I was recently able to ask Derwin Gray a couple of questions about his new book, HD Leader. Derwin L. Gray is the founding and Lead Pastor of Transformation Church, a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, mission-shaped community with two campuses in South Carolina (Indian Land and Rock Hill), both just south of Charlotte, North Carolina. Transformation Church (TC) also has two campuses in South Carolina Correctional Institutions (Kershaw and Lee). For three out of the last five years, TC has been recognized as one of the top 100 fastest-growing churches in America by Outreach magazine.
Pornography is a problem. Chuck Swindoll says that "Pornography is the greatest cancer in the church today." I believe it. The more people I counsel on a regular basis, the more I see the harmful affects of pornography in the church today.
A study recently conducted by the Barna Group in the US showed that 63% of men 18-30 view pornography several times a week. Think about that. More than HALF of the young men you see everyday look at porn multiple times a week. Between March 1999-2001, Alexa Research examined 10 of the leading search engines and the #1 search was 'sex' with 'porn' being ranked #4. This is especially true of men. Studies show that men are 543% more likely to look at porn than females (that wasn't a typo: 543%).
Now what? Porn is all around, many in the church are enslaved by it, and there seems to be no way out. A statement I hear time and time again in the people that I counsel through this is 'When the desire comes, I feel that I have to look at porn.' Maybe you have experienced this yourself or have heard someone make a statement quite like it. So, is porn just inevitable for the Christian man or woman?
There Is Hope
Read the words of Ephesians 1:3-4
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him."
As Christians, God has not only chosen us to be His before the foundation of the world, but He has chose us to "be holy and blameless before him." Wow! What a wonderful truth. God has called you and I to holiness. So here is the question: Does God command ends without providing means? By no means! "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who has called us to his own glory and excellence." You know what this means?
There is hope.
By placing your faith in Christ and His taking of your sin on the cross and being raised from the dead to show that He has power over sin and death. Through that Gospel (good news) and the Holy Spirit in you, you never have to look at pornography again.
"Through the Gospel and the Holy Spirit in you, you never have to look at pornography again."
After understanding the powerful resources God has given you through the Gospel to say no to pornography, you must now move toward an understanding of WHY you desire to look at porn. When you desire to look at porn, it is because you have a greater desire for your pleasure in porn than God and your pleasure in His glory. This is always the case. It was CS Lewis who said, "Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak." But yet, "We are far too easily pleased [with other things]."
"When you desire to look at porn, it is because you have a greater desire for your pleasure in porn than God and your pleasure in His glory."
Our minds need to be renewed (Rom. 12:2) by God's Word. We need to be meditating on the Scripture and memorizing the Scripture so that we can fight temptation to look at porn with God's truth (Ps. 119:11, Ps. 1). Even more practically, you need to fight pornography by doing three things: First, removing time you have for it. Secondly, close off all access to it. Lastly, demolish your desire for it. Every time you look at porn it is because you have time for it, have access to it, and have a desire for it. Therefore, you need to work on erasing all access to it and any time you may have for it right now while you work on erasing your desire for it. The great hope that we have as Christians is that through the power of the Gospel, you can get to a place in your life where you have access to porn, but no desire for it.
"The great hope that we have as Christians is that through the power of the Gospel, you can get to a place in your life where you have access to porn, but no desire for it"
What Do I Do Now?
So what do you do now? Here are three things I recommend:
1. Take radical measures in cutting off all access to porn.
I highly recommend Covenant Eyes for this. Covenant Eyes is a web filter that incorporates accountability. It tracks every website you go to and sends a detailed report to the person you choose as your accountability partner. I have it on every device that I own!
2. Find a spiritually mature person of the same-sex to walk with you through this.
Find someone and open your heart to them. Tell them your struggles. Pray with them. Meet with them often. Remember, "The one isolates himself seeks his own desire and breaks out against all sound judgment" (Prov. 18:1).
3. Serve others.
If you are not already, become a member at a local church. Serve people there. Get involved and use the gifts God has given you to serve His church. Do it often. This will fill up your schedule and deplete time that you would have to be tempted by porn alone.
