Posts Tagged ‘holiness’

Nehemiah buildingWhat is a Christian to do?  It’s as if God asks the impossible of us.  He wants us to build with one hand and resist evil with the other.  But with more cultural decay comes more evil.

Mindful of raising up a new generation of Christians but also keenly aware of our own inadequacies and failures, parents, pastors, and all who love children become discouraged and even fearful.  With fear comes the temptation to doubt the sufficiency of God’s Word and more easily accept the help of passionate unbelievers.  “Why do you cling to ancient traditions?” they ask.  “Can’t you see?  We have something new!”

There is a lesson to be learned from God’s people who, in a time before us, were also discouraged, overwhelmed, and taunted by unbelieving neighbors who offered something new.

The remnant of Israel that had survived exile in Persia returned home to find the walls of Jerusalem broken down and city gates destroyed.  To this small number of faithful people was given the arduous task of re-building the temple and walls of Jerusalem.  God also wanted His people to grow faithful families.  He wanted them to be holy and set apart in their worship and practice.  When people in the neighboring land saw that Jerusalem was being restored, they offered their help.  After all, these people explained, they worshipped God, too.  (In reality, they were a people of blended religions.)  Fearing that they would commit themselves to false worship, the Israelite fathers refused the offer of resources and help.  They knew that God had entrusted the job of rebuilding the temple and walls only to them.  So “the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose” (Ezra 4:4-5).

The culture in which God’s people found themselves made the building project very difficult, but the Word of the Lord consistently commanded the people to persevere.  God also reminded His people that they were to be holy and set apart for His good purpose.  But the people of Israel, following the example of some of their leaders, mixed themselves with the Canaanites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and others through marriage (9:1-2).  The people were guilty of breaking faith with God and allowing impurity of worship, teaching, and practice.  There was confession and absolution but, because the potential for continued corruption of worship was so great, illegal marriages were identified and ended (10:18-19).  The rebuilding of the temple, restoration of the walls, and growing of faithful families began anew.

However, when the neighbors in the land saw that the Israelites were again doing the work of God in rebuilding Jerusalem, they were angry.  “[T]hey all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it” (Neh. 4:8).  It was easy to cause confusion and discouragement among the Israelites because fathers, mothers, and grandparents were overwhelmed by the task that lay before them.  “There is too much rubble.  By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall” (4:10).  The enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work” (4:11).  Nehemiah encouraged the people, “Do not be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes” (4:14).  When the walls were rebuilt and the gates restored, the law of God was read to the people who were both joyful and repentant (chapters 8 and 9).

Everything was coming back into order and Israel was prepared to live by the truth of God’s Word.  What could go wrong?  What went wrong is incredibly significant.  Eliashib, the priest appointed over the chambers of God, gave Tobiah the Ammonite a place in the temple (13:4-5).  Under the guise of helping God’s people, Tobiah was given a room formerly used to store the offering for God.  There, within the temple, sat Tobiah and his possessions.  Nehemiah was away when this happened, but when he returned, he “was very angry, and [he] threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber.  Then [he] gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and [he] brought back there the vessels of the house of God” (13:8-9).

God entrusted the rebuilding of His temple and the city walls to His people.  He entrusted the growing of holy families to husbands and wives equipped with His Word.  He does the same today.

God wants His people to keep their worship, teaching, and practices pure and different from that of the dark and unbelieving world.  Certainly, there are resources in the world that can be practical and helpful to the Christian.  But we must take care especially when it comes to instructing Jesus’ little ones.  “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10).  It is a frightening thing indeed to compromise one of the Father’s children.

Compromise happens, however, when God’s people are weary and burdened, or prideful and above reproach.  Compromise happens when we let down our guard and grow comfortable with the world.  At such times it is easier for an opposing foe to gain access by offering some kind of help or resource.  It was for this reason that Nehemiah “stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows … each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built” (Neh. 4:13, 18).  The men were on guard at night and labored by day (22).

We are weary and overwhelmed by a multitude of life issues.   Sometimes we are prideful after doubting God’s Word and trusting something else.   As the culture decays and evil abounds, we may believe that God asks the impossible of us.  But, Martin Luther reminds us that the task of rebuilding the temple and shoring up walls was given to a weak people, few in number; a people against whom stood powerful princes and nations, which lived round about and daily threatened imminent destruction.

