Tag Archives: Celebrate Recovery

What Lies Ahead?

Curiosity about the future has been around since Adam & Eve.  No matter if someone is wealthy or poor, healthy or ill, young or old, the question of what lies ahead has never been far from their mind.  It’s spawned all sorts of belief systems from astrology to tea leaf readings, palmistry to numerology, Tarot cards to crystal balls and so forth.  Not knowing what lurks around the corner has always been a major contributor to many folks’ angst and anxiety.  However, a Christ disciple should be immune from such worries because of the unbreakable promises God’s made over the last 5,000 years.  No matter how bleak and dark things may be in this fallen world an adopted child of God has divine assurance that things work out perfectly in the end.  There will come a day when trials, hardships and uncertainty about what tomorrow’s gonna bring will disappear.  “…And they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.  Night will be no more, and they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever(Revelation 22:4-5).  To a humanist those are empty words but to Christians they tell us all we need know regarding what’s to become of us.  James S. Stewart wrote, “The man who is in Christ is right with God.  He may be far from perfection yet, but that union is the seed which contains within itself all the promise of the future.  In the face and in the soul of Christ, God sees what the man yet may be; and He asks nothing more.”

 

J.I. Packer wrote, “New Testament Christianity is a religion of hope, a faith that looks forward.  For the Christian, the best is always yet to be.  But how can we form any notion of that which awaits us at the end of the road?  Here the doctrine of adoption comes to our help.  To start with, it teaches us to think of our hope not as a possibility, not yet as a likelihood, but as a guaranteed certainty, because it is a promised inheritance.  The reason for adopting, in the first-century world, was specifically to have an heir to whom one could bequeath one’s goods.  So, too, God’s adoption of us makes us His heirs, and so guarantees to us, as our right (we might say) the inheritance that He has in store for us.”  Few things in the Bible are made as clear as what lies ahead.  We’re told repeatedly the damage Lucifer’s rebellion has wreaked will be a thing of the past.  Everything will be restored, including usWhen Christ (who is your life) appears, then you too will be revealed in glory with him(Colossians 3:4).  See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called God’s children – and indeed we are!  For this reason the world does not know us: because it did not know Him.  Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed.  We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like Him, because we will see him just as He is (1 John 3:1-2).  We know our Redeemer not only defeated death but lives and is going to return.  His second coming is not a matter of “if” but of “when”.  “…Our citizenship is in heaven – and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of His glorious body by means of that power by which He is able to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21).

 

If a man or woman has surrendered their life to Jesus, yet still frets over what might happen to them this side of heaven, they must come to understand they’re letting that useless fear steal their joy.  As a Christ disciple what one’s future is going to be like should be a settled issue.  It shouldn’t be a mystery.  It should make good sense.  God’s kingdom should be something we can always look forward to, no matter our circumstance.  We’re held securely in our Father’s hands and He’ll never let go of us.  As a leader in the Celebrate Recovery ministry I come in contact with many believers who, despite having the Holy Spirit residing in them, are severely disappointed over how their lives have turned out.  For some life’s been a cruel journey.  Some are getting up in years and have decided they have no future.  Others are depressed over unfulfilled dreams that’ve drained them of all ambition.  They wonder how God could’ve let them fail or they’re afraid they haven’t been “good enough” to receive His blessings.  What they all have in common is spiritual blindness.  What they don’t see is that what they manage to get done during their brief existence “in the flesh” is relatively insignificant in comparison to the kind of person they became while on earth.  Our character is what we’ll carry into eternity.  Everything else stays behind.  As Don Henley sang, “You don’t see no hearses with luggage racks.”  Speaking of eternal life, allow me to share some wisdom from the great Frederick Buechner: “We think of Eternal Life, if we think of it at all, as what happens when life ends.  We would do better to think of it as what happens when life begins.”

 

Now, I’m not trying to downplay the fact that trepidation about what lies ahead is built into our basic DNA.  It is.  Christians know their forever is a lock but tomorrow is another thing altogether.  It’s natural to wonder what our planet and the universe in general is spinning towards.  Will the human race survive the bitter harvest of its evil biases and hatred?  Will some idiot “push the button” and annihilate everything that breathes?  Is there a city-sized asteroid on its way to destroy us in a flash?  Rarely does one find a science-based TV show regarding future events that holds out even a shred of hope mankind will survive in the long run (short of relocating to another compatible celestial orb).  While it’s no sin to contemplate such things it’s a crying shame if we let them dominate our thoughts and rob us of happiness.  The biggest mistake we can make is to think that we as individuals or as part of a collective have any modicum of control over what’s to take place.  God is, has been and always will be in complete control.  His will cannot be usurped.  And, because we know He’s loving, merciful and forgiving, we can relax and enjoy being a part of His plan.  As always, it’s a matter of trust.

 

We must stand firm on the fact the cosmos isn’t a “somehow-it-just-came-into-being” material entity that’s wholly self-sustaining.  Its present and future course is determined by personal factors – sources of energy and direction – that can’t be detected by physical senses or by physical sciences.  Those personal factors are the prerogatives of the three personalities of the Godhead we worship.  A person is free to reject that proposition and side with the secularists who seem rather unconcerned they don’t have any concrete answers to why anything exists at all.  Or that person can accept that In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) and take comfort in knowing God knows what He’s doing.  The Holy Word indicates that this world serves a vital purpose.  Therefore simple logic will tell us anything that has a purpose in God’s creation will continue to exist come hell or high water until such a time it no longer serves that purpose.  Dallas Willard wrote, “This present universe is only one element in the kingdom of God.  But it is a very wonderful and important one.”

 

Jesus told His disciples, Do not let your hearts be distressed.  You believe in God, believe also in me.  There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house.  Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you.  And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too (John 14:1-3).  Now, why would the Son of God promise to come back if He knew there wouldn’t be an earth to return to?  But the most exciting thing we can glean from those verses is that not only will we end up where He is but we’ll actively participate in the future government of the universe with Him!  To envision we’ll hang around the throne of God endlessly strumming harps and warbling “How Great is our God” isn’t Scriptural.  That’s the angels’ job.  We were made for so much more than that!  We’ll reign with Christ.  “…You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).  The Bible also says, You [the Lamb of God] have appointed them [believers] as a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth (Revelation 5:10).

 

The point is our faithfulness over a “few things” in the here and now counts because it develops in us the kind of character that God can entrust us with “many things.”  After decades of trusting in Him, just imagine what an immense privilege it’ll be for God to place His trust in us.  Willard wrote, “A place in God’s creative order has been reserved for each one of us from before the beginnings of cosmic existence.  His plan is for us to develop, as apprentices to Jesus, to the point where we can take our place in the ongoing creativity of the universe.”  Wow!  Think of it this way, if you will: God intends for us to mature into Christ-like persons whom He’ll be confident He can not only set free in His universe but He’ll then empower us to do what we want to do on His behalf!  I don’t know about you but that’s astounding.  Now, while grace and salvation are not acquired by our works, God’s trust most definitely is.  Thus we must become disciplined, determined students of Jesus Christ and what He taught us.  Our Lord alluded back to Daniel 12:3 when He told His disciples “…The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:43).  Righteousness is a state of being that must be merited so we’d best get busy meriting, right?

 

These promises of better days ahead are nothing new.  God’s been telling us about it for ages.  For look, I create the heavens and the earth all over again.  Be glad and rejoice forever in what I create.  I create my city, Jerusalem.  It is joy, and her people are gladness.  No longer will be heard the sound of crying.  No longer babies dying, or mature people who do not live to the end of a full life.  When they build houses they will get to live in them.  When they plant vineyards they, not others, will be the ones who eat the fruit.  They shall not labor in vain or bear children to be destroyed.  Before they call on me I will answer.  Animals, even, will stop killing one another, and in my new world every kind of evil will be eliminated (Isaiah 65:17-25).  To clarify, “Jerusalem” is synonymous with “the peace of God.”  Near the end of the book of Isaiah God implies all races and nations will come together to praise Him in His glory.  At last peace will be the rule, not the exception.  When I consider the horrible atrocities taking place all over the globe today world peace seems like an impossibility.  But, as Jesus explained to His disciples, “…With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

 

Many of this planet’s inhabitants’ troubles have come about due to human beings trying to manufacture their own version of Jerusalem.  Mankind has a tendency to think, because we can do some things well, we surely can do everything well.  Yet one thing civilization will never be able to do is to transform the heart and mind of a human being.  Only God can.  Of course, that hasn’t stopped us from trying.  In every case it’s either the tyranny of a dictator, lawless anarchy or massive inefficiencies stemming from the unrestricted expansion of a bloated bureaucracy that prevents true change from occurring.  Only God has the power to fix what’s broken down here.  My grown son (who, sadly, is a non-believer) recently inquired, “Dad, what’s wrong with people?”  The only rational answer I can give him is to quote Jeremiah 17:9, The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?  Since he doesn’t care to hear anything even remotely “religious” I’ll have to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide me when I email him back and hope something I say will draw him closer to the truth that is Jesus Christ.

