Category Archives: Community

Spiritually Healthy Habits: Serving Others

spirit health by Stuart Miles

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

I serve the homeless every month with my church. I love doing this for many reasons, but I wasn’t always keen on serving others. I used to believe that serving others meant I could just serve my family, friends, and church community and call it a day. Or that it meant that I could just donate money or needed items and never have any kind of hands-on experience. Then I went on my first mission trip. I took a team of youth to Kentucky to fix up a shelter for women and children. “This will be easy,” I thought. We are just fixing up a house…anyone can do that. But I soon realized that our tasks consisted of more than just painting, gardening, and cleaning. We were to work alongside women and children who had lost everything—they were homeless and hurting, sometimes physically. At the week’s end, one woman showed her appreciation by giving me the boots right off her feet.

Serving others goes is a tricky subject in Christianity, because it entails so many different things we could do! However, here are three things that serving others should do for us if we want to truly reap its benefits:

  • Serving others should stretch us. Serving our family, our friends, and even people we don’t like is definitely a call that God puts on our lives. We should seek to serve everyone. Serving others should make us uncomfortable. It should put us in positions that we haven’t normally been in, because then we rely on Christ instead of our own strength! I could easily claim that I go home and serve my family by helping my disabled uncle. But that is comfortable to me, even though it’s a pain. What makes me uncomfortable is going to the homeless shelter, traveling to a foreign country to teach God’s Word to persecuted believers, and serving in prison ministries. But those are the exact things we are called to do. Jesus says in Matthew 25:35-45 that when we stretch ourselves to serve others, we are actually serving Him and growing in Christ-likeness.
  • Serving others should humble us. There are few things more humbling than to accept the gift of the shoes off of a homeless person’s feet. I had thought that I was going to serve others and show them God’s love; but in fact, I was the one who was served and shown the true love of God. It reminded me of the story of the widow’s offering that Jesus noted in Mark 12:41-44. I had gone to Kentucky believing I was giving out of my wealth, believing that my offering of time and talents was pleasing to God—and they were. But this woman at the shelter, much like the Biblical widow, joyously gave to me out of her poverty, insisting that I take one of the few possessions she had. I have never felt so small in light of God’s love. But that is what serving others should do for us.
  • Serving others should change us. The stretching, the humbling, the discomfort—those are the things that truly change us by decreasing the amount of “us” in us and increasing the amount of Christ in us. So while serving others shouldn’t ever be about us, in many ways is IS about us. It’s about changing our perspective, challenging our ideals, and choosing to trust God. If God’s goal is to remove us (not improve us), then serving others is one of the best ways to achieve that. Jesus put Himself in the servant’s position and encouraged us to do the same to increase the power of the Lord in our lives (Mark 9; John 13; Matthew 23). When we are decreasing self, we give God more room to work and move through us. And nothing could change us more than increasing the power of the Lord in our lives!

If you want to see lasting change happen in your life, practice the spiritually healthy habit of serving others. Get yourself out of your comfort zone and into a place where you truly have to depend on the Lord’s strength and power! You won’t regret it!

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Spiritually Healthy Habits: Meeting Together

spirit health by Stuart Miles

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

A couple of years ago, I was disgruntled with church in general. I wasn’t mad at anyone, and I had just finished up an incredible Bible study in a neighboring town. However, I couldn’t really find a church where I felt comfortable, so I just stopped going. In the process, I also stopped hanging out with my Christian friends. I started hanging with a non-Christian coworker and doing things that I knew weren’t right: drinking more, hanging with her friends while ignoring mine, flirting with married men. I was in a downward spiral. And then, before I knew it, I was dating a married man. Luckily, I told one of my Christian friends what I was doing (without remorse, sadly), and she gathered some prayer warriors to intercede for me. Within a couple of months, the relationship had fallen apart and I was back in church, repentant.

Meeting together with other Christians is an important piece to being spiritually healthy! Here are three benefits of consistently meeting together with other Christians:

  • Meeting together with other Christians keeps us honest. It’s so important to meet with other Christians so that honesty remains an integral part of our lives. Other Christians can be a spiritual thermostat in the midst of your thermometer moments. That simply means that when your feelings or emotions are rising or plummeting (thermometer), other Christians who know the Word can keep you grounded (thermostat). Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) tried to hide their sin, but the truth eventually came to light because they were in fellowship with other believers. In my case, had I been hanging out with my Christian friends during that time, they would have told me from the beginning to stop flirting with and hanging around with married men. They would have been praying for me specifically for purity in all areas. They would have reminded me of God’s truths amidst the world’s lies.
  • Meeting together with other Christians makes us more Christ-like. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Real friends will sharpen you. I found that I was dulling down as a Christian when I spent time with my non-Christian friend. I didn’t feel challenged to be a better Christian; in fact, I hardly ever spoke about God around her. I had to ask myself if I was being a good friend to her, because I wasn’t even challenging her beliefs or ideas. However, in contrast, when I hang around with my Christian friends, most of the time, I am challenged by them in all my attitudes and actions. They are not asking me to be more like them, they are challenging me to be more like Jesus. And as a Christian, nothing makes me better than being more like Jesus in every way.
  • Meeting together with other Christians gives us encouragement. We all need encouragement in our lives, and for Christians, our encouragement comes from many places—but rarely does it come from the world. Hebrews 10:25 says that we should “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another.” As the world gets crazier, we need to be reminded and encouraged of many things: Jesus’ peace, the eventual return of the Savior, the end of suffering, a final victory. In addition, sometimes we simply need encouragement about our true purpose and calling and how our current situations are defining that. While the world can encourage us in some ways, our Christian brothers and sisters can reassure us in all of those ways—because they know Jesus. Christians can inspire each other because the Truth has already set us free.

