For to us a child is born,
Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love everything about it. The cold(ish) weather (I live in Texas, so 'cold' is relative). The festive music. The delectable food. The brief moments of kindness that interrupt the usual flow of humbug hostility and division. I love the Christmas season, but I love the Christ in Christmas far more. Here's why...
My work puts me in front of broken and desperate people all the time. Their lives are marked by deep pain and debilitating strongholds. They all want the same thing: relief from their pain. They have all been hurt, and most of them have also hurt others. They carry shame, fear, anger, and myriad other emotions often too deep for words. In their hearts they cry out: Where can I find relief and hope for something better?
God hears the cries of desperate people. And He answered the deepest cry of every person's heart through the greatest gift ever given: Jesus Christ.
Christmas is the celebration of the long awaited Savior of the world. He was God's answer to all the brokenness that results from sin. Jesus was pure. He was good. He was kind. He was true. He was love. He was all the world ever needed to be reconciled to God. He was (and is) our Hope.
But how does Christmas (the coming of Jesus to the world) matter to recovery?
Christmas reminds us that God knows our needs even before we ask.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden God did not wait for them to be contrite or ask for help before He clothed their nakedness. No, Adam and Eve were in the middle of playing the blame game with makeshift foliage underwear while God took action to slay an animal and give them proper coverings. This was the foreshadowing of the sacrifice to come in Jesus Christ, covering our sins once and for all.
In recovery it isn't always so easy to know what is needed. After all, would you really need recovery if you knew what you needed and how to obtain it? But God is rich in mercy and grace, having already put into motion the very answer your soul needed before you could even ask the question. May you discover in Christ God's covering for your sin and shame.
Christmas keeps us humble.
Make no mistake about the fundamental message of Christmas: the world needed a Savior! I know this message is not popular in our modern age of technology and hyper-intelligence, but it is still true. No one can cheat death. No one escapes accountability before God. And no one is without guilt before the Creator.
Recovery is only successful when humility is at its root. The proud are not teachable, therefore they are not changeable. Until there is brokenness and humility there can be no recovery. The vulnerability of the Son of God lying in a manger as a baby reminds us that since we cannot claim superiority to God and He was willing to humble Himself to such a lowly state, we too must embrace humility if we are ever to be changed by Him.
Christmas reveals that Light overcomes darkness.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
The above Scripture comes just before the opening Scripture of this article. What a vivid description of what recovery feels like -- seeing a great light that dispels the deep darkness all around.
Jesus Christ coming into the world was the Great Light. He exposed the darkness of sin's effect; the lies, the greed, the hatred, the violence, the divisions, the lust, and so much more. But the darkness could not overpower the Light in Christ. Even death (the greatest darkness of all) could not contain Him. Light won. Light always wins!
Recovery requires uncovering what is in the dark. The secrets. The wounds. The shame. Light must be allowed into the dark places in order for healing and wholeness. Praise God that He didn't leave us in the dark! Let us celebrate the Light we have been given in Jesus Christ. For He is why Christmas matters to recovery...
I had a great conversation with Dr. Juli Slattery recently about the #MeToo social media explosion surrounding the issue of sexual harassment and abuse. (This conversation will air on our Pure Sex Radio podcast later this month.) Juli asked my reaction as a Christian man to some of the blanket accusations against all men (i.e. "men are pigs", "all men are predators", etc.). I want to expound on two thoughts I shared with her in hopes of encouraging you to recognize and seize the gospel opportunities that can emerge when such news breaks.
#MeToo Breaks my Heart for the Wounded
When I heard the news about Harvey Weinstein and then the flood over other Hollywood insiders and various other leaders accused of sexual harassment my first reaction was heartbreak. This kind of news exposes once again the degree to which sexual sin wounds people. Lives are changed dramatically by such trauma and it is evidenced in the emotional pain that erupts even years after the abuse ends.
But my heart isn't the only heart to break over such injustice and abuse. God's heart breaks too. In fact, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, could carry the #MeToo banner Himself. He was abused and maligned, treated unjustly. He identifies personally with the painful feelings of being hurt at the hands of another. He knows better than anyone what it feels like to have someone else's brokenness dumped on Him.
