On Level Ground

The ground is level at the foot of the cross....recovering addict rescued by the saving grace of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Slave No More

It took me years to fully see the bondage that my addiction kept me in. I thought I was free because I could express my "inner" self through acting out sexually. After all, I believed the lie that I was just a very sexual person and that I needed this release.

Jesus taught me what true freedom looked like. Freedom from guilt and shame. Freedom to truly enjoy the gifts that God gave me. Gifts like my family, my job, and opportunities to help bring others out of the dame addiction that I was ensnared in. I am so blessed and I couldn't even see it before.

Jesus tells the Jews that he was telling the truth and they refused to believe Him. That was the case for me. It took Jesus opening my eyes to my own sin for me to see what I had become and I've never been the same since that moment.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The True Power of Grace

In John 8:1-11 we read the story of the woman caught in adultery. This is such a powerful story, especially if you're dealing with sexual sin. We don't know exactly the circumstances of the woman that was caught in adultery. How did she get to the point where she was having an affair? When this affair started, did she ever imagine that she would find herself at the point of being stoned? Did she have children? Did she love the man she was having an affair with? Did he tell her the things that she had been longing to hear? So many questions.

The Pharisees are quick to see this event as an opportunity to trap Jesus, but Jesus refuses to take the bait despite being battered with questions. Instead he issues a simple challenge, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Afterwards he went back to the ground and started writing. One by one the accusers left and finally it was just Jesus and the woman. Here is the one man that she knows can still accuse and condemn her. Here is the one man that has the authority to cast the stone. Here is the one man that knows the truth.

Eventually this is where we all will be, alone, one on one with Jesus, caught in our sin. Our defenses, excuses, reasons, will all amount to nothing. We have no defense and now must answer for what we've done. The law is clear and our sins, like the woman's, are punishable by eternal death.

Yet here's the absolutely, breath-taking, amazing portion. Jesus' response is not to condemn us but rather give us an opportunity to leave our sinful life behind and walk with Him. Despite being trapped in a lifestyle that we thought we could never get out of, Jesus offers us an escape that costs us nothing and everything all at once.

For so many of us, leaving our life of sin behind is one of the hardest things to do. Like Jacob Marley, in the Christmas Carol, Satan wants to drag us down with guilt and shame over our sins. But the thing is by accepting Jesus, we're already free. The chains of our past are just ghost images with no real hold on us, unless we allow them.

Breaking free from a life of sin is one of the most difficult things to do. I worked with one man that was struggling with sexual addiction. He joined a recovery group but refused to change his lifestyle. Over and over again he would relapse until finally the group leader had no choice but to ask him to leave the group until he was serious about his commitment to recovery. His departing statement was that now he would be free to live his life how he wanted.

We read countless times in the Gospels stories of Jesus freeing people and then instructing them to sin no more. To leave their life of sin. To not return to that which trapped them in the past. We never find out if all these people were successful or not. Chances are likely that some were and others were not. Ultimately the decision to accept freedom in Christ and to live in that freedom is ours to make.

So may the Lord open your eyes to see what true freedom is all about. May He fortify your walk with Christ as you walk out of the darkness and into the light. May He give you the strength to testify of the power of His Amazing Grace so that others may experience the same freedom that He has given you.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Military Authority and God's Authority

The concept of authority is deeply embedded into the military mindset. Authorities define who can make decisions/gives orders as well as who is required to obey those orders. At higher-level organizations, authorities become a key discussion, because without granting the correct authority-levels, key leaders cannot make the decisions that result in necessary action.

Commanders that are given authority over military service members understand the responsibility that they inherit for the well-being of their subordinates and also understand the importance of military discipline and obeying orders.

In Luke 7:1-10, we read about the Roman Centurion whose servant was ill. The Centurion sent some of the elders to ask for Jesus' help but as Jesus approached the house, the Centurion sent another message saying that he wasn't worthy of Jesus' presence but that Jesus only needed to say the word and the servant would be healed.

So what does this all have to do with the Roman Centurion's faith in Jesus? The Centurion understood that Jesus' had authority over all of creation, an aspect that the religious leaders of the day refused to even consider. In fact, the religious leaders would challenge Jesus constantly on whose authority that Jesus spoke and acted on. The Centurion understood that since Jesus had authority over all of creation, Jesus orders would be carried out regardless of whether or not Jesus was physically present.

As I look at my own life, I realize that I still struggle with accepting God's authority over me. Accepting God's Authority means that you required to obey those orders. It means that you give up a certain portion of your individual freedom and submit yourself to someone over you. It is amazing that this Centurion so readily accepted Jesus' authority!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pick Up Your Mat

In John 5:1-15 we read about when Jesus healed the paralytic by the Pool of Bethesda. This man was paralyzed for the last thirty-eight years and spent much of his time at the Pool waiting for the waters to heal him.Nevertheless, each time the waters were ripe for healing, the man's paralysis prevented him from getting healed.

