Thinking Out Loud

May 24, 2016

A Day Lived Entirely for God

wwjdSeveral years back, a phrase from Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps became part of popular Christian culture through the acronym WWJD?. It appeared on wristbands, bumper stickers and a host of novelties and trinkets and in the crush of popularity, a few people actually bought and read the book.

Facing everyday challenges with the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ is a great idea, but I wonder if it’s too focused on doing; in other words, I’m concerned that it only measures action.

I’ve written much here about temptation here with respect to our thought life. For myself, a person who doesn’t commit great transgressions of moral or spiritual law, a better question might be WWJT? or What Would Jesus Think? In a review of David Murray’s The Happy Christian, I noted the following chapter outline based on Phil. 4:8

Media Diet

  • True, Not False:”Whatever things are true”
  • Noble, Not Base: “Whatever things are noble”
  • Right, Not Wrong: “Whatever things are just”
  • Purity, Not Filth: “Whatever things are pure”
  • Beautiful, Not Ugly: “Whatever things are lovely”
  • Praise, Not Complaint: “Whatever things are of good report”

Ministry Diet

  • More Salvation Than Sin
  • More Truth Than Falsehood
  • More Wooing Than Warning
  • More Victory Than Struggle
  • More Celebration Than Lamentation
  • More Life Than Death
  • More Strengths Than Weaknesses

In another article, I looked at how an unhealthy thought life might manifest itself:

In your conversation: We all have heard the Biblical principle that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Even the most guarded, careful, filtered person will let something slip that betrays where their heart is wandering. Or they may lose interest in topics that would normally engage them.

Stresses: For the Christian, having made poor choices in the area of inputs and influences will result in an inner conflict that may come to the surface in being short or snappy with the people we love or people we’re close to. The inner turmoil may simply result from a feeling of personal failure.

Distractions: A mind focused on things below instead of things above will inevitably be un-ordered, resulting in forgetting to return a phone call, missing a payment deadline, forgetting the directions to an appointment. Time allocation to responsibilities may slip noticeably.

Acting Out: Experts say that people dealing with online addictions often end up taking some action as a result of the content they have been viewing, but we tend to think of that as more overt. In fact, acting out often takes places in subtle ways that are more tangential to the addiction than direct. It’s possible that only the person themselves knows that the behavior trigger.

Reticence: Other people whose mind is otherwise preoccupied will simply become withdrawn. An unhealthy mind condition will manifest itself similar to worry and anxiety. For the Christian who senses that they are moving away from The Cross instead of moving toward The Cross, they may opt to retreat from their fellowship group or simply be less animated than is typical.

In yet another article with a similar title, I shared an often-repeated illustration:

There is a old Indian chief telling a story about how each of us have two rival dogs, a good dog and a bad dog. Both are always fighting each other. Sometimes it seems like the good dog is winning other times it appears like the bad dog is winning.

One of the tribal members asks, “So, how do you know which one will win?”

To which the chief replies, “It depends which dog you feed.”

Let me say in reiterating these three passages that I do not claim to have constant victory in this area. I need to be writing this every bit as much as I hope you need to be reading it…

…What got me started on this was the realization that, in a blog post that has been repeated here every year for the past four years, I arrive at the phrase,

You have this moment.

But if I go beyond that, I have to ask, “What would a day lived entirely separated to God look like?” Or, “What if I were to get through a day with no regrets, nothing that I wished I had done differently?” (I realize that, in saying this, I am perhaps simply arriving at the phrase often associated with the AA movement, ‘One Day at a Time.’)

So I remind myself and ask you to remind yourselves

You have this moment.
You have this hour.
You have this morning/afternoon/evening.
You have this day.

What we do with our hands is important, but where we go with our thought lives is also something that should be a major consideration. WWJT? What would Jesus think?

The Voice Luke 11: 34 Listen, your eye, your outlook, the way you see is your lamp. If your way of seeing is functioning well, then your whole life will be enlightened. But if your way of seeing is darkened, then your life will be a dark, dark place. 35 So be careful, people, because your light may be malfunctioning. 36 If your outlook is good, then your whole life will be bright, with no shadowy corners, as when a radiant lamp brightens your home.

