It’s cursing of a different kind, and all dressed up like a gift.
It’s the curse of being Fine.
A few years ago, during my yearly physical, my doctor made the comment, “Well, you’re getting older so it’s to be expected you’ll be carrying a few more pounds.”
At first I just took the information in. After all, this was my doctor. But later, I realized how faulty her words were. It’s true I’m getting older. And it’s true that as my metabolism slows down, it’s easier for me to gain weight. But that doesn’t mean I have to!
She was offering me the new four letter ‘F’ word. She was saying, It’s Fine. You’re Fine. You don’t have to try, and you certainly don’t have to suffer.
In the realm of sex and sexuality, there are similar versions of this same theme:
- If the temptations aren’t going away, it’s because it’s who you are. It’s fine.
- As long as the sex is between consenting adults and doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s fine.
- If you’ve felt this way all your life; it’s because God made you this way.
- Porn is just for fun. At least you’re not physically cheating.
Each of these comes disguised as a long awaited blessing, promising an end to suffering, and an end to the inner conflict between desire and devotion to God.
But there’s a problem. It’s not real.
I was having lunch with a friend recently who experiences same-sex desires. He gets lonely and hates the idea of never getting married. And yet, when faced with the notion that God wouldn’t ask him to suffer, he replies, “Well, Jesus suffered, and I’m following Him.”
His words are a sword cutting through the murky fine-ness surrounding us and revealing light from eternity.
A doctor might tell me that gaining weight after 40 is expected, and that might relieve me of a sense of guilt at eating more and exercising less. But where there’s guilt, or brokenness, or sickness, I don’t want to be free of my ability to sense it. I want to be free of it.
I don’t just want relief. I want restoration.
As long as I know I’m not all fine, then there remains the possibility of restoration. The problem with thinking I’m fine when I’m not is then I never will be.
If you’re stuck in some area of your life (sexual or otherwise), it might be because of shame.
Shame has an unrivalled ability to derail progress and hinder growth, and . . . it’s sneaky. It can come so subtly that often you don’t even realize it’s there.
Shame’s primary message goes something like this:
You are uniquely defective.
Take a look at those words for just a moment.
Is there any area of your life where you hear this message? Any area of your life where you have a general sense that no one in your life (or in your family, among your peers, at your church, in your company, at your age, or of your gender) is as bad as you are?
Or maybe it’s not something you hear. Maybe it’s just something you feel.
If so, shame is likely at work.
If shame has slipped its primary message in, here’s what it will whisper next:
- You don’t belong here.
- You’ll be rejected.
- Your only hope is to isolate: Keep your defective parts hidden or withdraw yourself completely from everyone. Including God.
Before you know it, shame has shoved you (or at least a part of your life) into a dark corner where no one will see.
It’s a crock.
And it’s time you know: Jesus and shame don’t like each other much.
I know shame has told you they’re buddies. I know shame’s told you it’s delivering a message from Jesus, maybe even that Jesus didn’t want to deliver the message himself because the defects disgust him.
But it’s not true. Jesus doesn’t despise you. He despises shame (see Hebrews 12:2).
No matter what shame has been saying, Jesus is searching for you. And throughout your life, his love has been searching for those parts of you that are defective, weak, broken, or sinful.
The cure to shame is not isolation; it’s the love of God.
So when you find yourself hiding, when you find you’ve been shoved little by little into darkness, step back into the light.
And if you’re having trouble with that, ask Jesus for help. He said he came for the lost and he wasn’t kidding.
And if you’re still having trouble with shame, give us a call. We’d be honored to help.
A pen is designed to write. A book to be read. A violin to play music.
A pen can also punch a hole in a watermelon. A book can work as a decent footstool. And in a pinch, a violin would make fine kindling.
Likewise, eyes can lust. But they’re not designed to.
If you struggle with lust, you need to know this. Your eyes aren’t the problem.
