November 3rd is a special day for two reasons. First, it is my youngest son’s birthday. Brody will be 6 years old. Second, it is the day my friend Tim dropped me off at Pure Life Ministries. A year ago I made a trip of which I did not know would change my life and the lives of others forever.
My memories of that day are fuzzy. Tim told me this past week that he remembers the heaviness of that day when he came to Amy’s townhouse to pick me up. Amy, though in the process of divorcing me, was gracious enough to allow me to stay on the couch at her place for the 2 weeks leading up to my departure since I didn’t have anywhere else to go. Amy was at the height of her depression and could hardly eke out a hello when Tim came in to grab my suitcase. It was Brody’s 5th birthday, and he hung on my leg and cried, not understanding why daddy wouldn’t be at his party that evening.
But leaving behind a trail of tears and disappointment was nothing new to me as an addict. Such a state of affairs was rapidly becoming common-place for Brody, and all my kids.
I didn’t know where I was going or what I was getting myself into. I had tried everything else in the past. Years of weekly (even 2-3 times a week) SAA meetings, counseling (both Christian and not), weekend intensives with one of the nation’s leading sex-addiction therapists, reading countless books on the subject and accountability groups had done nothing more than offer temporary reprieve at best (by temporary I mean a couple months). These were band-aids that concealed the wound for a time, but never healed. I, and anyone who cared about me, became increasingly convinced that this was a wound of which I’d never be free.
I’m choosing to write this week because I want to remember what life was once like for me and my family but even more so to give testimony to the power of God to take a life – and an entire household – and make it new.
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on how this all came to be. It’s certainly not because I am anyone special or different from you. It most certainly is because of the supernatural work of God. God is very real and very near. His promise to make us new is real, and the power of the Gospel is beyond compare and something that up until a year ago I could preach a sermon on but did not know myself.
My first week at Duke Divinity I heard Stanley Hauerwas preach a sermon where he indicted most of the American Church with being “practical atheists.” By this he meant we confess to know God and serve God but our lives are devoid of God’s power. Worse, we don’t really expect to see God’s power at work in our individual or corporate realities. We’ve done so well at erecting our own towers of Babel that we have effectively sent the Holy Spirit on a permanent vacation.
That was 6 years ago, and I remember giving Dr. Hauerwas a hearty Amen! If I were a betting man, I’d wager that I probably looked at pornography later that same day. How easy it is to give mental assent to true propositions about God (that He is mighty and able to save) while denying it where it really counts!
Even a brief self-examination on this point will condemn most of us if we are honest. Absent from the Church today is any panting after God, such as the Psalmist did. Few Christians these days characterize their souls as “clinging to the dust” while recognizing their only chance for life is through God alone, according to his word (Psalm 119:25). We are far too self-sufficient and religious for such dependency. Our daily lives are comprised mostly of finding ways to sustain our own kingdoms and while we object to the atheists assertion that God is dead the lack of transformative power in our own lives makes their claim credible.
Sure we cry out to God when crisis strikes. We call upon him when we can’t pay our bills, our job is in jeopardy, natural-disasters threaten or when we give over to our lust yet again…and again. I imagine God must feel like I feel when a friend calls only in an emergency, saying they need bailed out. Thankfully, God is not like me, for I do not suffer such selfishness very well, or long. One of the things I have taken to giving daily thanks for is God’s long-suffering, not just with me but with his Bride, who persists on being lukewarm. Thank God for his tender mercies which are new every morning, but one has to stop and wonder how many more mornings God’s patience will allow.
It’s not supposed to be like this. I remember my first week at Pure Life and hearing someone testify that God didn’t bring me and the other men there to make us better. God didn’t bring us there to help us cope with life or learn new strategies for fighting addiction. Rather, God brought us to this point to make us new. Paul is adamant that anyone who is found in Christ is a new creation – the old has passed away and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). This is a result of the cross, which has reconciled us to our Father. The Gospel has always been about transforming lives from the inside out – about making broken humanity new creations – and yet we make it about everything else but that. God, help our unbelief!!
