In last week’s sermon, the pastor (shout out J.O.!) shared something that really stuck with me. The paraphrase I wrote in my notes was “Jesus always finds our idols. What we don’t want to let go of.” I almost think of it like I’ve squirreled away little figures of wood and stone in the jars and shelves and under cushions in my heart. One by one, a mature believer gets an idol challenged. Maybe it’s a friend noticing something. Maybe it’s reading God’s Word. Maybe it’s a convicting sermon. Then do we cling to it or let it get smashed by Jesus at the foot of his throne?
This thought of all my pocket gods made me think of another conversation I had with a faithful Christian who has influenced me. She had shared about struggles with her weight for much of her life and how focusing on that had lulled her into feeling it was the ONLY idol (my word) she had to work on giving up. After eventually getting to a place where her physical health and eating was fully under control, she felt like she got reawakened to OTHER idols God now lovingly demanded be smashed.
So I’ve got these rather dramatic idols, related to my desires, that feel VERY unique and strange (to others) with so much cultural and controversial attachments. Ok so these are the *big* things to keep in check. But then thinking, oh no! There’s more?! Its not just this I have to submit? Gossip too? Anger or bitterness? Gluttony and sloth?! Thinking critically of others? Maybe it’s how long the idol has been stored in my heart, never aware of it until Jesus yanks it into view. Maybe it’s the size and space its taking up, so Jesus focuses on it first. But it probably wont ever be that my house is idol free. Just how quickly my flesh submits to jesus tossing it when it tries to make a spot on the shelf.
When Jesus was casting out unclean spirits (Matt 12, Mark 3, Luke 12), the accounts record that the religious leaders thought he was doing so under satanic power and authority. In Matthew’s account (12:25) it continues:
Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand….But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Matthew 12:25, 28-30 ESV
The context of this is the spiritual battle between God and Satan’s rebels. I can’t help but think of it in terms of the U.S. political situation. I wonder if we could apply it to organizations like Young Life & churches with divided leadership about orthodoxy. But even for myself.
The concept of “cleaning house.” has been on my mind the last few days. What is divided will never succeed. From a country that doesn’t have much the two sides can agree on anymore, to large organizations divided by ideology around critical theories and sexuality, to my faith if I try to keep one foot in the camp of cultural acceptance and comfort and one foot in Jesus’ teachings. Everything Jesus has taught has been antithetical to culture from over 2,000 years ago, when he first uttered the words, until now.
My house needs actual cleaning right now. But what about my spiritual house? The ideas or desires that have lived in my mind unchecked by God’ Word. I feel like the mark of maturity is constantly seeing what you been doing wrong and not thought was wrong for so long.
Some of that is the sanctification process, and God’s mercy to us that he doesn’t focus on everything at the exact same time (might be unbearable!). But little by little, new window frames, new door knobs, new Plumbing, new insulation, making beds and picking up clothes.
Reconstructed and reformed into “spiritual houses.” (1 Peter 2:5)
“To be caught in the secret sin is a horrible thing.
Only one thing worse. Not to be caught.”
– John Piper
What price does a soul pay to harbor sin no one knows about? That quote took me right back into the middle of that period of time in my life, it reminded me how sick I felt. That relationship was a bizarre dichotomy of finally understanding the appeal of an intimate relationship/marriage AND the devastating weight of hidden sin on a soul.
As most of my friends were getting into serious relationships and continually getting pushed into the backseat, I remember feeling so irritated that the pecking order was so clear. I would be a friend’s number one phone call and always hanging out, and then she would meet a guy and just whoosh. Bye! Now they couldn’t make plans without checking with the other person. Now every conversation was about him.
Then it happened to me. The first time YOU’RE the person someone is checking in with. When you have someone you come home to. The emotional and physical comfort of one person who prioritizes you. I suddenly understood why so many of us take whatever we can get when it comes to romantic relationships. The feeling of another person reciprocating how I’d felt many times and never been able to talk about was intoxicating. I felt like I spent those three years (from meeting to completely cutting off all contact) numb.
