Have you ever watched a film where, right near the end, you find out a new piece of information that turns all you thought you knew about the plot and flips it on its head?
I think here of The Sixth Sense, The Usual Suspects, Fight Club, Shutter Island, or The Prestige.
In each, you get just one additional sliver of information and suddenly scenes that didn’t quite make sense now do and other scenes that did make sense suddenly mean something entirely different. And if the movie’s done well, it was all right in front of your eyes the whole time.
If that can happen watching a movie, is it possible it can happen in our lives?
Is it possible a new piece of information—right in front of you—might introduce a plot twist that changes how you’re viewing the way some story in your life is going?
I think it is.
Over my next few posts, I want to share a few subtle truths that many of us miss, and though I’m no M. Night Shyamalan, maybe one of them will change how you see a story you’ve been living or a battle you’ve been fighting.
So here we go.
Plot 1: You’ve got a struggle you can’t seem to overcome.
- You drank too much again last night and have a splitting headache this morning.
- A porn habit is threatening your marriage but you keep going back to it.
- You feel weak and overweight and haven’t exercised since the beginning of January.
Whatever it is for you, at first glance, stuff like this looks like evidence against you, reason to believe the story is headed for more failure.
The pain you experience from falling reveals you’re not made to do what you’ve been doing.
Think about it: If the Author of your story created you to keep falling, if you’re designed for this, then each fall and failure would work for you, not against you.
- Drinking too much or too often would result in a better functioning body, not a hangover.
- Consuming porn would result in quality, fulfilling relationships, not isolation and fears of commitment.
- Eating gobs of sugar and fat would tone muscle and give you energy, not slow you down and make you weak.
You get the picture.
God gave us the capacity to experience pain (including guilt) as a way to let us know something’s wrong that needs fixing. Without this we’d likely leave our hand on the hot stove, stand in the freezing cold without a coat, or continue to fall into sin without realizing there’s a problem.
Of course, realizing there’s a problem isn’t the same as being saved from the problem. But believing that your habitual sins are just who you are or that you’ll never change will certainly lead to more failure.
The pain you feel when you fall reveals God didn’t create you to. It reveals you were actually made to walk. Or run.
Practice believing this and see if the plot doesn’t turn.
I love a good story. What’s your favorite with a great plot twist?
Too many people have the unfortunate problem of managing quite nicely.
Quite nicely is nice when all things are well, but when there’s a secret moral failure, a destructive pattern, a relational problem, or a long-buried wound, managing quite nicely is a problem.
I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. It’s a silent misery.
As a 19 year old Christian college student, I was harboring secret sexual sins I’d never told anyone about. Outside, I was managing quite nicely—a good guy, known for my faith, my friendships, and my humor. I prayed God would change me, but he didn’t seem to be answering. I didn’t want anyone to know. I’d be utterly humiliated. I thought I’d lose my friends. I’d never outlive the shame.
I asked God to show me another way.
By His mercy, He didn’t.
Do you carry something in secret?
Whether a shameful thing you’ve done or something shameful done to you, a lie you’ve fostered or an addiction that has you, or maybe something you carry from long, long ago, secrecy is not your friend.
Secrecy promises to keep us safe. It whispers of threats outside, of certain shame and ruin that await us in the open.
But secrecy is a dragon itself to be feared.
All that beckons you to darkness is that which thrives in darkness. You, on the other hand, were created for light.
If you’ll ever be free, ever be healed, ever be able to maintain health, you need to be walking fully in the light with at least a few trusted and trustworthy people.
Ask Jesus who.
There is only one way to clear out a dark and dank room, no matter who is responsible for its condition. It is to throw open the windows and swing wide the doors, to let sunshine pour in and the fresh outside air to blow through. Only then can real restoration begin.
If God has not shown you another way, it is a merciful refusal.
Find your way to a trusted pastor or priest. Or begin with a 12-step recovery group or a good counselor.
Or come to Regeneration.
Embracing A True Identity
When we have a faulty view of our identity, it breeds anxiety, depression, sin, and hiding. These disguise themselves as our friends while we struggle to stay afloat. And the cycle of sin, remorse, shame, depression, more sin, more darkness is wearying. Take heart. God’s desire for us isn’t that we’d stay stuck and without hope. Freedom doesn’t have to be a dream. The work on the cross makes it a reality.
The articles below, excerpts from Josh’s blog, examine these ideas and more.
Gold to Stones
The good news doesn’t start with people as sinners with whom God is angry. It starts in the beginning. And if we miss this, the good news will fail to be good news.
In the beginning, God made man and woman to be the Imago Dei—the image of God on the earth. By God’s design, all of creation recognized them with joyful awe. They were the ones the Creator had joyfully made like Himself. Or as John Eldredge has expressed it, man and woman were “little statues of God walking around.”
It was glorious. They were glorious.
So what happened? They were the ones created by God to be like God, but they bought the lie that they could make themselves like God. Although God’s glory radiated from them, it didn’t originate in them. It was a gift.
God didn’t revoke their glory; they gave it up, traded it for something far less.
In Paul’s words, they “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man…” (Romans 1:23).
Since then, we’ve been trying to get it back. It can’t be done. (You can trade a brick of gold for a stone, but a pile of stones won’t buy you a brick of gold.)
And yet, through all history, through all we’ve done, all we’ve settled for, all we’ve lost, God’s heart has always been for us. He desires that his glory would radiate from us, that man and woman would again be the best expression of him on the earth.
This is why Jesus came—not to cover us up so the Father wouldn’t see our sin, but to clean sin from us, free us from its power, and restore the glory of God in us.
The question is, will we let him?
You can’t make yourself glorious. It can only happen as you unite your life with Christ. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27b).
The internal struggle against sin is itself reason to hope. It’s evidence of the Master’s work in your heart, a spark of goodness within that wants to grow.
But for many who struggle, however hard they try, the spark of good remains just a spark, seemingly ineffective amidst the familiar dark waters of temptation.
Can you relate?
• You want to stop yelling at your kids, but you lost your temper again.
• You love your husband, but your best friend is texting and you long to be in her arms again.
• You want to stop looking at pornography, but it’s 2 a.m. and you’re still online looking for more.
You wonder if you’ll ever change, ever leave this sin behind once and for all? Can the spark in you become a burning flame?
It can. I say this confidently not because I know you. But because of the spark.
Where did it come from, this tenacious little light? Did you generate it on your own? No. If you’re in Christ, He put it in you. And He’s very good at what He does.
Consider this: You’ve fallen repeatedly to sin for years, yet the spark in you that wants to do good still burns. How could this be? How much dousing can it take without being extinguished?
Apparently a lot.
What does this say about the One who put it there and His love for you? What does it say about the new heart He’s given you? Could it be He’s made you stronger, more committed, more persevering, more of a fighter than you’ve yet believed?
Could it be the spark is so enduring because, contrary to what you’ve believed, it’s the real you, and the sin that tempts you is the part that doesn’t belong?
Paul understands this when he writes in Romans 7, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”
And then he also reminds us in Romans 8:37 that we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us. Not victims. Not failures. But conquerors.
Where have you been falling repeatedly? Instead of beating yourself up for the sins you’ve been falling to, consider the miraculous tenacity of the spark in you and what it means about who lives in you and who you are.
Triage,Change, and Consecration
If you’ve sought major change in any area of your life, you may have discovered that God’s priorities for bringing about change are often different than our own.
We may come to him seeking freedom from pornography, wanting to be rid of our insecurity, needing physical healing, hoping for an end to our homosexual desires, or desperate to get out of debt.
But like a good triage doctor treating a patient with multiple life-threatening wounds, God will sometimes leave one area for a time because something else needs attention first.
To us, the problem that demands immediate attention is obvious: It’s the one causing us, or someone we love, the most pain. And so we cry out, “What are you doing, God? Can’t you see? Don’t you care about the pain I’m in!?” Of course he does.
The cross testifies to us in our pain. He understands.
But the cross also testifies to us through our pain. And so, with each change that has not come (even over a long time) we have a choice:
Abandon the journey or consecrate the journey.
To consecrate this journey to him means he becomes our main desire, not the change we’re after or any of its benefits. To consecrate the journey to him, means entrusting it to him, setting it apart to him as an offering. Consecrating this journey means giving up our rights to have the life we want, and instead gratefully receiving the life he grants.
When we consecrate this journey to God, everything takes on new meaning.
Our victories and our failures alike become opportunities to revel in God’s grace; resisting temptation and leaving a desire unmet become acts of worship; the objects of our temptation become those we fight for not against; and the journey itself—however long it takes and no matter how outwardly successful it may or may not seem—becomes an opportunity to grow more intimate with Jesus.
When Experience Isn’t a Good Thing
Nothing on earth has the authority to define you. Your identity—your true identity—is who God created you to be.
