Hope in the Battle
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Have you or someone you love been swept up in the influence of pornography? Join Dave and Ann Wilson as they talk with Dr. Joe Rigney, author of “More Than a Battle,” about how to find healing.
Hope in the Battle
Bob: Lust is nothing new; it’s been around for a long time. For that matter, so has pornography. But as author, Joe Rigney, says, the fact that pornography can be engaged with anonymity today, that’s something new.
Joe: Everybody has this unprecedented access and anonymity. You don’t have to keep your eyes down at a store clerk you’re buying the magazine from. It’s that unprecedented access and the anonymity that it brings that takes this to a different level. Then, you add to that, that there are corporations and people whose entire vocation is devoted to hooking you.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, February 1st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Is there a strategy that is successful for dealing with the issue of pornography? We’ll talk with Joe Rigney about that today. Stay with us.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Most of us have not spent a lot of time talking about global pandemics until recently when one was in the news. I think there’s a global pandemic that’s been around for long before anyone heard about COVID-19. You’ve seen this in pastoral ministry; you’ve seen this as you’ve worked with athletes through the years.
Dave: I’m guessing you’re talking about pornography?
Bob: Yes; I’m talking about the issue of lust and how that plays in and what’s going on with guys—and with women, who are finding themselves engaged in, not looking at images as much—but women who are caught up in sexual fantasies.
Ann: I think women are caught up in looking at images now too. I agree, Bob; I think this is something that’s even going to become worse because of our access to the internet and the things that are going on. I think our marriages are really going to be hit.
Dave: I do know that, as a father, I remember having this thought when I had three sons—my oldest is 34?—I remember having the thought, when he was just a little guy—“I wonder what it will be like if he’s ever exposed to pornography?” Then the thought hit me: “It’s not an ‘if’ question; it’s a ‘when’ question in the world we live in.”
Bob: We’re going to talk about how we deal with the pandemic and how we help our kids through this. Dr. Joe Rigney is here with us today to help us talk about this. Joe, welcome.
Joe: Thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here.
Bob: Joe is a pastor in Minnesota, pastors City Church. He’s also an assistant professor of theology and literature at Bethlehem College and Seminary. He has written a book on this subject called More Than a Battle. You experienced this battle personally during adolescence; right?
Joe: Absolutely. This was sadly part of my story, as you were talking about your kids, growing up. I grew up in the ‘90s, so it was a very different struggle in some ways then. I can’t imagine doing it now. It was very sad; I grieve that it’s part of my story, but it is. There’s things that happen in that adolescence—junior high, high school, up through college—that can really shape you and then set trajectories over time. It’s a deep work of grace to have some of those ways you’ve been formed to be reformed/to be undone.
I’m grateful that God has done that in my life over the last 15 years; and I can be on this side of it, looking back. But being on this side of it—by “it,” I mean, not that sexual temptation isn’t an issue at all, that won’t happen until glory—but at least, now, there’s been substantial measures of victory, and healing, and wholeness in relation to this struggle. This has been a deeply personal one in my life; therefore, I want to look back and say, “I want to spare as many people as possible from having to walk through the sorts of stuff that I had to deal with in high school and college.”
Ann: Joe, I’m wondering, “What do you think the percentages are of men that struggle?”
Joe: I would guess like 99 or 100 percent. I actually think there was study—
Ann: That’s depressing.
Joe: It’s so depressing. There’s a story—I picked it up along the way, doing some research—where somebody was going to try to study the effects of sort of the introduction of pornography to men. Psychologists put out a call: “If you’ve never looked at pornography, would you show up? We’ll pay you”—however much money—“to be part of this study.” And they couldn’t get anybody.
Ann: Nobody showed up.
Joe: Nobody showed up; nobody fit that bill and could do it. Obviously, it’s an anecdote. But I think the reality on the ground is that this is universal for men and very prevalent—as you were saying—for women more and more. It’s not just that everybody deals with it; it’s that substantial numbers of people are neck deep and losing in it. That’s the greater tragedy.
