Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 17 April 2018

Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.   1 Thessalonians 4:8 (NIV).

Yesterday we talked about who goes to hell; do atheists or suicides go to hell?  You’ll remember that we talked about how we shouldn’t try to judge the heart because only God can – only God has the right to – judge the heart. Remember that idea when we ‘go there’ today.

In the first part of 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul was talking about sexual sin, about keeping the body of Christ sexually pure.   It only makes sense that, if we as God’s church, have God’s Holy Spirit living within us, we should want to keep His dwelling place – our hearts, minds and bodies – sexually clean.   We want to keep ourselves pure and clean because that Spirit is the soul of God making His home in ours.  Foul language?   Stop using it.   Careless anger?   Lay it down at the Cross.   Sexual sins, sexual activities that aren’t within a marriage?   Retrain your brain and walk in a different direction.

We are to do these things because God lives within us.   When we say, instead, “I know better,” we are denying the presence of God in our lives.   We’re denying His Spirit and denying the truth of everything He tells us.  God gave us the gift of sex to be intensely intimate with another follower of His with whom we’ve vowed to live and love for all our lives.   Sex in this manner is to be a way of worship, a way of being as close as two people can be, joined in a union of intercourse and a communion of a most personal faith.   A look, a touch, a few minutes of stolen pleasure throw all this out of whack.

It isn’t our place to judge God’s intention in all this, only to accept it as ‘the way it is.’  Yet it’s also ‘the way it is’ by remembering that His Spirit really is in us, really is part of us.  Consequently, it isn’t our place to judge other people whose morals don’t align with our own.   It isn’t our place because God lives within us.  The teenage girl whose skirt is WAAAAY to short:  don’t judge her.   They guy down the hall who gets high every night:   don’t judge him.  The uncle (or father or mother or aunt) whose politics you can’t abide:   don’t judge.   We are not to judge each other because that’s God’s role, God’s right.   To reassure us that we don’t need to usurp HIm, the Spirit of Jesus abides in each one of us who follows Him.

Next time you ogle the girl, peruse The Chive, or watch pay TV after midnight, remember these words and remember the Spirit within you.

For further reading:   Ezekiel 36:27, Romans 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:22, Galatians 4:6, 1 John 3:24, 1 Thessalonians 4:9.

Thank You, Lord, for the miracle You give of living in me.

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Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 10 April 2018

…and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before.   1 Thessalonians 4:6 (NIV).

In this verse, Paul is specifically talking about sex but you can easily extrapolate the verse to apply to all sin.   You’ll recall that the first verses of 1 Thessalonians 4 called the Thessalonians to live sexually pure lives, to use the gift of sex in Godly ways that will glorify Him.   Then comes this verse that identifies one of the chief effects of our sins, whether they’re adultery or murder.   It begs an obvious question.

How do you imagine our choices affect each other?

If I speed past you in my car, I’ve affected you, probably made you mad.   If you open the door for a stranger at Target, you’ve affected them, probably pleasing them.   If your child colors nice pictures all over your yearbook, they have affected you, and I won’t speculate how you feel about it.   You get the picture.   Things we say and do affect each other.

Imagine how you’d feel if someone slept with your spouse.   Imagine how you’d feel if someone you loved had knowingly conspired to deceive you about some terrible thing that cut to the heart of your relationship.   Imagine the betrayal and hurt.

Imagine how all these things must grieve Jesus, who showed us his better, most excellent way.  Do you think He sometimes feels betrayed by our sins?  I imagine He must, so thank God for His holy Spirit of forgiveness.

Leviticus 25 said it best:  “Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God.”   Here, fear of God is both respect and dread.   God spoke those words through Moses over a thousand years before Paul.  He said them to tell His people that He wanted them to revere Him by revering each other.   Treat each other with respect, kindness, and deference.   Part of that involves recognizing where we shouldn’t wrong each other.   Don’t speed by each other on the road.   Don’t hold grudges.   Don’t bed your neighbor’s spouse.  And remember that God is watching.

