Friday, February 27, 2015

Stop Praying For Me

When I was in the midst of my rebellion and sin, my heart began to harden.

I couldn't pray anymore.

I loathed going to church.

I hated putting on the phony smile around my Christian friends.

I didn't even want to touch my bible.

I felt annoyed when Christian music was being played.

I chose to listen strictly to 'mainstream' music since it fed my mood of discontent.

Each of these things in and of themselves are not innately wrong per se. However, for me, at that point in time, it was all of them - at every waking moment.

I don't even remember all of the cruel and heartless things I said to my wife, but my family all agrees that I was definitely not my normal self.

I felt a palpable darkness looming over me - a heavy weight bearing down on my shoulders.

My wife and my children prayed for me...all the time. So much so, that I remember feeling extremely annoyed with it. Every single meal I had to listen to, "Dear God, please bless this food...and please help my Daddy to love my Mommy him to change..." The prayers at bedtime were similar in nature.

When I would lie down in bed every night, I listened to my wife tearfully praying for me and pleading with God to soften my heart and bring about a change.

I actually asked them to stop praying for me. I told them that they could pray however they wanted to when I wasn't around, but I didn't want to hear it anymore.

I honestly did not believe that prayer would change a single thing.

Around that time, there was a Men's Encounter scheduled with our church. I did NOT want to attend. Interestingly enough, I had wanted to attend previous Men's Encounters, but logistically it never worked out.

This time, there was nothing stopping me or getting in the way (aside from myself). My wife pleaded with me to attend. Several men in the church overly-encouraged me to attend. I reluctantly agreed (and probably thought I'd find some temporary solace from the overabundance of prayers on the home front). 

That weekend was more than an "Encounter" with God. That weekend was a divinely planned moment of breakthrough. I was completely broken before the Throne of Grace. I remember praying/pleading/begging God to soften my heart. I asked Him to not allow the hardness of my heart to continue.

Fast forward to the present day. I am blown away at how far I'd strayed. I hang my head and shake it in disgust and shame at the non-man I'd allowed myself to become.

I am a living example of the power of prayer and how it can truly change someone's life.

If you know someone who needs Jesus (whether a non-believer, or a believer who's strayed), pray, pray, pray, and then continue to pray.

"...pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16)

A heartfelt and sincere thanks is given to my dear wife and to my boys for lifting me up in prayer.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

It Just Happened

A Follow-Up As Promised

In a previous post, I stated, "...the cliché: It just happened is a lie. There is a decision made deep within the heart of a person before actions are ever initiated." I also said that I would address this in more detail in the future. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

It just happened...

I didn't know what I was doing...

One thing led to another...

Two of those excuses are flat out lies. One of them is an excuse, but more honest and true than the speaker of the excuse might realize.

It Just Happened

When you enter into a relational commitment of any kind, especially one as intricately binding as marriage, there is no room for an exit plan, we'll see what happens, escape plan, backup plan, or any other kind of plan B, C, or D.

Your spouse, your future with your spouse, all of your future dreams and aspirations, everything - it's all meshed and merged together with another person. You and your spouse - two separate people, have become one. The design for a husband and wife to no longer think, live, or function as individuals who happen to live together, goes back to the beginning of creation. Your marriage is plan A-Z.

Speaking from my own experience, I kept an exit plan in the back of my mind when I got married. Part of that stemmed from my cultural awareness of the 'normality' of divorce. Part of it stemmed from my cultural foundation in a consumerist society (acquire, use, throw away, then acquire something new). The other part of it stemmed from the pain of my past, a lack of maturity, and a deep need for therapy/premarital counseling.

Regardless of what my own reasons or excuses were, the fact remains: I loved my wife, but I kept an escape plan in the back of my mind. Therefore, what happened didn't just happen. What happened, happened because I allowed it to.

I Didn't Know What I Was Doing

This phrase stands right alongside the phrase, "It just happened." People do in fact know exactly what they are doing. We alone are in control of ourselves. There is no puppet-master pulling the strings. We must take responsibility for our own thoughts and actions.

"Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8 NIV) In a marriage, if you give into temptation, you are not the only one devoured and destroyed. Your spouse, your children (if you have children), your friends, and your extended family suffer the pain of your choices. Thankfully, if you resist temptation, it will go away.

One Thing Led To Another

This statement is absolutely true. One foolish choice after another. One thing leading to the next. One small step down a path that leads to destruction.

Marital infidelity begins within the heart and mind of a person. Marital infidelity begins with a secret 'plan B' in the darkest and innermost crevices of one's mind.

Some of the things that lead to another - which should be avoided by all married people:

Personal conversations with members of the opposite sex. (This doesn't mean you can't talk to co-workers about job related topics. This means conversations having to do with personal or emotional topics. Save those conversations for your spouse.)

