May this blog be a blessing to you as you seek to understand the why's behind addiction and where to go from here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

At the Heart of My Issues

I have continued to pray that God would show me the root causes of my habitual, addictive behavior. I think that He has shown me recently. And the bottom line is that I don't love God, I don't trust Him, and I don't believe that He loves me individually.

It takes a lot of faith to just believe that His word is actually His word.  His ways have to be better than ours, otherwise we align ourselves with Satan by saying, "did God really say that?" If God didn't, then He isn't God, and we have nothing to trust. I recognize that there are manuscriptural discrepancies, but that is a mole hill made into a mountain if I've ever heard one. It's amazing how alike those disparate manuscripts are, compared to other ancient writings.

It takes a lot of faith to believe that God is in the mundane, and that He will bless us in the every day situations that we live. It also takes faith when those things we hold dearest are going to be torn from us, and the world starts to crash in. We wonder if God cares, and when life just plain sucks, we start distrusting that God has our best interests at heart.

Something that I am discovering is that God puts us on the paths that we're on for a reason, and it always fits into His larger plan, for those of us that are His children. We have to learn to trust that whatever happens, it is for the best for us, and He knows what we need more than we do.

Of course, that trust comes with great difficulty when you and God are distant from each other. You have to dwell with Him, continue asking for His guidance and loving presence to keep you sane. Our lives are filled with pain, and God helps us to cope with the difficult runs in life, and persevere in our faith and love toward Him.

So, to prescribe a course of action...

  1. Realize that God loves you. This is foundational to all love. If you can't realize His love for you specifically, then nothing else related to love will work out.
  2. You should trust God, in lieu of His benevolence.
  3. Realizing His love for you and your trust in Him, you need to let that evidence itself in your actions... chief among them is a love for Him, an all-consuming love (all your heart, mind, soul, strength) that causes you to live with abandon in His ways. In other words, you want to simply obey.
  4. Living in God's ways will allow you to realize love for others. Love for others flows from love from God. It is all interconnected.
It is so lonely without realizing God's love. Life is empty, and nothing seems possible or hopeful. With God's love, all things are possible through Him who strengthens us.

Friday, December 11, 2015

All Things Work for Good

Man, this takes a lot of faith. I have had the burden of circumstances weighing heavily upon me, and I've been drowning in my own pity and sorrow.

My wife seems bent on divorce during particular moments, and I don't feel that it matters what I'm trying to do to work my way out of my issues. I get this feeling around my household when I go to visit, that the Daddy age has ended, and the party age is just beginning. I've been asking my wife for advice on how to interact with the kids, and I am hoping that it is the beginning of many dialogues to come. In other words, I feel that it is working in a positive direction, but I can never be sure, because of the utter lack of consistency that I get from my wife day in, day out. She doesn't seem interested in our relationship very much, that's for sure. She is more interested in my relationship with my kids.

Brothers in Christ have been telling me all sorts of things, from "just prepare for divorce" to "serve you wife and kids as best you can, and hopefully she'll come around". The best advice that I've gotten is that I need to leave it in God's hands, that this is a God-sized issue that is beyond me. But that is a lot easier said than done.

I've had to analyze why I feel everything is leading toward doom, that even divorce itself is the ultimate doom. I think I'm realizing (yet again) that there is a relationship addiction present that I need to let go of, but also I am realizing that I don't trust God. Like the parable of the invested talents, I am like the one talent guy that views God as a horrible taskmaster, and as a result, God will not invest in that attitude.

Thankfully I have a brother, Steven, that has been kicking my butt a bit and telling me that no matter what happens, God knows what is best for me. And that I have to believe that, and anything else is a matter of me believing Satan's lies. So, as hard as it seems, I have to give my situation with my wife up to God. Even if she divorces me, I just have to keep believing that God has a plan, and not harden my heart or sulk for years on end. Our Lord is good, no matter what. And that is what I need to believe. As much as I love my wife, and still hope all goes well and we both repent of our sins completely, I need to COMPLETELY give it over to God and not dwell on it any more, except to lay my petitions before Him in prayer and trust the outcome.

Lord, please give me the strength to persevere, looking to you for all the answers and outcomes for my life, because I have to believe that you will make everything right in your own timing. I surrender ALL.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Stop the Victim Mentality

I came out of a fugue today, a fog caused by my own self-pity and a lack of seeking God. I'm not even sure when it began, or how long I've allowed it to beset my mind. God just showed me that I should never grow weary of doing good (Galatians 6:9).

The more we focus on our issues, the problems, the "waves", the more we sink into the water and start drowning. We swim and fight against the waves through constant spiritual activity, and God is with us when we ask Him for help, under-girding us with his guiding touch. In fact, we can walk on top of those waves the more we focus on Him, like Peter with Jesus - walking on water through faith. 

How does that evidence itself in real life? I'm not exactly sure. But simple obedience and simply walking with Him are a good start. Just a child-like faith that everything is going to be OK because daddy (Abba) is present and He's not going to let us down. Sometimes He reassures us, but sometimes we just need to keep fighting, reaching out to God and asking for His help and continuing to worship Him and shout from the rooftops about His Lordship. Even when our minds are darkened and all seems fruitless and hopeless. Our hearts can never grow dark or weary, and we need to keep going, keep giving our lives over to Him.

And at the right time, in His own time, He will lift us up and bring us to exactly where we are meant to be.

Lord, thank you for being my rock, my strength, my salvation, my fortress, my shield. You are my everything. I pray that I would learn what it means to love you with everything I am, everything I have. Please continue to strengthen me, that I might glorify you, and please wrap me and my family in your warm embrace, protect us all so that we can serve each other and others in your name. Set the captives free, Lord, and we will worship in your throne room forever!

Monday, November 23, 2015

I think I'm Ready, But I Need to be Patient

For those of you who are separated from your spouse and family and want desperately to go home, this one's for you...

Boy, am I ready to go home and be with my wife. I may even fool myself into thinking I'm ready to do so. But I am glad that she has drawn a line to ensure that I am fully recovered from my addiction. I am not certain that I will ever be fully 'healed', but I am certain that I am going to have a great relationship with God, and that I'll have some great tools to combat my issues so that I won't slip back into habitual sin. I also want to make sure that I don't objectify my family members, and that I love them to a greater extent and in a Godly way.

I'm not ready.

I realize that there are some foundational issues that I have to meet head-on in my psyche, baggage that I just don't want to carry back into my marriage again. Although I have been clean of porn for a long time, and I am taking the sensuality and lust part of it very seriously now, I realize that I still stare at my wife's body like it was a ribeye steak. And I realize that I would hop in the sack with her in an instant if she needed a 'fix'. The problem with all of this obsessing with sex, even with my wife, is that it lacks intent, purpose, and discipline, things that I desperately need if my marriage and family are going to go well moving forward. I need to learn to never objectify my wife, to not treat her like a thing, to cherish and respect her as a co-equal heir of the kingdom of God. She is my sister in Christ and the mother of my children and the caretaker of our home and my friend before she is my scrumping partner.

Weird as that may sound to some guys, it has to be true. We have to be willing to submit ourselves "one to another" and "consider others as greater than ourselves" before all of the other relationship things can work. I have to desire her heart and her intimate thoughts before I desire her body. It has to be important to me to listen to her because I value what she has to say, not because I think it's going to earn me her respect or time in bed.

I'm working on it. I'm glad for this time, and I pray that God will continue to change my perspective so that I can come back home a more complete man, ready to serve and lead at the same time.

Thank you, Lord for the opportunities to spend time with my family and to serve them. Thank you for the ability to talk with my wife about what is important to her. Help me to value that talk more than sex. Help me to value my wife more for the whole person she is, not the fact that I find her body pleasing. I pray that I would be able to go home before too much longer, but that I would have embedded in my spirit the desire to respect, honor, and cherish my wife. Help me to value playing with my kids and helping prepare them for life in your kingdom above any other form of entertainment. Amen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

He Has Delivered Me

I find it difficult to believe anything that can't be quantified - doesn't have evidence that I can touch, feel, or experience for myself. Like Thomas, who demanded to touch the wounds in Jesus' hands and side, I am somewhat of an objectivist. But God just laughs at that.

He has wanted my heart to be His, completely. And I have resisted most of my life, somewhat foolishly, because I am concerned about the God that I see that crushes the vain. I haven't trusted God and viewed him as a hard taskmaster, similar to the man with one talent that received nothing for failing to invest in God's kingdom. But I have learned, in my own vanity, that for those that He loves and for those that reach out to Him (if even infrequently and in the midst of their own consequences), He will make Himself known.

How do I know this? Because no matter how hard I have tried to leave the faith and give up on Him over the years, He has continued to reveal Himself to me in very profound manners, and has continued to draw me to Himself. Like an un-weaned babe, I have thrashed and screamed, desiring my own ways. And sometimes He has serviced me, allowing me to have the desires of my own heart even as He feeds me blessings. He has allowed me to meet the eventual consequences of my sin, even though He has always been there for me.

