Friday, January 5, 2018

The Sin that So Easily Besets Men

This post is intended for men. It’s not that women can’t read it or won’t get anything out of it, but you’ll see. Virtually all men struggle at various times with the temptation of pornography.[1] This comes from men’s struggle with lust. Much of the time, we pretend like only the “bad” men struggle with this, so we leave it to ourselves to figure out, on our own, instead of utilizing the resources of our fellow brothers within the body of Christ. When I say it’s virtually all men, I am serious. I can only think of one guy I’ve ever met who didn’t struggle with it (and I believed him). I am nonetheless continually surprised that even pastors struggle with it (as though they were not human).

What do I mean by “struggle”? People often get the impression that “struggle” means a continual falling in this sin. It may surprise you to know that by “struggle” I mean being presented with a temptation (regardless of whether you fall). Thus, one can struggle with a sin even if he has not fallen into it for quite some time. This is an everyday struggle for men—even the spiritual men, even the godly men, even the men who would never say anything about it. This includes me. Christian women may find themselves incredulous that nearly every man they know struggles with this, but they do!

Some men think, “So what’s the problem with what I think, or see? It only affects me, not others.” While doubtless few Christian men would say this, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were an occasional attitude. The problem is that it does affect you. It affects the way you see women; instead of as creations made in the image of God, you start to see them as objects to be desired, pursued, and obtained or conquered. Sin affects a person, and a person affects the people around them. Thus, what you think in your heart and what you see and allow your mind to be influenced by has an affect on those around you—and it’s often the ones you love the most who are hurt.

So if we’re going to talk about it, what should we do? What I propose is neither original to me nor exhaustive, but here are some suggestions nonetheless:

1.     Be honest about it. We must start with confession and repentance if we’re going to go anywhere. Confess and repent before God. He shows grace, mercy, and forgiveness!
2.     Find accountability partners, both “on your level” and “above your level.” By that I mean find someone who is going through the same thing you are (wherever on the struggle you might be), and find someone else who has gained more of a victory in his life who will help you. The fellowship in these two relationships will help you. Too often, we only find someone who is on the same level, and one of two things happen: A. We end up dropping the accountability, since no one wants to admit they are struggling, or B. We both end up falling and are honest, but the consistent refrain is basically “that’s OK.”
3.     Get accountability software. This doesn’t ensure you have a pure mind—far from it—but it does help give you some peace of mind. Your accountability partners are notified each week of your activities online. It isn’t for the purpose of “gotcha!”—rather, it’s for the purpose of encouragement and interceding for each other in times of weakness.
4.     Get a Scripture reading and prayer plan. This can be a formal program/devotional that you know of, or one of your own making, but being in the Word is essential. As Chuck Lawless recently wrote on his blog (paraphrased), I don’t know of anyone who was daily and deeply in the Word and in prayer who fell while doing this. It’s not a legalistic remedy; you have to want to be in prayer and in the Word. But it’s strange: as you do it, you want to do it more. Good habits perpetuate good habits; bad habits perpetuate bad habits. And if you allow the Word to take root in your heart, you may find yourself starting to grow!
5.     Know that “victory” is relative and on-going. I am the kind of person who expects and wants to get to a particular point, have a one-time victory, and never struggle again. But this is not always (or even usually) the way it works with sins that truly tempt us. Some sins’ temptations never go away, and thus victory isn’t a one-time event; it is instead an everyday battle. This is simultaneously discouraging and encouraging. It is encouraging because you can gain a victory every day!
6.     After you have had a bit of success, consider mentoring others. Why keep victory to yourself? Others need prayer and intercession, wisdom and discussion. Don’t perpetuate the false idea that this is something dealt with alone, in shame and guilt. That leads to . . .
7.     Recognize the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to provide forgiveness and grace, and praise Him for it. Too often, we act as though anyone guilty of this kind of sin is branded with this kind of sin for life. Nothing could be more anti-Gospel. God has forgiven us, and we must forgive and restore also. When you are discouraged, or if someone else is, speak and meditate on the Gospel. Jesus Christ died for you and for your sins, for your forgiveness, and to show you grace in becoming the type of person you were always meant to be, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of the Son, and according to the will of the Father. God’s grace is so much more glorious than my failures, and yours too!

Lastly, know that I will stand with you and pray with you (most of you know how to contact me; if you don’t, you can always ask in the comments section of any post). We’re all in this together; this is why God created biblical community (of course, be connected to your local church, too)! Any other advice you would give to someone facing down sins of sexual purity in thoughts or actions? Talk about it below.

