Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Archive for the ‘Habits’ Category

5 Steps for Handling Life’s Frustrations

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

Many of our biggest mistakes in life can be traced to handling disappointment in unwise ways. In times when we’re emotionally low, it’s easy to slip back into the habits that wreaked havoc on our lives in the past. Sometimes, we just need better coping mechanisms!

Here are five simple steps for dealing with frustrations in your life, based on the Bible.

1.  Ask yourself, “Did I cause it?”

The Bible says, “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7 NIV). Many things in life frustrate us because we brought them on ourselves. We don’t have anybody else to blame.

It’s frustrating to run out of gas on a trip. But if you didn’t stop to get gas before you left, or decided to push your luck, who’s to blame?

2.  Ask yourself, “What can I learn from it?”

Use the irritation as an opportunity to grow in character and become more like Christ.

How does God produce the fruit of the Spirit in your life? He places you in the opposite situation. If God wants to teach you love, he will put you around unlovely people. If God wants to teach you peace, he will put you in a situation of total chaos so you can have inner peace.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him . . . ” (NIV). There are many bad things in the world, but all things work together and even the negative God can turn into a positive if we will let him.

3.  Thank God in the situation.

First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks” (NKJV). You don’t have to be thankful for a bad situation. But you can be thankful in a bad situation. That frustration, that irritation, that inconvenience, that interruption, may be a blessing or an opportunity in disguise.

The apostle Paul wanted to go to Rome to preach, but God took him to Rome to be in prison and write the letters that formed the New Testament. Paul was frustrated, but God saw it as an opportunity to make him sit still long enough to write the Bible.

4.  Turn the frustration into a funny, humorous event.

The Bible says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine”  (Proverbs 17:22 NIV). A sense of humor is God’s antidote for anger and frustration.

5.  Ask God to fill you with his love.

Why? Because 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, [Love] is not easily angered” (NIV).  Love is self-giving, not self-serving. We get irritated because we think everyone and everything has to revolve around us. Love concentrates on the other person.

Jesus faced constant frustrations in his life, but he always made time for people. We get so preoccupied with our own things; we forget that people are the priority in life.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3 NIV).

The Year of Conquering Negative Thinking

SOURCE:  LESLEY ALDERMAN/The New York Times

Here’s a New Year’s challenge for the mind: Make this the year that you quiet all those negative thoughts swirling around your brain.

All humans have a tendency to be a bit more like Eeyore than Tigger, to ruminate more on bad experiences than positive ones. It’s an evolutionary adaptation that helps us avoid danger and react quickly in a crisis.

But constant negativity can also get in the way of happiness, add to our stress and worry level and ultimately damage our health. And some people are more prone to negative thinking than others. Thinking styles can be genetic or the result of childhood experiences, said Judith Beck, a psychologist and the president of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. Children may develop negative thinking habits if they have been teased or bullied, or experienced blatant trauma or abuse. Women, overall, are also more likely to ruminate than men, according to a 2013 study.

“We were built to overlearn from negative experiences, but under learn from positive ones,” said Rick Hanson, a psychologist and senior fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

But with practice you can learn to disrupt and tame negative cycles.

The first step to stopping negative thoughts is a surprising one. Don’t try to stop them. If you are obsessing about a lost promotion or the results of the presidential election, whatever you do, don’t tell yourself, “I have to stop thinking about this.”

“Worry and obsession get worse when you try to control your thoughts,” Dr. Beck said.

Instead, notice that you are in a negative cycle and own it. Tell yourself, “I’m obsessing about my bad review.” Or “I’m obsessing about the election.”

By acknowledging your negative cycle and accepting it, you are on your way to taming your negative thoughts. Acceptance is the basic premise of mindfulness meditation, a practice that helps reduce stress and reactivity. You don’t necessarily have to close your eyes and meditate every day to reap the benefits of mindfulness. You can remind yourself to notice your thoughts in a nonjudgmental manner, without trying to change or alter them right away.

Accepting negative thoughts can also help lessen their weight. Getting mad at yourself for worrying or telling yourself to stop worrying only adds fuel to the negativity fire.

After you’ve accepted a negative thought, force yourself to challenge it.

Let’s go back to the setback at work. Perhaps not getting the promotion made you worry about your overall competence and you were berating yourself about your skills. Ask yourself, “Why would one setback mean that I am incompetent?” Or you might ask, “What have I done in the past that shows I am actually a very competent worker?”

If you’re having trouble challenging your negative thoughts, try this approach. Imagine that your friend is the one who received the bad news. What advice would you give him or her? Now think of how that advice might apply to you.

A study conducted at Ohio State University found that this method — known as Socratic questioning — was a simple way to reduce depressive symptoms in adults. In the study, 55 adults were enrolled in a 16-week course of cognitive therapy sessions. Researchers studied videotapes of the sessions and found that the more frequently therapists used Socratic questioning, the more the patients’ depressive symptoms lessened. The study’s authors theorized that Socratic questioning helped patients examine the validity of their negative thoughts and gain a broader, more realistic perspective on them.

There will be times when your bleak thoughts are actually valid, but your projections about what’s next are not. Consider this scenario: Your partner has left you for someone else. “My partner doesn’t love me anymore,” might be accurate, said Dr. Beck, but “No one else will ever love me,” is probably not.

Now move from a place of inaction to action to counteract the negative thought. If you are worried about feeling unloved, check in with friends and family members. If you are feeling insecure at work, make a list of your accomplishments. Perhaps ask your best friend to write you a letter telling you all the ways in which you are a good, kind person. Reread the letter daily.

