Archive for the ‘Reflective Living’ Category

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Cures for Class Envy

March 19, 2014

envyThere is enough money in this world to go around. But being fair and equitable has never been the point of money. The idea that people will voluntarily spread the wealth around is both wrong and naive. Unfortunately, no society has successfully regulated the accumulation of money; it probably cannot be done.

In an unequal system such as the world monetary condition, there will always be winners and losers. And just as it is wrong to think that this can change, so too it is a false syllogism to believe that those who have more money somehow deserve to be rich and those with less money are getting what they deserve.

I am guessing–but I believe I’m accurate–that more than 90% of wealth and poverty is not the result of justice or rewards for effort. Most of the people in our world who work the hardest are the poorest. Many who work the least are the most wealthy.

Therefore, class envy is inevitable. The Have-nots will always stare longingly at the Haves and would trade places with them if they could. The problem is, there are few people who propose workable solutions to this condition. And it is a problem.

More and more, those who perceive they are part of underclasses–and the makeup of this group varies with every society–are rising up to demand their ‘share’ of the equity of this world. The riots in London three summers ago, the “99%”, the property crime in upper-middle-class suburbs etc. all tell us that people are suffering from a Class Envy ailment.

Economists, philosophers, politicians, writers, bankers all fail to supply answers for this disease. This is the place for religion to supply the answer. And of all the religions that addresses wealth and poverty, only Christianity has a plan that works.

When I say that Christianity has a workable plan, I only mean this plan works for individuals. Collectively, we will always have a difficulty with class envy. There will always be strife among those who do not have the bare necessities of life. But if you want to live free of this envy in your own soul, here are three prescriptions the Bible offers us:

1. Contentment: The best known set of verses on contentment is found in 1 Timothy 6:6-11:

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

In this passage, the word for “contentment” means to have “sufficient amount“. Yet Paul ties this concept with the idea of “godliness”. How can we make that connection in practical living? The person who devotes themselves to finding out God’s priorities for their life and arranging their schedule to meet those priorities will find that they don’t have time and energy to devote to those things that don’t fit into God’s priorities.

A few years ago, I was spending a lot of time thinking about how I should dress for going out in public, for speaking engagements and for meetings I had with clients. I spent so much time on it that God had to intervene. In my regular prayer time with God, he confronted me on how important clothes were becoming. He asked me to go an entire year without buying any new clothes. At first, I resented being asked this–though I went along with it. But as I noticed my poor inner attitude, I learned this desire to have others notice me was a toxic attitude. By the end of the year, God’s input had produced a certain degree of contentment in me. I found I no longer cared much about what others thought concerning my clothes. I now buy some when I need them and usually don’t spend much time thinking about it. And I found I don’t notice other people’s clothing as much either.

2. New Supply Chain: When a person has committed to be a follower of Jesus Christ, he is expected to accept his Lordship over their lives. This means more than obeying God. It also has perks and amenities. If we are God’s children and we serve Him, then we should expect God will take care of all our needs. Paul says it this way in Philippians 4:19: “My God shall supply all of your needs according to his riches in glory.

One Christmas, my wife and I considered something we had never done before. We thought about going into debt. We weren’t getting paid very much from the church and we had four small children. We bought them each a gift from us and made one for each of them. That emptied out our meager savings. We realized we didn’t even have the money to buy a turkey. Three days before Christmas, Kathy and I spent time in prayer and asked God either to supply our needs or to cut down on them. When no money came in the mail, we went down to the store and for the first time in our lives decided to buy groceries with our credit card.

Yet both of us felt this was not the right thing for us to do at that time. I am not saying it is evil to use a credit card or to have basic food needs. But for us on that day, we felt we could not put it on credit. So we took the food back to the shelves and left the store. We drove down to the church so I could pick up something from my office. When we went back out to the car, there was an envelope on the front seat. It contained almost $200. To this day, we have no idea who put the money there. And from that day, it became a tad easier to believe God was going to supply our financial needs. And when we came to believe that, we stopped envying those who had more. The One who supplies my needs is richer than everyone else in the universe combined.

3. Live in the Opposite Spirit: Sometimes, it is not enough to just resist envy. More often than not, if we just try and gut it out, we’ll find that we aren’t that strong. Someone close to us will buy something or be given something that we want and the envy will rear its head.

No, for envy to be crushed completely, we should go on the offensive against it. This truth is painted beautifully in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 6:2-4 says,

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

So how does giving to the needy help to do away with class envy?

Pastor Jack Hayford of Church on the Way in Van Nuys, CA tells of a time when he and his wife went through a hard season with their finances. He noticed as their bank account got slimmer, his attitude toward other people’s possessions became jaded. He resented and envied more and more.

As he was reading the passage above, it occurred to him that this is not primarily about giving in secret. It is about watching the attitude of the heart by taking care of what is happening inside. Since he was facing envy and resentment, he decided to take what money he did have and give some away. He took five dollar bills and filled his wallet with them. Every person in town who panhandled, he gave them five dollars. Every letter that came in the mail asking for money he sent them some. He found after about two weeks, his resentment was over and the envy was completely gone.

How did that work?

When we walk in the opposite spirit from a bad attribute, we are no longer in the control of that thing. If we feel like hating, loving our enemies breaks the power of hatred. When we feel jealous, being sympathetic pulls us out of jealousy’s grasp. And when we feel envy creeping in, charity will scatter it.

These three things will annihilate envy: Contentment, trust and charity.

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Dealing with Grief When You Still Have to Work

February 27, 2014

griefI highly recommend this excellent article by Paolina Milana. Very few people can get enough time off from work when they’re dealing with the pain of losing a loved one. This article has some practical and accurate advice. But one thing she says is something I see often when counseling people with recent grief.

Milana remarks,

“The urge to change may hit hard. You always wanted to study gorillas in Rwanda—should you quit your job and go? You never imagined you’d be working 24/7 as cook, maid, babysitter, home improvement maven, and financial manager, without even a dime to show for it—should you divorce your spouse and abandon your kids? Is it too late to run away and join the circus? Know that all of these thoughts are normal. Know, too, that experts strongly suggest not making any major life changes during periods of grief.”

My experience is that during seasons of grief we believe it is time to change everything. This helps to acknowledge that nothing will ever be the same now that this person is gone; but it causes way more problems in the long run. The best idea is to change some minor things and leave one year before any major life changes. Read the entire article for some other great advice.

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Ten Healthy Ideas – Day Four: Habit of Reflection

December 24, 2013
reflection

Reflection

In 2006, a Stanford research team studied two groups of people. One group were self-described as heavy Internet users. The other group didn’t use the Internet very often. The researchers put both groups through a series of tests where they had to come to conclusions by analyzing a very difficult series of statements in a field none of them were familiar with. At the end, they had to make a decision about what course of action they would take. What none of them knew was they weren’t being tested for their decision-making ability, but their ability to mentally stay on task.

Not surprisingly, those who used the Internet a lot were more easily distracted. The researchers found that when they introduced noises, background smells, lights and people moving by the window, the heavy Internet users could not concentrate as well as the light Internet users. At the end of the test, each participant was scored by an independent panel regarding the final decision they came to. Overall, the light Internet users made wiser decisions. 

