SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Directing Desire (Distorted Desire)   Matthew 5:27-30

If you have your Bible, turn to Matthew 5.  We’re continuing our series of the Sermon on the Mount.  We are about six messages in.  Let me give two disclaimers as we begin this morning.  Number One — You got a service guide when you came in and it has an outline to follow along with the message.  You can make a big ‘X’ on said outline and flip it over.  There are three days between when I made that outline and today and God’s done some different things in my heart and soul in that amount of time, so I want to be true to where I sense God leading us.  Secondly, we are going to be dealing with an issue this morning that may be an issue that has more pain surrounding it than anything else in our culture, and the by-product of it has destroyed many lives and many marriages.  I want to take as pastoral an approach as I can to this difficult subject, but I also want to hit it head on because I believe Jesus wants to bring some freedom this morning, and I believe the Scriptures want to invite us to live more in the kingdom of God, and I believe that’s possible for us.  So let’s pray and ask that God would invade this space of our hearts and minds and lives.  Spirit of God, we ask that you would do what we cannot do by will power alone.  Lord, we don’t want the enemy’s voice of condemnation in our ear, so we rebuke that voice.  Lord, we do receive your conviction, in order to lead us to a better way.  Lord, help us to discern those two voices in our own hearts and minds, and let us move in line with your Spirit as you lead us to life.  We pray this in the name of Jesus, and all God’s people said. . . .Amen.

When I was 10 years old, I had a friend of mine invite me to go to his parents’ beach house in Oceanside, California.  We were good friends from school, so my parents let me go.  He had this tent in the backyard, sort of on the patio of their beach house, and we were sleeping out in the tent.  I can remember vividly him grabbing a stack of Boys’ Life magazines and us walking into the tent.  He told his mom that we were going to be looking at the Boys’ Life magazines before we went to bed.  In addition to the Boys’ Life magazine, there was a Playboy magazine tucked in.  I can remember for the very first time in my life seeing pornography.  I’m almost three decades removed from that, and I can tell you, those images are still with me.  They did something to me.  They messed with me.  They imprinted themselves on my imagination.

That’s not a unique story, and it’s certainly not a unique story for kids growing up in today’s day and age, where pornography is a $97 billion industry world wide.  $97 billion industry!   Somewhere between 10%-30% of our vast internet is consumed with pornography.  That’s probably on the low end.  Catch this:  90% of boys and 60% of girls are exposed to internet pornography by the age of 18.  Pornography sites attract more than Amazon, Netflix, and Twitter combined.  There’s even a song in a Broadway musical entitled, “The Internet is for Porn.”

Here’s the question I want to ask:  On a fundamental human level, why is there a market for this?  Why do these things exist?  $97 BILLION INDUSTRY!  WHY?   Because you and I, as human beings, were designed for intimacy.  We long for it.  It’s wired into the fabric and fiber of our beings.  There’s no person that walks the face of the planet that doesn’t long for intimacy.  You can go back and read about it in Genesis 1-2; Adam and Eve being wired for life together, and sin fractures that.  Instead of being naked and unashamed, they’re hiding and covering themselves.  Originally, they’re designed to walk with one another; it’s wired into the DNA of being human, nobody escapes it.  But when those desires go awry—-and they have—-when those good, God-given desires get distorted, we start using what God intends for intimacy and we start turning it on ourselves and start using it for gratification.  But the desire’s still there and the desire is still good.  God’s design for intimacy is carried by our desires.  The desires are part of what make us human.  It’s not even necessarily our sexual drive that makes us human, it’s our drive for intimacy, our longing to be known, to be valued, to be loved.

So what happens when a good, God-given desire gets distorted?  What happens when it gets off the rails and when it goes wrong?  You DO know that one of the enemy’s greatest tactics in our life is to take what God’s designed for good and to twist it and use it for evil.  What happens when the good, God-given design gets distorted?  Let me put it another way:  What happens when our soul gets unhealthy?  What happens when our heart gets sick.  Here’s what happens:  We turn love into lust and people into objects.  Jesus has strong about that.  Let’s let this rest on us.  Remember, let’s try to engage without the voice of condemnation, but with an invitation to conviction.

Here’s what Jesus says:  You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.”  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  Now, you may not hear this kind of stuff talked about a whole lot in church, but Jesus addresses it very head on, nearly two thousand years ago.  Can we all just take a moment and admit that maybe our methodology has changed a little bit, but the motivations of the human heart have remained the same.  Yes?  This is a word we need to wrestle with today.

