Covenants? What’s the Deal?

Well, first of all, a covenant is a thousand times more serious than a simple “deal.” It’s why I’m attempting to savvy its implications. Understand a covenant’s an all-encompassing arrangement, containing clearly prescribed perimeters and promises. The two parties involved have mandatory obligations they must fulfill. It’s not temporary, it’s for life. Its purpose is to complement both parties’ strengths and weaknesses, based on wholehearted trust and genuine respect. It requires blood to be shed to reinforce the solemnity and gravity of the bond it establishes. While a contract’s limited to the exchange of goods, services, products, etc., a covenant is, in essence, a giving of one’s complete self to another. (The marriage institution is the closest thing we have to a covenant nowadays but it makes for an anemic comparison by default.) The attributes I just listed show a covenant to be the ideal of what we call a relationship. In ancient Arab cultures a covenant friendship topped even family ties. It was literally “thicker than blood.” Thus, people/parties didn’t enter into a covenant agreement on a whim. A covenant is the ultimate commitment. It’s sacrificial. It’s inherently selfless to the max. And, when it comes to humanity as a whole, God’s the “other party.”

It’s difficult to convey in 21st century secularized terms what being in a covenant partnership meant. Sadly, the Hebrew word chesed (describing the core of a covenant relationship) gets watered down when translated into English, frequently appearing as the somewhat ambiguous expression, “mercy.” At its most foundational, chesed represents an intense emotion flowing outward from one party’s “heart of hearts” toward the other party, saturated with a strong desire to bless them. It’s primarily centered around unconditional love, something modern society rarely exhibits in reference to any group of folks they’ve labeled as “different” from their particular clan. I mean, love your enemies? Are you insane? They’ll run roughshod over you! Who’d suggest such a foolish thing? (Um, that’d be Christ in Matthew 5:44.)

Another facet of a covenant pact foreign to most is this: the only way to get out of it’s via death or mass extermination. That explains why they were signed in blood instead of ink. As grisly as it is to visualize, ancient tribes would confirm their mutual covenant agreement by conducting a sacrificial ceremony in which a prized animal was slaughtered, usually by cutting it in half. In doing this both sides were avowing, “If we fail to keep our end of the bargain may what happened to this innocent beast happen to us.” Now, I’m not trying to gross anyone out, just making the point that nobody entered into a covenant casually. This was serious business. However, since the penalty for breaching one was so severe, covenants held a lot of appeal due to the security, strength and cooperation that resulted from entering into them. Recall in my last essay I mentioned that phrases like “unending love,” “unshakable loyalty,” “tender mercies” and “unwavering faithfulness” have covenant roots. No wonder.

Realize also that covenants were common as houseflies in the Middle East for thousands of years. They were how nations, tribes and families kept from annihilating one another. Thus, it’s important to note there were two kinds of self-explanatory covenants – equal and unequal ones. Both were intentionally entered into by both parties and were intended primarily to complement strengths and weaknesses. For example, an aggressive, militaristic bunch of folks would logically be eager to join up with an agriculture-based clan, thereby acquiring what they lacked and desperately needed. And vice-versa. That’d be an equal alliance whereas an unequal (or unilateral) covenant came into play as the result of a mightier group conquering a lesser one by force. It was the only practical way for the defeated to avoid extinction. Of course, it came with strict stipulations, starting with the demand for total allegiance to the victorious king. That king and his people would help themselves to any wealth, land, resources and labor skills the other side possessed. In return the triumphant party was obligated to provide the defeated with security, peace and certain measures of assistance. While far from creating perfect harmony, it still managed to keep civilization, brutal as it often was, from descending into complete chaos and taking the human race with it.

