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Christian Living

November 07, 2009

Last week’s series on Sexual Detox was quite an experience for me. I figured it would garner a little bit of interest simply because it dealt with an universal issue (sex) and because it included several important peripheral issues (pornography, addiction, and so on). But even then the response surprised me, both in terms of the number of visitors who showed up to read the articles and the outpouring of comments and emails in response to it. All of this showed me that I had tapped into an important issue.

November 04, 2009

How many times have you heard a person claim that he has “accepted Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior?” Have you ever asked him what it means that Jesus is his Lord? Have you ever asked him how Jesus is his Savior? What makes him his Savior? And what does it mean that he is his personal Lord and Savior?

How many times have you heard a person open a prayer with the words “Dear God?” What do those words really mean? Why do we begin our prayers with an address? Is this necessary or merely customary?

How many times have you heard a person thank God that Jesus is present, for “where two are more are gathered together, Jesus is there?” Have you ever asked him why Jesus is only there where two or more are gathered? Have you ever asked if he is present in a more special way when people are gathered versus when they are alone?

The fact is, there are many times when we flippantly speak of God and his attributes without knowing or perhaps even caring to understand what we are saying. We repeat things we have heard, but have never thought about. But what is incredible to me is that we don’t need to understand all of these things to be God’s children. We do not need to devote ourselves to endless studies in theology and doctrine in order to be saved. God sees and knows and values the heart more than the mind. Yet if we want to grow deeper in our love for God, we need to begin to understand these things. We need to grow deeper in our knowledge of him.

On that day that I got married, I loved my wife deeply. On our wedding day, as I looked at her walking down the aisle towards me, I never would have believed that I could love her more than I did at that very moment. I had known her for four years and had spent thousands of hours just being with her, listening to her talk and watching her interact with other people. And now she was walking towards me, looking absolutely radiant, and intending to pledge her life to me. I began to sob like a child and felt my heart would nearly burst with the love I felt for her. But you know what? More than a decade into that marriage I can honestly say I love her far more now than I did when we got married. Why is that? It is simply that I know her so much better now. The more I learn about her, the more I know her. The more I know her, the more I love her.

I use that illustration to show that you can really only love God inasmuch as you know him. When you are an unbeliever and do not know God you cannot love him at all. When some day you die and go to be with him, you will know him in a perfect way, and will accordingly love him in a perfect way. The time between when you come to love him and you are called to be with him is your opportunity to experience that love and get just a foretaste of heaven here on earth.

I love God more now than I did when I first believed. As a child I loved God with a childlike love, but I barely knew him. I can think back to distinct moments as I grew older when God taught me something new and amazing about himself. I can remember moments where something hit me like a lightning bolt and I was awakened to a new reality about God that I had not known before. There were times when my whole body broke into chills as I grew in my knowledge of my Creator. There were other times when I broke into tears as I began to realize the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice for me or the vast depths of his love for me, the sinner. As I learned about my God I learned to love him more. As I learned about my God I had to love him more!

You can be a true believer and know almost nothing about God. The man who hung on the cross beside Christ new little more than that Christ was the Son of God and that God had forgiven his sins. And that was enough. But if you want to love God more you need to know him more. I know that I’m a mere preschooler when it comes to knowing God. I look at others and see some who are in primary school, some who are in high school and some who must be about ready to finish up their post-graduate studies. And how I yearn to know him that much, knowing that the love I feel for him now, as great as it may be, is nothing more than a child’s love! I long to love him, and therefore long to know him. And I look forward to the day when I will know him even as I am known by him, that I may love him with the perfect love with which he loves me.

October 31, 2009

Having wrapped up the Sexual Detox series, I thought it would be useful to provide a list of recommended resources for those who wish to do reading on a particular topic.

Pretty much every author who has written more than, say, ten books has written one on the Lord’s Prayer and one on either sex or marriage (or perhaps both). It seems to be some kind of rite of passage. I assume I’ll get a memo about it after I’ve written a few more books. So if you have a favorite author, you may want to check if he or she has written on the topic. Meanwhile, here are some other suggestions. I am relying mostly on books I have read, so the list is somewhat smaller than it would otherwise be.

October 30, 2009

Note (11/08/09) - This complete series is now available for free download. Click here to learn more.

October 29, 2009

Note (11/08/09) - This complete series is now available for free download. Click here to learn more.

This is now the fourth entry in a series of articles about sex and, in particular, about sexual detoxification—about replacing lies with truth. First I wrote about Pornifying the Marriage Bed, then about Breaking Free and finally about A Theology of Sex. Today the series continues with Detoxification.

Sexual Detox

October 28, 2009

Note (11/08/09) - This complete series is now available for free download. Click here to learn more.

