Faith

God wants you to trust Him fully. He's not interested in you dipping a toe in the water to test things out. He wants you to grab His hand and jump off the cliff into the ocean of faith with Him.

If You’re Believing in Uncle George, Let Me Introduce You to My Abba Father

Recently, a friend of mine introduced me to a story he felt perfect explained the way he’d felt about God for some time. The more he shared it with me, the more I realized just how similar my own view of God had been for much of my life. I’m willing to bet many of you—if you’re being honest—will recognize some of your own views in the story that follows as well.

Good Old Uncle George

Source Unknown

God was a family relative, much admired by Mum and Dad, who described him as very loving, a great friend of the family, very powerful and interested in all of us. Eventually we are taken to visit ‘Good Old Uncle George.’ He lives in a formidable mansion, is bearded, gruff and threatening. We cannot share our parents’ professed admiration for this jewel in the family. At the end of the visit Uncle George turns to address us.

‘Now listen, dear,’ he begins, looking very severe, ‘I want to see you here once a week, and if you fail to come, let me just show you what will happen to you.’ He then leads us down to the mansion’s basement. It is dark, becomes hotter and hotter as we descend, and we begin to hear unearthly screams. In the basement there are steel doors. Uncle George opens one.

‘Now look there, dear,’ he says. We see a nightmare vision, an array of blazing furnaces with little demons in attendance, who hurl into the blaze those men, women and children who failed to visit Uncle George or to act in a way he approved.

‘And if you don’t visit me, dear, that is where you will most certainly go,’ says Uncle George. He then takes us upstairs again to meet Mum and Dad. As we go home, tightly clutching Dad with one hand and Mum with the other. Mum leans over us and says, ‘And now don’t you love Uncle George with all your heart and soul, mind and strength?’ And we, loathing the monster, say, ‘Yes, I do,’ because to say anything else would be to join the queue at the furnace. At a tender age religious schizophrenia has set in and we keep telling Uncle George how much we love him and how good he is and that we want to do only what pleases him. We observe what we are told are his wishes and dare not admit, even to ourselves, that we loathe him.

As I stated earlier, this was my view of God for much of my Christian life—and it wasn’t working for me at all. I hid from God, deeply afraid that He would reject me for my sins. I pretended to trust Him and love Him, secretly fearing His wrath and judgement.

Rarely (if ever) did I experience any of the peace, joy, or life I was promised in God’s Word—and now I can see why.

The God I was believing in, Good Old Uncle George, didn’t exist, and thus He would never be able to offer those blessings or change my life. As frightening as it was at first, I had to walk away from Uncle George before I could encounter the real God.

And the same is true for you.

When my friend told me about Uncle George, I knew I had to write my own version of the story. So I asked the Father, how would You like to be introduced to those who still think you’re like Uncle George?

“Tell them I am their Abba,” He replied.

Abba Father

One day I awoke to find myself trapped in pit of destruction so deep and dark there was no possible way I could ever escape. High above me I could see the rope I had spent years slipping down, inch by inch as I tried in vain to climb up it. It quickly became apparent to me that I had finally reached the end of that rope and had no choice but to let go.

Far above the rope I saw a light shining in through the opening of the pit, the same light, I assume, that I’d always sensed shown from where freedom and paradise would be found. The place where I would no longer have to climb using my own power, but could finally experience rest and relief in every fiber of my being.

As I continued to squint upwards, something moved in the light. No, not something… Someone. Eventually I could see that the Someone was the light. As this man moved, it became clear He was moving towards me. He reached His arm into the pit, wrapped it gently around my soul, and began to lift me up.

Instantly, something in me recoiled. It may have been from His glorious light against my eyes after they had grown so used to the darkness. Perhaps it was the shock of seeing all the mud and slime on me smearing against the whiteness of His garment. Whatever it was, it caused me to shout, “Stop! You don’t know who I am or what I’ve done. I’ve tried in vain to climb the rope but I’ve failed countless times. I so desperately want out of this pit, but I can’t let you take me like this. Please give me more time to clean myself up first and then I’ll climb up to meet you.”

The thing is, if I’m being honest, I knew I could never clean myself up. There was no water around with which to do so. I could smear the mud to different places perhaps, but I could never make myself clean. Furthermore, how was I supposed to reach that rope again? It was impossible. It always had been, and still was, impossible.

In that moment, I heard the man speak to me in the most loving, gentle, yet immensely powerful voice I had ever heard. “You are correct to recognize that you can’t clean yourself up or climb out on your own. What you are just beginning to realize though, is you were never asked to do any of that. I am the only One who can do those things for you. In fact, I already have. All those years you were hanging there, trying to climb up to paradise on your own, my hand was below you waiting for you to simply drop into it. Like many others though, you had to hit the bottom before you could look away from the rope and see me. But even though you’ve fallen and hit bottom, it’s not too late for you. It’s never to late.”