My paralysis was my sexual addiction. It started when I was 10-years old and held me captive for 25 years of my life. Every time that I thought I could break free, something pulled me back into my addiction. Ultimately that something was my own unwillingness to step out of the shadows of my addiction.

When Jesus asks the question "Do you want to get well?" he's asking that man if he wants to finally get off of his mat. It sounds like such a simple question. Who wants to be stuck on a mat for decades? To everyone else, it looks like a miserable existence, yet to the man, this mat was his home for as long as he can remember. He knew every inch of the mat. The mat had been there for him in good times and bad.When it rained the mat reminded him that he could always count on it to be there even when everyone else abandoned him.

This is the struggle that an addict goes through in order to break free. The addiction looks terrible to everyone on the outside but to the addict it's their comfort and medication in times of pain. In other words, it's easier to continue to stay where you are rather then get up and walk on your own. Before Jesus will heal us, we have to truly desire to be free of what restricts us.

In John 5:7 the man replies, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred." I can't count the times that I blamed my actions on others! In fact, the more that I blamed others, the easier it became to continue in my addiction.

Jesus' next action isn't to help the man into the pool. Rather he tells the man to "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." When we start to break free from our sexual bondage, our first step is to try to run from our addictive behaviors, but inevitably we return to the desire to act out in our addictions again. In fact, the first year of recovery is often fraught with relapses and moments when we feel that we will never break free.

The Jews told the paralytic that it was against the law to carry his mat on the Sabbath. Often times, a recovering addict will turn to the church for help with his addiction, only to be told that he should just stop acting out and read the Bible more.

The reality is that even though we've started to walk, our mat sticks to our feet and trips us up. The only way we truly get free is by picking up mat and facing our addiction head-on. We must discover what is at the root of our addictive behavior, whether it's past hurt and trauma or neglect. Piece by piece we turn over our brokenness to Jesus who heals us. Eventually Jesus comes back to us and reminds us of the importance to "stop sinning or something worse may happen" and we are able to share Jesus' healing effect with others.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Fantasy Perpetrator

Here's one of my not-so-well-kept secrets.  I'm a huge comic book fan.  I recently purchased a large collection of old comic books and came across an issue that really stuck in my mind.

In All-Star Squadron #20 (a comic book that takes place during WW II), the Justice Society of America (JSA) was captured by the evil Brainwave. He used his telepathic powers to hypnotize and immerse his victims in a fantasy world where they were fighting the Japanese with their superpowers and having tremendous success. The fantasy world was so realistic that the JSA couldn't distinguish the fantasy from the reality. Eventually Brainwave turned the fantasy around on the heroes and had the fantasy Japanese military "kill" the super-heroes. This had the effect of rendering each hero catatonic and near death. Brainwave knew that once the first superhero died in real life, it would push the other ones over the edge and they would die as well. A second team of superheroes (All-Star Squadron) tried to save the JSA by intentionally entering Brainwave's fantasy world. Despite the fact that they knew from the beginning that this was a fantasy, one by one they also succumbed to Brainwave's fantasy world, were "killed" and rendered catatonic.

The last hero to arrive was the Golden Age Green Lantern. He entered Brainwave's world totally unaware that it was a fantasy. He found the fantasy bodies of his friends that were killed by the Japanese soldiers. Enraged Green Lantern attacked the Japanese military and slaughtered them without mercy. Next he attacked and destroyed the nearby Japanese city, killing innocent women and children.
After his destruction of the city, Green Lantern instantly regretted his action.  He couldn't believe what he did while in the grips of his grief and rage.  He finds it so devastating that he decides to end his own life and destroy his ring (the source of GL's powers) so that level of evil can never occur again.

However, Green Lantern's attack was so powerful that it overloaded Brainwave's equipment and  threatened to kill Brainwave, the creator of the fantasy world. In a desperate attempt to save himself, Brainwave released all his victims and shutdown his fantasy world.  Green Lantern's friends communicate with Green Lantern at the last minute, preventing GL from committing suicide.  He was shocked to see that it was all an illusion and that his friends were alive and well. He was even more horrified at what he did while in the grips of Brainwave's fantasy world. His friends tried to console the Green Lantern  by telling him that it wasn't real and nobody was really hurt. Nevertheless Green Lantern remained devastated by his actions, real or imaginary.

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)

It's no coincidence that Jesus focuses on our thought life and what's in our heart.  Our hearts can lead us astray.  We can dull the biting edge of our Holy Spirit-guided conscious by continually ignoring it. Our hearts and our minds are a reflection of who we are or at the very least where we are.

As I continued down the road of sexual addiction, one of the ways that I would act out was by reading erotica. In many ways the extremely graphic nature of the stories was even more powerful than the pictures and movies  that I would watch. I would play the scenes over and over  in my mind. When the stories became repetitious I would simply change the actors (myself always being the "star") or the scenario. Over time, the stories that I sought transitioned from the soft core to increasingly extreme hardcore (because lust is NEVER satisfied). I was free to do whatever I wanted to whoever I wanted within the fantasy world inside my mind.