NLT Phil 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

 

 

April 8, 2016

You Have This Moment

The Set Free Summit taking place in North Carolina wrapped up last night. For an overview of what you/we missed, check out the hashtag #SetFree2016. We’ve devoted three of the five weekday posts here to this one topic, but when I started scrolling through old posts here and discovered the one I re-posted yesterday, I was also reminded of this one.

– = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = –

With the kids now older and facing high-school homework after supper instead of the early bedtimes of former years, Patricia donned an light jacket before heading out for her weekly Wednesday night coffee shop ritual with Julie and Deanne. Well, almost weekly; there were frequent cancellations in the past three years, but they tried to meet as frequently as possible.

“So when are we leaving?” her husband Rick asked.

“What do you mean we?” she responded.

“I thought it might be fun to crash your little group; as an observer or like those war reporters who are embedded with a platoon. Unless, of course it’s me you talk about every week.”

“No, we tend to talk about church, and politics, and raising kids.”

“So is there room for an extra body?”

“You’re serious?”

“Absolutely.”

Patricia texted the other two, “What do u feel about Rick joining us 2night?”

Julie didn’t answer, but Deanne texted, “Sure Y not?”

And so for an hour, Rick sat with the women and talked about church, and politics and raising kids.

On the way home, Patricia said, “You’re not going to want to do this every week are you?”

“No; it was a one-off thing.”

“So Rick, I know you, what was this about really?”

“Honestly?”

“Yeah.”

“Honestly? I didn’t want to be home for a full hour with the computer. When you go out, it never ends well.”

– = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = –

Isn’t it ironic that the very technology that offers you the option of reading Christian blogs like this one, downloading sermons, looking up Bible verses online, etc., also offers both men and women the ease and convenience of experiencing sexual temptation like we’ve never known before.

Knowing as I do the various search terms that will find you all manner of websites, I can honestly say that every time I approach the machine — and I do business online all day long, plus prepare three blogs — I am reminded that each visit represents a choice: Choose things that will strengthen spiritually, or choose things that will do spiritual harm.

Like the goaltender in a hockey game, we can’t always block every “thought shot” that is fired toward us, but I believe we can exercise self control on a minute-by-minute or even second-by-second basis. I am always reminded that:

You have this moment.

You may not have won an hour ago, and you might slip an hour from now, but you have this moment to make the individual choice that affects this moment.

Right now, it’s a rainy day as I type this. It was a weather cancellation nearly a decade ago that found me with idle time typing a random phrase into a search engine that led to a random chapter in the middle of an online erotic novel. That’s right, it was text, not pictures. It wasn’t pictures for quite some time.

Idle hands. The entire universe-wide-web at my disposal.

Even today, I admit that search engines permit all manner of random thoughts to be explored online with varying results. I often find myself like the guy who loves to join his buddies on fishing expeditions, but actually hates the taste of fish. It’s about finding the fish, but not necessarily enjoying or consuming the fish.

I suppose it’s different for everyone.

– = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = –

I think it’s interesting that Genesis 2:9 tells us that the original source of temptation — the fruit of a tree in Eden — was found in the middle of the garden. Not off to one side. Not hidden behind other trees.

In the middle.

For men men — and women — reading this, your tree is right in the middle of the family room or living room; or it’s a laptop that is in the middle of wherever you find yourself.

Maybe your tree and my tree are different, but the result is the same: Temptation never disappears.

I looked at this a different way in a devotional at Christianity 201. There’s a link to a song, and a specific point (about 70 seconds) in the song you can fast-forward to.

I’ve found it to be helpful.

Feel free to share what works for you.

You have this moment.

April 5, 2016

Set Free Summit: Confronting The Porn Problem

Josh McDowell - Set Free Summit 2016

…While doing research for one of my books on addictive behavior, I conducted a telephone interview with a leading expert in the field of sexual addictions. He told me, “I believe evangelical Christians have a greater tendency to fall into sexual addictions than any other sub-culture in the United States.”

