Depressed

Hope for the Guilty

“A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not quench, until He brings forth justice to victory.” Matthew 12:20 ESV

 

Something that I’ve been deeply struck with afresh lately is compassion for the broken. Lately I’ve had the privilege of walking with some people who’ve seen the dark side of sin from the side of the victim. Sexual abuse, rape, verbal abuse, and the like are, unfortunately, far too common occurrences in the lives of people I know and serve.

Interestingly, the state of Utah is always in the top two or three percent in the nation of states with the most amount of cases of clinical depression and suicide. The county in which I live is the county with the highest depression and suicide rates in our state. People around here know they are guilty. And I believe one reason this is true is because we live under the overarching shadow of a religious system that is heavily performance oriented- the LDS church.

Like all religion outside biblical christianity, Mormonism is all about doing all you can, as much as you can, so that perhaps God might save you by his grace at the end of your life, after all that you can contribute to your self-salvation project. And in our culture many people live under this system knowing they just don’t quite measure up to the expectations laid on their shoulders by “the church” the community, or by the status quo. As a result they feel guilty and self-medicate prescription drug abuse, or they end the pain by committing suicide.

The guilt-conscious culture I live in has really caused me to think hard about how we communicate the gospel in such a context. What I’ve come to believe at this point is that I don’t have to spend much time convincing people they’re sinners who don’t measure up because they know. Instead, while I use the law enough in preaching and talking with people to make sure they’re aware of their guilt, I usually spend most of my time in sermons and conversations emphasizing the hope of Christ for broken, hurting, guilty people. And that message of hope tends to be the drink of water to the soul that depressed, guilty, and broken people need to hear. In a way I think people in my context need more of the Jesus of the gospels who heals, teaches, and touches rather than the Jesus of Revelation who opens a can on His enemies, though both are appropriate and glorious images of Christ.

If you live in a culture that has no conscience such as a liberal culture, you may need to bring the law a bunch so as to help people see their sin. But if you live in a culture crippled by guilt and already aware of their sin, I’d encourage you to emphasize the hope of Jesus in light of the guilt they already feel. But what do you think?

 

Large Service

Jesus, Big Church, & Small Church

The Training of the Twelve as Local Church Model?

This morning I listened to an interesting discussion between some pastors and missiologists on whether or not we should emphasize large gatherings or smaller gatherings in seeking to do the best job at discipleship. The conversation intrigued me because I’ve been thinking a lot about how to do a good job with discipleship in the context of the church I lead.

One of the center-pieces of the conversation was the idea that Jesus’ relationship to the twelve disciples as portrayed in the gospels should serve as our template for how we function as the local church. I’ve heard this kind of thinking from people who contend that the local church should operate according to a house church model. The house church model often includes:

  • Little to no emphasis on large gatherings (15 or more)
  • Dialogue learning (discussion) versus monologue (preaching)
  • Informality versus formality
  • Group prayer/spiritual gift manifestation versus worship led by an individual

Support for modeling the local church in such a way is often claimed by pointing to how Jesus related to the twelve. People will note that “Jesus spent most of His time with twelve people.” This is true. He spent lots of time eating with, instructing, and training twelve disciples. And thus, as they say, we shouldn’t have local churches made up of hundreds or thousands, but of tens.

 

 The Real Focus of Jesus’ Small Group: Leadership Training

But can we really look to Jesus’ relationship to the twelve as depicted in the gospels as a template for the local church? Did Jesus really intend for us to do so? I would contend that this is not the case. First of all, the truth is that while the gospels spend much time describing Jesus’ interactions with the twelve, they do not exclusively do so. They also portray Jesus teaching and sending the seventy as well as often speaking to what the Bible calls the multitudes. Jesus is seen in some cases preaching to thousands of people at one time.

 As opposed to serving as a template for how the local church should be organized, I would contend that Jesus’ relationship to the twelve is more of a template for how we should do leadership training for the local church. The men Jesus spent so much time with ultimately became the first pastors and church-planters for the local church. He spent time instructing them formally and allowing them to participate in the ministry He was doing. He would send them out to do ministry and bring them back to the huddle and explain where they needed to grow. And at the end of His physical stay on earth He sent them out in the power of the Spirit to establish and lead local churches.

