Benjamin Vrbicek

9 Ways to Flee From Lust

9 Ways to Flee From Lust

The past two weeks we’ve looked at Jesus’ difficult words about lust in the Sermon on the Mount. Let’s be honest: the standard Jesus calls us to can feel profoundly unfair. It is God, after all, who created us as physical beings. It is God who created us as sexual beings. It is God who gave us desires. God gave us libido. And God gave us imaginations.

And in this, God has created us in his image! God is the being with the most powerful desires in the universe! What kind of image bearers would we be if we did not also have desires?

And so, in recognizing the reality that God created us as desiring beings, we recognize that God has called us to direct those desires at himself and his righteousness.  

Is it possible to never lust? No. Not in this life.

But it is possible to fight against anger and lust? Yes.

Tolerating sin is not okay. We must fight with everything we’ve got, small and large.

Knowing what is at stake, Jesus calls us to take radical measures to flee from lust. He says:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)

Let’s be clear what Jesus is and isn’t saying here. Jesus isn’t calling for self-mutilation. But Jesus is telling us to treat our twisted desires with the utmost seriousness. In fact that little phrase “causes you to” that Jesus applies to our right eye and our right hand is the same word for a trap in Greek. Jesus tells us to treat temptation to lust like a spring-loaded trap. Stay away!

The first two weeks we’ve addressed two large camps of how to do battle: 1) fight for the greatest pleasure of all (God himself); 2) consider the stakes of giving into our lust.

Today, let’s conclude by considering nine practical ways to battle lust in our lives[i]:

Can Lust Send Me to Hell?

Can Lust Send Me to Hell?

Our culture toys with lust.[i] We know the power of lust so well that we use it to sell hamburgers and cars and beer. I mean, seriously. Step back and consider how crazy that is. We take things that are already attractive and then add sex to them to sell them better! Burgers, sports cars, and beer! We crave these things on their own! And yet advertisers are still compelled to add an ingredient in to make them even more desirous: sex. On the flip side, you never see sex requiring anything else to sell it. Your local strip club isn’t trying to lure people in with their mouthwatering hamburgers.

Last week we considered Jesus’ difficult words about lust. Jesus takes the Old Testament standard of sexual purity of not committing adultery to a radical place: the heart. Jesus says that we are called by God to not even entertain lustful desires in our heart.

Jesus takes lust seriously. He takes lust seriously because when we lust we reveal that our heart is aimed at gratifying ourselves, not honoring God.

We tend to fear the wrong things when it comes to lust. We fear what a life of unfulfilled desires might look like. We fear the relational consequences of getting caught looking at pornography. We fear having our reputation marred.

But there are things we should really fear: the state of our soul, for starters. And of course, we should fear our Maker, God himself.

Does Jesus Tell us We “Can’t Get No Satisfaction”? Our Struggle Against Lust

Does Jesus Tell us We “Can’t Get No Satisfaction”? Our Struggle Against Lust

Virtually everyone agrees that adultery is wrong. According to one survey, more than 75% worldwide agree that it is wrong.[i] The vast majority of us agree: adultery hurts marriages, it hurts children.

And yet, simultaneously, our culture encourages us to pursue our desires and fulfill our passions. But there are cracks in that approach. The #metoo movement has begun to uncover the devastating impact of some men living out this sexual philosophy.

Two thousand years ago Jesus pointed to the crack in this moral pavement. He says that our sexual offense, our sexual sin, doesn’t begin with the action, but with the heart:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

Sexual sin begins with our heart and moves to our imagination and only then to our actions. There was never a person in the history of the world who committed sexual sin who didn’t initiate that sin in his heart and then his imagination.

Only 14% of women and 22% of men admit to having had an affair.[ii] And yet, If you ask Americans if they would commit an affair if they wouldn’t get caught, then 74% of men and 68% of women say they would have an affair.[iii]

And every person has at one time or another turned over in our hearts the desire to experience someone other than our spouse sexually and/or emotionally. That desire then gets turned over and played with in our minds. This is lust.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       How to Ruin Your Sex Life in 10 Easy Steps: Lisa Lakey with great advice: Here is just one of the ten: "Don't engage in conversation with your spouse:  It’s been a long day, and it takes too much energy to engage in lengthy discussion. Please, can we just relax and turn the TV on already? Better yet, escape into social media. Knowing what’s going on in everyone else’s lives helps distract you from your own."

2.      You Shall Know Them By Their Clothes: Andrew Wilson with an interesting insight into the story of Samuel, Saul, Jonathan, and David--clothes points to character and plot in the story: "When we first meet Goliath, he is covered from head to foot in scaly armor, which makes him look like a serpent or even a dragon. So when we find the snake-like accuser lying dead, his head crushed by the anointed king, we are not especially surprised. We first meet Samuel as “a boy wearing a linen ephod” (1 Sam. 2:18). Straightaway, we know he will function a bit like a priest."