[1] While increasing numbers of women struggle with this, I am quite unqualified to speak to women in this manner. Nonetheless, some of the principles I suggest could be used by them.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Agents and Causes

Here’s a bit of what I am researching currently:

We often think of agents causing particular events or outcomes. This seems pretty straightforward in cases where we have everyday causation: I formed an intention to get up and open the door; I get up and open the door. The event of the door’s opening is caused by me. Seems fairly simple.

But what about the omissions and “negative” causings? Suppose, as in the Frankfurt case, I am driving down the hill, and I remove my hands from the steering wheel. I am seemingly omitting to act with respect to driving the car; I am driving the car by doing nothing, it seems. I have a disposition to act: on the occasion it becomes clear I need to make a course correction, for example, I will place my hands back on the wheel and drive on.

But this failure to act isn’t, seemingly, in line with the causal account mentioned above. It doesn’t look like I’m causing anything, and in cases where I don’t need to course correct, I’m achieving my objective by doing nothing at all. Why might this be a problem? Since we often take intentional actions to be a necessary condition for intentional agency (that is to say, we are responsible for our actions because we intentionally caused them; if we don’t intentionally cause them, we may lack agency, and hence, responsibility).

But perhaps Andrei Buckareff’s recent journal article “I’m Just Sitting Around Doing Nothing: On Exercising Intentional Agency in Omitting to Act,” might be able to help.

In it, he argues an intentional action should be identified as an outcome of causings (causingsàoutcome; outcome=intentional action). A causing has all the causal powers interacting, maybe directed toward some end or goal, and an outcome is what is produced by these interactions of causal powers.

Intentional agency should be identified with causal processes. A causal process is both a causing and outcome together (that is, the causing and the outcome are proper parts of a causal process). So for Buckareff, intentional agency=causal process, which =causing + outcome; an intentional action=outcome; it seems to follow intentional actions are parts of intentional agency.

In the case of omissions, an intention is directed toward either an omission or an outcome that itself requires an omission. If an intention is directed toward an omission, then we have a causing + an outcome, which is a causal process and hence intentional agency. If an intention is directed toward an outcome that requires an omission, then we have a causing + an outcome, which is a causal process and hence intentional agency. What remains is whether we think Buckareff’s account is subject to objections.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Gospel and Evil in the World

Yesterday, I wrote about how I am not obligated to speak on every instance of evil that occurs. However, since I brought it up, and did condemn the actions that took place in Charlottesville, I wanted to add a little more. The Christian story—and the hope of the Gospel—has a lot to say in various areas that get varying levels of attention. We ought to speak on each of these kinds of issues.

First, there is the issue of abortion. Lost in much of the hectic day-to-day for many is the idea that a holocaust is taking place, something that represents modern-day slavery in terms of America’s moral shame: the killing of unborn babies. Children are precious in the sight of God (Isaiah 1:17, James 1:27, Luke 18:16, Matthew 18:6), and harming them by putting them to death is an atrocity that must be spoken out against.

Second, there is the issue of human trafficking. Much of human trafficking is done as indentured servitude, and quite a bit as sex slavery as well. Would-be immigrants are offered “jobs” for transport and shelter for not enough money to pay all the bills. In return, the traffickers “rescue” the people, and they are fundamentally forced to stay in these conditions. The Bible does have a bit to say on this form of servitude, and it wouldn’t be correct to say it condones it. On Israelite servanthood, the issue was about protecting both the lender (who was not to charge interest on his countrymen) and the borrower in the event he could not pay. Human trafficking fails to treat people as human beings made in the image of God (Gen. 1), and so ought to be opposed vigorously.

The third issue I would like to discuss is that of bigotry. Bigotry exists against various groups, and to varying degrees. Believing that one race is inferior to another, inherently, is a fundamental denial of the creation part of the human story. We are all made in the image of God, and we ought to seek racial reconciliation, peace, and justice for those who are oppressed. The Old Testament is replete with references to peace and justice, and how we treat the poor and oppressed tends to say a lot about us.

