Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sexual Nuclear Fallout

At a quarter to 6:00 on March 11, 2011 an earthquake occurred in the pacific ocean, 45 miles from the Oshika peninsula in northern Japan. The earthquake reported 9.0 on the rector scale and sent shock waves that were felt as far away as the Pacific Coast of North America.

The Tohoku Earthquake triggered a 30 foot full tsunami wave that within minutes barreled into the northeastern coast of Japan. Cities like Ishinomaki, Miyagi and Onagawa were literally swept from the face of the earth.
The latest count in confirmed deaths is more than 11,000 and nearly 18,000 people are still unaccounted for.

The earthquake and tsunami did severe damage to several nuclear reactors including the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Explosions occurred, electrical power that ran crucial cooling pumps was knocked out. And within days a nuclear meltdown started to occur.

We have lived through some life changing events, Sept. 11, 2001, the economic crash of 2008. But it remains to be seen if this cataclysmic event will change our world in a way that not one of us can predict or anticipate.

I submit to you that this kind of sweeping 3-fold, iconic transformation is not without precedent. You, in many ways are living in the radiation aftermath of another unprecedented societal earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

In the late 1940’s a wave of soldiers returned home to America from WWII. They found wives that had of necessity left the comforts of home to enter the work force and did not want to return. Those repatriated husbands and emancipated wives began to have babies in record numbers. Baby boomers they were called and I am one of them, the largest single generation in the history of the world. Twenty years later, that wave of baby-boomers began to place their stamp of influence on the culture of America. They were put off by the work ethic of their depression era parents. They were moved to liberation by the same radical thinking that produced the civil rights movement and women’s lib. And they were delivered from the fear of unwanted pregnancy by the newly approved birth control pill.

Some time in the 1960’s an earthquake hit the world that we call “the sexual revolution”. The hippies of history that are almost a caricature today really did introduce free love, sex without consequences, and a morality of self-gratification. By 1962, 1.2 million women were using the pill. The number of young people that were having sex outside of marriage had skyrocketed and the epicenter of the Great Society (as Lyndon Johnson called it) became a conglomerate of social acceptance and sexual promiscuity - - the earth quake.

Not long after the sexual earth quake of the 60’s came the tsunami of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s; an openly sexual culture that not only condoned but propagated sexuality as separate from marriage or religious mores. Beginning as a gentle swell the tsunami ballooned through TV, advertising, and print media to literally overwhelm our culture and our world with images and expressions of sex and sexual connectedness. At the height of that wave was a confluence of pornographic material and the easy access of the internet.

This porn tsunami continues to drown our world in a morass of sexual debris. Today it looks something like this:
- In the US, we spend $3,075 dollars every second on pornographic material
- There is a porn video produced every 39 minutes in the U.S.
- World-wide $98 billion dollars in revenue is earned by the porn industry per year. (More than MLB, MBA, and NFL combined).
- In the US, more people view porn each evening than ABC, CBS and NBC combined.
- There are 4.2 million pornographic websites (12% of the internet).
- Last week 53% of American men viewed at least one pornographic website and 94 million women (that is a 17% increase since 2007).
- Last year Hollywood released about 200 first-run movies. In 2008, the US produced 13,588 pornographic films.

Tsunami is a mild word for the sweeping destruction that has overtaken our society as a result of the earthquake of the sexual revolution.
But that is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk to you about living in the nuclear radioactive fall-out of the meltdown that has occurred.

First, there is a loss of intimacy. Genesis 2:24 says “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife and they will become one flesh.” We are created for intimate relationships. God created male and female to be united sexually face to face, different from all other created beings. This one flesh intimacy is the design of God to bring completeness and wholeness to His most beloved creation.

Let’s talk about the brain. The limbic system or mammalian brain controls almost all bodily functions such as emotions, desires, drives and impulses. This includes falling in and out of love. When we experience sexual attraction the neurotransmitter dopamine fires up the brain and triggers feelings of pleasure, motivation, and reward. It neuro-chemically activates your reward circuitry, whether it’s sex, eating, taking risks, or drinking water. Dopamine is the craving or the “I’ve got to have it” neurotransmitter. The more dopamine you release and the more reward circuit is activated, the more reward you experience. It is called the cocaine of the brain. So whether it’s viewing pornography, or an intimate sexual relationship, the brain begins to crave the adrenal rush.