3.      To Spank or Not to Spank: My friend Benjamin Vrbicek with a healthy and nuanced perspective on the topic: " Yet this post isn’t part of my crusade to get you to spank your children. I’ve never written about this before and don’t plan to do it again. I certainly don’t want to be another polemical voice in the already overly opinionated milieu of Christian child-rearing. Instead, I’d like to talk about how parents can spank their children rightly." All 13 of his nuggets are worth considering.

4.      Pleasures Never Lie: Jon Bloom explains why what we find pleasure in reveals so much about who we are, "Pleasure is our heart’s way of telling us where our treasure really lies (Matthew 6:21). When something evil gives us pleasure, we don’t have a pleasure problem; we have a treasure problem. The pleasure gauge is working as designed. What’s wrong is what our heart loves. And pleasure is blowing the whistle. We can lie with our lips about what we love. But pleasures never lie."

5.      Arctic Geese Jump off Cliff to Survive: This is brutal. Nature is brutal.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      What A Ten Year Study on Self-Centeredness Revealed: John Cacioppo concluded, "that focusing on yourself causes you to feel more isolated which causes you to focus even more on yourself. A vicious cycle of self-centeredness and loneliness ensues. To put it plainly — a focus on ourselves grows when we are continually by ourselves." 

2.      Half of Millennial Christians Say It's Wrong to Evangelize: Kate Shellnutt reports on new research from Barna, "Younger folks are tempted to believe instead, “if we just live good enough lives, we can forgo the conversation entirely, and people around us will almost magically come to know Jesus through our good actions and selfless character,” she said. “This style of evangelism is becoming more and more prevalent in a culture constantly looking for the fast track and simple fix.”

3.      What God Does for Us in Suffering: Randy Alcorn offers important wisdom, " There’s no nearness to God without dependence on God. And nothing makes us more dependent on Him than when the bottom drops out."

4.      How to Read the Book of Revelation Well: Great advice by Ian Paul. Every point packs a great punch and is well worth the read. He shares, " This is not an exercise in being ‘academic’ in our reading. It is just the normal discipline of recognising that the Bible was speaking in the language of its context and culture, and this decisively shapes its meaning."

5.      Confronting Defensive People: Jim Van Yperen with seven pieces of advice that we can all use, "A simple rule is this: never confront power with power, confront power with loving truth."

6. Making Faith Your Own or Making Up Your Own Faith? Benjamin Vrbicek reflects on stunning statements from a seminary President.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Technology is Not a DrugHelpful and level-headed article rebuffing the claims of the addiction of technology. Christopher Ferguson reports, "Anything fun results in an increased dopamine release in the “pleasure circuits” of the brain – whether it’s going for a swim, reading a good book, having a good conversation, eating or having sex. Technology use causes dopamine release similar to other normal, fun activities: about 50 to 100 percent above normal levels. Cocaine, by contrast, increases dopamine 350 percent, and methamphetamine a whopping 1,200 percent. In addition, recent evidence has found significant differences in how dopamine receptors work among people whose computer use has caused problems in their daily lives, compared to substance abusers. But I believe people who claim brain responses to video games and drugs are similar are trying to liken the drip of a faucet to a waterfall."

2.      Jumping the Shark and the Trajectory of Sin: With a surprising analogy, my friend Benjamin Vrbicek argues that sin always makes us a caricature of who we were meant to be, "This is the trajectory of sin. At some point, it jumps the shark. Sin makes people less human and more beast-like." 

3.      Why the Search for a Church to Meet Your Needs is Wasted TimeCarey Nieuwhof asks us to look deeper when we search for a new church, "The problem is deeper, though, than changing churches (as big a decision as that is). It’s about the purpose of the quest. Should the criteria of a church meeting your needs be the reason you change churches? Well, what if the church was never intended to meet your needs? What if the furthest thing from God’s mind when he created the church was to meet your needs?"

4.      Three Types of People Who Hinder the Church: Josh Buice is spot on with his three types. His third is the church hopper: "One of the greatest hindrances to the local church in our day is the church hopper. This individual often engages in meaningful membership from the beginning, but after a period of time (could be months or years), they decide to “change churches.” Like a shooting star, they appear in the life of the church and then vanish away."

5.      How Trees Talk to Each Other: This short video explores the incredible way that trees communicate and help each other out.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       13 Things a Pastor Should Never Tell a Congregation: I've heard at least half of these. And Amen the critique of each one. The first three on Joe McKeever's list: "1. 'I’m thinking of quitting. I haven’t decided. Pray for me.'; 2. 'I’m no theologian.'; 3. 'God told me to tell you … '"

2.       How to Re-Shape Your Conscience: Michael Taylor with sage advice for a reality we all face, " For most of us, the normalization and celebration of sin has become so pervasive in the entertainment we grew up enjoying that it can be difficult for us to discern whether or not God is pleased with our lifestyle. There is often a cognitive dissonance between what we believe about God and his law and how we live. So, how are Christians meant to navigate this complicated issue?"

