Comments Back

Hey Friends!

Several of you informed me that the comments had been disabled on my blog. I have no idea what happened on that, since they were never disabled.

They now seem to be working, so if you would like to post comments, you may now post away!

Merry Christmas!

Peace On Earth? Really?

This is a video that we made for the Advent Season a couple of years ago - it's still relevant. Our world still desperately needs peace. So, how is it that we sing lines like, "Peace on earth, good will toward men" with straight faces? Given the current state of affairs in our world, can you see how people who are not followers of Jesus think we are fairly insane? Think about it for just a quick second - Peace on Earth - Where? Joy to the World - Where? Silent Night - Really? How many silent child births are you familiar with?

If you'd like to hear the sermon from last week that matches this video, follow this link.

In a world filled with chaos and more than it's share of pride, Jesus whispers peace. The world shouts "Pride!" The world shouts, "Image!" The world shouts, "SEX!" The world shouts, "Porn!" The world shouts, "Money!" Jesus whispers, "Peace." The world shouts "Protect yourself! Look out for your self!" Jesus whispers, "Die to your self."

The Gospel is always a paradox. The Gospel is always a conspiracy of grace.
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On Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Other Fun

Well, thanks for praying for me this week! The radio show went very well, once we got on the air. The engineer had some traffic problems getting to the studio that I was in, so it was a tad stressful, but we got hooked up to the studio in Minneapolis with a good 10 seconds to spare.

They have archived the broadcast if you would like to go back and hear it. It is available here.

Several of you have noticed the thread that resulted here as a result of the broadcast. You know, real life has a real way of testing and screwing with your theology. Boasting in weakness so that God can be glorified sounds so good, but then you have to do it, and it's not so easy.

Let me first point out that all of our interpersonal reactions with people can have far greater impact than we can imagine. That's a happy thought as long as that impact is positive, but long lasting negative impact is much harder to deal with. These are the things that can happen when we are in relationships only for what they can do for us.

Active addicts are usually narcissistic people, and sex addicts are some of the worst. It was definitely true for me. You see, addicts only feel loved or significant, when they are involved in their addiction. So, for me, I only felt loved if I was having sex. I had tragically confused sex with love and intimacy.

The sad truth is that I had no real honest relationships in my life because I felt so unlovable. I moved 14 times growing up, so I was always the new kid in town. In efforts to fit in and be accepted, I told a great many lies so that I could construct just the right mask. That became a repetitive pattern in my life, and I also used it for all of my relationships.

I so desperately wanted to be "impressive" but, the flip side was that I felt so unimpressive and insignificant. Add all of that to a porn addiction that started at age 8, and it becomes a pretty corrosive cocktail. Since I believed that love and sex were the same thing, and I felt unlovable, I felt trapped and that I would have to lie in order to get what I thought was love. It's ridiculous when you read it like that, isn't it? It's how I lived.

From lying about who my friends were to playing with concert acts, to playing minor league baseball, to having life threatening illnesses, to you name it. I was a constant liar desperate for acceptance, and sex. The cruel trick in all of that is that I told horrible lies to get women to have sex with me, but then felt so awful because I knew they didn't really have sex with me - they had sex with the mask that I showed them. It was all a lie, and I knew it.

And there's the trap. I felt unlovable and wanted to feel loved so the cycle would start over again. It's so sad, but that's a big part of how my life ran. There was always a mask - an image that I presented to people. Whether it was perfection, or some other equally ridiculous story, it was all a mask. The pressure that came from wearing the mask just created so many other problems in my life. It never solved my problems, it exacerbated them.

It is awful to admit, but again, this is why God is so incredible. That He would forgive me for all of that is so unbelievable, but that is the Gospel.

Occasionally, people from my past will pop up in the strangest ways. I'm always thankful for the opportunity to apologize for what I said, or did, to harm them. In coming days, I'll plan on posting parts of my story here so that those of you that don't know yet can understand.

Lots of you have seen me tell my story with the band that is "Spinal Tapestry." We are planning on professionally filming that sometime very soon. Hopefully, we can post segments of that here.

I did hurt many people because my focus was only on getting what I wanted with no regard to others around me. Unfortunately the addictive relationship dynamic is such that we are attracted to, and attract, codependent enablers. We are like magnets for each other, and that creates trouble in relationship. We are both wearing masks trying to get needs met by other people instead of by the Gospel.

Our needs can only be met in the context of the Gospel. The Gospel says we are deeply loved by God. The Gospel says we are significant because of what Christ did on the cross. The Gospel says that God's love for His children is unconditional. The Gospel says we are adopted, and nothing can be done to change that. The Gospel says that God knows everything about us - and He loves us anyway. He knows the truth about us, and He loves us anyway. It just doesn't get any better than that. He is incredible.

The Gospel says, you don't need to wear a mask because God knows the real you, and He loves the real you because He created you, and you bear Him image. He knows all of your imperfection and sin, and loves you anyway. That is intimacy, and isn't that what we all really want?

And when the Gospel begins to work in our relationships as well, things get really great. My wife knows all of my stuff and loves me anyway. We understand that we are broken and flawed people that are saved by grace. It's a wonderful thing, and it is a freeing thing. Once I told her everything and we both got into recovery, we discovered what true intimacy is, and that is so much better than anything this world can offer. Again, it's the Gospel. It is not just behavior modification - it's a heart transformation.
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Back on the Radio

Hey Friends,

Please pray for me as I'm going back on the radio this Thursday afternoon. I will be on a show that airs throughout the midwest called, "Along the Way with Kim Jeffries." Kim is a featured speaker at the Ruth Graham conferences that I have started doing recently.

She is very transparent about her life, so you know I appreciate her! She made the decision to have an abortion when she was younger, and carried that by herself for over 23 years, and now ministers to the thousands of women that feel guilt and shame from making the same choice. She is a woman who understands the radical grace of the Gospel of Jesus.

The show can be heard by clicking here and then clicking on the listen online link on the right side of the page. I hope to be taking some calls while on the air, so call in!

I'll be on from 12:15 to 12:45 Central Standard Time. Please listen in, and most of all, please pray that God will be glorified and that slaves will be set free tomorrow!

Thank you!

The Original Podcaster

Podcasting has become quite a big deal, hasn't it? It's changing media culture, and how information is disseminated. It is good and bad, and you have to be careful who you trust in podcast land. Podcasting has exploded onto the scene, and there are now thousands upon thousands of podcasts available on the internet.

But do you know who the original podcaster is? Go check out Luke 15 and start reading in verse 11. Go ahead...I'll wait here, and listen to a podcast while you read. Ok, did you see it? Luke 15:16 says, "And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything." Jesus is telling the parable of the prodigal son here, so I know it's a fictional story, but it is still the words of Jesus, and they are therefore important and intentional.

What did you notice about the pods? They were what the pigs ate, and no one would give the Prodigal any, but he longed to be fed with them. He was totally dependent. He couldn't eat them himself. Have you ever been that hungry?

Because I believe in the Sovereignty of God, and that He provides everything that we need. So, I believe He provided the pods for the Prodigal. But wait - He wanted someone to give him some, but no one did, right? How then do I say God provided?

Well, it was at that moment that the Prodigal realized that His Father fed slaves better than this. He realized he had reached bottom, and it was time to go home. God is the ultimate provider in our lives. He promises to give us what we need, and He knows what we need before we do. Jesus is giving us a picture in this parable of how God provides what we need, which is not always what we want.

