How to Make Lasting Change

We are often perplexed on why we make commitments to change yet fall miserably short of success. One essential start is to make your life based on the Bible:

“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” (John 8:31b NASB)

One cannot stress enough how important it is to make a commitment to reading the Bible regularly. Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31b NASB). It’s a long-term commitment to learn from Jesus and his Word that makes us his disciples.

How do you continue in the Word and stay connected with Jesus through his Word for the long-term?

1. Make the decision. It starts with your commitment to actually do it. Don’t wait for a better time to make God’s Word a regular part of your life. Start your commitment today.

2. Make a declaration. Announce your intentions to others. Hold yourself accountable and allow yourself to be held accountable by others. If you keep your commitment to God a secret, it’s easier to slip up.

3. Make a determination. Don’t allow anything to knock you off your commitment. Absolute determination can make this a permanent habit in your life, particularly in the early months. If you start skipping days, it will be much harder to stay committed to God’s Word.

4. Double up. Get a spiritual partner to come alongside you for support and encouragement. This is someone with whom you can share what you learn in your quiet times. It could be someone in your small group, a friend, or a family member. The Bible says, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed” (Ecclesiastes 4:9 NLT).

[print_link] [email_link] [Based on a devotion by Rick Warren]

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How to Maintain Sexual Purity

We have now come to the fourth command in this Adult Stage or Equip Level of disciplemaking, on how to avoid sexual indiscretion and maintain sexual purity. Our passage comes from Matthew 5:27-32. We will find these commands: TEAR it out, THROW it (Matthew 5:29), CUT it off, THROW it (Matthew 5:30), CUT it off, THROW it (Matthew 18:8), PLUCK it out, THROW it (Matthew 18:9), CUT it off (Mark 9:43, 45), CAST it out (Mark 9:47).

It is illustrated in the book of Acts (Acts 15:20, 29, 21:25) and amplified in the epistles (LUST = Romans 1:24, 6:12, 7:7-8, 13:14, Galatians 4:16, 24, Ephesians 2:3, 4:22, Colossians 3:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:5, 2 Timothy 2:22).

Group Questions:

1. Have you ever struggled with impure thoughts? If so, how did you get victory over it?

2. Have you ever had a friend who committed adultery? What were the consequences?

3. What was the penalty for adultery in the Old Testament? (Exodus 20:14, Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 5:18, 22:22)

4. Are we to take Jesus’ example in John 8:1-11 to mean that the God of the New Testament does not condemn adultery?

5. What is the technical definition of adultery?

6. How did the Pharisees interpret breaking the seventh commandment? (Matthew 5:27) The Mosaic Law clearly prohibited adultery (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18). A person might be proud that he had never broken this commandment, and yet have his “eyes full of adultery” (2 Peter 2:14). While outwardly respectable, his mind might be constantly wandering down labyrinths of impurity. So Jesus reminded His disciples that mere abstinence from the physical act was not enough—there must be inward purity.

7. Does Jesus condemn the inadvertent, accidental glance at a woman? (Matthew 5:28) The law forbade the act of adultery; Jesus forbids the desire: Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. E. Stanley Jones caught the import of this verse when he wrote: “If you think or act adultery, you do not satisfy the sex urge; you pour oil on a fire to quench it.” Sin begins in the mind, and if we nourish it, we eventually commit the act.

“Whoever” includes both men and women, married and unmarried. Jesus condemns fornication as well as “adultery,” which involves voluntary extramarital sexual intimacies (Matthew 5:32).

Regarding Matthew 5:32 (divorce and causing her to commit adultery): “Sexual immorality” translates the Greek porneia. Various meanings are exhibited in the N.T. for porneia, the context making the significance clear:

  1. It may refer to voluntary sexual intercourse of an unmarried person with anyone of the opposite sex (1 Corinthians 7:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:3).
  2. It may refer to all forms of unchastity (John 8:41; Acts 15:20, 29; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:13, 18; Ephesians 5:3).
  3. It may refer to prostitution (Revelation 2:14, 20, 21).

Here the exception clause may refer to a situation in which those married are already closely related and whose marriage, according to Jewish law, would technically be sexual immorality (cf. Leviticus 18:6–18; Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 5:1). The word moicheuthenai (Gk.), “causes her to commit adultery” (Matthew 19:3–9), described adultery, extramarital sexual infidelity. Porneia and moicheuthenai later came to be used interchangeably.

8. Is it a sin to be tempted? If not, when does it become sin? (James 1:13-15)

9. Although a woman does not lust in the same way as a man, how might she participate in its guilt? (2 Kings 9:30, 1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Thessalonians 4:4, 6)

10. When does the man commit adultery? (Matthew 5:28)

11. Give an example of how an adulterous heart can manifest itself by seeking out an object that can fulfill its fantasy.