 

I like what Willard had to say about the future: “God’s way of moving toward the future is, with gentle persistence in unfailing purpose, to bring about the transformation of the human heart by speaking with human beings and living with and in them.  He finds an Abraham, a Moses, a Paul – a you.”  Obviously, we have our work cut out for us but it’s not in vain we labor.  Jesus is coming back.  And when He does all evil will be eradicated.  The government He’ll put us in charge of won’t have to deal with inherent corruption, injustice, brutality or meanness any longer.  Goodness and harmony will prevail.  Nearly a half millennium before Jesus was born in a lowly manger, mankind was told by a prophet of God: Your true king is coming to you, vindicated and triumphant, humble, mounted on a donkey.  His word will bring peace to the nations, and his supervision will take in all lands, from where his presence is centered on the farthest reaches of the earth (Zechariah 9:9).  God made good on the first half of that promise so there’s no reason to doubt He’ll come through on the second half of it, too.  Therefore Christians should walk confidently through this world with their heads held high.  The future isn’t frightening to those who belong to the Lord.  As Paul expressed so elegantly, For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).  Tomorrow?  I say bring it on because “I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).

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So What’s The Plan?

By the plan I mean your plan.  What are you going to contribute to the process of transforming your mind into one more harmonious with Christ’s?  We can all agree the Holy Spirit will oversee the foundational changes that need to take place inside of us but we must be cooperative participants in the work to be done or nothing noticeable is gonna happen.  When we surrender ourselves to Christ and make the decision to follow Him the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us immediately.  He then acts within our being to constantly usher the person of Jesus and the reality of the kingdom of God into our consciousness as we consult the Holy Word daily for guidance.  Therefore the value of His divine work can’t be overstated.  However, there’s an all-too-common mistake made today by believers who think that as long as they show up for church services and tithe regularly they’ve done all that’s requested of them.  Wrong.  As Dallas Willard wrote, “Reliance upon what the Spirit does to us or in us, as indispensable as it truly is, will not by itself transform character in its depths.  The action of the Spirit must be accompanied by our response, which cannot be carried out by anyone other than ourselves.”  In other words, when we choose to be a Christ disciple our work’s just beginning.  Thus we must develop a personal action plan for seeing to it that our part gets done.

 

Understand that just because we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior doesn’t mean our external circumstances will change at all.  The problems and difficulties that beat us down the day before will still be there post-conversion.  The Bible refers to them as temptations and they won’t stop roaring down the pike due to the Holy Spirit residing inside us.  What should be completely different, though, is how we perceive them.  We’re taught we should actually welcome them as confirmations of God’s glorious, never-ending goodness!  Is that hard to do?  You bet.  Yet James wrote, My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything (James 1:2-4).  Paul said as much, too: Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory.  Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us(Romans 5:1-5).  Both saints advocate we meet troubles head on and without trepidation.  Obviously, possessing a fearless attitude of that magnitude requires quite a bit of discipline on our part.  And, as most of us know, discipline don’t come easy.  So we need a plan.

 

The largest stumbling block confronting us is that nowhere in the Bible are we told precisely how to do our part.  There’s no formulaic ABCs to adhere to because our particular path to salvation is as unique as our personality.  Now, what we’re to do and how we’re to behave as adopted children of God is made crystal clear throughout the Holy Word.  The Psalms and Proverbs are especially helpful and Paul’s letter to the Colossians (because he’d never preached to them in person) offers what’s probably the finest overview regarding spiritual formation in the New Testament.  Yet specific details on how I as an individual am to go about growing as a Christian aren’t available.  There must be a reason.  I think it’s that we’re to imitate Jesus to the best of our ability 24/7 and the only way to do that is to get to know Him as intimately as He knew His Heavenly Father.  And we get to know Jesus by studying how He lived His life, how He treated others, how He structured His entire human existence around maintaining His close relationship with His Father and how later on His disciples conducted themselves as they strove to pattern every aspect of their life after their Master’s.  So, really, how to put together our plan is no secret.  It’s simply a matter of approaching everything we do or say as if Jesus Himself were doing or saying it.  And, again, that takes discipline.  And discipline requires sacrifice.  Paul wrote, Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service.  Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

 

Seems to me the only way to become a disciplined disciple is to devise a plan and stick with it.  There could be a hundred things I needed to put on my own list, but a roster so lengthy could’ve proved to be too intimidating and caused me to get discouraged in no time at all.  Thus, at least at the outset, it was wisest to focus on the areas of my Christianity I know I’m weakest in.  Being the kind of person who often craves physical satisfaction and who also tends to become bored easily it only made sense that abstinence should be a priority in my plan.  Under that heading I penciled in a need for solitude and silence.  I must go where I’m left completely alone for a while, whereupon I turn off all the noisemakers (TV, radio, idle chit-chat, etc.) and allow silence to prevail.  Why are these two things crucial to my spiritual growth?  Simply because they were very important to my Lord Jesus Christ, that’s why.  (Being an introvert since childhood and someone who doesn’t mind being alone you’d think solitude’s something I didn’t really need to work on.  The problem was that the time spent by myself wasn’t spent contemplating God or His glory.  Oh, no.  I spent all that time pursuing selfish desires whether it was watching porn, aimlessly surfing the internet or sedating myself with drugs and alcohol.  So what I needed to work on in my plan was to figure out how to maximize the beneficial aspects of solitude by using that time in a spiritually productive way.)

 

Willard wrote, “One of the greatest of spiritual attainments is the capacity to do nothing” and the Christian philosopher Pascal once remarked, “I’ve discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they’re unable to stay quietly in their own room.”  The very folks who complain they never hear anything from God are usually the ones who refuse to sit still for more than a minute.  The Father in heaven won’t make time for those who won’t make time for Him.  Others gripe they can’t stop their brains from letting one thought after another rumble into and through their consciousness like boxcars on a train track.  But that’s what thoughts do!  What we’re to make a concentrated effort to accomplish via silence is to mentally force our “thought parade” to grind to a halt for a while.  Now, I’m not advocating putting oneself into some sort of “altered state” via kundalini yoga or breathing techniques.  Both have their place but nowhere in the Gospel accounts are we told Jesus assumed a certain position or chanted or anything like that when He stepped away from His disciples to indulge in a few minutes of prayer-filled serenity.  On the contrary, He’d disciplined Himself to be able to find solitude and silence whenever He felt it advantageous for carrying out God’s will.  You and I should do the same.

 

Another priority in my plan was to start engaging in enlightening study and worship activities.  By that I mean I needed to make it my obsession to accumulate and learn as much knowledge about Jesus Christ as possible.  Face it; the majority of people are, to some extent, obsessed with something or somebody.  For some it’s a football team.  For some it’s politics.  For some it’s a branch of science.  But a Christ disciple should ultimately be fascinated foremost with Jesus and what He taught us over everything else.  It’s a matter of continually directing our thoughts down constructive roads.  Paul’s advice still holds lots of water: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things(Philippians 4:8).  Christians should keep in mind it’s implied many times in the Scriptures that the more of ourselves we give to God the more He gives to us.  Jesus Himself said of the sheep in the flock He tenderly shepherds, “…I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly (John 10:10).  I realize that few verses have been as misconstrued as that one but the bottom line is God will provide for His children.  My plan included reading my Bible every day, attending Bible classes at church, listening to gifted preachers on TV and reading the books of great Christian writers whom God is using to inspire and educate those like me who “yearn to learn.”  What I discovered was that I still had ample time to enjoy the things and people I’d always enjoyed before.  God doesn’t limit our horizon when we make Him #1 (as one would guess), He expands it exponentially.  Amazing.  It’s miraculous to behold.

 

As far as worship goes, I found by devoting more of my energy towards studying and absorbing the priceless treasures that awaited me in God’s Word the easier and more effortlessly wholehearted praise for God came gushing out.  For most of my life I’d never been one to openly demonstrate any kind of emotion (for fear of being made fun of) so for me to sing hymns and shout out a few “amens” in Sunday morning church services or during Celebrate Recovery meetings is not something I ever expected.  Yet the majestic greatness of God that’s been revealed to me over and over again during these last eight years of my “new life” draws worship out of me spontaneously, without my even giving it a thought beforehand.  I’m a huge fan of author Fredrick Buechner and the keen sense of humor he often presents with his tongue firmly imbedded in his cheek.  Regarding the subject of worship he wrote, “Phrases like Worship Service or Service of Worship are tautologies.  To worship god means to serve Him.  Basically there are two ways to do it.  One way is to do things for Him that He needs to have done – run errands for Him, carry messages for Him, fight on His side, feed His lambs, and so on.  The other way is to do things for Him that you need to do – sing songs for Him, create beautiful things for Him, give things up for Him, tell Him what’s on your mind and in your heart, in general rejoice in Him and make a fool of yourself for Him the way lovers have always made fools of themselves for the one they love.  A Quaker meeting, a Pontifical High Mass, the Family Service at First Presbyterian, a Holy Roller Happening – unless there is an element of joy and foolishness in the proceedings, the time would be better spent doing something useful.”

