Saturday, October 22, 2005

Not About Willpower

The following is a reader's response to the book "Sex is Not the Problem (Lust is)"...


Your book is a great blessing to me. I've struggled with lust all my life—even before my preteen years and even into my marriage of almost eight years.

I had already started making some of the changes you and other authors mentioned before ever reading them. That felt like confirmation of some sort. Yet, something still wasn't right. But when I reached the end of your book, I found help with one issue that I totally missed altogether. The "lust" problem isn't really about lust in the end. The problem of sin points back to our closeness with God and our realization of Christ's love for us through the cross.

The one change I hadn't made was establishing consistency with enjoying God's presence. I haven't made that a priority in my life. That, perhaps, is the true sin that I've committed all along. Since reading your book, I've noticed that when I do stay in God's presence with worship, study, and prayer, my problems with lust aren't so tough. But, when I become negligent and inconsistent, I have no strength. My willpower crumbles and sometimes I don't even want to call to God for help!

It's not about do's and don'ts, it's not about willpower and self-righteousness. But, this is about giving in to His will with His help and power. It's about falling in love with Him and then falling in love with His ways as a result. Then, we live out His ways and experience the true joys of life. But, Satan's continual lie is that sin would give us better than what God promised without the wait or obedience.

You helped me see that. Somehow, that makes the struggle worthwhile and winnable. Along with making a commitment to guarding myself against any hint of impurity, I'm making a new commitment to anchor my hope in God. I'll do this by sowing seeds into a deeper relationship with Him.

Thanks so much for your invaluable help,


Friday, October 21, 2005

I Stink at Evangelism

I preached a message on evangelism this past Sunday. This is funny to me because I am the world's worst personal evangelist. But now I realize that my ministry to the Body of Christ on this subject is to boost people's confidence by giving them the chance to compare themselves to me.

But seriously I did share several examples of doing evangelism wrong. And though I have more horror stories than anything else, I really do want to grow both in my zeal and my effectiveness in reaching lost people. The book pictured here is one that has helped me. It's called "Questioning Evangelism" by Randy Newman. The premise is that it is wiser to ask questions than unload answers. Skillfull thoughtful questions can draw out the heart of the person we're talking to and disarm their antagonism. He gives many examples of these kind of questions. I recommend the book.

You can listen to my message on 2 Corinthians 5:20 here. Then feel free to share your own stories of sharing the gospel. What is your evangelism strategy? How is God using you as an ambassador?

An Antidote to Lust

I found the following article by Alan P. Medinger very insightful and helpful in my ongoing fight against lust.

Grateful Heart: An Antidote to Lust By ALAN P. MEDINGER

Did you ever wonder why your struggles with lust seem to come in cycles? For some reason you seem to struggle mightily with lust for a number of days or weeks and then, for no apparent reason, the struggle subsides. You go through a relatively easy time, but then, almost inevitably the powerful temptations return and the struggles start all over again.

When I was acting out homosexually - before I was a Christian - I used to wonder about this. I remember even thinking, maybe it has something to do with the phases of the moon. At times it seemed that regular. I knew that this phenomenon was not unique with me because I heard others talk of it and I read of it - even the phases of the moon suggestion.

With women such heightened feelings of sexual desire could correlate with their monthly cycle. There is some evidence of this, although this is probably not the whole answer. But what about men? We don't have anything that corresponds to a menstrual cycle. The closest thing to it would be that there is a build-up of semen that creates a physical desire for release. But, if this were so, then masturbation would release it and the pressure would go away In actuality, the opposite seems to occur. Give in to masturbation today, and you are more likely to masturbate tomorrow, not less. In fact, for many men the times of intense struggle can go on for days, even weeks. "Release" does not change the cycle.

With what then can we correlate these cycles? What goes on inside (or outside) of us that causes us to go through periods of intense struggle with lust? And if we find out, is there something we can do to make the struggles less intense or their occurrence less frequent?

There is probably no single answer to these questions, but in examining my own struggles with lust, I have come up with a correlation which I believe may have some fairly broad applications. Very briefly, my struggle with lust seems to intensify when I have an ungrateful heart. Certainly this will take some explanation.

Let me begin by commenting on the basic nature of lust. Lust is not the same thing as sexual desire. We are apt to feel sexual desire at any time. Lust occurs when we decide to take our sexual desire and apply it to fantasies or memories or specific images. I believe that almost always, at the very instant that we have a sexual thought, we are presented with the choice of either entertaining that thought or of rejecting it. This is the critical point as regards lust. One time we'll say, "I'll pursue this pleasure, maybe just a little bit." Of course the "little bit" is in reality a big bit of self-deception. Once we invite lust in it becomes a very difficult guest to get rid of. At other times we say, "No, I'm not going to do that," and the desire is gone without any real struggle. The fact that we can respond in such totally opposite ways indicates that something different is going on inside of us in the two situations.

What I am saying is that our battle with lust depends to a great extent on how we respond when temptation first hits, and that something inside of us helps guide that first response. This is where I believe having either a grateful or an ungrateful heart has its impact.

In ministry, as well as in my own life, I have seen two attitudes creep into strugglers that precede giving in to lust; two voices, if you will. One says, "I deserve something." The other says, "I shouldn't have to go through this." The names of the two voices are pride and self-pity. They are the antithesis of a grateful heart. Both pride and self-pity are common responses to low self-esteem, a condition seen by many as one of the most common roots of homosexuality - especially in men.

Pride exalts the self. Pride tells me I deserve good things. Pride tells me I have earned good things. Pride tells me that I am the real judge of what is good for me.