There will be days when failure distracts us from the building project.  There will be those like Tobiah who mock our faithfulness to an ancient faith while tempting us with new practices.  In the face of evil, let it be said of us:  Look!  They remember “the Lord who is great and awesome,” and they “fight for [their] brothers…sons…daughters…wives…and homes” (Neh. 4:14).

Excerpted from The Failure of Sex Education in the Church:
Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity
(pp 61-63) by Linda Bartlett;
Amazon.com.  Please also visit Our Identity Matters.
Image: mudpreacher.org

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student reading Bible

“I never chose to be gay; I was born this way.”

“I’ve felt same-sex attraction since I was very young.”

“Who would choose to be gay?  If it were actually a choice, I would have chosen to be heterosexual.  My life would be so much easier.”

“I believe God created people to be gay; therefore, how can it be a sin?”

The statements above were made by Scott Barefoot during the ten years that he openly practiced the behavior of homosexuality.  The gay community with whom he surrounded himself reinforced his beliefs.

Love.  Peace.  Happiness.  When Scott read his Bible or went to church, these were the things he was searching for.  When his definitions of “love” and “happiness” differed from God’s, he moved on.

Scott moved on from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod* of his childhood during the time he was a practicing homosexual to attend a church where 80 percent of the members identified themselves as gay or lesbian.  The pastor went to great lengths to spin the interpretation of God’s Word and did not address the spiritual danger that threatened to consume Scott.

Do not judge became Scott’s “go to” scripture.  If he needed to tweak God’s Word to justify sexual relationships with other men, he did so.  But something was happening to change Scott’s perspective.

Scott held the prestigious position of Clinical Assistant to the Director of Interventional Cardiology at a large hospital in the Washington, D.C., area.  He immersed himself in the gay “Christian” community,  had plenty of cool guys seeking to date him, and brushed aside guilt in order to celebrate his sexual freedom.  Then Scott learned he was HIV positive.

For a year, Scott was in severe depression.  Slowly, he came face to face with the realization that his “unnatural and unrepentant behavior” had placed him in physical and spiritual danger.  He had wrapped Jesus around his sensual desires and, in so doing, moved farther away from God.  But how could he ever change?  How could he overcome same-sex attraction?

On his own, Scott could not change.  But through the work of the Holy Spirit, Scott acknowledged that he was sinning against God and his own body.  Like King David, Scott felt God’s hand “heavy upon” him and his “strength was dried up” (Ps. 32:3-5).  Scott, the creature, was led to trust the pure Word of his Creator.  At the foot of the Cross, Scott confessed that his behavior was not pleasing to God and, with the shedding of any notion of a sensual identity, he was set free by Christ to continue living as a redeemed child of God.

But redeemed children of God are not promised an easy life.  Jesus says, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).  Scott—like every one of us—is called to resist earthly temptations and persevere in Christ.

Scott did not wake up one magical day with a natural attraction to women.  He may never marry or father children, but he finds peace in celibate singleness that gives him freedom to grow in the Lord.  He can choose to live in a way that honors God and does not tempt others.  He is free to shine light in dark places and help others know that release from sexual captivity is possible.

Like an alcoholic who never returns to a bar, Scott explains, “I am no longer captive to a destructive behavior . . . The Holy Spirit led me to make my exodus from the fantasy land of thinking I could live as a practicing homosexual and still be right with God.”

This is the message that Scott brought to my hometown during the weekend of April 9-10.  His visit was sponsored by the Lighthouse Center of Hope, a pregnancy and family life center.  Why?  Because at the Lighthouse, we see young people struggling with the deception of a sexual identity.  We want male and female to know who they are in Christ and why that matters.  So we invited Scott to speak to teens, parents, and pastors.  At three different locations, Scott shared his story and offered wise and sensitive counsel.

Scott does not stand alone.  In my book, The Failure of Sex Education in the Church: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity, I quote another man who turned from his homosexual practice while in study of God’s Word.  Christopher Yuan writes, “My primary identity didn’t have to be defined by my feelings or sexual attractions.  My identity was not ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual,’ or even ‘heterosexual,’ for that matter.  My identity as a child of the living God must be in Jesus Christ alone.”  Christopher continues, “God did not say, Be heterosexual, for I am heterosexual.  God says, ‘Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy’ (1 Peter 1:15-16).”  (Out of a Far Country, p. 187-188)

The opposite of holy is common, referring to things that can be used by anyone.  But to be holy means to be uncommon and useable by God.  Once Scott let go of his proud identity as “gay,” he could begin to see himself as God does.  He is called by name (Is. 43:1)!  He is an heir of God (Ro. 8:17)!  He has come out of darkness and into the light (1 Pt. 2:9) for God’s good purpose.  From the time of Scott’s baptism, the Holy Spirit was faithfully at work in him.  The world and his own sinful nature did not want Scott to change.  But change for this repentant man was possible because of mercy and grace.