Christ came to condemn sin in your eyes, not to condemn your eyes (Romans 8:3), Why? Because there’s nothing wrong with how he designed your eyes. They’re perfectly designed to love.
Maybe your eyes have gotten really good at lusting. Maybe you can’t imagine they’ll ever stop. No matter, practice trusting that God’s Spirit in you is at work giving His life to your eyes (Romans 8:11). This is a fight of faith, to be sure. But it is one worth fighting.
As a part of this faith walk, do this:
I mean it. Tell your eyes you’re sorry for mistreating them.
I don’t know where I got this idea, but when I was trying to stop using pornography, I’d take time afterwards to confess to God, and then I’d put my hands gently on my eyes and say:
“I’m sorry. Jesus made you to look with love, and I let sin mis-use you to lust. Please forgive me. In Jesus’ name I bless you to love.”
Here’s what I like about this practice:
- Like apologizing to a person, it helps put you and your eyes back on the same team.
- It reminds you that your eyes aren’t the problem, lust is.
- It honors your eyes for the great gift they are.
- It reorients you that the goal isn’t to see less, it’s to see with Christ’s love.
I know, it sounds funny. And it might feel weird to do. But give it a try and see if it doesn’t help over time. Something about this can actually stir you toward using your eyes creatively, joyfully, lovingly.
That’s what they were made to do.
Leave a comment below: What’s one way your eyes can love that no other part of your body can?
How often do you see men depicted in contemporary media who successfully resist when tempted sexually? Examples are rare, but I’ll bet most of us can think of at least a few.
Now what about depictions of men turning away from an opportunity to lust?
Examples are nearly non-existent.
The man always turns to see what he’s not invited to, to steal a glance, to take a peek, even to let his eyes linger.
One of my favorite shows growing up had a lead character who fumbled all over himself when encountering an attractive woman. He shared an apartment with two women he ogled every chance he got, and they’re reactions suggested they thought what he was doing was natural, comical, even boyishly innocent.
I grew up drinking all this in, unaware of the lies embedded there. Or what they were doing to me.
Today, the idea that lust is natural, comical, or innocent is even more prevalent. It hangs in the air like the smell of a dump. And we’re all so used to it, we hardly notice it anymore.
Lust is just what men, even Christ-followers, do. They can’t help themselves.
This is a lie, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it comes straight from the pit of hell. It degrades men and women alike. Animals can’t help themselves. Men were made for something more.
Jesus, the man, was tempted to lust and had every opportunity. He never did. He only ever loved with His eyes.
He is our older brother, our hero to emulate. And what’s more, as we reach forward to be like Him, He reaches back to make us so.
On the cross, He became lust that his younger siblings could become the righteousness of God in Him.
Renounce in Jesus’ name the lie you’ve believed about yourself and lust.
God did not create your eyes to lust, to take, to trespass someone else’s privacy, to treat another human being as a something for you to use.
He created your eyes to love. He created your eyes, in fact, to love like no other part of you can.
Ask a few people close to you to tell you about a time when a man’s eyes conveyed love to them and see what they say. See how your heart stirs as you listen.
Woe to a world whose men have eyes grown dull with lust, eyes that can no longer see with love.
Jesus designed his sons and daughters for something far better.
Can you think of a time when a man’s eyes conveyed love to you? Leave a comment below.
God put freedom in our DNA. We feel it when we look out over the ocean. Or when we can’t see over the prison wall.
But if I’m honest with myself, I’m not always happy with how far God goes with this gift of freedom.
Freedom means any number of possible outcomes, and they’re not all good. “God, do you see what’s happening down here? Could you scale back on the freedom just a bit, please?”
As a parent, I love my kids’ freedom when they’re getting along, doing well in school, growing, laughing. But I also know they could really, really screw up their lives. Even if I give all I’ve got as their dad. I’m not so sure I like freedom there.
Heck, I’m not always happy with how much freedom God’s given me. I’ve got a lot of responsibility, and a lot of people depend on me. I could wreck all this.