“Who are you?” I asked the man. “Why are you doing this?”

“I am life. I am love. I am light. I am not who you’ve been told that I am, yet I am infinitely more than you’ve ever dreamed I am. For now, you can rest simply knowing that I AM.

“As for my motive… I am doing this because I love you. I created you, and you are my favorite—my masterpiece—no matter how flawed you believe yourself to be. There is nothing in the universe I want more than to be with you, the real you, and I will do whatever it takes to ensure that we will be together—always.

“You may think the filth that clings to you will cause me to reject you, but I can assure you it never will. I have known every speck of dirt on your body from before you were born, including the muck that you haven’t even wallowed in yet. And knowing all of that, I still sent my Son, Jesus, to clean it off for you.”

As I listened to Him tell me the story of how His son gave his life to cleanse me, I began to believe that perhaps it was true. Not just in a general sense, but that this story was true specifically for me. It was then that I felt something new. I looked down at my waist and noticed the mud was completely gone, allowing my skin to breathe for the first time. As the man continued to speak, a pleasant wind swirled around me. I quickly realized this feeling was no breeze, but His breath filling my soul with abundant life for the first time.

“I see you are beginning to believe and receive my life, son.”

“Son?” I questioned. “Why did you just refer to me as your son?”

“Because from this day forward, you will always be my son and I will always be your Father. The very moment you trusted in my Jesus, you became united with Him. And for that reason you will never again be the man you used to be. You are a new creation, washed clean with His blood and filled with the very same Spirit that raised Him from the dead. You have been eternally adopted into My family, and nothing will ever change that. There is nothing you could ever do, think, say, or imagine that will cause me to love you any less than I love Jesus himself.”

As He spoke, these words of love and acceptance became like pure water to my parched soul. I realized the pit, even though I had always despised it, no longer felt like the place I was supposed to be. I now could see my true home was with Him.

“Please,” I asked the man. “Tell me your name so I will know how to call on you.”

“To you, my son, I am your Abba.” He replied to me in His now familiar voice of comfort. “And do call on me often. I am always with you and willing to talk, no matter what you’re going through. Like I said earlier, you are (and always have been) my favorite.”

As I reclined into the arms of my Abba, I finally understood what true peace felt like. Never again would I need to climb that rope in a desperate attempt to reach the freedom of paradise. Paradise, it turns out, had been reaching down to me this whole time.

Friends, Abba is real, and He loves you more than you can ever imagine. If you’re still believing in Good Old Uncle George, you already know he’s not working for you. Walk, no, RUN away from his lies and into the arms of your true creator who loves you with the exact same love He has for His son, Jesus.

I promise you, if you allow yourself to rest in the arms of Abba Father, you will find the peace, joy, and life you’ve been longing for all along.

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Doubting the Resurrection

St Hellens Summit

Every now and then, a verse I’ve read a hundred times jumps off the page and slaps me upside the head with new insight. In fact, just last week while reading Matthew’s account of the Jesus story, something stood out to me that I’d never noticed before:

Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! (Matthew 28:6-7)

It’s easy to skim past this verse and see it as nothing more than the disciples reporting for a scheduled board meeting. We might read the phrase “going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go…” as if He’s asking the guys to meet Him in the conference room to review TPS reports.

If you read the entire chapter though, you realize that this is likely the first time the disciples have seen Jesus back from the dead. He’d already appeared to Mary in the garden and a few other followers on the road, but not to the disciples… not yet.

Keep in mind, these men had all walked with Jesus for years by now, listening to Him explain His parables, sharing intimate conversations around the campfire, even witnessing His miracles first-hand. So clearly they all expected to reach the top of the mountain, find the resurrected Messiah, and move forward with that whole “bring about the Kingdom of God” thing He kept talking about, right?

Not exactly. Some of them worshipped Him, yes, but (don’t miss this), some of them doubted.

Some of these men, after everything they’d witnessed first-hand, after all they’d been told, even after seeing Jesus standing there, in the flesh, right in front of their own eyes, still doubted.

They doubted He truly had been resurrected…

They doubted sin and death were defeated…

They doubted Jesus was who He said He was… the Messiah… the Son of God…

Standing there, face-to-face with the living embodiment of God’s grace, truth, mercy, and forgiveness; they looked into His eyes and couldn’t bring themselves to fully believe it.

And you know what? That’s okay.

I know many of you have doubts about this whole resurrection thing as well. Perhaps you’ve been looking at Jesus and wondering if it really is true—wondering if the life and freedom He promises is actually available for you. You may merely be curious right now, or you may be at a point where you desperately want it all to be true but you just can’t shake your overwhelming doubt and skepticism.

Again though, that’s okay.

