense to me. As a psychologist and an aspiring empiricist, I could see that homosexuality was atypical and in a sense abnormal, but does it really have to be wrong? Maybe it’s just different, like left-handedness, or perhaps it’s some type of disorder some people are unwillingly afflicted with – but this is a form of neurosis that requires treatment, and not a moral or spiritual issue.

Eventually however, regardless of my own attitudes toward homosexuality, it seemed clear, and beyond any hermeneutically sensible doubt that Scripture forbids and condemns both homosexual practice and passions, and does so using hard-nosed terms such as “shameful, unnatural, and dishonorable” in Romans 1, “unrighteous” in 1 Corinthians 6.9 and 1 Timothy 1.9-10, and “detestable” or “an abomination” in Leviticus 18.22 and 20.13.

Surely, homosexuality is a watershed issue with respect to the interpretation, authority, and relevance of Scripture. But that is not the torch I am bearing here. My intent in this lecture is not to provide a biblical theology or ethical analysis of homosexuality. (See Robert Gagnon’s book The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 2001.)

I am going to presume the majority opinion, a conservative biblical hermeneutic and sexual ethic that views every aspect of homosexuality as a product of the fall and of sin–that it’s not the way it’s supposed to be. And, I shall avoid the political squabbles so ever-present in media world.

Even though political issues are not unimportant, I do believe that following Jesus at this point in God’s plan is more rescue mission than culture war.

Someday when He is ready, Jesus will win the culture war, overwhelmingly–after His rescue mission is complete. And that mission is our mission for the time at hand, and also it is the mission of this paper.

I want in particular to note my debt to Mark Yarhouse and Ed Welch, both Christian psychologists whose thinking and writing in this area have in my estimation been seminal.

How will the church understand persons who struggle with SSA, and what should the hope and help that we offer look like?

What should you say to your friend or your son or your daughter if they come to you and say, “I think I’m gay.”? How did their sexual compass get so offset?

Can they change, and if so, what type of change can be expected, even hoped for?

How will you counsel and minister to them?

Effective ministry, according to David Powlison, requires of us a triple exegesis: of Scripture, of people, and of this beautiful and crazy world in which we live.

The movement from Scripture to real lives in this world requires careful and clear-eyed understanding of all three. So, what I have tried to do is listen first to the Bible and then to the social sciences – at least those parts of them that from my perspective deserve a hearing. Let’s start with defining what we are talking about, with a few descriptions and definitions.

Mark Yarhouse helpfully differentiates same sex attraction, homosexual orientation, and a gay identity. (see 1st figure, p. 16)

(1) Same-sex attraction is an intentionally descriptive term describing the direction of a person’s sexual desire. SSA can vary in strength and also in durability or longevity. It can be weak or moderate or strong, and it can be temporary or enduring. The term “SSA” is merely descriptive and says nothing about how a person feels about his or her sexual attraction, or what they intend to do or actually do with their sexual desires, nor does it say anything about their identity – who they are or how they label themselves.

Approximately 6% of men and 4.5% of women report experiencing at least some degree of same sex attraction (Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, and Michaels, 1994).

(2) Same-Sex Orientation (SSO) is the term I prefer to use since the term homosexual often connotes an identity. What it means is that some people experience SSA in such a manner that it is predominant compared to opposite-sex attraction, and such that it is strong and durable and persistent. Like the term, SSA, SSO is a merely descriptive phrase.

Approximately 2% of men and 1% of women report a same-sex or homosexual orientation, wherein their primary and predominant sexual attraction is to the same sex. [1]

It is possible for a person to be sexually attracted to both sexes, to varying degrees, and that person might identify themselves as “bisexual.” It is also possible, although less frequent, for a person’s experience of same-sex attraction to be limited to a specific person, and for them to be otherwise heterosexual.

(3) Gay or lesbian identity: Some persons choose to adopt a homosexual identity, taking as a key feature of their identity their same-sex sexual orientation, and usually along with that accepting same-sex erotic behavior as a morally neutral or morally good sexual alternative.

The percentage of adults who identify as being gay or lesbian is estimated to be 1.7%, approximately 4 million persons. An additional 1.8% of our population was estimated to view themselves as bisexual (Gary Gates, Press release April 7, 2011, Williams Institute).

What is crucial to recognize here is that these three categories are not coterminous. They do not or at least should not be collapsed into one another. While it may be the case that a person experiences SSA or even is completely SSO, a gay or homosexual identity is not an experience and it is not inherent. Identity is a decision based upon one’s perspective on their sexual desires and their acceptability; in other words, the adoption of a gay identity is a value-based choice rather than a given fact of experience or of psychology or biology.

With respect to identities, they don’t happen to us, they come from us: “I” am the central organizer and active agent in forming my identity. Even though most of us are not aware of choosing our identities, they are our construction built out of the raw materials of who we are, our life experiences, especially key relationships, and all of this construed or interpreted in light of some prevailing narrative or worldview or philosophy of life.

So, our identity is a personal construction project composed of many conscious and subconscious choices which accumulate gradually over time. Of particular importance are the attributions that we make about ourselves and that others apply to us, which function like scripts for how we manage our lives. To a significant extent these identity scripts are provided by the various social authorities within our culture: parents, peers, religion, “science,” “psychology.”

Now, with respect to the development of sexual identity, some parts of that are biogenetically hard-wired and other parts are shaped by key relationships within particular cultures with particular values and views about the way things are supposed to be. And of course, at the center of all this is the active, responding, choosing person, made in the image and likeness of God but also fallen biologically and psychologically or spiritually, and embedded in a fallen world.

So, identity is personal and it is contextual; it is innate, but also it is formed in the context of a web of relationships, not unlike the way children develop language – with brains and tongues pre-designed to speak, but this innate capacity to communicate is formed by family, friends, and culture.

Most psychologists recognize that identity is as much a construction as it is an expression of one’s essence, and that personal values, beliefs, and religious commitments are “grist for the mill” producing the identity that one constructs. Among developmental psychologists, there are two camps which emphasize different elements in identity development, essentialists (nature) and social constructivists (nurture).

The modern language of sexual identity, “homosexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian,” is a good example of this mutual interaction between person and culture. Although homosexuality has been practiced for millennia, “gay” as an identity is an historical artifact, belonging only to contemporary western culture: it is a personal and social interpretation and not an incorrigible fact.

“Although homosexual behavior has been practiced in other cultures throughout history, we are the first culture in which people refer to themselves this way. There was never a language for it, and there has never been community support for this kind of identification or labeling. Until recently there was not even a way to say it” (Yarhouse, 2010).[2]

Sorting these matters out on a personal level is a process; a person who experiences SSA is confronted with a unique dilemma: what does this mean about me, that I am attracted to the same sex? People attracted to the same sex go through a process that could be summarized in two stages.

• Identity Crisis: this is a painful knot of emotion – shame, guilt, anxiety, depression – with lots of confusion and many questions. If you’ve never listened to a person in this phase, do so, or at least read about it. This will help you understand the challenge of finding hope when something so fundamental to your person and to your gender is upside down and you can’t just flip a switch and set it right. (see Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill or Andy Comiskey’s various books)

But people don’t stay in crisis mode forever; eventually they come to some type of resolution.

• Identity Attribution: a synthesis and consolidation of same-sex attractions. Eventually, people come to conclusions about themselves and their sexual experiences based on some sort of interpretive paradigm, or script that is available to them in their world, and with respect or disrespect for the moral script that God has placed within every human heart.

These identity attributions occur much earlier these days, around 15 years of age; versus at 20 years in 1970 (Savin-Williams & Cohen, 2004). Another interesting recent phenomenon is that some young persons are choosing to avoid the adoption of any label at all regarding their sexual identity.

In contemporary western culture, there are two prevailing narratives or scripts, ways to respond to and integrate SSO. The first is to adopt a gay or homosexual identity. This is based on a Gay Explanatory Framework (GEF) (Yarhouse & Tan, 2004): the self is defined by sexual desire; sexual attraction defines who I am, categorically, just like an “alcoholic” defines who he is by his desire for alcohol.

This identity formula is very much at home in a culture of expressive individualism, which prizes self-expression above all else (see R. Bellah’s Habits of the Heart, 1996). The GEF relies upon metaphors like “discovery” or “coming out” to describe identity attribution. The GEF reaches beyond personal experience into the academy, developing its own personality and developmental theories which include an ideal or “healthy” socialization process, and which has unfortunately been adopted in the public square and public schools in most of western culture.

Usually the Gay Explanatory Framework is characterized by simplistic explanations of cause, especially biological reductionism – i.e., “Since I am not aware of making a conscious decision to feel this way, I must have been born this way. This is obviously biological.” According to this script, personal fulfillment depends upon sexual self-actualization, the embracing and expression of one’s sexual desires, with some sort of “coming out” ritual whereby the person is initiated into a new lifestyle in which same-sex sexual and romantic relationships are deemed either neutral or good, and even sometimes superior.[3]

While most people struggling with SSA or SSO in our culture believe the Gay Explanatory Framework is the only plausible option, there is another option, one that does seem increasingly strange, even abnormal to modern and post-modern people. The second identity option is to understand SSA or SSO by means of a Christian Explanatory Framework, taking Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Final Restoration as the definitive narrative for explaining same-sexual desires. This framework is honest about the experience of SSA or SSO but views it as unnatural and disordered, inconsistent with God’s will for sexuality.

The key issue, for anybody, and particularly for Christians, is which of our desires and affections we choose to be defined by. A Christian with SSA will, like the rest of us, emphasize their identity in Christ and in the body of Christ, and view same-sexual desires as a product of the Fall, just one of many forms of sexual deviation and temptation that can be overcome by God’s grace. They will grieve over their SSA, and some will repent of it depending upon how they understand its origin and how they understand sin and guilt and repentance. A Christian Explanatory Framework comprehends the reconstruction of our identities upon adoption into the family of God: “Now, God is my Father, Christ is my brother, I am a son/daughter of the Lord. ‘I’ (in the deepest sense of that little word) belong to Him. He redefines and redirects every part of my being.”

With respect to the origin of SSA and SSO, What causes it? Where does it come from?

While the person is the active and responsible agent with respect to their sexual desires, there are both nature and nurture factors related to the development of sexual attraction. So, there are things that come at the person and things that come from within the person. While there does not seem to be any single universal cause, “if this occurs, then that develops” the biological and social sciences do point out a few common factors that are helpful in understanding SSA.

The current scientific research and theory can be divided into three areas: biological, temperamental, and relational (see 2nd and 3rd figures on pp. 16-17):

• Biology (genetics, intrauterine hormones, neurological): while researchers in the ‘80s and ‘90s believed that genes or brains would offer the strongest contribution to SSA/SSO, more recent research has not supported earlier theories that genes or brains play a primary role in homosexual development. The better twin studies with larger sample sizes do not support a big genetic contribution to homosexual orientation. The concordance rate among identical twins was 20% for men and 24% for women (Bailey, Dunne, & Martin, 2000), which indicates that genes may play a role, but not in themselves an overwhelming one. Studies examining brain contributions are even less impressive. Even though there are some studies implicating brain structures, these studies have not been replicated. Even when brain differences have been found, sorting out cause and effect is nearly impossible with correlational research.

Another possible biological contributor still under investigation is the prenatal hormonal environment. Fetal development of sexual characteristics is a product of interaction with hormones, especially testosterone, and this may play a role in sexual orientation in some instances, but the data are not clear at this point.

Nonetheless, that there may be some biological contributions in some persons would not be surprising and does seem consistent with the research. The recognition that biology may play a role need not be resisted by Christians since God has created us as embodied souls, psychosomatic beings, and all things, including our bodies and brains and genes, have been infected by sin. In addition, that something such as the body or the brain is influential, or even formative, does not mean it is morally or spiritually determinative. It seems reasonable to accept, and clearly consistent with Scripture, that bodies and brains and genes along with parents and peers and cultures all play influential or formative roles in our lives. But that doesn’t mean they are determinative.

• Effeminate temperament features or gender non-conformit: Both anecdotal and research evidence supports a positive correlation between gender non-conformity and homosexuality (Hamer, 1994; LeVay, 1996).[4] Many homosexual men report feeling different and less masculine than the other boys during childhood. They tended to be more sensitive, less naturally aggressive, and more aesthetically than athletically inclined. This is sometimes referred to as the “sissy” phenomenon. Dean Hamer, a gay geneticist, in his book The Science of Desire (1994) goes so far as to write, “Most sissies will grow up to be homosexuals, and most gay men were sissies as children. Despite the provocative and politically incorrect nature of that statement, it fits the evidence. In fact, it may be the most consistent, well-documented, and significant finding in the entire field of sexual-orientation research” (p. 166).

• Exotic Becomes Erotic theory by Daryl Bem (1996) contends that at puberty we will experience sexual arousal by the gender that we find exotic, or by that gender which seems so different from oneself. In other words, “opposites attract.” So, if as a child a boy feels like the other boys, but different from the girls, at puberty he will find girls no longer abhorrent but fascinating and then attractive and arousing. On the other hand, if a boy does not feel like he fits in with the boys and instead is more comfortable with the girls, at puberty he finds himself fascinated by the boys and then erotically attracted to them. The biogenetic variable in this theory is the child’s innate temperament, especially traits such as aggressiveness and activity levels.

• Parental relationships: Early theories, rooted in Freud’s psychoanalysis, viewed homosexuality as a kind of developmental disorder – an impairment in psychological development (which does often seem to be the case) with parents as the culprits (which does not necessarily seem to be the case). However, these psychoanalytic explanations were based more on clinical experience and less on empirical research. More rigorous recent research lends little support to the traditional view that SSO is a direct result of absent or critical fathers and smothering mothers. The research does not indicate a primary role for parents as a sufficient cause of homosexuality; most children with troubled parental relationships do not turn out with SSA. At the same time, of course, there can be no reasonable doubt that parents play an important formative role in most aspects of child development. And, there does seem to be a preponderance of difficulties in the father-son relationship for many SSO men, and on the other hand a preponderance of negative experiences with men in SSO women. Even though these factors are not sufficient or determinative, they do seem to be significant influences in some instances of SSO (Yarhouse, 2010, p. 230, n. 21-24; Yarhouse & Burkett, p.175, n. 2).

Faulty development of masculine traits may be related to the father-son relationship, especially the extent to which the son feels connected to and then identifies with his father as a male, so that he develops the sense that “I’m like him” or “I want to be and can be like him.” On the other hand, it may be that for some boys the sissy phenomena may be more innate (related to genetic predisposition or to the brain or to prenatal hormones), and then subsequently the boy and his father find it difficult to relate to one another because they are so temperamentally different, which of course would further diminish the boy’s sense of masculinity.

• Peer influences: Boys who are less aggressive and masculine understandably feel disenfranchised and different. Unfortunately, they are often avoided or are the subject of derision or bullying by their peers, which can be devastating to a boy’s gender identity and masculine confidence.

• Early sexual experiences (abuse; early debut): While neither physical abuse nor neglect are correlated with homosexuality, studies have found some correlation between early sexual abuse and homosexual behavior in men, but not in women.[5] It is not difficult to imagine how sexual abuse, especially of a boy by a man, could be extremely disruptive to the boy’s developing sexual identity.[6] At the same time, it is important to remember that most boys who are sexually abused by men do not become same-sex oriented. Early, consensual same-sex behavior is also found more frequently in the history of male homosexuals. But, cause and effect are difficult to sort out in these correlational studies.

• Personal choice? The personal experience of most, but not all, persons with SSA is that it is not chosen, but instead is found, and often with shock and shame. This is particularly true for men and for at least half of the women. While most men with SSA/SSO believe their homosexuality was not consciously and explicitly chosen, 30-50% of lesbian women report that it was a choice.

So, what “causes” homosexuality? According to the human sciences, there are two honest answers to that question: “We don’t know for sure” and “Probably several things.” The principle of equifinality is helpful here. Equifinality is the principle of multi-causality: that in open systems a given end state can be reached by many potential means. In the same way that there are several ways to get from here to San Francisco, there are several ways a person may develop SSA or SSO.

So there are a handful of common factors that seem significant, but there is no one-size-fits-all formula.[7]

Transitioning now from this overview of social science research and theory, we can now take up the question:

Can people change SSA or SSO, and if so, how do they change?

Change efforts come in a variety of contemporary secular formats: traditional psychoanalysis (C. Socarides, E. Moberly), reparative psychotherapies (J. Nicolosi), and gender-affirming encounter groups such as Journey into Manhood.

Do they work? It depends who you ask.

In 2009, The American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation “concluded that efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful. . . Given the limited amount of methodologically sound research, claims that recent SOCE [sexual orientation change effort] is effective are not supported” (pp. v and 2). [8]

Unfortunately, the composition of the task force was not methodologically sound either. Their objectivity was doubtful since each of the six authors, five psychologists and one psychiatrist, is on record as gay affirmative and several of them publicly identify as gay or lesbian.[9]

There are a couple of studies which indicate some degree of success in changing SSA by means of secular therapies, with 44 to 66% of persons reporting significant change of some sort, but the degree of change and what changes is quite variable (NARTH, 1997; Spitzer, 2000).

There are several different Christian counseling or ministry options:

Leanne Payne’s charismatic approach blends psychoanalytic theories of homosexuality with a focus on the inner healing of traumatic memories through “listening prayer.”

Christian recovery groups such as Courage, a 12 step program for Roman Catholics, and Homosexuals Anonymous (14 instead of 12 Steps).

Andy Comiskey’s Living Waters groups blend biblical teaching on gender, identity, and sanctification with some of the theories of the reparative therapies and inner healing, and emphasize the role of the Church as a healing community.

Mark Yarhouse and Warren Throckmorton’s Sexual Identity Therapy, which is less focused on changing same sex attractions and more focused on choosing one’s identity in Christ and the incorporation of behavioral and cognitive methods to facilitate the process of progressive sanctification.

Finally, there are other approaches that incorporate theories about the development of masculinity into the process of progressive sanctification. (Alan Medinger; Gerard van den Aardweg).

Do these work? Here also there are only a couple of good studies and they found that 23-29% of persons reported a complete change in orientation from homosexual to heterosexual, and 60-70% reported behavioral success. (Schaeffer, et al., 1999; Jones and Yarhouse, 2007, 2009)

Mark Yarhouse’s summary of this research is helpful:

Those who argue that there is “insufficient evidence” of sexual orientation change are often thinking of categorical and complete change, as though sexual orientation were a light switch that is in one of two positions: on or off. Homosexual or heterosexual. Gay or straight. On the other hand Christians can sometimes add to the problem by claiming this kind of complete change happens frequently. . . . Some people do report a change in attractions over time. For those who report a change, it tends to come in the form of a reduction in homosexual attractions, but these reductions are typically not complete. A smaller number of people also report an increase in heterosexual attraction. [In some instances this may be attraction to the opposite sex in general; in other cases it may reflect attraction to only one individual or the opposite sex, such as a person’s spouse]. . . . It may be helpful to everyone involved to recognize that 180-degree change or categorical change is less likely. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t attempt change or feel discouraged about it, but it does help us identify the more likely outcomes. In some ways, understanding this will free a person up to focus on other important considerations, such as vocation, stewardship, and Christlikeness (2010, pp. 89-90).

Listening to the Bible

Regardless of the particular causes identified by science or the success of sexual orientation change efforts, God aims to interpret and govern and redeem every part of our us, including our sexual experiences, desires, identity, and even one day our bodies. The good news of God is that whatever is distorted and broken can and will in God’s good time be restored and healed. Christ assumed a full human nature to heal all of human nature. The incarnation and bodily resurrection of Christ is God’s pledge of full and final healing (Gregory of Nazianus).

But the reception of God’s grace begins with a humble acceptance of what is wrong with us, with a kind of biblical psychopathology.

