I sinned again recently, willingly even.
As I processed how, yet again, I fell short of God's plan for my life, something strange happened, I started to thank God for my sin.
Why would I do that???
Because this time I am reminded how weak I am against sin.
And as I grieved the sin I became desperate for forgiveness. Pleaded to God even.
As I felt God's love again I was astonished that he forgave me so quickly.
My mind is blown as I consider that I am fully reconciled to God in all His holiness over and over again because of one man, Jesus.
Going through this has made me more aware of my depravity. It reminds me that nobody is holy before God, nobody is good. Not your pastor, not your Mom, not your favorite Christian blogger.
I'm more inclined to look around at "sinful people," the sexual perverts, thieves and murderers, liars and cheats, and realize that I'm one of them.
As a beggar myself I'm less likely to try to tell them how to make something for themselves, and more likely to just point to the one who gives daily bread.
As I stand in awe of the life of Jesus and the holiness of God, the fear that accepting my sin condition will make me calloused to sin is fading away. The pressure to perform to please God easing up.
I also have this growing sense that the more I stand in awe of God, worship, and fall in love, the less likely I am to sin as a secondary effect.
If it took sin to remind me of my condition, humble me, put me in my place before God, increase my reverence for Him, and out of that see greater obedience and shedding of sin in my life, well then, thank you Jesus for my sin.
p.s. I've been having this image in my head the last couple days about the chasm between God and the rest of us, so much so I decided to draw it up for y'all.
I'm a fan of April Fools Day pranks. The fake product launches out of Silicon Valley, baby announcements from friends (usually twins), and the like--I enjoy a good "shucks, ya got me!"
And I've pulled a few myself. I launched a fake performance dashboard at Geneva Global, assigned impossible projects to staff on 4/1, and I've peddled fake news amongst family each Spring.
This year was going to be no different.
But how to pull something off on Easter? Easy, I thought, build up to it over the course of a week so nobody sees it coming.
Yes folks, if you're catching on, the book cover announcement isn't real. The problem is, I got confronted with something uncomfortable while doing this.
Maybe it had to do with today being Easter, and the fact that I've been enamored all week that Jesus actually rose from the dead just like he said he would. I'm stunned God would do that for us and I'm "getting" more and more the magnitude of forgiveness that's played out in Jesus.
And my little joke started to feel more and more...lame.
I also had a major oversight in my scheme. Whitney. She was perplexed as to why she didn't know about this book cover, publisher, and all kinds of other details.
Eventually I had to tell her it was all a joke. She smiled, then 24 hours later she told me she'd prayed and felt the Holy Spirit nudging her to nudge me to pray about this too.
Long story short, this trick I was going to pull isn't honoring to God, and so I'm calling it off.
First, I confess to y'all that it was a big lie. There is no book cover, no publisher, barely even conversations around publishing. I'm sorry for lying.
I'm also sorry that once in awhile I find it humorous to mislead people. It's a heart issue and something I'll be watching and asking God to help fix.
In conclusion, I'm going to share the fake book cover anyway since you've taken the time to read all of this (see below).
And, well, my joke book cover alluded to the fact that if you think there's anything good about me the truth is there is someone behind me kicking my butt who rarely get's any visibility or credit.
Case in point.
Love you guys, and when the book cover REALLY is done, I won't play any games about it, I promise.
Happy Easter, God bless you, and may the spirit of the risen Christ move in, around, and through you mightily.
With our 2nd, Lukas, I simply asked God for a name and got a wild vision and a name.
So with baby #3, we figured we'd ask God and get a name. And we did.
However, this time He brought us face to face with our sin and tested our faith like never before. Here's what went down...
Months before conception, Whitney asked God why she has a strong desire to have a baby girl. She sensed God saying, "I made you and I put that desire there."
Then, she asked if God would name the child, and He said yes.
Scarlet popped into mind, she'd never considered it. When she looked up the meaning and saw "fine cloth" she got chills--or years she's had a vision of God wrapping her in fine cloth.
Could we really know we'd have a girl named Scarlet before we had conceived? This was hard to believe because we badly wanted a girl and feared being disappointed.
