All posts tagged Gospel

The “Streak” and the False Pressure of Sanctification

Permit me to have a few “high school athlete” reminisces.  There were a couple of occasions when as a baseball pitcher I took a no-hitter past the sixth inning (o-kay, so maybe these are Khoury league memories).  A strange thing happened.  Although I was having great success, I began to feel pressure.  I had gotten at least 18 consecutive batters out (the entire line up twice) without giving up so much as a hit, but now I was the one feeling fearful.  How crazy is that?  They should have been nervous, not me.

What was going on?  My mindset changed.  No longer was I just trying to get the next batter out, I was thinking about how to get the next nine batters out…how disappointed I would be if someone got a hit…the story in our local newspaper…putting the game ball on my shelf…how klutzy the second baseman was and the threat he posed to my accomplishment…(you get the idea).  I became a streaker (don’t let you imagination get carried away) instead of a pitcher.

In counseling I see many people struggle with the same type of issue.  They do good for “a while” (i.e., no anger episode, keeping the house in order, avoiding pornography, taking “what if” anxiety thinking captive, consistently having a daily devotion etc…) then they feel the pressure of “doing good,” fail, and feel more miserable because of their streak being broken.  Maybe they were in a support group and had to go back to the dreaded “white chip.”  Maybe they have to face the scorn of a spouse who says, “See, I knew you weren’t serious about changing.”  Maybe they just have to live with the thought, “If I can’t beat this struggle after 12 good days, how will I ever beat it after a bad day?”

Let us ask ourselves a few questions.  (1) How does God think about our streaks?  (2) Does a streak have any impact on our next choice, conversation, or temptation?  (3) How can we “do good” without creating a sense of mounting pressure?

First, I believe our streaks mean much more to us than they do to God.  God knows our heart perfectly (Prov 24:12).  We are the ones who have become deceived about our current condition as our streak advances (Jer 17:9).   We are the ones who begin to believe maybe I have finally defeated sin.  God knows better.  God desires a heart that is seeking hard after Him (Micah 6:8).  God is the one who designed sanctification (the process of spiritual maturity) to occur progressively (over a lifetime).  God wants our desire to put sin to death to be constant (Rom 8:13).  The believer who gets to heaven with the longest streak does not get the seat next to Jesus at the great wedding feast.

Second, we must recognize that streaks do not matter as much as fundamentals (to borrow from the baseball metaphor above).  Throwing strike one does not carve a groove in the air that the second pitch will follow like a tire in the rut of an old dirt road.  However, good pitching mechanics do allow for more consistent pitching.  The application is that we must learn from every temptation (whether we overcome or succumb).  A better question than “how long is my sinless streak?” is “have I learned from each temptation better ways of overcoming and am I putting these into practice?”  God recognizes that wisdom and humility are more effective at grooming character than streaks (Prov 3:5-7).

Third, we must recognize that we never out grow the Gospel.  The Christian life is a perpetual coming to the end of ourselves and relying totally on God again (Luke 9:23-25).  We don’t put the blood of Christ on lay away until we get this sin thing under control (Heb 10:14).  We come to him daily, hourly, and moment-by-moment for it is only by His Spirit that we bear the fruit that uproots the works of the flesh (Gal 5:16-24).

Guilt-Free, Joy-Saturated Generosity

As the Gospel advanced in the book of Acts, there was an outbreak of generosity (Acts 2:46, 4:32-37, 11:27-30). Unfortunately, when we seek to live out generosity, we often do so out of guilt. When we enjoy something we feel bad, because someone needed “it” more. We wonder if we were less than generous for consuming a pleasure instead of sharing it.

For this reason, generosity requires the Gospel. Without the Gospel, generosity almost inevitably degenerates into another self-measuring, performance-based, or guilt-ridden effort “to do the right thing” to keep God happy.

Yet this is not the testimony of the book of Acts. In both cases, gladness or encouragement is mentioned in the immediate context of generosity and it is those who are participating in the giving who are glad (Acts 2:46, 4:36, 11:23).