The Prodigal wanted to eat the mud covered pods, but what he needed was an incentive to go home. A quick boot to the head to wake him up. I think when you hear yourself say out loud, "Hmmm, those mud covered pods are looking pretty tasty," you have reached a turning point in life. God provides us those turning points. God casts those pods before us.

What was it for you? What's the podcast he used to get your attention? Was it a certain type of porn you swore you would never sink to? Was it getting caught in a lie? Was it the departure of a spouse? Maybe it was an arrest. Maybe it was time in prison. Maybe it was the realization that you had absolutely no control over your life. The Prodigal realized that his Father was infinitely better than living in the far country. He went home - and you can too.

Your Father in Heaven is providing for you. He doesn't always provide what you want, but he does provide what you need. Sometimes what you need is a pod cast from Him to bring you to your senses. He is, after all, the original podcaster.

Apology To Subscribers

Hey Friends,
The post I wrote on Temptation was a little screwy. I was sitting in bed writing, with my wife asleep next to me. I wasn't sleepy when I started writing, but I did start nodding off towards the end.

After waking up this morning, I read the post in my newsreader, and was fairly stunned at the last few paragraphs. They made little to no sense, as you may be aware! I did go back and at least attempted to try to make some sense out of it this morning.

So, you may want to go to the site and read the corrected post.

Thanks for understanding!
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Wow - It's been awhile. Sorry!

So, let's get started. What's temptation to you? Most of us can quickly scare up a list of the standards - Ummm, Porn, Pride, Drugs, Lying, Cheating, Stealing, Eating, etc.,

Maybe for you temptation takes the form of a Ginsu Knife - who can blame your, right? Those things cut through tin cans, tennis shoes, and then cut a tomato! So, on second thought, I'm not sure if that's temptation, or good stewardship. I can't tell you the number of times I have sliced, well actually hacked away at, my shoe, and then - with that very knife - tried to cut a tomato. It NEVER works. Not because it's not a good idea - because it is - I mean who can deny the infusion of flavor that comes from using a knife that just cut through a shoe, to slice a tomato. Just imagine the salty goodness!

Back to my original question - what is tempting to you? Actually, what is temptation to you? Bonhoeffer said that temptation is not Satan's attempt to get man to hate God - it is his attempt to get man to forget about God, if only for a second. Ouch. So, anything that can distract us from God is temptation. So, what distracts you from God?

It would seem that good things can also be temptations. What about kids? Friends? Religion? Even Bible Study? What things does our enemy use to distract you from God? What "good" things does he use to distract your from God.

That gets a lot less comfortable, doesn't it? C.S. Lewis was right in The Screwtape Letters. Demons need only keep us distracted, and they have won.

Martin Luther wrote in his classic Hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" that we are to let, "goods and kindred go..." What? Is it possible that good things and even our own family can distract us from Kingdom issues? Ummm, yeah.

Notice the piece of art from famous artist and mathematician, Albrecht Duerer. The knight is clearly beset by beings that obviously appear to be demons. They usually are a bit more undercover than that, but if we've identified them and know who they are and what they look like, we should have an easier time with them, right? It would be great if it really did work that way, wouldn't it. Truth is, we get way too familiar with some of those demons, and they actually can become friends, can't they?

The knight in this picture is not focusing on the demons, the temptations, or even the mansion on the hill. His focus is straight ahead - exactly where ours should be. We must battle distraction. We have to keep our focus on God and His Grace. Notice his helmet is acting as a blinder - In our gospel armor, he is wearing the Helmet of Salvation, and it is acting as a blinder and keeping him focused.

Do you see how our enemy works? Distraction. It's not always the big obvious temptation. It's a very slow burn when we walk away, and lose touch with the Gospel and our communities.

The good news is that Jesus understands. That' s why he gave us this marvelous model prayer in Matthew 6. "lead us not into temptation." Jesus understands temptation well as he was put through what we all go through. He took on flesh and came to walk this earth and was tempted in every way that we are. EVERY way. That has some pretty tough implications, doesn't it? Don't be afraid of that thought - embrace it and be comforted by it! Jesus was tempted in every way, but he withstood the temptation. If we have his power living in us, then what does that mean? It means we can too, through his power!

His grace is more than sufficient, if we will keep our focus set on Christ. When we take our focus off of Christ, just like Peter did when he walked out on the stormy waves, we sink. When our focus shifts off of God, bad things happen, don't they?

Notice the fact that the Knight here is not engaging the demons. He is not talking with them, he is not fighting them. He is not slowing down to look at them. What would happen if he stopped to fight the demons around him? His forward progress would be stopped! He would not be following where Christ is leading him. Isn't that true for us? SO many times we engage the temptations and distractions around us, and our forward progress in the Gospel is stopped.

Also, when we start to engage the temptations and distractions, it is not long before we lose the battle. Why? Because our focus is not where it should be - on Christ.

Never lose sight of the fact that Jesus loves you, and is still the only one that can keep us from Temptation. It's great! If he commands us to pray asking God to Lead Us Not into Temptation, then he assumes the responsibility to fulfill the prayer. How long since you really prayed that way? Maybe today is a great day to start...

Please Pray

Hey Friends,

Would you please pray for me on Friday, November 9? I'm going to be on the Dale and Jena radio show from Noon to 1:00PM CST. If you are in the Birmingham area, please tune in to 92.5 FM and listen.

If you're not in the Birmingham area, you can listen online by clicking here

Thanks for praying for me as we try to bring glory to God by sharing my story. Pray that cell doors swing open for those trapped in prisons of porn.

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Virtual Sexuality

I'm taking a little time away from everything right now. That's new for me. The concept of a sabbath rest. Working two jobs and taking calls and e-mails from people trapped in prison of porn has made me more tired than I have ever been in my life. Honestly, I had never been more physically and emotionally fatigued than I was last Sunday.

God graciously provided a place for me down at the beach to just sit and be alone. It has been a great week of nothing. I've been sitting in a little coffee shop down here in Gulf Shores, Alabama called "The Dizzy Bean." I'm not quite sure who made the rule that coffee shops have to have names like that, but I am thankful for the reminder that grace applies to them to. Shocking, but true.

One of the things I like to do, but haven't in awhile is to go to movies by myself. So, yesterday I did just that. As I sat there watching the trailers of upcoming movies, I was surprised by what I saw. Coming out soon is an adaptation of Beowulf. This is computer animated with what looks to be the same process as The Polar Express.

Did that creep anyone out besides me? That movie and those Charles Schwab commercials with the animation really creep me out.

Anyway, a couple sitting behind me watched the preview as they loudly crunched their popcorn, the wife leaned over to her husband and said, "Look how real that looks. It's amazing how real that is."

I was surprised by that comment, but then I remembered how often we all say that. Most of us say it in reference to all of the improvements in video game technology. "It just looks so real." I even said it about Mattel's Intellivision video game system when I was in high school. It was a joke, but we all marveled at how real it looked in comparison to Atari and their silly little Space Invaders.

There were several previews of upcoming films, and a commercial for a new video game with this computer generated animation. The wife continued to say each time, "Look at that. It just so real."

I started to question it in my head each time she spoke - which was a lot. Each time she said it, a little voice in my head responded, "Really?"

