Celebrate Your Victories!

Jonathan Daugherty

There is one thing I wish we as Christians were much better at doing, and that is celebrating. We tend to struggle on the whole at really cheering one another on in the faith and throwing parties in honor of those demonstrating the character of Christ. In this article I want to challenge you to cultivate an attitude of celebration in your ongoing pursuit of purity.

God designed us for joy! He didn’t design our minds, bodies, or spirits for anxiety, depression, or gloom. Yet, how often do you find yourself stressed to the max and feeling as if you can’t breathe under the weight of your life? The pace of life, the onslaught of temptation, and uncontrollable circumstances beat you down. But is that reality from God’s perspective or just the excuse often used?

The truth is that it is simply easier to point out faults than to celebrate victories. One reason for this may be that we are spending more time giving into temptation than we are living in purity. But does that mean we must wallow in our sin and shame while our moments of faith and resolve go completely unrecognized? I think not.

One thing I have found to be true in pursuing purity is that the “domino effect” works in both directions, whether following our lusts or following Christ. The more we give into temptation the easier it becomes to fail more quickly the next time we are faced with a similar situation. Conversely, the more we discipline ourselves to obey Christ, taking every thought captive, and connecting with our band of brothers, the stronger we become in resisting attacks. Because of this principle I believe it is all the more important that we develop an ongoing attitude of celebration, not only for our own benefit but for the benefit of other brothers striving for purity.

I have numerous people contacting me every week, wanting to know how to break free from sexually destructive habits. I try to respond to every person based on the core values of ministry (hope, integrity, humility, honesty, compassion, perseverance, accountability, faith, and love). The values that amaze people most about how I interact with them are hope and love. Many times people will attempt to argue that their situation is unique and they really can’t be free. But I never back down from the hope of freedom available to everyone through Christ. What many of these individuals have missed much of their life is someone sharing the truth with them and cheering them on when the journey is hard. They have never been celebrated for doing what is right, only chastised and shamed for their sin and addiction.

Jesus Christ was the incarnation of joy. Many times, because of the very serious nature of his mission (salvation of all mankind) we tend to picture him sullen and, well, miserable. Last time I checked, I didn’t see throngs of people dashing to see a sullen, miserable person. People were drawn to Jesus because He exuded life, true life. As his followers we are to do the same. And one way we do this is by celebrating the successes we, and others, have on our journey to purity.

Here are a few ideas on how you can celebrate your victories:

When you meet a purity goal

– Give yourself a gift of some sort to remind you of meeting that goal.

– Share a meal with your band of brothers in honor of accomplishing your goal.

– Celebrate with a favorite hobby or activity (i.e. golf, hunting, professional sporting event, etc.)

When you resist temptation

– Call a buddy to share the success with them.

– Say, “Thank you Jesus for this victory!”

– Write down what happened to remind you later of the victory.

Here’s the real key to celebrating victories: don’t celebrate alone! God wants us connected, to Him and to others around us. We can certainly have personal moments of celebration just between us and the Lord, but the ongoing impact of celebration is most often realized in the context of others. Surround yourself with people of celebration who understand how to balance getting excited about doing the right thing and holding you accountable when you stray.

So, how’s your “celebrateability?” I challenge you to watch for the moments and situations worthy of celebration. Then, don’t be afraid to cut loose and enjoy the freedom God has given!

For help in the battle for purity see Every Man’s Battle.

How Far is Too Far: Sexual Integrity for Singles

Bob Parkins

Not many Christians debate God’s instructions against premarital sex. However, there is still not a consensus or a shared understanding regarding what constitutes acceptable physical affection and what is sinful. The Bible uses words like adultery, fornication, lust, and purity, all words that have very clear meanings. Yet many Christian singles, teens, and even parents remain confused. Many Christian singles and teens struggle to maintain sexual purity while abstaining from sexual intercourse, yet many are engaging in sexual acts. They deceive themselves by legalistically reasoning they haven’t violated God’s boundaries because they haven’t technically had sex.

While the Bible does not appear to clarify exactly what other acts for singles are and are not acceptable in God’s eyes, it is very clear about the guidelines we are meant to judge these acts by.

When asked by young couples, ‘how far is too far?’ I generally ask them to search their hearts and examine what their intention and motivation in asking is. Usually a couple who asks ‘how far,’ is also struggling to maintain sexual purity. Those struggling with sexual purity or addictions are in the habit of pushing limits and boundaries. They want to know what is the maximum they can get away with. They look for loopholes in attempts to satisfy the desire for immediate self gratification.

The Bible warns us about being deceived and worshiping idols (Deut 11:16; Exo 20:14), and sex can be an idol to those who struggle to maintain purity. Scripture also tells us that God sees what truly is in our hearts and we will sow what we reap (Gal 6:7). If you have ever asked ‘how far,’ and have patterns of pushing limits, it is likely you are not truly interested in purity and really want to get away with as much physical affection as possible. When you put it that way it seems silly to consider the technicality of sin. If you discover your motive is to selfishly seek your own physical gratification, instead refocus on what is pure (Phi 4:8).

