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Journey of Sexual Purity

Title: Journey of Sexual Purity
Artwork by: Ross Boone (@rossboone)
Description: 
These images depict some of the emotional dynamics of trying to resist temptation. For me, it applies to my struggles with masturbation and my past struggle with pornography. But the same process drives other temptations like alcohol, over-eating, or even bingeing on TV shows.

I believe that God can use our struggles to help others. So as I have dealt with my temptations, I’ve tried to note what helped and what didn’t. I hope that you or someone you love can learn or benefit from these illustrated concepts.

 

Sometimes, when we slip and fall into temptation, the guilt and shame we feel drive us to do it a few more times. As a result, we completely “fall off the wagon” and find ourselves unable to get up again.

So whenever we’re tempted by sin, it helps to remember that more may be at stake then just one little slip.

 

 

On the journey of resisting temptation, we will slip and make mistakes—but not everything is lost if we can learn from them. Even though it sometimes feels like we are falling back to square one, it helps to remember that what we’ve learned through every mistake can strengthen us and help us go further.

 

 

The choice to abstain from a temptation can feel a bit like carrying a burden. Sometimes I feel weighed down by it and have found myself thinking, “How could I ever carry this forever? Let me just put it down for a while.”

But if I picture it (purity) as a burden that is meant to be carried, because it keeps me focused on who God wants me to be, I almost enjoy carrying it!

 

 

When does a first look become more than just a look? My mentor used to tell me, “The first look is free”, but if we do not catch ourselves at this point, we may not realize that letting our eyes linger can create inappropriate desire, discontentment, and eventually cause us to indulge in what we’re trying to resist.

 

 

We often think that one little vice isn’t really that bad. But that’s because we don’t see how it could lead us away from a glorious, satisfying righteousness towards the slippery slope of a self-indulgent life with less self-discipline.

 

What It’s Like to Celebrate Christmas Around the World

Ever wondered how Christmas is celebrated all around the world? What are some traditions we all have in common, and how do different countries add their own twist to certain customs?

This Christmas, we asked four of our contributors from different countries to share about the special customs and traditions that are part of their Christmas celebrations.

 

China: The Best Time to Share the Gospel

Written By Kim Cheung

 

 

 

When I was growing up in a small city in China, very few people knew what Christmas is or celebrated it. But in recent years, thanks to the rise of commercialism, it’s becoming trendy to celebrate Christmas. However, it’s merely an opportunity for the merchants to promote their goods, and for young people to date and have fun with friends.

Rather than enjoying family time and having delicious food (which we do on Chinese New Year), we’d take Christmas as a time to do evangelism. We still love Christmas because it’s a time for us to celebrate the best news in the world—the birth of Christ.

For my church, Christmas is a great opportunity to share the gospel with non-Christians. We would usually host an event on Christmas Eve in the church and prepare some performances, including Christmas songs, dances, and live shows.

The whole event normally lasts for two hours and there will be a short sermon on who Jesus is or why we celebrate Christmas after the performances. Preparations for this event often took a month or even longer, but the focus of the whole event is for spreading the gospel.

After that, some of us would head downtown (where many people go) to hand out gospel tracts. Christmas is the best time to do this since people would be more likely to be more open to hearing about the gospel and accepting Jesus as their Savior. These activities take up most of the night, and we’d go home super late on Christmas Eve. So in some ways, Christmas might be the most exhausting time of the year.

This year, crackdowns on Chinese churches have made it harder to host Christmas activities. Therefore, we need to be super cautious when we invite people to our Christmas Eve services and share the gospel on the streets. But no matter how tough the circumstances may be, we should still seize the opportunity to share the Good News. After all, we are doing this to please the Lord and not men.

 

Nigeria: Sharing in the Spirit of Generosity

Written by Debra Ayis

 

Growing up in a Christian family in Nigeria introduced me to many traditions associated with Christmas. From as far back as memory can take me, I remember Christmas being my favorite holiday of the year—maybe it was the food, the community, or the fact that I knew I would get a brand new custom-designed dress to mark the celebration.

Christmas was a huge affair. Though separate regions in the country celebrated it differently, it was a time of warmth, family, and friends, and of course celebrating Christ our Savior.

In north Nigeria where I was born, there’s a rich mix of Christian and Muslim households. My favorite tradition out of many was the custom of exchanging food with our Muslim neighbors.

To me, this tradition embodied the Spirit of Christmas—the spirit of generosity. It was normal to find families cooking and preparing delicacies days before Christmas, generous offices would provide an unfortunate cow for slaughter to share amongst its staff members.

Each household would carry their haul of meat to be fried, cooked and integrated into different meals such as jollof rice, fried rice, white rice and stew, pepper soup, meatpies, pumpkin stew called miyan taushe (soup for masa or rice cakes in English). There was also an abundance of drinks and snacks such as the zobo drink made from sorrel or roselle flowers, chin-chin, cakes, biscuits, and buns.