I felt a renewed compassion for people who have sex outside of marriage. It was easy to resist when you have no temptation or opportunities, but I’d fallen as easily as anyone else. I had new eyes for those who committed adultery. I knew now that sometimes you wake up and don’t know how you got to the place you were, but that rarely will one wake up deciding to engage in sin that will destroy people, “I think I’ll cheat on my wife today!” It’s the tiny daily steps of disobedience that lead us to destruction.
I often miss the *feeling* of being in that relationship. I did see myself much more starkly mirrored in that other person (yikes). I understand the appeal of what a good marriage that is within God’s design would offer a person. Obviously, being single has different pros and cons.
But I wouldn’t go back into that period of time for $millions$. “I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.”
Control. I don’t want to be hurt anymore, I don’t want to be scared anymore, I don’t want to be lonely. Control. I want someone to love me back but in very specific ways that meet the needs I have, not in a self-sacrificial way that puts others first. I want glory and honor and power. So often, my god is me. A book I just read about Christian identity pointed out how silly the notion of “Jesus, take the wheel” really is. We, as humans, actually think at some level we control our lives. Nothing could be further from reality. It’s like you as a parent, driving your car, and your toddler son while strapped in a car seat puts his hands on the wheel and pretends to drive. When startled by oncoming traffic, your child cries out for YOU to drive, quick!
His power and control was an illusion all along. There wasn’t a moment you weren’t actually driving, but it feels nice for humans to pretend to be in control. Maybe that’s what we do to God, with this “Jesus is my co-pilot” notion.
I feel this, I want to go this way, I want to do this job, I want to meet this person, I want to follow this desire, this part of the Bible makes me uncomfortable, these things God is asking me to do are too hard, following this tenet of Christianity is becoming really unpopular, and on and on.
OK, so I acknowledge I actually have no power. When I consider my sin, this becomes more and more obvious. But how do I fully give up my illusions of power and control and the grasping for it. Trust? Contentment? Praise and worship? All the above. Time to practice.
The glory and power: my own or Christ’s? Savior complex… sad and lonely people and wanting to love people, but turning it into how can I have someone like ME more than anyone else? Worship and affirm ME. Linking of savior and Lord. I save you. You worship me. Even if you succeed, it is temporary. Its momentary and it’s hard to manage. Both people will suffer from attempting to replace Jesus place as savior. It’s angering for the pseudo- savior to not receive the glory “due”. It’s confusing and paralyzing for the person who has been idolized who can’t do everything right.
Had to repent. To see how what God created me for (eyes for lonely people) twisted into pointing to ME as an answer instead of Christ. Twisted into pridefully thinking I Mike a better savior. Then believing I deserve worship.
I listened to a Q&A with a female same-sex couple the other day, on their stories and how they started dating, etc. This was facilitated by an ‘Affirming’ Christian page and so was along that worldview. Super interesting conversation but two things along the same theme stuck out to me. First, one woman in the couple indicated they went to a local orthodox church (remember the data shows this is generally the case for LGBT identifying Christians, check my “suicide lie” post for more).
The one who had been raised in the church had in essence trained herself to ignore anything offensive (indicating Biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality?) but her finance, who was newer to her faith was reading much of what was said through a lens of feeling it was unfair, unjust perhaps. (This is my summary of what I remember, not word for word at all.)
In the same conversation, the host talked about how it had been difficult to find a church she liked, because often when it was affirming (which she wanted), she found that the church was not “Bible-based” and therefore was dissatisfying to her.
My attention perked up during this part of the conversation. How fascinating. It seems to lend evidence to the theory most orthodox believers would hold, that once you start deconstructing, it doesn’t stop. Finding an affirming church that’s orthodox in everything ELSE? It was interesting to try and put myself in a mindset that not only wants both of those things but thinks it’s possible. At the same time, it gave me a hopeful feeling because I don’t think God’s Spirit lets up on any of us when there is something we haven’t submitted to him.