In order to understand this transformation we must start with an unpleasant thought. You can no more be generous with something you don’t care about than you can be patient with something that doesn’t bother you. Generosity assumes value in the same way that patience assumes irritation.

So the question of generosity begins with, “What do you value most? What’s in your fave five?” For me, generosity would involve comfort, creative freedom, food, money, and order (my fave five in alphabetical order because I don’t’ want to try to rank them) more than entertainment, appearance, recognition, or hard work.

It’s not generous to give of the latter, because I honestly don’t care. I’d rather you choose, work hard, or someone else lead. It’s a borderline expression of my selfishness and release from a social burden. However, the former things are strongly attached to my sense of security, identity, and pleasure. These are hard to sacrifice. These often make me defensive, angry, and cause me to question those dare who encroach upon them (I’m mildly joking).

With that said, this is what drives me to the Gospel in order to have any enjoyment in generosity (which is a virtue and an attribute of God and, therefore, should bring us pleasure). I am challenged (and hopefully encouraged) to take Luke 9:23-25 seriously.

And [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”

Generosity is not about letting go of my stuff, freedom, or preferences. Generosity is about changing where I find my security, comfort, identity, pleasure, hope, and rest. When I believe the Gospel, I view every aspect of life as a gift from God the Father, intended to be enjoyed and used to share His goodness (both/and, not either/or). When I neglect the Gospel I either get lost in my rights or try define the rules of “reasonable generosity.”

Either way, I lose joy. I am left to chose one of two outcomes. I can live angry, defending my rights, offended and fearful that anyone would infringe upon them.  The alternative is to live guilty always wondering if I did it “right enough” and dry because even pleasure becomes a source of draining deliberation.

In a very real sense, God wants us to be generous for our own good. When the Gospel moves in mighty ways, Christians get this; the focal point of their life has shifted. If we would be generous people, let us not pray about our stuff or preferences, but that God would be central and that we would enjoy life as He presents opportunities to utilize His gifts to us.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Finances” post which address other facets of this subject.

God Does Not Judge on Raw Material

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it (p. 91).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

It would be easy to miss what Lewis is saying for fear of how people might apply his words. When we read a statement like this we (or at least I am) are quick to think, “People could easily use this kind of statement to absolve themselves of personal responsibility for their actions.” Or we might go in the other direction, “Does this mean that my faithfulness and hard work have contributed nothing to my life?”

Both statements would miss the point. God is fairer than we could ever be. We often try to measure God’s fairness on the basis of His equality. When we do this we often find God’s fairness lacking, because He has not gifted each person equally.

However, we resort to equality as our criteria of fairness because that is a limitation of finiteness. If we were able to be as fair as we believed fair, the result would be boring and unmotivating uniformity. God is able to be fair (“just” might a more complete word) in a world of variety. This is because God is not limited to the observation, measurement, and enjoyment of external variables.

We may be most like God in this way as parents of young children of various ages. We praise a crawler who takes his first step, but reprimand an adolescent who drags his feet while doing a job he does not enjoy. But even in this example we are able to suspend our judgment on the basis of the measurable external factors related to physical maturity and coordination development.

So what should we take away from this reflection? It would be easy to say humility (which could easily be thinly veiled shame) or a reprimand for being too judgmental (which could easily lead us to compromise truth).

I would say that we should take away a sense of peace in God’s justness that allowed us to stop competing with one another. If we stopped competing with one another to see who was better (based upon any given Christian virtue – Bible knowledge, patience, servanthood, etc…), then humility would arise without the danger of shame. If we were not competing, then we would not be judgmental but free to love one another with the truth.

I think the reason we (or at least I am) are quick to be defensive with this quote is because we are afraid that it will strip us of whatever “advantage” we have “earned” by our obedience. Thinking in terms of “advantage” or “status” reveals that we are competing with those we are called to serve. While thinking in terms of “earning” something through our obedience, reveals we have departed from the Gospel as the motivator for our service.

In the end, I think the way that we respond to this quote (at least if you’re anything like me) reveals how much we need to hear its message. It gives me freedom, but too often I still want to compete.

