Remove the bait and reveal the hook…

20130608-123822.jpg

There is this pervasive and deceptive myth among our culture today that porn doesn’t hurt anyone. Some even go so far as to claim that premarital sex, as long as it is consensual and “safe” is perfectly harmless as well.

I disagree with these claims. I believe porn is a huge problem. It’s a personal problem for many and a cultural problem for all. You may think that you have not been affected negatively by porn, but even if you yourself have never watched it, you have definitely been affected because it’s embedded in the surrounding culture. The staggering size of the pornography industry, its influence upon the media, and the acceleration of technology, paired with the accessibility, anonymity, and affordability of porn all contribute to its increasing impact upon the culture. Not to mention its dark links to the sexual slave trade…

It is an absolute myth, an incredibly false insinuation that porn won’t affect your relationships. The sad truth is that more and more men, and even many women, are viewing porn regularly; it cannot help but shape sexual market dynamics. And studies have shown that the tandem of porn and masturbation actually reduces the value of intercourse because it is much more physiologically satisfying than masturbation alone. Porn becomes easier to view and access, and so must women (and men).

Pornography actually deeply affects you whether you’ve ever viewed it or not, and it is helpful to understand some of its negative effects, whether you are a man or woman, struggling with watching it, outright watching it without a care, have a significant other who watches it, or you’re simply a mom or dad with a son or daughter who may potentially watch it. There is a plethora of research on the detrimental effects of pornography (and I do not think that what follows are necessarily the worst of them, and is certainly not an exhaustive list), but here are seven negative effects of porn upon men and women:

1. Porn contributes to social and psychological problems with men (and women).

It has been noted by extensive research that young men who become addicted to porn, “neglect their schoolwork, spend huge amounts of money they don’t have, become isolated from others, and often suffer depression.” Dr. William Struthers, who has a PhD in biopsychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, confirms some of these and adds more, finding that men who use porn become controlling, highly introverted, have high anxiety, narcissistic, curious, have low self-esteem, depressed, dissociative, distractible, and discontent. Ironically, while viewing porn creates momentary intensely pleasurable experiences, it ends up leading to several negative lingering psychological experiences.

2. Porn rewrites the male brain (and female brain).

Dr. Struthers elaborates that as men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on pornographic images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with woman are routed… They have unknowingly created a neurological circuit that imprisons their ability to see women rightly as created in God’s image. They fail to see women as the beautiful, valuable, soul-having, wonderful coequal partners they are.

In a similar vein regarding porn’s effect upon the brain, an article entitled, “The Porn Myth,” argues that pornography works in the most basic of ways on the brain: “It is Pavlovian.” An orgasm is one of the biggest reinforcers imaginable. If you associate orgasm with your wife, a kiss, a scent, a body, that is what, over time, will turn you on; if you open your focus to an endless stream of ever-more-transgressive images of cybersex slaves, that is what it will take to turn you on. The ubiquity of sexual images does not free eros and enhance it, but rather dilutes it.

Porn honestly becomes like an addictive drug. It gives you a high, but it never actually delivers what you really want, or need. Because of this, statistics show that viewing porn and/or masterbation becomes an addictive behavior, used to cope with times of stress and conflict. It also leads to darker and more perverse things for those who continue to watch porn, as what used to satisfy them has become boring and is no longer stimulating enough.

3. Porn turns sex into nothing more than masturbation with some help.

Sex becomes self-serving. It becomes about your pleasure and not the self-giving, mutually reciprocating intimacy that it was designed for. We become lonely, angry, empty, discontent, and frustrated. Because all frustration is birthed out of unmet expectations; and porn creates unreal, unhealthy, and unattainable expectations on sex.

4. Porn demeans and objectifies women (and men).

This occurs from hard-core to soft-core pornography. In the book ‘Pornified,’ the author quotes the research of one psychologist who has researched pornography at Texas A&M, the research states “Soft-core pornography has a very negative effect on men as well. The problem with soft-core pornography is that it’s voyeurism teaches men to view women as objects rather than to be in relationships with women as human beings.” According to the author, pornography gives men the false impression that sex and pleasure are entirely divorced from relationships. In other words, pornography is inherently self-centered (something a man does by himself, for himself) by using another women as the means to pleasure, as yet another product to consume.

The author goes on to reference one experiment that revealed a rather shocking further effect of porn: “men and women who were exposed to large amounts of pornography were significantly less likely to want daughters than those who had not indulged in viewing porn. Who would want their own little girl to be treated that way?” Also, how does a father who habitually looks at porn relate normally and healthily to his teenage to young-20’s-year-old daughter, or her friends?