If you are out of Christian fellowship right now, I’d like to urge you to return to your church or small group. There’s nothing the devil loves more than to separate us from God, and one way he does that is by separating us from each other. You can begin practicing spiritually healthy habits, but you can’t do it alone—so start by meeting together with some Christians this week!

The Porn Identity: Being Nothing

ID-10056400We were sitting in my living room on Valentine’s Day. “It’s just not working out anymore.” He was breaking up with me, and I could barely comprehend it. All I could think was…”I need to make him stay. He needs to stay, because if he doesn’t stay, I won’t have anything. And I’ll be nothing.” Over the next few weeks, I bargained with him, I got angry, and I was super vulnerable. I contemplated giving more of myself sexually to him, and even told him that I would do that if it would make him stay. But he didn’t. And when it was finally done, I fell into a deep depression that lasted for weeks as I struggled with another aspect of having a porn identity: being nothing.

My mom taught me to “treat others as you want to be treated.” But after overcoming an addiction to pornography, I realized that while the porn identity tells us how we view others, the most important thing it tells us is how we view ourselves. Here are three things the porn identity has told me about being nothing:

  • The porn identity said that I was nothing without a significant other. In a culture that readily accepts pornography as normal, it should come as no surprise that there is a focus on being with someone else. This is part of the porn identity that I still struggle with; being a single 37-year old woman is difficult in a couple-driven society. Back then, I focused too much on having a boyfriend/husband and not enough on having strong relationships with others, which left me feeling very alone when things didn’t work out as I planned. But God reminds me that He created me for relationships with others—not just one marriage relationship, but relationships that challenge me and sustain me outside of having a significant other. It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18)—in any capacity. I am to be in a community, not just a coupling.
  • The porn identity said that I was nothing without sex. When my efforts for finding a significant other came up empty, pornography reminded me that having sex was the most important part of the relationship anyway. I remember thinking of ways to please God while still pleasing the growing sexual frustration within me—believe me, folks, this is not possible outside of marriage. It led me down a very dark and hurtful path that I would never recommend, one where I used my body to define my worth instead of using the Word. But God reminds me that sex, while an important part of marriage, is a tool, not a defining factor. That is why sex is meant for the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4). Outside of marriage, it defines you instead of being a tool to complement a marriage. In order to not become defined by sex, I am to view sex in its proper perspective—God’s perspective.
  • The porn identity said that I was nothing. If not in a relationship, if not an object to be used for someone’s pleasure, then what was I? Pornography answered loud and clear: I was nothing. I wavered between feeling like nothing because I wasn’t in a relationship or getting married like my friends, and then feeling like nothing because I was failing God by struggling with my desires and fantasy/pornographic thought life. But God constantly reminds me that even though I fail Him, I am still His child. And being His child is everything (1 John 2)! That means I have favor, honor, blessings, glory, and most of all—LOVE. Because I have the love of the Creator of the universe,  I am to love and treasure myself, so that I can love and treasure others (Mark 12:31).

These days, I’m actually okay with being nothing—because God has said I truly am no thing. Instead, He says I am an original, amazing, beautiful human being that He has given passion and purpose to be used for His glory. And so are you! So reject the porn identity’s suggestion that you are nothing, and accept that you are everything to God—and watch your quality of life go from nothing to something!

What’s Missing From Sex: Intimacy (Part 2)

This blog series is following my church’s series, “What’s Missing From Sex” as my pastor preaches about a topic the church has mostly avoided. This particular post goes with the second sermon in the series and can be found on my church’s website here. I urge you to listen! The sermon begins about 16:00 minutes into the video.

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image courtesy of ponsulak / freedigitalphotos.net

He really didn’t know anything about me. Not because we hadn’t spent time together, but because I had not really shared anything with him. We had met and become friends through an Internet chat room about hockey. And while he was nice enough, he did not understand my struggles, and he did not know about my past. Mostly, even though he claimed to, he didn’t share any kind of spiritual connection with me—he was a non-practicing Catholic, and I was a Protestant youth pastor. He didn’t understand my desire for a personal relationship with Jesus, but I wanted so badly to be loved, I ignored our lack of true intimacy and believed that if I just gave in a bit sexually, the intimacy would come. He was my first boyfriend as an adult, and I just wanted to make it work.

