A Pastor's Struggle with Pornography and Prostitutes | World Challenge

A Pastor's Struggle with Pornography and Prostitutes

A pornography addiction can feel like a hopeless trap. When we pray and pray for it to go away, we can get stuck in a cycle of despair when the addiction remains. This week, visiting speaker Nate Larkin talks about his own sexual addictions and how he eventually found freedom.

A pornography addiction can feel like a hopeless trap. When we pray and pray for it to go away, we can get stuck in a cycle of despair when the addiction remains. This week, visiting speaker Nate Larkin talks about his own sexual addictions and how he eventually found freedom.

Gary: Nate, it is good to have you here today. I'm Gary Wilkerson. This is Nate Larkin. Nate and I, we haven't known each other all that long. We met in Franklin, Tennessee. Do you remember? I don't remember how long that was.

Nate: That was just a few months ago. I think yes. Introduced by Matthew Ward.

Gary: The crazy Matt Ward, who's in studio with us here today. Who is just by-- I know you're not going to be able to turn the cameras but he is attempting to grow his hair long as I am. Especially, and I think it's important that we have long hair and this topic today about Samson and the pirate monks. That’s your book is called, Samson and the Pirate Monks?

Nate: Yes.

Gary: You wrote that. It's been a while.

Nate: Yes, it came out in 2007.

Gary: I was… kind of just want to get right into the crux of the thing. Do you mind just starting off the podcast just by kind of just telling us the-- I don't know, your rock bottom. The topic today is going to talk about addictions and particularly sexual addictions and problems we have in life-controlling problems.

Nate: Yes, it's funny, as my illicit sexual behavior continually crossed boundaries every time I did something I swore I would never do before I would think this is it, this is finally bottom. It turns out you really don't hit bottom until you stop digging. For me, that happened 21 years ago when my wife walked in on me as I was downloading porn in my home office.

Gary: Wow.

Nate: It was a long-standing habit. Actually, that was the tip of the iceberg. I was also at that point seeing prostitutes and I had a very well-hidden secret life going on and was completely miserable in it.

Gary: Something like that doesn't just sort of like you don't just flip a switch and all sudden you're addicted. This comes from a long history of compromise, of trauma, of difficulty.

Nate: Yes.

Gary: Do you mind going back to--

Nate: Yes, back it up, sure.

Gary: Back it up and just kind of tell us how all this started or a little bit about your upbringing or?

Nate: Yes, I think I'm still coming to understand what made me especially vulnerable to this kind of addiction, this process addiction. To back it up. I grew up in a Christian home. My dad actually was a preacher, Pentecostal preacher. In a large family. I'm the oldest of 10 kids. Life was church when I was a kid. We were in there three times a week at least when the doors were opened we were there. That was where I felt most alive. It was where I excelled. I had the skills that were deemed necessary to really perform well in church and I did perform well in church.

I loved church. I was marked for the ministry from an early age. We all have a deep need for intimacy, for connection. We need people attuned to us; we need to connect. When I got my first glimpse of pornography shortly after my mother died, and all it was was I saw a Playboy magazine in a magazine rack at the corner store. Just that image arrested me. It was almost electric. At the same time I felt guilt, I felt shame, I felt excitement, I felt attachment.

I remember later on that night after dinner, I slipped out of the house and ran back down to the store just to look at it for a few more minutes and then come back home. Never even opened the magazine. Because I had a reputation as a Christian, because I really wanted to be a Christian and wanted to be a public Christian and felt it was very important, I had an obligation to maintain a testimony and we certainly don't want to bring shame on the name of Jesus.

During my high school years, I found inventive ways to get softcore porn, but I always had a collection concealed in the basement of the church somewhere where nobody would find it.

Gary: Wow.

Nate: A few times after an evangelistic crusade or a youth camp when I had rededicated and promised to-- I'd repented, I'd go and destroy the collection. Yes, but just tortured by my own conscience. Feeling really condemned. So I kept that all very well concealed. The persona that I developed, I was given the nickname St. Nate in high school.

Gary: I like that.

Nate: Everybody had a pretty good a high opinion of St. Nate but nobody had a higher opinion of him than I did. Went on to college where I was a scholarship kid in a secular university. Where there although I was the president of the campus Christian fellowship, and so I didn't advertise my porn use. At that point of during my college years decided to kind of stop feeling guilty about it. This was kind of adult behavior. I'm going to get some sex education. I’m preparing for marriage. Because I'm so naïve but I need sex education. This is a way to get it. It was stupid.