We can sit in Biblical churches and that one sermon about OUR sin is still going to prick our consciousness. Or we can visit a church and know something just isn’t sitting right with us about the teaching. I’m thankful God is still working and moving regardless of my sin or idolatry/identities and we can trust that for those we love as well, especially if they follow Jesus. It seems Christ-Follower identity will always rise to the top if someone seriously submits to God.
I served at a camp property for one month in the summer every year for about 12-13 years. I joked with my mom this year, as everything was shut down, I would finally get to be in town for her birthday (which hadn’t happened in about seven years).
At camp, as we started off the month, the leadership team would introduce themselves and their families to the rest of the camp. Introductions went something like, “I’m Jake. I am married and have 5 kids. My wife is Lisa, my sons are Tony, JJ, and Todd. And these are my daughters Kelly and Jane.” If enough people went before me (in virtually that same pattern over and over), I generally introduced myself like, “Hey everyone. I’m Jenn, I’m single and childless, I like pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain, I’m not into yoga and have both halves of my brain“* and then whatever job I had for the month.
*I don’t feel like I should have to say this, but hey, it is 2020. I didn’t actually ever joke about alcohol. But my point is that I always used that time to be funny. Kind of like when someone asks me “What’s your enneagram number?” and I answer “I’m a Scorpio.”
Maybe you read that and a tear wells up in the corner of your eye because you feel bad for me. Well, it’s ALL about the delivery, because it always got a good laugh. Being single and having zero children don’t feel much like “identity” to me but they are definitely identifiers about me, especially to other people making conversation.
*Another side note: Do you have any friends who get particularly annoyed about certain things people always say to them?
Friends with more than 1 kid: “You’ve got your hands full!”
Friends who just got married: “When are you having kids?”
Friends who just had a kid: “When are you having more kids?“
Friends who are engaged: “When’s the wedding?“
Friends who are dating: “When are you getting married?”
Tall people: How’s the weather up there?
High School Senior: “Where are you going to college?”
Can we just acknowledge that everyone says silly and cliché things to other people because we’re awkwardly trying to make conversation? Hey, you get it done to you in line at the grocery store, and then you do it to me when you ask if I’ve “met anyone” or say “still single?” so we all have to suffer in our unique ways. But I digress.
There are moments I feel lonely, for sure. I’m an extroverted extrovert that probably has some version of ADHD that has never been diagnosed. I want activity and noise and something to do all of the time. Only in the last seven or so years have I been able to comfortably be alone in my own thoughts. I live happily in my half of a house with a family on the top floor. Sometimes I think it would be nice to be married, sometimes I don’t think about it at all.
But I know with certainty my greatest hope for a joy-filled life on earth and what results from that great hope:
Faithfully following Jesus Christ
Being a part of Jesus’ Family.
I love my biological family and am so thankful that we have both proximity and depth of relationship. Especially during the lockdown of 2020, I have had a renewed gratefulness for a family that loves and follows Jesus and loves each other well. But I’m talking in even larger terms about the family you join when you come under Jesus’ headship. There have been Family members who have provided for many physical needs I’ve had: cars, phone, laptop, groceries, a ride, checking in on me when I’m sick, and more. I get invited to meals. I join in family movie nights and have late-night conversations. I have people who regularly check in with me via phone calls, texts, and online. I get to see marriages and parenting firsthand and be a fun aunt-figure to a lot of sweet little kids. I have people who ask me the hard questions and let me vent and get emotional and point me back to Jesus.
If you read this and you are married with kids, I hope you know how much of a difference it makes when you invite other people into that. Whether it’s a college student with family far away, a couple that hasn’t been married as long, people who are single because of divorce or death, elderly, people with special needs, and more, opening up LIFE to other people in the Church is huge. Rosaria Butterfield talks about how hospitality will be costly (food!) and can be uncomfortable (someone coming over when your house isn’t spotless) but how important life-on-life relationship without perfect place settings ends up being. I love to joke with my close friends that I know I’m really part of the family if the house just looks NORMAL when I come over. If you’re getting the real version vs. the spotless company version, it feels like you’re family.
