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Social Justice from a Sikh Perspective

Social Justice from a Sikh Perspective

Prof Upkar Singh Thethi Pardesi OBE

July 16, 2014 posted from LinkedIn

One definition of Social Justice is the desire to create a fair and socially mobile society through wealth distribution, equality of opportunity for personal development and protection of human rights. If we accept this definition, then achieving social justice is the bedrock of the Sikh faith and teachings.

Social Justice and the Sikh Scriptures

The central message of the Sikh Holy Scriptures, Sri Guru Grant Sahib Ji (SGGS) is of humanism and universal brotherhood. It is a source of inspiration for those who seek social justice, the equality of all people, the empowerment of women and of the under privileged. It is for those reasons that the text has remained alive as a guide to all those who value these fundamental principles of humanism and human integrity. The SGGS developed the concept of “Sarbat Da Bhalla” that simples translates to mean the importance of all human live, care for the environment and to live in harmony with the rest of God’s creation.

A deeper interpretation of the four core tenets of the Sikh Dharam : kirat kamai (earning an honest living); wand (sharing); nishkam sewa (selfless service) and simran (prayer and contemplation) reveal how the practice of these principles contribute to the achievement of social justice.

Social Justice and the Sikh Dharam

The Sikh faith propagates the importance of self help through work to earn an honest living (kamai) and the desire for life long learning as the first step towards achieving personal development and social mobility. “Kirat Kamai” has a much more profound meaning. Kirat is work that is done with utmost passion, whether it is cleaning the streets, laying bricks or performing surgery. Passion and dedication to one’s profession leads to personal satisfaction, excellence and hopefully, sustained employment and career progression. This however is still not Kirat in its intended meaning. True Kirat kamai is when one works with passion and dedication to earn an honest living while remembering God with every stroke of the brush; laying of every brick and sewing of every stitch on a sick patient. Kirat kamai therefore brings to life the world wide concept of “Work is Worship”. Hard work (including running an honest business (sacha sauda)) helps one to climb the social ladder and provides the means for the most basic needs for survival of food, shelter and warmth.

In simple economies without state controlled systems of wealth distribution to support those not able to earn an honest living, the Sikh tenet of “wand ka shako” (share your good fortune) became a powerful driver in creating sustainable communities. Sikhs everywhere are required to donate at least one tenth of their earnings to charity and other good causes for all humanity. The numerous successful and self sustaining learning institutes, hospitals, eye camps and social housing projects around the world are testament of the durability of the principle of sharing to this day. The sharing of food that is cooked by the community and for the community is one of the most important attributes of the practice of Sikh Dharam.

Social Justice and the Sikh Kitchen

The Langar, or free kitchen, was founded by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji. It was essentially designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people of the world regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status. In addition to the ideals of equality, the tradition of Langar expresses the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humankind. “..the Light of God is in all hearts.” (sggs 282). Everyone is welcome to share the Langar; no one is turned away. The food is normally served twice a day, every day of the year. In many parts of the world Sikh Gurdwaras prepare Langar specifically to feed the poor because people can only work and look for social justice when they have a fully belly.

Social Justice and Sikh Service

Irrespective of the wealth of any community, there are always fellow humans who, for whatever reason, suffer disadvantage or economic deprivation. As Sikhs, we are required to do voluntary work in the community without the expectation of any reward or recognition. The core tenet of Nishkam Sewa (selfless service to humanity) encourages Sikhs to apply their manual labour and , or their professional skills to help build loving community life; to assist those less fortunate to improve their health, wellbeing and education so that they can become more active members of a socially mobile society.

Simran (prayer and contemplation) – the forth tenet of the Sikh Dharma helps an individual to meditate and to achieve self actualisation and consciousness of the need to connect with God. Practicing kirat Kamai, wand and nishkam sewa that helps other improve their lives assists an individual to reunite with his/her maker.

Social Justice and Sikh Equality

The promotion of equality has been a distinguishing feature of the Sikh faith since its conception in the late 15 century. In around 1499 when the world offered low, or no status or respect to women, Guru Nanak sought to improve the respect of women by spreading this message: “From woman, man is born; within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married. Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come. When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound. So why call her bad? From her, kings are born. From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all. O Nanak, only the True Lord is without a woman.” (page 473). Equality and brotherhood of mankind have been emphasised in the sacred Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Nanak says in Japji Sahib: “Accept all humans as your equals, and let them be your only sect” (Japji 28), and Guru Gobind Singh promoted the principle of: “manas ki jat sabhe eke paihcanbo – recognise all of mankind as a single caste of humanity”. Therefore, Sikhs believe that all human beings are equal. “We are sons and daughters of Waheguru, the Almighty”. Sikhs have to treat all peoples of the world on equal basis and without gender, racial, social or caste discrimination.

Social Justice and the Sikh Sant Sipahi

Sikhs are also required to be ready to protect and stand up for the rights of the weak among us; to fight for justice and fairness for all. Sikhs fight for human rights through the concept of “Warrior Saint” and use the term “Sant Sipahi”. Sant is used to refer to a wise, knowledgeable and Dharmic person or a “person with knowledge of God”. This concept was first developed by Guru Hargobind, and later personified in Guru Gobind Singh. The first duty of every Sikh is to be a “Sant” – to be a wise, considerate, judicious and knowledgeable person who has a good understanding of Dharam or religion. A “Sant” should also be a soldier (Sapahi) able to fight and engage in warfare. So the second duty of a Sikh is to be able and ready to fight for a worthy cause and for the protection of righteousness and the weak. Sikhs are taught to be kind as well as fearless. However, a Sikh is forbidden to ever engage in a first attack on any person for whatever reason. Only when all means have been exhausted and negotiations have failed can the sword be yielded in defence of a legitimate and worthy cause.

Although Social Justice is the one of the foundation stones of the Sikh faith, it is human centric. The much wider Sikh principle of Sarbat Da Bhalla, that embraces Social Justice, but emphasises the importance of our duty to the care of the environment and to live in harmony with the rest of God’s creation is much more powerful and relevant goal for all humans to pursue in the beginning of the third millennium.

Developing Individual

The Developing Individual

The first in a series of 12 amazing facts that prove the unborn child’s humanity in the 1st trimester. This information is courtesy of Life Site News.


Science tells us the human embryo is a “developing individual” while in the womb. Physical changes occur quickly from the moment of fertilization.

Modern science indisputably recognizes the preborn child as a new human being. As Dr. Micheline Matthews-Roth of Harvard Medical School says: “It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception, when egg and sperm join to form the zygote, and this developing human always is a member of our species in all stages of its life.” Dr. Jerome Lejeune – the scientist who discovered Down syndrome – agreed: “Life has a very long history, but each of us has a very neat beginning – the moment of conception.” (More science on life’s beginning here.)

Recombinant DNA technologies, discovered after abortion was legalized throughout the U.S. indisputably prove that the unborn child “is a whole human being from the moment of fertilization, that all abortions terminate the life of a living human being, and that the unborn child is a separate human patient under the care of modern medicine.”

Countless medical textbooks – from various science specialties – agree. From the very first moment, a human being is a human being.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

josgolev-1

The movie Don Jon, which was written, directed, and starred in by Gordon-Levitt, features a good looking macho man who has no trouble with the ladies. However, he finds that regardless of all the beautiful women that he meets, and then after getting into a relationship with his dream girl, he realizes he is severely addicted to internet porn and openly admits that real women/real sex can never compare to porn.

In an interview talking about his character in the movie and the message of the film, Gordon-Levitt said:

“Everything in Jon’s life is sort of a one-way street. He is not connecting or engaging with anyone. That goes for the women in his life… It’s an item on a checklist. He doesn’t listen; he just takes. At the beginning of the movie, he is finding that dissatisfying because there’s the sequence where he brings a young lady home from the bar and he is comparing her to this checklist that he has gotten off of what he likes to see in a pornography video. Obviously, a real human being is not going to map onto that because there is a fundamental difference between a human being and an image on a screen.”

Since the movie, Gordon-Levitt has been open about his feeling about how the media and pornography depicts people and relationships. What a boss.

Gold Coast Violence

This post was originally published on The Gold Coast Bulletin’s website. It has been edited for content and clarity by Fight the New Drug.


FTND note: In sharing this article, it is not our intention to make the claim that behind every violent sex crime is a pornography problem.

Gold Coast Violence

gold coastA concerning new trend tracked by welfare workers at the Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence is shining a light on the increased number of women who have been raped and subjected to violence. According to community forums, the Gold Coast’s domestic violence crisis is being driven by men consumed by their interest in pornography that depicts these harmful behaviors.

This week, Centre director Di McLeod addressed more than 50 community stakeholders and detailed the shocking violence which included women being coerced into group sex and being strangled and choked. Much of the violence had occurred after women were forced to have non-consensual sex, and their injuries required them to obtain treatment in the emergency room at local hospitals.