Gary: Is that common-- I don't want to skip ahead too far. In the ministry even now the men you're dealing with, is it common that there's lots of excuses for doing it? Or?

Nate: Oh, sure. Absolutely. Yes.

Gary: We'll talk about that later, but that's yours were just preparing for marriage.

Nate: Right. Exactly.

Gary: Okay.

Nate: Which didn’t mean that I stopped feeling guilty about it. I tried to stop feeling guilty about it, but you can't silence your own conscience.

Gary: Got you. Yes.

Nate: I didn't understand the damage I was doing to myself. I was allowing pornographers to define beauty for me in a way that eventually would blind me to the beauty of my wife. The way I was learning just to objectify women to see bodies and not people. The way sex became, in my own mind, connected to lust rather than love, to taking rather than giving; and it was depersonalized, and it was about performing not about being. All of the special, intimate blessings of marriage that come in that marital union. It would be years before I would begin to actually experience what it's like to have that kind of marital love because I allowed it to be conditioned by a culture of pornography.

Gary: You seemed to be saying it’s hard or impossible to really love someone when you’re spending all your energy on lust.

Nate: Yes. Lust kills love. They are enemies of one another. Lust is about me. Love is about you. Lust is about taking. Love is about giving. Learning to love. I remember my first sponsor in recovery saying, “Nate you’ve had sex but you’ve never made love,” and he was right. He was right.

Gary: It’s different, wow. You’re in college. You’re hiding it.

Nate: Yes. Exactly but looking around and I meet this extraordinary woman who shows up at our church and she’s a brand new Christian. She’s so different from the church girls and for some reason although every man in the building was looking at her, somehow she saw me and I saw her. It was just, “Bang” from the first sight. We married the day I graduated from college. Allie is 10 years older than I am and she was a single mom so I got a 10-year-old son in the process. A great kid who’s responsible for us moving to Nashville and has now become 52. How did that happen?

Gary: Wow.

Nate: Yes, amazing. We were good friends and have remained good friends. Sometimes joke that our marriage has survived partly because we have compatible intimacy disorders. [laughs] I was greatly distressed. Very disappointed to discover that marriage was not a solution to my porn problem. I told myself that once I had an actual physical committed sex partner, porn would lose its attraction and that was not the case. I kept that hidden from my wife for the first few years of marriage, eventually did disclose it to her.

She never excused porn use or approved it but she understood the attraction and didn’t reject me. Said that she would stand with me against it and I could share my struggle with her. She would help but I have come to believe that really God didn’t design her to be my accountability partner in matters sexual. She volunteered for a burden too heavy for her to carry but I gave it to her because I didn’t have any male friends to share it with.

I had no brothers, so I put all that weight of all my missing friendships I put it on my wife. That was a strain. I eventually stopped telling her about the struggle. I thought I had it under control because I wasn’t following through on the impulses. During that time, I found the courage to start a church. Became a church planter and fulfilled the family destiny. Started a church in South Florida.

Gary: How old were you then?

Nate: Started the church at age 25.

Gary: Okay, quite young.

Nate: That was crazy. I was the youngest guy in the church I think but I was a smart guy, good on my feet, articulate and sincere. I was able to pull some people together but it wasn’t very long before the stresses of the ministry-- under those stresses my brain wanted relief and I found my way. By this time, I guess we’ve skipped. By this time I’ve graduated from softcore porn to hardcore porn which is available at this point in the 1980s, early 80's, only in adult bookstores. I am haunting adult bookstores, making furtive trips being very careful not to be seen. It’s always high stress. You take a big risk. I did that. I was careful. I was never caught. I hated my own hypocrisy, was tortured by this thing. I quit a hundred times. I just couldn’t stay stopped.

Something would happen and I would find my car driving back to the same place. Then about four years in it got worse when I wound up picking up my first street prostitute on a Christmas Eve of all nights on my way to a candlelight service. It was accidental. I didn’t know what I was doing because I just saw a woman walking in the rain. I didn’t know what she was doing until she was in the car and propositioning me but at that point, I was so conditioned by a scene that I had seen countless times on film and video. Something that I had participated in vicariously but now I was just another character in the scene and I followed the script. Tragically, didn’t even see the person. Never bothered to learn the backstory of that poor woman who on Christmas Eve was out offering her body to strangers.

