Is there anything on earth that can’t become an addiction? Christian counselor Ed Welch talks more about the descent into addiction, and tells why loving anything more than your Creator always results in voluntary slavery.
Is there anything on earth that can’t become an addiction? Christian counselor Ed Welch talks more about the descent into addiction, and tells why loving anything more than your Creator always results in voluntary slavery.
Bob: This is Bob Lepine from FamilyLife Today, and before we start today's program, we need to have a word with our listeners, Dennis.
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Dennis: That's right, and I just want to say thanks in advance. I meet you all around the country. You come up and tell me you listening to our broadcast, and you share how your life has been touched and changed in your marriage and your family and your kids and, I want to tell you, it's a privilege to be here on FamilyLife Today.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today, our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. You know, I've already asked our guest this week, Ed Welch, about any addictions that he struggles with. So I'm going to ask you – do you think there are addictions in your life, things that you crave that get control of you?
Dennis: You know, I would have denied that 10 years ago, but as I've gotten older and watched the patterns of my life, I can vegetate in front of the television and develop flat brain waves, and, in my opinion, can become an escape from reality. It can numb the exhaustion of a hard day.
Bob: Let me ask Ed about that – is it possible to have an addiction to cable television?
Ed: To cable, in particular? Certainly not cable, but regular network TV, absolutely.
Bob: What Dennis describing, a guy who comes home and says, "I just want to sit down and relax and unwind a little bit, and he turns on the TV and surfs for a couple of hours. That doesn't sound so bad, is it?
Ed: Little mini-Sabbaths, I mean, we can certainly justify those things, and there is no doubt – I'm sure there are times where you need those mini-Sabbaths. Perhaps one of the ways we can detect it is when somebody comes and interferes with your show, how do you respond? When they interfere with your flatlining, do you find yourself grumbling and complaining? That's when you can begin to see it exposed.
Bob: When your wife has a need that needs to be addressed – do you see the look on his face as I'm talking about this?
Dennis: Oh, I've turned it off on more than one occasion, because Barbara will start to talk and finally she goes, "I want to talk," and being interpreted, "Will you turn that thing off so we can have a conversation?"
Bob: Are you annoyed when that happens?
Dennis: Sometimes, you know, it really matters what's on TV because it's usually a sporting event and if – there was one the other night – I kept looking over her shoulder, and that was not a good thing, that was not a good thing, and I forget what it was, but it was near the end of the game and it was, you know, it was just one of those moments, as a man, you had to finish it, you had to know how it turned out. But Barbara didn't buy that. She did not buy that at all, so I pushed the "record" button …
Bob: Went back and checked it out later.
Dennis: And check it out later. I feel like our listeners need to know who our guest is on FamilyLife Today – Ed Welch is a professor of Practical Theology and Westminster Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Sherry, have two daughters, two grandchildren. He has authored a number of books, and he's come up with a couple of workbooks. One for a facilitator and the other for a student called "Crossroads, A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Addiction."
Bob: And, Ed, you wrote a book a number of years ago called "Addictions, A Banquet in the Grave." These workbooks are kind of the practical outworking of that book, is that right?
Ed: Yes, the initial book, "The Banquet in the Grave," the people in mind were colleagues, were people who were going to be walking along with other addicts. For these particular workbooks, it's just flooded with friends and relatives and family who are actually in the addictions. That's why I was so zealous to be able to write this one.
Dennis: Okay, give us a working definition of addictions, because I think most people immediately rush to the more dramatic addictions – drugs, alcohol, sex – something along those lines, but, really addictions are a much larger issue today in our culture.
Ed: An addiction is when I love what I can get. How this thing makes me feel better. That's really what seems to be going on with addiction. Ezekiel goes on and says that they are thing in our hearts. You can have an addiction and never even actually see it.
Dennis: And so as we were coming in here, Bob, before we went on the air, asked you the question, are certain people more predisposed toward an addiction? And …
Bob: And you answered by saying, "Yes, people who are alive."
Dennis: Yeah, "People who have been born."
Ed: People who have been born – that seems to cover it. Again, do you realize how radical a starting point that is? Because, all of a sudden, the people who are off there in AA believe that their problem is very, very different than the rest of humanity. All of a sudden, you're grouping us all together, and we're all standing under the word of God together.
