Tag Archives: Addiction

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Spiritual Transformation Part 5 – Why We Comfort Ourselves with Sin of the Heart

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A friend of mine reached out to help a believer caught in a staggering situation. Her businessman husband in jail, all personal assets seized, with no money or job skills to live on while raising small children, she faced both the public embarrassment and a lonely future with no one to help her. These were all major wounds.My friend hired her into his company and personally taught her all she needed to know to earn the kind of income she needed. Except, to the horrified astonishment of all who watched, she began to pursue a sexual relationship with his married business partner. My friend took her aside and counseled her time after time about the damage she was doing to herself and her children and how she was betraying Jesus. Nothing he said was heard. She mistressed his partner until he finally divorced his wife. She divorced her jailed husband and they married. The rest of the story was full of sadness also.

Why did she do this? Nothing in her background even hinted that she would live out a sordid story like this. She had been raised in a devoted Christian home, never stepped outside the boundaries of decency, had been a loving daughter, wife and mother. She never stopped going to church, even during her pursuit of this businessman. How did this happen? The answer is in how she chose to comfort her pain.

If you sense, in reading this story, that we are backtracking, we are. The kinds of stories I enter into are full of people like this one . And I often get in at the worst moment, when the person’s choice has already started its death spiral, when the destruction is out where everyone can see it. Christian leaders, pastors and their wives, like everyone else, have the same ability to hide inside issues and compartmentalize sinful behavior out of the sight of those who would spiritually intervene. But at some point, it all comes splattering out into public. And often, at that point, the person no longer cares.

So let’s talk about the deadly sins that are in our heart. The main issue that we have to face is that comforting ourselves by sin is a personal choice. It may be consciously or unconsciously made, but it is our decision. The person who wounded us did not force us on that path.  No outside being put a gun to our head to make us go in this direction. The devil didn’t make us do it. Deciding to comfort our wounds by sin is not even an age or maturity issue. At its root, it involves three forces at work influencing us that we may not even perceive at the time.

1) our depth, or lack of depth, of intimacy with God. All of us know that God has the right to reign over our lives. Doctrinally, we can recite the right beliefs and quote the right passages. But the flaw revealed in us through the Fall is our desire to blame God for our mess. This desire often gets in the way of our intimacy with Him. We withdraw even while we are busy serving Him and the church, and then feel empty and wonder why He demands – or why His people demand – so much of us. Then new wounds come up or old ones come out.  We become angry at Him for not appreciating our obedience, our sacrifice, and yet we deny that anger. After all, how can we hold God accountable? So we reroute the anger and find ourselves in a place where the sin of our heart feels a whole lot better than listening for His voice. It is hard to ask God to heal us when we, at some level, are blaming Him as Adam did.

2) The rolemodeling that has taken place in our personal world. When the people of our world, who can also be the source of our wounds, model certain kinds of sinful choices in their own lives, we secretly resonate with them, even when rationally we are repelled. For example, people who have had a bad home life grow up say that they will never be like their parents. Except they often find that they really are when they have children. The DNA for that metamorphosis was implanted through the rolemodeling they endured. Sin begets sin. We know this action was wrong when ‘so and so’ did it, but it makes so much more sense to us now it is we who are choosing the action.

3) How open we are becoming to the lies of Satan. When we find ourselves out of intimacy with God, the truths we hold have a way of becoming twisted and sounding hollow. Satan shows up with his pretty lies. He speaks to our bruised egos. He sympathizes over our wounds. He suggests a way of hopeful recovery. Satan lies to us every day, until his lies begin to take on the veneer of reality and we try his suggestion ‘just this once.’

Except it never is just this once. All sin is addictive. READ THAT AGAIN! Do you understand what this means? It means that in a very short time that sin you choose will take charge of your will and you will no longer be able to choose not to do it. Your damaged emotions will press you to do it again and again until you give in. You will feel emotional pressure or release based on your response to the power of the addiction. You will not be able to stop yourself. And, in time, you will rationalize it. In case you missed it, the disgraced S.C. governor, Mark Sanford, asked his wife for permission to go see his mistress after he confessed the affair! You know the rest, as it has been thoroughly discussed by the media. That kind of addiction will happen to anyone who buys into Satan’s lies. It is just a matter of choice.