This is the third article in a series targeted specifically at young men but applying, I am learning, to all of us. So far I have written about Pornifying the Marriage Bed and about Breaking Free.

Sexual Detox 2

October 27, 2009

Note (11/08/09) - This complete series is now available for free download. Click here to learn more.

This is the second entry in a series dealing with sex and, in particular, challenging young men with the notion that their consumption of pornography has so shaped their perception of sex that they need to detox if they are going to be suitable husbands to their wives. In the first part of the series I wrote about Pornifying the Marriage Bed. I had intended to move to a Theology of Sex but based on feedback from yesterday’s article, I wanted to first share what I’ve written today. This is, I suppose, a kind of parenthetical article in the midst of the series.

Breaking Free

October 26, 2009

Note (11/08/09) - This complete series is now available for free download. Click here to learn more.

This week I am going to devote most of the articles on this site to the topic of sex. I want to speak especially to young men, those who are teenagers or dating or engaged or newly married. However, I do hope that anyone can read and enjoy the series, even if the teen years are far behind you. I want to talk to young men as an older man. I would like to think that I’m in a sweet spot between young and old—where I am young enough to remember the troubles and travails of youth but old enough to bring a measure of maturity. I want to be forthright with you and yet I also want to be discreet; I often think we, as Christians, talk entirely too much about sex and in too much detail. You may accuse me of the former simply because I’ve written this series but I hope to remain innocent of the second.

marriagebed.jpg

October 05, 2009

In my experience there is usually one of the spouses in a marriage that handles the majority of the doctoring and nursing duties. There is one who has the medical knowledge and who knows what to do when a child or spouse is injured or maybe just plain under the weather. There is one who can clean up vomit without adding to the mess themselves. For my marriage, this person is most definitely Aileen. She is the one who is always the first to notice the signs of sickness in our children. I may think they are acting perfectly normal, but she notices something almost indiscernible and declares that they are in the early stages of a cold or flu. Though I usually protest that nothing is wrong, more often than not time bears out the fact that she is right…again.

Aileen has a remedy for everything. Somehow she has learned how to treat any ailment. Some of these treatments make perfect sense to me; others, well, not so much. One that continues to confuse me is putting a hot cloth on something that is infected. If one of us has some weird skin thing going on, Aileen will put heat on it and insist that this draws the infection to the surface. I remain skeptical, though who am I, really, to challenge her? I looked it up online and the plethora of medical sites out there seem to agree that there is something to this theory. Maybe it is more than an old fable or wives’ tale that has been handed down to her. Heat draws out the infection.

Lone Rangers Are Dead Rangers

I thought of this principle a while back when meeting with a men’s group and wrote about it then, but it was fresh in my mind again this morning. None of the men in this group had a huge blight on his face or anything unsightly like that. We had been reading through Josh Harris’ Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is) and came to the chapter dealing with accountability and the kind of friendship that asks the tough questions. We talked together for quite some time about the kind of relationship that allows for deep and probing questions—the kind of relationship that offers a real level of accountability. We soon came to see that almost all of us desire to be in this kind of relationship—one where we can speak with other Christian men and have them both challenge us to put sin aside and preach the gospel to us in those times where we’ve committed that sin yet again. This is not just accountability that focuses on sexual sins, but on all kinds of sin and transgression. But though it seems that all of us felt we could benefit from this kind of relationship, I believe that very few of us actually are.

And this has been my experience and my observation. It’s interesting to me that Christian men are hesitant to seek out this kind of relationship (and here I implicate myself as much as any man). Men want these relationships but very few are actually in them. I’m quite convinced that the main reason, or at least one of the main reasons, is that as men we are convinced that we would be the one who was imposing on others. I’d be glad to talk to a friend if he called me at midnight in the throes of a crisis. But I would never think of calling another if I was the one experiencing crisis. I would be glad to help a friend who truly desired a measure of accountability, but it would not occur to me to impose upon another if I needed accountability. Everyone is busy; why would I want to be a bother? And yet the other men are thinking the same. Maybe it’s time for us to lay aside pride and let other men into our lives.

Applying the Heat

According to Alan Medinger (quoted in Harris’ book) an accountability relationship is “one in which a Christian gives permission to another believer to look into his life for purposes of questioning, challenging, admonishing, advising, encouraging and otherwise providing input in ways that will help the individual live according to the Christian principles they both hold.” These relationships are one in which Christians apply heat to each others lives. They ask tough questions, probing questions, potentially humiliating questions, in order to help a person unearth evidence of sin. Because we often have trouble seeing the sin in our own lives, we ask others to seek it out on our behalf.