Again, it needs to be emphasized, that this is not an effect that only rests upon those who have viewed porn. The massive consumption of porn and the the size of the porn industry has hypersexualized the entire culture. Men and women are born into a pornified culture, and women are the biggest losers of this tragedy. This book continues, “By inundating girls and women with the message that their most worthy attribute is their sexual hotness and crowding out other messages, pop culture is grooming them just like an individual perpetrator would. It is slowly chipping away at their self-esteem, stripping them of a sense of themselves as whole human beings, and providing them with an identity that emphasizes sex and de-emphasizes every other human attribute.”

5. Porn squashes the beauty of a real naked woman (and men too).

“For most of human history, the erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.” (Wired for Intimacy) But this unfortunate fact has been widely noted and observed by many others.

Similar to how the philosopher Plato didn’t want the artists in the city, because of how they could distort or aggrandize things to cause people to seek a hyper-reality that doesn’t exist… porn is a cheap, deceptive “art” that robs us of being able to know and appreciate true beauty.

6. Porn has a numbing effect upon reality.

It makes real sex and even the real world boring in comparison. It gives us a distorted sense of a hyper-reality, and false expectations that will never be met in the real world. It particularly anesthetizes the emotional life of a man. Pornography leaves men desensitized to both outrage and to excitement, leading to an overall diminishment of feeling and eventually to dissatisfaction with the emotional tugs of everyday life… Eventually those who watch pornography are left with a confusing mix of super-sized expectations about sex and numbed emotions about women. When a man gets bored with pornography, both his fantasy and real worlds become imbued with indifference. The real world often gets really boring because it can’t compete with hyper-real things that don’t really exist.

7. Porn lies about what it means to be male and female.

The author of “Pornified,” records how porn tells a false story about men and women. In the story of porn, women are “one-dimensional” (they never say ‘no,’ never get pregnant, and can’t wait to have sex with any man and please them in whatever way imaginable, or even unimaginable). On the other hand, the story porn tells about men is that they are “soulless, unfeeling, amoral life-support systems for erect penises who are entitled to use women in any way they want. These men demonstrated zero empathy, respect, or love for the women they have sex with…”

A five second orgasm not triggered directly by your spouse, significant other, or partner, even if it is self-induced, isn’t worth all of this… is it?

There is even a new movie coming out soon, that was written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, called “Don Jon.” It’s about a New Jersey guy who is dedicated to his family, friends, and church; he develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn, begins to objectify everything, and becomes very dissatisfied with sex, relationships, and life. So he embarks on a journey to find a more gratifying sex life, and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.

If fullness of life could be found in sexual stimulation, or if it was just a matter of making babies, the “forget formality and just have sex” approach might temporarily satisfy cravings and cause enough conception. But God had much more in mind with romance than orgasms or even procreation, and so should we. So must we.

When people in the world are expecting less and less of each other in dating, God isn’t. So among those who are single and want to honor God’s design for marriage, we have to work harder in our “not-yet-married” relationships to preserve what marriage ought to picture and provide.

The vision of marriage we see in God’s Word (the beautiful, radical display of God’s infinite, gracious, persevering love for sinners) makes it worth it to date, and date well. The world’s approach by today’s cultural standards can provide fun and sex and children and eventually even some level of commitment, but it cannot lead to the life-giving Jesus, after whom our marriages are to take their cues.

So, what about in your past and/or present dating relationships? If you go somewhere secluded and you’re all alone, do you think through how that scenario might play out beforehand? If you guys end up making out, before you make out, when is the last time you prayed, begged, and pleaded with our Father to work in the relationship to bring about His purpose and His will, for both of you to get more of Jesus through your relationship. Have you sincerely pleaded with Christ to overwhelm you guys with the joy of His Spirit instead of feelings of pleasure from hormones and flesh. I would dare to contend that the most sober mind is the mind overwhelmed in awe and humble adoration of God’s holiness and glory. We should be begging for the weight of His infinite glory to take our breath away, not some momentary assurance, fleeting pleasure, or short-lived gratification from a fellow finite human being.

So please, take the time to think some of this through. Praise God for the amazing technology we have today, and pursue pleasure in holiness. Because our relationships, and marriage are not so much about our happiness, but rather our holiness through sanctification.