There is this consistent presence, this consistent "still small voice" that rings in the deep recesses of my head, sometimes stopping me in my tracks. There are the "leadings" that other believers have that meet me and challenge me where my needs are, where they are convicted that the Holy Spirit is telling them something about my hidden thoughts. Yet, for months and even years at a time, it seemed that God was not with me, as I begged to be released from addiction and shame.

And now, now when I am faced with deep depression and sorrow and wanting to end it all, now when I am ready to just give up again, He is there, corralling me into His embrace. God's presence washes over me in my deepest darkness, and He not only places a vision in my mind that I don't think I fully understand, but then seemingly pulls that glob of dark matter out of the gears of my heart so that they can move again.

Yeah, that's right. Somehow I feel that He has set me free. And the vision that accompanied it was that setting where I was exposed to porn as a small child, where Jesus comes into my memory and takes me by my small hand and leads me away. What does that even mean??? I think I've found that it doesn't quite matter, and that I am glad that Jesus is working in my heart, drawing me toward Him. Satan has attacked me harder than ever before lately, and I've dwelt upon plans of suicide and all sorts of darkness, and yet I think God has gently pulled me away from it and placed me on solid ground. I've heard about the solid rock of God, and experienced some of the spiritual stability thereof, but this is the first time that I don't feel like a boxer against the ropes, and like God is in my corner - no, in the ring with me - giving me strength to battle on. Maybe I'll continue to have depressing days and think that I just can't win, but there will be this underlying understanding, I think, that I have been set free.

Wow. I guess I'll just never understand how He does things. Or why. But it's awesome.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Transformed Hearts

I've had some amazing things happen in the last few days.

I just got done reading "Surfing for God:Discovering the Divine Desire Behind Sexual Struggle" by Michael John Cusick. Wow. It is timely in that a number of things have hit the fan recently for me.

So first, the context of what is happening in my life. As I have mentioned, I have still been struggling in some areas of sensuality and with masturbation. When I reported this to my wife, she asked me what my patterns were, what triggers I was failing at, and it was the same old, same old - movies. She was angry and upset that I would keep trading in my family for a bit of entertainment, knowing full well that seeking those visuals inevitably leads to sexual sin in some manner (if even just lusting over fully clothed women on the screen).

Her anger sent me into a deep depression (yes, it's the same old relationship addiction and co-dependency causing me to be paralyzed by fear, and I realized that I needed to let go of that and re-focus on my walk with Jesus again) and I at first swore to myself that I would read more scripture, find tougher accountability partners, and get rid of all movies for the rest of my life. While those are simple fixes that can help in the short term to re-focus, I've already found that just asserting boundaries and "white knuckling" does not work for me. I need real and lasting change.

And that is the core theme throughout Cusick's book, that you have to allow God and other believers into your deepest darkest pits of despair and secrecy, that you have to ask Jesus to take those places and bring them all into the light, to transform your heart's household into a mansion of light. Jesus is in the business of healing the broken-hearted into people of courage, integrity, and faith. He wants to heal and transform our hearts, so we can be the amazing creation He meant for us to be. But He wants us to seek Him earnestly, to be still and listen to Him. This may take time and some repetition before we understand the abandonment and surrender that needs to take place for us to just sit and hear Him.

For me, I have realized that there is an abandoned, lonely, and scared little boy in me. I think back to all of the formative moments in my life, and realize that I left important parts of my psyche strewn all throughout my timeline, that I became more and more numb to the beauty of life with all of the disgusting things I went through. I later sold my inheritance for the stimulation of worldliness, and I feel that Jesus wants to give it back to me.

The book describes a man that had asked Jesus to connect with him directly and show him what was needed, asking what Jesus wanted to say and show him, asking time and again until it was revealed, and then continuing on this path of healing. About the third time that the guy prayed this, Jesus took him back to a moment when he was a boy looking at Playboy magazines, and told him that He loved that boy then, and he loved the man that he was, broken and disgusting as he was, and that he would always love him and be with him.

It struck me that this was something that I needed to do, and similarly to the experience that this other addict had, I was struck with a vivid demonstration of God's love when Jesus gave me a vision: when I was a little boy of 4, I was sitting in the hallway, already numb with abandonment problems, watching pornography on my mom's boyfriend's projector screen while they fornicated. Rather than the images being the predominant theme of this vision (as is usual when I think back to this instant), instead, the vision was one of Jesus taking me by my little hand and leading me away.

For many of you, this might seem like a silly thing, and certainly not earth-shattering enough to quit all forms of lust. But God is mysterious in the way that He works, and I think that this is just one of many moments to come where He will communicate His way and will to me for my life. He wants to deliver me from this burden and shame, and He wants me to help set the other captives free. It all starts with time - time just sitting with Him and meditating on His truths and asking where He wants to take me next, what He wants to show me and say to me next.

Praise your name, Lord Jesus, for you are my strength and my shield, my fortress and my rock! All true healing of the heart comes from you, and I want to place every facet of my life in your hands.

So, all of that said, November 15, 2015 is my first day of complete purity, and trying to seek a complete healing and wholeness in Christ. May I glorify Him more by serving His kingdom, and by being holy for His purposes.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Emotional Anorexia

Emotional Anorexia is a seemingly new definition to the addiction scene, and it essentially means this: that you withhold love, affection, and/or intimacy from your loved ones. There are a number of symptoms that are evidenced with this issue, wherein the "withholdings" can vary over time.

I don't think I'd yet be able to provide the best explanation for this issue, so I'm going to send you over to an article at Transformed Hearts that gives it a complete treatment:

I will say that though one spouse (the one that usually plays the part of judge/jury/executioner) will moreso withhold love than the other, there will invariably be symptoms on both sides of an unhealthy relationship. For example, a wife may exhibit all of the symptoms toward a husband caught in an addiction, but the very addiction itself may be a way to escape the pain and frustration of one's own failures or the failed relationship itself, and the addict is withholding the love and affection that should be due their loved one as a result. Porn addicts, for example, lack the ability to engage in true intimacy with their spouses, because they don't need to navigate the possibilities of conflict, pain, or disappointment if they can select and control all of the fantasies they want in their own little world. So the true relationship suffers while they live for their own pleasure.

Addicts in general have a way of numbing and medicating their pain, avoiding the conflict that might arise from it in relationships. Without healing in the relationship, it will stagnate and die, so both spouses need to find ways to connect, and the folks over at Transformed Hearts have some advice on where to start.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Radical Amputation of Sin

Sigh. How stupid we can be. Or I can be.

One of Satan's primary methods to get us to doubt God is to say, "Did God really say that?" (Genesis 3:1).

It is certainly this way when we view the scripture that says, "If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off." God certainly didn't say that, did He? Well, yes, He did. And that was Jesus, not some old testament prophecy. That was the man (man-God) who as He hung on the cross said, "forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."

What I understand about my addiction is that when I leave any room at all for visual tastes to be fed on a regular basis, I eventually fall into sin. So, TV and movies should generally be left out of my repertoire. Hard to do when your new roommate (while you are separated from your wife) has cable TV (though ratings locked) and you have a computer on which you can watch movies (not ratings locked, though filtered for Covenant Eyes). Hard to do, I say, but not impossible. You have to WANT it.

I recently approached some of the more aggressive gentlemen in my 12-step recovery program at Celebrate Recovery, and one of the first things that they said is that I need to engage in "radical and aggressive amputation", that I need to rid myself of any patterned behavior that may lead to sin, even if I have to quit my job, move, etc. The next thing that they said is that I need to fill my life with prayer and worship, and work to get delivered from each and every image that the Holy Spirit convicts me of.

They recommended that I place a reminder/alert on my cell phone for every hour to remind me to pray and worship God. This has helped me set a new daily thought pattern, and it has definitely set new levels of faith and confidence in my heart. I feel more ready to meet God than ever before, and I have a lot less anxiety. They also recommended that I change the spiritual atmosphere around me by playing an audio bible or worship music throughout my day.

When my wife reads this, she's probably going to smack me upside the back of my head, because she has been saying things like this for our whole marriage. The big difference now is that I have burly men that are willing to pull alongside me to hold me accountable, and I actually WANT it now. I know that there may be frustration on her part that the ruination of our family has not caused me to want these things, to want to be completely free. I can't explain why that didn't dissuade me from my sins, except to say that the Holy Spirit has seized hold of my heart and given me a desire for Him.

Whatever you want to call these things that lead to sin... triggers, gateways, footholds, strongholds, etc. You've got to utterly destroy them in your life. You have to cut anything and everything from your life that is going to directly allow you to sin. And you have to WANT it.