You might ask why I want to spend time investigating this subject. It’s because I deem the covenant concept the key to understanding God’s master plan better. It’s the glue that connects mere mortals with His awesome divinity. Therefore, I feel it’s important to learn all I can about it and writing blog entries is my way of making sense of this befuddled world I live in. I think the word “covenant” best describes God’s relationship with all of us. Malcom Smith wrote, “A covenant’s a binding, unbreakable obligation between two parties, based on unconditional love sealed by blood and sacred oath, creating a relationship in which each party’s bound by specific undertakings on each other’s behalf. The parties place themselves under the penalty of divine retribution should they later attempt to avoid those undertakings. It’s a relationship that can only be broken by death.” So, like it or not (and because God granted each individual the sacred gift of free will) there’s a give-and-take structure to our ongoing existence in His universe. Rob Price opined, “Since the very creation of the world God used a unique pattern, a unique cultural event, referred to as the covenant. Through this He outlined specific requirements and spectacular promises and tells us how He wants us to respond to Him, outlining the promises of what’ll happen if we follow His ways. And those promises are absolutely thrilling – even life-changing.” So even if it’s solely for the historical perspective it can provide that you opt to tag along on my investigative journey, I predict you’ll be amazed to see how the rites involved in establishing and maintaining a covenant have fascinating connections to Biblical truths.

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Addicted to The Word

Freed at last from the chains of porn addiction, it was extremely important I fill the resulting void with healthier thoughts and habits.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “…Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.  …And the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9).  Hard to argue against that common-sense logic whether you’re Christian or not.  We are what we think.  I’m an avid reader so spending time with books comes naturally.  However, I’d never bothered opening my Bible.  But when I found practical help for my addiction in the Celebrate Recovery ministry that my church sponsors I felt an irresistible urge to finally investigate it for myself.  Like many folks are prone to do, I’d formed a misinformed opinion about something I knew very little about.  When I finally read it front to back I found it radically different from what I expected.  In fact, I became so fascinated with it I began starting every day by reading several chapters and, in the process, completing the journey from Genesis to Revelation annually.  And then I begin again.  It’s not incorrect to say I traded one addiction for another.  Yet I assure you I’m gaining tons more positive benefits from reading the Bible than I ever got from ogling porn.

 

There’s a lot of truth in the adage “An empty mind’s the devil’s playground.”  Jesus warned us against not replacing our bad habits with good ones.  Using a vivid allegory, He said, When an unclean spirit goes out of a person, it passes through waterless places looking for rest but not finding any.  Then it says, ‘I will return to the home I left.’  When it returns, it finds the house swept clean and put in order.  Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there, so the last state of that person is worse than the first (Luke 11:24-26).  I dare say all of us have known or at least heard of people who “got clean” but down the line ended up more addicted than they were previously.  That’s because they didn’t find something positive to put in place of whatever they were formerly obsessed with.  In my case studying the Bible and reading the thought-provoking works of Christian writers like C.S. Lewis, Brennan Manning, Dallas Willard and many others keeps my mind from wandering back into fantasyland where my insatiable libido awaits.  One thing about me, I get bored easily.  Once I’ve read a book I rarely read it again.  Same with songs.  After I’ve heard a tune ten times I’m ready to latch on to another.  Therefore, trust me when I say it’s amazing I haven’t wearied of reading the Bible.  Why?  Because it continues to stimulate/intrigue me no end.  I’ve never found anything quite like it.

 

I just spent half a year blogging about porn addiction.  I feel I’ve covered every aspect I could think of.  (If you’re new to my story I invite you to go back about two dozen essays.  It’s all there.)  Thus, I’m ready to move on and write about some of the discoveries I’ve made via reading The Holy Word continuously for over nine years, beginning with God’s covenants.  (Did your eyes just roll?  Hear me out.)  The word “covenant” appears in the Bible 292 times in 272 verses so its importance can’t be overstated.  Still, I really didn’t know much about what a covenant signified or entailed although it garnered a mention in many sermons I heard.  For some reason it was never elaborated upon.  Since the gospel message is much more than the somewhat patronizing, ineffective statement, “God has a plan for your life”, I decided to dig deeper into the depths of the Bible to satisfy my own curiosity about things like covenants.  I eventually realized what the scholar James Garlow wrote is true: “In many ways the covenant is the foundation of our faith and the epicenter of what we understand about our relationship with God.  Upon it is based our understanding of salvation, holiness, healing, worship, deliverance, and sanctification.”  Yep, it’s a big deal.