“You’ve heard that it was said,” Jesus teaches, and what he’s doing is he’s falling in line with where Dan led us last week.  He’s addressing six commands that the Old Testament has held up.  He’s inviting people to a new way of wrestling with this.  He says it’s a righteousness that surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees.  “You’ve heard that it was said….”   Where did they hear it said?  As part of the Ten Commandments.  It’s commandment number seven:  You shall not commit adultery.  ‘But I tell you, Jesus says,’ and his point is you can be technically true to honoring the command and still have a heart that’s rotting on the inside, and still have a sickness that’s unaddressed.  Jesus wants to teach people what ‘fulfillment’ of the law, or a righteousness that surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, actually looks like.

How many of you have seen one of these pictures of an iceberg taken from underwater?  Anyone?  I think it’s a good image for Jesus’s ‘you’ve heard it said’ statements.  You’ve heard it said, “You shall not commit adultery,” and we can sort of place that on the top—that’s what we can see.  You can check that one off pretty easily, and you can go either I have or I haven’t done that, but Jesus wants to get underneath.  Jesus wants to get to the core of our humanity.  He wants to get to the reason that anybody would commit adultery, and he goes there’s something going on in your heart and your life.  There’s something beneath the surface.  He goes, let’s talk about THAT thing.  Let’s not just talk about the behavior and the action, let’s talk about the heart.  Let’s talk about the motivation.  You do KNOW that EVERYTHING you DO, EVERYTHING you think, every action you execute, comes from your heart.  Proverbs 4:23 says it well:    Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.   There’s no such thing as an “Oops! That wasn’t me! That was completely unlike me!”  Have you ever said that to yourself?  Do you know what Jesus would say?  No, no, no, that’s exactly like you!  Do you know why?  Because you did it.  We often want to run from that, and we want to try to polish it up, and say that’s completely unlike me, and Jesus says no, no, no, unless you actually look at who you’re becoming, you will never change the rhythms of your heart.  You can keep covering that up and keep relegating it to the side, rationalizing it, justifying it, theorizing it, but it is you.  You know why?  You did it.  And that’s okay.  For out of the heart (Jesus says) come evil thoughts—-murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.  (Matthew 15:19)  Jesus wants to address those things head on, but the first thing you want to realize is these are all coming from underneath.  They’re coming from a soul.  They’re coming from a heart that’s grown sick from desires that have gotten off track.  Good, God-given desires gone astray. 

Now, I think it’s going to be helpful for us as we engage this text to take a moment to try to wrestle with what Jesus is NOT saying.  Here’s what Jesus is not saying and I want you to lean in because we get this twisted oftentimes and it takes us to some strange places.  Jesus is NOT teaching that our sexuality is bad.  He’s not teaching that our sexuality is wrong.  He’s not.  God is the designer of our sexuality.  It’s his idea.  There are parts of your body that they’re only purpose is to serve for physical pleasure.  And God goes, that’s all me.  I wired that into you, that was my idea.  You’re welcome.  Jesus is not saying our sexuality is wrong.  It’s God’s design.  God is not anti-sex.  He’s the most pro-sex being in the universe because he’s the designer of it all.

Jesus is NOT saying that an acknowledgment of beauty is wrong. There are some people who are very physically attractive.  {You’re welcome.}  You do know that beauty is a culturally influenced thing.  Aaron Bjorklund was telling me that when they (Journey Corps) were getting people ready to send to Africa, they told them, “You just need to realize that in Africa many of the women are going to be walking around without shirts on and that’s just a thing there.”  It’s not a sexual thing for them.  Ankles are a thing, so make sure you wear socks, because you don’t want to cause men to stumble.  Shirt: optional; socks: not optional.  That’s in Africa, not here.  Jesus says listen, we were all created in the image of God and acknowledging beauty in other people is not wrong.

Thirdly, he’s NOT saying that temptation is sin.  In the book of James, James makes this very clear:  But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire {Desire that’s gone wrong} and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin (James 1:14-15)    Certainly temptation can lead to sin, but it doesn’t necessarily.   In fact, the Scriptures are really clear to say that Jesus was tempted in every way and yet was without sin (Heb. 4:15).  So that initial attraction, that desire for another person, can be stopped at that point without it becoming sin.

