A Man Brought Me Psalm 126

I’ve got debt. It mostly represents a buildup of sin from my past – most from before I was even a believer. Before I became a Christian, I tried to save so many people because if I didn’t, who would? So I sunk money, time and resources into people (out of a distorted understanding of what love is) in ways that’s often ended up costing them and me more than either of us could afford financially, but also emotionally and spiritually. Then I became a Christian, but there weren’t major changes to how I viewed money until the last couple months.

I feel like God has been showing me how I had recognized my inability to “work” my way into righteousness in so many other areas of my life, and gratefully accepted His grace. In those areas, I’ve seen God work crazy miracles, redeeming parts of my life I thought were goners. But when it came to finances, I was trying to do it without Him. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but it was the one area in my life where I felt I couldn’t receive grace, because if He helped me financially, I felt like it would be taking resources from someone far more deserving than me.

I had failed to see I was viewing God through the lens of how money in our world works, not how Gods grace works! I DIDN’T “deserve” any of the grace I’d received thus far – why would this area of my life be any different? But I hadn’t been acting that way, I hadn’t surrendered this area of my life and heart to Him and so He couldn’t redeem it, it was not yet time to make that part of my life His testimony, because if He had I wouldn’t have recognized it. I wouldn’t have been able to give Him the glory. And so we’ve spent these years with Him giving my unrepentant heart just enough to get by.

So anyways, I’m working through all of this internally with God and feeling like God is saying that HE is the one who will do this work. I was reminded of the seven year cycle in the Bible in which debts are forgiven, and that my seventh year with God begins this December. I am feeling overwhelmed by this revelation and fearful to write it somewhere, let alone speak it…

So I go to a work meeting with a man at Panera with all this on my heart. As he opens the meeting, he decides to read me a psalm he felt was for me, in this season. Needless to say, I cried:

Psalm 126 NIV

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.

Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.

Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.

My Prayer Right Now (originally written in July 2018)

Here is what I say to You, Adonai: ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May it be as you have said.’ May all the words I believe I receive from You be true and right. I ask you, Lord, to shine your Light on anything not of You so I can throw it out and forget it. Abba, May I treasure your words and your Word. May I treasure them in my heart as Mary did. When the time of Your words come, I will proclaim Your goodness and faithfulness. As I wait in hopeful expectation I will tell others of Your love and compassion. I will worship You in pain and joy, in the waiting and the welcoming, in every season of my life. I am a grateful servant; I have not forgotten the debt You paid for. I know Your timing is perfect and I trust you. Amen.

Fear of the Unknown

There is an unusual intimacy

 

when my eyes meet yours;

 

the sense of being alone swelling

 

as the party grows full of noises and movement.

 

There are no words between us.

 

No place where your skin presses against mine.

 

But eyes meeting across any distance

 

leave no space for anyone else.

 

In those moments we are alone, together.

 

I am vulnerable as my soul peeks out at you.

 

What were seconds felt like minutes.

 

What were minutes felt like hours.

 

I turn and my soul settles back in

 

and you’re left watching me leave.

 

In the dark of the cool evening

 

I find a different kind of Loneliness

 

Whose familiarity comforts me

 

As I disappear into the welcoming shadows.

My Surrender

Once a heart of stone now flesh

A gift bestowed on one You adore.

My emotions stir afresh

Into my heart Your love does pour.

 

For I know so well this darkness

That I give thanks for that which is Light.

Once trapped in a pit of hopelessness

I now soar to an unfathomed height.

 

It is here I kneel and surrender

where there is no pride or shame

my sin You bore on the cross

and my just punishment you claim.

 

Such love is wonder beyond wonder

such truth I cannot grasp

Your grace I can but ponder

your every mercy makes me gasp.

 

There are no words or songs

Of thanks for the freedom I now know

from the sin and from the wrongs

under whose weight I once bowed.

 

I nearly knelt before my enemy

Who accused and declared blame

But now I choose my own King

Whose sovereignty I proclaim.

 

For my name is written on His hands

and His on the tablet of my heart

and from one another

ne’er shall we part.

Encountering Mystery

I had spent a very, very long time trapped in a space mentally and emotionally which felt like complete hopelessness and loneliness, clinging to a tiny shred of hope. It was like the glow of a single, twinkling Christmas light in what felt like an otherwise black abyss. I had started going to Crossroads about 10 months before, and a series of events had made me curious enough to begin asking, “Is there a God? And if there is, is God good? Who am I to God?” This ended up with me landing in India, going to some of the darkest places I could imagine, and challenging this God to show up.

