Thoughts on Sexual Temptation

“Many people have asked me if I have ever looked at pornography,” writes William Struthers in his book Wired for Intimacy. “When I tell them that I find many things on television or on newsstands pornographic, they frown…Yes, I have viewed pornography because it is everywhere. You cannot get away from it; if you don’t view it intentionally, you will unintentionally.”

Here are ten thoughts on living in a world of sexual temptation as guys:

One: Porn is everywhere. Struthers is right. The reason why his statement is so shocking is that we’ve become desensitized to the amount of explicit material present we see everyday.

Two: Society is conflicted about this. One recent article on the leaked Jennifer Lawrence nude photos illustrates this. To the extent that we buy into culture’s views on sex, we will be conflicted and confused as well.

Three: Sexual temptation for men is a given. It’s safe to say that if you are a male, you will face sexual temptation. This isn’t to say that you are actively succumbing to that temptation, but it’s safe to say that it's a battle. We shouldn't be surprised.

Four: Sexual temptation is powerful, but it often goes deeper than we realize. It’s not just about the sex. It’s usually a sign that something else is off. The acronym HALT is helpful: temptation can be acute when we’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. “In the middle of trouble, when you are in the heat of the battle, you will run somewhere for refuge. You will run somewhere for rest, comfort, peace, encouragement, wisdom, healing, and strength…” (Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling). Many men run to sex for refuge.

Five: Pastors aren’t exempt. As Tripp wrote in Dangerous Calling, pastors are nothing more than people in the midst of their own sanctification.

Six: Most men struggle alone. Men feel a deep sense of shame about their struggle with this temptation, and therefore keep it private. The problem: we cannot find a private solution to this private problem.

Seven: Secrecy and shame are one of Satan’s greatest tools to keep us in bondage to sexual sin. Sin is like mushrooms: it grows in the dark.

Eight: When men reach out for help, they often reach out too late — after the temptation, and not in the middle of it.

Nine: Shame is lifted when we encounter God’s grace. “The gospel declares that there is nothing that could ever be uncovered about you and me that hasn’t already been covered” (Tripp).

Ten: The key to this struggle is not willpower, but a radical encounter with God’s grace in community. There are many practical steps to take, but they begin with ceasing to struggle in secrecy and in your own power. “The tide will begin to turn in your struggle against pornography when you begin to grasp forgiving grace and transforming grace, as you learn to repent,” writes Heath Lambert in Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace. He writes:

A living, breathing relationship with the Savior of the world will drive porn out of your life quicker than anything else. When you turn your eyes to Jesus, there isn't room for anything else in your heart because he fills it up. When you open the blinds of a pitch-black room, the sunlight drives away the darkness.

There are many good books on this subject. Finally Free and Samson and the Pirate Monks are ones I highly recommend. I also hear good things about Wired for Intimacy.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this important topic.

The Preacher's Job

I had the privilege last week of hearing Bryan Chapell speak on preaching. The whole day was good, but what he said at the end will stay with me for a long time. It’s not new, but he stated it in a clear and compelling way.

There are many motivations for behavior, he said, but there is no greater motivation than love. Only love would motivate a mother to enter a burning building to save her child.

The greatest motivation in the Christian life, therefore, is the love of God. Our problem is that, in the moment, we tend to love other things more than we love God. The best way to deal with these competing loves is with (as Thomas Chalmers would say) the expulsive power of a greater love.

My notes from Chapell's talk

The preacher’s job, therefore, is to excavate the beauty and grace of God so that our hearts are filled up with the power of grace. The pastor’s job is to fill people with love for the Savior. We’re never stronger than when our hearts are full with this love.

Does this make people self-centered? Not really. When you love someone, you love what they love. Their agenda becomes yours. Love for God makes us God-centered, not us-centered.

It’s a simple but profound reminder. I wish I had known this in my early days as a preacher. I’ve sometimes tired of my own preaching when it’s filled with calls for obedience divorced from the motivation and power to live, but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of talking about the grace and beauty of God, and how we get to live in response.

Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

Six Reasons to Live More Simply—and Give More Generously

How can we live more simply? There are thousands of ways. But these are things few of us will do unless we have clear and compelling reasons. Here are six...

Where Satan Will Attack You Today

Like it or not you are in a war. And do you know where the front of the battle is? It’s in your head.

