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The Trouble with Lust & Your Brain

MMM-2014The Hook

The first time I looked at porn, I was about 10. I didn’t realize how “hooked” I was until I tried to “quit” 20 years later. Lust’s deep claws don’t let go of you, me, any of us, without a fight. Winning a personal war against porn & lust is made up of daily battles against a ubiquitous foe. You don’t have to look for lust – you have to “watch out” for it. Worse, your eyes aren’t always an asset.

How Does Your Brain Work?

Here’s how your brain processes images: “see, desire, move”. That simple. You see the lady walk by with too little shirt and too much skin. It’s .3 seconds from the time you see until you sense a desire to “go, get it/look at it/devour it!” and only .5 seconds from “see” to voluntary movement. That leaves only .2 seconds for what scientists call “veto power”. Scripture commands we veto, or “take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

What goes on in your head during that .2 seconds?

Veto-Power

In mine, there’s a quick, very heated exchange between Spirit, soul, and flesh. The Spirit loudly barks “danger”. The surrendered soul replies, “taking evasive action”. While the flesh calmly nudges: “Relax. Besides, didn’t she look like Diane Lane? What if you could get her autograph for your wife? Dude, look again!

Scripture tells us to “flee” sexual immorality. So, flee, right? Just “bounce your eyes” away from temptation: a good technique that helped me get free early in my sobriety. But, technique without transformation leads to “trip ups”. Why: God wired our brains with a response – dopamine – an internal reward system. When you dwell on something “lustworthy”, your brain enjoys a shot of dope. It chemically “thanks” you. It doesn’t discriminate on moral grounds, rather it says – “That was good. Get… me… more.

Two Track Mind?

The brain’s also designed to do two things really well – maximize reward, minimize danger. It’s adept at making a crucial “snap judgment” (often called “approach – avoid” or “friend or foe”) immediately classifying incoming information as welcome or threatening. In an “approach” or “toward” state, you “let your guard down”. In an “avoid” or “away” state, guard goes up. Tell them that the next time they accuse you of having a one track mind!

The Lie:

A few weeks ago at a public pool, I turned to face one of my toddlers. Behind her stood very busty woman wearing not quite enough bathing suit. When I say “not quite enough suit”, I mean more of her was visible than she intended and than is permitted at a public pool. Out of ruthless desire to guard my own purity, I spun my head in the other direction. Bounce your eyes, right? Not so fast… Immediately, the flesh came up with a lame line… lie: “Can you believe what she’s not wearing? You should tell her what’s publicly visible. Look again!” Temptation wants to convince you that “flee” is not necessary, that what you see is not your foe and it’s okay to let your guard down.

Thanks be to God, I pressed the “veto” button. But, you know what I noticed? Somewhere over the past decade plus, God had made one thing clear in my mind: temptation is not your friend. Can I tell you how I know? Because for the next half hour of pool time, I could sense my brain was in a state of heightened alert, as if I knew temptation was just using this probably perfectly nice and decent woman to snag my eye and mind. No, it wasn’t her intent – she just needed to get her kid in and out of the pool and talk to her husband a few times. But, it was clear I was not to trust my inner dopamine-seeking-desire to have another look. Follow? Have the lifeguard relay the embarrassing truth to her, fine – but a married man guarding his purity and sobriety is not the guy to directly address her unless he’s going to do it with one hand over his eyes. #awkward…

Why Me?

I’m not telling you this to impress you with how spiritual I am. I am telling you this because I’m only 12 years sober and, maybe out of pride, I don’t ever want to have to say “I’m 1 year sober… again.” You follow? Porn addiction burned me pretty bad. Thirteen years ago, I came to Christ and He gave me a new heart with new desires, but there are still images & memories stuck in the cracks of my mind that I can’t “unthink”. I don’t want you to go through a long, arduous recovery process or miss out on the best He has for you. So, please – listen to medon’t let your guard down. Instead of giving in to that convincing voice, ask this question: what is it about that second look that’s going to enhance my purity?