Scott told me, “I was, but now I am.”  The Word of the New Testament explains —

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.  And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

If you are a Christian struggling with same-sex attraction, Scott has a message of hope for you.  If you are a parent concerned about a son or a daughter, Scott has resources and helpful advice.  Please contact him or visit his ministry, People of Grace.

In Jesus Christ you, too, have mercy and grace.


                                                                                                                                              * Scott returned to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod

Linda Bartlett is the president and co-founder of
The Lighthouse Center of Hope in Iowa Falls, IA.

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potter and woman

Do you have a few quiet moments today?

Do you need to ponder your identity in this crazy, mixed up world?

Then, if you like, please visit Case of Mistaken Identity.

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modest dressWelcome back!  Are you ready to…

#4 — Mentor a Changed Attitude

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord (2 Corinthians 4:5).

Reflect Christ, not self.  It is natural to default to self.  We too easily focus on our needs and defend our behaviors.  But it’s not about me!  It’s about God our Creator and Redeemer!  It’s not about first loving “me”; it’s about first loving God.  Loving God first means that we will more easily love and serve others in His name and with His forgiveness, mercy and kindness.  God created the first man and woman in His image.  We have fallen from that perfect image, but because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, it is possible with the help of the Holy Spirit to reflect more of God and less of self.  In what ways can we point people to God and less to ourselves?  How does a woman who professes to worship God speak?  Dress?  Treat others?  What kind of choices does she make?  What does it mean to be free of the life that we thought would make us happy and to, instead, live life in a way that leads others to Christ?

Be a Vessel for Honorable Use.  God’s Word tells us, “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).  What is our house?  Who is the “master of the house”?  What is our “good work”?   What more do we learn about ourselves in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20?   What a difference it makes when we see ourselves as God sees us!  Recognizing that our Baptism makes us daughters of God through Christ, we can “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness” (2:22).

Practice a Changed Attitude.  On brightly colored sticky notes, write: “It’s not about me”.  Place this reminder on a mirror, in a wallet, by the sink, on the refrigerator, in the car, and inside the cover of a well-worn Bible.  Jesus promised that He would send “another Helper” (John 14:16).  That “Helper”, the Holy Spirit, “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (14:26).  That “Helper” is “the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.  And you also will bear witness” (15:26-27).  When we believe that Jesus is Truth, how will our attitude and witness change?

Adjust Focus.  Instead of fantasizing through the pages of romance novels (which, if played out in real life, should make us blush) or searching for our inner selves through “spiritual masters”, we can find our true identity and rightful behavior in Jesus Christ.  Rather than being tempted by the ideas of others or our own passions, we can turn our eyes away from “irreverent, silly myths” and, instead, “train [ourselves] for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).  Training in godliness begins at the foot of the Cross where, at the beginning and end of every day, we can leave our baggage of sin, disappointments, and wrong perspective.  There, at the Cross, we can focus on Jesus who says, “I am the Way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Live a Holy, Not Sexy Life.  God calls us to be holy (1 Thessalonians 4:7; 1 Peter 1:14-16).  We can mentor others away from the self-focus of sensual dress by explaining our responsibility to help men avoid temptation.  A suggested Bible study for girls ages 13 and up is Dressing for Life: Secrets of the Great Cover-up (#LFLDFL) available from CPH.

Resist the Idolatry of Self-Worship.  Analyze words and phrases such as “self-worth”, “self-promotion”, “celebration of self”, and “self-esteem”.  In the last days, writes St. Paul to Timothy, people will be lovers of self (2 Timothy 3:2).  Spend a day with an “older” Christian woman whose life appears self-less.  Ask: Is it necessary to preserve self?  From where do we get our worth?  Is there benefit in promoting self?  Is there any reason to celebrate self?  What do we learn from Christ?  To “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” and to “be renewed in the spirit of your minds” and to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:21-24).

Rebel Against the Culture.    Help a younger generation turn from “me” to others.  Gather a small group of women together for an “It’s Not About Me” night.  Forget the pedicures and pampering.  Instead, discuss what women can do to bring out the best in men by way of dress, speech and behavior.  List the ways that women can help one another practice biblical womanhood and not be shamed in doing so.  Design postcards that proclaim “It’s Not About Me” with 2 Corinthians 4:5 printed on each card.  Finish off with stamping, calligraphy or artwork. Be of service through accountability by sending the cards to one another throughout the year.

