Monday, March 19, 2018

Lust: It's Not Just for Sex

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).

Society, I believe, defines lust in a much too limited way.

Lust is usually associated with secret sexual liaisons in out-of-the way motels. It is what people do when they look at magazines or websites displaying nudity, or fantasize about becoming romantically involved with someone. I think we get the picture.

And while my trusty does define lust as

“intense sexual desire or appetite,” “lecherousness,” “uncontrolled or illicit sexual desire”

it also defines it as

“a passionate or overmastering desire or craving (usually followed by for),” as in “a lust for power.”

So, we can be in lust when we crave things like affirmation, attention and vindication.

We might harbor lust in our fervor to always be understood, liked and included.

We may possess a compulsion to maintain an exceptionally clean and organized house or office, or lust after food, shopping or exercise.

So when the Bible talks about lust, it is important to understand that its use of that word does not always refer to sex.

In fact, let’s look at two passages where clearly the word “lust” is pretty open-ended, referring to the wider dictionary definition that includes anything that consumes our thoughts and has mastery over us.

"What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel" (James 4:1-2a).

“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:13-21).

“Desire of the flesh” is just another way of saying “lust.” And in fact, sexual lust is included in the Galatians list of the deeds of the flesh. But note, too, that envy, factions, dissensions and partying are also included.

If we’re honest, anyone who has ever felt hijacked by any one of the "deeds of the flesh," such as jealousy, for example, will probably readily admit that we hate the feeling. Sometimes we can’t even explain why we feel the way we do. 

Sometimes it has to do with feeling less-than ourselves, and sometimes it has to do with a sense of justice. Either way, jealousy (againmerely one of the fleshly deeds) is a horrible feeling, but one that we often find impossible to shake.

The right thing to do, the Christ-like thing to do, is to go to God with our jealousy (or anger, resentment, insecurity, need to be popular—whatever it is), and sincerely desire that He put a right spirit within us; that he wash us clean from the emotion that is beginning to have mastery over us.

The dysfunctional thing to do is to feed the jealousy sour grapes; to nurse our wounds by revisiting and perhaps, over time, embellishing them. That is when an emotion we didn’t ask for turns into lust: when, instead of saying “nothing doing” to the negative emotion, we partner with it in commiseration.

Scripture has a very good reason for commanding

“See to it that no one comes up short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal” (Hebrews 12:15-16).

Every lust will lead us down the road of bitterness, because whatever we are obsessing over will never be satiated to our satisfaction. And so we will continue to make desperate and repeated attempts to fill our leaky bucket, only to leave destruction and dysfunction in our wake.

If we already have the Spirit in us, we must stop fighting the Spirit and recognize that any temptation we give an inch to has the potential to mutate into a lust that will gradually capture, and embitter.

And lest we be tempted to allow ourselves the alibi of “I was attacked by Satan,”

the Bible has an answer to that too:

“No temptation has overtaken you but such is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:13-14).

But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:6-8).

Finally, we hold to this constant in our Christian walk:

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

 copyright Barb Harwood

Friday, March 16, 2018

God's Call Going Forward

We all have them: people and institutions in our lives that threaten or challenge us—not physically—but spiritually, ideologically, morally, and behaviorally. 

We may feel a deep need to control or set boundaries around all interactions with these folks, resulting in a sense of dread every time we even think of their presence in our, or our children’s, lives.

When I became a Christian, I turned to Jesus to establish His authority in these relationships.

The setting of healthy boundaries around myself and my children in order to ward off these encroachments has been a legitimate and worthwhile—albeit often excruciating—task, one that has grasped at every fiber of God’s grace while walking the fine line of influences I allowed or disallowed into every stage of my, and my kids’, lives. 

It was crucial that I listen for God’s ordaining stamp of approval on all limits set.

The best way I can illustrate this comes from one of the biggest challenges I faced after becoming a saved Christian fifteen years ago. As someone who has been in the mental, emotional and spiritual recovery of having relied on alcohol and New Age spirituality for 21 years, I was faced with the task of breaking the chain of alcoholism and empty religion forged and handed down by previous generations and institutions.

Under no circumstances were my husband and I going to pass the baton of drinking and secular humanist religious dogma onto our children via the influence of those same people and institutions that had taught and endorsed it to us.

And so, after becoming Christians, we carefully orchestrated and discussed, as much as possible, our family’s exposure to that influence which was so disabling in my and my husband’s lives.

Now, seventeen years into not only my sobriety but my being born again in Christ, and my two sons now adults and living far away, I have been sitting with God to take stock of where I am on this boundary setting. 