These commands weren’t given because God is a killjoy who doesn’t understand sex.  They were given to us as a reflection of His love, as a way to teach us how to put loving boundaries around our behavior so that others might love God fully too.  Faith in Jesus is an adventure in loving Him by living life.   The only “don’ts” in Christianity involve things that can hurt us in some way.   In this verse, God cautions that, while we hurt each other, He is aware…and “woke.”   There is a better way.

Perhaps Paul might agree.   Imagine that.

For further reading:   Leviticus 25:17, 1 Corinthians 6:8, Deuteronomy 32:35, Psalm 94:1, 1 Corinthians 12:32, 1 Thessalonians 4:7.

Lord, teach me to better follow You, reflect You, honor You.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 9 April 2018

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.   1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 (NIV).

Let’s hone in on ideas that are key to understanding sexuality.   It is God’s will that we be made holy.   It is God’s will that we avoid sexual sins.   It is God’s will that we each learn to control our biological sexuality.  It is God’s will that we continue to know Him in this way.   God wills that we use sex in Godly ways.

Re-read the verses, then please re-read my take on them because these verses put the world at our feet.   I’ll go further:  they make our mastery of any addiction possible.   What God wills in this world cannot be denied.

I’ve said it before:   I worshipped sex.   It’s part of the reason why I spent so much time in affairs.   It was immaturity and sin.   I put sex on a pedestal, mistakenly judging it as the ultimate expression of love in a relationship.   Over time, I came to see it as just something you do when you’re with someone.   I bought into the cheap grace of our society and turned a blind eye to the damage my selfish views did to other people.   My wife paid for it.   My kids paid for it.   My friends, my church, my co-workers, even ‘the other women’ paid for my selfishness.

And that’s part of the sin delusion, you see.   It’s not about me.   It’s about Jesus.   I didn’t, we didn’t pay for my selfishness:   Jesus did.   He paid for ALL of it, including the guilt, the nagging regrets, and the emotional regurgitation every time my pet sins nag at my psyche.

The key to getting back on the straight and narrow was Jesus.   Without understanding that He and only He had done EVERYTHING I ever needed to change, I would still be mired in my immaturity and adultery.   And let’s be clear:   being in line with Jesus opens you to more of Satan’s attacks.   He still tempts, he still tries.  You need to resist in Christ.

Paul was teaching his friends that God willed for them to be sexually faithful, sexually pure, and humanly capable of mastering the same biological and emotional drives that face us now.  It was God’s will, God’s plan, God’s determination that His people not be plagued by these attacks, that they revere Him in sex.  If you’re suffering, then there’s hope for you.   The first step in your recovery is going to Jesus and submitting to Him taking control.   What Jesus wills for you won’t be denied.  Without taking that step, you’re stuck.

For further reading:   1 Thessalonians 4:6.

Lord Jesus, empower Yourself through me to control my sexuality.   Help me to worship You through this gift.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 5 April 2018

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality.   1 Thessalonians 4:3 (NIV).

Buckle up, my friend.   It’s gonna be bumpy for the next few days because Paul is saying, with the authority of Jesus, some uncomfortable things.   He’s speaking in love, but he’s saying things that are unpopular, things we don’t want to hear.   They’re convicting, and you might be convicted.   Your first impulse might be offense, or even anger, so buckle up and stay on the ride because it’s worthwhile.

One of the dangers of “chunking down” Bible verses is taking them out of context.   It’s a dangerous thing to randomly pick a verse, read it, and draw huge conclusions from it even though every verse in Scripture is God’s real word.   So, here, it’s wise to remember that, in many of Paul’s letters, he reminds his friends to flee from sexual immorality.  Run away when you’re tempted.  Sexual purity is a theme in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (just to name a few), and anyone who has remotely heard of Genesis has heard of Sodom and Gomorrah:  the ultimate lesson on sexual immorality.