I experienced a moment there that I will never forget. Crossroads partners with several homes in Mumbai and Kolkata, India, that rescue girls and women from sex trafficking. I was in the first group that went to Kolkata and we spent one of our days there putting on a day camp for the girls. We sang, we danced, we played, we taught each other songs and we also did some crafts. One of the crafts was to make a beaded bracelet or necklace. The different colored beads stood for things that were important to us or things we wanted. Examples would include hope, friendship, love, wisdom, etc. I was making a bracelet with one of the girls when she noticed the beads I had chosen to use. “No, no, no. More love.” I was confused, and asked her what she meant and she smiled and laughed at me. “You!” She pointed. “More love,” she said as she pointed at my bracelet, which barely included that color at all. She then proceeded to dismantle my entire bracelet and fill it with the color of love.

My heart broke in the most wonderful way possible in that moment, like walls around it were crumbling. It was as if all the darkness I felt like I was covered in turned into a liquid and puddled at the bottom of me and suddenly, the world seemed to be made of color. Of light. This child who had been through so much could see the very thing I felt I lacked but that I so desperately longed for and she piled it on, unabashedly. She taught me to worship as we sung, “Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say, Rejoice!” I was overwhelmed, I was baffled, I was in the process of becoming. If this young girl who had experienced the true darkness of mankind so fully could worship God, could call out for love with a hungry heart, than certainly there was something special happening here. Some kind of extraordinary goodness that could say, “Even in this place I will give you joy. Even in your suffering, you will know love. Loneliness is a lie because there is a God that loves you and is always with you.”

It wasn’t the first time or the last time that I encountered the Mystery of God, but it planted a seed of faith so deep inside of me that it successfully took root. I began a steadfast pursuit of this God that comes close, who moves in our lives today. While I’ll never fully know or understand God, I feel called into this Mystery that is. I get a sense that not only am I welcome to explore the character and nature of my God but that my desire to know God brings joy. When I begin feeling alone or discouraged, I look back on this moment and I remember how God used the ordinary to speak about the extraordinary and I rejoice.

Father Edwin Leahy (Catalyst Notes)

Father Edwin Leahy is impressive, although he doesn’t think so. There’s some videos below that explain a lot of what he has done and what his work is. Some of his insights as he spoke:

  1. Racism is America’s original sin.
    1. White people in power knew what they were doing, starting in the 1800’s, to neutralize black males who were now free, and that neutralization continues today.
    2. Most of the students he is responsible for at his all boy school are missing fathers. They need help discovering and amplifying their voice.
  2. Be quiet and listen. Folks in the community will eventually tell you what they need.
  3. Tell people, ‘God loves me to the cross. But also, love others.’
  4. Recognize attitudes versus the vastness and vagueness of “culture.”
    1. Whatever helps or hurt my brothers and sisters helps or hurts me.
    2. Tend to their hearts.
    3. Create community.
    4. Create leadership opportunities.
    5. Accepting the Other and where they are.
  5. Be okay with arguing; sometimes provoke fights. It’s not okay to stay comfortable.
  6. Remember: the orchestra tunes to the first violinist.
  7. Develop listening skills.
    1. People will teach you how you can best be of service to them.

He said, “I wasn’t called to be successful, I was called to be faithful.” A great joy is seeing boys who graduated return as fathers with their kids.  They are designed to be a community that bears one another’s burdens. He told a story of an expelled student who was a Junior and he never left. He sat outside his office for two days and the Father told the other boys, “No, he’s out.” The next morning, the kids hid him. During attendance, they’d call his name as absent when he was there and then stopped. They spent the year avoiding each other and his Senior year the Father welcomed him back.

Why is there a fence around this school in downtown Newark? It marks off holy ground in the middle of a city in struggle. Like Moses, in the middle of the ordinary we encounter the extraordinary. Remember: Not all fires destroy; some fires ignite us.

Just a little bit about Father Edwin Leahy and what he does.