Once again, understand the power that you have in the Gospel. God is for you in this battle. And remember, if He is for you, who could ever be against you? (Rom. 8:31).
There is a question every one of us asks at some point in our lives: What will happen when I die?
While we ask this question to ourselves in the privacy of our thoughts, it is a question that has seemed to disappear around the water cooler today. Not many people talk about death. What is the reason for this?
A Scary Perspective
Perhaps it is because for the average person, death is feared. It is so uncertain why death happens and what happens after death that it is better to not even talk about it! For some, it may be that death is scary. The thought of 'disappearing' from existence all together is a thought that is best to be kept to self rather than bringing despair to those who dare ponder it. However, a reason I believe to be why many do not talk about death has nothing to do with curiosity, fear, or worry. I believe the reason many do not talk about death is because they assume the end result of death.
According to LifeWay Research, 67% of people believe that heaven is real place. This figure includes those who are openly Christian and those who are not. Out of this pool of people, 40% believe that heaven is a reality after death even for those who do not place their faith in Christ. In other words, 4 out of 10 people today believe that you go to heaven when you die, regardless of what religious standing you have. To put it plainly, nearly half of the world's population assumes heaven is a place where everyone will end up after death, but is this true?
"I believe the reason many do not talk about death is because they assume the end result of death."
What Does The Bible Have To Say?
So what does the Bible have to say about this assumed entrance into heaven? In Philippians 3:20, Paul says that "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." Paul is clear this there is a certain group of people, of which he states himself to be part of, that have their citizenship in heaven. What does this mean?
If you are going to travel to another country you know that you will need a passport. The passport is what enables you to be qualified and accepted in the land to which you are traveling. Those who receive their passports can rejoice in their citizenship of that land long before they they even arrive there because they have been given a way to go. This is the very thing Paul is saying. There is a select group that has been given a passport or acceptance into heaven. Therefore, these people "wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."
This verse alone, as well as many others found in the New Testament, dispel the argument that everyone is a citizen of heaven. The question now is who is this select group of people that Paul belongs to?
Citizenship In Heaven
Who can gain citizenship in heaven? Who gets to go to heaven? Jesus Christ gives us an answer in John 11:25-26, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die." What is He saying? Jesus tells us that there is life after death for those who believe in Him. This means that citizenship in heaven is not earned, it is gained through Christ. How is this possible? Read these words written by the Apostle Paul, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Whenever we do not live in submission to what God has commanded, we sin. Because of this sin we suppress the truth (Romans 1) and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Because God is holy and of infinite worth, He demands that sin be paid for. Because of His holiness, those who have sinned pay the price for their sin by being separated from God forever in a place called hell. This is what happens to us all after death.
"Citizenship in heaven is not earned, it is gained through Christ."
If We All Deserve Hell, Who Goes To Heaven?
So we are back to the original question, if we all deserve hell then who goes to heaven? Jesus once again provides us with an answer, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus is the way to heaven because Jesus paid the price for sin. The select group of people Paul talks about in Philippians 3:20 are those who have turned from their sin and placed their faith in Christ. This demolishes the idea that those who get to heaven are those who do 'good things'. The passport you and I need to get to heaven is given to us through Christ when we place our faith in Him.
While many people think that heaven is a default destination for all people after death, Jesus makes it clear that heaven is reserved for those who have repented of their sin and trusted Christ as their Savior.
This month's book giveaway is sponsored by Crossway. The purpose of Crossway has been, from its founding as a not-for-profit ministry in 1938, to publish gospel-centered, Bible-centered content that will honor our Savior and serve his Church. We seek to help people understand the massive implications of the gospel and the truth of God’s Word, for all of life, for all eternity, and for the glory of God.
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October is Clergy Appreciation Month. This a month where you are encouraged to show your appreciation and thanks to those who help lead and guide your church in their pastoral positions. You may be thinking 'how do I do that?' Being a Pastor myself, I have a couple tips and ideas that you can implement this month to make your Pastor(s) feel appreciated:
Write A Card
As simple as it sounds, I am always thoroughly encouraged when I receive a card from someone within my church. It communicates to me that the person giving me the card thought about me enough to take time out of their life to sit down and write me a card. Fill the card with reasons why you are thankful for them, ways you have learned from them, and even something you are praying over them.