(Related: National Survey Shows Nearly Half of Adults Think Violent Porn Is Okay)

“These levels of physical and sexual violence are bordering on and including behavior that would meet the criminal code definition of torture,” Ms McLeod told the Problem with Porn conference at Southport. “What used to be an uncommon story is now very much an everyday story involving women of varied ages and diverse backgrounds.”

56% Increase in Referrals

In the past five years the Coast centre had experienced a 56% increase in referrals from emergency departments of local public hospitals, the forum was told.

“Sometimes the sexual violence is committed by a just-met partner, but in cases where the woman has knowledge of the offender’s habits she has often identified that the offender is a regular consumer of pornography,” Ms McLeod said.

(Related: Research Finds Softcore Porn Leads To Greater Acceptance of Rape Culture)

The forum was told it was clear not everyone who viewed pornography would commit sexual and domestic violence “because some men who use pornography don’t rape.” In fact, most people who view porn do not act out in violence. However, the experiences of these women focus heavily around their abuser’s porn habits

“But what research is finding and what we are seeing at our centre is that pornography is clearly influencing sexual expectations and practices between intimate partners, so that the correlation between pornography, rape and domestic violence can no longer be ignored,” McLeod said.

Fantasy vs. Reality

The key finding by welfare workers was those viewing porn could not see the difference between fantasy and reality and believed “women are up for it 24-7.” The increased reporting figures were due to the extent of the injuries, as well as many women now feeling more empowered to report what happened to them.

Anti-porn activist and author Melinda Tankard Reist highlighted an email she had received a year ago from McLeod warning about the concerning trends on Australia’s Gold Coast.

“If we don’t address this, you will be more overloaded with clients than you already are,” Tankard Reist said.

Her research showed the average age of exposure to pornography was 11 but that introduction was far beyond boys just “viewing bare breasts” and often involved youth watching rape porn.

“I believe it is an act of child abuse to expose our children to this. Everywhere I go schools are reeling, they are playing catch-up (to deal with this issue),” Tankard Reist said.

School Girls Judged

Interviews with young schoolgirls revealed their bodies were being judged by some male students and rated as porn stars. Some girls who were hoping for a warm relationship were told her by their boyfriends “give me a blow job and I’ll give you a kiss.”

(Related: Sex Before Kissing: How 15-Year-Old Girls Are Dealing With Porn-Addicted Boys)

After watching the film Fifty Shades of Grey, many teenage girls believed that being stalked by a man was romantic, Tankard Reist said.

“They feel the equivalent of being a sexual service station for the boys and guys,” she said.


Condemn Porn

Why is it that society openly speaks out against rape and abuse, yet doesn’t condemn porn that fetishizes and promotes this behavior and worse?

The stories above are from real people who are getting hurt, and porn’s influence is a part of that. That is not okay. Stories like these provide all the more reason why viewing pornography is unhealthy and sometimes even dangerous. It’s a shorter jump than you’d think from watching something in porn to wanting to imitate it in real life.

(Related: Elizabeth Smart Speaks For The First Time About Pornography’s Role In Her Abduction)

Porn and Crime

Did you know that a correlation has been found between people who view pornography and people who commit sexual crimes? Now, we’re not saying that watching porn will automatically make someone become a serial rapist, but the way pornography affects a viewer, it can definitely influence their judgment in an unhealthy way. This is why porn is connected with sexual violence.

While we are not saying that everyone who watches porn is going to turn into an attacker, we are pointing out the fact that porn isn’t as harmless as the porn industry and society would have you think. Don’t buy the idea that porn doesn’t influence the viewer’s thinking, sexual preferences, or understanding of what consent means.

Pornography is Harmful

The facts are clear: pornography is harmful and research is proving it. No matter what people say to try and make pornography seem normal or harmless, there’s enough evidence out there that says it’s not. With porn being so available, affordable, and accessible, we have to be informed on its real harms on real people.

six unavoidable facts

Paul Tripp, Tim Lane, and Brad Hambrick present: six unavoidable facts

  1. Someone in your life had a problem this week. That person may be you. Even if you are here for yourself, chances are you know or will know others who struggle in this area. Because we live in a fallen world and have a sin nature, we can be certain that we will battle with sin and suffering in our lives. Because we love people, we can be certain we will be called on to love and assist others in their battle with sin and suffering.
  2. We have everything we need in the Gospel to help that person (2 Peter 1:3). God has given us Himself, the Gospel, the Bible, and the church and promised they are effective for all things that pertain to life and godliness. Our task as Christians is to grow in our understanding of and ability to skillfully apply these resources to our struggles. These resources are the essence and source of “good advice,” and we hope to play a role in your efforts to apply and disseminate this “good advice.” We do not aim to present new material, but new ways of applying the timeless, eternal truths of the Gospel found in Scripture.
  3. That person will seek help from friends, family members, or pastors before seeking professionals. Counseling (broadly defined as seeking to offer hope and direction through relationship) happens all the time. We talk with friends over the phone, crying children in their rooms, spouses in the kitchen, fellow church members between services, and have endless conversations with ourselves. We listen to struggles, seek to understand, offer perspective, give advice, and follow up later. This is what the New Testament calls “one-anothering” and something we are all called to do.
  4.  That person either got no help, bad help, or biblical, gospel-centered help. Not all counseling is good counseling. Not all advice that we receive from a Christian (even a Christian counselor) is Christian advice. Too often we are advised to look within for the answers to our problems or told that we are good enough, strong enough, or smart enough in ourselves to overcome. Hopefully you will see today how the Bible calls us to something (rather Someone) better, bigger, and more effective than these messages.
  5.  If they did not get meaningful help, they will go elsewhere. When we do not receive good advice (pointing us to enduring life transformation), we keep looking. We need answers to our struggles. This means that as people find unfulfilling answers they will eventually (by God’s grace) come to a Christian for advice. When they eventually come to you, we hope you will be more prepared because of our time together today.
  6. Whatever help they received, they will use to help others! We become evangelists for the things that make life better (this is why the Gospel is simply called “Good News”). We quite naturally share the things that we find to be effective. Our prayer for you today is that you will find the material presented effective for your struggles and that you will be so comforted and encouraged by it that it will enable you to be a more passionate and effective ambassador of the Gospel in the midst of “normal” daily conversations.
  • Bold faced text taken from Paul Tripp and Tim Lane How People Change.
  • Non-bold-faced text taken from Brad Hambrick False Love.

Obstacles to Evangelism

This essay is the third and final in a series of essays on evangelism put together in the course of my own study on the topic at Grace Theological College.

Obstacles to Evangelism

Brendon Ward

This essay seeks to address several barriers to evangelism.  Firstly, I consider the barrier imposed by the false dichotomy between evangelism and social responsibility. Secondly, I look at barriers within ourselves including a sense of guilt, a lack of confidence, and the reality of over commitment.  Thirdly, the issue of pluralism and its impact on the church’s influence.

Evangelism and/or Social Responsibility?

It is extraordinary… that controversy should have blown up over the relationship between evangelism and social responsibility.[1]

Throughout my involvement with the pro-life movement in New Zealand, I have had to wrestle with the question of whether this is a distraction from whatever call God has placed on my life regarding vocational gospel ministry.  While I affirm the uniqueness of the ministry of God’s Word through public, private, and personal ministry of it, the idea that the church is built up as a witness to the world by working on the interior only is bogus.

Sadly, it seems within Protestantism, being engaged in the culture, to build a culture of life is treated like an optional extra.  Engagement seems to be rather characterised by the occasional skirmish into enemy territory, ever with the bastion of the church castle as a safe place into which the wounded solider of Christ can scurry for respite or retirement.

It is sadly still the case that some believe that Christians do not have social responsibility in this world but only a commission to evangelize those who have not heard the gospel.[2]

I’ve made reference to the locality of my local church and the seemingly untapped opportunities that lay on our doorstep.  My thinking is reflected in what I propose would be a great way to begin knocking on those doors.  But I am curious, what is the corporate consensus on our responsibility to those people, in families, who are the faces behind those doors?  Are we simply in a position where the only thing we have to offer is the message that they’re each sinful, in need of a saviour from those sins?  Or could it be that the gospel is bigger than that?

Could it be that “Social activity was said to be both a consequence of and a bridge to evangelism, and indeed the two were declared to be partners. Besides, they are united by the gospel. “For the gospel is the root, of which both evangelism and social responsibility are the fruits.””[3]

Could it be that, apart from independency from the mission of the church, offering hope to families whose definition of marriage has been underdeveloped, perverted, and even redefined by democratically elected governments, is actually an outworking of the gospel?

Could it be that an offer of such hope is the natural consequence of a robust understanding of and faithful commitment to the gospel?