Lord, please work in my heart to destroy every last shred of the pornographic spirit, release me from its bond on my heart, from the sexual sins of the past, every woman that I have ever been bound to, and set me free! I know that Jesus died for all my sins, I know that He died to set my free, and that I am free indeed. I pray that I would live for your glory, and to honor others greater than myself. Please let me honor my wife and never harm her again in these ways. Please let me have an increased respect and love for my family, to treat them with the care that Jesus gave to His church. And help me to WANT it.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

It's All Porn

I presented a definition of the word "porn" to my wife when I recently informed her of my fight to fully avoid pornography. This was mainly because as an addict, the power of the addiction often times causes us to be deceptive with ourselves and our loved ones, and in the past I had often deceived her with a tangle of word-woven lies. It is this deception that I'm hoping to unravel even now, for myself and for all of you.

My definition of porn to her was "the nude image of a woman other than my wife". Although that is a good start, I think that I am realizing that the porneia spoken about in the bible doesn't just stop there. Porneia is sexual immorality, and while the word usage normally centered upon the prostitution associated with the temples during that age in Greek society, there is ample evidence from other Greek literature that the use of the Koine Greek (the language of the New Testament) word porneia ventures into all forms of sexual immorality.

If a man masturbates while watching porn, the hormones and neuro-chemicals that he releases are actually causing his mind to be mapped to the images in front of him; so much so that addicts are continually drawn to the undulating images and are patternistically drawn to particular genres of sites, porn actresses, etc; maybe particular hair colors, maybe particular activities. The point being, a man will continue to find affinity with the characters represented in the pixels, and his soul will be bound to the "prostitutes" on the computer screen equally as much as if he had fornicated with a real prostitute at the local temple of some deity.

The bible is pretty strong about avoiding adultery and fornication, as a believer joins the Holy Spirit with the prostitute, which is an evil act. You are actually subjecting the "new creation", the eternal being at the core of your soul that is inexorably connected with God via the Holy Spirit, with sin. Since this is clearly an abominable sin according to scripture, and other parts of scripture make it clear that we should be "making a covenant" with our eyes to not look at women (Job 31:1) and that it is adultery to look at a woman with lust (Matthew 5:28), I'd say it's clear that anything that you set your eyes upon with lust is sinful adultery, and somewhat synonymous with fornication (in fact, the same Greek word for sexual immorality, porneia, is also used for fornication).

It's easy to see that the nude form of women is porn. But what about all of the other readily available images of women in our society? Each man needs to answer that question for themselves - HONESTLY.

Watching or surfing for things that are deeply sensual is likely going to get those same hormones running, and I doubt that any man looking at cadres of swimsuits or lingerie or other states of skinful undress is not going to lust. Certainly if your desire is to masturbate or get the exciting pop that you might when surfing porn, you've gone too far. The "looking after another woman in lust" certainly doesn't mention any manner of undress of the ladies you are looking at. You need to avoid any situation that would cause you to lust after women.

If you look at a fully clothed woman and allow yourself to undress her with your imagination, whether out in society or on TV, you need to do something about what you are viewing. Not watching TV would be a good start, if it constantly leads you to lust. Avoiding places filled with scantily clad women when you are out and about is a must. Window shopping at the mall is probably a bad idea, for example. Limiting your exposure to people in general might be wise, especially as you begin to build your strength against temptation.

I myself continue to struggle with masturbation and the occasional viewing of sensual material. I am realizing that these things are a part of the same spiritual bondage that I want to escape from, the pornographic demon that I want off my back, permanently. I am realizing that I need to pray specifically about these things and practice the continued exit strategies that will help me to "flee sexual immorality". Every stolen thought or look is a chip away from my manhood, as well as a nail in the coffin of my relationship with my wife. I need to be removing those nails and building back up my confidence in who I am, not constantly trading the real life interactions (as difficult as they may be) for false control structures.

I hope this helps you to realize the compromise that you may have been making as well, and I pray that you will learn to fight against every modicum of lust in your heart.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Falling Off the Opposite Side of the Horse

When we fall in our areas of addiction, it's easy for us to say, "I fell off the wagon" and many will say, "get back on your horse, man." It's easy to see how we've fallen when we go in that direction; but what about when we act in the opposite and equally wrong manner toward sin? The answer is that there are two sides of a horse to fall off of.

On the one side of the horse is licentiousness, where we have questioned God's ways ("Has God really said...?"). It's easy to see that we fall when we question God's word, His ways, and eat of the forbidden fruit. When we commit idolatry, refuse to worship, conceitedly use God's authority and name, dishonor our elders, hate or murder, lust or adulterate ourselves, steal, bear false witness, or act out because we are discontent with what God has given us, we are breaking God's original 10 commandments. There are many offshoots of what it means to honor God and falling short thereof, but the most important of all is the acceptance (or, in sin, rejection) of the good news that Jesus has died for our sins and we are no longer condemned before the judgement seat of God - this is the only unforgivable sin, committed over a lifetime and carried to the grave.

In other words, falling off the left side of the horse is the transgression of God's law. But one can fall off the other side of a horse, as well.

On the other side of the horse is pharisee-ism. The Pharisees of Jesus' age were like the Orthodox
Jews of today, gathering around themselves all kinds of rules and traditions to keep themselves from breaking any part of God's Old Testament law. Unfortunately, in their self righteousness, they became the judge, jury, and executioners of what they thought was God's will. They were all too willing to point the finger of condemnation at others and yell, "AH-HA!!!!" They were often seen stoning others to death for their sins.

When Jesus came into this world, He ate dinner with prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners. Sometimes he ate with pharisees, as well; when those pharisees muttered against other sinners present, He rebuked them. When He was preaching and He saw the leaders of the pharisees, or those that were sent to cause Him to stumble, He called them "the blind leading the blind", "white washed tombs filled with dead men's bones", and "pit of vipers", among other descriptions. In fact, He was more vehemently against their sins than those of the transgressors surrounding Him. These ultra-self-righteous religious leaders of Jesus' time on this earth could not do much else other than stand in judgement of others, and the extra rules that they gathered about themselves became a code of conduct that went above and beyond God's law, and gave them extra fire power to condemn others. They were harbingers of death, and all they did was threaten and cajole with the penalty of death hanging constantly over their words. They put burdens upon other's souls and made it more difficult for sinners to deal with their sins.

So, if licentiousness is falling off the one side of the horse because we are not following God's ways, we need to realize that falling off the other side of the horse (the right side?) is equally sinful, by judging others and condemning them... some things to keep in mind about this...
  1. A continuous pattern of looking at others in self-righteousness should be a red flag to ourselves, that we are judging unduly. Though a recognition of sin is healthy, we should have a sorrow for others caught up in sin, and truly desire for them to turn to God.
  2. Though it is good and holy to point out other's sins for the purpose of helping them to heal from their pain and to bring them into a better fellowship with God, it is not good to knock them down by continued confrontation and self-righteous anger over their sin.
  3. If we do not forgive, it will not be forgiven us. This is an important part of what Jesus did on the cross. Though many wounds are unbearable and may take time to heal, if we do not release the person from the condemnation that we think they should have because of their sins - if we hope for hell, punishment, suffering, or we refuse to fellowship with or love a believer or family member, then we are saying that Jesus' death on the cross was not enough to pay for their sins, and we demand condemnation that goes beyond what is due a sinner. We should be willing to re-establish relationships when a sinner is truly repentant, and we should welcome them with love, as 2 Corinthians demonstrates. Granted, an unrepentant sinner should take time to prove their changed heart, but forgiveness is given long before trust...
  4. For the unrepentant sinner, Matthew 18 describes a calm and controlled process by which the unrepentant one is disfellowshipped - not in a legalistic and angry manner, but in a manner that continues to work to win over that brother in Christ. They may be handed over to Satan for sifting, but the hope is that they return back to Christ and repent of their sins. A demonstrated change in behavior over time should allow them to be brought back into the fold, as 2 Corinthians demonstrates. Though they might not be trusted for a time, and extra steps may be taken to keep them walking in holiness, love should never be withheld, nor forgiveness. 
  5. Though we should be aware of others' triggers and pathways to sin, we should continue to warn them in love of their path, prayerfully helping them as brothers and sisters in Christ to divert their paths and seek God on a regular basis. As addicts, this is important, because recognition of those things we know will bring us into habitual sin is important, and we can only help each other if we don't use a voice of condemnation and self-righteousness as we do so.
  6. If you empower yourself over others by pointing out their past sins or their weaknesses in an area of sin, this is a matter of condemnation and a lack of forgiveness. You are putting yourself in the place of authority over that person in an unjust manner. Essentially, you are playing God over that person.
  7. Pride has no place in God's kingdom. As I've said elsewhere, we should always realize that we play the part of a beggar, showing other beggars where to find the bread and water of life. No sin is worse than another, as far as what Jesus paid for on the cross, and if you think that it is your constant job to pull the splinter from your brother's eye, you need to remove the plank from your own eye first.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Lightcore Porn - Whether or Not Art Can Be Considered Pornographic

I've read that many within faith movements do not consider art forms to be pornographic in nature. This is interesting since many within the reformation and counter reformation movements objected to nudity in art. In fact, Michelangelo was made to re-paint portions of his Last Judgement fresco because of doctrinal inaccuracy and nudity. Many of his paintings came under scrutiny by the church at large.

