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Why didn’t God bring up masturbation in the Bible?

I came to Christ in 1971. I came to Christ as a teen as I was struggling with a constant habit of masturbating. Nobody knew that, because nobody would talk about it in those days, so I kept it to myself.

But as a young Christian I was told there was such a thing as a “concordance,” and you could look up all the words that were in the Bible! I got all excited and when no one was around, I looked under the letter “M.” As I found not a single reference to the act, I thought, “Looks like God’s not going to talk about it, either!”

That experience left a big question mark in my heart. Is masturbation right or wrong? All I knew was that I couldn’t stop. I tell people that before I came to Christ, I thought a man ought to be able to go to bed and go to sleep without having to masturbate first. The first time I acted out after I became a Christian, I thought, “It’s back! It didn’t go away like you were hoping.” That reality was devastating. But God’s silence on the subject made it more of an inward battle than it really had to be. Even if it was only a habit I couldn’t stop doing, I needed to be able with talk to people about it.

Around fifteen years ago, I went to a “Promise Keepers” meeting where the theme was worship. God spoke to my heart that weekend and said, “Bob, you are not worshiping me, and you know it.” Worship had become a mere formality in my life. I had a checklist in my mind and as long as we read the Scriptures, prayed, sang good old hymns, and had a theologically sound sermon, I assumed worship happened. But I was just going through the motions. It was far from what God had in mind about worshipping him.

A few months after the conference, I started dealing seriously with my sexual struggle. It was then that God reminded me about what true worship really was. Worship is about giving all of you, all of your heart, to something. Worship has to do with what you are living for. It was then that I realized that even though I was not truly worshipping God, I was worshipping something. I learned that my continual movement toward masturbation and pornography was an act of idolatry (false worship).

This discovery helped crystallize what repentance should be about. Now I knew what I had to turn from—and where I had to turn to. I had to be honest with what was going on in my heart. When life became confusing or boring or scary or whatever, masturbation and pornography was a place of escape, adventure, pleasure, and, in a word, life for me. I needed it, like an addict needs his addiction. I had to be honest about my fantasies and my preference for these things, rather than waiting on God.

It hit me: I didn’t have to know whether masturbation was right or wrong. All I had to know was that this activity was shutting God out of my thoughts and inviting in a substitute which seemed to calm me down and give me a break in life that I desperately needed.

God didn’t bring up masturbation in the Scriptures, but he did say we were supposed to bring every thought captive to Christ Jesus. And bringing my thoughts captive to the idea that my heart truly is an idol factory helps me be honest with the thoughts that go through my head. There is still a desperation in my heart to try and make things work out my way and I do need to repent from that.

Where are your inner thoughts leading you? Do you find that in times of stress, confusion, boredom, loneliness, or fear that you turn to find relief in pornography, masturbation, or other sexual temptations? If so, see your behavior as flowing from your heart, a heart that is living for and consumed by a need for comfort and relief, and not a life that is growing in dependence upon God and the things in which he delights. Repentance is very practical and relevant when we see it from this angle.

Updated 5.10.2017

Here at Harvest USA, we facilitate Biblical Support Groups for people who struggle with sexual sins. One of our groups for male strugglers incorporates a study of Scripture with an eye toward our behavior. One recent question we focused on was this: What’s really going on in our sexual fantasies?

Are they harmless expressions we all engage in? If these fantasies are inside my own head and don’t affect anyone else, what’s the problem with them? As one guy in the group said, “Is it really anybody’s business what I’m thinking?”

These objections, at first glance, might appear to have some validity to them. But I challenged the men with some of these objections: What if my “private” fantasy includes having sex with your eight-year-old daughter? If you knew that was what I was thinking, you probably wouldn’t be too happy to hear I was teaching your daughter’s Sunday school class next week. Yet we still stick up for ourselves and plead “sanctuary” when it comes to our thought lives.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not pleading a case to hear all that’s going on in that head of yours! But it’s also not a “no man’s land” either. Our thought lives are a reflection of what is going on in our hearts; our thought lives are a door to examining the desires that drive our emotions and behavior. Leave that door unopened to anyone else, and it can lead any one of us down some very dark paths. If we want to find freedom from the enslaving sexual desires that entrap us, then we must be willing to allow others to challenge us at the level of our thoughts and fantasies.

So, what’s going on in our sexual fantasies? I believe, if we’re honest with ourselves, that these secret fantasies represent a place where we find ourselves in control. We live in a world that is largely out of our control, one that frequently seems to be against us. Our fantasy lives are a desperate attempt to carve out a little spot in this world where something works out our way—finally! I know that’s a major issue in my life.

