Category Archives: Personal Struggles

Why did God Give our Pets Such Short Life Spans?

Although land tortoises can live over 150 years and parrots sometimes live as long as people, most pets have short life spans Perhaps the Lord gave our pets short life spans to keep us from getting more attached to them than to our fellow human beings. Since the love of some intelligent pets for their human masters is remarkably unconditional, they often establish a deep emotional connection with us. In fact, we sometimes find it easier to love them unconditionally than each other.

The emotional impact of the death of a family’s pet is like the loss of any family member, though on a lesser scale. It offers opportunities for learning important lessons in preparation for future losses that will be worse. The grief at a pet’s death can bring an awareness of our need for deeper relationships with the people in our lives.

 

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How Can We Love our Neighbor as Our Self, as Jesus Commanded?

Loving other people as oneself is a difficult goal. But Jesus clearly made it fundamental to Christian living. On one occasion, an expert in the Jewish law challenged Jesus with the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Luke 10:27 NKJV).

Although the goal of loving one’s neighbor as oneself is difficult, it isn’t impossible.  In Luke 6:36-38, Jesus gives some basic principles that help us understand what it involves:

Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you (NKJV).

This passage contains two principles. One principle is that our expectations of our neighbors are directly related to the expectations that will be placed on us. As Jesus said, “With the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” The expectations we have of others will be required by them (and God) of us. But even subjectively, we already love—or hate—our neighbors as ourselves. We subconsciously project our own attitudes and values upon other people, expecting them to perceive us as we perceive them. If we are impatient and judgmental towards others, we assume others will be impatient and judgmental towards us. If we are compassionate and patient towards others, we won’t have to deal with the pressures that come from assuming that others view us with hostility and impatience. Love or hatred directed outwards is always matched by love or hatred directed inwards.

The second principle is that love for one’s neighbor should never be confused with indulgence. A father who gives his children anything they want spoils them. If we love our neighbor as our self, we must be as careful in setting standards and goals for him as we do for ourselves. If God were a genie in a lamp who gave us anything we wanted, would we ever be satisfied? Of course not! Love for our neighbor involves the same principle. While love always seeks to promote the other person’s well-being, at times it is manifested in acts of charity and at other times in firm confrontation.

Our neighbor is just like us. At times he needs mercy, at times he needs correction, but he always needs our love.

 

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What Did Jesus Mean, “Lead Us Not Into Temptation”?

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Do not lead us into temptation” (Matthew 6:13), He was not implying that God would ever encourage us to sin. Scripture makes this clear:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone (James 1:13).

Nor was He implying that there is something unusual about being subjected to temptation.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14 NIV).

Rather, Jesus was modeling the healthy self-distrust that should mark every child of God. He was showing us that we must be continually conscious of our own weakness and of the wiles of our enemy. We are not to have any false assurance about our ability to do as well as Jesus did when “put to the test” by Satan in the wilderness. Instead, we are to recognize our inclination to be headstrong like Peter, thinking he was equal to any challenge that might come his way (Luke 22:31-34,54-62.)

We as God’s children never have to give in to temptation, for God will “make the way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13 nkjv), but we must be conscious of our vulnerability. Jesus therefore emphasized the need for humble dependence on God. He called us to recognize our human frailty and to acknowledge that we on our own are no match for our triple foe: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

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Can Someone Be Forgiven if They Commit the Same Sin Again After Confessing and Repenting it?

No one who asks God for forgiveness can be confident that they won’t commit the same sin again. In fact, our natures are so contaminated by sin that we often do. When Peter asked Jesus whether we are obligated to forgive a person who sins against us seven times (Peter’s “seven times” more than doubled the rabbinic prescription), Jesus said: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22 NKJV).

Jesus made it clear that God’s primary concern is not mere outward behavior, but the condition of the heart Matthew 23:25-26; Mark 7:5-9; Luke 11:42-44; Luke 11:42-44. Therefore the sincerity of the confession is what counts.

Unfortunately, we can be sincere in our repentance and confession and still fall into sin again. Because believers continue to be influenced by the “flesh”—the fallen aspect of their personalities—in this world they are incapable of perfect sincerity. At times they are more vulnerable to temptation than at other times. With the passage of time, the strong awareness of evil and the ugliness of sin that brought us to repentence often fades.

Sincere confession of sin is a heartfelt acknowledgment that our sin is wrong, that we don’t want to continue in it, and that we are ready to exert ourselves—under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—to resist it. God doesn’t expect perfection, because none of us are capable of achieving it, but He does expect sincerity.

Sin is highly addictive, and when we’re not on our guard we can easily succumb to the false sense of relief we experience when we surrender to our compulsions. We need to be aware of sin’s addictive nature. Like someone who is attempting to quit smoking or drinking, the worst thing we can do is to give up on our desire to change or believe we can never change, even though we relapse in moments of weakness.