When I asked him why, he said, “Because sexual sins are so taboo in the church people find them more exciting. Once they commit a taboo sexual act, they refuse to tell anyone. Their belief that they have done something bad creates guilt which leads to shame. This shame generates pain which they try to medicate with more sexually taboo activity. The deeper they fall into sexually deviant behavior the more closely they must guard their secret. The longer the behavior continues, the more addictive it becomes, and the more it destroys their core being.” …

…According to a May 18, 2010, survey conducted by Today’s Christian Women Online, 34% of their readers admit to intentionally accessing porn. The results of this are staggering. More women are getting involved in cybersex, more women than men convert online conversations into real-life affairs, and more women are accessing porn while at work.

If those stats didn’t get your attention this next one will. According to Family Safe Media, the largest group of viewers of Internet porn is children between ages 12 and 17. In spite of this staggering statistic, most of the Christian parents I speak with deny their kids have or would check out a porn site

~Bill Perkins, article “Porn in the Church: The High Cost of Silence.”


Last night around 9:00 PM I became aware of a number of people tweeting using the hashtag #setfree2016. (You don’t need a Twitter account to see the posts.*) I decided to check it out.

The Set Free Summit started yesterday evening and runs 3 more days in Greensboro, North Carolina and is hosted by Josh McDowell Ministries and the makers of Covenant Eyes computer software. Opening night speakers include McDowell, author Steve Arterburn, David Kinnaman from Barna Research, and author Michael Leahy.

Time Cover - PornPerhaps coincidentally, or perhaps providentially, the cover of the latest issue of Time Magazine has just released (April 11 issue) with the cover story Porn and the Threat to Virility, which chronicles the rise of porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED).  A sample:

A growing number of young men are convinced that their sexual responses have been sabotaged because their brains were virtually marinated in porn when they were adolescents. Their generation has consumed explicit content in quantities and varieties never before possible, on devices designed to deliver content swiftly and privately, all at an age when their brains were more plastic–more prone to permanent change–than in later life. These young men feel like unwitting guinea pigs in a largely unmonitored decade-long experiment in sexual conditioning.

The article is packed with research; budget about 10 minutes to read it all. (Some language might be considered edgy.) There’s also a short book excerpt from Peggy Orenstien’s Girls and Sex which again, coincidentally (providentially?) I had just heard about after youth ministry specialist Walt Mueller noted it in an April 1st blog post, along with an audio link (embedded) to an interview the author did with NPR.

While the Set Free 2016 event is not streaming live, and it’s not an annual event (so far), you can get an idea of what you’re missing by clicking on the 4-day tabs on the conference schedule. (I hope some videos are eventually posted.) Again, allow some time to scroll through to see what each presenter will be discussing; the short seminar previews are themselves a window into this issue.

Bill Perkins concludes:

Our strategy to achieve sexual purity has to be like a laser-guided missile. These weapons constantly adapt to the changing terrain as they zero in on their target. Because the moral terrain is constantly changing, we must be adept in adapting as we pursue our target: sexual purity.

 

 

*The link is for the “live” feed on Twitter. If you just want highlights, click the tab that says “top.”

August 30, 2015

The Fruit of Your Thoughts

This weekend we’re running two articles back-to-back on the theme, your thought life, that are themselves back-to-back compilations of other articles. In 2014, it turns out we ran two articles just three months apart with the same header…

What Goes Into a Mind Comes Out in a Life

For several years the Christian Booksellers Association* adopted the phrase

What Goes Into a Mind Comes Out in a Life

as a promotional tool to encourage reading. The idea was that as you saturate your mind with the truths of God’s Word, Christian literature, and Christian music, you will be changed by what you listen to and read.

However, the opposite is also true.

If your mind is saturated with unhealthy thoughts and ideas, it will manifest itself in several ways:

In your conversation: We all have heard the Biblical principle that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Even the most guarded, careful, filtered person will let something slip that betrays where their heart is wandering. Or they may lose interest in topics that would normally engage them.