And yet, the local churches these men led were in many cases anything but small groups or what many have in mind today when they talk about house churches. The church in Jerusalem was thousands strong, and they had no problem with that. The church in Antioch was also a huge church and they saw no problem with that. The early church met both “publically and house to house.” (Acts 2:46; Acts 20:20) It wasn’t just house to house, but publically that they met. They met in the large gathering areas of the temple. (Acts 2:46) What’s more is that archaeological excavation projects have revealed that many of the so-called house churches described in Acts met in huge courtyard and banquet halls of wealthy homes that could seat hundreds of people.

Besides the large numbers of Christians coming together in large gatherings, Acts also shows us the continuation of Jesus’ practice of training leaders of God’s people in smaller apprentice-styled ministry groups. Acts 20 reveals Paul traveling with a group of ministry trainees (verses 2-4) and also gives us a glimpse into how he related to a group of pastors he’d trained according to the pattern of Jesus’ training of the twelve as seen in the gospels (verses 17-38).

We get another clue as to where the apostles stood on having large gatherings by taking a look at the New Testament epistles. It is worth noting that in most cases the epistles are addressed to entire churches, and were intended to be read and taught in the presence of all believers living in the city to which the letter came. In Ephesians 6:1-3 the exhortations addressed directly to children show that even the kids were assumed to be present for the reading and teaching of the New Testament letters when they were originally written and delivered. Also, nowhere do the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) exhort pastors to keep the numbers of local churches down to small group sizes for the purpose of discipleship, but rather imply the multiplication of leadership, numbers of believers, and the open preaching of the Word to all under their charge. What’s more, the exhortations to the seven churches of Revelation (Rev. 2-3) are addressed to entire churches.

Conclusion

So what’s the point? Am I against house churches, small groups, community groups, and so on? Absolutely not! They are invaluable. There is a type of discipleship and community that can only be nurtured in a smaller context that happens in smaller groups. The pastors of the church I lead are right now praying with our church about starting ten more house church style fellowships in addition to those we already have going before the end of 2012.

But small gatherings are only one aspect of how we should seek to facilitate discipleship. They are not the template for us to follow in establishing principles for local church size, dynamics, and overall structure. I don’t believe that Jesus’ training of the twelve serves as a template for how we should do church, but how we should train leaders for the broader church. Look to Acts and the epistles for a template for doing church. Look to the gospels as a template for leadership training

 

do_the_next_thing

Doing The Next Thing

I was recently blessed with getting to spend some time with Pastor and Author Eugene Petersen. Like so many Evangelicals, I first heard of him when his paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, came out. Every time I heard his name, he was being verbally crucified for his ‘liberal’ translation. So like many young Christians, I just avoided anything with his name on it. Not realizing that he has written some of the most compelling books on pastoral ministry in the history of Christianity. It was about four years ago that I decided that I was going to start reading his writings. I have never been let down by the depth, clarity and Christocentricity of what he writes. He is not teaching the technique of pastoring. Instead he is revealing the heart of a shepherd. And I, for one, have been greatly challenged by what he is led to pen.

So in the beginning of June, he came to our area for a Pastor’s Appreciation breakfast. I knew the person who was putting on the breakfast and he made sure I got some time with Eugene. We got to speak for awhile about a great many things. It was casual, fun, deep and at times, profound in simplicity.

I asked him about moving from education to the pastorate to the professorship to retirement, with the writing of The Message and other books threaded through it all. It was something that I had been pondering as I thought about all of the changes that have happened in my own personal ministry.

Dr. Peterson answered quite simply, “I simply did the next thing.” I must have looked a bit bewildered. So he followed up with, “I really was not trying to do something new. I just did what came next”. I think what I loved the most about his comments were the total lack of self focus in his thinking. He was not consciously making strategic decisions for expedient reasons. He was simply taking the next step in the process. In the weeks since I heard this, I have thought much about this conversation. I thought of Jesus saying, “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” I realized that Dr. Peterson was onto something that I still don’t understand. But I like it!

transfer growth

When Transfer Growth is Healthy

Sometimes we are overly-simplistic in our criticisms and cautions. That’s just part of being human. Still, accuracy and balance (if biblical and true) is something to pursue. And one area in which I think pastors particularly get a little overly-simplistic is that of transfer growth. Transfer growth occurs when someone who is already a follower of Jesus (or at least professes to be so) switches from attending one local church to another.

