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Shortly after I was born, our family returned to the States for medical reasons and ended up living in Wheaton. My mom worked as a nurse at Wheaton College, and my dad worked as a mission board representative. I was still in my preschool years when we began attending Wheaton Bible Church, where my older siblings and I loved going to Sunday school.
My parents deeply loved the Lord and lived out their faith. As kids, we were challenged each night around the dinner table to make our faith our own, and I did, becoming a Christian at age five. Even then, I knew my relationship with Christ was real and true. But in the first grade, while visiting a friend, I was exposed to an issue of Playboy magazine. From that time on, a struggle began, and a lie took hold in my heart—a lie that Satan used to twist a part of who I was and how I saw myself.
Although my next exposure to pornography wasn’t until many years later, the knowledge that what I had done was wrong, and my fear of talking about it, fed my natural tendency to hide my shame and guilt. That shame, and the secretive way that we boys viewed that magazine, was the beginning of a long struggle with pornography.
Believing a Lie
For many years I believed I would lose that struggle. I knew that Jesus Christ lived in my heart, but I believed that my issue was beyond God’s power to take care of in this world. When I got to heaven, I would be free of the guilt and shame of these unhealthy desires, but until then, I was on my own.
During grade school and junior high I seemed like a well-adjusted kid, and in most ways, I was. But in junior high I made some new friends whose older brothers had access to harder-edged porn than what I’d seen as a first grader. I would go to my friends’ houses, even when they weren’t home, to sneak into their brothers’ rooms and look at the magazines—or even steal them.
Even then, my heart still responded to the voice of the Lord. I talked with my Mom about my struggles, and she would listen and pray with me. I would confess my sins to the Lord and feel great—until the next time.
In high school I excelled in sports and was growing as a leader in my youth group at Wheaton Bible Church—but I never told anyone at church about my struggle.
I was introduced to the books of A. W. Tozer, who became my favorite author. My heart responded to his writings, especially The Pursuit of God. Ironically, I was growing in my relationship with Christ and in my knowledge of God and love for Him, yet I continued to believe that I would always be flawed.
During high school, certain “coincidences” fueled my addiction.In good weather I walked or rode my bike to school, and with amazing regularity I would “happen upon” different types of pornographic magazines on my route.
At the time I thought it was just blind luck, but in hindsight I know that this was part of the enemy’s plan. I am certain that 100 percent of our struggles with porn are spiritual warfare against our souls. I shudder to think of how easy it is for today’s kids to “happen upon” it online.
I started my Wheaton College years with a desire to find God’s will for my life. But I still lived a double life, taking classes on spiritual formation and then trying to catch scrambled images of porn on pay-TV channels. I saw hard-core porn on VHS tapes for the first time and first went into an X-rated-movie store.
After college, I didn’t have a specific plan, but I loved working with kids—telling them about Christ’s love for us and the forgiveness He offers. I led a mission trip of junior high students to Florida City, Florida, to do disaster relief after a major hurricane. When I got back, I was invited to co-lead the WBC junior high group. I was overjoyed because I believed I had discovered God’s calling for my life.
Unfortunately, at this same time, the stress of a negative relationship in my life—a relationship that made me feel inadequate and demeaned—caused my addiction to spiral out of control.
Wounds from a Friend
Fortunately, I had an accountability partner who was also my best friend. When he heard how far I had fallen in my struggle, he told me that if I didn’t get help, he would let the church leadership know what was going on in my life.
His ultimatum was what the Bible talks about when it says, “wounds from a friend can be trusted” (Proverbs 27:6). If he hadn’t done what he did, I don’t know where I would be today. That man is still my best friend and continues to be my accountability partner.
I spoke with Pastor Rob Bugh, and shortly after, I met with the Elders and told them about my struggles. I said that I needed to resign my position and get the issue settled with the Lord, and that’s what I did.
I wish I could say that from then on, everything immediately got better. But I still didn’t believe I would or could ever change.