Remember…

What a Day

As I was working today, out of nowhere, the thought crossed my mind, “Ask for prayer from Colin _________.” So weird. I worked on the same team as him for a few months maybe 5 years ago and ran into him once at church. I’m not even friends with him on facebook or linkedin. But I felt pushed to act so after an internal debate, I sent him a message that said:

Hey Colin, I don’t know if you remember me but we worked together at ___________ and you gave me some pointers about God (thanks again, btw)? Well, I was just sitting here working and felt super prompted to ask you for prayer. I don’t know WHAT I’m supposed to ask you to pray for but… it’s a really strong push so I’m just going to put this out there. I hope all is going well for you. Thank you, Kara

He ended up replying to me, thanking me for being obedient. He asked for us to talk on the phone (because he felt God prompt him to pray for me over the phone). When I saw his message I sent him my availability and number. Then, as I was making brussel sprouts later (because yum) the thought passed through my mind, “Give them your tickets.” And I was like, NOPE. See, I had these two tickets to see Mumford & Sons and I was super excited because I couldn’t get tickets to see them when they came through a couple years ago. Unfortunately, my friend backed out of going to see them because she decided to go to Germany so I’d been trying to find someone to go with. On Sunday I had even prayed about finding someone to go to Mumford. But then this… I kind of tried to pitch the idea to God of selling them instead, if God didn’t want me to go,  but that didn’t sit well. The more I tried to find a way out of it, the more certain I was that I was supposed to offer them to him. Maybe he’d say no? Maybe it was about obedience, not sacrifice?

So he calls and I ask if he likes Mumford and he’s kind of indifferent but says he’ll check with his wife. We chat a little and he prays prophetically for me. During the prayer, he says that all kinds of doors are going to open for me, with business and (this word slipped my mind, but I sensed community or a growing togetherness). He said that I’d know what to do because God would shine a light on those things; that God would make my path clear to me. He thanked God for hope, and said that I was entering a new phase; a time of thankfulness and that there was great power when I give thanks to God. He said that God enjoys watching me (I sensed delight), that I’m like a little bird soaring into the sky, flapping my wings, soaring and tweeting. Then he saw freedom from my past, gave thanks to God for healing from the past and it’s redemption through God.

I thanked him. I told him I actually had a tattoo of a bird soaring into the sky, wings spread, which I got over a year ago when I kept seeing the image in my head. He suggested that God was affirming that vision. I also said that I was getting ready to speak on grace and I would be talking about ex’s and my past. I hadn’t realized until his prayer that I needed the encouragement and comfort of these words. Then we ended the conversation after I thanked him for what felt like a dozen times.

I heard from him a little later that his wife likes Mumford and if they could arrange a babysitter they’d love the tickets. Later tonight, he confirmed they were good and I sent him the tickets. As hard as it was, I am thankful that God would use me to bless a couple with a nice night out. I want to remember that it’s more about generosity and obedience than sacrifice. Anyways, that’s it. Just felt like I should record this somewhere.

A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Six)

I’d strongly suggest starting at Part 1, it’s probably worth it. We’re diving into “The Talk,” in chapter 8. It’s maybe the talk we should have gotten, but most of us didn’t, and even if we did, most of us didn’t listen.

Sex isn’t just physical. Sex in more than just physical. Way more.” (132) Many of us might feel the truth in this statement, but often don’t act that way. Society doesn’t tell us this either: hook-up culture is rampant. If you’re being safe and it’s consensual, enjoy. Satisfy those physical urges, right? But sex is more because you are more. You are way more than a body. Think this isn’t true? “If sex is just physical, then once any physical damage was healed, that would be the end of it. Granted, there may be some residual trust issues to work through. But every pastor, counselor, and victim knows the flood of emotions associated with sexual abuse goes way beyond trust issues.” (133) Andy Stanley walks through several more examples, including rape, to help highlight the fact that sex goes way beyond the physical.

He then looks at the connection between sexual addiction and alienation from fathers. Having talked to dozens of men with these issues, something else was revealed: “The men I’ve talked to would be quick to tell you their sexuality and their sexual struggles are not just physical. Something other than their male appetite for sex was driving their self-destructive behavior. Many of these men had given up on actual sex.” (136) Consider this, if sex is “just sex,” why the sense of betrayal when someone in a marriage has sex with someone outside a marriage? Why is that one of the deepest cuts you can make to the trust in your relationship? Or why do people care about the sexual history of the person you date? It comes down to our desire for intimacy. “You may find this difficult to believe, but you have an appetite for intimacy… knowing fully and being fully known… There’s a significant and mysterious connection between one’s sexual experience and one’s capacity to experience relational intimacy.” (138)

What does this mean? It means the sexual choices you make now will influence your marriage later. It means that what we do now has an impact on what we can experience later. Pretending something isn’t true (like intimacy being important doesn’t help you, it sets you up for disappointment. “The heartbreaking consequence of our sexually liberated culture is that single men and women are undermining their own potential for sexual fulfillment later in life.” (141) The more partners you have, the more your experience of sexual intimacy decreases. This is the outcome of separating sex from the significance it has to us beyond the physical.