Dr. Hanson, author of “Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence,” said it may be helpful to ask yourself if you are accomplishing anything by dwelling on your negative thoughts. If you’re ruminating on your financial problems during a run around the track in hopes of finding a solution, then that is useful. But fretting for lap after lap about the president-elect or a foreign crisis is not going to accomplish anything.

When your negative thoughts are making you feel agitated and overwhelmed, take a deep breath, and then another. Practicing controlled breathing can help lower the stress response and calm anxious thoughts.

Finally, if your thoughts are making you feel seriously distressed and interfering with your ability to work and relax, consider seeing a mental health professional. Therapists who specialize in cognitive therapy, which teaches practical ways to cope with persistent and unwanted thoughts, may be particularly helpful. If the underlying source of your thoughts is clinical depression or intense anxiety, you might want to talk with a professional about the root cause of your negative thinking patterns and discuss medications that can be helpful.

While you are sorting out what approach works best for you, give yourself a break and have compassion for your overwrought thoughts.

“The more you dwell on the negative, the more accustomed your brain becomes to dwelling on the negative,” said Dr. Hanson, who suggests asking yourself, “Are my thoughts helping to build me up, or tear me down?”

8 Signs You Have Not Done Everything You Can to Save Your Marriage

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Every marriage struggles. And in most troubled marriages that are on the brink, one or both spouses often say something like “I’ve done everything I can, and it just isn’t working out.”

While a spouse may feel like they’ve done everything they can, in reality, they may not have. And the stakes are too high to claim you’ve done all you can when you maybe haven’t. Before you call it quits, there are some important questions to ask yourself, as I’ve blogged about before.

But it’s time now to test your heart and your actions to see if you really have done all you can. Here are some signs that you haven’t yet:

1. You’re not willing to see a counselor.

Counseling can be expensive and feel intrusive. But believe it or not, even healthy marriages sometimes need counseling help. Susan and I have seen a marriage counselor to help us through various issues in our marriage and it has really helped us. It’s not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength to admit that another perspective could be helpful. If you have resisted this step, you’ve not done everything you can.

2. You’re not willing to work on or give up your bad habits.

Whether it’s porn, constant criticism, crushing comparisons, toxic words, or other bad habits, these type of patterns are hard to break, and are hurting marriages every day. For the sake of your health, your kids and your long-term prospects as a family, you need to be willing to let go of these things. If you find yourself saying “I can’t” or “I won’t” then you’ve not done everything you can.

3. You’re not willing to give up your hobbies.

Fishing, Facebook, horseback riding, football games, golf, poker, book clubs, etc., all these things can be fine in and of themselves. But if you put these things above your marriage, you are being shortsighted. Don’t make your wife a football widow by being unwilling to turn the game off. One young man used to call golf his mistress in the early years of his marriage and decided to quit for the sake of his marriage. His hobby became an idol, and he knew his marriage was more valuable than his handicap. If you haven’t been willing to sell off your collection, stop your activities, or even pause them for the sake of your marriage, you’ve not done everything you can.

4. You’re not willing to let anyone challenge your assumptions of what your marriage is.

You may think that marriage is just a 50-50 partnership, a contract and if your spouse is not holding up their end of the deal, then you have a right to get out of the marriage. But marriage is actually a 100%-100% give-it-all-you’ve-got relationship.  And as I shared through my blog, 3 Things to Remember Before You Call it Quits in Marriage, is a life-long covenant between God, a husband, and wife.

5. You’re not willing to change the priorities of your life.

Reprioritizing is crucial to navigating choppy waters in marriage. Sometimes you need to step back and reassess where you are, where you’re headed, and what you need to do to get back on the same page. Perhaps you’ve put your job ahead of your spouse. If so, you’ve got some changes to make.

6. You’re not willing to move or change jobs.

Big changes are sometimes necessary for the sake of marriage. Jobs come and go. Houses can be bought, sold or burned to the ground. But ending your marriage will make any of those seemingly drastic changes seem like child’s play. If you aren’t willing to accept drastic changes like moving or changing jobs for the sake of your marriage, you’ve not done everything you can.

7. You’re not willing to admit that you’re part of the problem.

The famous British author G.K. Chesterton was once asked by a journalist of the day what was wrong with the world. His reply letter was brief but poignant: “Dear Sir, I am. Sincerely, G.K. Chesterton.” Very rarely is a marriage truly a one-sided problem. If you refuse to acknowledge your own shortcomings and issues, you’ve not done all you can.

8. You’re not willing to listen.

Usually, in a troubled marriage, one or both spouses are exasperated because they don’t feel heard. A bad listener makes for a bad friend, co-worker, or spouse. In every area of your life, being a good listener is critical to healthy relationships. Listening takes effort, but it can do wonders for your marriage. If you haven’t tried to listen better, to learn how to listen better, you’ve not done everything possible to save your marriage.

The bottom line: Don’t give up. There are lots of strategies you can choose to help your ailing marriage. Start by being honest. Have you really done everything you can to save your marriage? 

19 Possible Motives Triggering Your Porn Consumption

SOURCE:  Brad Hambrick

Often triggers and motive are treated as two distinct things, and there are differences. But those differences are more akin to two sides of the same coin than apples and oranges. In this post we’ll examine the things that trigger your sexual sin and the motives attached to those triggers.

As you identify the trigger-motive for your sexual sin, we also want you to begin to see how you are treating your sin like a friend, ally, refuge, etc. These insights are essential for repentance to make sense as a central part of change. Unless we see how our sin seeks to replace God in our life, then our need to be made right with God comes across as if God is unduly hung up about our sexuality.

