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Living the Life God Intended – Talk 8 – Lust & Purity

To live the life God intended we have to manage anger and sexuality, among other important psycho-relational realities. To listen to the audio teaching of these notes click on:


Adultery, Lust and Purity, Matt 5:27-30

Jesus says it’s not about adultery, but about lust and purity. He deals with murder, then adultery (6th & 7th commandments). Why? Because anger AND lust are the two basic causes of most of the pain in human relationships – the root of family disorder and community/social disintegration. Human sexuality is essentially about human relationships, how we relate, whether we love or lust. What’s the difference?

Love is healthy sexuality as in relating purely, seeking each other’s highest good. This love-passion celebrates God’s image in the ‘complementary other’, producing true intimacy that completes us as human becomings. Lust is broken sexuality as in impure relating, desiring ‘the other’ to use (& abuse) in order to meet our needs, pleasure, purpose. That is a substitute false intimacy that can never satisfy or complete us. At heart it’s an idolatry of self that disintegrates our personhood, making us less than human, more like animals driven by (corrupted) instincts. Lust enslaves and addicts us to corrupted desire.

The outward act of adultery – a sexual affair outside the covenant of marriage – begins in the heart, in our natural appetites that are corrupted by ‘covetous’ desire. “Lust” in Matt 5:28 is the word “covet” (to steal) in the Greek translation of the 10th commandment in Ex 20:17. Lusting is covetous desire, to take/steal for one’s own pleasure and purposes.

Long before we commit the physical act of adultery we have, in our sexual brokenness, cultivated lustful desire that prepares us to do it when the opportunity presents itself. So it’s not about the outward act, it’s about the inward conditioning, the intention of the mind. Jesus says if we “look to lust” – entertain thoughts and images, cultivate covetous lust to use ‘the other’ for our needs and purpose – it’s as good as doing the deed. It’s just a matter of time before we ‘act out’ by looking at pornography, flirting with the opposite (or same) sex, seeking opportunity to ‘do it’.

How do we deal with this? Jesus’ ‘new covenant’ answer is radical (29-30). Those in the Kingdom of Heaven (KOH) live a different kind of life. We are convicted and enabled by God’s indwelling Spirit to cut lust off at its roots, reconditioning the heart for relating in pure love (healthy sexuality). Jesus uses deliberate exaggeration: “if your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”

WOW! Does he mean that literally? NO! You cannot stop lust by castrating yourself – if you’re a man – as church father Origen (185-254) found out. It’s a heart/mind issue, not a physical problem! Jesus’ point is to deal ruthlessly with the first sign of lust before it develops and then drives you. Otherwise you rot and decay from within, becoming useless to God and people, and consequently “thrown into (the tormenting fires of) hell”. Jesus repeats this phrase twice! A serious warning! This can mean being handed over to the internal fires of lust that torment us, as well as the fearful ultimate torment of separation from God.

Jesus is echoing Prov 6:25 & Job 31:1, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a woman…” This is not sexual ‘repression’ as some suggest. Such old so-called Christian teaching, as in ‘sex is dirty’, ‘sexual feelings are sinful’, etc, results in untruth, guilt, shame, psycho-sexual dualism and dysfunction (we separate our sexuality from our spirituality). We must not suppress normal sexual awareness and desire, and our admiration of and attraction to beauty. We need a good theology of healthy sexuality.

Jesus is teaching sexual character as in purity of the heart and imagination, by disciplining lust before it becomes fantasy and arousal. When pushed down into the darkness of guilt, into the silence of shame, sexual feelings are demonized. We must channel sexual feelings in a healthy way by bringing them into the light of God’s presence. When we acknowledge what we’re seeing, feeling and thinking, with God, we celebrate the mystery of beauty, attraction and longing. Then sexual feelings are redeemed and transformed (see Paul’s ‘positive disciplines’ in this regard, Phil 4:8). They can become the fuel or passion of true loving in relationships, the warm healing power of godly love in every relational exchange. This builds healthy community and good society.

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Call of Pastoral Vocation & Spiritual Leadership

Today (1 April 2016) I was supposed to be in Cape Town addressing the Vineyard pastors and leaders of the Western Cape, South Africa. I injured my back on Wednesday and had to cancel my trip. But I had written my teaching earlier in the week, so I thought I should upload and share it. For all who read this, especially pastors and spiritual leaders, what do you think of the following?

What is the essential call (vocation) and work (leadership) of the local church pastor?

It’s a vast subject, but scripture teaches that pastoral leadership is a life-calling and gift-ministry from the Ascended Christ (Eph 4:7-11, the ‘pastoring-teacher’). In the OT the king and leaders were (supposed to be) the servant of YHWH as the shepherd of Israel. Jesus fulfilled that calling as The Good Shepherd of God’s flock, YHWH’s Suffering Servant. This Chief Shepherd and Ultimate Servant is the model to be emulated by his ‘under shepherd-servants’. He’s also the means, by his Spirit, by which we fulfil this vocation to which we are called – continuing HIS vocation by HIS Spirit. And yes, this means suffering and rejection… true pastors enter into and exercise the love of God in Christ, by the Spirit, suffering people’s sin and brokenness. There is nothing like pastoral leadership to bring out one’s insecurities, our deepest unresolved ‘stuff’! So, to be a pastor, a spiritual leader, is not something you do, it’s who you are and are becoming. It’s not a role or job per se, it’s a way of life – Jesus’ way!

