See Part 1 here.
See Part 2 here.
See Part 3 here.
See Part 4 here.
I wish I could tell you I intended for this particular part of the story to fall on Easter Sunday, but honestly, I’m not planning very much. On the day Jesus rose from the dead, three days after he died on the cross for our sins, I felt it was important to clarify something.
I promised God I’d worship him. I promised him I’d testify. I wasn’t foolish enough to say I’d stop sinning. I can tell you how afraid I was. I told my brother at some point during the events I’ve already discussed, “I’m afraid to do anything. I’m afraid I’ll mess up, and God will punish me.”
That fear is still current even as I type this weeks later. The two greatest temptations were that of rage (I feel wrath would be an overdramatic word) and lust. While I tried to keep my calm and professionalism, I went into my command chaplain’s office one day because I’d realized I was gripping my podium, ready to literally (I’m using that word correctly) throw it across the room. I can’t even remember what happened at this point. Even as I reminded myself that whatever the student did was normal, I had to admit that I was angry. I was furious. I spoke to a few friends, and even considered asking about removing myself from the class. I realized I wanted to fight someone. I’m not being metaphorical. I honestly, truly, wanted someone to give me a reason to get into a fight. To help you see the perspective, I want you to understand that I’ve always felt physical violence was the most disgusting thing ever. If we can’t reach a point where words and calm discussion can’t resolve simple matters, we’re animals. For me, feeling that desire, honestly wanting to do that, was a warning flag for me.
So I went to my chaplain. The fact is I felt powerless, and I wanted a fight I could win (or at least could fight). I talked to him about it.
“Peter put away your sword,” he said.
That quote is given in both John 18:11 and Matthew 26:52. Most of the time, I talk to chaplain already knowing I’m wrong. I’m just looking for guidance on how to fix myself. I already had a few plans in place. My team knew what was going on and where my head was, and they have a good feel for me. It’s been weeks since that day, and while my temper has been tested, I haven’t so much as shouted. This is because of an extreme amount of prayer and a team of great people who know when to tell me to take a walk. At one point, one coworker even brought me my favorite feel-good food, a cookie with hot chocolate. The point is, I felt those desires. Sure, it’s great I didn’t act on them (well…didn’t I? See below); but we sin with our minds every bit as much as we sin with our body. I struggle with this so much. On my best day, I think about sin a lot. Remember folks, sin is a much broader term than we’d like it to be. Being judgmental is a sin. Pride is a sin. I’m not (nor have I ever been) walking around plotting Darth Weechus levels of evil, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think things I know I shouldn’t.
At some point in this part of the story, my girlfriend was texting me. On my best day, I think texting is stupid. Texts annoy me. At that point, I was waiting for a call regarding my mom’s condition and well being. I was actually also in the process of typing the first part of this very story. She invited me over to hang out with her friends.
What I felt was temptation. I didn’t want to go hang out with her friends (I knew they lived near her). I wanted to go over there and bury my sadness and rage in lust. It felt like a test, which isn’t something I handle well. I frankly called her and lectured her for a solid hour or so. I did that. Sure, I asked questions and let her give her side, but I didn’t listen. I had already (in my mind, and in my mind only) figured out what her angle was.
By that point, I felt like I was the rope in the world’s most competitive tug of war. It was a challenging time for my students. My girlfriend and I were already fighting our natural desire to be intimate. Oh, and my mom was sick. So I handled it poorly. We talked. I still handled that poorly. Then, after I had a few days to think, pray and talk to the chaplain, I got to the place I needed to be. My fears and emotions are as valid as anyone’s. The way I articulated and addressed the miscommunication was simply wrong on every level. I apologized, and my girlfriend and I have since done an outstanding job of talking before things become too emotional to handle. We worked out a better plan, and I was honest. It’s hard to be around her without wanting to have sex with her. This would be hard in any situation. In this instance, the temptation is that much stronger because it would feel good to lose myself in lust to forget my fear.
All I’d have to do is forget the fact that I told God I trusted him to handle this.
My number one head-scratcher in the world of faith is the idea of our salvation.
The easy math:
Believe and accept that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins, and I’m in. Most people I know do a great job with those deadly sins and such. Me, I was single for 38 years. I struggled with lust before I had a girlfriend. Before I met her, I’d been out with another woman who I’d actually had sex with. Before I met my girlfriend, I’d think every night. “All I have to do is ask.” That might not literally be true, but I felt confident if I asked, it would happen.