As suggested by Stott, we confront this false-dichotomy through a bigger vision of who God[4] is as the God of Genesis 1 and not just of Genesis 3.  We confront this by understanding that man[5], as image of God, has inherent worth, and is worthy of the same common graces as those in church.  We confront this by understanding that Jesus[6] came to inaugurate a redemption that is bigger than the forgiveness of sin and a ticket to heaven.  We confront this by understanding that soteriology is John 3 AND Romans 8[7].  We confront this by understanding that “The church is the only cooperative society that exists for the benefit of non-members.”[8]

Surely the following is a healthy outworking of our robust theological convictions: “…each local church (at least of any size) can and should get involved in as many areas as possible, through its groups.”[9]

Barriers within ourselves

Jesus and His apostles have called every one of us who knows Jesus Christ to the task of reaching out to those around us. However, if we are honest we will have to admit that the great majority of us find this calling very difficult, if not almost impossible.[10]

To the church’s discredit, Jerram Barrs identifies pulpit imposed guilt as an evangelistic barrier.  He suggests that congregants cringe the notification of such topic focused sermons and may even excuse themselves physically or simply tune out.

He argues that, “Pastors can easily and with the best of intentions fall into the trap of berating their congregations with commands to evangelize or illustrations about evangelism that seek to motivate by creating the maximum amount of guilt in those who hear.”[11]  He suggests that such disingenuous approaches to stirring up God’s people to love and good works is at odds with the mission of Jesus to set people free, even from a guilt-conscious driven motif for doing good.

The remedy to this of course, is for preachers to become freshly acquainted with the grace of God that brings salvation[12].  Such grace, rather than appeals to trying harder to do better, teaches a community of grace how to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age.  Surely the mission of God communicated to the people of God is characteristic of a godly life, without being so black and white as to what this looks like in practice.  The passage in question (Titus 2:11-14) is deeply rooted in the gospel itself as it is book ended by gospel indicatives, speaking of “…our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Another internal wall is our lack of confidence in our ability to present the Gospel clearly or to answer the challenges that people might put forward against the Christian message.[13]

This, I have seen even in my own experience, seems to be one of the greatest barriers within ourselves.  Great in its constraining power over against what could be termed the absence of practical solutions.  While it could be argued that at its root is the fear of man, Barr’s is perhaps somewhat more charitable when he acknowledges the reality of “our anxiety and nervousness about our abilities, our embarrassment, our fear, even our sense of shame when we try to tell someone what it means to us to be a Christian.”[14]  Such honest assessment, Barrs argues, should not be met by some kind of claim of victory over it, but a glad and humble acknowledgement that I am weak but He is strong.

He further suggests that “Knowing our own fears and weakness is the starting place for all growth, because this knowledge drives us to prayer for ourselves and requires us to acknowledge to others that we are not at all adequate for the tasks to which God has called us.”[15]

We may also feel walls of inner anxiety about overcommitting ourselves or wanting to avoid having our privacy and personal space invaded by strangers we really don’t desire to know. Many of us are already in over our heads with too many church activities.[16]

Barr’s suggest that such over commitment prevents the church members at large from engaging non-church friends, families, and others.  As a remedy it’s like a call from a doing-focus to a being-focus.  He suggests, “Perhaps we need to cut out some of the activities, even go to fewer services and Bible studies, so we have time to become good friends with a few people who are not believers.”[17]  Having time to become good friends with a few people who are not believers certainly is being orientated.  This also does justice to the idea that evangelism is not about method, but rather a consistent pattern of life.

Pluralism and Influence

Western Christians find themselves increasingly out of step with a post-Christian society.[18]

Stott hints at a decline in the church’s overall influence as he also suggests a decline in church membership.  While he is hopeful that in certain denominations there is a resurgence in attendance, he, with candour admits that attendance and membership are not synonymous.

As church membership declines, Stott argues that secularism fills in the gaps.  He also suggests that liberalised immigration policy has led to an increase of diverse religious opinion, option, and competition in the marketplace of ideas.

This can be seen in a New Zealand context especially when it is learned that many Christians seeking asylum from Islamic countries are denied their request because they are systematically miss-represented by their Muslim interpreters[19].  The sinister side of immigration aside, the influx of people from the Indian subcontinent brings with it religion native to that area.  I do by no means advocate an environment of religious intolerance, but am conscious that the diversity of opinions does make the church’s job that much harder.

Our world, particularly the West, has shifted on its axis and has in many respects moved from being modern to postmodern.[20]

This shift, Stott describes as a move from conviction that humanity had the answers to life’s problems to a situation characterised by uncertainty and the adage that no one can really know anything for certain.

The impact this has on evangelism is that the gospel contains various truth-claims and is in itself a truth-claim.  Along with post-modernisms rejection of both meta-narrative and objective reality, the sceptic can be heard responding to the gospel by asking “How do you know?”  Rather than this being an easy out, the postmodern is presenting an epistemological crisis.

“In such a society Christianity cannot back down on its essential claim that God has revealed the truth through Christ and that this truth is what the late Francis Schaeffer used to call ‘true truth’.  God’s revelation in Christ is at the heart of the gospel.  It is a non-negotiable.”[21]  For the Christian, this revelation is the meta-narrative through which sense is made of the world.  Yet in a post-modern world, it is an offensive weapon that suggests the rejection of absolutes is erroneous.  Rather than being cause for despair, Stott suggests that “our postmodern society provides creative challenges for Christian witness which are very positive… we must rethink the way we conduct mission for the twenty-first century.”[22]  Similarly, the call to a proper confidence in the gospel, “neither imposing it on others nor being timid in holding to its truth.”[23]

So, in the light of pluralism in the form of growing secularism, diversity in the marketplace of ideas, or post modernism, how can the church respond?

Stott rejects the extremes of imposition and the laissez-faire approach.   While making reference to historical examples of the church’s imposition, he cites contemporary examples by suggesting “You cannot force people to believe what they do not want to believe or practice what they do not want to practice.  Similarly, to image today that we can force Christian convictions and standards on Europe (for example) is totally unrealistic.”[24]  In terms of the laissez-faire approach Stott argues that “What has happened is that true tolerance, which respects the views of others while disagreeing with them, has become a false or empty tolerance, which does not bother to engage and amounts to indifference.”[25]

Stott offers a third option:

Better than the extremes of imposition and laissez-faire is the strategy of persuasion by argument. This is the way the Christian mind advocates, for it arises naturally from the biblical doctrines of God and human beings.[26]

In persuasion tolerance is characterised by a “respect [for] men and women made in God’s image.”[27]  In addition, such evangelists are called to “seek justice, hate injustice, care for the needy, guard the dignity of work, recognize the necessity of rest, maintain the sanctity of marriage, be zealous for the honour of Jesus Christ and long that every knee will do homage to him and every tongue confess him.”[28]

Driven by such passions Christians “should seek to educate the public conscience to know and desire the will of God.  The church should seek to be the conscience of the nation.  We cannot impose God’s will be legislation, neither can we convince people of it merely by biblical quotation.”[29] Rather than these authority from above approaches, Stott champions an authority from below in which “the intrinsic truth and value of a thing which is self-evident and, therefore, self-authenticating.”[30]  I suspect by his injunction to Christian ethic in action, Stott is citing examples of the truths self-evidence and authentication.

Insofar as this concerns evangelism Stott says “we should neither try to force people to believe the gospel, nor remain silent as if we were indifferent to their response, nor rely exclusively on dogmatic proclamation of biblical texts… but rather, like the apostles, we should reason with people from both nature and Scripture, commending God’s gospel to them by rational arguments.”[31] Again, the call for Christian to live out biblical ethics makes gospel commendation substantial rather than dogmatic.

In other papers, I have alluded to the mission field that our church is geographically situated.  The Christian School and Preschool represent families whose parents hold to secular, religious, and postmodern presuppositions that run contrary to the truth of God revealed in Christ.  If we are to reach these families, it is not going to be by imposing our beliefs (even on their children), or tolerating their ideologies as equally valid.  Rather, by living out and presenting Christian ethics that lay at the root of who we are as human persons.  That is, concerned about justice and injustice, caring when it comes to the needy and promotion of industry, conscious of the struggles of marriage and parenting.  With respect to all these things we find common ground with our non-Christian parents whose own presuppositions have answers (with varying degrees of ambiguity) that find counterpart in the gospel of Jesus.  Through a presentation of Christian perspective on all these things it will be demonstrated that a biblical worldview is comprehensive, well considered, and represents a caring, and concerned conscience for human persons in community.

 

[1] Issues, p. 23

[2] Issues, p. 24

[3] Issues, p. 32

[4] New Issues, p. 19

[5] New Issues, p. 22

[6] New Issues, p. 26

[7] New Issues, p. 27

[8] New Issues, p. 29

[9] Issues, p. 45

[10] Barrs, p. 129

[11] Barrs, pp. 129-130

[12] Titus 2:11-14

[13] Barrs, p. 130

[14] Barrs, p. 131

[15] Barrs, p. 131

[16] Barrs, p. 133

[17] Barrs, p. 133

[18] Issues, p. 71

[19] Voice of the Martyrs Asif Mall recently gave a presentation to suggest that this is happening in New Zealand, with a number of disaffected Pakistani Christians being sent back to Pakistan despite having legitimate cause for seeking asylum.  He suggested that Pakistani Muslims seek asylum when no need exists and are being granted their request on account of their disingenuous representatives.