Stresses: For the Christian, having made poor choices in the area of inputs and influences will result in an inner conflict that may come to the surface in being short or snappy with the people we love or people we’re close to. The inner turmoil may simply result from a feeling of personal failure.

Distractions: A mind focused on things below instead of things above will inevitably be un-ordered, resulting in forgetting to return a phone call, missing a payment deadline, forgetting the directions to an appointment. Time allocation to responsibilities may slip noticeably.

Acting Out: Experts say that people dealing with online addictions often end up taking some action as a result of the content they have been viewing, but we tend to think of that as more overt. In fact, acting out often takes places in subtle ways that are more tangential to the addiction than direct. It’s possible that only the person themselves knows that the behavior trigger.

Reticence: Other people whose mind is otherwise preoccupied will simply become withdrawn. An unhealthy mind condition will manifest itself similar to worry and anxiety. For the Christian who senses that they are moving away from The Cross instead of moving toward The Cross, they may opt to retreat from their fellowship group or simply be less animated than is typical.

…Of course, I write all this not out of extensive reading in Christian counseling or a background in Christian psychology, but out of personal experience. The dictum to know thyself, means we ought to be able to identify some of the danger signs when we’re in the middle of mind-battle, or when we’re losing that fight. But a concerned friend or a discerning acquaintance will also be able to identify these signs and then care enough to confront the individual in question.


For a previous article on the idea of “moving toward the cross” versus “moving away from the cross” click here.


What Goes into a Mind Comes Out in a Life

Spiritual WarfareI’ve been thinking about the story below and how it applies to today’s environment where both men and women struggle with online addiction. Images and ideas flood our minds and although not everyone who looks at pornography fully recreates the scenes they view, often people “act out” in less conscious, less overt ways. That’s why when people go offline, they essentially “detoxify” their minds and they start to live differently.

I thought this story was rather common and assumed everyone had received it as an email at some time or other, but when I tried to find it online, I only got one link. Maybe you need this, or know someone who does.

Let this story stay with you, it applies in so many areas of life.

We are all fighting a battle within ourselves… The illustration goes like this: There is a old Indian chief telling a story about how each of us have two rival dogs, a good dog and a bad dog. Both are always fighting each other. Sometimes it seems like the good dog is winning other times it appears like the bad dog is winning.

One of the tribal members asks, “So, how do you know which one will win?”

To which the chief replies, “It depends which dog you feed.”


 * It was either the CBA in Canada, the U.S., or both that used this phrase, it was very effective and ought to be brought back. What goes into a mind overflows to what is spoken, visible, etc.

 

July 26, 2015

Too Many Characters to Tweet

Some random thoughts:

My wife noted the other night that if she were black and lived in the United States, she would simply take public transit everywhere. It’s increasingly difficult for a person of African-American descent to survive a routine traffic stop.

Also, in the Sandra Bland case, did anyone notice on the video that she was pulled over for failing to signal a lane change in an area that was completely devoid of traffic? Even if it’s the custom to divert cars to a side street for the ticketing process, there’s no denying that in the dashcam video, the traffic pattern is unusually light. I’m not sure I would signal a lane change under those circumstances.

Why isn’t enforcement taking place in high traffic areas where the need is more acute and driver errors are more consequential? I’d venture to guess that irrespective of everything that followed, this was entrapment not enforcement.


Internet pornography is an express train that will take you from the “That’s disgusting!” station to the “I’d be willing to try that” terminal in record time. From there you change to trains that can take you in a variety of directions to unexpected destinations.

Yes, there is exploitation; and yes, there is the problem of addiction; and yes, some people do act out on what they see; However, the greatest impact is the potential for long-term viewing to undermine values and alter worldview.


North Point Community Church (Andy Stanley) has added extra broadcast times to its Sunday full-service live stream which contains music, announcements, baptisms and the sermons (which later are available by themselves on demand). The program now airs live services on Sunday at 9:00 and 11:00, and then rebroadcasts at 2:00, 4:00, 6:00, 8:00, 10:00 and midnight, EST. (The Wednesday rebroadcast has been dropped.) 