Communication with Our Desires “On the Table”

Communication is hard, especially “in the moment.”  It is one thing to be convicted by a sermon on the power of the tongue or the way our words reveal our heart.  It is another thing to be “in the moment” with your spouse (child, sibling, parent, friend, co-worker, enemy, etc…) and to have the awareness, self-control, courage, and humility to acknowledge what is ruling your heart and change the direction of the “discussion.”  That is the purpose of this article, to help you “in the moment.”

The battle begins with awareness.  You must be able to answer the question: what is it that consistently rules your heart?  Do not say, “Nothing.”  Whenever we sin, we are loving something more than God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  In addition, we are loving something more than our neighbor—usually self.  It is fair to say that for most people this “something” usually orbits around a particular theme: peace, respect, affirmation, appreciation, fairness, order, predictability, status, power, influence, affection, etc…

If this is a new thought for you, or if you have trouble identifying your “something,” take this opportunity to read Ken Sande’s excellent article “The Heart of Conflict.”

Once you know your heart theme, you are a step closer towards being ready “in the moment.”  The next step is to humbly confess to your spouse that this is the theme of much of your sinful actions during conflict.  If you are unwilling to confess to your spouse when you are calm and “out of the moment,” it is unlikely you will repent and change when this theme has activated your defensiveness and self-justification.  This confession might sound something like this:

“Snoochums [or your preferred pet name], I have recognized that when I sin against you in conflict it is usually because I want appreciation [or your “something”] more than I want to honor you in that moment.  Appreciation is important, but not more important than treating you with love and honor.  When I raise my voice, call you names, give you the silent treatment, distort your words, walk away, change subjects abruptly, make false accusations, and things like that [make statements that reveal your conflict patterns], I am punishing you to try to get appreciation [or your “something”].  That is both wrong and ineffective.  I am committing to trying to see and acknowledge that in the midst of our future disagreements.

Now that you have your “something” (as Ken Sande would say “idol”) identified and acknowledged it to your spouse, you can put your imagination to work.  What object best represents this “something” to you?  There are no right answers here, so long as the object is not offensive or inflammatory.  For our case study moving forward we will say there is a husband (Bill) whose “something is order and is represented by his PDA and a wife (Sue) whose “something” is affection and is represented by a heart-shaped pillow.

Bill and Sue have a conversation that begins to go nowhere fast.  Bill remembers his confession above and asks Sue to sit at the table for the talk.  They acknowledge their thematic idols, commit to honor one another in the conversation, and say a quick prayer for God to give them awareness of their own hearts as they work towards unity and agreement.

Bill goes to get four items to bring to the table: two copies of a picture of them as a couple, his PDA, and a heart-shaped pillow.  Each spouse sits down with a copy of a picture in their hand and their item on the table in front of them.  The rules are simple.  If either begins to communicate with dishonor (raised voice, calling names, silent treatment, distort the other’s words, walking away, changing subjects abruptly, making false accusations, etc…), they must put down the couple picture and pick up their “something.”  This is visualization of their heart at that moment.  In that moment of dishonor, they are discarding the marriage for their desired “something.”

If they pick up their desired object, they are faced with a choice: repent or harden my heart.  Hopefully they will see the sinfulness and foolishness of their choice.  Neither order nor affection will be attained through dishonor.  As they see this, the offending spouse should put down their object, repent to his/her spouse, pick up the picture again, and ask to resume the conversation.

Once the conversation is culminated the couple is ready to see the Gospel in their marriage (Ephesians 5:32).  However, culminated does not mean resolved.  The conversation may have only reached a stopping point or a point of agreed mutual reflection.  But it did so with honor.

Here is the Gospel in this moment:

And he [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”  (Luke 9:23-25 ESV)

Bill and Sue have denied themselves and been willing to lose their life (or at least that “something” they had centered their life upon).  At this point, Bill can pick up that heart-shaped pillow, hand it to his wife with a hug and a kiss, and affirm to her that he has loved her as himself.  Sue can pick up Bill’s PDA, hand it to her husband, and affirm to her husband that their marriage is moving towards a place of sustainable order.  In their willingness to die to self and lose their life they have saved what is most precious.  In effect, this process of conflict resolution can be as much a picture of the Gospel as baptism or the Lord’s Supper.  We can see the Gospel enacted and participate in the drama (that is what an “ordinance” is) in our homes with each conflict.