And yet, what you experience regularly informs your sense of who you are. In other words, your experiences—your circumstances, interactions, feelings, temptations, actions, etc.—all give you their opinion about who you are.
And as you might guess, their opinion frequently doesn’t align with who God says you are.
For example, do you feel you don’t measure up compared to others? Have you been abused, used, or abandoned? Do you feel like damaged goods? Do you struggle with habitual sins like lust, rage, gluttony, promiscuity, homosexual activity, envy, or fear?
Maybe you can’t remember a time when one or more of these wasn’t a part of your experience.
Maybe you can’t imagine a version of you apart from them. Nonetheless, they do not speak the truest thing about you.
If this is hard for you to believe, try this:
• Ask Jesus this simple question: What have my experiences (my circumstances, relationships, feelings, desires, or actions) told me about myself that is untrue?
• Spend some time in prayer, see Jesus absorbing each of these untrue labels into his body on the cross for you (2 Cor. 5:21).
• Then, like a child, ask: Jesus, who am I? Who do you say that I am?
Keep asking, and keep listening for his true words. There you’ll discover that…
You are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). You are His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). You are chosen (1 Peter 2:9). You are a child of God (Galatians 3:26). You are the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27).
Explore the Scripture for more truths about who you are as one who is in Christ.
The process of realigning your perceptions of yourself with what’s true can be lengthy and challenging. And it’s worth it. Whatever faulty names your experience has been giving, Jesus has better for you.
You can sign up to receive Josh’s weekly blog in your email inbox by going to www.regenerationministries.org/blog.
It’s in our stories, movies, and legends. In Shakespeare’s MacBeth, Edgar Allan Poe’s Telltale Heart, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. We feel it in our bones. It’s in our DNA.
When we’re guilty, we desperately want to come clean.
Can you relate? Maybe you have a loved one who is struggling against being honest with her sin. Maybe you’re carrying something from your past that you’ve never told anyone, maybe it’s an area of sin you continue to struggle with presently. Or maybe you have confessed, but you still feel plagued with a guilty conscience.
Jesus’ invitation is for you. He wants to wash you clean and, yes, He wants you to feel clean. Keep reading.
What’s a Conscience For?
God speaks through our conscience—that muscle inside that alerts us when we’ve done wrong. When you’re guilt free and your conscience is clear, you feel a sense of lightness and freedom. When you’ve done wrong, your conscience reminds you. A healthy and strong conscience tells you there’s sin in your system that needs to be cleaned out.
When you understand what your conscience does, you know it does not accuse you. It doesn’t tell you how rotten you are for what you did. The voice that accuses you is the voice of the enemy, “the accuser of our brothers and sisters . . . who accuses them before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10 NLT).
On the other hand, a healthy and strong conscience, when revealing guilt, actually affirms you. It lets you know that you were made by a good and holy God, made for something better than the sin you’ve done. Sin is to healthy conscience what a splinter (or thorn, or nail, or bullet) is to your physical pain sensors. The pain you feel in your conscience is not the problem. Like the pain sensors in your skin when a splinter is present, a conscience in pain is just telling you that something foreign (unresolved sin) is present and needs to be removed for freedom and life to flow to the fullest.
So if you’re guilty and your conscience bothers you, it’s a good thing. It’s reminding you that you were made—that your natural state is—to be clean. To relieve your conscience is to move toward home.
Symptoms of a Guilty Conscience
Unconfessed sin produces death in us, makes us sick. Even so, there are costs to confessing sin and we know it. I’ll address these directly in a moment, but first, let’s take a look at the foul fruit of choosing to keep your sin secret.
- Emotional Distress – As I stated above, it’s in our DNA to get clean. When we don’t, when we try to hide our sin, we feel it. Or as David says in Psalm 32:
When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away
Through my groaning all day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.
- Health Problems – Whether a result of unresolved emotional distress or something else, guilt has been associated with both mental and physical health problems including depression, chronic fatigue, sleeplessness, immunodeficiency problems, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcers, among others.
- Compulsive Behaviors – To numb or distract ourselves from the discomfort of unconfessed sin, many run to compulsive drug/alcohol use, sexual behaviors, overeating, gambling, etc.
- Avoiding God – Maybe subtly at first, but when we harbor unconfessed sin, we instinctively pull ourselves back from the holy One who sees. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13).
- Avoiding Others – In a similar way, when we sense we are not clean, we instinctively want to hide ourselves from others. We may do this by completely avoiding their company, but more frequently, we do so by keeping secret the full extent of the things we’ve done.
- White-Washing – Instead of letting Jesus clean out the guilt, we try to compensate for it through pursuing financial success, reputation, physical beauty, fitness, and godly behavior. “For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Mt. 23:27).
- Unholy Comparisons – In a convoluted attempt to make our sin less, we compare ourselves to others whom we deem worse than ourselves. So much bickering between family members, co-workers, political parties, and even countries is, at root, an attempt to turn the volume down on one’s own guilty conscience.
- Shamelessness – Sometimes, we may even attempt to shut our conscience down altogether. We try to convince ourselves and others that what we’ve done is justified and so not wrong at all. We minimize, intellectualize, excuse, blame others, blame our feelings, even blame God (e.g. It’s natural, It’s what men/women do, God made me this way, etc.).
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).
“Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13).
God allows these symptoms and the pain, dysfunction, and chaos that come with them to get our attention. Why? Because His heart is for us. He wants us to make us clean!
What Keeps Us from Coming Clean?
Why is it so difficult for us to confess our wrongdoing? There are a million excuses, but I think they boil down to these three reasons:
- Fear of consequences. There are natural consequences for our sin, and the darkness promises to hold those consequences at bay. We think that if others find out, we’ll be humiliated and rejected. We may lose a job, money, or people we hold dear. I’m not going to tell you these things aren’t true. Real loss can happen when we come clean.
We must remember that the consequences are consequences of our sin, not of coming into the light.We were made to be clean, made for the light, and as such, we are always better off there, no matter the consequences.And while I cannot guarantee you won’t experience loss, I can guarantee God’s response will never be to leave you or reject you. In fact, when you’ve come clean about your sin, you’re more able to receive all God has for you. This is why those who regularly confess their sins tend to get better faster than those who conceal their sin.
- Pride. We like people to think we’re something special, and we know telling the truth about our sin may change a person’s opinion about us. Pride is really the flipside of insecurity. Think about it—the proud are as concerned about others’ opinions as the insecure are. This is important to realize because it reveals that pride doesn’t really work. It doesn’t make us better, it only keeps us expending energy to convince others we are.
The way to truly grow and change is not hiding behind pride, but inviting others to see and know you as you are. The man or woman whose conscience is clean and who can look the world in the eye, that’s the person who is free—free to live, to love, to learn, to grow, and to change.
- Concern for God’s reputation. We may be tempted to think that we should remain silent about our sin because of our position in the church or ministry, or because people around us know we’re Christians and would be less likely to follow Christ if they found out. It’s true that our sin may impact another’s view of God. But the problem is not the truth, the problem is our sin. Jesus is never more concerned about how you represent Him to others as He is about the truth of your life. You are not just a means to an end for Him, you are the apple of His eye and He wants to see you free. The One who allowed Himself to be stripped naked, beaten, and hung on a tree for you can handle His own reputation.
Besides, what do you think is worse for his reputation—those who own up to their sin, confess it, and get help, or those who conceal it and continue in it?“You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Mt. 23:26-28).
- Hurting others. Sometimes our sin when revealed will hurt others significantly. If you’re concerned this will happen in your situation, godly counsel is needed to figure out how to proceed. It may be that your concern for hurting others is more about protecting yourself than them. You need to find someone you can be completely honest with who knows you and can help you discern God’s will for the matter. And it goes without saying that this person needs a clean conscience themselves. Together, ask the Holy Spirit to convict, to reveal His will. Then, if/when you do share with the person who may be hurt by your disclosure, you’ll have an ally who can support you as you do.
Confession: The Way to Come Clean
Confession to God in the presence of another is the way to come clean and to begin to truly experience God’s mercy and your new identity. So much of modern Christianity has lost the beauty of confession. And it truly is beautiful. Nowhere else does a sinful soul cast itself upon the mercy of God. Confession opens the soul’s door to God’s mercy, grace, and love. Without confession, the mouth and mind may proclaim forgiveness, but the heart and body’s longing to be clean persists.
Remember, a guilty conscience is simply telling you that you were made for something better than hiding, for something far greater than the enemy’s lies that you belong slinking in the darkness. God has made you good. In Christ, He restores your goodness and removes the sin that binds you.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Christ endured the suffering of the Cross to cleanse you of a guilty conscience. Let Him do His work in you, just as His disciples did one by one as He washed the dirt and feces off their feet (John 13:5ff). And let Him do this for you as often as necessary. Make it a regular part of your life, like eating, sleeping, and exercise.