What is going on in our world that we prefer virtual reality to reality? In movies it allows characters to do things that actual actors couldn't do, and it allows effects to be carried out without risking the lives and limbs of stunt people. But is it really real?

Real has risk. Real requires risk.

Reality TV isn't always all that real either. It was recently disclosed that MTV's The Hills is not even close to being real. The past season of Big Brother was not real. The producers changed the rules on the fly to ensure the final two that they wanted. What media puts in front of us as reality seldom is real.

Porn, my friends, is not real. It is a projection of reality that is beyond fake. We want to convince ourselves that it is real, but it is not. It is sex outside of relationship. It is sex devoid of intimacy, and where there is no intimacy there is no reality.

We flock to porn and label it as real, and many want it to be real. We want to believe that sex is really like that. We use to label porn as fantasy, but no longer. It is labeled reality, and there is now a whole genre of pornography centered around "reality." But it is not real.

People are still being paid. People are still being objectified and scripted. People are still being exploited, and people are still addicted.

We get addicted to this false reality, and then don't know how to cope with actual reality. This virtual reality makes actual reality seem so disappointing. We actually begin to crave virtual reality over actual reality because it looks better. Isn't that exactly how porn works?

Reality, my friends, requires risk. The risk of intimacy. The risk of letting our masks fall and allow people to see who we really are. That's reality. That's intimacy. It's not virtual reality - it's actual reality. It is scary, and it is risky but it's real.

When you step out and live life like that people will look at you and say, "Look how real he/she is. They are just so real."

It's SO much better and more exhilarating. Take the risk, it's worth it.

Come on - get real.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

Hello Friends,

It's been a couple of weeks, so sorry for my absence. It has taken a bit to recover from the trip to Grande Prairie Alberta. So, nice to be back and to have a thought or two that are not of sleep.

Last night at Tapestry, we had a very special time of worship. Have you ever had one of those worship experiences? God was very gracious to our community last night, and I was so happy to be a part of it.

We talked last night about 7 words. Jesus has these 7 words right in the middle of what we call "The Lord's Prayer," which we really should call The Disciples' Prayer.

You know, on the surface it seems out of place, doesn't it? The prayer opens with these gargantuan themes of hallowing God's name, Kingdom and the expansion of God's reign and then there's a request for bread, and then we return to these huge themes of forgiveness and temptation and deliverance from evil.

So, in the center, Jesus places a request for bread. Have you ever uttered that phrase and really meant it? Honestly? Most of us, if you are reading from America, have no clue what it is like to really be desperate for bread. Look at us, we are the most obese nation on earth - many of us should be asking for our daily small salad with no dressing. We clearly don't really understand hunger - or do we?

We know hunger for things that we don't need. We know hunger for things we want - and that's why we spend so much time in prayer asking God for what we want. And then are those things that we don't ask God for because we know He does not want us to have. You know - like porn, or sexual relationships, or a second third or fourth helping of our daily bread.

Mick Jagger was right - you can't always get what you want, but if you'll try sometimes, you just might find - you get what you need. God will always provide what we truly need.

The Hebrews knew need. They knew what it was to be hungry, and desperately so. God then provided for them on a daily basis. No more - no less. You know, when we lose sight of daily desperate need, we lose sight of God.

Elijah knew daily need. During a draught God fed him by having ravens bring his daily ration of food. I love the humor in that. Ravens don't share food - they attack it. That's why we get our word ravenous from them. I just know that God had a good time with that one.

The people listening to Jesus as he spoke these words knew the need for daily bread. They worked mostly as day laborers. They got paid each day for their work, and it was only enough for them to eat. These are concepts that are just foreign to us in the west, aren't they?

It seems like such a minor thing, but that is part of the incredibly profound nature of these words. Because Jesus has met our ultimate need by dying on a cross for us, we have been adopted by God. Adopted. We are now children of the King - redeemed. Captured from hell. Joint heirs with Christ.

Because Jesus has done that for us, our Father cares about our most basic needs, and meets them. He is meeting them before we are even aware of them. Isn't that amazing? Not like laundry detergent amazing - but truly amazing?

We have trouble trusting that, don't we? You know, when older children come home from orphanages, they have some trouble adjusting to their new family life. They have been used to fighting for food in the orphanage because it can be scarce. They hover over their plates and watch everyone closely. Move toward their plate and they may stab you with a fork. They will also stuff their pockets with food since they don't know when they may eat again.

Parents are baffled by this and don't know what to do. They ask, "Do they not know we have plenty of food and we would never allow them to go hungry?" Then they ask the big question, "Don't they trust us?"

We are so much like that, aren't we? We don't trust God to provide for our needs. We lose sight of the relationship we have with Him. We concentrate on the pennies in His hand as opposed to holding His hand. The relationship guarantees that our needs will be met.

We might not get what we want, but if we try sometimes, we just might find...we get what we need.

Tal in the Great White North

Hey friends,

SO, I just finished the Ruth Graham and Friends event in Grand Prairie, Alberta, Canada. We had a really nice time here, and what's a trip through Canada without a swing out to Timmy's! You know I'm a loyal Krispy Kreme guy, but The Tim Horton Donut is in its' own league. We must tip our hat to Timmy, friends.

The conference went well, and I made some new friends here. The key is that several people came forward wanting to break free from pornography/sex addiction. That is a great day! It's amazing to watch God redeem and bring glory to himself through my rank disobedience over the years of my struggle.

There's such confusion around justification and sanctification everywhere. Even in the Great White North, eh?

When we surrender to the call of the Holy Spirit, and accept the gift of God's astounding mercy and grace that was paid for by the death of Jesus, we are immediately justified. Our sin debt is cancelled out, and we can never owe again. NEVER. We don't OWE God. How could we? How could we pay? And if we could pay, why would we need Him, right? We are found Just in the eyes of God, because we are then hidden in the powerful blood of Jesus Christ. God looks at us and sees his Son. Amazing, I know. It's "just as if I'd" never done anything wrong. We are given the righteousness of Christ. That's why our righteousness does exceed that of the Pharisees - it's not us or what we do or don't do - It's about Jesus and what He did.

We are not, however, sanctified at that moment. Sanctification is becoming like Christ. That process is with us as long as we continue to sin which is as long as we live on this earth. Until Christ returns to set up His eternal reign on earth, we will struggle, sin and put it in the ditch.

I had this talk a million times here in Grand Prairie, and I'll have it as many times back home. It's difficult for some to understand - especially in addiction circles. You hear it when people say, "I'm delivered from that. I am not in recovery - I am recovered and no longer struggle."

Now hear me carefully - I do believe that can happen. I know a few people that have been miraculously healed and delivered from various addictions, but that is not the normal way out. Remember Paul and the thorn in his flesh here. We still struggle with things to remind us of our total dependence on Christ.

When we talk like that, those that are still struggling with an addiction suddenly begin to fear they may not be believers - they may not yet be justified. NO! You are justified at surrender. Sanctification takes the rest of your life.

I am still powerless over porn and sex. If I allow any other thought than that, I will fall. My only hope for victory is the constant empowerment of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in m life. His presence with me enables victory. It's the Gospel. It's only the Gospel and it is ALWAYS the Gospel that frees us, but the Gospel is not just a one time thing.

The Gospel is life - it's how we must live day in and day out. It's not just about one time salvation and eternal security. It's strength and the empowering presence of Christ right here, right now.