This is hard!  But it is worth it!  It is the battle between our flesh and the Spirit (Galatians 5: 19-26).  But this methodology gives us tools to allow biblical insight to bear fruit “in the moment” of conflict.  Acknowledge your heart to your spouse.  Place your heart on the table in the midst of the conflict.  As the conflict unfolds, maintain honor so that the two of you can encourage one another with the Gospel truth “whoever would loses his life for my sake will save it.”

How to Find Joy “In” Suffering

When Scripture indicates that Christians should be able to rejoice in their suffering (Rom. 5:3-5) because of the hope we have in the gospel, it can be difficult to accept. Some try to make the teaching more palatable by offering a variant definition of “joy;” others try to promise that the outcomes of how God redeems suffering will be so significant the pleasure will be greater than the pain.

There are times when either approach can be accurate and helpful. Yes, there are times when our expectations of happiness are so temporal that we need to be challenged. And, there are also times when God does amazing things in our hardships which we would never change.

But these two options, by themselves, seem incomplete. I would like to offer a third possibility through a metaphor emphasizing the word “in.”

There is a rainbow “in” every drop of water. When light passes through a water droplet a full spectrum of colors are revealed. Depending on the source of light, shape of the water, and location of the surface on which the rainbow appears different variants of colors show up. The full ROY G BIV spectrum is there, but the thickness of each color varies.

Here is how the metaphor plays out:

  • Water represents the suffering we experience.
  • Light represents the redemptive work / truth of God.
  • Colors represent the various religious affections that can be demonstrated; for the purposes of this blog, the expectation that we should experience joy.

Joy is not the only “color” that can express faith (light) in hardship (water). There is also courage, hope, honesty, authenticity, love, etc… Too often in these suffering-joy discussions we get hung up on one color in the rainbow. There are times; perhaps frequently in the early stages of suffering, when “joy” may be the skinny color in the rainbow.

Consider, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted (Matt. 5:4).” In this case the dominant color of faith is authenticity – being vulnerable about the nature of one’s loss. God’s light takes the form of comfort in this context of loss. The result is the capacity for joy, a very skinny color in the immediate moment, is a slowly returned as precious memories you loved one can be savored again.

The reality is that various forms of suffering (water – pure, salted, colored) will produce different emotional experiences. How God cares for and speaks to each of these situations will be different (light – sun, florescent, colored). In return the emotional form our faith takes (color – full emotional spectrum) will be different and may initially be “dark” or “dull” colors.

But the promise is, as we cooperate with God’s redemptive work in the midst of our suffering, the “joy color” will be restored to our emotional experience. Suffering cannot remove the capacity for joy from our experience.

God does not call us to be emotionally fake – the equivalent of adding food coloring to the water to force the “appropriate-Christian” color change. Instead, God calls us to trust him that the capacity for joy is not removed from our life by the pollution of suffering.

While I know this is stretching the metaphor even further, I believe it is another important point to be made, sometimes God restores the capacity for joy by wiping away the droplet in the form of a tear and collecting it as a tender treasure (Psalm 56:8). God often choose tenderness as his “light,” even more than explanation, as the way he restores our capacity for joy.

Any post built on metaphors runs the risk of being as confusing as clarifying. My attempt has been to help those who are suffering see that God does not expect you to force a pleasant emotion on these experiences. God can comfort you in this moment and still bring forth the “color of joy” in the experience while honoring the genuine emotional turmoil of your suffering.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Suffering” post which address other facets of this subject.