There is a status quo regarding transfer growth that is understandable, often legitimate, but sometimes overboard. It is frankly taboo to appear to be at peace with Christians coming to your church or church-plant from another local church. As such, pastors who don’t want to be filleted don’t talk openly about it, no matter what the reason someone may have transferred to their church may be. My belief is that, while much of the time (perhaps most) transfer growth is due to unhealthy thinking or behavior, sometime’s it is not. And what I hope to do is shed some light on reasons why sometimes transfer growth can even be a godly, wise, and needed reality.

Let me be clear upfront that I don’t think intentionally pillaging the members of a gospel-centered, God-ordained church is ok. The leaders of the church I serve have, and will continue to tell people at times that they need to return to the church they came from when they desire to come to our fellowship in an unhealthy way, with selfish and sinful motivations. But I’ve also seen people come through our doors from other places who I will never tell to go back to where they came from. Here are some reasons why:

 1. The Gospel must be preached

Not all churches that have the gospel correct on their doctrinal statement actually preach the gospel. Some churches are so focused on speaking to people’s felt needs and emotional struggles that they forget to be clear on the problem of sin and how Jesus solved it for us in His death, burial, and resurrection. And in case we forgot, the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16-17), nothing else. Sometimes people come to my church from another, maybe visiting with a friend or something, and they hear the gospel clearly proclaimed, and God convicts them of sin, brings them to faith in the gospel and regenerates them. And as we counsel with them we discover that though they’ve been at a church that has the right gospel on paper, they’ve never heard it preached before. But now they understand it, are broken over it, and put their trust in Jesus in light of it.

The deal is, if you don’t understand and believe the true and simple gospel, you are not born-again. You are not saved from hell. So, for me, when I meet this kind of person at Refuge that last thing I’m going to do is tell them, “Well I’m sorry, but you need to go back where you came from.” I’m going to love them and make sure they have the opportunity to get the discipleship they’ve never had.

 2. Heresy is real

This ties in with the last point, but not every church that names Christ actually preaches Christ. Churches get into weird crap. That’s the bottom line. I remember learning that a local Episcopal church in a town where I used to pastor had started encouraging their Moms of Preschoolers (MOPS) group to start using the Quran and Book of Mormon for their studies in addition to the Bible. Because of that kind of thing, I was more than happy to welcome a few transfers to our church who knew there was something wrong with that. They voiced their concerns, called for a change and repentance, and were unheard. So, I was happy to welcome them to a place they could not only be discipled, but invite moms to, knowing that they’d be getting the living water of God’s word instead of the poisonous waters of pluralism.

 3. Seasons in Life Change

We also need to allow for people to grow or transition into different seasons of life. If I were simply looking for a church to plug my family into in a non-vocational ministry sense today, I wouldn’t go to the churches I attended in the past. This isn’t because they are evil or wrong. They’re just not a good fit for where our family is at right now in our relationship with Jesus theologically and philosophically.

4. Sometimes Churches Really do Hurt People

One of the most tragic reasons I’ve seen transfer growth is when people are truly hurt by leaders and churches. A couple years ago a pastor in my area was found to have been having affairs with underage girls in the youth groups he was leading. Part of the fallout from that was that people transferred from that church to other churches, including ours. We welcomed these people to our church as a hospital where they could be cared for and encouraged.

 5. Sharing the lowest theological common denominator isn’t always enough

Generally speaking, if we have the gospel in common with another church I love to promote unity between us. But there are some churches that are involved in things that are just weird enough for me to understand why people would leave them. For instance I know of a church not far from us that began promoting the idea that certain crystals used in worship services can encapsulate the praises of God’s people and project them into the cosmos. This church was encouraging people to give their money and tithes to the people taking these crystals around and doing presentations with them. Then there is the whole prosperity preaching issue that was prevalent. Still other churches who have that “come to us if you don’t want to be held accountable for your sin, in the name of grace” reputation are a problem in our area too. Some of these churches claim (or really do) believe in the same Jesus and gospel we do. But that lowest common denominator isn’t always enough. I would never tell someone they need to go back to that kind of environment because of the way people over-generalize the problem with transfer growth.