Dave: It’s a different day—when you said/Joe, you were talking about the ‘90s—I don’t know exactly when the digital world hit us. Back then, when I was a child—not the ‘90s; a little earlier—you had to go look for it: you had to go get a magazine; you had to go buy it or fall into it at your buddy’s house.
Today—walk us back—take us back to the struggle that initiated in your own life. How did it start, and how did it progress?
Joe: For me, it was that sort of thing—kids bringing a Playboy to school in junior high—and everybody sitting around the magazine, wide-eyed; right? Looking back, that was me. You can kind of distance from it as an adult; but man, there was some innocence that was lost in that moment and in the fascination that led to being over at a friends’ house, like you’re saying: late night HBO—or something like that—it was those sort of things; right? Like you said, you do have to go look for it. You had to get the magazines and avoid eye contact with anyone you’re buying it from. Then, fast forward, you get to the digital age; the internet comes along; that was an issue more for me in college.
Then, today—sexual sin/sexual temptation is as old as dirt—this is not a new struggle. Paul had to deal with pagan prostitutes, and temple prostitutes, and stuff like that. Victorians had their brothels. But we have brothels in our pocket; that’s the new thing. Everybody has this unprecedented access and anonymity—you don’t have to keep your eyes down at a store clerk that you’re buying the magazine from. It’s that unprecedented access and the anonymity that it brings that takes it to a different level. Then, you add to that, that there are corporations and people whose entire vocation is devoted to hooking you. The swiping and all that stuff is designed to hook you—not just on your social media/your Facebook® and Twitter® and everything else—but to this. There’s people/there’s human beings devoting concerted effort.
Then, we have to imagine—right?—that there are dark powers behind those human powers that are also orchestrating. There’s a big array of forces that are trying to destroy individuals, families, churches around this issue. I’ve felt, in my ministry primarily to college students over the last 15 years, I see it; and I want to help. It’s possible—I think that’s the thing that was/this would be a big difference between college me and 38-year-old me—and really, 25/26.
Once it happened, it was like, “Oh, I had no idea this was even possible.” I couldn’t imagine that you could be free. My imagination was so stunted. There’s a text in the Bible in Romans 8—Paul says, “We are debtors, not to the flesh to live according to the flesh.” I remember feeling, “That’s exactly what it feels like. It feels like I’m a debtor to the flesh. It feels like sin shows up/flesh shows up and says, ‘You have to pay up now, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re a slave, so come on.’” When you’re trapped there; and you have no horizon to get a different kind of air—part of this whole project is—I want to introduce men/mainly, men—but I think it could apply to women as well—“There’s a different air to breathe.”
Bob: The idea that there might be freedom/there might be victory seems elusive for so many guys. I’ve had the experience of getting an email that I thought was one thing—clicking on the link in the email, and go, “Oh!”—and having to hide the screen and click out of there as quick as I can. It seeks you out, instead of you having to seek it out.
Dave: The crazy thing is, in some ways—again, I don’t, Bob, know exactly what you’re talking about—but the images that you may click on/again, you stumble into, compared to 20/30 years ago—it may have been more like a lingerie ad—now, it’s degrading. You’re thinking of ten-year-olds, and eight-year-olds, and thirteen-year-olds, that’s an image they see. They should never see that—
Dave: —none of us should ever see that any minute in our life.
Bob: Did your dad ever have a conversation with you to prepare you for what might be there?
Joe: Not really. Once it was ongoing, there was an attempt I think, if I remember right. But there wasn’t really. I had other mentors at church and things like that. I was a little awkward with my dad, I guess. He was a Christian, and I am grateful for all of the good things he did; but this was an area, where I don’t think he quite knew what to do.
I had mentors at church. One of the things that I learned—at some point, we formed some accountability groups—peer level/so high school guys. Now, hindsight, looking back, those were just big puddles of sin. I don’t know that those were actually all that helpful. I think there was something good in it: we wanted to/we knew this was wrong; we knew we didn’t want to be addicted to pornography; we didn’t want to be doing this; but we were all in it. We’re coming to confess sin; it was like, “Well, now what do we do?” Nobody knew how to get out; everybody was in the same boat.