A Prayer for Us:

Lord, keep us clean in our hearts, minds, and especially eyes. We know lust is aggressive and the world we live in is a “target rich environment”. Left to ourselves, we can talk ourselves into anything. Please, help us gird up the loins of our minds and keep our hearts set on things above. Help us spot our enemy, call it like it is, and walk the clean walk.
in it with you,

AP

Saving Jesus from Mr. Banks

MMMSquareOne Thing I Learned About Mary Poppins…

Interesting that Ron Dunn would be leading a deep dive into the 10 Commandments at One Th1ng the same week I watched “Saving Mr. Banks”. I just might not have seen the connection between this movie and the second commandment, had God not juxtaposed these two events so closely.

No big spoiler here – if you’ve read the title of the movie, you know “Saving Mr. Banks” is a statement of identity for Mary Poppins. It’s what she was created to do: save Mr. Banks. The movie covers two stories in parallel: the childhood of Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers and the 1960s collaboration between Walt Disney Studios that gave birth to the big screen film. So, what does this have to do with the Ten Commandments, much less you and I?

So, What:

Thanks, for asking. Let me dive into the “you and I” part first and the Commandment part should become pretty obvious along the roadside.[Spoiler?] As Travers’ father’s alcoholism began to take its toll on her father’s health and her mother began to break down under the stress, her aunt enters the picture – on whom she’d later base the beloved Poppins. But, this Mary Poppins – to save the family from utter destruction. But, while this Poppins could offer help to Travers’ beleaguered mother and siblings and limited care to her dying father, she couldn’t save her father from the damage already done. The story left me wondering how much of our adult lives we often spend trying to right childhood wrongs. Travers, who loved her father’s whimsical imaginations, apparently shut her self off from all childhood fun, save that which she wrote about in her books.

Mary Poppins was sent to save Mr. Banks since her own aunt could not save her own dad. In other words, Travers created for herself a savior who would make all things right that she could not…

I know, that’s a little heavy for Monday Morning Momentum, isn’t it?

Good News…

Not for the Christian. For those who are in Christ, we understand God as the loving father far better than Travers’ faulty dad. Our Sovereign Father doesn’t have an alcohol problem or a bad temper at work, and He appreciates whimsy far more than even Colin Firth can revel in. Because He loves us now, and Israel long before us, He gave the command to worship no rival gods. The second commandment warns us not to even dream up our own physical representation of Him, because such things always fall short, and will consequently leave us only temporarily fulfilled and unsaved from our greatest need. The Disney story shows Travers reaching a final, cathartic salvation when she sees her father figure, Mr. Banks, alive and well and frolicking with his children – eventually flying kites they repaired with money her own father would have made her invest.

Who Made Your God?

Though she may have experienced temporal justice, without a true Savior, she’d never truly know the good of a perfect and loving Heavenly Father.

Do not act like the other nations…Their ways are futile and foolish.
They cut down a tree, and a craftsman carves an idol.
They decorate it with gold and silver
and then fasten it securely with hammer and nails
so it won’t fall over… such gods,
for they can neither harm you nor do you any good. (Jer. 10:2-3,5)

If Travers spent much of her adult life writing, forming a savior decorated with earthly wisdom, silvery songs, and fancy on pages her typewriter hit like hammer and nails, she’d have created a god that could only save her from the wrongs of her childhood. Easy mistake: even the disciples often mistook Jesus as one who would merely save them from the oppression of Rome and earthly princes. They would scatter at His death because they missed the fact that He died to save them, save Travers, save all of us, from something far greater – a future eternity separated from God. Ironic that Mary Poppins would be so famous for quoting that “some people cannot see past the tip of their own nose…” Her man-made idol’s power went only so far.

The Good News:

In Christ, you have a Savior – capital “s” – who does not promise you mere temporal justice. Things done to you or not done for you in childhood may not be reconciled this side of heaven. But, one day, He will wipe away every tear from our eyes and we will reign with Him in glory. Wrong will be made right. The wicked will be cast off. And, those who are cleansed by the atoning work of Christ will not gloat over this, rather rest in the peace and joy that only a Savior created by God can promise.

So, Lemme Askya

Is there anything – a situation, a relationship, a deal, an ideal – that you’ve created in your life to fix what didn’t happen or didn’t happen as well as you wished in childhood? Any temporal problem you’re striving and striving to save yourself from while God is calling you to set your eyes on the greater problem of eternal salvation? Do as Moses did – crush the idol to powder and feed it to the Israelites… Okay, maybe not the second part. But, repentance for this is simple – “Lord, I’ve bowed down to a god that can scarcely save me from my own past. I want a God who can save me from my future.”