————•————

I would also like to recommend these related articles:

The New Narcotic” by Morgan Bennett, JD candidate at Pepperdine University School of Law

Pornography: The New Narcotic” by Desiring God

Sexual Sin in the Ministry” by Harry Schaumburg

I Hate Porn” by Desiring God

Fake Love, Fake War: Why So Many Men Are Addicted to Internet Porn and Video Games” by Russell Moore

Porn, Pride, and Praise: An Interview with Heath Lambert” Authors on the Line

Dear men: PORN IS AN AFFAIR. Just ask my ex-wife. by Donny Pauling

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography & the Brain” by Joe Carter

Golden Monkeys in America

20130527-102232.jpg

“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.” – Jonah 2:8

“Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made.” – Isaiah 2:8

“They are both stupid and foolish; the instruction of idols is but wood!” – Jeremiah 10:8

“What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.” – Habakkuk 2:18-20

————•————

Just like the cultures and religions that have created golden monkey idols or something else finite that they themselves made, and they put their trust in it, they worship it, they sing to it, chant to it, and have priests who give prophesy on behalf of it… We in our American culture are guilty for much of the same thing. We will create for ourselves an idol that we make, that we create, that we build, and in that we put our trust. If you think that is nonsense and there is no such silliness in our culture, let me point out some of the most popular. The number one by in large is the idol of self. We are uppermost in our own affections. Even if you’ll think about how some people choose a church or religion or group they devote their time and resources to, most of us choose a church, religion, club, group, society, etc. on what it can do for us.

And the reason why so many of us don’t belong to a community of faith, but rather go to or attend several, is because we feel like the church exists to meet our needs, not to be that community of faith that you belong to and give to as well as receive from. So for you, it becomes all about a particular preacher, how long their service is, what time their service is, a style of music, what programs they offer, how extensive is their child-care, etc.

Let us pause and think for a moment how this idol of self works itself out just where I live, here in the DFW area. In the DFW area, there are no mountains, there are no oceans, no great scenery in which to play in. (On a positive note, it makes us appreciate vacations anywhere so much more though.) So what we have done, since there’s not a lot of outdoor culture here, is we have taken physical beauty and we’ve made that a sport. So many of us have taken physical beauty and have said, “We’re going to be attractive and desirable.” So Dallas is a very, very pretty place in that aspect. We are all about external beauty. “I’m going to make myself look lovely. Because if I am better looking than others, if I am stronger than others, if I am more chiseled than others, then I validate myself above, and beyond others.”

Now idolatry is a funny animal because it rarely dwells in morally dark things. It almost always dwells in positive things that are made ultimate. Taking care of yourself is a good thing. Eating well is a good thing. The Bible would call both of those things wise. Even the apostle Paul said physical training is of some value. The Bible is going to talk about how we eat, what is smart, how to avoid eating in excess, and how not to eat for comfort. The Bible has a lot to say. The problem is not those things in and of themselves. The problem is when you take those things, make them ultimate, and they become the thing by which you identify yourself. “I am the strong, buff guy… I am the in shape, toned girl… I am the athletic beast person.” You begin to identify yourself by those things. You see it often and it works itself out a bit differently in males and females. What I’ve seen in males is this real desire to look this specific way and to be stronger than others. Now there is a great competition thing that can play into that that can push you into being all that you can be, but it’s this, “Just let me look good with my shirt off.” It’s almost purely physical, and it’s a primal, “Let me show that I’m the baddest guy on the planet” kind of thing. And it builds, it consumes, and their whole life is built around this external physical beauty.

In women, it plays itself out like that also, but what I haven’t seen among men as much as I’ve seen among women is this ferocious comparison that ends up causing a great deal of drama. Like I married a very beautiful woman. I have walked with my wife at the grocery store or mall, and seen other women checking out my wife. So part of me goes, “What’s wrong with me?” And then another part of it is I’m getting a glimpse of this dark side of the female soul where they’re going, “Do I look like that? Do I need to look like that? Should I look like that? I wish I looked like that…” Or even at times, there’s this horrific judgment that occurs where we’ll be out and about and see women dressed to the hilt in really tight things, and there’s this thing even among modest, kind-hearted women where they’re just like, “Can you believe how she’s dressed?” “Look at her, she must be such a floozy.” “Where is that girl’s mother?” “Hey, it’s the Real Housewives of such and such right there.” But really, what in the heck is happening there? How in the world can you judge soul and character by dress. Even if there is something broken in their soul that has them dressing in such a way that they want external attention? That should grieve our heart. It shouldn’t make you angry, or jealous, or have contempt. It should make you sad that they have not found value in who they are but rather in their ability to catch the eye of the opposite sex, and maybe make other women jealous. So you’ve got this external piece to our idolatry.