 

Clearing out some space in my life for God-centered solitude, silence, study and worship made a significant difference in my growth and maturity as a Christ-follower.  But those things would still be dormant if I hadn’t put them in my plan.  No doubt you’ll put other areas of deficiency ahead of the ones I listed for myself.  That’s okay.  The main thing is that you’re going to work with the Holy Spirit living inside you, not sit back and wait for Him to do it all.  (Doing it that way could take an eternity.)  As Willard wrote, “The important insight to guide us at this point is that to build our house upon the rock, putting off the old person and putting on the new, we must have a definite plan for doing so.”  In my own experience, after years of trudging through countless up and down cycles trying to stay faithful to my disciplines, at some point I realized my plan had turned into my pattern.  My starting every day with a cup of coffee and an open Bible began to pay off in that God’s Word influenced every thought and act that followed.  My involvement with my church family and the Celebrate Recovery ministry was finally affecting my attitude towards others.  The works I read by great Christian writers helped me understand Scriptural concepts I was having a hard time wrapping my head around.  Mainly, there was a lot more room for Christ in my life and a lot less room for me and my self-gratifying habits.  I know for certain I’m not the frustrated, unhappy man I was eight years ago.  The difference is Jesus.

 

Christian disciplines can only be achieved by willfully obeying what Paul urged us all to do concerning what he termed “presenting your bodies as living sacrifices” in the opening verses of Romans 12.  We must go “all in”, as it were.  William Law wrote, “If you’ll stop and ask yourself why you’re not as [holy] as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you it’s neither through ignorance, nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it… This doctrine does not suppose we have no need of divine grace, or that it’s in our own power to make ourselves perfect.  It only supposes that through the [lack] of a sincere intention of pleasing God in all our actions, we fall into such irregularities of life, as by the ordinary means of grace, we should have power to avoid.”   Jerry Bridges got real when he wrote: “God wants us to train ourselves in the right direction… to make the right choices.  This is where the going gets tough.  We’ll agree with the teaching of Scripture about some particular sin and even [commit] to put it out of our lives.  But then the temptation to indulge that sin comes again and we’re unwilling to say no… to make those tough choices.  We’d like to be rid of that sin, and even pray to God to take it away, but are we willing to say no to it?”  That’s the question, is it not?  Yep, we need a plan.

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Why Do We Do What We Shouldn’t?

This’ll probably come as no shock but, despite my intent to be a Christ disciple, I still sin.  I don’t want to, but I do.  The influence my long-established patterns of rebellion and selfishness I allowed to exert immense power over me has proven extremely hard to overcome.  I’m constantly tempted by the lures of this fallen world that so despises the Creator who made it.  Jesus has helped me tremendously to be more like Him but if I said sinful thoughts never enter my mind I’d be lying through my teeth.  One of the many great things about Celebrate Recovery is that it helps folks like me expose our destructive behavior routines and offers a systematic way of heading them off at the pass before they come galloping in like a band of outlaws hell-bent on shooting up the town.  If you’ve studied your Bible at all you’re probably familiar with what Paul, perhaps the most respected disciple of Christ ever, wrote about his own battle with iniquity.

 

For we know that the law is spiritual – but I am unspiritual, sold into slavery to sin.  For I don’t understand what I am doing.  For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate.  But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good.  But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I want to do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want!  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me.  So, I find the law that when I want to do good, evil is present with me.  For I delight in the law of God in my inner being.  But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that is in my members.  Wretched man that I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin (Romans 8:15-25).  Wow!  Any notion Paul was a conceited, holier-than-thou egomaniac goes flying out the window in that revealing passage.  Now, if Paul had let that statement stand alone without clarification we’d be tempted to think the apostle was the devil’s puppet, doing bad things all the time.

 

But that’s not the case.  Earlier, he made it known sins aren’t something we have to commit.  He wrote, Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for true unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used as righteousness.  For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:12-14).  Too many Christians consider sin no more than a gnat in the stew but they vastly underestimate its power to poison the soul of the offender.  Simply being “saved” doesn’t keep one from sinning as much as they ever did before.  They’re still captive to the law of sin, enslaved by fear, greed, impatience, narcissism and sexual lust because they have yet to surrender their entire life to Christ and the kingdom of God.

 

On the other hand, there are many who think of Satan as a genuine god who can force us to sin.  Back in the early 70s there was a popular comedian named Flip Wilson.  One of his characters was a woman named Geraldine Jones who’d claim when she got caught doing something wrong, “The devil made me do it!”  The reason so many found it hilarious was because it’s an excuse all of us are tempted to use when caught red-handed.  We want to pretend there’s an invincible, overpowering cosmic force that compels us to do what we shouldn’t.  But that’s not true.  It’s a cop out.  Dallas Willard wrote, “…If we think we’re facing an irresistible cosmic force of evil, it’ll invariably lead to giving in and giving up – usually with very little resistance.  If you can convince yourself that you’re helpless, you can then stop struggling and just ‘let it happen.’”  Nothing’s worse than resignation.  Satan is an angel but he ain’t all-powerful.  God’s got him on a leash and he can’t do anything God doesn’t allow him to do.  So blaming the devil is lame.  The real culprit is the person we see in the mirror.  If we reflect on any of our sins or trespasses we usually see we committed the deed because we acted without thinking.  We did it impulsively, entirely out of habit.  Then we end up having to deal with what we’ve already done, which leads to our relying on self-defense mechanisms like denial, outright lying and making petty rationalizations.  That’s why identifying destructive behavior patterns is such an important part of the CR curriculum.  Only then can a person begin the process of replacing them with the kind of responses a Christ disciple would choose.

 

If we rule out Satan then the only other “outside” entity to blame for our sin is God.  But the Bible is specific about that not being an option.  Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one.  But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires.  Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death (James 1:13-15).  Face it; we’re all creatures of habit.  We drive our cars mostly by rote.  We trod the grocery aisle without having to deliberately put one foot in front of the other.  Sadly, we have a sin nature that has a routine of its own, too.  Once again, though, it’s Jesus who showed us how to deal with temptation.  In the upper room He told His disciples He’d soon have no time to talk with them.  He knew the ruler of this world was on his way to attempt to thwart God’s will.  The devil threw everything plus the kitchen sink at Christ, trying to get Him to abandon His faith in His Heavenly Father.  The attack was so severe mentally that Jesus almost died of anguish in Gethsemane.  But our Lord had assured the disciples earlier that He [Satan] has no power over me, but I am doing just what the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father (John 14:30-31).

 

Willard nailed it with this poignant statement: “This is the true situation: nothing has power to tempt me or move me to wrong action that I have not given power by what I permit to be in me.  And the most spiritually dangerous things in me are the little habits of thought, feeling, and action that I regard as ‘normal’ because ‘everyone is like that’ and it’s ‘only human.’”  He’s describing yours truly right there.  Thus, by his reckoning, Christ-like behavior is not “normal” behavior in any sense of the word.  That’s what our Master was implying when He said, “…If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it (Mark 8:34-35).  We Christians must daily straddle the fine line between being in the world and being of the world.  No easy task.  But that’s why ministries like Celebrate Recovery are so helpful to those who want to be Christ disciples.  The power of habit can be broken.  Compulsive, dysfunctional behaviors can be changed.  And you don’t do it alone.  God and those He’s already healing take the journey with you.  Now, having said that, nobody’s been able to recover from their hurts, hang-ups or habits without first making the critical decision to do whatever it takes to change.  No one ever got “healed” just by showing up.

 

One of the most encouraging passages in the New Testament is found in Ephesians 2:2-10.  Paul wrote, And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest…  But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved! – and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God: it is not from works, so that no one can boast.  For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.”  There are many things to glean from those verses but one thing that sticks out to me is that the changes in our thought processes, emotional responses and knee-jerk reactions will not be done for us, nor are they something we can do by ourselves.  Jesus said “…apart from me you can accomplish nothing (John 15:5) so it only goes to figure that if we do nothing at all it’ll certainly be without Him.  In other words, without Christ we’ll be stuck with our sinful selves forevermore.

 

The bottom line is that whatever program or ministry outreach we go to to help us “get transformed” isn’t going to be successful unless we come to grips with the fact it’s going to be hard.  We have to make a full commitment to act wisely and consistently over a long period of time – most likely the rest of our earthly life.  And we’ll be looked upon by others as being one of those people who seem to take some kind of perverse joy through serving others in a humble manner.  They won’t understand the kind of person you’re turning into, especially if they knew you before you met Christ.  Paul tells us to not be bothered by what others may think.  His recommendations are priceless: So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God.  Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine like lights in the world by holding on to the word of life so that on the day of Christ I will have a reason to boast that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain.  But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice together with all of you.  And in the same way you also should be glad and rejoice together with me (Philippians 2:12-18).