As we experience increasing freedom from sin, we will experience an increasing awareness of evil and understand more deeply how sin carries its own penalty. Each time genuine believers relapse into sin, they will experience more conviction and a more painful awareness of sin’s destructiveness. Each time they repent and confess their sins, they will be purer, stronger, and less likely to relapse.

Of course, some sins are so serious that even sincere repentance can’t erase their earthly consequences. Sins like murder and adultery can be forgiven by God in the ultimate sense and by fellow Christians in the sense of hoping for a sinner’s restoration, but the damage such sins inflict usually cannot be undone in this life, and consequences such as imprisonment or divorce may be unavoidable.

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Why Should I Pray When it Doesn’t Seem that God Hears My Prayers?

It is part of the human condition to struggle with a sense of God’s silence—or absence. The disciples and the prophets had moments of weakness and distrust that are recorded in Scripture for all of us to read.

The silence that causes us such anxiety is not only essential to growth in faith, but needed for our expression of genuine trust in prayer. Prayer and faith are the result of a process of trusting. This process involves wonder, doubt, and worry. It enables us to grow in our ability to trust God in small ways that in time make it possible for us to trust Him through the great crises of life.

Genuine prayer isn’t mere ritual, nor is it just a productive mental habit. Prayer in the midst of doubt and feelings of abandonment is essential to realizing our need for God’s help. It isn’t that faith and hope can’t grow without prayer. They can, but without it they grow only slowly and haphazardly. This is because without prayer, faith and hope grow without our conscious support and participation.

In Luke 11:9, Jesus says: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you” (NKJV).

The order Jesus describes here is simple. We first must ask, and then it is given. We first must knock, and then the door is opened to us. If we don’t pray, we’re like people who expect to receive without asking or to have doors opened without knocking. Prayer is important because it acknowledges both our need for God’s help and our willingness to look to Him for direction. When we don’t pray, it is apparent that we consider God irrelevant and we take life, with all of its opportunities and blessings, for granted.

If we don’t consciously ask God for direction, we’ll usually lack the vision to see opportunities when they appear. Prayer nurtures vision, and vision sustains patient endurance. No wonder that Isaiah spoke of the importance of “hoping in the Lord.”

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (40:28-31 NIV).

Ask the Lord to show you what and how to pray and what to expect when you do. He will respond.

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What Should I Think of what I Experience in Dreams?

Scientific evidence is accumulating that dreams have vital physiological and psychological functions. Our dreams apparently play an important role in creativity and problem solving.

1  This and other scientific discoveries about the important physiological role of dreaming show that the mysterious activity of dreaming is “hardwired” into us by God’s design, for our benefit. For that reason, we shouldn’t fear dreaming.

The Bible illustrates how highly the Hebrews and other ancient people esteemed dreams and those who could interpret them (Genesis 41; Daniel 2), and that they viewed dreams at times as natural (Ecclesiastes 5:3), as evil (Deuteronomy 13:1-2; Jeremiah 29:8), or as divine revelation (Genesis 28:12-13; Genesis 37:5,9). ( See the ATQ article Is it possible that some dreams contain important symbolic meaning—or even a message from God?)

Like the daydreams and thoughts that drift into our minds in our conscious state, dream fantasies generally seem spontaneous. Sexual activity, rage, and violence often occur abruptly and uncontrollably in dreams. In dreams, all of us do things we certainly would never do if we were awake. We also have nightmares that seem to express our deepest fear and insecurity.

Many people describe having had “lucid dreams.” In lucid dreams, we are aware that we are dreaming and are sometimes able to choose our actions. Some early Christian ascetic monks actually believed that we are responsible not only for what we do in our waking state, but for what we do in our dreams. These monks withdrew from society and dedicated themselves to an isolated life of grueling hardship. Their solitary focus on subjective experience may have made them aware of some things that most of us don’t experience.

Occultists in many cultures have been interested in lucid dreams and have sometimes sought to cultivate lucid dreams and increase control over their fantasies. Such efforts to use occult technique to gain control over one’s dreams are sinister. At the very least, they focus attention away from the real world into a fantasy. At the worst, it may open one’s mind to overtly demonic or subconsciously destructive influences. (See the ATQ articles Why Is It Dangerous for Subconscious Images to Penetrate Our Waking Consciousness? and Why Are Channeling and Mediumship Dangerous?)

To the degree we are aware that we are dreaming and to the extent that our dreams are under our control—that is, lucid—we may be responsible for our actions and shaping our character by our choices.

However, the vast majority of dreams aren’t lucid. Most dreams are fantasies created by our sleeping brain from random memories. In certain ways we feel especially vulnerable when we are sleeping. But God never sleeps. He is always guarding and protecting us (Psalm 121:1-3).