Sexual pleasure is a good thing. "I deserve some sexual pleasure. With what I have been doing recently, I have earned it. Really, I am the one who should determine whether or not I should have this good thing." These rationalizations may be what can cause temptation to come on so strongly after we have experienced a significant success. In my life, if I have given a talk that went especially well or completed a project that came out quite successfully, a voice inside sometimes tells me that I deserve a reward.

Self-pity is the other side of pride. Self-pity tells me what a poor thing I am. Self-pity tells me that I haven't received a fair shake in life. Self-pity tells me that I deserve some comfort.

"I deserve the right to comfort myself considering what I have to put up with in life. I shouldn't have to deal with sexual struggles along with everything else that's laid on me. God, it just wouldn't be fair to deny me this little bit of pleasure." This type of thinking may be what causes us to especially want to retreat into lust when we are angry or have experienced rejection. A grateful heart, on the other hand, knows that really we don't deserve anything. All that we have including our talents are gifts from God. I do not need to reward myself because God has already given me so much more than I deserve. In a grateful heart, there is no room for pride.

A grateful heart is not going to pity itself or need self-comforting. Facing troubles or difficult times, it is able to put its problems in perspective. Out of a grateful heart comes a view of life that recognizes that we are not entitled to a life free of problems. Self-pity doesn't even enter the picture.

Most of us seem quite able to bounce back and forth between pride and self-pity, giving ourselves all kinds of justification for plunging into the polluted pool of lust. The heart is deceitful, and to win the war against lust, we are going to have to find some ways to change our hearts.

Seeking to develop a grateful heart is something far more profound than seeking an antidote to lust or finding a new way to resist temptation. It requires a major change in our heart, one that is so deep that it will change the way we live. Such change will cause us to respond very differently when we are confronted with the temptation to lust. Such a change is so deep that it is only going to be experienced in a life devoted daily to seeking a closer walk with the Lord.

The means whereby we can gain a more grateful heart are fairly obvious if we think about them. Here are just three that anyone can try:

1. Let prayers of thanksgiving be a central part of your quiet times. When I am down or irritable, sometimes I will thank God for every blessing that I can think of: every part of my body, every gift that I have, every relationship, every possession, and of course the most precious things of all - life, salvation, Jesus Himself. Words of thanksgiving have the power to change us.

2. Expand your intercessions to include prayers for some of the neediest people wherever they are. I just received an e-mail message relaying a request from a bishop in Rwanda asking for prayers for the terrible suffering that is going on among people in his area. How can we not gain a truer perspective on life when we pray for people whose sufferings are so much greater than ours.

3. Prayerfully seek to uncover your attitudes of self-pity or pride and repent of them. For me, discovering my deeper sins and repenting of them has probably done more to change the person I am than anything else I have done.

The Holy Spirit will cooperate with you on this. God wants you to have a grateful heart because He wants each of His sons and daughters to have a victorious life. And He has revealed to us that our sacrifice of thanksgiving is pleasing to Him.

An ungrateful heart draws us into ourselves and therein lie our difficulties. A grateful heart connects us with God, our source of all things that are good.

Regeneration News is published monthly by Regeneration, Inc., a nonprofit tax exempt Christian ministry associated with Exodus International-- North America. We seek to bring God's healing to homosexuals and to help the Body of Christ in reaching Out to those caught in homosexuality. Permission is granted to churches and ministries to photocopy or reprint for non-commercial purposes any article from this newsletter. Abridgements or modifications of articles do require prior approval by Regeneration. Regeneration News is sent without charge to those who request It. Our continued operation is entirely dependent on contributions, and we appreciate any financial help from our subscribers. For further information write: Regeneration, RD. Box 9830, Baltimore, MD 2 1284-9830.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Listening in London

Here's another encouraging letter:

To the pastors of Covenant Life Church,
Hello. My name is Jonny and I live in London, England. I just wanted to take the opportunity to write a letter of thanks to the pastors of covenant life church whose preaches i have listened to over the past few weeks, after downloading them from the website.

In particular the fine teaching by CJ Mahaney and Joshua Harris has grown me in my walk with God in countless ways and I find myself listening to their preaches more than once knowing that they are so packed full of worthwhile lessons that i'm sure i didnt pick it all up the first time around. I also heard CJ preach several times at the New Frontiers Leaders Conference in Brighton in July and he was as hilarious as he was heart breakingly sincere. His passion and intimacy with God was truely inspiring and his preaching to the leaders of New Frontiers was a great blessing.

Anyway I'm not sure how best to convey my gratitude via an email. But I just wanted to say that the extent and work of God in your church has greater ripples around the world than you will ever know. The lessons i learn listening to your preaches encourage and equip me to do my part to help build my local church here in London. (please don't think that i lead a church!- just realised how that could sound, i am just an active member of the congregation and lead a 'life group' - our small groups Anyway i just wanted to give thanks where thanks is due. God bless, Jonny

Get Married or Get Divorced

Josh recently received this letter from a pastor...

Dear Josh,
I am a pastor of a small church. This past Saturday one of my families came to our work day (they had to drive 45 miles to get there) and they were the first people there. I asked why she came so early. She told me that she just finished reading a book and that she and her husband were so offended by the book that they either had to "marry" and move in with their commitment or get a "divorce" from the church. They chose to marry it. They are even planning on selling their home on the river and moving closer to the church so they can be even more involved.

Today she brought me a new copy of your book["Stop Dating the Church."]. As a pastor I have never read anything more appropriate than the first 18 pages. I had to stop and write to you about your words of encouragement and challenge to the people of God. That includes me. Though offended would not be the best word for me, I can certainly use convicted or challenged or motivated. I am going to use some of your words from your book on Sunday but will give certainly give you credit for your words. I am also going to get copies of this book for my young peoples (ages 21-35) Sunday School group and start a covenant group on a week night using this as a focal point. Thank you for your wisdom. Because of Christ,
—Rev. K.M.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Forget Reinvention

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