Come Christmas morning, kids would pour out of their houses like soldiers on a mission, bearing baskets and trays stacked with food in their parents’ most expensive ceramic and china serveware.

They would make their way to each non-Christian neighbor’s house and offer them a dish. As expected, the neighbors would receive the meal and hand the kids candy, money, or a present as a Christmas gift. After delivering the food, the kids would head back home, change into their very best clothes in honor of Christmas and proceed to church for the morning service.

Like most families, my family would return home after church service to receive a deluge of visitors or we would head out to visit relatives and friends for the day. To a lot of Nigerians and to me personally, Christmas is a wonderful time to reconnect with family, friends, and neighbors. But more importantly, it is a time to reflect on the year gone by and a time to be thankful for the gift of Christ, life, and community.

 

Australia: Santa Visits Down Under in Board Shorts and Flip Flops

Written By Madeline Twooney 

 

Christmas time in Australia was a special time of the year for me, especially as it takes place in the summer. Now that l live in Germany, l appreciate having a white Christmas, but l still miss spending Christmas Day relaxing by the pool in my “cozzie” (swimsuit) or making “sandmen” at the beach.

Every year, my mum decorated our house and the garden with wreaths and Christmas trees, as well as shrubs called Christmas Bush and festive lights.

A beloved tradition that really put me in the Christmas spirit, was sitting in front of the telly with my family to watch a live broadcast of a carol concert called Carols by Candlelight. Even though I had yet to give my life to Jesus at that point, we also attended our own carol service in church on Christmas Eve. Australians love to sing Christmas carols!

I love Christmas Eve, as it brings back childhood memories of me believing that Santa, wearing boardshorts and flip-flops, would be delivering my Christmas presents in the night while l slept. I would lay out cookies for him, as well as carrots for his six white “boomers”, or kangaroos, who pulled his sled.

On Christmas Day, our family opened presents in the morning and then we would go to church for a Christmas Day service.

At lunch time, our family and friends would join us for a Christmas meal, which we eat outside in the garden.

My dad would fire up the grill and we would have a “barbie”, with juicy steaks, marinated king prawns, and chargrilled lobster. We would eat them with cold salads and my absolute favorite dessert—the pavlova—which is a meringue-based dessert topped with whipped cream and fresh seasonal fruit.

After lunch and a nap, it’s pool time! We chill, swim, or have pool fights on floaties until the sun goes down around 10pm; it’s the perfect end to a perfect Aussie Christmas!

Now that I have relocated to Germany and also received Christ as my Savior, Christmas is a different affair for me. This coming Christmas, my husband and l are hosting my best friends, who are visiting us from Berlin. This year has been particularly challenging for all of us due to health and other issues, and l look forward to taking this time to share with my friends the love and victory that Christ has given me.

 

America: A Bright and Festive Celebration for All

Written By Ross Boone

 

 

In the US, Christmas is celebrated as a national holiday—so it’s fun and heartwarming to see how the entire nation gets into the spirit of Christmas.

Shopping malls start pumping Christmas music into their stores pretty soon after Thanksgiving. And I love it. Christmas is a time for warm scarves, rosy smiles, being with family, snuggling by a fire, and of course all the presents—and it’s hard not to want to be infected by the spirit of it all.

When I was a child, one of my favorite traditions was when we’d get together with another family and drive around the neighborhoods looking for Christmas lights strung around houses and trees. Whenever we saw a house strung with Christmas lights we’d exclaim, “Ooh la la!”

Sometimes we’d see almost life-size nativity scenes outside of these houses or churches. These days, a lot more families are displaying blow-up Christmas balloons of Santa, reindeers, elves, presents, and even Disney characters in their front yards.

When I spot a block with a series of houses that are disproportionately brighter and more scintillating than the blocks around it, I assume dads are getting competitive!

This time of the year, a lot of people also watch Christmas movies. A couple of the ones my friends and I like are Home Alone (with MacCaulay Culkin) and Elf (with Will Farrell). I just watched The Polar Express with my nephews and nieces, which was based on a book we loved to read when I was their age.

I grew up in Denver, Colorado, which is in the middle of the US, but now I live on the south-eastern corner, in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve celebrated Christmas in non-denominational churches, Presbyterian churches, Episcopal churches, and Anglican churches. And they’re all lovely.

I’ve recently been introduced to a new tradition in my church. It is called “Lessons and Carols”. It is an hour-long presentation of readings and songs. The readings are from the Bible and tradition, and they tell the stories that start with Genesis and leading up to Jesus’ birth. These stories are interspersed with related Christmas carols, and it is such a beautiful way to remind us of the real, and most important reason for the season, and to get excited about celebrating Jesus’ birth.

 

As you celebrate Christmas this year, may your hearts be warmed by the knowledge that regardless of the way we celebrate our Christmases, Jesus was born so that we may all be part of one big family in Him.