“What is touted as safe for the body is dangerous for the soul. While your body is designed with the capacity to successfully accommodate multiple sex partners with no apparent consequences, you are not.” (143) And this isn’t just your history; it’s the history that will impact and influence your future partner for life. While we can certainly alter our path now, it is worth noting the difference between forgiveness and consequences. The past doesn’t necessarily remain the past: you bring into your bedroom memories, guilt, comparison (or the fear of it), etc. This isn’t saying that you shouldn’t be with anyone who has a sexual past. It IS saying that you should understand what that was and what repercussions it may have.

“Over 30 percent of the couples that come to us for premarital counseling are already living together. Of the remaining 70 percent, most are already involved sexually. You might assume couples who are living and sleeping together have worked through the sexual challenges created by their sexual histories. Not so.” (144) Why? This goes back to the earlier chapters that mention that adding sex to a relationship stunts the ability to build healthy relationships. Andy Stanley requires those going through premarital counseling to cease sexual activity before marriage, and they have those living together make separate living arrangements as well. Why? Taking sex out of the equation makes talking about issues easier. “Those who comply thank us later. And only 7 percent call off the wedding.” (145) He gives other examples for why this no sex before marriage is a good idea, but I think that the gist of it is pretty clear. Working to preserve your purity now makes a path for deeper intimacy in the future.

You might think abstaining from sex outside of marriage is only for teens. It’s not meant for newly single adults, right? Or maybe you think that if the damage is done, is it really worth stopping at this point? Ask yourself this: “Has sex as a single… made your life better or more complicated? If God is a heavenly Father who loves you and wants the best for you… and he knows sex apart from marriage will complicate your life… what would you expect him to say about it?” (148) The thing is, each time we sexually engage with a person and then it ends, we end up hardening our heart a little more. Insulating ourselves a little more (the opposite of intimacy). We lie to ourselves, we say it was meaningless, that we’re over it. This is true of all of us, if we really look at ourselves. If we look at our choices and the effects it has. If we look at how we relate to people.

“All regret is difficult to live with. Sexual regret may be the most difficult. So we lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves we haven’t done anything wrong. It was his fault. Her fault. You were young. You were drunk. All of which may be true. But you’re still guilty. Nobody wants to feel guilty. So we create narratives we can live with and move on. Or attempt to.” (150) When we acknowledge this (some might call it sin), things shift. When we change our path from sexual encounters to preservation for marriage (let’s call this an act of repentance), things break free. You move towards a healthy understanding of sex and intimacy in relationships. It’s how you engage in that process we’ve been calling becoming.

A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Five)

I really didn’t mean for this to be a 14 part series or whatever, but I’ve learned so much from this that it’s super hard to trim it all down. While I recommend starting at Part One and reading through each post (each post hyperlinks to the next), I think you’ll still glean nuggets from this if you don’t.

Chapter 6 is for the male readers, but how do I skip a chapter? So I moved forward with reading “Gentleman’s Club,” whose purpose is not to shame but rather inspire guys to become gentlemen. “And not gentlemen as in the flashing neon sign outside a strip club. Real gentlemen don’t spend their discretionary time and money in strip clubs. Don’t believe me? Ask strippers. They know.” (101) Looking back at previous chapters, this one asks guys to step out of their child-like ways and step into the ways a gentleman views and treats a woman. And guys, this is some premium stuff. Why? “If you get this right, you’ll be in high demand. Become a gentleman and you will be the man most women are looking for.” (102)