Take parenting, I can’t help but turn to God and ask, “Seriously? You’ve put me in charge of raising kids? But . . . they’re living beings! And they’re breakable! (They also don’t stay where I put them.) God, you do know I’m still basically a kid trying to figure life out, too, right?”
All this is as God designed.
Pascal wrote of the “dignity of causality”—the incredible honor God’s given that when we pray, it actually changes things in the world.
Our thoughts and actions have this dignity, too. What we choose to think about, to say, to do, all of it can bring about good or harm. (And we don’t always know which.)
God, who is love, would have it no other way.
For us to share in his love, we must be free. Because if we cannot say no to God’s love, then the yes we say would not really be our own. Our heart’s lift when a bride says, “I do.” But if we found out the groom had held her captive and alone since she was a girl? Well, that would change everything.
Freedom is indispensible if we want love, real love, godly love, to reign. And this is exactly what God wants.
So where I find myself mistrusting freedom—whether in my life, my kids’ lives, or in the lives of others—I let Christ remind me that freedom is our only chance at coming to receive and give God’s love.
And I let him remind me the lengths he’s gone to rescue us from our captors and bring us back to his love.
If only we’ll freely give him our yes.
Leave a comment below.
One of our greatest and deepest human needs is to be naked.
We were not created to hide ourselves, whether behind clothes, possessions, achievements, or titles. Nor were we made to hide behind silence, small talk, anger, a smile, or busyness.
We were made to be naked and unashamed, yet in this fallen world, we also know instinctively we need to be clothed, to be covered somehow. We’re not in Eden anymore.
Even in a culture like ours where bodies are flaunted, and used to attract or to sell, we cover more than we expose. It doesn’t take much to discern that much of our obsession with body size, weight, and shape is not about health, but about trying to cover feelings of inadequacy or shame. It’s possible to hide behind nakedness, too.
Our eternal longing to return to our naked and unashamed beginnings cannot be shaken. But neither can our need to be clothed. We live with an inner conflict and we feel it.
We make the same mistake our first forefather and foremother made. Their best efforts (sewing fig leaf coverings, hiding among the trees, blaming others for their choices) could not restore the freedom they felt before.
We do the same when we believe we can cover ourselves adequately. We cannot.
I think Adam and Eve’s original experience of nakedness felt like they were completely exposed and also completely covered. Not concealed, but covered. God’s glory, His protection, and His love covered them. And their love and honor one for the other also covered them.
Our meager attempts at looking like we have it together physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially, etc. can’t hold a candle to what they experienced.
We cannot shake that we were made for what they once knew.
There is only one way for us now. It’s not posing or posturing. It’s not religious perfectionism, financial success, well-behaved kids, a growing church, or a fitness program. (And just to be clear, it’s not nudism.)
We must allow God Himself to clothe us.
First, be gentle with yourself when it comes to any shame you feel. Acknowledge it to yourself, to God, and to those closest to you.
Second, admit your inadequate attempts to make yourself “naked and unashamed.”
Third, allow yourself to be naked in front of Jesus. Come to Him acknowledging your needs, fears, sins, and deepest longings. Don’t decide for Him how He will respond to you. Leave room for Him to respond as He will. (And know however He responds, His response will never be to strip or shame you further.)
It was He who let Himself be stripped and shamed for our sake on the Cross. In a very real way through the Cross, He clothes us with Himself.
If we’ll let Him. This isn’t a one time event. Daily, we must come naked and let Him clothe us.
And as we walk this way with Him, we become those with whom others also can be again naked and unashamed.
Leave a comment below.
Before I came to Regeneration, my accountability partners and I regularly talked about pursuing purity. Interestingly, though, none of us ever asked what exactly we meant.
What I was after was a complete absence of sexual sin. That was my definition of purity.
I’d say something very different today. (As a matter of fact, I’m about to.)