 

That raises the fair question of, “If it’s that big a deal then why doesn’t God’s Word go to greater lengths to explain it thoroughly?”  Well, it’s because the whole definition of a covenant agreement was common knowledge in ancient times.  Even youngsters understood.  In 1885 Professor H. Clay Trumbull wrote, “The primitive rite of blood covenanting was well-known in the lands of the Bible at the time of its writing.  For that very reason we’re not to look to the Bible for specific explanations of the rite itself, even where there are incidental references to the rite and its observances; but, on the other hand, we’re to find an explanation of the biblical illustrations of the primitive rite in the understanding of it gained from outside sources.  In this way, we’re able to see in the Bible much of what otherwise would be lost sight of.”  Consider this illustration.  When you hear terms like “quarterback,” “touchdown,” or “safety blitz” you most likely relate them to the game of football.  Well, in the old days concepts like “love,” “faithfulness,” “mercy,” “kindness,” “loyalty,” and “friendship” were instantly associated with a covenant of some sort.  Thus, comprehending what a covenant is is vital to intelligently grasping a major component of what God desires us to know about Him and His kingdom.  However, unless a person has reverence (a mature respect, if you will) for the Heavenly Father this subject won’t interest them in the least.  Psalm 25:14 states, The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.  That’s not weird.  You don’t confide unfiltered truth about yourself to folks who don’t respect you.  Neither does God.  More to come.

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Hope For All

For over four decades I hid my porn addiction.  Hey, it wasn’t hurting anybody.  (That’s the big lie.  Porn made me secretive, mean-spirited, sarcastic and overly-critical.)  I deemed it part of my life no one need know about.  It never affected my job.  It never harmed my relationships.  That is, until my wife discovered my disgusting habit.  That’s when I realized my sinful obsession might cost me more than I was willing to pay.  D-Day had arrived.  I was a roach on a white tile floor with the lights switched on.  Self-loathing clobbered me like an NFL linebacker and I finally uttered the words, “I have a problem.”  Covered in shame, I got on my knees and cried out to the God I’d ignored way too long for healing and forgiveness.  The latter came instantly.  The former was going to take a while.  Didn’t matter.  I was ready to do whatever.  That Sunday I went to church for the first time in ages.  I met with Pastor Rick the next day.  He said, “Celebrate Recovery’s what you need.”  “What’s that?” I asked.  “You’ll find out,” he said.  A meeting was starting upstairs.  I went but contemplated bolting until the leader said of his first visit, “I thought if anyone knew the real me they’d kick me out.”  That’s precisely how I felt!  I stuck around.

 

Later I found myself in a room with a dozen men, all strangers.  Each one spoke about struggling.  Some with booze and/or drugs.  Some with anger or codependency.  Some with infidelity, lying, etc.  Yet not one received odd looks from the others; only understanding nods.  No interruptions, no sage advice offered.  When my turn came I felt emboldened to open up totally about my addiction.  I held back none of the ugliness.  Nobody raised an eyebrow.  I walked out sensing a massive weight had been lifted off me.  I had something I didn’t have when I entered – hope – and it gave me strength to ask for something I never thought I’d admit needing – help.  Being a Christian, however horribly backslidden I was, I found comfort in identifying my “higher power” as Jesus Christ.  I figured if I couldn’t rely on Him I couldn’t rely on anyone so I went all in.  I’ve never regretted it.  CR provided me with a group of loving, encouraging friends who accept me as I am.  The ministry’s 12 traditional steps and 8 Beatitude-based principles provided a logical, doable plan that led to my liberation from addiction.  Nine years later I still go because I get a little bit more healed every time.

 

Celebrate Recovery is perfect for me.  Yet it’s not for everybody.  Some like myself stay and become leaders.  Many show up a couple times, then never come again.  However, all are welcomed regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof.  Of course, if a person isn’t a Christian they’ll either convert or grow tired of hearing about Jesus and seek help elsewhere.  It’s okay.  The main thing to know is this: There’s hope for all.  If all CR does for a person is confirm nobody’s beyond rescue from their dysfunctional behavior and that nobody has to battle their affliction alone that’s great.  But, like anything else in this life, you’ll get out of it only what you put into it.  Whether it’s CR, professional counseling or psychotherapy, there’s no quick fix.  God didn’t wave a magic wand and make my porn addiction go poof.  For CR to work for me I had to fully commit to Principle 7: “Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading, and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will.”  Plus, CR provided a safe, confidential place where I could be transparent about my recovery.  When I suffer a setback I can talk about it, knowing spiritual healing’s taking place inside me when I do.  Confession’s a solid Biblical concept: Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed (James 5:16).  That’s what we do at CR.  Don’t ask me how or why that works, I can only testify it most definitely does.  One of my favorite verses reads, Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).  It’s God’s universe, we just live in it.