What is more, the addictive behavior has now become a source for further wounding. This is the irony of choosing sin for comfort. I was wounded and chose to comfort myself with one of the deadly sins in my heart. Now I am wounding myself from the result of that choice and am in a worse place than before. Hmmm – what sin will I choose to comfort me now?

Now we know why people caught in the tangle of the sin of their heart do not listen to wise spiritual counsel. The emotional blare of our sin addiction is louder than the truth of God – and the love of God. But this tale does not have to end in despair. We can choose even now to surrender to Jesus, who alone is able to do two things in us.

1) Deliver me from the sin of my heart. This is obvious. That is why God sent Jesus into the world in the first place. Sin produces brokenness in us, breaking not only our relationship with Him, but causing the damage that only He can repair. While I do include our sinful actions as needing Jesus’ deliverance, our real need is not for a particular addictive sin to come under His rule, but for the root cause of our actions to be removed. Not just gambling – but greed. Not just pornography – but lust. Not just selfish ambition – but pride. We need Jesus’ reign over the deadly sins that are the root of our destructive behavior. Then the visible sinful actions that mark our lives will lose their grip on us.

2) Heal the hurts of my heart. Yielding to Jesus’ reign over the sin in our heart is not enough, however. To break from the power of sin, we also need Jesus to heal the hurts of our heart. This is the desire of our souls. If we do not allow Jesus to touch the wounds, close ourselves off to His examination and healing power we are doomed to repeat the cycle of hurt, comfort and addiction for as long as we resist. We need to surrender to Jesus both of these things at the same time. This is the core of the good news of Jesus Christ. If we surrender, He is faithful in His promises to us. I encourage you again to meditate on the offer of finding mercy and obtaining grace in God’s presence, about which the author of Hebrews 4:16 spoke. I will pick this up here next post.


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Spiritual Transformation Part 4 – An Inward Look at What Must Change

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  • The workaholic who can afford all the goodies of life but his wife and children feel like he is a stranger.
  • A depressed woman who spends her day wishing for a better life – or death.
  • The person with five maxed-out credit cards.
  • The guy who secretly watches pornographic materials on his computer.
  • A person who is always thinking about and reaching for food.
  • Someone who left her marriage for a married man.
  • The father who beats his children when he is angry.
  • A secret gambler deep in debt.
  • A bitter person who is unable to look her family in the face.
  • A man who floats from job to job, always complaining about the boss.
  • The child who habitually lies to his parents and teachers.

What do all these people have in common? Two things. The first is that they are all wounded people. The second is that each has decided to comfort the wound they carry with equally destructive choices. People are not made by God to be able to handle pain in their souls. So they seek to comfort themselves instead of asking God for healing. This is true of everyone you meet, including the face in the mirror. The symptoms of what you choose for comfort may not look like any of the ones mentioned in the list, but they are just as damaging and, worse still, are robbing you of becoming the person you were created to be by God. Even church leaders. And pastors and their wives. None of us are immune from the consequences of choosing comforting over healing. So where do we start the healing process?

If you are honestly looking for God to bring about deep change in you, the starting point is to ask Him to do a ruthless search in your life. (Psalm 139:23) Ruthless searching is saying to God that you are ready to hear truth about yourself, to open up yourself to having closed areas of your soul, on which you hung a “Keep Out!” sign, penetrated. ‘Closed’ as in not wanting to revisit the pain because you did not know what to do about it. ‘Closed’ because you thought time would heal or had healed the wounds. ‘Closed’ because you decided it was a waste of time. ‘Close’d because you wanted so badly to forget and get on with your life.