Scripture nowhere indicates that God holds us responsible for what happens in our dreams. But our dreams should serve as a vivid reminder of how dependent we are on His love and grace.

  1. See the papers, “Sleep Inspires insight” in Nature magazine, January 2004 (Wagner, Gais, Haider, Verleger, and Born, from research at the University of Luebeck) and “REM, not incubation, improves creativity by priming associative networks” (Cai, Mednick, Harrison, Kanady, and Mednick). (The Mednick paper is at http://www.saramednick.com/htmls/pdfs/Cai_PNAS_2009) Back To Article
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Can a Person Who Continually Struggles With Impure Thoughts Be Genuinely Saved?

Being born again doesn’t keep us from having impure thoughts. First John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (KJV). And in Romans 7:15-25, the apostle Paul describes his continuing struggle with sin.

The Bible teaches that all of us have fallen characteristics—a “dark side” that is inclined to sin and rebellion (Romans 7:23; Colossians 3:5)—and it tells us to resist our destructive inclinations and be obedient to Christ (Galatians 5:17-21; 6:8; Ephesians 1:2-6). In this life we will never escape the influence of our old nature, including evil and impure thoughts.

There probably isn’t a single Christian who isn’t ashamed and saddened at the thoughts that sometimes come into his or her mind. If Satan can get us obsessed with the evil thoughts that flash into our consciousness, he can rob us of our joy and keep us from being effective workers for the kingdom of God. This is what Satan tries to do as our adversary (Job 1:7-12), “slanderer,”1 and “accuser” (Revelation 12:10).

Although in this life we will never be completely freed from the taint of sin and impure thoughts, we can grow in our ability to control our response to them. Just because we have a thought doesn’t mean we need to dwell on it or, even worse, commit ourselves to a sinful action because of it. Our goal shouldn’t be to eliminate evil thoughts altogether but to recognize them when they appear and, instead of giving them influence, acknowledging them as sin and rejecting them (James 4:7).

By responding to our evil and impure thoughts with disciplined resistance, we can go a long way towards cleansing ourselves of habitual, willful sin. But we still live in a fallen world and will continue to struggle with our dark side. If we don’t acknowledge this unpleasant reality, we may become drawn into spiritual pride—perhaps the most dangerous sin of all.

  1. The name “devil” is from the Greek word diabolos, meaning slanderer, false accuser. Back To Article
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Why is it Important Not to Treat Sexual Intimacy Casually?

God intended sexual intimacy to mold a man and a woman physically, emotionally, and spiritually into “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Seeking a “one-flesh relationship” outside of a long-term, committed relationship is like a long-distance runner substituting performance-enhancing drugs for discipline and training or a graduate student hiring someone to write his/her master’s thesis.

Because we are not just animals, the human value of sexual experience is derived mostly from spiritual and emotional intimacy. Casual sexual experiences actually make it harder for people to yoke genuine intimacy with sexual arousal. This is why ordinary married people usually have a more deeply satisfying and long-lasting relationship than promiscuous celebrities who look spectacularly attractive and desirable.

We have fallen far from God’s plan for sexual intimacy. Contraception now allows the wholesale separation of sex from conception, birthing, parenting, and family bonding. Cultural changes have also identified pornography, promiscuity, and sexual relativism with sexual liberation. Consequently, we see unprecedented rates of divorce, family instability, and social problems.

Rather than experimenting with sexual experiences that scar and break hearts, Christians—whether single or married—should focus on establishing and nurturing genuine friendship and intimacy, the kind that will stand them in good stead for a lifetime.

 

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Is It Right for a Husband and Wife to View Pornographic Videos?

We live in a sexually charged culture where some would have us believe that it is acceptable and appropriate for a husband and wife to view pornographic videos. Most in this camp contend that couples watching tapes of other couples having sex can re-ignite dwindling passion and “spice up” a dull sex life.

Although some “training videos” may contain some practical information about the physical realities of sex, they cross a moral line by communicating that information with demonstrations of couples engaged in sexual activities. The strong sexual imagery in the Bible’s Song of Solomon illustrates God’s intention for a husband and wife to take great pleasure in viewing and touching each other’s bodies. Outside of marriage, however, such behavior is wrong. And it is wrong to view such an intimate act under the pretense of “sex education.”

Watching others (regardless of whether or not they are married) demonstrate various elements of the sexual act defiles and contaminates “the marriage bed” ( Hebrews 13:4 ). It’s one thing to read educational literature that objectively describes the various factors involved in the sex act. Thousands of engaged and married couples have benefited from reading books like Intended For Pleasure by Ed and Joy Wheat. But it’s another thing to view taped episodes of couples engaged in various forms of sexual activity. Common sense itself tells us that there is little, if any, objectivity in such “educational” voyeurism.