Many men, for example, will ask me if it’s okay to fantasize about their wives. I’ll ask if their wives are built different in their fantasies. But most would respond that it’s more about their wives doing things in their fantasies that they wouldn’t do in real life. Does this sound okay to you? Better still, ask your wife if it sounds okay to her.

Fantasy lives always intrude upon real life, somewhere, somehow. They aren’t harmless; they affect the way we think about or even relate to others in our lives. I know I need God to speak to that part of my heart with authority and grace. I know he does speak to that place. He does so through the words of his people, to those I’ve opened up my heart to, allowing them to challenge my illusions of self-importance.

So what’s going on in my sexual fantasies? A whole lot of me that needs replacing by a whole lot of submitting to the reality of what God is really doing in my life.

What about you? What do your fantasies reveal about your heart? What do you need to do with them?

Updated 5.19.2017

Life in this world is often brutally painful. Our bodies break down as we contend with disease, injury, and death. Our relationships can be a source of great blessing, but also crushingly painful. Even the physical world lashes out with hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc. And, to top it all off, we are often our own worst enemies—making repeated foolish decisions that lead to guilt, shame, and damaging ripple effects in our relationships, workplaces, etc.

When you look at our world—and your own heart—do you believe chaos is reigning? Do you believe that God is present in the midst of you most painful trials? Consider the encouragement found in Hebrews 12:1-3:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (ESV).

The final thing I want to consider in this passage is the declaration that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. This means he is exalted, in the place of highest honor. And it is significant that he is “seated.” This is the posture of a victorious king—seated on his throne, ruling over all, his enemies vanquished, his task complete. Earlier, Hebrews urges us to see that Jesus is ruling over the universe. He upholds everything by the word of his power (1:3). Everything has been made subject to him. Nothing is outside of his control. This is the truth, even though we do not yet see it (2:8).

The last point is crucial. Living the Christian life requires faith because there is still so much brokenness in the world and in our lives. The kingdom of Christ is advancing, but there is a long way to go and much that will not be set right until the new heavens and earth. But in the face of all the existing ills, Scripture urges us to believe that nothing in this broken world is random. Chaos is not reigning—Jesus is, and, having reconciled us to the Father through his sacrifice, he will accomplish his ultimate purpose of preparing us to be with him forever. He is committed to seeing us through to the end of this race. Remember: He is the perfecter of our faith.

Sadly, this race is grueling and filled with snares. We are called to perseverance because the race is hard. But Jesus is lifted up to encourage us. This passage teaches us that as we fix our gaze on him, considering what he endured out of love for us, we are strengthened in our weariness, emboldened rather than disheartened. Verse 4 challenges that we haven’t suffered to the point of shedding blood. The contrast, of course, is that Jesus was slaughtered for us.

So where do we find the power to live differently? How do we cast aside the weight that slows us down and the sin that trips up our feet? By faith, clinging to the hope that Jesus finished the race and is now committed to seeing us through. He is not still running ahead;he has finished. He is now seated, his smiling face, filled with an expression of love, is turned toward us, urging us on at every step.

Hebrews 12 goes on to talk about the painful reality that God disciplines his children. Our trials and temptations don’t reveal his absence, but point, albeit painfully, to his presence with us, the proof that we are his adopted children.

Why do we need to cast these things aside? They are robbing us of joy and slowing us down on our journey home. They make our already arduous path all the more difficult. We are pointed to Jesus’ suffering so that we will know that our suffering matters too. Just as Jesus is lifted up and exalted, ruling over the universe, so there is glory and honor awaiting us as we suffer through the brokenness of this fallen world. We are called to “count it all joy” in the face of trials because God is using them to produce steadfastness and to ultimately “perfect” us (James 1:2-4). Trials turn up the heat in our lives, purifying our faith, of greater worth than gold (1 Peter 1:3-9).

Do you believe that God’s purposes are being accomplished in the midst of your most painful trials? What does it mean to you that Jesus has suffered first and is now victoriously seated, and awaiting your arrival? May God give us the grace to cling to his promises in the midst of the pain of life and to see with eyes of faith the great cloud of witnesses who have survived the race and cheer us on. Above all, may we look to Jesus sitting on the throne, exalted, reigning, and overflowing with love and joy and delight in us.

Updated 5.10.2017

When are you discouraged in your struggle against sin? When our focus is only on what is immediately in front of us—all of today’s temptations and failures—we lose perspective on the big picture and the ways in which God is at work, even in the midst of our sin.

Take a look at Hebrews 12:1-3:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (ESV).