Kingdom Opportunities Mean Kingdom Adversaries

We are not to shy away from what the Lord is calling us to simply because there might be opposition. No, in this way that we follow our savior, the brave king who came despite all opposition to rescue us, his bride.

Eugene Peterson’s Advice to Seminary Students

I’d tell them that pastoring is not a very glamorous job...

Pastors Shouldn’t Have Trade Secrets

I remain firmly convinced, based upon Scripture and my experience, that pastors should not be in competition with one another. They should support, root for, rejoice in, and serve to ensure the other’s growth.

Top 10 Sermon Introduction Mistakes

While there is lots of room for error in the body of your sermon, there is little room for error in your introduction.

Does Our Church Planting Strategy Include Dying?

This week came a question that thus far had not assaulted my grey matter. It came not from a church member. Nor from a church planting book. But from Ghana.

“Have you come here to die?”

The $100 Church Plant

Think you need an elaborate plan before you can start a business? Think again. As Chris Guillebeau writes in The $100 Startup, you need precious little: a small venture, a very small amount of money, and a lot of courage.

Guillebeau identified 1,500 individuals who have built businesses earning $50,000 or more from a modest investment. In many cases, they started with $100 or less. Guillebeau focused on 50 of the most interesting cases, and has distilled the lessons into a how-to guide on how to start a micro-business. In some cases, the entrepreneurs didn’t even know they were starting a business. They started with the shortest of business plans, if they even had one. See this one-page template (PDF) for an example.

How did they do this? They focused on providing value for others. They focused on the convergence between what they love to do, and what other people are willing to pay for. They understood people’s emotions, and focused on those rather than on product features. They preferred action to planning, and got their first sale as soon as possible. They were okay with starting small if that’s what they wanted.

I first came across The $100 Startup a couple of years ago when it first came out. I’ve been working through it recently as I’ve been working on a side project. I believe that this book has huge value for church planters. I’m a believer in the value of bivocational ministry, and think this book has a lot to offer for planters and other pastors who are looking to earn income from other sources besides vocational ministry.

Can I suggest that there is also value in thinking about this approach for ministry?

Instead of dreaming of church plants that require tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, perhaps there is a way to begin with a simple, reproducible model with little overhead for salaries and facilities.

Instead of developing an elaborate plan, perhaps there is a way to begin simply and to figure things out on the ground.

Instead of expecting each plant to become a megachurch, perhaps there is a place for micro-churches that spread through neighborhoods and focus on reproduction.

Trevin Wax has interviewed Jimmy Scroggins on this topic. "One thing’s for sure," Scroggins says, "traditional, funded, full-time church planters are not going to plant enough churches to truly penetrate the lostness of North America." We need both traditional church plants and what he calls rabbit churches. J.D. Payne has also written about the need for simple, reproducible models, as well as experimentation and learning. Books like The $100 Startup make me long for these lessons to be applied in a big way to church planting in North America and beyond.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a role for more traditional church plants, just like there’s a role for traditional business. But there’s also a huge role for small, micro-church plants that don’t require a lot of outside investment. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of these in the future. I hope so.

Risk in Ministry

I was really struck by this tweet by Ray Ortlund recently:

Bang on. This tweet is proof that you can say a lot in 140 characters or less. The third criterion is one that is often missed, but it's crucial.

Risk is one of the most undervalued ingredients of successful ministry. The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) teaches us, in part, that risk avoidance reveals a fearful mindset based on a deficient view of God. It reminds us that there is a place for wise, risky investment of what God has given us.

I'm glad to see risk emphasized recently. John Piper has written a book called Risk is Right. Owen Strachan has written a good book called Risky Gospel. "We're saved to plunge headlong into a life of God-inspired, Christ-centered, gospel-driven risk," he writes.

There may be some who need to be told to pull back and risk less. Most of us struggle with the opposite: succumbing to lives of comfort, safety, and in the end, deadness.

Ironically, playing it safe is one of the riskiest ways to live.

My deepest regrets in ministry have been the times that I've played it safe. My most joyful moments have been when I have refused to play it safe, and have embarked in a risky ministry venture. Church planting comes to mind. I am not arguing for recklessness; I am saying that comfort and safety are overrated when it comes to investing all that we have for the cause of Christ.

What are you risking these days?