They tell us that we preachers should never do any negative preaching, that we should preach only on positive topics. I’d have to throw away a good portion of my New Testament if I left out the negatives. The Bible is double-barreled all the way through.
– Vance Havner, circa 1950
Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…
2 Corinthians 5:11-21
April, 1997. I’ve binged on porn and masturbation, again. Normally I would experience an emotional crash followed by a shame hangover that would last several days immediately after a binge. Except this time. I don’t feel anything. No shame, guilt, depression, nothing. My heart is numb, blank. It scares me to death. I know if I lose my heart I could fall long and hard into a deep, dark hole, perhaps to the point of having sex with prostitutes as I had done in the past. This was a warning that I was standing on dangerous ground.
And yet, I kept stumbling and falling in the months ahead.
June, 1998. I’m alone in a hotel in Switzerland and have just finished another round of porn and masturbation. The Holy Spirit enters the scene, and burns these words from 1 Corinthians 6 into my mind:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Now I’m terrified. “Sexually immoral” hits my soul full force. I’ve been playing games with God and must find a way to stop. Addiction or not, I’m 100% responsible for my actions. There’s no negotiating with the holy God I will face in eternity to give an account for my life. I’ve been going to support groups and counseling for years, and yet here I am, in deep bondage to looking at seedy pictures and having sex with myself.
It was God’s warning that night in Switzerland that finally launched me toward getting serious about breaking free from lust. While I still struggled for the rest of 1998, the trajectory was (very slightly) upward, and God was, in His grace, leading me to the radical breakthrough I would experience in June of 1999.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.
We don’t hear Biblical warnings, or words like “hell” or “sin” in many of our modern churches today. That’s a big, dangerous mistake that is causing many to take a lukewarm approach to the consequences of sin. God’s warnings are an act of His kindness to help us see our urgent need to change course. “You’re going the wrong way. There are no rails on the bend coming up and you’re going too fast… please stop before you destroy your life.”
Let’s look at several other warnings outside of the sexual arena.
Constant fatigue, weariness, apathy, restless sleep, irritability, depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, poor diet, and feelings of being overwound are warning signs that you’re exhausted. Maintaining your emotional and spiritual energy levels is critical in an era when stress and warfare are over the top. One of the enemy’s tactics is to wear God’s people down to the point where they walk away from Him. Don’t keep hitting the gas and expect to catch a second wind when you’re on your last drop of reserve fuel.
Slow down, unplug, unwind, regroup, and reset your priorities. Spending hours on social media and youtube are soul-draining distractions that don’t offer heart-filling restoration. We’re coming up to the holidays when the risk to spin out of control running around and trying to make everyone happy ratchets up. Say “no” to the optional relationships or situations that drag you down or drain you. If “I shouldn’t do this” or “I should say no to this” keeps crossing your mind, your soul is begging you for rest. Walks alone in nature, exercise, prayer, resting in silence, uplifting music, and clean fun that doesn’t involve a screen are therapeutic. Don’t turn to porn or gorging on junk food to medicate your soul. You do have a tribe that you can turn to for support, right? That’s a non-negotiable need in the time we live.
And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High
One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind.
A hair trigger temper, bitterness, resentment, outbursts of rage, blaming, deflecting, and a critical spirit on an ongoing basis are warning signs that something in your heart is screaming for attention. This could be caused by disobedience (we’re miserable outside of God’s will), a walled off, hardened heart that’s leaking emotion, a wound that needs to be resolved, the need to forgive, pride on rampage, bondage to sin, or a combination of the above. You don’t want the enemy building a stronghold of bitterness in your soul. Then it gets dangerous. Get the help you need or take the action steps God is calling you to take.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
How about the church?
In the 1990’s I started seeing statistics showing that 75% of youth were leaving the faith. It blew my mind back then… I had a hard time accepting it. Simultaneously, the porn epidemic was infecting the church in larger numbers. In the late 90’s surveys showed that half of Christian men were viewing porn. Today it’s in the 70% range. Those two issues alone—youth walking away, and porn— were serious, glaring warnings that something was way off in the we were doing church.