Your struggle with sexual addiction doesn’t start with your behavior. It begins with what you want, what you live for. – David Powlison in Sexual Addiction (p. 6)

1. Boredom (Sin as My Joy)

When boredom is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin has become our joy. When there is a moment to be filled with something of our choosing, we pursue sin to fill the void rather than God or any of His legitimate pleasures. We begin to lose our appetite for godly pleasure like the child who eats sweets stops wanting healthy food. Even as they feel sluggish from the ups and downs of sugary “treats” they fail to connect this to their diet but go instead for another sugar high as the “obvious” solution.

Sex is not ultimate… Idols begin as good things to which we give too much importance, and few things slide over into idolatry with greater frequency or greater power than sex. We allow a good gift of God to supersede the God who gave it. Sex is good, even great, but it’s not ultimate. –Tim Challies in Sexual Detox (p. 61)

Read Nehemiah 8:9-12. God is a God of great joys and pleasure. Too often we view God as so serious that we believe “fun” must be in His opposite direction. When God called Israel to repentance through Nehemiah and Ezra, He asked them to express their repentance in celebration. If the motive of boredom leads you to sin, then allow this passage to challenge your view of God.

2. Loneliness (Sin as My Friend)

When loneliness is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our “friend.” Sexual sin is always relational whether the relationship is fictional or physical, so it fits loneliness well. It’s as if our sin (a person, a chat room, or a video) calls to us, “Tell me your troubles.” We gladly pull up a chair and unload. As we do, talking to a real person or one who is not part of our sin becomes too risky. We now fear being judged or known by anyone but our “friend.”

It’s a perfect world that I can create. Things always go exactly my way. People do exactly what I want. I’m always on top. Fantasy is a great ego-feeder. –Anonymous testimony in David Powlison’s Pornography: Slaying the Dragon (p. 19)

Read Proverbs 27:6. During sexual sin we write this proverb backwards. We believe, “Faithful are the kisses of any enemy; profuse are the wounds of a friend.” When sin reverses the roles of friend and enemy, it traps us until we return the right labels to the people in our lives. If the motive of loneliness leads you to sexual sin, then prayerfully examine who or what you call “friend.”

3. Stress (Sin as My Comforter)

When stress is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our comforter. We run to it, her, or him. Sin or our adultery partner makes things better (at least as long as it, she, or he remains hidden and keeps us to themselves). Yet the comfort takes on an addictive quality. The stress from which we are relieved is multiplied by the stress it, she, or he creates. This keeps us in a cycle of stress and returning to a primary source of stress for relief.

We crave intimacy at a relational level. We feel lonely. But we also fear intimacy. We’re not sure we can attain it or be vulnerable enough to handle it. –Tim Chester in Closing the Window (p. 47)

Read John 14:25-31. Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as “the Helper” or “the Comforter” (v. 26) and as the source of peace–distinct from the world’s peace which always returns us to fear (v. 27). If a source of comfort doesn’t allow you to be more real with more people, then it isn’t true comfort. It’s a drug that numbs you before it makes you sick. If the motive of stress leads you to sexual sin, then examine whether your “comfort” is real or a form of relational self-medication.

4. Frustration (Sin as My Peace)

When frustration is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our source of peace. Sin is treated as an “oasis.” When this happens we label sin as our “safe place” as compared to the parts of life that are upsetting. This makes sin our friend and anyone or anything that opposes or interferes with our sin our enemy.

Read Romans 16:17-20 and I Thessalonians 5:22-24: Notice each of the passages refer to knowing the God of peace as the alternative to falling into temptations based upon deceitful desires. Where you turn for peace when you are frustrated is the determining variable of your character. Once you declare something or someone as the source of your peace, you will be loyal to and obey it.

5. Fatigue (Sin as My Source of Life)

When fatigue is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our source of life. We turn to sin as our boost to get through the day. The thought of our sin keeps us going when we feel like giving up. The adrenaline of sexual satisfaction (physical or romantic) becomes a drug we use to artificially stimulate ourselves–one we begin to wonder whether we could live without.

Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-18: This passage uses many words that can be synonyms for or create fatigue: afflicted (v. 8), perplexed (v. 8), persecuted (v. 9), struck down (v. 9), and wasting away (v. 16). Fatigue can make you feel alone, and sexual sin becomes your life giving companion. Paul says that it’s only Christ who can be the life in us that counters the fatiguing death around us (v. 10-12). To doubt this truth reveals that we are believing (or at least listening attentively to) lies.

6. Hurt (Sin as My Refuge)

When hurt is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our refuge. In our moments of sinful escape we feel protected from life and a growing allegiance develops towards our sin. In actuality, our sexual sin provides as much protection as a child pulling the covers over his/her head. But in our moment of hurt, we appreciate even the pseudo-refuge of sin compared to the perceived absence of any other refuge.

Read Psalm 31: This Psalm alternates between a cry for help and a song of confidence. In this, the Psalm reveals the realness with which Scripture speaks to life. Sexual sin is a pseudo-refuge on demand. Even when we can’t have the sin, we can fantasize about his/her presence. However, the real refuge of God is available through the same type of prayerful-meditative exercise as our fantasy, but it’s actually able to deliver us through the guidance of Scripture, the presence of His Spirit, and the involvement of His people.

7. Betrayal (Sin as My Revenge)

When betrayal is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our revenge. We know how powerful betrayal is (especially sexual betrayal), so we decide to use its power for our purposes to avenge those who have hurt us. Blinded by pain we try to use pain to conquer pain but only multiply pain. We continue this potentially infinite domino train that pummels us with alternating experiences of betrayal’s pain and betraying’s shame in spite of knowing how it perpetuates pain.

