Tuesday, February 23, 2016

How to Slay the Dragon of Pornography

Pornography raises many questions, but two of the most simple
are also the most important. Why fight temptations? And how?

So many resolutions to avoid porn fail with this first question. The how question is the easier one—we can quickly identify steps such as Internet filters or a friend willing to ask us tough questions. It’s the why where we get tripped up. We need biblically persuasive reasons to stand firm when the hard questions and justifications come.

And they will come:

  • Why bother? It doesn’t hurt anyone.
  • If my wife were sexually more available or adventurous, I wouldn’t need this.
  • If I had a wife, I wouldn’t need this.
  • All men look at porn. It’s how we were created. How can God give me the desire and then expect me to fight it?
  • This next time will be the last time.

The pursuit of porn has bad consequences. We need no special insight to see it erodes relationships and never satisfies. But bad consequences aren’t enough to stop us. We must be ready with persuasive reasons to put up a fight, and then assemble those reasons into a story that has some of the following elements.

Getting the Story Straight
Human beings, like all creation, are designed to live within boundaries. When creation exceeds its appointed boundaries—as in hurricanes, in which the seas encroach on dry ground—bad things happen. It’s the same with us. This is one of the points of the creation story, when Adam and Eve were told a certain tree was off-limits. Why was it off-limits? That isn’t the important question. What’s important is this: God’s royal children are tested. Will we be faithful to our Father when temptations arrive and faithfulness suddenly feels inconvenient?

When our temptations are especially strong, no rationale for those boundaries will be enough. For example, God has his reasons for limiting sexual expression to heterosexual covenant union, but those reasons won’t give us power to fight temptations. Power doesn’t come from mere knowledge; it comes as we grow in the knowledge of God and respond to him with obedient trust. It comes only as we discover that in God’s presence—not from what the world or fleshly pleasure can offer—do we find fullness of joy and pleasures that never lose their capacity to satisfy (Ps. 16:11).

As it turns out, the act of saying no to certain desires seems to be a distinguishing feature of human beings. Animals don’t say no, but we do. Consider the book of Proverbs. It’s all about wisdom, and wisdom means we’re living as God intended. Within the first nine chapters, which summarize the book’s main themes, the father-teacher is doing everything possible to portray the beauty of self-control and to dramatize the dangers of a life given over to one’s desires.

What is the real problem? We don’t cherish the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7). Since fear is about what controls us, wisdom begins when we’re controlled by the triune God rather than by the objects of our temptations. In other words, life outside God’s boundaries is evidence we must not know him very well. We must not know he’s good, and that everything he commands us to do is for our benefit. We must think he’s a mortal who doesn’t see what we’re doing. We must think the darkness can hide us from his presence. We are given the God of life, but we keep veering off into independence and misery. And in doing so, we fail to be truly human.

This is the story Jesus enters. Jesus was led into the desert to experience the extremes of physical and Satanic temptations (Matt. 4:1–11). Though his temptations weren’t sexual, they did involve intense physical desires that pleaded for satisfaction. Jesus entered into our struggle; he revealed the essence of true humanity in his stand against Satan; and he became the tested and perfect man who would be our representative before the Father. These were the credentials he brought to the cross.

The gospel is activated in our lives through faith, as we say to our King, “I’m with you. My own record is a mess; yours is perfect.” And in that response we get more grace than we expected. We’re joined with Jesus in his successes, and given his Spirit to empower us to follow him.
And then we’re led into temptations once again, which is how royal children are trained and matured. Although this time we’re better prepared.

Now, in dependence on Jesus, we engage our passions with resolve and aim for nothing short of slaying them (Gal. 5:24; Col. 3:5). The critical weapon we bring is our growing knowledge of God’s mercy and grace. This grace reminds us that we have forgiveness, so we can turn to him in our failures (2 Pet. 1:9).

We believe a lie if we think we are too far gone. Since grace has no limits, we start with a simple “help.” God delights in those who turn to him in desperation (Luke 15:6).

How Do We Fight Temptation?
Once the story of grace is embedded in our hearts, practical applications flow.

1. Repeat the story.
The most obvious application is to repeat the story: in love, Christ came, forgave, rescued, and empowers. Paul began each letter with how everything has changed because of Jesus.

You could follow Paul’s lead. Write out the gospel story, read it to a friend, ask others to give their telling, underline the many ways the New Testament expresses it, and tailor it with your own particular struggle in mind. You are on the right path when the story sounds good and is about Jesus more than you.