Here is what they concluded. The heavy Internet users had lost the ability to reflect, to ponder the possibilities. They were more easily distracted and could not keep their minds on one subject. In essence, the could not Reflect

Reflection is the ability to analyze and dissect the events of a person’s life, looking for meaning, purpose and possible courses of action. If a person cannot reflect, they will often act impetuously and unwisely. Unfortunately, most 21st century people no longer take any time to reflect. As Nicholas Carr says in his book “The Shallows”, that our

“online intelligence has weakened our ability to reflect, to examine, to imagine and to analyze. We can maintain more information in our brains and yet we have less ability to make good use of that knowledge”.

74 separate times in the Bible the word “Selah” is found. The word means to “stop and reflect, to see deeply into something”. Most often this word is employed in the Psalms after the writer has made a profound or troubling statement. He wants the reader to stop and reflect on how to proceed now that this truth is presented. This was not hard for someone who grew up governed by the slow pace of an agricultural society. It wouldn’t even be that hard for those who entered our world when there was no television, radio, newspaper or Internet. But now that we have all of those, who has the ability to reflect very long any more.

Ten years ago, I was asked to lead a seminar for young church leaders on the skills involved with meditation and reflection. There were 150 people at the conference and they had four options for their seminar. Only one person chose to attend my reflection teaching. I actually had expected this so my feelings were not wounded too deeply. I told the organizer that the only way we could get people there would be to rename it something that sounded more dynamic. The people of our world no longer desire to spend long moments in reflection. What good is there in completely stopping at various times a day? Actually, reflection and meditation are very helpful to all of us.

Health professionals say that time of reflection each day can lower blood pressure, regulate the body’s ability to fight off disease, eliminate the need for most anxiety medication, reduce the intensity of migraine headaches, help to heal overwrought relationships and reduce the inflammation associated with arthritis. But these are just the physical benefits.

When we have a time of reflection, we can clearly see the patterns of our lives. Recently, I walked a person I am mentoring through exercises where they had to reflect on their life. At one point, the person got agitated and wanted to stop. When I asked them why, they realized that anger was bubbling to the surface and felt overwhelming. I had them focus on what they were angry about. Soon, elements of their marriage relationship came to mind. Piece by piece, this person worked through their anger and sense of defeat. By the end of 20 minutes, they no longer felt the anger. The next day, my mentee called me and expressed shock about something else. They had been suffering with a sense of fatigue mid-morning for several weeks. For the first time in all those days, they felt energized in the middle of the day. They realized that the meditation time had alerted them to an inner anger that was robbing them of energy.

I usually suggest people have at least a ten minute reflection in the morning and the evening. This can be combined with exercises like the Well of Reflection or a few other exercises I am going to mention in upcoming articles. It is good to have a journal around to keep track of insights.

As Socrates so eloquently told us “the unexamined life is not worth living.” When was the last time you examined your life in any depth? Have you observed some subtle motivations that you need to get a grip on? Do you see how your anger and fears are with you more than you would like to admit? Are there dreams you have been shoving down because you haven’t taken the time to process them? How are your relationships really going? Have  you taken stock of your closest friends and loved ones to determine if  you are acting in a healthy way toward them?

All of these are questions that can only be answered if a person takes time to reflect. In order to accomplish a meaningful time of reflection each day, it is necessary to answer the following questions:

  1. What will stand in my way of doing this daily?
  2. What do I need to stop doing so I can reflect?
  3. What do I hope to get out of this?
  4. Why am I not already doing this?
  5. What would be the best time to do this so I will accomplish it every day?
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Ten Healthy Ideas – Day 2: The Well of Resentment

December 21, 2013

deep wellHe had married her 22 years before; and now he stood in my office in front of her and said “I don’t love her any more. I want a divorce.” I actually thought he had asked me to be there so he could reconcile with his wife. Why else would he want his counselor there for what he had to say? But no–he wanted me to be a witness to his final declaration.

I couldn’t leave it at that. I had counseled him for several months and never had any idea he was thinking about divorce. So I asked him to go through his train of thought leading up to this decision. He mentioned a number of grievances he had stored over the years. He chronicled a long line of things which hurt him, annoyed him, bothered him and made him angry. He carried a long list with him.

However, he failed to mention a single thing that most people would associate with marital failure. She had not committed adultery, been violent, lied to him, appeared on a Reality T.V. show, hit the children, poisoned his food, withheld sex, had her mother stay for a year or joined a cult. Even though he carried a laundry list of grievances, none of them were that serious.

The biggest problem he carried with him to the end of his marriage was Resentment. Resentment is the idea that someone has done wrong by us and we refuse to let it go until they apologize or give retribution. We can resent someone for a small infraction or a huge sin. It really doesn’t matter how big or small the resentment is, it has the same effect: It sucks the life out of our love.

I tried to convince him to let go of his resentment and move on in his relationship with his wife, but he was not interested. A year later, their divorce was final and their lives in turmoil. I could have saved him a lot of hassle if he had just dealt with this like an adult.

Children cultivate resentments like a farmer grows corn. They can complain if someone gets a bigger portion of dessert. They will whine if someone bumps into them. They don’t like it when their brother looks at them funny. They will hit back when hit and curse back when cursed. But we expect that out of them–they’re children.

If you want to be a mature adult and have meaningful and long-lasting relationships, then resentments have to go. But that’s a lot easier to say than to do. I believe resentment is the most prominent disease known among mankind. We do not let go of them at all and certainly not easily. But I have an exercise that helps.

In the 4th century, there were a group of men and women called the Desert Fathers and Mothers. They lived in the Egyptian desert and taught many people about the deeper ways of living as a Christian. One of these, Abba Poemen, taught a practice called “The Well of Resentment”. (Note: This is a translation…it has been called the Well of Longing and the Well of Bitterness).

He taught his disciples to do the same thing at the end of every day. He said they were to picture themselves coming to the edge of a large and deep well. As they mentally look into this well, they should consider how things went for them that day. Each person was to probe their soul and see if there was anything that happened which caused any resentment. If a person identified resentment, they were to visualize casting that resentment into the well and watch it fall into the depths. Then they were to keep doing this until all resentments were gone. At the end, they should pray the Kyrie Eliason (“Lord have Mercy, Christ have Mercy on me”).

I have taught hundreds of people to do this the end of every day. I have yet to have someone come to me and tell me it doesn’t work. Rather, I have heard from many that it has revived their love for spouse, parent, child, co-worker, fellow-Christian and others. It is a practice which refuses to allow the little or big resentments from gaining hold. The Well of Resentment is like powerful vitamins which bind to viruses and snuff them out before they get destructive.

Try it for three days and see if it doesn’t begin to change your heart toward others around you.

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Ten Healthy Ideas – Day 1: Get Rid of Body Lies

December 20, 2013

rs_634x797-131216100228-5ht7pRecently, “E” Magazine reported on an animated Gif file circulating among Jennifer Lawrence fans. It is an older picture of Lawrence from the cover of Flare Magazine. The animated Gif file reveals that they took Ms. Lawrence’s picture–an actress considered by many to be very beautiful–and then proceeded to photoshop it. Here is the website showing the original photo and then how they doctored it.