 

in Christ,

AP

My “Dirty Little Secret” or, “How to Properly Offend Others”

MMMSquareWhat I Remembered at the Daddy Daughter Dance…

I have a dirty little secret. It mostly only comes out at parties and weddings, but Friday night my firstborn and I attended our very first “Daddy-Daughter Dance” and it reared its ugly head: I can’t dance to save my life. Not that I don’t try… I used to think I was pretty good. I believed in my reputation of being a “great dancer” until a look of near panic came over my then fiancee’s face when we were at a wedding together. One look at my “interpretation” of the moves and she immediately thought: “Oh, NO! He’s a MESS on the dance floor!While I was initially offended at her opinion, I eventually faced reality. Not an ounce of rhythm in this dancer…

She’s now my wife of nearly 7 years. But, she who has all the moves still doesn’t understand how I can know so much about music yet be so “white” and clumsy on the dance floor. Having a ton of knowledge and doing the right motions, doesn’t mean you’re doing them with soul. It’s different to “know about” rhythm than to “have rhythm”. Wouldn’t you agree?

Jesus had a hard time with the Sadducees, Pharisees, and other religious types of His day because many of them were so caught up in their religious moves – outward behavior – that they didn’t realize they had no soul… Pharisee [Hebrew parûsh’] means “set apart”. And, I really believe that these guys started out in the same good place many of us do when we first come to know how holy God is and how utterly sinful we are apart from Him. I learned this in 2001 and immediately wanted to be “clean” in His presence. The problem for the Pharisees is that the ones Jesus was confronting had become so caught up in the moves – the external behavior – that they neglected the proper attitude of the heart: soul… rhythm… love for God and others.

They were Chris Brown in their minds… Montgomery Burns in their hearts… Therefore, Ed Grimley in their moves.

In the Sermon on the Mount beginning in Matthew 5, Jesus essentially tells thousands in attendance that the Pharisees, etc., had all the right moves in God’s eyes, yet no rhythm. How do you think they felt? Offended to know they had no rhythm? They had boiled a relationship with God down to a list of behaviors that demonstrate piety, but were devoid of it. In fact, throughout His interactions with them, Jesus exposes some of them as using God’s name and God’s law for their own gain. “Selfish ambition” is a drive for “progress” devoid of love for God and love for others. But, when it shows up in our own mirrors, ouch. Hurts to find out you’ve got all the right moves and no rhythm… Offensive.

Lately, I’ve heard a number of people talk about being “radical for God” or being “offensive for Jesus”. Most of them, are well meaning – out of devotion to God, and love for how the truth of Christ offends “those who are perishing”, they say offensive or radical things. Their initial hope is good: wake those who are slumbering to the love of God and the atoning work of Christ. However, there is a fine line between offending those enslaved by sin with the truth that can set them free, and being offensive just for the sake of offending.

How to Properly Offend?

We are in grave danger of walking in the Pharisees’ shoes when we seek to offend merely for offendings’ sake. The Lord didn’t offend merely to be countercultural and offensive. But, exposing “inconvenient truths” about deeply held convictions will offend those who do not have “ears to hear” constructive criticism. Jesus only offended with the “you ain’t got no rhythm” truth so that He could teach them “the unforced rhythms of Grace“, rooted in love for those who have all the right moves with the wrong heart and soul. Agape love – the kind of love that God offers us through Christ – is the kind that seeks to elevate others at our own expense, not vice versa. This is the proper starting point for offending others – aim with restoration in mind.

White Boy SyndromeSo, Lemme Askya…

Before you say one more thing to that guy who’s a hypocrite at work, before you send that private Facebook message, before you send that Tweet – are you seeking to offend only to be offensive or because you’d love to see the hypocrite transformed by the Truth, set free by the Lord, and welcomed as your brother/sister in Christ?

Much love (and a whole lot of rhythm),
AP

Guess Who Wants to Steer You Away?

Wolf Watching

“I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. (Acts 20:28-31)”

MMM-2014

Paul was clearly warning the elders at Ephesus that men bent on their own fame and agenda would come swooping in as soon as he left town to draw them away from the simplicity of the gospel. Paul broke down the gospel into two very simple principles a few verses earlier: “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ”. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is a freedom bigger than many of us are prepared for. It’s so big, in fact, that in the flesh, it’s very easy to drift away from it. Enter, wolves.