 

Compared to how shackled I was by sin ten years ago I’m a dadgum saint nowadays.  I’m thankful my marriage survived the tsunami I caused.  Truth is my entire outlook on life has been miraculously transformed.  Yet I’m not completely past my addiction.  God took away my hankering for looking at porn but, despite my pleas, He hasn’t shut down my internal fantasy factory.  When it fires up I’m a weak man, easily enticed to let my mind transport me wherever it desires.  (Seeing how I filled it with thousands of obscene images for decades it’s really no surprise.)  Try as I may, I can’t turn off my brain.  But God was able to use Paul’s weakness.  Of his “thorn in the flesh” he wrote, I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).  Perhaps God knows if I was made pure as driven snow I’d be an insufferable braggart full of myself.  As it is, I know I’m an all-too-human work-in-progress who must lean on the Heavenly Father for strength to fight my sinful nature daily.  Look, I hate my weakness but I trust God knows what He’s doing.  If He uses it to convince even one person to get help for porn addiction then it’s “mission accomplished” as far as I’m concerned.  Know this: Porn’s poison.  It skews your heart’s perspective on everything.  Been there, done that.  If you’re caught in porn’s trap, seek help now.  Trust me, there’s hope for all.

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Long Story Short

Last December I finished a series of blogs on the Ten Commandments and wasn’t sure what topic to tackle next.  Following the sage journalistic advice of “Write about what you know about” I decided it was high time I opened up about my ugly addiction to pornography and my journey to overcoming it.  The positive response has been both humbling and gratifying.  Half a year and two dozen essays later, I feel I’ve said what I needed to say.  Still, I want to make sure nobody got the impression I’m some kind of authority on the subject.  Nope, I’m just a sinner saved by grace (nothing more) who, like all Christians, has a redemption story worth telling.  I tossed in personal anecdotes along the way but I have yet to spill all the beans concerning the history of my affliction.  This installment will deal with where I came from.  The next one’ll be about where I am now and how I got here.  I pray someone will relate and seek help.

 

Like most men who developed an obsession with porn, I was introduced to it during my pre-teen years.  I have a clear memory of a neighborhood pal pulling out a Playboy from his dad’s sock drawer and, for the first time, seeing what women look like naked.  I was intrigued.  I panted to see more.  My devout parents didn’t tolerate ungodly behavior of any sort, so it was imperative I kept my fascination with “dirty pictures” covert.  I got really good at hiding skin magazines containing the forbidden fruit.  (Mom, smart as she was, never thought to look inside sleeves of my sizeable LP collection.  Good thing.  She would’ve fainted.)  The problem?  I didn’t outgrow that immature habit.  I took it with me when I moved out on my own.  While eking out a meager living in the music biz as a guitarist/songwriter in the 70s, I was able to bed dozens of beautiful, willing women but when one wasn’t available I could always rely on my trusty stash of porn for self-gratification on demand.  In the 80s my “rock star” dream evaporated.  I finally got a real job, a real wife and sired a couple of real kiddos.  My spouse put up with my porn jones (it had progressed to hoarding VCR tapes) because she deemed it harmless.  Due to her infidelity we divorced in ’89.  Throughout the 90s I stayed pretty much to myself.  I’d concluded no decent woman could ever satisfy me the way porn did so why bother looking for one?  When the internet came along it eliminated having to drive to adult book stores for my fix.  The ever-expanding, easily-accessible smut universe was now only a mouse-click away and my world shrunk even smaller.