They made her skinny in places, more pronounced in others and changed her shape completely. Fans around the world are outraged, mainly because she has been on a crusade against this kind of body image tinkering. Here is an interview she did with BBC Television where she expresses her view that every women needs to have a strong image of who they are. This includes viewing their own bodies realistically.

In counseling, I see hundreds of women obsessed with poor body image. They want to blame others for their personal beliefs–and certainly other people are contributing factors in what they believe–but blaming others does not solve the problem. Each person needs to recognize they chose to believe every thing they hold onto. Until a person owns those false beliefs and discards them, they will not be free.

The media, parents, friends, and enemies–including the enemy of our souls–may all feed us false beliefs about our bodies. Let me identify the three main false beliefs:

1. Shame: This is a belief which says ‘There is something essentially wrong with me’. The idea of “wrongness” is completely subjective and has no real basis in fact. What is “wrong” in one setting is “perfect” in another. This includes body size, body shape, and body parts. One culture prizes Aquiline noses (long and curved) where another culture champions small noses. Which one is right? Neither of course. But the belief that says “there is something wrong with me” goes deeper. This belief destroys the idea that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Since there is no objective standard of the right or wrong body type, then anything we believe about ourselves which ends in us concluding “there is something wrong with me” is completely false. 

2. Fear: This belief focuses on how we are perceived. “I will not be accepted for how I look” gives other people the right to speak into how we should look. No longer do we decide if we our bodies are acceptable–we give that right to others. This fear also centers on the idea that we can accurately predict how others see us. This belief is false because even if we are mostly accurate in our assessments, we cannot be completely accurate. Humans are completely different in their preferences. What 100 people dislike, another 100 people may like. But the fear that “all” people will react the same way to us causes us to change who we are–or wish we could change who we are.

3. Helplessness: This is the idea that our bodies are in charge and we cannot do anything about it. For the most part, helpless beliefs are formed when we tried to change something while not doing so with our entire will. For instance, take a young child who comfort eats. This child eats when they are emotionally stressed. They do this because the food makes them feel better. They may do this enough so they become heavier than their friends. At some point–probably during adolescence–they decide it is time to lose weight. The problem is, even though they want to take charge of their body and lose weight, they don’t want to let go of comfort-eating. Therefore, they hinder their own weight-loss efforts. When they fail at this, they believe they are helpless to change the way their body functions. This can result in them choosing to depress themselves and keep their body behaving differently than their ideal vision of themselves. This helplessness gets seeded into their beliefs and they soon react as if they can never change anything their body is doing.

These three false body beliefs–shame, fear and helplessness–torture so many people. But they don’t need to. The solution is to admit these beliefs are choices you made at some point in your life. They don’t feel like lies because you have fed and cared for them for so long.

The secret to overcoming them is to ask God about them. God made you and knows who you are. He knows how you are perceived. He is the one who says “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”.

I counseled a woman years ago who struggled with being “overweight”. (I put that word in parentheses because I do not accept the concept of “overweight”. I think it is a false concept designed by the enemy to have a false measuring stick of our value). She believed she would never be acceptable to others unless she reached a particular weight value. In our counseling, I asked her to listen to what God had to say about it.

After several weeks of doing this, she stopped dieting and started to find out more about how God saw her. God showed her the problem had nothing to do with her weight. Her life was being ruled by one resentment she had after another. She decided to let go of all her resentments over a 6-month period. Because she no longer held onto her griefs and pain, she started eating differently. She got out of the house more. She dressed differently. Inexplicably, her body began to take on a different shape.

She had no idea if she lost or gained weight because she threw out her bathroom scale. God showed her that the weight was a measurement of gravity, not worth.

When we get to what God has to say about our bodies, we will inevitably change how we see them. And if we change how we see them, we won’t give in to the terror of false beliefs.

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The Danger of Dishonor

September 23, 2013

Stuart and I prayed for a half hour about his wife. She was suffering  through a series of painful attacks, bizarre maladies that seemed unrelated to each other. Her doctors could not find the cause. She had migraine headaches, chest pain, nausea, joint irritation, ear infection, low fevers, foot pain, tremors and panic attacks.

During the previous six months, she had seen a gynecologist, neurologist, arthritic specialist, gastroenterologist, pain specialist, physiotherapist and immunologist, and was now being sent to both a psychologist and psychiatrist. Having failed to find any physical cause which would tie in all of these symptoms, the doctors decided they needed to check if her emotional state caused all of these problems. This referral to the psychiatrist seemed to mock her pain, and she gave up trying to fight it all.

As I was praying, I had a thought that this may not have a physical root cause. I sensed an enemy of the soul, an unclean spirit, was attacking her. Though I have not seen this happen often, I know it does occur. But because this is not a common reason for people being ill, I kept quiet about it. I continued asking the Holy Spirit for more insight into this, and as I did, another thought went through my mind. I acted on it.

“Stuart, do you have a problem with pornography?”

“Sometimes. I don’t like to admit it, but I view porn every couple of weeks.”

“Just porn? Have you ever acted on your fantasies with other women?”

He hesitated and looked down. This, coupled with his worried expression, lent me courage to press further.

“What have you done, Stu?” He then began telling me about a web site he had joined several months earlier which allowed married people to find sexual partners with other married people. After telling me about a number of women he had talked to, he assured me he had never met any of them in person. He was quite adamant that he did this because of curiosity, not because he wanted an affair. I had heard variations of his story from a lot of men and women.

I knew my next question was most critical. His answer may hold the key to his wife’s illness. “Stu, did you talk about your wife with any of the women?” He blanched openly at my question.

“A lot of the women wanted to know why I was on the web site. It bothered me that they asked what was so wrong with my marriage that would lead me to seek out an affair. So I told them some stories. I have to admit Mike that many of the things I said weren’t true. I lied to a few women.”

“What did you tell them?”

“I told them all that my wife didn’t want sex any more, that she was only interested in the kids and her business. Which, of course, is not true at all.”

What I told him next is the basis of this article. Stuart had dishonored his wife. To honor someone means to show respect to them, to show how they are important and special in our lives and in general. Therefore, to dishonor a person means to disrespect them, lie about them or act like they are unimportant. I explained to Stuart how his dishonor had started with his porn usage. By looking at hundreds of women in various sexual poses and situations, he had downgraded his wife to lesser status. This made it so much easier for him to lie to other women and tell them how unimportant his wife was to him. I explained this was only the beginning of his problems.

After a while, he stopped me and asked “So, what you’re saying is that my wife’s illnesses are God’s judgment on her for the way I’ve acted?”

“Stu, that’s not it at all. God forgave all your sins on the cross. He has washed you clean by the blood of Jesus. You are not guilty in God’s eyes. The Bible says “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” No, it is not God who is bringing these illnesses upon your wife. God himself does not bring disaster and illness upon us. God is love and would never harm us. But there is a class of beings in this universe whose sole purpose is to steal, kill and destroy our lives (John 10:10). Collectively, we call these beings “Satan”, but they really are a host of opportunistic spirits looking to attack and destroy our lives. However, they are not allowed to attack us unless they have permission.”