Remember, these are the disciples we’re reading about here—men who knew Jesus personally—and yet some of them even doubted. If they we’re prone to doubt, there’s no reason to expect we won’t be as well.

Furthermore, I believe God allowed that line to stay in for a reason. He understands that we’ll all have doubts along our journeys, but He also recognizes how our faith can actually be deepened during those seasons of skepticism. In fact, it’s often those very doubts that drive people to seek truth—and end up finding Jesus.

When you look at it that way, doubt can be a good thing as long as it drives you to discover the truth.

We’re not told what eventually changed the minds of those disciples who doubted, but we do know they all came to trust Jesus. In fact, every one of them became so confident they were willing to give their lives for His Kingdom (as most of them did). Their doubt led them to seek answers, and the truth was made known to them in undeniable ways.

If you’re struggling to accept the resurrection of Jesus as truth, keep seeking the answer. Read the Scriptures. Listen to your heart as you ask the Lord to make Himself known to you. Find others who wholeheartedly believe and ask them why they no longer doubt the validity of Christ’s claims.

Keep your mind focused on Jesus and He will make the truth known to you.

If, as we celebrate the resurrection this Easter, you find yourself doubting whether there’s anything more to this holiday than plastic eggs and chocolate bunnies, know that you’re in good company.

Doubt is normal.

Doubt is okay.

What you do with that doubt, however, makes all the difference.

Be Loved / Belong / Believe

Spoiler Alert: This is rarely helpful or effective.

Chances are, there’s at least one person in your life whom you’ve been praying will believe something deeply important to you is also deeply important to them.

However, no matter how hard you try to convince them, or how sound and logical your arguments are, they simply aren’t willing to consider your position. Your conversations all devolve into arguments, and you both walk away frustrated and hurt.

What if trying to change someone’s belief isn’t the best focus?

I wholeheartedly believe the foundation of true healing and freedom must be Jesus. To me that is not debatable. But if I’m talking with a guy who doesn’t hold that same belief and I make it my goal to convince him otherwise, there’s a good chance that will be our only meeting. He will feel like my only interest in him is to make him think like me—not to offer him help or be his friend.

In other words, he will feel like a project rather than a person.

That’s why I’ve found it’s much more productive to focus on loving others well than trying to change their beliefs. The beauty of this, is it’s actually much more likely to lead to meaningful and honest conversations about beliefs.

Let me explain how this looks in our recovery meetings.

Be loved: When a guy shows up for the first time, we make it a point to let him know he’s welcome and loved—no matter where he’s at in his journey. Even if he wants nothing to do with Jesus, we’re still glad he’s there. There’s no requirement to believe a certain way to be loved by and included in our group.

Belong: Our goal is that by knowing he’s surrounded by brothers who love him right where he’s at, he would eventually feel like a true member of the group (because he is).

Believe: This sense of belonging provides a safe environment for him to be honest about his struggles, and perhaps even ask questions about deeper faith issues as well. It may take hearing 100 stories from other guys in the group about their relationships with Jesus before he even considers looking into Christ himself—or he may never believe. Either way, we’re still going to keep loving him and welcoming him with open arms.

You see, we understand it’s not our job to change people (only God can do that), so we leave that part up to Him. Our job is simply to love people. And if we love them well, perhaps then they will ask us about the hope we have in our lives.

Or, you could always yell at them through a bull-horn. I don’t think that’s going to be very effective though.

How Buying a New Bible Made Me a Better Father

Journaling Bible

I’ve long been a fan of those”Read-the-Bible-in-a-Year” plans. This year, however, I decided to try something slightly different.

It all started when I discovered the Journaling Bible, complete with oversized, lined margins perfect for heavy note-takers.

I, however, have never been a note-taker.

I felt led to buy this Bible though, not to take notes for myself, but for my daughter.

So, on January 1st this year, I began reading the entire Bible, highlighting verses and writing notes in the margins for her to read someday.

Now that I’m coming down to the home stretch, I can tell you it’s been one of my favorite things I’ve done to father her toward the Kingdom, and I haven’t even given the Bible to her yet. In fact, she probably won’t get it until she’s 13, which is still years away.

That doesn’t mean she hasn’t benefited from this practice though. She’s already well aware that this is “Her Bible,” and loves to catch me writing in it so she can ask me to read her what I just wrote down. Not only that, it’s helped me to read the Bible as if I’m reading it again for the first time. Instead of getting hung up in the deeper aspects of theology, I’m re-examining the foundational truths with fresh eyes.

For example, just this morning, I was reading in 1 Peter and came across a verse I’ve been well aware of for many years:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16).

It struck me that I had been reading that verse through the lens of a legalistic faith for most of my life. But now that God has been opening my eyes to the reality of what it means to be In Christ,” the meaning was completely different to me.

