09 Mar 2016
Do you suffer from “Mug Shot Theology?” We’ve all seen mug shots of people who have been arrested. It’s that photo the police take of a person when they’ve been caught—in the wrong place at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing. We’ve all seen Hollywood personalities looking their worst and having it all captured, for posterity, in their mug shot. These glamorous and handsome stars are almost unrecognizable when you catch a glimpse of them on that tabloid paper at the check-out counter at your local store. The image of one’s mug shot follows one around forever, coloring everything.
What does that have to do with Christians, you may be thinking? Mug Shot Theology is that picture we’re sure God has of us and always looks at when we’ve been behaving at our worst—when we’ve really blown it.
I’ve not known very many men who don’t suffer from Mug Shot Theology, especially when it comes to their deep and unrelenting sexual temptations, struggles, and sin. It just seems to come with the territory.
When we labor under this, it affects everything in our life. So it’s a very practical issue. When you have Mug Shot Theology, it’s rare to ever experience any joy in your life. It’s virtually impossible to possess the ability to run to the throne of grace at your time of deepest need. It keeps you from access to the power of God to help counter temptations. It turns your face away from God because of your shame and guilt. You are shut down from communicating with God. You feel left all alone with your temptations and sin, not knowing what to do, because Mug Shot Theology will make sure the cross is the last place you’ll run to.
“You stand in grace, you do not slink into it, you do not creep into it, you do now shuffle into it, you do not crawl into it. You stand in it, fixed, firm, established, because of Christ.”
When you don’t know what to do with your guilty heart and your sins, you will (because you’re a sinner) always adopt one or more of the following strategies.
- You’ll let yourself off the hook, explaining, excusing, or rationalizing your sin, falsely believing it’s not as bad or deadly as it is.
- You’ll put yourself under “house arrest,” only going through the motions of faith, severely limiting your attempts to love and serve God and others well.
- You’ll just try to say no to your temptations while constantly resolving to do better and white-knuckling it along the way.
- You become you own executioner, punishing yourself relentlessly.
- You’ll put yourself on probation with God, slinking back to him when you’ve put enough distance between your temptations or failures until you get up the courage to approach God again.
All these behaviors are the ways most men deal with their sin and struggles. But when we change that Mug Shot Theology to a Gospel Theology—in which we understand and admit that we, always, stand guilty, before a holy God, and yet our God beckons and invites unworthy sinners to his throne because of Jesus—then everything changes. Martyn-Lloyd Jones, in his commentary, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 5, Assurance, states it quite well.
“God has become one who delights to see us coming, receives us, loves us and sits us at a banqueting table. God is always looking upon us with favor and smiling upon us . . . So it is in prayer. . . we remind ourselves of this and rush into his presence . . . we rush in with boldness and full confidence, having access to the throne room. . . You stand in grace, you do not slink into it, you do not creep into it, you do now shuffle into it, you do not crawl into it. You stand in it, fixed, firm, established, because of Christ. You own this great truth and act upon it in your prayer life. . . knowing He is a Heavenly Father who delights to see us, to receive us. . . and whose love for us is way beyond our imagination.”
What a way to blast away Mug Shot Theology! It captures the essence of what it means to be dearly beloved children, ransomed by our God. It also moves us, in humility, towards God in our worst moments, daring to believe, once again, that the gospel is for us.
To learn more about these concepts of Christ’s love and grace for the downcast and disheartened, be sure and check out John’s new book, Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex.
03 Feb 2016
I was camping out in Hebrews 11 recently. That’s the chapter where many of the heroes of the faith are listed. Three names immediately stuck out for me. First there is Abraham. Not once but twice, Abraham offers his wife, Sarah, to other men to sleep with to save himself. And when it seems the covenant promise of an heir won’t ever come true because of old age, Sarah suggests he sleep with her bondservant. He immediately says “okay.”
David is listed there—a man after God’s own heart. But we know he was also hotheaded and impetuous at times, often acting first and thinking later. He was a deceiver, murderer, and adulterer. He had at least six wives and several concubines.
Then there’s Sampson. What!? God, you’ve got to be kidding! Sampson? He was the Charlie Sheen of his day! His life was ruled by scandal. When he saw a beautiful Philistine girl, he told his parents, “Go get her for me.” They put up a little fight because God had forbidden the intermarriage of heathen people with the Israelites. Sampson basically said to them, “I don’t care—go get her for me.” Then we see that he visited houses of ill-repute. His love (lust?) for Delilah was almost the downfall of the emergent nation and was his ruin.