In my last post, we looked to Jesus as the founder and perfecter of our faith. Now I want to consider in wonder that he went to the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” First, the passage tells us something important: Going to the cross meant Jesus experienced shame. Not only does Jesus identify with us in our temptation, but he even identifies with us in our guilt and shame, though he was personally sinless. He experienced them for us on the cross. 2 Corinthians 5:21 describes it like this: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” He became sin for us. He took all our guilt and shame on his shoulders as he faced the curse of dying on a tree (Galatians 3:10-14). He is able to understand and have compassion for everything you experience—even the pain of your guilt over repeated failures. He knows the reality of your sin and invites you to see him lifted up, bearing it for you so that you are able to walk in newness of life.

What was his motivation? The joy set before him. That joy includes you and me. In my last post, I also quoted Titus 2:14, in which Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” The point of this passage is to consider him as our perfecter, committed to purifying his people. But the whole point in our purification was to make us a people fitted for his own possession. Jesus went to the cross, for the joy of liberating us from our slavery to sin so that we could be his beloved Bride. He has betrothed himself to us, and, as we both await that great Wedding Feast of the Lamb, he is joyfully purifying us in glorious anticipation—even though on our end, the purification process is anything but joyful and glorious!

This truth radically impacts the call to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1). How? There is a goal towards which we are running. This isn’t mindlessly circling a track until you’ve suffered enough in abstinence from sexual sin. God is not a killjoy who dangles pleasures, only to see us drool. There is a glorious destination in view. One awaits us with a smile brighter than we can imagine (like the sun!), whose arms are outstretched, whose heart is overflowing with love, who delights in us and even sings over us.

We need to cast aside everything slowing us down because Jesus is eager for us to arrive, to offer us pleasures at his right hand forevermore—pleasures that right now, in this existence, with these bodies, we can’t even begin to fathom. He promises that joy, pleasure, peace, and contentment beyond our ability to comprehend await us at the end of this race. He promises we will be satisfied for eternity. Contentment in this life is often fleeting at best. In his presence is “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). The pleasures offered to us in this life are good gifts from a loving God that enable us to glimpse in a mirror dimly the infinitely greater glories awaiting us.

How would your battle against sin change if your eyes were focused on the end of the race? Do you believe that Jesus isn’t holding out on you, but reserving pleasure and delight that will infinitely satisfy your soul at the race’s end?

Updated 5.10.2017

How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions? Do you get excited about ways you can grow and mature in the coming year? Or are you bombarded with memories of all your past failures, all your grand hopes for change that were dashed before the end of January? This passage is in favor of New Year’s resolutions because it challenges us to take stock of where we are in life—and then get moving!

Read the following passage from Hebrews 12:1-3:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (ESV).

It’s the first day back after the holidays, so we’ll keep it simple. The passage describes the Christian life as running a race. What does this mean? The Christian life isn’t easy. Spiritual growth is grueling, strenuous labor. We are encumbered by “weights” and entangling sin that thwart our progress.

Many men have said to me, “I know what I have to do—I need to put Jesus where porn is in my life.” Theologically this is true. Idol worship needs to be replaced with worship of the true and living God. But here’s the rub: Jesus will never become like porn for you. If it was that simple, none of us would sin. The Christian life is always living by faith, and, as my colleague Bob says, sometimes living by faith doesn’t seem like much. We aren’t tortured for our faith in this country. Faith doesn’t usually produce a runner’s high. Let me tell you: Having spent many years abusing drugs, running the race of faith is not my definition of being “high.” But it is better in the long run.

Do you know why I keep running? Because of how I feel when it’s over. The process is torture, but the end is glorious. Sexual sin lures, promising immediate pleasure, but it withholds the truth of the guilt, shame, wrecked relationships, etc., that always follow. The Christian life is hard, probably much harder than you realized it would be when you signed on. But it’s worth it.

What do I mean? The Christian life is kind of like a runner’s high. After my wife’s passing in 2010, I started taking exercise seriously and began running regularly. I hate to run. But at long last, I experienced the runner’s high.

So, let’s look at three quick things the passage tells us about this race:

1)      The race has an audience. Following the list of Old Testament saints in chapter 11, this passage begins telling us that they are witnesses to the race we are running. They are cheering us on! And, more importantly, they stand as a witness to us that the end is in sight. This race will be over before we know it. They encourage us to persevere, standing as proof that God’s grace is sufficient for us.

2)      The race has been set for us. Your life is not an accident. This includes all the painful trials, temptations, unwanted attractions, etc. You are running a path set for you by a loving God who promises that he is working everything together for your good to conform you to the image of Jesus so that he will be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (see Romans 8:28-29).

