October of this year marks 10 years since I started openly talking about a longtime struggle with pornography. I am grateful for the journey of recovery and sobriety that I believe God has led me on. I’m even more grateful for family and friends who joined me along the way cheering, supporting, and holding me accountable. The most notable of course is my wife Christina. She’s had to endure the most with this salacious tale. She’s the private type, doesn’t really need or want people knowing what’s going on in her world or ours. So when I decided that I really sensed God moving me toward making my sexual sin public I had to get her blessing. Interesting thing is she had that same sense that God was in this and others needed to know.
So in 2003 with Christina’s affirmation and with only 2 people on the face of the earth (Christina and a family friend) aware of my porn problem I approached conference leadership and let them know. From that point on word spread pretty fast. Soon local and national news got wind of the story. My story was one of the early ones revealing the secret struggle that often strangles the life out of pastors. Now there are numerous stories of pastors revealing their own struggles with porn.
While I was praised by some there are those who were highly irritated by such a public confession. They said it put the church in a bad light. That people would be turned off by such a dirty confession by an SDA pastor. They believed that my story didn’t need to be public. To their point the people that needed to know, knew about it, and Christina and I were in a good place as a couple. I wasn’t caught by anyone and as far as the general public knew, including those at my church everything was fine. It could have stayed that way.
But I chose, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I believe, to share my story in order to bring attention to a real problem facing the church. Perhaps more importantly though I chose to speak up because God had truly changed my life.
Over the past almost 10 years of traveling the country and bringing awareness to this issue I’ve encountered some of those critics who still question very seriously why I confessed so publicly. In fact the attitude tends to be rather hostile and comes with references to Ellen G. White’s counsel that seems to imply that such a confession does more harm than good. With respect to Mrs. White I must profoundly disagree with her or at least I disagree with an interpretation of her writings on this topic by some. For some of my SDA friends that statement alone will amount to heresy and grounds for dismissal from SDA denominational ministry.
So public confession may very well be good for the soul, but is it good for the church? I would say yes, but not in all circumstances.
I don’t think we need to vomit all of our junk up on people at every large public gathering that’s not at all what I’m advocating. I’m certainly not calling for pastor’s to stand before their congregations each weekend confessing their past or present failings. And we certainly don’t need the gory details of every members sexual philandering or other sinful activity.
But we do need a grace-oriented atmosphere of transparency, and authenticity. Yes, I know it’s awkward, but I think good things can come of it. The problem with churches is we appear a little too squeaky clean if you ask me. From the outside looking in we appear to have all the answers and they’ve resulted in our being pretty well put together. Jesus does change us for sure but do we have have to come off so holier-than-though?
I had a pastor friend of mine tell me that he got into a conversation with someone about the issue of pornography and how so many pastors were coming forward telling stories about their struggles. He himself has never struggled with porn, but he said he intentionally left that out of the conversation as to leave the question of whether or not he struggled ambiguous to the person. In other words he didn’t go all out to make sure that the person knew that he was pure and upright in all things.
I think that’s what I’m getting at. We try so hard to control how others view us. We play into their assumptions about how good Christians and good Seventh-day Adventists ought to act and behave. The effort we put into keeping up appearances only deepens the resentment when it’s uncovered that we’re not all we made ourselves out to be. The word screamed at us from the current generation is “hypocrite”!
As for Ellen White, I’ve read some of the stuff people have thrown at me. But here’s the thing. She wrote during the Victorian Era. That era was all about appearances. It was all about never letting anyone know what was going on with you because it could cause an outbreak of that very sin. In my opinion she is simply writing out of the context of her time reflecting the attitudes and subcultural nuances of her day. If she were alive and speaking into the church today my guess is she would have a different message. I think she would have a strong voice against all of the pretention that goes on. She would challenge the church to be real or at least stop trying to manage our image to the point that we come off pretty plastic.
So yes, I believe there is room for public confession and it serves the church well. We don’t need the kind where we drag a pregnant teenage girl up on stage (minus the boyfriend) and make her confess to having pre-marital sex and an unintended pregnancy. But I do believe we need small groups where people can be honest and the members don’t freak out. I am for a church where when sin becomes known they don’t react as if someone has grown and eyeball in their forehead. I am for a church where obvious and not so obvious sinners are welcome, embraced, and loved into living differently.
