The on-line edition of Time Magazine has a feature this week on the damage being done to relationships between men and women because of pornography. It seems at last that the secular press is waking up to the realities of the consequences of life in a sex-mad culture and how the very thing God has given to bring us together (sexual intimacy) is pushing us further apart (sex without intimacy).
Countless men have described to me how while using porn, they have lost the ability to relate or be close to women. They have trouble being turned on by “real” women, and their sex lives with their girlfriends or wives collapse.
So writes the author of one recent book on pornography.
Tim Chester’s book Captured by a better vision exposes just how damaging pornography can be to our relationships and marriage in particular.
Not only have you committed adultery against your wife, but, as we’ve seen, there is every chance that porn has corrupted your relationship with her and your sex life. The secret that you hide from your wife will create a barrier in your relationship.
You will start to view sex with your wife not as the celebration of your love, but as re-enacted porn. What matters is no longer the relationship, but the performance. This means you may be committing adultery against your wife even as you have sex with her. That’s because you’re not really having sex with her, a person. You’ve reduced her to an object for your sexual gratification, or an actress in your sexual performance.
William Struthers in Wired for Intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain warns that even if you could stop consuming pornography your actions still have consequences.
Sexually acting out in response to pornography creates sexual associations that are stored as hormonal or neurological habits. These associations are seared into the brain. These memories and fantasies keep [the man] in bondage and worsen the consequences of the earlier behaviour. It can prevent him from being truly present in a marriage, being more preoccupied with the images than focused on his wife.
And because of what pornography does to our brains it’s no excuse to reason but I’m not married. Chester comments,
It you’re not yet married, porn is a sin against your future wife. You’re also creating a set of expectations that bears no relation to real sex or real marriage. You’re storing up a database of images that will compete with your future wife. You’re gifting the devil, a reservoir of temptations to use against you.
And we’re kidding ourselves to think we’ll stop once we get married because the truth is that porn is NOT just a substitute for sex. It’s an escape from reality, an addictive search for a legal high. The reality is that not only do men access porn after marriage but it’s mostly married men who access porn.
Using porn is a bad way of preparing not to use it when you’re married! Every time you use porn, you’re giving it more control over your heart. You’re sowing a bitter harvest for your married life.
I once heard someone describe the biggest threat to our marriages as coming from the unexpected baggage we bring into marriage. Maybe it’s the uncommunicated assumptions as to how the marriage should work, or how chores will be divided up. Or perhaps it’s a bad-temper that is controllable in the context of going-out but cannot be disguised in the day to day of a marriage, or even an expectation of great spiritual character that begins to unravel under trial. There again it could be porn.
What makes it more difficult still is that much baggage in the most important of all relationships is not only unexpected but delayed on arrival. Like flying BA the baggage tends to turn up sometime later. The baggage of porn addiction (whether through the temptation to continue or the way it has warped your expectations of sex or the images that stubbornly remain imprinted in your mind) may well not affect a marriage in the early days, weeks or months but over time as the initial euphoria of a giddy romance fades it can do untold damage to an otherwise healthy relationship.
But you were washed…
The great news for the Christian is that, whatever our past, the gospel is big enough to deal with our sin.
William Struthers writes:
Can someone retrain their brain to respond in an appropriate manner to sexual arousal? Most certainly, but this must be informed by the mandates of Scripture and the wisdom found in the body of Christ. This must be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The process of sanctification is an addiction to holiness, a compulsive fixation on Christ and an impulsive pattern of compassion, virtue and love. This is what we are wired for. This is what we are meant for.
The reality is that we will rarely find the resources to heal the past and deal with the addictions on our own. Reading a book (and I would recommend both Chester’s and Struthers’ to you) or a blog post is almost always not enough. God has given us his spirit and his people to help us do battle against sin – we need each other to bring lasting change.
If you’re struggling with pornography (in the present or from the past)
What do you need to do now? Do you accept the need to cut it out of your life? Who do you need to speak to?
If you’re a pastor or church leader
Do you ever address the issue of pornography, directly? What could you do to foster an environment in which the men of your church can speak openly about this struggle? What could you put into place to provide the accountability and support for men to deal with their sin?
The great news is that a growing number of books are putting this right by giving thoughtful, biblical practical insights into how we can and should put the gospel into practice in the Christian life. I’ve just really enjoyed Rescuing Ambition by Dave Harvey which is a model of how to take the gospel and apply it to an important contemporary issue. Another book by Harvey models how to work the gospel out in a marriage, When sinners say I do tackling themes such as sin and forgiveness in the marriage.