We started to see the name Scarlet everywhere, over 40 times in 6 months, here are a few examples:
August 31, 2016
I was on a business trip in San Francisco, and Whitney called to tell me about a sense she had that we were going to have a baby girl named Scarlet. I was staying in the Hotel Scarlet.
October 7, 2016
I was at a meeting in Atlanta and realized I was in the Scarlet Oak Room.
At our Church, mid-sermon I sensed Whitney was upset so I prayed, “God please comfort my wife and speak to her right now.”
Just then the pastor said the word “scarlet” three times in a row. Whitney later explained that she was feeling bummed, but when she heard the pastor say Scarlet she was reminded of God’s immense love for her and the vision of being wrapped in fine cloth.
Whitney was praying in bed and asking God for comfort when I song started to play, with the lyrics:
Though our sins are scarlet
You have made us white as snow
I had a pastor friend say to me, unprompted, "I have news for you...you and Whitney are going to have a girl." We hadn't even told anyone we were pregnant yet.
We asked a friend to pray about the baby and name, and she became so convinced this was from the Lord that she went out and bought us red girls baby clothes!
Even our closest counsel was in agreement with us, we'd have a girl named Scarlet.
A correction from God
With sooo many Scarlet's popping up, Whitney and I asked, "are we being hypersensitive to this name?" But wondered why this didn't happen with the first two when we got their names in advance?
I prayed for more clarity on the baby gender and name and felt God saying:
God's name is above all names, above ours, above Scarlet. Remember, I am God =)
Whitney prayed and asked God “What if I’m disappointed? What if we don’t have a girl?" and heard God whisper:
My love is never disappointing.
The big reveal
We finally got THE email with the test results that included all kinds of health indicators, including the gender. Would we have our little Scarlet??? We expected that to be the case.
Drumroll. We opened the email...and. it. said. BOY
We were stunned.
Disappointment and confusion followed, there were tears.
Visions of a mother-daughter relationship, of perhaps a softer more gentler addition to the brood, all fell away...
The very next day Whitney had a health scare involving blood loss. Everything turned out fine but going through it made her realize that, above all, she just wanted a healthy baby.
Slowly her attitude changed, she even felt guilty about having lamented over the baby God had given us instead of celebrating, and at once she became more thankful and excited.
Getting to Finley
Even with improved attitudes, Whitney and I didn't feel like praying for a new name. Months went by and we'd ask each other, "Have you prayed about the baby name?" We hadn't.
In the fall I started to pray for the baby again. I prayed for hours one day and got a strong sense that this baby would be:
- a gift to his mother
- very strong
- able to absorb scripture quickly
- tall and holding a large sword
Then we had a confluence of events that, in short order, confirmed a name for us:
First, we realized Whitney's grandfather's name, Finley, means "White Warrior"
Then, we saw that the verse we had drawn on our kitchen blackboard, Isaiah 1:18, included both the word "scarlet" and "white" in bold.
We began to feel a connection to Whitney's maternal grandfather Finley (and great grandfather too, also named Finley). His nickname was "Whit," a reference to his surname, Whitfield, and the same nickname Whitney's closest friends call her.
We requested 12/27 for the c-section, but it wasn't available. Instead, the hospital confirmed December 29th, which we later learned was Whitney's grandfathers birthdate.
Discovering this gave us goosebumps!
And exactly 105 years after his great grandfather, Finley Kennedy Whitfield, one Finley Everett Derfler was born as a blanket of snow fell outside.
Focus on Redemption
A simple petition to God for a name became a journey of doubts and confusion. Old ways of thinking about our family deconstructed and rebuilt. God whispered and guided us gently all the while.
We had to confront the verses that say:
- God's ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9),
- He knows how to give good gifts (Matthew 7:11), and,
- nothing, not even our children, must get ahead of God in our life (Luke 14:26), in new ways.
If we're honest, going through this process wasn't fun. We still want a girl but trust God for the outcome.
As we worked through our "stuff," this season taught us to constantly look to God, trust him, and celebrate what he gives us.
Speaking of having a girl or another baby at all, we'll end with this "Praise Report."
After Lukas was born, we were told Whitney shouldn't give birth again. Our doctor later refuted that, but doubts lingered about her reproductive health.
So, going into this labor and delivery much of our prayer centered around her health and safety.