[20] Issues, p. 73-74

[21] Issues, 73-74

[22] Issues, 73-74

[23] Issues, 74

[24] Issues, 75

[25] Issues, 76

[26] Issues, 77

[27] Issues, 78

[28] Issues, 78

[29] Issues, p 79

[30] Issues, p 79

[31] Issues, p 79

A day without writing…

There’s a lump in my bed

Salad Days

Jump In

Triggers for the Consumption of PornographyTriggers

19 Possible Motives Triggering Your Porn Consumption

Often triggers and motive are treated as two distinct things, and there are differences. But those differences are more akin to two sides of the same coin than apples and oranges. In this post we’ll examine the things that trigger your sexual sin and the motives attached to those triggers.

As you identify the trigger-motive for your sexual sin, we also want you to begin to see how you are treating your sin like a friend, ally, refuge, etc. These insights are essential for repentance to make sense as a central part of change. Unless we see how our sin seeks to replace God in our life, then our need to be made right with God comes across as if God is unduly hung up about our sexuality.

Triggers for the Consumption of Pornography

Your struggle with sexual addiction doesn’t start with your behavior. It begins with what you want, what you live for. – David Powlison in Sexual Addiction (p. 6)

1. Boredom (Sin as My Joy)

When boredom is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin has become our joy. When there is a moment to be filled with something of our choosing, we pursue sin to fill the void rather than God or any of His legitimate pleasures. We begin to lose our appetite for godly pleasure like the child who eats sweets stops wanting healthy food. Even as they feel sluggish from the ups and downs of sugary “treats” they fail to connect this to their diet but go instead for another sugar high as the “obvious” solution.

Sex is not ultimate… Idols begin as good things to which we give too much importance, and few things slide over into idolatry with greater frequency or greater power than sex. We allow a good gift of God to supersede the God who gave it. Sex is good, even great, but it’s not ultimate. –Tim Challies in Sexual Detox (p. 61)

Read Nehemiah 8:9-12. God is a God of great joys and pleasure. Too often we view God as so serious that we believe “fun” must be in His opposite direction. When God called Israel to repentance through Nehemiah and Ezra, He asked them to express their repentance in celebration. If the motive of boredom leads you to sin, then allow this passage to challenge your view of God.

2. Loneliness (Sin as My Friend)

When loneliness is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our “friend.” Sexual sin is always relational whether the relationship is fictional or physical, so it fits loneliness well. It’s as if our sin (a person, a chat room, or a video) calls to us, “Tell me your troubles.” We gladly pull up a chair and unload. As we do, talking to a real person or one who is not part of our sin becomes too risky. We now fear being judged or known by anyone but our “friend.”

It’s a perfect world that I can create. Things always go exactly my way. People do exactly what I want. I’m always on top. Fantasy is a great ego-feeder. –Anonymous testimony in David Powlison’sPornography: Slaying the Dragon (p. 19)

Read Proverbs 27:6. During sexual sin we write this proverb backwards. We believe, “Faithful are the kisses of any enemy; profuse are the wounds of a friend.” When sin reverses the roles of friend and enemy, it traps us until we return the right labels to the people in our lives. If the motive of loneliness leads you to sexual sin, then prayerfully examine who or what you call “friend.”

3. Stress (Sin as My Comforter)

When stress is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our comforter. We run to it, her, or him. Sin or our adultery partner makes things better (at least as long as it, she, or he remains hidden and keeps us to themselves). Yet the comfort takes on an addictive quality. The stress from which we are relieved is multiplied by the stress it, she, or he creates. This keeps us in a cycle of stress and returning to a primary source of stress for relief.

We crave intimacy at a relational level. We feel lonely. But we also fear intimacy. We’re not sure we can attain it or be vulnerable enough to handle it. –Tim Chester in Closing the Window (p. 47)

Read John 14:25-31. Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as “the Helper” or “the Comforter” (v. 26) and as the source of peace–distinct from the world’s peace which always returns us to fear (v. 27). If a source of comfort doesn’t allow you to be more real with more people, then it isn’t true comfort. It’s a drug that numbs you before it makes you sick. If the motive of stress leads you to sexual sin, then examine whether your “comfort” is real or a form of relational self-medication.

4. Frustration (Sin as My Peace)

When frustration is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our source of peace. Sin is treated as an “oasis.” When this happens we label sin as our “safe place” as compared to the parts of life that are upsetting. This makes sin our friend and anyone or anything that opposes or interferes with our sin our enemy.

Read Romans 16:17-20 and I Thessalonians 5:22-24: Notice each of the passages refer to knowing the God of peace as the alternative to falling into temptations based upon deceitful desires. Where you turn for peace when you are frustrated is the determining variable of your character. Once you declare something or someone as the source of your peace, you will be loyal to and obey it.

5. Fatigue (Sin as My Source of Life)

When fatigue is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our source of life. We turn to sin as our boost to get through the day. The thought of our sin keeps us going when we feel like giving up. The adrenaline of sexual satisfaction (physical or romantic) becomes a drug we use to artificially stimulate ourselves–one we begin to wonder whether we could live without.

Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-18: This passage uses many words that can be synonyms for or create fatigue: afflicted (v. 8), perplexed (v. 8), persecuted (v. 9), struck down (v. 9), and wasting away (v. 16). Fatigue can make you feel alone, and sexual sin becomes your life giving companion. Paul says that it’s only Christ who can be the life in us that counters the fatiguing death around us (v. 10-12). To doubt this truth reveals that we are believing (or at least listening attentively to) lies.

6. Hurt (Sin as My Refuge)

When hurt is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our refuge. In our moments of sinful escape we feel protected from life and a growing allegiance develops towards our sin. In actuality, our sexual sin provides as much protection as a child pulling the covers over his/her head. But in our moment of hurt, we appreciate even the pseudo-refuge of sin compared to the perceived absence of any other refuge.

Read Psalm 31: This Psalm alternates between a cry for help and a song of confidence. In this, the Psalm reveals the realness with which Scripture speaks to life. Sexual sin is a pseudo-refuge on demand. Even when we can’t have the sin, we can fantasize about his/her presence. However, the real refuge of God is available through the same type of prayerful-meditative exercise as our fantasy, but it’s actually able to deliver us through the guidance of Scripture, the presence of His Spirit, and the involvement of His people.

7. Betrayal (Sin as My Revenge)

When betrayal is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our revenge. We know how powerful betrayal is (especially sexual betrayal), so we decide to use its power for our purposes to avenge those who have hurt us. Blinded by pain we try to use pain to conquer pain but only multiply pain. We continue this potentially infinite domino train that pummels us with alternating experiences of betrayal’s pain and betraying’s shame in spite of knowing how it perpetuates pain.

Read Romans 12:17-21: It’s so tempting to read this passage as God “holding you back” from sweet relief and satisfaction. But, in reality, it is God “holding you back” from turning another’s betrayal into self-destruction. God is not removing vengeance. God is simply saying He is the only one who can handle its power without being overcome by it. Sin can never conquer sin; any more than oil can remove a stain from your clothes. It is foolish to believe your sexual sin could do what only Christ’s death on the cross could do–bring justice to injustice.

8. Bitterness (Sin as My Justice)

When bitterness is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our justice. If sin as revenge is fast and hot, then sin as justice is slow and cold. No longer are we seeking to hurt another by our actions; now we are merely nursing our wound. If we tried to explain our sin in words, we would have to say we believed our sin had some healing power. But because that seems foolish, we are more prone to just excuse our sin by the sin done to us.

Read Hebrews 12:15-17: In this passage a “root of bitterness” is directly linked to sexual sin (v. 16). When bitterness distorts our perspective we will trade things of great value (our integrity and/or family unity) for things of little value (a sexual release or fantasy briefly brought to life) like Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup.

9. Opportunity (Sin as My Pleasure)

When opportunity is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our pleasure. Often sexual sin requires no more trigger than time alone with a computer, a free moment to text, or an available member of the opposite sex to “talk” (i.e., flirt or allow to carry my burdens). When this is the case, sexual sin has become our default recreation–our preferred hobby. The more our sexual sin seeps into the common parts of life the more pervasive the lifestyle and heart changes necessary to root it out.

The reality is that often we dislike the shame and consequences of sin, but we still like the sin itself… That’s because porn is pleasurable. Let’s be honest about that. If we pretend otherwise, we’ll never fight it successfully. People like watching porn—otherwise they wouldn’t watch. The Bible talks about the pleasures of sin. They’re temporary. They’re dangerous. They’re empty pleasures, compared with the glory of God. But they are pleasures, nonetheless. –Tim Chester in Closing the Window (p. 15)

Read Philippians 3:17-21: Paul is addressing those whose “god is their belly” (v. 19). These are people whose basic appetites, the mundane parts of their life, were at odds with God. Paul wept at the thought of people in this condition (v. 18). Chances are they had become so comfortable serving their appetites that it would seem odd that Paul was crying for them and “radical” to change. If mere opportunity has become a primary trigger for you sin, let this passage shock you awake!