Another element of this is—my project has been recognizing the importance of mentors—godly men, who are a step removed/who have had substantial victory in this area and can, therefore, provide that model and that hopefulness: “Hey, you can come to where I’m at. You don’t have to stay in the pit; you can get out by the grace of God.”
That was a major thing for me in college. I had a college pastor, who I didn’t realize all of the good he was doing to me in counseling me through this struggle. In hindsight, I’m like, “There was so much wisdom.” I had the Bible verses; I’d had those memorized; I’d read books. It was his presence that connected the Scriptures and my life in such a way that there was actual transformation. That’s a major element of what I’m trying to encourage, is communities of men, where you have guys—who have had victory, and healing, and restoration in this area—who are trying to help walk with men, who are still in the pit and help them get out.
Dave: I think, as I listen to you—and obviously, it’s in your book—the value and the importance of a man being in community cannot be overstated.
Joe: Yes; correct.
Dave: Again, I’m not saying women—it isn’t a struggle for them—same thing. But, man oh man, what you just said requires you initiating, finding a mentor/you initiating, finding men, and having the courage to be that real.
I think we hide. I would just say this: “If you’re a man, alone with this battle, you’re going down; it’s not winnable without other men in your life”; right?
Joe: Hidden sins kill Christians because they’re hidden.
Dave: Yes; and I’ve never heard the mentor part; that’s a different angle. I’ve heard, “We need accountability”; and in some ways, I think guys gave up—because they went in there, like you said—“We shared our sin; we kept sinning.” That needs to be a unique group of men, but the mentor is critical; isn’t it? I’ve never heard that—
Joe: It is.
Ann: —to have an older man.
Joe: —an older man. And sometimes, it may not be older. It’s mainly someone who, on this issue, has achieved, by the grace of God, substantial victory so that they can provide hopefulness. They can look at you and say, “You’re not going to be here forever. It may take time. There are some things that have to get rewired, because you’ve conditioned yourself by your habits that you formed while you were in junior high and high school. It’s going to take time; it’s a long war/a long war. You’ve got to think long-term here, but you can get here. “
Part of the audience here is—I’m a pastor—I want to have something I can hand to the guys in my church that are doing it/that are living it and say, “Hey; you guys have this; now go find the guys who are struggling.” It’s not just that the guys, who are struggling, have to initiate.
Dave: That’s good.
Joe: I want churches to be able to be the sort of place, where it’s like: “It’s obvious where you go. There’s a group of men, and we know those guys, they know how to pastor guys through this struggle. They’ve seen fruitfulness, and they’ve seen hopefulness.” Guys go, “That’s where I’m going to go”; there’s no question of who has to initiate.
Ann: For wives to read that, and to have older women that are helping them also say, “There is hope for your husband and for your marriage.” That’s big.
Joe: That is so big.
Ann: Go back and talk to us about being in this pit, and these other guys being in this pit. What did that do to your spiritual walk with God?
Joe: It’s interesting. It was like a ping pong match; it was a ping pong match, honestly, between lust and pride. Basically, my spiritual walk—the measuring stick became whether or not I had looked at pornography recently—if I hadn’t, I felt pretty good about myself and kind of got a little swagger; I’d be feeling pretty confident. It hadn’t been all of that long, honestly; but I felt good about myself.
Ann: Did you feel like, “I’ve kicked it!”?
Joe: Yes; there was a sense of, “Okay; I’m good; I’m good.” Then, all of a sudden, here it would come again, and then I’d fall. Then it would be this hopelessness/this despair—that’s the way it pulls you in—there’s an allurement; and the moment you’re over the cliff, it’s accusation/they’re just on you: “You’re a failure.”
Part of what I talked about in the book is the “binge trap,” which is, basically, the mentality that says, after you’ve failed: “I already blew it. I might as well blow it a lot. I might as well go whole hog, because I’m already down here.”