I continued to attend Wheaton Bible Church and worked with homeless men and women whose addictions to alcohol and drugs had destroyed their lives. I could relate to what they were going through and share hope and encouragement with them—and continue to mask the reality that my own addiction still had a foothold in my life.
Although I continued to struggle, I began to learn and apply principles and practices that helped. I learned that I needed barriers so that I wouldn’t easily fall into temptation. Exercise became important, and so did accountability partners and accountability software on my computer. Having honest conversations with other single men and finding out that I wasn’t alone in my struggle also helped immensely.
God used my marriage to Jen seven years ago to teach me some major lessons about forgiveness and grace. Becoming a father three years later and experiencing how deeply I loved Emma Rose gave me a far greater appreciation for how my heavenly Father loved me.
The barriers I had established kept my issues with porn under control, but because I still believed Satan’s lie, the barriers I had set up began to act like a dam, and when the pressure built, on rare occasions I still looked at pornography. I rationalized, It’s not very often, only every few months. But I wanted to be in ministry, and I believed I was unfit because of my continuing struggle.
A New Understanding
Then a friend shared a story with me from C. S. Lewis’s book The Great Divorce. In that story, a group of people in a bus visit heaven. Among them is a ghostlike man with a grotesque lizard-like creature on his back, which readers come to understand is lust. I could totally identify with that man.
This ghost-man approaches one of the angels, and the angel asks if he can kill the creature. The ghost hesitates, wondering if there isn’t a more “gradual” way to solve his problem. When the angel says it’s now or never, the man eventually agrees.
As the angel lays his hand on the creature, the creature begins to whisper in the man’s ear. It reminds him of past pleasures, and the man begins to fear that he will die if the creature is removed. Part of the conversation continues as follows:
The angel eventually asks the crucial question: “Have I your permission?”
“I know it will kill me.”
“It won’t. But supposing it did?”
“You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.”
The angel grabs the creature, breaks its back, and throws it to the ground.
What happens next in Lewis’s allegory is amazing, as the sickly shadow of a man is transformed into a warrior of light and the dead creature becomes a powerful silvery-white stallion. The man joyously jumps on its back and rides off as all of heaven sings.
The Master says to the transformed man, “From beyond all place and time . . . authority will be given you: the strengths that once opposed your will shall be obedient fire in your blood and heavenly thunder in your voice.”
I realized I was that man—carrying a creature on my back that was so tightly connected, I thought it was part of me. But God could transform it and use it the way it was supposed to be used, and he could use me to accomplish His purposes!
Satan had convinced me that I was always going to be just one mouse click away from failure. The truth is that alone, I am powerless in this struggle, but in Christ I can be free, the guilt and shame removed.
From that day forward things changed. God began, and continues, to transform a part of my life that for thirty-plus years I believed couldn’t be changed.
Because Satan still comes after me, I still have the barriers in place, but there is no longer pressure building up behind them. I no longer rely only on those barriers but rather, rest in the knowledge of Jesus, fed by daily exposure to God’s Word; praying the blood of Jesus Christ over myself and my family; mentally putting on the armor of God to protect me from the arrows of the devil; and trusting in the grace that God extends to me every day.
If you struggle with pornography, I want you to know that God desires to transform that area of your life, to untwist what the enemy has twisted, and to reclaim your life for His purposes, by His power. Your journey may be a long one, as it was for me, but I am so thankful that Christ never stopped drawing me back to Himself.
I invite you to join our COMPASS for Men group that meets every Thursday evening, 7:00 to 9:00 pm. (For more information, contact Dave Allen.) Celebrate Recovery is another ministry I lead that helps those who struggle with a wide range of hurts, habits, and hang-ups.
Support Ministries Pastor
Bill Brown, WBC’s Support Ministries Pastor, works with the staff and volunteer teams that lead our support groups and other support ministries, including Celebrate Recovery, Caring for Kids, CHAI (Courageous Healing of Abuse and Isolation), COMPASS for Men, DivorceCare, Faithful & True for Women, GriefShare, RESTORE after Abortion, Single Parenting Group, Career Transition Workshop and Networking Group, and Financial Peace University.