3)      The race has already been run by your Champion. We’ll spend more time in later posts considering this crucial reality. Jesus has already run this road, faced every trial and temptation you face, but never stumbled. He ran the race ahead of us, blazing the trail, and offers us the exact grace we need to face all the specific challenges because he has already endured them for us victoriously.

Are you weary at the start of the New Year? Where do you need to be encouraged? What “weights” are slowing you down? What sins are entangling you? May God give us the grace to look to Jesus and get up and run!

Updated 5.10.2017

Happy Friday!

Did you fast last weekend? How did it go? I fasted from checking and writing email. Why?

When I’m feeling lonely or disconnected from people, going online to check my email or checking my phone for text messages is what I do to have my heart soothed and comforted (that is, if I hear from anyone!). But when I reflect on why I do this so frequently, I realize that I am not going to the Lord for my comfort.

When I turn from the Lord to something else in order to pursue life, comfort, security, value, feeling loved etc., this is when I have fed the temptation rather than starved it. I’ve found that a common thread in the hearts of women who become ensnared in sexual sin of any type is the emotional pain they feel. That pain must be soothed, denied, or escaped from at any cost, and it is through sexual encounters, a fantasy life, or emotionally entangled friendships that the pain is soothed and calmed—for a time.

But when we move in that direction, it comes at a cost. What we feed on grows. What is growing in our lives becomes the focus of our lives. Will that focus lead to Christ-likeness or to a deeper enslavement to my sin patterns?

One initial step for you to grow in Christ-likeness, rather than in patterns of sin, is to think about the following:

1)     Can you name the desires in your heart that seem to rule over you? Desires can be holy or evil, depending on the motive of our heart.

2)     Can you identify the paths you walk in order to soothe those desires? This connects with the ‘fasting’ exercise I mentioned in my last blog post. What we can’t give up for a week, a day, or an hour may be something we are using as a way to feed and nurture sinful desires.

3)     Take one passage of Scripture and reflect daily on the passage that you have chosen, meditating on the qualities listed that you want to see growing in your life. Let me suggest one of three: 2 Peter 1:1-11, Galatians 5: 22-26, or Colossians 3:1-12, as these are passages that describe qualities of Christ-likeness. Focus on Christ first, not your sin that must be done away with.

4)     Find a ‘safe’ person to pray for you and help you think through how you can develop ongoing habits that will nurture your soul in Jesus and starve out your flesh. A safe person is someone who consistently lives a life of following Christ, is honest about their own struggles, is self-controlled with her mouth, can listen with wisdom, and can speak words of grace and truth back to you.

These are just some initial steps to take. Are there other things you’ve found in your spiritual journey that have been helpful as you’ve sought to turn from temptation?

Updated 5.10.2017

If we want to ‘starve out’ our specific areas of temptation to sin, let’s not miss the thing we so obviously need: to know what they are! What immediately comes to your mind: Do you obsessively hop onto Facebook to stalk certain people? Do you casually cruise over to websites that are “borderline” pornographic?

Do you pop into chat rooms to “just” talk, but you know you’ll soon be exchanging sexually graphic messages? What books, music, and movies arouse your senses in ways that lead you to sexual arousal and self-gratification? Whose verbal affection and/or touch, whether guy or girl, is something that you feel you can’t live without?

Sisters, the above scenarios (and hundreds of other specific things that may have come to your mind) really aren’t the main things that need to be starved out. They are the fruit or manifestations of deeper, more profound heart-temptations that are within you. To starve them out, you must go below the surface sin struggle and get delve into what you are craving. Are you desperately lonely and seeking companionship? Are you sad and brokenhearted and seeking to feel comfort—even just a drop of attention or affection from someone? Are you bored with life and just want to feel alive? All of these are very specific areas of pain and struggle and longing for which Jesus must be your covering, your comfort, your heart’s clothing.

Here are some diagnostic questions to ask of your heart:

1).        What activities, people, habits, or commitments are a part of your daily life? Some of mine are my cell phone and texting, my computer and checking email, my French Press and coffee.

2).        How long can you go without any of the things you just listed?

3).        What kinds of feelings surface when you “fast” from these things for an hour? Half a day? An entire day?

The feelings that surface when we fast from any regular or habitual activity (anything that we feel we “have to do” and suspect may have a hold on us) will help us to discover root causes to our temptations and sin struggles. Try to fast this weekend from one thing you came up with in question #1, and jot down the feelings that surface during that fasting period. I’m going to fast from checking and writing email, so I’ll join in on this.

What will you fast from? What do you think your heart will display? What will you learn about the heart within you that drives what you do?

Updated 5.10.2017

Today, I want to share more thoughts on living in light of Romans 13:14, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (ESV).