I hate unnecessary, flippant, consumeranity, transfer growth. I want people to get saved through Refuge Church. But I also don’t want to be so naïve as to act as if there are no legitimate reasons people may transfer into, or out of the church I lead. So am I saying that all transfer growth is good? No! I’m just saying we need to not be overly-simplistic in the way we talk about the issue.

A Final Exhortation

Having a good relationship with the other pastors in your community is vitally important for handling transfer growth in a way that keeps the gospel witness in tact in your area. If the pastors in your area lob grenades at each other behind one another’s back without having face-to-face interaction, we turn into a bunch of squabbling church people. And most lost people don’t want any part of that. Communicate with the pastors in your community about transfer growth. Ask their advice on how to handle it, and follow-up with each other. The witness of the gospel depends upon it.

leadership

The Art of Spiritual Guidance

I have been sharing a series with our staff on spiritual formation. At our staff meeting this week, I spoke about spiritual guidance or spiritual direction. This is a lost art in contemporary evangelicalism. The role of pastor can be spiritual direction in a sense. But classically, spiritual guidance happens in a one on one setting. Spiritual direction is not about Biblical information but about heart transformation. I encouraged our staff to both avail themselves to spiritual guidance as a receiver and as a giver. To seek a mentor and to be a mentor. When I got to ‘be a mentor’ time, I shared six simple principles for the art of spiritual guidance. One of our pastors jotted down some notes about it and then forwarded it to me. So here they are. Obviously this is not exhaustive by any means but it is practical and helpful. Definitely not the final word on the subject but some important ideas just the same.

1) Focus on Gods kingdom and design instead my plans for that person.
What is God’s will for this person? How has he designed them? How
can I help them down that road?

2) Keep your advice founded in the Bible. From the Book outward instead
of the opposite of that. Most of the issues with historical and contemporary spiritual guidance comes when it is divorced from the heart of God in the Word of God.

3) Founded on care and concern. Love them with the concern of Christ. Care and concern will always (with the exception of intercessory prayer) translate into time spent together. So you must figure out how to make time for that person.

4) Have a listening ear. Eugene Peterson said, “Show up an then shut up.”
Let people express their hearts. Where they are at. Do not jump in. Wait
and see where they are coming from before you put in your .02. Give
them an opportunity to express themselves. Then pick your words wisely and
choose carefully what you are going to say.

5) Be humble. The people who walk with the Lord the longest and the
closest recognize their neediness for God the most. Lead with
humility not pride. When you are addressing them, do not forget that you have a plank in your own eye!

6) Lead with the premise that you are going to reproduce yourself
spiritually
, whether good or bad. It is a great responsibility. Is our
own walk where we want it to be? People we disciple will take on many
of our characteristics. Things we do and say will show up in their
lives because we are encouraging them to walk down the road with us.

Stressed

PLAN OR DIE

Life is busy. Ministry life is even busier. Something I figured out in the first six months of being in pastoral ministry was that I was going to have to plan my week well, or die. And as my ministry load has steadily and dramatically increased over the years I’m more convinced than ever that having a “plan or die” mentality is essential to survival and effectiveness in the ministry. I’m so convinced of this that I not only plan out my schedule to the minute as much as possible every few months, but I also require all pastoral trainees at the church I lead to do the same in cooperation with their family when they start the training process. I figure it is better to learn early to plan by instruction than to figure it out through burnout and floundering ministry endeavors.

