How I Learned to Abide in the Truth: Overcoming Negative Self-Image

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How I Learned to Abide in the Truth: Overcoming Negative Self-Image

What Ever is True

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4:8).

Growing up Adventist, this verse was quoted to me and memorized by ad nausea, ad infinitum. In the legalistic household of my youth, it meant exerting effort at controlling my thoughts. Making sure I didn’t think anything outside of what this verse said. A lot of energy was spent trying to live this verse out perfectly, and I am proud and happy to say that I failed miserably. No one ever explained what the verse means; its meaning was and is always assumed to be obvious.

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I say that I am proud because I was using this verse as a weapon against myself, abusing myself in an effort to perform that for which Christ died to perform in my life. It’s not that I was focusing on the Holy Spirit and on Holy things…instead I was simply exerting energy on not thinking on things which were untrue, dishonest, unjust, unethical, impure, immoral, unlovely, gossip, lacking virtue, and unpraiseworthy. I was behavior focused, in a “thou shalt not” Old Covenant fashion. I was Hagar and Ishmael, not Sarah and Isaac. [1]

 

Recently I was playing a video game when this verse (Philippians 4:8) entered my mind. I let this verse have place in my mind for weeks, as it came to me that I could not play that video game anymore. It (the game) simply was not true.

 

You see, I like the fantasy genre of video games with warriors, elves, dwarfs, and mages. I typically would choose to play as a mage, having all types of magical firepower at my disposal. The problem is that nothing about these types of video games are true. Mages with fire coming out of their hands do not, nor have they ever existed. Orcs and ogres, dwarf kingdoms hid deep under the ground filled with treasure, fairies, and elves, ents (talking/walking trees), and giant talking spiders do not nor have they ever existed. It simply was not true. I was wasting all my time, escaping reality into the realm of fantasy, wasting valuable hours, brain power, and physical energy on that which is not in fact, true.

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Now I’m not here to judge anyone’s personal practices or pastimes. However, for me and the things God has called me to do, I cannot afford to waste my time entertaining and distracting myself from improving my talents, being submissive to the Spirit, enjoying actual life with my wife and daughters, etc., on something that is in fact, untrue.

I’m Not a Ranger

As I began to reflect on this verse and the reality that I had to delete some video games from my tablet, I began to reflect on my military service as well. I was raised as an Adventist. I went to church school. My parents read the Bible to me daily and gave me every bible story book, record, and tape. My brother Philip and I won every Bible bowl of our youth, and were both pathfinder of the year and/or the runner up.

 

After my parents divorced, we stopped going to church. Phillip and I were in survival mode. We were surviving poverty, family addictions, parental divorce, domestic abuse and assault, living in the “hood”. I was surviving molestation. I started to get in trouble. Vandalism, shoplifting, fighting in school, and failing classes. My world and identity were disoriented. So, my mom encouraged me to join the military. I’m glad she did! It kept me off the streets, off of drugs, out of jail, and probably saved my life.

 

I joined the army in the fall of 1993. After Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training, I was supposed to be deployed to Korea. I had never been that far from my mom, so I joined the Rangers instead. These were some of the finest men I knew in the military in terms of martial skill. The highest school in the Ranger battalion was Ranger school, where I was sent. In the last phase of Ranger school, I quit. It was totally against my Ranger indoctrination and training to quit. Rangers never quit. I have lived for years with this notion of quitting Ranger School and Ranger Battalion, until this past week when I began again to reflect on Philippians 4:8. Being a Ranger was, for me, simply not true.

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When I say “not true,” what I am saying is that this was totally contrary to my upbringing, my training, my skills, and gifts. Being an Army Ranger was a carryover from the survival mode I had lived in after my parents’ divorce, et al. However, survival mode is not true living. It is survival. I was not raised to kill, to shoot-move-and communicate, to do close-quarters combat. These are the things I had to learn, as a Ranger, in order to survive being away from my mother, but I couldn’t keep up the lie. I was not internally a Ranger.

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I’m not saying that there are not people who are called to be military and police personnel. Lest some of my more conservative brethren forget, the Bible says:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil (Romans 13:1-4).

 

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well (1 Peter 2:13-14).

Both verses say that the government ruler, and hence his police and military, are set in place by God, ideally to punish evil and wicked people. This means that there are people out there with a call and anointing by God on their lives to punitively punish evil and that with violence if necessary. I wholly support those who are aware of such a call, and by faith walk in it with integrity. But this was not my calling. I was living a lie.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful for the time I spent serving in the military, and If I went back in time and had to do it all over again I would. It was the best option for me, and I deeply appreciate every single person I have served with. Over the years, however, with my tendency toward military movies and video games and such, I realized I have been reinforcing this survivalist lie. I was not being who I truly am. That life is a lie for me.

The Lies of Pornography

Or take my old addiction to pornography. Epigenetically I inherited such immorality from my father’s side of the family. Environmentally, I found grandpa’s porn stash when I was 5. I found porn in the homes I lived in, especially after my parents divorced, and there was porn rampant throughout the military. I made bad choices early on to look at it. Having been molested early in life, sexuality was activated far too soon and my curiosity for such took me down that path which was already two-thirds of the way paved for me.

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What are the lies of porn?

