Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Raging Against the Lord

A person’s own folly leads to their ruin, 
yet their heart rages against the LORD.
(Proverbs 19:3)

Oh how many times I have been guilty of this. How many times in the heat of the moment my heart has cried out in anger, "Why did you let this happen to me Lord!? Why didn't you warn me!? Why didn't you remind me!? Why didn't you help me!? How could you do this to me!?" The truth is that almost every time I am actually mad at myself. I know that it was my fault. I know that I made a bad choice. I know that I failed to remember some important detail, yet I want to blame God. This is nothing more than the scene from the garden played out again in our lives. Like Adam and Eve we shift blame from ourselves to someone else, and when no one else is there to take the blame, we shift it onto God.

The truth is...God is not to blame. We are. We are the ones that chose to lie or be lazy or have sex outside of marriage. We were the ones who allowed our arrogant attitudes to drive our friends away. We chose laziness over hard work and yet don't understand why God hasn't given us success like others. We have run after the world's way of living instead of God's way, and the Bible tells us that there are consequences for our decisions. Galatians 6 tells us that we reap what we sow. If we sow to the flesh, we reap a harvest of destruction. In essence this proverb says when the harvest comes in rotten, don't blame God, blame the bad seeds you chose to plant. This is even true of those who have been forgiven of our sin because Jesus' death on the cross has been applied to our lives. Even we still bear consequences for our sin in this life. We will not bear the punishment for those sins eternally, but there are still consequences.

I am not talking about those who are molested or abused, or the child who is born with deformities or those who are stricken down by sheer happenstance. There are some things in this world that happen to us that are not our fault. Yet, even in these circumstances we have no right to "rage against the Lord." As Job said, "Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?" (Job 2:10) It is true that God is in control and that nothing happens unless He, at the very least, allows it to happen. But we still do not have the right to rage against Him. He is God. He cannot nor has He ever sinned. And even these things that happen to us by sheer happenstance are the result of man's sin, not God's. They may not have been caused by our own sin but they were caused by the general problem of sin in the world. Plus, incredibly, God gives us reason to rejoice even in these circumstances for the Bible says that God "works all things together for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose."

So let me ask you... What have you been holding against God that you have no right to blame Him for? What have you been blaming on God that you really need take responsibility for yourself? What angry thoughts, words, or actions towards God do you need to repent of today because of these things? May the Lord grant both of us more strength and grace to accept the consequences for our faults without blaming Him.

For further reading...

  • Genesis 3 (especially verses 8-13)- Check out how Adam and Eve tried to push blame off themselves and onto someone else.
  • Galatians 6:1-7 & Romans 6:23- The Bible clearly teaches that there are consequences for our sin.
  • Job 1-2:10- There is no doubt that God could have stopped the trouble that came upon Job, yet Job chooses not to "rage against" Him.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Toiling in vain?

Unless the LORD builds the house, 
   the builders labor in vain. 
Unless the LORD watches over the city, 
   the guards stand watch in vain. 
In vain you rise early 
   and stay up late, 
toiling for food to eat— 
   for he grants sleep to those he loves. (or "for while they sleep he provides for those he loves.")
Psalm 127:1-2

This passage has brought me great comfort over the past few months. You see, I have a tendency to think that hard work can fix any problem. And while hard work is certainly an important part of a successful life, it is good to be reminded that the success of any venture does not rest solely with me but with the Lord. At times I lose sight of this. I get so driven trying to accomplish some ministry or personal goal that my perspective narrows until everything else is blocked out. Unwittingly, I begin to think that it all depends on me. This is rarely an overt thought but I am realizing more and more that this must be the reason so many of us work ourselves to death. This passage lifts our eyes, broadens our perspective, and reminds us of the beautiful truth that ultimately all things depend on God, not us. This passage reminds us that at the end of the day we really are not in control of anything. Even working as hard as we might apart from God's blessing we will get nowhere.

I believe that all of this is part of the reason that God commanded Old Testament Israel to abstain from work on the Sabbath. All the other peoples worked seven days a week. It was odd in every way for a whole nation to shut down and rest for a full day each week. How could they hope to provide for their families with 14% less time to work than the nations around them? How could they be expected to take a Sabbath rest during the harvest when they were working against the clock to get the produce in off the vine before it began to rot? The answer was simple. The Israelites were to rest (at least in part) as an exercise of their faith. It was a practical way for them to live out their belief that God was in control.