Drawing Out the Infection

Too many accountability relationships end there. They are incomplete, ending with sin or with sympathy. Confession is necessary and we may well sympathize with one another as we discuss sins that are common to all men. But we cannot and must not end there. Instead we must take those sins to the cross. We must be prepared not only to look each other in the eyes to ask about sin, but also to look each other in the eyes and preach Christ. We need more than confession and sympathy—we need the cross of Jesus Christ; we need the gospel so we can draw out that infection. We need to admonish, challenge, advise and always preach the gospel. As Harris says, “The most important thing we can do for each other when we talk about sin and temptation is to remind each other of God’s provision for our sin—the Cross of Jesus Christ.”

This is the kind of friends, the kind of brothers, we need to be. We need to be brothers who will ask the difficult questions—who will apply the heat—so that we can help one another draw out the infection.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).”

August 31, 2009

The Bible tells us repeatedly that we will eventually and inevitably begin to resemble the people we spend time with. If we walk with the wise we will become wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm (Proverbs 13:20). Much of the book of Proverbs deals with this very theme, warning the young and foolish to avoid similarly foolish companions. Such proverbs cannot always be taken too woodenly or literally, yet they do point us to an important truth. If you spend time with a person you will begin to resemble that person. Perhaps you will not resemble the person in appearance (unless you are a teenager) but at least in spirit, in thought, in attitude, you will. Experience shows me that this is true. This is one of the great blessings of the local church, that in the church the foolish are able to spend time with the wise, learning how to be like them.

Again we know this is true with teenagers, isn’t it? Many boys will drift toward older, cooler, more popular teens. They will do what they do, play what they play, wear what they wear, speak the words they speak, watch what they watch. In each of these things they give testimony that they want to be like the older boys. Maybe it is not too much to say that they want to be these older boys. Girls are no different. They find heroes and model themselves in that image. With each moment they spend with their heroes they learn to be more like them.

As adults we have probably learned to be a little bit more subtle. We have learned not to be quite so shameless. But still we gravitate toward the people we want to resemble. A man who wants to be rich and powerful will find any excuse to hobnob with powerful men. He will live where they live, drive what they drive. And as he spends time with such people, he will develop their thoughts and will look at the world in the same way they do. A woman who craves popularity will spend time around the women she deems most popular and, in so doing, she will begin to emulate them, hoping that she can capture the same formula that made them so popular.

It is easy to see this as a curse, to focus much on the fool and his folly. And while certainly it is true that the person who spends time with a fool will begin to be a fool himself, the opposite is also true. That we begin to look like the people we spend time with can be a great means of God’s grace. Have you ever considered that the people you spend time with are a reflection of the person you want to be?

I thought about this topic and wrote this far and then began to think about the people I love to spend time with and the blessing they are to me. Would this not prove a reflection of who I want to be? And from there I thought of the people I have spent time with in recent weeks and the character qualities, the fruits of the Spirit I would love to see in my life. It just so happens that I’ve been able to spend quite a bit of time with the men in my local church who have been set apart to serve as elders and pastors.

There is Murray whose love for people and whose genuine interest in them is unsurpassed. I am a person who is naturally shy and I can allow shyness to be an excuse to permit me to be reclusive. Murray’s love for people stands as both a challenge and an inspiration. And I mean that; he truly inspires me to grow in my love for others, to extend hospitality, to be a genuinely caring Christian. I love to spend time with Murray because I want to be like Murray.

There is Tom whose patient kindness resonates in my soul. I cannot think of anyone who has so powerful a combination of gentleness of spirit and firmness in the faith. Always ready with a word of encouragement, always eager to steer a conversation to spiritual matters, Tom serves relentlessly with kindness, with patience and with boldness. I want to be like Tom.

There is Julian who, though young the youngest of the bunch, exhibits such spiritual maturity. He is proof that though an elder is not allowed to be a young and immature Christian, a young man can be mature and be well-qualified to serve God as an undershepherd. In Julian I see a relentless desire to read Scripture, to study it, to live it. And through that I see such growth in maturity and godliness.

And there is Paul. From Paul I’ve learned to love and respect my wife as I’ve seen the way he loves and respects his wife. From him I’ve learned to refer to Aileen not only as my wife but as my bride. I love that word; it points to a freshness that looks back to the day that she was first given to me. And from Paul I’ve learned about the importance of, the skill of, applying the gospel to all of life. He loves the gospel and knows of the importance of living in the joy and freedom of that good news. And I love to spend time with him because I want to be like him, to resemble him in these ways and so many others.

In these men God has given me the opportunity to learn how to love, how to be gently bold, how to grow in maturity, how to treasure my wife and how to hold fast to the gospel. Each one has blessed me immeasurably. What a blessing it is that, by spending time with them, I can eventually be like them. And what a blessing that he who walks with the wise grows wise.

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