We count it as praise, then, that the doctor's report this time is that Whitney looks great and can "have 5 more kids if she wants!"
So hey, who knows if we'll have a fourth child or not?
And we will truly, genuinely, be thankful for any outcome.
I had only a few hours of sleep ahead of my 07:05a flight to Atlanta, and wasn't in the mood to talk. When the woman sat down next to me and joked that she was "a whole lotta woman" and that we'd "become close on this flight", I smiled politely then closed my eyes and fell asleep.
When I awoke 45 minutes later, I was surprised when this same woman turned to me and said this..
"What kind of work do you do?"
I said with some hesitation, knowing this makes sense to almost nobody, "consulting...in the Church."
She replied, "You're about to have an increase. I see a lot of progress coming on deals that you have been working on."
"Wow, interesting that you should say that, especially now," was my retort. Then I asked, "Why did you just say that?"
"Because I've been praying, and I feel strongly God wants me to tell you that. I'm a seer, when I pray I see things."
Then I thanked her, and I told her that it meant a lot to me. As we deplaned, I gave her a big hug as I marveled to her that we, strangers who'd never met, could have this kind of exchange and even call each other brother and sister.
She agreed, hugged me, and we went our separate ways.
I share this because:
- These kind of occurrences, this deeply moving “Intel” and encouragement just didn’t happen to me prior to following Jesus
- It happens now, increasingly so, as I grow in my faith
- Following Jesus is full of surprises, often from complete strangers who can quickly become your "brother or sister," your family, in Christ.
It started with Miss Piggy and her pretty pink curves at age three.
Then our baby sitter, then Debbie Gibson, a girl in my 4th grade class. I’ve got a list of crushes into the hundreds. From my earliest memories I was strongly attracted to many different women.
I was not born a "one woman man."
Maybe its genetic, I'm not sure, I just know my attractions, should I follow through on them, is not God's plan for me.
I was born in "original sin."
In high school I wrote poems about women. In college, I took philosophy of art, beauty, and aesthetics courses and a figure drawing class where I'd sit for hours drawing naked women three years in a row.
I waxed poetic about the lusts of my flesh as justified, natural, productive, a celebration of God's penultimate creation.
Despite my parents stern warnings against sex before marriage, the allure of women was too much, my roots in the gospel too weak, and I not only succumbed to a life of sexual sin, I dove in proudly.
My world got ugly fast.
Deception in relationships, broken hearts, barely dodging pregnancy and disease, embarrassment and walks of shame, all as I slid into a pattern of companionship that left me ever lonelier.
I often self medicated to enable myself to do what, in the depths of my heart, I knew was wrong. It was a raucous and wicked downward spiral.
I had no idea that with each woman I slept with an imprint was being left on my soul that would not easily be washed away.
By society's standards I was a stud, playboy, lady killer, the character many men aspire to be. I fed on the attention.
My sin was about to be exposed.
Then I found a Godly woman.
The high of meeting a good woman, one who seemed to emanate light and goodness, was quickly followed by dread. As I learned of her strong faith and remembered what I knew about the tenants of my own, I felt like a stained rag.
"What was I thinking?!?" I lamented. The gravity of it all hit me at once.
A long road of pulling myself out of the pit of doing sex my own way instead of God's way was before me.
Hard conversations. Shock by her at how calloused I had become. The effects of so many tangled relationships constantly popping up in photos, old social media posts, phone calls and texts I didn't want to get.
It was a terribly painful process.
I had trouble not resorting to deception or half truths. It was hard to discern what to reveal and when. I subconsciously wondered how I could let the depths of my depravity be known.
We worked through it--this Godly woman and I--as she showed me unending grace.
Marriage = doing sex God's way! (or so I thought)
Once I entered into the freedom of the marriage covenant with a woman I was wildly attracted to, I finally had sexual freedom! But the twisted tentacles of sexual sin began to pull at my new marriage in unexpected ways.
As I drove home from work one day, knowing my wife would want to be intimate, I dreaded that I would not respond appropriately.
How could this happen? Never in a million years! This is a curse!
I gripped the steering wheel and pleaded to God, "Lord, please reinvent my sexuality!" Right away I heard God whisper, "Ryan, be selfless and make this about her, not you."