Along the way, you’ll experience for yourself His enduring yet tender love for you personally, you’ll develop more authentic relationships with those around you, and you’ll grow in your own sense of who you truly are in Christ.
In my 15 years of ministry to those caught in sin, I’ve met hundreds of men and women who regret keeping silent about their sins. But I’ve never met anyone who regrets coming clean through confession. Not one.
Confess your sin. Allow Him to wash you. Come clean.
As a help to you, below are two one-page documents to help you go further.
Guidelines for Confessions – Practical information to help you prepare for confession
Model of Confession – Step by step helps to walk you through a tried and true model of confession
Throughout the month of May in my weekly blog, I explored the apparent tension we all sometimes face between being people of mercy and being people of truth. This is vitally important because the implications of how we handle mercy and truth extend to every facet of how we relate with one another: how parents raise their children, how husbands and wives work through disagreements, how teachers or coaches or bosses motivate those they oversee, how the church goes about “kingdom work,” and certainly how our team at Regeneration relates with the men and women who come to us for help.
Much of my thinking (and writing) in May about the interplay between mercy and truth was informed by what I see as I watch how our culture—including our churches—is inadequately addressing the plight of homosexual men and women.
The reality is that both mercy and truth have power to shape us, and so whether we use them well or poorly makes a huge difference in what we are shaped to be. For those seeking freedom and healing in the area of sexuality and for those seeking to walk well with others who seek that freedom and healing, we must find that place where mercy and truth are wed together.
MERCY, TRUTH AND TWEEZERS
Mercy alone can be harmful. My five year old recently came inside crying because she got a splinter. Mercy rose up in me. I knew the splinter had to come out. But when I tried to remove it, she recoiled in pain, screaming, “Don’t touch it! Don’t touch it!” My efforts to bring healing were hurting her.
In your life, maybe it’s not a splinter but loneliness, a troubled marriage, a gender identity conflict, sexual temptations or addictions, unwanted same-sex attractions, current problems stemming from past abuse or neglect. Mercy wants to rush in with comfort, kisses, anything to relieve the pain, calm fears, ease aloneness. (Oh how we need more mercy on the earth, don’t we?)
In this ministry, we know thousands of people who have carried a heavy burden of shame for sins they did, sins they could not seem to stop doing, sins they were tempted to do, or sins done to them. Many of them grew up hearing nothing of their struggles but condemnation from the pulpit and gossip from the pews. We’ve heard countless stories of our brothers and sisters responding by hiding their sins, temptations, and wounds for fear they’d be rejected (or worse) if their secret struggles came to light. And we know how destructive shame and secrecy are.
Mercy of course wants to see an end to the burden of shame, the years of aloneness, the pain of reckless words, and the poison of secrecy. Mercy wants something better for these sons and daughters of God. And rightly so.
But there is a form of mercy that hones in solely on these pains, and has as its main and only objective to relieve pain if it can, and if it can’t, at least not to make it worse. This is a shallow mercy.
And here’s where a shallow mercy fails us: The pathway to restoration usually requires more pain, not less. And because it aims to alleviate pain, shallow mercy falters. And when it does, it ends up cooperating with the source of the original pain. It makes an alliance with the true problem. This is what’s happening in so many sectors of our present culture, particularly those dealing with sexual and relational sins and brokenness. And it’s what’s happening in many churches as well.
This results in churches that
· Focus outwardly, while inwardly they are full of festering wounds, enflamed addictions, and dying congregants
· Re-interpret Scripture’s teachings against specific sins to mean something else altogether
· Operate as though inclusion and acceptance are the highest calling of God’s people
We see this in the areas of divorce, sex outside of marriage, lust in general, and homosexuality.
Instead of coming to the Cross and pressing our lives into the body of Christ where true, deep mercy washes us clean from sin and shame, this shallow mercy leads us afar off from the cross. We are like travelers far from home, viewing the cross from a distance—as from a scenic overlook. From a distance it is sanitized—something to remind us of how much He loves us but never something through which we travel from death to life, something that utterly transforms us.
We take Christ’s provision of freedom from sin and shame and trade it for the shamelessness of the culture and a dulling of our corporate conscience.
For my little girl, mercy alone would have left her limping and fearful. With bigger problems, when healing requires greater pain, the consequences are much more substantial where shallow mercy balks.
To be truly merciful, mercy needs truth. Where mercy’s focus is easing pain, truth’s focus is exposing and dealing with the source of the problem. The cross is so important here. In the cross, mercy and truth are wed. They become loving allies, a unit, always working together. Truth empowers mercy to be truly merciful.
Whether receiving mercy for yourself or letting it arise in you for the good of another, you need more mercy, not less. A shallow mercy will not do. Do not settle for the inexpensive copy when the top of the line version is yours at the Cross, where mercy and truth flow deep together.
Likewise, truth without mercy can be destructive, too.
This is kind of a startling thing to consider, isn’t it? After all, Jesus is the Truth. How can truth be destructive? Consider for a moment a quotation taken out of context so it appears to say something different, even contradictory, to what the original speaker had in mind. The person said the words, but the quotation didn’t say all the words.
Truth can be used like this. God’s truth is an expression of His character, His personality, His love, His mercy. Divorced from who God is, truth alone is static and so it can be used destructively.
In Luke 7:36 – 50, a sexually immoral woman comes into a room where Jesus is eating and she falls at his feet. She wets his feet with her tears and uses her hair to wash them. She anoints his feet with expensive perfume.
A respected Jewish leader, Simon, sees all this and says to himself: “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”
Simon was right. She had a history of sexual immorality with no evidence she’d changed her ways. And Simon knew a lot about God (the God Jesus was supposed to be representing), and before God, she was guilty. It was all true.
But it wasn’t all that was true.
In response, Jesus tells a parable to bring in the bigger context—what’s actually happening at this table, what “sort of person” she is . . . and what sort of person Jesus is. Then Jesus looks at the woman and asks what I think is one of the most profound questions in the New Testament: “Simon, do you see this woman?”
Truth is, he hadn’t. Simon saw the truth of her sin, her disregard for male-female cultural boundaries, Jesus’ peculiar lack of concern for the things that so occupied Simon’s own attention. But he could not see her.The difference between the two men, the difference between Simon’s smaller truth and Jesus fuller truth, was mercy. Simon saw the truth of this woman’s ungodly actions and believed God’s next order of business with her must be judgment. The truth of God’s heart of mercy towards this woman was nowhere in his equation. And so he assessed her worth to be little. Interestingly, by virtue of Christ’s response to the woman, Simon made a similar assessment of Jesus’ worth. Simon did not see that God’s embodiment of truth and mercy was at the table.
In Christ’s hands, truth comes with mercy and for mercy’s sake. He uses truth not like a bludgeon to crush but like a sword to separate where a person ends and sin begins. He doesn’t like collateral damage. Mercy stays small truth where it would be brash, slows it down and more fully informs it. Just as truth deepens mercy so it can be truly merciful, mercy breathes into truth, expanding its reach to take in the fuller scope of God’s heart towards people.
With mercy, truth includes the context that the creation of humanity is a love story between God and us. And though we brought sin and death into the story, it is not now a chronicle of war or a dark tragedy. Through the merciful work of Christ crucified and resurrected, He is making the love story more heroic, more romantic, more glorious than anyone could ever have dreamed.
Where in your life have you tried to wash yourself or others in the puddles of shallow mercy—tried to alleviate pain and so settled for a life of sin or brokenness? Where have you needed to plunge into the deep cool waters of mercy and truth?
Where in your life have you beat yourself up with your failures, or hammered others with truth devoid of God’s heart of mercy? Where have you settled for the truth of your sin and let it define who you are? Where have you needed the heroic, rescuing embrace of the God who uses truth and mercy together to separate you from your sin?
Do not stand afar off. Come to Christ on the Cross. Come for His truth, come for His mercy. Come.
Knowing what you’re living for is always more powerful than knowing what you’re living against. Most Christians don’t seem to know this or live this way. They might say they’re living “for God,” but press them further and they may not be able to define what that means..
I’m increasingly aware of how important this is in the area of sexuality. Culturally, Christians have lost their voice because they can only say what they are against. And why are they against what they’re against? Because what they’re against will produce other things they’re against. More out of wedlock sex will mean more STD’s and more abortion and more single-parent homes. Legalizing gay marriage will mean kids growing up without a mom and a dad and further erosion to the institution of marriage in general. Wider pornography use will mean more promiscuity and more sexual addiction and more degradation of women.