And then some of us just don’t have that going for us. That’s just not a temptation for us because it’s just not going to happen. So a lot of us go to the mind, and our mental strength. With linear information at our disposal, we just become smart and we pride ourselves on our brilliance. We don’t buy into anything at the surface level. We’re going to drill down. We’re going to know the truth. We’re going to know how things work. We’re not just buying into anything. And let me be clear about this, we should all be thinkers, we should be seekers, and want to get to the bottom of things. But there is a level of idolatry to that where you’re not going to believe anything that you can’t taste, touch, or see. Only what can be empirically known by the five senses, understood, and controlled by you will receive your time and attention. So then our mind becomes our idol.

And then you’ve got this whole third thing that is still about you, but it works itself out in every domain of your life where you want to throw out a certain vibe, you want to have this certain persona about you. So from the car you drive, to the clothes you wear, to where you live, all of that is carefully thought through and constructed to produce what you want people to see, despite the fact that you don’t even like most of those people. So really, your debt isn’t a money issue. It’s an image issue. Debt is not about money. It’s about image. You spend more than you have, to look a part that you want to look because you believe that, by looking that part, you somehow project to the world that you are worth something, that you are viable, that you are legitimate, that you have it going on and people should like you, and want to be around you. And that is idolatry. So the primary idol here in DFW is basically just “self.”

A secondary idol that we see all over the place is other people, other created beings, and it plays out primarily in two relationships. Relationship number one is a significant other. There is this idea built upon the philosophy of every Romantic Comedy, every sappy love song on the radio, that there is some mythical one out there who is going to complete you. Like if you just find this one right man, if you just find this one right woman, then all that has plagued you, all that has bothered you, all the loneliness that you have walked in, and all the rejection you have experienced will finally vanish. Just so you know… all of us married people make fun of you who buy into that silly lie. Because it’s simply not true. Seriously girls, no man will ever be able to do that for you. When you put that expectation on him, it is a smothering, exhausting expectation. He can’t do it. It doesn’t matter how romantic he is, it doesn’t matter how creative he is, and it doesn’t matter how careful and thoughtful he is, he cannot be that for you. He wasn’t meant to be that for you.

That “hole in your heart,” the book of Ecclesiastes says, that hole is eternal. Only what is eternal can fill the gap of eternity. Your man, as great as he is, isn’t eternal or infinite. He can’t fill that for you. He cannot complete you, Jerry MaGuire. When you have that expectation, when you place that expectation on him, your man will develop more and more hobbies to get out from under the weight of that expectation, because he can’t do it.

And for the guys, that thought of this beautiful, physically flawless being who is going to take care of every one of your physical and emotional needs, and make up for all hugs that your daddy didn’t give you, is going to lead to an unreal amount of conflict in your relationships. Please just stop and think about a couple things: You need to forgive your dad. He did the best he could with where he was, even if he was a schmuck. He did the same that you’re doing now if you’re a father now. And if you’re any better than your old man, then that’s the grace of God, not your awesomeness. And then, if you’re married, you need to learn to love your wife’s soul well beyond her body. She’s not your servant, she’s not your slave, she is not your sex toy and meal-maker. She’s not your, “Where’s my dinner, woman?” She’s not your work horse. She has a soul! So what happens for so many of us is a man comes into a marriage and says, “My woman is supposed to be all of this,” while a woman comes into the marriage and says, “My man is supposed to be all this,” … or singles go, “If I could just find this kind of woman/man,” and all our hope is wrapped up in these people who are going to fail us and let us down because they cannot possibly complete us or fulfill the deep longing in our hearts.

So then, when they do let us down, well it’s definitely not our fault. Of course it’s them! It’s not our expectations that are unreasonable. It’s their multitude of failures and personality flaws. Married people are acutely aware of their partner’s weakness vs. their own strengths. The husband can easily sit there and say, “She doesn’t do this, she doesn’t do that, and she doesn’t do this… but I do this, that, this, AND that…” It’s just strengths vs. weaknesses. You should always win that comparison. But this is what leads to the unraveling of so many different relationships. It’s an expectation that’s unrealistic. And all frustration is birthed out of unmet expectations. So maybe the bar needs to be lowered a little, or be a little more realistic. Maybe we need to find the fullness of life in Jesus Christ, and not in a broken human who is going to betray us, because that’s unfortunately going to happen.