 

Toward the end of the millennium I at last tired of my life being so vapid.  My lovely children, whom I’d had joint custody of, were turning into independent grownups.  Since dying alone was a fate I had no yearning for I picked up some excellent self-help books and they straightened out my pitiful “I’m-not-worthy-of-love” attitude.  Employing simple mind-over-matter techniques, I was able to stop abusing alcohol and marijuana (though I remained in denial about my porn addiction).  Taking positive steps cleared my befuddled mind.  I felt renewed.  I started dating Debra and we fell head-over-heels for each other.  Like every time before, the initial exhilaration of having fantastic sex regularly with a gorgeous woman I was crazy about made my porn addiction disappear.  In ’03 we married.  I had no reason to inform the love of my life about my lifelong porn obsession.  It was gone.  Or so I thought.  Then my mother-in-law fell seriously ill and Debra started being her 24/7 caretaker in our home.  On top of that, menopause was cruel to my wife in that it made intercourse extremely painful for her.  Due to her own ailments she couldn’t take meds designed to remedy her intimacy issues so, to my consternation, our having sex became a rare event.

 

It doesn’t take a genius to guess what I did about the situation – I retreated into my former nasty habits.  But, knowing Debra found porn repulsive and demeaning, it was expedient to do what I’d done before; keep it secret.  Our PC in the spare bedroom became my go-to sexual relief station whenever opportunity arose.  Her mom was bedridden so I knew she wouldn’t be snooping around.  When I’d get home from work that’d give Debra a chance to run errands and me the chance to indulge my lustful libido before she got back.  I had the routine down pat and it worked for years.  Still, in the back of my mind, I always wondered what’d happen if I got caught.  In February ’09 I found out.  My stepson had been using the PC, came across my browsing history and showed his mom.  When I arrived home she was far beyond livid.  It was obvious I’d been ogling porn almost daily and she, understandably, took it as a personal affront.  “What other big secrets are you keeping from me?”, she demanded to know.  Her trust in me was shattered.  She ordered me to pack my stuff and leave ASAP.  I’ve never been so humiliated, so ashamed, so despondent.  I’d betrayed her and had no acceptable excuse.  Now I had a choice.  I could slink away and keep my porn addiction or stand and fight to save our marriage.  I had to face the consequences of sin.  After she calmed slightly she said, “Either get help immediately or hire a divorce lawyer.”  For the first time I admitted I needed help.  I begged her to let me find it before giving up on us.  Having been raised in a Christian home I knew where to go – church.  I’d been AWOL too long.  The congregation God led me to happened to have a Celebrate Recovery ministry.  Despite my self-loathing, I crawled into a meeting.  It was my wisest move ever.

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Miraculous Grace

Grace is a most mysterious part of Christianity because it’s so hard to completely wrap our little heads around.  What really rocks our rationale cart is the fact that God’s grace is available to everybody.  That’s fantastic news for us broken vessels but we recoil at the idea people we don’t like are eligible for absolution of sins, too.  Billy Graham asked his readers to envision the uproar that’d erupt over this headline: “MURDERER PARDONED, GOES TO LIVE WITH JUDGE!”  But that’s grace in a nutshell.  Now, that might not bother you unless the murderer’s innocent victim was someone you loved dearly.  And therein lies the rub.  We want to dictate who receives it, not God.  We want mercy reserved for those we deem worthy.  Fact is, our sense of fairness and God’s are usually irreconcilable.  Jesus’ scandalous saga of the last-hour workers getting paid the same as the 9-to-5 guys exposes our innate bias.  His controversial tale ends with the boss exclaiming, Am I not permitted to do what I want with what belongs to me?  Or are you envious because I’m generous? (Matthew 20:15).  Truth be known, we all wanna “get all up” in God’s grace business when we should be focused on thanking Him for blessing us – the most undeserving and sinful of creatures – with amazing grace.