Read Romans 12:17-21: It’s so tempting to read this passage as God “holding you back” from sweet relief and satisfaction. But, in reality, it is God “holding you back” from turning another’s betrayal into self-destruction. God is not removing vengeance. God is simply saying He is the only one who can handle its power without being overcome by it. Sin can never conquer sin; any more than oil can remove a stain from your clothes. It is foolish to believe your sexual sin could do what only Christ’s death on the cross could do–bring justice to injustice.

8. Bitterness (Sin as My Justice)

When bitterness is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our justice. If sin as revenge is fast and hot, then sin as justice is slow and cold. No longer are we seeking to hurt another by our actions; now we are merely nursing our wound. If we tried to explain our sin in words, we would have to say we believed our sin had some healing power. But because that seems foolish, we are more prone to just excuse our sin by the sin done to us.

Read Hebrews 12:15-17: In this passage a “root of bitterness” is directly linked to sexual sin (v. 16). When bitterness distorts our perspective we will trade things of great value (our integrity and/or family unity) for things of little value (a sexual release or fantasy briefly brought to life) like Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup.

9. Opportunity (Sin as My Pleasure)

When opportunity is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our pleasure. Often sexual sin requires no more trigger than time alone with a computer, a free moment to text, or an available member of the opposite sex to “talk” (i.e., flirt or allow to carry my burdens). When this is the case, sexual sin has become our default recreation–our preferred hobby. The more our sexual sin seeps into the common parts of life the more pervasive the lifestyle and heart changes necessary to root it out.

The reality is that often we dislike the shame and consequences of sin, but we still like the sin itself… That’s because porn is pleasurable. Let’s be honest about that. If we pretend otherwise, we’ll never fight it successfully. People like watching porn—otherwise they wouldn’t watch. The Bible talks about the pleasures of sin. They’re temporary. They’re dangerous. They’re empty pleasures, compared with the glory of God. But they are pleasures, nonetheless. –Tim Chester in Closing the Window (p. 15)

Read Philippians 3:17-21: Paul is addressing those whose “god is their belly” (v. 19). These are people whose basic appetites, the mundane parts of their life, were at odds with God. Paul wept at the thought of people in this condition (v. 18). Chances are they had become so comfortable serving their appetites that it would seem odd that Paul was crying for them and “radical” to change. If mere opportunity has become a primary trigger for you sin, let this passage shock you awake!

10. Rejection (Sin as My Comfort) 

When rejection is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our comfort. Our culture has made things done from a “fear of rejection” seem neutral–as if the defensive motive negated the badness of sin, or as if we become the victim of our own sin when we fear rejection. The problem with a fear of rejection is it makes us foolish. Only the fear of the Lord can make us wise (Prov. 1:7). When we react from a fear of rejection, we naturally seek the comfort of people rather than the comfort of God.

Once we understand that the primary goal of sexually addictive behavior is to avoid relational pain—essentially, to control life—we can begin to uncover the core problem (20)… Several tiers below the surface is a pervasive, integral force that demands the right to avoid pain and experience self-fulfillment. This self-centered energy is the very essence of what the Bible calls ‘sin.’ –Harry Schaumburg in False Intimacy (p. 24)

Read Proverbs 29:25: Scripture calls the “fear of rejection” the “fear of man.” It’s not innocent because it replaces God as the One for whose approval we live. It is the values, character, and preferences of the one we fear that influence our decisions, emotions, morality, and instinctive responses. If rejection is your primary motive for sexual sin, allow this passage to challenge the orientation of your life.

11. Failure (Sin as My Success)

When failure is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our success. In the fantasy world of sexual sin (porn, romance media, or adultery), you always win. You get the girl. You are the beauty who is rescued. No part of real life can compete with the early success rate of sin. Sin pays up front and costs in the back. Real success costs up front and pays in the back. In healthy marriages, sacrifice is a primary part of the joy. As you give into sexual sin as a form of success, it will drive you to desire the kinds of successes that destroy a family. Even if the adultery relationship is made permanent, it will then become “real” enough that it will no longer play by your preferred rules of success.

Read Matthew 21:28-32: Why would the second son say, “I go, sir” and not do the assigned task (v. 30)? One potential reason is the fear of failure. Doubtless he would then view his father as upset with him and feel closer to someone who only asked of him what he wanted to do (i.e., porn, romantic media, or adultery partner). Using sexual sin as cheap success results in harming real relationships, lying, defensiveness towards being “judged,” and retreating to unhealthy or fictitious relationships. Rather than grading others by how they make you feel, repent of your fear of failure.

12. Success (Sin as My Reward)

When success is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our reward. Has your sexual sin become what you do when you need a break or what you have “earned” after completing something difficult? Has your sexual sin become the carrot you dangle in front of yourself in order to maintain motivation? When sin becomes our reward we feel cheated by repentance. God and anyone who speaks on His behalf becomes a kill-joy.

Read Hebrews 11:23-28: Moses faced a choice between which reward he believed would be most satisfying: the treasure of Egypt or the privilege of being God’s servant (v. 26). Sexual sin gives us a similar reward choice: easy treasure or humble servant. Unless Christ is our hero and God our admired Father, then the choice seems like a no-brainer in the direction of destruction.

13. Entitlement (Sin as My Deserved)

When entitlement is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes what we deserve. When you are confronted with your sexual sin, do you think or say, “How else am I going to get what I need… deserve… earned?” Can you see how sexual sin has become your measure for a “good day” and whether someone is “for” or “against” you? Are you willing to allow anyone other than Christ who died for the sin you are trying to squeeze life out of to be the measure of “good” in your life?

Read Jeremiah 6:15 and 8:12: The people of God had lost their ability to blush at sin. Why? One possible explanation (that can explain our inability to blush even if it doesn’t apply to them), is they believed they deserved their sin. When this happens, we believe we know better than God. We believe the unique features of our life trump the timeless truths of God’s created order. Our confidence to debate robs us of the humility necessary to blush.