C.S. Lewis on the Gospel Paradox

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“There is a paradox. As long as Dick does not turn to God, he thinks his niceness is his own, and just as long as he thinks that, it is not his own. It is when Dick realizes that his niceness is not his own but a gift from God, and when he offers it back to God – it is just then that it begins to be really his own… The only things we can keep are the things we freely give to God. What we try to keep for ourselves is just what we are sure to lose (p. 213).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Pick your greatest strength or personal asset: being nice (as Lewis refers to), intelligence, work ethic, organization, charisma, music ability, athleticism, etc… Place that thing in Lewis’ quote above in order to feel the appropriate sense of discomfort.

Chances are your response is like mine – that is mine (possession) or that is who I am (identity). Lewis says as soon as I think that way I’m wrong – I’ve lost what was given to me by God. How does that work?

What it can’t mean is that the attribute evaporates as soon as I take credit for it. Hard working people don’t cease to be hard working people because they take pride in being better than people who don’t work as hard. If anything, their pride leads them to work harder to maintain their identity.

Two things happen which make their strength “less their own.”

First, they lose the “credit” for their strength before God. When a personal characteristic becomes corrupted by pride no longer does God look upon that “strength” with favor. God does not love us like an employer loves an employee, but like a father loves a son.

An employer looks at the productivity to determine his/her opinion of an employee. The more an employee advances that company or increases the profit margin the more pleased the employer is. It doesn’t matter to an employer if the employee is motivated by fear, pride, greed, or benevolence.

A good father looks at what is best for the son/daughter and determines whether something is good on the basis of their overall well-being. A child can be excelling in a way that is exhausting or compromising his/her character and “winning” will not be seen as good.

That is why when we fail to offer our strengths (and for that matter our weaknesses) to God, He does not count that strengths as “credits” to our account. God sees the pride or false identity in our life and is right to warn of impending danger. That leads to the second thing that happens.

Second, their strength mutates from a blessing to a master – they belong to their strength instead of their strength belonging to them. When we fail to recognize our strength as coming from God, we begin to rely upon our strength for more than it can give.

Either we pridefully believe our strength is what makes us “good” and we judge those who are not good (by the standard of our strength), or we fearfully live with thoughts that we will not be able to continually live up to previous levels of “good.” Either way, we begin to belong to our strength instead of our strength belonging to us.

What is the alternative? It is giving our strength to God in recognition that it came from Him and receiving Christ’s righteousness through the forgiveness of our sins as what makes us “good enough.” When this happens our natural strengths can be restored and used for the purpose God originally gave them to us. They are ours because we are His.

To see the first 100 posts in this series click here.

Angry at the Gospel

The gospel is not just hard. The gospel is insulting. The gospel tells me things I don’t want to hear and asks me to do things I don’t want to do. I don’t want to be told to take the log out of my eye before I take the speck out of anyone else’s. I don’t want to sacrifice my comfort for the love of others.

But those things are just hard. I can “cowboy up,” kick myself in the pants, and get them done if I need to. I can be “man enough” to admit when I was wrong. I can see the advantage of sacrifice, even its joy, and forsake my preferences. I can do “hard,” if I want to bad enough.

But the gospel is also insulting. The gospel looks in my eyes and without blinking says, “Without me you are nothing (John 15:5).” When I respond in astonished offense (1 Cor. 1:20-25), the gospel doesn’t back down, apologize, or change its tone. The gospel calls to me again, “You know it’s true. Surrender.”

At that moment I am faced with the most profound choice of my life – if I refuse to accept the offense of the gospel, then I am choosing to be offended by everything else in life. After I’ve heard the gospel then I will respond to every fault (my own and others) with either the fury of my own righteousness or by surrendering to Christ’s righteousness.

This is the story of many angry people. Angry people are passionate people who are willing to do whatever it takes to makes wrong, right – at least as they define “right” and “whatever it takes.” The thought of surrendering to the standard and will of another is the antithesis of anger.

To be anything other than angry is to let evil win – at least in their mind. And that makes sense. The gospel has always had a way of making it look like evil was about to win. The limp body of Jesus did not look like our strong deliverer on the cross. The early church scurrying from city to city in persecution did not look like a great gospel movement destined to change the world.