 

Like all things wonderful, grace can be exploited and abused.  Especially by habitual sinners seeking God’s grace only because they “got caught” and want to be forgiven – not to have their heart and mind transformed.  However, transformation is grace’s core purpose.  William Barclay wrote, “Grace is not only a gift, it’s a grave responsibility.  A man can’t go on living the life he lived before he met Christ.  He must be clothed in a new purity, a new holiness and a new goodness.  The door’s open, but the door’s not open to the sinner to come and remain a sinner, but for the sinner to come and become a saint.”  Yet receiving divine exoneration for past, present and future sins often instills in the recipient a certain sense of obligation they didn’t plan on harboring.  Understand it’s not God who imposes it, it’s our own conscience.  The Bible states, There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  Grace is free.  No expiration date.  But something inside nags at us incessantly, insisting we should be better, holier people because of God’s miraculous grace that absolves us from punishment for our sins.  I confess to feeling ashamed a lot of the time.  I readily identify with the Apostle Paul who wrote, “…I want to do the good, but I cannot do it.  For I don’t do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want!  Now if I do what I do not want, it’s no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me (Romans 7:18-20).  I hate it that sin, despite my born-again status, still lives in me.  I no longer look at porn, but my imagination-fueled fantasy factory still fires up way too frequently and my weakness for it discourages me.  Thank God for Celebrate Recovery.  Most of the men in my sexual integrity group suffer the same disappointment so I’m never alone in nursing guilt.

 

Some might say, “Excuse me?  I thought all you Christians had it made in the shade when it came to overcoming addictions.  What’s the problem?”  Well, I’m the problem, not my Lord.  Hey, if Paul continued to struggle with sin even after encountering God in person it’s surely no shock I do, too.  Jesus knew His followers would become frustrated by our inability to render ourselves totally immune from the temptations of the flesh.  It’s why He blessed us with the scandalous Parable of the Prodigal, the despicable ingrate who couldn’t have done more to warrant his father disowning him permanently.  Yet his dad didn’t hesitate to shower him with unconditional love and forgiveness the second he returned.  The message conveyed is: “Your Father in heaven will always accept a contrite heart, no matter the severity of your sin.”  No other religion worships a God that unfathomably generous.  Not one.

 

Jesus’ parable teaches us the Father’s grace is limitless, inspiring Paul to write, “…Where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more (Romans 5:20).  Here’s my situation.  I’m no longer a slave to porn because I surrendered my addiction to Christ, but lingering mental images sometimes tempt me to indulge in childish acts of self-gratification.  What grace does is give me the power to say “no.”  Grace clears a path that’ll lead me away from temptation.  (See 1 Corinthians 10:13).  Grace is an active, ever-present force in my life.  All I have to do is allow the Holy Spirit, the gift grace bestowed, to guide me instead of worldly desires.  Now, I wish saying no was easy but it ain’t.  My annoying selfishness demands attention and grabs it all too often.  I don’t mean to be redundant, but it always comes down to my lack of discipline.  The answer’s right there in black and white: “…You know Jesus was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  Everyone who resides in him does not sin; everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him…  The person who keeps his commandments resides in God, and God in him (1 John 3:5-6, 24).  Obviously, I need to reside in Christ much more but it’s very difficult for me to do that consistently.  All I can do is try and make today better than yesterday while taking great comfort in the knowledge my Heavenly Father has more forgiveness in Him than I have sins to commit.  When I stumble in my recovery my Savior pulls me back to my feet every time.  He never berates me but encourages me saying, Go and sin no more (John 8:11).  My task is to keep that lofty goal foremost in mind.

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Consequences

Having one’s sins forgiven doesn’t negate the detrimental effects they inflict on our lives.  Case in point: The day after my wife confronted me (lividly) about my covert porn addiction I reported I’d humbly dropped to my regret-soaked knees before God and He’d mercifully forgiven my disgusting behavior.  The lethal look in her eyes said God may’ve forgiven me but she certainly hadn’t.  It abruptly dawned on me that, while God could and would fix what was wrong with my heart and mind, it’d be up to me to repair the damage my sin had caused in our marriage.  God knew my repentance was genuine but proving it to my skeptical wife was going to be another thing altogether.  It’d take time, patience and a lot of dogged determination.