It seems that a biblical macro-psychology of homosexuality begins with the Pauline version of the Fall in Romans 1: an account of the origin of sin, with homosexuality as a vivid example of its dynamics. In that passage Paul attributes the origin of same-sex passions and practices to a failure to “thank and honor God,” in other words to disordered worship. Humanity’s original rejection of God then incurs His judgment and His passive, and yet terrible, wrath, wherein the passage says, God “gave them up” (v. 24, 26, 28). He simply lets them alone, leaves them to their own devices, giving them over to impure lusts, dishonorable passions, and a debased mind. So, in this passage, disordered desires of all sorts result from disordered worship. St. Augustine’s biblical psychology is helpful here: The root of all evil is wrongly directed desire.

Both Richard Hayes and Ernst Kasemann note that in this passage homosexuality, along with a string of other disordered desires and practices, is the consequence of God’s wrath, not the cause of it. Homosexuality is probably singled out because it is such a clear rejection of something so obvious – God’s complementary design for the sexes and of sexual intercourse itself.

But it is important to note that Paul’s account here is archetypal or generic; he is giving the history of humanity and of sin in general, with homosexuality as a particularly graphic case in point. He is not giving us a history of any particular person’s development of homosexuality. The Bible’s account of this chapter in human history goes like this: As a result of the rejection of God’s rule, God steps aside, and the consequence is the reign of sin and satan, a Kingdom in which everybody is born defective (Rom. 6.17) with deformed desires, some of which are common to all men, such as selfishness and pride, and others that are unique to some men. And this is where personal psychopathologies begin.

The typical experience of same-sex attraction, that it is not consciously chosen, is in fact consistent with our innately sinful condition, which in itself is not chosen – we are born that way. Sin is a chronic condition and sometimes, but not always, a conscious choice. This is the human condition Paul describes in Romans 7, where he goes back and forth, but he ultimately cites “sin in me” as the source of his sinful behavior. So, the starting point for a biblical psychology of homosexuality is fundamentally no different than the origin of many of our sin-driven character flaws, whether it is selfishness and narcissism, or jealousy and envy, or a bad temper, or worry and anxiety, or mania or depression, or addictions or whatever. Everybody is born congenitally defective with some innate bio-psychological weakness, which finds its origin in the fall and subsequently in hearts and bodies riddled with the cancer of sin. (Eccl. 9.3; Jer. 17.9)

According to New Testament scholar Robert Gagnon:

For Paul, all sin was in a sense innate in that human beings do not ask to feel sexual desire, or anger, or fear, or selfishness – they just do, despite whether they want to experience such impulses or not. If Paul could be transported into our time and told that homosexual impulses were at least partly present at birth, he would probably say, ‘I could have told you that’ or at least ‘I can work that into my system of thought.’. . . Paul paints a picture of humanity subjugated and ruled by its own passions; a humanity not in control, but controlled (2001, p. 431, 430).

In the same vein but with more emphasis on human accountability, Richard Hayes writes,

As great-grandchildren of the enlightenment, we like to think of ourselves as free moral agents, choosing rationally among possible actions, but Scripture unmasks that cheerful illusion…the Bible’s sober anthropology rejects the apparently commonsense assumption that only freely chosen acts are morally culpable. . . . The very nature of sin is that it is not freely chosen. . . . We are in bondage to sin but still accountable to God’s righteous judgment of our actions. . . . In light of this theological anthropology, it cannot be maintained that a homosexual orientation is morally neutral because it is involuntary (1996, p. 390).[10]

Up to this point we have been talking about SSA, a particular dis-orientation of a person’s sexual compass, but we could be talking about the infinite variety of sinful orientations of any of our hearts which are less than consciously chosen, but for which we will be held accountable by God. I think this is Paul’s point in Romans 2 and 3, when he segues from God’s judgment of homosexuality to God’s judgment of everybody, in what Richard Hays calls a “homiletical sting operation”: “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself. . . . Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?” (Romans 2:1-3) Paul makes it clear: no one has a secure platform to stand upon to judge others. (R. Hayes, 1996, p. 389)

MINISTRY/ COUNSELING

The truth is that each and every one of our sex lives, every look, every touch, every fantasy, and every desire within our hearts will be judged by our holy, holy, holy God.

According to Jesus, in Matthew 5.29-30, when it comes to sex, what we do with the desires of our hearts is a matter of life or death. So, “If your eye or hand causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” That ought to give all of us pause. This is serious business, according to Jesus.

So, the church’s response to SSA must be just as serious. It must be as theologically bold and as morally clear as Jesus is, and at the same time as pastoral and gracious as Jesus is. And we must bring hope: like oxygen for the soul – to those who struggle with same sex attraction. And this is that hope:

The Gospel changes the most important things initially, and it changes everything eventually.

What I mean by Gospel and change is a type of faith in and obedience to Christ that flows out of a fundamentally re-oriented heart, resulting in a changed and changing life.

In closing, there are four ways we can promote change in our churches and families for those who struggle with same-sex attraction.

First, the essential starting point is BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF, OTHERS, AND GOD.

In view of the mercy of God, it makes no sense to avoid, deny, or minimize SSA. I would like to propose that there is a properly Christian form of “coming out of the closet.” Should we not all come out of the closet with anything we find inside that is broken and wrong? We do this so that we can repent more thoroughly and receive all the help and healing that comes through authentic Christian relationships.

That which we keep to ourselves tends to fester and swell, and what is left is that painful knot of shame and guilt. The alternative to authenticity is not a pretty thing: loneliness, duplicity, secret sins, anxiety, self-hatred, and sometimes suicide.

It is here that the response of parents, peers, and church is so important. It is the responsibility of Christian families and communities to cultivate openness to the acknowledgment and confession of same-sex attraction. What can we do to move in this direction?

Second, we can CULTIVATE A RENEWED RESPECT FOR DIFFERENCES.

We need relationships characterized by respect and acceptance in which various forms of masculinity are affirmed, of course, that are true to one’s God-given gender, but also cognizant of a variety of temperaments. We should not presume that cultural stereotypes are biblical norms or guidelines. There is more than one type of man, and not all of them like to camp or play sports. (Could somebody explain to me how Ultimate(ly Foolish) Fighting became a fad among young evangelical men!?) My colleague Robert D. Jones says that the greatest man he has ever known described himself as gentle and humble in heart! It was this Lord who said, “Blessed are the meek/gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” If the character of Jesus is not the main part of your view of manhood, then it is not biblical manhood.

Probably one of the most important changes would be to eliminate within our communities, especially among men, the unedifying words that denigrate men whose masculinity is not so evident, who may have some effeminate characteristics. Such words are unconscionable. What if that were your brother or your son that was being made fun of? How would Jesus speak to him? And how would Jesus speak to those who spoke to him that way???

I still remember my best friend Dale announcing his homosexuality to me. He had heard me use terms like “fag, queer, homo” and many other false bravados characteristic (I wish only) of teenage boys. He said he would have told me sooner, but he was afraid of my reaction, even that I might attack him physically. That changed how I talk.

Third, we can EXPRESS A TYPE OF EMPATHY FOR PERSONS WITH SSA THAT COMPREHENDS HOW LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD IS UNDER THE CROSS.

It is important to realize and openly acknowledge that at the deepest and most important level we are much more like the person who struggles with SSA than we are different. They have their particular sin tendencies and temptations, and you have yours. Every one of us has a weak link, a form of remnant sin for which we need Jesus and one another. Therefore same-sexual sin should not be singled out as a red-letter sin.

Fourth, PROVIDE BIBLICAL HOPE FOR CHANGE.

Real and substantive change can be expected for people with SSA or SSO, as it can and should be for all who have chosen to follow Christ. Tim Wilkins says when he turned away from homosexuality, “I decided that although I honestly did not know how to become heterosexual, I did know how to be obedient. . . . Same-sex attractions continued throughout college and seminary, but to a lesser degree. I remained steadfast in refusing to give in. . . . I told God ‘it does not matter if I am ever attracted to a woman as long as I get You!’ What mattered most to Tim was becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.”

Change for the Christian is a grace-fueled process that for good reason is called progressive sanctification: a long obedience of faith down a narrow and often difficult road, in the company of other Christian men and women within the local church. All this is rooted in the transformative power of the Gospel of God and the rich soil of the body of Christ. The cross of Christ signifies the beginning of the end of the old self, a progressive and radical reordering and re-orientation of every one of our distorted desires. But sin is stubborn, especially at the level of desires, and the old man dies slowly. Nonetheless, according to Paul, that old man is history: “Such were some of you. . . . But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified. . . .” (1 Corinthians 6.11) That sounds like past tense.

As it is with many root sins that are lodged deeply within us, change may or may not be associated with a complete elimination or reversal of SSA, for now. But make no mistake about it: under the cross and in Christ neither the past nor our desires determine our identity or our future. Paul’s instruction in Romans 6 is to be who you are, in Christ.

Romans 611 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. . . . 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

This Spirit-fueled, Christ-following progressive sanctification includes an understanding of who we are: identities that originate in God’s good creation–made by and like and for Him, and then born again in a miraculous New Creation. Change like this includes a type of humble authenticity that does not flinch in examining and repenting of the distorted but dwindling effects of sin on all things: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.”

Someday this grace will culminate in our final sanctification, when the King returns and resets everything. On that day, True North will be irresistible. Such is our hope.

________________________________________

NOTES:

[1] These figures rise in urban centers; in other words, those with a homosexual orientation are more concentrated in cities.

[2] Coincidentally, this is often a part of the gay critique of the biblical passages on homosexuality; they are correct when they claim that these categories and terms did not exist in the ancient biblical languages. Instead, more descriptive terms that described what that person does, or terms like natural and unnatural were the verbal categories relied upon to discuss these matters (Hays, 1996).

[3] It is this incorporation of homosexuality into the center of that person’s identity that makes even the most sensitive and winsome conversation so difficult with a person who identifies themselves as “gay”. If “gay” is who you are, then even the kindest challenge or disagreement is perceived at least as a personal rejection, and at worst as hateful or “violent.” Since this is the accepted normative narrative in most of the First World, any other view seems to be just so much nonsense. David Wells captures this dislocation well in his definition of worldliness as “that system of values, in any given age, which has at its center our fallen human perspective, which displaces God and his truth from the world, and which makes sin look normal and righteousness seem strange. It thus gives great plausibility to what is morally wrong, and for that reason makes what is wrong seem normal” (Losing our Virtue, 1999, p.4).

[4] In its most extreme manifestation, Gender Identity Disorder, ¾ of boys with this disorder later report a homosexual or bisexual orientation (DSM-IV, 1994, p. 536).

[5] Wilson, H., & Widom, C., 2009. Does Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, or Neglect in Childhood Increase the Likelihood of Same-sex Sexual Relationships and Cohabitation? A Prospective 30-year Follow-up. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39 (1), 63-74).

[6] Dube, S. et al. (2005) found that 16% of adult men reported being sexually abused before age 16. They had been abused by men 70% of the time. Am J Prev Med;28(5), p. 433.

[7] The APA (American Psychological Association) states the following about etiology in their pamphlet, Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality: “There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.”American Psychological Association (2008). “Answers to your questions: For a better understanding of sexual orientation and homosexuality”.

[8] A review of 83 studies published in peer reviewed journals from 1960 to 2007 discusses people who attempted to change their sexual orientation through counseling or therapy.

[9] Joseph Nicolosi, of the National Association for Research and Therapy for Homosexuality, commented, “The Task Force’s standard for successful treatment for unwanted homosexuality was far higher than that for any other psychological condition. What if they had studied treatment success for narcissism, borderline personality disorder, or alcohol/food/drug abuse? All of these conditions, like unwanted homosexuality, cannot be expected to resolve totally, and necessitate some degree of lifelong struggle” (The 2009 APA Task Force Report – Science or Politics?, posted Jan. 10, 2011, NARTH website).

[10] Perhaps a good example of this is our dreams at night. And, if yours are like mine, I bet some of them are not morally neutral. And yet even though they are involuntarily and subconsciously created … whose dream is it? Who created and produced that dream? And if it is your production, who should repent of it?

Works Cited

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th Edition. Washington, DC: Author. 1994.

American Psychiatric Association. Report of the Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. Washington, DC: Author. 2009.

Bellah, R., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W., Swidler, A., & Tipton, S. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Berkely, University of California Press, 1996.

Bem, Daryl. “Exotic becomes erotic: A developmental theory of sexual orientation.” Psychological Review, 1996.

Dube, S. et al. “Long-Term Consequences of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Gender of Victim.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28.5, 2005.

Gagnon, Robert. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.

Gates, Gary. “Press release April 7, 2011.” Williams Institute. Web. 15 Sept 2011.

Hays, Richard. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. San Francisco: Harper, 1996.

Hamer, Dean. The Science of Desire. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.

Hill, Wesley. Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Jones, S. & Yarhouse, M. Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2007.

Kasemann, Ernst. Commentary on Romans. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980.

Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J.H., Michael, R.T., & Michaels, S. The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

LeVay, Simon. Queer Science. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996.

Savin-Williams, R. C. & Cohen, K.M. “Homoerotic Development During Childhood and Adolescence.” Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 2004.

Schaeffer, K. W. et al. “Religiously-motivated sexual orientation change: A follow-up study.” Journal of Psychology and Theology. 27 (4), 1999.

Spitzer, Robert. “Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation? 200 Participants Reporting a Change from Homosexual to Heterosexual Orientation” Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2003.

Wells, David. Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Wilson, H., & Widom, C. Does Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, or Neglect in Childhood Increase the Likelihood of Same-sex Sexual Relationships and Cohabitation? A Prospective 30-year Follow-up. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2009.

Yarhouse, Mark. Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010.

Yarhouse, M. & Burkett, Lori. Sexual Identity: A Guide to Living in the Time Between the Times. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2003.

Yarhouse, M. & Jones, S. Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2000.

Yarhouse, M. & Tan, E. Sexual Identity Synthesis: Attributions, Meaning-Making, and the Search for Congruence. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2004.


A Purpose in the Pain

Source:  Ligonier Ministries

A Purpose in the Pain: An Interview with Joni Eareckson Tada

by Joni Eareckson Tada

Tabletalk: For our readers who are unfamiliar with your story, would you share how you became quadriplegic?

Joni Eareckson Tada: For years, I was one of those who insisted, “Handicaps happen to other people, not me.” But all that changed on a hot July afternoon in 1967 when my sister Kathy and I went to a beach on the Chesapeake Bay for a swim. The water was murky, and I didn’t bother to check the depth when I hoisted myself onto a raft anchored offshore. I dove in and instantly felt my head hit something hard — my neck snapped and I felt a strange electric shock. Underwater and dazed, I felt myself floating and unable to surface for air. Thankfully, Kathy noticed my plight and quickly came to the rescue. When she pulled me out of the water, I saw my arm slung over her shoulder, and yet, I couldn’t feel it. I knew then that something awful had happened. Later, at the hospital, I learned I had severed my spinal cord and would be left a quadriplegic for the rest of my life. I was devastated.

TT: When you first discovered that you would never use your arms and legs again, what went through your mind and how did you cope with this reality?

JT: Lying in the hospital, I recalled that just months earlier I had asked God to draw me closer to His side. Now, stuck in bed, I wondered if my paralysis was His idea of an answer to that prayer. If this was the way He treated new Christians, how could He ever be trusted with another prayer again? Obviously, God’s ways were far different than mine, and, for a long time, that idea both frightened and depressed me. But where else could I turn? To whom could I go? I remember praying, “God, if I can’t die, then show me how to live.” Many days afterward, I would sit in front of a Bible, holding a mouth-stick between my teeth and f lipping the pages, praying that God would help me put together the puzzle pieces of my suffering.

TT: Which passages of Scripture have given you encouragement during your struggles with disability and cancer?

JT: Psalm 79:8 says, “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need” (NIV). Basically, I wake up almost every morning in desperate need of Jesus — from those early days when I first got out of the hospital, to over four decades in a wheelchair, it’s still the same. The morning dawns and I realize: “Lord, I don’t have the strength to go on. I have no resources. I can’t ‘do’ another day of quadriplegia, but I can do all things through You who strengthen me. So please give me Your smile for the day; I need You urgently.” This, I have found, is the secret to my joy and contentment. Every morning, my disability — and, most recently, my battle with cancer — forces me to come to the Lord Jesus in empty-handed spiritual poverty. But that’s a good place to be because Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3, NIV).

Another anchor is Deuteronomy 31:6, where God tells me, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified [of quadriplegia, chronic pain, or cancer], for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (NIV). I’m convinced a believer can endure any amount of suffering as long as he’s convinced that God is with him in it. And we have the Man of Sorrows, the most God-forsaken man who ever lived, so that, in turn, He might say to us, “I will never leave you; I will never forsake you.” God wrote the book on suffering and He called it Jesus. This means God understands. He knows. He’s with me. My diving accident really was an answer to that prayer to be drawn closer to Him.

TT: How important is it for a person with a disability to have the support of his or her family and church during such times?

JT: God never intended that we should suffer alone, that we should suffer for nothing. This is why spiritual community is so important to a person who has undergone a catastrophic injury or illness — his family and the church keep him connected to reality, help ascribe positive meaning to his pain, bring him out of social isolation, and point him to the One who holds all the answers in His hand. Without family and the church, a person with a disability is adrift in a sea of hopelessness. We must not let that happen.

TT: How would you encourage someone who has recently been diagnosed with a permanent illness or disability?

JT: First, it’s okay to cry; it’s important to grieve. Romans 12:15 shows us that God doesn’t expect us to stifle our tears, so we shouldn’t expect it of each other. It’s a hard thing to first swallow a bad medical report or the birth of your child with a disabling condition, and it takes time to digest the reality. But sooner or later, we have to put aside the Kleenex and start thinking, start searching out God’s heart in the matter — because it’s not enough to merely cope or adjust; God wants us to embrace His purpose for the pain a s good and acceptable (Rom. 12:2b).

TT: What is the best way to help nondisabled people view disabled people as more than just the sum of their disabilities?

JT: Inside every person using a wheelchair, a white cane, or a walker is a person who is just like you, someone with hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, opinions and views, and memories of childhood and vacations. Try to look past the strokeravaged body or the blind eyes or the wheelchair to see that this individual is an image-bearer of God — a person with human dignity and life potential. And look for ways to help that person discover his innate worth and purpose for living — realizing that he can help you discover the same.

TT: Your most recent book is A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’ s Sovereignty. Can you tell us why you wrote this book?

JT: For more than ten years I have dealt with chronic pain (very unusual for a quadriplegic like me). Piled on top of my quadriplegia, at times it seemed too much to bear. So I went back and reexamined my original views on divine healing to see what more I could learn. What I discovered was that God still reserves the right to heal or not to heal as He sees fit.

And rather than try to frantically escape the pain, I relearned the timeless lesson of allowing my suffering to push me deeper into the arms of Jesus. I like to think of my pain as a sheepdog that keeps snapping at my heels to drive me down the road to Calvary, where, otherwise, I would not be naturally inclined to go.

TT: How doe s Joni and Friends International Disability Center impact the world today?

JT: I’m honored to lead a gifted team of like-hearted believers who are passionate about making Jesus real among people around the globe who are suffering from all sorts of disabilities and diseases. Through our Wheels for the World outreach, gifted physical therapists travel with us to hand-fit needy disabled people in developing nations to wheelchairs. Plus, we give them Bibles and do disability ministry training in local churches. Joni and Friends also holds scores of Family Retreats each summer across the United States and around the world, serving more than thirty-five hundred disabled children, adults, family members, and volunteers.

I pray that God will give me many more years of strength and stamina so that I can continue to do the work He’s called me to. It’s why “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” That’s my paraphrase of Acts 20:24 and, for me, it’s what makes me get up in the morning with a smile.


Joni Eareckson Tada has lived in a wheelchair for more than forty years due to a diving accident at age seventeen. She is the founder of Joni and Friends, a nonprofit organization founded in 1979 to accelerate Christian ministry in the disability community through various outreach and church training programs. Joni and Friends has distributed more than thirty-eight thousand wheelchairs worldwide through Wheels for the World. Visit http://www.joniandfriends.org to learn more. Joni is also an author of more than forty-five books, including When God Weeps and A Lifetime of Wisdom: Embracing the Way God Heals You.

FORGIVE

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by  John Eldredge

We must forgive those who hurt us.