Intimacy has been defined as “in to me I see.” When I think about that definition and about the men with whom I’ve been sexually intimate, I realize there was always something missing. Our culture has done a great job of valuing the physical act of sex, but not given much to valuing intimacy itself. We know about everyone’s sex tapes, but very little beyond that. It is almost like we are scared of being intimate with each other, afraid of being seen and known. As my pastor noted, this type of intimacy that we long to experience—being fully known and loved for who we are, faults and all—cannot be separated from sex. And here are two things my past has taught me about the intertwining of sex and intimacy:

Physical nakedness is not complete without spiritual or emotional nakedness. Have you ever noticed that when you leave a sexual relationship, you don’t necessarily leave with physical pain but instead have emotional pain? That’s because sex cannot be separated from intimacy. We cannot give or get sex in order to give or get intimacy. I have tried to do this many times: with my first boyfriend as mentioned above; with another non-Christian man when I was out of community with other believers; with a couple of hook-ups in college. In each case, I thought that I could get the intimacy I desired by giving of myself sexually. Every time, the result was brokenness, because intimacy is not just physical, and sex is more than just an act. This lie that “sex is just a physical act” pervades our culture. But let me assure you: when you connect your physical body to someone else in the act of sex, you are connecting to them emotionally and spiritually whether you realize it or not. Sexual activity with another person creates a soul tie with them, a physical, emotional, and spiritual tie that God created for a special circumstance.

Complete intimacy—spiritual, physical, and emotional—happens in only two places. The first place and best place for you to find total intimacy is with Jesus Christ. Being seen and known by the One who created you is one of the most precious gifts you can get. And not only did God create you to be in complete intimacy with Him, He also created the one place where you could find total intimacy—including sex—with another human: within a godly marriage. The intimacy between a man and a woman joined together in marriage under God was meant for this total and complete union of the body, soul, and spirit. How do I know this? God calls the church “His bride”—He uses that imagery many times in Scripture (Isaiah 54:5, 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:25, etc.) because He wants to be as close to us as a bride and groom are to each other. He wants that complete spiritual, physical, and emotional intimacy that is reserved for marriage to be prevalent in His relationship with each of us.

Are you looking for total intimacy? Look no further than Jesus Christ. He not only can see you the way you want to be seen, but He can teach you how to find deep connections with others while reserving total intimacy—especially sexual intimacy—for your godly marriage.

The Struggle Is Real: Community Calls

I had attended church my entire life. I had known Christian community—I had close friends in college, I had worked in the church forever…and yet I was still struggling with issues related to a pornography addiction I had years earlier. I knew that to get the healing I needed, I had to find true, authentic community. And I knew I couldn’t find that on Facebook, Twitter, or social media. Instead, I had to step away from the computer and boldly into a place where I could find the face-to-face accountability that I needed to move forward out of addiction.

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image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

These days, it is easy to “find” community online—to say that we are talking to others, relating to others, and being honest with others because we are connecting with others through social media. But putting all my “junk” into an online forum, staying behind a computer screen, and remaining anonymous and “unknown” were not the things that helped me find health and healing. Instead, I began attending Celebrate Recovery at a local church, where I joined a small group step study designed for intimate community and intricate healing.

Here are three reasons why it’s important for women who are struggling with pornography and sexual addiction to find real, face-to-face community with other believers:

  • Community breeds vulnerability. You’ve noticed it yourself: you’re not likely to confess yourself to a bunch of strangers (unless it’s online). You build trust and relationships by spending time with others—and you have to do that to build community. In person, you want to find someone who you know well and can trust with your deepest darkest secrets. This is one reason the Bible encourages us to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:24-25). Spending quality time with other believers regularly is an important step in dealing with our struggles.
  • Vulnerability leads to confession. The more time you spend with others, the more you will want to share with them. As I went through my Celebrate Recovery step study, I began to trust the women who were there. At the beginning, it was hard to “go first” in sharing our secrets and pain—there is always some hesitation in going first or sharing at all. But by the end of our ten months together, we were freely sharing all of our struggles with each other. So don’t just find community, allow yourselves to be vulnerable in your community—because this will breed an authentic atmosphere where confession flows freely.
  • Confession brings healing. Upon graduating from our step study program, we wrote notes of encouragement for each of our study members. One of my study members wrote to me, “You shared your struggles with brutal honesty—and that is why the healing is so strong.” I have kept that in mind as I’ve continued to share my struggles and pain with my Christian community. Confession always leads to healing; how much we confess will determine the amount of healing we experience. I have quoted James 5:16 many times on my blog, but here it is again, because it is such an important verse: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for each other, so that you may be healed.” The Bible is right: true healing requires confession.

Finding community and staying in community can be difficult because any community contains sinful humans. But the Bible encourages us to stay in community with others—not just because it teaches us to love others more, but because of the healing we can receive in the process. Authentic, Christian community is calling you: will you answer?

How has being in community helped you to be more authentic about your struggles?