If we’re going to be women who resist the pull of our flesh towards sexual temptations and relational idols, and grow as daughters of God who make no provision to invite temptation to lurk nearby, we must understand the two commands in this verse.

First, we are to daily clothe ourselves in Jesus, rather than any other thing. Being “clothed in Jesus” is another way of saying that we are to live and respond to life by faith and in surrender to the amazing truth that Jesus lives within us. We are his in regards to all areas of life. We are not our own and have no right to say, “Jesus, I love and worship you, but in this area, I’ll take care of things myself.”

These areas in which we seek to be queen of our universe are generally linked to our fleshly desires, such as being emotionally or sexually comforted, whatever the cost. Or being #1 in someone’s thoughts or affections, regardless of how unhealthy the attachment to that woman or man might be. Or pursuing (via pornography and other venues of media) a consistent stream of material that fuels our self-constructed worlds of romantic and sensual fantasy.

Later this week, I want to explore help us discover a) our specific areas of fleshly pull and b) the specific wisdom Jesus has for each of us in taking steps toward cutting off the fuel supply to our lusts.

For reflection:

  • Jesus conversed with, pursued, spent time with, loved, healed, and forgave sin-ensnared women throughout his ministry while on earth. Often the church has been silent about the sexual sin patterns with which women are struggling. Read and reflect upon Psalm 139; think of it as a prayer you might say to Jesus as you seek help and freedom from your addictions to people’s attention and affection, to your five-, ten-, or twenty-five-year masturbation pattern, to your inability to stop having sex with others. Jesus knows you in these struggles and loves you so much that he wants to free you from them.
Updated 5.10.2017

As I enjoyed the days of Thanksgiving holiday, a friend and I committed to help each other with individual health goals for December. (Why wait till January 1 for resolutions, right?) For starters, I’ll try to hit the elliptical at the gym twice a week, and also try one more time to be diligent about drinking lots of water. No time like now to get a fresh start!

But ohhh—the pull of our fleshly desires just doesn’t die easily. They don’t just go away, do they sisters? They need to be starved, slowly slain, dried out. You choose the adverbial phrase that resonates most deeply with your own experience as a woman seeking to live and relate in holy ways.

Romans 13:14 is a verse that speaks to this ‘holy starvation’ process that we’re all called to as followers of Christ. It says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (ESV). Somehow, putting on the clothes—that is, the character—of Jesus Christ while simultaneously learning how to starve our unique patterns of temptation and selfish desire is the spiritual combination that leads to the changes God wants to make in our lives.

And unlike typical January resolutions, which tend to be self-focused, the changes God is making in us leads to a growing desire and ability to love other, which is the larger context of chapter 13: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (v. 8).

I’ll explore these thoughts a bit more in my next posts.

For reflection:

  • Read these passages to learn more of what it means to be “clothed” in Jesus: Colossians 3:12-13; Galatians 3:26-28.
  • What desires of the flesh keep you from loving people? Don’t think just in terms of big sin but of everyday, little ways that you make provision for selfishness in your life.
Updated 5.10.2017

A third reason why we may change our minds on what Scripture has historically about the acceptability of homosexuality has to do with the company we keep. By this I mean, consider what you are reading, seeing, and viewing in today’s media. I’m not advocating we turn off the TV or stop reading articles and books that take positions different from our own, but we need to be careful that those positions may alter our view—not because of their reasoning, but because of the status of the person writing the material.

One author I have always enjoyed for his devotional work is Henri Nouwen. During the last years of his life, however, Nouwen’s theology openly shifted not just regarding homosexuality but also regarding the uniqueness of Christ and his work as the only way to God. Only after his death did some of the reason for that shift become apparent: Nouwen himself secretly struggled with same-sex attraction. Couple that with dabbling in eastern religions, and Nouwen began to shift his own views. It wasn’t so much his own wrestling with Scripture that brought about this positional shift; it was what was going on in his own life. But Nouwen’s status, huge and imposing in the Christian world, had and still has a powerful impact on those who read him.

Who we listen to really does matter. Again, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t read anything that differs from our own viewpoint, or anything that differs from an historic Christian doctrinal position. We need to have our own positions, and the historical Christian position is sharpened by interacting with how the current culture is thinking. But we also have to be aware that when someone we admire begins to shift his or her position on what the Scriptures say, that can have a significant impact on us. We can be swayed not merely on the basis of a reasoned argument, but because we don’t want to look “out of step” with people whose thinking we have admired.

Have you ever been swayed to a different position than what the Scripture has historically taught (on anything) because someone you admired or respected took a different position?

Updated 5.10.2017

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