Recently the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation ran an news item about “Free Range Parenting.” (They might have called the piece “Free Range Kids” but that’s copyrighted by the woman they interviews.) As I watched the kids in the story navigating the New York subway system, I recalled my own days heading off to downtown Toronto on mass transit at a young age.

From my perspective, the problem in the story is not that some parents feel their kids can handle the same level of independence that we did at the same age, but rather, the busybody neighbors who feel it’s their duty to report said parents to the authorities.

We’re living in a tattletale culture. If Big Brother isn’t watching you, the neighbors are.


Finally, three new books to tell you about from Random House subsidiary Waterbrook Press.

Kent Brantly was the medical missionary who contracted Ebola in Liberia and needed to evacuated to the US, where he received an untried anti-Ebola drug. He and his wife have written Called for Life, just released in hardcover. Liz Curtis is back with a study into the Biblical figure known as The Queen of Sheba. It’s Good to be Queen is a paperback original. Finally, Nick Vujicic’s Stand Strong: You Can Overcome Bullying converts from hardcover to paperback.

New Waterbrook Releases

 

September 9, 2014

What Goes into a Mind Comes Out in a Life

Spiritual WarfareI’ve been thinking about the story below and how it applies to today’s environment where both men and women struggle with online addiction. Images and ideas flood our minds and although not everyone who looks at pornography fully recreates the scenes they view, often people “act out” in less conscious, less overt ways. That’s why when people go offline, they essentially “detoxify” their minds and they start to live differently.

I thought this story was rather common and assumed everyone had received it as an email at some time or other, but when I tried to find it online, I only got one link. Maybe you need this, or know someone who does.

Let this story stay with you, it applies in so many areas of life.

We are all fighting a battle within ourselves… The illustration goes like this: There is a old Indian chief telling a story about how each of us have two rival dogs, a good dog and a bad dog. Both are always fighting each other. Sometimes it seems like the good dog is winning other times it appears like the bad dog is winning.

One of the tribal members asks, “So, how do you know which one will win?”

To which the chief replies, “It depends which dog you feed.”

December 28, 2013

Holiday Link List

edited Christmas cardr

With both Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on a Wednesday, we offer this mid-point link list today, with the regular schedule returning January 8th. (Actually, I think that’s supposed to say, “returning, Lord willing on January 8th…”)  If you’re new here, there was a corporate takeover of the link list in July, so all roads below lead to Out of Ur, the blog of Leadership Today magazine.

 

August 13, 2013

Keep the Story, Lose the Illustration

This is a rebroadcast of a piece from September 2011…

Having become previously acquainted with the addictive properties of the internet’s dark side, I can identify with the AA mantra that “one drink is too many and a thousand drinks are not enough.” I have experienced moments where one online image essentially gives you permission to then delve deeper into more of the same, a task easily undertaken when you have the road map memorized.

Of late, this has not been an issue. Facing job uncertainty, the loss of a friendship, or a medical challenge has a way of keeping you focused on things that matter, and making a renewed commitment to purity of thoughts and actions. For me, anyway. I know there are others for whom the same stresses are what drives them to find a way of escape. But lately I have been relatively detoxified and in fact, there are parts of the above-mentioned roadmap that start to fade over time.

But it can only take one idea, one article, or one photograph; and the process can start to unravel. I know this because, about a week ago it happened to me

On a Christian website.

The woman in question, who I believe has written some Christian books, had posted to her site/blog an article about a particularly disturbing trend taking place. I won’t name it, because I don’t want to drive anyone to find it. She posted a number of pictures including one that I don’t feel was absolutely necessary. Furthermore, in the limited internet exploration which did follow, I discovered she had posted a picture that many secular bloggers and media sites had shied away from.

And then, there was the temptation to go back and see how some hold friends are faring, if you get my drift. Heck, I had already started down the road, and I might as well see how the old neighborhood was doing.