14. Desire to Please (Sin as My Affirmation)

When the desire to please is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our affirmation. It’s easy to please a porn star or an adultery partner. They have a vested interest in being pleased. The entire relationship is based upon commerce (“the customer is always right”) or convenience (“if I am not pleasing to you, you have somewhere else to return”) rather than commitment (“I choose you unconditionally and faithfully in good times and in bad”). Too often sexual sin becomes a place of escape when we don’t feel like we can make everyone/anyone happy.

Read Ephesians 4:25-32: Notice the type of relational interaction described in these verses is incompatible with an overly strong desire to please others. We cannot live the life God called us to (regardless of whether we are sinning sexually or not) if our driving desire is the affirmation of others. Our conversation must be gracious and good for building up (v. 29), but that assumes we are willing to speak into areas of weakness with those we love.

15. Time of Day (Sin as Pacifier)

When time of day is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our pacifier. Do you use your sexual sin to help you sleep, get the day started, serve as a pick-me-up, fight boredom, or kill dead time? What are the common times of day or week when you struggle with sexual sin? When has your sexual sin become routine?

Read I Timothy 4:7-10: When you use sin as a pacifier you are training yourself for ungodliness (contra. v. 7). Often, because these occurrences happen during down times or transitions of our day, we view these occurrences of sin as less bad. We view them more like a child who is still sucking his/her fingers rather than a child who is defying a parent’s direct instruction. If disciplining ourselves for godliness means anything, it must be relevant when we feel undisciplined.

16. Location (Sin as My Escape)

When location is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our escape. The fantasy nature of all sexual sin makes it a perfect escape from an unpleasant location. We can “be there” and “not be there” at the same time. We get credit for attendance (or at least avoid the discredit of absence) without having to attend. We can mentally be with our lover while enduring the boring meeting, stressful kids, uninteresting spouse, lonely apartment, or other unpleasant setting.

Read Psalm 32: Notice the Psalm begins talking about an unpleasant place or time (v. 1-5). But rather than escaping, David ran to God (v. 7) and found the joy you are seeking through escape into sexual sin (v. 10-11). When we escape through sexual fantasy, we use our fantasy as a substitute God. We are, in effect, praying to and meditating on our sin during a time of hardship seeking deliverance.

17. Negative Self-Thoughts (Sin as My Silencer)

When negative self-thoughts are our trigger for sin, then sin becomes our silencer. In sexual fantasy (porn, romance media, or adultery partner), we are always desired and see ourselves through the eyes of the one desiring us. We give ourselves to them not just physically but also imaginatively. Because we know the relationship is short-lived we are willing to do this. If the relationship were permanent the power of silencing-effect would be diluted over the expanse of time and contradicted by our growing number of failures in his/her presence.

Read Psalm 103: Sin (or even a healthy human relationship) will never do  what only God can do. The ultimate “Peace, be still” to our negative self-thoughts is Christ’s death on the cross–affirming we were as bad as we thought, but replacing our deficiency with His righteousness. Sexual sin provides fantasy righteousness. It provides the kind of covering mocked in the classic children’s book The Emperor’s New Clothes.

18. Public (Sin as My Carnival)

When public is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our carnival. We walk through life like a kid at an amusement park; gawking at every person we see like a new ride or romantic adventure, making a clownish sexual innuendo out of every comment, or treating everything present as if it existed to entertain us and stimulate us sexually. Our private thoughts of fantasy become fueled by a hyper-sexualized interpretation of our surroundings.

The act of looking at porn is itself part of the succor it purports to offer. I can search for women who are available to me. I can choose between them like some sovereign being. It offers a sense of control. –Tim Chester in Closing the Window (p. 50)

Read Romans 1:24-25: Can you hear in the description of sex as my carnival what it means to have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (v. 25)”? God will give us over to this kind of lustful heart (v. 24). This is why a radical amputation of sin is a necessary and wise response to prevent sexual sin from becoming our carnival (Matt 5:27-30).

19. Weakness (Sin as My Power)

When weakness is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our power. The stimulation (both the physical and chemical changes associated with arousal) of sexual sin gives a façade of strength. Having another person delight in you also provides a veneer of significance. As with most of these motives/triggers, sex becomes a means to an end. Sex is no longer an expression of love but an attempt to gain something. That is always a recipe for dysfunctional, unsatisfying sex.

My pastor has preached that the primary issue in adultery is that you want someone else to worship you and serve you, to be at your beck and call. That resonated with me. I could see that theme in my fantasies. –Anonymous testimony in David Powlison’s Pornography: Slaying the Dragon (p. 15)

Read 2 Corinthians 11:30: Are you willing to boast (verbally put on public display) your weakness as a way to make Christ more known and live in more authentic relationships? That is the only freedom that will allow you to enduringly enjoy what you are seeking in sexual sin. If that sounds backwards to you, read what Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians (1:20-25) and ask yourself if your “wisdom” is getting you closer or farther from where you want to be.

Identifying Your Triggers

List and rank the top five motives/triggers for your sexual sin.

  1. __________________________________________________
  2. __________________________________________________
  3. __________________________________________________
  4. __________________________________________________
  5. __________________________________________________

Porn is always about a symptom of deeper issues. It’s about lust, but it’s also about anger, intimacy, control, fear, escape, and so on. Many of these problems will show up in other areas of a person’s life. –Tim Chester in Closing the Window (p. 109)

For some people the motive for their sexual sin will be very self-evident. Maybe you could quickly pick out the motive-triggers that deceive you into believing sin is “worth it” or will “work out” this time. For others, it requires reflection in the moment of temptation to discern what is luring them. If this is you, here’s a journaling tool from the False Love: Overcoming Sexual Sin from Pornography to Adultery seminar that is designed to help you understand your motives.