10. Rejection (Sin as My Comfort) 

When rejection is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our comfort. Our culture has made things done from a “fear of rejection” seem neutral–as if the defensive motive negated the badness of sin, or as if we become the victim of our own sin when we fear rejection. The problem with a fear of rejection is it makes us foolish. Only the fear of the Lord can make us wise (Prov. 1:7). When we react from a fear of rejection, we naturally seek the comfort of people rather than the comfort of God.

Once we understand that the primary goal of sexually addictive behavior is to avoid relational pain—essentially, to control life—we can begin to uncover the core problem (20)… Several tiers below the surface is a pervasive, integral force that demands the right to avoid pain and experience self-fulfillment. This self-centered energy is the very essence of what the Bible calls ‘sin.’ –Harry Schaumburg in False Intimacy (p. 24)

Read Proverbs 29:25: Scripture calls the “fear of rejection” the “fear of man.” It’s not innocent because it replaces God as the One for whose approval we live. It is the values, character, and preferences of the one we fear that influence our decisions, emotions, morality, and instinctive responses. If rejection is your primary motive for sexual sin, allow this passage to challenge the orientation of your life.

11. Failure (Sin as My Success)

When failure is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our success. In the fantasy world of sexual sin (porn, romance media, or adultery), you always win. You get the girl. You are the beauty who is rescued. No part of real life can compete with the early success rate of sin. Sin pays up front and costs in the back. Real success costs up front and pays in the back. In healthy marriages, sacrifice is a primary part of the joy. As you give into sexual sin as a form of success, it will drive you to desire the kinds of successes that destroy a family. Even if the adultery relationship is made permanent, it will then become “real” enough that it will no longer play by your preferred rules of success.

Read Matthew 21:28-32: Why would the second son say, “I go, sir” and not do the assigned task (v. 30)? One potential reason is the fear of failure. Doubtless he would then view his father as upset with him and feel closer to someone who only asked of him what he wanted to do (i.e., porn, romantic media, or adultery partner). Using sexual sin as cheap success results in harming real relationships, lying, defensiveness towards being “judged,” and retreating to unhealthy or fictitious relationships. Rather than grading others by how they make you feel, repent of your fear of failure.

12. Success (Sin as My Reward)

When success is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our reward. Has your sexual sin become what you do when you need a break or what you have “earned” after completing something difficult? Has your sexual sin become the carrot you dangle in front of yourself in order to maintain motivation? When sin becomes our reward we feel cheated by repentance. God and anyone who speaks on His behalf becomes a kill-joy.

Read Hebrews 11:23-28: Moses faced a choice between which reward he believed would be most satisfying: the treasure of Egypt or the privilege of being God’s servant (v. 26). Sexual sin gives us a similar reward choice: easy treasure or humble servant. Unless Christ is our hero and God our admired Father, then the choice seems like a no-brainer in the direction of destruction.

13. Entitlement (Sin as My Deserved)

When entitlement is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes what we deserve. When you are confronted with your sexual sin, do you think or say, “How else am I going to get what I need… deserve… earned?” Can you see how sexual sin has become your measure for a “good day” and whether someone is “for” or “against” you? Are you willing to allow anyone other than Christ who died for the sin you are trying to squeeze life out of to be the measure of “good” in your life?

Read Jeremiah 6:15 and 8:12: The people of God had lost their ability to blush at sin. Why? One possible explanation (that can explain our inability to blush even if it doesn’t apply to them), is they believed they deserved their sin. When this happens, we believe we know better than God. We believe the unique features of our life trump the timeless truths of God’s created order. Our confidence to debate robs us of the humility necessary to blush.

14. Desire to Please (Sin as My Affirmation)

When the desire to please is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our affirmation. It’s easy to please a porn star or an adultery partner. They have a vested interest in being pleased. The entire relationship is based upon commerce (“the customer is always right”) or convenience (“if I am not pleasing to you, you have somewhere else to return”) rather than commitment (“I choose you unconditionally and faithfully in good times and in bad”). Too often sexual sin becomes a place of escape when we don’t feel like we can make everyone/anyone happy.

Read Ephesians 4:25-32: Notice the type of relational interaction described in these verses is incompatible with an overly strong desire to please others. We cannot live the life God called us to (regardless of whether we are sinning sexually or not) if our driving desire is the affirmation of others. Our conversation must be gracious and good for building up (v. 29), but that assumes we are willing to speak into areas of weakness with those we love.

15. Time of Day (Sin as Pacifier)

When time of day is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our pacifier. Do you use your sexual sin to help you sleep, get the day started, serve as a pick-me-up, fight boredom, or kill dead time? What are the common times of day or week when you struggle with sexual sin? When has your sexual sin become routine?

Read I Timothy 4:7-10: When you use sin as a pacifier you are training yourself for ungodliness (contra. v. 7). Often, because these occurrences happen during down times or transitions of our day, we view these occurrences of sin as less bad. We view them more like a child who is still sucking his/her fingers rather than a child who is defying a parent’s direct instruction. If disciplining ourselves for godliness means anything, it must be relevant when we feel undisciplined.

16. Location (Sin as My Escape)

When location is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our escape. The fantasy nature of all sexual sin makes it a perfect escape from an unpleasant location. We can “be there” and “not be there” at the same time. We get credit for attendance (or at least avoid the discredit of absence) without having to attend. We can mentally be with our lover while enduring the boring meeting, stressful kids, uninteresting spouse, lonely apartment, or other unpleasant setting.

Read Psalm 32: Notice the Psalm begins talking about an unpleasant place or time (v. 1-5). But rather than escaping, David ran to God (v. 7) and found the joy you are seeking through escape into sexual sin (v. 10-11). When we escape through sexual fantasy, we use our fantasy as a substitute God. We are, in effect, praying to and meditating on our sin during a time of hardship seeking deliverance.

17. Negative Self-Thoughts (Sin as My Silencer)

When negative self-thoughts are our trigger for sin, then sin becomes our silencer. In sexual fantasy (porn, romance media, or adultery partner), we are always desired and see ourselves through the eyes of the one desiring us. We give ourselves to them not just physically but also imaginatively. Because we know the relationship is short-lived we are willing to do this. If the relationship were permanent the power of silencing-effect would be diluted over the expanse of time and contradicted by our growing number of failures in his/her presence.

Read Psalm 103: Sin (or even a healthy human relationship) will never do  what only God can do. The ultimate “Peace, be still” to our negative self-thoughts is Christ’s death on the cross–affirming we were as bad as we thought, but replacing our deficiency with His righteousness. Sexual sin provides fantasy righteousness. It provides the kind of covering mocked in the classic children’s book The Emperor’s New Clothes.

18. Public (Sin as My Carnival)

When public is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our carnival. We walk through life like a kid at an amusement park; gawking at every person we see like a new ride or romantic adventure, making a clownish sexual innuendo out of every comment, or treating everything present as if it existed to entertain us and stimulate us sexually. Our private thoughts of fantasy become fueled by a hyper-sexualized interpretation of our surroundings.

The act of looking at porn is itself part of the succor it purports to offer. I can search for women who are available to me. I can choose between them like some sovereign being. It offers a sense of control. –Tim Chester in Closing the Window (p. 50)

Read Romans 1:24-25: Can you hear in the description of sex as my carnival what it means to have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (v. 25)”? God will give us over to this kind of lustful heart (v. 24). This is why a radical amputation of sin is a necessary and wise response to prevent sexual sin from becoming our carnival (Matt 5:27-30).

19. Weakness (Sin as My Power)

When weakness is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our power. The stimulation (both the physical and chemical changes associated with arousal) of sexual sin gives a façade of strength. Having another person delight in you also provides a veneer of significance. As with most of these motives/triggers, sex becomes a means to an end. Sex is no longer an expression of love but an attempt to gain something. That is always a recipe for dysfunctional, unsatisfying sex.

My pastor has preached that the primary issue in adultery is that you want someone else to worship you and serve you, to be at your beck and call. That resonated with me. I could see that theme in my fantasies. –Anonymous testimony in David Powlison’s Pornography: Slaying the Dragon (p. 15)

Read 2 Corinthians 11:30: Are you willing to boast (verbally put on public display) your weakness as a way to make Christ more known and live in more authentic relationships? That is the only freedom that will allow you to enduringly enjoy what you are seeking in sexual sin. If that sounds backwards to you, read what Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians (1:20-25) and ask yourself if your “wisdom” is getting you closer or farther from where you want to be.

Identifying Your Triggers

List and rank the top five motives/triggers for your sexual sin.