Let’s take a few steps back to a time not so long ago when women were seen as commodities (like pork, oil, gold, real estate, cattle, etc.): they were assigned a certain value and then used as a means to procure other things of value. This means they were used the same way money is: sold, bought, traded, used for reward, given away, etc. They didn’t have a say in the matter because they were commodities. Furthermore, “Prostitution was legal, encouraged, and in many places, part of religious tradition. In ancient Rome men used prostitutes as a form of birth control… Once a man had an heir, it was easier and more convenient to withhold sex from his wife and take pleasure elsewhere.” (103) Andy Stanley goes on to say (and stick with me until the end here) that men treated women this way not just because of the culture, but also because of what men are. He says that without social or legal guidance, this is their ‘default,’ if you will. Why? Because in places where social or legal protection isn’t present, this type of treatment continues in our world even today. “Women’s rights have evolved. Men have not. This is why the porn industry is recession proof. In the US it’s illegal for men to own, trade, abuse and discard women. So men can only fantasize about it. And we do. To the tune of about ten billion dollars a year.” (103) Then Andy dives into the sex trade as well as the thousands of women and children fundamentally enslaved for sexual use in our country today.

This unsavory aspect is not hidden in the dark corners of society. Rather, women as a commodity is portrayed in television, movies, music, etc. Why? “It’s the promise of sex that sells. But it’s not just the promise of sex. Let’s be grown-ups about this. It’s the promise that this product will increase a man’s potential for gratifying himself sexually with a sexually attractive woman, with the option of discarding her for another when he chooses.” (104) Where does this leave us? Men continue to act like they did millennia ago and women are often complicit in the view of themselves as a commodity. So what’s a guy to do?

Christianity came in with a whole new game that, when correctly applied, radically transformed the role and status of women in the world: Jesus revealed that God loved the ladies just as much as he loved the guys and this was revolutionary. “Just do a quick mental review of what you know about how other religions allow, and in some cases encourage, men to treat women. We are deceived into thinking that we are simply more sophisticated. Wrong…We’re not more sophisticated, we are more Christian.” (106)

So what’s the big deal? Jesus taught that God would understand our love for him through how we loved others, and others include women. While this might have been challenging for the Jews, this was upside down for the Greek and Roman cultures whose gods didn’t care for humans or their relationships with each other. It’s like when John wrote about Jesus talking to the woman at the well and his disciples were surprised. “The Greek term translated as surprised is translated in other sections of John as amazed. One translation says they marveled. Men didn’t talk to women in public.” (108) While the action Jesus took elicited this response, his interaction with the women drastically elevated her from her previous status. Merely by acknowledging women and engaging with them, he was elevating them in ways that nobody else was in that time.

Furthermore, Jesus was intentional about his inclusion of women. He wove them deeply into his story line in such a way that it would be impossible for them to be edited out. “For example, if it had been possible for the gospel writers to have navigated around the fact that women first discovered and announced the resurrection, I’m sure they would have. But there was no way past the truth that it was Jesus’ female followers who were up before dawn to visit the tomb.”  (109) Even then, and even in the bible, it captures the attitude towards women in that time when it says in Luke 24:11, “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed like nonsense.”

Jesus emphasized again and again our equality with one another before God. The fact that this was not generally believed to be the case is clarified through the reiteration of this in the bible, like in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” If people already knew this, lived it, it would be unnecessary to state. Furthermore, sexual expectations were applied in Christianity to both genders. Whereas in all other cultures, faithfulness and purity fell solely on the woman, in Christianity both genders were expected to remain chaste prior to marriage and faithful to one another until death divided them. Why did this need to be called out time and time again in the Bible? Because this was counter cultural. And if you didn’t, women were afforded greater rights than ever before in divorce. Where before, women had no rights but could be divorced without cause. When Jesus was asked if a man divorcing his wife was acceptable, he replied in Matthew 19:4-6 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Jesus called them all to a higher standard. What was the response of all the male disciples to this new standard? They told Jesus that if this were true, than it was best to not marry at all. 

So, alright, women are valued by God just as much as men are, and we’ve got Jesus saying that the only reason any person can dip out on a marriage is infidelity, but what about how we treat each other? Ephesians 5:28 says, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” I Peter 3:7 states, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner.” Again, consider why this even had to be stated: Jesus was elevating women above the station socially accepted by the culture at that time. And ladies ought not get fired up about that weaker partner stuff. There were violent, oppressive times, and often that violence was directed against that who had less strength physically, legally, socially, etc.