Purity is not primarily about an absence of something sinful. It is that, but it’s much, much more. First and foremost, purity is about the presence of something good.
You can get rid of every last bit of dross, but if you started with lead, you won’t end up with pure gold. You’ll end up with pure lead. The hardest part of getting pure gold isn’t removing dross; it’s getting the gold to start with.
The same is true in the area of sexuality. Without the “something good” at the center, you can work to remove every bit of sexual sin without ever obtaining a true sexual purity. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day might have claimed to be sexually pure, but I doubt Jesus would have agreed.
What’s the “something good” needed?
Learn to love, and you’ll be sexually pure.
By “love” I don’t mean romance, or falling in love, or even making love (though all these are great when real love is present).
Jesus said, “No one has a greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).
To love someone fully means that all you are is given for the good of all they are. This is what the old traditional marriage vows expressed: “Forsaking all others, I freely give myself totally to you, for your good, no matter what, for life” (my paraphrase).
Contrast this with so much of what’s passed off as sexually or relationally normal today:
- A casual hook up because the physical or emotional pleasure of sex is so enjoyable.
- Sharing a sexy selfie because the attention (translate, number of likes) feels good.
- “Friends with benefits.”
- Pornography use.
- Fantasy and masturbation.
In contrast, learning to love means learning to give your life for the sake of another.
No matter where we are in life (married, single, divorced, virgin, non-virgin, young, old), we all need to grow in love. It is a lifelong journey.
And viewing the pursuit of purity this way gives us something to aim for, rather than just something to try not to do. And it serves as a good litmus test in every aspect of every relationship.
Parents, you can be on this journey with your kids, and instead of just teaching your kids to “wait until marriage,” you can help them uphold love and to test what’s being passed off as “love” around them at school, in the movies, in music, everywhere really.
And for all of us, Christ is both our example of a life lived in love and our ultimate means of becoming pure people as we become people who love truly.
I’ve just read an article in a prominent news magazine that demonstrates a serious challenge Christian men and women who struggle with homosexuality face in our day.
Whether or not you experience same-sex attractions personally, please, for the sake of our brothers and sisters who do, read on.
The bulk of the article centers around one man who left homosexuality because of his Christian convictions. He got support along the way from other Christians and Christian organizations. Eventually, he married and he and his wife (who had walked away from lesbianism) had two children together. For several years, he advocated that homosexual men and women can change, and he and his wife spoke widely about their experience.
Over time, however, he grew disillusioned. His internal struggles continued to resurface and he eventually divorced his wife, broke up his family, and is once again living as an openly gay man.
He’s not the only one.
But to read the article, you’d think this kind of thing is uniquely true of homosexually oriented men and women. It’s not.
Although other people experience conflicting desires, or struggle to remain true to their convictions and commitments, no other group in our culture gets pounded so relentlessly that their desires are innate, unchangeable, and must be obeyed.
Men and women who are overweight and try to change but regain the weight they’d lost aren’t told it’s because it’s just who they are, and they should go with what they feel.
A man who’s been sober for 12 years but succumbs to that old desire after a stressful season isn’t pointed out in the news as evidence that recovering alcoholics are just duping themselves.
A woman who’s gotten out of two abusive relationships and finds herself in a third isn’t told by her therapist it’s because battered women can’t change.
And those who, despite their heterosexual desires, choose to wait until marriage to have sex, or to remain faithful to one spouse till death do they part, or to forego sex and marriage altogether and live a celibate life, may be a cultural rarity, but they’re not usually told they’re frauds, or liars, or doomed to a life of lonely disillusionment unless they give in.
A Christian sexual ethic is a radical one for all of us, to be sure. But in contrast to the culture, orthodox biblical Christianity is consistent in its teaching about desires, including sexual desires:
- God gave us desires and they’re very good.
- Because of sin, each of us experiences desires that are out of alignment with God’s will and our design.
- Because of Christ’s work, God can change our desires and sometimes does, but whether he does or not, he calls us to obey.