 

Notice that in the Scriptures I cited from Ephesians 2 Paul is reassuring us we’ve received, as a free gift, the life of the kingdom through the word of the gospel and the person of Jesus.  We did nothing to deserve such a generous and, frankly, costly present being given to us.  Yet now that we’ve been granted forgiveness, mercy and redemption we have something major to do.  Yes, we do have the awesome Holy Spirit living inside us and the Holy Word to guide us but we must now reach out and connect with other children of God who want the same thing.  We can’t do it alone.  It’s too big a job!  Paul wrote, Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service.  Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

 

Becoming a strict legalist won’t do the job, either.  James S. Stewart wrote: “The soul of man, setting out gallantly enough on the crusade to conquer besetting sin and weakness and to establish personal righteousness, has found the road too hard and the foes too stubborn; and gallantry has given way to disillusionment, and aspiration to a sense of downright futility.  No man can save himself: this was Paul’s great discovery.  A drowning man does not want a lecture on the art of swimming: he wants a rope to cling to.  Nor does a lame man ask for a guidepost to point him out the way: he asks for an arm to lean upon.  But the very weariness of those unavailing efforts to achieve its own salvation may prepare the soul of man to hear the cry, ‘Stand still, and see the salvation of God’” (Exodus 14:13).

 

In his superb best-selling book, Inside Out, Dr. Larry Crabb presents three specific ideas about how an individual, with God’s help, can change.  He wrote, “First, awareness of all that’s within us is more important to changing than a set of instructions about what to believe and do.  Second, the actual process of change can never be fully explained; the work of God’s Spirit cannot be packaged into our neat categories.  We must expect neither precision in our understanding of change nor confidence that we’re saying all that needs to be said.  Third, no one is fully changed.  It should comfort us to know that everyone has ample room to grow.  Even Paul admitted, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it (Philippians 3:13), referring to the richness of all Christ has provided.”  We can all become better at following Jesus.

3

What Are We Making?

One of the last things Jesus told His followers to do was Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…(Matthew 28:19.  Seems like a pretty straightforward directive, right?  Yet seldom do I get the feeling “making disciples” is of supreme importance among Christians or designated a lofty priority in our Savior’s churches.  I just don’t hear much about it.  It’s surely not that we don’t want others to find, accept, embrace and then enjoy the freedom and hope we’ve found by becoming followers of the Lord.  We look at the world’s massive problems and conflicts and feel sorry for those who don’t know that having Christ in one’s heart is the only antidote for despair and depression.  We long for everyone to surrender their life to Jesus and thereby discover the peace and assurance He provides.  So it’s not that we don’t want to “make disciples”.  It’s that we don’t know how.  Since that’s the case I reckon we should spend more time educating and training ourselves in that area of our faith.

 

Logic tells us we must first be disciples of Christ ourselves in order to be effective at turning others into the same.  In previous essays I defined what one is and how best to become one.  I stressed a person doesn’t have to have a Masters in theology to be a disciple, only an overwhelming yearning to spend the rest of their life apprenticing under the guidance of Jesus.  A.W. Tozer wrote, “I would emphasize this one committal, this one great volitional act which establishes the heart’s intention to gaze forever upon Jesus.  God takes this intention for our choice and makes what allowances He must for the thousand distractions which beset us in this evil world.”  Remember, God makes disciples, not human institutions.  Our job is to help and assist Him in any way we can.  We learn the craft of “disciple making” via imitating and utilizing the methods Christ employed to raise up His disciples.  The most obvious tact He used was proclaiming, manifesting and teaching them about the kingdom of God.  He brought it up frequently.  We should do likewise.  When Jesus spoke about it He made the kingdom out to be the most incredible, desirable place and state of mind to exist in.  But how often do we tell non-believers about the wonders of God’s Kingdom?  Or, for that matter, discipleship in general?  And when’s the last time you heard a sermon preached on those subjects?  Dallas Willard opined, “…with the disappearance of Jesus as teacher – replaced by the mere sacrificial Lamb or else the prophet of social and personal ‘liberation’ – the prospects for the making of disciples to Him become very dim indeed.  You cannot have students if you have no teacher.”  In accentuating the glorious advantages of being a citizen of the magnificent Kingdom of God, Christ was offering an alluring incentive for men and women to become disciples.  It seems apparent to me that somewhere along the way the church got distracted and ceased doing foremost what our Lord commanded before He ascended from the Mount of Olives.

 

Has Christianity mistakenly focused its energies on making converts instead of disciples?  I only have to look at myself to answer that question.  When and if I’m asked I normally describe myself as a Christian but not necessarily as a disciple of Jesus.  I was brought up in church and knew all about the disciples.  So at what juncture in my life did I stop striving to be a dedicated student of Christ, constantly stretching my intellect to expand my understanding of and usefulness to my Savior and settle for just being one of the “saved”?  If I’m being totally honest it happened early on, right after I turned 18.  I’m not implying that if I’d met my death at some point afterwards I wouldn’t have awakened in the heavenly realm.  I know for certain my name got written down in the Book of Life with indelible ink because when it comes to forgiveness, our Heavenly Father’s is inexhaustible.  Yet I have no doubt He’ll inquire of me one fine day why I waited so late in life to become a Christ disciple and I won’t have an acceptable excuse to give Him.  It’s reasonable to think discipleship was important to Jesus because it prepares God’s children for what heaven will actually be like.  Had I kicked the bucket even 10 years ago would I have been ready to devote all my love and fealty to Christ?  Sadly, no.  I was satisfied to be a believer, not a disciple, and I don’t think by merely entering the Pearly Gates I would’ve instantly been able to forget myself and worship the King of kings in the manner He deserves.  Having never confronted and worked on my many character defects, it’s probable I would’ve had no clue whatsoever what to do or how to act in His presence.  Finally deciding to become a disciple of Jesus was the wisest choice I’ve ever made – bar none.

 

Therefore, if I’m reading Matthew 28:19 correctly, as a disciple of Jesus it’s imperative I make it my primary mission to make more disciples.  Instead of trying so hard to be “a good man that everyone likes to hang with” I should be more focused on introducing others to the greatest person I’ve ever met – Jesus Christ.  If folks can see that He means everything to me and that I’m happy with that fact, then chances are favorable they’ll want what I found in Christ for themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  That’s an extremely tough row to hoe for life in the “real world” will make it that way.  With his tongue firmly in cheek Henri Nouwen wrote: “We simply go along with the many ‘musts’ and ‘oughts’ that’ve been handed on to us, and we live with them as if they were authentic translations of the Gospel of our Lord.  People must be motivated to come to church, youth must be entertained, money must be raised, and above all everyone must be happy.  Moreover, we ought to be on good terms with the church and civil authorities; we ought to be liked or at least respected by a fair majority of our parishioners; we ought to move up in the ranks according to schedule; and we ought to have enough vacation and salary to live a comfortable life.”  Little wonder the modern church is guilty of paying such scant attention to facilitating the divine mandate to “make disciples”.

 

Could it be that 21st century Christians fear what would happen if we started concentrating on seeing an increase in the number of Christ disciples over gaining a new influx of “church members”?  I heard T.D. Jakes once preach, “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good.  He came to bring dead people back to life!”  In today’s PC culture most non-believers will take being called “dead in sin” an uncalled for indictment of their lifestyle but the body of Christ must be bold enough to warn them of the eternal consequences that stem from ignoring Jesus’ atoning blood sacrifice.  Courageous disciples, following the lead of the likes of Paul and Peter, will not be afraid to speak the truth in love.  But disciples won’t just appear out of thin air.  They must be cultivated and nurtured over time by the church itself.  As Willard wrote, “We should intend to make disciples and let converts ‘happen,’ rather than intending to make converts and letting ‘disciples’ happen.”  What a major shift in direction and emphasis that would be!

 

It’s worth noting Jesus didn’t imply there’d be anything easy about “making disciples.”  Needless to say, it’s getting harder and harder to do.  Today’s “information society” has no need for Christ or the Kingdom of God He promoted.  Intentionally or otherwise, the mainstream media has systematically eradicated any and all spiritual concerns from their secularist agenda.  To mislabel what they do a conspiracy is to invite unhelpful paranoia into the issue when what’s really behind it is way more powerful – a somewhat nebulous “authority” that stakes its claim of being truth-holders in what it firmly considers to be rock-solid, science-based knowledge and wisdom.  For instance, I recently came across a show on The Science Channel called “Space’s Deepest Secrets.”  I’ve always been fascinated with stuff having to do with astronomy so I gave the program a gander.  This particular episode was entitled “The Curse of Dark Matter” and it featured a plethora of cool graphics as well as interviews with a number of really smart men and women, most with “Dr.” or “Prof.” in front of their names.  It was all very “up to date.”  The bottom line, however, turned out to be the unavoidable truth that mankind still doesn’t know diddly about how the universe keeps from flying apart, much less how it came into existence at all.  All kinds of theories and conjectures abound but not once during the show did any of the brainiacs venture to surmise God Almighty has anything to do with overseeing and controlling the incredible forces and energies that surround us.  I got the impression that for any of the experts to make even the slightest reference to an omniscient, cosmic Creator/Administrator would be to commit scientific blasphemy.  They dare not mention the elephant in the room.  This is what the Christian community is up against and it’s a formidable adversary, indeed.