These are the kind of men counted among the great men of faith. It doesn’t make sense. How can it be when each was involved in sexual sin or approved of sexual misconduct? How could these men be those in whom God took pleasure?
The record of these men’s lives is the story of ordinary but broken followers of God. Not a pretty picture, but an accurate one. They did great things for God, but they also struggled greatly too.
I think it means this. The record of these men’s lives is the story of ordinary but broken followers of God. Not a pretty picture, but an accurate one. They did great things for God, but they also struggled greatly too. Yet God blesses men like this (like us) because he mixes his grace with our corruptions—as a rule, not an exception! It’s not about our sin, although he takes that extremely seriously; it’s about his grace.
In one of my favorite books, The Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson, written in 1666, there is a chapter entitled, “Comfort to the Godly.” Honestly, I think it should have been entitled, “Comfort to the Scoundrels.” Watson says this,
“There are in the best of saints, interweavings of sin and grace; a dark side with the light; much pride mixed with much humility; much earthliness mixes with much heavenly-ness. Even in the regenerate there is often more corruption than grace. There’s so much bad passion that you can hardly see any good. A Christian in this life is like a glass of beer that has more froth (foam) than beer. Christ will never quench remnants of grace, because a little grace is as precious as much grace. As a fire may be hidden in the embers, so grace may be hidden under many disorders of the soul.”
It’s true—this side of heaven, grace and holiness are always mixed with our corrupt hearts. But experiencing God’s grace and forgiveness should move us towards a growing desire to be holy. I find many men who come for help to our ministry erroneously thinking there will be a day when they won’t desire or want things that would take them down dark roads. They think their hearts are, one day, not going to want bad things—therefore, they spiral down into depression and hopelessness when they do! Our hope is not in perfection here, or even in freedom from temptation, but in the realization that faith and obedience is a real possibility, because of God’s grace.
In his book, Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, John expands on this encouraging point that God takes us as we are and that even while he transforms our lives, he continues to work in us while we remain a mess of both corruptions and grace. Click this link to get the book.
14 Jan 2014
Modern psychology tells us—and indeed, our entire culture seeks to convince us—that it’s not good to repress or deny our sexual urges and desires. They’re seen by many as simple biological needs that demand expression; it’s seen as unhealthy not to seek that expression. Now that might be true, were it not for the fact that sex is never really about ‘us.” It’s about the other person.
Ideally, it’s about bringing all of who we are male or female to bless someone else. As archaic as it may seem, the Bible tells us that sex most aptly blesses others and reflects God in the context of marriage between one man and one woman.
Where does this leave the unmarried? Well, it leaves them dependent on God to meet the desires they might otherwise seek to fulfill through sex. This is also the case for married couples who deal with corrupt desires.
This is tough stuff. It runs contrary to the culture. It runs smack up against the messages about sex we get from advertising, TV, and the movies, that our drives and urges must be met at all costs. Resisting where our sexual desires might take us is not for the faint-hearted. It’s hard work. It’s a form of suffering, made more extraordinary because it is entirely voluntary.
But there’s an unseen benefit to resisting instead of repressing. C.S. Lewis, the Oxford University professor who wrote more than 40 books, including The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, had something of value to say about this. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity,
“People often misunderstand what psychology teaches about ‘repressions.’ It teaches that ‘repressed’ sex is dangerous’…. On the contrary, those who are seriously attempting chastity are more conscious, and soon know a great deal more about their own sexuality than anyone else. They come to know their desires… as a rat-catcher knows rats or a plumber knows about leaky pipes. Virtue—even attempted virtue—brings light; indulgence brings fog.”
Lewis is saying that it’s in the active mode of resisting our desires that we come to know more of what fuels our hearts and emotions—that we come to be more aware of our true selves.
In a world that offers numerous ways to dull our emotions and anesthetize our anxieties, fears, and uncertainties, often through sex, knowing one’s self is an amazing thing. It opens us up to knowing God in the depth of our desires in ways we’ve never imagined.
Of course there’s a hint of the supernatural in all of this. It’s not ordinary to resist the pulls of the heart. It can be done only with the power God gives as we seek to worship him and put him first in our lives, by committing our unmet desires to God for him to satisfy in his own way—in his own time.