Today, in the United States, women have improved substantially on the rights they possess, but guys are still being guys. “By now men should have adopted the Golden Rule as it relates to sexual expression: do unto women the way you want men to do unto your daughters and sisters.” (114) A man applies this attitude to his life not because laws command it, but because he chooses to act in a way that will empower him to have a healthy sexual relationship that lasts a lifetime. “So guys, do you want to become the person the person you are looking for is looking for? Or are you content to get by with whatever you can with whomever will allow you to treat her that way?” (115)

Chapter 7 (The Way Forward) starts by reminding you that this isn’t just for your mother, sister and the women you date. Being a gentleman means that every woman is given the same dignity that you would show someone who made in God’s image. He challenges guys to examine their entertainment: music, movies, television shows, venues. You can’t escape the suggestive but you are able to eliminate exploitative. How do you tell the difference? “Exploitive (sp) is when you feel compelled to tackle your mom before she sees what’s on the screen.” (120)

Music? If you have a song that calls women bitches, whores, etc. delete it. There’s plenty of arguments for why this is okay (it’s cultural, I already paid for it, I don’t agree with it, etc.) but it comes down to this: “Words matter. Words are not only an expression of culture; they shape culture. They have the power to direct culture.” (120) If you turn a person into an adjective, it becomes easier to treat that person as an adjective than a person. Andy Stanley uses the example of what he read and witnessed in Rwanda and how Jews were labeled in Germany leading up to WWII. I could present similar examples in America when we look at the history of black people in this country, the Japanese during WWII, the labeling of Native Americas prior to their systemic eradication, etc. “If I can convince myself that you are less than human, I can treat you as such. Words matter. Labels are powerful. Adjectives are empowering. So do yourself and your future a favor and drop the derogatory adjectives. Especially toward women… A culture that degrades women is a culture that should be abandoned…not defended.” (122) Andy Stanley says that eventually, you’ll give yourself permission to degrade them and suggests that if you disagree, you go back and re-examine your last pornographic experience.

Erotic images, from Netflix to Showtime and HBO to porn, teaches us three lessons:

  1. One body isn’t enough.
  2. A real body isn’t enough.
  3. Your future wife’s body won’t be enough. (122)

Some guys might think that their hunger for this will go away when they meet the right person, but it doesn’t. He’s stuck because would never marry the kind of woman he watches in porn and other sexual content, but he can only find sexual gratification with the “bitches” and “whores” he consumes through that media. Furthermore, his hunger for other women and for the bodies he sees on the screen subtly (or not so subtly) pushes his spouse to feel insecure and inadequate. “Now if you think I’m making this up….ask said counselor if the scenario I’m describing sounds familiar. What you’ll quickly discover is that this is not a scenario the counselor hears occasionally, but weekly. Porn is job security for marriage counselors and divorce attorneys.” (123)

It comes down to this: if you want a healthy, happy, sexually-satisfying relationship, you’ll leave other women out of it. Google the effects that porn has on your brain. No bueno, my friend. “Internet porn takes advantage of the brain’s neuroplasticity to create new pathways. This is what gives Internet porn its addictive quality… The more porn a man consumes, the more severe the changes to the brain.” (124) Which ends up meaning that a real-life body won’t be able to stimulate you the way porn does. Crazy, right? You’d think that there’s nothing like the real thing but every time, porn will win and you’ll end up disappointed. “This is why more and more men need porn as a stimulant for sex. One body doesn’t do it for them. Their wives’ bodies don’t do it for them…In their efforts to experience the same high they find through porn, men crush the romance right out of their marriages.” (124-125) You’re creating competition for your wife’s body, and she’ll lose every time. Not because she isn’t beautiful, or she isn’t amazing, but because your brain isn’t wired to deal with what porn is.

To finish this part up, his last parting words to men on this topic is to be honest. If pornography is something that you’re going to bring into the relationship and keep, then she deserves to know what she will be competing with. That as lovely as she is, that she will never be enough to satisfy you sexually so you’ll be pleasuring yourself to other women. This isn’t sarcasm but sincerity. This issue is as important to know as debt, diseases, etc. She’s not a commodity being consumed on the screen after all, but a real person seeking real connection with someone who loves her faithfully. “You may get a little credit for being transparent if you tell her up-front. But you ain’t gonna get nothing but couch time if she discovers the truth later. You have something to fear either way.” So do the right thing and don’t head into marriage with this kind of secret. The other option is to accept, right now, that erotic imagery is destructive and to walk away from it, because that’s part of the preparation we keep talking about. Prepare now so you are ready then. You need time for recovery. Using pornography is an addiction (if you didn’t google the effect of porn on your brain and don’t believe me go google it) and addictions take time to recover from. Start now to prepare the future you for success.