When you flirt with sin, you put yourself in a position to sin. To answer the question more directly, anything that causes you to sin is ‘too far.’ This is probably the best litmus test for determining limits since the Bible doesn’t tell couples specifically how they can show physical affection, at least not in the manner many look for. There are several scriptural examples of expressing affection through treasuring chastity and virtue and abstaining from sexual immorality (Isa 62:5; 2Col 11:2), a counter-cultural perspective in most increasingly permissive/promiscuous societies. Jesus models surrendering personal desires to the Father (Luk 22:42), and encourages us to ask for God’s intervention in maintaining victory over sin in The Lord’s Prayer (Luk 11:4). If you are willfully sustaining a desire that cannot be righteously met, you are deceiving yourself (1Thess 4:3-8).

Determining limits may be a little different for different couples, but be cautioned against any propensity to justify pushing limits. If you get excited to the point that you struggle with lustful thoughts or fantasies from kissing, or if you have difficulty respecting boundaries (yours or hers), you may not be able to handle more. Consider then abstaining from kissing or other applicable acts. Some may not struggle with kissing and will need to set limits accordingly. I suggest also abstaining from any physical activity or show of affection that you are not comfortable doing in front of her father. There are several genuine and appropriate displays of affection that pass this test.

It is important that couples talk about setting physical limits early in their relationship. We live in a backwards culture where single men often push women to/beyond their sexual limit. This is not what God intends or requires of us in marriage, so it certainly cannot be condoned in dating. Men are to cherish and protect their wives, not take advantage of them for their own pleasure (Eph 5:25-28; Col 3:19). Just as a father is to protect the innocence of his daughter, so are we to protect and respect any woman we are dating. Sexual desire for her is not bad, but respecting her virtue means protecting her from these desires (yours or her).

Men, it is up to you to initiate this conversation and establish boundaries. This may be the very first act you exhibit of spiritual leadership in a budding relationship. Any potential spouse who is worth spending your life with will respect your integrity because they will feel safe and cherished. Two scripture verses that are helpful in maintaining focus on purity are:

– (2Ti 2:22) Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

– (Phi 4:8) Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Be encouraged by the peace God promises those that live pure and virtuous lives

For more help in the battle for purity, see Every Man’s Battle.

The Loophole of Denial

Fred Feliciano

I love a good story. Good stories catch us off guard. A good story has the power to show us what we believe about the world and how we think things ought to be. They stretch our minds, challenge our beliefs, and move us towards change. That is why I love Jesus’ stories. His stories move me, jolt me and propel me towards facing and embracing the reality of who he is and who I am. In short, his stories catch me by exposing me. That is why I also struggle with his stories. They expose me and my thoughts. His stories bring me back to facing my self whether I want to or not. So, I find ways around his stories in order to avoid stepping into his light. I just focus my attention on something else, anything. I use denial as a loophole. A loophole is a term used to describe a way around a particular obstacle with little to no negative effect to oneself. We find ways out of situations where we anticipate feeling shame.

The loophole of denial assists us in avoiding the light of God in two ways. First, denial provides us a way of alleviating the stress of our shame by refusing to face it. Shame can be defined as an intense fear of being exposed based on a corrosive belief that one is fatally flawed, unlovable and deserving of rejection from others who are deemed worthy and perceived as merciless all at once. As long as we do not have to face what we do that’s wrong, we don’t have to confess or own up to others in honesty and we find relief from the burden of our shame momentarily. Good shame allows us to focus attention on the welfare of God and others above our own.

Confessions made in the light of good shame lead us to restore relationships with loving dignity and help to develop true self perceptions in light of God’s true view of us which does something better than provide relief from the shame we feel. It provides us a deep sense of rest in our minds and hearts. The cost of not facing our shame is too high a price to pay.

Secondly, the loophole of denial provides us a way of avoiding painful truth by creating an alternative to the truth. Alternatives to the truth are simply lies. Lies help us to maintain the illusion that we can avoid rejection and increase the chances of acceptance by presenting ourselves as someone we are not. The problem with creating alternatives is that acceptance is never fully experienced and we are never fully known because the truth of who we really are remains hidden underneath the lies;  we remain distanced from others. Those who are closest to us never experience us as we are. They experience a false self. The alternative at first seems like it will increase acceptance and decrease rejection but in the end it isolates us further by taking us farther away from the truth of who we are, others are, and who God is. We wind up never trusting or being intimate with anyone.

Christ provides us a way out of our shame-based loopholes of denial by reversing the path our loopholes have taken us. Traveling in reverse back into the loophole of denial transforms it into a doorway. A doorway that leads to a redemptive path of trust for prodigal sons. Prodigals who, in repentance, come home, face the truth of their guilt in relation to their legitimate failures and face their longings for acceptance never received. But most of all are able to trust, face, and receive the Father’s healing embrace. His embrace declaring to us, ‘Not only are you forgiven but you are my son. You were dead but are now alive!’

I want to encourage you to read in Luke 15 about the transforming power of the Father’s deep love for his ragamuffin sons. Let that story catch you, expose you and shake you loose from your denial and fear.

For help facing your denial and experiencing God’s transforming power, see Every Man’s Battle.