This is not repression; it’s honestly admitting our desires, yet yielding them to God.
Jesus demonstrated this by putting aside his own desires, drives, and needs and yielding them to his Father. He did this so we could know his forgiveness and love in spite of the weakness of our own flesh and our history of failures.
This article is a reprint of a column published in the Philadelphia Daily News.
The title of this article presupposes two things: First, your children are being exposed to pornography, and second, you are already responding—even if you are doing nothing. Maybe you are tempted to toss aside this article with a shrug, “Well, my kids haven’t been exposed,
A question often asked here at Harvest USA is a common one. “Why do people—Christians even—go back to a gay life after they have come for help?” It’s a legitimate question. For Christians who believe the Word, the Scriptures, and believe that faith in Christ makes one a “new creation,” the issue may seem confusing, but the answer must be honest and biblically grounded. Here is the sixth reason to explain what might be happening here, as we have seen some common denominators over the years in our ministry.
Living in dishonesty
People don’t just jump back into disobedience. What usually happens is that they walk back step by step, and both they and those around them are typically unaware of what is happening. In every case at Harvest USA, in which someone has come for help and then gone back into the gay life, this has happened. When some come back later, we ask them when they first began to experience strong and overwhelming struggles to the point of giving in; they will point back to a specific period in time long before they fell.
Yet they never opened up to anyone about the struggle! Instead, they chose to pursue bondage again to sin—totally in secret. When questioned about why they didn’t come and share their heart with anyone about their struggles, virtually the same answer is given: “I knew you would tell me it was wrong.”
In each case, when the heart begins to do what it wants to do, the idea of honesty with those closest and best able to help was intentionally not pursued. Often, the person will be open with others in the gay life—or even with those in a gay-affirming church—during their time of secrecy with you. Why? Because when they decided to slip back, the thought of hearing what you would say would cause them even more distress! Already struggling, they wanted to get out of the struggle (see the post on demandingness), and hearing truth, even truth spoken with love and mercy, was something they had already closed their ears to.
Those who begin to walk in this kind of dishonesty are sometimes beyond help at this point. They see their new change of heart as a refreshing kind of “freedom” because it eliminates—even if only temporarily—the distress they are in.
Fear and shame enter into this kind of dishonesty. We have seen it in those who have come to us after spending time in Christian counseling, having never really opened up about the real issue of their same-sex attraction or behavior. Instead, they talked about loneliness, depression, and the like, issues which skirted around and shrouded the truth of their struggles.
It’s been our experience that no one gets better, no one grows, unless they lay the cards on the table—all the time! Both with God and with other people. People dealing with same-sex attraction, as with other sexual sins, must be ruthlessly honest with themselves and a few, selected other people they are willing to trust. Sexual struggles and sin move people into lives of denial, secrecy, and silence.
These self-protective mechanisms are simply deadly. It is only in a community of mercy and truth (what should characterize the church) that fear and shame can be overcome and honesty becomes as regular as breathing. If only the church were truly like this, would we see men and women less likely to flee into sexual sin and into communities that support such behavior? When the church, even imperfectly, loves sexual strugglers with mercy and truth, then the struggler is in a better position to see and respond to Christ’s love, even when their hearts are divided. God understands our divided hearts, our doubts, and our deep pockets of unbelief.
These situations are painful for all concerned. It is especially painful to see those you love, with whom you’ve spent much time and in whose lives you have built a growing relationship with, seem to desert all that they once held so strongly. No one escapes this tragedy.
These six factors are the main reasons that people revert back to sinful behavior. I must point out that these reasons are not unique to people with same-sex attraction. I have seen men and women in the church who have deserted the faith or left their marriage vows, and their reasons for doing so can be the same ones I highlighted here. The heart of the person dealing with same-sex attraction is not unlike the heart of any other sinner. Every one of us is prone to follow his own course in life. It’s only the Lord’s grace and goodness that keeps anyone pursuing the truth and living life on God’s terms rather than his own.
Updated 5.3.2017, 6.1.2018
04 Sep 2012
In this blog, we’ll look at current issues in the culture and the church on sex.
Yet another study shows the effects of the media’s sexual images and activity on teen behavior. This is one of those “doh!” studies. It seems so commonsense. A study out of Dartmouth College shows that teens who are exposed to more sex scenes in popular films are more likely to engage in sexual activity.