I don’t have all the answers on all of these things. I don’t know all of what we should do. I do know that I am constantly trying to learn; I want to be in an attitude of learning and prayer. May God use us to right these three major types of wrongs, by bringing the Gospel to the people in an intentional and contextual way, letting the transforming power of the Spirit work, and doing what we can in our communities today.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Condemning, Confessing, Promoting on Social Media

I missed much of what happened over the weekend. I wasn’t on social media for most of the weekend, and since I’ve now come to realize I get the vast majority of my news from it, I wasn’t really aware of what happened. I wasn’t going to address the Charlottesville issue because I don’t address that many political issues on Facebook much anymore.[1]

So let me just say that I condemn racism and using violence to solve ideological issues in this country, regardless of right, alt-right, left, center, progressive, far-left, far-right, whatever your preferred political label is. The Gospel needs to be the answer; the transforming power it contains in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Father who sent him, and the Holy Spirit is what we all need.

Now instead of giving you all of my opinions on what has happened, I’m going to take a bit of a different approach. My wife mentioned to me that she has seen some on social media insisting on something like the following: you must condemn this on social media, and if you don’t, then insert your favored term here (“then you’re a racist,” “then you’re not a Christian,” “then you’re bigoted,” “then you must be alt-right,” etc.).

I think this is problematic, and frankly appears to be a single step above the old Christian chain e-mails, whereupon receiving one a believer was expected to forward it to 25 friends, lest she be condemned as “ashamed of Christ.” While one should not be ashamed of Christ, and one should even utilize their e-mail platform to promote Christ, whether or not she sent the e-mail has no bearing on whether she is fulfilling her duties as a Christian (even though it could—say, if in fact she was ashamed of Christ, and this is why she didn’t send the e-mail).

In a similar way, I am not required to condemn everything loudly, even when it may be worthy of condemnation. I did so above only because, since I am addressing the issue, it’s quite appropriate to do so. Nothing about my previous non-response entails my view on a subject, and anyone who interprets that way is doing so illegitimately. I’m afraid what the combination of social media and competitive, customized journalistic agendas has produced is a world filled with fundamentalists, where not saying, thinking, and doing the same exact set of things as everyone else in the group is condemned in the most extreme terms, where people are virtually incapable of nuanced debate, and where they are constantly looking for conflict. This kind of thinking, without check or restraint, nearly always leads to violence, and leads us to hate others in our hearts, in violation of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matthew 5:21-22).

Finally, while some good can be done on social media, let us not kid ourselves: the world’s social ills are not solved on Facebook. Should you use your platform to advance the Gospel and truths related to it (which will doubtlessly include condemning racism)? Of course you should do this occasionally, at least. Let’s engage the world with the hope of the Gospel—one that transcends race and political ideology!

[1] And I get that it’s not merely a political issue. I really do! But it’s become one, and almost immediately after it occurred.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Desires and the Longing to be Known

If we were created by God, then the desires that we have are, at their roots, something both attainable and good. However, we have twisted and perverted much of these desires much of the time, so that they no longer serve the ends for which we were created. If we focus on fulfilling desires in a godly manner (say, by making worship of God in life as our main focal point), we will find that life can be much more satisfying. What do I mean here?

Take, for example, our Western culture’s desire to be famous. All many of us want is to become YouTube famous, or be part of a viral video, or become a sought-after singer, model, or actor/actress. This often leads us to think, say, and do a variety of things that are, shall we say, less than godly. It often leads us toward self-centeredness, and our character suffers. How can this desire be something good?

Simply put, I believe this desire to be famous is fundamentally a desire to be known. And this desire to be known is a perfectly normal response to the way in which we have been designed. On the Christian story, we were made to be in a loving relationship with God, our Creator and Father. Humans are made in his image, to know him and to be known by him. Further, we were made to live in community with other humans. We were made to know them and to be known by them. So it only makes sense that God would create us with this desire.

“Now wait a minute,” you might be saying. “There’s a big difference between the desire to know and be known (with respect to God and others) and just wanting to be famous.” That’s absolutely correct. Since humanity is lost—since we all have sinned, or failed morally—we have a tendency to have twisted desires. Instead of desiring to know and be known by God and others, we desire to be known by all, to serve our own ends.

But this is where the Gospel provides hope. Where all we have to look forward to, from culture’s perspective, is being known by a certain amount of people for our own purposes, and nothing greater, God provided a way to get back to that great design, that great purpose—in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. What do you think about Jesus? Would you want to follow him? Would you want to trust him? If you don’t know much about him, check out this really brief video:

3-Circles Life Conversation Guide Demonstration from North American Mission Board on Vimeo.