But fast forwarding to our present age, there are very, very few that reject to nudity in art in our modern realm, just as there are many that think that hardcore porn has its place in relationships and does little damage to a person's brain (more on this in another post, where I will prove the damage that it does to relationships and the individual's brain).

But I think the most important question on the matter is whether God views nudity as acceptable in any setting. So this post will focus a bit on some of the scriptures that focus on nudity, and whether the pure nudity itself is considered pornographic.

The first and most classic example of nudity in the bible is Adam and Eve. They initially walked in
the garden, naked and feeling no shame over it. But their sin and the subsequent fall of mankind led to their eyes being opened, "...and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves." Sin nature itself caused them to have knowledge of good and evil (not that evil didn't exist already, as Satan had already fallen, but that man did not have a knowledge of it, which allowed them to be free of it). Because sin came into the world, evil came into the world, and shame came with it. Nakedness, which previously had no shame, suddenly was sinful and shameful. And God slaughtered an animal to make sufficient coverings for them, to cover their sin. God Himself recognized that their nakedness needed to be covered, and demonstrated that death was now the norm of a sinful world and of the solution to cover sin (a foreshadowing of the cross). This sets the foundation for all of creation, and the fact that nudity was to be kept covered at all times...

The next time we encounter nakedness as a sin is in the case of Noah...
Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father's nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”(Genesis 9:22-25)
Just because Ham saw his father's nakedness, looked upon him unashamedly, and went and reported it to his brothers, his whole family line became cursed.

The law of Moses forbade the viewing of a family member's nakedness. In an age where taking multiple wives was kosher, taking a mother and a daughter to uncover their nakedness was not.

The priests were not allowed to go up the steps to the sacrificial alter without some kind of undergarment to keep their nakedness covered: "And you shall not go up by steps to My altar, so that your nakedness will not be exposed on it." (Exodus 20:26)

The prophets, when expressing God's displeasure with Israel, said that their nakedness would be exposed as a PUNISHMENT: "Behold, I am against you," declares the LORD of hosts; "And I will lift up your skirts over your face, And show to the nations your nakedness And to the kingdoms your disgrace." (Nahum 3:5). There are several cases where the prophets and kings themselves were commanded to go naked to illustrate the shame of Israel - this was obviously not a norm, but an illustration of judgement.

In Isaiah 47, we see an illustration of God being displeased with Babylon, and the sole sin of the analogy, it seems, is that woman representing Babylon exposed her thighs as she waded in the rivers... "Take the millstones and grind meal. Remove your veil, strip off the skirt, Uncover the leg, cross the rivers. Your nakedness will be uncovered, Your shame also will be exposed; I will take vengeance and will not spare a man." (I wonder how God views bikinis, in lieu of this???)

In 1 Timothy 2:9, we see that women are abjured to dress modestly, and not in a bold manner, not drawing the eyes to parts of their bodies that would cause others to sin, in essence of the language itself. Modest apparel of that age was a long robe that did not accentuate the figure in any way.

There are many, many, many references to nakedness indicating a distressed, poor, and depraved state, one that God does not approve of and is often considered judgement by God. How then are we to celebrate nudity in our finest art forms?

The Renaissance was considered an age of freedom for the art form, a "throwing off" of the archaic rules of the church and all its frugality. In truth, it was rebellion against the word of God in many ways. Reformers and Counter-Reformers alike spoke out against nudity in art. The Puritans absolutely shirked such forms as absolute pornography. If we were to look in a Playboy or Penthouse magazine and paint the things that we see therein, what difference does it make if there is a background or other manners of fantasy surrounding the nude form? Should Playboy and Penthouse be considered art, if we have fantasy or artistic backgrounds surrounding the nude form? Certainly not. It is pornography, meant to evoke powerful emotions in the viewer, just like a gratuitous sex scene in a movie (often times I am enjoying a great movie, until there is a sex scene that had no place in the movie at all - gratuitous sex to draw the flesh in even more).

The heart of man is deceitfully wicked, and we are idol factories that easily press against the limits of God's word and cause us to pose, as Satan did, "Did God really say that?" I think if you look at the core of that question, it is a challenge to God's ways, what He says is pure and holy and true. If you are constantly doing that to God's word, you may want to consider your relationship with a Lord who made you and loves you and desires what is best for you.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

To Love, Even When it Hurts

Imagine Jesus on the cross, in immeasurable pain, bearing fully the wrath and burdens of the world's sin, and enduring the mockery and abuse of not only the religious and political leaders of that age, but those that only days before were singing Hallelujahs to Him as He rode a donkey into town. Now imagine that some of the people that are abusing Him will later be named as Christians and come to know His Love, even after the most extreme level of hatred toward Him. Peter later says these people he is addressing in Acts 2 are the ones who crucified Jesus, as they had demanded crucifixion in the Romans' court. His future children are there, killing Him. And yet Jesus looks with pity upon these mockers, haters, and extreme assailants and prays, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."

That is the kind of love that we are called to.

Now we believers in Christ, full of sin ourselves, are called to be more Christlike with every breath we take. Our complete focus is supposed to be kingdom- and spirit-driven. And yet we fall completely short of that goal with just about every action, if we are completely honest with ourselves (yet we are abjured to press on to win the prize). We deserve hell because of our sin, and yet God has invested so much mercy and grace in us so that we can give the same to others. Freely you have taken, freely you should give. And so our goal, in being more Christ-like, is to love those that have committed horrendous evils against us. But it seems like we have this stacked deck against us, this sin nature against which we fight that keeps us from being that good, that merciful, that forgiving. We are met with the imperfect that is constantly reaching to be more like the perfect, that we are striving and reaching to be more like the One that we cannot possibly be like until we meet Him face to face.

If our highest priority is to Love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, soul, and strength, then our focus should be on Him first, and how He has loved all of His children down through time no matter how hard-hearted they were, and with a longsuffering to their sins and indifference. So, no matter what is going on with your relationships, you need to realize that the time and care you spend with Him is of the utmost importance. ALSO, the scripture is clear that we love Him by obeying His ways. And His ways tell us to love everyone with no preference to ourselves.

The second highest priority is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and we know from the scriptures that neighbors are basically everyone that we come into contact with, including our so-called enemies (Satan notwithstanding). This becomes especially tough when you have a loved one that makes them self into your enemy, refusing to show you love or respect. It becomes demoralizing, and it can hurt for those that have issues with abandonment or rejection (I know I do).

But the first priority is what empowers us on to the second. Without the first, you can't really continue in the second. You can't love others if you don't have a sense of what love really is, a love that is from God, a love that is longsuffering and doesn't look for returns from that love.

Love hurts, especially when it is not reciprocated and those that are supposed to love you the most let you down constantly. But I would posit that if your focus in your relationship is based on whether or not you feel valued or accepted in life or even by God as a result of how other people love you, then your priorities are way out of whack. Maybe you even have some symptoms of addictions such as co-dependency, relationship addiction, emotional dependence, or other similar relationship-bound mental or spiritual disorders that can plague a believer.

Some focus on their own boulevard of broken dreams, the family that they were hoping for laying in a shambles all around them. Again, your vision is based on a return, something you are hoping to get out of the relationship, rather than a selfless love that is based on the sacrifice that God made for us. The Father gave His son, the son gave up the peace He had in heaven to come in the lowly human form and suffer mightily, and the Holy Spirit suffers through our many continued sins to minister to us and carry our prayers heavenward. God continues on with us, sometimes without promise of any return. So we should also look to our relationships and realize that there may never be a return.

If your children rebel, pray that they would come to know, love, and serve Christ, not primarily that they would love you. Perhaps in their love for God they will learn to love. If your spouse has fallen out of love for you and can't muster a speck of respect for you, pray that their relationship with God would be greater, then continue to love and serve them; pray for your marriage for the sake of serving God in the family unit, and that your spouse would also learn to love when it hurts. But if your goal is to FEEL fulfilled in your relationship, your focus is off a bit. Men, God wants us to love our wives as Christ loves the church, washing her in the word. I'd say that Christ continues to love the church when that love isn't returned, reaching out to sinners while they are still dead in their sins and trespasses to generate a new life in their hearts.

Pray for the strength, brothers and sisters. It hurts, but God will help you to BE fulfilled, both in this life and the next, though you may not FEEL it. Take your pain to Him, pray for strength, and do your best to love all others, even when it hurts. Jesus did.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

My Story of Addiction

I am writing this to other Christian addicts (habitual sinners that have been enslaved to their flesh, but desire to be free) in the hopes that they understand first of all that they are not alone, and that there is hope for the future.