Give A Gift
One of the things I enjoy is going out to eat. What better way to bless a pastor or ministry leader than to give them a gift card to a local restaurant? Find out where they enjoy eating and buy them a gift card to that place. Put it in a card and write a special note that encourages them to enjoy a night away. They will be grateful that you did and feel very appreciated.
Call Them And Pray For Them
Out of everything a member of my church could do for me to show their appreciation for my service to them and Christ, there is nothing they could do to encourage me more than to just pray over me and my family. What encouragement would your Pastor have if you called them up and said 'Pastor, I know you are busy, but I want to just pray over you for a few minutes. I appreciate you'? Schedule a meeting with your pastor without telling them what it is about. After you arrive at the meeting location with them, tell them why you appreciate them and pray over them. There is perhaps nothing you could do to encourage them more than praying over them in person.
What other ideas do you have to encourage your Pastor(s)? Comment and let me know!
In a study done by the Christian Post in 2011, 61% of Christians ages 18-24 said that having sex before marriage isn't all together wrong. One student was asked what her basis was for her belief. Her answer: "How will you get to know someone fully and intimately before you marry them?"
However, because I am constantly working with college students in the local church, this doesn't surprise me. Biblical sexuality has been and is being attacked on all fronts today. From pornography, to the movie industry, to social media, Biblical sexuality has been given the choke hold around the world today.
With that being said, I want to encourage the Christian in a dating relationship who is reading this that purity is possible. However, it will not be easy. Because of the cultural onslaught and the physical urges that you are experiencing, it is often easy to be deceived into thinking that purity is not possible. So, for those who are struggling to honor God in their relationship and lives by living pure, let me give you some helpful advice...
Radical Holiness Calls For Radical Measures
I think sometimes we deceive ourselves into thinking holiness is easy. It isn't. Striving for holiness in a relationship takes work and can be painful. With that being said, if you want to be pure in your relationship you need to take drastic measures. Make it your aim to not be alone together in any context. Refuse to 'get alone'. Set boundaries for how long you are out together. These things may seem extreme, but the reward of holiness is far greater than the fleeting pleasure of sin. Set boundaries and stick to them.
Fill Your Mind With What Is Pure
Turn off Netflix and get into your Bible. Memorize Scripture. Study God's Word. Read thick theology books. Fill your mind with truth. I see so many college-aged students waste so much time filling their minds with what is absolute junk. The result is that their worldview and how they view sexuality gets shaped more by Netflix and Hollywood than by God's inerrant word. Get a plan together for how you are going to take in more Truth and do it!
Open Your Heart To Another Mature Christian
Find someone of the same-sex and build a relationship with them. Meet with them and share your heart. Tell them about the struggles you are having with living pure. Pray with them. Learn from them. Do not trust yourself to live pure on your own, "The one who isolates himself seeks his own desire, he breaks out against all sound judgment" (Proverbs 18:1).
Remember, purity is possible. Share life with others, have accountability, fill your mind with truth, and set up boundaries. Holiness is not easy, but it is worth it.
My friend Tony Reinke from Desiring God recently wrote a great post on what it means to enjoy the things God has given you. I have copied the article below. View the original post here.
Take an inventory of your life. What do you own right now? Whatever possessions you have are no accident, and not a product of mere happenstance.
At the micro level, Jesus promises to care for even the minutest everyday details, like pocket money and food and clothes. As we see in Scripture, in these small possessions, God calls us to live with moral standards because we are susceptible to sinning our way into big problems (like unreasonable consumer debt). God calls us to be wise with money and to work and live economically fruitful lives, and to be careful with our possessions.
At the macro level, all wealth distribution and re-distribution is the work of our sovereign God (Ecclesiastes 5:18–6:2). All of our possessions are his, and he gives (and takes away) as he sees fit. God makes the poor and he makes the rich (1 Samuel 2:7).
So how does God decide to distribute wealth in the lives of his creatures? This plays out in many different ways.
-God may give you many possessions, but not give you the power to enjoy those gifts — a great tragedy (Ecclesiastes 6:1–2).