Every ancient culture except Israel focused in one way or another on sex, including idolatry of sex, sexual activities, or fertility.   When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he wrote to people familiar with Eros, Aprhrodite, and the lascivious practices of Roman worship.  He reminded them that Christ gave Himself as the bridegroom for His bride, the church.  Is it surprising, then, that God asked His bride to be virginally pure for that Bridegroom?

How do you think that worked out for the Thessalonians?

They were people just like us.  They thought about and focused on sex as much as we do.   They had emotions and sexual needs.  Paul cautioned them that they were to be sanctified, set apart and consecrated as holy.   The first way to do that was by changing their behaviors on sex.   Commit to monogamy; end adultery; save your sexual activity for your marriage; retrain your brain from thinking about sex and lust and the idolatry of it.   Let Jesus do work His way in you.  Paul’s command is to revere faith in Him and the gift of life He gave, and it’s awful hard to revere Christ when you’re (literally) screwing around with someone.

I’ve spent a lot of my life cherishing sex, even worshipping it.   I’ve misused it and that caused problems for me and others.   Paul is speaking to me here, cautioning me that Jesus beckons me to a better way.   Thank God He did this because you and I need His help if we are going to master this emotional, biological and even spiritual drive in our lives in a world determined to misuse it.

For further reading:   1 Corinthians 7:2-9, 1 Thessalonians 4:3.

Lord, forgive me for the ways I’ve misused Your gift of sex.   Help me to revere You through my sex life.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 November 2017

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

If you’ve never had an affair, please take my advice:   don’t.  Infidelity is its own kind of jail.   If you are like me and you let it, it will keep you in that jail forever.   Without sharing too much, I’ve done this, and it is, for me, a unique kind of self-imposed torture.

For years, I invested my heart, then my body, then my life, in other people.   You don’t need to have sex to have an affair and because that’s the case, I’ve had plenty.  I poured myself into other people who weren’t my wife.   I cheated without ever touching them, and I cheated later by touching and being touched as well.  That’s a prison; it’s a jail that you lock yourself into.  It may start innocuously, and it may start as just real friendship, but it’s too easy to go farther.  If you get yourself into an affair, it’s because (at some point) you let yourself fall for the “what about me” angle.   When you’re in that cycle, you don’t see how you’re hurting your significant other, or the person with whom you’re cheating, and all the people around them and yourself.  You don’t have the right to make the promises you do, and you don’t have the right to do the things you’re doing, but you do them anyway.  It hardens your heart, and it’s a small step beyond that to move into unrepentance.   “I deserve to be happy” becomes your self-defeating mantra, and that can be torture.  It’s as if God turned me over to the consequence of my actions…in reality, THAT is what I deserved, and it is painful.  My conscience still bothers me for all the people I hurt and it has been years now since I did these things.   I’ve ebbed and flowed in my emotions, yet even today I sometimes find it hard to forgive myself for things I’ve done.

Yet I also know of someone who is forgiving.   Someone who doesn’t tolerate these sins but who is so intimately affected by them.  I know of someone who rejects these sins and focuses on building up instead of hammering with guilt.   There is someone who is willing to forgive things done in the past and move forward in building something new; someone who believes in turning from sinful behavior and growing into someone different, someone better, someone who can live more honestly.

That’s my wife.   I could have been describing Jesus because Jesus is her model.   Where she could have permanently held my sins against me, she chose to help me change and become someone different.   Her example became my example; her embracing of God helped me to do the same.   The words you read today came in large part because of that.   In the most supremely Christian and loving moment of my life, she reached out to me and said “God’s not done with us yet” and made all the difference in the world, this when she had left me, when I was mired in the consequences of adultery, and when I had destroyed all she held dear.   She didn’t have to come back and I didn’t deserve it.   She chose to.