So here’s the question:  What IS Jesus saying?  Let’s look at what he says:  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.   This is the NIV version; I think the ESV gets a little closer to what’s going on in the original in the Greek.  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.    There’s three words that drive what’s going on in this part of the text.  The first is the word ‘look.’  There’s multiple words for ‘look’ in the Greek language.  The word that Jesus uses means to look with the intention of holding on.  You could almost picture it as tracing somebody’s physical body with your eyes.  That’s what Jesus is talking about.  Not just to see, but to look and to hold on and to trace.  There’s another word in the Greek, it’s the word ‘pros.’  It’s not translated into the NIV, unfortunately.  It’s a causal statement.  It means ‘to look with the intention to.’  That’s a really important part of what Jesus is teaching.  He’s talking about a choice someone makes to look and trace with the intention to. . . .and then he says lust.   It’s sort of a church word; we don’t hear it much in our culture anymore.  It’s a churchy word.  It’s a compound word meaning to hold onto or to imagine or you could even translate it to focus on.  The second part of that compound word is with passionate desire.  So, in Jesus’s terminology, lust is a desire to possess.  It’s an intention to dominate.  Which then inflames to a coveting desire.  So when a man lusts after a woman, he takes the mystery of personhood and reduces her to a consumer item and covets her as a thing, rather than a person.

Jesus is talking uniquely and specifically to men, so we’ll teach it as such, but I just want you to know that pornography/lust is not just a male issue, you know that right?  Even recently it’s become more and more a female issue in our culture, in our day, in our time.  I don’t know if that would’ve changed the way Jesus taught it, if he were teaching it today, but he teaches it uniquely to men in this situation.  Maybe for women who are a little less visually-inclined, it might read something like. . . .a woman who lusts or passionately desires after a man, she usually covets riches, or power, or fame, or things like that.

What’s going on here is not only a desire that gets off track, but a God-given imagination that we all have.  Really, it’s a beautiful thing.  It moves culture forward.  Imagination is why we have rockets that go to the moon.  It’s why we have all sorts of inventions all around us.  It’s because people have the ability to dream up new things.  But you do know that that good, God-given imagination has the ability to take us to some dark spots too. Jesus is saying that that’s what’s going on.

One more side note about what Jesus is NOT saying — he’s NOT saying that lust and adultery are equal.  He’s not saying that they’re the same thing.  Don’t flatten what Jesus is saying and equate lust after a woman and doing something horrific to a child.  Those are not the same thing.  And Jesus isn’t teaching that they are.  He’s saying they both come from the same place, and that an unhealthy heart {here’s what Jesus is teaching} turns love into lust and human beings into objects for gratification.  That’s the pattern.  It’s a heart that gets unhealthy or fractured by sin, we have a distorted desire, and then, instead of loving somebody, we lust after them and sort of identify them as a gift from God and carrying the image of God.  We objectify them and then use them for our own gratification.  But, underneath it all, it’s this longing for intimacy.    Here’s the way G.K. Chesterton put it:  “The man who knocks on the door of the brothel is really looking for God.”  That’s the longing.  That’s what’s underneath.  There’s a great book I highly recommend if you want to look into this further.   It’s by Michael Cusick called “Surfing for God,” and he plays off of this idea.

Friends, the truth of the matter is that you and I live in a day and a culture and a time where we couldn’t be on more different pages than Jesus.   Because Jesus says no, no, no, war against lust, and we say no, no, no, just go with it.  It’s no big deal.  It’s identified by the reality that you cannot find somebody outside of religious circles who talks about the damage that lust causes in the lives of people.  It’s not even in our public vernacular anymore.  You mention it to somebody who’s not a follower of Jesus and they’ll look at you like you’ve grown a third eye.  It’s not a part of our public discourse anymore. 

Let me do some cultural diagnosis with you.  In the 1960’s we had the sexual revolution.  It was a movement of “free love.” The mantra of the sexual revolution was do whatever you want, with whomever you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody.  But I don’t think we stopped long enough to recognize whether or not we’re hurting ourselves, and whether or not we’re actually hurting the people around us.  I don’t think we’ve thought well enough about that truth.  So now, in our day and time, you have, this month, ESPN just released their “BODY” issue of their magazine.  It’s sort of soft porn.  It’s not explicit, but it’s definitely a gateway drug.  We have “Game of Thrones” which is one of the most popular TV shows on television.  I’m not here to heap guilt on you, but it was popular, so I hopped on to watch it.  I made it through half of an episode and thought, “This is essentially pornography.”  And it’s one of the most popular shows we have right now.

