For much of the 1990’s I worked at an Esso bulk agency where we would sell fuel, oil and fertilizer to farmers and small commercial businesses. And one of the products that we used to sell was ammonium nitrate or 34-0-0. Farmers would use ammonium nitrate to fertilize their hayfields because it worked better than anything else at increasing yields. The other nitrogen product would release some of its nitrogen into the air, but ammonium nitrate fertilizer would stay intact until moisture carried its nutrients down into the soil.
But something happened on April 19, 1995 which made me realize that something that farmers were using to help create more food for the world could also be used to create destruction, terror and death. Timothy McVeigh parked a rented truck filled with explosives in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. And when those explosives detonated, 168 people were killed and more than 680 were injured. It was the worst terrorist attack on US soil before September 11, and one of the main ingredients in the bomb McVeigh made was ammonium nitrate.
Sex and sexuality is kind of like ammonium nitrate. Sex is a gift from God to humanity which he has given to us to enjoy within a marriage relationship. God has given us sex both for pleasure and for procreation. God has created men and women to fit together face to face and he has hard-wired the two sexes to be attractive and attracted to the other.
But just like ammonium nitrate, sex can and is being used in ways that causes terrible destruction. Sexual temptation is big business. In 2006, revenues for the pornography and sex industry were $13.3 billion more than the NFL, the NBA and MLB combined. That same year, world-wide total revenues for the sex and porn industry were 97 billion dollars. Because of the internet, pornography is now freely available to people of all ages in the privacy of their own homes. In 2007, a University of Alberta study indicated that 1/3 of the 13 year old boys surveyed admitted to viewing pornography. In 2006, Marketwire.com reported the results of a poll which indicated that 50% of all Christian Men and 20% of all Christian women are addicted to pornography. The same year, Reuters reported that 87% of university students are having sexual interaction via webcams, instant messaging or telephones. In a 2003 Focus on the Family poll, 47% of families said that pornography was a problem in their home. If you don’t have a problem with sexual temptation, you probably know someone who does. Pornography distorts viewer’s attitudes about sex and sexuality, impairing their ability to have healthy relationships. It drives a wedge into the intimacy between husbands and wives. And it fills people with toxic shame separating them from God. And pornography does all this even while it is kept a secret. When it is exposed in public, as it inevitably is, the consequences are devastating. Relationships are destroyed, lives are ruined and families are broken.
We need to talk about sex. We need to reclaim it as the good and wholesome gift from God that it is, and we need to find a way to help the many people who are ensnared by the corruption of this gift.
So let us begin with an understanding of how sexual temptation works. Temptation works through a cyclical process. In the book of James, chapter 1, we read: 14” but each of you is tempted when you are dragged away by your own evil desire and enticed.” (verse 14) The Temptation Cycle begins when an image or an idea connects with the darkness inside of us and we are enticed, that is, we begin to think about it. The psychologists call this first step Preoccupation. After thinking about it for a while, we then move to the next step and start to begin a pattern of behaviour that we repeat each time we go through the temptation cycle. Psychologists call this second step Ritualization. Our patterns or rituals may start out with seemingly innocent behaviour, like channel surfing on the TV, or Googling the names of movie actresses on the internet, or looking at lingerie ads in your local paper. But James was referring to this step when he speaks of desire being conceived. And just as a baby is inevitably born after it is conceived, once you begin the process of ritualization, you will inevitably enter the third step in the temptation cycle and Act Out. Now desire has given birth to sin. And your body betrays you: adrenalin begins coursing through your veins and you feel more vibrant and alive than you have for a long time. But the fourth stage of Shame soon follows, and we feel awful about what we have done. As James writes, the sin has resulted in death. But before very long, we begin thinking about the sexual sin again we rotate through the temptation cycle over and over again.
But there is another factor in play as we struggle with temptation. We don’t get the same level of excitement as we did the first time. The adrenalin rush tends to diminish each time we act out in the same way. So we have to elevate the risk and intensify the act to just to get the same “hit” that we did before. So the pattern of our sexual acting out tends to escalate from a casual habit, to a full-blown addiction, to becoming a lawbreaker, to becoming a sex criminal, to finally blowing up in our faces with disastrous results. Like a boxing match, the longer you stay in it, the worse you are going to get beat up. So when Tiger Woods’s double life is exposed and his career and his marriage are ruined because of his many extra-marital affairs, the only difference between us and him may be that he is in Round Five and we are still in Round One. But we are headed for the same disasterous outcome he is experiencing.
And because sexual temptation is so powerful, the remedies we attempt are often ineffective. As hard as we try on our own, we cannot overpower our lust, we cannot change ourselves so we have no lust and we cannot starve out our lust. Until the day we die, our lust remains within us like a dragon that threatens to rise up and take over our life if we feed it with sexual sin.
But there is a way to move towards sexual purity and that way is Jesus Christ. Jesus took all of our guilt, shame and sin from us and paid for it all on the cross. And Jesus brought to life a new person within us. He has given us a new identity as a forgiven child of God and he invites us to walk in his light. 1 John 1:7 reads: “ But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” I used to think that the safest way to live was to keep my brokenness in the darkness. But in recent weeks, I have begun to understand this passage in a new way. I now realize that what God is calling us to do is to bring all of our brokenness into the light. And I now know that it is much safer to live with my brokenness in the light. It is much safer to have a fellow Christian with whom I can be totally honest about what is going on in my life. And as we are accountable to one another and are encouraging one another under Jesus’ love and forgiveness, we are able to move towards sexual purity.
As a church, we need to start a conversation about sex. We need to encourage people to live out their sexuality in godly ways. We need to raise awareness about all the ways God’s good gift is being abused and misused. We need to talk about all the heartbreak and destruction that occurs when the dragon of sexual addiction gains the upper hand. We must create environments where people will know that it is safe to bring their brokenness into the light, particularly when the brokenness is in the area of sexual sin. With that in mind, next month we will be offering to the whole congregation a Bible Study called “Sexual Temptation in a High Tech Society.” And several weeks ago, Steve M. and I started a Men’s Accountability Group so both of us have a safe place to bring our brokenness into the light. And so, Steve, could you come on up here and share a little bit about what we do and what we’ve learned so far?
(The message concluded with an interview with Steve M. This message was shared on 24 January 2010 at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC.)
 “Statistics and information on Pornography in the USA,” BlazingGrace.org (Internet; found at: http://www.blazinggrace.org/cms/bg/pornstats; downloaded on 23 January 2010).
 Bill Perkins, When Good Men Are Tempted (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2007), 62-64; 182-189.
 Perkins, 82-85
 Perkins, 88-95.