 

In other words, if a person grows up being taught in school that the very concept of there being a God is foolishness we Christians have a lot of swift rivers to cross to reach them.  As Willard wrote, “…in any case the point here is not so much about which beliefs must be challenged and changed as it is that to enable people to become disciples we must change whatever it is in their actual belief system that bars confidence in Jesus as Master of the Universe.”  If there’s a flaw in the Celebrate Recovery ministry I’ve been heavily involved in for over 8 years now it’s that we tend to put too much emphasis on getting people to stop doing destructive things to themselves or others and not doing enough to change their fundamental beliefs.  It’s a tricky proposition, though.  Most of the folks that come crawling into their first meeting are desperate to find out if there’s any hope left for them.  Many have never stepped foot inside a church except to attend funerals or weddings so the last thing they want to hear about is discipleship.  At the same time they’re very open to receiving some “Good News” and that’s where the Christ disciples in the room have an opportunity to reveal to them the healing, loving, merciful Jesus that perhaps they’ve never heard about.  If they feel welcome and not judged odds are they’ll come back for more genuine encouragement and, over time, they might come to realize it’s their own misguided belief about what it’s like to be a follower of Christ that’s been the biggest obstacle to finding purpose and fulfillment in their life.  Look, what we believe true about ourselves determines not only our personality and countenance but the whole of our outlook on life.  Back in the 90s I was able to pull myself out of the miserable throes of self-loathing simply by standing in front of a mirror every day and feeding my reflection positive attributes.  I found out I was what I believed I was.  It was all in my head!

 

More often than not it’s the ones who profess to be Christians who are most confused about what they believe.  If they get comfortable with coming to Celebrate Recovery and sharing in the small group gatherings they might take the next step and go through the soul-searching Step Study program.  That’s where they’ll be asked about what they believe in regards to God, repentance, the Bible, salvation, etc. – perhaps for the first time in their lives.  It’s not uncommon that many realize a lot of their core beliefs were based solely on what their peer group believed and that, in the final analysis, they didn’t truly believe what they thought they believed after all!  To avoid them becoming discouraged over what they’ll then be tempted to deem their “anemic faith” the course leaders will gently direct them into God’s Holy Word to obtain the necessary corrections.  The astonishing thing is all that was required to get them back on track was to ask them to express what they believed!  The sheer absurdity of their false assumptions about who Jesus is and what He wants us to do for Him while we’re here on earth suddenly become crystal clear in their minds without anybody having to tell them they were wrong.  This is frequently the breakthrough they’d been waiting for all their lives and they go on to discover the power of prayer, the joy of fellowship with other Christians, the enormous benefits derived from diligent Bible study, etc.  And down the line, due to the patient leading of the indwelling Holy Spirit, they might decide to become a disciple of Christ.

 

What all Christians must remember is that when Jesus told us to “make disciples” it wasn’t a suggestion, it was a command.  That means it’s not up for discussion.  He said, You are my friends if you do what I command you (John 15:14).  And we’re not to think we’re doing our Savior any favors.  Jesus said, So you too, when you have done everything you were commanded to do, should say, ‘We are slaves undeserving of special praise; we have only done what was our duty’ (Luke 17:10).  We who’ve been rescued from the tyranny of our own sinful nature have an obligation to meet whether we like it or not.  James S. Stewart wrote, “It is emphatically not an open question.  The great command settled it once for all.  And the man who still debates and argues it is daring to correct Jesus Christ.  That wrecks his position.  The Master’s ruling has been given, and He means it to be obeyed.”

 

Whether or not the church alters its overriding drive towards making Christianity more palatable and/or compatible with modern mores and ethics and returns to concentrating its efforts on doing what Jesus commanded – making disciples of all nations – isn’t something I can predict.  One thing I do know is that God’s perfect will is going to get done regardless.  Willard said it best: “The purposes of God in human history will eventually be realized, of course.  His divine conspiracy will not be defeated.  But multiple millions of individual human beings will live a futile and failing existence that God never intended.”  How sad and sobering that last statement is!  Makes me cognizant of how much “disciplining work” is left to be done by me and the body of Christ I’m grateful to be part of.

a

 

 

Who You Gonna Follow?

Face it, when we were born we didn’t know diddly squat.  Our vital functions ran on autopilot.  Our brain’s hard drive was clean but empty.  Therefore we had to be taught everything.  We learned the ropes from our parents, our siblings, various family members and eventually our peers.  Of course, by the time we turned 13 we were sure we knew all there was to know but that’s a separate essay altogether.  The toughest lesson we had to learn as adults was we didn’t know everything after all!  Truth is, we all needed intelligent, patient and experienced mentors.  People to look up to and attempt to mimic.  It’s natural we do this.  However, if the folks we choose to copy aren’t really looking out for our best interests we’ll develop a lot of bad habits, manners and attitudes.  Conversely, if we opt to follow the leadings of men or women who sincerely care for us, who desire that we grow to be wise and healthy humans we’ll be much better off in the long run.  2,000 years ago God sent us the greatest teacher in the history of mankind – Jesus Christ – but, to the detriment of society in general, too many still fail to regard Him as such.  And, sadly, that includes a lot of people who think He was just a really nice guy who said profound things.

 

The credo of today, especially in Western cultures, is to “be your own person”, one who decides for themselves the difference between what’s right and wrong.  The reason for this is we’ve been taught to think that way by folks designated by educational institutions as being smart, qualified “teachers”.  This secularist trend started in the 60s and quickly expanded.  Hordes of us on the far side of 50 bought into the “do your thing” concept lock, stock and barrel only to discover the hardest way possible that our pleasure-hungry minds are our most unreliable guides.  We eventually learned through trial and error it’s better to Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:8).  We’re often forced to admit that those we labeled “clueless old fogeys” when we were younger actually knew what they were talking about and we should’ve paid more attention to them accordingly.  Alas, that notion never entered our skulls back then and we paid the price.

 

On the other hand, many people had to come to the depressing realization that the parents they so trusted made for awful role models because they were just as confused/dysfunctional as anybody.  Thus the kiddos had to depend on their teachers and coaches for life direction.  However, most of those hard-working individuals had no aspirations to be mentors.  They were just trying to make a living, trying to hang on to their job, don’cha know!  When the admirer gets let down by the one admired they predictably turn to radical politicians, artists, songwriters, authors or any number of heralded celebrities for guidance regarding morals, integrity and, yes, even what God is like.  Those who voluntarily participate in Celebrate Recovery’s Step Study program are asked to write out a personal inventory about halfway through the course, documenting the good and not-so-good things they’ve done so far.  They also acknowledge those who taught them and who directly influenced their lifestyle.  Then they honestly evaluate the list with the help of their sponsor.  Usually they see the human beings they idolized most were nonetheless flawed individuals to one extent or another.  It’s at that point it dawns on them there’s only one person who’s deserving of their unrestrained adoration and emulation – Jesus Christ.

 

Our Lord and Savior taught His disciples explicitly how to live an exemplary life.  Those who decide to follow Him need look no further than His Sermon on the Mount for instructions.  And they need not seek elsewhere for a better leader to pattern their behavior after because no one even comes close.  Jesus is the absolute ideal.  Dallas Willard wrote, “He [Christ] is indeed the living head of the community of prayerful love across all time and space.”  In other words, if I can’t trust the one who rose from the dead, walked out of His tomb and announced, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20) who can I trust?  As one of His adoring apprentices He’s promised to provide me with all I could possibly need for the furtherance of my spiritual education and I can testify that I’ve benefited greatly from the wonderful and highly significant changes He’s made in me over the years.  By applying myself toward studying my Bible, praying every day, listening to anointed preachers, reading the books of gifted writers and getting involved in my local branch of the Body of Christ I’m more able to adhere to what Paul told the church in Colossae: “…Whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).

 

There’s not an authentic Christian alive who won’t confess there’s no rational reason for not doing what Jesus told us to do.  Yet we believers too frequently take the wheel and do things our way.  This no doubt frustrates our Savior no end.  He once asked the folks in the crowd who showed up to hear Him speak, Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I tell you? (Luke 6:46).  Look, Christianity isn’t just a cool club to join or a box to check under “religious affiliation” on a job application, it’s a sacred commitment to sit at Jesus’ feet and digest every word He said.  We’re to become His loyal disciples and that connotes total immersion in His teachings and character.  If you think that’s asking way too much then you should go back and re-examine this essay’s title.  Only the Son of God has all the answers you have but you gotta go “all in” to get them.  That’s what Jesus was conveying in the final part of His brilliant hillside sermon wherein He offered four pictorial contrasts to drive home His point of how one goes about gaining the kingdom of God.

 

He started by telling us not just any pathway will do.  He preached, Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13-14).  Jesus wasn’t hiding the fact that salvation has some serious side effects.  He was always brutally honest.  Following Him faithfully will be difficult.  It could literally cost you your life.  Christ certainly didn’t have a sweet and easy time of it here on terra firma so we can’t expect following Him will be any sweeter or easier.  Willard wrote, “The narrow gate is not, as so often assumed, doctrinal correctness.  The narrow gate is obedience – and the confidence in Jesus necessary to it.  …The broad gate, by contrast, is simply doing whatever I want to.”