The gospel always has a way of looking more like Clark Kent than Superman and asking us to do the same. Sinful anger feels like our Superman suit, but we never realize it’s laced with kryptonite. As we prove (again and again) our inability to play the role of superhero (Messiah), we hear the call of the gospel again, “Take off the cape and put on my righteousness. The cape doesn’t fit you. Trust me. You’ve just proven it would be better if you did.”

“No, it’s not like that. This situation was different… That person wasn’t cooperative… I was fine until I lost my cool… I’m smart enough to learn from my mistakes… If I made the mess, I want the chance to make it right,” and on and on go our excuses. We realize again – if I refuse to accept the offense of the gospel, then I am choosing to be offended by everything else in life.

We walk away knowing we were wrong and convinced we were right. The gospel comes across as the jerk who is always right, but this “jerk” is too nice to hate so we feel like the jerk for being mad at the One who sincerely wanted to rescue us from us.

That is another profound tension of Scripture. Jesus was incredibly easy to hate, yet He is also the most endearing figure in history. Most world religions that reject Christianity (at least its exclusive claims) love Jesus and revere His teachings. We find we are just like everyone else – constantly in need of Jesus and resisting His offer to enter our life and transform it from the inside out.

So what will you do? Will you embrace your weakness to receive God’s strength through the gospel? Or, will you cling to your strength and be offended by everything you can’t do? Will you embrace Christ’s righteousness on your behalf as a gift? Or, will you live in a world of land mines (your own anger) where your righteousness is the standard that judges the world and demands justice? Choose the freedom that comes with the gospel’s offense.

Book Review: Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free by Tim Chester

Pornography is a cultural epidemic. No one who is in ministry will be able to avoid counseling people who struggle with pornography. Sexual sin is an awkward subject that is frequently avoided because of the shame and discomfort associated with it. There is a desperate need for resources that speak to is subject in a way that draws from the shame-breaking hope of the gospel and points people into biblical community for lasting change. It is for these reasons that I am grateful for Tim Chester’s book Closing the Window.

Early in the book, Chester draws upon this quote from Martin Luther to alert the reader to how vital it is for the church to speak to subjects like pornography.

“If you preach the gospel in all aspects with the exception of the issues that deal specifically with your time, you are not preaching the gospel at all (p. 10).”

Strengths of the Book

There is great deal to like about Closing the Window, so for space considerations I will highlight those in a bulleted format which mixes my thoughts with excerpts from the book.

  • Avoids Stereotypes: I was grateful to see that Chester did not offer a “system of redemption” that would only serve a particular type of person or origin of struggle. While he writes primarily for a male audience, he acknowledges the significant rise in pornography usage among females (p. 9). It is a relief not to have to consider whether the personality of a counselee will match with the envisioned audience of the book.

 

  • “In our culture sex is everything and sex is nothing (p. 120)… One of the things that porn does is to make us think marriage is for sex. But it’s the other way round: sex is for marriage (p. 125)… So what is sex for? It is, first and foremost, an act of unification, uniting two people into one flesh (p. 122)… That’s why porn—along with all sex outside of marriage—is a sham, a fiction, a lie. You can no more ‘try out’ sex than you can ‘try out’ birth. The very act produces a new reality that cannot be undone (p. 123).” Tim Chester in Closing the Window

 

  • Biblical Narrative: What may stand out most to the reader is how seamlessly Chester ties his book with the themes of the gospel. While avoiding the temptation to become too academic or theological, the reader is constantly drawn to understand his/her life as part of God’s great story of redemption. Too often when books are divided into “theological” and “practical” suggestions, an implicit message is sent that “the Bible needs our help to be relevant.” Chester does an excellent job of revealing the Bible to be a powerfully practical mirror.

 

  • “Porn is easy. It’s trouble-free and its pleasures are instant. Marriage is hard work. It involves two sinners being thrown together in close proximity (p. 127)!… Marriage is a gift for service, and sex is gloriously given to cement that partnership. But don’t let sex become the goal of your marriage—otherwise porn may seem like a good supplement (p. 129).” Tim Chester in Closing the Window

 

  • Undressing Pornography: In chapter one Chester gives twelve points about the effects of pornography that do an excellent job of removing its deceptive appeal. Without diminishing the fact that pornography is wrong, Chester vividly portrays how pornography is dangerous and disgusting. I found his ability to make pornography, which thrives on being appealing, look revolting to be very effective.