I'm sitting in an airport on the net right now. What's to keep me from surfing porn? The Gospel. Not me. Not my will. Not an acrostic. Not a formula. It's desiring God's glory more than the satisfaction of my flesh. That only comes from having seen glimpses of God's glory and that comes only through relationship with Him which comes only through the Gospel. You see, it's always about Jesus, isn't it? It really is. It is only about Jesus.

I don't steer clear of porn because I'm afraid God is going to punish me. I steer clear of porn because I have Jesus. I am becoming more and more like Christ as I die to my will. I want that more than sex or porn now.

We have all prayed and prayed and prayed "God please just take this desire away from me." He is not going to. He may, but that's not the normal way. He is waiting for us to desire the relationship with Him and His glory, more than our flesh. And we're back to the prodigal.

The prodigal wished his Father dead by asking for his inheritance. He wanted his satisfaction more than the relationship with his Father. And very often, so do we. But there is the Father, waiting at the gate every single time.

So do you need to come home today? Desire that relationship with Him, and His glory, and He'll run to you. Trust me. Make that step...

The Black Knight is Vincible! (and so are you)

Ok, so this is you fighting porn/sex alone. Maybe you are an addict, and maybe you are not, but if you try and fight it alone, this is what you look like. Really, if you fight any sin issue alone in your life, this is what you look like. The Gospel, my friends, is meant to be lived in community. We are to be Proverbs 27:17 people - iron sharpening iron. We are to encourage each other on in the race to win the prize.

This clip is such a great metaphor. The Black Knight initially does not talk with his adversary - that was the right call. But then, he engages in conversation, and ultimately in combat, and he winds up a bloody stump in complete denial. How many times have you been there?

Your alone, and the urge hits. You try and shut it down, or walk away from the computer. That's the right call. Even better is to call your friends and accountability team. But you don't, and soon the rationalizing begins and you stay at the computer, and you are engaging. Well, I'll just look at a splash screen, and then I'll stop. An arm falls off, and you claim it is only a scratch. Hours later, there you are, a bloody stump in denial.

Think about it - when you isolate yourself from your community, isn't that when you get into the most trouble?

Watch this, get a laugh, and get a point. None of us are invincible...

Fight alone, and you wind up a bloody stump in complete denial. It's just that simple.

More Prayer Please

Hey Friends,

I'm getting ready to leave to speak at a Sex Addicts Anonymous Retreat tonight. I love these events, because I love these types of groups.

All too often, a real solid recovery group looks a whole lot more like the church than the church does. Full on acceptance regardless. It's truly remarkable, and it is incredibly inspiring - something corporate worship should aspire to, but our masks get in the way.

The challenge to these groups is to talk about God in the general sense. I'm a bit handcuffed by not really being able to hammer the Gospel, and if you've ever heard me speak, you know that's really difficult for me to do.

Pray that I will be sensitive, yet bold where necessary. Please also pray for protection and courage as I tell my story. It's always difficult and draining, and the accuser is often close behind. Pray that I will remember that all of that happened, "Before Love Came to Town." Pray that some of these men may be changed by the power of the Gospel tonight.

I'll be up at 7:30 CST.


Please Pray and Listen if You Can

Today, I will be on a local radio and television show hosted by Alabama State Senator, Hank Erwin. He is a conservative talk show host, who read my articles on pornography for a state denominational newspaper.

I am very nervous about this appearance as I am just not sure what to expect. He is dedicating the full hour program to interviewing me about pornography and sexual addiction, which I am happy to hear.

I was initially not going to accept this invitation, but some wise friends asked me the following questions - "Is there a chance that somebody could be helped by your appearance on the show?" I answered "Yes." Then they asked, "Is there a chance that anybody, other than you, could get hurt by your appearance on the show?" I answered, "No." They then each said, "Well isn't that the Gospel? That you get hurt so that others can be helped? Is it modeling Christ to avoid the show, or appear?" Ouch. So I called and said I would do it.

If you have the time and opportunity, please pray for me. Please pray that God is glorified and the Gospel will go forth. Please pray that people will be helped, and that I will be gracious and humble in my responses.

The show airs on 92.5 FM in Birmingham from 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM CST. You can listen online by clicking here and then clicking the listen online button in the upper right hand corner of the screen. If, like me, you use a mac, know that you'll have to download windows media player and use safari for this to work. (PC stands for piece of crap, by the way)

Thank you for praying!

Ok, so if you don't know, I love to visit Post Secret.
Every Sunday morning my newsreader delivers the most recent artistic confessional gems to me over a cup of coffee. A quick warning here - be careful, at times there can be some fairly explicit imagery there. It's not safe for everybody, so be careful, k?

Now, look at this one. Have you ever been like that? Are you like that now? I could identify with this postcard so well, but I would have had to add one for church - what about you?

For so much of my life, I wore masks, or different personalities, depending on where I was. Have you ever been that desperate for people to accept you? Have you ever taken on personality traits that weren't really yours just to fit in? It used to be my life.

I was so convinced that nobody would like the real me, that I tried different personalities in order to be accepted. The worst part about that was that when I got alone again, I knew the "me" people liked was not really me. Then I was trapped. Because if they found out I was lying - they would reject me. The very things I was doing in order to be accepted would, in fact, get me rejected.

Luther wrote that if we could keep the first two commandments, we would keep all the others by default. Those first two, for those of you scoring at home, are: You shall have no other gods before me, and You shall not bow down to idols. (the second is a loose paraphrase)

I think Luther was absolutely right. Idolatry is a powerful force in our culture, and we have more idols than we realize. Just because they are not carved or something tangible does not mean we are not guilty of idolatry.

My god for so long, was my own image. When I chose to wear masks in order to get others to accept me, I was putting myself before God. I was, in effect, worshipping myself instead of God. I was denying the reality of the gospel in my life because I was finding my significance in the opinions of others instead of in Christ.

I was not accepting the fact that Jesus Christ died on a cross knowing full well who I was. That God created me in His image, and was so consumed with the pursuit of His own glory that He sent His son to pay the penalty for my fallen nature and reestablish our relationship.

God did not save me because He has good taste. He saved me because He is incredibly gracious and merciful, and it says much more about His glory that He would choose me.

So often we wear masks in church and in our community in an effort to get others to love and accept us. What more love and acceptance could we ever receive than the Gospel? How could we possibly have more acceptance than knowing that Jesus died for us knowing full well who we were going to be?

That is the intimacy of the Gospel! That is intimacy! True acceptance. Jesus knows the real you and the real me. Jesus loves the real you and the real me. He died for the real you and the real me.

This is why Paul instructs us to boast in our weaknesses - so that the Gospel can be magnified and God can be glorified. We are all imperfect. We are all broken. There is no point scale for sin, and none of us is better - or worse - than anyone else.

The freedom in the Gospel means we can drop all of the fake personalities. We can drop the masks and stop worshipping ourselves. How can we worship ourselves when we can not save ourselves? How can we not worship the true God who died for us, and rose from the dead to give us the gift of eternal life?

Drop the masks, and let them fall. Life gets much easier when we live out the Gospel.

Communion, Union, and You

There is a book coming out shortly by the puritan theologian John Owen entitled Communion With the Triune God. These paragraphs are from Kelly Kapic's forward. Thanks to my friend, Matt Adair for posting this on his fine blog.