Gary: My goodness, wow. You went from there to your candlelight Christmas Eve service?

Nate: Yes, I went straight to the candlelight Christmas Eve service and it was just awful.

Gary: How were you feeling?

Nate: It was the worst night at that point. I really thought for a moment I thought this is the bottom, I’m going to stop here but in the back of my mind there was a voice that said, “No, you’re going to do it again.”

Gary: That was all happening at the Christmas–

Nate: Yes. I knew. I knew. I knew because I’d stopped so many times.

Gary: Yes, made so many promises.

Nate: Made so many promises.

Gary: We can go through those, “Lord, that’ll be the last time or if you’re going to do it again just one more time then I’ll stop. Or I made a mistake so I’m going to read my Bible three hours a day. I’m going to fast, I’m going to increase my tithing by 20%." Just more promises we make in compensation. Try to compensate for-- but that’s a tough-- I mean all sin-- you can’t compensate for any sin but in your own mind that’s got to be a tough one to think you could ever compensate for.

Nate: Right.

Gary: Okay, I’m a pastor of a church and I pick up a prostitute on the way to my Christmas Eve service. You’re almost in an awkward and very unusual position. It’s not when you can go, “Well, six of my other friends who've told me about when they did this.” You feel alone too.

Nate: Yes sure, there’s nobody I could tell and I’ve got a family to support. This is the only thing I’ve ever done so yes, that was lonely and terrifying. I thought for a while that-- I entertained the hope that maybe, possibly I had hit bottom because I didn’t do it right away but then I did. A year later, on my 30th birthday, I woke up knowing that something had to give. Famous preachers were getting caught, humiliated and exposed. The worst thing I could imagine was losing my reputation. I had to preserve St. Nate at all costs. I was either going to have to quit the ministry or quit the behavior and at that point, the only thing I could do was quit the ministry so at the tender age of 30 I retired.

Gary: And was that relieving?

Nate: Yes. It was also terrifying. I remember the church gave me three months’ severance. I had three months to figure out what I was going to do and I had no idea what I was going to do. This is the only thing I’d ever imagined that I was going to do.

Gary: That’s why you went to seminary so that’s what you’re trained for?

Nate: Sure, yes. I’m a graduate of Princeton Seminary. I’ve devoted my whole life to this thing. All my training is in this direction. I got three kids so I’m in the family station wagon. I’m driving down the strip in Fort Lauderdale. I’m listening to an AM radio station. A motivation station. All self-help all the time right. I’m grasping its straws so the guy on the radio is saying something like this. He’s saying, “Are you afraid to go to that job interview or that audition?” He said, “You’re afraid you won’t get the job or won’t get the part?” He said, “Well I have a solution for you. Send somebody else.” He goes, “Here’s what I mean. They know exactly what they’re looking for. They’ve written up a description of that person so read the description, create that person and send him to the interview.”

I thought, “I can do this. I’ve been doing this my whole life.” I created a whole new persona right there in the car. “Mad Nate the business guy,” and it worked. I got a job as a partner-- within a year and a half-- I got a job in an engineering firm and within a year and a half, I was a partner in an engineering firm. I’ve never had an engineering course in my life. I faked it and unfortunately, that came with a lot more money than I'd ever made in the ministry with even less accountability. I was on my own, I was in charge of marketing and promotion, and all that kind of stuff. I had an expense account, I was not accountable to anybody for my time, and what followed was a very, very dark decade.

Gary: What was that?

Nate: Well, it just progressed. I spent all told, best I can figure $300,000 on pornography and prostitutes, but secretly and never missing church. Not just going to church. I sang in the worship team, I helped with the youth group, I taught Sunday school, I sometimes filled in for the preacher. I loved church. St. Nate could live at church, could breathe there, but it was tough on Sunday morning though. I would come in just weighed down with all the guilt of what I've been doing. I would make my silent confession to God, because I couldn't confess to anybody else. I would fight my way to the foot of the cross, and I'd get some feeling of forgiveness. Halfway through the worship service, I could look toward heaven again, but it was exhausting.

Gary: The weight of that must be hard to bear with a double life like that?

Nate: Yes. The great irony, one of the great sadness that I still live with. One of my great regrets is that when other men in the congregation were caught in something or confessed to sexual sin, I was among those who participated in the punishment. I now believe that the church is to be a safe place for repentant sinners. We're never ever to excuse or accommodate sin, but we're always to be open and accepting and empathetic and helpful to the repentant sinner. We always took a punitive approach, and I participated in effectively driving other guys from the church. Knowing all the time, thinking that maybe if I scare them enough, it would scare me enough. That's a great regret I have.