Three other things happen. There is a lower serotonin level. Serotonin is the flexibility chemical that enables me to change my mind, reconsider, back-up. So I become stuck or obsessed with this sexual thinking. Second, the pre-frontal cortex disengages. This is the judgment system or safety system of the brain so that my ability to make good choices is hampered. Finally, oxytocin is released in the brain. Oxytocin is the bonding chemical. One of the times when oxytocin is most present is during childbirth. At childbirth a mother’s oxytocin level is 500 times its normal level. So, it’s no wonder when that little baby is placed in the mother’s arms, she bonds immediately.

When these chemical interactions are repeatedly taking place without the subsequent object of affection upon which to attach they become watered down and weakened. The ability to connect is in danger and we loose our healthy facility for intimacy.

I saw a young father a few years ago. I’ll call him James. James was a good guy. He had a wife and a couple of kids. He was involved in his church. He also was a chronic, addicted pornography user. One day he just walked out on his family. He left his wife, left his kids, left his life. When I met with him he said, “I just don’t care anymore. I don’t feel like I have it in me to love any of them.” Repeated sexual connectedness to images on a computer screen took from him his ability to be intimate.

The second tragedy that comes as a result of this nuclear meltdown is a loss of identity. In Genesis 1:26 God says “Let us make man in our image. In the image of God He made them, male and female, created He them.”

Here I want to talk about the heart. Psychologists for sixty years have understood the importance and value of self-differentiation. I am born into a family and my identity, my personhood begins there. I have my father’s eyes. I talk like my mother. You and your brother act just alike. Athletically, intellectually, and socially, all my identity is given me by my family of origin.

At some point around 11 or 12 I begin to differentiate, to stand on my own and find my own identity. Then the characteristics of the other becomes, not my identity, but a reflection, an image. Like a mirror I reflect the other’s image in my own.
So God says, “Let us make man in our image”. We are not God but we reflect the image of God. It’s who we are.

Now, as we begin to connect sexually, we give a piece of ourselves, our identity to the other and we take their reflection into our own identity. I exchange a part of who I am with who my sexual partner is. We begin to reflect each other. Whether human sexual contact or pornography use, each time we connect we exchange some of our identity with the other. That’s why two old people who have been married for a long time begin to look alike or why a room full of addicts have a similar appearance.

The more I exchange myself with another, the more my own God-given image is diluted until I become a complex reflection of all the others but not of myself. I lose who I am.

I’ll call her Sally. She came to Branches about 3 years ago to seek spiritual guidance and to deal with depression. Over the next two years I met with her on a regular basis and began to understand the depth of her struggle. Sally had been viscously and repeatedly sexually abused from her earliest childhood until well into adulthood. After that her life was a series of dozens of sexual partners and encounters, sometimes several sex partners at once. As I began to hear her it became apparent that she had given away her identity. So much so that we discover at least 15 separate personalities living in her. We call that DID, or Dissociative Identity Disorder. And in fact the real true self, Sally, was dead. The primary presenting identity only spoke for her and assumed her place in society but announced finally that Sally was dead. I know this is an extreme illustration but it speaks to the loss of identity that we face as a result of surrendering to the radioactive fallout of our sexual culture.

Finally, there is a loss of influence. This has to do with the soul. I Cor. 6:19 says “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God?”
We are born, every one of us, with a spark of the Divine in us, the presence of God. When we invite Christ into our lives and become Christ followers, we receive not only forgiveness and His righteousness, we receive the full blown spirit of God living inside us. Galatians 2:20 says “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me.” The God of the universe, the Triune Godhead dwells fully in you.

In part He dwells in you for the sake of influence. We’re called to be world changers. We’re called and empowered to change the universe, maybe not the entire created universe, maybe not the 8 billion people on the planet, but the world in which we live, our part, our circle of influence. There are some people I believe that God has planned for you to reach and He dwells in you for that very purpose – influence.

Paul says that every time we give ourselves to this radioactive fallout of sexual permissiveness the God influence in us is diminished. I Cor. 6: 13-17 says “The body is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord and the Lord for the body. By His power God raised the Lord from the dead and He will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ Himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said ‘the two will become one flesh’. But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with Him in spirit.”

The great fear of the radioactive contagion in Japan is its potential to spread geographically and genealogically. Lettuce and milk from the Miyagi prefect around the Fukushima plant is showing up in other regions of Japan. Wind above the nuclear reactor is drifting toward North America. And the children and grandchildren yet to be born from those affects will potentially bear the deformities of this destructive force.

The loss of intimacy and identity is tragic and painful for you. If I could somehow keep you from that pain, I would. But a far greater tragedy is the loss of influence when you leave this campus, when you leave this room. There are friends and families that are desperate for the spirit of God in you and the loss of influence over them and over your children, and over your children’s children is unimaginable.