Why I Stopped Trying to Earn God’s Love

It started out great. She liked me and I liked her. We hugged and held hands and spent entire Saturdays together. It was great for about a month or so. But then I said something that triggered a downward spiral.

One day, I mentioned that it had been a hard day, and that I could really use a good hug when we met up. Then I added, “Sorry, I feel a little bit like a needy middle school girl.”

She bristled at the word “needy” and said that it made her uncomfortable. I had only meant it as a joke, but she has had bad experiences with needy guys, and was watchful for any neediness I might have. I reassured her that no, of course I didn’t mean it like that. But we soon discovered that something was lurking beneath my actions.

The further my girlfriend backed away, the more I tried to earn back her affections. I drove 40 minutes to her house whenever she had a rough day. I made her gifts and brought her milkshakes (which I knew she loved). I did all sorts of nice things for her. But if I’m honest, it wasn’t necessarily because I liked her that much. It was because I wanted her to hug and hold me again, I wanted to feel loved again.

Wanting to feel loved isn’t necessarily bad. But I knew something was wrong when I realized that every time I hung out with her, I left angry. I would go out of my way to do nice things for her, but she still wasn’t giving me her affection in return.

Of course my anger made her want to give it even less. She really just wanted to hang out with me and have fun, with no obligations. This eventually broke our relationship, and in our last conversation as a couple I realized what I had been doing. I was trying to earn her love, and I resented her when she didn’t give what I felt I had earned, and it was a big part of what soured the romance.

I’m not sure where my desperate desire to be loved stems from. But I’m guessing most of us have some element of this need and insecurity in our relationships, perhaps even in our relationship with God.

 

Love First, Then Obey

When we want to feel that God loves us, we often try to behave better so that He’ll love us more, or so that we can earn something from Him. For example, I try to abstain from lust because I think that maybe God would bring me a better wife if I did. But is that really the right reason for “obedience”—doing something for God so He’d do something for me? Is that really love?

As my relationship with my girlfriend fell apart, I remembered that God said in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” We don’t love God so that He will love us. We love Him because He already loves us. I was relieved but also a little convicted. My attempts to obey were basically an effort to earn something from God, instead of simply loving Him.

So how can we show our love for Him? 2 John 1:6 says, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.” Our obedience isn’t how we earn God’s love—it is an outpouring of the love we already feel for God. So God doesn’t merely want us to obey, He wants our love. That’s pretty cool.

Like a parent, God encourages us to good actions because He knows it will bring us a better life. After God lovingly and miraculously delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He had Moses tell them, “Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you. . .” (Deuteronomy 6:17-18).

God is saying, I want you to obey Me because it will make a very good life for you. We obey God not so we can earn His love, but because we know He loves us, and we trust that He gave us these commandments for a good reason. Obeying God’s commandments doesn’t mean that we will avoid all trouble or persecution, but it helps us avoid the natural consequences that irresponsible actions and sinful living can bring upon us.

In fact, a few verses earlier, we have what Jesus later cites as the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). The commandment is simply to love God! But then you may ask, how do I make myself love something?

 

Hang Out With God

In the verses immediately following, we are given some specific instructions that seem to be placed right after the command in order to help us foster that love in our hearts. We are told to put God’s words before us and around us, and to talk about them always (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

God just wants us to hang out with Him and enjoy Him! For me, this sometimes means reading the Bible during little breaks, putting verses up around my room, and bringing up what I’m learning in my quiet time when I talk to my friends.

It’s like what my ex-girlfriend wanted. She just wanted someone to be with her, do life with her, and hang out with her. She didn’t want to be obligated to love me just because I was trying to earn it. When we read those verses in Deuteronomy, this sounds like what God wants us to do as well. Just hang out with Him, think about His words, and talk about Him with others. Maybe this is the right way to foster our love for God, and obedience comes naturally because we love Him.

But even in a worldly relationship, we don’t always feel “in love” with someone, yet we still treat them in a loving way. And we should try to do the same for God. So even when we don’t experience the mountain-top love of God at a given moment, or when our heart doesn’t automatically motivate us to stop sinning, we must still try. Because we know that, even during those times we’re not super excited about a relationship, we still love the person—and God—and we don’t want to hurt them.

When I don’t feel that passion, I try my best to wait faithfully until it returns. It also helps when I surround myself with God’s Word and other people who love him. At the end of the day, I trust that God’s love is always waiting for me. Even if I walk away in a moment of weakness, God is always waiting for me to return and again enjoy His love.

My attempts to earn what I want from people will probably be something I struggle with throughout my life. But acknowledging that it is my struggle helps keep me aware of it, so I can intentionally focus on enjoying God’s presence and fostering my love for Him again.

 

Pure Joy

Title: Pure Joy
Artwork by: Ross Boone (@rossboone)
Description: James 1 says to consider it pure joy when we have struggles because it is building perseverance into us. I made this picture to help us visualize how what seems like a burden may actually be a huge gift with which god is equipping us for something in our future.