Some of you reading this are already shaking your heads and saying, “What’s there to find?” It’s time for you to face an inconvenient truth. You, too, are just as wounded as everyone you meet. I am not speaking about occasional hurt feelings that dissipate with time. Nor is this about the kind of wounds that discipline inflicts, the ‘this-will-hurt-for-a-time’ sort given by a parent or mentor that ultimately helps you grow more mature. These are the soul touching kinds of pain that not only do not fade, but continue to ache years after the wounding. Whether you are public or private about your pain, this kind of pain resides in all of us. You may no longer feel the immediacy of it, but the pain does more to shape you than you ever perceived. This woundedness is the root of your unfinished business. This may be the hardest issue for you to ever face. Why? Because it is here that you will have to look intentionally into areas of your soul with God, areas which you would rather leave alone.

If you want to know how to enter into this search with God, consider the promise of the first affirmation. God is in the process of conforming you to the image of His Son, Jesus (Romans 8:29). Here is the entry point for joining God in the search – where is your life not conforming to the image of Jesus? How do your life actions and attitudes line up with Jesus? This should not lead to an ‘I’m-not-perfect-like-Jesus’ moment; this is for a ruthlessly honest “Ah-Ha! I see that this area of my life is out of line with who I am created to be,” realization. You will know when you have gained real insight from God’s search because ruthless honesty also sparks humiliation and true guilt – a “Woe is me!” response similar to Isaiah’s in the temple when he saw the Lord.

All real journeys towards deep change sparked by God’s searching take place in the heart. The heart is the place where we make all our life choices, where our rational thoughts and emotions are weighed to determine what we will do or become. Our unfinished business directly affects the function of our heart. The wounds we have received by living in a world affected by the Fall have damaged our emotions. As a result, our damaged emotions will weigh more heavily in guiding our lives than our rational thinking. We will say, think, and do things that we would hate in others, but the pressure of damaged emotions drives our choices at a level we don’t even notice, or understand if we do.

What is more, sin lives in us, according to Paul (Romans 7:17, 20). He is not referring to sin as actions, but as an inner motivation that affects and controls how we live out life. Because sin resides in all of us, and because we are being guided by damaged emotions rather than truth, we choose sin to comfort our wounds instead of asking the Great Physician to heal us.

William Backus, founder of the Center for Christian Psychological Service, spoke in detail about this kind of choosing in his book, What Your Counselor Never Told You. He explained that most counseling invokes no long lasting change, nor promotes healing, simply because people are unaware that they are rejecting God’s remedy. Instead, most of people’s distresses can be traced back to one of seven traits, known as the Seven Deadly Sins – lust, anger, envy, greed, gluttony, sloth or pride – or more likely, a combination of these. All are attractive because all offer a temporary emotional release to our wounds. While we should know better as redeemed people, essentially we have been convinced by our emotions that we ‘need’ this sin, which produces different sin actions (i.e. symptoms) in us. However, we buy into the deception that the product is a comfort activity, which makes us ‘feel’ better. But it is a false hope, because in time, we become captive to the action the sin within us produces, and, ironically, suffer further wounding by this activity. This brings true addiction, needing the comfort activity more and more and hating the consequences of the activity, whether it be using alcohol, money, relationships, power, work, leisure, lies, laziness, violence, or what have you. In the end, we find that we are comforted to death.

There is hope. God offers a true healing, no matter how addicted you are. But it is a hard path for many of us to embrace. It takes us through the pain of our wounds, not away from it. Review the questions asked in  the last post. Do I feel safe enough to ask God to do a ruthless search in my life? (Psalm 139:23) Am I at a place where I trust Him enough to allow His mercy and grace to address my unfinished business?

 


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Spiritual Transformation Part 2 – Failed Strategies for Dealing with Unfinished Business

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  • Why do people like you and me choose not to become as healthy as we can in our souls?
  • Why do we choose pathways that lead us to being much less than we could be, pathways that demonstratively lead people to destruction?
  • If the purpose of God is to conform us into the image of Jesus, why would we not be content to open our most secret places to His ruthless search and healing work?
One unspoken reason is fear. Whenever what is underneath is exposed, it hurts really bad. Unbearably so, in fact. So much so that you would rather go to the dentist and get a tooth drilled without Novocain than face that pain. This is the fear: that you will have to experience the intense pain that is at the root of your unfinished business. And the lie Satan adds is…”Alone.”