 

  • “It is not difficult to see how porn feeds off these cultural expectations. It creates a fantasy that perfectly matches each of these fears. If you fear failure, then porn promises success—you always get the woman. If you fear rejection, then porn promises approval—a woman worships you. If you fear powerlessness, then porn promises potency—women are under your power (p. 50).” Tim Chester in Closing the Window

 

  • Positive: It is easy to hammer a subject like pornography. But I do not believe any reader of Closing the Window will feel beat up as he/she goes through the pages. Chester only highlights the sinfulness of sin to point to necessity and grandeur of Christ. As I read, I was constantly left with the thought, “God is so much better than porn and offers everything porn’s empty promises uses to entice.”

 

  • “Here are three common reasons why people want to kick their porn habit: (1) to prove ourselves to God – so he will bless us or save us; (2) to prove ourselves to other people – so people like us or approve of us; (3) to prove ourselves to ourselves – so we feel good about ourselves… None of these reasons work, because they put ‘me’ at the center of my change project. And putting myself at the center is pretty much the definition of sin (p. 68)!… For some people, porn offers redemption, in terms of acceptance and affirmation, an alternative forgiveness. ‘I just want to feel that I’m OK. I turn to porn instead of God because the gospel doesn’t tell me that I’m OK. It tells me I’m a wicked sinner and Jesus died in my place. The gospel demands that I change. Porn says, ‘You’re OK just as you are (p. 57).’” Tim Chester in Closing the Window

 

  • Idol-Killing: Chester’s vision for change is not satisfied with habit-breaking. He gives a clear and convincing call to identify and kill (mortify) the idols that motivate the pursuit of pornography. Yet even in this call for deep and decisive change, Chester is honest about the common (universal) human struggle with idolatry, so that the person who comes to Christ in repentance for pornography realizes they come to the same cross as every other recipient of God’s grace.

 

  • “But I’ve found that many men can stop habitual masturbation more readily than they imagine. Once they’re persuaded that life without masturbation is better than life with masturbation (p. 93)… Every time we worship God we’re reminding ourselves that he is bigger and better than anything porn can offer (p. 99).” Tim Chester in Closing the Window

 

Ministry Usage at Summit

As Summit revamps our men’s and women’s purity ministries, Tim Chester’s book will be a core resource that we use. Of all the books I read on the subject, it did the best job of capturing the gospel-centered, Bible-based redemptive tone that we want to promote in all our ministries. If you are interested in learning more about our men’s and women’s purity ministries, I would encourage you to attend our upcoming seminar.

False Love: Overcoming Sexual Sin from Lust to Adultery
February 12, 2012 // 5:00 to 8:00 pm
The Summit Church; Brier Creek South Venue
2415 Presidential Drive, Suite 107; Durham, NC 27703
Free – No RSVP Needed

Loving the Unlovable in Me

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“I admit that this means loving people who have nothing lovable about them. But then, has oneself anything lovable about it? You love it simply because it is yourself. God intends us to love all selves in the same way and for the same reason: but He has given us the sum ready worked out in our own case to show us how it works. We have then to go on and apply the rule to all the other selves (p. 120).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

There is beautiful discomfort in this quote. It is simultaneously offensive and relieving. I want to rebuttal, “What do you mean that there is nothing lovable in me? What do you mean God made it that way so I would be able to love the unlovable in others?”

But at the same time I want give a relieved sigh and say, “You mean I don’t have to ‘keep it together’? There really isn’t this perpetual pressure to be ‘good enough’ for God?”

I want the beauty of the gospel without the discomfort. I want the relief without the offense. But we simply cannot have it both ways. We want to figure out a way to overcome our insecurity without having to extend the same unmerited grace to others.