On an individual level, men and women come to Regeneration primarily focused on what they want to stop so they can avoid more negative consequences. Worthwhile reasons, all. And it’s true—sin produces problems, chaos, and brokenness. The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death. Who wants that? But as a motivator none of this is as powerful as knowing what sexuality is for. If sex isn’t just for momentary pleasure, what is it for? And since sexual desires are so strong, why did God make us sexual creatures?
In the beginning, God gathered together dust from the earth. He packed it. He shaped it. He patiently and skillfully fashioned the first man (Genesis 2:7). Think of an artist working with clay, shaping and molding it, examining it closely with his eyes and fingers until it is as he imagined. In the same way, God formed man—his head, hair, eyes, eyelashes, face, nose, mouth, voice, chest, arms, elbows, fingers, abdomen, genitals, legs, feet, toes, bones, skin, heart, lungs, veins, cells, DNA—all a joyful labor of love. This creature and this creature alone, in His image (Genesis 1:26, 27).
But the man wasn’t a living being until God breathed the breath of life into his nostrils. Once He did, the man became a living being. Catch the order, don’t miss the importance. First, God created the earth. Then God formed man’s body of the earth.
Then God moved . . .
up close to
He breathed His breath into the man’s body. You could think CPR here, but that wasn’t quite it. It didn’t have that urgent, life-saving, EMT-at-work feel to it. No, there was more love in it. More purpose. More lingering. Much more like . . . a kiss.
God was giving His life to the man. He was sharing His Spirit, sharing Himself, with man. Think of it. When God created man, He created him to have within himself something of God’s essence. He created man to be in union with Himself. Always. As God leans in and gives of Himself to man, God made man both body and spirit. Not just body and not just spirit, but both.
Back to what sexuality is for: God is love, and being love God shares Himself with us. Not impersonally. Not mass-produced. Not distantly. But personally. Intimately. Vulnerably. Like a kiss. Like sex.
Man’s very being—this union of body and spirit—speaks the story of God’s gift of Himself to us. Our creation and our existence is meant to remind us of His love for us.
God created us for our own sakes, in total generosity . . . so that we might experience God’s self-giving love. Gift. All is gift. If we let this truth sink in, it changes everything.
(Christopher West, The Love that Satisfies)
SEX AND MARRIAGE
Sex between husband and wife is intended by God to further reveal His heart toward us.
God’s intent for us has been oneness with Himself since the beginning of time. And Christ has come for us. Have you ever considered that Scripture begins with a wedding (Adam and Eve) and ends with a wedding (Christ and the Church)? And sex was intended to point us to this, His great love for us. This does not mean that God wants to have sex with us. God is not a sexual being. But it does mean that sexuality points to a greater union with God—an eternal union, an eternal “naked and unashamed” union with the One who knows us best of all and loves us thoroughly.
Man and woman together bear God’s image on the earth. Men can hold their heads high knowing that they possess within the very fabric of their beings God’s image. Likewise, women can hold their heads high knowing they possess within the fabric of their beings God’s image in a way unlike any other created thing on the earth. But to most adequately bear God’s image on the earth, man needs woman and woman needs man.
Man and woman are distinct and different, yet they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, 6). God gives Himself to us, shares Himself with us to be joined with us. Yet He remains distinct from us. We are not God and He is not mere man. Through our bodies as male and female, our sexual differences express the Lord’s loving commitment to us. A man with another man or a woman with another woman cannot express this bodily as a husband and wife can within a loving and committed marriage.
God is self-giving love, and we are created from this love so that we can receive it and share it with others. The real epiphany comes when we realize that an image of this “great mystery” is stamped in our very bodies! Sexual difference is the most concrete expression of “gift” in the created world.“
(Christopher West, The Love that Satisfies)
This is why Paul writes in Ephesians 5:28 – 33a:
So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church., because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave His father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
The very fact of man and woman’s original glory in the area of sex and gender (including masculinity, femininity, sexual desire, intimacy, pregnancy, childrearing, family) is why the enemy so ferociously attacks these things.
The union between a man and his wife is meant to bear the image of Christ and the church. This doesn’t mean Christ will have sex with the church, or that Christ intends to be sexual with us. Rather, it means that sex itself is meant to tell us something about how Christ loves us. Is it any wonder that the enemy would attack marriage? If marriage is in ruins, what will we see of Christ’s love and faithfulness for His bride, the church?
Consider for a moment the common idea that men are aroused visually. What might this tell us about how we bear God’s image? Since He fashioned men this way, could it be God is trying to tell us something about how He feels toward us— that perhaps while we were yet far off from Him, He saw us, desired us, and came running quickly to us? That He would move heaven and earth to get to us, even to rescue us? (cf 1 John 4:19)
What about how men and women are typically sexually aroused? It’s been said that foreplay for a man takes a matter of seconds, but for a woman it begins with how her husband treats her in the kitchen that morning. Do you see God’s image in each? Through men, could it be God wants us to know that His desire for us is ignited easily? That when we reveal ourselves (our hearts, our needs, our bodily struggles) to Him, His love is aroused and He comes quickly to us? And through woman, could it be God wants us to know His desire is to be sought after—that He is not after our ecstatic, fleeting pursuit, but His love is stirred as we pursue Him alone?
Or consider for a moment how God has designed the sexual act between husband and wife. Why did he choose sex as the means to bring about human life? What might He want you to know about how He felt about creating you? Was it a chore or something He longed for with all His heart?
In the marital union, a wife’s trust and willingness emboldens her husband. As she responds to him, he is drawn all the more to her. How does God respond when we are caught by His power, His life, His love? He is not unmoved. And in pregnancy, a wife expresses the glory of God as she carries new life within her womb. The image of a pregnant mother is an intimate, tender picture for us of God’s utter, personal and intimate commitment to each of us (see Isaiah 46:3 – 4, John 15: Galatians 4:19, Colossians 3:2 – 4, 1 John 4:16.)
SEX, SINGLENESS AND WAITING
What about men and women who are not married, including those who never marry? Do they bear God’s image? They most certainly do. For those who are abstinent (whether as singles wanting to marry, singles committed to life-long celibacy for the sake of serving Christ, and those abstaining for a time within marriage), waiting mirrors our waiting for our ultimate connection with God. The wedding of the Lamb is coming but has not yet come. The Bride is still making herself ready.
Every one of us longs for greater connection, greater intimacy with God. We have tastes of our ultimate union with Him, but that union is not yet completely fulfilled. We are in between the times—Christ’s Kingdom has come and it is coming. He is with us now. But, as Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We are invited to wait. We get to wait.
Stop for a moment as you read. Feel the air around your body. Breathe in and breathe out. He is here with you right now. Closer than the air around you. Closer than the air you breathe. And He yearns for you. There are times we feel Him. There are other times we do not.
Some throughout the ages (and certainly in our present age) falter here and turn with a sense of irritation, even anger, at God: A lot of good that does me! I’m lonely! My flesh is crying out for touch, yet I can’t see, hear, or feel God!
He is not holding out on you. He is not dispassionately aloof. He knows the ache you feel. Again, remember, sex is meant to speak to us about God’s love for us. And God asks you to wait. Why is that? Perhaps it is because He waits for you.
Why do you think God chose such a powerful force as sex to speak to you about His love for you? Could it be because He is passionately desiring you, all of you? He is. And so we wait. We wait for the culmination of the ages when Christ will return, when we’ll be united with our Bridegroom. And likewise, we learn to wait sexually for when and only when we can have sex as God ordained: Between one man and one woman in the bounds of marriage, sex offered as a selfless gift of love from each to the other. In so doing, we come to bear the image of God in our sexuality.
SEX, DESIRE AND DIGNITY
And so we do not look upon our bodies as foul, filthy things, but as bearers of God’s image. And we do not look upon sex or our sexual desires as shameful, dirty things. They are worth more than we have yet imagined. They speak the story in language that extends beyond words. They bear the image of God’s love to us in a profound way. Or, they were meant to. Christ came that they would again.
And so humbly, gratefully, and in awe, we walk with dignity, treating our bodies with honor. And so we look upon and treat others’ bodies—those of men and women—with humility, dignity and honor as well. This is worth living for, fighting for, and dying for. Christ did. His body naked, beaten and marred beyond description. Pierced and broken to rescue our bodies— including our sexuality—for God’s great love.
We weren’t just made to run away and cower from sexual sin. We weren’t just made for sexual sobriety or restrictive morality. We were made to reveal God’s self-sacrificing love through our bodies—yes, through our sexual bodies. Is it any wonder the enemy fights so hard against sexual purity? The real wonder is why on earth we wouldn’t fight more.
This holiday season, as we move toward and celebrate the incarnation of Christ, let’s revel in how He has rescued back the dignity of our bodies through is birth, life, death and resurrection. As we join ourselves with God, just as He has always intended, we can overcome.
