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

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.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Victims of Addiction Need to Heal

I recently had a 'coming to Jesus' moment with my wife. Well, it was my moment, and her agonizing years (18+, to be exact) worth of trying to tell me, and warn me, and finally force me. It took being confronted with the landscape of my sins and the solitude of separation and even the specter of divorce to realize that my marriage was dead and my children were spiritual orphans.

Part of an addict's issues is that they don't understand the pain that they've caused to others. Addicts are slaves to the flesh, self-medicating their own pain in alcohol or drugs or fantasy life (porn, etc.) and completely forgetting the trail of tears left behind. In fact, many addicts will repent of their sins and come clean, only to forget what is important and return to their selfishness.

I have a wife of 21 years and we have 8 children - 5 girls and 3 boys. They are all beautiful souls at their core, desiring beautiful things, but they are obvious products of pain and misery and it is pretty obvious that their father and husband has lacked the appropriate servitude and selflessness that should be evident in a Christian man's life, has in fact harmed them with spiritual abandonment, indifference, carelessness, selfishness, anger, and outright sin such as adultery.

I can just hear the choruses of "it takes two to ruin a relationship" and "she's probably got her problems, too, I'm sure." STOP. No, really, just stop. If you are thinking anything close to that in your head, then you likely have some issues in your own life that keep you from an appropriate level of responsibility to your own spouse and family, possibly God.

To meet the issue of addiction head on first, the addict must realize that they have an idolatry in their heart that causes a complete occupation with their god of choice - alcohol, drugs, porn, etc. The addict has a problem with worshiping the true God, and likely has pain that they haven't dealt with in its proper context, possibly blaming others and/or God for their problems. "If only he/she were more loving", or "if only I could get x, I'd be happy." What the addict is doing is replacing the true source of all joy and glory, and trading God for a cheap imitation. And similar to when Israel worshiped idols, their spiritual life suffered beyond hope, and with it, the families - just as they sacrificed their children to Baal, addicts sacrifice intimacy and sacrificial love for our families for the sake of serving ourselves. The family stagnates and gradually dies under these conditions.

The temptation is to react to large meltdowns in the family by focusing primarily on your family and desire to 'fix' things, and work harder to be the man that you are supposed to be. What you are in fact doing at that point is putting yourself in the place of God, denying the complete washing you need to receive by humbling yourself before the sacrifice on the cross, and finding yet another cheap alternative to true and deep healing. I can just imagine all of the addicts groaning and throwing their hands in the air, but there is only one narrow path that you can follow to true healing, and that is to restore your relationship with God, where the true focus belongs...

YOU NEED TO HUMBLE YOURSELF BEFORE GOD, and starting with the gospel, meditate heavily on the word of God and then in prayer name your sins and ask God to heal you from them, renouncing them as absolute 100% sin, and an affront to the blood of Christ. Ask God to restore a right spirit in your heart, and to restore a joyful relationship between you and Him. Our whole purpose is to glorify Him and enjoy Him, and you need to desperately seek God and ask for the strength to make that happen. Seek, knock, ask. And humble yourself. And ask again. And humble yourself some more. Every day seek God and ask for His cleansing power and for the ability to come before His presence and worship and love Him with everything you've got.

Yes, there are boundaries that need to be set, you need to do spiritual battle, and there are practical steps to combating sin in your life, but without the direct relationship with God being restored, all of these other resolutions and external-to-your-heart efforts will fail, because all of it is predicated on a right relationship with God.

The stronger your bond with God becomes, the more able you will be to serve and love your family. Sacrificially.

Ephesians 5:25-26 tells us husbands, "For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word." If you have spent the large majority of your marriage dedicated to sin, then you have utterly failed in this manner. We are all supposed to be more Christ-like with every day that passes, and we should be seeking His word and His way fervently, and we should be bringing our families before the word - even more so with our wife, who should be "washed by the cleansing of God's word." Note that this scripture does not say 'shamed into submission by God's word' or 'corrected constantly by your brilliant exegesis and scholastic merit.' It says we should seek to make our wives holy and clean, and this language to me indicates the act of a Savior and Lord kneeling down to wash his disciples' feet, not dumping a bucket over their head and chucking a bar of soap at them.