 

Next Jesus issued a warning about following anybody else.  Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves (Matthew 4:15).  I can guarantee that if you live long enough you’ll come across plenty of wolves costumed like sheep so Jesus wasn’t just whistlin’ “Dixie”.  He went on to suggest how His apprentices can avoid getting the wool pulled over their eyes: You will recognize them by their fruit.  Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? (7:16).   For those who still don’t “get it” He then doled out some old school common sense: In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  So then, you will recognize them by their fruit (7:18-20).  In other words, if a well-groomed sheep resides in a million-dollar lakeside mansion and drives a brand new Lexus while at the same time chastising people who don’t gleefully contribute to “their cause”, that’s most likely a giveaway clue there’s a wolf hiding inside that fluffy white outfit.  Keep your eyes open, y’all.  As the Bible says repeatedly, “Don’t be deceived.”

 

Next Christ uttered a somewhat condemning comment aimed straight at the aforementioned ravenous wolves.  He said, Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven – only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’  Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you.  Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’ (7:21-23). In other words, just buying and wearing a team’s jersey doesn’t mean the club’s owner will know you from Adam.  In the same way, merely saying you’re a Christian doesn’t make you one, either.  You gotta be willing to walk the long walk and shoulder your own cross just like our Messiah did.

 

Jesus then finished up His astonishing discourse by answering the question that was on everyone’s lips: “Why should we follow you?”  He said to them, Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock.  Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed! (7:24-27). That was it.  He didn’t come back for an encore or a Q & A session.  He’d said all that needed to be said.  Nothing had been left out.  The full plan for living a righteous life that’s pleasing to God had been laid out for all time to come.

 

It’s essential to note that to follow Jesus isn’t to follow someone who’s “left the building” for good.  He told His disciples the night before His crucifixion, If you love me, you will obey my commandments.  Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him.  But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.  I will not abandon you as orphans, I will come to you (John 14:15-18).  The fact of the matter is the apostles wouldn’t have stuck around after the ugly, discouraging events of Good Friday if they didn’t believe Him.  And, in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, we’re told their steadfast faith was richly rewarded.  What Christ predicted happened.  He came through with the goods, becoming a palpable presence in the lives of His followers, then and now, through the work of the irrepressible Holy Spirit.  I’ll spare you the details for time’s sake, but if you don’t know how it all came about I encourage you to read it yourself.  Christians aren’t following a dead man.  They follow the very-much-alive, everlasting God who eradicated the sting of death forevermore.  He gave us a promise we can bank on.  As the fearlessly emboldened Saint Peter proclaimed to the stunned Jerusalem throng that’d gathered for the Feast of Weeks, For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself (Acts 2:39).

 

Yet we who’ve been saved, who’ve been granted full access to the kingdom of God must restrain ourselves from being smug about it.  We must have deep compassion and concern for those around us who’ve opted to stay in the dark regarding our Lord.  The fate of their eternal souls is our business.  We’re not to revel in our banquet of blessings at the expense of honoring the “great commission” we’ve been assigned to carry out.  Paul wrote, For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  For the one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by people (Romans 14:17-18).  If we all consistently conducted our lives in a Christ-like manner many more lost souls would notice our joy and want to know Him as we do.  And, when it comes right down to the real nitty gritty, isn’t that the ultimate goal of those who’ve surrendered their lives to following Jesus?  After all, He told us, You are the light of the world.  A city located on a hill cannot be hidden.  People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

 

So why follow Jesus to the exclusion of any other mentor?  Because love was always at the heart of His amazing Good News.  I like what Philip Yancey wrote: “On our own, would any of us come up with the notion of a God who loves and yearns to be loved?  Those raised in a Christian tradition may miss the shock of Jesus’ message, but in truth love has never been a normal way of describing what happens between human beings and their God.  Not once does the Qur’an apply the word love to God.  Aristotle stated bluntly, ‘It would be eccentric for anyone to claim that he loved Zeus’ – or that Zeus loved a human being, for that matter.  In dazzling contrast, the Christian Bible affirms, ‘God is love,’ and cites love as the main reason Jesus came to earth: ‘This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.’”  I can only tell you the best decision I ever made in my life was choosing to stop following my wicked, misdirected heart and to follow my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

a

 

 

What “Judging Problem”?

If there’s a more commonly-shared human trait than our devilish tendency to quickly condemn and/or assign blame to others I’ve no clue what it is.  I suspect that’s why Jesus specifically warned us about being judgmental in His Sermon on the Mount.  It’s important to notice He waited until after He’d preached on how we must deal with our anger, contempt, lust, cursing, retaliation, coveting and worry habits before bringing up our judging problem.  Those unproductive characteristics interfere greatly with our ability to love our family, friends, co-workers and neighbors as much as we love ourselves.  So if we don’t confront those issues first we’ll never overcome our destructive judgment reflex.  And learning how to conquer it is yet another reason why it’s vital we not only view Christ’s Sermon as a cohesive whole, but that we read and study it in the sequence Jesus presented it in.  The last phase of our Lord’s famous talk opens with a stern admonition: Do not judge so that you will not be judged.  For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive (7:1-2).  It goes without saying the more we cultivate and nurture a “kingdom heart” the less we’re prone to condemn and blame others.  (One of the most attractive aspects of Celebrate Recovery meetings is that nobody gets judged there.  Ever.  Just sayin’…)

 

Like some in Jesus’ audience that day, many folks’ initial reaction to His bold statement is one of skepticism.  Is it possible to be non-judgmental?  Can we maintain a healthy relationship with anyone in this world without feeling free to let them know when their opinions or actions are wrong?  Isn’t asking us to not judge akin to asking us to not blink?  Aren’t there times when it’s imperative we confront someone and endeavor to spray some Glade on their stinkin’ thinkin’?  When we’re positive we’re right shouldn’t it be okay to judge?  Jesus was saying, in no uncertain terms, “No.”  Why?  As Dallas Willard wrote, “When we condemn another we really communicate that he or she is, in some deep and just possibly irredeemable way, bad – bad as a whole, and to be rejected.  In our eyes the condemned is among the discards of human life.  He or she is not acceptable.  We sentence that person to exclusion.  Surely we can learn to live well and happily without doing that.”  Obviously the majority of us, when we criticize someone, aren’t really intending to label them “bad people.”  But nonetheless that could be what they take our words to mean.  Now, Christ isn’t saying there aren’t times when folks need to be held accountable for their sinful behavior or attitude, but the one doing the correcting must be spiritually mature because it’s no simple task to take on.  Paul addressed it directly when he wrote, Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness.  Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too.  Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2).

 

There are a number of things to take into consideration:  (A) We must be absolutely sure we’re cognizant of all the pertinent facts.  We all know what happens when we jump to conclusions and assume things.  (B) We may not be the most qualified person to do the correcting.  I recently told a man I’m sponsoring in Celebrate Recovery he’d be better off consulting our pastor about how to deal with a serious roadblock that’s arisen in his marriage (unrelated to his recovery).  Some issues are best left to those with practical experience.  (C) Often it’s not “correction” that’s required but “restoration” of a person’s focus back onto Jesus.  ‘Nuff said.  And (D) empathy is essential to being an effective advice-dispenser.  The one being corrected must understand we’ve been in need of correction, too.  By “carrying their burden” there’s less chance we’ll come off as self-righteous know-it-alls.  The apostle Paul announced, There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  Since the Creator of the universe (whom we’ve all repeatedly trespassed against) doesn’t condemn us, who are we to condemn those who trespass against us?

 

Bear in mind Jesus wasn’t speaking to Christians in His sermon because there weren’t any as of yet.  Thus what He taught applies to anyone whose primary aim is to live their life peaceably with their associates and to enjoy healthy, close relationships with their family members.  And in no other situation is staying non-judgmental more indispensable than in the parenting area.  I’ve known many otherwise remarkable men and women who are astoundingly gracious one moment but then turn on a dime and become ruthless dogma-filled tyrants when it comes to addressing their kids.  They’ll rudely interrupt them instead of listening, they’ll impose strict rules that blatantly contradict their own lifestyle, they’ll make cruel fun of things the child takes very seriously and callously brand their offspring’s BFFs “worthless hooligans.”  The irony is that those same parents will then ask their peers an inane question like “Why do my teenagers always want to be somewhere else than at home with their mom and dad?” when the obvious answer is “Why would anyone want to hang out where they’re treated like mindless minions?”  Those parents owning a “kingdom heart” will have learned how to correct them in a way that incorporates patience, gentleness, kindness and a permeating spirit of genuine love that’s a lot more difficult for them to rail against.

 

Note that our Savior didn’t castigate even the most conspicuous sinners – the habitual criminals, the prostitutes, the corrupt tax collectors, the lepers, the con artists, etc.; the folks that existed outside the boundaries of “decent society” and were shunned accordingly.  Instead Jesus mingled among them.  Touching them; eating with them.  A modern equivalent would be the homeless population.  While we try our best to ignore them we can safely surmise Christ would be in their midst, sleeping under the musty overpasses right beside them.  Now, it’s not that Jesus didn’t feel condemnation had its place.  He didn’t hesitate to let the holier-than-thou religious leaders have it with both barrels regularly.  We humans don’t have that right but our Lord most definitely does.  Remember that He and the Heavenly Father are one.  Willard wisely wrote, “We must beware of believing that it’s okay for us to condemn as long as we’re condemning the right things.  It’s not so simple as all that.  I can trust Jesus to go into the temple and drive out those who were profiting from religion, beating them with a rope.  I cannot trust myself to do so.”