3.       What is Reformed Theology?: Benjamin Vrbicek answers this question by focusing both on the historic and theological components: "When we seek God through Scripture and church dogma, we can be made right with God only through Christ, his mother, priests, and saints, by trusting in God’s grace and the sacraments, as long as we do enough good works alongside our faith.”

4.       A Visual Representation of Just How Split Our Politics Have Become: There truly is no middle ground any longer. And both parties have reduced their platforms to a particular set of issues. " The data viz designer Mike Cisneros has mapped out the political positions of every member of Congress ever, starting with the first Congress in 1789 up until the 115th Congress that’s currently filling the news cycle with so much anguish. The central visualization is a giant scatterplot, where positions are mapped based on how conservative or liberal each Congress member is economically and socially."

5.       Carnival Scam Science: This really fun video tells you the science behind what you already know: carnival games are rigged against you.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       Discriminating Against Those With Downs Syndrome: Alan Shlemon reports on this increasingly disturbing reality, "Richard Dawkins once responded to a woman who wrote the following tweet: “I honestly don't know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down Syndrome. Real ethical dilemma.” Dawkins took no more than 60 seconds to read, deliberate, and post the following advice: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” Did you catch that? Not only should you have the option to kill a “kid with Down syndrome,” but it would be immoral not to abort."

2.       What if Tomorrow is Even Harder Than Today: Benjamin Vrbicek helps us re-frame how we tend to think about life, "Left to ourselves, we are always, only, ever a house of cards. Yet beneath our flimsy hope of self-sufficiency rests the rock-solid promise of a good and gracious God, always strong and sovereign. This promise sustained my friends as they waited in the ICU for their daughter to recover. It sustains me when life is hard. And it can sustain you when you fear what’s ahead. "

3.       God Strengthens Those of Weak Faith: Adrian Warnack on our faith and the object of our faith, "There is a brand of muscular faith that is promoted by some today. According to this school of thought you will be healed or blessed by God if you can only believe strongly enough... and basically be positive enough... When we struggle or become weak, Jesus prays for us too that we will not fail. Sometimes the candle might seem like it is almost out and only smouldering, but instead of snuffing us out he breathes his Spirit on us to strengthen us so we too, like Peter, can strengthen others."

4.       Jesse's Story: The Heavyweight podcast tells the story of Jesse. Four years ago, Jesse was hit by a car and nearly died. Now he wants to find the driver. And thank him. I don't think it's possible to not get misty in the final minutes of this moving podcast.

5.       Powerful Words from a Man with Downs Syndrome: Frank Stephens testifies on Capital Hill about his life experience and calls congress to action.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      We’re Gonna Be Rich! This Snapple commercial makes me laugh out loud every time.

2.      The Five Biggest Little Ways to Improve Your Marriage. Shaunti Feldhahn shares ow the little things can transform your marriage.

3.      The Gospel in 140 Characters: My friend Benjamin Vrbicek shares the story of seeing a minivan with this message painted on its windows: "Heaven is for real, So is HellJesus Christ is your only escape! Receive Him Today!!" He considers how that version of the gospel is deficient and suggests a better way to speak the gospel.

4.      I Don’t Think I Want to Be a Christian: How to talk to your teen who doesn't want to be a Christian any longer.

5.      The Pastor As Navigator: Stephen Calpine shares wise insights not just for pastors, but for Christians as well in walking through the tensions of extremes in the Christian life: “For just as Odysseus had to sail between the two great monsters, charting a course that minimised his losses, so too the pastoral task has to sail between competing extremes, that while good when sailed between, can threaten to crash ministry on their rocks if we sail too close to either side.”

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

Hawaii’s Lava Hose: This is the stuff kids’ dreams are made of.

How Shallow Are Most of Your Decisions? Phil Cooke shares stunning research from Princeton on just how shallow our decision-making is.

Foster Care As the Way of Christ: Darren Carlson's thoughts echo some of our experience with foster care. “Foster care can be a part of dying daily. When we think of denying ourselves and taking up our cross, many of us do not think that mundane life is what Jesus had in mind…. Surely [Jesus] knew that included changing diapers with gloves to avoid infections, lying awake with a meth-addicted baby, signing up your children for fewer activities because of visitations… receiving other questions wondering if you are sacrificing your own children in the process, and more.”

How to Study the Bible: Simple and helpful method by my friend, Benjamin Vrbicek: O-I-A: observe, interpret, apply.

The Importance of Teachability: A thoughtful reflection by Nicholas Batzig on why a commitment to teachability is so critical.