"...note that Owen maintains an essential distinction between union and communion. Believers are united to Christ in God by the Spirit. This union is a unilateral action by God, in which those who were dead are made alive, those who lived in darkness begin to see the light, and those who were enslaved to sin are set free to be loved and to love. When one speaks of “union,” it must be clear that the human person is merely receptive, being the object of God’s gracious action. This is the state and condition of all true saints. Communion with God, however, is distinct from union. Those who are united to Christ are called to respond to God’s loving embrace. While union with Christ is something that does not ebb and flow, one’s experience of communion with Christ can fluctuate. This is an important theological and experiential distinction, for it protects the biblical truth that we are saved by radical and free divine grace. Furthermore, this distinction also protects the biblical truth that the children of God have a relationship with their Lord, and that there are things they can do that either help or hinder it. When a believer grows comfortable with sin (whether sins of commission or sins of omission) this invariably affects the level of intimacy this person feels with God. It is not that the Father’s love grows and diminishes for his children in accordance with their actions, for his love is unflinching. It is not that God turns from us, but that we run from him. Sin tends to isolate the believer, making him feel distant from God. Then come the accusations—both from Satan and self—which can make the believer worry that he is under God’s wrath. In truth, however, saints stand not under wrath but in the safe shadow of the cross.

While a saint’s consistency in prayer, corporate worship, and biblical meditation are not things that make God love him more or less, such activities tend to foster the beautiful experience of communion with God. Giving in to temptations and neglecting devotion to God threaten the communion but not the union.And it is this union which encourages the believer to turn from sin and to the God who is quick to forgive, abounding in compassion, and faithful in his unending love. Let there be no misunderstanding—for Owen, Christian obedience was of utmost importance, but it was always understood to flow out of this union and never seen as the ground for it. In harmony with Bunyan and other dissenters like him, Owen “insisted upon a very personal and emotional experience of union with Christ and the Holy Spirit,” and out of this union naturally flowed active communion."

This is such a key distinction, and I am grateful for the reminder of this truth. It is helpful for all of us who daily battle the flesh and the idolotry of addictions.

One of the key factors of addiction is isolation. We never act out in community, but we isolate ourselves from those that truly love us, and get alone, or with other addicts so that we can worship an unworthy god that is unable to save us or fix us. A god that wants to destroy and kill us. Remember the prodigal - he left the loving relationship with his Father in order to do what he wanted to do. He left unconditional, undying, eternal love for the temporary, conditional and powerless love of the world.

How many times have you acted out with your little g god, and then felt immediately that the true God was now so upset with you that you were now surely bound for hell? Or maybe you have felt that He was so mad at you that he would want nothing to do with you. You're already in the pig-sty, you already stink, so no way you can go home - your Father wants nothing to do with you now, so you may as well stay, right?

So often while I was in active addiction, I thought that God would have nothing to do with me. I also convinced myself that he hated me as a result of my actions and that I no longer deserved salvation. Do you ever feel like that?

My raging narcissism as an addict drove me to actually believe that my salvation was determined by me and what I did or didn't do. It's easy for us to forget God's sovereignty isn't it? We don't even realize we are doing it - it's a very subtle shift that the accuser uses to undermine good theology. "Oh, God can't love you for that. It's all over for you because you just looked at porn. So, you may as well keep looking at it since you're already damned."

Kapic's summary of John Owens' book should provide immense comfort to you! Remember that your salvation is based on the grace of God, not you. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, your redemption is the work of Christ, not you. That's a great truth, isn't it?

Eugene Peterson's translation of John 10:25-30 reminds us, "
Jesus answered, "I told you, but you don't believe. Everything I have done has been authorized by my Father, actions that speak louder than words. You don't believe because you're not my sheep. My sheep recognize my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them real and eternal life. They are protected from the Destroyer for good. No one can steal them from out of my hand. The Father who put them under my care is so much greater than the Destroyer and Thief. No one could ever get them away from him. I and the Father are one heart and mind."

Our salvation is never in danger, once God has transformed our hearts. Our relationship with God, however, is affected by our actions. We can't do anything to make God love us any more, or any less, but we can affect our communion with God. That's why abiding in the vine is so important.

It is in that abiding communion with God that we are made more like Christ. That's not work we can do on our own. That's why Jesus said, "Apart from me, you can do nothing." If we choose to isolate ourselves from God, and not engage in our relationship with our own creator, then the relationship is damaged. But we are the ones who damaged it.

And we come back to the conspiracy of grace - Our Father is waiting at the gate for us to come back home from the pig-sty.

How many times have you asked God to take the desire away from you? We then subtly blame God for our addiction because He is not taking the desire away. Just like the Father was waiting for his son to want to come home, to want relationship with him, Our Father waits for us to desire Him above our own pig-stys. I am firmly convinced, my friends, that God does not take our sinful desires away from us - He waits for us to desire Him and His Glory above all else. When we do that, He sweeps in with His astounding and empowering Grace. The prodigal desired his relationship with his Father, and the Father ran to meet, embrace and clothe him.

Come home, prodigal. Come home.

The Upside of Karma Sucks, Too

All of our world religions have a concept of Karma. Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and others, including "The Secret" have this idea that what goes around comes around. "The Secret" takes this idea and puts it on steroids, doesn't it?

The concept that "The Universe" is obligated to respond to your energy, be it positive of negative is just a new way of saying what goes around comes around. It just has a splash of prosperity gospel thrown in to make it extra appealing, and to remind us that it's really all about our satisfaction and joy.

We love this upside of Karma, don't we? Who doesn't understand the downside, right? Hey, if you are mean, people will be mean to you and there is a nice neat little package o' justice. So, the flip side is that if we are good, good things will happen to us and that, too, is justice. Our actions determine everything - it's all up to us and we're much more comfortable there.

So what could be the problem with that? Well, in a word, Jesus. He doesn't allow for the downside, or the upside, of Karma. As Bono says so brilliantly in Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas, "Karma is at the very center of the universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap so will you sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff."

Karma can not save us. Karma will not save us. Jesus can, and will save us. Karma is a harsh taskmaster, my friend. Jesus, by contrast, says "my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

So those of us who follow Christ then settle in to the idea that our sins have been paid for. We like that part, because the downside of Karma has now been abolished. That, is a great day! We love the security of knowing that our bad choices and all of the crap we have put into the world is paid for. We drop that burden quickly.

So why do we not take it full circle? Why do we hold on for the upside of Karma? We want to believe that in the work of Jesus on the cross that the downside of Karma is gone, but we still want that upside. We want to be rewarded and recognized for the good stuff we do. To be honest, that's why a lot of us go to church. We go to check the box, and wait for our gold star, goldfish crackers, stickers, or whatever other device our parents used to bribe us with.

Many of us have turned the gospel into this equation, haven't we? There's no downside, right? All the rewards with none of the risks. God rewards our good behavior and won't punish us for bad choices. Woo-Hoo!

Then to show our true selfish nature, the reward of Heaven is not enough for us. We want more. We want and need the recognition of man. We hire PR agents, or manipulate our friends into doing that work for us, to make sure that none of our good deeds go unnoticed.

But Jesus says in Matthew 6 that we are to do things in secret. We are not to look for reward here, our reward is salvation! Our reward is the Kingdom! Our reward is the very heart of God Himself! And we strive for a pat on the back.

Our pride destroys the beauty of our actions. Pride destroys beauty my friends.

If you know me, you know that I'm a reality TV whore. I'll watch almost anything...except for the ones that are fronts for soft-core porn. I can't handle those things, so I stay away from them.