The reason is simple: Bitterness and unforgiveness are claws that set their hooks deep in our hearts; they are chains that keep us held captive to the wounds and the messages of those wounds. Until you forgive, you remain their prisoner. Paul warns us that unforgiveness and bitterness can wreck our lives and the lives of others (Eph. 4:31; Heb. 12:15). We have to let them go.

Forgive as Christ has forgiven you. (Col 3:13)

Now – listen carefully.

Forgiveness is a choice. It is not a feeling – don’t try and feel forgiving. It is an act of the will. “Don’t wait to forgive until you feel like forgiving,” wrote Neil Anderson. “You will never get there. Feelings take time to heal after the choice to forgive is made . . .” We allow God to bring the hurt up from our past, for “if your forgiveness doesn’t visit the emotional core of your life, it will be incomplete.” We acknowledge that it hurt, that it mattered, and we choose to extend forgiveness to our father, our mother, those who hurt us. This is not saying, “It didn’t really matter”; it is not saying, “I probably deserved part of it anyway.” Forgiveness says, “It was wrong. Very wrong. It mattered, hurt me deeply. And I release you. I give you to God.”

It might help to remember that those who hurt you were also deeply wounded themselves. They were broken hearts, broken when they were young, and they fell captive to the Enemy. They were in fact pawns in his hands. This doesn’t absolve them of the choices they made, the things they did. It just helps us to let them go – to realize that they were shattered souls themselves, used by our true Enemy in his war against [us all].

“Bring it here unto ME”

SOURCE:  Octavius Winslow/Deejay O’Flaherty

Take Our Sorrows to Him

“Bring him here to Me.”  Matthew 17:17

In your moment of disappointment and despair, Jesus meets you with the gracious words, “Bring it here unto Me.”

And now your spirit revives, your heart bounds, at the words, and you exclaim, “Behold, Lord, I come!”

Jesus says, “Bring your sorrows to Me!” Never did the soul find so powerful a magnet, attracting to itself affliction in every form, and sorrow in every shade — as Jesus.

Standing as in the center of a world of woe — He invites every [son and] daughter of sorrow, of sin, of grief to repair to Him for support, sympathy, and healing.

As the High Priest of His Church for whom alone He suffered, and wept, and sobbed — He unveils a bosom capacious enough and loving enough, and sympathizing enough — to embrace every sufferer, and to pillow every grief.

Accept, then, His compassionate invitation, and bring your grief to the soothing, sustaining, sanctifying grace of His heart!

————————————————————————-
Octavius Winslow (1808-1878), also know as “The Pilgrim’s Companion,” stood out as a one of the foremost evangelical preachers of the 19th Century.

A Prayer of Longing for the Day of Complete Healing

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. Rev. 22:1-2

Merciful Jesus, I begin today with one hope-filled image and many intense longings. The image is John’s vision of the New Jerusalem—our future home of perfect health. Because of the tree of Calvary, the tree of life will stand tall in the New Jerusalem. It will bear the life-giving fruit of your great sacrifice, extending its leaves for our complete healing. O, how we look forward to living, playing and praising in the shade of that tree, where every disease, malady and illness will be gone forever!

The hope of that Day intensifies my longings for people I love—friends in need of all kinds of healing:

I pray for children stricken with life-altering diseases. It’s so hard to watch them hurt, Jesus. Bring the power of your resurrection to bear;

For fractured marriages of close friends. Humble one spouse, then the other;

For those suffering with mental and emotional illnesses, and for their caregivers.

Have mercy, O Lord; For the fabric of our racially torn community. Please bring a foretaste of the New Jerusalem into our city;

For friends with stories of abuse; cancer, in its many forms; and heart disease, both physical and spiritual.

Pour out BIG grace, Jesus; Indeed, for the nations to be healed—for the day of no more war or rumors of war. That Day cannot come too soon.

Even as I pray for these things, Lord Jesus, I confess I don’t understand, and I don’t have to understand, the “already and not yet” of your healing ministry. When, where and how you choose to bring manifestations of healing are up to you. You are the King who does all things well, not a computer that needs to be programmed. You don’t need our permission to do anything, nor are you waiting for us to motivate you to action. However… you do honor the faith you give us.

So, Lord Jesus, help me avoid two extremes: keep me free from faith formulas that treat healing like an on-demand right; and keep me free from a theology that has little or no expectation of your kingdom breaking in with healing power.

More so than ever, I intensely crave the Day of perfect health. Until that day, extend your healing hand and heart, to us and through us.  So very Amen I pray, in your grace-full and powerful name.

Why do I keep doing the same sin over & over again?

Editor’s Note:  As called out in the following article, Christ-centered and clinically sound support systems (such as offered by ministries like Celebrate Recovery and Living Free) are vitally needed to overcome any life-controlling problems.

SOURCE:  Taken from an article at The Counseling Solution/Rick Thomas

The alcoholic spends his entire paycheck at the bar, in one night.

The crack addict steals money from her daughter’s savings to get her fix on.

The fearful person is in a situation she can’t control. Now she’s afraid.

The porn addict is tired and exhausted, feeling defeated. He gets his fix by surfing the net…again.

The gossiper needs her “approval fix,” so she passes along some juicy info about a friend.

The mocker fulfills his desire to control others by making fun of people through put downs and sarcasm.

The insatiable shopper has two closets full of clothes. She softens the blows to her conscience by calling herself a “comfort shopper.”

And what do these people have in common?

They all are habituated in a sin habit that has been going on for many years and they believe it will never go away. In this sense, the gossiper, the fearful, the druggy, the alcoholic, the mocker, the shopper and the porn guy are all the same.

It is important to understand when you think about addictions that you also include the more refined addictive sins like frustration, fear, self-righteousness, criticalness, insecurity, or mocking.[1]

Addictive behavior is not just reserved to the more sensational or socially understood sins like alcohol, homosexuality, and drugs. We’re all addicts in our own way. I’m an addict; you’re an addict.

I’ve never met a person who was not an addict in some way. Sinful addictive behavior is a result of our fallenness. Therefore, the obvious questions are:

  • How did these people get this way?
  • How did you get this way?
  • How did I get this way?
  • Did we choose one day that we would yield our lives to the cruelty and slavery of sin?
  • Are we responsible for our condition? …our actions?
  • And the most important question of all, “Can I stop my addictive sinning?”

I’m in a trap. I can’t get out.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. – Galatians 6:1 (ESV)

To begin unpacking these questions we must begin where Paul began. As a son or daughter of Adam, our default heart condition is an unquenchable and undeniable loyalty to ourselves. At our core we are self-centered.

With a pre-conditioned heart that is motivated toward self-centeredness it is not hard to understand how and why we have been caught in various sin patterns.

When I say “we have been caught” I’m not saying we have been caught as though we were busted like a policeman pulling someone over for speeding. Though that can be called “getting caught,” that is not what Paul means by the word “caught.” Paul is saying we get caught as though we are in a bear trap and we cannot get out of it.

I do not control it. It controls me.

For example, there was a day when each of us made a choice to sin, whatever that sin may have been. Inthat day, we were in control of our sinful choice. We had power over our sin and could pick and choose when, where, and how we wanted to participate in sinful thoughts, desires, cravings, behaviors, or activities.

However, in process of time, we began to lose the control we once exercised over our sinful choices. We began to develop habits. Habits are, in part, how God wired us. Habits were never meant to be evil.[2]

The bad news, post Genesis 3, is that we do not just develop good habits. Because of the invasive power of the doctrine of sin, we have the ability to create bad habits too. Habit is the word for repetitive behavior. The word habit does not distinguish between good or bad. The word is neutral. It is our heart motives, which eventually becomes specific behaviors that determine if the habit is good or evil.

When evil habits begin to exert its power over our hearts, then we’re not far from what our culture calls an addiction. Paul called it being caught, as in being caught in a trap.

My strength is weaker than my sin

Let’s pretend you are caught in a bear trap somewhere deep in the woods. Let’s further pretend that your strength is zapped and you have no ability to open the jaws of the trap to release your bleeding ankle.

Your hope is diminishing by the second.

It is the nature of the bear trap to exert a greater power over your ability to overcome it. No Bear Trap Maker would ever make a trap that was easy to escape from.

It is the nature of sin to exert a greater power over your ability to extricate yourself. If you could extricate yourself from your sin, then you would not need a Divine Rescuer. There would be no need for a Gospel. The only way you can get out of the traps you get yourself into is through God-ordained means.

Back to the woods

You decide to pray (yell) to God for help. How do you expect God to answer your prayer? Do you expect Jesus to show up and loosen the trap? Do you expect the jaws of the trap to miraculously pop open? It’s not likely that either one of those events will happen.

Does that mean God did not hear you and, therefore, is not going to help you?

The answer to that question really depends on your understanding of prayer as well as God’s ordained means of helping His children. What does Paul say?

…you who are spiritual should restore him… – Galatians 6:1 (ESV)

Rescue happens in community

Did you know that every time you prayed to God for help to get out of your habitual sinning that He heard you? Did you further know that He provided a solution to your problem?

One of the biggest reasons people get caught in sin and stay in sin is because they do not want anyone to know about the sinfulness of their lives. The man trapped in the woods needs the help of his friends. The man trapped in sin needs the help of other Christians.

That is the way it has to be.

A fool thinks he can habituate himself in sin all by himself and that he can get out of his sin all by himself. Not likely.

In Galatians 6 Paul is calling the body of Christ to attention. The “spiritual” in this verse simply means those who have the Spirit, the Christians. This is essential counseling my friends. You and I need the community of faith to help us out of our addictive behaviors.

And this is where the rub is. We don’t want to tell anyone about our messes.

Keys to breaking addictions

If you apply these simple biblical truths to your life, then you can get help for the repetitive sins in your life:

Humility – The road to change always begins with humility.

Transparency – You must intentionally and completely expose yourself.

Honesty – Only the whole truth and nothing but the truth about who you really are will help you.

Repentance – While all of the previous keys are part of repentance, I have created a ten-minute video that carefully unpacks a fuller understanding of the Doctrine of Repentance. Watch it now.

Contexts – Place yourself in the community of faith. A small group setting is ideal for habituated sinners like you and me.

Friends, do not over-think the situation. Do not look for the next best book for your problem. The church, historically, has never needed the “next best book.” If you carefully apply God’s Word to your life, while authentically living in the context of likeminded believers, then sin can be defeated, no matter how habituated you have been.

Do You Want To Be Healed?

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors

38 years in a bed.

Next to a pool.

Sounds relaxing doesn’t it?

But as we read on, the story says the [broken] man was alone and horribly crippled. Probably twisted feet, pencil thin legs and atrophied muscles barely covered by a thin blanket. Why? Because this was the pool of Bethesda near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. There was something miraculous about this pool. Periodically the water stirred, and the first one into it was instantly healed.

Suddenly a commotion just inside the gate caused everyone to turn and look. A Man [Jesus], followed by a large crowd, walked through one of five alcoves. With humble determination, He moved to the crippled man’s side. Whispers fill the air. “Is it Him?” some ask. Every ear strains to hear what He might say as He kneels tenderly next to the man.

And then, with a quiet strong voice full of power and grace, He asked, “Do you want to be healed?”

The broken man feebly hangs his head and utters an interesting reply, “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.” His answer only goes to affirm the depths of his hopelessness. Not “yes” or even “no”. Just discouragement and despair

Even more interesting is the edict He gives in response. “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off. (John 5:1-9 MSG)

Jesus asked him — Do you want to be healed?

Each of us, at some point in our lives, have heard Him ask us the same question. Whether it’s physically… emotionally… relationally… or spiritually. Too often, we answer with the same timidity he did. Our pain is too deep. The hurt has been lodged in our heart for way too long. The doctors have tried everything. Hopelessness fills our souls…

When you really think about it, healing starts with a choice. And it is always for His glory.

Meditate on these words. Treasure them up and ponder them in your heart:

“But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 ESV)

“O LORD, my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.” (Psalm 30:2 ESV)

“Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14 ESV)

“And many followed Him. And He healed them all.” (Matthew 12:15 ESV)

“He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV)

“Do you want to be healed?”

The next time He asks you that heartfelt question, reflect on these verses before you answer. And yes, He is always waiting and willing to turn our lives around.

Making All Things New: Restoring Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken (Part 2)

Editor’s Note:  This is a lengthy article, but it is so well worth the investment of time to read thoughtfully and prayerfully through these truths.

SOURCE:  David Powison/CCEF

3. It’s a WIDER war

Sexual sins grab everyone’s attention. They haunt the conscience and excite the gossip. They push other sins into the background. They go up on the marquee in red letters 10 feet high.i But consider the struggle with sin this way. Imagine a multiplex theater screening many movies simultaneously. Sexual sin is the “feature film” advertised on the marquee. But other significant films are playing in other screening rooms. The war with sin takes place in many places simultaneously. In ministry to people who struggle with sexual sins, you may get the breakthrough in another screening room, with a sin that you might not have noticed or might not have considered to be related. A breakthrough – with anger, or pride, or anxiety, or laziness – may have ripple effects that eventually help disarm the big bogie-man that has been hogging all the attention and earnest concern. It’s very important to widen the battlefront, and not to let the high profile sins blinker us from seeing the whole picture. I will give a case study of how sexual sin can and must be located within wider battles.

“My temper tantrum at God.” Tom is a single man, 35 years old. You might be able to fill in the rest of his story, because his pattern is so typical! He came to Christ, with a sincere profession of faith, when he was 15. At about the same time, his 20-year struggle with sexual lust began. It involves episodic use of pornography and episodic masturbation, about which Tom is deeply discouraged. Over the years he has experienced many ups of “victory,” and just as many downs of “defeat.”

Tom came for help from me as his elder and small group leader. He was currently discouraged by recent failures, by the latest downturn in a seemingly endless cycle. Over the years he has tried “all the right things,” the standard answers and techniques. He’s tried accountability – sincerely. It helped some, but not decisively. Accountability had a way of starting strong, but slipping to the side. At a certain point, to tell others you failed yet again, and to receive either sympathy or exhortation, stopped being helpful. Tom has memorized Scripture, and wrestled to apply truth in moments of battle. It’s often helped, but then in snow-blind moments, when he most needs help, he’ll forget everything he knows. Sex fills his mind and Scripture vanishes from sight. Other times he just overrides the truth in an act of “Who cares?” rebellion. Then he feels terrible – his conscience only goes snow-blind for half an hour at a time! He’s prayed, and continues to pray. He’s fasted. He’s sought to discipline himself. He’s planned constructive things to do with his time, and to do with and for others. He’s gotten involved in ministry to teens. He’s tried things that aren’t in the Bible: vigorous exercise, cold showers. dietary regimes. Briefly, he even tried the advice of a self-help book, trying to think of masturbation as “normal, everybody does it, so give yourself permission.” His conscience, wisely, could never get around Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:28. Tom has tried it all. Most things (except giving up the fight) helped a bit. But in the end, success was always spotty and fragile. Tom has gained no greater insight into his heart and into the inner workings of sin and grace. For twenty years it’s been: “Sin is bad. Don’t do it. Just do _____ to help you not sin.” His entire Christian life has been conceived and constructed around this struggle with episodic sexual sin.

His pattern is as follows. Seasons of relative purity might last for days, weeks, even for a few months. He measures his success by “How long since I last fell?” The longer he goes, the more his hopes rise, “Maybe now I’ve finally broken the back of my besetting sin.” Then he falls again. He stumbles through seasons of defeat, wandering back to the same old pigsty. “Am I even a Christian? Why bother? What’s the point? Nothing ever works.” He’s plagued with guilt, discouragement, despair, shame. Sometimes Tom will even turn to pornography to dull the misery of his guilt over using pornography. He’ll beg God’s forgiveness over and over and over, without any relief or any joy. Two weeks or a month of “victory” does far more to alleviate his guilt than anything arising from his relationship with Christ. Then, for unaccountable reasons the season will change for the better. He’ll get sick of sin or get inspired to fight again. That’s when he gave me a call. He really wanted deliverance once and for all.

What should I do in trying to help Tom? I was reticent to simply give Tom more of the same things he’d tried dozens of times, and found wanting. I didn’t want to just give him a pep talk and a Scripture, urge him to gird his loins to run the race, and offer accountability phone calls. What is he missing? What’s happening in the other theaters of his life? Are there motives and patterns neither of us yet sees? What’s going on in the days or hours before he stumbles? What about how he (mis)handles the days and weeks after a fall? Why does his whole approach to life seem like so much complicated machinery for managing moral failure? Why does his approach to the Christian life seem so dehumanized and depersonalized? His Christianity seems like a big production, a lot of earnest effort at self-improvement. Why does his collection of truths and techniques never seem to warm up and invigorate the quality of his relationships with God and people? Is the centerpiece of the Christian life really this endless cycle of “I sin. I don’t sin. I sin. I don’t sin. I sin.” What are we missing?

I asked Tom to do a simple thing, attempting to gain a better sense of the overall terrain of his life: “Would you keep a log of when you are tempted?” I wanted to know what’s going on when he struggles. When? Where? What just happened? What did you do? What were you feeling? What were you thinking? If you resisted, how did you do it? If you fell, how did you react afterwards? Does anything else correlate to sexual temptations?

Through all the ups and downs, Tom had maintained a great sense of humor. He laughed at me, and said, “I don’t need to keep a log. I already know the answer. I only fall on Friday or Saturday nights – usually Friday, since Saturday is right before Sunday.” If you have any pastoral counseling genes in you, you light up at an answer like that. Repeated patterns always prove extremely revealing on inspection. I asked, “Why does sexual sin surface on Friday night? What’s going on with that?” He said, “I go out and buy Playboy magazine as my temper tantrum at God.”

Amazing. Look what we’ve just found out: another movie is playing in a theater next door. Now we’re not only dealing with a couple of bad behaviors, buying pornography and masturbating. We’re dealing with anger at God that drives those behaviors. What’s that about? Tom went on to give a fuller picture. “I come home from work on Friday night, back to the apartment. I’m all alone. I imagine that all my single friends are out on dates, and my married friends are spending time with their wives. But I’m all alone in my apartment. I build up a good head of steam of self-pity. Then by nine or ten o’clock, I think, ‘You deserve a break today’ – I even hear the little MacDonald’s jingle in my head, and then sexual desires start to look really, really sweet. ‘God has cheated you. If only I had a girlfriend or a wife. I can’t stand how I feel. Why not feel good for awhile? What does it matter anyway?’ Then I hop in the car, head to 7-11, and fall into sin.”

Amazing, isn’t it? Pornography and masturbation grabbed all the attention, generated all the guilt, defined the moment and act of “falling.” Let’s call that Screening Room #1. But we’ve also heard about anger at God that precedes and legitimates sexual sin: Screening Room #2. We’ve heard about hours of low-grade self-pity, grumbling, and envious fantasies: a matinee performance in Screening Room #3. We’ve heard Tom name the original desire that leads to self-pity, to anger at God, and finally to sexual lust: “God owes me a wife. I need, want, demand a woman to love me.” That’s playing in Screening Room #4, an unobtrusive G-rated film, seemingly no problem at all. It’s a classic non-sexual lust of the flesh that Tom has never viewed as problematic. In fact, in his mind, it’s practically a promise from God: “Psalm 37:4. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. If I do my part, God should do His part and give me a wife.”

As Tom and I kept talking, I found out why God owes him a wife: “I’ve tried to do all the right things. I’ve served Him. I’ve tried accountability. I’ve memorized Scripture. I’ve tried to be a good Christian. I do ministry. I witness. I tithe.… but God hasn’t come through.” In other words, the “right answers” for fighting sin are also the levers to pry goodies out of God. Tom’s words sound eerily like the self-righteous whine of the older brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son: “I’m good, therefore God owes me the goodies I want.” Subsequent anger at God operates like any other sinful anger: “You aren’t giving me what I want, expect, need, and demand.” This fatally-flawed, proud ‘upside’ of the classic legalistic construct has been showing in Screening Room #5. And why does Tom mope in self-lacerating depression for days and weeks after falling, rather than finding God’s living mercies new every morning? That’s the self-punitive, despairing ‘downside’ of the legalistic construct: “I’m bad, therefore God won’t give me the goodies.” Screening Room #6 is where self-punishment, self-atonement, penance, and self-hatred play out.