Now I have someone who wants me every bit as much as I want her, but the fact is if we’re together before we get married, we’re sinning. I’m not going to stone anyone who had sex. (Remember above how I said I’d had sex only a few months before meeting the wonderful woman I’m with now? I’d had sex before that too.) I’m just saying I knew it was wrong when I did it, and I didn’t want to be wrong anymore.
That’s not accurate. I absolutely want to be wrong. And that’s where the struggle is.
The question: Does salvation remove temptation?
That day, the chaplain gave me a lot of comfort by telling me that’s not true. It’s hard to believe. You see, my boss is the most devout man I’ve ever known. I’ve seen people do down-right wrong things to or around him (work related). The guy is unflappably calm. Now the chances might be he’s just way (waaaaaaaaaaaay) better at controlling his emotions than I am. I am, for the record, the worst at doing that. I need space. I need time to “feel.” I can find my professionalism, but I’d rather stop shoving it in a drawer until I need it.
I want to be the same way with my faith. My new quote (I like those) is that, “I wish the decision to do the right thing eliminated the temptation to do the wrong thing.”
It doesn’t. What’s also proven true though is every time I remind myself that God is working with me, it gets easier. The less I’m focused on God, the more likely I am to handle things the way I used to. So I have some more quotes (I told you I like them).
“Orient on God.” During a sermon, my girlfriend’s pastor said when you turn to God, you, by default, turn from sin. It’s like orienting on North. I turned that phrase into something I can bark at myself when I need. I say it about every three times I think of my girlfriend. I don’t think it’s unusual for a man to desire the woman he’s with. I do think it’s lustful. I’m honestly not sure what the rule is once we’re married (if it’s God’s will that such an event happens), but we’ll be married, so I’m confident thinking about us doing things married folk are allowed to do will be less wrong if not okay. I also focus on the other things that are great about her. I think about her endless optimism and her child-like desire to be helpful. These are reasons why I feel the way I feel about her. I want her for those reasons, and the fact that she’s hot. That’s not love; it’s lust. So when I catch myself thinking about “taking her” rather than being with her for all the other reasons she’s wonderful, I order myself to orient on God. I might have to say that some 20-30 times a day for a number of reasons. I’m mad about work. A student was particularly uncooperative. The order helps me, and maybe it’ll help you.
I think of it like turning to God when I want to turn to sin.
“God’s will in God’s time.” This is what I say when my famous impatience get’s unruly. When I want work to run smoothly, and someone walks in and plops a hefty dose of extra work in my lap. I think of it when my mom has a bad day at the doctor. My impatience is all about my desire for God to bless me right now. That’s not how he works.
My fear is that someone has been reading this and wondering at how Christian I’ve been. I wanted to be blunt and honest about just how hard it has been. I was tempted every day before my mom got sick. Those temptations are honestly stronger now. Orienting my thoughts on God and remembering that all things come at His will in His time helps me control it, but I’ve broken. I’ve broken a few times in several regards. While my girlfriend and I still haven’t been together, that doesn’t mean I’ve been pure. Also, remember that we sin with our thoughts. Sure, I turned away from that sin (thinking of her) back to God, but that also means I turned from God (even if only for an instant) to sin. I’ll be judged for that. I’ll be held accountable.
Good Friday is when we remember Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He stands at God’s right hand to advocate on our behalf. Those who believe in him aren’t judged. God disregards their sin. (At least as I understand it from sermons I’ve attended. I’d like to be notified if I’m wrong about this.)
That brings me back to that struggle I mentioned above.
Truth: The decision to do the right thing does not eliminate the desire to do the wrong thing.
Truth: We were, are, and will be sinners our whole lives. Jesus is the one and only perfect person ever.
Question: Does that mean I can sin as much as I want because I know Jesus died for those sins?
Answer: By no means. Romans 6:2.
Yes, I’ll break. I have broken. The task is to fight. Every day, I want to wake up closer to God, even if it’s only fraction of a millimeter closer. Those thoughts of mine come unbidden.
I mentioned that to God. Part of that is a result of learned thinking. So now I have to learn to fight the addiction of sin as a concept, a drug. That’s something I’ll struggle with for a long time. Even after (if) I’m married. My temper is still there. I’m not a violent temper guy. I mean it when I say I think physical violence is disgusting. But man can I say some hurtful things. What I’m thinking and how judgmental I’m being when I have those thoughts are still sins.
So me and my two verbal reset buttons will continue to be good companions for the rest of my life. Because if I start sinning just because I believe Jesus died for those sins, even if it worked that way (it doesn’t), I’m basically sinning and chucking at Christ’s own crucifixion. In my mind, every time I sin, no matter how great or small, I hang him back up on that cross. Please note, that’s not accurate in reality or doctrine, it’s just how I feel. He only had to die the one time for my sins. But how many times have I had to remember that after I sinned? I’m human, and I acknowledge the fact that I’m a sinner. I just want to be less so.