Sexual sin has been tenacious in my life. I remember my very first night at a Regeneration gathering—sharing that I wanted to “get in, get better, and get out because I have work to do for the Lord.” I had no idea how deeply my sexual sin ran, and I had no idea how long freedom would take.
We live in a consumer-driven culture, and as such our mindset about nearly everything is from the perspective of being consumers: What does this offer me? Is this a good deal for my money (or time, or energy, etc.)? What do I get out of this? If we don’t like this show, we turn the channel. If we don’t like our neighbors, we build a fence. If we don’t like the pastor’s preaching, we find a new church.
But pursuing sexual wholeness is a journey, and a long one at that. This doesn’t fit well into our what does this offer me mindset.
Sexual sin is not the next door neighbor of sexual purity, addiction is not the neighbor of freedom, and brokenness is not the neighbor of wholeness. Moving from one to the other can be a lengthy trek. When the Jews escaped Egypt, they were not yet home. They were free, but they weren’t free like those who have a home are free. In fact, they longed at times to return to slavery in Egypt—it felt more familiar and more secure to them than following God.
In between where we were and where we’re headed we encounter desert, waiting, battle, hunger, and pain. Sometimes these are in the form of powerful and soothing temptations: I can’t resist this forever, he/she understands me like nobody else does, I’ll just give in this one last time so I can get some sleep, or No one will find out. Sometimes these are in the form of vast amounts of space once filled with the excitement and pleasure of our sin. And sometimes these are in the form of new challenges—areas of growth we never dared walk through before—perhaps in the area of our relationships, or how we see our pasts, or how we take responsibility for our lives.
An added challenge are the many voices around us saying that if we’re experiencing desert it means we’re on the wrong track. They beckon us back into slavery, saying pornography doesn’t hurt anyone, some marriages simply don’t work, homosexual men and women cannot change, all of this sexual purity stuff is antiquated and repressive. We must hold to One stronger than the voices around us.
OBEYING WITHOUT CONDITION
In the book of Daniel when three Jewish boys were given the choice by king Nebuchadnezzar to worship a false god or be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, they responded:
O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18, NAS)
These three boys had been stripped of their home and taken into captivity in Babylon. They were stripped of their Hebrew names (Hananiah means YAHWEH is gracious, Mishael means Who is like God, and Azariah means YAHWEH has helped) and given Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego (meaning Command of Aku [Babylonian moon god], Who is like Aku, and Servant of Nebo [Babylonian god of wisdom], respectively). But when given the choice to bow under pressure to another god, they said no. Who would have blamed them if they had bowed? After all, they would have only been assenting outwardly; inwardly they would have remained believers in the one true God, right?
They lead the charge for us. They submitted themselves (including their bodies) to obedience whatever the cost, no matter how God pulled through for them. Like them, we choose obedience to Christ no matter what, however foolish our choice appears to the world around us. And like Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, we do not need to give an answer concerning this matter when voices around us tempt us to give in.
Our obedience is not based on what we expect Him to do for us. Too many have forsaken following Christ when they did not receive from Him what they expected when they expected it. This is an attitude of entitlement, a consumer mentality. Our first question is not whether or not we will choose to change our behaviors or attractions or temptations, but whether or not we will choose Christ.
I remember talking with Jeff Johnston (who was on our staff for several years) after yet another sexual fall. I was discouraged and questioning whether or not I’d ever be able to walk in consistent freedom. He responded, “Well, what are you going to do, give up?” It was a clarifying question for me—the choice was that clear: continue to pursue Christ and His healing or forsake Him and give my life over to sexual sin. I knew what I wanted to do.
OFFERING OUR SMALL ‘YES’
Once we’ve decided we are going to pursue Christ no matter what, most of us still face the daily battle with sexual urges and desires that do not match up with this decision. And if we end up returning to our sin, we question our sincerity.
After defeat, it’s common for men and women to respond by making a ‘big decision’ to overcome all over again. They rededicate their lives to Christ or ‘repent’ more fervently. There were times for me when I wondered whether or not I was really a Christian; I’ve met many who wrestle with this based on repeated defeats with sin.
For ten years of my sexual addiction, into the first few years of recovery, it seemed I could not say no to certain temptations. I didn’t want to admit this to myself at first—it was humiliating, frightening, and it didn’t fit too well with my understanding at the time of how my Christian life was supposed to be going. But time and time again, my actions showed me this was true.
Though the ‘big decision’ to follow Christ with one’s sexuality has been made, our wills aren’t yet big enough to handle the big decision. Our wills have become weakened with every yes to sin, and they seem to be powerless to say no” when temptation comes. When we hear the justification “This will be the last time,” deep down we know it’s not true. Giving in this time makes our wills even less able to refuse sin next time, less willing to say yes to God.
Here it can be helpful to start with smaller decisions, smaller yes’s to God. As Jesus said to the Pharisees at the beginning of His ministry, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). We do this initially by offering what we can to keep with repentance, not what we can’t. Later in Matthew, Jesus says that if your hand, foot, or eye causes you to stumble, to cut it off or pluck it out (Matthew 18:8, 9). He makes this personal. He doesn’t say someone else ought to cut off our hand if they see it’s causing us to sin. Why not? Because He is after more than just outward obedience, He is after our hearts as well, and avoiding those things that cause us to stumble is an act, however small, that comes from our hearts.
If your behavior has shown that you cannot refrain from looking at pornography on-line, you can’t say no to his/ her advances, or you can’t stop calling the chat line for sex, then perhaps these yeses are too big for your will right now. This isn’t an excuse because you can offer your smaller ‘yes’ to God: install a good Internet filter (or get rid of your computer), make it your decision to never be alone with him/her so his/her advances won’t come your way, have the phone company block the chat line number so you can’t call. These are just examples of
some smaller yes’s. There are so many more.
Early in my journey, I had to take a number of steps like these: I had a roommate hold my credit cards so I couldn’t use them to buy pornography; I had certain phone number prefixes blocked on my phone; and I committed to weekly participation in a support group and daily phone calls to an accountability partner. I’ve known others who have given up driving to and from work, others who chose never to go to certain parts of town, some who sent out e-mails to past lovers telling them politely but firmly to never contact them again.
A small yes offered to God is no small thing. We begin where we are; we cannot begin where we aren’t. And the small yes helps build our will to be able to offer a larger yes along with more and more of ourselves—heart, soul, mind, and body—to God. And as Dallas Willard puts it in Renovation of the Heart, God “is sensitive to the slightest move of the heart toward Him.”
CONSECRATION TO GOD
An interesting thing happens for those who commit to follow Christ no matter what, taking small but definitive steps to walk out that commitment—they change. Frequently, the change starts somewhere differently than they’d imagined. The late John White, in his book Eros Redeemed discusses how God’s priorities for changing us are often not the same as our own. He likens it to when a person is brought into the hospital with critical wounds—the triage doctors and nurses have to decide what is most vital and where they will begin focusing their efforts.
Over the years, some who have come to our ministry came wanting their same-sex attractions to go away, or to have their marriage restored, or to find freedom from habitual sexual sin, or to no longer bend into other men or women. Instead they found that God began working in a different area of their lives: helping them to renounce self-hatred; calling them to put down their masks of “good Christian”; gently inviting them to face the abuse of their past with Him; bidding them to forsake pride and isolation. There have been a myriad of issues where God has been at work.
Yes, the journey God has for you will lead to victories along the way, and so sometimes there is great joy! But your journey may also lead to an empty place, a desert, just like it did for the Jewish people so many years ago. In Gerald May’s book Addiction and Grace, he writes:
Consecration means dedication to God. It occurs when we claim our deepest desire for God, beneath, above, and beyond all things. Everything we do involves some kind of dedication. When we simply try to reform a troublesome addiction, our struggle is dedicated to minimizing the pain that addiction causes us and others. But in consecration we dedicate our struggle to something more; consecration is our assent to God’s transforming grace, our commitment homeward.
When we consecrate this journey to God, everything takes on new meaning. Our victories and our failures alike become opportunities to revel in God’s grace; resisting temptation and leaving a desire unmet become acts of worship; the objects of our temptation become those we fight for not against; and the journey itself—however long it takes and no matter how outwardly successful it may or may not seem—becomes a journey between Father and child.
By Josh Glaser
Originally Published November 2009
by Josh Glaser, Executive Director
There are few occasions in life that compel us to stop and consider—really consider—the brief life we’re living. Am I living my life well? Of all that I spend my time doing, how much is really making a difference for good in others’ lives? How much of what I’ve done is weighty enough to last through this age and into the age to come? Do I love like Jesus loves?
The death of Regeneration’s founder, Alan Medinger, in June has been one of those occasions for me, prompting these kinds of questions and more.
Alan died early in the morning on Monday, June 28th. Although his memorial service was not a star-studded event in the worldly sense, people from Maryland, Virginia, and literally around the country drove and flew in to remember Alan and honor his legacy.
