There was something God wanted me to confess to Rick Warren, but I was doing my best to avoid it. Rick is the senior pastor of Saddleback Church and my boss. He and I had spent the better part of an afternoon together, and as the day came to a close, I started thinking I was off the hook.
We’d just wrapped the recording of a Leadership Lifter, 40 Ways to Increase Your Baptisms, and I thought we were about to leave the studio, when Rick said he wanted to record on a second subject, What to Do When a Staff Member Has a Moral Failure.
It was a particularly ironic moment because the thing God wanted me to tell Rick dealt with my own moral failure regarding Internet pornography. All day I‘d been stuffing the sense of conviction, but now the pressure from the Holy Spirit was unbearable as I sat in the studio helping Rick record a message that pleaded for staff members to come clean and not allow hidden sin to destroy their ministries.
Yet, as we were packing up, I still argued with God: "Do you really want me to tell him? I promise I will never do it again if you don’t make me do this!"
"Oh, too bad, we’re out of time God, and Rick’s got to go!"
Just as I was thinking that, Rick picked up his cell phone and called his wife, Kay. He spontaneously told her he wanted to take me to dinner and asked if it would be okay to come home later. At that point I caved to conviction. I knew I had to tell Rick, and God wasn’t going to let me go until I did. So, over dinner I confessed my hidden sin.
I told him that I didn’t want to stay stuck in the pit of pornography - that I knew it could potentially destroy my life, my marriage, and my ministry. I was also deeply convicted that my disobedience in this area might one day damage part of Rick’s ministry, a ministry he’d spent a lifetime building.
I wanted out of this sinful cycle, but I needed help.
Rick immediately forgave me, and we established methods of accountability to help me stay clean. I can’t tell you the relief that I felt that night. Plus, knowing that I would have to report to Rick about my progress became a strong deterrent against slipping back into this sexual sin. I’m confessing this to you today because I want you to know you’re not alone. A few weeks ago, we conducted a confidential survey on Pastors.com that suggested more than a few ministers struggle with Internet pornography. It’s a problem rampant within the church and among church leadership.
If you’re like me, you probably would never buy pornographic material, but the ease and dubious privacy of Internet pornography sucked me in quicker and deeper than I ever thought possible.
If you’re struggling in this area, ultimately it will have to be Christ in you who changes your desires from the inside out. He does this through his compelling love that makes you not want to succumb to temptation.
But I believe Christ working through you includes two very practical steps you must take as God delivers you from this sin:
1. You must confess it to someone
I went for a while thinking I could handle it on my own, but I kept falling into a cycle of despair - perhaps you’re familiar with it? Falling on my face before God, I’d swear I’d never do it again. But then I’d convince myself that one last time wouldn’t hurt. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows, and what you do in the dark will one day be shouted from the rooftops.
Understand me clearly - I’m not saying I no longer struggle with temptation, but now that my temptations are out in the open, the voices of the far country are easier to ignore, and since my sin has already been exposed, confessed and forgiven, I don’t have to worry about maintaining a reputation rather than asking for help.
There’s a second reason to confess: it’s the first step toward being healed from this sinful behaviour. James 5:16 says, Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed ... (NIV).
2. You must make yourself accountable to someone
My accountability partner now is a friend named Harold, who is a loving, Christian man, but a former Lieutenant in the Navy and a tough-as-nails accountability partner. Once a month, I allow Harold to view my Internet cache so he can see what sites I’ve been visiting.
My wife is also an ally in this battle, and you need yours as well. Sherry set "locks" on my computer, and I do not know the password. I also - and, yes, this was embarrassing - handed my wife a list of Internet addresses for the pornographic sites I tended to visit.
And now God has changed my desires. It didn’t happen overnight (It could: God is powerful enough), but God slowly shifted my "wanter" from this illicit desire into a desire to please him.
I’ve learned that I am most vulnerable when I am tired or stressed, perhaps after a gruelling week of ministry. If you’re struggling with Internet pornography, please get some help. You can’t control how people will react, but I suspect you’ll find a lot more support than you think. Your ministry is far too important to let it be destroyed by this pervasive sin. Can you really continue to preach and teach each week while harbouring this unconfessed sexual sin?
You can’t keep your true self hidden forever; before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever; sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known. (Luke 12:2).
(ASSIST News Service)