My earliest exposure to porn was when I was four years old. I remember waking up to strange noises and walking out of my bedroom and down the hall toward my mom and boyfriend's bedroom. I knew that I wasn't allowed in their room, and had caught them in various forms of undress and activities to know that I would get a spanking if I bothered them when they wanted privacy. I could hear them making loud noises, though I didn't fully understand what they were doing. There was a projector running on a big screen, so I sat down in the hallway outside of their room to watch. I remember being bored after a while, and the things going on throughout the movie were just weird, reminded me of the things that I knew my mom did with her boyfriend. And the noises kept weirding me out. So I went back to bed. 

Little did I know that I had just watched my first hardcore porno movie, without even knowing what I was looking at. This was a year before Star Wars first came out, which I was infinitely more interested in at the time, I can assure you. Nonetheless, the images are still there today. And the spiritual bondage was only just beginning to take shape.

At the age of 5 and 6, I was allowed free access to the Playboy magazines that were around the house, and I was curious about the women's bodies that men seemed to ogle so much. I was more interested in the cartoons and made lame attempts to joke with my mom about them. My mom had yet another boyfriend, and they did many of the same things that she did with other boyfriends, sometimes while I was in the same room. I remember one early morning that they were making loud noises; I really wanted to get up and go in another room, so I tried to make noises that indicated I was waking up, but they kept going at it in a manner that indicated that they hadn't heard me, and I had to patiently wait until they were done so I could act like I didn't wake up earlier.

When I was 6, I was molested by an older boy at a babysitters. I just figured that it was normal, and allowed him to strip me down and attempt to penetrate me. I told him that it hurt and to stop. The situation went unreported.

When I was 7 years old, a friend of mine was a Playboy fiend, and was drastically interested in looking at them. I remember sitting with this friend at one of my dad's parties (I moved back and forth between divorced parents much of my life) with stacks of Playboys around us. Some of the women tried to stop us, to which the men present told them to leave us alone. That same friend cornered one of the drunk adult women in the bathroom and attempted to molest her while I stood by, shocked.

Also at the age of 7, I lay with a friend and his sister, as she wanted us to simulate sexual acts with her. I had no idea what I was doing. When the older sister came home, she asked me to come into the other room so she could see my uncircumcised penis because she was a nurse. She stared at me for a while and then let me go.

At the age of 8, I was simulating sexual acts with everything in sight. I had regular dreams about being a super hero and having sex with the heroines of the movies I watched. I still remember some of those dreams vividly.

At the age of 12, I was looking at porn in books and reading the stories. I had access to a pornographic book with hardcore images that my mom had "hidden" in a cabinet that she knew I had regular access to. By this time, my definition of sex was completely distorted to the visions of pornographers. The size of my penis was made fun of when I was in the Boy Scouts during a skinny dipping outing, so I began to have a negative body image of myself, thinking that I'd never measure up to the men that had access to women.

I was circumcised at the age of 13, thinking that I had to be "normal" to be able to have a relationship with a woman. Dating was constantly on my mind. I began relationships with girls, and I was good at the making out part. As soon as they tried to go in my pants, though, I got scared and felt intimidated and shrank away. This fear lasted well into the college years, to the point that I was still a virgin though I had a handful of chances to consummate my pornographic fantasies. 

I met my wife in college and we had unhealthy sexual activities from the very start. She made it clear that she hated the Playboys and pornography, so I hid my activities from her. My activities became fewer and lesser, but were still latent in my blackened heart.

We got married under less than dedicated terms, both of us not even sure we wanted to be married. Six months after getting married, I went to New Orleans, got rip-roaring drunk, and fornicated with a strange woman. This tore my wife apart. In the midst of it, we became Christians, but our relationship was never the same. We decided to become dedicated to God - we threw away our television, all of our secular music, and anything that even seemed worldly. We were dedicated to seeking out God and reading His word. For two years, I was clean from pornography. Then the internet hit us full force.

With my wife pregnant with our first child, I had hooked up our first computer to the internet and on the very first night that I had access, I looked at porn. And my wife caught me. And it killed her. That was 1997. We began an 18-year long swan song where she would try to dedicate herself to me, and I would let her down time and again. She began to hate me, and then she just went numb.

I lost one great job because of porn, my children were exposed to it accidentally, and it continued to wound my sweet wife until she was sweet no longer. And yet I still couldn't walk away from the porn. I wouldn't put into affect all of the drastic measures to completely remove it from my life.

That brings me to our current situation. I am separated from my wife and 8 kids. I am free from porn since June 24, 2015; that's 123 days as of today. It took the threat of divorce to finally realize what I was losing. Have already lost, really. My wife has little hope for our marriage. I find myself hoping beyond what faith I have that things will get better. I'm willing to upend everything to become porn free permanently. I attend Celebrate Recovery and I am counseling at my church, and I hope that my wife will join into the marriage counseling eventually. I think that she's trying. I still struggle with masturbation, but I try to focus on my wife even as I do that stuff. I know that masturbation is sin and I want to get it out of my life as well. I'm trying to formulate escape routines to get out of the house and try to stop the cycle of lust. But I need to just kill every last vestige of this beast that has ruled my life. I realize that now. And I'm willing to do anything, whatever it takes to conquer it.

That's my walk with addiction, in a nutshell. I am a new creation in Christ now. And I realize that I need to run TO Him and run WITH Him and believers now, and that this is a lifestyle of continued combat that I just need to diligently continue working at. I once thought I just wanted to be "normal". Now I realize that I don't want anything to do with the world's idea of "normal", and I want what God wants for my life, wherever that takes me.

Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me

God chastises (punishes) those whom He loves.

I think that we as habitual sinners (my definition of the word 'addict', from a Christian point of view) need to learn to love God's ebb and flow in our lives. Certainly, there are a number of things in our life that have happened merely as a result of a fallen world and because of sin, whether our own or the influence of others. But it is also evident that God works directly in our lives at particular times, especially when the reset button needs to be set. Certainly He allows and even engineers all things to happen, and as a Christian we accept this and realize that all things work for good for those that love God.

For me, I had been addicted to porn for 40+ years, the spiritual bondage starting back to when I was a small child, too young to understand right from wrong. Porn became so inculcated into my life, it became normal, just an average part of my life; and the deception to cover it up was as normal as my mother's deception to cover up her drug habits, or to lie to keep from getting in trouble when I broke the rules, lest I get beaten severely. As an adult, my heart had been hardened to the consequences of my sin because it was so ingrained in me, I didn't see the damage that it was truly doing. I'm not sure I even thought about it logically. There was some level of conviction that what I was doing was wrong, went against God's ways, but the rewards of the flesh at the time were outweighing the rewards of the Spirit - I hadn't learned enough about God's love to realize that there was so much more fulfillment in Him than the pixels on the screen.

So God crushed me. Many times over.

My relationship took many, many hits over the porn thing. My wife, who had an immediate hatred for porn before we were even married, made it clear that she would NOT accept a man that was looking at other women's naked bodies. We continued as a family unit, and I think that my wife held on to a hope that I would change as I matured, but our hearts became hardened toward each other 18 years ago. A handful of explosions happened over the years, and each time my wife cyclically caught me looking at porn it chipped away at any hope that she had for our relationship. My children became exposed to porn several times accidentally, and they sometimes drew pictures of what they saw. I lost a solid job of 5+ years (along with the great benefits, including pension) because I had no self control and viewed porn on the work network. It took very little after that to put my wife further and further into depression and apathy for our marriage, much less anything that needed to be done for our family.

In August 2015, my wife finally put her foot down and said NO MORE. She wanted separation, possibly divorce. In fact, she seemed to be hoping for divorce to be rid of the man that she hated so much. It took me a few months to realize that I shouldn't have blamed her, based on all of the crap that I put her through over the years, as my selfishness evidenced itself in so many other ways than just viewing porn.

I have errantly blamed God for my sin over the years, saying that surely I couldn't help being affected toward porn the way that I have. But I have been missing the boat entirely, realizing that He wants to affect a miraculous change in my heart and that He has so much more to offer me. I was making Him into my enemy, an oppressive tyrant, when He has always been the disciplining Father that was trying to get me to stop my bad behavior and allow Him to heal me.

So I have learned to accept His discipline. I am currently alone, more lonely in a physical sense than I have ever been; but I'm not nearly as lonely as I was in my broken marriage, having viewed my marriage as the center of my joy that had been so utterly destroyed. As I refocus my life on Christ, I am somehow more full and feeling less lonely than I did with a household of people (family of 10).

I take trips home to serve my family as best I can - watching kids while my wife gets chores done, doing some dishes when needed, making dinner, reading to the kids before they go to bed. I am glad that I am allowed to have this interaction. I love my kids. And I love my wife more than ever before. I look in her eyes more, though I feel a sense of guilt that I have taken the glimmer out of her eyes that she once had as a younger woman. I look at pictures of her all the time and think about how each year, her eyes seem to get more dull with the weight of her husband's sins. I hope and pray that God will put that light back in her heart and in her eyes.