Here’s a great summary sentence that highlights what a different book results from bringing the gospel to bear on a marriage rather than simply apply counselling techniques or observations from common grace.
What if you abandoned the idea that the problems and weaknesses in your marriage are caused by a lack of information, dedication, or communication? What if you saw your problems as they truly are: caused by a war within your own heart.
Without such biblical clarity, we have no context for the cross and no ongoing awareness of our need for grace and mercy.
In other words such books help us to see that grace is at the heart not just of our justification but our transformation and holiness and because they intensely practical books we cannot but see the difference applying ‘saving grace’ makes to ambition or marriage or any other aspect of discipleship.
I’m looking forward to reading a new book by Elyse Fitzpatrick Give them grace one of a number of great books demonstrating what grace-filled parenting looks like. The blog of the same name is well worth a look
As a result of my post yesterday, I received a number of mostly friendly tweets from ‘new atheists’ questioning whether Christianity really was the force for good in African society that the atheist Matthew Parris argued it was. Part of our debate centred on a fact I took as a given that soon became apparent was not shared by those who opposed me. It was this: atheism, as a worldview, has stood behind the greatest atrocities and evil committed in the history of the world.
The new atheists I engaged with were quick to blame religion for all sorts of evil but could not see why I wanted to respond in kind when it came to atheism. The response I met with was ‘no-one kills in the name of atheism’.
How does the argument work for the new atheist? It seems to be something like this, only allow a cause to be responsible for an act of evil where the action can be directly and immediately attributed to the cause. Then and only then can the cause be blamed. So for example a terrorist who cries ‘God is great!’ as they detonate the explosive vest they are wearing clearly shows that religion is not great! But, so the argument goes, atheism does not stand behind acts of evil in that direct way so atheism is not a cause of evil in the world like religion.
But my new atheist friends have missed something in this attempt to exculpate atheism and it is this; ideologies may be rightly held to account where acts of evil are indirectly attributable to an ideology and especially where that belief has been consciously, consistently and even perhaps deliberately adopted by a regime or group or individual to justify acts of evil.
Now clearly it’s not enough to say because person A holds a belief B and that therefore their action C must have been caused by B. So it is conceivable that someone might claim to be a Christian and commit murder and for someone to thereby try and tie the two together. But of course it won’t work because Christianity calls murder a sin, Jesus called on his followers to be prepared to suffer injustice, to turn the other cheek, to NOT retaliate or seek revenge. Those who murder are no friends of God and certainly no followers of Jesus, they are guilty of identity theft! Rather they can expect nothing from him but condemnation for their sin. It has failed the consistency test.
But it is beyond dispute that atheism was a consciously adopted ideology that led to a number of governments to commit acts of evil that far outweigh any charge that can be leveled against religion (although please note I am not seeking to clear ALL religion of some sort of foundation for acts of evil merely demonstrate that atheism cannot be cleared of such a charge itself.)
Vickor Frankl was a survivor of Auschwitz. He wrote this:
If we present man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present him as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drive and reactions, as a mere product of heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone. I became acquainted with the last stage of corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment – or, as the Nazis liked to say, “of blood and soil.” I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.
So it seems to many that there exists an indirect but evident link between the nihilism that atheism tolerates (notice atheism does not in and of itself promote nihilism it merely tolerates it as entirely consistent with atheism) and the attrocities of totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. This statement in no-way suggests that all atheists are nihilists or that atheism must necessarily lead to evil merely that it allows it by creating an intellectual foundation through the sweeping away of categories of good and evil, right and wrong in exactly the way men such as Richard Dawkins and Kai Nielson as atheists recognise.
So Dawkins writes:
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication some people are going to get hurt other people are going to get lucky and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it nor any justice. The universe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless existence. DNA neither knows nor cares DNA just is and we dance to its music.
The philosopher Kai Nielson writes:
We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view or that really rational beings unhoodwinked by myth or ideology need not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason does not decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me. Pure practical reason even with a good knowledge of the facts will not take you to morality.
And such ideology was used by those tyrants of evil to justify their actions as Frankl witnessed. Hitler himself said:
I free Germany from the stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality…We will train young people before whom the world will tremble. I want young people capable of violence – imperious, relentless and cruel.
So is atheism to blame?
In one sense the answer of course is ‘no’. Atheism does not tell you to murder your own people by the millions as Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Kim Jong-Il have done but it’s tenets have been put to a perfectly consistent and logic use when used by regimes to justify mass-murder as Frankl not only observed but was forced to endure. A godless universe is one of ‘blind pitiless indifference’ one should not be surprised to find atheists using that reality to justify ‘blind pitiless indifference’ in their treatment of their fellow men.