“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” Proverbs 28:13
Growing up I remember being quite terrified of walking down a dark alley. Seems like in every movie or television show I watched, bad things happened in dark alleys. Even to this day I still get a little nervous if I’m walking downtown in a city somewhere at night and pass a dimly lit alleyway. Usually alleys have tall buildings on either side which means it can easily become a trap for an unsuspecting traveler wandering through. Then there’s always the danger that something or someone could be lurking behind a dumpster ready to pounce on you! Remember what people say about creepy or scary looking people, “wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley!” Okay, I’ve made myself scared now!
Unfortunately I don’t think we can avoid alleys in this life. An alley can provide a short cut for sure, but there’s a vulnerability there and a real risk of encountering something more powerful than we can handle. Ok, so I’m sounding a bit sinister here. Let me make my point. Alleys are everywhere. An “alley” is really a temptation, its a spiritual challenge walled on both sides, narrow, dark, and scary, with limited options for a quick exit.
The porn alley seems to have become the most seductive, it draws so many of us off the main path. Funny thing is it’s dark alright, but it’s also well lighted. Think about it. It’s right out there in the open, well lit, visible, and even welcoming. It used to be that porn was outside the mainstream, tucked away in little obscure bookstores with darkened windows. Now porn retailers have billboards, websites, and radio ads.
Porn alley even sends a message of safety, and fulfillment. But it is darkness, and it darkens the soul. Clever deception. It comes off as light, goodness, and beauty but at the end of the day it is dark, evil, and ugly. It isn’t light at all as some would have you believe. You may even physically survive the stroll through the dark alley of porn but your soul won’t be the same.
Today, I was thinking about sobriety, and a standing decision I’ve made never to travel back down the dark alley of porn. At times its tempting for sure. But like I said, I’m afraid of dark alleys and I’ve acquired a different fear now. I’m not terrified. I simply live in fear (awe and deep wonder) of the One who rescued me from the dark path I had traveled. I fear God, I revere Him, love Him, and desire only to serve Him. I desire for His light to guide my every path now and lead me away from the alleys I’m tempted to travel. I’m grateful for His grace on this wild journey.
4 Ways to avoid the “dark alley” of porn:
Remember God has a plan for your life. (Jeremiah 29:11)
Practice the basics. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Seek the light of scripture. (Psalm 119:105)
Recruit a friend. (Proverbs 18:24)
To see the catastrophic impact of the F5 tornado that leveled Moore, Oklahoma is to ask the questions that can’t be ignored in times like these. Why all the disasters? Why all the devastation? Why all the pain and suffering? If you are a believer then you have to ask an even tougher question, and that is, if God is all-powerful and hasn’t left us alone why has He allowed such tragedy?
Why is there a “death toll” that counts among it’s numbers the most innocent and vulnerable such as the children at Plaza Towers Elementary School? As Christ followers we have to reconcile the notion of a loving and gracious God who, “protects, and cares for us”, with a God who may come off as aloof and distant in times of great loss.
In my context as a pastor many look at these disasters as fulfillment of Bible prophecy pointing to the eminent return of Jesus. Are these natural disasters an indication of God’s soon return, “the footsteps of an approaching God”, as we have said for years? Or is it evidence of His looming judgment upon the wicked and unrepentant?
Maybe it’s all just simply a matter of Mother Nature being left to wreak havoc in her own natural way. What ever the question put fourth we have to acknowledge that something indeed is going on and some answers would sure be nice.
Henry Wadsworth Longellow penned these words:
Be still, sad heart! And cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.
Insightful observations by Longfellow, but his words are insufficient. While it is true the sun is still shinning and yes we know this life is not without its cloudy, or rainy days (especially in Florida!). While we may acknowledge that perhaps there is a “silver lining” behind every dark cloud it does not release us from the pain and frustration we know at this very moment. It doesn’t still our anxious, or anxiety ridden souls. It would help to know that we’re not just left to the whim of nature, but that indeed there is a destination that we’re moving toward and that our story has a good ending.
There’s a collection of verses in the book of Romans in the Bible that provide both insight and hope. Romans 8:18-23:
“18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
This groaning the Bible speaks of is “travail”, “sorrow”, “pain”. It is a longing for release, deliverance, and freedom. It’s not just any kind of groaning, but a groaning as in childbirth. While us guys can’t really grasp the pangs of physical birth we do know the pain of spiritual longing. It’s what the Israelites experienced during their time of bondage in Egypt at the hands of Pharaoh. Exodus 2:23 says: “During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.”