There seems to be such a spiritual funk that hangs over my house. I knew it before, but it is even more evident now. I'm working to bring my family before the word of God each time I visit, but it seems to fall on indifferent ears. Nevertheless, God's word will not return void, and I trust that He will do His work in their lives in His own time. I am praying for their healing, that they would seek God and heal from all of the hurt, bitterness, and frustration.

My current societal purgatory and the associated eye-opening revelations as to the impact of my own sin are completely necessary for my repentance and growth. I'm learning not to seek penance to pay for my sins (tetelestai, it is finished), and I am realizing that God brings us low so He can build us back up again. There is no reason to shake my fist at the heavens anymore. Instead, my hands are open, and I hold them up in praise. And I sing songs openly with tears in my eyes. God is so good to me, his rod and his crook bring me back into line with His will for my life, and it has begun to bring comfort to my soul to know that He cares enough to discipline and train me. Glory be to the one true God, who deserves all praise and worship.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Secrets to Parenting

For years, I couldn't understand what it took to thrive in a good relationship, as my mind was more focused on my own needs being met (or at times was too preoccupied with the cycle of shame in which I was looping through constantly). So this blog post aims to direct others who have lived a self-centered life in the manner of how to serve those that need them the most in their lives: their children.

In short: Faith. Respect. Love. Selflessness. Humility. These concepts are continuous threads through all relationships. And they are dreadfully hard to accomplish for a self-focused person bent on fulfilling their own needs, so you (and I) have to pray hard that God can change your heart in each of these areas...

This is the bedrock and foundation of all things beautiful or good in life, especially relationships. If you don't know Jesus as Lord of all and Savior of your soul, then you will only be able to attempt a facsimile of these values. The reason for this is that Jesus Himself models the sacrifice and selflessness necessary to truly love others. He lived a life of holiness for us, died on the cross to bear the punishment for our sin, rose again that we might have eternal life in Him, and even now mediates on our behalf before the Father's throne. Without a relationship with Christ, none of these concepts about relationships with people will fully hit home.

Relationships to a non-believer are always mutual give-and-take, you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours, and are ultimately fulfilling to the self in a feel good manner. Humanists and Objectivists, for example, view love as a self-serving act that is primarily focused on the physical side of the relationship; children are a by-product of what is fulfilling to the woman herself, and only insomuch as her career and goals are not threatened, for to deny oneself their desires is the ultimate sin. In fact, any relationship is only worth what I can get out of it emotionally, to the wordly and fleshly focused. I was definitely bent on serving myself and my own worldly desires before I became a believer in Christ, and have fought through years of habitual sin and broken relationships to realize that relationships cannot always give and take.

The problem with an investment approach is that relationships, especially with children, are all too often one-sided. Children do not reciprocate your love, and yet they absolutely require unconditional love to thrive in a sin-filled world. Christ models this humble servitude perfectly by washing his disciples' feet, refusing to play the political games of the age, and being obedient unto death on the cross. In fact, as He looked out over the crowd of people responsible for crucifying Him, among His final words were, "forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." He made provision for those that hated him to the point of murder, even as He was being killed.

We as parents need to realize that sacrificial love that puts our own needs aside for those of our children is where it all starts. And that takes a miraculous and fundamental change in our hearts, if we can't understand that. Something WORTH PRAYING FOR.

I grew up in a household where children were to be seen and not heard, and breaking the rules was met with irritation and violence, if disobedience persisted beyond the momentary lapse. The problem was, I had no respect in my heart for either of my divorced parents and began to loathe their instruction, which was nothing more than a product of their self-serving desire to keep my attitude under control, in a 'manageable', 'don't bother me' frame of mind.

Another type of parenting is to emotionally abandon the child, or alternately, to be friends with them. There needs to be a balance in the parents' life, where you are helping them to navigate away from their sin, and that sometimes takes a proactive, firm (but tender and long-suffering) approach. Using a large set of rules is all too often a cop-out to real, hands-on parenting where you actually interact with your children.

More often, however, parents are too heavy-handed...

If your expectation is that your children will one day be fellow heirs in Christ, then you have no right to treat them as lesser beings, nor should you debase them with angry discipline, nor provoking them to wrath with unrealistic expectations or by emotionally abandoning them. Your children may very well be worshiping alongside you in heaven one day, co-equals as heirs in Christ. How are you more superior in that regard, if it is Christ that paid the same price for all of our sins? How do you have the right to demand obedience, rather than pointing to the One who deserves all obedience?

Sure, you can point to the scripture that commands the child to submit to their parents, but you should probably realize that the command you are referring to is first preceded by a command for all believers to submit themselves to one another, and that the command is directed to the children themselves, not for parents to "lord it over those in their care" and present an overbearing influence so as to force submission upon the children - that would probably be the very "provoking your children to wrath" that we are instructed to not do.

No, I think that it's much wiser to afford consistent respect with your children, and to not always expect or demand respect in return (though it is completely acceptable to use disrespect as training moments). You need to reach their heart, and feed them gently and consistently from the bread of life. Two excellent resources here are Shepherding a Child's Heart and The Age of Opportunity, by the Tripp Brothers (pretty much anything these guys write about raising kids seems to be golden).

If you need to discipline (which you likely will), it should always include training and instruction in the Lord's word, and it should be done in love and not for selfish motives...

"Love is patient, love is kind..." This definition in 1 Corinthians 13 is a good start, as are the gospels; they showcase the sacrifice and pastoral care of Christ, the selflessness and servitude of what love is all about.  The wholeness of scripture could be mined to help us understand the heights and depths of God's love for us, which we are supposed to do our best to point our children to as we preach the gospel and bring them before the Lord's anointing and washing in His word.

If you do not have love in your family, the spiritual waters will stagnate, and all the preaching of the word will be as a clanging gong/cymbal. In another analogy, the foundation will be bad and cause the house to crumble.

For years, I attempted to dazzle my family with my theological knowledge, and all the while I was unraveling internally as I fought secret sin. My self contempt ate away at me (this will be another blog post) and it caused me to lack love and tenderness in my dealings with my wife and kids. In short, life became dark and filled with drudgery. I had no passion for God or His word, much less for nurturing my family's faith. The Spirit of God gets "choked out" in such conditions, unless something drastic is done, and it is impossible to love others or affect Godly change in their lives when you yourself are hiding your sin in shame, hiding your true heart from others and from God. I recommend confession and accountability in such situations - be free from your sin! Then, re-establish a relationship with God.

Love for others starts with a love for God, a good relationship with our Lord that is nourished by regular time speaking directly with him in your "prayer closet", reading His word, praying without ceasing, and simple obedience. That foundation of the love for God is where you can build all good things, and without it the house will fall, and nothing good can be built. You can take your family to the water and bread of life on a regular basis, and you can act in love towards them as a result of who you are in Christ.

One resource to consider here is Crazy Love by Francis Chan. It really places a context on "how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is" for us.

Your household will take on a different shape when there is a fertile landscape of love within which to work...

If you snap at your children because they are interrupting your TV or book reading time, you probably don't understand the idea of selflessness. Love does not seek its own way. We need to consider others as greater than ourselves, and do our best to think of others' needs before our own. Especially our children. If they need to eat, feed them first. If they need clothing, clothe them first. If they need diapers, school supplies, haircuts, etc., these should come before your own needs wherever possible.

Children are utterly dependent on us for all of their physical needs. You should realize that they are dependent on us for all of their spiritual needs, as well. We serve as a conduit to them for all things Godly, and we need to lead them to the bread of life equally as much as we lead them to their Lucky Charms in the morning.

Emotionally speaking, we need to do our best to be there for them. Listen to them. Spend time with them. Get down on the floor and be at their level and play with them. Feed their imaginations with a life that is full of adventure, and abundant life. Bring them to the library and fill their heads with Godly entertainment, feed their minds with whatever good this world around us can bring. Limit the time that you allow the TV to baby sit them while you do dishes, etc. Work alongside them. Bring them into the activities that you are doing, let them be a part of just about every facet of your life. This is all a part of training, and when done in love and mutual respect, it can be very rewarding and beautiful for your entire family.

Jesus was the ultimate servant during His life on this earth, choosing a lowly existence and eschewing the temptation to rule the earth as king in place of fulfilling His true purpose on the cross. As a babe, He was born in a manger. As a child, He was raised by a carpenter in a location that was less than ideal for the religious upbringing of the Priest of all priests. He wanted no treasures, no recognition, no power. His earth-time ministry was lowly and held no accolades - many people sought Him out because He healed or gave them food, and when it came time to determine His innocence before a Roman court, they were easily incited to shout, "crucify him!".  And he died the horrible death of a criminal.