It doesn’t take much theological insight to see how all these distortions of Tom’s relationship with God express different forms of basic unbelief. We suppress living knowledge of the true God. We create a universe for ourselves voided of the real God’s presence, truth, and purposes. Unbelief does not mean a vacuum; rather the universe fills up with seductive, persuasive fictions. Screening Room #7 is showing a blockbuster that Tom had never noticed as trouble. (When Dame Folly keeps her clothes on she sounds like common sense.) In fact, we even found out why Tom is so eager right now to get my counsel and advice. Why did he want to have victory over his lust problem, to try again, to defeat the dragon of lust once and for all? He’s recently had his eye on an eligible young lady who started to attend our church. That’s reawakened his motivation to fight. If only lust goes, then God owes, and maybe he’ll get the wife of his dreams. Even Tom’s agenda for counseling plays a bit part in the wider battle: Screening Room #8!

Look how far we’ve come in half an hour. Tom’s “fall” at 9:30 P.M. last Friday was not where he started to fall. It was not even his most devastating fall. For me to assist Tom’s discipleship to Jesus is not simply to offer tips and truths that might help him remain “morally pure” on subsequent Fridays. Counseling must be about rewiring Tom’s entire life. “Cure of souls” is what ministry does.

You can see why we must widen the battlefront in order to cure souls. Tom concentrates all his attention on one marquee sin that sporadically surfaces, defining and energizing all his guilty feelings. But that narrowing of attention serves to mask far more serious, pervasive sins. As a pastor, friend, or other counselor, you don’t want to concentrate all your energies in the same place Tom does. There are other, deeper opportunities for grace and truth to rewrite the script of this man’s life. Tom had turned his whole relationship with God into flimsy scaffolding. Self-righteousness (“victory at last”) would get him the goodies he really wanted out of life. Though Tom knew and professed sound theology, in daily practice he reduced God to the “errand boy of his wandering desires” (Bob Dylan).

Tom and I put the fire of truth and grace to the scaffolding. Wonderful changes started to run through his life. We didn’t ignore temptations to sexual sin, but many other things that he had never before noticed became urgently important. We spent far more time talking about self-pity and grumbling as “early warning” sins, about how the desire for a wife becomes a mastering lust, about how the self-righteousness construct falls before the dynamics of grace. Temptations to sexual sin greatly diminished. The topography of the battlefield radically changed. The significance of Jesus Christ’s love went off the charts. The lights of more accurate and comprehensive self-knowledge came on. A man going in circles, muddling in the middle, started to leap and bound in the right direction. We experienced the delights of a season of gazelle growth. Ministering to someone who has struggled for 20 years with the exact same thing is disheartening, and frequently a recipe for futility. Ministering to someone who is starting to battle a half-dozen foes that were previously invisible is extremely heartening! Widening the war served to deepen and heighten the significance of the Savior who met Tom on every battlefront.

4. It’s a DEEPER war

The Bible is always about behavior, but it is never only about behavior. God’s indictment of human nature always gets below the surface, into the “heart.” His gaze and Word expose the thoughts, intentions, desires, and fears that shape the entire way that we approach life. An immoral act or fantasy – behavior – is a sin in itself. But such behavior always arises from desires and beliefs that dethrone God. Whenever I do wrong, I am loving something besides God with all my heart, soul, mind, and might. I am listening attentively to some other voice. Typically (but not always!), immoral actions arise in connection with erotic desires that squirm out from under God’s lordship. But immorality results from many other motives, too, and usually arises from a combination of motives. We saw some of this in describing Tom. Erotic motives, the “feel good” of sex, played an important role. But other motives – “I want a wife”; “If I’m good, God owes me goodies”; “I’m angry because God has let me down” – interconnected with his eroticism. Many co-conspirators play a role when Tom starts rummaging in the gutter of “I want to look at a naked Playmate” and “I need sexual release now.” Many other lusts join hands to give a boost to sexual lust. It’s worth digging, both in order to understand yourself and in order to minister wisely to other people. As our understanding of sin’s inner cravings deepens, our ability to know and appreciate the God of grace grows deeper still. Consider a handful of typical examples to prime the pump.

a. Angry desires for revenge.

Sexual acting out can be a way to express anger. I once counseled a couple who had committed backlash adulteries. First they had a big fight, full of yelling, threats and bitter accusations. In anger the man went out and slept with a prostitute. Still burning with anger, he came home and gloated about it to his wife. In retaliatory anger, the woman went out and seduced her husband’s best friend. Did they get any erotic pleasure out of those acts? Probably. But was eros the driving force? No way. Though it’s not always so dramatic, anger often plays a role in immorality: a teenager finds sex a convenient way to rebel against and to hurt morally upright parents; a man cruises the internet after he and his wife exchange words; a woman masturbates to fantasies of former boyfriends after she and her husband argue. In all these situations, the redemption of dirtied sexuality can only happen alongside the redemption of dirtied anger.

b. Longings to feel loved, approved, affirmed, given romantic attention.

Consider the situation of an overweight, lonely, teenage girl with acne, whose enjoyment of sex as an act is minimal or even nil. Why then is she promiscuous, giving away sexual favors to any boy who pays her any attention? She barters her body in service not to erotic lust, but in order to feed her consuming lust for romantic attention. When boys say sweet things and pledge their faithful love, she might even know inside that they are lying. She knows that they are merely using her as a receptacle for their lust, but she temporarily blocks out the thought. She does sex anyway – because she’s hooked on “feeling loved.” Ministry to such a young woman does her a disservice if we only concentrate on the wrong of fornication, and do not help her to understand the subtler enslavement of living for human attention. Sex can be an instrument in the hands of non-sexual lust. Both evils must find the mercies and transforming power of Christ.

c. Thrilling desires for the power and excitement of the chase.

Some people enjoy the sense of power and control over another person’s sexual response. The flirt, the tease, the Don Juan, the seducer are not motivated solely by sexual desires. Often evil erotic pleasure is enhanced and complemented by deeper evil pleasures: the chase, the hunt, the thrill of conquest, the rush that comes with being able to manipulate the romantic-erotic arousal of another. There is a kind of sadistic pleasure driving through such sexual sins. They like to see people get aroused, “fall” for them, and squirm. They may become indifferent to a willing sexual partner once that particular chase has ended. Repentance and change for seducers will address lusts for perverse power and excitement, as well as lusts for sex.

d. Anxious desires for money to meet basic survival needs.

The obvious link of sex to money is the “sex industry”: sex makes lots money for lots of people. As in the previous cases, eros may be one factor. But in money-making sex, pleasure plays second fiddle to mammon. There are also more subtle situations. A single mother in our church was in very tight financial straits. She found herself strongly tempted by her sleazy landlord’s offer of free rent in exchange for sexual favors. If she had fallen, sexual desire might have been non-existent. In fact, she might have fornicated despite feeling active repugnance, shame, and guilt in the act. To God’s glory, she opened up her struggle to a wise woman. In a variety of appropriate ways the church was able to come to her aid with care and counsel. One aspect of care for her came from the deacons (who didn’t even know what almost happened): “Know that you will not end up on the street. We are your family. If you get stuck, if you wonder where the money will come from for rent, or groceries, or a doctor’s bill, don’t think twice about asking for help.” Interesting, isn’t it? Mercy ministry to financial needs played a significant role in reducing a woman’s vulnerability to one particular sort of sexual temptation. She needed counsel, too, in order to run further in her race of repentance. But anxiety, finances, and the character of God were more salient than her sexual temptation.

e. Distorted messianic desire to help another.

Certainly there are pastors and priests who are sexual predators, but that’s not the only dynamic of sexual sin in the ministry. I’ve dealt with a number of situations that involved the very impulses that make for ministry – run far off the rails. For example, a pastor feels deep concern for a lonely young widow or divorcée. He so much (too much) wants to help her and comfort her. She so appreciates his wise, Scriptural counsel. He’s such a role model of kindness, gentleness, communication, attentive concern. But life is still very hard and lonely for her. He starts to console her with hugs. They end up in bed. The motives? Sexual, yes. But more significant in the early going was a warped desire to be helpful, to be admired, to make a real difference, to be important, to “save” her. When anyone who is not the Messiah starts to act messianic, it gets very ugly very fast. When you minister to a minister who has committed sexual sin, you might find that sex was only the poisoned dessert. The poisonous entrée might be a very different set of deceitful desires, desires arising more in the mind than from the body (Eph. 4:22; 2:3).

f. Desires for relief and rest amid the pressures of life.

Sexual sin often serves as a kind of “escape valve” from other problems. When steam pressure gets too high in a pressure cooker, it blows off steam. That’s a metaphor for what’s often true with people, too. Consider a man who faces, and mishandles, extreme pressures in his work place. He’s part of a team facing a drop-dead deadline for a major project. They’ve been running behind. He’s had a month of 80-hour work weeks. He’s harried, driven, preoccupied, worried, worn out. Every day his boss applies more pressure, more panic, more threats. There’s been vicious infighting on the project team: who’s responsible for what task, who’s to blame for what glitch, who gets credit for what achievement. All along, he is not casting real cares on the God who cares for him; he is not “anxious for nothing,” but anxious about lots of things. After two straight all-nighters, just under the wire, they finish the project. They made it. He made it. Success. Finally he has a free night, with no deadlines, no jungle of intramural combat, no tomorrow to worry about. But after a month of living ‘stressed-out’, he feels no relief. He finds no satisfaction in achievement. So he surfs the internet, revels in pornography, forgets his troubles. What’s going on with him?

Erotic sin is part of his picture, but there’s lots more. Every deviant motive – all lusts of the flesh, lies, false loves – is a hijacker. It mimics some aspect of God. It usurps some promise of God. Consider that about 2/3s of the Psalms present God as “our refuge” in the midst of the troubles of life. Amid threat, hurt, disappointment, and attack, God protects, cares, and looks out for us. Our friend has faced troubles: people out to get him, threats to his job, intolerable demands, relentless weeks. But he’s been finding no true refuge during this frenzied month. Now, in a spasm of immorality, he takes “false refuge” in eroticism. His erotic behavior serves as a counterfeit rest from his troubles. Psalm 23 breathes true refuge: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” This man pants after false refuge: “After I’ve walked through that godforsaken valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because the photograph of a surgically-enhanced female wearing no clothes is with me.” A false refuge looks pretty silly when it’s exposed for what it really is.

Sexual sin is one expression of a deeper war for the heart’s loyalty and primary love. Learning to see more clearly is a crucial part of your sanctification journey. Teaching others to have eyes open to the deeper battles is a crucial part of wise pastoral ministry. Jesus Christ looks better and better the more we see what He is about. He is not simply in the business of cleaning up a few embarrassing moral blots. Deepening the battle deepens the significance of the Savior. He alone sees your heart accurately. He alone loves you well enough to make you love Him.

5. It’s a SUBTLER war

A newcomer to war imagines that the first battles are the hardest battles. When you’re first coming out of the morass of an adulterous relationship, of being betrayed by a spouse’s adultery, of promiscuous fornications, of having experienced rape or molestation, of a homosexual lifestyle, of an obsession with internet porn, it can seem like your troubles will be over if you can only get past the particular bad behavior (yours or another’s) that insulted God and sucked the life out of you.

Those battles are hard. But will your troubles be over? That’s not how life works. That’s not how sanctification works in the clean-up from sexual dirt. In fact, in some ways it’s the opposite. The more obviously destructive sins can be “easier” to deal with. The subtler sins can be more stubborn, pervasive, sneaky, and elusive.

Consider a metaphor for this. Many computer and video games send you out on a quest, a sort of pilgrim’s progress. You proceed through level after level, facing test after test, until, say, at Level 50 you’ve run the race and won. Level 1 starts you out with easier challenges. The tasks are clear cut. The enemies are slower, more limited in their abilities, more obvious in their approach, not so smart. With some practice, you learn to accomplish your task and blow away your attackers. Level 2 gets a little harder. Each successive level gets harder still. The tasks get trickier. The enemies are wilier, stronger, quicker, more numerous. The skills you need are subtler and more varied. If you ever arrive at, say, Level 40, it’s because you’ve died often, but you learned something each time, and you kept coming back. You’ve come a distance in the right direction.

The struggle with sexual sin (as with any other sin) has a certain similarity to those video games. There is typically a front-and-center issue, and the “front lines” of the current battle move from the more overt sins to subtler sins.ii Let’s work out the metaphor.

a. High-effort, high-cost sins.

Think of consenting sex (adultery, fornication, homosexuality, prostitution) and criminal sex (rape, child abuse) as the Level 1 sins. These are the obvious evils. I don’t mean that such sins are easy to break or easy to change. But they are relatively easy to see. Easier to recognize as wrong. Easier to know when you’re doing wrong, once your conscience starts to see straight. And such sins are usually harder to do and harder to get away with. Think about that. You have to put in a lot of effort scheming in order to arrange a liaison. You have to hide things from people who love you, who would be unhappy if they found out what you’ve been doing. You have to tell consistent and increasingly complex lies in order to get away with it. You have to lie to your own conscience to persuade yourself that everything’s OK. Because these actions involve actual copulation with other people, those partners may blow your cover, or blackmail you, or slip up, or report you. These sins can catch up with you very quickly, taking you down in an instant. They can destroy your reputation. Destroy family relationships. Destroy finances. Destroy health by a sexually-transmitted disease. Even send you to jail. In other words, these sins take a lot of work and can bite back hard. If you’re willing to seek mercy and change, it’s easier to set up meaningful barriers against the high-effort, high-cost sins.

Jesus Christ often begins His work of mercy and renewal by dealing with such high-handed sins. Often the dramatic first steps of sanctification shake off overt evils. Oily-rag people make leaps and bounds into the garden of light. There are adulterers who repent and never have sexual relations with anyone who is not their own wife or husband. It is entirely possible to have lived an immoral life for many years, with a string of lovers, and then to make such a complete break with that sin that you will never be immoral again – in the Level 1 sense. That does not always happen. And it’s never a snap of the fingers. And you may still face ongoing consequences. And believers do fall back into such sins. But grace and change can be as easy to see and as powerful as the sin once was. Accountability relationships can really help. The Scriptures openly and frequently speak into the obvious sins to bring transformation. (By doing this, God also familiarizes us with how the subtler versions of sin and love work, teaching us how to see more of life for what it is and can become.)

b. Lower-effort, lower-cost sins.

Let’s say you’ve done some growing. You’ve put away overt evils. No immoral liaisons. By grace you’ve worked and fought your way to a Level 8 battle. Pornography was around before, but now it’s the biggie. In some ways, pornography is a tougher problem than adultery. In one sense, it’s “not as bad,” because it doesn’t involve an accomplice or victim. But it’s harder to get rid of. Harder to set up protective barriers. Why is this? Pornography is easier to do and easier to get away with. The necessary deceit is not as complicated. It doesn’t take much work for you to do the sin. Adultery usually takes a lot of effort, both to arrange and to cover your tracks. But pornography? The gap between temptation and sin can be a matter of seconds. Three clicks of the mouse, and you’re there. A few dollars at an airport magazine shop. Standard fare in films. A remote control in your hand to check out what’s on cable TV. And who’s to know? No one. Pornography use is harder to discover. Unless you fail to erase it off your computer. Or you spend so many hours on-line late at night that friends and family get suspicious. Or someone walks in on you. Or you get depressed and grouchy because you feel guilty. Or your relationships slowly fray and alienate because of your preoccupation, defensiveness, and hiding. The consequences are shameful – but usually not as disastrous as with the interpersonal sins.

So pornography is both “not as bad” as adultery, and yet harder to defeat because it’s easier to do and not as devastating. Christ is merciful here, too. Lots of people have broken with pornography and never gone back. You learn the joys of righteousness, the deeper pleasures of a clear conscience and honest relationships. You learn to say No to yourself. You get more interested in good things. You care about people, and sin just doesn’t have as much room to insinuate itself into your heart. Some practical tools can help, too. A friend who will look you in the eye, ask a direct question, and expect an honest answer can help you. You can set up Covenant Eyes software (www.covenanteyes.com) to monitor your internet use and e-mail a report to a friend.

c. No-effort sins.

Let’s say you’ve put pornography and immoral copulation aside. The acted-out sins no longer draw you. Are there no more enemies to fight? Now we’re up to Level 16: mental tapes. This is an even subtler problem. You don’t even have to do anything. No effort, no expense. You aren’t copulating outside of marriage. You aren’t cruising the internet. But you have a theater and library in your own mind. It’s all stored there: memories, images, stories. At your mind’s fingertips are things you did, experiences you had, people you watched or read about. You don’t have to tell any lies or arrange anything. You just open a door in your mind. You can’t get caught – except by the Searcher of hearts, before whose eyes all things are open and laid bare, Him with whom we have to do. Because He sees us on the inside, and because He’s merciful both inside and out, grace is available here, too.

Sometimes the battle with mental tapes stalls because you actively cherish and nurture old memories. But when you actually start to fight, you wish you could push ERASE, and obliterate the collection of old videos. But the erase button on memories doesn’t work on request. It’s a subtler battle, learning to say No inside your mind, and Yes to your Father who is right at hand. The point is clear. The enemies get subtler. They aren’t as “bad” outwardly. But they’re “worse” when it comes to getting rid of them, because sins are so easy to arrange and not so immediately self-destructive.

I’ve chosen examples from the active sins. But there is an analogy for those who experienced the dark splash of evil as the victim of another’s sin. In some ways, it can be “easier” to deal with an abusive relationship (Level 1). Hard as it is to get away, it can be done. The problem is clear cut and definable. Like adultery, the wrongdoer can be caught in the act. Violence can be intercepted. The action steps are more obvious. Friends will help you. The law can help protect you: police intervention, a restraining order, criminal charges against the offender. You can flee. When you aren’t in the same room, the person can’t hurt you anymore. There are places to live where you are safe. But how do you deal with the memories (Level 16)? Memories aren’t as “bad” as being abused, but they can be “worse” when it comes to getting rid of them. They inhabit the room of your mind. Or, how do you deal with the fact that your pump is primed to interpret anyone’s irritation at you as a threat of imminent violence (Level 24)? How do you deal with the subtle fears that you now bring to all relationships, apprehensions so automatic that you don’t even know you’re doing it (Level 40)? Those motions of your soul are almost invisible, pervasive, hard to intercept, and highly corrosive to developing future trust and love. Safe refuge, peace, and watchful care run deep in the psalms. God is trustworthy at every level. Psalm 23 means one very good thing at Level 1, something still richer at Level 16, and wonders beyond wonders at Level 40. The significance of the Lord’s kindness is not exhausted at the more obvious levels. The psalms go deep, deeper, and deepest, the more you bring complex, honest experience onto the table.

d. Sins that come looking for you.

Let’s say you’ve left adultery and pornography behind, and simply don’t go there. You’re closing and locking the door on mental tapes. But how about those situations where you aren’t looking for sin, but sin is out looking for you? Let’s call that Level 24. In this battle the insurgents are trickier. An invitation to lust can sneak up and attack you in ways that no actual human being with adulterous copulation on the mind could find you. Our culture has many “acceptable” predators. Have you ever been blindsided by a lewd image or suggestion that you were not looking for, but it was looking for you? The fashion industry, entertainment industry, advertising industry, and sex industry know their business well. They are looking to find you, to snag your heart, to shape your identity, your goals, your worries, your spending. Some of my examples arise because we live in a culture of visual media, where such ambushes are increasingly common.