But in the heartbreak I hear whispers of hope. As the stories piled up one after another of the abused and hurt, I saw opportunity after opportunity to bring the Good News of the suffering Savior, Jesus, to each of these wounded, and often angry, victims. Their experiences of abuse need not be the end of the story. Maybe this is the time in their lives when they can encounter what a real man should look like. And he looks like Jesus.
#MeToo Demands that Men of Integrity Step Forward
After feeling heartbroken my next reaction to the #MeToo story was somewhat defensive, but in a good way. I thought, Wait a minute! Not every man is a slug of a human being who only victimizes women. There actually are good men, men of integrity who follow God and seek to reflect His goodness in the world around them. Yeah, we need these men to take a step forward and offer their strength in gracious and humble ways. Such men can bring healing and reconciliation to the wounded. Such men reveal the heart and love of Jesus.
This is what must happen when the gospel takes root in a man's soul. He must not only allow God to transform his own character, but also be willing and obedient to pour this hope and healing out onto those around him. The time has come for godly men to "go public" with their godliness, because true godliness is not abusive nor demeaning. True godliness is walking like Jesus, touching the wounded and marginalized with compassion and truth.
Men of God, if you are with me take a step forward today and offer your strength in humility to those who are feeling weak. Maybe this is reaching out to a local crisis center to see how you can assist. Maybe this is stepping in or speaking up at work when you see questionable behavior or speech. Maybe this is being more intentional in praying for all those who have posted or wished they posted #MeToo on social media.
Don't be afraid to join the conversation. We know you aren't perfect. But the road to healing and reconciliation isn't traveled by perfect people. It is traveled by courageous people who "love [their] neighbor as [themselves]." Will you be courageous and fight for justice and healing? #MeToo
Hugh Hefner died this week. The modern king of porn and sexual decadence is no longer on his throne. But don't be fooled into thinking that porn and sexual decadence died with him. The battle for integrity and righteousness rages on.
I had two simultaneous emotions when I saw that Hefner died. First, I felt overwhelming sadness for him. Such a talented, smart, entrepreneurial guy who wasted his life on the pursuit of that which does not satisfy (nor save) the soul. Second, I felt invigorated for the work I do in ministry. The man Hefner may be gone, but the legacy of his destructive work lives on with a vengeance. We need more soldiers in the battle for purity.
Please don't misinterpret my feelings to conclude that I have some kind of hatred for Hugh Hefner. I didn't hate the man. I pitied him. And I pity all the disciples of porn he led astray for nearly 65 years. I work every day in the trenches of destroyed lives and families because of the myths Hefner promoted about fulfillment and joy being found in the wonderland of unbridled sexual desires.
But my pity for Hefner and his porn disciples doesn't cause me to shrink away in disgust or despair. It moves me to stand up and to light a candle of hope for all those still in the darkness of disillusionment. To reach out and help those who are discovering that the promises of porn to bring ultimate pleasure are just facades covering up pain and deception and the fruitlessness of self-centered living.
My hope and prayer is that the flurry of news media that will certainly seek to honor and celebrate Hefner will cause people to consider the actual implications of his legacy: Hefner sparked a 65-year slow-burn holocaust on the American family. Is that really worthy of celebration and honor? Have we become so "politically correct" that we "call evil good and good evil?" (Isa. 5:20) Woe to us if we do!
Will you stand with me, candle of hope in hand, and pray for God to use this man's death to spark a "revival of righteousness" in our land -- starting in our churches? Will you speak boldly of the love and grace of Jesus Christ to forgive those who confess their sins and humble themselves before God? Will you live out a life of integrity and purity as an example for a world that is so sexually broken?
Finally, will you pray for the family and friends of Hugh Hefner? There is still hope for them to "see the Light" and write a different legacy for future generations.
In this 5-part series on The Pathway to Purity we have defined and explored the key markers that indicate growth toward greater integrity. This post reveals the final marker: Love Your Neighbor.
You might be thinking, How does loving my neighbor have anything to do with my sexual integrity? Good question! So let’s explore 3 ways that loving others is connected to your growth in sexual integrity -- and good character in general.
Loving Others Ensures Self-Care
The above statement may seem contradictory. Isn’t loving others focused on others? How, then, could such an outward focus have such an inward benefit?
Jesus told his followers (and his opponents) that the greatest commandment was to love God and “love your neighbor as yourself.” He even stated, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:36-40) Notice the qualifier on how to love your neighbor: as yourself.
