You Made Me Do It!
At work, I meet with men and my wife and I meet with couples for “faith checkups”. We talk about their engagement with scripture, the God’s apparent working in their lives, and personal struggles. Sometimes, that involves encouragement. Sometimes, it calls for rebuke or correction. In the latter case, maybe a guy has said something to his wife, his kids, or someone else he shouldn’t have said, maybe at a volume level he shouldn’t have used. Jesus would call that “sin”.
In those conversations, I try to separate “reasons” from “excuses”. All our “dones” are done for a reason. However, no reason excuses us from our actions. One day, we’ll all stand before Jesus to account for what we’ve done and said (the “bema” seat judgment [see 2 Cor. 5:10]), and in receiving eternal rewards for the things we did and said, we cannot effectively invoke anyone else’s name to our defense but our own:
- “You made me mad!”
- “He stole my idea! It’s not fair!”
- “She cracked my screen; of course I’m going to get angry!“
None of these reasons will excuse us from losing a reward for that specific action. (Note: this is not a matter of salvation, which comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone; rather eternal rewards – such as crowns, treasures, honors, etc. – which come by works that flow from a grace based salvation.) (more…)
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?
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!
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…
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 me – don’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,
Doing Two Things at Once… Have you ever been on the phone with someone while you were driving to work, get to work and think “Wow, how did I get here?”
There’s great brain science out there that explains this phenomenon. Without getting hyper-biological, let’s just say that God designed our brains to do really great things. One of those things our brain yearns to do is to embed familiar routines into the “auto-pilot” section of our brain. We’ve subconsciously trained ourselves how to get to work by storing “directions to work” in the routine-function section of our minds (also called the basal ganglia). When we shifted our “full” attention to the phone conversation, auto-pilot is what helped us arrive at work instead of Peru.
Much of what you and I have learned as children has been broken down into easily recalled “chunks” (how to go to the bathroom, how to lift a glass, what to say when someone gives you a toy, how to respond to someone who yells at you, etc.) and stored it in autopilot. This saves us from wasting time and energy rethinking the routine each time we have to do it.
The Old Testament teaching from Proverbs 22:6 is echoed in Jesus’ teaching “…but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40)” Which, begs the question:
Who (more often, what) has been your teacher?
We’ve All Been Discipled by Someone
Many of my teachers growing up were contrary or marginally average examples of godly behavior. It took time in the Word and the Holy Spirit to expose to me the places where I’d learned wicked examples of auto pilot. Today, I was interviewing a mental health professional and he reminded me that when men and women are under great pressure they tend heavily to fall into default modes of thinking learned from their childhood/family of origin. The brain science I’m reading right now fully confirms this assertion: while we may have new ways of thinking and be a “new creation” in Christ, we don’t always let go of our old programming. Could this perhaps explain why some of the following passages appear in scripture:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12.2a)”
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)”
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil. 4:8)”
All Things New?
When we come to faith in Christ, we do, indeed, become new creations, but this does not mean our most basic programming is completely erased. How much good would we be to God’s kingdom if our mind were erased, personality wiped clean, and we had to learn reading, writing, even potty training all over? We have been “trained up (Prov. 22:6)” for a reason. But, submission to God in all we do, abiding in Christ and walking by the Spirit, demands that we are constantly renewed in our minds. We have much to relearn and the Holy Spirit who is our teacher, but we must dedicate time and mental bandwidth to the process.
- Take an inventory of “pretension that set up against the knowledge of God” and pray – multiple times daily – that the Holy Spirit will renew those old, bad, faulty thought patterns, giving you a “new” auto pilot. But, make sure to do this on paper – soon, I’ll be posting on how your brain isn’t designed to hold too many important things in the forefront – there’s great practical value in getting things out of our heads and onto paper.
- Think on these things – don’t just say “I’m going to not do x.” There’s great truth to “garbage in, garbage out”. Ask God to fill you with new desires and that’s likely what you’ll get. We’re in charge of our minds and what we consciously let in. Memorize the fruits of the Spirit – (Gal 5.22-23) and Philippians 4:8 and actively pray that God leans you toward these new ways. Life in Christ is not about good behavior, rather a changed heart that puts out godly behavior. But, let’s at least have a Holy Spirit Wish List.
- Say “no” to self-condemnation when you “fall off the wagon”. Looking in any mirror can show any of us far more faults than we’d care to think about tackling. But, at least now, we’ve got a more exhaustive list of what to pray for. Remember that while you are imperfect, God is leading you to perfection that will only be complete in His Kingdom reign.While you will make mistakes, Christ already paid the price for them – no sense beating yourself up when Christ has already been beaten for you.
This January, I’ll be running a half day workshop called “Getting Things Done God’s Way: Restoring Order to Your Mind, Your Work, and Your Life”, where we’ll be covering how this stuff is just as related to getting your inbox to “empty” as it is to sharing the gospel at work and loving your enemy while you’re under attack.
God wouldn’t have put this stuff in the Bible if He didn’t intend to help us on the journey.