Andy Stanley ends this chapter with a really big ask for anyone whose been consuming porn consistently for even a couple years: take a year off from dating, hooking up, meeting up, staying over, etc. For 365 days. Why? “You may hate me for this. In your current state you are incapable of treating a woman with the respect she is due. Incapable. I’m not saying you don’t know how. I’m saying you can’t do it… Your behavioral patterns have worn deep ruts. Your mind just goes there, doesn’t it?” (128) So he’s saying take time to heal. To renew yourself and create new patterns. Unsubscribe. Filter. Find new friends. Do not believe the lie that this is a sacrifice; it is an investment. Staying in a pattern of consuming erotic imagery is the sacrifice: the sacrifice of a healthy sex life, a healthy relationship and a happy future. Just think about it.

Want more? A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Six)

A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Four)

I’m clearly getting a lot from this since we are in Part 4. I encourage anyone reading this to start at the beginning with Part 1.

Chapter 5 is called ‘Love Is,’ but I think the best way to describe this chapter would be, ‘Love Does.’ When you think about all the Disney stories, fairy tales and (again) romantic comedies that are ever so popular, the understanding is (whether stated or not) that everyone lives happily ever after. Those who scoff might be called realists, or skeptics, perhaps even cynics. But one thing that is abundant in life is trials and tribulations: generally only children believe that happily ever after happens in this life. Paul wrote on love in I Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” In order to be a man (or an adult), you must put away your childish understanding of what and how to love.

“Think about it. Aren’t you amazed at how immature adults can be when it comes to love and relationships? Immature, as in childish. Childlike. Why is that? When it comes to their relationships with women, why do grown men revert to acting like teenaged boys? And why do grown women play along? …We all know that approach to romance never ends well. So why is it repeated so often?” (74)

But if that doesn’t work, what does? How do we love as mature adults? If we seek the answer within the bible, Paul provides the context of love as a verb. And verbs, being actions, naturally have effects. In other words, “When both people are willing to do a little causing, both experience a little effecting. Perhaps affection would be a better word. When two people choose to put the other first, powerful things transpire.” (76) What exactly are those verbs? Check out I Corinthians 13:4-8. This, in essence, ought to be our “Become List.” Find someone that has mastered these or is at minimum actively working at them on their “Become List.” Why? Because impatient people don’t suddenly become patient when they fall in love; it is a skill that is built over time. But on to the list.