Just this last week, a website entitled “Ashley Madison” sent to USA Today their list of cities that “had the most member signups per capita” during a 2017 period.  Any guesses what Denver ranked?  Second.  It has 50 million members today.  Their tagline is the “global leader for affairs.”

So we’re going to go a little bit deeper into this.  Take a deep breath.  A little while back, I read an article in Vanity Fair magazine—because that’s the way I roll.  The article was entitled “Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse.”  The subtitle was “As romance gets swiped from the screen, some twenty-somethings aren’t liking what they see.”  Listen to a few of some quotes from people.  We just need to get into this world, because I realized I was blissfully ignorant of a world that most of our young adults are growing up in.  The author is interviewing people who are in a New York nightclub.  One response:  “With these dating apps,” he says, “you’re always sort of prowling.  You could talk to two or three girls at a bar and pick the best one, or you can swipe a couple hundred people a day—the sample size is so much larger.  It’s setting up two or three Tinder dates a week and, chances are, sleeping with all of them, so you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year.”  He goes on to say, “A lack of intimate knowledge of a potential sex partner never presents an obstacle to physical intimacy.”  We may know each other’s name, but that doesn’t mean we can’t hop in bed with each other.  One guy says, “I sort of play that I could be a ‘boyfriend kind of guy’ in order to win women over, but then they start wanting me to care more. . . .and I just don’t.”  In February, one study reported there were nearly 100 million people—perhaps 50 million on Tinder alone—using their phones as a sort of all-day, every-day, handheld singles club, where they might find a sex partner as easily as they’d find a cheap flight to Florida.  “It’s like order food,” says one guy, “but you’re ordering a person.”  The article goes on to say that there’s a deep lament in the souls of the people who are in this world, going it’s not getting the job done.  It’s not satisfying.  There’s this soul loneliness that we’ve entered into, and we’re having a hard time recovering from.  They call it the ‘dating apocalypse.’

We’ve equated love with lust.  But listen to the way the Scriptures define love, and then imagine how different this is from what you’ve just heard.  Love is patient {not immediate}, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  {It’s not self-seeking, which everything I read in this article was self, self, self, me, me, me, more, more, more….  Honestly, you guys, that’s the anthem of the lustful heart.  If you get underneath it all, it’s the crying out for me.}  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)   Here’s the core human problem Jesus is addressing:  We use what God intends us to love and we love what God designed to be used.  Think about that for a moment.  We use what God designed to be loved and we love the stuff. . .the physical possessions.  We’re patient with those.  We’re kind with those.  We keep no record of wrongs with those.  But, those weren’t designed to be loved.

What Jesus is pushing back against. . . .because remember all of this is in the context of how do we live life in the kingdom of God?  How do we live life under the rule and the reign of Jesus?  Jesus is saying that it’s impossible to live in His kingdom when we objectify his crown creation, which is humanity.  Let me say that again.  It’s impossible to live in the kingdom of God when we objectify his crown creation.  Human beings.  But I do think we’re starting to see the cracks in our prevailing modern-day philosophy.  I think we’re seeing the cracks in people raising their voice in this #metoo movement saying, “No longer will we be silent when people run their desire and lust to the extreme and take advantage of other people.”  So 81% of women surveyed would say that in some way they’ve been sexually harassed in their lifetime. . . .43% of men.  You had this explosion at the end of 2017 with the #metoo movement of people raising their voices and going, it’s not okay, we’re breaking the silence.

I think we’re seeing the cracks in it, in people like Jeff Brodsky and Joy International and a number of great organizations around the world, who are fighting and advocating for the ceasing of child trafficking.  Praise the Lord.  Remember, those all come from a heart space that’s convinced that it’s all about me and I can objectify God’s crown creation without it affecting me at all, and use what God intends us to love.

I think we’re seeing the cracks in the rise of things like Pornography Induced Sexual Dysfunction (or erectile dysfunction).  It means someone’s watched so much pornography that they’re no longer stimulated by a live person.  It’s a thing.  It’s a popular thing.  I didn’t do enough research on this so I’m just going to throw it out there—who knows where the development of Artificial Intelligence and our sexuality and our desire for lust. . . .who KNOWS where that’s going to head.  That’s the new frontier after swiping and dating apps and we’ve just got to start addressing it on a heart level, you guys.  We’ve got to start addressing it on a heart level.  I think the theme song for the rising generation is “I can’t get no satisfaction.  I try and I try and I try. . . .and I’ve tried EVERYTHING and I can’t get no satisfaction.”  The reason is because those desires were designed to be challenged in one direction and we’ve driven off course.