If you have children, take an opportunity to bring them before God's word every day, in whatever simple illustrations you can give them for their age...

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.… (Deuteronomy 6:6-8)

The word needs to be in your heart, and then you do your best to bring it to your wife and children, seeking only to humbly serve them, to lead the spiritually hungry to the bread of life. Not as one who is superior, but as a beggar showing others where to find food once discovered.

Do you see a theme here? What you need to do is realize the damage that you have done to your relationship with God first, and then your family. Then humble yourself. Bring yourself back to your Lord. Seek His word regularly. Allow yourself to feel the pain, and don't seek to medicate it anymore. Understand where everyone is at in their walk and fervently pray for healing in your heart and in their hearts. Be patient, it will take a long time, especially if you have been at your addiction for as long as I have. If you set expectations, you will push hurting loved ones further away from you. Just love and serve in whatever ways they will allow you. And humble yourself. Then humble yourself some more. And serve some more. And humble yourself even more. This is, I think the greatest formula for recovery for everyone involved in the addict's life.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Porn Use as Grounds for Divorce

This article on Covenant Eyes is just about the most balanced and fair treatment about this topic that I have ever read. Make sure to read to the very end, because he gives many proofs from the scriptures, and prescribes a very biblical course of action:

The gist of the article is that though porn use by a spouse should not be used as a hair-trigger reason for divorce, nor should it be used as an excuse for divorce after the porn user has long since repented, an unrepentant spouse that continues to commit adultery in this manner is breaking the marriage covenant continually and binding themselves to other partners. After the offended spouse and the church confront the porn user in the Matthew 18 manner, if the porn user is still unrepentant and has a hardened heart, then similar to excommunication, the spouse may need to separate or divorce the unbeliever. It should be a long, drawn out process allowing plenty of time to repent and rebuild the marriage.

But I would say that God hates divorce, and there should never be any reason to divorce unless all options have been exhausted, the church being in complete agreement that the spouse has done so. Just as the covenant is made in front of the church, it should be broken in front of the church, with no other options finally being available. Left up to the emotions of one spouse, divorce is all to convenient and an easy option, and their emotions should be kept in check so elders can come in and counsel both parties.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The 'M' Word

So, I'll admit that this is one that I still struggle with. No matter how many nervous jokes we might try to make out of it, and no matter how much we might justify the activity by saying that the bible doesn't outright label it a sin, I think we can admit that masturbation is a selfish act that misses the mark (the very definition of sin) as far as God's design for sexuality and our sexual parts. It is purely self-serving, and lacks the sacrificial aspect of sex between husband and wife, not to mention the intimacy that fuels a real relationship between spouses. In fact, masturbation often causes bitterness and distance in marriages, as the difficulties that spouses should work through and allow them to work toward intimacy can be easily bypassed and ignored if one is taking care of their own needs.

So, what is a man (or woman, I suppose) to do? There are a number of married men that believe that they have to fill in those gaps in time when their wife can't perform in the bedroom, or there may be times of separation for any number of reasons, or a man might be single and awaiting his future wife. How do we handle these situations? I would posit the following...
  1. Admit that masturbation misses the mark for your calling, and that it is therefore a sin, no matter how minor we might think that it is. This puts the act in proper context for how we react to the temptation to do it.
  2. Practice the presence of God and pray without ceasing. This within itself should be somewhat of a deterrent to sin.
  3. Avoid isolation and periods of time alone when you are tempted. If you are overloaded sexually and don't think that you'll be able to avoid masturbation, call someone and/or get out of the situation that you are in. Get away from the computer. Get out of the house, if needed.
  4. Avoid stimulation on TV and computer that would cause you to want to seek your own pleasure. Even seemingly innocuous shows and movies and fully clothed women can cause you to be stimulated on any given day, so be watchful about this one. Bounce your eyes, but if it becomes too much, you may need to take further action...
  5. Go for a walk, do something constructive for someone else, go to the library, call your accountability partners, call/talk to your spouse, do whatever it takes to move your mind off of yourself and onto God and others.
  6. If you do fail in this area, reset. Don't shame yourself, try to do penance, or earn your way back into God's favor. Christ paid it all on the cross, so you merely need to ask for forgiveness, admit your mistake before God, and move on. Maybe meditate on how you can do better next time you are tempted, but don't engage in unhealthy preoccupation with your sin. 
Generally speaking, remember the rule of thumb to Run FROM, Run TO, and Run WITH. Flee from sin, run to God, and then practice the presence of and dwell richly with God.