“How do they get permission?”

“If people commit certain sins over a period of time, then the enemy is allowed to attack in those areas.” I explained to Stuart some of the verses from the Bible which show this, and then came back to my explanation of events.

“Stuart, your relationship with your wife is a covenant relationship. In spiritual terms, the covenant is the deepest promise you can make to a person. You may not know it, but to do harm to that covenant is to do harm to yourself and to her. Satan’s name means “accuser”. He loves to act as the Prosecuting attorney before God, claiming that we are guilty of crimes and need to be punished. When those crimes are against God, he will not allow us to be attacked. But when the crimes involve others, especially when we hurt those closest to us, we incur the wrath of the Accuser. You have dishonored your wife. There are few ways you could have acted worse than this.”

Here is the end of his story: He repented before God for his actions, quit the website and stopped viewing porn (this last part took a longer time to correct, but that’s another blog entry). He then anointed his wife with oil and we prayed for her.

From that day, her symptoms stopped and have not recurred.

Often, we dishonor our spouses a lot more than we realize. In order to see what this does, let’s look at 9 categories of dishonor.

  1. Gossip: When we break a confidence of a friend or loved one, we are dishonoring the relationship we have with them. I probably have done this more than I want to admit. Often, I make this mistake when complaining to a friend about people closest to me. This can even be done with a counselor, and if the counselor is unwise to allow it to go on too long, gossip can devolve into slander. This is what Stuart did to his wife. 2 Timothy 3:3 puts gossipers with some other nasty offenders.
  2. Broken Promises and Oaths: Once again, most people do not know how important an oath is in the Spirit realm. God tells us that broken oaths will have serious consequences (James 5:12). Many times in the Bible we are told not to break our vows or judgment will come. The enemy loves to prowl around looking for those who have broken their promises and oaths. Obviously, adultery is the classic example of this. But we can also make promises on many other levels, and each broken oath brings destruction on our heads.
  3. Violence and Abusive Language: Malachi tells us that God hates divorce. But it also tells us that he hates when a man covers his wife with violence as if it were a garment. Violence is a severe break of the covenant relationship. And violent words can also sever that covenant. When the enemy sees these things, he initiates a spiraling pattern of violence, fear and anguish. Few actions dishonor a person more than taking power away from them through violence or violent words.
  4. Threats: Threats can appear non-violent and still cause harm. If someone threatens to leave, to cut off intimacy, to get even, to take something away, then all of these dishonor the marriage vow. Most marriage vows contain the word “honor,” which means to count someone as important. If you deem a person valuable, you will not threaten them.
  5. Resentment: John Bevere calls resentment “the bait of satan”. Our enemy loves to dangle this in front of our noses. Resentment is not unforgiveness or hatred. It occurs when we decide “I will never let go of this hurt you have caused me.” More marriages are dishonored when partners will not release resentment than from any other cause. It is that common.. Resentment often becomes bitterness, which we are told in Hebrews 12 can regress into “a root of bitterness which grows up to defile many“.
  6. Curses: When we wish harm or ill on another person, we are cursing them. The stronger we wish these things, the more power the enemy has to bring them about. Unfortunately, many spouses say foolish things like “I wish you would die” or “I hope you get everything coming to you” or “I am done with you” never once knowing there is an enemy who views these as open invitations to wreak havoc in a household. The bible is clear that curses and blessings work (Luke 6:28, James 3:9).
  7. Reveling in hurt: There is a more passive way we can dishonor our spouse. When they fail or are wounded, if instead of bringing comfort and love we hold onto a smug attitude of “I told you so” or “You had that coming”, this reveling can give room to the enemy to drive a wedge between spouses.
  8. Neglect: Instead of actively hurting our spouse or betraying them, we neglect our duties to love, honor and cherish them. By withholding support, love, information, help, partnership, affection, or any number of other essentials, we leave them to their own devices and act as if they are meaningless to us. This neglect of our covenant responsibility offers the enemy an open invitation to attack.
  9. Humiliation: People rationalize their active criticism of their spouse in public. They think it helps to push them to make changes. But we often take it way too far. When we actively humiliate our spouse, it is the most public way we can use to say “You are not special to me.” When we do this, not only do people see us as weak and our marriage as troubled, the enemy sees it as dishonor and uses that springboard to cause trouble.

I believe there are four keys to overcoming these pieces of dishonor.

  1. Repent. This means more than just saying you’re sorry to God. It means to acknowledge and understand what you’re doing wrong and choose actions that counter-act it. Breaking off bad relationships, apologizing for hurts, cutting off access to things or people that make it worse – all of these are repentant actions.
  2. Change: Get to the roots of why you do what you do. A counselor or coach can help with this.
  3. Accountability: Admit to others what you have done and ask them to watch for it from you and call you on it if you persist in doing it.
  4. Pray for Blessing. The Bible tells us we are to bless others and not curse them. If we have cursed our spouse through dishonor, dedicate the future to blessing them through word, deed and prayer.
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The Best Thing You Can Do for the World’s Children

June 17, 2013

sponsor a childChristianity Today has published one of the most startling landmark articles in many years. If you read nothing else about helping children this year, this rather lengthy article should be on the top of the list.

Let me summarize this long study. Dr. Bruce Wydick is an Economics professor at the University of San Francisco. In this article, he tells the story of several graduate students who have completed a five-year study looking into the effectiveness of child sponsorship programs in the Developing World. You can read the entire study here.

As I read this, several details stood out strongly:

  • These graduate students sought to study a number of agencies who provide money through sponsors. Only one organization agreed to be studied: Compassion International. That tells me several things. First, they are probably the only organization of this kind that keep their own records and were therefore comfortable with being studied. Second, the other organizations showed antipathy toward the idea of being studied, which means they are more afraid of their funding drying up (if the studies are not favorable) than they are in making sure they are being effective.
  • The study concluded that children who receive sponsorship are up to 80% more likely to go to college and graduate than unsponsored children.
  • Children who are sponsored are shown to have significantly better viewpoints on what they want to do for a living when they grow up. They also show higher levels of contentment in life and less pessimism about the future.
  • Sponsored children have lower rates of suicide, depression and violence done against them.
  • Sponsored children with unsponsored siblings are more than three times more likely to grow up to be the family’s primary bread-winner.

This study has been scrutinized by over a dozen universities since it was produced and each of them has ratified the methodology used. This means that at least as far as Compassion International in concerned, one of the best ways you can change the Developing World is to sponsor a child on a monthly basis. Nothing that we have yet seen even comes close.

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God Can Help you With Money

March 29, 2013

A Helping HandWe now come to the two most popular posts in the past 10 years on this blog. This one (#2) was posted just last year , but already it has been viewed over 15,000 times. The truth is this: Knowing God will change your finances.

In a nutshell: He doesn’t help us with our finances, if by “help”, you mean that God will swoop down and rescue you from financial disaster. God wants to be our partner in everything in life, and that would not be a partnership at all.