I talked with a man at Alan’s viewing who had never met Alan. He’d read Alan’s book Growth into Manhood six months earlier and was profoundly impacted; he read it two more times in the following months. And when he’d heard Alan passed away, he said he just had to come see him.
Several leaders from the Exodus movement (of which Alan was the first president 30 years ago) came to the funeral as well, and many more sent notes and grieved from afar. Joe Dallas, author of such books as Desires in Conflict and more recently, The Complete Christian Guide to Understanding Homosexuality (co-authored with Nancy Heche), posted this note online:
“[Alan’s] legacy includes a stable/stabilizing influence that was exerted throughout Exodus for decades; relevant and user friendly educational material; an organization [that had] high credibility; a standard of excellence and a call to keep our work Christ-centered and doctrinally sound. All of this from a man who was unfailingly cordial and loving, unobtrusive but hugely influential. . . . I’ve known few people who warrant as much respect as Alan does.”
Alan’s life was a life well-lived, a life given over to Christ and His Kingdom. And so as we remember Alan, we do so, as Andy Comiskey, founder of Desert Stream Ministries and author of the Living Waters program, put it at the memorial service, “without regret.”
The Most Important Thing
I first met Alan in 1996 as a participant in Regeneration’s New Beginnings program (now called Rescue) for men seeking freedom from sexual addictions. I was learning all sorts of new and helpful information that I’d never been exposed to before. Alan wasn’t a regular part of that program, but he came and spoke to us once, and I was eager to hear what great wisdom he would bring us. When he finally came, do you know what he shared with us? In his humble way, he spoke to us about the vital importance of spending daily quiet times with the Lord.
For Alan, spending daily times with Jesus was central to his life, his walk, and his ministry. And he was so faithful to start every day that way. He called these times “the most important thing you can do,” and he believed it. He always said that his times with the Lord were when he got all his material for his well-known newsletter articles and his best ideas for Regeneration.
But mostly for Alan, his daily times with the Lord came out of his unquenchable love for Christ and the awe he felt at what Christ had done for him. In November 1974, while immersed in a double life, Alan attended a prayer meeting he’d been invited to by a friend from work. At that meeting, Alan prayed silently a simple prayer, giving his life to Jesus and asking for His help. Miraculously, Jesus set him free from the desire to be active homosexually. This would define Alan’s life from that time forward.
Five years later, in 1979, Alan started Regeneration – with 4 people attending the first meeting, including him. Of course, after his conversion, he and Willa had to begin their own journey of restoration. Over time, they began ministering together. Most would agree Alan was better with Willa. The two of them seemed simultaneously an odd pair and a perfect fit—in many ways a model of the complementary nature of man and woman. And over the years, hundreds of men and women came to feel Alan and Willa were like a surrogate father and mother to them.
The ministry grew, but for Alan Regeneration remained an expression of wanting for others the life changing love and power of Jesus. And so whether at the office or in his home, working for Regeneration or after his retirement, he was ever about this kind of ministry, with a particular heart for men and women struggling with unwanted homosexuality. And he never wavered believing that others could experience the freedom he knew and more—whether it happened in an instant or over a lifetime—because he trusted in the power and love of Christ.
Like Christ Loved the Church
In recent years, Alan had been focusing his time and energies on writing a second book, this time for men struggling with lust. He felt it would be a tremendous help to thousands of men (and having read it, I’m sure he is right), and he desperately wanted to complete it and get it published. (Plans to get the book published have been put on hold indefinitely, unfortunately.) Alan had many health problems and more than a few hospitalizations, but he would always return to his work on this book.
In the summer of 2009, Willa suffered a massive stroke. Since then, she has required nearly 24/7 care, and he had to learn to serve her in brand new ways. His book took a back seat to serving Willa. As difficult as all of this was, he came to view caring for Willa as an opportunity from the Lord to learn to love her more selflessly. This became his main goal—to love Willa sacrificially for as long as he could, to love her like Christ loved the church. I remember talking with him last spring, when he remarked how Christ was continuing to purify his love, and as a result he felt he loved Willa more now than he ever had before.
Early this summer, Alan and Willa celebrated their 50th Anniversary with their children and grandchildren. If you ever get the chance to see the pictures of that evening’s celebration, you should. What love.
Seeking a Better Kingdom
Alan lived his life for the sake of those caught in sexual sin and brokenness. He stepped up and answered when God called. He sought Christ’s Kingdom over his own earthly kingdom.
• He gave his career: When Alan started sharing his testimony publically in the 80’s, the Baltimore company he worked for asked him either to stop or to step down from his (successful) position. Alan gladly resigned.
• He gave his finances: When Alan decided to serve Regeneration full-time, he walked through every room of his house praying, giving everything to the Lord. When Regeneration fell behind budget, Alan went without pay, viewing it as opportunity to suffer for the gospel.
• He gave his time: Ministry wasn’t 9 – 5 for Alan. The ministry started in Alan and Willa’s home and they had people over regularly. And Alan viewed his retirement as simply a different phase of ministry.
• Alan gave his name and reputation: Google Alan’s name and you’ll find a mix of ministry-related articles and a few truly vitriolic comments by some who say they’re glad he’s dead because he held to the truth that homosexuality is not God’s intent for men and women. For the sake of those who wanted help, Alan did not let the views of his critics keep him from speaking out for Christ.
Much, much more could be said about Alan’s life and legacy. I’ve written only a very little. I have not and cannot do justice to his memory in one letter. But in another way, nothing more needs to be said. The fruit of his life speaks on in his wife, in his children and grandchildren, in his colleagues at Regeneration, and in literally thousands of men and women around the world. I am one of those thousands who is eternally grateful.
I mentioned earlier how Alan would faithfully wake each day to spend time with Jesus. In the Gospels, we read of Jesus waking very early in the morning for prayer, too. It has occurred to me that on Monday, June 28th, Jesus was already up, standing in the room while Alan slept. And then when the time had arrived, I wonder if Jesus simply leaned over Alan and gently whispered his name. I think I can imagine, as some of you can, the expression Alan must have had on his face when he opened his eyes, and saw now finally the face of his Lord and his best Friend.
A New Day for Regeneration
As I said, Alan’s death has prompted me to take a look at my life and ask some hard questions. I want to encourage you to do the same. Though not perfectly, Alan poured out his life for those who were caught in sexual sin and brokenness. Thousands are glad he did. Since you are reading this, you’re one, like me, who has been impacted in one way or another by Alan’s legacy. More importantly, he sought to live faithfully to all that the Father asked him to do, giving up much in the process. And now it’s our turn.
The work and mission of Christ to the sexually broken continues. There are more men, women, and kids than ever who are struggling with unwanted homosexual attractions, pornography addictions, promiscuity, the effects of past sexual abuse, and other forms of sexual and relational sins and brokenness. Who will reach out to them? Who will give up a job if necessary? Who will give sacrificially of their finances? Who pour out the time needed? Who of those who has experienced freedom will come out of hiding and share their testimony? Who will lay down his/her name and reputation for the sake of those who would otherwise be alone and without hope?
I’ve spent this letter seeking to honor Alan. But I would do his life a disservice to speak of him as though he were something remarkably different than you or me. Those close to him know without equivocation how imperfect he was. He knew it, too. The glory of Alan’s life is not that he was a great and holy man. Rather, the glory of his life is that he was an ordinary man who submitted to an extraordinary Savior. He had one life. And through faithfully following Jesus, his one life made a profound difference.
Would you give your life to Christ and follow Him wherever He leads you? Would you do so for the sake of the men and women around you struggling with sexual sin? Wherever you are in your own journey, would you follow Him? Just think what God could do!
As for me and Regeneration, we intend to follow Christ and Christ alone. We intend to bring the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ to those yet caught in sexual sin. And united with Him, we intend to keep crucifying lust so we may grow in love for every man and every woman just as He does. Even as we still grieve, we choose to arise in our sadness, emboldened by the example of Alan and the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us—men and women of faith of whom “God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:16).
Please join us in prayer, in giving, in serving. For our brothers and sisters, for Christ and His Kingdom!
We were made for joy. Something inside us knows it. Something inside us feels it. We are hungry or joy—pleasure, rapture, ecstasy, bliss . . . Heaven. And this desire—our desire for joy—is not secondary to the human experience. It is foundational. We need joy.
With that said, this article is not a step by step guide on how to feel better fast. You know how to do that, and you know where that leads—certainly not to joy. Nor is this article an admonishment to “cheer up” or to “stop feeling sorry for yourself.” Often, this kind of advice is more rooted in a discomfort with suffering than it is in any real understanding of joy.