We haven’t dug into the study itself, but “observational learning” (what one sees in life, especially if it is repeated over and over) is one way we all learn, especially so with kids. We learn from seeing the behavior of others. We are influenced by our environment but not determined by it. The shaping influence that comes from what someone is exposed to—when exposed over and over—can be powerful on teens, especially in the area of sex. Why?
Because sex is not just a biological drive (think hormones); it is a God-designed activity to be expressed in the context of relationships. We are created for relationship, and sex is one way we bond to another person. God created sex to be in the service of lifelong, committed relationships (think marriage). But in the brokenness of the fall, sex is used in place of relationships or, increasingly so, just for physical pleasure—a “it’s not a big deal” mentality.
But preventing our kids from this type of media exposure is not enough to guard them from early sexualization. They need to learn what sex is for, and how God designed it, and what the boundaries are for its expression. That will form a foundation to intelligently interact with the media messages that they are being assaulted with daily.
Then, they still need more than mere information. Information is not enough to change us, to keep us from the relentless sexual pressures the world presses in on us. Model before your kids a living faith in Jesus Christ, and teach and show them how that relationship is worth more than any other relationship in life. Research on teen sexual behavior has found that active involvement in one’s faith is the highest indicator for sexual integrity.
28 Jul 2011
Don and Dave are college students. Don asks Dave, “What’s you major?” and Dave replies, “Business Administration.”
“What’s yours?” asks Dave, and Don says, “English Lit.”
Don then asks, “So, what’s your minor?”
And Dave says, “Porn is my minor.”
After a long pause, Don incredulously asks, “Is that in . . . the Women’s Studies Department?”
The fictional Dave in this snippet of dialogue would probably never be this honest. But a study of 29,000 North American college students revealed that 51% of men and 16% of women spend up to 5 hours each week online “for sexual purposes” [Cited in Porn University: What College Students Are Really Saying About Sex on Campus, by Michael Leahy. Moody, 2009].
And catch this: An additional 11% of men spend anywhere from 5 to 20 hours on porn per week! That is a lot of carnal study. No wonder many say, “Porn is the norm.”
Is pornification just a crisis among non-Christian students? Not by a long stretch. Every campus minister with whom I speak says that almost 100% of the men who are student leaders in their ministry have or have had a fierce struggle with porn. Likewise, they add that most of their female student leaders who are dating stumble a lot with varying levels of sexual activity with their boyfriends.
What will happen to these Christian students if this practice is not dealt with? What will be the impact on their relationships, now and in the future? What will happen to the church if most of today’s rising Christian leaders have been habitually pornified and promiscuous?
If Christian students today see little or no problem with such sexual behavior, then it means they will use sex and porn as their recreational drugs of choice, as their habitual escape from the pressures and struggles of life. Whatever the motive, the end result will be disastrous: Pornified and promiscuous behavior leads to a divorce between love and sex, between committed relationship and intimacy.
Sex becomes just another commodity for consumers to consume. Sex is used not to glory God within the parameters of his design, but for sheer personal and self-centered reasons. This consumer mindset about sex will have devastating implications for when young people do marry. Expectations about sex will run up against the all-too-familiar struggles that every marriage encounters. The odds are good that, when dealing with such marital pressures, they will use the same escape mechanisms they utilized as students—porn and sexual encounters. But this time, it will be adultery.
Broken sexuality is not victimless. Affairs and porn usage devastate spouses, and they often lead to the break-up of families. Children then become the most innocent victims of a worldview mindset, so prevalent today, that sex is merely about my pleasure and my needs. Sex, used within that worldview, is far from harmless—it’s threatening, especially for society as a whole, as more and more families are torn apart.
How do we intervene into the lives of Christian students today to try and stop this tsunami of broken sexuality? This is what I’m going to explore over the next several posts. Let me hear your thoughts as well.
01 Mar 2010
My time with the Lord each morning is 99.99% of the time accompanied by a mug or two of robust coffee. My musings this morning come from Hosea 7:8, Psalm 106:35, and Psalm 32:9. These verses refer to how God’s people “mingled” themselves with the pagan nations. They had been specifically commanded not to do this, but, much like us today, they wanted what they wanted and did it anyway.