Many had already picked up pieces of the gospel and tried to co-opt it for their agenda, taking grace alone and adding to it works. Some said that to follow Christ one would have to first become a Jew via rites and rituals including circumcision. This would have drawn them closer to men, not God (you’ve got to be one of us before you can be one of His). Paul outright condemns this practice and explains in later letters that it’s grace and grace alone via repentance and faith. Repentance turns us away from sin and faith knits us in to God.

(more…)

More Hope in the Midst of the Comparison Game

MMM-2014Recap

Previously, we took a look at how the comparison game clutters the field of our minds with shame, doubt, and fear.  Shame, doubt, and fear only take hold when we fall into the familiar rut of man centric thinking (woe is me, look what’s happened to me, why me?) rather than God-centric thinking. Through our troubles, God’s primary purpose and outcome for us is that we would know Him better. (See Eph. 1-16-19) Wallowing in shame, doubt, or fear can quickly become an obstacle to the main thing: knowing God and being fully satisfied in Him.

Roll your eyes and say “whatever that means”, please. But, I struggle with this, myself. In fact, I’m rolling in the deep of it right now.

When things don’t turn out the way we planned or those around us seem to have it all going for them there’s either a gap between expectation and reality or hope and reality. Either way, it’s an unpleasant gap that seeks to wedge itself between us and our Creator. I submit that the best bridge over this gap isn’t jumping into the canyon of anxiety or shame or doubt, but to span the canyon through proper mourning.

What’s So Proper About That?

Huh? “Proper” mourning? Does that mean, putting on your best “Downton Abbey” accent and weeping to your Puppah? Perhaps. But, as we look at some of the greatest mourners in history we find they didn’t ignore the gap or chide themselves “real Christians don’t fall all to pieces over small stuff.” We’re not called to fall to pieces over small stuff. But loss without mourning is self defense. Self defense is self deception. Job lost everything and his friends said nothing more to him for three days than harmonizing with his sobs. Jesus sweat blood in the garden. And, Nehemiah tore his clothes, wept, fasted, and prayed. All of them started with a proper attitude of mourning by simply calling out the gap for what it was.

“When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 1:4)”

Mourning helps us to know God because it first acknowledges His sovereignty and second, empties our inbox of the demon of minimizing. Granted, these giants of the faith were mourning pretty massive gaps. But, saying  “it’s really not a big deal” is tossing dirt in your inbox. Can you imagine? I’ve had a lot of different things in my inbox (even right now), but dirt? I can’t even think of a reason to put dirt there. And, that’s exactly what minimizing the gap does. We weren’t meant to hang on to ungrieved loss, un-mourned gaps between hope and reality or expectation and reality. It’s totally out of place and eventually spills out of our inbox, contaminating our workspace and the floor where we step.

Empty-Inbox-LgEmptying Your Inbox

I’m big on clearing out clutter. I work on it regularly and even teach it. But, because this is the kind of clutter I can’t see, it takes a little more intentionality than “control, alt, delete”. Sometimes, I have to pull over (even literally) and admit that my disappointment is even worth the time with all I have going on. But, I know while a spoon full of dirt won’t upset my whole inbox, I’m a fool to let pounds and pounds of dirt accumulate for very long.

Proper mourning begins with proper attitude like Jesus, Nehemiah, Job, even David had – calling the loss by name without minimizing, denying, blaming, or excusing it. From there, processing it is like a really important phone call with God.

It can go like this: repeat after me – “God, it’s me [again]. I’m a little [anxious/ashamed/fearful/disappoointed] about x. This isn’t how I planned it. This isn’t what I wanted. Show me more of who You are in the midst of disappointment. Turn my disappointment with this moment into an appointment with You. I’m listening.” And, then, seriously listen. You’ll never catch a revelation on the run. Nehemiah had a lot to mourn about – so he fasted, wailed, and communed with God for days. Your situation may be much less consequential and thus warrant far fewer tears and skipped meals. But, it’s no less personal [pause…] nor valid.

It’s your inbox. Let’s clean out the clutter, shall we?in Christ,

AP