Friendships with members of the opposite sex. (Unless you and your spouse are friends with another couple and your conversations only take place openly within that context and with your spouse present.)

Secret or non-public communication in any form with members of the opposite sex. (Facebook, email, Snapchat, Kik, Instagram, texting, Messenger, Sign Language, Morse Code, ANYTHING that can't be accessed at any time by your spouse or in an open and public forum.)

This is only a suggestion of where to begin. I am not leaving loopholes of any kind. Just because I forgot or omitted an app or site, doesn't mean it's probably okay. If you have to ask, it's probably not okay. It's better to err on the side of safety and integrity, than to risk any kind of compromise.

Make One Thing Lead to Another

One thing can lead to another in a positive way as well though:

Make the decision - I only have eyes for God, and for my spouse. 

Sever all friendships with members of the opposite sex, other than the aforementioned "couples" relationships.

Delete all apps that have no benefit for your marriage: (Kik, Snapchat, Meowchat, or any other kind of "hookup" app, even if it's marketed as an app that helps you make "friends.") After all, real friendships can't even be lived out in a digital world.

Hand your spouse your phone when you walk in the door, or at least leave it out in the open - accessible to them at any time.

Give your spouse all of your passwords: phone code, email, facebook...etc. Leave nothing hidden.

Foster deep friendships with people of your same gender who can hold you accountable.

Rid your mind of any kind of backup plan.

Make purposeful and intentional steps every day to help your spouse feel loved, honored, cherished, and protected.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Easy Judgement

I attended a funeral for a friend a couple of days ago.

There were easily over 1,000 people in attendance. I didn't know most of the mourners.

Interestingly enough, I happened to run into a pastor's wife from a previous church that we attended for several years.

In the past, she always greeted me with a friendly smile and a sincere, "How ya doing?"

When I saw her, I momentarily forgot that my sin had ever become public. I was taken back to a time when people greeted me with seemingly-sincere smiles, warm hugs and friendly words of encouragement & affirmation.

I smiled, waved, and said, "Hey! How are you?"

She made eye contact with me, gave a semi-polite half-smile, and a trepidatious, "Hi." Then she immediately turned away and briskly walked in the opposite direction.

At first I felt embarrassed and once again ashamed of what I had done.

As I walked into the sanctuary and found a seat, I thought about the way I was just treated.
This is what I deserve. I brought this on myself. How do you expect people to treat you now? You are a disgusting failure, and everyone knows it.

I played the situation over and over again in my head. I thought about the way I had been greeted in the past, before anyone knew what my sins were. I then realized what the 'seemingly-sincere smiles' were all about. 

In Christ Jesus, we are all a forgiven 'something,' but very few of us are open and transparent about what our own personal 'somethings' are. We hide our sins and struggles for fear of condemnation and judgment from our family members, friends and peers.

James 5:16 instructs us to "confess [our] sins to each other and pray for each other so that [we] may be healed..." As a society, we are in much need of healing.

Topics that make us uncomfortable (pornography, lust, sexuality, adultery...etc) are buried beneath 'seemingly-sincere smiles,' and false 'friendly words of encouragement & affirmation.' We present ourselves to most fellow brothers and sisters in Christ on a level of shallowness that makes Satan smile with utmost sincerity.

There is so much I can now relate to as I consider Jesus' words, "the truth will set you free" (John 8:32b). I am free from the bondage that the secrecy and hiding of my sins caused. It feels good. I don't walk around with a weight on my shoulders anymore. I want to encourage you to live out the promise of freedom in Christ Jesus through confession, transparency and accountability*. 

While we recognize Jesus as the epitome of truth, we should reflect that truth in the way we relate to others, even if it is uncomfortable or embarrassing. The more we "carry each other's burdens" (Galatians 6:2a), the more we are able to hold one another accountable, and stop sin dead in it's tracks.

*A word of caution: Men should be accountable to men. Women should be accountable to women - unless you are a married couple. In a marriage, a husband and wife should be accountable to each other. There's nothing wrong with having an outside accountability partner as well, but it cannot be with a member of the opposite gender. This protects the integrity of everyone involved.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Shapes from the Past

We are products of our past. However, it isn't our past specifically that creates the product of us.

Our experiences, how we respond to them, and how we make future decisions in light of those experiences, define the character of our heart.

The Bible says, "For it is from within, out of a person's heart, that evil thoughts come--sexual immorality...adultery, greed...deceit, lewdness, envy...arrogance and folly." (Mark 7:21-22, NIV).

Thank God that redemption is readily available to those who earnestly repent and seek His face.

I'm going to touch on some of the defining moments from my past that led to my choices of infidelity.