One more story, I’ll call him Mike. Actually his name is Mike. He is me. I was privileged to be the pastor of two great churches. I would preach every Sunday to hundreds of people and influence them, their families, and their communities for good and for God. I was in a place and a position to change a pretty big part of the world. But radioactive sickness got the best of me.

I succumbed to the sexual fallout from the earthquake of the 60’s and the tsunami of the next 3 decades. I gave into sexual sin and I lost my influence. Now don’t get me wrong, God has healed me. He has restored my family, my walk with Him, and in many ways, my purity. I am so grateful for Branches and am amazed at the number of lives that are changed daily by that ministry. But the influence I had as a pastor and preacher is gone. I will never occupy the pulpit in the same way. I lost that influence because of my moral failure.

I do not want you to lose your intimacy. I am warning you about the loss of identity. But the most devastating thing of all is to lose your ability to influence your kids, your friends, your family, the people you work with. Don’t you dare lose that. Don’t you put that at risk. My kids, my grandkids need you and your influence. Don’t you let them down.

The earthquake has come and gone and we are beginning to rebuild in its aftermath. The tsunami has passed. We have buried the dead and cleared away the debris. But the nuclear fallout is with us in every breath we take. We have got to be aware of it, stand against it, and overcome it. And you can do that. You must do that.

Here are 5 steps to help you:
1. Make a moral commitment now to sexual purity.
2. Decide right now your sexual boundaries.
3. Establish accountability partners to support your purity.
4. Ask for and accept God’s offer of secondary virginity.
5. Keep the faces of those you may influence ever before you.

Paul says, “We are new creatures in Christ Jesus. Old things are passed away. All things are made new.” I don’t know all there is to know about the tragedies and disasters in Japan. I do know that if history is a reference and if God gives us grace, the world will overcome these things and life will go on. The question will be whether or not we go on better or we revert to our old ways of living. In the same way, we can survive the sexual fallout in our world. We can be new creatures in Christ. The question for you is will you be better or simply live life like you always have. I encourage you to strive for better.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

You However

Fridays @ 8
(Yes, I know its Tuesday at 10)

Romans 8:9 “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”

You however…these have got to be two of my favorite words. Hope. Grace. Being the exception. All concepts that are wrapped up in these two words. You however. Like this, “Everybody has to stay after school today for talking. Courtney, you however can go home.” WhooHooo! Or, “Man, a tree just fell on the parking lot and smashed every car. Courtney, you however walked today. Lucky you.” You know what I’m talking about. Here’s one more, “We are going to have to put everyone in the office on a diet. Mike, you however, go get you a banana split.” I didn’t say I heard these words much, just that I liked them.

Paul is fast summing up the whole discussion from the first part of Romans 8. You should know it well by now. No condemnation. The law doesn’t work because of our sinful nature. Jesus came to make us righteous. We cannot please God if we have this sinful nature in us. And now this Divine Exception, “You, however, are controlled by God.” You are off the bad list. You have been moved over to the side of the winners. You get a pass (a Jon-Mical Pass). It just doesn’t get any better than that.

In a clear statement of declaration Paul says to me and to you, “All of this death and sinful nature stuff doesn’t apply to you because you are controlled by the Spirit of Christ.” Sin is out. Jesus is in. You’re off the hook. Free pass. Way to go!

So, I’m thinking of wrapping up this little blog and calling it a day. Except the question comes up just how does this work? It came to my mind that this is a great passage to read backwards. I know I’m beginning to be redundant but hey, we’ve got 40 weeks left to go on Romans 8 so we can go a little slow up front and make sure we get it. Try this on for size. From here back, if taken as foundational thoughts, the Apostle Paul has built such a strong case for God’s grace and our place in Him that we should never, ever be anxious again about His immense love for us.

Let’s go back up this ladder:
Point 1, if you don’t have the Spirit of Christ, you don’t belong to Christ. vs 9
Conversely, point 2, if you belong to Christ (If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Roms. 10:9) then you have the Spirit of Christ in you and controlling you.
Point 3, if you are controlled by the Spirit of Christ you automatically please God, (in the same way that if you are not, you can’t.) vs 8-5
Point 4, if you automatically please God, because you are controlled by the Spirit of Christ, because you have the Spirit of Christ in you, because you belong to Christ, then there is no condemnation or judgment on your life. And that’s the truth! vs 4-1

Well, it is much easier to just say, “You however…” There are people trying and trying to find some kind of peace and happiness. There are all kinds of religions and variations of religions. Even in the Christian faith there are tons of folks that are so concerned with the law and the letter of the law, hoping desperately that they can somehow sneak by a holy God and not get zapped, in eternity or just today. But YOU HOWEVER don’t need to sweat that stuff. He is in you. He is in charge of you. And He loves you…without exception. That’s cause for a party. (That last sentence was a shameless way to attach a picture of Jakson.) See you next week!