We, too, should approach our families like a man who has everything to invest in them, and none in ourselves. As much as we are selfless for our children, we should also consider them as greater than ourselves (as far as the kingdom is concerned). We should desire their greatness, and that we should be lessened, that they might grow greater, teaching them that all glory is due our God and that they should invest every talent given by God for His Kingdom's sake.

Rather than humbling our children forcibly, we should edify their hearts and build them up with loving and positive reinforcement.

Christ was the servant who washes his disciples' feet, and the king who rode on a donkey, the King of the Universe that chose to die a humbling death by being hung on a tree (a disgraceful way to die, according to the Jews), and all for our sake so that we would be free from condemnation because of our sin. In all His ways, he was demure about His position in the universe, and we should choose likewise to lower ourselves consistently for our family's sake. We aren't the spiritual leaders of our household so we can puff out our chest and descend into laziness, pointing at all others to work hard while we read the paper and watch football games. No, we are to model the right behavior from in front of the troops, by leading the charge into those dishes and trumpeting the call to change those diapers ourselves!

Our Lord wanted the children to approach Him while here on this earth, and He taught them and enjoyed them. He loves us as children and calls Himself the Son of the Father, modeling for us true humility for us in so many ways. We should never think of ourselves as great, not outside of Christ. We have only Him for which we can boast, and we have only His example and Spirit by which we can lead and serve our children...

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:1-8)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Active Listening

I have been confronted for years with an issue of which I only recently realized the full impact: That I interrupt others and dominate conversations. I have done this especially with my wife and children. And when conversations turn tough or tensions rise, if I don't want to listen, I have retreated either within myself or physically to another room.

I have never been a good listener, having not been trained very well in social graces to begin with. If I interrupt or fail to listen, then one can easily conclude that I don't value the things that the person is saying. There is likely some truth to this, as I haven't valued women well as I should, and have been loaded up with too much patriarchal teachings to respect the position of a wife as a co-equal heir in Christ. I was also brought up in a household where children should be seen and not heard, and their opinions are of the same importance as horse dung. This is a severe problem when we are supposed to be loving others.

I would really like to repent of this, because I'm suddenly realizing the pure joy that I and my family members are having with each other as we actively listen to each other's opinions, concerns, and just every day happenings. I need to let people speak their mind, especially when five of the six oldest people in the house are female - women thrive off of sharing their hearts by having someone listen without interrupting, and knowing that they are valued. I'm not certain of all of the dynamics here, but I'm learning. I am certain that there should be more tradeoff in conversations, but sometimes when relationships have been strained as a result of your devaluation of others, then you need to prove to them that you value and love them, sometimes by just listening.

So, active listening, from what I understand, is just listening with the goal of absorbing everything that the person is saying, and helping to fill gaps and further the conversation only by asking quick, pointed questions about details, clarification, or asking what they mean by a statement.

I had an experience recently where a daughter didn't want me in the room to listen to a conversation that she was having with her mom, "because I interrupt sometimes." So, after their conversation was over and she wasn't busy, it seemed like she still wanted to talk, and I lent an ear to the same stories that she told mom, and did a pretty good job actively listening. I'd give myself a B+ or A-. It enriched the evening so much, that I was excited about it.

I've been working harder to really listen to my wife, and I have to be careful to not keep giving so much advice about what she should be doing, which only denigrates how she is feeling about the situation, possibly insinuating that she is a failure, and asserting a position of superiority rather than one of teamwork. Also, in situations where there has been emotional abandonment, separation, and near divorce, active listening helps to validate your wife's (very real) pain, not to mention re-building the intimacy that the relationship likely didn't have.

A good marriage will be one of exchanges, but not where you are dominating the conversation. If you ever find yourself dominating a conversation, it might be wise to switch tracks and attempt to just actively listen for a while before saying anything. Consider what the person is saying, mentally mull what they are saying, value what they are saying, and do your best to work on equal terms with them, not as lording it over those in your care.

As for 'retreating', if you retreat into yourself as a result of everyday activities or conversations that you just don't like, then you may want to think more about being Christ-like and sacrificial as you serve others in our Lord's name. This is also a tactic for someone that feels overwhelmed by the conversation, whether because the other person is being hurtful or the topic is just too difficult to bear. Sometimes there are mental and spiritual blocks on the person not wanting to talk to the other person and hear them out. I would say that in a relationship, this is poisonous, for many reasons. If there is a level contempt that causes one person to speak too harshly or for the other person to shut themselves off, then you probably need deep biblical counseling in your relationship. Forgiveness might be an issue, as may be a basic level of respect and love that is due to everyone, even your enemies.

One last note here: think of how you actually value people. God wants us to value every life in a precious manner, even more so those within your own family. We should respect everything that they are and have to say. Respect where they are at, hoping and praying for them, and not brow-beating or debating them into submission. LOVE THEM with patience, kindness, forgiveness, selflessness, and hope.

As a tongue-in-cheek example of where a woman wants to have her feelings valued, watch the following comedy...  It's Not About the Nail.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Yea, Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

I confess, in the midst of my current walk, there are days where I am just beat down. As I sit in front of my (Covenant Eyes Filtered and Monitored) PC in an empty townhouse, separated from my family because of my own sin, I am exploring my pain, and trying to demonstrate how I am currently turning it over to God...

I am constantly dwelling on the fact that I'm sick, have been sick for 42 days. I picked up various symptoms, including a cough that has persisted and become pneumonia (which I think I am finally kicking), an ear infection that is leaving me deaf in my right ear, vertigo for most of that time, throwing up for two days because of a reaction to medication (?), nausea if I don't fill my stomach with something shortly after taking my medication, and minor flu-like symptoms like achiness and heavy sweating (though this is not influenza) and insomnia on some nights (probably due to the pseudoephedrine in the Mucinex D). Fun, fun. But it doesn't stop there...

I think of yesterday how I vicariously experienced my roommate's agony of receiving final divorce papers. There is a cloud over this household, and every time I walk past the small bookshelf that has the divorce papers sitting on top of it, I am reminded of my own precarious marriage.

My wife wrote an email to me the other day that confronted me with the landscape of destruction that I have caused in our marriage (19+ years of porn addiction and associated bad behavior), and how I had no right to ask her to focus on our relationship at all at this point. So I am faced with having to go visit our house, see the kids, pretend that I don't desire my wife, and just do my best to serve. I often feel that with the years of self destruction and with my wife's hardened heart, which she has fortified against me because of my sins, that there is little hope. And her resistance toward rebuilding our marriage, though merited, puts a dagger in my heart. She is not committed to divorce (yet, or as far as I know), but she is not committed to our marriage. So I am in a purgatory of depression and fear, trying desperately to connect with God, and keep myself pure. I guess I now know what my wife felt like after I lost my job due to porn. In no way do I want to justify my sin, as a disclaimer here, I am just sharing all of the thoughts that put me in this current despair.

But in the midst of this, I realize some major problems with my own thinking, that I am definitely not aligned with God when I focus on the tidal waves of my problems - that didn't work too well for Peter while walking on water; when he took his eyes off Christ, he began to sink into the water. Thankfully Jesus was there to rescue him.

So, what do I do? Well, I wanted to write this while I am in the midst of my struggle, and similar to a Davidic Psalm, I will explore the range of my sin/emotion versus God's perfect way. David had a way of starting psalms off by asking where God was, why He was rejecting him, what in the world could he do to pull himself out of the pit of despair. He all too often finished by talking about entering into the house of worship, or calling on the Lord, and then focusing on who God was - His nature and His promises, upon which all of our hopes rest.

So here is my plan:
  1. Pray out loud. Like David, I want to turn my hurt and frustration over to God, share and explore with Him what is ailing me to the point of realizing that it is likely a rejection of God's sovereignty and redeeming power that causes me to lose hope. Nothing is random, and everything works for good for those that love God. I need to worship Him and dedicate myself to Him no matter what is going on. It is in the act of actually praying and opening my mind and heart to Him that I begin to realize these things, and I become a bit stronger.
  2. Repent. Realize that there is a difference between Godly sorrow that leads to repentance, and fleshly sorrow that leads to death. I will CHOOSE to face up to God, bring Him all of the things that cause me sorrow, and ask Him to help me sort through it all. I will refuse to enter into a pity party, practically bathing luxuriously in my sorrow.
  3. Re-focus. Realize that my relationship with my wife has been a major trigger to reject God and act out in evil, such as looking at porn. This relationship addiction, or co-dependency, or idolatry is getting in the way of a right relationship with God. So I guess I need to ensure that I am putting away fears about my relationship with my wife, and right now focus on my relationship with God, and just serving others in His name. I will continue to lift up my marriage in prayer, but give it over to God.
  4. Love my children no matter what. They have been too negatively affected by all of this as it is. I need to pray that we can find some way to bring God into the household 
  5. Pray for my wife's heart, that she would be healed and softened toward a better relationship with God. I hope that she will not find God culpable for my sins. I rejected God at times to perform my sins, and it is therefore against His will that I sinned against her.
  6. Meditate on God's Word. Get into the psalms, the gospels. Examine how God has loved me so much, is reaching out to me for a full and lively relationship.
My prayer will always be that my wife will love me like she never has before. I pray that the harm that I have done will recede with time, and that my wife and children will be healed. I pray that I can come back home, and that we can learn together how to do battle against the darkness that threatens to tear us apart. But in all things I will realize that my God is Lord, and all things are in His hands. HIS will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Oh, the Shame!