    • You’re doing a book search on the internet, looking for an out-of-print theology book. A slightly mistyped web address pipes hardcore porn onto your screen. Or, you open an e-mail that looks like it’s for real, but it turns out to be well-disguised spam spewing gutter words in bold, colorful print. Or, you recognize that an e-mail is spam and delete it, but you can’t avoid reading the filth on the subject line. You feel splashed with sewer water. You weren’t looking for sin; you didn’t linger; you’re dirtied anyway.
    • In the grocery store, a handsome, charming young man starts to flirt suggestively with you, a mature, married woman with well over 100,000 miles on your odometer! Is there an answering flutter inside you?
    • You hear that a certain movie is worth watching, but get blindsided. A lewd scene was gratuitously inserted into an otherwise good movie for the sake of avoiding a G rating. Or, the cinematography is beautiful, but deep emotional empathy is created for a man and woman whose respective spouses are portrayed unfavorably. The couple is portrayed as committing wondrously life-affirming adultery. Are you neutral and detached? Disgusted? Somehow hooked?
    • You’re driving down the highway, and voilà, a 20’x60’ billboard advertises Coors beer by featuring a lady wearing practically no clothes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were nothing inside answering back to her call, if that ad created the same neutral indifference as the neighboring billboard, on which Citizen’s Bank advertises its thrilling 5.25% mortgage rate?! Suddenly, you’re in a fight that you didn’t start. You didn’t do anything to put yourself in harm’s way. Nobody (except God and your conscience) will ever know if you sin by responding to the Coors woman’s initiative in a way that commits adultery in your heart. No one ever came under church discipline or was sued for divorce by driving on the interstate and looking twice at the billboard of a mostly naked lady sprawling behind a beer bottle. But that’s where an ambush occurs.
    • You’ve learned to deeply trust and love your God and a circle of dear friends, after torturous experiences many years ago. You’ve learned not to shrink from new people. Your new boss generally treats you reasonably, but his appearance, voice, and mannerisms bear an uncanny resemblance to the person who once betrayed you. Where that person was cruel, your boss is only irritable and sarcastic on occasion. His sins are 1% of what you once experienced; but that’s where today’s battle erupts.

You can have a lot of light growing in your life, good latticework in place, gardens of healthy sexuality. But wherever there’s still a broken lattice, an oily stain, then an inner spark or inner flinch can answer to what comes at you. Redemption proceeds exactly in such places. You face things that whisper the very things that once shouted in your life. And Christ speaks loud and clear, so at this level, too, you learn to choose well.

e. Sins so atmospheric they seem like who you are.

Sometimes lust is so subtle it doesn’t even seem like lust – until you think about it, unmask it, pull it towards the light: Level 40. For example, have you ever tried to battle the instinct to employ sexual-attraction criteria in sizing up what a person look like? It can be a largely unconscious operation. Subliminal radar attends, explores, notices, registers on the wavelength of mildly sexualized desire. It’s a quiet current trending in the direction of lust. You’re subtly aware of a body’s shape, of the cues communicated by posture and gesture, of the messages expressed through clothing, hairstyle, makeup, scent, tone of voice. This subtle attentiveness correlates to the heart’s erotic attraction: “Is this person desirable to my eyes, worth further exploratory interest?” Perhaps this thought process rarely surfaces into conscious awareness. Perhaps you almost as instinctively say No, resisting the impulse to convert its intentions into a conscious lewd look. (Garden of light within the lattice! Unchosen, unplanned, freely given fruit of the Holy Spirit!) But the very existence of such atmospheric erotic intentionality subtly stains you. It is yet another aspect of our battle with darkness.

When you see sin’s subtlety, you realize how much our lives hang upon sheer mercy from God. He is utterly aware of thoughts and intentions of which we may be barely aware or wholly unaware. Mercy extends here, too. “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.… May the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Ps. 19:12, 14). The stains that corrupt our hearts are not simply the planned, willful, chosen, enacted sins that emerge at the more obvious levels of our battle.

Is it possible to alter the subtle tendencies that pattern how you look at people? Yes. The Holy Spirit is about this business. It takes awhile: a lot of walking on the paths of light, a lot of needing God and loving God, a lot of receiving His mercies, a lot of learning to genuinely love people. But you can grow wiser even at this subtlest of levels. You can increasingly view each human being as a sister or brother, a mother or father, a daughter or son, not as a sexual object. Your gaze and intentions can become more and more about the business of caring and protecting.

f. Truly changed, truly changing, and still at war.

All this – from Level 1 to Level 40 – is the arena of sanctification. Heart, soul, mind, and might we are being conformed and transformed into radiant purity. A heightened view of our war brings with it a heightened view of the significance of our Jesus Christ. One of the deep truths of sanctification is that you get “better” and “worse” at the same time!

You truly shine more brightly as you move towards the light. You hold onto God more steadily. You’re more loving and joyful. You’re more trustworthy. More teachable. You give to people rather than use them. But brighter light also exposes more dark corners, pockets of unconscionable and once unimaginable iniquity. As we have seen, sin is not only the worst things I ever did. It’s also an atmospheric narcissism: “Is that person pleasing to the sexual beck and call that animates my desires?” John Calvin captured well the historical wisdom of the church regarding these things:

The children of God [are] freed through regeneration from bondage to sin. Yet… there still remains in them a continuing occasion for struggle whereby they may be exercised; and not only be exercised, but also better learn their own weakness. In this matter all writers of sounder judgment agree that there remains in a regenerate man a smoldering cinder of evil, from which desires continually leap forth to allure and spur him to commit sin.iii

A smoldering cinder of evil. A restless inner motion of sin. Jesus’ first beatitude is first for a reason. Awareness of impoverished need for mercies from outside is the opening motion of living faith. Jesus’ blessing on the inwardly poor is not “first” in the sense that having once experienced it, we move on and leave our need for grace behind. The first beatitude is foundational. It sets the shape and infrastructure of the entire building. The better I know my Christ, the better I know my need for what He alone is and does.

When you understand your subtle sinfulness, you will never say of any human being, “How could he do that?” or “She’s so unbelievable!” We are fundamentally more alike than different. You may never have been an adulterer, fornicator, homosexual, or consumer of pornography. But you know with all your heart that no temptation overtakes anyone that is not common to everyone (1 Cor. 10:13). And you know how significant it is that God is faithful. Grasping the subtlety of the battle helps you to grasp the true subtlety and scope of the work of our Savior. Remember me, O LORD, according to Your loving-kindness.

6. Remember the goal

We’ve looked at many varieties of sexual darkness. The war is longer, wider, deeper, more subtle than we might imagine. It is no accident that the height, depth, length, and breadth of the love and work of Jesus is more wonderful than we understand at first. What is God after in remaking our lives? Is His purpose that we would just stop sinning? Is His purpose to get us diligently involved in religious activities?: have a quiet time, participate in corporate worship services, find fellowship. Yes, stop sinning. Yes, use the means of grace. But neither is an end in itself. The point is to become like Jesus in real life. The ends of grace are the active opposites of sin: love.

Jesus loves God. He lives out a head-on, honest relationship with His Father. The psalms open up his inner workings. He’s talking, not just living in his head. Whether in pain or joy, whether needy or exultant, whether looking at the weather or looking at the people out to hurt Him, whether considering God’s love or considering God’s wrath, Jesus talks it all out. He needs God, thanks God, trusts God, serves God. The psalms aren’t “devotions.” When Jesus talks and acts, He brings life to God and brings God to life. That’s what God intends the means of grace to accomplish. As you stop sinning, that’s how you live instead.

The way Jesus works as a person is the diametric opposite from how the oily rag works. When you’re living in sexual sin (or swamped in unredeemed sexual sufferings), you live in your own head. Sin pulls us into an incurving, self-absorbing inertia. We shut God out. The universe becomes all about me. Suffering tends to have the same effect, because we return evils (40 levels, from obvious revenge to subtle apprehensions) for evils. But Jesus suffers in the exact opposite way, opening out to God in need. As Jesus starts to rearrange how your personhood operates, you are becoming a qualitatively different kind of person. You operate differently. He teaches a life lived in God’s direction. He teaches you how to talk out everything that matters with the One whose opinion most matters, the only One who can do something about it all.

In the same way, Jesus loves people. He notices others. He stops. He helps people where they most need help. He answers real questions. He inverts hostile questions. He relentlessly leads people to think about the two decisive life-or-death questions: “Who are you living for? How are you living?” He’s dedicated to the true welfare of others. He protects and promotes the sexual purity of others (even when interacting with notoriously immoral women). He attacks oppressors, and tenderly bends towards the helpless. He dies willingly, the innocent for the guilty. Jesus works with people in the very terms we’ve been talking about throughout this article. He takes in hand the gamut of real problems. He initiates a war that is much longer, wider, deeper, and subtler than people realize. He gives graces, mercies, and truths that are much longer, wider, deeper, and subtler than we realize.

The way Jesus loves is the diametric opposite from how sexual sin works. Whether flagrant or atmospheric, whether copulatory or imaginary, sexual sin is hate. It misuses people. Jesus’ love treasures and serves our sexual purity. We misuse a gift when we do not treasure and serve the sexual purity of others. We degrade ourselves and degrade others. As Jesus starts to rearrange how you treat people, you are becoming a qualitatively different kind of person. A James Ward spiritual puts it this way: “I won’t treat you like I used to, since I laid my burden down.” Let me give two simple examples.

First, you learn to see and treat all people in wise, constructive ways. In principle, every person of the opposite sex fits into one of three categories: either family member, or spouse, or threat. (Every person of the same sex fits into one of two categories: either family member or threat.) Family member is the controlling category. In general we are to view and treat people like beloved sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, grandmothers and grandfathers. The lines are clear: anything that sexualizes familial relationships is wrong. True affection and fierce protection go hand in hand. The notion of incestuous sexuality is abhorrent before the face of God. In marriage, one sister, Nan, becomes my wife, and I become her husband. All our sexuality belongs rightly and freely to each other. The notion of treacherous sexuality – infidelity – is abhorrent before the face of God. A third group of people fall into the category of threat. Males and females who prove unfamilial in their intentions are threats. Again, the lines are clear: nothing sexualized, so flee seduction, whether in person or in imagination. The notion of an invitation to immoral sexuality is abhorrent before the face of God. Love is radically free to be fiercely faithful.

Second, good sexual love is simply “normal.” Sometimes the idealized view of good sex can sound overheated, even when we prize and protect marital sexuality. Sometimes we can give the idea that good sex (in both senses) is a gymnastic, ecstatic, romantic, athletic, electric, semi-psychotic, erotic, high-wire, bug-eyed, luxuriating, ravishing bliss of marital passion! Sorry to disillusion you. But much of good sex is just… well, normal, everyday. Think about it. Most people in the history of the world have lived in one-room huts, where the kids sleep in the same room with their parents! Countless families have lived in flats, with only curtains for room dividers, your mother-in-law in the far corner, your wife’s younger brother sleeping on the couch. Or they’ve lived in tents, as nomads. Not much sound-proofing or major privacy operative in that housing arrangement! Not much in the way of gymnastics or sound effects is possible unless you have no children. That’s not to say that a married couple with children shouldn’t get away for a weekend, or close the door, or do things to make sex special. Nothing wrong with some high-wire encounters that bring a little extra spice.

But think of the analogy with food, another of life’s very redeemable pleasures. Occasionally you pull out the stops for a memorable feast with all the fixings: Thanksgiving dinner. But in normal life, you eat a lot of healthy breakfasts. In the redemption of sex, lots of normal things flourish. How about courtesy? Basic kindness and patience? How about humor – pet names, teasing, irony, private jokes? Good sex is not that serious! How about mercy? How about a shower, shave, and being relaxed? How about a fundamental willingness to be available to another, simply to give. How about conversation? How about quiet, slow, leisurely time together? Basic love goes a long way towards making good sex good. It’s great when the Richter Scale tops out at an earth-shattering 8.1. But in normalized good sex, you’ll also enjoy 3.1 temblors that hardly rattle the teacups.

Get your goals straight. It heightens the significance of your Savior. He alone restores you to practical love for God and to the practical love appropriate for each of your various kinds of neighbors. He alone makes daily life shine with visible glory.

7. Get down to today’s skirmish in the Great War

We’ve talked about the war, the direction of the journey, the destination. The final word in restoring  joy is to get down to business. And your business has three parts.

First, where is today’s skirmish? Your battle always gets fought at the next step, not all at once. “Today’s trouble” is where you find God’s aid. A clear view of what you face defines the fork-in-the-road, your choice points. Where are you tempted, now? For example, Tom had to figure out how to refight his Friday nights so he wouldn’t keep coming out a loser. How about you? You are somewhere between Levels 1 and 40. Where is today’s choice point? The current struggle is the place the Vinedresser is pruning. It’s where you need life support from the Vine. Making all things new is always about something going on today. Restoring pure joys is not theory. It’s what’s happening here and now. It’s not about instant perfection (I hope that’s clear by now). And it’s not about yesterday. If you’re still brooding and obsessing over yesterday’s failures, then today’s choice point is, “How do you handle failure?” How will you quit curving in on yourself after you fall, and start dealing with your sins the way Psalm 25 does? (See section 1-c above). You’ll always need your Father, Savior, and Comforter to help you, forgive you, and teach you. Today’s trouble identifies where.

Second, what one thing about God in Christ speaks directly into today’s trouble? I gave an example earlier from Psalm 25. Just as we don’t change all at once, so we don’t swallow all of truth in one gulp. We are simple people. You can’t remember ten things at once. Invariably, if you could remember just ONE true thing in the moment of trial, you’d be different. Bible “verses” aren’t magic. But God’s words are revelations of God from God for our redemption. When you actually remember God, you do not sin. The only way we ever sin is by suppressing God, by forgetting, by tuning out His voice, switching channels, and listening to other voices. When you actually remember, you actually change. In fact, remembering is the first change.

Here’s a simple example. God says, “I am with you.” Those are his exact words. How does taking that to heart utterly change the script of your sexual darkness? What if you are facing a temptation to some immorality? For starters, nothing is private, no secrets are possible: “I am with you.” “I… am… with… you.” Say it ten different ways. Slow it down. Speed it up. Say it out loud. Say it out loud back to him: “You are with me, Lord.” You’ll probably find that you immediately need to say more, like “Help me. Have mercy on me. I need you. Make me understand that you are with me.” You will find that the competing voices, sly and argumentative, will become more obvious. To the degree that you remember that your Lord is with you, then what those other voices have to say will sound devious, tawdry, hostile to your welfare. How did they ever sound so appealing?! The contrast, the battle of wills, the battle between good and evil, will be more evident. Your immediate choice – which voice will I listen to? – will become stark. Remembering what’s true does not chalk up automatic victory. It’s not magic. It’s life. It’s not easy. Your battle will heat up. But we only do secretive things when we’re kidding ourselves. Every time you remember that you are out in public, then you live an out-in-public life. “I AM WITH YOU” means you’re always out in public. In order to sin, you’ll have to drown out the voice of reality, put your fingers in your ears, and switch channels to the fantasy channel, the lie channel, the death channel. And even if you switch channels and sin by high-handed choice, you will still be in broad daylight before God’s searching eyes. You can shut your eyes and plug your ears, He’s still right here. You’ll never get away. And you only have to open your eyes, listen, and turn around in order to find help. After all, He who loves you says, “I am with you,” mainly to encourage you. You have some degree of shame and secrecy attached to your sexual sin, unless you are a brazen, sleazy advocate for your fornications (not yet even fighting enemies at Level 1, but still committed to adore your enemies). Sin can’t stand to be out in public where everybody knows and everybody’s watching. “I am with you” means that the person who can help you right now knows and is watching. In fact, He is watching over you to protect you. He will help you escape darkness, because he has transferred you into the kingdom of the Son whom He loves.

What if you face a different struggle today? What if you feel overwhelmed with aloneness and fear, buried under your hurt, abandoned and betrayed by people? “I am with you.” “I am with you.” Again, when you really hear that, and take it to heart, you know you are not alone. You are safe. Manipulative or violent lust betrayed you; steadfast love never betrays you. Or what if you’re overwhelmed by the grime of past failures? “I am with you.” God is not shocked by the ugliness of your real-time evils. He came to die for “the worst of sinners” (as Paul twice refers to himself – 1 Timothy 1:15f). Whatever your struggle, “I am with you” changes the terrain of battle. You now see a fork in the road. A good road runs uphill towards the light, where previously you only knew to hurl yourself down a bobsled run into the abyss.

Third, put trouble and God together. Start talking, and start walking. We already began to do this in the previous paragraphs. It was impossible simply to identify choice points and then to offer promises and revelations of God without starting to capture the honest human responses: faith’s need for God, and constructive love for others. The Psalms put trouble and God together and talk it out. “Remembering” is not some la-de-da recitation of Bible verses. You fiercely pursue God. He must be to you what He says He is, and do for you what He says He does. In remembering, you change what’s on your mind. You change direction. You seek help. No face-plant in the muck today? That matters – even though tomorrow, or next month, the battle will mutate into some new form. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, step by step in real life. The Proverbs put you on the street before God’s eyes, and walk out how to live as a wise, loving person. The voice you listen to determines the choice you make. (Interestingly, Proverbs 1-9 drives this truth home by using sexual immorality as a vivid case in point.) How will you treat people today? Will love contain and express your sexuality well? Or will evil squander and warp your sexuality, treating others as sex objects?

Walking in the light is not magic. When you see the fork in the road more clearly (today’s skirmish)…, and when you see and hear your Lord more clearly (something He says)…, then you start talking, start needing, start trusting, and then you start making the hard, significant, joyous choice to love people rather than use them.

Go into action in today’s battle. That’s our final word. It gets us down to where our Savior is going into action. It’s where our Father is making us more fruitful. It’s exactly where the Spirit of life is changing us into His image of light and delight.

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This characterization partly arises from tendencies within American Christian culture. Other Christian cultures may do their calculus of the conscience a bit differently. In Uganda, for example, anger is particularly shameful, the bogie-man sin that automatically disqualifies from ministry. But Ugandans view sexual immorality the way that Americans view anger outbursts or gluttony. Such behaviors are sinful, but aren’t uniquely shocking and damning. Dante’s Divine Comedy portrays ‘normal’ sexual sins – sensuality, fornication – as meriting a shallower circle in hell. Like gluttony or sloth, these are distortions of normal desires. But sins of treachery, sexual and otherwise, involve betrayal of trust, and they sit in the deepest pit of hell.

ii The video game metaphor captures a progression of different kinds of battles we face . It does not capture how in real life we also “regress,” and may have to fight an old battle over again. It also does not capture that in real life the subtler sins are actually present all the way through. But they don’t tend to come front-and-center when some other struggle is more overt and decisive for that moment.

iii Calvin, Ibid., III:iii:10.

Making All Things New: Restoring Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken (Part 1)

Editor’s Note:  This is a lengthy article, but it is so well worth the investment of time to read thoughtfully and prayerfully through these truths.

SOURCE:  David Powilson/CCEF

For many years, a quilt has adorned one wall of our living room. The artist took swatches of fabric and cut hundreds of tiny squares and triangles. She created a lattice pattern through which you gaze into a luminous, iridescent garden. I view her quilt as an invitation to pause and catch a glimpse into paradise. The latticework encloses, protects, provides structure, revealing wonders. The garden within creates an impression of color and light, flower and air, life and pleasure.

It gives a small picture of our God’s great work, the brightness of all creation, the brightness of our salvation.

As such, it gives us a picture of sexuality – and of every other luminous thing that becomes darkened and can be redeemed. Sex is one good strand of God’s good work in creation. Sex is one good strand of his good work in salvation. Imagine your sexuality transformed into a garden of delight protected within the lattice. God began to do good work in you, and He is working to complete this. You will flourish in a garden of safety and joy. Wrongs are made right, “and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” (Julian of Norwich). The highest pleasure, the joy that remakes all lesser pleasures innocent, is our pleasure in Christ, the inexpressible gift. He is light. He is lifegiver. In his light, your sexuality transforms into one blossom among all that is good.

I needed a contrasting object lesson, so I stopped in to talk with my auto mechanic. He fished a greasy rag from the trash bin at the back of his garage, and handed it to me. Unnamable filth had soaked through that scrap of fabric. Ground-in, oily dirt. If your hands are clean, you don’t really feel like touching such a sordid rag. If you must handle such an object, you pick it up by one corner between thumb and forefinger, holding it out away from you at arm’s length. The filthy rag gives us a second, all-too-familiar picture of sexuality. Sex soaks up dark, dirty stains. We must deal with such ground-in evils if we are to fix what’s wrong with us and with others. We understand why Jude evokes an unpleasant sense of wariness even amid his call to generous-hearted love: “On some show mercy mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 23).