Here’s what I wrote in my daughter’s Bible:

For years I read this verse as a call to try harder and make myself perfect because that’s what God calls us to do, right? That’s not true though. That thinking leads to self-righteousness and shame. Notice verse 16 here—it’s not a command to be holy, it’s Peter telling you that you already are holy because Jesus is holy (and He is living in you). You don’t need to try to be holy, you just need to trust that Jesus has already given you His holiness. See how that changes everything?!

Now, will she read this and interpret it as me telling her she can go do whatever she wants? Perhaps. But I have confidence that once she starts to trust the permanence of her union to Christ and the unconditional love and acceptance that comes with it, that will be what motivates her to live out of the holiness Jesus has given her rather than the passions of her former ignorance.

As for the journaling Bible, I’d say its been a huge win. So much so, that I just ordered a second one this morning for daughter #2 (even though she’s not scheduled to be here for a few more weeks). My plan is to switch back and forth each year, adding more notes and highlights until the time comes to hand each Bible off.

If you want to get your own copy of the Journaling Bible, you can do that here. I’d also recommend you get some fine-tipped pens as well. After all, you’ll be using them a lot next year, right?

Why Do People Continue to Do What They Know is Wrong When They Know it’s Hurting Them?

Fear

It’s the age-old question and it puzzled me for years: Why do people continue to do what they know is wrong when they know it’s hurting them?

There is a huge class of sin that falls in this category. The obvious one, given this venue, is pornography. But there are many others that fit the description as well:

  • Overeating
  • Failing to exercise
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Failure to see a dentist

Most of these vices come with an immediate payoff in the form of self-gratification… or at least pain avoidance.

In Romans 6:19-23, the apostle Paul lays out the freedom from sin that is available to us through Jesus. He asks, “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things which you are now ashamed of?” It’s a rhetorical question of course; there was indeed a benefit. It was pleasure—a completely positive experience, but a fleeting commodity.

But we also reaped guilt, shame, and fear… and these things, unlike pleasure, seem to persist.

In my own case, I mainly reaped fear—the bitter aftertaste of sin.

That secret I was hiding… why did I hide it?

Fear is the reason:

  • Fear of being caught
  • Fear of the embarrassment and shame
  • Fear of the consequences of my actions
  • Fear of ruin

We all know in our hearts that sin only leads to bad things, just as we know we rob ourselves of the benefits that accrue from making wise choices.

We also know what we need to do: drop the charade, own up to our failures, expose our sin, ask forgiveness, and repent.

But why don’t we do that?

Once again, it’s often fear that keeps us from experiencing the freedom from our sin that Paul promises us.

The Antidote to Fear

Faith is the first half of the antidote for fear. We must decide that God can be trusted; that he will forgive as fully as he promised.

The hardest part is often believing he loves us unconditionally. That is an amazing statement we hear so often that we don’t always appreciate the significance. But hear this: the God of creation, of galaxies and nebula, of microorganisms and subatomic particles, is head over heels in love with you.

I’m surprised that he even knows my name, yet I’m told he knows everything from the hair on my head to the things I have done. He knows I’ve seen porn and sneak a second serving of ice cream and he continues to love me anyway.

By trusting his love for us, we realize he has our best interests at heart. Fear begins to crumble as we embrace this truth. We start to believe that we can face the consequences of our sin knowing Jesus is with us.

The second half of the antidote is Grace: God’s work through Christ that nullifies our sin. Guilt and shame are easy targets for grace, gone in the blink of an eye. Maybe that’s why grace is so hard for us to accept. In human terms, we don’t merely forget an offense and act like it never happened. If you come to accept God’s grace though, that’s exactly what happens to all your offenses in the eyes of God… instantly.

Sin + Faith + Grace = Life

Sin + Fear + Guilt + Shame = Death

This is how faith and grace work together to simultaneously break the bonds of sin—and both are the free gift of God.

2012-10-18 07.02.05John Allen is a Life Coach and lives in Seattle. He works with entrepreneurs and emergent leaders to help them pursue their visions and live fuller, more meaningful lives. He has a special interest in Christians who struggle to turn over every part of their lives to Jesus, to go “all in.” You can find out more at www.allencouraging.com.

Finding God’s Kingdom in Your Story

Dirt Road

I have always believed God has a plan for His people that is much larger than to merely have them suffer through sin until they’re set free in death. I haven’t always experienced this, but I’ve continued to believe it nonetheless.

For many years, I tried an assortment of Christian practices to help me stop looking at pornography (and the shameful lying that often followed). I had seasons where I did better, and seasons where I failed… hard.

Through it all though, I had two truths firmly rooted in my heart:

  1. There was something wrong with me deep inside, and…
  2. Whatever it was, God could fix it.

I found many things that helped—accountability partners, regular fasting, disciplined bible reading, singing worship songs, going to church—but none of them successfully fixed the problem.