When we understand the motive for our sin, it allows us to hear the empty promises sin makes so we can turn to our loving Heavenly Father who is willing and able to fulfill those promises. I hope this post has helped you see the emptiness of sin so that you are prepared to embrace the fullness of God in the gospel.

The Emotional & Relational Cost of Addiction

SOURCE:  Chip Dodd

According to recent statistics gathered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 23.5 million Americans over the age of 12 cast about in daily life addicted to alcohol and/or illegal drugs.

That number does not include the millions of other Americans who are addicted to prescribed medications. Most people began taking prescribed drugs to mediate a physical or mental-emotional problem; then, the drugs became the primary problem, most notably narcotics and anti-anxiety medications. Even more, that 23.5 million people addicted to alcohol and/or illegal drugs does not include the millions of people involved in process-behavioral addictions to sex/pornography, gambling, food, and work. Many other subtler addictions that exact a cost upon society are denied or simply not recognized. They also add significantly to the millions not counted.

Speaking only about the 23.5 million addicts (saying “only” about 23.5 million anything seems absurd to me, but I want to remain specific) impact upon themselves and others, statistics indicate that for every one person addicted to alcohol and/or drugs, 3 to 4 other people in relationship with the addict experience life damaging effects. Any person who is relationally connected with an addict for an extended period of time will suffer some of the characteristics of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Predominantly family members directly suffer the emotional and relational, if not the physical and financial, impact of addiction. The impact of addiction upon this group centers on trauma, which, at core, suppresses the capacity for emotional and relational development. Think of the impact on children alone.

“Addiction temporarily allows one to avoid the vulnerability and insecurity of depending on others and God for relational fulfillment.”

Trauma basically means that a person will suffer some form of reaction that requires they hide their vulnerability to emotional expression and relational capacity for intimacy. They develop a distortion, distress, and distrust with their own sense of worth and acceptance of belonging and mattering. More simply put, they believe they have to perform to have worth or acceptance. They have to earn love, and rarely allow themselves truly to trust love when it is given. These characteristics, likewise, reside inside every addict at the core of their own emotional and relational makeup.

These people suffer the compulsion of trying to find a full life without knowing how to risk feeling all that is required to live a vibrant relational life. Symptoms of this core “need” for control can extend into myriad complicating results, such as stress illnesses, anxiety disorders, and depression. Addiction predicts the continuation of the next addiction and/or many other life-stifling consequences. Addiction is, tragically, a form of relationship, a self-cure for pain. It temporarily allows one to avoid the vulnerability and insecurity of depending on others and God for relational fulfillment. These counterfeit cures and fulfillments take control over the emotional vulnerability and insecurity required to live ably and fully in true relationship with others and God.

By multiplying the minimal number of 3 people impacted by addiction times the number of addicts estimated by SAMHSA, that number is 70.5 million people harmed emotionally and relationally by people trapped in their own emotional and relational maelstrom of addiction. By adding the 23.5 million to the 70.5 million, one can see the power of addiction and its devastating consequences. That number is 94 million people suffering emotional and relational distortions, distress, and distrust, all connected to one common denominator of addiction to alcohol and/or drug addiction alone. That number is greatly expanded by all the other addictions and their impact.

“Addiction and its impact is America’s number one internal problem.”

No matter how much we attempt to address our personal, family, community, and national problems without addressing addiction and its impact, we will fail. Addiction and its impact is America’s number one internal problem. Actually, it may be America’s epidemic. Ironically, one of the main characteristics of addiction is denial—will-bound blindness to what is literally, objectively occurring within the addict, and within the people associated with addiction.

We are a nation of people addicted, and a nation of people in denial. It becomes an ongoing repetition of retracing a circle. We cannot see the damage of addiction because of denial, which protects us from the emotional vulnerability of trauma, which exacerbates the “need” for relief from stress, which influences addiction, about which we are in denial. And on it goes.

We must see and feel beyond denial. We must see and feel our way into living with the capacity for full relationship, which requires the vulnerability of receiving and offering love, even the love that does not tolerate the denial of addiction and its impact. Unless we do, we perpetuate the problem.

Our society has four pillars of character and relational development: family, vocation, community, and faith. The four pillars today rest upon the sand foundation of addiction. No matter what we do to shore up the leaning pillars with a thousand different programs, we will crash unless we see and feel our way to a great national awakening of individuals addressing our foundational devastation.

Prescription Drug Abuse Among Older Adults May Be Difficult To Detect

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Joy Mali/Lifehack

Prescription drug abuse may not be as noticeable as other forms of substance abuse, but it still has very dangerous consequences. Even though a doctor may have prescribed a drug, it is still a chemical substance that can cause mental, physical, and emotional issues if incorrect or more frequent doses are taken.

Addiction does happen among seniors, and it is often undetected because caregivers and loved ones do not know the signs of prescription drug abuse among this age group.

What are the most commonly abused drugs?

Senior drug abuse typically falls into a few categories of medication that are frequently prescribed to seniors for various health conditions. Opioids are the most commonly abused type of prescription drug, and oxycodone, Vicodin, morphine, Percocet, and fentanyl are all addictive. Opioids are prescribed for seniors who are dealing with pain from surgery, arthritis, or other conditions.

Another common type of abused drug are stimulants, such as Ritalin or Adderall. Older adults are prescribed stimulants for narcolepsy and other disorders. Other frequently abused prescription drugs are benzodiazepines, such as Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin. Benzodiazepines are regularly prescribed for conditions such as anxiety and insomnia, yet they can be extremely habit forming.