- In Christ and with the help of his body, we can walk in obedience to God, one day at a time.
Alone, none of us could bear long a relentless chorus proclaiming that our misaligned desires are innate, unchangeable, and must be obeyed.
So let’s be in this together.
And for the sake of all, hold to a more ancient chorus: That wherever our attractions point us, we all are in need of . . .
- God’s mercy through Christ’s atoning death.
- God’s holiness through Christ’s resurrection.
- God’s power through the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit and the community of the saints.
And to my brothers and sisters who experience homosexual attractions, who hold to that radical Christian sexual ethic, who seek to live it out, thank you. We’re with you. And we need you as much as you need us.
Love is not true love apart from the body.
This doesn’t align with the Western way we talk about love. For us, we can view our bodies as an optional part of love. As though the sentiment or the idea of love is adequate.
Not so with Jesus.
True love requires that our bodies be involved, that we get up out of our armchairs and be about the business of actively loving, as a verb.
When my kids want my love, not a one of them is satisfied with the idea that I love them. Nor are they satisfied that I feel like I love them. They’re glad for this, yes, but when they run in asking me to come outside, they want love that follows them back out the door, leaves my adult-sized shoes on the grass, and jumps on the trampoline with them.
They may not articulate it, but they know intuitively that we’re not just spirits, and that to love, we have to love not just “in spirit,” but bodily, too.
Our best picture of this is Christ. When God wanted to express as fully as He could His love for us, He didn’t send a disembodied text, didn’t even just give us the Bible. He came in the flesh, walked among us, and gave His body up to be hung on a cross. “This is My body, broken for you.”
His love was en-fleshed. Not flesh-indulgent, not seeking another’s body to make His feel good. His love was an offering of His body.
If we wish to love, ours must be, too.
For me, there’s the rub. I think it’s why I want to hold on to the illusion that I can be loving without loving. Because to love bodily, like Christ, it costs me. And to love in the truest sense may just cost me everything.
The good news is if we want to, we can increasingly come to love like Jesus. All that He poured out, He poured out as a gift not just for us, but as a gift to us. He gave His body that our bodies would be restored to love as He created them to.
“Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).
Ready to jump,
More than any other time in the history of the world, we have an incredible capacity to live our lives for others to see.
- Facebook has over 1.4 billion users worldwide
- Twitter boasts 190 million tweets a day
- 100 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute*
As a runner, I use an iPhone app that tracks my routes, calculates my pace, and allows me to share this data with other runners (and vice versa). The fact that my run will be on display for a few others to see has been the source of inspiration to keep going at times when I’d rather dog it. I’m grateful for that.
But for all the benefits of living on display, there is a cost.
My running app has changed what running used to be for me. It used to be “me” time. It’s not anymore, even though no one else is physically present.
That’s what display does. By definition, it makes something visible. It’s an important part of relationship. Like when your mom put your art on the fridge, or when your boss drew attention to your good work, or when your friends gathered for your birthday to tell you what you mean to them.
Our problem comes when display displaces relationship, with God and with others.
Too much living on display wearies my soul. And it actually cripples my capacity for fuller relationships.
I need space. Solitude. My soul can’t breathe without it. I need room where I can pay attention to those things that matter only to God and me but to no one else. Otherwise, what’s most valuable to me might end up on display’s cutting room floor.
For me this means turning off my phone. It means writing things no one will ever read. It means enjoying nature without taking pictures. It means being able to worship or weep with no one looking.
When I allow this kind of not-for-display space in my life, I end up able to be more attentive to others face-to-face. And I like myself more.
This morning when I left for my run, my phone stayed home. I didn’t know how far I had gone or how fast I was going. And I felt a pang of disappointment about it.
But, funny thing, it kinda felt like coming home.
Leave a comment below: How do you use social media to stay connected? What tips help you keep a healthy balance between social media and real life relationships?
* Source: http://www.statisticbrain.com/social-networking-statistics/