But instead, I just sat at the computer, not once, not twice, but several times with my hands hovering over the keyboard, but unable to complete any actual keystrokes. Some would say there was a battle raging. If so, the battle probably stretched out over about three days. In the end, while I somewhat danced around the outskirts of what is for me, the internet’s forbidden zone, I did not actually revisit the old haunts.

But none of this — absolutely none of it — would have happened if a certain Christian internet writer had been content just to report on a problem without feeling the need to add pictures. It was just completely unnecessary. And it was, to at least one person, a huge potential stumbling block.

We all want more readers. We all want to think our particular blog or website is a relevant source of breaking trends and opinion on current issues. The stats provide that affirmation.

But not at any price.

May 5, 2013

Blog Post of the Week: Predestination and the Emotional Life

Every once in awhile you land on someone’s blog and an article just arrests you in your tracks.  Thanks to Wade Burleson for this, you’re encouraged to click this link to read at source. I’ve added some emphasis.

Paul Young

Paul Young

In the few days Paul Young was here in Enid we had some very interesting conversations. I have complimented Paul before, saying I have learned more about interaction with people through observing him than any other person I know. Paul believes everything in his life–every experience, every heart-ache, every blessing, every moment–have collectively led him to the moment in time he speaks with the one who is in front of him. He is not looking over the shoulder to the next person in line, he is not worried about being late for supper or his next appointment. Paul Young takes time to interact with people and connect with them on a level deeper than the superficial.

Paul Young and I share a very high view of the power of the atonement. We both believe the grace of God saves through the Person and work of Jesus the Anointed One. We are repelled by the notion that a loving God tries to save the world through His Son. We believe God actually delivers sinners from themselves through Christ. We also share a common view of hell. It is not a torture chamber dreamed up in the mind of the midieval poet Dante, but rather a solemn, holy place of judgment where a loving God sentences rebels to a just imprisonment for their crimes.

Where Paul and I disagree is on the extent of the atonement. Paul Young believes Christ died for every human being who has ever lived or ever will live, those who are in heaven and those who are in hell. I believe Christ died for the elect. We both believe Christ died for the world, but Paul defines the world as every human being, whereas I define it as a particular people (the Bride of Christ) from every nation, every tongue, every kindred, and every family on earth. Paul Young treats every human being as a child of God, and thus connects with them in a deep emotional and spiritual level. I desire to connect with every human being in a similar manner to Paul Young.

In discussing the extent of the atonement, Paul Young told me a story of a couple of Calvinists who approached him to debate the subject. Paul observed that Calvinists typically approach him in pairs, one tall and lean the other short and plump. The tall one argued with Paul about the extent of the atonement and Paul responded, “So let me ask you a question. You have two boys, both of whom are your flesh and blood. One boy is saved because God chose Him, Christ died for Him and the Spirit regenerated Him. The other boy, however, is chosen by God to be a “vessel of wrath” upon whom judgement will fall as a demonstration of God’s holiness and justice. My question for you is this: ‘Does it bother you that you have one son who will be in heaven and one son who will be in hell?'” The tall Calvinist responded: ‘It does not. God’s purposes are good, and if my boy is a vessel chosen for the demonstration of God’s wrath against sin, it will be fine with me.”

Paul Young’s next question was this: “How long have you struggled with pornography?”

I was shocked at Paul’s question to the man. Paul explained to me that any human being who is so emotionally disconnected from their children’s welfare that they can dispassionately speak of their eternal state without sorrow, tears or pleading with God for mercy, is a person who is disconnected from emotion in relationships. The tell-tale sign of a struggle with pornography, according to Paul, is an emotional disconnect from human relationships.

I may disagree with Paul Young about the extent of the atonement, but I can guarantee you I want to treat every person the way he does. I wish to believe like Charles Spurgeon  who once said “God, save the elect and elect some more” and I wish to live like Paul Young who treats every human being as a chosen recipient of God’s grace. My view on the atonement has not changed. I believe it is a particular atonement for those who believe. But I can tell you without hesitation I would rather be around people who believe in a powerful, universal atonement and treat everybody like a child of God than a limited atonement person who is emotionally disconnected from the human race. I’m not sure what camp that puts me in, but its one which I do not wish to leave.