The nature of this “perplexing profession” (Eugene Peterson) has been analysed and explained in various ways.[1] Over the years, through theology (study) and praxis (my personal experience), I have come to my own summary of the pastoral vocation: The sevenfold nature or key responsibilities of pastor-leaders. I assume the definition of pastor as the leader of a faith community, whether it’s 15 people in a house church, or a congregation of 80, or of a large church with multiple staff, where the team of pastors each specialise in one or more of the responsibilities below. However, the lead-pastor in whatever size church is overall responsible to see that these seven key roles are faithfully fulfilled. There is a progressive order – they build on each other. And like any good preacher, I’ve used alliteration hoping it might just stick in our brains!

  1. Prayer: To be a person of The Presence, bringing God’s presence to people and bringing them into God’s presence. If you are first a full-on follower (disciple… a disciplined learner) of Jesus for yourself, then those around you will naturally be led and pastored into following Jesus. Prayer is your primary spiritual formation, the fuel that fires – and keeps fanning into flame – your passion and love for God and his people. On a recent visit to Mexico Pope Francis said to the bishops and priests, “Pastors are not God’s employees to dispense and administrate the Divine. Our identity is prayer: we work with God – pray living and live praying.” It’s what Jesus said, in effect, regarding his life principle: “Though I am the Son of God I do nothing on my own initiative; I only do what I see the Father doing, I only speak what I hear the Father saying” (John 5:17-21). Prayer is co-working with God in what he’s doing, leading his people in true worship and community, ministry and mission. This is (your) spiritual formation. It is the foundational cornerstone of the vocation of the pastor and leader, on which all that follows is built.
  2. Purity: To grow in purity before God. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matt 5:8). The heart is the essence – the core and the whole – of who we are, out of which all of life flows (Prov 4:23). Danish theologian-philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” Our divided and disparate, fragmented and over-stimulated focus on many demands, is the impurity of idolatry. David prayed, “give me an undivided heart to fear your name” (Ps 86:11). Life, leadership and ministry, depends on our cultivation of integrity of being, purity of heart, integration of focus – the simplicity of the unhurried life doing the “one thing (that) is needed” (Luke 10:42). The one thing is moral character, formed by gazing on God’s beauty (Ps 27:4) in the face of Jesus Christ, as Mary did. Then we see God ever more clearly each day, in all things, in every person, circumstance, happening – learning to work with him in the sacrament of the present moment. This is what makes us pastors and leaders. We require this purity of heart because God entrusts us with HIS Word, Purposes, People, and World. Whether we know it or not, we all live, lead and pastor, in real terms from “the weight of glory” (C.S. Lewis) on/in us, or lack thereof. To the degree we lack in Christ’s glory – his pure character – we depend on other idolatrous dynamics and resources to live, lead and pastor.
  3. Preaching: To proclaim God’s Word to his people and world is a most awesome privilege and responsibility.[2] We are called to faithfully study, teach and proclaim the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) without fear or favour, forming God’s people “under the authority of The Word” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer), teaching them how “to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20; Wimber’s “the meat is in the street”). The Apostles stated their priorities: “We will give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). Don’t ever underestimate the privilege, priority and power of preaching God’s Word as a pastor and leader.
  4. Purpose: To lead God’s people into their inheritance: God’s Kingdom purposes. I.e. to give a clear vision of the Kingdom, keeping it before the people, with the spiritual direction needed to achieve it. We are called to lead by example, by vision and proclamation, by discipling and implementation. Pastors must lead the church into God’s purposes – break new ground – or it will meander in maintenance mode.
  5. Pastoring: To care for God’s We are called to love, to be tender, merciful, compassionate, as Jesus was. Prayer & purity will keep us from burnout, from becoming cynical with people and their pain. Pastors gather, heal and grow God’s people to wholeness, by patient and persistent love in the discipline and governance of the Lord. Shepherds naturally smell of sheep, they get involved in people’s pain.
  6. Personnel: To train God’s people in their callings and gifts. Proclaiming God’s purpose gathers people to be cared for, AND to be equipped to do ministry and mission (Eph 4:12). Pastors grow and equip people, forming teams and leaders, by the Vineyard mantra: “IRTDM” – identify, recruit, train, deploy, and monitor.
  7. Program: To organise God’s people into a cohesive community of worship and witness, creating programs and structures of ministry (in the church) and mission (in the broader community, and to the nations). Minimal organising and administrating ability is required for a pastor-leader to be effective – it’s a discipline of character! 

We lead by being led – in these seven dimensions – by the Spirit, in the sacrament of the present moment. So, be teachable, accountable, honest, humble, hungry for God…

[1] The classic by Seward Hiltner, Preface to Pastoral Theology (Abingdon, 1958). Also Henri Nouwen, Creative Ministry (1978) and The Living Reminder (1982). See Eugene Peterson’s four books on pastoral ministry, all by Eerdmans, Working the Angles (1987), Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (1992), Under the Unpredictable Plant (1992), and The Contemplative Pastor (1993).  

[2] See the chapter, “Pastors as Teachers of the Nations”, in Dallas Willard’s Knowing Christ Today.

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“Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing”

Yesterday was a most interesting day for me! In my morning devotions I picked up an old book on spirituality written by Ronald Rolheiser and read a page or two here and there. He quoted Soren Kierkegaard, who said “purity of heart is to will one thing.” It struck me.

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