Below is a copy of one of my old daily schedules:

 

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
6-7AM: Morning Routine

 

7-8AM: Sermon Prep

 

8:30-2PM: Church

 

2:30- Evening: Family Time

8-9AM:

Morning Routine

 

9AM-Evening:

Family Day/Daddy Date

 

 

6-7AM: Morning Routine

 

7-7:30:

Exercise

 

7:30-8:15AM: Sermon Prep

 

8:15-6PM: Solitude

 

 

 

 

 

6-7AM: Morning Routine

 

7-7:30AM: Worship/Prayer

 

7:30-8AM: Exercise

 

8:15- 10:15: Sermon Prep/Writing

 

10:15-11:45: Admin/Systems

 

12-1PM: Lunch

 

1-6PM: Leader Follow-up

6-7AM: Morning Routine

 

7-7:30AM: Worship/Prayer

 

7:30-8AM: Exercise

 

8:15- 10:15: Sermon Prep/Writing

 

10:15-11:45: Admin/Systems

 

12-1PM: Lunch

 

1-4PM: Counseling Apps

 

4-6PM: Leadership Meeting/Fellowship

 

 

6-7AM: Morning Routine

 

7-7:30AM: Worship/Prayer

 

7:30-8AM: Exercise

 

8:15- 10:15: Sermon Prep/Writing

 

10:15-11:45: Admin/Systems

 

12-1PM: Lunch

 

1-6PM: Counseling Apps

 

7-8AM:

Morning Routine

 

8-10:

Family Time

 

10-12:

House Chores

 

12-1: Lunch

 

1-Evening:

Family Time

 

 

 

Some will look at that schedule and think I’m too loose with planning. Others will think I’m too extreme.

Here are a few benefits I’ve experienced from learning to plan my schedule this way:

 1. Stuff gets done

If I just try to swing at things “when I get around to it” I frequently find that I never really get around to it. I have to plan for the needed stuff to happen, or it won’t happen. But conversely, if most everything has a spot on the schedule, it gets done.

 2. I have more free time

That’s right, MORE free time. The counterintuitive thing I’ve learned about intensely detailed planning is that having a solid plan actually frees you instead of restricting you. The reason for this is that if I work on everything when I’m supposed to, for as long as I’m supposed to, I end up getting things done much quicker and more efficiently than I would if I did those same things when I felt I had a spare moment. For example, I have 7 hours and 45 minutes scheduled for sermon preparation time because that is an extremely important part of my job. But the reality is that it usually only takes me 2 to 4 hours to completely prepare for a sermon. So as I work diligently on my sermon during schedule times I end up getting it done, and the remaining sermon prep slots become free time to do other things. That is how detailed planning gives me more time instead of restricting me.

 3. My family is informed

The last benefit I’ll mention (though there are many more) is that planning this way blesses my family because it makes it easy for us to be on the same page day-to-day. Generally, my wife knows exactly what I’m doing and when I’m doing it if she wants. And my family knows that when dad’s working, he’s working. But they trust me with the busy times because they know I’m making scheduled times in which we invest in our family which are just for us a priority as well.

The truth is that our need/desire to plan comes from our being made in the image of God. Our God is an ordered God of planning. Jesus came to earth when “the fullness of time had come.”[1] God is not the author of confusion and chaos, but peace, rhythm, and harmony.[2] No wonder life is draining and unproductive when we approach it chaotically, without plan or intentionality. If you feel like you’re suffocating under the weight of responsibilities and lack of direction in what to do, that alarm in your mind might be the Holy Spirit exhorting you to plan or die.


[1] Gal. 4:4 NKJV

[2] 1 Cor. 14:33

The Minister and His Money

If you want to make a bunch of pastors uncomfortable start to talk personal finances. Immediately the conversation will go to how little they are paid by their church or what major financial obstacle they are trying to overcome. It saddens me because what I have found is that pastors are some of the worst stewards of their own money. This has little to do with how much they get paid or what financial challenge they are facing but more to do with how they spend what they do have.

I am shocked at how many pastors still rent even though they have lived in the same city they are ministering for close to 20 years. I talked to one pastor who has moved 19 times in the 20 years he has been a pastor in his town. His excuse was that he couldn’t afford a home in his city. If you do the simple math and add up all the deposits he put down on all those rentals along with the costs to turn on and turn off utilities, not to mention the sheer cost of moving all of those times he would’ve had more than enough money for a good deposit on a home. Add to that conversation the fact that the typical pastor has the latest technological gadget, an impressive wardrobe, and fairly regularly frequents restaurants and entertainment and you start to see why so many pastors are in bad financial shape.

We are called to be good stewards of our money. That starts with not being afraid of money or mastered by it. We need to stop the excuses face the facts. Too many pastors have resigned themselves to the fact that they will never be able to get ahead and so they proceed to go and spend every dime (and then some) of expendable money they have on frivolous things. I am talking about more than just a starbucks addiction here. We’ve developed a lust for almost anything new.