The most common approach is to do away with the biblical category of our sinful nature. Somehow we want to say that “everyone is really good” but also “nobody’s perfect” (awkward contradiction not beautiful discomfort). We try to build our self-esteem by saying that our nature is good, but then get defensive when our sinfulness breaks through our idealistic veneer and reveals our real nature.

Lewis acknowledges our sinfulness, but does not succumb to a sense of self-condemnation. His acknowledgement that there is nothing good in us to love does not cause him to sound pessimistic, negative, or hopeless. He still speaks of love and God’s design to teach us how to love with a sense of optimistic hopefulness.

In this regard, I believe we can learn as much from Lewis’ style and tone as his content. He makes a very unpopular point is the most palatable way. Lewis forces me to see my total depravity and lack of deserving love in a way that keeps the focus on God’s love and design.

I walk away thinking, “God allows me to respond to me the way I do – seeking my preservation and best interest in spite of my failure because of a love for self that is stronger than my dislike for self – so that I can learn how to love others like He loves all of us.”

I am not called to relinquish that care for self. But I am called to see that it is a faint picture of His love for me. It is a clue left in my soul meant to cause me to question, “Why would I respond to myself this way when it’s so hard to respond to anyone else this way?”

Either we are more selfish than we realize – giving ourselves advantage we won’t give anyone else. In which case, any sense of affection for self is continued self-delusion. Or, we are following a design left in us by our Creator, after the Fall, to give us a first-person experience of what His love for us is like. In this case, we follow this self-affection away from ourselves back to the source from which it came.

Let us follow Lewis’ example and realize that God’s truth always unravels very personal parts of our life struggles. When we walk to God’s truth through these questions and struggles, then even when the answers are offensive they will bring awkward comfort that leaves us trusting God more.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Self-Esteem” post which address other facets of this subject.

Forgiveness: If Received, Then Required

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“’Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.’ There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. What are we to do (p.116)?” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I once heard a pastor say that if he preached every sermon on forgiveness, he still would address the subject enough. Well, if he preached with this kind of punch, he also might not have a job. It’s not that I disagree with C.S. Lewis (or have the audacity to disagree with Jesus), but it just hurts to have this truth articulated in such a straight-forward manner.

The force of Jesus’ words reminds of us a central truth to our Christian walk – when we were forgiven we were purchased and therefore no longer belong to Satan or even ourselves (I Cor. 6:19-20). Jesus does not speak as a contractor making a recommendation about repairs to the owner of the house (our lives). Jesus speaks as the Builder and Twice-Owner (by creation and redemption) of the house (our lives).

We are like the renter who has been in a house for so long that we naturally call it our own and increasingly treat as our own, even though we know we pay the “rent” and not the “mortgage.” We are so comfortable in “our life” that when the Owner speaks we get offended and try to find a way to escort Him off His property.

In effect, the command to forgive is God saying, “I let you live morally rent free (paid daily by the blood of Christ), so I expect you not to charge anyone else moral rent. If you must, charge their moral rent to the same account that pays your own.” In that sense, it is actually a very, very kind command.

Think about it. What if someone offered to pay for your housing and their requirement of you was that if someone else ever owed you money to tell them to pay that debt too? Would you take the deal? The only reason that you would hesitate is to verify that it was a legitimate offer.

So when we are offended by the command to forgive others, it is us who have to answer the hard questions, not God. We have to explain how we feel justified in accepting free moral rent while trying to retain the “right” to charge others moral rent. Our indignation is actually our shame.

But that shame is covered with the same offer as our prior debt if we will humble ourselves and receive it. God is not a Landlord who delights in evicting his tenants (don’t stretch the metaphor to encompass the assurance of salvation). But rather God will forgive the debts of unforgiven-debts if we will surrender our perceived right to collect them.

The question becomes, “Who do we think we are?” If we are the same person who prayed “the sinner’s prayer,” then we are welcome to live in God’s provision all our life (temporal and eternal). However, if we believe we have become a different caliber of person, then we will live with all the moral, emotional, and relational “luxury” that our merit can provide. That is the equivalent of being homeless.