Now, the other relationship we see this stuff playing out massively (and specifically the northern areas where I live here in the DFW area) are the relationships between parents and their children. So many of the parents around here need to accept the reality that their kid is not going to be a professional athlete. Their kid might be a beast at sports, and they may really be excellent. But still, statistically, their boy is more likely to be struck by lightning, while holding a winning lottery ticket, whilst being eaten by a shark than he is to become a stud pro athlete.

Don’t get me wrong, I love sports. I follow sports closely. I think sports are awesome, as long as they’re a game. It’s when it’s no longer a game, but you’re entire life that you’ve gone off the deep end. Do you know how we all know this? Because I used to play t-ball, little league, basketball, track, etc… And even now I can remember fellow five-years-old getting yelled at by their parents. It still happens today. Just go to the nearest ballpark and you can watch dads yell at their five-year olds, six-year-olds, seven-year-olds in t-ball. “What are you doing?! We practiced this! Get your head in the game!” Their kid is five, he just learned how to consistently not wet himself…

It sounds like a complete joke, but so many of these dads are dead serious. I mean they don’t do that with other games, do they? Like when their boy or girl is with their cousins playing freeze tag, they’re not running outside, freaking out, and screaming at them about how to tag properly. They’re not playing hide-and-go-seek upstairs with the parents shouting from downstairs, “Are you serious?! Focus! Hide like I taught you!!!” It’s just a game, guys. It doesn’t matter. But all of a sudden, now that it’s organized, some of us lose our minds. Some parents may have even been legit athletes back in the day, but we shouldn’t put that on our kids. Our children’s extracurricular activities should not govern our home. I mean, some parents spend more for their kid’s traveling select soccer team than my wife and my car are worth… combined. It is a foolish error for several reasons.

One, making your kids your god, turns them into little turds that you then release upon society to have to deal with. So then we’ve got coworkers and neighbors who are unbelievably obnoxious because their parents treated them like little gods. And then second, they’re going to leave the house someday. And as a parent, you should want them to move out someday. Shouldn’t you? I know parents with five, six, seven-years-old might find that harder to comprehend at the moment, but there is going to come a day as a parent where you love them with all the love you have in your heart, but they’re going to have to get out of your house. I don’t live with my parents anymore, that would be weird. (There are some exceptions to this, but it should definitely be a rare exception, not the rule.)

And then do you know what you’re left with as parents? Your spouse. So if the focal point of your existence is your children and then they’re gone, that puts you in this really weird spot with the spouse who you should have been doing life with this entire time. You’re like, “Man it’s so quiet around here now, who are you again?” Biblically a home is to revolve around a husband and wife under the banner of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What we should be imparting to our children is the wonders and glory of a Creator God who loves them, longs to save them, and rescues them from the fallen hurt of this world. And then let’s play some ball, let’s try to play ball well, let’s cheer them on, and let’s root for them, whether they really are excellent or horrible.

As parents, we should want our kids to not think that our affection for them is predicated upon their performance in a game. And don’t lie to yourself, you can have all the conversations you want with your kid about that isn’t what’s happening, but when you explode at their failures and beam at their successes in this arena, how in the world are they not supposed to believe that’s how they win your affection? If you even think that you can simply have a conversation with them, but continue to act that way towards them, I don’t think you have kids. Heck, I don’t even have kids, but just having grown up as a kid and helped serve in children’s ministry, I have observed that. I mean, do parents really think that their kids can’t read their bull? I could definitely pick up on where my parents or any adults said one thing and did another when I was growing up. I think we called it, “Does as I say, not as I do.”

So that’s the other place it plays out in relationships, with kids. Both make crummy, crummy gods. You make a crummy god, a spouse makes a crummy god, and your children make crummy gods. They don’t work as deity. None of them can hold that weight. Because there comes a time in all of our lives where we will desperately need divine intervention. Everyone eventually has that dark night of the soul. And if your god is you, your spouse, your children, your health, your wealth, or your vibe, you will be godless on a day when you need the divine. We need to press hard on a couple of things as we think about what idolatry really is. Idols are normally built around control and fear. So you have this fear, and you don’t want this fear to happen, so you begin to try to control scenarios that you believe will keep your fear from happening. And that’s how idols are built.

In fact, in the Old Testament, God will charge Israel with idolatry twice for signing treaties with Egypt and the Assyrians for their protection. They were afraid, so they made this deal with the neighboring country that if they got in trouble, this other army would bail them out, and God goes, “They have become your idol. You’re not trusting in Me for deliverance. You’re trusting in your own abilities and politics for your deliverance.” So what happens on the day of trouble is your control of things is revealed to be what it really is, an illusion. You simply don’t control what you think you can control. You don’t control your finances like you think you do. Anyone can go bankrupt. You don’t control your health like you think you do. Anyone can get cancer.