This became the point when I started viewing myself as a monster. I couldn't believe the things that I needed to arouse myself and started to become terrified of what the next step might be. The fantasy world was becoming indistinguishable from reality.  I could relate to Green Lantern's feelings of shock and disgust with himself.  I would try to convince myself that since it was only a fantasy, it wasn't real, but I knew better.

Eventually God convicted me that there were victims of my sin that I refused to acknowledge.  The nameless actress in the image or movie who came from a lifetime of abuse, the author of the story that I encouraged to write more stories that would take him or her to darker places in their mind, my wife to whom I cheated on over and over in my heart, my kids who would figure out what was going on.  The moment when God removed the scales from my eyes was simultaneously the most painful and glorious moment of my life.  He used it to pull me out of the pit that I was stuck in and bring me into a loving and healing relationship.

There are times when it is still a struggle.  When my past sins taunt me as reminders of who I was.  At times, they beckon me to return to my old ways and try to romanticize the "good old days" of acting out.  It is in those moments where God whispers to my heart and reminds me of how far we've come.  He reminds me of the good He is doing in my life and the healing He is performing in my family.  Like the Green Lantern, I will always remember my actions, but unlike the comic books, where God is rarely represented in a positive fashion, I also know that my sins have been forgiven and I am free to live in Christ, which is greater than having any superpower in the world!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

"You Give Them Something to Eat"

Normally when you read this you think about the miraculous power of Jesus and how He fed the thousands of people (because the Bible counts the number of men at 5,000 and doesn’t add in the women and children, which would greatly increase the total number fed) with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Certainly this is a reasonable perspective but as I read it over I caught something that I hadn’t noticed before.
This event takes place immediately after Jesus finds out that John the Baptist was beheaded.  Jesus withdrew to grieve the loss of John and came back to find that  a large crowd had followed Him by foot.  Despite being weary and in mourning, Jesus takes the time to minister and heal the crowd.  The disciples, recognizing Jesus’ exhaustion as well as realizing that they didn’t have the resources to feed the crowd, recommend that Jesus sends the crowd away for the night.
Jesus’ reply is simple.  “You give them something to eat.”
So they look around and scrounge up what they have which is just a meager amount of food.
Have you ever been put in a position where you can minister to others?  I’m not talking thousands, but maybe just the friend that is hurting or the stranger in church that nobody is talking to?  Have you ever felt totally unprepared to do what you’ve been called to do?  Has the size of the problem seemed so overwhelming that you thought that there was no possible way that you can handle it?
Recently we started the Pure Desire Ministry.  This ministry is for men, women, and wives that are struggling with sexual addiction and bondage.  The sex industry is a $57  billion dollar industry worldwide and intentionally targets people using billions of dollars of advertising, websites, and other methods.  Every second $3, 075 is spent on pornography with 28,258 viewers and the most popular day of the week for viewing porn is Sunday.  The men and women coming in are struggling with an addiction that has devastated their lives and left them and their families in shambles.  They can’t walk outside without some sort of reminder of the pervasiveness of the sex industry.  Even walking to SIBC on Sunday morning you’ll find people on the streets following a night of partying and often times wearing what they wore the night before.  How do we combat this juggernaut?  How do we throw out a life preserver in the middle of a hurricane?  How am I qualified to help people that are struggling?  These are issues that Mary and I still struggle with years into recovery and we’re far from perfect.  How can we be light in this darkness?
Answer: With 5 loaves of bread and two fish.
So Jesus takes these meager offerings and offers them to the Father.  God blesses them and then, here’s the key, gives them back to the disciples, who hand them out to the people.  Jesus didn’t go around handing out the food, He used His disciples to do it.  In the end, all the people were satisfied and there was even an abundance left over.
One month into running the Pure Desire Ministry I am seeing God changing lives.  I have seen men be able to say that they are sober for 30 days and they say that they have never been sober for that long since they can remember.  I see men that say they don’t want to come but each week they are there and each week God works just a little bit more in their lives.  I’m seeing men start to reconnect to God in their lives after struggling to hear His voice.  It is incredible and it began with five loaves of bread and two fish.
The point isn’t about what you bring to Jesus.  It’s not about the amount of education or money that you have to throw at a problem.   It’s not about having the perfect plan or all the pieces falling into place at just the right time.  The point is that you bring what you have to Jesus and He’ll equip you to take care of His flock, whether it’s facing a giant industry or just saying “Hello.  How are you doing?” to a person in need.  He will make you into His hands and feet, you just have to step forward and offer your fives loaves of bread and two fish.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Our Testimony at church

Last week, Mary and I gave our testimony about the effects of sexual addiction and God's healing grace.  It was an incredible experience and I've been blessed and humbled to see God work through our story to reach others. Here is a link to the sermon and our testimony which is about half way through the podcast.  Thank you to everyone that encouraged us to be transparent and trusting in God.

Our Testimony at Seoul International Baptist Church