You can hardly bear to put a name on what some people do, or on what happens to some people. Is your sexuality misshapen and misdirected? Sexual evils are among the dark things that pour forth from within our hearts. Jesus bluntly indicts a roster of sexual wrongs (Mark 7:21-23) – and offers costly mercy to the repentant. Has your sexuality been harmed by others? Some people experience terrible sufferings at the hands of predators, users, misusers, and abusers. Jesus fiercely curses those who trip up others (Matthew 18:6-7) – and offers safe refuge to sufferers.

On the one hand, sex becomes a complex darkness. On the other hand, sex becomes a garden of simple, pure delights. Which picture represents you?

It’s not really a fair question! You probably can’t answer either-or, because most likely you’re somewhere in the middle, aren’t you? That’s important. This article is about making new, about the long restoring of joys to the broken and dirtied. In other words, it’s about the process of change. It’s about moving along a trajectory away from the dark and towards the light. It’s about knowing where you’re heading while you’re still somewhere in the middle.

Are you tilted more towards darkness? Of course, some human beings aren’t in the middle, but live utterly mired within sexual darkness. They even call “good” what God calls “evil.” But they’re not likely to have kept reading this far, because they want to feel justified in wrong, not to be remade right. They want more of what they already have. But if you have read this far, that very persevering has been because light, however far away it seems, is drawing you. There is no darkness so deep that it is immune to light. Perhaps you’ve been wronged sexually, and have lived a nightmare of fear and hurt. But you long for light. Such longing is a blossom of light pulling you in the direction of more light. Or, perhaps you’ve been wrong sexually, and have lived in a fantasyland of lewd, nude, and crude. But you feel sick and tired, dirty and ashamed. Such honest guilt is a blossom of honesty. It pushes you somewhere towards the middle. Your sins delight you less and less; they afflict you more and more. Kyrie, eleison; Lord, have mercy, You whose mercies are new every morning. When you know you need help, then you’re already moving in the middle, not stuck in filth.

Are you tilted more towards light? One man did live utterly as that garden of light shining through the lattice. Jesus did no sin. Yet He chose to enter our deepest darkness. He bore your stains, and did so without becoming stained. He is able to sympathize with your particular weakness and struggles, because He has entered your plight, facing the temptations of sin and suffering. He is able to help you in your failure and your vulnerability to future failure, because He remains unstained. He does not hold you at arm’s length. Jesus is willing to deal gently and truthfully, however ignorant and wayward we are. He is bringing us back to the paradise of light. Perhaps you have come far along this good path already. You have been given much light sexually. Much of the garden of faithful pleasures already flourishes in you. Much latticework of loving restraints is set in place. O hopeful joy, so much has already been purified! Gloria in excelsis Deo; glory to God in the highest. But I know, and you know, that oily stains and cracked slats remain in the fabric of every person’s life. We must still run the race of renewal.

A contemporary hymn contains this line, “In all I do, I honor You.” When I sing that hymn, I always think, “Well, Iwant to honor You in all I do, but I don’t.” The line is truest as a statement of honest intention, but often false as a statement of achievement. We want the garden, but grime still clings to us and oozes from us. Augustine put his struggle starkly: “As I prayed to you for the gift of chastity I had even pleaded, ‘Grant me chastity and self-control, but please not yet.’ I was afraid that you might hear me immediately and heal me forthwith of the morbid lust which I was more anxious to satisfy than to snuff out.”i We want the latticework to protect us, but dark creatures slip into or out of our hearts. When talking about something as important and troublesome as sex, it is important to affirm that the desire for light is the beginning of the emergence of light in our lives.

One theme runs through this article: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). What does that lifelong process look like? How do you get from here to there? How does dirt transform into beauty? What’s the battle like? You’re somewhere in the middle, but Christ has begun a good work in you. He has washed away true guilt. He has broken your willing bondage. Jesus knows his business well. He is looking out for you. He is working to clear away sin’s rot. Jesus is remaking you into a person who actually loves people, and who begins to consider their best interests. Your opinions and impulses no longer reign. What He has begun, He will complete. On the final day, He will entirely remove the instincts and energies of sin from you. How does the war work out? We will look at seven aspects.

1. Bring light to ALL that darkens sex

You fight on many fronts. There are many kinds of evil, more than you might imagine. Some are obvious, some not so obvious. So what are you up against?

a. Unholy pleasure

The most obvious forms of sexual darkness involve the sins of overt immorality. There are countless ways that sexuality veers into extramarital eroticism. Sex can become like living in a Carnival of intoxicating fires, a dreamworld of erotic arousal, predatory instinct, manipulative intention, and the pursuit of carnal knowledge. In a nutshell, in each of the many forms of wrong, a person copulates with the wrong object of desire. Sexual love flourishes as a loving intimacy between one husband and wife. But desire is easily distorted and action misdirected. Such miscopulation can occur either in reality or in fantasy. These are the typical, red-letter, on-the-marquee sins. So what do the weeds of adultery, fornication, homosexuality, pornography, rape, bestiality, voyeurism, incest, pedophilia, fetishism, sado-masochism, transvestitism, prostitution, and bigamy-polygamy have in common? You copulate, in person or in your imagination, with the wrong object of desire.ii Others become objects of unholy desire. These fantasies and interpersonal transactions are the obvious ways in which human sexuality is misdirected into overt sins.

Historically, the behaviors mentioned have usually been evaluated and stigmatized as socially shameful. They have often been named as criminal acts in legal codes. To the degree that cultural values and laws mirror the call of love for others, rather than endorsing lust, they express the way that God sizes up human sexuality. Of course, when mores and laws change for the worse, such behaviors may even be reinterpreted as good, right, and sweet, rather than evil, wrong, and bitter (Isaiah 5:20f). But God teaches us to see things for what they are.

The bold-print sins point in the direction of the fine-print versions of the same sins. Many varieties of flirtation, self-display, foreplay, and entertainment don’t necessarily “go all the way” to orgasm: dressing to attract and tease the lust of others, looking voyeuristically, suggestive remarks, crude humor, erotic kissing, petting, and the like. All these intend in the direction of immoral copulation, whether they consummate their intention or not. Such behaviors (whether occurring in daily life or portrayed on film or page) cross the line of love. Whether or not our cultural context views such things as acceptable, or even as entertaining, they are evils. Love considers the true welfare of others in the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

Jesus Christ comes to those who have pursued unholy pleasures. He who hates the gamut of perversities listed in previous paragraphs, is not ashamed to love sinners. He does not weary in the task of rewiring sexuality into a servant of love. He is not only willing to forgive those who turn; he takes the initiative to forgive, and to turn us, and to give us countless reasons to turn. He says, “You need mercy and help in your time of need. Come to me. Turn from evils, and turn to mercies that are new every morning. Flee what is wrong. Seek help. Everyone who seeks finds. Fight with yourself. Don’t justify things that God names as evil. Don’t despair when you find evils within yourself. The only unforgivable sin is the impenitence that justifies sin and opposes the purifying mercies of God in Christ. Come to me, and I will begin to teach you how to love.”

Our culture thinks that any consenting object of desire is fair game for copulation. Individual will is the supreme value. But Christ thinks differently, and He gets last say. He backs up His point of view with a promise of clear-eyed, unavoidable reckoning: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (Eph. 5:6). He backs up His point of view with a promise of hard-won mercies and with power to patiently change you so that you learn to love Him supremely. Each of the perversities makes sex too important (and makes the maker, evaluator, and redeemer of sex irrelevant). Sex becomes your identity, your right, your fulfillment, your need. That is nonsense. Each ends up degrading sex, as a mere urge that must find an outlet. That, too, is nonsense. Whether exalted or degraded, sex ends up disappointing, self-destructive, and mutually-destructive.

Jesus brings sanity and good sense. He starts by making sex of secondary importance. Sex is a real, but secondary, good. God neither overvalues nor degrades the good things He has made. By realigning who youmost love (away from yourself and distorted pleasures), He makes all secondary loves, including sexuality, flourish in their proper place. That might mean containing sexual expression during a long season, even a lifetime, of purposeful celibacy as a single adult. Jesus himself lived this way. It might mean a season of frequent sexual expression within loving marriage. That’s the most common calling. It might mean short or long seasons of again containing sexual expression because of the different kinds of celibacy that arise in the course of marital life: e.g., advanced pregnancy and post-partum; forced separation for business or military reasons; a chosen fast from sexual expression because of more pressing needs; the diminution of sexual arousal with advancing age; consequences of prostate surgery or other illnesses; the loss of your spouse if you are widowed. Whether by containment or by expression, our sexuality can be remade into love.

When we think about the forms of “sexual brokenness” that need to be made new, it is natural that we think first of the obvious sins. But other evils also begrime us as sexual beings. These also lie within the scope of redeeming love.

b. Unholy pain

Many people experience pain and fear attached to sexual victimization. Have you ever been attacked or betrayed sexually? Sex becomes like life in Auschwitz, like a burn survivor, a waking nightmare of hurt, fear, and helplessness from the hands of tormentors. Jesus’ kindness redeems both sinners and sufferers. He rights all wrongs. Jesus is merciful to people who do wrong (forgiving and changing you). He is merciful to people who are done wrong (comforting and changing you). When you are used, misused, and abused, sex grows dark. If you are or were a victim of sexual aggression, if you were violated, betrayed, or threatened by the sins of others, then sex often becomes ambivalent or fearful.

The erotic is meant to be a bright expression of mutual loving kindness. Sex thrives in a context of commitment, safety, trust, affection, giving, closeness, intimacy, generosity. The erotic flourishes as one normal, everyday expression of genuine love within marriage. A man and woman are “naked and unashamed” with each other and under God. They give mutual pleasure. Sex with your spouse can be simple self-giving, freely given and freely received. Your sexual interactions can express honesty, laughter, play, prayer, and ecstasy. Sex can be open before the eyes of God, approved in your own conscience, and approved in the eyes of family and friends who care for you.

But sex can become very distasteful. Pawing, seduction, bullying, predation, attack, betrayal, and abandonment are among the many ways that sex becomes stained by sufferings at the hands of others. When you’ve been treated like an object, the mere thought of the act can become filled with tense torment. Sexual darkness is not always lust; sometimes it is fear, pain, haunting memories. If immoral fantasies bring one poison into sex, then nightmarish memories infiltrate a different poison. The arena for trusting friendship can become a prison of mistrust. The experience of violation can leave the victim self-labeled as “damaged goods.” Sex becomes intrinsically dirty, shameful, dangerous. Even in marriage, it can become an unpleasant duty, a necessary evil, not the delightful convergence of duty and desire.

If such things happened to you, you might well feel hatred, terror, and disgust. You might feel guilt, shame, and self-reproach over what someone else did to you. Your thoughts of sex might be filled with loathing and despair, the furthest thing from lustful desire. This, too, is a rag soaked in the grease of nameless dirt. To those for whom sexual experience has resulted in unholy pain, Christ says, “I understand well your experience. Psalm 10 captures the outcry of a victim of predators. I hear the cry of the needy, afflicted, and broken. Come to Me. I am your refuge. I am safe. I will remake what is broken. I will give you reason to trust, and then to love. I will remake your joy.” With reason, two-thirds of the Psalms engage the experience of those who suffer violence, violation, and threat. These sufferings found their point of reference in the God who hears you now, who is your refuge, your hope, who is willing to hear your anguish and loneliness, who overflows with comforts. The reference point makes all the difference. God cares, and will patiently repair what has been torn.

In different ways, both violator and violated are stained with the filth of a fallen world. In different ways, Jesus Christ washes both. And there’s still other dirt on the shop floor, and other fresh mercies.

c. Guilt

The activity of doing sin is different from the repercussion of feeling guilt. Temptation arises as internal desire and external allure culminate into action. Then, if the conscience is not seared, comes the typical aftermath: guilt, shame, regret, remorse, resolves to change, penance, self-reproach, despair, making up, concealment, and so forth. The “carrot” draws us into one sort of darkness; the “stick” pounds us into a different darkness. Obsession with erotic pleasure yields to obsession with moral failure. Grace addresses both in different ways, because both are part of the dynamic of sexual evils.

Are you haunted by your sins, in the eyes of God, in the eyes of your conscience, and in the eyes of others who might find out? The sin may have just occurred a few minutes ago; it may be a distant but potent memory. Perhaps you don’t actively participate in that sin anymore. You’ve come far, and no longer feel any allure to a lifestyle you once avidly pursued. Or perhaps you just did it again. But the memory – whether fresh-minted or ancient history – fills you with dismay. Perhaps immediate and long-term consequences of your sin run far beyond the repercussions within your conscience: an abortion, STD, inability to bear children, ongoing vulnerability to certain kinds of temptations, a bad reputation, ruined relationships, wasted time, failed responsibilities. Nobody did this to you; you did it to yourself and to others. The same sense of dirty distaste haunts your sexuality as haunts those who were victimized. You victimized yourself (and others you betrayed). You, too, feel like damaged goods. Sex is not bright, iridescent, cheerful, generous, matter-of-fact. It is not a flat-out good to be enjoyed with your spouse or saved should you ever marry. You might live with such guilty feelings in your singleness. You might have brought them into your marriage. Perhaps you are afraid of relationships, because you know from bitter experience that you can’t be trusted. Perhaps it’s hard to shake off the train of bleak associations that attach to sexual feelings and acts.

We often underestimate just how radically biblical faith relies on grace. Grace means that what makes things right comes to you from the outside. It’s the sheer gift that someone else gives to you. You don’t get it by jumping through certain religious hoops. You are forgiven, accepted, saved from death outside of yourself andbecause of Another. Listen to how a man of faith dealt forthrightly with his former sins. The italics highlight how much your hope amid real guilt lies outside of you:

Remember, O LORD, Your compassion and Your lovingkindnesses,

for they have been from of old.

Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions.

According to Your lovingkindness remember me,

for Your goodness’ sake, O LORD.…

For Your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my iniquity for it is great.

– Psalm 25:6f, 11

David’s sexual sin was high-handed. It tore his conscience (Ps. 51; cf. Pss. 32, 38). It brought immediate and long-lasting consequences (2 Sam. 12:10-12, 14). Yet David was truly forgiven (2 Sam 12:13). He experienced the joy of repentance, and the wisdom, clarity, and purposeful energy that real repentance brings (those same psalms, and the rest of 2 Sam. 12). Notice: David radically appeals to the quality of “Your mercy, O LORD.” David’s own conscience remembers only too well, but he appeals to what someone else will choose to remember: “When God looks at me, will He remember my sin, or His own mercies?”

Sin itself turns you in on yourself, blinding you to God. Guilt also tends to turn you in on yourself. Self-laceration exalts your opinion of yourself as supremely important; shame exalts the opinion of other people. But living repentance and living faith turn outward to the one whose opinion most matters. What God chooses to “remember” about you will prove decisive. Your conscience, if well-tuned, is secondary and dependent on the stance He takes. If the Lord is merciful, then mercy has final say. It is beyond our comprehension that God acts mercifully for His sake, because of what He is like. Wrap your heart around this, and the typical aftermath of sin will never be the same. You will stand in joy and gratitude, not grovel in shame. You’ll be able to get back about the business of life with fresh resolve, not just with good intentions and some flimsy New Year’s resolutions to do better next time. This is our hope. This is our deepest need. This is our Lord’s essential, foundational gift. You know people who need to know this. They typically mishandle the aftermath of sin with further forms of the God-lessness that also manufactured sin. You, too, need to know how faith in Christ’s mercy decenters you off of yourself and recenters you onto the living God’s promise and character. The one with whom we have to do freely offers mercy and grace to help us by the lovingkindness of the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:13-16).

d. Don’t view sexual sin as just a male problem

When the church talks about “struggles with sexual lust,” the implicit assumptions are often far too narrow. As we have seen, our teaching, love, illustrations, and applications must not only mention the obvious behavioral sins. We also must touch the ways people brood over sexual suffering and over sexual guilt. In the same way, teaching too often only assumes and targets the struggles of men. Seductive women (“out there”) may be viewed as sources of temptation to men (provocative clothing; participation in making pornography; the temptress at work; the prostitute working in the sex industry). But women often slip under the radar of “struggles with lust.” Unvarnished erotic lust is seen as a typically male problem: e.g., the familiar line, “95% of men struggle with lust…, and the other 5% are lying.” But what about 100% of women in here? There are core similarities between men and women, along with some typical differences.

For starters, the Bible is candid that “there is no temptation that is not common to all” (1 Cor. 10:13). This doesn’t mean temptations always take exactly the same form, but there are underlying similarities. By God’s creation, men and women are primarily the same (human). By His creation and providence, we are secondarily different (male-female differences tied to biology, masculine-feminine differences tied to culture). Add it up, and we struggle with the same kind of thing, but may struggle in different kinds of ways. That does not mean that a female is not perfectly capable of the same unvarnished, immoral eroticism that characterizes some males. It takes two to tango in any act of adultery or fornication. The woman may well be the initiator/aggressor in sending out sexual signals or in arranging a liaison. Women have roving eyes and get hooked on erotic pleasures. Women masturbate. Women adopt a homosexual lifestyle. A woman can pattern her identity around fulfilling sexual self-interest and having a magnetic effect on male sexual interest. When she finds mercy in Christ and starts her journey towards the garden of light, her struggle may directly parallel the struggle of a man who has similarly patterned his lifestyle around immoralities. Both must learn how to love, rather than how to fulfill and arouse lust.

Second, it’s noticeable that female sexuality in America has taken on cruder forms in recent years (or, at least, is far more willing to be brazen). Open lewdness and frank immorality have replaced coy, suggestive hints of availability. Male or female, if you want it, go for it. For example, female athletes increasingly do the openly obscene behaviors that were once the prerogative of male athletes: gutter humor, mooning, streaking, sexualized hazing and initiation rites, predatory sexual acts, an atmospheric grossness. Using obscene language, attending a strip show, and surfing pornographic websites are not exclusively male sins. Women’s magazines (e.g., Cosmopolitan, and the like) have increasingly become sex manuals for how to have wildly ecstatic sex with your “partner” of choice. Marital status is an optional, irrelevant category. But Jesus Christ is “no respecter of persons”: a coarse female is as ugly as a coarse male. Jesus loathes the degradation of sex (Ephesians 5:3-8a). His self-sacrificing mercy works to transform sex into an expression of love, light, and fruitfulness (Eph. 5:1f, 8b-10) for females and males alike.

Third, there are some typical and noteworthy differences between men and women. Both strugglers and those who minister to them should be aware of variations on the common themes. At the level of motive, for example, male sexual sin and female sexual sin often operate in somewhat different ways. An old joke plays off the difference between simple and complex eroticisms:

Question: What is the difference between men and women?

Answer: A woman wants one man to meet her every need, while a man wants every woman to meet his one need.

Men are often more wired to visual cues, to anonymous “body parts” eroticism. Women are often more wired to feelings of personal intimacy and emotional closeness as cues for sexual arousal. These aren’t absolute differences (notice the ‘oftens’). They are bell curves that slide one way or the other. But being aware of the tendencies can be helpful. The motives driving adultery, fornication, and promiscuity may follow somewhat different patterns.

Homosexuality provides a particularly obvious example. Lesbianism typically presents a different picture from male homosexuality. Many lesbians were once actively, unambivalently heterosexual, whether promiscuous or faithfully married. They might have conceived, borne and raised children without much questioning of their sexual identity. But over time the men in their life proved disappointing, violent, drunken, uncomprehending, or unfaithful. Perhaps during the unhappiness of a slow marital disintegration, or while picking up the wreckage after a divorce, other women proved to be far more understanding and sympathetic friends. Emotional intimacy and communication opened a new door. Sexual repatterning as a lesbian came later, often the result of a slow process of experimentation that followed emotional closeness. The life-reshaping “lusts of the flesh” were not initially sexual. Instead, cravings to be treated tenderly and sympathetically – to be known, understood, loved, and accepted – played first violin, and sex per se played viola. Often the core dynamic in lesbianism is intimacy lust running out of control. In male homosexuality, the core dynamic is often sexual lust running out of control. (Again, notice the ‘often’. I’ve known male homosexuals where desires for acceptance or for power played first violin). What the Bible terms ‘lusts of the flesh’ include many different kinds of desires that run amok, hijacking the human heart.