As always, there are things that we can do that are wise and smart, there are good and right ways we should steward our time, resources, and our bodies, but ultimately you can’t control it all. Now we can see even in our own U.S. history, it just takes the bottom to fall out if our economy for all of that money you have to become worthless. It just takes an instant. It just takes something that is not even directly related to us, not related to this country. There has been some uprising in the Middle East (there’s always some kind of turmoil going on there). How’s that gasoline bill going for you? Does it slam your wallet and remind you how little control you really have every time you go to the pump like it does for me?

We all work hard at protecting our children, but ultimately you can’t protect them from everything. We weren’t able to stop the recent tragedy in Connecticut. No matter how many guns laws are put in place, men with wicked intent will still find a way to carry out deplorable things. You do what you can, but you have to trust them with God. That’s all you’ve really got. If you do more than that, I think you will hard press them and they are likely to rebel. The other place I think you can see this fear and control thing happening in idolatry is with spouses. You just know they’re going to betray you, you know they’re going to do this certain thing, they’re going to let you down somehow eventually, and so to keep that from happening, you badger, you pester, you question, you dig, and you search where they’ve been. You see, all of that is fear. So instead you move to try to control and then unwittingly actually push your spouse away from you, and then there’s no trust, no grace, no intimacy, but you still have that false sense of control to keep you warm, right?

It’s an idol, and the Bible says there will come a day when you need the divine. And if you have an idol, it won’t be able to speak to you, it won’t be able to fix anything. Just look at the passages listed above, and if you’ll remember the text, God keeps saying, “You’ve made an idol that was speechless… You created an idol that was speechless… If it says anything, it says lies. You have created an idol that is speechless and helpless to heal, fix, mend, or correct anything.” And the last verse of the Habakkuk passage says, “God is in His holy temple; let the earth keep silent.” Habakkuk is not saying, “Don’t talk to God. Leave God alone. He is in His holy temple, so hush your mouth and don’t bother Him.” But rather he is saying, “Since the Creator God of all things is speaking, let us listen to Him, submit to Him and not walk in conjecture of what God must be like or what He would be like.”

So you hear people talk like that all the time. “Well I just don’t believe God would do that. I just don’t believe God works like that.” We, out of ignorance and idolatry, exclude some aspects of God’s character; we’re selfishly buying in on specific aspects, but want to forget any that may contradict what we want. “God is love, so He can’t have any wrath… God is gracious, so He can’t hold anybody accountable… God is merciful, so surely He won’t judge the nations or anyone for doing wrong…” Now, those are things people say all the time that are in stark opposition to God’s revealed character in the Scriptures. So more than anything, that verse in Habakkuk is saying that God is speaking, so maybe we should shut up for a minute and just listen to Him.

So God speaks to us, not like a silent idol. He speaks to us in His Son Jesus, He speaks to us through His Word in the Scriptures, He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. What is He saying? He’s saying that you and I are broken from birth. Sin isn’t just an external action, it isn’t just a minor character defect. It’s a state of our heart that leads to those external actions. There are things that are sinful, but you do sinful things because you are sinful yourself. You aren’t a sinner because you sin, you sin because you’re a sinner. The problem isn’t just the action. The problem is you. There is nothing you and I can do to fix this issue. God is going to have to fix it for us. And He did, He is. He’s fixed it by sending Jesus, God in the flesh, to live a righteous life under the law, breaking no commands. He will then impute that righteousness to those who believe by faith. And on the cross of Jesus Christ, all the wrath meant for you and me in our rebellion will be absorbed by Christ so that we are, by the power of the Holy Spirit, set free to pursue God regardless of where we currently are.

So this is why we must constantly come back to this idea of moralistic deism, and expose it for the lie that it is. So many of us are like, “Let me clean up my life, and then God and I will be cool.” However, the realty is, you and God will never be cool because of your cleaning. You and God will only be okay because of Jesus Christ or you won’t be okay. Our hope is steadfastly rooted in Jesus Christ. It’s also why none of us have anything to boast in. It’s also why there should be no swagger in you, in me, in anyone. There should be a lowliness, a humility, and a gentleness concerning all peoples. Why? Because you were shown mercy and grace. You didn’t earn it. You weren’t saved because you were awesome. Nobody is saved because they had some things that God needed for His kingdom. You were saved because He’s merciful. And that’s where we put our hope.