However, God does give huge support in our financial endeavors. In the lifestyle we call “following God”, we recognize that everything we do in this world can be a partnership with God. With regards to money,  I can see at least eight ways God can give us long-term support with our finances:

1. Wisdom: There are thousands of traps out there ready to waste our money, steal our money and cause us to lose our money through negligence. Twice in the past five years, people have come to me with incredible investment opportunities. Both times, the risk seemed low and the rewards considerable. Both times, God sent people to me who gave me advice on why I should not go with either investment. Each of these investments went through bizarre disasters, and I would have lost most of what I owned if I had gone with either of them.

2. Defeating the Waste of Self-Absorption: We often think that we don’t have enough money. That is sometimes true (especially of those who live in third-world poverty). For the most part, we have enough money, we just have too many wants. God helps us with our money by showing us how much we are spending on ourselves: Our comforts, our habits, our pleasure and our fears. We are self-absorbed and this costs us a lot of money. Think of the person who spends $100,000 on a sports car and then wonders why God didn’t answer his prayer for more financial success.

3. Rebuking the Devourer: In Malachi 3 God promises if the people of God will begin living on 90% of their income instead of 100% (tithing), he will “rebuke the devourer”. The Devourer is everything in our world that will destroy our possessions. Traffic accidents, household appliances exploding, unexpected medical bills; these are all examples of the Devourer at work. When we tithe we are recognizing a partnership with God. The person who stops living a self-absorbed life, who tithes in recognition of God’s partnership will find that things just don’t break down as often. The pastor of my church growing up lived on very little and gave much of his financial wealth away. He kept a car running until 250,000 miles. When he got a new car after almost 20 years, his old car died about a month later. The mechanic opened up the engine and found there were almost no piston rings left. It should not have run at all. But God kept it going…he rebuked the Car Devourer.

4. Simplifying our Needs: When you follow Christ, your priorities change. One thing many followers of God find is that they don’t want expensive things or too many things to complicate their lives. A simple follower of God is usually quite content to live simply. This will definitely change a person’s financial standing. John Wesley used to teach that a follower of God needed to work as hard as they can, live as simply as they can to give as much as they can to God’s Work.

5. Work Ethic: Those who follow God with a full dedication often work harder than the average person. For centuries, this has been called the “Protestant Work Ethic”. Hard work almost always impresses those for whom we work and it almost always produces higher returns on our money. Hard working salespeople make more sales. Harder working students get better jobs. The work ethic that comes from the Spirit of God will give a person more ability to produce money…and this will dramatically impact a person’s finances.

6. Sin is Expensive; Righteousness spends Differently: Which person will spend more money: The one who spends a week in Las Vegas, or the person who goes to Yellowstone Park? I am not saying everyone in Yellowstone is righteous, but is hard for me to believe that those who deliberately choose Vegas as a vacation spot are doing it in order to enjoy the Godly life. Let’s face it: Sin can be very costly. Look at addicts, adulterers, thieves, alcoholics, liars, swindlers and the like. Though they may all have moments where they make a lot of money fast, they usually lose it even faster. Most people who live Godly lives never waste their money on vices.

7. We Become God’s Channel: When we seek to use our money for God, he sees that we are good stewards of our money. God loves to use good stewards to get some major things done. If you continue to allow your life to be a channel of God’s work, expect he will give you enough money to get that work done. You will never out-give God.

8. Long-term View Always Pays Off: In the world of investing, it is said that those who invest with an eye to the long-term always do much better than those who invest in the short-term. Long term vision often keeps us from spending foolishly. No one has longer vision than God. The person who plants a tree often will not see that tree grow to its full height. But living in Sacramento, a city of Trees as it is known, I can thank God for the vision of people who planted so many of the downtown trees a century ago. The same is true of finances. The longer a vision you have for finances, the better you will handle it. For instance, if you waste five dollars now (money that could have been invested) it is like wasting $25 over the next 40 years. Keep the long view and understand that God may want us to be frugal to bless future generations and not just the here and now.

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False Beliefs that Can Destroy a Marriage

March 11, 2013

This week, we are featuring the top ten most viewed articles on this blog. Today’s reprint is #8 on that list with over 4,000 hits. It is a two-parter. First part I will post this morning and the second part this evening.

Cathy’s husband wiped his oil-stained hands on the rag beside his workbench. As he came into the house, he realized the rag was getting so dirty there wasn’t enough ‘clean’ on it to sustain another wiping. He saw Cathy reading the newspaper and casually remarked “Remind me to wash all the rags in the garage before Monday.” Cathy dropped the newspaper, narrowed her eyes and stared at him. Then she said, with an acidic tone: “I will have you know I worked hard today. I didn’t get around to the garage after cleaning both cars, wiping little kiddie butts and straightening out the mess with the IRS.”

Within 2 hours, Cathy was in the car headed for her parents house, leaving behind a bewildered husband and two preschoolers. Within two years, they were divorced. Her husband had no idea what hit him.

My wife used to work on a hospital ward devoted to people with emotional challenges. One of her regular patients was a young man who used to have code words to identify “unsafe” people. The problem was, no one knew what the code word of the day was until you said it. He would randomly collect the first word that went through his head. If anyone said that word throughout the day, he would refuse to talk to them for the rest of that day. Nurses and doctors were left to wonder what part of their speech had produced the silence. It might be a simple word like “talk” or something more complicated such as “remember”.

Cathy and this young man in the hospital had exactly the same problem. They exhibited this problem to different degrees, but essentially it is the same problem. Cathy and the patient were both operating on a false premise. The young man’s false belief was that a spoken word could identify a dangerous person. We will discuss Cathy’s false belief at the end of this article –  suffice to say, it is just as real as the young schizophrenic.

The false beliefs we gather to ourselves over the years become like tendrils of kudzu that wind their way around every healthy thought, seeking to choke the life out of them. Nowhere does this show its effects more than marriage. Allow me to quickly summarize several of the most common false beliefs and how they affect husbands and wives. At the end, I will use Cathy to show how the false belief infiltrates a person who would otherwise function quite well in society.