12. It Jesus saying there is a physical remedy for a heart problem? (Matthew 5:29-30) – The two examples Jesus gives call for radical action to prevent and eradicate sin. However, they are merely hyperbolic and shouldn’t be taken literally. He maintains that we should be cautious concerning the avoidance of sin, making every effort to remain pure. The severity of the demand illustrates the radical nature of Jesus’ ethic and our radical need. Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation; not the eyes or hands cause lust, but the heart and mind. Christians must not only avoid the act of adultery (“hand”), but also those things that would lead to a lustful attitude (“eye”).

13. What does Jesus command us to do in this passage?

14. What sort of steps can we take to perform this radical surgery in our lives?

15. Describe the consequences of committing adultery: (Proverbs 2:1-22, 5:1-23, 6, 20-35, 7:1-27, Hebrews 13:4b, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 2 Peter 2:14, 1 Corinthians 5:1-12, Revelation 2:21-23, 22:15, Psalm 32:1-7, 57).

16. What are the things in your life that are nurturing adulterous thoughts?

Avoiding Sexual indiscretion: (Proverbs 22:3 – the prudent sees evil and hides himself, Proverbs 2:11 – Discretion will guard you).

“Sexual affairs don’t hit out of the blue. They are the end result of underlying problems. And usually there are sign of trouble long before the affair occurs, although they aren’t recognized as danger signals.” Doctors Minerth and Meier

There are steps that lead to adultery, usually by not developing behavioral guidelines. Discretion is personal judgment in setting personal boundaries in the way we behave with the opposite gender. When we are in denial, we are close to falling and tend to underestimate the need for boundaries.

Personal Boundaries:

  1. I will not counsel a woman behind closed doors.
  2. I will not drive somewhere with a woman not my wife.
  3. I will not take a woman out to eat.
  4. I will not hire a secretary that my wife hasn’t interviewed.
  5. I will not allow my secretary to do something personal for me.
  6. I will not use a computer behind closed doors or late at night.

People who lack discretion ignore warning flags and move ahead despite the warnings of the Holy Spirit.

Here are some steps toward indiscretion:

  1. Emotional Delight: There are some people that we just naturally like to be around, it’s called chemistry. This is a yellow flag if the person is a woman.
  2. Extra Time Together: Spending extra time with that person brings emotional delight. There is nothing improper, just spending a little time together after the meeting or volunteering to work on a project together. While this may be legitimate, this is feeding step number one and needs to be a warning sign and check you motives.
  3. Excessive Touching: The red flag is now up. It’s a hug rather than a handshake. A lingering hug or touching the arm during a conversation. Touching leads to more touching.
  4. Secret Meetings: Maybe it’s getting together for breakfast or taking a walk together during lunch break to talk about personal problems, hold hands, or comfort one another.
  5. Infatuation: Now we are past the red flags and into addictive craziness. If someone should see what’s happening and intervene, it is met with “get off my back, there’s nothing going on.” These two are committed to each other. Unless God intervenes, adultery is almost inevitable. There is never a good excuse for an affair. At this point, he will not listen to reason or logical arguments. The bottom line: adultery is stupid (proverbs 6:32-34).

Steps that Jesus Prescribes to Avoid Sexual Indiscretion:

1. Keep the Seventh Commandment (Matthew 5:27, Exodus 20:14, Proverbs 6:32-34). Remember the punishment for adultery (Leviticus 20:10). We live in a flirtatious culture where this behavior is acceptable but we are to show discretion with the opposite gender (Proverbs 2:10, 16).

The Pharisees were concerned only with the outward act while Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. They quoted the OT correctly but missed the point of the law.

2. Make a Covenant with Your Eyes (Matthew 5:28a, Psalm 119:37, 101:2b-3, Job 31:1). “Look” refers to the continuous process of looking (present tense) referring to “intentional and repeated gazing with the intention of lusting.” Both genders struggle with moral purity, it is not just a male thing.

One way a woman struggle with moral purity is by the way she dresses so that men will look at her, by dressing immodestly. While temptation is not a sin, when a man sees a woman dressed provocatively, Satan will tempt the man with lustful thoughts. There is no sin if the temptation is resisted. David was not at fault for seeing Bathsheba bathing (2 Samuel 11:1-4), his sin was the second glance and the plotting to have her.

We must take thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and turn our eyes away (Psalm 119:37, 101:2b-3). Sex starts in the mind.