 

I have to ask, “Is there a more effective way a Christian can show the world they’re truly ‘a new creation’ than by refusing to sit in judgment on folks?”  I don’t think there is.  And once a believer has shackled their anger and contempt demons (via the transforming power of the Holy Spirit) their urge to condemn others will dissipate significantly.   It don’t come easy, though.  It is a struggle because our pride-fueled self-righteousness naturally wants to put distance between ourselves and those we’ve deemed worthy of exclusion.  Jesus once addressed a group of Pharisees as being “…some who were relying upon themselves for their rightness and were despising others (Luke 18:9).  If we trace far enough back to locate the roots of our urge to condemn we’ll almost always find anger to be the main instigator because indignation is never assuaged until it puts a hurt on somebody else.  And few things are as hurtful as condemnation.  We see it every day in the secular world but, sadly, I’ve found judgment to be just as prevalent within the sundry denominations of the Body of Christ!  I know some very good Christian people who feel it’s their God-ordained obligation to politely but firmly inform me I’m hell-bound because I don’t interpret the Scriptures the same as they do.  They’ve convinced themselves that if they’re nice about letting me in on their “special knowledge” I shouldn’t take offense.  Yet I do because they’re presuming I’m stupid and therefore have no business thinking the Word of God I consult daily speaks to me personally.  Whether they realize it or not, they’re basically trying to shame me into adopting their particular doctrine.  I can only pray for God’s unconditional love to get them to lighten up.

 

What Jesus wants us all to savvy is that employing judgment as a technique to help those we sense are going in the wrong direction is a surefire recipe for failure.  Few are the folks we condemn who’ll respond to it favorably.  Most will feel slighted and vehemently disagree with our sage assessment.  And, in today’s social media-saturated world, unchecked knee-jerk judgment calls and condemnation run amok.  Every day I’m confronted with someone’s Facebook post (often a “friend” I can’t recall ever meeting in person) that viciously attacks my political persuasion, my religious affiliation or the region of the country where I live as being intolerably wrong.  A ten second smart phone video shot 50 yards away from a controversial altercation can cause millions to form instant conclusions about everything that happened long before all the crucial facts are gathered and made public.  Deep chasms continue to widen between a vast array of mutual condemnation groups that consider any point of view contrary to theirs a dangerous threat to the country’s stability.  Fair to say our collective “judging problem” may be the greatest enemy of peace and harmony we face in the present era.  Yet, because of Christ, I do have hope.  I like what Philip Yancey said: “As America slides, I will work and pray for the kingdom of God to advance.  If the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church, the contemporary political scene hardly offers much threat.”

 

So how does one begin to address this destructive hang-up?  Jesus taught that it starts with us.  We must first determine where our individual heart is at.  Only by surrendering our will to the leading of the indwelling Holy Spirit can we develop the ability to discern how things really are and how to proceed without unfairly condemning others.  Then we’ll be better able to hold people accountable and talk about their shortcomings without them feeling we’re assaulting their fundamental worth in the kingdom of God.  However, it’s one thing if we’re conferring with a born again Christian and quite another if they aren’t a follower of Jesus.  The latter is usually desperate to gain our approval.  Willard wrote, “Having no adequate sense of themselves as spiritual beings, or of their place in a good world of God, they regard any negative appraisal of what they do as condemnation of themselves as persons.  They have nowhere to stand to do otherwise.”  The old adage of “hate the sin, love the sinner” doesn’t hold much water anymore because nowadays non-Christian people are convinced that if you truly love them like you profess you do, then you must accept their self-determined values and morals as an integral part of what you love about them – otherwise you’re a phony.  But believers mustn’t allow themselves to be thus coerced into approving whatever that person chooses to do.  If we were to see somebody about to step into a bear trap we wouldn’t in good conscience remain silent for fear of hurting their feelings.  When a soul’s at stake we’re obligated by our faith to speak up.

 

Once again I must emphasize that Jesus had a wonderful sense of humor and He employed it frequently to drive home the gist of His message.  Keep in mind in ancient Jewish culture extreme exaggeration was considered hysterically funny so those gathered no doubt at least chuckled over what Jesus said next: Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own?  You hypocrite!  First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).  What our Lord conveyed by using the word hypocrite in this context was this: there’s something off-kilter in all of us and, therefore, we have no legitimate reason to judge anyone until we achieve perfection.  The beam of wood sticking from our eye is often condemnation.  Until we tend to its permanent removal we’re blind to spotting even the tiniest of splinters in another’s eye.  Until we truly possess a “kingdom heart” we won’t be in a position where we can assist those in desperate need of spiritual guidance.  So whenever any of us are tempted to pronounce judgment on another person, whether they’re an acquaintance or otherwise, we should remember the memorable response Jesus gave to the Pharisees and experts in the law when they dragged a woman caught in the act of adultery before Him and asked, “What do you say we do with this lowlife sinner?”  He responded with “…Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her (John 8:7).  Well, that ruined their “rock-heaving party” in a flash, didn’t it?  We don’t need to judge.  That’s Christ’s job and He’ll take care of it in His own time.  As Abraham stated long ago, Will not the judge of the whole earth do what is right? (Genesis 18:25).

 

It’s imperative we concentrate on maintaining a firm, unyielding belief in God’s absolute goodness.  Timothy Keller said, “If I don’t believe there’s a God who’ll eventually put all things right, I will take up the sword and will be sucked into the endless vortex of retaliation.  Only if I’m sure there’s a God who will right all wrongs and settle all accounts perfectly do I have the power to refrain.”  Someday each of us will stand in God’s majestic courtroom and we will be judged.  Even though I know I’m saved I’m not exactly looking forward to that session.  Frederick Buechner evidently shares my trepidation.  He wrote, “The New Testament proclaims that at some unforeseeable time in the future, God will ring down the final curtain on history, and there will come a Day on which all our days and all the judgments upon us and all our judgments upon each other will themselves be judged.  The judge will be Christ.  In other words, the one who judges us most finally will be the one who loves us most fully.”  Reinhold Niebuhr opined, “Thus the final majesty of God is the majesty of His mercy.  It’s both the completion and the contradiction of His power.”  I don’t know about you but that sentiment brings me great comfort.

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What’s Wrong with “Just Looking”?

Things were going splendidly for the folks in the crowd.  The weather was decent and everyone could see and hear the renowned rabbi clearly.  The bowl-shaped area Jesus had chosen to deliver His sermon in couldn’t have been more suitable.  His opening words, wherein He assured them they were blessed no matter how troubled/oppressed they might feel, put everybody at ease.  But then He shocked them by preaching that hating somebody was equal to murdering them!  “Say what?”  But Jesus was just getting started.  He then informed them that intentionally fantasizing about having sex with someone other than their spouse was the same as doing the deed in the flesh.  Jaws dropped right and left as He announced, You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart(Matthew 5:27-28).  No doubt the majority thought, “You gotta be kidding!  You mean I’m not even allowed to partake in a little taste of sin within the privacy of my own brain?  Maybe I didn’t hear you right.  What the…?”  Sadly, too many of us still want to pretend He didn’t say what He said on that hillside.

 

Of course, for Jesus to bring up sex at all was a surprise.  One just didn’t go there in those days.  But Christ knew the content of His Sermon would be relevant in every future era and that illicit sex would continue to be a huge problem in society.  He was teaching we must treat adultery in the same way we’re to treat murder.  The fact that we don’t literally act out the sin doesn’t let us off the hook with God.  We’ll be held accountable for every thought we choose to entertain.  Whether we like it or not, we are what we think.  Jesus was demolishing the false notion that we can remain righteous in the eyes of God as long as we successfully hide our sinful inclinations in the shadowy corners of our craniums; that those who sincerely regard themselves as being super fine people are fooling themselves if they think they can mentally undress a coworker or someone attractive they spot in Walmart, imagine doing whatever they want to them and technically still be considered pure as the driven snow.  Christ said it don’t work that way and there’s not one of us who doesn’t get what the Master was on about.  Dallas Willard wrote, “Jesus’ teaching here is that a person who cultivates lusting in this manner is not the kind of person who is at home in the goodness of God’s kingdom.”