When you’re a Christian and you confess adultery, most of your peers treat you as if you had AIDS or the plague, especially your married friends.   It’s shocking how quickly people pull out of your life when you cross that particular line, and it’s shocking how they avoid you after.   It’s almost as if they are worried that, if they’re around you, they’ll catch the disease.   Maybe there’s some justifiable fear there, and certainly there’s justifiable treatment if the motivation is to educate someone’s heart back towards Christ.  Yet just the verse before today’s, the writer implores us to empathize with those “who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”   Now he reminds us to do that but also to keep our sex lives pure.  After my the days of my affairs, my wife and I became close friends with a group of people who became ‘our posse.’  We talk openly; we laugh and cry; we share the Gospel; we enjoy wine and fellowship.   ‘Our people’ know our story and accept us anyway.

It’s because of the intimacy.   God wired us to be intimate with Him.   He gave us fellowship to model how He wants us to relate.   And He gave us sex to share physically, emotionally, perfectly as a reflection for how He feels for us in a personal, singular, unique relationship with just one other person.   Joining, pleasure, being out of control, sharing our most personal selves, vulnerability, love:   all those things and more are some of what we embrace when we make love.  God intended it to be a gift for us to share with another person in a relationship blessed and covenanted by & with Him.  The writer reminds us to remember that, to love our brothers and sisters when they fall but to not fall ourselves in doing so.   The penalty for un-repentance is dire.

If you find yourself in an affair, even if you’ve fallen in love, end it.   If you’re tempted, back away.   If you’re walking down a path that could end in bed, walk a different way.  If you don’t, at some point the person you see in the mirror will wish they had.   And when that happens, remember the Lord who beckons you back to a better way.

For further reading:  Malachi 2:15, 1 Corinthians 7:38, Deuteronomy 22:22, 1 Corinthians 6:9, Revelation 22:15.

Lord, forgive my sexual sins, and teach me again to forgive myself.   Help those tempted by these things, and be with us as we recover.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 3 October 2017

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.  Hebrews 12, verses 16-17.

If you were just skimming through the verses today, you might blaze past those first seven words:  “see that no one is sexually immoral.”  They jump out at you, but then most of them talks about Esau, presenting him as another example of immorality.  But did you know that the Bible says in over 25 different verses that we are to not be sexually immoral?   Most of those are in the New Testament, some of them (like Matthew 5:28) spoken directly by Jesus Himself.   Sexual behavior is something God wants us to understand in His way.

Now, I’m not here to preach to you or talk you down for your sexual sins.   You’ve got them; so have I.   For years, I put sex on a pedestal, thinking it was the thing you did if you wanted to show someone you cared for them.  That’s true, but it’s also cheap.   It’s that kind of thinking that gets you quickly in the sack, unless you were teenage me.   For years I had a low opinion of myself, and throughout school I only had one really serious relationship.   The whole “goin out” thing didn’t go for me.   Or at least the local girls didn’t.   By the time I finally did have sex, I didn’t know a thing about it, only that it felt physically great and emotionally torturous at the same time. I struggled with sexual identity, wanting to be attractive to the opposite sex but feeling that (no pun intended) I somehow didn’t measure up, that nobody would want me.  I kept sex up on that pedestal and in actuality valued it as “my right” or just something you do.   No wonder affairs resulted.

Asking for a “do-over” is usually a fool’s game.   We rarely get them in life, and I believe that’s a blessing from God.  He wants us to live in the here and now, relying on Him for our guidance in everything.   Yet if He ever asked me what do-over I’d like, I’d ask Him for a chance to re-do my attitude about sex.   I’d want the attitude the 51 year old Dave has to be the one 16 year old Dave lives by.   It’s not to be prudish:   it’s to seek God’s wisdom.   Middle-aged me looks at sex as a gift instead of just something physical or something to worship.

You know that sex is intended for marriage.   It is indeed intended to be the ultimate expression of caring for someone:   someone you’re committed to before God.   God made us as men and women to complement each other in how we live, including between the sheets.   He intended for physical union to be an expression of our relationship with each other and even with Him.  He intended it for procreation, for pleasure, for intimacy, for physicality, for love.   I know that in my own life I haven’t often asked God what He thought of my sexual life, of what I should think about sex.   If I could ask for that do-over, I’d want more of God’s input, more of His heart in how I give my heart and body to the woman He created just for me.