As we're talking about addictions, I was realizing that one of my addictions is my wife, and that probably would actually be a way to think about addictions, where, you know, how can you be addicted to your wife? Well, it goes something like this – there are certainly times with my wife where I am addicted to her. I love the way she makes me feel more than, frankly, I'd love to be able to serve her for the glory of Christ.
Bob: You know, I have to ask you about this because I was just with a friend of mine who faithfully gets up early in the morning, and he has his time with the Lord – an hour or more, that he spends in God's Word, in prayer, and he would say to me, "If I don't get that time every morning," he said, "It messes up my whole day." Is he addicted to his quiet time?
Ed: He is a person who certainly may well be feeding on the very Word of God, and that's a wonderful thing. He's saying, "I need this in order to live." He can be a person who is saying the Word of God is – "I use that so I can feel better. That's what I'm really going after – I'm going for some sort of emotional experience, and the bottle doesn't do it for me, drugs don't it for me, pornography doesn't do it, but actually I feel better about myself when I am involved in these kinds of things."
Dennis: Now, wait a second. You know, I thought when Bob asked that question, I thought now, that's really – that's a sneaky question, and, frankly, as I'm listening to you answer it, it's like what can't I be addicted to? Because you're saying ultimately that anything that I am doing just because it makes me feel better can become an addiction.
Ed: Well, one of the things that we find with Jesus in the New Testament, food is a really good thing. We need food. But what you find in the wilderness is Jesus is saying that, "Yeah, we need for in order to live, but food will never become more important than carrying out the very words of my Father," and that's really what we're talking about. What is the most – what is the object of your worship in your life?
Bob: So, again, let me try to get my arms around this – if I'm getting up having a quiet time every morning spending an hour in God's Word and praying, and I really look forward to that, how do I diagnosis whether that's a healthy part of my spiritual growth, something that I ought to be doing and that is giving me the sustenance that I need? Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. And how do I diagnose if this is an unhealthy relationship with the Bible? It almost sounds ridiculous to even talk about an unhealthy relationship with the Bible, but it's possible.
Ed: I guess here would be a simple way to do it – are the Scriptures leading us in loving Jesus more? What we can do is we can look at the fruit of the Scripture in our lives. If it is leading us to loving the Lord and loving other people, then we're on the right track.
Dennis: Let's talk to those who are dealing with something in their lives where – well, you use a term in your workbooks – voluntary slavery. That's how you describe addiction.
Ed: And it shows the wonderful sophistication of Scripture, doesn't it? Where Scripture understands both that somebody is, in one sense, almost hopelessly smitten and taken by this. They are actually enslaved, they are imprisoned by it. The Scripture takes that very, very seriously, but Scripture also takes the love of the object very seriously – "I do this because it helps me in some way. It gives me something that I'm looking for. This is where my life is. I do this because I want to. I do it because I like it."
That's one of the hidden features of sin. We sin not because we hate sin, we sin because we love sin. And so voluntary slavery, I think, is the wonderful way that Scripture brings together both the active, "I do this because I want to" nature of addictions, and the horribly enslaved feature of it.
Bob: Okay, well, then let me ask you about a guy who would say, "Yeah, I drink, but I'm not an alcoholic, I mean, I don't drink all the time. I can go for a week without having to have something to drink. I mean, I know I'm not addicted because I can point to periods in my life where I went without. Isn't that proof that I'm not an addict?"
Ed: Where do you turn when things are difficult in your life? Where do you turn? Do you find yourself first thinking, "I can't wait to get home and just relax and drink this away," or do you think "When I am in distress I will call out to the Lord. He is the one that I want to turn to, rather than these other objects of my affection." That's the goal of every Christian life.
Bob: So the person who says, "When I'm stressed, I shop," "When I'm stressed, I eat," "When I'm stressed, I drink," "When I'm stressed, I need to go out and have a cigarette," that person is really saying, "My response to stress is helping point out what my affections and addictions really are."
Ed: And once again you are establishing, "We are all in this together." We can be ruled by things that satisfy us. We can look for life and refuge in things rather than our Creator.