  1. Patient: Rather than a means to an end, “Patience is the decision to move at someone else’s pace rather than pressure him or her to match yours.” (78) Counter to idea that life is about getting ahead and being first, this calls us to match pace. “It is a decision to pause rather than push.” (78) Impatience, on the other hand, is an emotional response that you feel. So patience is a choice, impatience is a feeling. What effect do they have? Patience, unnaturally shifting your pace to that of another, isn’t natural but it is an act of submission, of putting another first. It is an expression of love. Meanwhile, being impatiently pushed by someone you love can cause you to feel less loved (because they aren’t showing love).
  2. Kind: I am a BIG fan of kindness. Kindness is at the top of my list for desirable traits in a man. Super attractive. Kindness isn’t soft or weak: “To be kind is to leverage one’s strength on behalf of another. When we’re kind, we put our strength, abilities, and resources on loan to someone who lacks them… Kindness is love’s response to weakness.” (80) It is a choice and in it’s highest form, it is unconditional. Andy Stanley notes that it is likely the most important attribute in any romantic relationship! Conversely, unkindness brings death to romance: consistent acts of unkindness will end any relationship. Like patience, it is not a means to an end. Paying attention to how a person reacts to people either in a difficult situation or to whom they are under no obligation to be kind to will be a strong indicator of how they will end up treating you.
  3.  Doesn’t Envy, Boast, and is not Proud: Manifestations of insecurity, these three are expressed through sarcasm, criticism and public disrespect and they also kill romance. Think of relationships where one person could hardly say a nice or kind thing about the other person. Rather than celebrate the successes and strengths, they celebrate failures and cut their teeth on one another’s weaknesses. Envy is not rooted in the relationship; it’s roots spread deeper and farther than the expanses of any one relationship. Envy establishes it’s roots in a person and influences all relationships; envy is a problem smuggled in. “Is your initial response to celebrate or denigrate? To add or subtract from? Are you comfortable allowing the spotlight to remain on other people? …Envy is next to impossible to see in the mirror. But if you pay attention, you may see it mirrored in your relationships… you’ve got to own it and dethrone it.” (83) How? Celebrate, lift up, encourage. Instead of you telling a better story, you celebrate theirs. Lastly, pride prevents celebration because rather than pouring praise and encouragement, we remain silent.
  4. Doesn’t Dishonor: A rarely used term, some might think that honor is antiquated. “But honor is at the heart of every great relationship. In fact, if you fall in love with someone who has prepared to, and is committed to, honoring you, you are one lucky individual. In some ways, honor is the epicenter of a satisfying relationship.” (84) Picture your most prized possession, the thing you would choose save if there was a fire. How do you treat that possession? How do you care for it? How would you feel if it was mishandled by another person? Your instinct is to protect those things which you value. “Protecting is an expression of honor… Honor defers. Honor yields. Honor gives way… Interesting thing, Paul doesn’t present honor as something to aspire to. He presents it as something we should never deviate from.” (86) Why? Because love is choosing to give honor to another. Honor is, in a way, also an act of submission. Conversely, dishonor is dangerously comfortable. Treated that way long enough, one can begin to believe that is their truth. Resting in the fact that we are all created in the image of God, we must recall that our honor is not reliant on what we have done but on that which we innately are: created and loved by God.
  5. Not Self-Seeking: If love is about putting another before yourself, than it is a necessity that you not put yourself first, and it’s also a great test. “If you give and give and give and the other person takes and takes and takes, then you’ll know to run and run and run. But if you choose not to be self-seeking and your love interest returns the favor, then you’ve made a valuable discovery.” (87-88)
  6. Not Provocative: Modern translations have this as “not easily angered,” but Paul was likely referring to being ‘fired up,’ if you will. It’s having a short fuse, assigning blame. “…you may be tempted to respond, ‘That’s easy for you to say because you don’t know (name of person who stirs you up).’ That’s true. Here’s something equally true. Stir-ees always blame the stir-ers.” (88) This doesn’t change the dynamic though. If you provoke others, you are not acting in a loving manner. If you allow yourself to be provoked, you are equally not responding in a loving way. It is best to seek one who is not easily provoked, and doesn’t thrive on provoking others.
  7. Not a Record Keeper: While they can totally be into vinyl (the sound quality is better, right?), NASB translates this part as “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” We all know people who, in the midst of a disagreement, pull up past sins to be used against the other person. If someone is a record keeper with others, undoubtedly that tendency will eventually turn towards you. This can bring the same reaction out in you as a means of defense with an increasing likelihood to continue responding in the same manner. “The challenge for record keepers is that they are right… The problem isn’t their accuracy. The problem is the damage it does to a relationship.” (91) Why? It doesn’t foster love; forgiveness does. Even if you can’t forget, the best option is to pretend you have until you do. Keeping records is about keeping others down. Love is about lifting others up. This is often justified through the fact that it’s truth, but this kind of truth is best left to friends, counselors, etc. Truth served up by a record keeper will just lead to isolation and pain.
  8. “Love chooses to see the best and believe the best while choosing to overlook the rest.” (94) This summary from Andy Stanley is based on I Corinthians 13:6-7 which says, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Always. Sound impossible? It is making the choice to always trust that they are putting you first. It is to always hope. And it is choosing to persevere in the face of things which could drive you apart. “Every time your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, or friend-friend makes a promise or sets an expectation and doesn’t come through, he or she creates a gap. Whether you realize it or not, you choose what goes in the gap. And there are only two choices: trust or suspicion… when there’s a gap, love does everything possible to protect the integrity of the relationship rather than undermine it with suspicion.” (96) It is choosing love, when everything says otherwise. This inspires the other person to be their best self. If we always believe the best, they carry that with them. If we always believe the worst, it can end up leading them to believe that is who they are. It is, in a way, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That’s it. None of this comes naturally, they are all something we choose, something we cultivate, and according to Paul, they’re all non-negotiable when it comes to the love Christ calls us into. The question is, are we ready to put our childish view of love away and focus on becoming the person God calls us to be?

Want more? Check out A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Five)