God wants us to value His gift of sex, to cherish how we take our pleasure from it by cherishing who we have sex with.   There is no “free love” and sex always carries emotional and even spiritual connotations.   God wants us to value those, so He commands us to steer clear from the easy morality that is, in fact, immorality.  That’s why the Bible mentions it so often.  Sex outside of marriage cheapens something that God gave us as an expression of the pleasure it is to be in union with Him.

Where yesterday we were talking about how to not be a bitter root (and thus abandon God’s peace), wouldn’t it be a thing of wonder if we all sought out God’s heart when we look at each other with more than just a passing interest?   My wife is hooked on watching shows about the Duggar and Bates families.   If you don’t know much about them, they’re very faith-based and live their lives by that faith.   One of the things these large families have taught their kids is the lost art of Godly courtship.   Of waiting for marriage to share any kind of physical pleasure, even a first kiss.   In a time and age when new TV shows like “The Deuce” seem to reach for the lowest sexual denominator, I find that refreshing.   These families live their lives in a way I wish I had.   I believe, perhaps, that I still would have chosen the wife I did because I believe she’s the woman God created specifically for me.   Yet perhaps our path to deeper intimacy wouldn’t have been as rocky or as full of heartbreak and hurt.

And on that note, tomorrow let’s talk about Esau.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 6:18, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, Hebrews 13:4, Matthew 5:28, Ephesians 5:5, Genesis 25:29-34, Genesis 27:30-40, .

My Lord, thank You for sex.   Thank You for opening my eyes to how You view it.   Help me to cherish this gift and to share it thankfully with my spouse.  

Practical Proverbial, the Ten Commandments, 22 May 2014

You shall not commit adultery. Exodus chapter 20, verse 14.

This one is hard to write. If you’ve read this blog for any time, you’ve heard me talk about my affairs. To be honest, I try to not live with regrets.   It’s better to let God take them over, to let go of them and live in forgiveness instead.   But I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t regret the affairs.

Adultery is idolatry is lying is stealing is dishonor is coveting is hatred. It starts with idolatry, putting yourself first instead of Jesus or those closest to you. Unfaithfulness starts in the heart and it starts with that thought of “what about me?”   Me first; my needs; I need this.   Let’s be real:   not all self-needs are wrong, especially if you’re abused, used, or hurt by someone else.   But when you put yourself before anything else, the idolatry leads to the coveting.   That leads to the lies, believing the lies you tell and those told to you.  

Even when you live in forgiveness, you know there’s a part of you that did this thing that cut someone to the core. You did that thing that ripped apart the fabric of your relationship at its most fundamental level.   I know people who step out on their spouses and can live with it.   But without forgiveness, I honestly don’t understand how they do it.

Adultery is more than just sex.   That’s the most visible and visceral part of it.   But make no mistake: you don’t have to take your clothes off to cheat on someone. And when you do that, there is regret.   Self-loathing, anguish, regret, hurt, pain: they’re all there in the eyes of the one you love most, and they’re also there when you’re alone in your thoughts.

The only thing that can change your heart, that can help you truly turn away from this pattern of destruction, is the love of Jesus Christ. Repenting means responsibility.   It means baring what you’ve done and committing fully to Him, and to the good mercy of Him and those you’ve wronged. There are many reasons why people do it, and, to be honest, none of them are valid. When you’re done, the only thing that can clean you up is the blood of Jesus.

I’m the blessed one.   Forgiveness was given to me.   I repented; I changed. God fixed my marriage and we became better. Yet, now and then, the regret comes bubbling up.   Now and then, the sins of the past try to cloud the goodness of today.   You beat it back with forgiveness. God forbade adultery because He understood how it would shred us, tear us away from Him.   It did my marriage, and it did me. Only God can make that better.

Lord Jesus, forgive me of my sin and clean me up from it.   Thank You for your forgiveness, for Your healing, and for a true second chance.

 

Read Exodus chapter 8, More plagues…what happens when our hearts are hard…