Anyway, I saw an episode of Kathy Griffin's My Life on the D-List this year where she wanted to go and give away money to struggling working mothers downtown L.A. And that would have been a beautiful thing. Here's the problem - for her, it was a publicity stunt. Her whole motivation for giving the money was to get press. Her assistants called the newspapers, networks, and paparazzi to document the good deeds.

When we wish to be rewarded for "good deeds" the true motivation is exposed - our ego. We want the stroke, and we deny God the glory of revealing His heart to a broken and hurting world.

It's our own little blend of capitalism and Christianity, isn't it?

Did You Ever Have That Feeling...

It has been a wild week here in my world, what about you? I just have the feeling that things are about to happen, and that God is starting to open doors.

The articles that I wrote have started appearing in the Alabama Baptist, and to be honest, I am very surprised that they are actually running them. My hat is off to Dr. Bob Terry for having the courage to address this topic. He told me that he was scared to run them, but he knew that it needed to be done.

As a result of those running, I have been interviewed by a local news station, two men have contacted me about how we may work together in the fight to help people break free from sex and porn addiction, and an author came to interview me for a chapter in her upcoming book.

The TV interview was awkward, but what can you expect? Ken Lass, the reporter, does free lance work for the local NBC affiliate here in Birmingham. Because he's a freelancer, he doesn't have a videographer - why does that matter you ask? It means he doesn't have lighting and that means that we had to do it outside. Why does that matter you ask? Because it was 107 degrees outside and I was facing the sun. Nice.

He was very nice and apologized profuseley, and it was no picnic for him either. I laughed and said, "No this is great, really. A sweaty guy constantly squinting his eyes talking about porn - what could be better, right? Could you give me a trench coat to complete the picture?"

We had a nice time and the story aired last night, and it will run two more times tomorrow. Please pray that people learn that they can get help, and that God is glorified.

I am excited about the new contacts with others involved in the fight to free those in the grip of pornography. One is from Tuscaloosa, and the other is local. Please pray for discernment and for God's will to be clear in these meetings.

My favorite meeting of the week was actually with Denise George. She has written over thirty books and hundreds of articles, and is currently working on a new project for Zondervan on the topic of what pastors wish church members knew. She saw the article on porn and was surprised to see how many pastors secretly struggle. She then figured that she needed to include a chapter about it in this new book.

I know Denise, so at least it was not horribly awkward talking about porn with her. She's heard me speak on it before, so that made things much easier than they could have been, right? As we talked, she began to get very excited about the topic, and began to encourage me to write a book.

Here's how the conversation went, "Tal, you need to write a book on this. Have you put anything together on this?" "Ummm, I would love to write a book on this, but don't know how - so no I have not put anything together on this as of yet." She then asked, "Have you written a proposal yet?" "Ummm, no I don't know how to do that either." "Well," she said, "have you outlined the book yet?" "I haven't really gotten past the whole "I don't know how to thing" to have outlined anything."

Then she started asking questions, and before I knew it, we had outlined a project. Then she went beyond that to tell me that she knew of a couple of publishers that would probably take it in a minute, and if I would like, she would be happy to take my story and a proposal to her agent and ask him to shop it. Let's just say, I'm really excited about that.

So, I'll be working hard on that here shortly, and in October I'm doing two events with Ruth Graham. Cafe 1520 should open up soon, and Tapestry is in its' new home. What is God up to? I'm not real sure, but it is exciting!

Just pray that I'll keep my hands off of it.
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Now that, my friends, is comedy. It's also very true, isn't it? This has been an interesting week in my world - how about you?

I have visited a great deal of my past failures this week, and looking at how I constantly come back to repeat those same basic failures over and over again. The trail looks different now, and hopefully, a bit more like the Gospel than before, but failure is still a big part of my life. How about you?

I realized this week how much I still run from, and fear, conflict. Are you a consummate conflict avoider, too? It makes me physically sick to my stomach, which is another thing I hate. I'm vehemently opposed to puking - my streak now stands at 54 weeks. Before that, it had been years since I last drove the porcelain bus.

In the past, when conflict reared its' head, I would avoid it - strike that - run from it. The difference then, was that I ran into porn or sexual relationships. That always made me feel loved and worth something - and hey, realistically, who can think about a conflict in the middle of sex? Do you see how our addictions mask our pain, but don't treat it? I ran for sex or porn over and over again, but when I re-entered the real world, the conflict was still there, only it was bigger and hotter, which only scared me more. So what did I do? I ran back to porn or sex to mask my pain and fear. That, my friends, is the vicious cycle of addiction. That is why we laugh cynically when told, "Just stop doing that!" Trust me, we would if we could. We don't like it. We really don't. It just seems to be a much better idea than facing our imperfection.

This week, I realized that I still run from conflict. Thankfully, I don't run to porn or sex anymore, but I do still run from it. I know how stupid this sounds, trust me - it doesn't get any better. Thankfully, and by the grace of God, I don't run to porn or sex. Now I just run and hide from it. That really sucks, and I want that to change.

Again, I find myself in need of the help and hope of a Gospel driven community.

Teresa, my wife for those of you scoring at home, was simply trying to ask questions about some things regarding the cafe our church is opening. She was trying to help me as she could see me running from the conflict and potential of failure, and for her trouble, I snapped at her. Why? Because I would rather have avoided the situation than admit my need for help in solving it. Sadly, the old man lives on within me. The journey to sanctification marches on.

Now I must go back to the cross and surrender this to my Father.

I think this picture about mistakes is hysterical and relevant to me. It's also relevant to you. We all have failures in our lives, and we do need to serve as warnings to others. We should not be afraid to expose our failures so that others can learn from them, and be encouraged by the hope of the Gospel.

Jesus is not surprised by our failures. Look at Luke 21:31-32, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." The sovereignty of God is overwhelming to me.

He knew that Peter was going to really blow it, but in these two sentences he explains that he has authority over Satan, and that he wants to use Peter's failure to build the kingdom. "He wants to sift you as wheat, Pete, but I have prayed for you. And, hey, when (not if) you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." Amazing. Peter's failure was to be used as a warning to others - including you and me.

Our failures are to serve as warnings to others, too. Christ knows our failures before we do, and he wants to use them to build the kingdom and warn others. It is through this, that God is glorified in our failures. This is why we can boast in our weaknesses so that God can be magnified.

I think this is amazing. How about you?

Speaking of letting our failures serve as a warning to others, The Alabama Baptist asked me to write a series of articles on pornography for them. The first ran this week, and if you are interested, you can view that by clicking this handy-dandy link.

Have a great week, and hey - go expose a failure to someone this week to serve as a warning to others. It's the horizontal axis of the Gospel - engage it!

Tolstoy and Todd Agnew on a Friday Afternoon

Ok, so it's late on a Friday afternoon, and I am taking the opportunity to hang out in a coffee shop and read. Well, not anymore - I'm writing and up to this point, I have not discovered how to do those things simultaneously. Pray that I never do...I have trouble managing the hyenas of busyness as it is.

I stumbled across this quote from Tolstoy, and have not been able to get it out of my mind. Let's see if it has the same impact on you. Tolstoy wrote, "There are two Gods. There is the God that people generally believe in - A God who has to serve them (sometimes in very refined ways, say by merely giving them peace of mind). This God does not exist. But the God whom people forget - the God whom we all have to serve - exists, and is the prime cause of our existence and of all that we perceive."