Contrast that with Christianity. No one can with any consistency follow the teaching and example of Jesus and commit acts of evil.
Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi….It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.
Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.
Parris is a journalist known for his refreshing honesty and this piece is a fine example. What’s not clear to me is, as an atheist, what Parris attributes the profound change in people’s hearts that he observes to and what therefore he means when he says ‘the rebirth is real.’ My prayer is that he and many others will not only recognise the life-change that alone the gospel can bring but see it for what it really is – the work of a gracious God. My hope is that he will see and come to share the sure and certain knowledge that at the heart of this universe is a God of love who in his Son has loved us and through his son offers us life and peace, joy and hope and that this message is not just the need of Africa but the need of all nations. That the gospel is the power of God to not only forgive sins but to transform people, societies and the world.
It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business in the morning and the last in the evening. Guard yourself against such false and deceitful thoughts that keep whispering: Wait a while. In an hour or so I will pray. I must first finish this or that. Thinking such thoughts we get away from prayer into other things that will hold us and involve us till the prayer of the day comes to naught.
The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. and the first job each morning consists simply in shovelling them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. and so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.
CS Lewis – Mere Christianity
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
I’m reading a fascinating book at the moment called The Big Idea by Dave Ferguson. The big idea that gives the book its name is that as church leaders we don’t always help our congregation grow in love and obedience to Christ because ‘people’s heads are swimming with too many ideas, far more than they can ever apply.’
Think about the way our services and meetings are structured, suggests Ferguson and then think about the sheer number of different meetings we attend and you might well see that it is the sheer multiplication of ideas that lead to a lack of action.
Just add up the little ideas dropped into just one Christian meeting. From the clever message on a church sign, to the blurb on the notice sheet, the song that is playing as you come in, maybe the message on the powerpoint, the welcome from the leader, the opening prayer, the theme of the first song, add at least three different little ideas in the sermon, prayers, other songs, notices and Ferguson reckons that might be up to Christians are ineffective in discipleship 20 competing ideas in one church meeting. And then factor in that the children have all been in different groups looking at different topics or bible stories and we’re all full of ‘competing little ideas’.
His conclusion is that more information makes for less clarity and so no wonder therefore we find it so hard to answer the question ‘what did you learn at church this morning?’ If we think that more teaching must lead to Christian growth it is certainly a sobering thought that more information might in fact lead to less action because each bit of information is competing for my attention, reflection, prayers and application.
Is there something in the way we organise church meetings that leaves congregations full of nice thoughts but no big idea to take into the week. Ferguson’s big idea is to have one Big Idea for all the church family worked through in one week.
Every week, we give all of our people of every age and at every location one Big Idea and ask them to put it into action. The challenge is simple and clear – but never easy. That’s the Big Idea.
Just think what that might look like if your Sunday service and your homegroup/cell groups all followed one big idea.
Five benefits the big idea brings to small groups
1. The Big Idea Increase the Likelihood of Application and Transformation
The few minutes we might have at the end of a service or even chatting over a coffee very rarely gives sufficient opportunity to think, pray, reflect and discuss the talk – especially if there are children to take care of! But
Small groups by nature are experiential and discussion oriented and , as a result, more likely to foster life change.
In my experience homegroup evenings where we meet to think through and pray in the big applications of the preach the previous Sunday help ensure that God’s word really does begin to do its work in us as we challenge and encourage each other to change.
2. The Big Idea Diminishes People’s Fears of Leading a Small Group
Ferguson also notes that leading a discussion of the Big Idea from Sunday is much less intimidating than preparing a Bible-study from scratch with limited help or experience.
We have found that the most common fears among potential small group leaders are the following:
“I don’t know enough about the Bible”
“I don’t have enough time to be a good leader.”
“I’ve never thought of myself as a leader.”
Many of those fears are overcome when the role of the leader is less to teach and more to facilitate good reflection on what the teacher has brought the previous week.
3. The Big Idea Eliminates the Question, ‘What Do We Study Next?’
Small groups tend to become overly focused on the topic of their discussion, often at the expense of developing relationships and experiencing genuine biblical community.
Sticking to the Big Idea minimizes this challenge and offers small groups an easy plan to follow when it comes to subject matter.