Whether it be one of the thousands of X-rated videos made each year, or one marketed as a “sex training” video, watching a tape of another man and woman having sexual intercourse ruins a married couple’s sex life. It is a prime example of something that may seem good, but is actually “deadly” ( Proverbs 14:12 ). Watching a videotape of another couple having sexual intercourse may initially inflame the interests and passions of the viewing couple. But in the end it leaves them with many misconceptions about sex that lead to false expectations, disappointment, self-doubt, and resentment.

Pornographic videos create unrealistic expectations about the frequency of sex, the pleasure of specific sexual acts, and the nature of a man’s and a woman’s sexual arousal and need for physical intimacy. Generally, they portray a woman as a sexual object that a man can quickly and easily “turn on” at his discretion. Furthermore, the participants are often digitally, cosmetically, or surgically enhanced, giving a false impression of what a man’s or a woman’s body should look like.

A husband and wife can’t possibly begin to measure up to the bedroom athletes (performers) they see on the screen, but there is an inherent pressure to do just that. Whether it’s acknowledged or not, a husband and wife who view sexually graphic scenes feel a strong pull to look like the actors and to imitate what they do. And when they can’t, many feel inadequate. Some feel resentful. A husband can ruin his relationship with his wife by coercing her into doing things that make her feel uncomfortable and cheap. If she refuses, she tends to feel guilty. If she concedes, she feels used, angry, and dirty.

Couples who have allowed pornography into the bedroom have learned that it keeps them constantly “charged up” looking for a sexual outlet. Sex is proper and normal in marriage, but it is not the dominant need. It is legitimately pleasurable, but people have a tendency to abuse everything pleasurable through inordinate indulgence ( Ephesians 4:19 ). Inordinate demands for physical intimacy and sexual stimuli are without doubt one of the most common killers of the emotional and spiritual intimacy that are the core of every good marriage. G. K. Chesterton wisely saw the end of such behavior: “Pride makes a man a devil; but lust makes him a machine.” Machines do not have good marriages.

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Isn’t It Unjust to Deny the Fulfillment of Sexual Experiences to Single People? 

It isn’t the “Christian ethic” that “denies the sexual experiences and fulfillment to single people that married people enjoy.” It is reality. The Bible and the Christian ethic are based on physiological and psychological fact. Single people engaging in sex can’t possibly experience the same things that married people are capable of experiencing, either in terms of personal pleasure or fulfillment. What they experience is different and destructive, and the Bible rightfully warns of its destructiveness.

The Scriptures make it clear that sexual intimacy is not something to be entered into lightly. (See the ATQ article Why Shouldn’t Sex Be Casual?) Because the natural design of sexual intimacy is to mold two individual people in their physical, emotional, and spiritual entirety into “one flesh,” the uncommitted sexual intimacy of two single people can never be like the sexual experience and fulfillment married people are capable of enjoying. Seeking sexual intimacy outside of its appropriate context of a long-term, committed relationship is like an unscrupulous athlete trying to substitute performance-enhancing drugs for discipline and training. Uncommitted sexual experiences only distort the real meaning of sexual fulfillment. One-bodiedness (genuine sexual intimacy—see Genesis 2:24 ) can only occur in the context of lifelong love.

Contemporary cultural circumstances have confused the purpose of sex. Contraception has separated sex from its natural purpose in conception, childbearing, parenting, and family bonding. The identification of sexual “liberation” with pornography and promiscuity along with a cultural relativism that assumes the equality of all sexual behavior have contributed to unprecedented rates of divorce, family instability, and social problems.

Regardless of the cultural circumstances, Scripture declares that sexual love symbolizes God’s love for us (Ephesians 5:25-33 ). Our fallen nature has resulted in our misusing sex for selfish purposes (lust, power, etc.). Sexuality is linked to a long-term—even eternal—purpose, and requires commitment to that purpose.

It does not matter what the two people . . . have in mind. . . . The reality of the act, unfelt and unnoticed by them, is this: It unites them—body and soul—to each other. It unites them in that strange, impossible to pinpoint sense of “one flesh.” There is no such thing as casual sex, no matter how casual people are about it. The Christian assaults reality in his night out at the brothel. He uses a woman and puts her back in a closet where she can be forgotten; but the reality is that he has put away a person with whom he has done something that was meant to inseparably join them. This is what is at stake for Paul in the question of sexual intercourse between unmarried people.

And now we can see clearly why Paul thought sexual intercourse by unmarried people was wrong. It is wrong because it violates the inner reality of the act; it is wrong because unmarried people thereby engage in a life-uniting act without a life-uniting intent. Whenever two people copulate without a commitment to life-union, they commit fornication.* (Lewis Smedes, Sex for Christians, rev. ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994], pp. 109-10.)

*Fornication is a strong, scriptural word. But the intent of the word is not merely to condemn, but to warn. (Back To Article)

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