It’s interesting—after writing the book—in our church, I’ve got some folks I’m working with on different areas, like on anxiety. I said, “Why don’t you read this?” I gave them the draft of the manuscript: “I know this is talking about sexual sin, but sin is sin. Sin is sin; see if reading this helps.” It actually did. There’s ways in which the temptation operate on us, and the patterns we get into are very similar.
Bob: I thought I picked up a little John Owen, Mortification of the Flesh, as I was reading through your manuscript.
Joe: Absolutely; you did.
Dave: It’s interesting—you’re talking about sort of the cycle. I remember—and I’m sure we’re all Bible scholars sitting around here—we’re familiar with James 1:13 where he talks about the pattern of sin. James says, “When tempted, no one should say God is tempting me, for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone.” By the way, you ever done that?—blame God?
Dave: [Laughter] I have. But he[James] says, “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin. And sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.”
Joe, you were talking about the feeling of being powerless. I’ve shared before one of my first journeys into that powerless world was on a Detroit Lions’ trip—actually, my first ever trip as a chaplain of the Detroit Lions—Seattle Seahawks, preseason game. They put me in a hotel room in a nice hotel all by myself. Only a few listeners will remember these days—that was when they had a little box on your TV, where you could order a movie—there were six movies. I remember standing in front of the TV, looking at this box/looking at the thing; three of them were Hollywood movies; three were porn.
As I looked at the thing—I’ll never forget—I looked down. I’m married; you know, I’ve got kids at home. I look at this little paragraph that says, “This will not be added to your room bill until after five minutes.” Obviously, that’s changed, but that’s how it was. The thought in my head is like, “I could watch something for four minutes and fifty-nine seconds, and nobody will know.” I thought, “I’ll never do this”; and I clicked. Just standing there, looking at the TV, I clicked on one of those bad channels for probably ten seconds and turned it off. That ten seconds [snaps fingers] changed my life. It’s like you swim into this pit you’re talking about. The next time I walked in the hotel room, on the next road trip, it was this power drawing me there—we’re talking ten seconds!—then, I had a secret. I’d come home; I had to do chapel for the team. Just what you’re saying, Joe, you’re living this sort of lie.
You think about what James said; it’s like you’re drawn and dragged in. An interesting thing about the passage, I’m sure you know, is it’s a fishing term; so the pattern to lose looks like this—there’s bait; right? He says you have an evil desire; there’s burn. I’m a pastor, so we’re going to do a little alliteration; right? Think about this: you’ve got bait; you desire it, so there’s this burn.
Here’s the choice—you either bite, and you end up bait; he says you die, not physically. The other option was—talk about this, because this is where we’ve got to go—if you win, what’s the pattern? Talk about it! What is the pattern?—because I think some people think, “You’ll never have this desire again; it’ll just go away.” There’s people that live with this utopia, like, “They don’t have the desire I have; so I can’t beat it, because they’re different.” I think the pattern’s similar; right? There’s still bait—of course, that’s up to you; you can eliminate that in some ways—but there’s still going to be desire there. But you have to make it a choice; you can bite or you can—
Joe: —walk away.
I think two things there: one is that the image/you have the fishing metaphor in the text; then you’ve also got this pregnancy metaphor—desire is conceived, sin is conceived, and then it gives birth to death—that’s the language. In some ways, what you were trying to do in that hotel room was be a little bit pregnant.
Dave: Yes; yes. [Laughter]
Joe: That’s, oftentimes, how we approach this. We want to be a little bit pregnant: “I want to get as close to that line as I can but try not to fall over.” Honestly, for a lot of guys, it’s the full going from pornography up to orgasm: “I can dabble up until then, and I can swim in it; but if I don’t go over that cliff, then I’ve had some measure of victory,”—which is a lie—it’s you’re moving closer and closer to the line; and eventually, you’re going to get pulled in.
The flip side is: “Success breeds success.” There’s a way in which you see the grace of God land so where you can actually feel the pull/feel that temptation, and then walk away; you go, “Oh, there’s something different.” One of the things I talk about here is in Galatians, Chapter 5: Paul says that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. There is a way in which God/what is God doing for us in our sanctification?—He’s restoring control of you to you; so that you tell your eyes where to look; you tell your hand what to touch/what to click on. You’re in control of you—because why?— the Spirit of God is at work in your life.