In essence then all of creation both human beings as well as the nature that surrounds us operates with a deep dissatisfaction and frustration, or a “groaning”, if you will. Nature’s harsh lashing out reveals the same deep longing that all of fallen humanity feels. The storms, tornados, earthquakes, and hurricanes are a revelation of something more to come that doesn’t devastate, mame, or kill. Nature, like you and me anticipates a day of reconciliation and restoration through the divine creator God.
Paul is saying that the pain of these present moments (and it is very real) is only subdued when we compare it to the “glory” of our future hope. That glory is first revealed in us through new bodies unriddled by disease or age (I Corinthians 15:51). Then it is revealed through a cleansing of the earth, and the earth made new (Revelation 21:1-2). It is the destiny that every human heart hungers for. Though occasionally veiled as we fall victim to nature’s own longing, hope is soon renewed when the sun rises on a new day. Hope returns when first responders recover someone trapped in rubble. Hope returns when families are united, bruises heal, and children return to a new school.
But for right now, in these moments of great despair let us draw close to those who now suffer the most. Let us offer relief, condolence, and resources. Let us put our muscle and money behind rebuilding with them what has been taken away. You can donate with confidence through these organizations:
Hang on to this HOPE, there is a relationship with a creator God, that once restored in full, will dry every tear, and cure the problem of death and destruction forever. No more frustration. Amen. (Revelation 21:4)
I’m hearing from a lot of parents these days. They reach out seeking help on how to deal with a young child they suspect has been exposed to porn. Then the question that every parent has is, “what on earth do we do about it?” So I’ve put together a bit of a first response list. There may be other things that could be on this “high priority” list but for now this is what I recommend:
1. Remain calm but proactive. Doesn’t do anyone any good to freak out! Don’t think that because your child saw porn he or she will automatically become the next Jeffry Dahmer or out of control sex addict. Remember that the average age for first time exposure is somewhere around 11 so it seems inevitable. It’s not your fault as a parent if your kid is exposed because a classmate at school has a magazine or has a smart phone with unfiltered access to the web. On the other hand if your child discovers porn on your own home computer then it may be that you haven’t thought seriously about protecting your family. Exposure at any age to porn is really a reflection of the times in which we live. The challenge is to address it in a healthy way and make sure that porn doesn’t rule the day. The worst thing we can do as parents is ignore the subject altogether and just assume that our child will get through it and be ok. This is a time to engage and provide guidance through the awkward stages of early childhood and adolescence.
2. Keep the conversation ongoing. As parents we have to keep the talk about sex and sexuality (age appropriately) going in order to correct misinformation, and keep the conversation God-focused. If we provide a safe, open, environment for conversation about puberty and body changes our kids are informed and empowered to handle ongoing encounters with porn or other unhealthy sexual messages. Ignoring the issue generally creates greater curiosity and kids are resourceful enough today that they can find the answers with a simple google search. Most likely they won’t find the answers we want them to read or the images/videos we want them to see. Make sure it’s as much of a dialogue as possible. It’s easy to want to lecture our kids on sex but that tends to be less effective. Remember too that it isn’t just one awkward conversation. It may get slightly more uncomfortable and more complicated as our kids get older. Let them ask questions and avoid the cliche, pat answers. Give them a vision of what purity looks like. With pornography comes the issue of masturbation. Tough subject, but again much is gained by open, appropriate conversation. One very good resource that I highly recommend is the Passport to Purity curriculum through Family Life Ministries.
3. Build in some protections. If you haven’t already done so you should build in some protections by installing filters and accountability/monitoring software. There are great products out there such as X3Watch, SafeEyes, Covenant Eyes, NetNanny, and OpenDNS. Keep in mind that these aren’t full-proof. But they do provide an extra hurdle for someone to have to navigate in order to access adult sites. It could also help prevent accidental exposures to the youngest people in household. Be very intentional here and set real parameters around access to the internet. Remember too that mobile devices such as ipads, ipods, iphones, and even game systems can all access the web. Be sure to keep all screens in public view and limit access in the bedrooms with doors closed. I also highly recommend that families just “go dark” for a period of time and observe a media/screen fast from time to time. This does everyone a ton of good.
4. Dad needs to be a part. I’m learning that this is far more important than most of us want to admit. Us dad’s play a vital role in helping our kids (sons and daughters) develop a healthy sexuality. That’s why it will demand that we engage wholeheartedly in the process. It means we’ll have to take the lead on many of these discussions especially with our sons. Our daughters are watching and listening too. Their very sense of self worth, body image, and assertiveness my be derived from how we as dads interact with them. So as awkward as it may be let’s make sure we are there with our girls and boys. Dads, let’s let our daughters know that they are deeply loved because they are God’s precious creation and they are inherently valuable and have immense worth. Let’s let our son’s know that they are deeply loved and called to a life of integrity and purity in the sexual arena even at an early age.