Eventually, I discovered my battle was spiritual in nature, and the strongholds of lust and deception I’d allowed the enemy to erect in my heart could only be broken down by a power greater than my own. I could not do this by my own will. I would need to trust God and submit to whatever He asked of me.

I had struggled with not wanting to submit my sin to God, hoping instead to be like God without His help. I eventually realized that was just my foolish pride. Once I began to submit to the difficult and courageous steps God was asking me to take—becoming honest with my wife, pursuing bible-centered counseling, repenting from the lies I had believed about my sin, accepting some hard words from the godly men I trusted—I began to experience significant breakthroughs.

It was in that period of my life when I came across Mid-Valley Fellowship. This unassuming ministry was bringing people to Jesus for the same kind of healing that I had recently found. Mid-Valley wasn’t like the other ministries I’d encountered in my wanderings: programs that assume you’ll always struggle, only now you can do so “victoriously.” These people were looking for a deeper place of healing and genuine transformation that only the Spirit of God could bring.

Last year’s benefit dinner, for example, was particularly moving. Several people shared deeply personal testimonies about the struggles they’ve had (and continue to have) in seeking God’s design for their lives. All of them were in the process of recognizing their true identities as children of God. This gospel truly was good news.

As I heard their stories, I felt my own heart ring with a genuine connection to God’s kingdom. The work of God that had set me free was at work in these men and women too. It was yet another reminder that God wants to do more than just make us disciplined—He wants to change us and make us whole.

He wants to bring His Kingdom deeper into this world through our connection with Him, transforming our lives and leading us into resounding joy.

When Jesus returns, there will be many stories of redemption and restoration to share. But even today, much of God’s Kingdom is being shared through the testimonies of people who struggle in a dark and corrupt world yet have found the power of the Lord when they needed it most.

•••

“You are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.”
1 Peter 2:5—

•••

I am learning to see God’s Church as a people set apart from the world, not just people who go to a specific building on Sunday mornings.

I’m learning what it means that God “does not dwell in temples made by human hands.”

And now, more than ever, I am putting my hope in this transforming message of Jesus. As He travelled the countryside in a backwater Roman colony, He kept repeating the same phrase: “Behold, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

As I continue to hear more stories of redemption in those who have trusted Christ, I have to say I whole-heartedly agree—the Kingdom of Heaven truly is at hand.

.

Luke_ZedwickLuke Zedwick worked for 11 years as a math teacher, church elder, and an occasionally paid minister of the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth. He’s spent the last few years as a school principal, husband & dad, and Bible teacher in his local church home group.

If you would like to contact Luke, you can reach him here.

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Can You Still be a Christian if You Keep Struggling with Sin?

Back when I was looking at porn on a regular basis and lying about it to my wife, I knew I wasn’t right with God, but I never knew how bad it really was.

I would pray secretly to God asking Him to fix me, and I tried to reassure myself that He was forgiving and patient. But I never submitted my secret life to Him or made Him my Lord and Savior.

Photo by Ezra Wolf, Flickr Creative Commons

Ezra Wolf, Flickr Creative Commons

In reality, pornography was my god, and I was trying to be my own savior. I was attempting to please God through my hard work, but I still believed deep down I could fix myself. In my honest moments, filled with remorse, I wondered whether I was a Christian at all. I now believe that was the Holy Spirit speaking to me.

Don’t get me wrong; I was a churchgoer and a Bible-reader. I prayed each day and taught my children about Jesus. I was even an elder in my church for a time, and I repeatedly shared my “faith” with others.

But those things won’t save anyone.

In spite of all those things, I was still a liar. I kept committing adultery in my heart. And the Bible seems pretty clear that you can’t be any of those things and be saved at the same time (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). For that matter, you can’t even be greedy, slander people, or be a thief either.

According to that verse, I was still one of the unrighteous. So how could I have been saved?

•••

I always believed I would know God more once I got my sin under control. Now I understand how wrong that assumption was, because once I surrendered my life to the Holy God, He was the one who got my sin under control.

Now, I’m not saying you can’t be a Christian and struggle with porn (or any sin for that matter). But what I can tell you, is when God changes your heart, sinful things lose their ability to draw you in. You won’t want to go back to the same sins over and over because they will no longer satisfy your new heart. Your new heart will be drawn to God the King.

This is why the Bible follows up its earlier comment about the unrighteous not inheriting the Kingdom by reminding the Corinthian believers that they’ve been changed:

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11).

These Christians used to be liars, thieves, and adulterers—but not anymore. Now, they are washed clean of their sin and set free by the blood of Christ. They are no longer defined as sinners! They are righteous (even though they clearly still struggled with sin).