  1. __________________________________________________
  2. __________________________________________________
  3. __________________________________________________
  4. __________________________________________________
  5. __________________________________________________

Porn is always about a symptom of deeper issues. It’s about lust, but it’s also about anger, intimacy, control, fear, escape, and so on. Many of these problems will show up in other areas of a person’s life. –Tim Chester in Closing the Window (p. 109)

For some people the motive for their sexual sin will be very self-evident. Maybe you could quickly pick out the motive-triggers that deceive you into believing sin is “worth it” or will “work out” this time. For others, it requires reflection in the moment of temptation to discern what is luring them. If this is you, here’s ajournaling tool from the False Love: Overcoming Sexual Sin from Pornography to Adultery seminar that is designed to help you understand your motives.

When we understand the motive for our sin, it allows us to hear the empty promises sin makes so we can turn to our loving Heavenly Father who is willing and able to fulfill those promises. I hope this post has helped you see the emptiness of sin so that you are prepared to embrace the fullness of God in the gospel.

Maintaining Lifelong Commitment

By Focus on the Family

“But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”  (Ruth 1:16-17)

What does it mean when a person says, “I am committed to my marriage for life?”

It means, among other things, that marriage is created by God and meant to be honored by everyone (Hebrews 13:4). Healthy couples believe marriage is permanent and that divorce is not an option. They look forward to their future together and see their marriage as one of the most important parts of their lives. They love each other and invest in their relationship. In strong marriages, couples expect to face challenges together and are willing to do whatever it takes to make their marriage work. How does all this play out in everyday life? Let’s take a closer look.

1. Marriage is a priceless gift

Lifelong commitment reflects and grows out of a realization that God created marriage and gave it to men and women as a priceless gift. Malachi 2:15 says, “God, not you, made marriage. His Spirit inhabits even the smallest details of marriage…so guard the spirit of marriage within you.” (MSG).

Couples who stick together over the long haul understand that marriage is not merely a contractual partnership or a sexual liaison between two people. It’s a sacred and solemn spiritual mystery in the eyes of God. Of all the human relationships we could name, it’s the one used most frequently by the biblical writers to symbolize and describe Yahweh’s covenant with His people and Christ’s relationship with the church (see Ephesians 5:31, 32; Revelation 21:2).

2. Love is a decision

Lifelong commitment also implies that you love your spouse and make a decision to stay married “until death do us part.” In other words, divorce is not an option in your mind. At some point a husband and wife need to “decide” to love – even when they don’t feel like it. The word “decide” comes from a root word meaning “to cut.” You cannot make a commitment without deciding to cut off other options that compete against what is most important.[1]

Burn the ships! This phrase refers to one of the most dramatic incidents in the history of the Spanish conquest of the New World. In 1519, conquistador Hernando Cortés landed in Mexico on the shores of the Yucatan intent on claiming the treasures of the Aztecs. Knowing that he and his men faced incredible odds, he changed the terms of the entire campaign by giving the order to “burn the ships.” With no way out and no fallback option, his men had no place to go except forward.[2]

Successful married couples “burn their ships” by taking the word “divorce” completely out of their vocabulary. It’s a simple matter of commitment. “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:6). Remember, retreat is easy when you have the option.

3. You like your marriage relationship

Another aspect of lifelong commitment is the ability to say, “I really like this relationship and want it to continue.”

Marriage should be honored by all…” (Hebrews 13:4). Making the decision to stay together is one way to honor your marriage. But honor and commitment also involve the emotions and feelings. If you can say, “I value and like this marriage,” and really mean it, you’re on the road to building a relationship that will go the distance. Here’s what some of our seminar participants have said in answer to the question “What do you love about your marriage?”

  • Having fun and laughing with each other
  • Synergy – 1+1=3 (Tower of Babel; Genesis 11:6)
  • Shared spiritual relationship
  • Raising our children together (tag team)
  • Making memories
  • I have someone to celebrate with
  • Sharing the deepest levels of intimacy
  • Sex
  • Serving together
  • Loving and being loved
  • Married to my best friend
  • Riding life’s roller coaster together (Adventure)

4. You take action

Last but not least, commitment isn’t simply a matter of “deciding” to stay married (will) or “liking” the relationship (feeling). On the contrary, commitment is primarily about taking active steps to maintain your marriage. As the Bible says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17). It’s the same way in personal relationships. You demonstrate how important your marriage is to you by proactively investing time and money to make it better. During difficult seasons you fight for your marriage. In season and out of season, you show yourself willing to do whatever it takes to keep your relationship strong.

Putting It Into Practice

Research shows a marriage commitment yields a more satisfying relationship on all levels.[3] Women respond when they know their husbands are willing to “die to self” for them.[4] Men hesitate to invest unless they know there’s a payoff. One researcher concluded that “a man tends to give most completely to a woman once he has decided, She is my future.”[5]

How do you make these concepts real and practical in everyday life? There are a number of ways you can start working toward that goal. You might begin by trying a Date Night activity that highlights the excitement and adventure of mutual commitment. Come up with some activity that simply won’t work unless the two of you decide right up front that you’re both going to stick it out to the very end. Dancing naturally comes to mind – after all, “It takes two to Tango” – but there are other games and sports – tennis, handball, or rowing, for instance – that might fit the bill equally well. An art project might also serve the purpose.

Questions for Discussion

You can also drill down deeper into the meaning of marital commitment by discussing the following questions together:

  1. What was it that brought us together in the first place? What attracted us to each other?
  2. How can we re-ignite the spark of that attraction and bring it to life again?
  3. What was our vision for our marriage when we were just starting out? Where did we see ourselves going together? How can we recapture those original dreams and reaffirm our hopes for a shared future?
  4. What were the vows we spoke to each other at our wedding? Why did we make those vows and how are we doing in terms of keeping them? Has anything happened to change our commitment to pursuing those goals? If so, what can we do about it? How can we renew and reaffirm our vows to another at this point in our relationship?

[1] http://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/strengthening-your-marriage/commitment/the-half-hearted-marriage

[2] https://opisina.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/burn-the-ships/

[3] Scott Stanley, “The Half-Hearted Marriage,” accessed July 3, 2015,http://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/strengthening-your-marriage/commitment/the-half-hearted-marriage, originally published in Focus on the Family magazine, January 2007 © Scott Stanley.

[4] American Psychological Association, “Religion or Spirituality Has Positive Impact on Romantic/Marital Relationships, Child Development, Research Shows,” news release, December 12, 2014,http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/12/religion-relationships.aspx.

[5] Stanley, “The Half-Hearted Marriage,” Focus on the Family magazine.

Copyright © 2016 Focus on the Family.

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The Task of Evangelism

This is the second in a series of essays on evangelism as part of my own study on the subject at Grace Theological College.

The Task of Evangelism: A Manifesto for the Church

Brendon Ward

If evangelism is the mission of the church, then it is something that the whole church is involved with.  Granted, that while “Not all of us will feel confident about speaking to others about salvation”[1] there is an active role for each member of the body of Christ to play.

Accordingly, “All believers are called by the Lord to “make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5) and on every occasion to be “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).”[2]

There are lots of different ways that individual church members can get involved that are all an outworking of the Great Commission task of taking the gospel to the nations. What follows is a brief exploration of what the corporate task of evangelising our community could look like.  It is by no means an exhaustive exploration, but perhaps each member can identify where they can contribute.

A Heart for the Mission

Before exploring specific task-orientated aspects of corporate evangelising, it is helpful to consider what kind of people we should strive to be as we engage in various evangelism related activities within the church.

We are encouraged to see our contribution to the Great Commission as an outworking of our Christian discipleship.  Accordingly, John Dickson writes:

Following Jesus in his mission must at least mean sharing something of his compassion.  It is directly out of this compassion that the call to be involved in mission comes. [3]

God’s people understand the world’s need for the Shepherd, feel the compassion of Christ toward them and beg the Lord of the harvest to advance the work of the gospel.[4]

We must be willing to ask ourselves whether we actually have a heart for the Great Commission.  That is, do we have an expressible heart-desire to see the Kingdom of God grow?  Do we share a passion similar to that of Paul the Apostle whose heart desire and prayer for his countrymen was that they be saved?[5]

If we lack in this area, then we need to search our own hearts and examine ourselves in the light of the gospels – gospels that present the one who saved us as a Shepherd who sacrificially sought each of us out.  The same Shepherd has committed the task of gathering other lost sheep into the fold to His body, the church.

Living Faithfully

The mission of the church, as defined by Jesus in the Great Commission, is so much more than what we do.  It encompasses the very heart of who we are as both individual believers, and as a corporate body of saved individuals called The Church.