  1. For starters, the people in the picture or in the video don’t know you are there and don’t really care about you. If they knew you were there they would probably laugh at you. They are selling themselves or being sold as a commodity, their smile is a facade. Their entire life is a plastic charade.
  2. That all sexual relationships should be as ravishingly passionate and gymnastically intense as porn. They are not.
  3. That your actual partner in life is just as amorous as the bodies depicted in the magazine or in a video, and that they are a “page turn”, a light switch flip, or one sexy song away from being absolutely turned on, waiting to fulfill your needs, without you having to really do a thing. (I hope you hear the selfishness of this line of thinking).
  4. Porn proposes an “everyone is doing it, with everyone, everywhere, in every way, all the time,” mindset. This is found in the multiplicitious physical and thematic encounters portrayed by the actors.
  5. That viewing porn and fornication, in general, would somehow give me back what I lost since being molested.

None of these are true. Not one single bit of it. Porn and fornication leave the viewers and all participants as hollow shells seeking meaning, acceptance, vulnerability, authenticity, transparency, and love, but addicted to a temporary feeling and relief.

Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).

The Bible says that fornication is a sin against the self, against one’s own body. This is because sexual expression is described by God, as a primary original function of humanity.

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth (Genesis 1:28).

This being fruitful, multiplying, replenishing, subduing dominion is about numerical superiority. Part of humanity’s dominion was due to its ability to subdue all other life forms by outproducing them. This reproduction has to be heterosexual reproduction, making heterosexual reproduction a primary function of human existence.

Thus, to fornicate is to sin against one’s primary reason for being.  Now that I am a married, what kind of fool would I be to continue to addict myself to a lie? God has given me a perfectly beautiful wife who loves me mind, body, and spirit, and marriage gives me and my wife the opportunity to glorify God with our body, as God intended it in the beginning:

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed (Genesis 2:24-25).

It is Who I was Not Who I am:

As I sat with the reality of video games, Ranger Battalion, my old porn addiction, in relationship to this new revelation of dwelling on whatever is actually true, something else crossed my mind. It was my notion of the cognitive, physical and emotional struggle of trying to identify with something, a new way of being, of this new spiritual person that was entirely foreign to me.

I had lived my life with epigenetic tendencies handed down from my parents and their families. I lived in environments that have supported what the Bible declares are unethical and immoral behaviors. I have participated in these unethical and immoral behaviors. The choices of mine were a cognitive and electro-chemical physiological agreement with the environment that helped shape them, and the epigenetics that birthed them. This is who I was, who I am.

But that is also a lie. The Bible says that,

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4).

 

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

According to the Bible, when I accept Jesus, my old life is dead. Which means that any reference to it, after Jesus, is a lie. What do I mean? When I used to be a liar, after Jesus the Bible declares me honest. That is God’s truth for me. Where I used to be a thief, I am no longer. That is God’s truth for me. Where I used to fight, fornicate, be isolated and inebriated…none of that is true about me now.

The only truth that matters for me is what God has declared, not what my past says, not what my habits say, not what my physiology says, not even what my mind tells me in the secret stillness of internal silence. While it all may be truth of what I have done, it is not true of who I am now.

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At times, the only truth that matters is how I feel about myself, what my body says about me, what my memory, enzymes, hormones, moods, etc. say about me. My entire being conspires against me, attempting to replay the tapes of my memory, habits, addictions, urges, feelings, emotions, and desires or lack thereof as if they are informing me of who I am. That is the lie. It is who I was. The only truth that really matters is the truth that God declares over me now.

Stagger Not at the Promise of God—Believe It

Romans picks this up when it speaks of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham was old and impotent, and Sarah had past the years of childbearing, and yet the Bible says that, based on the promise of God to give him a son, that Abraham…

…being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform (Romans 4:19-21).

Abraham, against what his body and feelings were telling him, against what he and Sarah’s history told him, against what Sarah’s body told him, did not consider any of his past and limitations, nor Sarah’s, but gave glory to God, and staggered not. He trusted and was fully persuaded that what God had promised, God could perform. And one night Abraham against all human ability and logical pragmatic situational truth, based solely on the truth God had spoken over in he and Sarah, walked boldly into his bedroom, staggering not, laid in the bed with his wife, and performed. Nine months later, the son of promise is born.

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The same power and promise is to everyone who is of faith, and based on that faith is Abraham’s seed. You are not what you feel, what you have been through, what you have done or struggled with.

Therefore,

I am not a Ranger.

I am not a sexual abuse victim

I am not a fornicator.

I am not a drunk.

I am not a curser.

I am not a pessimist.

I am not an addict.

I am a child of God.

And so are you.

 

Think on these things.

______

Notes.

[1] Galatians 4.

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About the author

Jason O' Rourke

Jason O’Rourke is a district Pastor in the Netherland Union Conference. He is the author of “Sex-U-ology: God, Gender, Marriage, and Intimacy”, a book reconsidering the Genesis 1-3 narratives, and has done numerous seminars on relationships, manhood, sexuality, and addiction. Jason has also authored several articles on race and religion in Spectrum magazine, most notable “Toward a Seventh-day Adventist Theology of Social Justice.” Jason is a trained hospital chaplain, with 10 years ministerial service at Florida Hospital. He is married to his lovely wife of 7 years, Melissa Gail. Together they minister through their ministry, “Ready, Set, Renewed” to help couples address deep rooted issues and find biblical healing. Jason and Melissa have two beautiful daughters, Abrielle Joy and Myla Grace.