-God may give you accumulated wealth, and give you the power to enjoy those gifts — a great blessing (Ecclesiastes 5:19, Proverbs 10:22).
-God may give you possessions, but through future persecution, he may take all those possessions away from you in the end (Hebrews 10:34).
-God may call you to a life of unalleviated poverty (2 Corinthians 6:10; 8:9).
-God may give you a life of wealth (2 Chronicles 32:29).
-God may give you a life in the middle — neither poverty nor wealth (Proverbs 30:8).
-God may bless you with great wealth, then take it all away and reduce your portfolio to ash, and then restore you with doubled wealth (Job).
-God may make you wealthy and then call you to voluntary poverty in order to show the world that he is your greatest treasure (Matthew 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22).
-None of these situations is normative, if God sovereignly dispenses possessions to us as he sees fit (which he does). When it comes to possessions, our experiences will vary greatly. But no matter how much (or how little) we possess, there are four things that will help us rightly enjoy the gifts God has given us.
1. Money is temporary.
Money existed before us, and it will exist after us, too. The streams of commerce have been flowing for millennia, and one day we will be gone and the currents of economic stimulus will flow to the next generation. We exist in time with money and possessions, but everything of value we own will be passed on to others.
Which means in a very real sense, money is temporary. It carries the face of a Caesar or a president to remind us its value is as temporary as world rulers and the rise and fall of nations. So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
In other words, the Christian is called to possess all things as though we don’t possess anything (1 Corinthians 7:30). Hold the money, use the money, save the money, steward the money. But also recognize the cash in our wallets is the Monopoly money of this present age. The cash itself has no eternal face value.
We entered this life with empty hands, we leave it with empty hands, and to live in the middle with a lust for cash is like holding a sharp dagger backwards and gutting our own souls (1 Timothy 6:6–10).
This is true of cars and houses, too. C.S. Lewis said the secret to genuinely delighting in one’s own house is through sacrifice, through a certain crucifixion of the self’s relationship to it. We sacrifice our house, we release our grip on it, and then it becomes an object of joy. When it comes to possessions, true delight is found on the other side of disinterest (Letters 2.788).
The takeaway: We don’t boast in our possessions; we boast that God possesses us (Jeremiah 9:23–24). Here our stewardship comes into focus. Material blessing is our temporary stewardship, but delighting in God and his gifts is our true and eternal vocation.
2. Enjoy your possessions now.
As we have seen, we don’t always know what God is doing in our lives when it comes to our material possessions. He has different plans for us all. But he intends all of his children to enjoy the gifts he has given us. If you have pants, a shirt, and a sandwich you can be content in life, and if you can be content with a little, you can enjoy God’s goodness to you in every one of the millions of simple gifts he gives to you every day (1 Timothy 6:8).
In fact, few things in this life are better than to enjoy your life and the good gifts from God in a spirit of fear and obedience and faith toward God (Ecclesiastes 8:15; 9:7–10; 10:19; 12:13).
If you are prone to grumble more than express gratitude, pray and ask that God would give you the power to enjoy his gifts rightly — a gift in itself. As the book of Ecclesiastes makes clear: One of the rarest and most precious gifts is the gift of enjoying our daily gifts.
3. Enjoy your possessions by sharing them.
The man who cannot enjoy God’s good gifts every day is often the man who wrongly thinks he must own gifts before enjoying them.
We don’t have to own something to find joy in it. Beautiful art is intended to be shared in museums and galleries, not to be locked in the secluded basement of a billionaire. The delight of exclusivity is a delusion — a false delight.
Christians get this. The delight of sharing is what drove the early church to share everything they owned (Acts 2:45; 4:32; 1 John 3:17). They gave money. They cared for the poor. They helped the missionaries. A group of wealthy women funded gospel work (Luke 8:2–3). There is a special delight in our possessions when we don’t think of them as “mine” but make use of them to increase the delight of others.
4. Enjoy what you do not own.
Finally — and perhaps the whole reason why I wrote this article in the first place — God calls us to enjoy what we can never possess.