December 29, 2012

Men and Pornography: Keeping the Discussion Going

In July, 2008, I posted a draft version of The Pornography Effect online, and spent a great deal of energy trying to increase awareness of this plague which has spread via technology and has had particularly damaging effects on men. A few months later, popular blogger and writer Jeff Goins interviewed me on the subject, and today I can’t honestly recall where the interview appeared; but after finding a copy of it yesterday, I thought it helpful to spread this message yet again. Besides, we need to keep this discussion going. This is the first time this material has appeared at Thinking Out Loud.

You can read The Pornography Effect here, it uses a blog format but reads like a book with the chapters in proper order and a ‘next page’ type of click necessary to get to the second of the two screens.  It takes about 55 minutes. There’s also a ‘Cliff Notes’ version of the key points here.

The Interview

What is your personal experience with pornography? What did your own struggle look like?

We owned a computer that was connected online for about ten years before anything remotely pornographic ever crossed the screen.   Up until that point, I would say I was probably in the “This could never happen to me” category.   One Saturday afternoon doing a relatively random search, I ended up in the middle of an erotic novel.   A few days later I decided to read the whole thing from the beginning.   When I finished the story, nearly two weeks later, a link took me a site which contained photographic porn.   At that point certain walls of resistance had already collapsed.   Like the proverbial “guy with a remote control” who “wants to know what else is on,” I was determined to explore this alternative universe.   The internet was more than willing to oblige.   Even though I was leading worship in my church on Sunday, I was on the way to becoming a hopeless slave to internet pornography addiction.   But I rationalized that I was balancing the two worlds quite capably and getting away with it.

After what I consider a wake-up call several months later, I was able to break free for several months.   And then I went back for several weeks.   And then broke free again.   Today, there is a short-term freedom in being able to honestly say I’ve forgotten the internet addresses of most of those sites.   But in the long-term, the fact remains I know the search criteria that got me there.   For anyone, the internet’s dark side is never more than a few clicks and keystrokes away.

When did you realize that this was a systemic problem in a lot of men’s lives?

After remaining free for a longer period, I decided to (a) go public, and (b) create a forum for women to know more about the mechanics of how the internet porn industry functions.   There are millions of pornographic web pages, but each has one thing in common:  They were all put there by someone.  That person had a reason, a motivation, and I thought it would be helpful to create more understanding of why the stuff is there in the first place.   Perhaps I’m wired to want to share and apply knowledge once it’s acquired.   Perhaps I was trying to redeem a bad personal experience.   I just figured there were already seminars for men who were dealing with a multitude of addictive behavior, but nothing for the women who were, as I termed it, the collateral damage in the sphere of internet addiction.

teen with computer I found out really fast that this is truly “the elephant in the room” both within and outside the church.   Tell people this is what you want to discuss, and the room gets really quiet.   Plus, I’m in Canada where there isn’t the same transparency about personal struggles.   We don’t talk about our spiritual lives here in the same way that people do in the U.S.  I have always know that this was a hot topic, but once I was trying to create open discussion, it was initially the silence that told me I had struck a nerve more than anyone’s particular admission or confession.

For a younger generation of internet sex addicts, though, this is a non-issue.   Images of naked people — even images of their classmates — have been available online all their lives.  An entire generation is being raised without a sense of shame.   It was once the case that humans distinguished themselves from the animals by our ability to blush, but slowly, an entire generation is losing that.   They would say there is no problem at all here.

How does pornography affect men’s relationships with their wives, family members, and God?

I don’t think anyone who has had exposure to pornography is ever the same.   Over an extended period, I think exposure rewrites the brain programs of our minds, to the point where, for guys, any female is just a body to be exploited.    I don’t think any man who is deeply hooked can look at his wife or girlfriend, his sister, his daughter or even his mother the same way.   Yes, I’m saying it changes all relationships that a man has with all females.  The girl serving at the fast food place.  The woman in line at the bank.   The kindergarten teacher at the elementary school.  All females. 