Before sitting down to write this newsletter, I noticed that several of my recent articles have had a more “desert” or endurance theme to them—walking through the hard things en route to the good fruit God
promises later on. I think this is so important, particularly in a world that increasingly points to our current subjective experience as the authority on how we should live sexually. In contrast, Christ taught His followers plainly that pain is a part of our experience in this life, and suffering is a part of the Christian journey.
In this world you will have tribulation, but take heart I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
How do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory realities: That we were made for joy and that this world includes suffering? Or for our purposes, how can we live out our need for joy while no longer attempting to sidestep the inevitability of pain in a fallen world by running to our old sexual sins?
GRASPING VS. RECEIVING
When we believe the enemy’s lie that God is holding out on us, that God has good but will not give it to us, we will inevitably begin grasping for whatever around us appears to offer us the “good” we need. This is what sexual lust is all about. It is a grasping, a taking for ourselves what is not ours—a desperate grasping of the eyes for our own pleasure, no matter what the effect on others.
Dallas Willard puts it this way in his book Renovation of the Heart:
This is the basic idea back of all temptation: God is presented as depriving us by his commands of what is good, so we think we must take matters into our own hands and act contrary to what he has said.
Many who struggle with sexual sin have a deep (sometimes subconscious) sense that God isn’t going to meet our needs or doesn’t care about what we’re going through. In turn, when trouble comes as Jesus promised it would, we interpret it as God failing us. Feelings of pain, abandonment, shame, fear, and on and on ensue. To alleviate these, we are tempted to turn to lust, pornography, another woman or man, or some other form of sinful sexual pleasure.
Incidentally, this grasping can be for nearly anything: food, alcohol, justice, position, money, ministry, esteem, power, love, even godliness. And this grasping is just what the enemy is after. It is not the object of our grasping he is so much concerned about, but the action itself. The action of grasping (in any form) is an action of self-will, of taking for self, rather than trusting, resting, and receiving from God.
Consider Adam and Eve in the Garden. The serpent’s temptation to them was centered on the notion that what God was withholding from them was to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). The terrible irony is that among all the creatures on the earth, none was as like God as man and woman. To humanity and humanity alone, God had given His image and in His likeness (Genesis 1:26, 27). So again, the enemy’s main approach in temptation was to get Eve and Adam to believe the idea that God was holding out good from them and that if they were going to get all the good they could, they would have to take matters into their own hands. They would have to grasp.
We see this same idea fleshed out at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when He is tempted by the devil in the wilderness. After Jesus was baptized, He came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove, and God spoke to Him out of Heaven: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Mt. 3:17). Forty days later, the enemy assaults Jesus with three temptations:
1. “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Mt. 4:3).
2. “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down [from the top of the temple]” (Mt. 4:6a).
3. “All [the kingdoms of the world and their glory] I will give to You, if You fall down and worship me” (Mt. 4:8,9).
Again, the serpent’s temptations were centered on the notion that Jesus was not who God had made Him to be—that He wasn’t the Son of God. The enemy attacks you in the exact same way—challenging your identity in Christ, suggesting that if you were really God’s son or God’s daughter, you wouldn’t be so much like, well, you. You would feel differently, you would act differently, you wouldn’t be struggling
as you are with sexual sin. But the enemy is a liar. And when we believe his lies, we are more prone to grasp at some bit of pleasure, some morsel of heaven.
Here’s the reality: The joy you’re after cannot be grasped. At least not without doing damage to its fullness. Joy is available to us, but it must be received.
Jesus responded differently than Adam and Eve, and in Him and with Him, we can respond differently, too. Jesus didn’t grasp. He surrendered, waiting for God’s timing and God’s provision. He chose the path of receiving.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with Goda thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name. . . (Philippians 2:4 – 9).
Receiving is different than apathy or sloth. It is not relinquishing ourselves without a fight to whatever comes. It isn’t responding to our triggers by sitting down in front of the TV “waiting” for God to do something for us. No, receiving is active. Even children spring from their beds Christmas morning to run downstairs to open their gifts. The fact that the gifts are theirs to receive doesn’t mean they wait in bed for them.
God is not calling us away from one pleasure into an eternal abyss and telling us to like it. He is calling us away from faulty pleasures to encounter real ones. Sin diminishes our minds, our spirits, our sight, so that we become myopic—seeing sin as our source for pleasure, when there is a world of legitimate joy awaiting us. Take a look again at Adam and Eve’s encounter with the serpent on Genesis 3. In his crafty way, he drew their attention from all God had given them, and got them to focus on the one thing they were not permitted to have. Consider all the joy they lost when their eyes followed the enemy’s pointed finger to focus on the forbidden fruit. Could the enemy be doing the same thing to you?
At minimum, we make it more difficult to receive the joy God gives us when we are also grasping for “joy” He hasn’t given. In my experience, grasping requires something from me that leaves me encumbered and distracted from what God has given me to enjoy. The obvious example of this is the husband who looks at pornography while his wife is in bed in the next room. But this also applies when I have my mind set on how my life isn’t as good as someone else’s, or how I don’t have as much, or if only I were married, or if only I were single, or if only my struggle were as easy as theirs, and on and on. Envy, lust, and coveting, keep us from receiving gifts that will bring real joy right where we are, with the life we have today.
Therefore, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:1, 2).
WHERE TO BEGIN
Is godly joy readily available to us? Yes. And no. No in the sense that godly joy does not usually come to us in the same overpowering way that sexual pleasure does. We are invited into joy, but joy will not hold us captive against our wills. But yes in the sense that godly joy is always offered to us, and we can choose to open ourselves—to receive—God’s joy.
Now that you’ve read this entire article, I’ll share with you I consider myself somewhat of a novice at entering into joy. As a child, I think I was better at it than I am now. As an adult, with all the internal and external pressures of marriage, parenthood, ministry, management, home-ownership, etc., I have missed out on much joy. But the Father has been patiently walking with me, enabling me to embrace more joy, more of His life in the gifts He’s given.
So where do we begin? I’ll offer just a few ways that have been helpful for me, in hopes that they’ll be helpful for you.
• Practice gratitude – Spend deliberate time focusing on the joyous gifts you already have—physically, relationally, and spiritually. So many of us miss out on the life we have while we restlessly pursue the life we think we want.
• Practice receiving – Whether something God has given you (like mercy, for instance), or a compliment from a co-worker, or a gift from a family member, receive it with thanks and purpose to enjoy receiving it.
• Laugh at yourself – Often for me it is either pride or fear of rejection that makes it difficult to accept myself when I fail. But if the Father loves me as I am and remains faithful even when I fail, why should I treat myself differently?
• Honor your body – I find the more I treat my body well through eating healthily, exercising regularly, and using my body for good, the easier it is for me experience joy.
• Get into nature – No matter the weather, there is something refreshing and orienting about spending even a short time outside. Take time to notice the beauty (both big and small) of nature—one of God’s first free gifts to us.
• Banish the enemy – In John, Jesus says, “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy,” and I’ve found in my life that one way he does this is through words of accusation and condemnation. Taking time daily to bring the full work of Christ against the enemy has helped me tremendously.
• Spend time daily with the Lord – The operative word here is “with”. Many of us—even during daily devotional times, worship times, or prayer times— remain inwardly aloof toward God, as though He is far away. He isn’t. Jesus, “Immanuel” (God with us), is the “good news of great joy for all the people” (cf. Matthew 1:23, Luke 2:10).
We do well to practice simply allowing ourselves to accept that He is walking with us moment by moment. It does our hearts good to spend time with someone as wonderful as He is who loves us so much.
Many of us know the erosive power of sexual sin on our lives. We’ve lost a great deal. We’ve traded real relationships for false ones, long-term progress for a momentary thrill, hard-earned responsibilities for fleeting pleasure, and authentic love for lust. Some of us have let friendships or family relationships fade. Some of us have forgotten our first Love. And in so doing, we’ve lost parts of ourselves.
Contrary to what the enemy says, you, too, are made in God’s likeness. You, too, are God’s beloved son or daughter in whom He is well pleased. This is why God says ‘No’ to sexual sin: He doesn’t want you preoccupied with grasping for self-worth, or love, or joy. He has life for you. As a gift.
God did not create us for his sake. . . . God created us for our own sakes, in total generosity, so that he might bestow on us a share in his own bliss. Our existence is a sheer gift, given so that we might experience God’s self-giving love. Gift. All is gift. If we let this truth sink in, it changes everything.(Christopher West, The Love that Satisfies)
By Josh Glaser
Originally Published September 2010
When a husband is unfaithful to his wife, it can be devastating. Whether the unfaithfulness comes in the form of an adulterous encounter with another woman, homosexual liaisons, an emotional romance with a co-worker, or pornography on the Internet, for a wife, a discovery along these lines can be like a bomb that has detonated in the middle of the house—she is bleeding, her ears are ringing and her eyes are stinging; she is crawling, scrambling to find something, anything, solid to hold on to.