 

What discourages many starting a recovery program is while they quickly recognize they are, indeed, improving – their circumstances aren’t.  In fact, their situation’s often slipping deeper into chaos.  Why?  The Apostle Paul tells us bluntly, “…The payoff of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  Now, since all humans die physically, the death he speaks of pertains to the things that make for a happy, rewarding life.  Specifically, relationships with other people.  Yes, God’s liable to punish individuals for intolerable, offensive acts and sometimes He does.  The Old Testament verifies it repeatedly.  But we’re also informed He’s“…Compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth and that He Forgives iniquity, transgression and sin (Exodus 34:6-7).  This means the majority of hardships and troubles we experience on earth are, more often than not, logical and predictable consequences of sin.  In other words, God didn’t drive a wedge between me and my wife; my unrelenting obsession with pornography did.  Truth is my Heavenly Father was lots more understanding about my addiction than she was.  Matthew Henry wrote of God’s slow-to-anger heart, “It can endure evil and provocation without being filled with resentment or revenge.  It’ll put up with many slights from the person it loves, and wait long to see the kindly effects of such patience on him.”

 

However, we should never mistake God’s big, merciful heart as an indication He thinks sin’s okay.  It never will be.  He loathes sin passionately.  Understand He’s lenient with us for a reason.  Steve Gallagher wrote, “His patience is for the purpose of giving a person time to repent.”  The Holy Word confirms it: The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come… (2 Peter 3:9-10).  We’d best keep that last phrase in mind.  It’s mighty foolish for a Christian to persistently indulge in habitual sin, rationalizing there’ll be no “day of reckoning” in their future because Jesus has already suffered the punishment they deserve on the cross.  God will put up with only so much wickedness, as the nation of Israel learned the hard way, before He intervenes.  But I digress.  God rarely sees a need to mess up our life.  We do a bang-up job of that on our own, thank you very much.

 

Take note.  God loves us more than anyone possibly can but we won’t truly benefit from His love if we don’t return it.  The Bible states, You must love the LORD your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:5).  But simply saying we love God without reserve and then, at the same time, intentionally disobeying His commandments won’t cut it.  Paul wrote, “…Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price.  Therefore glorify God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  A grateful believer in Christ, my soul belongs to my Father God who rescued me from my sinful nature.  Thus I owe the blessed Messiah He sent my unwavering devotion.  Jesus said, If anyone loves me, he will obey my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and take up residence with him.  The person who does not love me does not obey my words (John 14:23-24).  There you have it.  No ambiguity whatsoever.  Realize, though, that being a follower of Christ also has serious consequences.  Your life may turn out to be more difficult.  You could find yourself ostracized for your faith.  You might get labeled a deranged “Jesus Freak.”  Friends and family members may avoid you.

 

That’s when Christians are tempted to retreat into old habits and attitudes in order to “fit in.”  We’ll retain our born-again status but start rationalizing that, since our massive sin-incurred debt’s been paid in full, we’re allowed to go easy on sin.  Ironically, too many modern-day churches endorse that unscriptural mindset because it’s what folks prefer to believe.  It’s the ever-popular “I-wanna-have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too” syndrome.  John MacArthur said, “Preachers tell people God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives, but that’s only half the truth.  God also hates sin and will punish unrepentant sinners…  No gospel presentation’s complete if it avoids or conceals those facts.  Any message that fails to define and confront the severity of personal sin is a deficient gospel.  And any ‘salvation’ that doesn’t alter a lifestyle of sin and transform the heart of the sinner isn’t a genuine salvation.”  In other words, stupidly trying to hoodwink God will have dire consequences. For if they’ve escaped the filthy things of the world through the rich knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they again get entangled in them and succumb to them, their last state has become worse for them than their first (2 Peter 2:20).  Thus if you haven’t yet completely repented of your sinful ways it’s time to go back to square one and step out of denial once again.

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What is Love?

Many of the men in my Celebrate Recovery small group are either divorced or in a marriage-on-the-brink-of-collapse due to their lack of sexual integrity.  All were introduced to pornography early on and it seriously warped our concept of what real love is.  Of course, the entertainment industry hasn’t helped.  It repeatedly presents promiscuous behavior as the ideal of manhood.   For example, what youngster doesn’t yearn to be James Bond when they grow up?  The overwhelming message is that, when it comes to romantic love in particular, uncompromised self-centeredness is okay.  Porn reinforces that destructive mindset exponentially.  However, the Bible clears the issue up completely.  It’s just a matter of us paying heed.  In my previous essay I highlighted that Jesus instructed us to give in order to be cleansed.  And what does everyone on the planet possess they can choose to freely give others?  Love.  Christ preached, Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away.  Treat others the same way you would want them to treat you.  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them (Luke 6:30-32).  Thus if we don’t comprehend what love actually is it’s going to be extremely difficult to give it away unconditionally.