What is your reaction to that? That one will kick you right square in the butt, won't it? It does remind me so much of where our current culture of Churchianity sits. God is our big 'ol buddy in the sky just waiting for us to place our order. Then we stiff Him out of the 10% tip each month, and scream bloody murder if our orders are not fulfilled in a timely manner, and exactly they way we want them.

In too much of our current culture, God exists to serve us. It is really not much different than "The Secret" is it? Purveyors of "The Secret" state that the universe is obligated to respond to our energy. That it has a virtual conveyor belt of presents it wants to give us if we will only put out "positive vibes." Our station in life is determined by our own thoughts. Again, culture has emasculated the Sovereign God and creator of the very universe they believe to be in control of the conveyor belt o' gifts.

This is nothing new - it's in Genesis 3, isn't it? The serpent tempts Adam and Eve by telling them that if they eat the fruit they would be like God. We still like to think that we are on at least the same level as God. We can make Him serve us - we don't have to bend our knees to His will at all.

It's very seductive isn't it? It seems like such a great idea that we could somehow control God, and make Him bend to our wills. The thought can be intoxicating at times, but we snap out of it when we think about it. My will has gotten me into much more trouble than God's has. The trouble my will has produced brought only pain to myself and to others. God's will has often produced pain, but only to make me more like Christ.

I know that to be the case, and so do many of you. So why do we still buck? Why do we still fight and try to bend Him to our finite will? Here's a quick test - If you got everything you prayed for this morning, how would the world be changed? Would it, or would you just have less inconvenience and more comfort and stuff?

If you have not listened to it yet, I highly recommend Todd Agnew's latest CD, "Better Questions." It is not for the faint of heart, but if you're reading this blog you are more than ready for it.

As a recovering addict, I can tell you these lyrics are like a soothing balm on open sores. It may sting a bit at first, but it brings comfort. It's gut honest which is something those of us in recovery appreciate.

In "If You Wanted Me," Todd writes these questions, "If you wanted me to walk on water, why did you make the solid ground seem so right?" "Your creation is a temptation for me. If you wanted me to love you only, why did you make the moonlight sparkle in her eyes?" "It's hard to trust that your dreams are so much better than mine. If you wanted me to die to myself, why did you make me fall so deeply in love with Life? If you wanted me to surrender, why did you make these hands able to hold on so tight? If you wanted me to be like you, why did you make me like me?"

Incredible. Two artists wrestling with the same concept. Art is a wonderful gift isn't it? It did not come from a mystical conveyor belt controlled by an inanimate, ambiguous "universe." Art comes from the ultimate creator - the Great I Am.

It never ceases to amaze me that He gives us free will - the one thing he does not control is our hearts. If we loved him out of duty, it would not be love. It is why our greatest gift to Him is our love and devotion. It is through them that we serve Him.

Are you serving, or demanding service?

Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...Forgive us for our past prayers and actions that are more about our kingdom and our wills. Cause us to be more like your son, and break our hearts for our communities. Use us any way you wish - you are our King.

Recent Reflections

I've been absent for a bit - sorry about that. We just completed Beeson Pastors School last week, and that's a week where my team puts in about 16 - 18 hour days for the week. I did four 90 minute workshops and a great deal of counseling over the week.

it is simultaneously rewarding and devastatingly discouraging. The porn workshop draws a crowd of curious onlookers, and the prerequisite number of people who complain that anyone dare talk about the facts of this plague. Never mind the fact that, statistically, the majority of attendees are hitting porn in their offices every week - we're not supposed to talk about it out loud, right?

The good news? Several pastors wanted to genuinely talk about how to help the men and women (yes, women too - 40% of all hard-core porn traffic is by females) begin to talk about and break free from the porn pit. Many others came to talk to me about their struggle and for advice on how and where to get help. Do you see the power of boasting in our weaknesses? Do you see the power of transparency? Do you see the power of the Gospel?

The discouraging news? There were so many more pastors, and a couple of wives, that I spoke with that were struggling. The problem was they would circle me in rooms, like vultures, waiting for there to be nobody around so they could talk to me. I know why they do this, but make a habit of asking anyway. The response is almost always the same - "Well, I can't be seen talking to YOU. You're the porn guy. If I'm seen talking to you, everyone will know I have a problem."

Do you see the narcissism? Do you see how addicts think that the entire world is always watching them? Do you see how they believe the world revolves around them? Now, I know this because I have been this way, and am still trying to die to this everyday.

I asked each one of them, "Well, you do, don't you?" And they responded, "Well, yeah." They are so trappped because ministers and their wives are not allowed to have problems - especially like porn or sex. If they get caught - they are fired. If they ask for help - they are fired. So, it is in their best interest to keep it all on the down-low and never let anyone know. The problem in that is that it is the power of secrecy and shame that keeps all addicts trapped in the chains of addiction. The only way out is to let the mask drop and shatter. The only way out is to admit you have a problem and you need help.

Most pastors are forced to live out a perpetrated perfection. Parishioners put pastors on pedestals and assume they live perfect little problem free lives. That, my friends, is crap. Nothing could be further from the truth. My main problem with that is that it denies the power of the Gospel. It is the antithesis of the Gospel. It negates justification. It cripples sanctification.

Here's a shocker for you - I'm about to be blunt... There's too much "church" and too much "Jesus" in our world today. Ok, now breathe and let me clarify. Christianity today is actually "Churchianity." It's the culture and not the Gospel.

We talk about Jesus and we toss His name around like rings that never quite hit the ringer. We go to Church instead of understanding that we are the church. We have made the Gospel a system of rules and regulations instead of the relationship Jesus really intended. Many of us believe that the Gospel is behavior modification and that, my friends, is also crap.

If the Gospel is about behavior modification - what happens when we blow it? What happens when we demonstrate our sinful nature? Are we no longer saved? Has our adoption by God been undone? Are we thrown out of the Kingdom? Are we no longer heirs with Christ? Absolutely not. Whether we are ministers, elders, deacons, teachers, or lay people does not matter.

We are justified in Christ, and are being sanctified the rest of our lives. We will blow it, but when we do, we have to remember Colossians 2 - the record of our sin was nailed to the cross of Christ. We are justified and we are to continue to place our human nature on the altar and allow our flesh to be crucified.

Jesus is not just a charm. Jesus is not just a name we cling to when we have blown it. Jesus is not just a name we cry for when we are in trouble. Jesus is not a magic word - not a substitute for "Abracadabra." Jesus is the one who loves us. It is Jesus' blood that justifies us. It is Jesus that hides us - we are hidden in Christ. When God looks at us, he sees Jesus. We wear his righteousness.

What anyone else thinks of us is irrelevant - our significance is in Christ. Not in what we do or don't do. Good, bad, indifferent - it makes no difference in where our significance lies.

We don't extend the Gospel in our world, and that's why it is making little difference today. We have made it about behavior modification, and that assumes that we are actually capable. What does Jesus say? "Apart from me you can do nothing." Nothing. Let that sink in for a bit.

According to Jesus, you are actually incapable of sitting on the sofa doing nothing without him. We cannot be couch potatoes without Jesus. Isn't that amazing? Jesus is so much bigger than we understand, isn't he?