Here then are the most common false beliefs that can ruin a marriage:

  1. Independence: This is the belief that we really don’t need anyone else in life. It has a 100 variations, but they all focus on the self-sufficiency of the individual. This belief prevents a spouse from allowing the other person to get close, to interact on a deep level or to partner in marital goals. Those with Independence beliefs often have separate bank accounts, enjoy much different life pursuits than their partners, stop short of really expressing their needs, are constantly making new friends and discarding older ones and run away when they are asked to make deep commitments to their partner.
  2. Abandonment: A person with abandonment beliefs sees many situations as the springboard for their spouse leaving them. These beliefs are often accompanied by fear and result in both over-accommodating behavior and flashes of rage. The person with abandonment premises will constantly ask their spouse to account for their whereabouts. They will express how insecure they feel about the future. When their spouse criticizes them even moderately, they will say things like “well why don’t you just leave. I know you want to”.
  3. Love based on Performance: This belief says “I will not be loved unless I perform adequately”. Those who hold to this foundation often are overly critical of their spouses, seeking to bring down the performance of another person to elevate themselves. They can become workaholics, alcoholics, clean freaks, clingy, anorexic, bulemic, suicidal, or obsessive-compulsive. Their core idea is that must constantly be doing something to earn or deserve the love they receive from their spouse. It doesn’t help to tell them they are loved –  they won’t really believe it.
  4. Love Will Not Be ThereThere is an equally large group of people who just assume they will not be loved no matter how hard they try. Many of them just give up without really trying. These people will often test their partner by failing in really obvious ways in order to see how the other person will react. This belief can even push them into relationships with people they don’t really care about, just to prove they don’t care if they’re not loved. In addition, people with this belief may question their spouses to death, showing a total lack of trust.
  5. Alone: There is a common belief with many people that they are going to be alone. This is similar to the abandonment belief, but it has a nasty twist. They don’t really think a person is going to leave; they are more fatalistic than that. They often fear their spouse will die, or will be swept away in an unavoidable situation. They therefore go through life with few boundaries, allowing their partners to do anything they want to them, fearing the relationship is simply on borrowed time.
  6. Shame: This is a simple belief, but deadly. It is the core understanding a person carries that there is something wrong with them. When they were children, it came out as “I am stupid”, “I am going to be beat up”, “I can’t ever get this right”. In adulthood, this person often allows their spouse to find many things wrong with them, accepting blame when they have done little wrong. Shame beliefs foster such behavior as closet drinking, sexual deviancy, serial adultery, lying, self-mutilation, depression, anxiety disorders and even violence.
  7. Helplessness: These beliefs (and there are many) come from situations in childhood where a person was treated unfairly and given no recourse to bring closure to the issue. This unfair treatment leads a person to conclude they will never get a fair shake, and therefore they need to protect themselves. Helpless beliefs can result in adultery, pornography obsession, eating disorders, obsessive drug use, phobias, prostitution, violence, angry speech, etc. These beliefs often result in the worst of behaviors, since the behaviors are often ways of bringing a sense of “control” back into their lives.
  8. Escape: These beliefs focus on the only way to deal with reality –  run away from it. Every time life gets hard, this inner belief is triggered and the person finds some way to get away from it all. This often cuts the other spouse out of the picture and hurts them deeply. Most people with this belief abuse substances or use sex as an escape. Compulsive masturbation, compulsive gambling and spending are often seen.

There are other beliefs than these, but I have found this list to be the most common. But every person brings their peculiar beliefs into a marriage. When two people come into a marriage relationship with false beliefs, this mixes up a soup of disaster. Let me show you how it worked with Cathy.

She had a belief that no matter how hard she tried, everyone who mattered to her would eventually leave. You would think this sprung from a traumatic childhood experience, but the roots were very simple. Her two older sisters were both hippies and moved out of the house quite young. They had been best buddies to Cathy and now she was the only child left at home. Her mother reacted to her oldest daughters leaving by drinking gin every night until she passed out. Dad dealt with his wife’s inebriation by working 60 hour weeks. Cathy spent most of her days quite alone with her thoughts.

In high school, she made up for this sense of being abandoned by trying to over-compensate. She became hyper-flirtatious and joined every club at school. But because she feared being dumped, she often got clingy with both boy and girls. The result of this clinginess was that people didn’t want to have anything to do with her. Thus, they fulfilled her fear and abandoned her. This just served to reinforce her fear. In order to overcome this, she tried even harder to get people to stay with her. With her girlfriends, she was known as the one who would help out in every way. She spent her own money and bought gifts, helped with homework, staying up half the night sewing cheerleader outfits for her friends. With boys, she basically allowed them to take any sexual liberties they wanted. Yet, despite this extra effort, people still got tired of how hard she was trying and rejected her.

When she married her husband Ben, she really wanted to overcome this. She knew she tried too hard, so she sought to back off and give him breathing space. But her fears kept growing. So often she would get angry and say “Why don’t you just leave? I know you’re going to leave”. Her fear led her to get violent at times, hitting Ben in the head. She sometimes even took out her anger on the little girls.

The day she left, her fear of abandonment had been acute for weeks before. She determined she was going to solve this fear by praying every morning and then serving her husband in love. She had been reading a few books on Christian marriage and she read that if you serve in love it will cast out fear. Now, that is a good principle, but it was no match for her false belief. For a week or more, she tried to anticipate Ben’s every need. But it was exhausting. By the end of the work week, she was an emotional wreck.

When Ben came in and innocently mentioned the grease rag, it echoed against her deeply-ingrained fear. He had one more demand she couldn’t meet. Something inside her snapped and she realized her fear had only been submerged in her cleaning and service. Now, it came rushing out with a fury. Even though Ben had not been criticizing her at all, that is what she heard. False beliefs often affect our hearing, causing us to interpret all communication according to the matrix of the belief. Cathy left and never returned. Her example is repeated millions of times a year, by both men and women.

Examine your own life. Can you see evidence of these sort of beliefs?

There is an answer, and it’s quite straight-forward. More about that in the next article.

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Sex and the Single Christian

February 1, 2013

parenthood-2x11-alex-haddie-cap-09The other night, my wife and I caught an episode of “Parenthood” on Netflix before bed. If you know the show, it’s the episode where 16-year old Haddie admits to her mother that she and her 19-year old boyfriend are having sex. Mom panics. Mom tells Dad. Dad panics. Dad and Mom agree that Haddie needs to be warned to use contraception (“not just the pill, but condoms as well”).* See Note at the bottom.

Then Haddie’s parents, Adam and Christina, look at each other and say “What else can we say to her?” In their minds, they both remember they had sex the first time before high school was over and it didn’t kill them. So they decide to give Haddie the ‘responsible warnings’ and move on past it.

I told my wife that many Christians we know would have been scandalized by that episode. They would have risen up out of their chairs, incensed that the parents did not offer any moral assistance or guidance. They would have observed it is difficult for parents to give children a moral compass when they didn’t have one at the same age.

But I’ve been wondering lately at some of the messages we send single Christians about sex. Many Christian book authors and bloggers are wondering the same thing. For instance, Sarah Bessey in an article titled “I am Damaged Goods” tells about a Church youth rally she attended:

I was nineteen years old and crazy in love with Jesus when that preacher told an auditorium I was “damaged goods” because of my sexual past. He was making every effort to encourage this crowd of young adults to “stay pure for marriage.” He was passionate, yes, well-intentioned, and he was a good speaker, very convincing indeed.

And he stood up there and shamed me, over and over and over again.

Oh, he didn’t call me up to the front and name me. But he stood up there and talked about me with such disgust, like I couldn’t be in that real-life crowd of young people worshipping in that church. I felt spotlighted and singled out amongst the holy, surely my red face announced my guilt to every one.

He passed around a cup of water and asked us all to spit into it. Some boys horked and honked their worst into that cup while everyone laughed. Then he held up that cup of cloudy saliva from the crowd and asked, “Who wants to drink this?!”

And every one in the crowd made barfing noises, no way, gross!

Read the entire article here.