Dennis: Let's take a form of an addiction that is very prevalent among people of all ages today, especially among men – pornography. You are saying, then, that a man who is attracted to pornography, gets off into pornography, is doing this because it meets a need in his own life to feel good about himself."
Ed: "I am looking to find life in places other than the Lord." That's what all addiction is about. It's the phenomenon of the Garden. We have this sense that outside the boundaries that God has given us, there is life out there. It's what almost every teenager puts a voice to – "I feel like God is strapping me in, and I see all these other people having fun," well, that doesn't change when we leave our teenage years. There is lie in the devil's lies, there is life outside of what God has given us.
Dennis: And as people take steps toward this life outside the garden, outside where God is, you describe a descent into addiction. Walk us through that descent – of what takes place in a person's life and, if you would, use the living illustration of perhaps a man you've counseled around this very subject of addiction. Talk about how he sampled initially, how he was drawn in, and then how he became ultimately involuntary slavery.
Ed: The man who had a previous relationship with cocaine came to Christ. Things changed very dramatically in his life. He had a very, very difficult issue in his home. He had a child that died in childbirth. And at that particular point, he felt so horribly, and he did not turn to Christ in the midst of that. He said, "I have to find life somewhere else."
So the story began with him, at least we pick up the story where he is saying "Something really hurts. Something hurts. I don't like the way that I feel. How can I – and I don't want to endure with this. I don't think that Jesus is going to give me magic to take it away, and I've got to take it away sooner rather than later." And he began to move toward wine, and that was – that became the object of his affection.
And then every day that's what he would do. The horror of what happens in life, he felt like he had to keep it at bay and rather than calling out to the Lord and calling out to friends, "How do I call out to Christ in meaningful ways and find comfort?" He said, "No, I think this works quickly," and so he would go back to it again.
And we can see, at that point, a relationship began to develop. This is something that worked for him. It took away those bad feelings. It seemed to be more effective than turning to Jesus. And whenever anything works for us, we try it again. We practice it.
Now, the deception of all addiction is keep practicing it, and you will feel even better than before. You felt that much better after a little bit, you'll feel a whole lot better after a lot. And it's at that point the lies of that dark world become more and more apparent. Where we like it, we like it, we practice it, we look for more and more from it, we love it, we begin to worship it, but it betrays us, and we begin the experience the tragedy of addictions.
Bob: Now, in something like pornography, the very object of your affection is sin from the beginning. I mean, to gaze on another woman with lust in your heart is sinful at the start. If your addiction is food, you are not dealing with something that is patently sinful to begin with. When does it cross the line? I mean, we've already said it crosses the line when it begins to control you, but it's hard to diagnose when you are being controlled and when you are just saying, "Well, I'm hungry, so I'll have something more to eat."
Ed: Here would be one way to approach that – "I don't trust myself. Where is that line for me? I don't trust myself," and "Am I willing to speak of the details of my life to the close friends I have around me and to my spouse? If I find that, no, it's not necessary for them to know those details, that's when I'm in trouble – to value being able to be open about these things before others." When we're walking in the light, it may be a little bit embarrassing to speak of these things, but we're certainly willing to speak of them.
Bob: So the person who would say to you, "You know, I turned to Jesus, and I felt that for a while, but a couple of weeks later, or a couple of months later, I was right back in it. The compulsion dragged me back. I hear what you're saying, but I tried it, and that Jesus thing did not work for me." What do you say?
Ed: I would say we have a God who comes to us and advertises that He doesn't just give life and refuge, He gives abundant life. It's better than anything that we could imagine. And one of the myths that every single addict has is they have some suspicion that God is not that good. He is good if they're good, but if they happen to blow it, He's not that good. Every single addict must – must have that just deeply embedded in their soul, and for them to say, for them to hear a God who says "No, there is more. There is an abundance, there is life in me that is far superior than anything you can find in Creation."
Bob: Come back again, right? Just keep coming to the same place. Yeah, you slipped, you fell …
Ed: But with something like this, "Okay, Bob, listen, listen," okay? These are not just ordinary words. We think we've heard the words before. Did you ever hear a preacher – they're talking and then, all of a sudden, they, like, lean over the podium and they say, "Now, listen to me." That's what we're doing with an addict – "I'm going to tell you something, and this isn't just ordinary talk, this is 'You've got to listen to this, okay, because I'm going to give you words of actual life, so listen and embrace them and savor them and eat them.'" That's the way we approach an addict.