As time goes on, I still struggle with this. I feel it every minute of every day, and sometimes I snap in some regard. I don’t throw podiums or shout (well, I shout but never at a specific person). This is hard. I feel like every single moment of my life is this epic struggle for not just my soul but my mom’s well being. I don’t think it’s accurate to say God will take my mom if I sin. I’m honestly not sure about that, but I feel like that’s the case. To make it worse, I’m telling you all frankly I have sinned.
Do you understand that? Forget (for an instant) that I feel like sinning puts Christ back on the cross. I even fear that doing so actually puts my mom’s life at risk. I’ve had some people tell me that’s not the case. I don’t honestly know what The Bible says in this regard. Regardless, I still did it.
So I wake up some days feeling just so guilt-ridden. I pray for forgiveness. But mostly I pray for more strength. What I honestly want is less temptation. There are some shows I used to watch on NETFLIX. I don’t watch them. TV doesn’t make me sin, but it sure makes me want to. I don’t put myself in too many compromising positions. My girlfriend and I have actual exit strategies because I know if I make it anywhere near her car, I’m going to lose control. (Not like some sort of monster. But we want to have sex.) So we know that any opportunity to have sex is basically the decision to have sex.
Watch out for those fake tests. I do. Before I call a sibling I might be mad at, I talk to someone. I get information. I make sure I take the time to sort out my feelings and gain a sense of grace before I unleash my temper and sharp judgmental opinions on someone I love.
I’m not perfect. I’m not sitting here free of sin and blame patiently waiting for my mom to be rid of this cancer. I’m fighting. I’m fighting every moment to resit that temptation. Even imagining the cost (whether that price is biblically accurate or not), I give in. But then I have to move on. I have to try harder and be better.
The more I’ve done it, the easier it’s gotten. Those first weeks I was saying my little verbal resets about three or four times an hour (I actually counted one day). Now, I feel a smidgen of pride when a lustful or judgmental thought pops into my head. I’m shocked, humiliated and ashamed of the thought. I orient on God and move on. (Some days I still need those orders a lot more than others). The pride comes from how long it’s been since I’ve even thought about it.
I just didn’t want people thinking this trail has gone on without evidence of my unworthiness. The simple fact is I’m unworthy. But I still believe my efforts and work with Jesus will lead to the miracle of my mom’s health. David sinned in (I think it was) 2 Samuel. David was held accountable, but God didn’t abandon him.
Goodness I think every book in the Old Testament is essentially a rerun of the Israelites turning from God, getting punished and then welcomed back. I’m in 2 Kings now, and God has taken kings and tribe members back over and over again. The only thing more constant than his sovereignty is his forgiveness for those who repent.
I just wish I didn’t have to repent so much.
Questions and Revelations
You hate violence? You were in the military?
Yes, and as a Sailor, I protected my country from those who wanted to inflict violence upon it. We protected. Sometimes we went on the offensive, but only with information and reason to believe our country was in danger. Also, I never hit, punched, shouted at or killed anyone. In my 10 years of service, I only had to raise my rifle in combat one time (for about three seconds). I’m grateful I never had to pull the trigger or even aim at a person. Would I have? Yes, because we were in a bad place looking for bad people who we already knew wanted to hurt us. Don’t mistake violence and protection. At least not as I see them. We in the military protect our country. We don’t just bomb people because they didn’t do their homework before a global meeting.
What kind of sin are we talking about?
I think about my boss and Christian friends here a lot. They seem so perfect to me. So one day, I sat down with a few of them and simply spoke candidly about my my temptations and my struggles.
There are people who walk to work (not my work, I say with pride) and brag about that girl they met or that place they went last night.
Why can’t we even talk in the most private areas about the sins against which we’re struggling?
Half my struggle comes from the shame I feel at even acknowledging my temptation. I’m not just ashamed at the desire. I’m ashamed because a good number of people I know (and even those I love) would think it’s ridiculous to feel ashamed for wanting to have sex with my girlfriend.
For the record, I’m not going to publicly itemize my current list of sinful desires and feelings. I can click on the “Fantasy” search bar on my blog to look for a review on a book and find all sorts of other types of “fantasy” information, but where does one go to talk openly about their actual temptations in order to fight them?