Gary: You were afraid to--

Nate: Yes, but I knew. We had what we called accountability groups back then. I did this shame-based accountability a couple of times, but always very carefully. You get around a few guys and you talk in code. I could never really say exactly what I was doing. Are you kidding, they just give me the left foot of fellowship. Talking code about the lust of the eyes, and then really pretend that my biggest concerns were grouchiness and speeding. [chuckles] We'd make this deal that we would get together weekly, and ask each other the tough questions.

By the second meeting I was always lying, because I didn't want to get kicked out of the group. The whole arrangement was based on this insane assumption that I can hold it together on my own for an entire week, so then I would leave with more shame and the accountability group would fall apart.

Gary: In your story now it brings up to, you've been in a good number of years stuck in this lifestyle?

Nate: All of that in Florida, and then at the invitation of our son and daughter-in-law who are expecting our first grandchild. We move from South Florida to Middle Tennessee. Franklin, Tennessee just south of Nashville, and it's there not long after we've moved that Allie catches me looking at porn.

Gary: Sorry to interrupt, but you were just sharing this morning a devotion that I thought that was interesting. You're talking about, you're thinking the move was going to be--

Nate: Yes, the move was magical to begin with. I mean, we moved and it was amazing. The obsession did lift. We're in a new place, we've got a fresh start, we're kids again, we're holding hands, we're buying furniture, we're hanging curtains, we're walking to church, and it is wonderful. Which made me think, "Wow, the problem must've been Florida."

Gary: Location, it's where I lived--

Nate: Yes. The geographical cure does work.

Gary: A lot of people think that. The location helped for a little while.

Nate: Help for a little while until we started running out of money, and I began to get afraid and fear drove me back to my favorite drug, which was porn and prostitutes. At that point, there was a thriving prostitution center in Nashville, so I was back into it. We ran out of money faster than we needed to because I was spending a lot of it secretly. My wife caught me. She handled the porn all right that first night, but then she found a condom on the floor in the bathroom that I couldn't quite explain. It was a bridge too far for her, and that's when she sat me down in our bedroom and said, "I am done."

She said, "I still love you, but I don't like you. I don't trust you. I don't respect you, and I don't think you can ever change." I can hear those words today, and those are the words really that saved my life. They gave me the gift of desperation. She was my only friend. I knew if there was any chance at all to salvage that relationship—and she didn't give me any hope really to believe that there was—I was going to have to do something I'd never done before, and I was going to have to go for help. I didn't have the money for a therapist. We were in a new church, and I didn't trust the church yet. I wound up going to a 12-step group for sex addicts, and it was there I met Jesus in a whole new way. [laughs].

Gary: That's interesting. Why didn't you trust the church?

Nate: I didn't trust the church because I had seen us in practical ways, ignoring our own rhetoric about grace. We always sang amazing grace in the churches where I was growing up. Our theology said that when you sinned, you fell out of grace. God was the God of second chance, but you had to comeback, and you had to repent and truly repent, and then you could get grace again. Which meant basically, that you had all the grace you needed unless you needed it. I didn't want to get kicked out of a brand new church.

Turns out, one of the things really that lead eventually to the formation of the Samson Society was I heard the pastor from the pulpit, the pastor of Christ Community Church Scottie Smith describe what it's like to wait for a pornographic image to crawl its way down the screen. That told me two things. It told me one, Scottie had seen porn. Two, that he'd seen in the days of dial-up.

[laughter]

He could talk about it.

Gary: From the pulpit?

Nate: From the pulpit. Turns out, that was a safe place for me to talk about my sin in the present tense, but I didn't know it at the time.

Gary: Sin in the present tense, because a lot of pastors when they're sharing something about their own struggles. It's like, "35 years ago, one time I did this."

Nate: I almost did this.

Gary: It makes you feel like, "I'm such a loser, I can't talk to these guys who have it all together."

Nate: The 12-step meeting was in the basement of the church, in the middle of the week while all the good people were gone. You know what amazed me? 

Jesus shows up even though they talk about him as a higher power.

Gary: Right, many have come to know Jesus through first saying, "I don't know what this is, but there's something bigger than me."