 

Added to fear is the uncertainty of what good it will do to address unfinished business. What if you did deal with it? Would you be better for it? Would it be worth it? If you have ever taken a run at dealing with unfinished business, you may think you know the answers to these questions. You may be saying to yourself as you read this that you have tried to act on your inner self issues, that nothing changed, that more pain was the result. It isn’t worth it, you have decided. It is a big risk to trust God with your secret stuff, no matter what your declared beliefs about God’s right to reign over you are.

Perhaps you have faced the fear and uncertainty. Possibly you have already adopted a strategy that you think is dealing with your unfinished business. I wish you well. But I know that unless your plan is to pursue transformation through intimacy with God, you are not seeing the freedom you thought your strategy would bring you. Here are several common tactics that give the appearance of being engaged in pursuing health, but will never set you free. Consider these in light of your personal approach to your unfinished business.

  • Repression: Like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, people decide that they will not think about the problem, in the hope that time will defeat it. Repression is trying to keep the problem out of sight, a strategy of self-deception. We decide we will not look at it anymore, that we will defeat it by ignoring it altogether. But a thing repressed does not simply go away; it merely takes up a deeper residence within our souls and continues to influence our personal story all the while we are thinking about something else. Furthermore, repression of a problem blocks us from allowing God’s love to address the root of what really ails us. If the problem doesn’t exist, we will not engage with God about it.

 

  • Lateral moves: Maybe you deal with your unfinished business by making lateral moves, seeking relief in change. You have changed your friends, your job, the city you live in. You have changed your lifestyle, found new activities to fill up your free time, changed your clothing style, changed churches. Maybe you have invested in nip and tuck, thinking a younger looking you will bring the contentment you seek. Or changed life partners, thinking your “ex” is the reason for your unhappiness. This tactic of change comes in many different forms, but it always amounts to the same thing – making external changes without inner transformation.  You are like the person at a crowded Walmart checkout at Christmas, moving from one line to another in the hope that this line will be faster and less frustrating – forlorn hope. Addressing unfinished business is not about changing the window dressing, but about deep transformation.

 

  • Blame game: Victimization is the oldest game in the book. At the heart of this strategy is the resonance of truth. Since you live in a world affected by the Fall, you have been wounded. That is the direct outcome of humanity’s rebellion against God’s reign. Humans turned on each other. Unsurprisingly we are the casualty of other people’s actions, words or neglect. Often the wounds come from people closest to you, people whose love for you failed at a crucial intersection. Or maybe for you, like Adam, it was God’s fault. No matter who, the cause of your unfinished business is someone’s fault and you want them to take the responsibility to fix it if it is going to be addressed at all. It is easy to understand why people choose to develop a blame plan. Yet the tactic fails to deliver shalom simply because you fail to take responsibility for the destructive choices you made, consciously or unconsciously, to comfort yourself in your pain. Pointing at others keeps you from looking deeper inside and owning your own part of your unfinished business.

 

  • Obedience: Perhaps the most misunderstood tactic to which people resort looks the most Christian. “Just be obedient. Follow what the Bible says and you will be changed. Submit your unfinished business to God and obey.” And that is almost right, which is why it is so wrong. Ted Haggard’s confession of being unable to stop destructive behavior even as a highly visible pastor and national leader shows the lie of this strategy. Everyone in the Bible who was not a Pharisee knew they’d never be changed by their ability to obey.  In a sense, this kind of obedience approach is somewhat like a twelve step program. Do the steps (i.e., obey) over and over again and you will not slip back into a destructive life. The obedience model directs you to fight the inner foe by your own strength. The pathway God sets out for dealing with our innermost issues is rooted in His power, not our best efforts to obey. Obedience is the byproduct, not the method, of wholeness.

Maybe in this brief look at failed strategies you’ve seen yourself and what you’ve been doing for years to tackle your unfinished business. I hope that in this short examination you might have recognized the futility of all of them and are now open to what Jesus called ‘rest.’ In the next article, we will reexamine that last futile tactic – obedience – to help you towards the place of wholeness where God alone is able to take you.