Dennis: I was thinking while you two were talking about the disciples – I believe it's in the Gospel of John where Jesus said some hard things, and it says, "As a result, many withdrew and followed Him no more," and He turned to His disciples and said, "Are you, too, going to leave?" And they made some of the words that I identify the most with in terms of just our humanity and just who we are as people. They said, "Lord, where would we go, for you alone have the words of eternal life."
Dennis: What's your hope? It's not in a bottle, it's not in drugs, it's not in gambling, it's not in pornography, sex, it's not in success, it's not in the more respectable addictions that we have in our culture. It's ultimately keeping on turning back to Him who is the bread of life.
Bob: Yes, if you mess up, when you mess up, when you slip, you can meet with the rest of us at the foot of the cross because that's where we've got to go every day because everyone who said, "Lord, I'm going to follow you," has fallen from that commitment on an ongoing basis, and where do we go with that? We go back to the cross.
Dennis: I think sometimes church service ought to start with just going down the rows and having people stand up – "I'm Dennis Rainey, I'm a sinner, and I am forgiven." And then Barbara Rainey stands up – "I'm Barbara Rainey, I am a sinner, and I am forgiven." Maybe, at points, name some of our sins. And we would see, you know what? We're in the thick of thieves and liars and cheaters and stealers and adulterers and former homosexuals. I mean, I think that's what the church was intended to be.
Bob: Well, in fact, on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, there is a link to a video that's on the Internet that many of our listeners may have seen. Hillside Christian Church in Amarillo, Texas, did something just like that. They called it "cardboard testimonies," and they different people come and share their testimony on a piece of cardboard. And on one side of the cardboard was what they used to be, and on the other side was the transforming work of God in their lives, and it's a powerful – in fact, if our listeners would like to see it, they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and follow the link and watch the video.
I should also mention that on the Web we have information about the book, "Addictions, a Banquet in the Grave," that Ed Welch has written – and about the workbooks that you have created as a companion to that book, and I'm excited about these workbooks, because I think they're going to help a lot of people and going to give churches a lot of opportunity to address this issue with folks in a very biblical way.
Again, the information about the resources we've talked about can be found at FamilyLifeToday.com. It's FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329. Someone on our team can let you know how you can get the resources you're looking for sent to you.
We want to say a special word of thanks today to those of you who are not just regular listeners to FamilyLife Today but some of you over the last several months have also contacted us to make a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today, and I know here in the week, when people are scrambling to get their taxes put together and to send everything off to the government, one of the last things people may be thinking about is making a donation to a ministry like FamilyLife Today. You just need to know, those donations we have received from you are what make this ministry possible. We are listener-supported, and without your past financial support, we would not be here today. These are difficult financial times for a lot of families, and difficult financial times for our ministry, and that makes the donations we've received recently an even greater encouragement.
This month, if you are able to help support FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount, we have a gift we'd like to send you as a thank you gift. It's a project that Dennis and Barbara worked on – I guess we could say you guys worked on this Bible for decades, because the FamilyLife Marriage Bible includes not only the text of the new King James version of the Bible, but also articles, devotions, tips, insights from the ministry of Dennis and Barbara over the last several decades.
This is a devotional Bible designed so a husband and wife can read through it together or on their own, and alongside the Bible text are these articles and tips and devotionals to help you think biblically about your marriage and about your family.
The FamilyLife Marriage Bible is our gift to you when you make a donation this month of any amount to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. In fact, you may want to pass this Bible along to someone you know who is getting married this spring.
Make your donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com and when you do, type the word "Bible" in the keycode box on the donation from, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329. You can make a donation over the phone and just ask for your copy of the FamilyLife Marriage Bible. We're happy to send it out to you and, again, we so much appreciate your financial partnership with us here in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Now, tomorrow we're going to continue to talk about addictions, and we want to talk about what happens when there is a relapse, when someone falls back into the old pattern of sin. We'll talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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