I was learning how to love in a very different way, my very sexuality being reprogrammed from that of a predator on an unending hunt to someone willing to love unconditionally and sacrificially.
Paying for my past.
My old life reared its head with certain triggers, like staying in hotel rooms while traveling, staying up late drinking, seeing old flames around town or online.
They were all major challenges that I've had to attack in repentance, prayer, talking with Whitney and other men who hold me accountable.
A thousand times I've asked God to wipe clean my memory, to delete the images that are stored in the depths where I no longer want them. Over time, he seems to be hearing my plea.
I've also found myself incredibly sad for the woman I was with. Many probably have deep wounds I can never fix. Even as I know I'm forgiven, it grieves me to know what I did to these young women who are made in God's image.
Further, I've come to realize that in my sin my whole way of thinking about sex had become warped, self-centered, and in need of a complete overhaul.
An awful nightmare woke me up.
The good news is that, as I battle to do sex God's way, the trajectory of my sex life has moved closer and closer to His plan. There was one instance, however, that resulted in a giant leap forward.
I had dabbled in sin, I can't remember what it was, probably looking at porn online.
One night I had an awful dream. I was being seduced by a woman and as I eagerly pursued her I was also aware of my wife calling out in search of me nearby.
I awoke terrified at what I was doing and in that moment God exposed my patterns of deceit, bitterness when I don't get what I want, bartering and manipulation for sex, game playing, all the effects of separation of sex from God's plan.
I had a wave of fear hit me--fear of the coming wrath of God. So much so that confessing to my wife seemed like the easy thing to do!
The next day, while at work I texted my wife that we needed to talk so I couldn’t chicken out later.
I repented and asked for her forgiveness, and it led to a several week long conversation that was uncomfortable, and yet freeing.
Something changed in our marriage, I couldn't put my finger on it, something spiritual and good and necessary. This ugly sin that was confronted and lifted before God had somehow drawn us closer.
It's a lesson I haven't forgotten.
Stopping sexual sin in my family.
I take this sin seriously now, especially since as a society we openly invite sexual sin into our eyes and hearts, and we drift further from God's plan for sex and marriage.
King David, a man after God's own heart, saw his sexual sin wreak havoc in his family. So I pray over my boys weekly, "Lord, please don't let my sins in this area affect them, please protect them."
I'm much more open about this issue now than ever before (this blog as a case in point). I talk regularly to other guys about this, a community that has bolstered my defenses.
My wife and I actively work to guard my heart, for example, we don't watch racy movies, and she thumbs through magazine's I get and tears out the soft porn that now comes in health, technology, even cooking publications.
Regular immersion in God's word and in prayer is a hedge of protection. I also avoid the circumstances where I know I am weak and tempted, such as drinking too much, exhaustion, or mindless web surfing late at night.
Victory is possible.
I wish I could tell you God wiped away my whole past, but He hasn't. The pictures in my mind and perversions in my thinking have regularly eaten away at our intimacy.
I have a daily battle to take captive every thought and hold it up against God's plan for my life. Often after months of victory the ugly sin of lust will rear up from out of the darkness to try to devour me. I've had to learn to be vigilant and ready to do battle at any moment.
And yet, I feel increasingly that I'm no longer a slave to my physical urges. I've become mostly rewired to recognize that sex, even in marriage, is not about me, but is as is described in 1 Corinthians 7, where we learn that our bodies are not our own, but are given to each other.
I yearn for the day when I have complete victory, when the thought of sex outside of God's plan repulses me, and when I see women not as objects for my own pleasure but as wonderfully made daughters worthy of love and respect.
Even the fact that I can write that last sentence as a goal for myself, and not be so blind to the err of my ways, is a testament to what God has done in my life, and what he can do in yours too.
And wildly, as God is apt to do, he's taken this weakness of mine and redeemed it as men now seek me out for counsel for sexual sin. Sadly there are so many who are lost.
A quick guide + a sermon packed with truth.
After talking to lots of men about this very issue I created this short guide on what's worked for me to overcome sexual sin.
If you want a biblically sound eloquent dive into this topic, watch this sermon by my pastor, Paul Anderson, of Grace Valley Fellowship, framed by his conversations with a gay Texas millionaire.