2. Examine your ways.

Pay close attention to how you move toward porn. Think of your predicament as a kind of “voluntary slavery” in that you’re victimized by porn’s allure but intentional in its pursuit. Consider the details of the path you take (Prov. 7). What are the lies you believe that blind you? “God is not so good”? “Sin is not so dangerous”? Think about what else is happening. Are you angry? Indifferent? Stressed, feeling you deserve a break? What do you really want? When do you think you actually made the decision to pursue porn?

When we walk toward porn, we fail to consider our ways. When we run from it, and we know we’ve been forgiven, we should look back and consider carefully where the path got dangerous.

3. Go public.

This step is the hardest, or at least the most humbling. Pornographic desire thrives in darkness (Col. 1:13). That darkness, of course, isn’t hidden from the Lord, and if we don’t bring it to the light, he will (Heb. 4:13). So we confess it to the Lord, and we confess it to others (James 5:16).

We confess to others for at least two reasons. First, we need help, and God has given us others to pray for and help us. Second, we want to get as far from the darkness, lies, and justifications as possible, and transparency is a way to do that. We could easily argue our sin is private, it’s against God, and it should be handled privately. But if we easily confess to God yet refuse to confess to others, the authenticity of our confession is suspect. Openness is a way we can avoid being tricked by new justifications.

Within God’s boundaries is freedom and contentment; outside is slavery, misery, and an insatiable desire for more (Eph. 4:19). It isn’t easy to stay within God’s appointed boundaries, but it’s certainly good.

No one ever regretted saying no to temptations.

Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from the ESV Men’s Devotional Bible (Crossway, 2015).

Ed Welch 
is a counselor and faculty member at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF). He earned a Ph.D. in counseling (neuropsychology) from the University of Utah and a Master of Divinity from Biblical Theological Seminary. Ed has been counseling for over 30 years and has written extensively on the topics of depression, fear, and addictions.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Bono, the Bible and the Blues

Below is an interview by U2's Bono republished in Modern Reformation Magazine. It originally appeared as the introduction to "Selections from the Book of Psalms: Authorized King James Version" (Pocket Canons). We make no claims about Bono's orthodoxy, but we find his own words a fascinating take on Scripture and the Christian faith. Note his comment, "I love that thought. David, who committed some of the most selfish as well as selfless acts, was depending on it. That the scriptures are brim full of hustlers, murderers, cowards, adulterers and mercenaries used to shock me; now it is a source of great comfort." Many men I pastor could relate to and be encouraged by that honest sentiment. Scripture pulls no punches when it comes to its sinners and scoundrels.

Explaining faith is impossible...Vision over visibility ... Instinct over intellect ... A songwriter plays a chord with the faith that he will hear the next one in his head.

One of the writers of the psalms was a musician, a harp-player whose talents were required at 'the palace' as the only medicine that would still the demons of the moody and insecure King Saul of Israel; a thought that still inspires, if not quite explaining Marilyn singing for Kennedy, or the Spice Girls in the court of Prince Charles...

At age 12, I was a fan of David, he felt familiar ... like a pop star could feel familiar. The words of the psalms were as poetic as they were religious and he was a star. A dramatic character, because before David could fulfill the prophecy and become the king of Israel, he had to take quite a beating. He was forced into exile and ended up in a cave in some no-name border town facing the collapse of his ego and abandonment by God. But this is where the soap opera got interesting, this is where David was said to have composed his first psalm - a blues. That's what a lot of the psalms feel like to me, the blues. Man shouting at God - 'My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me?' (Psalm 22).

I hear echoes of this holy row when un-holy bluesman Robert Johnson howls 'There's a hellhound on my trail' or Van Morrison sings 'Sometimes I feel like a motherless child'. Texas Alexander mimics the psalms in 'Justice Blues': 'I cried Lord my father, Lord eh Kingdom come. Send me back my woman, then thy will be done'. Humorous, sometimes blasphemous, the blues was backslidin' music; but by its very opposition, flattered the subject of its perfect cousin Gospel.

Abandonment, displacement, is the stuff of my favourite psalms. The Psalter may be a font of gospel music, but for me it's in his despair that the psalmist really reveals the nature of his special relationship with God. Honesty, even to the point of anger. 'How long, Lord? Wilt thou hide thyself forever?' (Psalm 89) or 'Answer me when I call' (Psalm 5).

Psalms and hymns were my first taste of inspirational music. I liked the words but I wasn't sure about the tunes - with the exception of Psalm 23, 'The Lord is my Shepherd'. I remember them as droned and chanted rather than sung. Still, in an odd way, they prepared me for the honesty of John Lennon, the baroque language of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, the open throat of Al Green and Steve Wonder - when I hear these singers, I am reconnected to a part of me I have no explanation for ... my 'soul' I guess.