In terms of spousal relationships, the problem — and fortunately this wasn’t exactly the issue for me — is that men are intended to find sexual fulfillment in their wives. (And likewise, wives in their husbands.)   So immediately the relationship is encountering damage.   But where the internet habit is also a secret habit, there is an additional wall of separation building between the husband and wife.   Trying to get “alone time” on the family computer can also cause friction between other family members.

Spiritually, sin is sin.   While we can admit that God probably ain’t too happy, we can use all kinds of rationalization to justify that what we’re doing isn’t such a big deal.   After all, aren’t a lot of popular songs played on radio somewhat pornographic when you read the lyrics?    If a person is really tuned in to their own spirit, I think they’ll recognize that, like Adam in Eden, we’ve somewhat hidden ourselves, and hurt the relationship in the process.   There are other indicators of spiritual life and growth that will start to flash warning lights.

 Have you encountered women who have struggled with porn?

Once I went more public with my desire to speak to this subject, I had a number of women who came to talk me.   While at first discussing a husband’s or a son’s addiction, they eventually shared with me that they had struggled with this themselves.   Yielding to female stereotypes of soap operas and romance novels, I assumed they were speaking of text pornography, like the novel that had initially hooked me.   But they were saying no such thing.   They were into the pictures just like the guys were, and one woman in particular hinted at a very deep addition that had tied up hundreds and hundreds of online hours.

However, one of the main ideas I want to advance is the idea that text pornography is every bit as dangerous and harmful as drawn or photographic pornography.  It is able to convey ideas that either (a) cannot be expressed in a picture, or (b) would still be considered taboo graphically.  Text pornography, which includes but is not limited to erotic literature, puts forward ideas which in some cases are intended to change societal norms.  It ought to be the focus of more concern.

 What does it mean for a porn/sex addict to discover grace? What does that look like?

I think that the grace of God comes in the form of the strength that we don’t have within ourselves to walk away from the internet, either figuratively or literally.  Apart from Christ’s power working in us, there’s no compelling reason to break free, let alone the strength to do it.   But with Christ’s power, I believe that breaking free of this particular addiction can be a relatively painless process.   If we see our sin as being sin against God, we will strive for holy living.   The man who desires to do the will of God positionally does not sin.  

Grace can also appear in the form of a friend who has walked the same road, or a friend who is simply brave enough to wade into the topic with you.   Grace can be a pastor willing to devote a Sunday morning sermon to the topic; and grace can be a congregation that doesn’t judge when you walk towards the altar at the pastor’s invitation.  Grace can be an understanding spouse who desires to encourage you towards freedom from addiction.   Grace can even be a young daughter who catches a glance of an image on your computer screen and asks, “Daddy, how would you feel if that were me?”

Can you share at least one story of someone you know who was able to break out of a porn addiction?

It’s interesting to think about that question apart from the various things I’ve read in books and magazine articles that were all U.S.-based.  The Book Porn Nation by Michael Leahy, and the book I Surrender All:  Rebuilding a Marriage Broken by Pornography by Renee and Clay Cross share two stories that I believe to be representative of stories that are common to so many.  In my country, what I’ve experienced is hushed voices, speaking in low tones, whispering, “Been there.  Done that.   Free now.”  

I think the curiosity factor engages a great percentage of men at one time or another, particularly as the computer changes the way pornography is accessed.    The question is how long are you going to stay in Sin City?   Some stay a long time.   Some reading this are there right now.   No… make that many reading this are there right now.  Thankfully,  I think there are probably more stories of spiritual victory out there than we realize, but far too many men are afraid to admit the problem existed in the first place.   A person has to simply determine not to go back there. 

What resources are available for those who are struggling?

If a person has a trusted friend who can serve as an accountability partner, I think that accountability software like Covenant Eyes is probably the best resource we have right now.   I know pastors who serve as accountability watchdogs for each other.   If a person is really fighting the addicitive nature (which can be part of the human condition) then a program like Celebrate Recovery is also helpful.

October 3, 2008

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