Jesus has strong words for this in this next section (which we’ll get to in just a moment).  He describes THAT reality—the heart that’s consumed with lust—as hell or ‘Gehenna.’  If you’ve been in the position where you’re actively fighting against lust and you don’t seem to be winning, you read Jesus’s words and go, “That’s exactly what it’s like.”  It’s like a fire on the inside that I just can’t put out.  We’re waging war on our own souls and we’re winning, or losing, I guess, depending on how you look at it.  

If you’re asking, “Okay, Paulson, I agree, and what should we do about it?” listen to what Jesus says:  If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)    Now, I just did a brief survey, when you guys walked in, most of you have both eyes and both hands.  Which I just want to affirm is a good thing.  We’re not having a station in the lobby where we’ll cut off your hand and surgically remove your eye.  That’s not what Jesus is saying.  Oftentimes we say, “We take the Bible literally.”  Have you ever heard somebody say that?  Did they have both eyes?  Just sayin’.

I think it’s better for us to say rather than we read the Bible literally, we read the Bible intelligently.  We try to figure out what Jesus is saying.  I think what Jesus is saying is hey listen, if you could address lust JUST by tackling physical things, here would be your methodology—pluck out your eye, cut off your hand.  But if Jesus was being serious about this as a methodology to combat lust, he forgot one body part that you could cut off that would deal with most of the problem.  Just. Sayin’.  It’s not what he’s saying.   It’s a Hebrew idiom that you can read again in Matthew 18:8-9.  I bet he sort of chuckled after he said it.  Like, you guys, all have both eyes and both hands, he says to the Pharisees, but even that wouldn’t work.  That wouldn’t work.  Because the problem is on the inside.  The problem is deeper.  Now, you can’t just “cut it off,” as he says, and solve the problem.

I think the bigger question is how do we become the kind of people free from lust?  What does it look like for us to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus?  Because Jesus is for freedom, Jesus is for intimacy, Jesus is for the value of all people.  Jesus is for healthy, vibrant, life-giving sexuality, not the cheap substitute that we often settle for.  If we read this and go, the goal is to avoid adultery—not Jesus’s goal.  If we read this and go, well, the goal is to not lust. . . .how many of you think a game plan to not lust is I’m just going to try really hard not to lust?  Has that worked for anybody ever?  I haven’t met him yet.  So what do we do?  ‘Don’t do it’ doesn’t seem to be cutting it.

Everything flows from the heart, but let’s step back and ask the question how do we shape and form our heart so that what flows from it is the life that we long for?  I know this is a struggle for many people—statistically, many people in this room right now.  So allow me to enter into your life a little bit, and without the guilt and the shame that the enemy wants to heap down on us, let’s enter into this with the sense of conviction and say, “Jesus, where do you want to poke?  Where do you want to prod at my heart and my soul, to lead me forward?” Here’s what it looks like, I think, to fight for our heart, because Jesus is saying that we should take it seriously.

I think, first, we’ve got to admit that in some ways ALL of us are sexually broken.  This isn’t a unique thing for some people; this is a human reality in a broken world.  It comes out, it exhibits itself, in different ways, but we all carry wounds, and we have to be more aware of what’s going on in our heart and our lives.  We can’t just be carried along with desire without ever discerning if it’s healthy, if it’s God-given.  We’ve got to become aware that there’s probably some things from our past and there’s probably some things from our present that bring about some semblance of brokenness in our life, and we’ve got to bring those things to God, instead of just, as Jeremiah 2:13 says, digging cisterns that won’t hold water, we’ve got to bring them to God and bring our brokenness to him.  {Look up at me for a second.}  He can handle your brokenness.  He can handle it. . . .as dark as it is, as painful as it is.  He’s God, he can handle it.  That’s first step in the journey.  All healing comes through honesty.

Second, here’s what the Scriptures teach:  Flee from sexual immorality.  In 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, Paul’s writing to a church that’s primarily made up of people that are coming out of cultic, prostitution, religious practices.  You had people who served as prostitutes in the temples to the pagan gods.  You had people who would visit the prostitutes in the temples to the pagan gods, and now they’re called the church.  That might be a little messy.  Here’s Paul’s advice to them, here’s his command:  Flee from sexual immorality.  All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.  Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your bodies.   Here’s his point:  Do not think that your will power will overcome your circumstances.  Don’t think that your will power will overcome your circumstances.  There are certain things that we do that just lead us—they’re like the pathway into falling.