At the end of the article, she concludes:

“No matter what that preacher said that day, no matter how many purity balls are thrown with sparkling upper-middle-class extravagance, no matter the purity rings and the purity pledges, no matter the judgemental Gospel-negating rhetoric used with the best of intentions, no matter the “how close is too close?” serious conversations of boundary-marking young Christians, no matter the circumstances of your story, you are not disqualified from life or from joy or from marriage or from your calling or from a healthy and wonderful lifetime of sex because you had – and, heaven forbid, enjoyed – sex before you were married.”

If you’re like me, you start to respond “yeah, but…” and then trail away.

If the statistics are correct, 80% of Christians have had sex before marriage. And if the anecdotal evidence from many Christian counselors is accurate, pre-marital sex does not ruin your sex life in marriage; and conversely, maintaining virginity does not guarantee you will have an enjoyable sexual relationship with the person you eventually marry.

Here is the bottom line: God-followers are running out of the stock answers for why Christians shouldn’t have sex before marriage. For the past twenty centuries, we have fallen back onto these:

1. No one will want to marry  you if you’ve had sex before marriage (almost always applied to women).

2. God will judge you for having sex.

3. You will open yourself up to demonic attack.

4. You can get pregnant (women), STD’s (men and women), mental illness.

5. Society will reject you (once again, women).

6. Your future marriage will be doomed to failure before it starts.

As you can see, most of these no longer apply in the twenty-first century. Contraceptives have gone a long way to eliminate the scare of pregnancy and STD’s. Western society no longer punishes or segregates those who have sex. Marriages don’t seem to be ruined by people who have premarital sex (any more than those who got married as virgins).  And perhaps most noticeable, Christian singles have sex and no lightning from the sky falls to smote them. Indeed, it seems like most of the reasons we have told each other for abstinence no longer seem as scary or applicable.

Chanel Graham, writing on her experience with Christian singles in New York City, observes,

When I moved to New York City in the years following college, I was devastated to learn how many of my Christian friends were regularly hooking up at bars and sleeping with boyfriends and girlfriends with no plans for marriage. And more than that, they didn’t seem to feel bad about it. The sub-cultural sentiment was that abstinence is worth preaching through the college years as parental influence wanes and students bumble through the early years of adulthood. But for twenty and thirty-something Christians, for mature adults who had yet to find the one and had been battling hormones for a decade-plus, waiting was child’s play. Celibacy among my Christian peer group was viewed as cute and commendable, but certainly not crucial.

Since few single Christians are willing to abstain from sex forever, what should be the next dialogue for the Church and single Christians?

I had a close friend tell me a few months ago that there are no valid reasons and we should give up telling them to abstain. I didn’t agree with him then or now, but I admit the reasons are not as obvious as they used to be in days gone by.

The easiest way to put this is we should not have sex before marriage because God does not want us to. That’s the easy answer. But that just begs two more questions:

1.What does God say in the Bible about pre-marital sex?

2. What happens to unmarried Christians if they do have sex?

So let’s dive into these two incredibly relevant questions.

So when did God first address issues concerning pre-marital sex? God didn’t say anything to Adam and Eve or their children. This is noteworthy, since it is obvious there was a lot of sex taking place in the early days of man’s existence: There was a whole lot of begetting going on…and apparently, it was all okay. God never mentioned sex to Noah before the flood or to Noah and his family after the flood – other than “Be fruitful and multiply”. And apparently, all this was okay too.

We see the same pattern with Abraham. Abraham even engages in extra-marital sexuality (see the relationship between he and Hagar, his wife’s maid). God never says a word about Abraham’s sex life. Nor does God intervene with Isaac and Jacob. Jacob married a couple of sisters and has sex with both of their maids as well (with his wives’ permission…they had a little bit of a sibling baby competition going). Still, God does not say anything.

With Jacob’s children, a lot of extra-marital sex happens. Probably the strangest incident involves Judah and his daughter-in-law, who gets pregnant by him by pretending to be a prostitute. At this point, God is still silent over the entire issue of what sexuality is allowed and what isn’t.

Thrown into the mix however, is a poignant scene where Sodom and Gomorrah are incinerated…most likely because of their homosexuality. However, we’re not even sure if that was the entire issue (Ezekiel also points out the sin of greed as the partial reason for Sodom’s demise).

So where does God start talking about extra-marital sex? In the giving of the Law to Moses, God begins to lay down some boundaries regarding sexuality. In Exodus 22, Leviticus 19, the same set of limitations are placed on sex. They were not to have sex with relatives. They were forbade from homosexuality and bestiality. They were not to engage in sexuality related to idol worship or group sex. But in no case is premarital sexuality addressed. Nowhere in the Mosaic Law is there a prohibition against premarital sex.

If you peruse the rest of the Old Testament, there is a complete absence of prohibition on pre-marital sex. In fact, there are many commentators who point to the Song of Solomon as a tacit endorsement of enjoying sex before marriage. I do not agree with most of their assessments, but it is clear that Song of Solomon does nothing to show the dangers of sex outside of marriage.

In the prophets, however, we get the first glimpse into God’s true heart on the matter. I need to qualify this to point out we only get a glimpse of God’s biggest purposes in sexuality. All of the relevant passages say the same general thing, so I will just deal with one of them.

Isaiah 23:17 (NIV): “At the end of seventy years, the Lord will deal with Tyre. She will return to her lucrative prostitution and will ply her trade with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth.”

The word for “prostitution” here is a word which refers to “fornication”, most commonly defined as sex outside of marriage. In every case where the prophets mention this word it is in reference to two things: People having sex related to idol worship (forbidden in Deuteronomy) or as a picture of nations courting other nations for protection.

In other words, there is no absolute verse in the Old Testament that does more than hint that sex outside of marriage is wrong. However, the references made to this sexual practice through the prophets do show that God does not think highly of sex outside of marriage. I can just see some Christian singles wanting to stop right there and be satisfied that their sex life is just fine as far as God is concerned. But please, keep reading.

There is much in the New Testament that is worthy of study. But it is not as straight-forward as parents might like when talking to their kids. Take for example,

Matthew 15:19: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

The inner heart of man can conceive of many shades of evil thoughts…one of those is called “immorality”. It is a Greek word that sometimes means adultery. However, because “adultery” is used right before it in this list, it cannot mean that. The other meanings of this word include fornication, group sex and idol/temple related sex. There is no reason to believe that Jesus would be referring to either group sex or pagan temple sex, for neither of these were practiced in Israel at that time.

Therefore, he is referring to sex outside of marriage in whatever form it happens. And in this verse, Jesus is not talking about the act, but the heart that conceives these things. The core of a heart that wants sex outside of marriage is called “Evil”. The Greek word there is Poneros. Though it means ‘evil’ the root of the word means “that which causes pain”. These are painful things. It is not that a person is called evil at their core, but that these thoughts lead to pain. Murder is obvious, as is adultery. But Jesus lumps immorality in with the rest. Why? It doesn’t say here. But it is pretty clear this is not God’s best plan.