Accordingly, in what has been called The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives two powerful “images that are to shape the way we Christians are to think about our calling in the world: ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.’”[6]

Before we limit the task of evangelism to simply speaking to people about Jesus and asking whether they are saved, it is helpful to consider that Jesus uses the two images (salt/light) to teach “us that if we live in obedience to God’s commandments, loving Him and loving our fellow men and women, then people will see the beauty of our lives, the acts of kindness, the daily life of integrity and faithfulness, and their response will be to glorify God.”[7]

Similarly, “His two images, ‘salt’ and ‘light,’ demand a life that is to be lived in the world and applied to the world, out in the darkness where there is no light, out where the savouring salt is needed to make the food tasty. These images and Jesus’ use of them require Christians to be in the world, and not simply in the church.”[8]

Prayer In and As Evangelism

The most basic gospel- promoting task… is not evangelism; it is prayer to the Lord of the harvest.[9]

Prayer is not a passive, sideline aspect of evangelistic commitment; it is a fundamental expression of that commitment.[10]

…evangelism and prayer are two sides of the one coin.  One is public; the other is silent and hidden from view.  Both are vital.[11]

With those thoughts in mind, church members are encouraged to actively and deliberately pray evangelistic prayers.  They are encouraged to do so in all of the various gatherings of the church.  This means that as members gather together, in small groups, for whatever other purpose, they are encouraged to devote themselves to prayer (Colossians 4:2).  In the context of the letter to the Colossians Paul is encouraging the church to pray for the work of the gospel in his own ministry.  It is thus appropriate that as members gather together, and as they pray, that they pray for the work of the gospel.

In that regard, members are encouraged to:

  1. Pray for themselves

“Pray for yourself in all your relationships.”[12]

“We are to pray for open doors in our relationships so we will have opportunities to make the Gospel known.”[13]

  1. Pray for front-line workers

“Paul asked the believers to pray for him (Ephesians 6:19-20), that he would have courage to make the Gospel known when he was given the opportunity.”[14]  So members are to pray for those engaged in front-line gospel work, that they be given courage in every gospel-orientated endeavour.  Paul also asked for prayer in order that his gospel proclamation may be done with clarity.[15]

Similarly, Jesus calls His disciples (which includes every member of His church) to “pray earnestly to the lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.”[16]

  1. Pray for unbelievers

“…all of us can confidently speak about others to the Saviour himself…”[17] There are people in our lives (whether or not we consider being in relationship with them or not) who do not confess Jesus as Lord or know His saving grace.  Praying specifically for these people is “a fundamental expression of both dependence upon God and commitment to his mission.”[18]

Similarly, while the apostle’s implication is all kinds of people, his instruction to Timothy[19] suggest that people beyond our direct sphere of influence be included in our corporate prayers.

Hospitality

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers”[20], said the writer of Hebrews.  In this passage, there is an inseparable connection between hospitality and strangers.  In fact, the Greek behind the King James Bible translates one word as entertain strangers.

The scope of biblical hospitality is much wider than being on a church’s hospitality roster.

“Scriptural hospitality is inviting people over who need our love, who need a meal, who are unlikely ever to repay us with a return invitation. Consider adopting a widow or widower, a single-parent family, a college student away from home, an international student, someone struggling with psychological difficulties. Don’t ask yourself if these people will ever invite you back. Don’t ask if they are Christian believers. Don’t even ask if they are nice people. Hospitality might mean asking a person in need to come and live with you and your family for a while.”[21]

A demonstration of this kind of entertaining strangers is to be found especially in elders and deacons within the church.  “Leaders in the church are required by Scripture to set an example in the areas of love, kindness, gentleness, patience, and forbearance before they are appointed to preach, teach, and rule. If we obediently require these attitudes and character traits of our leaders, what will our “new community” look like?”[22]

Meeting People Where They’re At

Christians acknowledge that everything about everything they do is an outworking of the gospel.  For Christians this is true of marriage, parenting, budgeting, and the way we use the internet.  Yet even unbelievers have an interest in these areas of life.  Accordingly, and especially because the Church has an authoritative voice on each of these issues, the Church is in a unique position to help members of their communities in the context of marriage and family.

It would be great if our church could work towards a situation where the following could be said of it:

Today many of those who come to our churches are parents knowing they need some help in raising their children in this morally challenging culture. Such parents often do not realize they are seeking the Lord and His truth, nor do they know that they are going to come to faith in Christ. But God uses that parental sense of responsibility they have toward their children as His means of reaching into their hearts and drawing them to Himself. All truth is God’s truth, and all good human qualities arise from the image of God that is indelibly imprinted in our human nature.[23]

In addition to the reality that married people and parents often seek ways to improve their marriages and parenting, our church is in a unique position in that it shares a property with a school and preschool.  While both school and preschool are committed to a Christian curriculum, it’s a well-known fact that many unbelieving parents send their unbelieving children to be educated on our property.

There is real potential to bring these factors together, and to offer such parents much needed guidance and support in the issues of life that are unique to them.

That being the case, what follows could be a really good way of building a bridge between the church and the community with the expectation that relationships form, and opportunity for the kind of gospel-centred hospitality emerge.

Making this open to families both within the Church and community[24], a series of classes would be offered covering topics such as marriage, parenting, budgeting, and internet safety.  The number of classes would be no more than 8 in as many successive weeks.  The delivery of these classes would include relevant instruction from the Scriptures knowing that in whatever context they are presented they have power to make one wise unto salvation.[25]

Towards the end of this block of classes, we, as a church, could start facilitating a program similar to Christianity Explained – which, again, is a series of classes that present the gospel in a way especially suited to people who have not had a lot of exposure to the Scriptures.  By the time those invitations are extended, the parents etc in our community will have already had a taste for what we are like as a church, as well as exposure to the Scriptures as they pertain to issues of marriage, family, etc.

Underpinning all of these initiatives would be the need for deliberate and focused prayer – and as individuals (and couples) express problems they face in marriage, family, etc – can come the offer to have people pray specifically (within the bounds of confidentiality).

In addition to our school and preschool, those family, friends, co-workers who are being prayed for as the church gathers could be invited/included, or similar, more focused programs could be facilitated to meet a specific need that these individuals/families might have that the church can minister to.

 

 

Bibliography

Barrs, J. (2001). The Heart of Evangelism. Wheaton: Crossway Books.

Dickson, J. (2005). Promoting the Gospel: The Whole of life for the Cause of Christ. Sydney: Aquila Press.

 

 

[1] (Dickson, 2005) 65

[2] (Barrs, 2001) 45

[3] (Dickson, 2005) 55

[4] (Dickson, 2005) 56

[5] Romans 10:1

[6] (Barrs, 2001) 55-56 quoting Matthew 5:13-16

[7] (Barrs, 2001) 56

[8] (Barrs, 2001) 56

[9] (Dickson, 2005) 54

[10] (Dickson, 2005) 57

[11] (Dickson, 2005) 60

[12] (Barrs, 2001) 51

[13] (Barrs, 2001) 50

[14] (Barrs, 2001) 51

[15] Colossians 4:4

[16] Luke 10:2

[17] (Dickson, 2005) 65

[18] (Dickson, 2005) 65

[19] 1 Timothy 2:1-2

[20] Hebrews 13:2

[21] (Barrs, 2001) 70

[22] (Barrs, 2001) 76

[23] (Barrs, 2001) 107

[24] A mixture of both would encourage relationships to form between Church and non-Church parents etc

[25] 2 Timothy 3:15, Romans 1:16

A Heart for Evangelism

The first in a series of essays on evangelism as part of a course I’ve taken at Grace Theological College.

A Heart for Evangelism: Experience in Evangelism

Brendon Ward

A Brand New Christian

My early experience of evangelism was characterised by ignorant zeal.  As a brand new Christian who knew nothing of formalised discipleship, I ended up living with some Muslims.  It would perhaps be more accurate to say that my presentation of the good news focused on the bad news that Mohammed was a false prophet.   And perhaps this was more a case of how to lose friends and alienate people.  While it seemed they were supportive of my new found faith (and actually challenged me on issues like substance abuse), I gave a poor representation of Christianity and the Christ of Christianity.  I had no respect for them as Muslims, often threatening to cook a pork roast in their kitchen under the auspices of Christian liberty.  Any relationship that had developed on the occasion of our living in the same apartment seemed to be fractured beyond repair as I surrendered my key emboldened by a police escort.

I thought I could engage in winning the lost by making pot-shots, essentially assaulting unsuspecting wearers of burqa with language I doubt they understood from a skinny white boy they were probably enculturated not to engage.  “Jesus doesn’t want you to wear a burqa” was about as close to the gospel as it came in these brief skirmishes. By the grace of God, I felt the Holy Spirit more and more restraining me as He focused on changing my heart as well as my attitude towards people as those made in His image, my understanding of the gospel, and what it meant to announce good news.

A Redefined Role

Ignorant zeal gave way to what I thought was an educated simmer and I began to conclude that my role within the church was to be confined within the church, that is, it’s four walls.  I saw myself more a teacher than an evangelist and developed an arrogant concern that professing Christians learn the doctrines to which I had begun to subscribe.