Let me give you a few suggestions:

  1. Start in the Pulpit: Calvary Chapel pastors pride themselves on teaching verse by verse and only talk about money when it comes up in the scripture. I’ve heard this refrain since well before I joined on as a pastor. It comes from a reaction to the tele-evangelists of the early 1990’s always asking for money. Unfortunately when money does come up in scripture we spend a good deal of the sermon apologizing that it’s there. We make assurances that we don’t know who gives what and what they do with their money is between them and God. All of this is okay but there are people in the congregation who are dying to know what the Bible says about how They should use their money and we are not giving it to them. When the Word of God talks about money PREACH IT! Don’t be ashamed that the Bible tells us to give. Don’t be afraid to ask. Most of all do not worry about the finances of the people in the pews. We need to stop making excuses for how bad people have it. The Bible tells us that if we trust God with our money He will supply all of our needs and more.
  2. Stop Starving Yourself: 2 Timothy 2:6 says “It’s the hard working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” Pastor make sure that the church pays you. Stop sacrificing your family for everything else the church is doing. You are a priority for the church and need to stop taking a backseat to every whim and waffle. Your wife wants to know that the family is going to be secure and provided for. She is not asking for much, just that the basics needs to provided for. You should have the tough discussion with your elders that once all the basic expenses of the church are paid you come next. If your church is running short on that then I refer you back to step one.
  3. Stewardship Starts at Home: You have already read my diatribe above. Stop frivolously spending your money. How can you expect your church to have its house in order if yours isn’t. It goes beyond how you spend your money. Do you have plan, budget, or dream? Your money should be a servant to these not the other way around. When I started out I made $18,000 a year had $20,000 in school debt and a car payment. Owning a house wasn’t even a pipe dream. Then I got married and my wife had higher expectations for our family. We paid down our debt, saved up enough for a down payment, and bought a house by year four of our marriage. We were frugal (nice way of saying we didn’t spend any money) and we were faithful with our giving. God provided. Pastor get your financial house in order.

I know this is a lot and some of it vague but my heart hurts for those who are breaking under the pressure of finances. I recommend using Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. It’s the best book out there. Too many times in the stress and frustration of ministry we use spending money as an outlet of stress. Buying something or doing something that costs is shown to produce a chemical reaction in our brains. Problem is that feeling  goes away quickly and just like a drug we need more and more to produce the same effect. Don’t be mastered by your money. It is a neutral tool that God has given us to accomplish His purposes.

candle-1

Light In The Darkness

“Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.”

 

Dark seasons come to us all. This is regardless of where we are or who we are or what we are doing. We are here. We are involved in this thing called “life” and the reality is that we all experience dark times. But there is a marked difference between the darkness that is experienced by the upright and the unjust.

The unjust dwell in darkness, and it a manifold darkness. They are lost in the darkness of sin, of confusion, of ignorance, of pride and stubbornness. Their eyes are blinded by the god of this age, their foolish hearts are darkened, they stumble in the darkness groping for anything solid, yet terrified and held back by fear not knowing what they will find…and they have no light…ever.

The upright have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son. They were once in darkness, but now have been made children of Light, in fact, the light of this world. And yet we remain living testimonies in a world of fallen things. And we dwell daily in fallen bodies. These fallen systems love darkness and not light. And God is gracious and has given us His word to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths as we walk life’s narrow way. And because we are living epistles and stewards of light, living in the midst of a crooked and lost generation, we find ourselves at times in darkness. At a loss of which way to go, of our purpose, of our goal…and we fret. We become anxious.

But always the upright has hope. The upright has fixed his or her heart upon the One to whom they have cried out to for their salvation. He alone has shown Himself strong on their behalf. He alone has freed them from their prison and set them at liberty from their oppressive labors. And in the times of darkness, there arises a light. In the Lord’s time, there arises a light. Hope is renewed and strengthened, the sails of vision are filled to full strength, the upright begins afresh to be the living extension of the kingdom of God among those lost in darkness…

And he is once again gracious to those around him. He is full of compassion to those who do not know what compassion is. and above all and through it all, he is righteous. Not because of what he has done through the trying time of darkness, but righteous because of the One who has called and redeemed and adopted and made alive by the word of the gospel and the generous, miraculous work of His Holy Spirit indwelling and empowering him.