Cusick's cycle of porn addiction
All too often, the cycle of porn addiction moves from preoccupation, to preparation, to acting out, to shame, and back round again. Michael John Cusick has written a really good book on this matter, Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle. In it, he posits that the shame part of the cycle is the most opportune time to escape (his book contains many other devices and it's chock-full of information about why we look at porn, what it's doing to us, how to heal, etc. Great story teller, great book!). Covenant Eyes has an article, "Destroying Porn Addiction Starts with Destroying Shame", that looks at shame from another angle, in understanding how shame keeps the cycle going because we remain in isolation, hiding our sin in darkness so that it cannot be resolved.

Where Does Shame Start?
In the garden, Adam and Eve's disobedience to God's one law (do not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge) "opened their eyes" and gave them a sense of conscience for what was previously considered completely natural - their nakedness. They made the lame attempt to cover themselves with leaves, but it was not until God spilled blood (a foreshadowing of Christ's atoning death) and covered them in the skins of animals that they were sufficiently covered. So, for the sake of this study, I'd like to call the sense of conscience "guiltiness", and the lame attempt to cover it up "shame". There is nothing wrong with the sense of knowing that you have sinned, a sorrow that leads to repentance but not to shame.

Many of us start with the shame cycle by realizing our guilt for having fallen short of God's perfect plan, having missed the mark (sin). Rather than turning our guilt over to God for the power of repentance (more below on this), we pity ourselves, focus inwards, become bitter, and begin to hide from God. Repentance is empty, with no accountability and no desire to bring the sin into the light. Without any boundaries, a person begins to form patterns of behavior, and with each successive venture into sin, the shame grows darker and we dig an insurmountable hole for ourselves. Unfortunately, what would have been an 'easier' initial confession becomes that much more difficult the further down the dark hole we venture.

Shame hides in the shadows when God comes around, and attempts to hide sin under a fig leaf.

How Does the Shame Continue?
Shame continues when we continue to hide ourselves from God. Without the redemptive powers of true repentance, confession, and putting to death the deeds of the flesh by cutting off the right hand that causes us to sin (setting boundaries), the sinner becomes a helpless addict, caught in a cycle of repetitive and darkly rewarding behavior, a counterfeit of the true joy that the Lord provides us with.

For many, life's pain is too much to bear without a healthy and dedicated relationship with God, and some sort of 'fix' is introduced to their life. Rather than seeking healing from God, a lack of faith and preoccupation with worldly ideals will lead this person to find an alternate to God. Some medicate their pain with alcohol or drugs, others depend on emotional and relational ties to buoy their souls, and some turn to porn to empower themselves when their relationships fail. There are an infinite number of addictions, an infinite storehouse of idols from which to choose.

Rather than being able to enjoy God and what He intended us to be, trading "...their glorious God for that shameful god Baal" (Hosea 4:7b), the addict fills the God-sized gap with a puny stand-in that curses rather than blesses them. We make our modern idols not from wood or stone, but fashion them in our minds from drunken hazes, euphoric highs, or human flesh. John Calvin once spoke of our hearts being idol-making factories, where we fall all too easily into false perceptions of life that become idols that we hold out to against God's true purposes. Certainly addiction is a matter of idol(s) that we hold dear in our lives, and shame is the shelf upon which the idol sits, indeed a cabinet within which we can hide our idols from others.

With each session that we worship the idol (our object of addiction that allows us to self-medicate) and reject God's ways, an addict (even a true believer in Christ) experiences more shame and their sense of self worth becomes more and more focused on their failure and lack. They continue to engage in the addictive patterns, and eventually grow  in their sinful activity. The addict increases the stimulation that they gain from sin, as the puny stand-in grows weary and boring with repetition, and the 'high' that they usually get from it grows stale. As the addict's heart grows numb to the sin, they allow for worse and more vile sinful acts. In the case of porn, for example, the addict moves from bathing suits, to nudity, to hardcore porn, to bondage and possibly illegal child porn or other more vile forms.

It is shame that breaks and eventually hardens our hearts and causes us to hide our sin further in the dark recesses of our lifestyles. Without realizing it, we put ourselves into the state of selfish penance, rejecting the cross for our own way. Pitying ourselves and mental self-flagellation seems so much more real to the wordly-minded than words on a page that tell us that some dude died 2000 years ago so that I wouldn't have to bear the burden of shame. It is shame that causes us to believe that we can never be loved and that Christ's death on the cross isn't strong enough to atone for our worst of sins, that we are fooling ourselves to believe that God ever loved such a wretched sinner like us. So we continue the addictive cycle of sin, refusing to believe that it will ever end. As Cusick says, "Wash, rinse, spin. Repeat."

Shame leads to further sin and a downward spiral that eventually leads to death of everything sacred in the person's life, if not their physical death. But there is always hope for the worst of sinners...

How Do We Break the Cycle of Shame?
You can kill the shame in your life. You can kill the sin in your life. But not on your own. The further down the path of sin you follow, the harder it will be to turn away from your sin and break the cycle of shame, but you will finally be free. No longer a slave to your idol.

Here is what God tells us we need to do:

  1. Take Responsibility - Own your sin. Realize that you have a problem. Desire the change that it takes to remove the problem from your life, realizing not only the damage that it has done to you and others, but also realizing that you can have so much more in Christ.
  2. Repent -  Turn away from your sin, and turn to God. Confess your sins to Him. Realize that our God is infinitely more powerful than your sin, and that He loves you and desires your dedication and then your healing.
  3. Confess - Once you have confessed your sins to God, you also need to confess your sins to others close to you. Believers in Christ. People that will react in a Godly way by loving you and desiring to pull alongside you to help you find your way back to a focus on God. Confess that you haven't allowed Christ's atonement to stand in place of your condemnation, and that you are free and a new creation as a result of what God did, nothing that you can ever do.
  4. Purge - Get rid of anything that would cause you to sin further. Break the bottle, flush the drugs, disconnect the computer, do whatever it takes to step aside and fast from things so you can re-focus.
  5. Set Boundaries - Be extreme. It's silly to say "don't be legalistic" when the sin you are committing is the very bondage that will lead to death. The improper reaction would be to only focus on the law and saying "just stop doing it", without re-dedication to God. Boundaries are important for the addict, because it helps you when you are weak, when your sin nature takes the wheel and you start to fall off the wagon. We are told to cut off the right hand that causes us to sin, and to "put to death the deeds of the flesh", and to dedicate our members for holiness. For the porn addict, for example, when you are feeling particularly hormonal and don't think you will be able to control yourself, you will be glad that the boundaries can help you to refocus. Alcoholics will want to find extreme ways to stay away from the alcohol stores, drug abusers should cut all ties to anyone doing or selling drugs, and porn users should install filters and accountability filters that help them avoid those impulse decisions to sin.
  6. Be Accountable - First to God, then to your accountability partners. There are a number of groups such as Celebrate Recovery that have chapters near you, and are full of people that would love to be your sponsor or accountability partner. These are people that you can call at 2 AM to let them know that you're suffering and don't want to fail. They pray with you, visit you, act as your internet filter partner, drive you places, pour themselves out in prayer for you all the day long. The most important part of this is to find someone that you can be continually and completely transparent with, even when you fail. Someone that will ask the difficult questions and get in your face when they think you're being deceptive.
  7. Rededicate - Spend Time with God, and either ask Him to be Lord for the first time, or ask Him to forgive you and wash you of your sins. You need to break all bondage in your heart by constantly dedicating yourself to meditation on His word, fasting if it helps, and praying without ceasing. God wants you to enjoy His presence, His glory. Find ways to understand it and worship Him because of it.
  8. Persevere - Learn to find ways to give your pain over to the Lord. Keep refocusing yourself on His power and grace, His ability to continue to heal you and uphold you. When you find that you can't handle it anymore, you can. There are plenty of resources on the websites that I link to on this page to keep you occupied with Godly thoughts. You are a warrior and a new creation, equipped already with all the weapons to defeat your enemy (see my other post about doing battle), you just need to learn to pick them up and be proficient at using them against the enemy. Lean on your brothers and sisters in Christ when you are weak. Run the race so as to win, because in Christ it has already been won.
  9. Help others - Just as Christ said, "Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you", you should share yourself with others. Serving others is what God's kingdom in this life is all about. Learning to be more sacrificial and Christ-like in your every day life. Love those who hate you so that they may be won over by the gospel and be saved for eternity. Just as you were a starving beggar, now show every other starving beggar where to find the bread of life.