Braiding. Mingling. Entangling ourselves. The allusion of oneness where there is no oneness. Christ alone can dwell within us, and Christ alone can truly complete us, fill us, be a faithful and safe receiver of our love, adoration, attention, worship. And yet we are all tempted to spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically entangle ourselves with creation.
For those inclined toward relational and/or sexual idolatry, it can seem so beautiful, so ‘natural’, so right because it feels good: the emotional and sexual rush that happens when the images are clicked to from one to the other; the soothing endorphin release that happens when reading those emails of verbal, emotional, sexual connection; the free-falling lostness into a fantasy world of love and romance that seems to exist with that person on the other side of the IM chat.
You know you’re stuck. You feel the enslavement, the addiction of it all. You fear being found out. Jesus knows these things, and his mercy to you is compassionate love poured over you. His mercy to you comes from his holy heart which knows the misery that sin brings, the anguish and ways of pain that just are a part of living in this fallen world. Are you in pain because of your sin?
To pain-filled, sin-captive hearts, Jesus does not say merely, “Do this or do that!” So here’s where Psalm 32:9 comes in. Our Lord wants so much more than for us to follow him like a bridled horse or mule who is yanked here and there. And I would suggest to you that he even has more for us than the beautiful picture of a sheep listening for the familiar and safe voice of a trusted shepherd. What Christ calls us to is the tender relationship of Bride to Bridegroom. Of relationship. Of love and faithfulness woven together.
If you’re heartsick this Monday—maybe you were doing some braiding and mingling over the weekend—don’t try to undo yourself by being a spiritual horse or mule. That same Psalm 32 contains two other amazing promises which say the Lord’s love and songs of deliverance surround his people (see verses 7 and 10):
- Come to Lord Jesus, a Bridegroom full of mercy and worthy of your devotion.
- Acknowledge where, how, and when you’ve been mingling with this world. Where, how, and when has sin led you away from him?
- Ask him to instruct, counsel, and teach you in the way you should go (verse 8). Do you need to talk to someone? Ask for prayer? Seek accountability? Are you being nurtured from God’s Word? Are you seeking time with people who enthuse you and provoke you to fall in love with Jesus? People who sing and shout and whisper courage into your heart—words that remind you it is worth it to live for King Jesus and his kingdom purposes?
- Ask him to open your spiritual eyes to his mercy which soothes you, then invigorates you to robust obedience.
- Listen—those songs of deliverance are being sung over you!
- Trust that Jesus loves you, forgives you, is making you new, and is setting you free. One step of faithfulness at a time. Just one step. Take your next step of obedience.
Then enjoy a mug of coffee with him tomorrow morning—or now!
24 Feb 2010
Here are some final thoughts about how our souls become attached to what they should be detached from. How does Christ enable us to remain attached to, or in an abiding relationship with, him? The ideas of being ‘aroused’ and ‘awakened’ are key for us to consider.
The Bible’s use of ‘arousal’ mostly refers to sexual arousal, meaning that the body’s sexual sensitivities are stirred. But our souls and emotions can also be ‘aroused’: stirred, moved, touched.
Being aroused from sleeping seems to describe the brief time between slumber and being fully awake. “She was aroused from her deep sleep and woke up,” for example. I wonder if this is a way for us to also consider how our emotions and thoughts can be stirred in a direction that then leads us to be ‘awakened’ towards acting upon those emotions and thoughts. We can either acti upon them in either a Christ-ward direction, abiding in him and his Word, or in a selfish and sin-ward direction.
Psalm 34:8 says to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (ESV). Galatians 5:16 instructs us to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Both of these verses speak to the issue of what and who will arouse or awaken you. What do the taste buds of your heart hunger for? Seek to attach to? The promise of Galatians 5:16 is that we will not gratify our sinful desires as we walk in the Spirit, which is another way to describe what it means to abide in Jesus: being filled with and directed by his Spirit. Those sinful desires come from our sinful hearts being aroused and awakened to worldly things rather than the Lord. Sinful cravings can be for things like:
- physical or emotional pleasure at any cost
- escape from emotional pain at all costs
- fearful avoidance of any circumstance or encounter that might lead me to feel rejected
- being number one and made much of by those in my life
To be aroused by, awakened by, and attached to holiness and the things of the Lord isn’t a series of steps per se; rather, it is a radical relational reorientation towards a person: Jesus.
What do you think about the idea of attachment vs. abiding?