Just about all battles begins in espionage, setting the battle lines, and the 'black ops' where specialized teams attack behind the lines. Our sneaky enemy will gradually change our thinking about sensuality to the point of making us think that sex is an absolute need and that fantasizing is normal, even about other women. And he will get us to think about our needs and our rights.

Even if you keep your mind on your own spouse initially, I think it's pretty much been proven that masturbation is a gateway to other sexual sin. Be careful to guide your mind and dedicate your body to God's purposes, and you will find that your self-serving desires will gradually abate. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Ready for Battle

As I mentioned in my last post about fleeing from sin and fleeing to God, our Lord equips us with the full armor described in Ephesians 6 - Salvation, Righteousness, Truth, the Gospel, Faith, and the Word of God.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10-17 NLT)

These should all be ready in our arsenal as we go about our days. Find ways to pray for those who are close to you, and those that you meet for whom God gives you a heart. Meditate on God's word. Bring God into every situation and ask Him to show you how to glorify Him as you go about your business, as you shop, as you socialize, as you do everything. Pray without ceasing. Treasure His word in your heart. But most of all, ready yourself for battle.

Never forget that Satan prowls like a roaring lion, ready to devour the weak. Be on guard, and realize that we are in a war that will not end until Satan and his followers are thrown into the lake of fire. Always be vigilant, and never allow laziness to overtake your mind as you live your life. That may mean changing your habits, finding ways to be honest about all of those things that may lead to sin - triggers, pathways, etc. Remember, if you are on the battle field, you're not in the act of compromising with the enemy - your complete purpose is to kill the enemy and not allow them any foothold in your camps, no stronghold in your realms. Same thing as you battle for ground in your heart and in your mind. You do not want the sin nature that is evident in your flesh to gain any ground - you want to pummel it into submission and put to death the deeds of the flesh.

Just as much as sin chips away at the man that you were meant to be (until you become a wraith-like shadow of what you could have become), becoming more Christ-like will enable you to be everything that men were ever meant to be - sacrificial, protective, undeterred by evil, and focused on doing the Father's work and being champions for His kingdom.

Though we shouldn't be completely obsessed with fear for our enemy, we should be aware of his snares, traps, and lies, and be ever vigilant to meet them head on with all of the full arsenal of our Lord.

Flee From Sin, But Don't Stop There

For those porn addicts, the bible is pretty clear that we are to flee from sexual immorality, from the porneia that can so easily settle into our hearts. I think the basic video that starts off the Covenant Eyes 40-Day Challenge ( is very astute that you can't just stop there. They prescribe the following:

1. Run FROM
2. Run TO
3. Run WITH

First, you should flee sexual immorality. This particular sin joins the Holy Spirit to the body of a harlot. If you think that avoiding full coitus will keep you from dragging the Holy Spirit through your sinful acts, think again. Your body's chemical reactions are virtually the same in reaction to porn as they are with a full sexual act with a real woman. And if you think that you do not grieve the indwealt Holy Spirit with your eyes and hands when you perform sexual acts with yourself, you are deceiving yourself altogether. So, run AWAY from sin. Get away from the computer, out of the house if you need to. Create the hard-line boundaries in your life, no matter how important the object that you may need to cut from your life...   "If your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off". Install filters, or at least accountability software (Covenant Eyes is great, and there is a link to it in this blog). This is where victory begins, but you cannot merely empty a household of demons and not expect them to come back stronger than before. Your household, your temple of the Holy Spirit, needs to become a stronghold for God. That is accomplished in the next steps...

Second, you should run TO God. He is our salvation, our rock, our mighty fortress, and he will give us shelter from the storm and protection from ourselves and the great tormentor. We should fall on our faces before Him and beg Him for strength to resist temptation, for every temptation comes with a way out, and He can help us. Also, run to accountability partners, other strong believers that can help you get through these difficult moments. Whatever you do, get your mind off of the preoccupation of pleasuring yourself, and work to serve God and to serve others for the sake of God's kingdom and glory. Find a way to accomplish the very thing for which God made us - to glorify Him, and to enjoy Him forever. Find practical ways to get out of your isolation and serve others - widows and orphans in their distress, friends that might need you in their hour of need, or your family that very well may need any number of things done (you might have to do dishes - gasp!).