You cannot love others well if you do not care well for yourself. Therefore, loving others will ensure that you are taking care of yourself. This means you must reject any lies of shame that attack your worth, properly care for your body and soul, and establish healthy boundaries against temptation and toxic environments. Such self-care allows you to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Practical Tip: Ask yourself (or a trusted friend) in what areas of your life are you not exhibiting good self-care. Choose one area to work on improving and establish a plan for pursuing better self-care. Invite someone to hold you accountable to your plan.
Loving Others Guards Against Selfishness
Let me be clear: self-care and selfishness are not the same thing. Self-care is about establishing and maintaining proper health in body, soul, and mind for the good of others. Selfishness is about pursuing your own desires to the detriment of others. Self-care is really self-love in its purest form. Selfishness is truly self-hate; it abandons the Golden Rule toward yourself.
God’s Word instructs us, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:3-4)
The key word in this passage is humility. You and I are to consider others more important than ourselves. Notice that this passage doesn’t teach self-denial, as if you and your interests are unimportant. No, the instruction is about attitude and focus. The attitude is humility and the focus is others. A selfish, self-hating person can have neither humility nor altruism.
Sexual sin is always self-centered. It feeds selfishness, leading you in the opposite direction from loving your neighbor. Therefore, it is critical to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Tim. 2:22) Then you will have a brotherly love that overflows onto your neighbors. (1 Pet. 1:22)
Practical Tip: Get out a piece of paper (or a Notes app on your smartphone). Write down the names of 3 people you care about. Next to each name write down at least one way this week that you will consider them “more significant than yourself.” Follow through on your commitment to exercise humility and focus on their interests above your own.
Loving Others Multiplies Grace
What is the ultimate effect of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is it simply that your sins are forgiven? Is it merely that you are offered a place in heaven with God? These are great and wonderful truths, but I believe the ultimate effect this Good News has is that it compels everyone who embraces it to share it. The grace found in Jesus cannot be hoarded.
Why must you share this Good News with others?
If you really want to grow in your integrity, make it a habit to give away all that Jesus has given away to you -- grace, forgiveness, kindness, joy, peace, hope, love, Himself. The effect of grace in a life that is gripped by it is always multiplication. Love others as God has loved you. There are no regrets in multiplying grace.
Practical Tip: Is there someone in your life who needs to hear your story, no matter how many steps you have taken on the Pathway to Purity? Ask God to bring to mind someone that needs the hope of grace. Pray for courage to step out and share your story with them.
If you would like more resources on your journey to greater integrity, please visit PureCommunity.org.
by Dan Allender
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You are a soul contained in a body. The “essence” of being human is not merely physical. You know this if you have ever attended an open-casket funeral. The person in the casket certainly resembles the person you knew, but something is undeniably different. Something is missing. It’s their soul.
In this 5-part Pathway to Purity series we have examined the following key markers that indicate growth toward greater integrity:
Now we come to this next marker of feeding the soul, that part of you that “animates” your existence. It is important to take care of this critical part of your being. Without a healthy soul you are certain to miss out on the best that God has for your life. So, let’s dive in and look at a few critical needs of the soul and how you can feed it well.
Your Soul Needs God
This may seem like a Duh statement, especially coming from someone who is unapologetically Christian, but it is still necessary to state. Your soul not only needs God, it was made by Him and for Him. A soul disconnected from God is missing out on true life. It is like having the greatest sportscar on the planet, but without an ignition system. It may look like a car (and a fast one!), but it has no power to do what it was made for. In the same way, your soul needs the presence and power of God in order for you to “operate” as He designed you to operate.
There are two aspects to your soul needing God: 1) Your soul needs God to be truly alive, and 2) Your soul needs God to live well. In Christian terms, we call this justification and sanctification. I don’t have space to go into detail here on these doctrinal ideas, but you can learn more in Simply by Grace by Charles Bing.
In laymen’s terms using the car illustration, your soul needs God to “ignite” your engine (make it come to life), and to provide navigation (show you the way).
Feeding your soul starts with connecting daily with God, inviting Him to pour into you His presence and power. Remember, your soul was made by Him and for Him. Apart from God you cannot fully experience peace and joy and power on this Pathway to Purity.
Practical Tip: Take some time to confess to God your need for Him; that your soul is thirsty for the living water only He can give you. (John 4:14) Write in a journal a note to God expressing this desire.