It isn’t any church I’ve been too. It isn’t anywhere I know of. Then I just asked someone. I sat down with two of the finest Christians I know and asked them to hear me out. They offered to double date with my girlfriend and me. They offered an open ear when I wanted to work through my anger and judgement. I almost always feel I know the right thing to do, and those who disagree are wrong, even if in a well-meaning way. It’s worse because I usually find a number of people agree with my thoughts. That’s true. I’m very logical. I’m logical and rational to a sinful degree. Logic and reason don’t make me right.
I think we Christians need a “safe space.” I said above it’s no church I’ve been to, but I’ve seen some pretty bad churches, and I’ve never felt safe in one since my mother divorced my bio-dad. So your church might have one. Everyone needs it. We need someone to speak to frankly. I’m having lustful thoughts. I’m having judgmental thoughts. Pray with me. Help me turn from this sin.
It’s so unfortunate we live in a world where it’s socially acceptable to talk and laugh about sins we commit, but no the moment someone says, “Hey, I’m trying to avoid this,” they’re met with mockery or judgement.
My advice for those listeners? Don’t mock a person. Don’t challenge them. If someone says, “I’m trying to be less judgmental,” don’t reply with, “That jerk is wrong, and you’re fine pointing it out.” Maybe open The Bible and look up passages that relate. If you’re not a person of faith, you can still help anyone struggling with sin. You can listen. You can offer to distract them. I have one friend who distracts me with talk about books. I don’t think he’s religious at all (we haven’t spoken about it at length). I think my coworkers are just amazing examples of how to help.
How much better is it?
I have good days and bad. I go on some win streaks I think are impressive. Before my girlfriend, and before my mom got sick, I struggled against sin, but I almost always lost. I think my own soul wasn’t worth enough in my own eyes. I’m like that. I don’t actually care too much about myself in some ways. (I promise I make up for it with selfishness in other ways.) But I typically think others are more important than I am. I didn’t (and maybe I still don’t) think enough of the worth of my soul. But my mom’s well being? That’s worth anything to me. I have slumps too. But those friends I mentioned above are critical then. I hope you feel how I feel one day. This security knowing I can turn to someone. I can say, “Hey, I’m thinking of sinning,” and not only will they not judge or condemn me, but they’ll also do their best to help me orient on God.
You said you sinned, do you honestly worry that sin might cost your mom her health?
Dude, God wiped out entire bloodlines for sin. 2 Kings is pretty much a literal record of, “That guy sinned in God’s eyes, so his family was wiped off the face of the earth.” The overzealous people I refer to as Bible-thumpers love pointing out those sections of The Bible. But I’m actively reading that book right now. Those sinners are willfully, without remorse or contrition, sinning and worshiping other gods. If you read the rest of it, while all who sin were punished (and they were), the punishments for those who repent and show remorse are far different than the others.
I talk about David and how he got a man killed so David could have his wife. He took her, she became pregnant. God said that baby would die, and it happened. God didn’t stop that from happening. David showed remorse. He did everything he could to act right after the sin, but it didn’t stop the punishment God said would come. However, that same woman bore David another child. I’m not saying, “Don’t worry, they made another.” I’m simply pointing out that David was still given blessings even after being punished.
Why should anyone follow a God who’d kill a baby just to punish someone?
Well, I struggle with a direct answer. First, God didn’t pop down and smite the baby. The baby just died (I think I remember it had gotten sick). There are things I’m still trying to work out. One thing though: Dude, David killed a man just so he could have sex with the guy’s wife. Some may argue, kill David. I’m not in any way going to pretend to know God’s will or plan. What I do know though is that David did a lot of things afterward that helped establish Israel, and his children had a lot more to do. What could that child have done? Anything. It was a baby, and I don’t want any baby to die, born or not if we’re speaking on the record. I can’t tell you why you should do anything. What I can say with confidence is that God punishes sin, but he still forgives and grants blessings to those who show remorse. I’m honestly terrified every time I catch myself fantasizing about my girlfriend. One time, my sister called. If I’m being honest, I was in the middle of a particularly vivid and long lasting fantasy. I saw that call and nearly had a heart attack. (As I type this, My mom is still well for those who might be worried at this point). It doesn’t stop me. That fear, keeps me in line a lot more than the desire for blessings do.
If any who are more trained and understanding of scripture care to chime in here I’m happy to listen.
If you have other questions regarding my faith or thoughts or actions at this point, feel free to ask, and I’ll add them to the blog. I try to ensure these passages are self reflective. My chaplain told me to take this opportunity to look at myself, but at the moment, those were the only real thoughts going through my mind. Questions might help me remember other thoughts or parts of The Bible I’d overlooked while typing this post.
Thanks for reading