Years ago, I had a couple of parents drag their 16-year old daughter in to see me so I could “talk some sense into her”. She had just admitted to her mother that she had sex with her boyfriend. She had not become pregnant and didn’t know why her parents were making such a big fuss. I was furious inside that they would totally shame their daughter in front of me. (Later, I did sit them down to tell them how much they owed their daughter an apology). But the conversation I want to relate at this point happened with the girl.

She was 16. She admitted the details of the sexual encounter and how badly she felt about it all. In fact, she looked sick as she told me what happened. What began as a make-out session quickly led to sex. Her boyfriend talked her into going “all the way”. She was not sure what was happening; and then it was all over.

She felt horrible and hated her boyfriend. It ruined their relationship from that point forward. Most of her questions for me had to do with why anyone would ever want to have sex. It hurt, she felt betrayed and everyone “hated” her afterward – including her boyfriend.

I assured her she had experienced one of the worst-case scenarios regarding sex. If she were to sit down with 100 women who have had sex before marriage, most would have related a better story than hers. Most would also have said that the experience was not everything they had hoped for.

But the key thing she realized after several counseling sessions is her early entrance into the sexual arena was painful in so many ways. This is the idea inherent calling extra-marital sex “poneros”…it can be very painful at so many levels. In order to see what this really means, we need to look at the most detailed explanation of God’s view on sexuality, found in 1 Corinthians 6 and 7.

First, it is no surprise that a letter to the Church at Corinth should contain clear teaching on sexuality. Even by the somewhat “loose” moral standards of the ancient Greek and Roman world, Corinth stood out as an extreme place. Any and all sexual practices were flouted by the Corinthians. Orgies were relatively common and temple prostitution abounded. Women who went out in public usually had to cover their entire head so as not to be confused with a temple prostitute. (Note: This is the point Paul will make in 1 Corinthians 11 when he warns Christian women not to go out with their heads uncovered).

But in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul has several points to make about immorality of all kinds. We can safely assume this includes all types of extra-marital sex. Here are the highlights of what he says:

1. The life we live in the Kingdom of God does not fit well with sexual immorality. – 1 Cor. 6:9-10,

“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

All of these activities hinder the sanctifying work of the Spirit in our lives and stunt our spiritual growth. The verb tenses here mean that each of these sins are ongoing problems, not just one-time experimentation. This verse isn’t talking about someone losing their virginity but rather a person who has sexual encounters as a regular part of their lives. The more someone indulges unhealthy, painful activities the more it blocks the work of God in their lives. The Kingdom of God is not primarily about salvation but more about the Sanctifying work of the Spirit.

So the first thing we learn here about immorality is it blocks the work of the Spirit and thus the working of the Kingdom of God in our lives. Sexual immorality causes a person to walk more and more focused on pleasure and renders them less capable of seeing the godly path in front of them.

2. Our physical bodies are not the only part of us involved with the sexual act. In 1 Cor. 6:13-17, Paul says,

 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit”.

Even though Holy Spirit is spirit, his presence in our lives affects our bodies also. Romans 8:11 affirms this:

“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”

Our bodies are somehow affected by sexual immorality. I do not know how or to what extent this happens. This is not judgment per se. No one should say that God sends disease or disaster on us because of sexual immorality. More to the point, the act of sexual immorality blocks the healing flow of the Spirit and therefore blocks some of that life he is giving to our mortal bodies.

Also, we are reminded that our lives are given over to Christ when we become a Christ-follower. In these verses, Paul wonders what happens if a person joined Christ to a prostitute. This person is reminded that we are one with Jesus in spirit. Therefore, there is some connection deeper than the physical that goes on between two people when they are sexually joined.

This perhaps is a hint toward the deeper meaning of sex and the deeper danger of sexual immorality. If the physical joining is also the beginning of a deeper connection between two people, then casual, flippant sex is dangerous. It potentially creates bonds between people that are harder to break than non -sexual friendships.

3. Sexual immorality causes us to sin against ourselves: 1 Cor. 6:18-20 puts it this way:

“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

If you commit sexual immorality – i.e. sex outside of marriage – you probably hurt no one more than yourself. It doesn’t describe how we hurt ourselves, but I think we can imagine. Our lives are a delicate balance of the physical and spiritual. We know that any kind of psychological pressures and failures can wreak havoc on our bodies. When someone is involved in sexual relationships that are less than God’s ideal, it will have some emotional effect. And this emotional effect will take some type of toll on the body.

I’m not talking about superstitious things like hair on your knuckles. I am not talking nonsense like those who claim AIDS is a judgment for homosexuality in our world. I think we rob our bodies of energy and compromise our immune system by creating deep sexual bonds with other people before we’re ready.

All of this is saying that sex is more complicated than two people joining their reproductive organs together. You don’t even have to be a Christian to know that. Our emotions are so heightened when sex is involved. When a couple goes from being friends to being sexual, immediately the stakes are higher. What might have provoked mild jealousy in the friendship stage, now causes huge emotional reactions in the sexual stage. How many people can handle that kind of stressor in a relationship that has yet to be fully defined?

The value of waiting until marriage for sex is that it brings those stressors under the boundaries of a covenant relationship. At least in theory, two married people are required to work through any problems they have in their sexual relationship. That is not the case with teenagers. Haddie and her boyfriend had sex and their relationship inexorably changed (as it always does). Eventually, the escalation of their relationship into sexuality was a prime factor in why they split up a few months later.

Paul in Chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians concludes the discussion on premarital sex this way: “Now for the matters you wrote about:

“It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”  But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.

Paul does not see sex as inevitable. There is nothing in God’s mind or Paul’s that concludes everyone has to have sex. It is not a right or an absolute need. However, Paul also recognizes that some people will go through life eternally distracted by the opposite sex if they don’t get intimate. So he proposes this is why God created marriage. It is a place where sex can be bound to a covenant. It makes life a little less complicated, a little less painful and somewhat sexually satisfying.

I qualified all of the above statements because as long as sex exists in this world, it will be the point of so many problems and contentions. That’s why Paul probably advises to stay away from it if you can. If you can’t, help sexual pressures out by putting it in the boundaries of marriage. This is the better way.

If you have had sex before marriage, you have not necessarily ruined a future marriage. You have not become a candidate for God’s wrath. You are not a dirty person. You have not given away your best gift. You simply have a choice what you want to do from here.

I believe there is a best way.  Most people today are not finding that way…getting lost in the vagaries of sexual experimentation. But, if you don’t find it at first, keep looking for it. Certainly, don’t allow the enemy to our souls to discourage you if you are no longer a virgin. Virginity is not the point at all. The point is that we have to choose each day how we want to walk with God.

The Bible and the Spirit of God will help you.

*[Endnote: I am concerned that the writers of “Parenthood” did not use the plot of the show to address the illegality of 16-year old Haddie and 19-year old Alex having a sexual relationship. In California – where the show is set – this is called Statutory Rape. This is irresponsible by the show. Teen viewers may not realize they are watching something illegal if someone doesn’t point it out. My wife told me she has been informed by the authorities (as a school nurse and thus a mandated reporter) that they will not enforce the Statutory Rape law when the sex is consensual and the parties are this close in age. My point is, it is irresponsible of the show not to address this issue, especially since they were willing to bring up the issue of underage sex].

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