5. Keep your eyes on the prize. Obviously none of these strategies are full-proof, but it does create a bit of a wall. It also lets your kids know you are being intentional about keeping inappropriate stuff out of the home. Keep in mind the goal isn’t just behavior modification or even abstinence (although we want them to be). The goal is to shape character, help your son/daughter become people who value the opposite gender and are offended by something that objectifies them. Help them have a godly understanding of the beautiful, God-given gift of sexuality so that when they grow up they can handle it in the context of an adult, marital relationship. Doesn’t mean that our kids won’t stumble along the way, but you will have given them the tools to work with and a heart to make the right decisions in the “heat” of the moment.
Remember too that it’s not a one-time, “it’s solved” type of thing, we have to enter the journey to help our sons and daughters become healthy, young Christians who understand their bodies, sex, and how to relate to the opposite gender.
In summary: remain calm, keep an ongoing conversation, build in some protections, make dad a big part of it, focus on character and not just behavior modification.
“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
I Samuel 16:7
Often our problem is we don’t like the sin in our lives and feel guilt and shame about it, yet we aren’t necessarily willing to do what it takes to address it. I believe this ties God’s hands in a sense because God will not force himself on us. Nor will He turn on some type of remote control and make us do what He wants us to do so. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking “works” here. God isn’t interested in our earning, but He is interested in our effort.
So he’s left only with our hearts. That is why the heart is mentioned so much in scripture. The amount of progress we make will be in direct correlation to how much heart we actually make available to God. In my past I half-heartedly wanted to deal with my porn problem. I kept telling God just take it away from me, just decrease my desire, or even make me impotent if you have to God! I wanted freedom but only on my terms, I was playing games with God and it got me nowhere.
It wasn’t until I found myself at rock bottom that I began to take God seriously about doing things His way. I feared that it would cost me too much. I knew it had to cost me something. That really is the big myth out there that our transformation doesn’t demand something of us. But it does. Our salvation is a FREE gift of grace. There’s no question about that! But to become a “disciple” is quite costly. Remember Jesus words, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
I knew that I would be stripped bare and broken wide open because that’s just the way God does things. He says if we truly want transformation and change it must be on His terms and it must be drastic, major, jarring, intrusive, and deep.
So there is no room for half-heartedness. I’m grateful that God accepts us where we are and I know He speaks to us over a period of time but ultimately we have to reach a point where we say okay God I see what you are up to and I’m responding. I’ll do whatever you ask. The invitation is given but it is the decision of the will to respond at the prompting of the Spirit of God.
One of the most poignent chapters in the Bible is found in Psalm 51 where David is broken over the reality of his sin. Verses 10-12 are particularly meaningful for this post:
“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51:10-12
There are three stories that have emerged in the news recently that should give us all cause for great alarm. Personally I was deeply disturbed by all three stories and what appears to be a growing trend among teenage boys and young men just entering their twenties.
Audrie Pott (15), Rehtaeh Parsons (17), and a third unnamed 16 year old girl, who is still alive were all victims of senseless, cowardly, and violent, gang rapes by their High School classmates. To add insult to injury the young males in all three cases photographed their victims and distributed the images via social media sites essentially celebrating their assaults on human dignity. In the case of Audrie Pott, the four young men who raped her, when she was passed out from drinking too much at a party, scrawled sexually explicit messages on her naked body.
Haunted by the attacks and embarrassed and humiliated by the photos both Audrie and Rehtaeh committed suicide. Suicide is a tragedy in and of itself, but we have heard other stories of teenagers taking their own lives. In fact suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults ages 15-25 according to the American Society of Suicidology. These stories are different in that they involve not only the tragedy of teenage suicide, but an egregious “group” violation of basic human dignity.
What I’m shaken by is the utter disregard for other human beings demonstrated by the boys accused of these crimes. I’m appalled that these boys would interpret an intoxicated, unconscious, peer as an invitation for sex. Perhaps more unsettling is the fact that these boys didn’t see their classmate as vulnerable and in need. Whatever happened to chivalry, and the notion that should I find someone in need, I do all that I can to help them, not take advantage of them, especially a female.