When I first started to get serious about my faith, I remember hearing that some of the guys at church didn’t even masturbate, and I remember thinking, “I don’t think that’s even healthy!”
I never imagined that one day I would earnestly seek to save all sexual energy for my wife alone. And if someone had told me I needed to do that to be a Christian, I might have turned and run.
The point is, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Start by reading the Bible, and pray and ask God to reshape your thinking. Ask him to put people in your life you can talk to about this, someone with a Godly perspective. He answers when we knock.
Over time, through Christ alone, victory over sexual sin is possible.
Other posts on sex...
As a high school three sport athlete and captain, and college wrestler, in my 20's I was in the gym a lot. This muscle foundation lasts to this day; people guess that I work out regularly (I don't).
I'm living on past muscle gains.
Those years of conditioning were valuable, but at 36 I can feel my muscle starting to atrophy. I have to do more to not just maintain my strength, but handle new challenges I face (like child rearing and travel).
For most of December I've been reflecting on my spiritual training and how in various ways, it's not unlike my physical body.
In Silicon Valley, newly married, working for a ministry, for a few years I did spiritual heavy lifting. Bible studies at work, regular fasting and prayer alone on a mountain and corporately. The gains were rapid and opened my eyes to a new capabilities in the faith.
Since then I've let up in my conditioning quite a bit. Sure, the taste for fellowship with God has lured me back for "weekend warrior" workouts, but the hunger to be ready to compete has not been the same.
What does it look like for me in top form? While not a formula, it's typically a regimen of:
- daily Bible reading on a plan and checking in for context and problem solving
- prayer throughout the day alone, with family, and close guys
- fasting one day every week or two
- retreats to nature to listen for God
- immersion into Christian community in its many facets
- quiet time, prayer, and study with my wife
If I have a resolution this year, its to get back into fighting form spiritually. I don't want to live on the big gains I had 3 or 4 years ago, or the little wins I've accrued as a weekend warrior, I want to run this race hard with my face on the ground before Jesus anew.
As told by my 2 and 4 year old sons.
When I felt God nudging me to share stories about what He was doing in my life, I thought, "does the world really need another Christian blogger?"
God changed my heart to realize that, yes, it does; in fact, there should be many more. However, something about the rise of Christians stepping out with an online presence has troubled me.
And it looks like this: blog posts, email newsletters, and special alerts that, for the most part, bear the picture of the person doing the writing.
Like, what you see is primarily pictures of them.
This happens a lot, and, over time I wonder how the person can both do this and keep the emphasis more on the Creator than the created, and not grow a (sometimes unconscious) sense of pride.
Surely it's a fine line--one I've danced close to myself. 11 out of 30 posts on my homepage right now bear my face as the thumbnail image. And more than one Silicon Valley tech tycoon has remarked that our social networking is powerfully driven by deadly sins.
Here are 5 ways I keep the story more about about God, and less about me:
- I look at post history, is it a lot of pictures of me, or other stuff too? Point blank, I don't think it should always be me, not even 50% of the time, so I go out of my way to find other images.
- I ask someone who will be honest with me. Usually its my wife, Whitney, or another guy in my life I pick for their brutal honesty. I ask if what I'm posting is done in the right spirit.
- I consider the tone of the message. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 the Apostle Paul wrote that he boasts in his weakness, because when he is weak, Christ is strong. Am I writing about how great I am, or God? I try to do only the latter.
- I do a Strategy Check. Is my online approach centered more on what the world says is necessary to be effective, or what I'm hearing from God in the Word and in prayer?
- I pray. Often before a post that feels more "out there" for one reason or another, I'll pray and sometimes fast for a few days (or even months) before posting it. God has a way of using the Holy Spirit to self-correct.
In closing, what's been very telling to me is that, consistently over the past few years, the posts that get the most interest and have the greatest spiritual fruits, by far, are those where I'm either making a fool of myself for Christ, or where I'm focused completely on someone or something other than me.
Let me join the chorus of those who've been harassed.
The owner of a fine dining restaurant, and my boss, would often get drunk and grab at me from all angles. She'd say vulgar things to me and the rest of the crew.
When I bartended in Key West more than a few times I'd have wealthy gay men come in and proposition me or otherwise put me in an uncomfortable environment.