Here’s some for me.  I just know that on Instagram, I cannot push that ‘Search’ feature.  I can’t.  It’s a rabbit hole of destruction for my own soul.  I know I can’t do it.  For some people, it may be that you need to get some nanny software on your computer.  For some people, it might mean you start thinking through whether or not you should actually have a smart phone.  I know you don’t think you could live without one, but for some people, a dumb phone may be the smartest idea you ever have.  Here’s the way Martin Luther said it: “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

Third, here’s what we do.  We cultivate healthy intimacy.  If you’re married, the Bible commands you to have sex with your husband or your wife.  It’s a command.  In 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, Paul would say:  Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.  {Then he gives the reason for not depriving each other.}  ….so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.  The Scriptures are saying just KNOW that what you do with your physical body has an influence on your spiritual life, number one.  And KNOW that when you’re deeply satisfied in a relationship with your spouse, the devil has less room—he still has some room—to attack.  So, part of your practice may be to have more sex, if you’re married, okay?  But also recognize, within this passage, the enemy attacks us when we’re weakest.  My guess is, if you’re married, the time you’re most tempted is when you’re fighting with your spouse.  If you’re single, the time you’re most tempted is when you’re struggling with loneliness, the desire to want to be married or want to have somebody you share that with.  To single people in the room, I would say the same thing applies—cultivate healthy intimacy.  Friendships.  Relationships.  Know when you’re tempted and fight it.

Finally, and I think most importantly. . . .I’ve chosen to put this last because we’re going to come to the table in a moment.  The best thing you can do to keep your soul healthy is worship.  The best thing you can do to fight against lust is to remember who Jesus is and to discipline your soul to worship him. . . .in good seasons and in bad.  The Scriptures clearly say:  We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)  If you want to love God more, remember his love for you more.  Friend, you are a child of the Most High God.  You are deeply loved.  You are deeply cherished.  You have been made holy by his grace and his mercy that’s been showered down on you.  The person who walks in the most freedom is the person who has the most confidence that they’re loved.  Not because of anything that they’ve done.  Not because of anything that they’ve earned.  Not because they can check so many boxes because they’ve gone so many days without doing fill-in-the-blank.  That’s not why!  That’s not it.  We feed on the reality that we are loved simply because we’re called children of the Most High God and we have been showered down by his grace.  That’s it!  If you’re struggling with lust, remember that you’re loved.  Then remind yourself again…and again…and again…and again, because that is a slippery truth.

So what do we do?  We’re going to come to the table in just a moment, but maybe today is just a time of saying, Jesus, this has gotten into my heart and soul and I don’t want it there.  I want to bring it to you.  Do you know one of the best spiritual disciplines you can embrace if you’re struggling with lust is fasting?  Because we remind our soul that our body doesn’t control us.  We start to rewire parts of our brain to go no, no, I don’t need that.  I can feed on something a little bit different.  So maybe you’ll say you’ll hit this head on and fast.  Or maybe we go a little bit different direction and say, I’m going to participate in the Barefoot Mile coming up on July 21, in order to advocate AGAINST where this leads.  It’s a discipline to say I want to engage the issue.  The best thing I can tell you is feed on divine love.

People, for 2000 years, who call themselves followers of Jesus, have been coming to this table to remind themselves that in the midst of the battle, in the midst of walking around the wall thinking it’s going to fall and it doesn’t, in the midst of the struggle, that they are still people that are loved.  The ploy of the enemy is to heap guilt and shame on us, to try to tell us we AREN’T loved and it just goes deeper and deeper and deeper down that downward spiral.  As you come this morning, remember that you are loved.  The table is open to anyone  who says they’re a follower of Jesus, who’s repented and entered the kingdom, giving Jesus their life, making Him their rabbi and their Lord. The table is open to all who would come.  Let’s pray.

Jesus, we do. . .we take this teaching of yours seriously.  We want it to rest on us, with a sense of weightiness, but not weightiness that brings condemnation.  Weightiness that brings conviction.  Would you do heart work in our lives this morning as we come to your table?  Would you remind us who we are?  Would you remind us whose we are?  Would you lead us to the freedom that we have in You?  We love you, Jesus.  It’s in your name we pray.  Amen.