And God, in His tender mercy, is gently taking me to the next phase of sanctification in which, although He continues to give total peace regarding the past fulfillment of being gatekeeper and leader (along with my husband) of our household, there is now a bend in the stream He is calling us to navigate.

At this juncture, as in the past, I am to rely on God and prayer; the difference being that prayer will now take more and more the place of my doing the physical and mental work of setting personal and family boundaries.

Prayer and a growing trust in God alone is increasingly taking the place of God’s past call to be a physical protector of my family.

In the past, I was obedient to God to physically, and in prayer, manage the negative influences. Now, I am being called to a diminished role in that physical capacity, trusting that God will guard the spiritual and emotional gains made by past obedience. 

In essence, it’s a complete hand-off: God has said “Well done” to the raising of my children and the establishing of my marriage and household within the confines of what He set for us through His guidance.

Now, He is assuring us that, while the old influences still hold potential for damage, He alone will take it from here. (He’s always been in control. The difference being that now, with children raised and extended family not interested, my and my husband’s influence is greatly diminished).

My healing from the past is allowing me to move forward, leaving yesterday and the people who have not yet healed or found Jesus, in God’s capable hands.

I realize that this, in a way, is God’s confirmation that I have spiritually matured. I can stand firmly in the grace of God in the face of situations and people I might not have before. My trust in God increasingly takes precedence. With the changes in me and life circumstances has come a shift in God's call. 

This is both a challenge and a relief: a challenge because I fully admit I am saddened by people and ideologies that would hijack and misconstrue everything Christians believe. It is a relief because I know now that only God can quicken the hearts of people. The burden has shifted from,

“Why aren’t people listening to me?”


“It breaks my heart that people aren’t listening to God.”

When it comes to prayer and the belief that God can save whom He will, nobody gets left behind as I go forward.

But when it comes to me trying to control outcomes and change people’s thinking unsolicited, I am moving on

I now know what it is to be in the world but not of the world, and to be content in all situations. 

copyright Barb Harwood

“Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said: ‘Who am I, Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” 2 Samuel 7:18
(see also 1 Chronicles 17:16).

“They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me...

For I have kept the ways of the LORD; I am not guilty of turning from my God.” Psalm 18:18-19, 21

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Church: Not Just for Sunday Any More

Billy Graham, in The Journey, writes,

“Nowhere in the New Testament does “church” refer to a church building, since there were none in the first century (Christians mostly met in homes)” p. 127. 

He goes on to point out that, in the Bible,

“church” meant “a local group of Christians, or all the Christians in a particular city or area.” The word “church” in the Bible “refers to the company of all believers, who are spiritually united by their relationship with Christ. The church isn’t just a local congregation, it includes all believers everywhere...”

So this begs the question: how did we get to where we are today where one hour on Sunday morning spent in a corporate church building has come to define us as believers and take precedence in our walk?

What would happen if we stood back and stopped looking at church as having an address and a program and saw it as all believers in our community: many of whom we haven’t even gotten to know because we all go into our own little church bubbles each Sunday, thinking we can’t ever show up in the living rooms of other churches?

And what would happen if we saw church as the body of believers who work, eat, play, pray, travel and go to school every day of the week, and with whom we interact on a daily basis (maybe not even knowing they are Christians too?) 

Would we act in our daily behavior with the reverence, chivalry and good will that we do on Sunday mornings? Would we live as though we are in church all the time, because, as a body of believers called the church, that is exactly where we are all the time: in church.

Our limited contemporary definition of church has constrained us and at the same time let us off the hook.

It constrains us by keeping us from interacting with other believers who “don’t attend my church,” and it lets us off the hook by leading us into the false assumption that “church”—the building and Sunday morning congregation—is where we live our faith. 

So, the thinking goes, if we can pull off the living of our faith for one hour, then we can go home, and go to work and school on Monday, and never have to think about living our faith again until we head, once more, into the church building.

Year, after year, after year, after year; that is often what we do.

But if that’s the case, we’ve got it all wrong.

Copyright Barb Harwood

"For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." 1 Corinthians 3:9-11

"Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" 1 Corinthians 3:16

"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?" 1 Corinthians 6:15a

"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body." 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

"For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." 1 Corinthians 12:13

"Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it." 1 Corinthians 12:27

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit." Ephesians 2:19-22

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Billy Graham, 1918-2018

Two tributes to Billy Graham appear in the March 5, 2018 issue of The Weekly Standard

One, written by Matt Labash, zeros in on the inspiring credibility of Mr. Billy Graham--a man who accomplished the rare feat of finishing strong. 

Labash writes,

"After a day or so of marinating in his obituaries, it occurred to me that the thing I appreciated most about Billy Graham was that he didn't require you to think about Billy Graham. Unlike so many self-aggrandizing televangelists, Moral Majority grifters, and preachers-cum-ward-heelers, he left no hookers or no-tell-motel church secretaries or embezzled funds in his wake."