What are the dangers of prescription drug abuse?

Drug abuse is particularly harmful to seniors because of their fragile health. Often, a medicine that is supposed to cure a minor health issue can eventually be abused, causing a potentially fatal health problem. The number of opioid-related deaths among seniors has increased sharply in the last ten years because it is easy to accidentally overdose on this type of medication. If a senior becomes dependent on benzodiazepines, they may have seizures once they stop taking the medication. Other forms of drug abuse can cause heart problems, organ failure and strokes.

How is senior drug dependency detected?

One of the main issues with the prescription drug abuse epidemic among seniors is that older adults do not show typical signs of drug dependency. If any behavior changes are observed, do not assume that they are merely caused by older age. It is important to seek medical help if an elderly loved one exhibits the following signs:

  • Trouble walking or poor balance
  • Repeatedly losing or misplacing medication
  • Demanding narcotic prescriptions for minor health problems
  • Sudden lack of hygiene and poor personal appearance
  • Seeming sleepy and disoriented
  • Poor vision with inability to read prescription instructions
  • Sudden weight loss and lack of appetite
  • Drastic personality alterations or extreme mood swings
  • No longer interested in socialization

Should seniors attend a treatment center?

Older people can become addicted to prescription medication just like anyone else and should receive treatment just like anyone else. Modern medical care makes it possible for seniors to live happy and healthy lives. It is therefore imperative for an older person to get the help they need to recover. At a prescription drug treatment center, they can receive assistance detoxing from the drug and learn how to cope with addiction. If medication is still required for a medical condition, a person can talk to their doctor about other, less addictive options.

Wrapping Up:

With more research illustrating the prevalence of substance abuse among senior citizens and the effectiveness of targeted treatment options, there is hope for families of aging loved ones concerned for their elderly loved one’s health and safety. Caregivers should be aware of the risk factors and potential warning signs to address suspected substance abuse as soon as it’s recognized so that treatment interventions can be discussed with clinicians as soon as possible.

Seven Things to Do After You Look at Pornography

SOURCE:  Paul Maxwell/Desiring God

A lot of Christian advice about porn addicts is unhelpful — meaning, it doesn’t contribute to real progress in repentance, healing, restoration, and recovery. Most of all, it fails to address the issues that underlie porn use. Often, Christian advice either has its head in the clouds of theology and biblical references, or is a list of superficial how-tos, and gets knocked beneath the sand of real life — of failure, and the struggle to hope.

How is the gospel relevant to failing and trying again? And failing and trying again? And failing and trying again?

We too often allow unattainable ideals to dictate what we allow ourselves to say — the issues we allow ourselves to address with the congregation, with the struggler, with the mirror. Are we allowed to talk about what Christ can do (and what we can do) right after pornographic indulgence? Or do we look to the clouds and hope for the best? “Why think about how God meets you in the midst of failure? You shouldn’t even be in an ‘after pornography’ situation.” But often many are and because God can and does act in the moment of regret.

It is often in the moment after the closed door, the darkness, the screen-light, the hidden act — after pornography indulgence — that Satan spins his most eloquent web: menacing patterns of thinking; bargaining with a disapproving and distant God; twisting us in on ourselves in self-hatred. It is in the moment after pornography indulgence that Satan does his finest work. It is in this moment that we need God to do his finest saving.

Here are some specific ways to search for grace the moment after the dark act of pornography indulgence:

1. Know your Enemy.

As soon as you indulge, you either plunge into self-hatred, or into self-avoidance.

Satan is satisfied either way.  Both paths believe his accusations (Matthew 16:23;2 Corinthians 7:10).

Recognize that you have a powerful personal agent who is singularly focused on your destruction (Job 1:7; Ephesians 2:2; Jude 1:19). Every experience you have — your thoughts, your hatreds, your impulses, your emotions, your plans, your ideas — must take into account that Satan is at work. The sooner you forget that, the easier it is to believe hidden, subversive, subtle, destructive lies. When Jesus tells the Pharisees that their father is the devil — the great liar — it is of course no surprise that they don’t know that. Satan wants them to forget that he is their father, because evil gains power when it is forgotten (John 8:44).

Don’t forget: After you indulge, you are still mid-battle with a tenacious, evil person bent on stealing your life, and he has not yet gotten it.

2. Fight self-hatred.

There is no question: Pornography is the twisted manipulation of innocence for the raw crave of erotic appetite. To have a grieved conscience is a good thing. But when Judas realized “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” it is not surprising that “he departed, and he went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:4–5).

It’s a common feeling: to want to punish ourselves for betraying the innocent. In twisting innocence, we twist ourselves. It is not a surprise that suicide rates are high among pornography users. “I’m not as good as Christian preachers and bloggers want me to be.” To warp human dignity, in the end, only warps the user more — psychologically deforming to self-hating; contorting into self-disgust. We abhor, criticize, despise, and detest ourselves. Wallowing in self-deprecation and feeling like paying penance to God for sin is a sad and ironclad torture. It is false, and it is a wicked oppression. But grace does have a word on this.

It is no wonder David uses such deeply physical metaphors when he pleads with God for grace over sexual sin: “blot out my transgressions,” “wash me,” “cleanse me,” “in sin did my mother conceive me,” “purge me,” “wash me” (again), “blot out my iniquities,” “create in me a clean heart.” (Psalm 51:1, 2, 5, 7, 9, 10). It’s a simple, roaring plea: “It’s in me. Get it OUT!” “Stop me.” “I hate it.” “I hate me.” “Bleach me.” God gives us a liturgy of sorrow and hope stretched out in the same howl. Fight, with David. Scream that, with David. Replace the groan of human self-hatred with an unbroken war cry of divine love.