In hindsight, self-examination, and soul-searching, I was able to identify several points in time when I experienced pain, loss, grief, and betrayal. Those moments allowed me to believe that I was worthless, and that all loving relationships end painfully.

Infidelity begins with selfishness. Selfishness attempts to compensate for feelings of worthlessness. If we learn to see the value in ourselves as new creations in Christ Jesus, selfishness will never be an issue.  In Christ Jesus, we have immeasurable worth.

I'm not going to get into the intricate details of each of these defining moments here. I can expand in future posts. I simply want to give a brief road-map, or bird's-eye view of the major life events that shaped my self-image.  

Moment of pain #1
When I learned that I had been adopted, my heart filled with thousands of questions, "Where is my real mom?" "Why didn't she want me?" "Why did she give me away?" Abandonment. Worthlessness. Lack of Identity. Rejection. Those were feelings that haunted me for many years.

Moment of pain #2
When I was around 7 years old, I found a small stack of adult magazines outside of my house. I was intrigued and thought these images of beautiful women were wonderful, and quite funny. I took them into the house to show my mom. I thought she'd find them entertaining as well. I was so wrong. She immediately yelled at me - scolded me - told me how nasty "those kinds of things" are. I was shocked and embarrassed. What did I do wrong? Why was mommy yelling at me?

I'm pretty sure I remember hearing a semi-heated discussion later that night between my mother and father.

I never received a follow-up talking to or counseling session from either parent. (Back in the 1980's, parents didn't talk about the dangers of porn with their children...I don't know that they really actively do even in today's society...but they should.) I did receive plenty of curiosity and a kick-started interest in girls after that though. Rejection. Sadness. Solitude. Confusion. Embarrassment.

Moment of pain #3
I was raised in a highly conservative Christian home. We went to church every Sunday morning, every Sunday evening, and every Wednesday evening. I knew right from wrong. As an adolescent, I vowed to save myself for marriage.

When I was in 7th grade, I met a girl. I'll just call her "V." V lived in a group home. She was also highly persuasive, pressuring me over and over to give in and sleep with her. She knew my convictions, and convinced me that we would end up getting married. That was all the justification I needed. At the age of 13, I compromised my vow to God and to myself and lost my virginity.

Less than one week later, I caught V in bed with another guy from our school. Betrayal. Insurmountable Pain. My Heart Ripped From My Chest. Numbness. Worthlessness.

 Moment of pain #4
Around the late Summer of 1988, I met a girl at church, "D". We hit it off really well. We spent every free moment possible together. We promised not to sleep together, even though she was aware of my mistake with V. After over a year together (and some rough spots in life as described below), D cheated on me. Not to the extent that V had, but cheated nonetheless. D kissed a guy at a party that I hadn't been able to attend. Betrayal. Pain. Heartache. Broken Trust. Affirmation of my Worthlessness.

 Moment of pain #5
At the age of 15, I lost both parents the same year. My dad suffered a mental breakdown around May of 1989. He was never the same after that - merely a shell of a person, living on strong medication which kept his "chemicals in balance." Later that same year, my mom (who lived with Cerebral Palsy) went into a coma and died after a week on life-support due to kidney failure.
Abandonment. Solitude. Loneliness. Depression. Anxiety. Heartache.

I was a 15 year old boy, on my own. I learned that people are not to be trusted. I learned that I was not valuable enough for someone else to honor. I learned that even if I fully committed and gave my heart to someone else, they would never give me the same in return. I learned that I will either lose or at the very least, get deeply hurt by anyone that I truly love.

Moment of pain #6
I was a leader in our church's youth group when I lost my parents. It was also in this time period that D cheated on me. To get revenge on D, I sought out sexual relationships with a couple of girls in our youth group. Within a few short weeks, gossip spread throughout the whole church. I was kicked out of church. They told me I couldn't set foot back on the property until I had undergone therapy. I was completely alone. I was ousted from the one place that I needed most - my church, my foundation for any semblance of truth or hope, my youth pastor - the one adult figure who up until that point hadn't let me down or rejected me. Rejection. Sadness. Abandonment. Shame.

And thus...the stage was set for a pattern of seeking sexual relationships to fill a void.

I met my wife when I was 16 years old. I asked her to marry me when I was 17 years old. I was not in any kind of position (emotionally, or psychologically)  to get married - not if I were going to be a man that my wife could trust. In turn, I did to my beautiful, loving, and devoted wife what so many others had done to me. I am so deeply sorry for that.

You can see by the theme of my blog, that eventually I did learn to face my past. I also learned to trust. I learned to become vulnerable. I learned to not only seek true forgiveness and repentance, but also to finally forgive myself.

I shared this brief history because I feel that a back story is important to come to a place of understanding.