There’s a way in which, when we are faced with temptation, and we’re able, by the grace of God, to flee—the biblical language would be “run away”; right?
Dave: Yes; I use the word, “bolt.” [Laughter]
Dave: That’s right; bolt instead of—
Joe: You are a pastor—[Laughter]
Dave: I mean, bolt is like—
Joe: —probably a Baptist; right? [Laughter]
Dave: It’s got all B’s; it’s good.
Joe: Yes, you’re going to bolt—you’re going to run—you’re going to flee. Then, when you’re running away, you’re going, “I’m real! The Spirit of God is at work in my life!” That’s emboldening. There’s times, even to this day, where I can kind of feel that there’s a greater degree of pull—that wrong/that sinful curiosity—I will look for opportunities to win. I’ll know I’m going to Target, and you can’t walk through—I mean, you’re talking about it comes looking for you—you’re walking through Target; I just want to get some milk. [Laughter] It’s like, “What is going to be all over the billboards/what’s going to be all over, high up, where everybody can see it?”—is going to be the lingerie ads, and all this kind of stuff, or the magazine rack, or whatever. It’s like, “I know that’s coming; I tell my eyes where to look.” I tell my eyes where to look, because God is taking control of me; and therefore, He’s restored control of me to me. I’m going to get a small victory here as I walk out the door. I’m going to thank God as I walk out the door.
Ann: I have to say, guys, this topic breeds fear into so many women. As I listen, I’m thinking of the moms, the grandmothers, the wives that are listening, thinking, “We don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to battle this with our husbands or for our kids.”
I’m glad we’re having this conversation, because we need help.
Bob: I do think this is where a wife can come along, and instead of saying, “I’m going to be afraid that you’re going to fall, or that this is going to be an issue for you,” she can come along and say, “I want to be your ally in the battle here. I may not be able to understand what’s actually going on in your thinking, but I do know that this is real for you; I know this is a challenge for guys.”
Ann: I think for us, as women, to enter into the battle with our men, and our daughters, is really important.
Dave: I remember when I told Ann—we’re talking 40 years ago?—
Ann: I was battling against him.
Dave: Yes; right. It was one of the scariest moments of my life to admit. Then, when I did, I wanted, Bob/I wanted her to be my ally; but she had to process anger first, which I didn’t really expect.
Ann: —and fear and pain.
Dave: I got mad at her for being mad at me. She thought, “This is all about me. I’m not enough.” Every one of us is going, “No; it has nothing to do with you, honey.” But a woman doesn’t understand that; right? She’s like, “If I was adequate, you wouldn’t have to…” I’m like, “No…” The journey, though—we got through it—she got to a place, where the anger—not in a day or a week—but now, you’re my ally; it’s a beautiful thing.
Bob: And your book is here to help husbands and wives recognize, not only what is going on, but that there is a way to deal with the issue of lust and pornography. Joe’s book is called More Than a Battle: How to Experience Victory, Freedom, and Healing from Lust. We think this book is so important we’re making it available to anybody who can make a donation to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. When you invest in FamilyLife®, what you’re doing is helping more people, more regularly, be able to receive practical biblical help and hope for their marriage and their family. That’s a part of our mission—to effectively develop godly marriages and families.
When you support that mission, you extend the reach of FamilyLife Today. We want to say, “Thank you for your support,” by sending you a copy of Joe Rigney’s book, More Than a Battle. Go online to FamilyLifeToday.com to make a donation, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Ask for your copy of the book, More Than a Battle: How to Experience Victory, Freedom, and Healing from Lust by Joe Rigney. Again, donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. We look forward to hearing from you.
Tomorrow, we’re going to continue our conversation with Joe Rigney, talking about what’s really going on in a man’s heart when he finds himself being drawn toward lust/toward pornography. Joe will be back with us, again, tomorrow. I hope you can be back with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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