It was nearly 9 months ago that I shared this message with our church at East Hills. I have been living this story out among those with whom I am in close contact. But I think the time has come to begin sharing the story with a wider audience. If you read this blog regularly (as if I write all that regularly!) this may be a level of authenticity beyond what you are accustomed to, but I believe it's necessary if we are ever going to honestly face our struggles with each other and find grace to change.
Let me take a minute and tell you why this topic is so important to me, and why to a degree I have the ability to bring some unique perspective. Today, I am not simply talking about addictions through the lens of others and their experience. I am not merely telling you about the hope and healing that others have discovered. Today, I have been sharing through the lens of my own addiction, and in the joy of hope and healing that I have found.
Yes, I did say my own addiction. For some of you, it may be incredibly disconcerting to hear your pastor use that word of himself. For others, it may be incredibly freeing to hear that your pastor is a normal human being. But no matter your reaction, the truth remains. I was an addict. In my late teens, I began regularly viewing pornographic magazines. In college, access to the internet took this obsession to a whole new level. I loved Jesus and was even preparing to serve Him in full-time ministry, and yet this battle raged on in my soul. The emotion final bubbled over during those college years into confession to a good friend who became my accountability partner. “Finally,” I thought, “now that it’s in the open I will be free of it.”
But the opposite actually proved to be true. Without sufficient resources to truly change in a deep way, the behavior continued with more shame and guilt than ever before. So began a painful cycle of acting out, hiding behavior and living in shame, until I could bear it no more and confession would occur. This binge-purge cycle of sin continued into my marriage and into ministry. Mistakes would be made, and so more promises and commitments would be given to those who loved me and trusted me. And though some growth occurred and periods of abstinence were observed, the addiction continued.
In this system of sin-management, I convinced myself that I was doing okay. Sure, it cropped up from time to time, but surely I wasn’t as bad as others and I thought that if I just kept believing and praying, sooner or later it would go away. Well, it didn’t. Fourteen months ago, I was still stuck. But at this time, God gave me a tremendous gift- the gift of pain. He opened my eyes to see how my behaviors, that I thought were “minor”, were subtly yet steadily destroying my wife, my ministry and even my faith.
For the first time in my life I realized that sin-management was not enough. Real change- deep change- had to occur, but I didn’t know where to begin. At the time, God brought a precious gift to my wife and I through our district office. At our annual conference, they announced a partnership with Ted Roberts and his ministry, Pure Desire out of Portland. In May of last year, we begin an intense and intentional process with Ted and his wife, Diane, pastors themselves and experts on addiction and recovery. We sat with counselors who loved Jesus, understood the human heart and the human brain, and who knew a path to freedom. We began attending a weekly support and recovery group in Chehalis- me for sexual addicts and my wife for those who had been hurt by them. For the first time I was able to process my life’s journey and find that pornography was not the real problem to be dealt with- it was a symptom of much deeper issues in my life. Because of deep needs I had for finding my value through performance and my identity through success, I became hooked on the false promises of pornography as a way to medicate my pain and disappointment. Making this connection took me from behavior management to deep heart change.
And for the first time in my life, I was able to face the lies of Satan that were operating in the background of my life. Because of this addiction, I had believed myself to be a bad person- someone whom God tolerated because of how hard I worked for Him. Through the patient love and grace of the Roberts and others, I have discovered the awesome and life-changing reality of God’s love. What was once just words has now truly become the cornerstone of my life.
So, I stand before you today as a recovering addict. I know that I must now and forever be on my guard against sliding back in this direction, BUT I am healthier than I have ever been. Our marriage is stronger than it has ever been. And I am a better pastor than I have ever been- not because of growth in skill, but because of change of heart. I no longer have to serve God to find his approval and love; I am finally free to serve Him, and you, because He already loves and approves of me.
What I am confident of, as Paul tells us in Romans 8, is that God is at work in this situation for His good and for His glory. What has happened in my life and in our marriage is not for me alone, but it is also for you. The freedom I have found is no credit to me: it is because someone who knew the way showed it to me and walked the path with me in order help me truly find Christ and his power to set us free.
Over the last 9 months, a group of men at EHA has walked this journey with me, discovering freedom on their own journey. It has been such an awesome privilege to watch others move from places of isolation, secrecy and shame to a place of hope, health and healing.
Our country, I believe, is entering into an era where young men will be over-run by their sexuality like a freight train before they even know what's going on. Porn is so main-stream that it is almost unavoidable. My hope and my prayer is that God can use me, our church, and others like us around the country to sound a clear call of change. Freedom is possible, and it feels amazing!
Journey in His peace-