So how do you identify idols? Here are ten questions to ask yourself: What consumes most of your thoughts and feelings? What motivates the things that you do? What are you most afraid of? What brings the highest amount of frustration or anger into your life? What is one thing that can change your mood in a second? What would your friends say is your favorite topic of conversation? What are some things that you feel you can’t live without? What brings you solace? What do you yearn for? What is one thing that you wish God would do for you? If you begin to answer those questions, you’ll be able to find your idols. Because what you think about, what you yearn for, what you talk about, what you want God to do for you, what drives you, what makes you angry, what satisfies you, what sits on the other side of your “if only,” and what brings you comfort is what you worship.

Now you and I, everyone reading this has idols. Nobody is clean. The good news is that God knows and has made provision in Christ. So may we repent and trust in Him for that. Because again, our only hope is steadfastly rooted in Jesus Christ. God Himself is the gospel.

Finding Your Idols

20130526-191432.jpg

Idols are like sneaky little pests. They don’t always show up in the tangible form of a golden calf or monkey. They quietly tip toe past us, make a cozy diminutive residence in our brains, set up a small shop in a dark corner of our heart, and begin to grow and multiply. Most of the time we don’t even realize they are there because we’re completely unaware of their existence… or equally as destructive, we fail to notice them because we’ve fallen in love with the idol – it has become part of what drives us and makes us (momentarily) happy. Either way, we’re blind to our idols and need the intervening love and grace of another to help open our eyes to see the things warring for our affections to be over and above Christ.

Idols are not made from scratch. Idolatry involves the distortion of already present truth. The truth is changed into a lie. The lie depends upon the truth it is distorting for its power, just as the counterfeit depends upon the authentic for its value. Our idols of God contain truths within them, making them all the more seductive to us. To be sure, God is love. To reduce God to love, however, is to change the truth into a lie.

Below is a list of questions meant to help you as you strive for building a culture of transparency and establish the habit of asking deep heart level questions, applying the Gospel to your life, and seeking Christ in community.

Questions:

1. What do I worry about most?

2. What, if I failed or lost it, would cause me to feel that I did not even want to live?

3. What do I use to comfort myself when things go bad or get difficult?

4. What do I usually do to cope with disappointment or unmet expectations? What are my go to sources of release? What do I do to feel better?

5. What preoccupies me? What do I daydream about? What most easily comes to mind when thinking?

6. What makes me feel the most self-worth? Of what am I the proudest? For what do I want to be known?

7. What do I lead with in most conversations?

8. Early on in relationships, what do I want to make sure that people know about me?

9. What prayer, if unanswered, would make me seriously think about turning away from God?

10. What do I really want and expect out of life? What would really make me happy?

11. What is my hope for the future?

Love rebuke, don’t rebuke love.

20130519-103140.jpg

“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us, but it keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information, but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. . . . To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Tim Keller

“It takes two to speak truth – one to speak, and another to hear.” – Henry David Thoreau

True love in friendships, romantic relationships, and family relationships will inevitably lead to rebuke at times. And while it should be done gently, humbly, and kindly… it unfortunately doesn’t always come off that way. So when you feel attacked, when you feel blind-sided by accusations that you are less than perfect, does that excuse any and all behavior that may have caused someone to voice concern to simply be null and void, because they failed to communicate their concerns in a way that was perceived as loving and genuine? Do we disregard any concern our friends would have with us if they fail to approach us in the perfect way? Are we to deflect all responsibility if the other family member behaved less than perfect towards us in the past? What if they’re currently acting foolish, yet have the gall to proclaim that you have done something wrong?

Please, don’t tune me out yet.

Do you ever have difficulties in your relationships? Does your significant other, or those close to you do stuff at times that upsets or frustrates you? Do you ever find your expectations less than met, more like almost completely shattered. I’d be willing to bet money everyone has dealt with this at some point. Are you aware and willing to admit that you also have sin in your heart and your flesh desires things above God at times… that in conflicts with your spouse or significant other, when you’re arguing with a friend, neither of you are perfect, or even close to it… and yeah, this tension really sucks sometimes. Dating, courting, and engagement are especially tough at times. Because in that dynamic, you often get most of the problems of marriage, but without all the benefits…

Marriage is difficult too, but at least you’re already in the game, and fully committed at that point, so you might as well play it to win it. And that’s fun. Really hard at times, but a lot of fun. Because you’re a team working towards deeper sanctification in Christ here in this life. You guys aren’t against one another or trying to simply co-exist in the happiest manner. You’re partners in battle, fighting alongside one another in a war. The war has already been won, but there is still a lot of mess to work through, until the day Christ cracks open the skies to let the whole world know He really is who He said He was.