The same becomes true of you when you meet Jesus Christ and He saves you from the power of sin. This, after all, is what he does.

If you find, however, in your most honest moments, that your deepest desire is still to sin, to fix yourself, to worship another god… then it’s imperative you consider whether you’re trusting Jesus to save you, or if your faith is still rooted in your own goodness.

Are you seeking Him with your whole heart, or are you still trying to save yourself?

•••

God came to me much like he came to Cain. He showed me that sin was crouching at my door and it wanted to have me (Genesis 4:7). And like Cain, rather than submitting to God, I slayed myself (and my wife) with my lying and my selfish lust.

Through that season though, God never stopped pursuing me out of love. This wasn’t always with soft hands and a warm embrace. At times I felt as if He was haunting me. He would convict me with Scripture and cause my spirit to become restless with the actions of my life. I realized I could never be a half-hearted but happy Christian. I could not escape His pursuit unless I surrendered to Him.

I would like to say that I eventually cried out to God, but the truth is, He came and saved me in spite of my stubborn pride. I had little to do with it.

God rescued me from my sin—and from myself.

God brought me to Himself when I insisted on looking for my own way.

The lesson to be learned from my story isn’t that God can make you into a more upright person. No, the lesson from my life is that God is the one who rescues.

Experiencing how He has released me from the slow poison of my wretched heart, to be free to love Him as my rescuer—that has become the joy of my life.

How Jacob’s Humble Prayer can bring You Freedom from Addiction

The Prayer of Jacob

“The Prayer of Jacob,” by Gustav Doré

One of my favorite things about studying the Bible is how God can use a story I’ve read a dozen times to speak to me in a completely new way.

The most recent example of this came just the other day as I was reading the story of Jacob back in Genesis 32.

A bit of back story…

Jacob had just returned back to his homeland as the Lord had instructed him to do. As soon as he got there, he sent a few of his men to take a peace-offering to his brother, Esau, who lived nearby.

You see, there was some bad blood between Jacob and Esau, mainly because Jacob had cheated Esau out of both his birthright and his blessing. Jacob knew if he was going to live in close proximity to his brother again, it would be wise to attempt to reconcile their relationship.

Shortly after his men went out though, they returned with the following news:

“We met your brother, Esau, and he is already on his way to meet you—with an army of 400 men!” (Genesis 32:6)

Jacob was obviously freaked out by this. His first instinct—as it would be with many of us—was to protect himself and his family from the coming attack. He immediately took action and split his family into two camps so that “If Esau meets one group and attacks it, perhaps the other group can escape” (v. 7).

But then, once Jacob had done everything he could think of to protect himself (and probably recognized the futility of his efforts), he took his fear and concerns before God:

9 Jacob prayed, “O God of my grandfather Abraham, and God of my father, Isaac—O Lord, you told me, ‘Return to your own land and to your relatives.’ And you promised me, ‘I will treat you kindly.’ 10 I am not worthy of all the unfailing love and faithfulness you have shown to me, your servant. When I left home and crossed the Jordan River, I owned nothing except a walking stick. Now my household fills two large camps! 11 O Lord, please rescue me from the hand of my brother, Esau. I am afraid that he is coming to attack me, along with my wives and children. 12 But you promised me, ‘I will surely treat you kindly, and I will multiply your descendants until they become as numerous as the sands along the seashore—too many to count’” (Genesis 32:9-12).

Jacob’s Faith

Jacob begins his prayer by reflecting on the promises God has made to him:

Lord, you told me, “Return to your own land and to your relatives” (v. 9).

You promised me, “I will surely treat you kindly, and I will multiply your descendants until they become as numerous as the sands along the seashore—too many to count” (v. 12).

Jacob remembered how God had not only told him to move to this land, but He promised to take care of him and bless him with many descendants as well—neither of which would come to pass if he and his family were wiped out.

By reflecting back on, and choosing to believe the promises God made to him (faith), Jacob began to rest in the peace of trusting that God would surely get him through this upcoming trial.

Jacob’s Humility

Once Jacob focused his mind onto God’s faithfulness, he began to look back on all the ways God had come through for him already. He reflects on how God has blessed him far beyond what he ever deserved—not because he earned it, but because of God’s unfailing love and faithfulness.

By recognizing how all these blessings in his life had been undeserved gifts of God’s grace, it took his own worthiness, acceptance, and ability out of the equation.

This perspective of humility allowed Jacob to look toward the battle knowing it would be God’s power that would get him through. And trusting God’s strength is far more comforting than relying on his own.

Jacob’s Request

Finally, after pausing to reflect on God’s perfect track record, Jacob reached out to Him for help. He came to a point where he could truly say “Yes Lord, I believe,” and then asks God to save him as He has promised.