Inner Struggle

The Lie of the “Good Girl”

“She’s too innocent . . . she doesn’t do that. I don’t think she even knows what that is.”

“She’s a good girl and that’s not like her to do that.”

I believe these can be some of the most harmful words overheard by young girls. I was that oh-so-put-together, organized, on every academic team in school, over achiever, got good grades girl. I overheard as others labeled me by saying things like, “She’s so mature.” “She knows that’s wrong, so she won’t do that.” “Look at that godly girl and everything she’s balancing in her life.” “She doesn’t struggle with that.”

Again, these were some of the worst things for me to have heard growing up and in high school. Since I knew others didn’t recognize me as the struggling sinner that I was, trying to figure out this life and what it means to be sanctified and justified by Christ’s blood, I was not able to be open and honest with my struggles, and seek the help I needed. I was overburdened with my sin: sexual temptation and lust of the mind. I was everything but mature in my walk with Christ, put together, being sanctified, and seeking after God, and hearing that people thought highly of me only added to the façade I had to keep up, and the guilt and shame I was carrying. I was identifying myself more with the list of those who won’t inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) than I was with Jesus and my new life in Him.

God designed a girl’s heart, mind, and body to be protected and pure. When she hears others talking about how well she’s doing at that, even though they are really only referring to the outside, then her only fleshly worry is keeping up with appearances, despite addictions hiding in the closet, in old relationships, on her computer, on her bookshelf, or in any other area of life where idolatry is an issue. It doesn’t matter how filthy her eyes are from the porn she’s watching but can’t tell anyone about, or how disgusting she feels from the boys she’s blamed herself for sleeping with, or how unclean her mind and thoughts are from the unstoppable, lustful thoughts she has, or how broken hearted she is from male after male that can’t fulfill her in her life. Her flesh craves to maintain the perfect image that has been being portrayed to others, despite the common knowledge provided from the Bible that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s level of perfection (Romans 3:23).

I feel like sexual sin is also harder for girls to admit to because of this idea of them always being pristine and holy. In an article on helping women with addictions, author Rob Jackson put is very well when he said, “Female addicts often suffer a greater social stigma and inner shame than do male addicts. Society promotes the stereotypes of ‘boys will be boys’ and “’good girls don’t,’”[1]. The Bible tells us that there is neither male nor female before the Lord (Galatians 3:28), so there is no sin common to just man, or just women (1 Corinthians 10:13). Sin is a human struggle, and a girl is going to feel even guiltier when she’s struggling with something that no other girl seems to admit to struggling with. I saw this in my experience, but I also see it the more and more I talk with girls who are willing to be open about their struggles, and the more I see this as being a barrier to their honesty about their struggles, and their willingness to seek help.

So, how do we fix this problem? Parents, I think it starts with you and your most powerful tool: the gospel. The parents in the church youth group where I serve are no longer surprised to hear me tell them, “Don’t be surprised that your children are sinners.” The shock parents sometimes exert to their children for not upholding Jesus’ level of perfection only breeds more hypocrites into the church. Let your kids be real with you and don’t shame them for their struggles with sin. When your children are sharing their sins and struggles with you, you should view that as a God ordained opportunity for you to actively share the gospel with them, through your words and actions. Shame is not the gospel. There is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1), so don’t be a tool in the enemy’s hand to burden your kids with more guilt. Share with them the freedom found in Christ’s love displayed for us on the cross. Their sin is horrific, bad, ugly, and it’s why Jesus had to die, but He also rose again to defeat sin, so that your children can be sanctified in Christ, having access to God’s power living in them, to help them have victory over their sins.