Words and music did for me what solid, even rigorous, religious argument could never do, they introduced me to God, not belief in God, more an experiental sense of GOD. Over art, literature, reason, the way into my spirit was a combination of words and music. As a result the Book of Psalms always felt open to me and led me to the poetry of Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon the book of John... My religion could not be fiction but it had to transcend facts. It could be mystical, but not mythical and definitely not ritual ...

My mother was Protestant, my father Catholic; anywhere other than Ireland that would be unremarkable. The 'Prods' at that time had the better tunes and the Catholics had the better stage-gear. My mate Gavin Friday used to say: 'Roman Catholicism is the Glamrock of religion' with its candles and psychedelic colours ... Cardinal blues, scarlets and purples, smoke bombs of incense and the ring of the little bell. The Prods were better at the bigger bells, they could afford them. In Ireland wealth and Protestantism went together; to have either, was to have collaborated with the enemy, i.e. Britain. This did not fly in our house.

After going to Mass at the top of the hill, in Finglas on the north side of Dublin, my father waited outside the little Church of Ireland chapel at the bottom of the hill, where my mother had brought her two sons ...

I kept myself awake thinking of the clergyman's daughter and let my eyes dive into the cinema of the stained glass. These Christian artisans had invented the movies ... light projected through colour to tell their story. In the '70s the story was 'the Troubles' and the Troubles came through the stained glass; with rocks thrown more in mischief than in anger, but the message was the same; the country was to be divided along sectarian lines. I had a foot in both camps, so my Goliath became religion itself; I began to see religion as the perversion of faith. As to the five smooth stones for the sling ... I began to see God everywhere else. In girls, fun, music, justice but still - despite the lofty King James translation - the Scriptures.

I loved these stories for the basest reasons, not just the New Testament with its mind-altering concept that God might reveal himself as a baby born in straw poverty - but even the Old Testament. These were action movies, with some hardcore men and women ... the car chases, the casualties, the blood and guts; there was very little kissing.

David was a star, the Elvis of the bible, if we can believe the chiseling of Michelangelo (check the face - but I still can't figure out this most famous Jew's foreskin). And unusually for such a 'rock star', with his lust for power, lust for women, lust for life, he had the humility of one who knew his gift worked harder than he ever would. He even danced naked in front of his troops ... the biblical equivalent of the royal walkabout. David was definitely more performance artist than politician.

Anyway, I stopped going to churches and got myself into a different kind of religion. Don't laugh, that's what being in a rock 'n' roll band is, not pseudo-religion either ... Show-business is Shamanism: Music is Worship; whether it's worship of women or their designer, the world or its destroyer, whether it comes from that ancient place we call soul or simply the spinal cortex, whether the prayers are on fire with a dumb rage or dove-like desire ... the smoke goes upwards ... to God or something you replace God with ... usually yourself.

Years ago, lost for words and forty minutes of recording time left before the end of our studio time, we were still looking for a song to close our third album, War. We wanted to put something explicitly spiritual on the record to balance the politics and the romance of it; like Bob Marley or Marvin Gaye would. We thought about the psalms ... 'Psalm 40' ... There was some squirming. We were a very 'white' rock group, and such plundering of the scriptures was taboo for a white rock group unless it was in the 'service of Satan'. Or worse, Goth.

'Psalm 40' is interesting in that it suggests a time in which grace will replace karma, and love replace the very strict laws of Moses (i.e. fulfil them). I love that thought. David, who committed some of the most selfish as well as selfless acts, was depending on it. That the scriptures are brim full of hustlers, murderers, cowards, adulterers and mercenaries used to shock me; now it is a source of great comfort.

'40' became the closing song at U2 shows and on hundreds of occasions, literally hundreds of thousands of people of every size and shape t-shirt have shouted back the refrain, pinched from 'Psalm 6': "'How long' (to sing this song)". I had thought of it as a nagging question - pulling at the hem of an invisible deity whose presence we glimpse only when we act in love. How long ... hunger? How long ... hatred? How long until creation grows up at the chaos of its precocious, hell-bent adolescence has been discarded? I thought it odd that the vocalising of such questions could bring such comfort; to me too.

But to get back to David, it is not clear how many, if any, of these psalms David or his son Solomon really wrote. Some scholars suggest the royals never dampened their nibs and that there was a host of Holy Ghost writers ... Who cares? I didn't buy Leiber and Stoller ... they were just his songwriters ... I bought Elvis.

If you're interested in some other things Bono has said about Jesus, CLICK HERE