Jacob doesn’t sugar-coat his fear or minimize the situation. He doesn’t use big, fancy, ceremonial words. He doesn’t put on his nicest suit or light some incense. No, he simply comes before God and says, “Lord… Help. I’m scared. I don’t now what to do. I can’t handle this on my own…but You can. Help me… Please.”

And how did God respond? Well, let’s just say He came through on His promises.

How does this help me today?

You may not be facing an invading army, but if you’re hanging around this blog you’re probably being tempted by an enemy who’s just as powerful. The good news though, is the proper response remains the same: When trials come, run to God in prayer.

Remember the promises He has made to you, and the promises you have already seen Him fulfill.

Humbly recognize your brokenness and admit how much you need the power of Christ to get you through your struggles.

If you use Jacob’s prayer as a template, your prayer might look something like this:

Lord, you have promised me that You will never leave me and that You will never condemn me. You have declared that I am now a new creation—no longer a slave to the sin that is tempting me. You have also instructed me to “flee from sexual immorality,” and gave me the power to do so by placing your Spirit within me.

I recognize that I am not worthy of the unfailing love and kindness You have shown me. The gifts You have blessed me with—forgiveness, sonship, eternal life—are far beyond anything I deserve. I am incapable of winning this battle on my own. I need your strength, Lord.

Father, please rescue me from this addiction. Allow me to walk in the freedom you have promised me. Break these chains on me by Your power.

I give this battle to You, Lord. I trust You to lead me into victory as you have promised.

Thank You, Father. Amen.

•••

In the end, Jacob didn’t even have to fight the battle after all. God delivered him so completely it transformed his biggest fear into a celebration.

How great would it be if He did the same for you in your battle?

I, for one, believe that He can.

10 Lies Men Believe about Porn Preview

How Does Trusting Jesus Help Me with Porn?

10 Lies Men Believe about PornThis post has been adapted from the chapter, “Lie #7: God Can Set Others Free from Pornography Addiction, but Not Me,” in my new book, 10 Lies Men Believe about PornThis post is the final part of an 8-week series on life-changing faith. If you would like to begin at part 1, you can do that here.

Stop the porn processWe often think the sin process begins when we find ourselves in front of the computer with our pants around our ankles. But in reality, the process begins much earlier when you stop trusting—consciously or unconsciously—that Jesus knows (and wants) what is best for you.

If, however, you can learn to recognize the moment when your trust in Him begins to slip, you can stop the sin process before it ever gets a chance to start.

When I end up losing the battle with pornography, it’s a similar process nearly every time. I start thinking about what a life of singleness and celibacy might look like and begin to believe I won’t be able to handle it. I decide that Jesus is being unfair by asking me to remain single and is actually holding out on me. I start thinking that my sexual desires are actually sexual needs, and that Jesus can’t be trusted to meet those needs. It’s up to me to meet them.

Notice how all of this happens before I ever end up in front of the computer. By the time I even sit down to “check my e-mail” or whatever other excuse I’m trying to convince myself is the real reason I’m there, I’ve already decided in my mind what is going to happen. I may still go through the motions of trying to resist the temptation, but I’ve already given myself permission to indulge. Fighting it will only increase my anticipation and make it more pleasurable when I eventually give in.

But if I learn to recognize my dwindling trust back when I first start to question Jesus, I can choose to respond with faith and stop this cycle before it even begins. I can trust that He really does know what I need better than I do. I can recognize that I don’t need sex to meet my need for intimacy; I don’t need a girlfriend or pornography; I only need Jesus.

I can fight the battle of sin by choosing to believe the truth, and the truth will set me free.

 •••

If you aren’t experiencing the freedom from sin Jesus offers you, ask yourself whether it’s a sign that He isn’t trustworthy, or a sign that you aren’t trusting Him. Don’t wait until you feel dead to sin or free from bondage before you believe it to be true about you. Trust that it’s true because the Bible says it is. If you do chose to trust these truths, you will begin to experience them in your life.

God’s goal for your life isn’t for you to try to sin less; it’s to trust Him more. The amazing thing, though, is the more you trust Him, the less you will end up sinning. This is why life for a believer truly begins when you move from mere belief to absolute, unwavering trust; when you believe that every word Jesus said is true; when you get in the wheelbarrow; when you jump off the cliff.

So stop playing whack-a-mole with your sin. Trust that Jesus has already set you free from it, and walk away from the game altogether.

10 Lies Men Believe about Porn Preview

If Following Jesus is about Relationship, Why does He Seem so Distant?

10 Lies Men Believe about PornThis post has been adapted from the chapter, “Lie #7: God Can Set Others Free from Pornography Addiction, but Not Me,” in my new book, 10 Lies Men Believe about PornThis post is part 7 in an 8-week series on life-changing faith. If you would like to begin at part 1, you can do that here.

why is Jesus distantI can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the saying “It’s not about religion, it’s about relationship.” I’ve even used it myself at times. In a lot of ways, it’s the foundational truth that this entire book is based on. But have you actually stopped to consider what that saying is trying to communicate? It’s the idea that following Jesus is not about living up to some moral standard or performing certain rituals—it’s about actually getting to know Him and about spending time with Him. It’s about having a relationship with Him.