And we ignored them.
Today we see that many believers who come to us for help haven’t been equipped in spiritual warfare (some question whether it exists) or how to overcome in sexual issues or other sins, have stunted prayer lives, don’t know how to connect with God, are isolated (85-90%), barely touch their Bibles (one recent survey showed 10% of US Christians read their Bible daily) and give little financially (5% tithe, of those who give, the average is $17.00 a week). The epidemic of sexual sin continues to explode in the church, and youth and adults are walking away from the faith.
You would think that all of these screaming, bright red flashing lights would provoke a sense of urgency. I have never heard a pastor talk about youth leaving the church in droves from a pulpit (hopefully there are some out there who are addressing this). If I was pastoring a church, I’d be warning parents big time that they can’t play games with their relationships with God and must understand there’s a huge chance they might lose their kids of they don’t equip them for the road ahead. Telling our kids to be nice little minions and memorize their verses won’t cut it. What’s happening with youth alone should have been cause for borderline panic that we’re failing. Once we lose our youth we lose the country.
How often do we hear of the warnings of sexual sin, or the danger of falling away on Sunday morning? In depth equipping for Spiritual warfare? A challenge to spend an hour every day in prayer? God warned the churches that don’t help their people overcome sexual sin what He would do if they avoided that issue in Revelations 2:
But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.
If the idea of those who are ensnared to sexual sin in our churches reaping the consequences above doesn’t shake us up, we’ve lost our heart. Better to close the doors and get our heart right with God than proceed in a dead state like that.
Why have we ignored God’s warnings all these years and continued to shrug them off today? In part, once the “seeker friendly, keep it positive and encouraging, don’t offend anyone” philosophy took hold, it ruined the church. Topics like sex, spiritual warfare, sin, hell, and people falling away were banished from many churches. And we surely don’t make them squirm or uncomfortable by spending several minutes in silence with no worship band playing in the background or breaking up into groups to pray Sunday morning.
Ezekiel 16:49 gives us another reason why we have ignored God’s warnings:
Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease…
Pride. Our big buildings, high-volume speaker systems, comfortable venues, and brands of liturgy and doctrine have pegged our pride meter to the top. “My church teaches the Bible the right way and does church as it should be done… we don’t have these problems. Why do we need to talk about sex, porn, hell, the warnings of Scripture, spiritual warfare, or the falling away? Our youth aren’t leaving the church. Once saved always saved; no worries here. Those warnings about drifting or falling away are for unbelievers, you know, cause we should warn unbelievers about drifting away from the faith. Prayer meetings? That was for another time. Come to church next week for our study on 2 Chronicles 7:14. Maybe we’ll invite Dr. Theo Seminarygrad to speak on the 4 steps to revival.”
Or maybe we should spend the next several Sunday mornings sharing needs, confessing sin, and praying, and shut everything else down.
My friends, filter what you hear—and don’t hear—at church through God’s word. Every believer is in an intense spiritual battle that isn’t going to let up. We must go hard after God, ratchet up our prayer lives, refuse isolation by staying connected with other believers (every week!), face our sins and keep short accounts with them, allow God to heal our wounds, invest more of our time in that which has eternal significance, and spend less time on the pleasures and entertainment of this world. Watching a Sunday service isn’t enough, especially if you aren’t being equipped and challenged to take your walk with God to the next level.
Ask God to send you into the battle for the hearts and souls of His people. Never retire spiritually, and never stop fighting, praying, or seeking His face. We are given one very short life; don’t waste it.
In spite of all the warnings we’ve had the past two decades, status quo Christianity has ignored them and failed. It’s time to go rogue. You might consider my new book The Way of the Rogue Christian, Living a Life that Counts for Eternity.
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