I just failed this test the other day, by the way, because one of MY closest friends dropped in and my house was messy for no reason. I always give people with more than zero kids so much grace because my house is messy and it’s all me.My friend didn’t care at all, but for me, it was the worst.
In conclusion: When I think of a future where I don’t get married and have no biological children of my own, sometimes I wonder what that will look like. (Maybe I will get married and have kids, I just don’t know.) Will I feel sorry for myself? Will other people feel sorry for me? Or is there life and joy to be found, just maybe in a different way than with marriage and parenting? When I consider the Family that Jesus brings together, I have more hope than I can imagine otherwise.
Let’s say I’m in a beautiful garden with amazing fruit to eat on almost every tree around me. But one particular tree’s fruit I’ve been instructed, by God, not to eat: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Gen 3:16)
Would you say my odds of obeying this instruction would increase or decrease by my traveling daily to stand under the tree looking up at it, wondering what the fruit would be like? If I kept finding reasons to walk “that way” around the garden, so I might meander by the tree again, my thoughts turning toward God’s warning wondering how much He meant it?
If you said slim to none, I agree. When I consider the culmination of all my trips to the tree and realizing the fruit was as bad as God told me, I wonder if “learning the hard way” was inevitable because of how much I’d primed myself to disobey.
What if I have some bad sushi and get food poisoning and I start telling everyone around me, “You should NOT eat sushi. It will make you sick. Look, it happened to me, so I know. You need to trust me and never eat sushi again.” Some people might listen if it’s a particular restaurant and it’s common that patrons of that said restaurant are often getting sick. But that can be explained away as a one-time deal with a particular plate, a person’s reaction to a meal, or a sushi bar that only has FAIR on that little green paper from the health department (avoid).
But in contrast, what if you’re hiking and you start gearing up to pound some tiny red berries and a fellow hiker slaps them out of your hand. “That’s climbing nightshade! I made a mistake and ingested some of that once. It’s toxic and dangerous. Do not eat that.”
In the case of sinful sexual desires, of every kind, we’re not talking about whether or not it’s been prepared properly or not. It’s not just about “consent”, though that’s obviously required, or love, because 10 people could define “love” ten different ways. It’s not simply that if you could just prepare the food in a better way or place it’s no longer toxic to you. It’s NIGHTSHADE. It’s poisonous.
We hear varied definitions about how repackaging our sin will actually mean it’s not that bad for us.
— I should follow my heart. Even if that means I’m pursuing a relationship outside of my marriage, shouldn’t I be happy? My spouse and kids will be happier in the long run because I will have lived my truth.
— It’s ok if I read this book/magazine or watch this movie/tv show because it’s not hurting anyone. And as long as these thoughts are just in my mind occasionally, it’s not a problem.
How long can we stand staring up at the tree before you climb a limb? How long can we hold the fruit in our hands considering it before we take a taste? I did both, for years and years and years. Following my desire to its conclusion wasn’t that surprising, when I look back.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is *lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. – James 1:13-15
But God! Rich in mercy.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will, he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. – James 1:16-18
So why does this anti-science lie live so loudly within people of a more progressive bent, and many others who’ve heard the claims and accepted them without thinking? I got to hear Dr. Christopher Yuan share this weekend, and one of his breakout seminars was specifically about whether or not people are born gay.
He went through study after study in the seminar to show that nothing has been conclusive when it’s looked at genetics and pointed out that most environmental studies with theories about why people identify as gay won’t even be funded. The “answer” to “orientation” is that it’s a combination of some genetic/biological factors AND environmental factors.
Here’s what I think is the most dangerous part of this view, especially for Christians.
Because I never adopted an identity within the LGBTQ community, and I was never interested in doing so, I looked elsewhere for “answers”. As I think about it, I never believed my attraction was WHO I was. I struggled with the WHAT and WHY but not as much the who. I had been grounded at an early age in Biblical truth. I understood well that I was a sinner and the world was broken and that Jesus was a friend of sinners and a Savior.