But what does a personal relationship with Jesus actually look like? For that matter, what does a relationship with anyone look like?

In order for any relationship to develop, you must spend time with each other. You must seek to know each other on a personal level. Most importantly, you must trust one another. If you remove any one of these elements from the relationship, it will never grow into a meaningful friendship.

It’s the same with a relationship with Jesus. You can spend time with Him in prayer. You can seek to know all about Him by reading the Bible. But if you don’t trust Him, you will never experience a true relationship with Him.

The moment I came clean about the full depth of my sin was the moment Jesus became real to me. Before that moment, if I was being honest, I called myself a follower of Jesus. But I didn’t know Him personally. I didn’t have a relationship with Him.

Sure, I knew all about Jesus. I had grown up in church and had even gone to seminary, so I knew all the answers to the Bible trivia questions. I even spent time with Him—sort of. I prayed to Him on a regular basis, but it was only when I needed something, never because I just wanted to hang out with Him. As soon as He asked me to do anything that pushed me or required me to trust Him, I would find an excuse to ignore Him. I was fine trusting Him with most things, but I didn’t want to trust Him with everything. I still wouldn’t trust Him when He asked me to bring my sin into the light. I was only holding back a small percentage, but it made all the difference.

 

I was fine trusting Him with most things,
but I didn’t want to trust Him with everything.

 

Unless you trust Jesus with everything—100 percent—it shows that you don’t really trust Him at all. I may have been calling Him the Lord of my life, but by picking and choosing in what areas I wanted to trust Him based on my own feelings, I was still controlling the relationship. I was functioning as my own lord.

The more I look at the Scriptures, the more I wonder if I was even saved before that moment when I put my full trust in Jesus. I acknowledge that this is an extreme view, but look at it this way: if we are saved by grace through faith, and I wasn’t trusting Jesus (my faith wasn’t in Him), how could I have been saved?

I recognize now that my faith was still in my own ability to make the best decisions for my life. By choosing not to trust every word Jesus said, I was trying to pick my own path to salvation and refusing to trust Him about the path He had clearly lined out for me. I was more interested in maintaining my temporary happiness in this world than trusting what Jesus promised would lead to eternal happiness and life. I wanted to receive all the blessings of faith without changing my life or acting in a way that would cause others to label me as odd or extreme. I wanted a relationship with Jesus, but only if I didn’t have to risk anything to receive it.

But that’s not the life of faith Jesus calls us to. He makes it clear that true faith will change your life in a way that no one can deny. For example, look at a few of the verses that tell us what the everyday life of a Jesus follower will look like:

Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples (John 13:35).

The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23).

If my faith had been in Christ, then love, kindness, and all the other fruits of the Spirit would have been flowing out of me. Instead, my life was marked by selfishness, apathy, and manipulation. These were not fruits of a Spirit-filled life; they were fruits of a Steve-focused life.

The verse I think concerns me most—because of the possible implications for so many others who are claiming to be followers of Christ but are still functioning as their own lord—is Matthew 7:22–23:

Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:22–23).

Eternal life in heaven is about Who you know, not what you do. I’m sure I would have been one of the guys standing at the gates of heaven with my résumé of all the great things I had done for Jesus. In reality, because I had never trusted Him, I didn’t even know Him. I was in church, but I wasn’t in Christ. Because I still believed it was my résumé that saved me—all the stuff I supposedly did for Jesus—and I never put my faith in Him, it makes me wonder if I would have been turned away.

 

I was in church, but I wasn’t in Christ.

 

Compare all of that to what happened immediately after I chose to trust Jesus fully. Instead of being worried that others would find out about the depth of my addiction, I found myself looking for opportunities to share the story of how Jesus had changed my life. I felt like Peter when the Holy Spirit came upon him and he instantly went from denying his faith to a servant girl to boldly proclaiming Jesus to anyone who would listen.

I felt as if I had a direct line of communication with Jesus and couldn’t stop talking to Him. For the first time ever I felt like I had an actual relationship with Him. He wasn’t just some imaginary being in my mind; He was the most real and intimate friend I’ve ever had.

Honestly, I became the crazy Jesus guy, and I wasn’t ashamed about it. The change in my life was undeniable and shocking.

And best of all, because of the relationship I’ve experienced with Christ, I’ve had no doubt whatsoever since that moment that I’m saved.

Continue to Part 8: How Does Trusting Jesus Help Me with Porn?

10 Lies Men Believe about Porn Preview