The behavior modification pedaled by "Churchians" today is what he came to rail against. The law, by itself, is impotent to save us. Think about it this way - if the only reason I'm not looking at porn is because my accountability partners would catch me and be angry at me, then I'm screwed. I'll find a way around it, or at some point I may simply not care what they think about me.

Jesus says it is not about our behavior, it is about the condition of our hearts. It is not our behavior that changes first - it is our heart that must change, and our actions will follow our hearts. When we understand the work of Jesus on the cross, and we understand that all of our sin was paid for at that moment so that we are justified in God's eyes and the record of our sin was destroyed on the cross that ought to radically transform our hearts.

We ought to want anyone and everyone to understand that, but the sad facts are that too many pastors don't understand and live that today, and as a result, too many people don't understand that today. They are too busy hiding sin that has been paid for, and too busy doing things to make others think they have been captured from hell instead of pointing to the incredible work of Christ on the Cross so that God is glorified.

We can boast in our weaknesses! God is glorified in our weakness! If we have no weaknesses or failures, God was right to save us - He just has good taste. That's not the God I serve. I don't deserve it. That He chose to save me is incredible. I don't care who knows how much I didn't deserve it, and neither should you.

We have emasculated the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it breaks my heart. When people know we have problems, we can also tell them of our Savior. We can point to the Glory if his work on the cross for us, and the power of his resurrection. Can we, or more importantly will we, break out of trying to live out the concept of Christ and put on the character of Christ?

Abide, abide, abide, abide, abide, abide.

It's Hard to be the Waiting Father

My dad used to say, "One phone call can change your life." Now there's a new twist on the whole "is the glass half-full or half-empty" thing. That can be a very frightening statement, or one filled with hope. For years and years that statement made me want to unplug the phone - well that's when we had those types of phones, but you get my point, right?

A couple of months ago, I received a phone call from a man that I know here in Birmingham. He had the sound of death in his voice - flat, no emotion, nothing. He told me that he had been having an affair and had just been caught. He told his wife, quit his job, and did not know what to do.

He came to Tapestry one Sunday evening, and I watched him try to come in the room. He made several hesitant passes and just could not come in. It is so hard to enter a church when people know you have really screwed up, isn't it? It should not be, but too many have made it that way. Anyway, a friend who is part of our community saw him and simply walked over to him and said, "Hey, so I hear you are a sinner. Welcome." They both chuckled and our friend was able to smile and felt safe taking a seat in our community.

Worship was difficult for him that evening. He kept walking out, but he always came back in and sat on the floor by the door. Have you ever felt like that?

He and I had lunch shortly after that, and he told me that he just did not know what he felt, or what he wanted to do. His wife was willing to work on things, but on that day, he wasn't sure he wanted to. Facing our mistakes always sucks, and it requires work. She was willing, but he was unsure.

Affairs are difficult to break free from. Everything in the affair seems perfect. It is fantasy land, isn't it? There are no screaming children, there are no bills to pay, there is no reality. It's all romance, affirmation, and sex. This is why affairs are some of the biggest lies in the world.

They are clandestine, and when that element gets tossed into the mix, you have one very potent cocktail that is hard to put down. They are intoxicating, and can even be euphoric. It's always hard to walk away from the exhilaration.

There is absolutely NO reality in affairs. And this is why they are so devastating to those engaging in them. When reality strikes, all parties involved are stunned beyond their wildest dreams. Panic sets in, shame sets in and cements the guilt. Then no one really knows quite what to do.

All too often, the two involved in the infidelity can not see the truth at all. They think they really love each other. Do you see how this really works? A relationship starts with both partners lying to their spouses, and then it's not long before they are lying about their spouses in an effort to generate sympathy. And it is often in that moment that they begin to say, "You understand me!"

The bond then begins to tighten, and soon they find themselves dancing a bit too close to the flame, and they wind up in bed together. The sexual bond created is mistaken for love, and since that "love" is in fantasy land, the spouses left behind cannot possibly compete with it.

This is what happened with this particular friend, and the hard part is that it does not matter how many times he hears that from people - he has to see that on his own. Lots of ministers will say things like, "well, when you repent of this and go back home, we can talk." That breaks my heart, and seems so counter productive.

I've only seen that result in people doing things because they are supposed to, as opposed to doing it because they want to. It's radically different when my daughters do something because they are supposed to and when they want to. Now, I realize there are times when they do need to do things whether they feel like it or not. It's just that in this type of situation, that usually doesn't work.

It is hard to be the father waiting for the prodigal to come home, isn't it? But the father waited. He delivered no ultimatums, no conditions, no restrictions - he waited. One day, the prodigal came to his senses and went home because he wanted to. He knew it was best, and he wanted to go home. He was contrite, and repentant. He came home begging to be a day laborer, not to come in as a member of the family - he just wanted to work for food.

The Father ran to him, hugged him, and welcomed him home. He threw a party for him to reconcile him to the community. He let everyone know that this is his son.

Last night, this particular prodigal called me to say that he was coming to his senses, and he wants to go home.

A great reminder that I can't save anybody. Only God can do that, and if I'll get out of the way and trust Him to work, He will. Standing on the porch is hard to do, but it can be the best place for us to be.

I need to sit and pray for a long list of prodigals that I know. I've been chasing them instead of waiting for them.

Anybody got a rocking chair?

Dispatches from the Front Lines

Ok, so this is my first attempt in the blogosphere, so go easy on me. I've heard the horror stories, and am well aware that there are people who love to pick apart each word and thought and criticize the author beyond the realm of reality.
I am more than happy to tell you that I don't have all of the answers, and it brings me great comfort to say, "I don't know." The Holy Trinity will not become a quartet when I die, so I will continue to make mistakes, as will you. Let's extend grace to each other, and learn from each other along the way.
This week, I am tired. Beyond tired. Fatigue does not come close to describing what I feel at the moment. Have you ever been there?
Today, I ran across these words from Thomas Merton and they drove a nail of conviction deep into my skull. Let's see if they have the same effect on you and your skull. Merton writes, "The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation with violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys his/her own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his/her own work because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful."
Those words pierced me to my core. I have succumbed to a great deal of violence in recent weeks. Being involved in ministry can just wear you slap out, and that's where I am. My boundaries have caved in, but that is my fault. Too often, I fall into the prideful trap that I can help everybody. I can't turn away a plea for help - be it in person, over the phone, or through e-mail.
Suddenly, the impostor has me on the run from his hyenas of "busyness." Fatigue and fear set in, and the instinct of self preservation takes over until a wise friend or mentor reminds me of the words of Jesus. "Die and you will live." Self-preservation is not the gospel, is it? It is the antithesis of the gospel. We are to die.
Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 that we are to boast in our weaknesses so that the gospel of Christ is magnified and glorified. Because, what does it really say about God if we were worth saving? It would just say He has good taste, right? We are not worth saving - that's the blinding grace of His glory.
The fact is that I am comfortable boasting in some of my weaknesses. My addiction to sex and pornography is easy for me now. My inability to say no? That's not easy for me to boast in. My innate ability to screw up a 3 car parade? Not so easy. My tendencies to do things under my own strength, virtually ensuring their doom? Not so easy. My inability to ask for help? Not so easy. Again, I find myself in the far country fighting pigs for scraps of food. I need to come home to the Waiting Father - again.
Sanctification is a long road, my friends. We all have a long way to go. Want to ride along with me? I'd love the company. Hop in, and let's go home. The car is a bit of a mess, hope you don't mind...