3. Guard Your Heart (Matthew 5:28b, 15:19-20, Proverbs 4:23, 23:7, Psalm 24:3-4, 66:18). Some Pharisees recognized they could not control their thought life so they would close their eyes when a woman walked by, and proceeded to walk into walls (the blind leading the blind).

4. Take Radical Steps to Keep Yourself Pure (Matthew 5:29-30, Romans 13:13-14). “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out [aorist imperative] and throw it [aorist imperative] from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off [aorist imperative] and throw it [aorist imperative] from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”

5. Keep Your Marriage Covenant/Vows (Matthew 5:31-32, 1 Corinthians 7:1-3, Proverbs 2:16-17, Malachi 2:14, Ecclesiastes 5:1-5).

  • Adultery and Frequency of Sex in Marriage: when sex in marriage increases, divorce from adultery decreases.
  • Possible Causes: when a man gets sex at home he is not looking for it elsewhere, his needs are satisfied at home.
  • Statistics: 92% of the cases studied when divorce stemmed from adultery occurred when there was abstinence at home.

How to Affair-Proof Your Marriage:

  1. Don’t compare the incomparable (2 Corinthians 10:12 NKJV) comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
  2. Choose your friends carefully (Leviticus 20:10 – adultery with his friend’s wife…) and Deuteronomy 13:6-9).
  3. Protect yourself on the job (Genesis 39:1-15) REFUSE, REBUKE, RUN).
  4. Avoid entertainment that lowers inhibitions (Jude 1:8 – dreamers defile the flesh, Romans 13:13-14 – make no provision for the flesh).
  5. Meet your partner’s sexual needs (1 Corinthians 7:1-5) stop depriving one another.
  6. Make a covenant with your eyes (Matthew 5:27-28, Job 31:1).

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]

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The Blessing of Weakness

It has been said, never show your weaknesses, mainly because it will be used against you. The fact is, everybody has weaknesses. We have physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual weaknesses, so the question is, what do you do with your weaknesses?

While most people deny, defend, or excuse their weaknesses, Christians can embrace them and ask God to use them! When God works through weak people, His power is shown more clearly (2 Corinthians 12:5, 9, 1 Corinthians 9:22, Hebrews 4:15, 11:34).

When I use the word weakness, I’m not talking about a character flaw that can and should be changed. A weakness is any limitation in my life I inherited or can’t change. How do you lead your small group through weaknesses that you didn’t ask for and don’t have the ability to change?

1. Admit Your Weaknesses: In other words, stop pretending to have it all together, stop hoping the weaknesses will go away, stop ignoring them, and stop making excuses and blaming others (which only hurts my credibility in the end).

2. Be Grateful for Your Weaknesses: The limitations God allows in our lives are actually blessings in disguise (remember that Laura Story song on K-Love). Our limitations guarantee that God will show up to help. If I can do things in my own strength, the ultimate conclusion is, “Who needs God?”

Weaknesses also prevent me from becoming arrogant, and nothing will limit my effectiveness in leading a small group more than arrogance.

3. Openly Share Your Weaknesses: This is what is called being vulnerable. By sharing my weaknesses I am admitting that there are limits to my knowledge, my ability, and my energy.

Being open is also very risky (which is why we seek to avoid it at all cost). There will be people in your small group or the church at large who don’t want you to be human. They think a teacher is some super Christian and can’t handle knowing about any weaknesses. They’d rather put a halo on you and pretend you are never tempted and that you’re above the negative realities of life.

Refusing to be vulnerable is dishonest and hypocritical, but even worse, it sets up a scenario in which people become disillusioned with Christians when one’s humanness eventually shows – and it always will.

Why is it so important to reveal your feelings? Here are seven reasons:

  1. It liberates you from the stress of keeping up a false image.
  2. Some faults won’t be dealt with until you confess them to others.
  3. You can’t experience grace without weaknesses and you can’t minister and teach others without grace.
  4. It’s the fastest way to endear yourself to others. People will seek to support you and pray for you.
  5. Honesty supports your credibility, and people only follow leaders they trust.
  6. It’s good for the group. It encourages others to throw away their masks, deal with their own weaknesses.
  7. It helps your teaching to speak to others with transparency.

When you share your strengths, you create competition.
When you share your weaknesses, you create community.

So what do you share? As you think about how you will relate and communicate to others this week, think about how you will share these five things:

  • Failures.
  • Feelings.
  • Faults.
  • Frustrations.
  • Fears.

Your humanity is actually one of your greatest assets in your teaching ministry. To deny your humanity is not only dumb, it decreases your effectiveness. Do you want to be used by God? Do you want his blessing on your ministry? Do you want people to give the glory to God? Walk in total dependence on God and embrace your weaknesses!

[print_link] [email_link] Modified from Rick Warren

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