I was climbing the ladder of the inner doctrinal echelon within the church when I remember hearing God speak in such a way so as to knock out all the rungs of the ladder, seeing me falling to the ground, humbled by a reality that I had “forgotten Jesus”.  This was the beginning of an ongoing discovery that the good news is caught up with the reality that Jesus is both the Christ and the Son of God.  That conviction, as the core of the Christian message, became a compelling commitment and lead me to being asked to leave some churches, and deciding to leave others – the litmus test being whether this gospel, this good news of Jesus Christ was being preached, and preached without ceasing.

I was getting opportunity to preach in church even as the rungs were rotting under my falling feet.  I began to preach grace, that Jesus was everything – a rare message from the King-James-Only cult.  I was finally lead to a church that seemed to share convictions about the abundance of grace and the exclusivism of Jesus and in time given opportunity to preach under the watchful gaze of discerning leaders.  I sought to preach Christ and Him crucified – to win and woo both sinners and saints to seek and savour the one who seemed so clearly the subject of every biblical text.

A New Way

Along came William Fay and Ray Comfort.  What emerged was a modified Way of the Master approach and passion for conversational evangelism.  William Fay taught me to let them do the talking, prompted by gentle, though deliberate, open ended questions about spiritual beliefs.  The goal was to win their respect and gain permission to “tell you what I believe”.  This William-Fay Five-Step was augmented by Ray Comforts dual concern to prove a Creator, and convince good people that they were lawbreakers subject to the narrowly satiable wrath of the proven Creator.  As I cracked the lid on the “And what about Jesus?” question I had in store all along, the animosity, from those with a convincing consciousness of the divine, was exhilarating.   The ensuing conflict demonstrated that though seemingly patient, gently asked open ended questions, with timed yet tailored responses, this one-off was no builder of a necessary relationship of trust.  Invercargill isn’t a big enough place for the face of smug street preachers, or unresolved animosity to be forgotten.  I had, I thought, one chance, and once blown, I would sooner have crossed the road or walked in the other direction than have another go.

A Better Way

Upon moving to Auckland, it seems conversation gave way to compassion – hearing drunken strangers stagger past my house and racing out to offer them a ride home, and then to church the next morning.  Or the unconditional offer of assistance to the Crips with the broken down beamer.  Or the insistence that I had been slightly overcharged by the sushi lady, explaining my honesty in terms of being a Christian. Or scouring the streets for hitchhikers, even though I wasn’t going their way, cracking out some William Fay as passenger became prisoner to my prodding and left the vehicle with a bible and a phone number should any questions arise from their promised reading of the New Testament.  There were no phone calls.

A New Sphere of Service

In relation to my present heart attitude towards evangelism, it is expressed most clearly and consistently within my serving as a preacher.  It has been my conviction that the gospel is to be preached in/on every preaching occasion with the awareness that the visible church is made up of the elect (some professing, some yet to profess) as well as the reprobate. With that in mind, is the awareness that as the gospel is preached, it is the power of God unto salvation.  What’s more, the quiet confidence that God may very well see fit to use my service as a preacher to effectually (and actually and actively) call those of His children previously lacking profession.

Beyond the safety of the church, I remain apologetically Christian in the sense of always being ready and willing to answer those who ask me about my faith.  All of my co-workers know that I identify as a Christian and though I work in the construction industry, I seek to engage by asking the question first of “What does it look like for me to be a Christian in this setting?”  Exclusion has only ever been the answer once, when it was suggested visiting the strip clubs as a natural flow on from the company Christmas dinner.

Beyond that (though I consider this level of engagement sits somewhere above half way on an “Actively Involved in Evangelism” register), I am otherwise publically unintentional.

A New Burden

Before reading Barrs and Dickson, I had not considered the discipline of prayer evangelistic in nature. What I mean by that is that I didn’t really have a category for promoting the gospel apart from its proclamation.  Furthermore, praying evangelistically hadn’t been a hi-viz in my prayer closet.  But having read Barrs and Dickson – who give considerable ink to the idea of promoting the gospel through prayer, I began to do just that.  Short and simple – at first based on Matthew 9:35-38.

Then came Saturday.  My weekly catch up with Isobel Cochran.  We always end our time by praying together.  The prompt is never more than “Let’s pray together”.  Together, we have been reading a series of books (intended for children but of great value to those who have had a selected exposure to our countries history at school) about the history of New Zealand.  The current focus is the early interaction between Maori and the missionaries.  As is normal, Isobel started us praying and she prayed specifically for the Maori people of New Zealand, especially in Auckland – that they would encounter the gospel afresh.  Then the net was spread further to the vast salad bowl of ethnicities represented in our city.  Affirmative sounds and quiet amens came from me and when it was my turn all I could do was echo Isobel and add my rediscovery of Matthew 9:35-38.  This, in short, was really encouraging, to know that God would so order things that just when I was rediscovering prayer and/as evangelism, that we should be reading that series of books, followed by that kind of praying.

Similarly, post-sermon conversations with a particular gentleman have lead me to question whether this kind of specific prayer is part of our own gathered worship.  Sure, we pray for missionaries – which is great – but prayer as evangelism seems limited to places none of us have been and people none of us have ever met.  Besides praying for the logistics of the Light Party and a vague perhaps this will allow us to build contacts, I am not sure we have the boldness or passion to pray in such a way that could mean we’d need to buy more chairs (either for our gathered worship space, or our living rooms).

The question is often about how to approach this at a corporate level with pastoral sensitivity especially when none of my roles include rule in this regard.   Mentioning Matthew 9:35-38 doesn’t quite fit prayer requests for knees and nieces and next week’s meeting.

In terms of written interaction with Barrs, Dickson, and Stott – I start with Stott, exploring just a few of his statements.

Stott suggests “In evangelism too we need incentives, for evangelism is difficult and dangerous work.”[1] He then outlines several incentives starting with “plain obedience… since the call of God is to share in His own mission in the world.”[2] He then says, “loving concern is the second.” (p19).[3]  The question for me then is, am I sufficiently motivated by the often used adage “love God, love others[4]”?  Sometimes it can seem that being involved in evangelism is an optional extra rather than a matter of obedience to the commissioning of God and a basic expression of neighbour love.  I think there are graceless ways of trying to stress these motives but the way Stott frames it, makes it a matter of the heart.  He makes it a question of “Is our love for God (expressed in obedience) and neighbour of a quality that generates a sacrifice of the ease and safety of not doing evangelism?”

A New Interpretation

How do these statements from Stott interpret my early experience?  Well firstly, I am not sure my early efforts were characterised by love for neighbour.  It wasn’t that I was so compelled that “God so loved the people on the street” and so I did to.  Rather, it was almost a case of I have something to tell you with the emphasis being on what I had discovered.

In addition to praying that the Lord of the Harvest would raise up labourers, Jerram Barrs suggests praying “for the work of the Spirit in the hearts and minds of those around us.”[5] This echoes an old quote from E.M. Bounds “Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still. He will never talk well and with real success to men for God who has not learned well how to talk to God for men[6].”  While I am not so sure the Spirit is bound by who has and hasn’t been prayed for prior to evangelistic engagement (whether generally in terms of “Let who I speak to today have an open heart and mind” or for a specific individual), the Spirit does seem to work in the heart of those doing the praying to the end that they are compelled by a deeper neighbour love.  Similarly, we can be confident that the Spirit really does work in response to our prayers, preparing hearts and minds for the reception (and germination) of gospel seed.

“The vital link between the masses who need to hear the gospel and the few who are sent out to preach the gospel is the whole company of disciples praying for the work of the gospel.”[7]  I am not in total agreement with John Dickson at this point.  Perhaps it is a quarrel over words, but I would argue that the ideal is not a “few who are sent out”.  While I recognise that there are people that are specifically gifted in proclaiming the gospel, I would argue that more than we would readily admit are called to incorporate intentional gospel proclamation within a life dedicated to gospel promotion[8].  Even so, this is a reminder to pray that those specially gifted would be identified, and even set apart for intentional, even vocational gospel proclamation in a way that is perhaps distinct from pastoral ministry.

 

Bibliography

Barrs, J. (2001). The Heart of Evangelism. Wheaton: Crossway Books.

Comfort, R. (2006). The Way of the Master. Bridge-Logos Publishers.

Dickson, J. (2005). Promoting the Gospel: The Whole of life for the Cause of Christ. Sydney: Aquila Press.

Fay, W. (1999). Share Jesus Without Fear. B&H Books.

Stott, J. (1967). Our Guilty Silence. Hodder & Stoughton.

 

 

[1] (Stott, 1967) 17

[2] (Stott, 1967) 18

[3] (Stott, 1967) 19

[4] Expressed by Jesus in the words of Mark 12:30-31

[5] (Barrs, 2001) 49

[6] Bounds, E.M Power Through Prayer (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/558571-talking-to-men-for-god-is-a-great-thing-but retrieved 11/04/16)

[7] (Dickson, 2005) 56

[8] Dickson deals with the proclamation/promotion distinction in his introduction (pp 9-17)