Third, you should run WITH God. True strength is not found by just avoiding sin, and not by just falling on your face before God, but in communing with and dwelling with God. God equips us with the full armor described in Ephesians 5, all elements of which are attributes that are purely provided by God; only through a full realization and full meditation of all of these attributes can we attain a renewing of our minds. Salvation, Righteousness, Truth, the Gospel, Faith, and the Word of God. These should all be ready in our arsenal as we go about our day. Find ways to pray for those who are close to you, and those that you meet for whom God gives you a heart. Meditate on God's word. Bring God into every situation and ask Him to show you how to glorify Him as you go about your business, as you shop, as you socialize, as you do everything. Pray without ceasing. Treasure His word in your heart. But most of all, ready yourself for battle.

What is Addiction, to the Christian?

There are many Christians that want to deny the wording "addiction" as it pertains to those who are caught in habitual sin altogether. As the world tends to label addiction a helpless state from which a sinner cannot pull themselves, that they were born with a propensity for a behavior (such as alcohol, homosexuality, sexual sin), and the worldly position all to often posits that addicts likely have these tendencies programmed into their bodies and brains, it's understandable that Christians would want to reject these wordly definitions altogether. I would posit that the bible does leave room for habitual sin, but defines it in a different manner: 
Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy. (Romans 9:16 NLT)
Paul is here defining a life dedicated to sin, where the non-believer is a slave to their impurity, the fleshliness of their sin and the further depravity that resulted from their ongoing dedication to sin. This can also be associated with what the scriptures label as the "old man".

The question then remains, however, if a Christian is automatically delivered from this old nature and has absolutely no sin in their lives as a result of becoming saved and being in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit, the very nature of Christ. I would posit that though Christians have every tool at their disposal to defeat the old nature and resist temptation, there is a possibility that a Christian would continue to stumble in particular areas of sin:
So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  (Romans 7:14-20 NLT)
Paul here defines for us a nature that perseveres beyond the time that we become believers, and an ongoing war that is waged between the old nature and the new nature, the "new creation" that God begins in us and has promised to perfect/complete.

I think we need to differentiate between the person that is comfortable with and dedicated to their sinful lives in a unrepentant manner (Galaltians 5:21 and elsewhere tells us that such sinful dedication is a sign that a person is not truly saved), and a person that hates sin, is actively working to combat it and moving the pieces of their lives to actively repent against sin.

For an addict, the level of habitual sin in their lives may be too much to escape, even once they become believers. There is usually no magical deliverance even for true believers, and the ongoing patterns of preoccupation with a sin, then acting out, then feeling shame, then moving back into the cycle starting with preoccupation (even if it is fought) are too much for the believer to escape if they do so in isolation and without the tools they need to be free.

But the Christian and sin can never be friends. A Christian will never live in the practice of sin and be happy with those activities. It is a bondage, a slavery to the flesh from which the Christian should desire utter freedom. If you are a believer in Christ, you should want to be free, and should be willing to "cut off your right hand" (separate from the most important things to you) to be free from your sin. If you aren't willing to separate from any given thing or situation to be free from your sin, you should then be concerned about your security as a believer. If Christ's death on the cross, your family, and all of the other holy things that God has entrusted to you are not worth enough to you to change anything and everything you possibly can to flee immorality, you may want to examine your conversion experience, and whether or not Jesus is really your Lord, or just your sugar daddy in the sky.

God is a loving Father and Friend. He desires your fellowship, your worship, your dedication. He is always willing to forgive and release you from your sin, and is longsuffering in the process. But His plan may very well involve you having to deal with the consequences of your sin, and you have to be willing to submit to His plan, His ways, and then His rewards. His way is going to be so much better than the pit of despair in which you're living.

My next posts will deal more with some of the basic steps that it takes to combat sin. I hope you'll follow me on this journey and take up the tools of warfare to be victorious once and for all over these beasts that have continued to inhibit your joy in Christ.