Friday, March 11, 2011

Fridays @ 8: The Jon-Mical Pass

The Jon-Mical Pass

We went to an open-house at Jon-Mical’s pre-school not long ago. His room is right by the front door. Tiny little tables, just the height for 2 and 3 year olds. Little bitty chairs of red, yellow, and blue. And walls lined with art work. Finger painting. Leaves pasted on paper to look like turkeys. Cotton balls sculpted into the finest snowmen you’ll ever see. Hearts cut out of red construction paper with secret coded messages in the written language of toddlers. In the middle of all of that terrific art work it was very easy to see that my grandson was the most gifted of all the kids.
Now don’t get me wrong. The other kids had great pictures. Some of them stayed in the lines better than Jon-Mical. Some of them were better at turkeys with a clearer sense of space and dimension. Some of them even wrote their letters neater when they signed their names. But Jon-Mical was still by far the best. I mean, come on, anybody can see that. I call that the Jon-Mical Pass. Whatever he does, however he behaves, no matter the outcome, I love him so much that he gets the benefit of the doubt from me. He gets graded on the curve and he is at the top. He gets bonus points. He starts at A++ and every other kid has to catch up to that. The Jon-Mical Pass.

Romans 8:8 says “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” I don’t care how hard I try, how many good deeds I stack on top of each other, how big my tithe or how elegant my prayers, when my heart is controlled by anything other than Him it is not good enough. Never will be. Never can be.
We’ve spent a few weeks looking at the grace of God in the first few verses of Romans 8. There is no condemnation. We are free from the law. All the requirements of the law have been met for us. Good stuff. Lots of grace.
But the last 3 verses of this section make it clear that this grace is not a luxury or a nice add on. It is essential. Without it we are just sunk. (That’s a highly sophisticated, theological term, sunk!) Verse 6 says, “The mind of the sinful man is death.” Verse 7, “The sinful man is hostile to God.” And verse 8 says, “We cannot please God.” It is impossible to win His favor when we are living lives controlled by our sinful nature.
Now here’s the thing, controlled by our sinful nature means trying to do it on our own, make it by ourselves, work our way to the top of the God heap without totally depending on Him. Whenever I do that I am all the way back in Genesis 3 listening to the serpent say, “You can be like God.” When I decide that I can earn my place with God and please Him based on my own merits, not only will I fail, but I am doing just the opposite, I am offensive to Him and trying to take His place. So when Paul writes, “The mind not surrendered to God cannot please Him,” he doesn’t just mean we are not capable of pleasing God. He also means God absolutely is turned off by our attempts. Malachi called them “blemished sacrifices” and God said, “They defile me.”

Let me come at it from another angle. God says, “In order to please me you have to keep the law PERFECTLY.” Now He knows we can’t so He says, “I will personally pay the price for you. I will send my Son and His sacrifice will take care of the law requirements that you can’t keep. I will not condemn you. I see you as perfect because of Jesus.”
But we say, “No thanks. I believe I can do it on my own. I’ll work a little harder and make you happy.” Not only is that crazy but it is an affront to God after what He did for us. It is impossible to please God that way. It is like Jon-Mical saying, “I don’t care if you love me or not PoppyC. The only thing that matters to me is having the best cotton ball snowman in the class.” He might not have the best in the class (okay, this is not a good example because he really does) but he would really hurt my feelings by telling me that my love is not important to him.

Good news. God has given us all a Jon-Mical Pass. He sees our feeble attempts. He walks by and inspects our big messes. He looks down at our miserable failures and stupid mistakes and He says, “Great job! Best in the class. Gold star. Not because we are good but because He is gracious. And thank God for that. But the Jon-Mical pass is not an option. To refuse that is to fly in the face of God and make ourselves greater than He is. We are not capable of living the God-life on our own and any attempt to do that wounds the heart of God. His grace is not only sufficient, it is necessary.
So, get out your finger paint, pull out a few cotton balls, and start enjoying the amazing artwork that your life is to God. He comes to your open house and sees your handiwork and says A++. Listen to Him brag on you. But don’t forget your Jon-Mical Pass.