"He was as reliable as the sunrise, as steady as a metronome."

The other tribute, written by Barton Swaim, goes on to say,

"His whole persona projected sincerity. For six decades, Graham lay under the scrutiny of a skeptical media--as early as 1957 the liberal Christian Century magazine hired an investigative reporter to find evidence of financial or other improprieties--but he was never credibly accused of either personal or financial misconduct."

Ecclesiastes 7:8 states,

"Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit." 

This epitomizes the life of Billy Graham: not that his death is better than his birth, but that his life, from beginning to end, was a life of humble patience in spirit that, while not perfect, maintained the steadfast priority of a clear conscience before God and thus, before men. 

In that, he bore the fruit of his convictions, not counting his life of any value nor as precious to himself, but only that he would finish his course and the ministry he received from the Lord Jesus "to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).

And that he did. As Barton Swaim says in his article on Graham, 

"American society has often been shaped and bettered by men who knew just one truth and who expressed it well. Billy Graham was such a man."

And the thing that gets my respect is that he lived it well, to the very end. 

"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." James 1:12

Monday, February 19, 2018

God's Quickening Spirit

The previous blog ended with the conclusion that humility overcomes the pride of a too high regard for one's self.

But from where does humility come?

I’ve found that humility, if it is something I attempt to instill in myself, is not really humility. The reason being because I will want it to be noticed. I will want it to be affirmed. At minimum, I will give myself credit for being humble and in that, I will have a very high regard for myself, which is pride. I will be exhibiting what 2 Timothy 3:5 describes as a form of godliness that denies God’s power.

Which brings us back to where we started: having a very high regard for ourselves because we’re so humble—more humble, even, than anyone else!

“Thus says the LORD,
‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind
And makes flesh his strength,
And whose heart turns away from the LORD.’” Jeremiah 17:5

Very rarely is anything gained by self-implementation. And, I would argue, anything self-imposed cannot be consistently maintained over time.

That's because, when the going gets tough, or doesn’t meet our expectations, or becomes boring or tedious, or we realize how many hours we must dedicate to actually honing a talent or vocation, we fade in our pursuit. And should we somehow manage to succeed on sheer willpower or competitiveness, we are often never satisfied.

So how then do we obtain humility?

 It is the work of the Spirit of God.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD
And whose trust is the LORD.
‘For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

God works through His process of quickening: defines quickening as

“to begin to manifest signs of life”

to “stir up, rouse, stimulate”

“to revive, restore life to”

“to become alive; receive life”

“to become more active; sensitive”

Scripture explains it this way:

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” John 6:63

“...even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” Romans 4:17b

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:11

God can make us alive to humility: to desire it and, over time, not even be conscious of it in ourselves.

The benefit of His humility, His way, is that we don’t become prideful in it. We are obeying a command of His to be humble: it is not something we would have willingly opted for on our own. The self fights it:

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit...” Galatians 5:17a

For those who have heeded His quickening unto salvation in Christ, it often can take years to even begin to understand God’s humility.

But when God is the purveyor and curator of humility through His Spirit in us, and we walk by that Spirit, then we will "not carry out the desire of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16).

But we must respond to God’s quickening when it happens. 

This is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to taking any new direction. God’s quickening comes to us all. But what do we do with His quickening? Perhaps His quickening in us would benefit from the same principles laid out in the February 17 post: Listen, hear, respond. Do not let ego harden us against God’s call to us.

“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”  Hebrews 3:12

But when we cross Christ's threshold into His light, we are, finally, able to leave the darkness of pride behind.

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Matthew 4:16-17

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humbe in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

People are weary, heavy-laden and burdened, often because of their pride which demands things the world, and even their own egos, cannot give them: affirmation, a sense of importance, identity, contentment, joy and peace.

Jesus says He can take our yoke and burden in exchange for His.

I mean, listen, if we are going to go around tired and burdened in life, doesn’t it seem better to go with the lighter version?

The way of Jesus is indeed lighter because “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Peter 1:3-4).

God’s unequivocal, non-negotiable call is to humility in the equipping and empowering of Christ. It is the humility that first broke us when we allowed Christ’s salvation to walk us through the door to new life in Him. It is the humility He desires to grow in us through prayer and the reading and applying of His Word.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16

With all of this going for us, why would we continue to lust after our own high regard, which does nothing for us and even sets us back?


“And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain—for he says, 
Behold, now is ‘THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,’ behold now is ‘THE DAY OF SALVATION’—giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited,” 2 Corinthians 6:1-3

copyright Barb Harwood