It’s no surprise, then, that lesbians tend to form more stable relationships, and tend to be less promiscuous than male homosexuals. It’s no surprise that homosexualist ideology rarely attempts to make the argument that female homosexuality is genetic, though it often attempts that argument for men. Raw, obsessive sexuality seems to invite biological rationalizations in a way that a more multi-factored relationship doesn’t. Many homosexuals, both male and female, make comments along the following lines: “Why bother with the whole male-female thing? It’s easier to be gay! If men just want sex, let them score with each other. If women want to be known, understood, and loved, let them build relationships with each other. You can avoid the whole hassle of trying to bridge the male-female divide in relationships. It’s easier to get what you want with the same sex. And you can have simpler friendships with the opposite sex, too, when you take the sex thing off the table.”

Fourth, the culture of romance novels, soap operas, and women’s magazines does not draw nearly as much attention as male-oriented pornography. Men do graphic pornography. That’s an obvious problem. Women do romance. It’s the same kind of problem, though the participants keep their clothes on a while longer, and there’s more of a story to tell before they tumble into bed. Romance novels are female pornography. The sin comes wired through intimacy lust first, and builds towards erotic lust. The formulaic fantasies offer narrative emotion-candy, not visual eye-candy. Romance tells a story about someone with a name, someone you fall in love with. It builds slowly. It’s more than a moment of instant gratification with anonymous, naked, willing bodies. But like male pornography, there is a progression from soft-core (e.g., Harlequin series), to more openly erotic (e.g., Silhouette series), to frankly pornographic writings that target women. The male model Fabio made his career posing for the formulaic book cover art. A big, strong guy, stripped to the waist, tenderly cradles a beautiful woman. He’s the knight in shining armor, protective, gentle, understanding – and the handsome hunk of beefcake. The romantic novel genre has even made a crossover to evangelical Christian publishing houses. The sex is cleaned up; the knight in shining armor is also a deep spiritual leader who marries you before sleeping with you. But the fantasy appeal to intimacy and romance lusts remains as the inner engine that allures readers.

Female versions of sexual-romantic sin are shop-floor rags as much as male versions. Jesus Christ calls all of us out of fantasy, delusion, and lust, whether the fantasyland is filled with naked bodies or with romantic knights. Jesus Christ is about the reality business. Francis of Assisi got things straight: “Grant that I would not so much seek to be loved as to love.” Jesus teaches us how to be committed, patient, kind, protective, able to make peace, keeping no record of wrongs, merciful, forgiving, generous, and all the other hard, wonderful characteristics of grace. He teaches us to consider the true interests of others. He teaches us a positive, loving purity that protects the purity of others. Instead of our instinctual ways – narcissism, fascination with our own desires and opinions, self-indulgence – Jesus Christ takes us by the hand to lead us in ways that make vive la difference shine brightly.

e. Sexual struggles within marriage

We mislead ourselves and others if we say or imply that just getting married solves all the problems of sexual sin, sexual pain, sexual confusion. All sorts of remnant sins can carry on in marriage. All sorts of remnant heartaches and fears can still play out. “Making all things new” continues to remake sex within marriage. Here are some examples.

  • One person may need to learn that sex is good, not dirty. You can relax rather than tense up. You can give yourself freely, rather than worry about what will happen to you. Pleasure will not betray you. Your spouse is faithful and can be trusted. (Only larger, deeper, fundamental trust in God can free us to grant simple trust and generous love to another human being, who will in fact let us down and do us wrong in some ways.)
  • Another person may need to learn that sexual bliss is not the summum bonum of human life. You still need to say No to lust. There are seasons and reasons for self-denial and temporary celibacy. Your spouse may struggle, in sex as in other areas, and you will need to learn that “love is patient” comes first for a reason.
  • Some people may need to learn whole new patterns of sexual arousal. Willing nymphomania, copulatory gymnastics, and oral sex may have turned on your fantasies and fornications. But your spouse, God’s gift to you, may enjoy quiet, tender moments being held in your arms. The Richter Scale of raw ecstasies may have spiked higher in your past immoralities than in your marriage. But you need to learn that the scale of solid joys and lasting treasures proves incomparably deeper and more satisfying.
  • Still other marriages may need to give up evil relational patterns: game-playing, manipulation, give to get, avoidance, bartering sex for other goodies, sulking. Even high-stakes criminal sins – sadistic sexual aggression, violence, and rape – can occur in marriage.
  • Still other people must sever the link that equated sex with “success or failure,” with “performance” and “identity.” As Christ redefines and recenters your identity, he changes what sex means. Sex can become a simple and meaningful way to give. It can become a simple pleasure, as normal as eating breakfast. It can become a safe place where failures and struggles can be talked about and prayed through.
  • Some marriages may deal with impotence and frigidity (‘erectile dysfunction’ and ‘arousal disorder’ in the medicalizing jargon of our times). On the male side, Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra present a purely chemical solution for symptoms. The problem sometimes has a significant biological component unrelated to normal aging. But most often there are significant links to spiritual issues: performance anxiety, an unwillingness to face the diminishments of aging, the separation of sex from love, guilt over premarital sex, or unreal expectations of potency that have been learned from the media, pornography, or fornication.
  • Still others may face temptations to make comparisons with previous partners, or with fantasy partners, or with some idealized fantasy of what marital bliss should be like. Wise sex loves your husband or wife.
  • Still others will continue to struggle with familiar patterns of lust. They may be tempted to flirt, or to cheat, or to view pornography, or to masturbate in the shower, or to fantasize about past experiences.
  • Finally, every person will struggle with garden variety anger, anxiety, grumbling, selfishness, unbelief, and the weight of life’s difficulties. The everyday non-sexual sins and troubles don’t disappear! Other sins and hardships can clutter the bedroom with non-sexual troubles that greatly affect sexual intimacy. Christ’s ongoing mercies will remake your sexuality in part by remaking worry and irritability (and the rest) that arise in response to life’s pressures.

You get the picture! He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. His redemption will touch every form of grease. We can’t do justice to “sexual brokenness” or bring mercy unless we get the whole problem on the table. Jesus works with us. And it is our joy that He works with far more than just the Technicolor sexual immoralities.

2. It’s a LONGER war

One key to fighting well is to lengthen your view of the battles. If you think that one week of “shock and awe” combat will win this war, you’re bound for disappointment. If you’re looking for some quick fix, an easy answer, a one-and-done solution, then you’ll never really understand the nature of the honest fight. And if you promise easy, once-for-all victories to others, then you’ll never be much help to other strugglers.

The day of “completion” will not arrive until the Day that Jesus Christ arrives (Phil. 1:6). When we see Him, then we will be like Him perfectly (1 Jo. 3:2). The wiping away of all tears, the taking away of every reason for sorrow, crying, and pain, will not come until God lives visibly in our midst (Rev. 21:3-4). Someday, not today, all things will be made new (Rev. 21:5). Much of the failure to fight well, pastor well, counsel well, arises because we don’t really understand and work well with this long truth. Consider two specific implications. First, sanctification is a direction you are heading. Second, repentance is a lifestyle you are living.

a. Sanctification is a direction

Too often our practical view of sanctification, discipleship, and counseling takes the short view. If you memorize and call to mind one special Bible verse, will it clean up all the mess? Will prayer drive all the darkness away? Will remembering that you are a child of God, justified by faith, shield your heart against every evil? Will careful self-discipline and a plan to live constructively eliminate all failure? Is it enough to sit under good preaching and have daily devotions? Is honest accountability to others the decisive key to walking in purity? These are all very good things. But none of them guarantees that three weeks from now, or three years, or thirty years, you will not struggle to learn how to love rather than lust. We must have a vision for a long process (life-long), with a glorious end (the Day), that is actually going somewhere (today). Put those three together in the right way, and you have a practical theology that’s good to go and good for the going.

Look at church history. Look at denominations. Look at local churches. Look at people groups. Look at families. Look at individuals. Look at all the people in the Bible. They all have a history and keep making history. Things are never finished. No one ever says, “I’ve made it. No more forks in the road. No more places I might stumble and fall flat. No more hard, daily choices to make.” Look at yourself. Life never operates on cruise control. The living God seems content to work in His church and in people groups on a scale of generations and centuries. The living God seems content to work in individuals (you, me, the person you are trying to help) on a scale of decades, throughout a whole lifetime. At every step, there’s some crucial watershed issue. What will you choose? Who will you love and serve? There’s always something that the Vinedresser is pruning, some difficult lesson that the Father is teaching the children He loves (John 15; Heb. 12). It’s no accident that “God is love” and “love is patient” fit together seamlessly. God takes His time with us.

In your sanctification journey and in your ministry to others, you must operate on a scale that can envision a lifetime, even while communicating the urgency of today’s significant choice. ‘Disciple’ is the most common New Testament term describing God’s people. A disciple is simply a life-long learner of wisdom, living in relationship to a wise master. The second most common term, ‘son/child/daughter’, contains the same purpose: by living in life-long relationship to a loving Father, we learn how to love. When you think in terms of the moral absolutes, it’s EITHER oily rag OR garden of delights. But when you think in terms of the change process, it’s FROM oily rag TO garden of delights. We are each and all on a trajectory from what we are to what we will be. The moral absolutes rightly orient us on the road map. But the process heads out on the actual long, long journey in the right direction. The key to getting a long view of sanctification is to understand direction. What matters most is not the distance you’ve covered. It’s not the speed you’re going. It’s not how long you’ve been a Christian. It’s the direction you’re heading.

Do you remember any high school math? “A man drives the 300 miles from Boston to Philadelphia. He goes 60 mph for 2 hours, 40 mph for 3 hours, and then sits in traffic for 1 hour not moving. If traffic lightens up, and he can drive the rest of the way at 30 mph, how many hours will the whole trip take?” If you know the formula, “distance equals rate times time,” you can figure it out (8 hours!). Is sanctification like that, a calculation of how far and how fast for how long? Not really. The key question in sanctification is whether you’re even heading in the direction of Philadelphia. If you’re heading north towards Montreal, you can go 75 mph for as long as you want; you’ll never, ever get to Philadelphia. And if you’re simply sitting outside Boston, and have no idea which direction you’re supposed to go, you’ll never get anywhere. But if you’re heading in the right direction, you can go 10 mph or 60 mph; you can get stuck in traffic and sit awhile; you can get out and walk; you can crawl on your hands and knees; you can even get temporarily turned around. But at some point you’ll get where you need to go.

The rate of sanctification is completely variable. We cannot predict how it will go. Some people, during some seasons of life, leap and bound like gazelles. Let’s say you’ve been living in flagrant sexual sins. You turn from sin to Christ; the open sins disappear. No more fornication: sleeping with your girlfriend or boyfriend. No more exhibitionism: flashing in your trenchcoat or wearing that particularly revealing blouse. No more pornography: buying Penthouse or the latest salacious romance novel. Ever. It sometimes happens like that. For other people (and the same people, at another season of life) sanctification is a steady, measured walk. You learn truth. You learn to serve others constructively. You build new disciplines. You learn basic life wisdom. You learn who God is, who you are, how life works. You learn to worship, to pray, to give time, money, and caring. And you grow steadily – wonder of wonders! Other people (and same people, another season) trudge. It’s hard going. You limp. You don’t seem to get very far very fast. But if you’re trudging in the right direction – high praises to the Lord of glory! One day, you will see Him face to face, and you will be like Him. Some people crawl on their hands and knees. Progress is painful. Praise God for the glory of His grace, you are inching in the right direction. And then there are times you aren’t even moving, stuck in gridlock, broken down – but you’re still facing in the right direction. That’s Psalm 88, the “basement” of the Psalms. This man feels dark despair – but it’s despair in the Lord’s direction. In other words, it’s still faith, even when faith feels so discouraged you can only say, “You are my only hope. Help. Where are You?” That counts – it made it into the Bible. There are times you might fall asleep in the blizzard and lie down comatose and forgetful – but grace wakes you up, reminds you, and gets you moving again. There are times you slowly wander off in the wrong direction, beguiled by some false promise, or disappointed by a true promise that you falsely understood. But He who began a good work in you awakens you from your sleepwalk, sooner or later, and puts you back on the path. And then there are times you revolt, and do a face-plant in the muck, a swan dive into the abyss – but grace picks you up and washes you off again, and turns you back. Slowly you get the point. Perhaps then you leap and bound, or walk steadily, or trudge, or crawl, or face with greater hope in the right direction.

We love gazelles. Graceful leaps make for a great testimony to God’s wonderworking power. And we like steady and predictable. It seems to vindicate our efforts at making the Christian life work in a businesslike manner. But, in fact, there’s no formula, no secret, no technique, no program, and no truth that guarantees the speed, distance, or time frame. On the day you die, you’ll still be somewhere in the middle, but further along. When we lengthen the battle, we realize that our business is the direction. God manages to work His wonderworking glory in and through all of the above scenarios! God’s people need to know that, so someone else’s story doesn’t set the bar in a place that is not how your story of Christ’s grace is working out in real life.

b. Repentance is a lifestyle

What was the first trumpet call of the Reformation?

It was not the authority of Scripture, foundational as that is. Scripture is the very voice, face, and revelation of God. A Person presses through the pages. You learn how He thinks. How He acts. Who He is. What He’s up to. But Scripture alone did not stand first in line.

It was not justification by faith, crucial as that is. We are oily-rag people. Christ is the garden of light. We are saved by His doing, His dying, His goodness. We are saved from ourselves outside of ourselves. No religious hocus-pocus. No climbing up a ladder of good works, or religious knowledge, or mystical experience. He came down, full of grace and truth, Word made flesh, Lamb of God. We receive. That’s crucial. But faith alone wasn’t actually where it all started.

It was not the priesthood of all believers, revolutionary as that is. Imagine, there aren’t two classes of people, the religious people who do holy things by a special call from God, and the masses of laity toiling in the slums of secular reality. The “man of God” is not doing God’s show before an audience of bystanders. We all assemble as God’s people, doing the work and worship together, with differing gifts. The one Lord, our common King and attentive audience, powerfully enables faith and love. Yes and amen, but this radical revision of church didn’t come first.

The trumpet call, Thesis Number One of Luther’s 95 Theses, was this: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” That dismantled all the machinery of religiosity, and called us back to human reality. Luther glimpsed and aimed to recover the essential inner dynamic of the Christian life. It is an ongoing change process. It involves a continual turning motion, turning towards God, and turning away from the riot of other voices, other desires, other loves. We tend to use the word ‘repentance’ in its more narrow sense, for decisive moments of realization, conviction, confession, turning. But Luther uses the word in its wider, more inclusive sense. We live FROM-TO, when we live in Christ. John Calvin put it in a similar way: “This restoration does not take place in one moment or one day or one year…. In order that believers may reach this goal [the shining image of God], God assigns to them a race of repentance, which they are to run throughout their lives.”iii The entire Christian life (including the more specific moments of repentance) follows a pattern of turning from other things and turning to the Lord.

Luther went on to write a beautiful statement describing the transformation dynamic that occurs as we live FROM-TO.

This life, therefore,

is not righteousness but growth in righteousness,

not health but healing,

not being but becoming,

not rest but exercise.

We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it.

The process is not yet finished, but it is going on.

This is not the end but it is the road.

All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified.iv

Lifelong progressive sanctification was the trumpet call back to biblical faith. It was a call back to this life – including sex – in which the living God is on scene throughout your life. He planned a good work. He began a good work. He continues a good work. He will finish a good work. He has staked His glory on the completion of that work. Lengthening the battle heightens the significance of our Savior for every step along the way. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it.

————————————————————————————————-


i Augustine, The Confessions, trans. Maria Boulding, Hyde Park, New York: New City Press, 1997, Book VIII, Chapter 17, p. 198.

ii Marriage per se is neither magic nor magically loving. A few of these perversions of sexual goodness can be performed between married parties: e.g., joint use of pornography, sado-masochism, ‘homosexual marriage’, rape, bigamy. But such practices violate the call to loving intimacy before the eyes of God, who created sex good and defines good sex. The sexual identity and desires of one or both parties can be warped, whatever the marital status. The last part of this section will discuss sexual sins that more typically occur within marriage.

iii John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III:iii:9.

iv Martin Luther, “Defense and Explanation of all the Articles,” Second Article.

*****

David Powlison is a faculty member at CCEF and has been counseling for over thirty years.

This article appeared as a chapter in the book Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor, and published in 2005 by Crossway Books.

Your Healing Is Coming: Perhaps Sooner, Perhaps Later

When God Doesn’t Heal: How do you respond when prayers for healing seem to be ignored?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Sheridan Voysey

“I’ve been in the church for 20 years, but in just a few minutes of prayer my decade-long marriage problem has been healed,” Patricia told me. “Why didn’t this happen sooner?”

Patricia had just returned from a conference on prayer and healing. Going forward during one of the altar calls, she received prayer from a member of the conference team who asked God to release her from past relational sins. The results were powerful. After those few minutes of focused prayer, Pat felt she’d been released into new intimacy with her husband. The two of them are now starting their relationship “from scratch” with long talks and regular date nights. As a reunited couple, Pat and her husband even pray for others’ wholeness.

Patricia’s newfound freedom raised questions. For years she had prayed faithfully with others, sought godly counsel, and received marriage counseling from professionals. Why had God waited so long to answer? And why was it this person’s prayer that succeeded?

The mystery over the miraculous remains. One infertile couple conceives while another remains in grief. One cancer patient receives the all-clear while another continues to suffer. When miraculous relief does come, the rejoicing of the blessed leads to mourning for the unchanged as they ask, Why hasn’t God healed me like He healed her?

Why God heals some and not others has perplexed His people throughout history. I continue to be baffled by it, and as much as I’d like to offer an answer, I cannot. But through listening to stories of those who seek healing, I have noticed three principles about how we might respond while we wait and pray. The first came from a personal wrestle of faith.

Responsible Change

My wife and I were completing a trip across Australia and had begun the three-day drive back to Brisbane, our home city. The trip had been filled with excitement. I had met with a Christian radio station and agreed to join them as their morning announcer. The prospect meant leaving family and friends within weeks to live thousands of miles away. It was a giant move, but I marveled at how God had opened a door to full-time Christian broadcasting—a calling I’d felt for years.

Then, on that drive back, I felt a strange itching in my throat. At first I thought it was due to thirst. Throughout the interstate trek, I drank often but found no relief. At home, I returned to the radio station where I worked and settled into my four-hour show. About halfway through the shift, it happened. Midsentence, with thousands listening, my voice broke. As I gasped and coughed, I reached in panic for the button that played the commercials. I struggled through the rest of the show, thoroughly embarrassed and fearful I’d done irreversible damage.

In the weeks that followed, speaking above a whisper was painful. My voice would crack like a pubescent teenager’s when I reached a certain volume. I grew fearful and confused. I was about to travel to the other side of the earth (or so it felt) to do a job that required me to use my voice—a voice that now resembled a raspy wheeze. Was this God’s way of saying I was to stay in Brisbane? Was it the enemy trying to stop a season of fruitful ministry?

I began to pray for healing—long and often. I also saw a speech therapist every morning before driving to work and struggling through my four-hour show.

Desperation set in after weeks of pain. Tired, sore, and in anguish, I went to my study one night and opened my Bible to Psalm 77. The psalm’s deep pathos connected with my confused heart:

I cried out to God for help. . . . I stretched out untiring hands. . . . My soul refused to be comforted. . . . My spirit grew faint. . . . I was too troubled to speak. —vv. 1–4

My questions were intense. Without a voice, how could I do the ministry I felt called to? What else could I do? Was preaching also over for me?

I, a man who has shed tears perhaps three times in the last 10 years, began to cry. The sobs carried my pent-up emotions as watery prayers to God. Another prayer for healing, for the confusion to end, and then I went to bed.