So too we need to remember that God is still in control. Whether we are stressed about school or work, church or home, or whatever it may be, we must turn it over to Him. There's an old saying, "Work like it depends on you and pray like it depends on God." I disagree. I think we should pray like it depends on God and work like it depends on God blessing our best efforts. Throughout Scripture we find that God often blesses those who work hard in faith yet trust Him to provide whatever may be lacking in their best efforts. Rarely does God miraculously provide for the lazy. Likewise those who oppose Him or who continuously sin against Him cannot expect large portions of His blessing. So examine your heart today. Be sure that you are doing all you can in faith to better your situation. Be sure that you are in right relationship with the Lord through His Son Jesus. And be sure that you are not living in unrepentant sin against your God. After you have done the best you can in these God. Remember that you are not alone in your circumstances. God has not lost sight of your problems. Jesus himself says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). If you are carrying a heavy burden today, remember that God is still in control and only He can bring relief. 

For further reading...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What happens in Vegas...

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Hebrews 13:4

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
Galatians 6:7-8

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Maybe you’ve seen the commercials. This slogan gives you this idea that Vegas is a magical place where you can go and do whatever you want without suffering any consequences. The idea is that when you leave Vegas, all you the bad stuff you have done stays there. I think we have a tendency to think the same way about sex. We think “Oh well… everyone has sex in high school or in college, but one day when I am an adult I will leave all of that behind and it’ll be okay.” This is certainly how it works on TV and in music videos. The problem is that the real world just doesn’t work that way. Sex outside of marriage produces a lot of pain that nobody talks about. And that pain doesn’t stay in high school and college any more than your gambling debts stay in Vegas.

In Galatians 6:7-8 God makes it very clear to us what the consequences are for those who choose to disobey Him. He says that you will reap what you sow. This is a farming metaphor. If you plant corn you will harvest corn. No one has ever planted corn and harvested watermelons. God says it is the same with our actions. If we plant sin in our life, we will reap destruction, but if we do what God commands and we plant obedience then we will enjoy life. This is true of all of God’s commands including His command to keep the marriage bed pure. So what you do about sex now will have consequences for you later. If you choose God’s way for sex (waiting until after marriage) then you will have good consequences. But if you choose to do what you want to do and ignore God, then sooner or later, one way or another, you will reap what you have sown. 

It is my deep desire that you reap a harvest of life and happiness in your marriage. I look around and see many people I care about reaping the consequences for bad sexual decisions they made years ago. I know that it is difficult to follow God’s plan for sex in our culture, but God Himself can uphold and strengthen you. Like the passage says it is not simply about avoiding pain. It is also about reaping a harvest of life. There are many rewards for those who wait. You don’t have to worry about STDs or how you compare to your spouse’s previous sexual partners. Some studies have actually shown that, contrary to what the world would have you believe, married people have the best sex. So I encourage you in name of Christ to choose God’s way for sex. Choose to wait until you are married. 

No doubt some of you may have already gone too far. If that is the case then you need to ask yourself a question. Was this done to me or was it something I chose? Some of you were sexually abused and it was not your fault. It was done to you and you are not guilty for that. God can bring healing and wholeness in the midst of your pain. But some of you chose your sin. You wanted it and you went after it. I want to remind you that the book of Romans says that “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20). There is forgiveness to be had. I John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” God is a god of forgiveness. He wants to give you a clean slate and set you on a new path. There will still be consequences for your sin but you have a chance to start over. Make a choice now to commit to God and to stay pure from this point on. God has the right to command sexual purity from you and He has. It is your choice whether or not you will obey.

For further reading...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sex is a Mind Game:Part 2

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Matthew 5:27-30

There is a problem in the church that we aren’t talking enough about. A number of men and women in our churches are addicted to a particular sin. Notice that I said they are not just involved with this sin. They are addicted to it. We don’t talk about it much because it’s uncomfortable but I believe that we can no longer afford to sit silently by while our brothers and sisters in Christ stay enslaved to a sin that Christ bought their freedom from. It’s time to talk about pornography, lust and masturbation.