But people raised with different influences, or who believe the default position of the culture, might adopt this identity and then brush off their hands at any other curiosity about it. If it’s simply “who I am”, why do I care to dig deeper into my family of origin? Who cares how I perceived mom/dad, male/female even in the womb? It doesn’t matter how people treated me when I displayed an interest in a way not typical to my gender…how I felt about my male/female body growing up is irrelevant…
I don’t say any of this because I’m claiming there’s a formula that churns out “queer” individuals. There isn’t. I’m saying it because people who have adopted this as identity probably won’t do the work to see what’s beneath it. As Dr. Yuan says, for the believer, we know this is a sin problem. I can see how my own sin, and the sin of others, has played a role in the things I’ve struggled with. Those insights helped me feel normal. They helped me realize it made sense to gravitate in the direction I have. Those insights don’t excuse my sin, but they’ve helped reveal my need for God’s truth and healing at the root of my sin.
The same is true for any of us with any addictive or identity issues, right? You can’t shrug it off with your Myers-Briggs personality type or your Enneagram number. Allowing God to reshape our minds around his truth allows greater acknowledgment and repentance of our sin. And then God works for our healing and restoration.
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” – Paul (1 Tim 1:15)
While Paul is the one who wrote this, I could have. Even though some who have interacted with me on social media think I’m motivated by self-righteousness or bigotry, I can assure everyone it’s neither. No human knows how big of a sinner I am as well as I do. And God’s view of my sin is spread before him as clearly into my past as my future. I don’t think of this to present myself as someone with the “best worst” testimony (as we tend to compare in Christian culture).
I write this to reassure all of us that Jesus is a friend to sinners like us. We’re not casting off our false gospels and identities or loving our enemies or cleaning ourselves up BEFORE He shows up. No, it’s the opposite.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” -Paul (Romans 5:6-8)
Who am I that God is mindful of me? I can’t help speaking about who the God of the Bible is and what Jesus has done in the depths of my heart. Jesus changes everything when someone meets Him. Our job is to point to him and give God glory.
As a side thought: I hope people don’t confuse needing to speak the truth into this forum with a lack of desire to preach Jesus as a friend and Savior of sinners. Life-on-life friendships always have to be our primary way of loving and speaking the truth.
But Christians cannot completely vacate other spheres of communicating, even if imperfect, especially because the world is speaking loud and clear into these voids. Another better way must ring out too.
Who are you? What is “identity”? The dictionary definition says “condition of being certain person or thing” or “set of characteristics by which person is known.” Identity and awareness of it can definitely be impacted by whether someone is part of the dominant culture or within a different culture or sub-culture. I’ll use the silly example of “handedness.” I’m left-handed, along with 10% of the human population. Most of the world is created with the dominant culture in mind and many lefties have just adapted to it.
If you’re right-handed and have never used left-handed scissors, you probably don’t think about your handedness too much. The same goes for the more important identifiers such as our ethnic backgrounds and our gender. There are settings where everyone is more or less aware of both.
Handedness, being male or female, or our ethnicities are NOT feelings. Gender identity, sexual attraction, and worldview beliefs are. So which identities should be held with the highest regard? My primary identity cannot be in things that can disappear or shift, can it? If I worship the United States, how long until my country lets me down? If my identity was my work/organization, I would have been devastated when I chose to leave.
One’s attractions shift. Your view of yourself or any insecurities as male or female changes over time. A feature of pseudo-gospels seems to be an elevation of feelings and experiences over Biblical truth. Is my primary identity my attraction? Like I’ve said before, we would never say that about a man attracted to redheaded women. “Oh, you were born that way. You’re a redheaded-attracted-Christian.” Why does that become a fixed hyphenated identity for some who do believe their attraction is their primary identities? Is it considered foundational because it isn’t the dominant culture? Because it’s considered biological (without evidence)?
For Jesus followers, our primary identity is IN Christ. We’re children of God (John 11) and united in a “body” of Christ-followers (1 Cor 12). Our lives are swallowed UP/hidden in Christ’s body (Col 3). This identity doesn’t come or go, it’s not dependent on shifting culture or demographics. It’s rooted in Jesus.