What’s Next?  #5: Mentor Self-Control

Ezer’s Handbook is a resource developed by
Linda Bartlett and presented at Titus 2 Retreats.

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two women talkingReady for a second opportunity?   Here’s #2 from Ezer’s Handbook


Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18).

Find Hope in the Order of God’s Creation.  Woman was not created at the same time, in the same way, or for the same purpose as man (Genesis 2:7, 15-22).  But many women perceive the role of “helper” (2:18) as being inferior or second-best.  Encourage younger and older women in your circle of relationships to read John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7-8.  Who is “the Helper” of whom Jesus speaks?  “Helper” in Greek is parakletos which means “comforter” or “advocate”.  “Helper” might also mean “encourager” or “ally”.  The question for women is: how will we choose to help or encourage? Submission is another troublesome word for us as women, but a biblical perspective helps bring understanding.  God uses the order of His very nature—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—to bring hope to a sinful people.  The Trinity is equal, but with different and definitive roles.  Jesus Christ is God, yet He submitted Himself to the Father for the sake of our salvation.  To bring order out of chaos, God uses the headship of husband and father in marriage and family for the benefit and well-being of children and society.  God uses the submission of the Son, Jesus Christ, to save His Bride, the Church, and serve with humility.  What begins to change when we understand “helper” and “submission” in light of God’s Word rather than our own opinion?

Trust the identity bestowed in Baptism.  A woman’s identity is not dependent on a man’s love, her appearance or what she does.  God does not define a woman as “sexual,” but as “holy”.  In Baptism, a woman becomes a daughter of God in Jesus Christ.  Yes, she is still a sinner, but now God sees her covered in Jesus’ robe of righteousness.  From a biblical perspective, the word “holy” means “set apart by God”.  “Holy” is the opposite of common.  Something common can be used by anyone, but a holy woman is used by God for good and holy purpose.  In light of her Baptism, how can a woman view herself?  How does true identity affect our choices and behavior?

Believe That Male and Female Are More Than Sexual. Too often, we skip from Genesis 1:27 to Genesis 2:24.  In doing so, we miss something very important about the complementary purpose and vocation of male and female.  Before God brought Adam and Eve together as “one flesh” in His institution of marriage, He called man to be a steward of all that He had made, to remember God’s Word, and to choose life.  God called woman to help man in the stewardship of all creation and help him remember God’s Word and choose life.  Do men and women have to be married in order to serve God in these ways?  Although it has become commonplace during the last 50 years for men and women to be identified as “sexual beings,” we are more than that to God.  While it is true that God designed male and female in the faithfulness of marriage to procreate, it is just as true that unmarried men and women are “holy” in Christ Jesus and can work together as caretakers of God’s world and be people of His Word and advocates of human life.  We are not defined by our sexuality—in this life or the next—but by our holiness.  What do Jesus’ words about marriage in Matthew 22:30 tell us about our “sexual” identity?  To help yourself and others better understand true identity as male and female, google The Failure of Sex Education in the Church: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity (publication release: May 2014 by Linda Bartlett).  We can help others understand that no matter our age, health or circumstance in life, every male and female has unquestionable identity and purpose as “holy ones”.

Stand Guard Against the Enemy of Life.  Satan despises God’s order of creation because he wants us to live in chaos.   His one question, “Did God really say . . .,” was all it took for Eve to doubt God’s Word for her life (Genesis 3:1).  In doubt, Eve loosened her grip on the Sword of Truth.  Did she believe that she was the privileged recipient of some new knowledge that God was keeping from her? Do you see how quickly she not only spoke for God but inserted words God never spoke (compare Genesis 3:2-3 with 2:16-17)?  Nothing has changed.  Satan continues to stir up doubt by asking women the same question.  “Did God really say . . .?”  Like Eve, do we respond by speaking what God does not about sexuality, marriage, abortion, headship and women’s ordination?  Do we try to establish our own standard of right and wrong?  Challenge yourself to help younger women fear, love and trust God above all things.  Help them to recognize what is counterfeit and of Satan by knowing Jesus Christ, the Word of Truth (John 1:1-5, 14).

What’s next?  #3: Mentor Biblical Womanhood

Ezer’s Handbook is a resource developed by
Linda Bartlett and presented at Titus 2 Retreats

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