4. The Big Idea Provides Another Avenue to Communicate Vision
The purpose of a Sunday service is not just to feed Christians but to build the body of the church and to prepare the church to fulfil it’s purpose of reaching out to the society and beyond to the world. Small groups studying their own material rarely contain any corporate application that extends as far as vision ie ‘what does it mean for us to be ‘X’ church and how are we seeking to fulfil that vision?’ Even where material is prepared by one of the Ministers small group leaders will be reluctant to teach that vision. It is much easier to discuss the vision element set out in the service the Sunday before.
5. The Big Idea Increases the Quality of Small Group Experiences
‘Small groups are a risk’ Ferguson argues because ‘they are a low-control venture and by nature are a decentralized way to pastor and care for people.’
‘We have found the Big Idea to be very effective in helping our small groups to become places of real life change and transformation, not simply places where people can gather more and more information.’
Why we do we prefer a dozen competing ideas?
Perhaps one of the reasons we are tempted to enjoy information overload is that it can be a way of avoiding life-change. When you’re moving from one idea to the next you rarely have a moment to reflect or respond to what you’ve heard before the next idea takes over. Surely there is a case for saying more is less because more makes for a less challenging Christian life. The real danger is that we can actually convince ourselves that we really are changing when what we really mean is that we really are learning lots of new ideas!
Maybe the problem is less the hearts of the people than it is the heart of the pastor. Are we too eager to preach clever sermons in order to show off our learning? Are we willing to teach in a way that leaves much learning in the study to enable all to understand and obey and the church to move forward together. Maybe our sermons are full of competing little ideas simply because we are underprepared. It might look simple to preach a sermon that has one big idea but in my experience is actually much harder to say just one thing and to say it well. Much preaching is confusing because it’s confused. The hard work in to ensure that we have understood the passage enough to have settled on the big idea and that we have given enough time for penetrating and incisive application.
Wired for Intimacy is a book for Christians that written by William M .Struthers a Christian associate professor of psychology at Wheaton College. Perhaps uniquely it addresses not simply how men can deal with pornography but what pornography does to us, emotionally, spiritually, physically and psychologically.
The book includes the following table that tells something of the damage that unhealthy sexuality causes. The table is adapted from a book called The Porn Trap by Larry and Wendy Maltz.
|Godly/Healthy Sexuality||Pornography/Unhealthy sexuality|
|Sharing with someone||“Doing to” someone|
|Enhancing your identity||Compromises your identity|
|Emotional bonding||Emotional separateness|
|Spiritual unity||Spiritual separateness|
|Morally saturated||Free of moral convention|
|Communication is essential||Communication is optional|
|Biblical boundaries||Has no limites|
|Involves all of the person||Is visual and genital|
|Naturally drives us toward intimacy||Unnaturally drives us toward compulsions|
|National drives toward sanctification||Unnaturally drives towards depravity|
|Matures into responsible habits||Escalates toward irresponsible risks|
|Nurutres the spouse||Hurts the partner|
|Is an expression of love||Is an expression of usefulness|
|Honors the image/imaging of God in you||Dishonors the image/imaging of God in you|
|Honors the image/imaging of God in spouse||Dishonors the image/imaging of God in another|
|Provides emotional, moral, psychological and relational clarity||Produces emotional, moral, psychological and relational confusion|
According to Jesus and the sermon on the mount it could be this – hypocrisy. Jesus says in Matthew 6v1, Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Hypocrisy is doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons and that is what makes it both deceitful and deadly. Hypocrisy is doing acts that God requires (giving money, prayer, fasting) but doing them before men (rather than God) to be seen by them.
Who doesn’t want to be noticed?
The word here for seen means to be taken notice of and I guess it is in our acts of worship that it is easiest to develop a false spirituality. It’s in your church-going and your giving that you can gain a reputation for goodness and godliness that mask a heart far from God.
As Christians we’re very aware of the dangers of worldliness. It doesn’t take long to begin to see a drift into obvious worldliness in a fellow church member who stops coming to church or starts to date an unbeliever or openly questions what the Bible teaches.
But hypocrisy is like carbon monoxide. It kills you slowly and silently. The danger of religious hypocrisy is that you can carry on doing all the same things you did when you really loved God even as your heart begins to turn far from him to be replaced with vanity and pride and self-righteousness. Outward appearances may look (albeit superficially) the same whilst inner realities are fast changing.
And even our church culture can be an incubator of hypocrisy if in the church we seek only to make ourselves big, by applauding those who do and say the right things. Our churches should be those that make much of Christ and our worship of him as we remember his goodness Continue reading »
- Church Planting
- Global Church
- Jesus Christ
- Medical ethics
- Social media
- Suffering Church
- The Christian Life
- Transforming Society
- February 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010