Describing the following morning is difficult. A dramatic change had taken place. I was able to speak with more freedom and less pain. The improvement continued throughout the day (my voice normally deteriorated as the day wore on). My voice was still prone to fatigue and strain, but the threshold had lifted markedly. God had touched me.

My partial healing allowed me to work on-air, but my costly speech therapy continued—and here is where the lessons came. My therapist showed me that I’d been forcing my voice into an unnatural pitch. Unsatisfied with my God-given sound, I had been trying to use a deeper voice. I also hadn’t been doing warm-up exercises or drinking any water during an entire four-hour show. In short, for six years I had been abusing my voice.

The experience taught me a powerful lesson. Had God healed me when I first asked Him to, I would have continued my voice-destroying habits. Like feeding sugar to a child with rotten teeth, the healing would have harmed me in the long run. What loving father gives his children a stone when they’ve asked for bread, or a snake when they’ve asked for fish (Mt. 7:9–10)? Yet, sometimes without realizing it, we ask for the stone or the serpent when we pray for instant healing. God wants to provide solutions that will nourish and sustain, not shatter and sting.

The complete restoration of my voice required change: new speaking habits, silly-sounding vocal exercises, an acceptance of my natural tone and timbre. These changes took time and effort. In fact, it took a couple of years for my voice to return to its full strength.

Since then, when I pray for healing, I consider what part of the healing God may be calling me to. Is my lifestyle involved? Is my illness due to poor diet or exercise? Am I seeking a supernatural shortcut when God wants a character-building personality adjustment? When God doesn’t heal, it may be that He’s asking us to make some practical changes. But we are called to spiritual action as well.

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. —Jas. 5:14–15

Seeking healing prayer takes humility. We become vulnerable, exposing ourselves to others. We have to wrestle with our sense of self-sufficiency. Some Christians (myself included) have needed the gentle nudge of God to take up this offer of healing prayer by church eldership. Yet this scripture makes it clear who is to do the asking. Will we respond?

Patient Waiting

Perhaps you’ve taken responsibility, made lifestyle changes, and called the elders to pray for you as Scripture teaches. Or perhaps your infirmity is beyond any lifestyle choice. Multiple sclerosis can strike at random, and someone paralyzed by a drunk driver’s actions has little to take responsibility for. What sustains us in these circumstances?

One man’s story has helped me see a second principle related to our journey toward healing: God has arranged for us all to be made whole—in His special timing.

In 1997, accountant David McKenzie’s life came to an abrupt halt when he was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease (MND). This degenerative terminal illness affects the cells in the spinal cord that send messages to the body’s muscles. The muscles cease to respond as the neurons mysteriously die off, leaving patients increasingly paralyzed, affecting their ability to speak and reducing their capacity to swallow. Eventually, breathing stops and the darkness of death pervades. A slow and agonizing illness, MND has been dubbed the “thief of dignity” and is often used as an example by lobbyists for legalized euthanasia.

David was just 45 years old when the diagnosis came. He had a devoted wife and young family. When I spoke to him for a radio interview, he’d just “celebrated” his fifth anniversary since the diagnosis—two years longer than the doctor’s initial prognosis. Yet the effects of the disease were significant. By then he could not eat, get dressed, bathe, or go to the toilet without his wife’s assistance. When I telephoned, David propped the handset on a table so he could talk to me from his wheelchair. His voice in decay, he spoke as though his mouth were full of gravel.

David and I talked about a number of things, including the numbness he felt walking from the doctor’s office that day in 1997, and the fear and embarrassment victims feel throughout their wrestle with MND. We also talked about his quest for healing.

Like many suffering a chronic disease, David tried anything to find freedom. He experimented with wonder diets and special supplements. He considered the possibility that a curse had been put on him and wondered whether deliverance was required. Visiting Israel on a holiday, David was sprinkled with water from the River Jordan. He prayed at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, prayed again at the supposed site of Jesus’ crucifixion and while sailing on the Sea of Galilee. (The lack of results confirmed to David that should a miracle come, it would be through God’s power and not some geographical location.)

Some friends told David that if he just had faith, healing would come. On another occasion, he emailed a prayer request for healing to a well-known evangelist and healer. At a church meeting, a visiting minister foretold that David would be healed and would administer healing to others. While David acknowledges that he has experienced some emotional and spiritual healing through prayer, no physical change has come. He remains very ill.

Some, having gone through such experiences, would denounce God’s healing activity all together. David doesn’t. “I really don’t know what the future holds,” he told me. “Perhaps there is a cure, perhaps God will heal me miraculously, I don’t know. I’ve prayed for it, and there are hundreds of people who are praying for it. Some people have prayed every day since I was diagnosed.” David remains prayerful yet grounded in a certain hope. “I still dream of the future; there is some promise. But overall, I always take hope in the eternal life that I know will come my way.”

If we consider our lives as a pencil line on a page, our earthly years are quite brief, a momentary span in the larger time line of history (Jas. 4:13–15). For one person, physical healing may come at age 20, perhaps at age 40 for another. God may bring David’s healing at the 54-year point. Yet, as others blow his nose for him and wipe up food dropped in his attempt to bring fork to mouth, David McKenzie takes comfort that, whether it comes in this lifetime or not, total healing is planned into his destiny when he is ushered into eternity.

If you’re still plagued with pain and awaiting wholeness, there’s hope. Your healing is coming; perhaps later, perhaps sooner. God has a special moment, a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3). Our lives are cupped in His hands without a day unaccounted for (Ps. 31:14–15). In the meantime, like the persistent widow, we persevere in prayer and continue in loyalty (Lk. 18:1–8). Like King David, we remain confident in God’s promised salvation as we experience our trials (Ps. 27:3). Like Isaiah, we wait patiently for our God:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! —Is. 30:18

Faith-filled Expectation

God is going to do something on this healing journey of ours. If it’s healing in this life, He will bring it. If a season of suffering is to be withstood, He will use it for our ultimate good (Ro. 5:3–5), and He will help us toward the blessing that comes through ministering to others (2 Cor. 1:3–4). In fact, our suffering could be the very sign that God is using us in His redemptive plan. Thus, we watch and listen in faith-filled expectation.

I once spoke to Harry Leasement, a returned missionary who’d spent a good portion of his ministry working in Estonia. Harry shared a remarkable story of the gospel’s spread among Estonia’s hearing-impaired community. It all began when two young men applied for Leasement’s newly established Bible college. One had partial hearing; the other was completely deaf. Hesitant, but sensing the Lord’s guidance, Harry enrolled the eager students and began the lengthy process of adapting the curriculum to their unique needs.

From these small beginnings—just two obedient, deaf disciples—came a tremendous harvest for God’s kingdom. Within two years, more than 300 of Estonia’s deaf had converted. They began their own school and have since established a college especially for training deaf missionaries. The movement has spread into Russia, Mongolia, and the Ukraine. The number of deaf Christians now reaches into the tens of thousands.

Intrigued by the story, I asked Harry the obvious question: What about healing? He must have thought that through, I suggested. Harry smiled and replied, “We more than thought it through. Being Pentecostal in our leanings, we prayed it through, and we preached it! In fact, both of these guys are skinny from fasting and seeking God. They sought the Lord [for their healing] for several years.” Yet God didn’t heal.

Through this seeming silence from God comes another lesson about waiting for God’s healing. “Actually,” Harry continued, “one of our interpreters was healed of her deafness. Yet when she was healed, she found herself on the outs with the profoundly deaf. The two men received a grace from God to recognize their deafness as the key to reaching the deaf community.”

Harry quoted the statistics: There are 8.7 million profoundly deaf people in Russia and 75.2 million in China. “When the men received the concept that deafness could be a key to reach people no one else could reach, a joy came into their lives.”

The walk of faith is a life of expectation. We believe that God rewards those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6), and so we expect to see results. But sometimes our suffering has a redemptive benefit for others. The Estonian men remain deaf to reach their hearing-impaired brethren, the Apostle Paul suffered his “thorn in the flesh” so that God’s power would propel his missionary endeavors (2 Cor. 12:7–10), and Jesus Christ died so that we might live forever. Suffering is a bit easier to endure when we can see God’s purpose in it. Through such redemptive pain, we can experience an unusual joy. Joy came to the Estonians when they saw their deafness as a gift, Paul said that because of God’s grace he delighted in his difficulties, and Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him” (Heb. 12:2).

I still have many questions about miraculous healing. I don’t know why God chose to touch Patricia’s marital problem after such a long time while leaving others unhealed. Yet, when our problems continue, I sense that our calling is to live in responsible, patient, faith-filled expectation.

What can Christians expect from God in regard to healing?

SOURCE:  R. C. Sproul

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen on the walls of pastors’ studies or in Christian homes the little sign, Expect a Miracle. If a miracle is something we can expect, like we expect the postman every morning, it ceases to be miraculous—it’s no longer extraordinary, and it no longer does the job that miracles were designed to do, namely, to call attention in an astonishing way to the intervention of God. On the other hand, the New Testament tells us to bring our prayers before God, particularly for those who are sick. So I expect God to be merciful because he promises to be merciful, and I expect God to be present in times of trouble because he promises to be present in every time of trouble. I expect that God will take our prayers seriously when we pray on behalf of the sick. I do not expect that God is going to heal everybody we pray for because I don’t know that God has ever promised to do that. And I have no right to expect something from God that he has not categorically promised in every situation.

In the New Testament we see that Jesus, as far as we know, had a perfect healing record. When Jesus asked the Father to heal somebody, they were healed. But even the apostles were not that consistent. There were times when they prayed for the healing of people and those people were healed, and there were times when they prayed for people and they were not healed. I think that in those situations, practically speaking, what we should do is bring our requests before God in fear and trembling, in passionate intercession, and then let God be God. We do expect the presence of his Holy Spirit.

The Bible tells us that in the world we have tribulation, the world is full of suffering, we are going to suffer, and God promises to go with us: “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me.” I have never ceased to be amazed at how some Christians I know have testified to the overwhelming sense of the presence of Christ that comes to them in those situations. That’s when we can most expect God to be with us.

Steps To Helping One Through Grief And Loss

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors

                                                        Be Patient

  • Encourage the person to give himself whatever time that it takes to heal emotionally.
  • Encourage the person to keep a routine, get lots of rest, and not try to attempt too much but to direct his energies toward healing.

Maintain Friendships

  • Encourage the person to let others comfort and share in the journey toward healing.
  • Encourage one not to become isolated but rather to seek meaningful connection with others.
  • Make a list of friends to call.
  • Locate a grief support group.

Feel the Pain

  • Help the person understand that the intensity of the pain is normal and that eventually it will begin to subside. The pain will probably never disappear completely, but it will become bearable.
  • Trying to avoid the “terrible pain” only prolongs the grief.
  • Trying to avoid a loss by hiding the feelings will only cause problems in other areas — emotionally, spiritually, or physically.
  • Dealing with loss in a healthy manner can be a major avenue to growth and life-transforming change.
  • The person must move forward by experiencing the grief, while at the same time rejoining the living through acts of giving and receiving.

We are healed of grief only when we express it to the full. —Charles R. Swindoll

“Normalize” the Feelings of Grief

  • Grief encompasses a number of changes. It appears differently at various times, and it comes and goes in people’s lives.
  • It is a normal, predictable, expected, and healthy reaction to a loss.
  • Grief is each individual’s personal journey and his manner of dealing with any kind of loss — no matter how minor or severe it may appear to others — must be respected. It should be gently challenged only when prolonged in a manner that is detrimental to the person and his relationships.

Healing

  • Help the grieving person process any felt guilt and anger.
  • Help the person redirect his energies from excessive “if onlys” and wishing that things could be different to instead focusing on healing.

Biblical Insights

Then David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son. 2 Samuel 1:17

Expressing sorrow is a healthy response to grief. David poured out his sorrow in words that honored the anointed king and his son.

Putting grief into words is a healthy way to handle the pain and honor those who have died.

He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. Isaiah 53:3, 4

Isaiah’s words communicate the suffering of the One who loved us and died for us.

In our deepest moments of grief and loss, we need only look to Him on the Cross and realize that He understands. He alone can heal the wounded heart.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”John 11:25, 26

Because of sin, death comes to all (Romans 5:12–14). Many try to ignore death, not wanting to think or talk about it. But feared or embraced, expected or not, death still occurs.

In every pang that rends the heart, the Man of Sorrows has a part. —Michael Bruce

Jesus experienced those emotions at the death of His good friend Lazarus. Jesus knows the pain of loss and uncontrollable sorrow. He knows the incredible power of death.

It is natural to feel sad and mourn the death of a loved one. But in our times of sorrow, we can let Jesus hold us in His compassionate arms, knowing that He understands.

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14

The Thessalonian believers wondered what was happening to their fellow believers who had died.

Believers have the ultimate assurance. We believe that Jesus died, rose again, ascended, and is coming again; and we also believe that He will bring with Him those who have died.

One day, all believers will be reunited in the grandest reunion ever seen!

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

Revelation describes a better time and a better place, however, where grief and loss will not exist: heaven.

No matter what we experience here, God promises a perfect future with Him. Through the hard times of today, we can trust this hope for the future.

Life After Adultery?? The Forgiveness Factor

SOURCE:  adapted from an article by Dwayne Bond, www.wellspring-community.org

Can a marriage recover from the devastation of adultery? This is the pervading question pondered by the adulterous couple as well as the counselor tasked with assisting them. How does a couple whose heart’s desire is for the pain to disappear proceed? How does a couple obtain the courage to venture into their heartache in order to salvage the rubble from the aftermath of the betrayal and emotional chaos? Once the reality and impact of adultery hit, the remaining question is, “How do we continue living life together?”

Following the realization of adultery are insurmountable emotional, mental, and physical agonies that become life’s daily reminders of the breach in trust. In addition to the inner anguish is the on-going presence of the person who has inflicted this pain. Instead of choosing to escape from the inflictor of pain, one is now left with the confusion of whether to ever trust their spouse again.

Without trying to short-change the seemingly eternal rebuilding process in the marriage, forgiveness has to be introduced and woven into the hearts of the couple if there is any hope for their marriage. After the hurt and anger surface, there has to be a definitive choice made. This decision can either close the tormenting cycle of hurt, anger, and mental reminders with forgiveness, or embrace the outcome of becoming a victim to it.

The Christian spouse who has been victimized by the wounds of adultery often lives between knowledge and emotion. On one hand, they have their own convictions about what the Scriptures teach about adultery and divorce. On the other hand, they may sense an emotional impossibility to function in the midst of the constant reminders and feelings.

When we read Scriptures like Matthew 18:21-22, we are struck by the admonishment to practice unconditional forgiveness that is not limited by time or the particulars of the sin. Meditating on passages like Ephesians 4:32 (“be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”), can cause a sense of unfairness to register in the heart of the offended. “Why do I as a victim of adultery have to be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving?” Hopefully, as we embrace the undeserved forgiveness that Christ has extended to us, we are better able to allow our hearts to do the same.

Is forgiveness easy? Will it come naturally? Emphatically not!! Recognize that forgiveness is not confined to an overnight process. After a choice is made to seek to rebuild healthy relational pathways, Jesus can begin preparing the heart of the betrayed spouse regardless of the posture of the adulterous spouse. He can prepare the spouse to lovingly confront with carefully chosen words (Proverbs 12:18) in order to precipitate an opportunity for true repentance to take place. Even if repentance does not take place in the heart of the adulterous spouse, forgiveness on the part of the betrayed spouse can still be realized. Forgiveness should never be tied to the repentance of the offender. It could lead to a state of bitter bondage in the offended.

HEALING, HELP, AND HOLINESS IN THE PRESENT MOMENT

SOURCE:  BILL BELLICAN

A lot happens in life in the present moment.  Anything (good or bad) can happen at any given moment.  What’s even more real (and amazing) is how God desires that we grow in our ability to engage with Him about all things in all moments.  In other words, He desires to have a vibrant, interactive, moment-by-moment fellowship with each of us in each present moment of our lives.

Concerning the more painful side of life, God constantly invites us to commune with Him, to discuss with Him the hard realities of life as we are affected by and experience these realities, and to depend upon Him more.  As we do these things, we learn how to wait on and watch for His wise and loving involvement in all our life needs and situations.

Among the hard realities of life are that we are responsible for and experience the consequences of our own personal sins, we suffer at the hands of others who sin against us, and we live in a fallen and broken world that sometimes comes crashing down on us.  As a result, we encounter hurts, wounds, engage our own unhealthy coping behaviors, are subject to the attacks of Satan, and find ourselves constrained by various strongholds of negative thoughts and emotional responses. This all makes life, at times, exceedingly miserable and difficult.  Furthermore, any unhealthy or dysfunctional responses we make to these hard realities hinder our progress toward holiness and being made Christ-like which is God’s will for us.

As we learn to take full advantage of our present relationship with God and invite His involvement in every present detail of life we encounter, we learn how to talk with Him more deeply, intimately, and honestly and to trust in His good and loving ways to deal rightly and compassionately in our lives and makeus into the person He intends us to be.

The following are just some examples of various interactions I have with God in the present moment as I bring before Him my genuine needs for healing, help, and holiness in my life:

— I ask the Holy Spirit to help me acknowledge to the Lord any specific strongholds of thoughts — things that “feel” true to me in an unhealthy, negative sense.  I offer these strongholds up to the Lord  trusting Him to begin displacing them with His truths.

— I ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any lies or untruth unknown to my conscious mind that I am believing in the present moment.  Then I choose to bring this lie-based thinking into the healing presence of Jesus for Him to renew my mind.

— I ask the Lord for His Lordship over any specific behavioral strongholds (i.e., destructive coping behaviors and habits) that affect me.  I request He demolish the strongholds as I faithfully look only to Him to do what I am powerless to do.

— I ask the Lord to make it possible for me to hear and sense only His truth that I might receive it in place of lies and distorted thinking.  I willingly choose to dedicate my all (i.e, everything good and bad about myself) to the Lord, and I reaffirm my current situation/thinking/feelings belong to Him along with my desire to be enslaved only to Him.

— I confess to the Lord any aspect of actual sin or compromise on my part that occurs to me including my awareness of and regret about my fallenness and potential to sin.

— I realistically share with the Lord the hurt, wounds, pain, bitterness, and unforgiveness I feel as a result of what others have done to me.  I request His Power to release to Him these wounds/hurts trusting Him to take them away and deal with them as He will.  I ask for the ability to trust that He will right every wrong done to me in His way and timing.  I also ask to receive His ability to forgive and release others for what they have done to me. I even boldly tell Him about any anger or hurts I have toward Him and ask for His perspective about these while trusting He will lovingly carry my distorted perspectives away as He cleanses me.

— I recall who I am to and in Christ and ask that the Holy Spirit remind me about my God-given position, rights, and privileges as a member of the family of God that I might proclaim and experience the reality of these truths.

— I choose to proclaim (in the Name of Jesus) that I resist Satan, his demons, their influence, and all lies as I obediently seek the Holy Spirit’s filling/control and the empowerment to put on the spiritual armor  of God.

— I choose to rebuke (in the Name of Jesus) Satan, his demons, and their lies, and I ask the Lord to rebuke these, also.  I reaffirm that God chose me as His own forever.

— I proclaim to the Lord how I choose to rejoice in Him (with His enablement) regardless of what my circumstances, struggles, failures, feelings are, since Who He is and What He allows are rooted in His Goodness toward me.

— I ask the Lord to show me what obedience to Him looks like, to train me in obedience, and to motivate me to obedience as a way of expressing my love for and faith in Him as He demolishes strongholds in my life along with the unhealthy thoughts, emotional responses, and behaviors attached to these strongholds.

— I praise God for Who He is,  because of His total involvement and interest in every minute detail of my life, and for His indescribable love for me as He works within these details.

May these be of help to you as the triune God — Father, Son, Holy Spirit — engages you in a deeper, more intimate, real, more constant communion with Him in the present moment as He brings to you: healing, help, and holiness.

Scriptural References:  Pr 23:7;  Zec 3:1-2;  John 8:32, 36;  Ro 8:29, 12:2;  2 Co 10:3-5;  Php 4:8; 1Th 3:13, 4:3;   Jude 9

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