If you are tempted to wallow, don’t let your (good) intuitive hatred of sin lead you to hate yourself. Be patient with yourself, because God is patient. He is fighting for your life (Genesis 32:24; John 10:10). He has not forgotten you. He has not left you. Keep fighting with him. Keep gasping for the air of divine life — the Life-Giving Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45).

3. Fight the haze.

Right after indulgence, a haze kicks in.  Jesus knows.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Purity is a feast on luminescent virtue. What is impurity? It is feasting that becomes self-isolated, avoiding of God and man and self, numbed, dazed, deadened, desensitized. Sexual impurity induces a spiritual cataract. Again, the feeling is common — browser history cleared, slogging through the rest of the day, lumbering from task to task, from person to person — meaningless, personless, passionless. This experience is integrated into the fabric of pornography indulgence.

There’s usually nothing to be done, if we’re honest, except ride the wave — the muddle, the daze. Keep praying (Ephesians 6:18). Keep gasping for air. Stay awake. Keep breathing. Morning mercies can be the emotional reset button we need when we spend our daily emotional cache on pornography (Lamentations 3:22–24). The lamenter is gasping. He prays what he cannot do. “The Lord is my portion . . . therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:24). Really? Will you hope in him? Prayer is an act of hope. The prayer is the lamenter’s portion of the Lord’s work. Keep taking a step forward. Keep taking a breath. Without repeated indulgence, the haze will eventually wear off.

4. Guard others.

Pornography is a training session in the skill of using others for personal pleasure. Just be aware that you are now inclined to use people in close relationship the same way you use those in pornography — with selfish motive, with neglectful attitude, unrepentantly.

Pornography puts relational blinders on us — it deeply impedes our ability to love others well. So, the best course of action is to walk as if we have physical blinders on: Tread slowly, and assume that we are currently very vulnerable and prone to treat those around us as subhuman. After indulgence, it is vital to keep in mind that those not on the screen deserve the respect and dignity that we just failed to show those on the screen.

Pornography soothes its users into a drama, a character, a story with a script and lines and actions: one person for pleasing, one person for being pleased; one person making sacrifices, another receiving sacrifices; one subhuman, one god. It takes self-control to remember that pornography is a false story — to fight the false drama which pornography gives to us, we must actively think less of ourselves and more of others: to remember human dignity, the love of Christ for those around us, our not-God-ness. The Spirit works in us to keep the flesh from ruling us (Galatians 5:17) — the Keeper protects others from the consequences of our thinking that we are God.

5. Confess to a friend.

Confess sin to a friend who will not excuse you, but equally as important, who will not crush you. Sometimes, when looking for help to get up after pornography indulgence (Proverbs 24:16), others only push back down. Find the friend that gives hope that heals when they hear confession. The purpose of confession is “that you may be healed” and “pray for one another” (James 5:16). Of course, the value of “the prayer of a righteous person” is that it “has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). Power to do what? To “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Confession to a friend (most appropriately, a same-gender friend) is not a barrier between the sinner and Christ, but a means of fixing brokenness. The wise sinner confesses to those who will not “crush the afflicted at the gate” (Proverbs 22:22) nor “call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Consider attending a regular Samson Society meeting in your area.

6. Use your clarity for good.

Yes, there might be a haze after indulgence. But there can also be a flood of clarity — the hindsight of regret.

“When Judas . . . saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind” (Matthew 27:3). Judas’s clarity took him down a wrong path. But you can use your clarity to get back on the right one. Likewise, Paul writes about Israel’s rebellion, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6). Sometimes, we desire evil anyway. And in that case, we serve as an example to ourselves.

As Piper might say, “Don’t waste your regret.” Use it for God’s glory and your joy. Set up boundaries. Use the clarity that will surely fade before the next moment of temptation to build structures that will prevent this again. Go back and forth all you’d like on what structures are dumb and ineffective, and which are sustainable preventative measures — the basic truth is this: If you don’t have any formal structures set up to prevent you from looking at pornography in the future, it will absolutely, with 100% certainty, happen again. If you have no structures, you have no place to be picky — choose something.

Here are some actions to choose from:

  • Get Covenant Eyes or X3Watch for all your devices.
  • Don’t let a single unaccountable browser app remain on your iPhone.
  • Delete in-browser apps that allow backdoor access to unaccountable internet use.
  • Get a friend to lock the app download function on your phone so that your native browser is not an option, and you can’t download Google Chrome (the Covenant Eyes/X3 app will function as the browser).
  • Delete pictures you have saved.
  • Tell a friend about the backdoors and cheat-codes you have in your back pocket. If you don’t plan at all, you’re planning to fail. Nowhere is this truer than in the practical fight against pornography indulgence.

7. Know your God.

Remember this: God loves you so, so much. He is unsettled by us (Genesis 6:6), and brokenhearted with us, and powerfully for you (Psalm 34:17–19).

The haze can block us from God: “The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand” (Psalm 92:6). But even when we cannot see him, even when we fail to obey him, let us pray: God, frustrate our plans to disobey (Nehemiah 4:15), and “no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). More than anything: “God, help us to cast all our anxieties on you, because you care for us” (1 Peter 5:6–7).

He does not abandon the sinner. He does not depart from the indulger. Wait in his love. “Build yourselves up . . . in the Holy Spirit”: “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 1:20–21). Know the difference between the God-mask Satan would wear to deceive you: disgusted, distant, unavailable, disinterested, and remember the face of your real God: loving, patient, working, unsurprised, unrelenting, unwavering in his grasp on you.

He won’t let you go.

Tag Cloud