A year removed from the old life that had such control of me I am convinced that my former quest for “recovery” was a mask to hide my unbelief. For many years Recovery was my aim. And not just mine, but Amy’s. She longed for my recovery as well. Together we yearned for, prayed for, sought after the prize of Recovery the way one who is thirsty might pant for water. I remember a Christian therapist and disciple of Patrick Carnes (the pioneer of sex-addiction therapy) who Amy and I traveled to for help telling Amy that my recovery was the most important thing in either of our lives. He told us that I needed to put my recovery before everything else, because if I lose sight of that, nothing else will matter.
Of course, my daily regimen included things like prayer, reading Scripture, meditation, etc. My recovery plan while working the 12 steps included much the same things, along with a detailed description of who I thought God was and what God expected from me. But here is the problem in all of this God-talk:
In the same way I detested using Jesus as a tool to extricate oneself from Hell, I was now using God as a means to the end I desired most: Recovery from sexual addiction.
Recovery had become my god. I had become consumed with stamping out a monster in my life when what I needed most was to become consumed with the Master of my life, Jesus, who is not a means to an end but the end Himself.
Jesus is the end of God.
He said it himself. Jesus is the both the beginning and the end. He is the Way, not to some other destination (like Recovery), but to the only thing we all need: Himself. How easily and how often I made other things the desired end instead of Jesus!
A book I wish would be read in every house is a little one written in 1958 by evangelist Roy Hession titled We Would See Jesus. Read what he says about finding Jesus as the End…
Even if our motives are quite free from self-interest, those things are still not to be the ends or reasons for which we get right with the Lord. Our end is to be the Lord Jesus Himself. The reason for getting right should not be that we might have revival, or power, or be used of God, or have this or that blessing, but that we might have Him. Our sin has caused us to let go of His hand; a cloud has come between His lovely face and ourselves, and at all costs we want to find Him and His fellowship again. That, and that only, is to be the reason we should be willing to go the way of repentance – not for any other motive than that we want Him. He is to be the end; but alas, other ends, idols all of them, so easily take His place in our hearts.
Hession is not naïve. He recognizes that God often condescends to our base and selfish motives if for no other reason than to get us on the path (fleeing the wrath to come is one example). But we must not remain infants in our walk. I realized in this past year that so long as I made recovery my end, both it and Jesus would elude me. It was only when I recognized Jesus as my all-in-all and could say in my heart of hearts that I would rather have Him than anything else that the supernatural power of the Gospel took root in my own life. In fact, even that once-cherished prize called Recovery took on an entirely new meaning. No longer do I think of myself as being in recovery but living in victory. Before I used to strive to remain sober but today I find joy in living holy. A year ago I described myself as a hopeless addict, but today I am more than conqueror through Christ my strength (Rom. 8:37).
Today, on the cusp of Brody’s 6th birthday and my one year anniversary of leaving for Pure Life, everything is different. Jesus has broken every chain and cancelled every sin. A year ago I fought and struggled to be pure whereas today it’s a struggle to remember what that even felt like. A year ago there was strife, depression, anger and fear in our home whereas today there is love, peace, joy and hope.
If you are someone who struggles with habitual sin I want you to know there is victory to be found. It won’t happen by making sobriety your goal or recovery your life’s aim but only by coming to the end of God. His name is Jesus.
The glorious truth is that He is Himself not only the way to blessing but the needed blessing itself; not only the way to power but our power; not only the way to victory but our victory; not only the way to sanctification but our sanctification; not only the way to healing but our healing; not only the way to revival but our revival; and so on for everything else. He is Himself made to us what we need. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, as Paul says, and we are complete in Him (Col. 2:10).
Thank you, Jesus.
(allow me to introduce you to my favorite worship band)…