I cannot own many of the greatest gifts God has given me. I do not own my wife; I do not own my kids; I don’t own my time, or the oceans, or the rain, or the sunshine, or the majestic mountain ranges — certainly not in any sense in which I own my minivan (my name is on the title).
The man who loves the ocean so much that he sells all that he has and buys a beachfront property with his own private sand and closes it off from others so that he can exclusively use it is the man whose joy will die by exclusivity. He cannot enjoy possessions because the possessions possess him.
On the other hand, the man who buys beachfront property in order to freely share that property with his friends and family will find his joy doubled. By his seaside generosity, this man will bless many others in great ways.
But perhaps the most blessed of all is the man who doesn’t need to own beachfront property at all. He has learned to enjoy every beach in the world for its sheer beauty. He is freed from the desire to enjoy only what he possesses. This seems to be the way Romans 1 pushes us to contemplate. To be truly human is to express a Godward gratitude in the delights of creation.
And if that is true, then we discover that what it means to delight in this world is a category that explodes all the categories of what the world promises us in possession.
Old Tom Bombadil
The beautiful literary example of a man who delights in what he doesn’t possess is found in the character Tom Bombadil, tucked into the early storyline of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In the epic unfolding storyline, Tom Bombadil is a mysterious figure who is quick to laughter and who seems to live in a blessed state of joy. But his life also bears no impact on the central drama that is unfolding around him. (Thus, Tom Bombadil never appears in the movies.)
Tom’s role in the overall story is subtle and easy to miss. Early in the journey, Frodo and company wander into his lands, into a respite of joy in stark contrast to the darkness they would soon face.
“Who is Tom Bombadil?” a curious Frodo later asks Tom’s wife, Goldberry.
“He is the Master of wood, water, and hill.”
“Then all this strange land belongs to him?”
No, indeed! The woods, the water, and the hills that fill Tom Bombadil with delight are not his to possess — they are his to tend and to enjoy.
To be sure, Tom is not an allegory against owning property, nor is he an allegory for passivism. As Tolkien also makes clear, it will take warfare against Sauron to stop the encroaching evil in order to preserve the lifestyle that Tom and Goldberry enjoy.
As if we need the confirmation, Tolkien makes it clear in his letters that Tom is an intentional enigma. Tom incarnates a contrast. Tom represents a soul that has been freed from the greed of possession in order to delight in created beauty. He has renounced control and therefore finds the means of power to be valueless, too. As a result, Tom Bombadil can hold Frodo’s great ring of power with no danger to himself or anyone else. The ring wields no power over Tom because Tom has no interest in possessing the power of the ring.
When the lust for possession is broken, when gratitude takes its place, and when one can simply delight in the glories of creation, then some of evil’s darkest schemes in the human heart are broken.
Tom Bombadil is a model of delighting in what we do not possess, and then of sharing what we do possess — like dinner fellowship around the yellow cream, honeycomb, white bread and butter at his table. May we shine like such glad-hearted, grateful enigmas in our own world.
You remember the movie Like Mike?
The movie centers around a kid wanting to play basketball like Michael Jordan and through a series of supernatural events, he is given incredible gifts to play the game of basketball. We all have someone we want to be like. Someone that we look at, compare ourselves to, and wish that we could be like.
So the question now is who do I want to be more like?
Who is in my life that lives in such a way that I wish I could emulate their character, giftings, and attitudes in my own?
The answer for me is easy: My wife.
Day in and day out I see her pour out grace and love into the lives of all that know her. The way she continually cares for and prays for people is admirable and worthy to be raised as an example to us all. She serves with a heart of great joy knowing that she is meeting needs outside of herself. The way she forgives me every time I sin against her or do something wrong displays the love and forgiveness of God in a way that I have never experienced before. Her 'Rejoice always' attitude in all circumstances is something I fall so short in and wish that I could emulate.
Friends, I love my wife. I adore her. I want to be more like her.
Who is in your life that you want to be more like? Tell them. Watch them. Learn from them. Encourage them. Let us not be shy in following after the great examples of godliness that God has given us to grow in grace.
I am a Husband to Clarissa, Pastor at Liberty Baptist Church, reader of many books, and tweeter at @brad_merchant.