It’s the equivalent of looting a store of all it’s high-end merchandise in the wake of a devastating storm. Only this is far more heinous as it is the soul of a young woman who is of far greater value. Please don’t interpret my altruism as male chauvinism. I’m not suggesting that females are weaker than men or somehow inferior. I am saying that they can be more vulnerable and that violence against females young and old is a problem in our culture and has been for centuries.
A recent article by psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow provides some insight into why some of this generation have such a disregard for the vulnerable. He says, “Genital contact (along with brawling) is now America’s reflex antidote to losing contact. And the antidote is being peddled indiscriminately to kids, who are being dragged right out of childhood by a vicious undertow of eroticism fueled by tides of primal fear that we are not really living life at all, nor are we male, nor are we female, nor need we be troubled (just take Prozac), nor need we be distracted (just take Adderall), nor need we be anxious or bored (just take medical marijuana), nor are we responsible for ourselves (just apply for government entitlements).” (Read more:
This “loss of contact,” I interpret as kids growing pretty callous, and cold toward others. There is no longer an intimacy with other human beings. We’re disconnected and thus see others as less human. Our constant online lives provide a false intimacy incapable of withstanding the weight of real life, flesh-and-blood, scenarios.
That is why I issue this plea to the young men as well as young ladies of this generation. Be courageous. Don’t go along with everything you see around you. Don’t assume that the others in your group know something that you don’t. No one ever has the right to strip someone of their dignity and then broadcast it to the world. Know that you have a right to challenge other’s behavior and if need be strike out on your own and do the right thing. Passivity must not rule the day.
Young ladies, please watch out for one another. If you see one of your peers getting in trouble it’s only decent to step in and protect them even if they have put themselves in a bad place.
Take these words to heart from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
The first time I wrote about this particular myth it created quite a firestorm of reaction from readers. Most of the people didn’t agree with my position and made me quite aware of their disapproval. That’s perfectly fine. I still hold the same position though. I do not believe that a spouse’s habitual viewing of porn amounts to biblical grounds for divorce. Is it sin? No doubt about it! Is it the same as physical adultery with a partner other than your spouse, no, not in my opinion or what I see in scripture.
Having said that, I would reiterate that it is still a sin to act out with porn, or carry on a virtual affair. By no means am I suggesting that an offended spouse should be okay with such illicit behavior. This is not an attempt to let a guy off on a technicality or to lessen the impact of the sin. What is important here is to recognize that even the “virtual affair,” or porn addiction, if carried on, often leads to abuse, severe neglect, and emotional, or even physical abandonment which I believe would be grounds for divorce.
There’s no question Jesus is serious about the issue of adultery. In fact he went much farther than his legalistic counterparts. The religious leaders of his day sought to perform mainly based on the letter of the law. They set the minimum standard when it came to living a life free of lust focusing on the two-party physical act alone. It helped them feel more righteous.
But Jesus set the bar much higher. He included the inner workings of the heart. The spirit of the law as it were. His goal was to let everyone know that you can’t be self-righteous about the fact that you haven’t slept around. Don’t be smug just because you haven’t been caught physically cheating on your spouse. He let his hearers know that the sin of adultery can begin in the heart long before it’s consummated in the bedroom.
It’s natural then, based on a reading of Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” to conclude that mental adultery should come with the same consequences as a physical encounter.
What we don’t want to miss here though is the point of Jesus discussion of the topic to begin with. Again, his point is to reveal to his hearers (especially those religious experts) a fuller meaning of the law. As Brad Hambrick says, “Jesus was calling on His followers to attack each sin at its root and to read the law not as a set of right actions but as a description of right values.”
Jesus’ goal was to put a spotlight on the lame hypocrisy of wayward rabbis. To poke holes in the rabbis’ inflated religious egos. Remember too that the subject of lust comes in the context of several other christian living issues. Jesus takes on anger, divorce, and how to treat enemies. In this context then it is appropriate to make the same application to lust as we would the other issues Jesus raises. Do we believe Jesus is mandating that those who hate in their heart be locked up just as someone who physically kills someone?
Finally, at the heart of this debate is a real distinction between the subjective nature of a man’s (or woman’s) mental fantasizing and actual physical intercourse. The Bible implies something mysterious about the union of two bodies that sets physical intercourse apart (I Cor. 6:16).
My practical interpretation then is that while both mental fantasizing and physical intercourse are clearly sin, the personal consequences to the offender are different. The emphasis in Matthew 5:27-28 is on the reality of the fact that both the individual who fantasizes and the individual who commits physical adultery need to repent, and seek forgiveness.