However, even though redemption has already been purchased by Christ, for the time being, you ought to be heart-broken over the sin in each other’s life, not because you get your feelings hurt, you selfishly want each other just to act better, be more attentive to your needs, or just be less embarrassing in public, but rather, you want each other to experience more of Christ in this life. To know Jesus more, to be the person God has created you to be and is working in you to accomplish His will. Your “fights and arguments” shouldn’t be over petty things or personality quirks. The issue at hand is sin. Sin should grieve us and cause us to seek help and repentance in desperation.

False conviction is a reflex reaction caused by self-disgust, a sorrow over the consequences of sin. True conviction is an abiding sorrow over the offence against God, and while not the natural response, it does demonstrate that God has begun a good work that He will complete. True conviction is followed by true repentance. False conviction is followed by counterfeit repentance that only sees and fears the consequences of sin and the pain it causes others. Often this leads to a temporary change in behavior, but without a heart change.

John Owen addressed this when he wrote, “Christians must take severe measures in killing [their] sin. This is the real danger: “Every unclean thought would be adultery if it could… Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…” (Colossians 3:1-17)

When we perceive sin in a brother and/or sister’s life that we believe will cause them (and potentially others) great harm over the course of their life, we are to lovingly approach them in humility. All the while, acknowledging we have our own blind spots and our own struggles with sin, but we are for each other’s good, we are for each other’s growth and development in our walks with Jesus. Others’ sin does not negate your sin. Because we struggle doesn’t mean it’s ok for you to struggle and not ever work through grace-enabled efforts to repent. We should all be seeking reconciliation together, because it’s ok to not be ok, but it’s not ok to stay there.

Becky Pippert put it this way: “Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it… Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference… E. H. Gifford once said, “Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor” … So, if I, a flawed, narcissistic, sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone’s condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but His settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race He loves with His whole being.” God paid the ultimate cost Himself to love us; He passionately loves us, and simultaneously He ferociously hates sin and the sin within us.”

Little sins left unchecked over time grow, and sin begets sin. Ever wake up one day and ask yourself, how did I get here? You better believe that I’ve found myself there… lying in bed full of regret and wondering how the heck I had wandered off so far from where I really wanted to be. We all constantly forget that sin will take us further than we wanted to go, keep us longer than we wanted to stay, and cost us more than we ever wanted to pay.

We need to understand and remember that the cross isn’t a recovery program, the place to improve on what good is already there. It is a place to die. It is not a question of giving up certain sins, but of giving up one’s illusion to rights!

None of us who claim to follow Christ can remain neutral in each other’s fight with sin. We are either for our brother and sister, hurting alongside them, and going to war with them, out of love for them, because Christ first loved and rescued us. Or we lie, deceive ourselves, the Truth is not in us, and we let our brothers and sisters drown while we idly sit by and watch with hateful indifference. Please try to listen to the concerns of others with an eager heart for repentance and deep hunger for the chance of tasting more of God’s love for you. We are all far from perfect, but in Christ, our hearts, our love, our intentions, are for each other. So in the end, when pursuing reconciliation through Christ, we are truly for each other’s good, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Recommended passages of Scripture to consult for further consideration of this topic:

Leviticus 26:14-46
Deuteronomy 8:5-6
2nd Samuel 7:14-15
Job 5:12-19
Psalm 6
Psalm 38
Psalm 39:11
Psalm 94:10-15
Psalm 119
Psalm 141
Proverbs 3:11-12
Proverbs 5:1-23
Proverbs 6:20-23
Proverbs 12:1
Proverbs 13:1; 24
Proverbs 17:10
Proverbs 19:18
Proverbs 22:15
Proverbs 23:13
Proverbs 27:5-6
Proverbs 28:23
Proverbs 29:17; 19-20
Ecclesiastes 7:5
Matthew 16:14-15
Luke 17:1-4
Luke 23:39-43
1st Corinthians 5:1-13
1st Corinthians 11:32
Ephesians 6:4
1st Timothy 1:18-20
1st Timothy 5:1-2; 19-25
2nd Timothy 4:1-5
Titus 1:9-16
Titus 2:11-15
Hebrews 12:1-15
2nd Peter 2:1-22
Revelation 3:19