Another time a married woman gave me her room key and kissed my neck as she walked away.
As a part-time model and actor, I've often had extra sensitivity to my environment to ensure I don't get caught in a bad situation by someone with ill intent. Fortunately, my agents do a good job screening out shady people, and I've never been abused like some of the stories we're reading about in the news now.
Why do I share this now? What's my point? It's this...why is anyone surprised?
I thought everyone knew Hollywood was full of aggressive sexual behavior and abuse? I mean, even if ya don't know the industry gossip, just look at the product they're creating.
I thought everyone knew that as a society we have been fighting for our freedom to express ourselves sexually, even at the expense of what others see as morally right and wrong?
I thought everyone knew that we flat out accept overt sexual references, derogatory language, and uncomfortable displays of nudity in the public sphere? Whitney and I can hardly find a sitcom or live comedy show to attend anymore.
If we are foolish enough to think that throwing out modesty and traditional marriage as a society has nothing to do with the abuse we're seeing, then we're in for a very difficult shock to reality in the years ahead.
This behavior is not going to get better, it will get worse, and our country needs Jesus and God's plan for sex more now than ever.
My wife Whitney is amazing at celebrating the various seasons of life. She wakes up early to set up a grand entrance for birthdays. Loves fawning over new babies and sending little gifts. With each new holiday approaching, she get's our family into the spirit by playing good music, making festive snacks, and decorating the house.
I love this about her, the kids do too.
One activity she planned for us the past few years is the Thankful Tree. And while we do it in November around Thanksgiving, it could work anytime.
It goes like this:
- Get a Mason jar
- Fill it with sticks
- Cut out little paper leaves and string pieces
- Every night, write down what everyone is thankful for.
- Attach leaves to the branches.
Slowly the tree fills up with all kinds of reminders of how much good there is in life.
And I have to tell you, with toddlers in the house, we have a lot of fun and laughs at what we hang on the tree. For example, Lukas gave thanks for his brother for a week straight, as well as dog slobber. Boden has been thankful for things that have put a tear in our eye.
If you want to celebrate what's good and true and noble, bring the Thankful Tree into your house!
As a Christian man, I subscribe to the whole "to look at a woman lustfully is adultery." (Matthew 5:28) It's a high bar, impossible really, but we believe that with Jesus all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
Thankfully, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, a "helper" (John 14:15-18) who helps us to take these thoughts captive. It's regular warfare.
All that being said, I am continually shocked at the warfare being waged against our eyes now on a regular basis.
Not sure what I mean, here are a few screenshots from mainstream news and social media sites:
How did we get to this place where was what porn just a couple decades ago is now accepted out in the open?
Look, I get it, some people don't think this is any harm, they're all for it, and dive right in. But I still believe that most people don't think this is best, and don't want to see it.
This porn everywhere, it's like land mines.
Guys are getting sucked in and blown up over this stuff, their relationships, their marriages are suffering for it.
Women, why are you shocked that men think they can grab you by the pu**y when this is what we accept everyday?
Kids are seeing this from childhood, their perception of women and sex is perverted by it.
This is vitally serious. Does anybody care?
In 2013 our 1st son was due in September, and our little 2-door Scion didn't feel like the best family car.
Whitney and I prayed that God would show us the right car to buy, help us with a good deal, and find something that wouldn't give us issues.
Then we visited dealerships, but didn't get a good vibe, or we'd find one we liked only to call and it was already gone.
Here's the list of cars I had been tracking on our spreadsheet (click photo to enlarge):
With the baby due date just a month away, and no car in our driveway, we started to pray more.
Finally, every car on our list was gone, except one.
On the far right of the spreadsheet is the car that felt least likely to work out since it was far away, and despite being deeply discounted past our budget due to shipping costs.
Whitney and I agreed to take a shot, so I sent over the offer and the dealership actually countered with a lower offer. I've asked a lot of people if they've ever heard of this happening when buying a used car, nobody has.
Long story short, we bought the car, had it shipped to us right within our total budget, and found the car better than advertised. Our Subaru Forester has been phenomenal and we are sad to see it go now that we have a third child on the way and need more room.
You can be assured we're praying God guides the process again!