This article is primarily written to husbands who want to do their part to restore their marriages in the aftermath of unfaithfulness, but what is written here has implications for all of us—men and women, married and single alike. As followers of Jesus Christ we are all, I hope, seeking to grow in His likeness, to become more trustworthy to those around us and ultimately to His call.
PUTTING FIRST THINGS FIRST
A husband’s sexual immorality is painful for everyone. First and foremost for the wife, but also for other family members and friends, and even for the husband. I believe in the majority of cases, perhaps particularly in the church, husbands ultimately do not want to continue to be bound by sexual sin and secrecy; they don’t want to continue to hurt their wives and they don’t want to destroy their marriages.
Following the revelation of unfaithfulness, a husband’s first goal should not be to rebuild trust with his wife. not be to rebuild trust with his wife. Rather, his priority should be to become trustworthy. If he works on rebuilding trust without first becoming trustworthy, he is setting himself and his wife up to fall into the same kind of secrecy and sin that trapped him and devastated her. His focus needs first to be on his own recovery—dealing with his sexual addiction in whatever form it’s taken. In this way, to a degree, he needs to take his eyes off of her and focus them on the journey that’s before him. This is not dissimilar to the instructions the airline attendants give parents flying with children: “Put on your own mask first and then you will be able to assist those around you.”
Many couples may have a desire for things to “return to normal” and this is certainly a normal feeling. Considering the analogy above, no one wants to live in a house that’s been hit by a bomb. But a couple who wants to see their marriage restored should not aim to have their house back together the way it was. It might be helpful to think of it this way: the house itself contained the elements that made up the bomb, and so to rebuild the house the way it was is to rebuild the bomb. Christ wants more than restoration to the way things were. He wants to restore the marriage to a brand new level of health and wholeness. Change is needed from the foundation up—for both the husband and the wife.
GROWING IN TRUSTWORTHINESS
So how does a husband begin growing in trustworthiness? Thankfully, there is much he can do. First and foremost, he must come to the cross of Christ. There alone is the grace and truth he desperately needs. And he must learn, as Andy Comiskey has put it, to blaze a trail to the cross. Temptation will come again and again and again but our power to resist is at the cross. And beyond just resistance, our desires are also transformed at the cross.
Toward this end, a husband needs a structured and faithful accountability group. He needs allies—other men who will walk with him, listen to him, pray with him, battle with him. Godly Christian men within the local church are truly invaluable. It’s ideal if this group consists of men who know the ins and outs of battling sexual addictions or unwanted homosexuality, if that is involved. Bob Ragan’s June 2006 newsletter article, “Accountability: Not an Option,” does a great job expounding on what is needed in the kind of group I’m describing. (Find Bob’s article and other archived newsletters on the web at www.regenerationministries.org.)
Next, it is my firm belief that a husband needs to tell his wife the whole truth about his sexual sin. He need not be graphic, but he does need to be complete. Husbands often hesitate here, thinking, “But if I tell her everything, she’ll leave me.” This response is focused on being trusted, not on being trustworthy. It is putting the cart before the horse. What’s more, if you look deeper, it is apparent that this response is focused on the husband, not the wife. He is seeking to protect himself, not her.
In reality, withholding all or part of the truth from your wife is to agree that darkness and deception are better for your marriage and your wife than light and truth are. This doesn’t mean telling the whole truth is easy or that it will be easy for your wife to hear. But the truth is not the enemy. Sin is the enemy—it’s what brings destruction. The light just exposes the damage that’s been done. No surgeon opts to dim the lights because it’s just too painful to see so much devastation.
Having said this, it is possible that there may be seasons or rare exceptions when it is better for the husband not to disclose everything to his wife. Examples of this might be if the wife is going through a serious illness or other trauma, or if the husband’s sharing is more centered on his own desire to purge his guilt than to help his wife. But typically, the husband is not objective enough to discern this on his own. He needs trusted, objective, and whole-enough others who can help him discern rightly what to share and when, for his wife’s sake.
In my experience, it is actually more common for a wife to stay with a husband who has been unfaithful but who demonstrates he is willing to be 100% truthful (trustworthy), than it is for a wife to stay with a husband who maintains an appearance of innocence but whom she finds repeatedly is not telling her the whole truth.
But whether his wife chooses to stay or go, a husband who resolves to do what he needs to do to become trustworthy sexually, who resolves to be truthful no matter what, and who demonstrates these to be true, this is a man who is ready to be trusted. Christ’s example to us is giving up Himself for His Bride, not the other way around. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
For a time after discovering a husband’s immorality, it is like riding a speeding horse-drawn wagon and discovering the driver has jumped from the wagon leaving the reins flapping in the wind. Out of her own necessity, the wife must grab the reins of her marriage in a way she hasn’t before. If he has lied and/or deceived her, she cannot rely on him to look out for her best interest. To do so would be unwise. Where she has been blind, she must now keep her eyes wide open and be vigilant to evidence that he is either working his recovery or continuing in his isolation and sin. She might have to begin paying the bills, holding the couple’s passwords, or making decisions she didn’t have to make before. She should not be his accountability partner nor the one who takes charge of his recovery (this doesn’t work anyway), but she does need to look out for her own safety to protect herself and her children from his sexual sin. (For a very helpful past article addressing this topic more fully, read Alan and Willa Medinger’s August 2001 article, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”)
After some time (exact time will vary depending on the severity of the problem and how trust was breeched), if the couple is walking a path of restoration individually and together, this dynamic should eventually shift. I find that too many husbands who are working their recoveries and doing a good job at it fail to rise up to lead in this area of their marriages. Instead they indefinitely leave it to their wives to hold the reins of rebuilding trust in the marriage. In essence, a husband may believe the best he can do to help her trust him again is to remain in the passenger seat and simply answer to her. In turn, their relationship becomes reminiscent of a son in relation to his mother. But ultimately, no wife wants to be a mother to her husband, and no husband feels respected by a wife who treats him as a little boy. A husband who is growing in trustworthiness must in time stand up in the good of his manhood in relation to his wife. He must begin to take the initiative in rebuilding trust.
How does this happen? Husbands, try to trump your wife’s efforts to regain solid ground under her own feet:
These are just a few ideas of how you can help reduce some of her fears, and of course, they are all helpful for your recovery, too.
There’s one additional area where a husband can do a great deal of good in helping to rebuild trustworthiness in his marriage, and that’s in the area of communication—a husband should talk with his wife about how he is doing in his sexual purity walk. A trustworthy husband can do a great deal to rebuild trust by faithfully being the one to initiate those “check-in” times of letting his wife know how his recovery is going.
Through some trial and error, my wife and I decided together that we would have this conversation in our marriage at the end of each month. We left some wiggle room in case
there were other things going on that would make this conversation inconvenient. I did four things that have been very helpful in establishing trust in this area for my wife:
1. First, as often as I could, I would talk with an accountability partner who knew all the ins and outs my month before talking with my wife. By doing this, I was making sure I was giving as accurate a picture as I could and I was ensuring I wouldn’t remember something later and have to add an “oh, and one more thing….”
2. I made it my goal to be the one to initiate these conversations with my wife. This was, of course, more difficult when I had a slip in the course of a month, but I believe even those months served to grow my wife’s confidence that I would always tell her the truth and would not lie—that she could trust me. And as I continued to grow in purity and the reports were more consistently positive, she could also trust that I was telling the truth.
3. I shared with her not only a matter-of-fact report of how I’d been doing, but also what positive steps I’d been taking, the recovery work I was engaged in, and who I was connecting with for help and support.
4. I would always invite my wife to ask questions and would encourage her to talk explicitly with one or more of her trusted friends as she needed to.
HOLDING THE REINS
What I am describing here is not that a husband demanding the reins from his wife or taking them from her with force. But rather, as she holds the reins, he begins holding them with her. His grip should be relaxed but resolute, his eyes focused on the road ahead more than on his wife’s hands. This is a husband who owns his own recovery—he is trustworthy—and he is determined to rebuild trust accordingly, for his wife’s sake, for his marriage’s sake, and lastly for his own sake.
Over time, if the wife is working her own part of the recovery, she will notice her husband’s hands on the reins—steady, undemanding, capable, and helping—and she will begin to want to loosen her grip. Patience, gentleness, and perseverance are essential here for the husband.
A husband in recovery is first and foremost to be about the work of becoming trustworthy. As he grows in trustworthiness, he can do much to help rebuild trust with his wife. And every step of the way is worth it! A marriage between a husband who loves and is trustworthy for his wife, and a wife who respects and trusts her husband bears the image of God in a powerful and much-needed way on the earth. God is about the business of redeeming marriages to this end. May it be so in your marriage.
By Josh Glaser
Originially Published March 2010