 

The Apostle Paul conveyed to the world precisely what pure love is in his first letter to the church in Corinth: Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude.  Love doesn’t demand its own way.  It’s not irritable or touchy.  It doesn’t hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong.  It’s never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out.  If you love someone you’ll be loyal to them no matter the cost.  You’ll always believe in them, always expect the best of them, and always stand your ground defending them… Love goes on forever (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).  Therefore nobody can say no one knows for sure how to love.  We’ve been told.  But those of us whose mind and libido have been thoroughly corrupted by pornography have a lot of tough sledding ahead to overcome and replace our woeful misconceptions.  Having the Holy Spirit dwelling inside to facilitate and empower the transformation of my sin-soiled mind made the job more doable.  I recommend inviting Him, via believing in Christ, into your heart today.  What have you got to lose?  (It’s like when Jesus asked His disciples in Mark 4:40, Why are you afraid?)

 

There’s a reason Paul’s “love passage” often gets read at weddings.  Since I was for decades a you-can’t-tell-me-nothin’ porn addict, taking Paul’s definition to heart has helped me learn how to truly love my wife.  He says patience is essential.  I had very little because porn doesn’t require it.  It causes you to think it’s all about meeting your needs immediately.  I mean, I was usually ready to tango so why wasn’t my spouse?  Porn never says “no”.  Then there’s kindness.  It implies being gentle and understanding so I needed to develop a more “gentlemanly” demeanor.  It was vital to regaining her trust that’d vanished when she discovered my hidden addiction.  Understandably, she was scared of being betrayed again.  But, as the Scriptures explain, There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear…” (1 John 4:18).  There must also be a complete absence of jealousy and envy.  In my case I envied the men in porn flicks because they were getting what I was convinced I deserved.  I coveted the fictional lifestyle they appeared to be living and, as you’d expect, that adversely affected my sexual expectations immensely.  Furthermore, love isn’t conceited.  In my twisted brain I figured my wife should be delighted to have such a virile mate!  She wasn’t, so I felt justified to rely on porn.  Others become emboldened to have illicit affairs or employ prostitutes in response.  What too many of us fail to savvy is that mature women find humility to be very attractive – and sexy, to boot.

 

Notice Paul taught, “Love doesn’t demand its own way.”  Mutually-gratifying sex in marriage is a two-way street.  With porn I didn’t concern myself with anyone else’s needs (or morals) and that only fed my selfishness.  I eventually learned if I first make sure my wife is satisfied my own satisfaction is enhanced immeasurably.  Who knew?  Yet healthy love starts outside the bedroom.  We can’t be irritable complainers during dinner and then expect our wives to be “in the mood” minutes later.  By the same token we can’t hold grudges over past disagreements.  We have to let them go or thick walls get erected.  Paul next says we must have deep respect for the truth.  Sex addicts pretend they’re allergic to truth because it threatens the secrecy they hold dear.  At CR I was able to be open and honest about my disgusting habit and that gave me confidence to be more transparent with not just my wife but everyone.  Lastly, Paul spoke of the all-important loyalty factor.  It means placing your relationship with your dearly beloved second only to the one you have with God Almighty in that it should be regarded as sacredHusbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her…” (Ephesians 5:25).

 

Solomon, despite his many flaws, scattered great marital wisdom throughout the Book of Proverbs.  In essence, he repeatedly encourages men to be content with what God’s given them; to be satisfied to Drink water from your own cistern, and fresh water from your own well (Proverbs 5:15).  Steve Gallagher wrote, “If a man will learn to love his wife, in spite of how he feels inside, God will take away his appetite for other women and will give him in its place a desire for his wife.”  Take it from this recovering porn addict – he’s right.

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