 

Then as now, those who protest what Jesus said about sexual lust don’t have a leg to stand on because the concept is nothing new.  Many scholars deem the book of Job to be the oldest in the Bible so the principle of exercising self-control over one’s thoughts is well-established.  Job vindicated himself by claiming, I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I entertain thoughts against a virgin?  What then would be one’s lot from God above, one’s heritage from the Almighty on high? (Job 31:1-2).  He knew the omniscient God was aware of everything that went on inside his skull and he knew intuitively that the lame excuse of “I was just looking” wasn’t going to cut the mustard.  He said, “If my heart has been enticed by a woman, and I have lain in wait at my neighbor’s door, then let my wife turn the millstone for another man, and may other men have sexual relations with her.  For I would have committed a shameful act, an iniquity to be judged (Job 31:9-11).  Did he set his moral bar incredibly high?  Yes.  Does God expect us to follow Job’s example?  Yes.  We must accept the profound truth that our Father in heaven wants all we are to be holy.  That includes our thoughts, whims, daydreams, wishes, etc.  A Christian’s focus should be aimed solely on imitating our Savior’s unblemished purity.  Is it difficult to do that, especially when it comes to reining in sexual urges?  Is the sun hot?  In today’s “anything goes” world nothing’s harder.  Jesus wants us to be ever mindful of our “heart condition.”  He taught in Matthew 5:28 that men who intentionally ogle a woman for the primary purpose of lusting after her are guilty of committing adultery; that they’re no different from a thief who won’t hesitate to snatch a purse if the right situation presents itself.  They’re not concerned about the harm they’ll be causing the victim (or themselves, for that matter).  Their only worry is getting caught.  In the case of a “leerer”, they don’t realize the damage unrestrained lust does to one’s soul.

 

The widespread acceptance of graphic pornography is a tragedy.  Mankind has released into circulation the most insidious of morality-corroding viruses we’ve ever encountered.  Somehow the secularists persuaded the masses to believe that unadulterated freedom of speech renders the classic term obscene overly restrictive; that unfettered liberty means everybody should be able to view anything they darn well please as long as they’re not hurting anyone; that the stigma of adultery in general is a passé concept because there’s nothing fundamentally wrong about any two (or more) consenting adults deciding to “get jiggy with it.”  The devil couldn’t be happier with how things are going in the sex arena.  The free availability of all varieties of pornography via the internet and the total lack of organized resistance by the Christian community to halt obscenity’s decriminalization in the courts has made Satan’s job a cinch.  He doesn’t have to lift a finger in order to infect impressionable minds with the most spirit-killing filth human beings are capable of producing.  The irony is we’ve brought this destructive plague upon ourselves.  Even as recently as 50 years ago a publisher could be sent to prison for distributing photos featuring frontal nudity.  Nowadays the very idea of being punished for that sounds ludicrous.

 

What the fan of porn conveniently refuses to even ponder for a moment is what they’re actually gleaning pleasure from indulging in.  Do they comprehend they’re witnessing a barely-legal girl or boy possibly being coerced into doing something horribly demeaning?  That the participants might be doing what they’re doing because they’re desperate to feed their drug habit?  That they could be disillusioned souls with no self-worth, being callously used by degenerates because there’s easy money to be made?  Does the porn viewer rationalize all this by deeming them deserving of disgust because “nobody made them do those things”?  The disassociation factor involved in smut-viewing is one of its premier attractions.  One doesn’t have to feel anything whatsoever about the persons involved because somehow they’re not really real.  They’re just a means to a self-gratifying end.  Willard wrote, “Pornography lives in the hostile and degraded imagination along with ‘adultery in the heart.’  Jesus’ teaching here reaches the depths of the human soul and body and makes us aware of dimensions of real or possible darkness within us that, like Job, we must simply stay away from.”

 

Now, having said all that we mustn’t take what Jesus was teaching to erroneous extremes.  He didn’t say sexual desire is, in and of itself, any more sinful than anger is.  Our Creator God didn’t make a mistake inserting those components into our basic DNA strands.  When they fulfill their intended function they’re actually good things.  Therefore to merely consider someone sexy or alluring or even to be tempted to fantasize about them isn’t the same as committing adultery.  Those are natural instincts designed to keep the human species going.  No, sin happens when we give in and willingly go where they’ll lead us.  Jesus wasn’t saying committing adultery in one’s heart is unavoidable, either.  He Himself experienced temptations in the wilderness yet didn’t succumb to sin.  What Christ was warning us against was the desire to desire.  He was talking about the slobbering lechers we can turn into if we don’t keep a tight lid on our libidos.  Sadly, we all have the potential to become men or women who, with “…their eyes, full of adultery, never stop sinning (2 Peter 2:14).  I know it’s hard for some to fathom but sex addiction is a serious problem.  It’s every bit as crippling and debilitating as an addiction to drugs or alcohol.  Yet, like most compulsive habits, it’s something a person invites into their life.  They discover a fondness for how certain behaviors or things make them feel and, over time, the pursuit of that feeling becomes an insatiable obsession.

 

But, again, we mustn’t overlook what Jesus was really trying to get us to savvy in His startling statement about adultery.  It’s entirely possible to force ourselves to abstain from ever looking at a woman to desire her, then act like we’re holier than thou and still not eradicate the sin we’re allowing to maintain a presence in our heart.  I know of what I speak because for decades I was enslaved to my severe lack of sexual integrity.  I was raised in a Christian home and learned right from wrong but when I hit my teens I found the guilty pleasure skin magazines enhanced irresistible.  My hankering for “dirty pictures” expanded exponentially from there.  I became so fixated on concealing my fascination with that forbidden fruit I allowed it to become a lifelong secret hobby.  I was smug about it, too.  I figured I had it under wraps so I reasoned Jesus’s admonition about looking at a woman to desire her didn’t apply to me since I wasn’t harming anyone around me.  Wrong.

 

Long story short, in 2009 my wife discovered my covert pastime and it nearly destroyed our marriage.  That’s when I finally stepped out of denial and began attending Celebrate Recovery meetings.  Eight years later – even though I’m definitely a “work in progress” – I’m no longer bound and chained to that sin.  Breaking the habit was actually the easiest part of the process.  Thanks to the CR ministry I’ve developed an instinct to detect temptation before it attacks and I’m thus able to ward it off – most of the time.  The real challenge is to rid myself of the persistent “want to” that continues to haunt the hallways of my heart.  Some of my small group friends who suffer from the same affliction have found relief by effectively blocking all access to adult sites on their devices.  But, being gifted with a vivid imagination that loves to fantasize, that tactic won’t work for me.  No, what I must strive to do – one day at a time – is to become more like Job, a man who knew that only through self-imposed discipline and the power of God could he overcome his weakness for the flesh.

 

In his excellent book, At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry, Steve Gallagher described what happens to those who get ensnared by porn: “As time progresses, many things begin to happen in the sex addict’s life.  His sense of confidence and self-worth continually diminish, and the emptiness inside of him is magnified.  As a result, he begins an intense and desperate search to fill this void in his life.  Since sex has been his personal elixir to which he’s turned during previous times of despair, just as a drunk turns to his liquor bottle, the sex addict will pursue the object(s) of his desire.  Unfortunately, after fleeing to sex to find comfort or simply a ‘quick fix,’ he only manages to heap more shame and despair upon himself – the pit becomes deeper, the darkness even blacker.  …He starts building up walls around himself, alienating himself from others.  …The sex addict will also become very critical and judgmental of those around him.  Inside he knows that what he is doing is wrong so he lashes out at others with criticism.”  I’m ashamed to admit that’s who I used to be.

 

As I mentioned in my previous essay (re: what Jesus had to say in the Sermon on the Mount about anger and contempt) Christ wasn’t trying to establish new laws.  Instead He emphasized that even though the Pharisees were downright fanatical when it came to religiously following all the commandments, their hearts remained clogged with selfishness and greed.  It was normal in that age for public speakers to employ wild exaggerations to either drive a poignant point home or to inject a dose of humor.  (i.e. Jesus’ wooden plank jutting from one’s eye socket, a camel squeezing through the eye of a needle, etc.)  So when Christ proclaimed, If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away!  It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell.  If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away!  It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell (Matthew 5:29-30), He was most likely illustrating the drastic measures one may need to employ in order to get rid of unbridled lusting.  Since this is a mental defect more than a physical one He obviously wasn’t encouraging those plagued by it to chop their head off but He did want them to understand how serious they should take the matter.

 

It comes down to who you are on the inside and what you’d do if God were to look away for a little while.  Jesus knew full well gouging out eyes and amputating hands won’t fix what’s broken in us.  As He told His disciples, For from within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride and folly.  All these evils come from within and defile a person (Mark 7:21-23).  Willard wrote, “The goodness of the kingdom heart, by contrast, is the positive love of God and of those around us that fills it and crowds out the many forms of evil.  From that goodness come deeds of respect and purity that characterize a sexuality as it was meant by God to be.”

 

I’ve learned from experience in dealing with myself and through counseling others that only by surrendering one’s sinful heart to Christ can a person be cleansed of iniquity.  But hard core, persistent patience is required.  Gallagher wrote, “God can change a man in an instant, but it takes time to build character.”  William Barclay opined, “Grace is not only a gift; it’s a grave responsibility.  A man can’t go on living the life he lived before he met Jesus.  He must be clothed in a new purity and a new holiness and a new goodness.  The door is open, but the door isn’t open to the sinner to come and remain a sinner, but for the sinner to come and become a saint.”  Amen to that.

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