We also need to be warned and aware that girls do actually struggle with porn.  It may start in a more subtle way with women. Virtually every young adult novel these days includes very explicit sex scenes, which is nothing but straight up porn, or erotic literature. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal which shares about the rise in women reading erotica on EReaders due to its easy access, one reader admitted that, “. . . the digital format helped her get over the embarrassment[2].” The Bible says to think on things that are pure and lovely (Philippians 4:8), and I know from experience that reading those things only add to the embarrassment and weight of sin, and the lustful, evil thoughts. It is not lovely and pure to gaze into a fictional vampire’s love life, I don’t care if they waited until they were married. It’s not lovely and pure to worship and idolize the marriage relationship between two characters in your book, even if it has the genre title “Christian fiction” on the side of it. It is not lovely and pure to read pornographic literature, even if nobody else knows that’s what you’re doing because they can’t see the book cover on your new EReader. It’s only lovely to worship the one true God.

The more I talk to girls about the dangers of reading literature that is not only too mature for their age, but also downright pornographic and sinful, the more girls I am finding who admit to struggling with this. For some reason this form of pornography is more tolerated than visual pornography, which girls struggle with as well. Parents need to be aware of this and closely monitor what their young girls are reading. And older girls and women, you need to take it upon yourself to decide if what you’re reading leads to pure and lovely thoughts, or if it feeds your flesh with lustful, adulterous, disgusting thoughts. You need to be able to recognize your responsibility to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Ephesians 4:1), in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

About the Author

Lexy Sauvé grew up on C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, and Hans Christian Anderson, pursuing her love of literature and writing since kindergarten. Her love of poetry grew through middle school and is still her genre of choice. Lexy rededicated her life to Christ at the age of 13, and has since been growing to understand and walk in the ministry of reconciliation that she has been entrusted with. In the summer of 2011 she married her high school lovebird, whom she occasionally collaborates with artistically. They enjoy reading, espresso, and old book shops together. In 2012 she graduated from Weber State University, in Ogden, Utah, with a degree in Creative Writing.

Lexy also has some background in journalism. She wrote for Weber State’s newspaper, The Signpost, in the area of Arts and Entertainment, as well as serving as a student editor of poetry for their literary magazine, The Metaphor. She is currently working with Calvary Chapel Magazine, as well as pursuing side projects in editing, publishing, and teaching workshops.

 


[1] Pure Intimacy.org, 2004, “Help for Female Sex Addicts,” http://www.pureintimacy.org/piArticles/A000000574.cfm

[2] “Books Women Read When No One Can See the Cover,” Katherine Rosman, March 12, 2012, The Wall Street Journal

friendship

Spiritual Friendships

As this article is being published, I am traveling back to the Evergreen State (Washington, of course) after spending the last three days at the 2012 Calvary Chapel Senior Pastors Conference. It dawned on me that I have been a yearly attender at these conferences for eight years. There are many draws to this conference. The conference center in Southern California is beautiful. There is teaching and worship. They give you free books and resources.

But more than anything, the greatest blessing of this conference is the friendships that have developed over the years. I am continually amazed at the number of pastors that I have been blessed to get to know. Some of those relationships are slowly evolving. Other of those relationships are fully formed. But either way, it is the friendships that draw me to the conference year in and year out. Out of those relationships, there are Paul, Barnabas and Timothy types. I am grateful for the Pauls in my life. There are men who have made significant investments in my life as mentors. I had many conversations this week with men who challenge me, teach me, encourage me and sometimes just let me process out loud. I am also grateful for the Barnabas’ in my life. These are the men who are my brothers and co-labors. Like Paul and Barnabas, these relationships are those amongst people who walk through life together. I always enjoy the Timothy type of relationships. These are guys that I can pour into. Realistically, I get to function as a Paul to men who are Timothys to me.

No matter what the relationship is, he reality is that spiritual friendships are essential to our growth. Sanctification does not happen in a vacuum. Instead growth happens in community and relationship. I have many conversations to process through. Many new ideas and thoughts to pray and think through. I just find myself extremely grateful for the spiritual friendships that God has blessed me with.

I also realized that 8 years of continued attendance has greatly fostered these relationships. A good relationship needs to be invested in. True interpersonal intimacy is fostered by communication over time. We are not entitled to deep relationships but we need to make an investment in them with intentionality. I am absolutely blessed by the investment people make in me. I am so thankful to have peers who I walk through life with. I am humbled to get to poor into people’s lives. Overall, I am eternally grateful for the intentionality of all involved to fill my life with spiritual friendships.