First let’s look at some of the reasons to stay away from pornography, and there are many. 1) A lot of porn depicts crimes against women. Some porn captures actual rapes on camera for perverts to get off on. Other types stage things to make it look like rape when it is not. It is nearly impossible to tell the difference. Many of the women who make porn are beaten and abused and enticed into it with drugs and money. It is a terrible and shameful experience for them that often leaves them with deep emotional scars. When you view porn you become a part of that. 2) It affects your view of sex. It is like a warped sex education class. A study I found noted that a lot of porn had “sexually violent or degrading themes.”* You don’t want that stuff creeping into your sex life. 3) It is highly addictive. This guy named William Struthers is a psychologist who studies behavioral neuro science which means he studies how what we do affects our brains and how addiction he works. He says that “repeated exposure to any stimulus results in neurological circuit making. That is how we learn.”  In other words viewing pornography actually rewires the way you think. More than that, viewing porn causes the release of “pleasure hormones” in the male brain. Struther’s explains. “If I take the same dose of a drug over and over and my body begins to tolerate it, I will need to take a higher dose of the drug in order for it to have the same effect that it did with a lower dose the first time.”** Thus, viewing pornography not only becomes addictive for men but like all addictions it tends toward escalation. Men find themselves needing to view not only larger quantities of porn but increasingly depraved forms of pornography in order to maintain the same level of pleasure. It can draw you into watching hard core porn or even cause you to act out your fantasies on women. 4) Here’s the last reason you should stay away from porn: It will destroy your marriage. Many young men think that once they get married their wife will satisfy all their sexual desires and they will no longer need pornography. However, due to the addictive nature of porn, this is seldom the case. A husband’s continued use of pornography can create major self-esteem issues in his wife and continue to harm their marriage even as he is powerless to stop.

I have known many people who have struggled against pornography. Much of our culture has accepted it as natural and mainstream, but Jesus clearly identifies it as lust in the passage above. Jesus’ standard is a challenge to us all. Though not every man I have known struggled against pornography per say, I have only known one man my entire life who claimed to not struggle with lust. The statistics show, however, that this is not just a guy issue. Increasingly women are struggling with both pornography and lust as well. And where you find pornography and lust you almost always find masturbation as well.

Whatever you call it, I want to make clear that masturbation involves lust. It involves thinking sexually about a woman or a man (real or imagined) to whom you are not married. Jesus discusses this in the passage above and declares it to be sin. He makes clear that this is just as sinful as committing the act with that person. Like all sin it separates you from God and hurts your relationship with Him. Certainly God created us to be sexual creatures and we cannot turn that off, but He has given us marriage as an outlet for these sexual desires. Satisfying them outside of those parameters is less than God’s best for us.

What I want to say very clearly is even though some of you are enslaved to pornography and lust and masturbation Jesus can set you free. The Bible teaches that all of us are enslaved to sin prior to Jesus but that in His death and resurrection Jesus has set us free from the power that sin has over us. This includes lust. Are you still going to struggle against it? Yes. But by God’s grace it doesn’t have to have power over you. You don’t have to be enslaved or addicted to it. You can say no and you can be free of its power over you.

I Corinthians 10:13 says, "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." This verse tells us that we are not alone in our sin, whatever it may be. The temptation you feel is common to everyone. It also tells you that God is faithful. He hasn’t abandoned you. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can say no to. So never tell yourself the lie that you can’t say no. This verse says you can say no. It says that you can withstand the temptation to entertain dirty thoughts or masturbate. It also says that God always prepares an escape route for us. It takes time and you have to learn to walk in the freedom that God has given you, but you can be free.  The Bible literally says to FLEE from sexual temptation. (I Corinthians 6:18) And a lot of times, that’s your escape route: Leave! Go far away.

If this is something that you are struggling against today, then I encourage you to claim the freedom that Christ has already won for you at the cross and seek Gods help for walking in it. It will take time and you will fail from time to time. But if you continue to cling to the promises of God and you choose to avoid filling your mind with sexual images and putting yourself in tempting situations, then you can be set free from even these sins.

* Monk-Turner, Elizabeth "Sexual Violence in Pornography: How Prevalent is it?" Gender Issues 17, no. 2 (Spring 1999): 58-67.

**William M. Struthers, Wired for Intimacy. How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009); quoted in Albert Mohler, Hijacking the Brain-How Pornography Works, February 1, 2010,