 

 


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Spiritual Transformation Part 1 – The Crisis of Unfinished Business

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Throughout my ministry, I have had to deal with believers whose lives have fallen apart spiritually.  Some of them have seen their marriages crumble or they have given in to sin addictions that surfaced and destroyed their credibility as a Christ-follower, or a leader, or a pastor. Though each had signaled there was something wrong before the explosion, it appears that nothing that any outside friend or leader said or did got at the real issues soon enough and deep enough to help.

I have received some pointed questions from others who came to know of these sad cases. Why aren’t  seemingly mature people more submissive and obedient to Jesus in such matters?  Why don’t these people seek help and fellowship before this kind of stuff happens? I realize that each of these questions is worth asking. But the real question is much more basic – Why do people ignore the chance to draw closer to God and let Him heal them in their deepest places before Satan uses their unfinished business to destroy them and their families and rob them of the joy of their salvation?

Some of you who are reading this are close to the same kind of precipice. You have unfinished business. If you are alive in this world, whether you are a newer Christian or a seasoned saint, you have unresolved soulish business that is a time bomb waiting to go off in your life, your home and your church fellowship. Whether it is out where everyone can see it for the looking or buried under layers of an efficient and successful lifestyle, the unfinished business of your inner self continues to make its mark on you until you intentionally choose to see it rooted out. This is always a painful process. If you ignore it, it will terrorize you. If you face it, it will fight you to the death. But it must be done or the unfinished business of your life will do what you secretly fear – bring destruction into your world and, even worse, rob you of becoming the person you were created to be by God.

What exactly is unfinished business? It is simply whatever unresolved emotional, mental, or spiritual baggage we continue to carry. It is what traps us into living out our life in unhealthy ways, hiding behind the mask of “I’m okay.” Or at a lower level, “I’ll survive.” Unfinished business is the monster that lives under our bed, bodies hidden in our cellar, skeletons in our closet, secrets not told. It is the unsettled issues that we avoid even now dealing with – or deny that those issues even still exist in us, as if they were ancient history. These are issues from our past that we have never let anyone, including God, touch.

You may think about getting healthy, of seeking relief from the pressures unfinished business create in your life, but you never really take step one to deal with it. By this I mean decisions that will put you into a healing process with God. So let me ask you as a fellow believer – why do you risk all that you love by not letting God deal with your most closely guarded secrets – some so secret that you yourself have not ever been aware of their presence in your soul?

I have noticed over the years that those who lead in God’s Church tend to become involved in the mess of others’ unfinished business only after the bomb explodes. I want to suggest that we consider taking a different path from here on out. I suggest that we start dealing now with our own unfinished business so that we can rolemodel the kind of spiritual life Jesus promised. That through our own transparent process with God we draw others away from destruction and towards freedom and healthy emotions, true spirituality and the renewing of their minds.

How do we do start? Here are a few affirmations that we all must grab hold of as we begin this ongoing process to let Jesus explore and heal the hidden recesses of our souls.

  • First, affirm God’s purpose for your life. God is in the process of conforming you into the image of His Son, Jesus (Romans 8:29). So you are not just traveling to the plateau of being good enough, but you are on a journey to be changed into His likeness.
  • Second, affirm that God is using all that happened to you as a part of this process, even the bad stuff (Romans 8:28). This is not just the tragedies and triumphs in your current life, but includes all that has happened to you since the day you were born, even the parts you do not want to remember.
  • Third, affirm that God is love and that nothing hidden in your life puts Him off or will keep Him from completing His purpose for your life (Ephesians 3:17-19).
  • Fourth, affirm That God puts you into a faith community for this very reason (Galatians 6:1-2). You will need to find others to join with you in this pursuit, because secrecy gives power to the enemy’s lies.

As you proceed through my posts, take seriously the truths I share about this journey. God can use them to save you from personal destruction. They are not therapy lessons, an invitation to engage in positive thinking or a part of a self-help program. But they will help lead you somewhere further with God and towards the person He created you to be in Christ Jesus. I can affirm this from my personal journey.

 

 

 

 

 


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