Your Soul Needs Rest
When we think of rest in our modern industrialized Western culture we often think of it in terms of not working or sleep, or some combination of both. But rest for your soul is not physical. It is spiritual. And spiritual rest comes from the assurance of the identity you have in Christ by God’s grace.
Let’s admit that our souls get distracted and dismayed by the circumstances of living in a broken, sinful world. The chaos around us (and often in us) causes our souls to become frantic with worry, and worry is the antithesis of rest. Therefore, we must be reminded regularly of God’s grace toward us and how it brings rest (peace) to the soul.
God’s grace reminds us of three fundamental truths: 1) He loves us, 2) He wants us with Him, and 3) He keeps His promises to us.
“...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
Meditate on the grace God has given you through Jesus Christ. Let this daily reminder of God’s love and His desire to bring you home to Him fill your soul with restfulness. In Him we have peace for our souls.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1
Practical Tip: Get out your calendar and block off time for “soul rest” in the next 4 weeks (a full day is ideal, but at least 3-4 hours is a good start). Commit to using that time for restful meditation on the grace of God toward you. Take a journal and write some thoughts about this experience. And make this a regular part of your life to periodically “unplug” from your normal routine to find rest for your soul in the presence of Jesus. (Matt. 11:19)
Your Soul Needs Freedom
“True freedom comes when you embrace God’s overall design for the world and your place in it. This is why in the Bible you see this strong connection between God’s law and soul freedom.”
--John Ortberg in Soul Keeping
The way your soul will experience freedom is not the way the world defines freedom. The world says “do whatever you want, however you want” and you will be free. God says exactly the opposite. Since God is the Creator, He gets to define what true freedom looks like for His creation, and He says it looks like obeying Him.
Your soul was made by God for freedom; for abundant, joyful, adventurous freedom. Such freedom is not found in directing your own path, but rather by surrendering to the direction of God and His path. The more you live in obedience to God, the more your soul will thrive; you will be free indeed! (John 8:36)
“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” 1 Peter 2:16
Practical Tip: In prayer, write down the areas of your life that are not fully surrendered to God. Where are you living in disobedience to His Word? After making your list, offer it to God as a sacrifice. Repent of your disobedience and declare your love for God through a renewed commitment to obeying Him from a pure heart. (John 14:15)
Your Soul Needs Joy
If you look around at many Christians today you might conclude Jesus Christ is a very terrible Savior. Not because His followers are legalistic or hypocritical (which can certainly be the case), but because they lack joy. True followers of Jesus must be joyful! It is a key fruit of the Spirit, and the only reasonable response to the forgiveness of sins. (Gal. 5:22-23; Ps. 95:1-2) God made your soul to need joy.
Joy is defined as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying.” What could be more satisfying than knowing and loving the Creator of your soul? Your soul needs this satisfaction that only comes through the grace and love of God.
Your flesh will try to fulfill this soul need for joy through many material means. Money, sex, power, and all other sorts of external ventures that never fully release your soul into the deep waters of true joy. This is why the cravings of the flesh are never satisfied. But the joy of the Lord is a wellspring that cannot run dry because it flows from God -- the infinite source of Joy!
One other comment about joy: it is meant to be shared. The joy that God made your soul for is not something to hoard. It is meant to satisfy you, but overflow onto others. As your soul is filled with the joy of the Lord, let it spill out. Smile. Laugh. Share your delight with friends and family. Invite them into your joy, not in a “lord it over them” kind of way, but in a “I want to share the wealth” kind of way. With God as the Source of your joy, you could never give away more than He could supply. Shower others with the joy in your soul!
Practical Tip: Plan a fun activity with your friends or family in the next month. No “agenda” or ulterior motive. Spend time enjoying each other’s company and expressing delight in the goodness of God.
“To seek God is the business of the Christian. The quest begins at conversion; it doesn’t end there. Once we have “found” him, the real search begins. We say ‘I found it’ because he found us and now invites us to seek him until we pass through the veil into heaven.”
May you press on in your pursuit of greater integrity on this Pathway to Purity. The quest is not complete until we are at home in heaven with our Creator. Then, our soul will enjoy eternal rest.
My next post will explore the last key marker on this journey. If you want more help along the way, please visit PureCommunity.org.
by John Ortberg
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