Nate: What that has turned out to be is a side entrance into the church. I got into the world of 12-step recovery. Starting off to meetings for sex addicts. I also started going to AA meetings even though I'm not an alcoholic. I love going to AA meetings and listening to drunks talk sense to each other. It's amazing to me because what an alcoholic says, one drink is too many and a thousand is not enough. I know exactly what he's talking about. It was amazing to me as I started going to those meetings. Then I went back to church, how many people I recognized.

How many people who found their way to church or found their way back to faith because they finally found a place where they could take their real selves and say the real truth bring all themselves in the warmth of the love of God.

Gary: That's good, so that was as the things started to transform in your heart then at that point?

Nate: Yes, and as I found my first male friend since childhood there, a guy who became my first sponsor in SAA. He was a guy I'd met in church, actually. He was a guy who wanted to know everything. He was willing to hear my life story, unvarnished. I remember when I did my first step which was like a sexual history. The first time I wrote it out. I wrote out pages and pages and pages of stuff. We met at a park so that I could read it to him. We sat down on the bench, and I pulled it out, and my hands are shaking. He says, "Okay before we get started, what's the one thing you didn't write down?" I went, "What are you are you talking about?" He says, "The thing you didn't write down. What's the thing you didn't write down?"

I told him. He said, "Good. Now read the rest of it." When I got done, he said, "You know what your biggest problem is? Your biggest problem is you think that sex is your problem." I looked at him like he was crazy. He says, "Sex is a problem. It's a big problem. You can't stop what you are doing on your own. God's going to have to do it for you. He will use us in the process, but if you think that just stopping that sexual behavior is going to fix you and make you happy, you are crazy. If that's the only thing that changes, you are going to become more miserable, and more miserable to be around than you have been, because sex is not your problem. Sex is your favorite solution."

He said, "Sex is the medication that you have been using to numb the pain caused by your deeper problems, which, by the way, are common to man." He really wanted to broaden the conversation.

Gary: How'd that feel to you? What were you feeling when he said that to you?

Nate: I was confused because really, I did think that sex was my problem. I went into those rooms thinking these are the people who have the secret information. The missing piece of the puzzle. The rest of my life is pretty much together if I can just stop this crazy sexual behavior I'll be fine. What he began to open up to me, and I resisted this for years. It was really two and a half years before I, although I had periods of abstinence and certainly there were spiritual growth and enough change that Allie made the choice to stay and our marriage began to heal. It was two and a half years before I really experienced true sexual sobriety.

That amazing feeling of freedom and serenity. Mainly because I kept resisting the deeper work. I didn't want to confront my own pride. I didn't want to talk about unbelief because in my own head I believed. I didn't want to talk about fear, because I'd been taught that real men are not afraid. I didn't want to talk about shame, I didn't want to be angry because somehow I thought that anger is sin. My friend was patient, and he didn't walk ahead of me, he walked with me. He shared his own struggles along the way, and because I had found a place where I could come in, he wanted me to call him every day, which was a struggle. It's what I absolutely needed to begin to build a bridge of attachment and connection, trust and connection with another person. I had to learn non-sexual intimacy, but as I learn to say the truth. I had to learn to stop lying. I lied instinctively. I had a great sense for what people needed to hear, and I could deliver it that fast. To learn to walk in the light, to tell the truth, and to begin to face these things, it takes time. That's the other thing that I brought into this process. One of the enemies was my spirituality was very impatient. I was raised in a world where when God moved miraculously, miracles were always instantaneous. You would come up today, you would respond today, and everything would change. If everything didn't change, well, then you really hadn't repented.

Gary: Yes, it's your fault. That gets you to the point of starting to feel like you felt free and felt you could-- was it bootstrap abstinence or were you actually as this journey went on you felt like you just stop thinking about porn less?

Nate: Yes, you know, this is the renewing of the mind that the Bible talks about. This really is healing by the way. It's healing in a specific part of the body. It's healing in the brain. We can see now on brain scans what the brain of a sex addict, lust addict, or porn addict looks like. It's very much like the brain of a cocaine addict, because we've been living out of the pleasure centers and because we've been acting mostly out of the middle brain, very strong neural pathways have formed so that that behavior that elicit behavior has become habituated. Almost it's practically automatic. Our ability to override the impulse has diminished.

We have to recover that. New neural pathways have to be formed. Our brain actually has to heal. It's interesting that the brain scans of recovering sex addicts show that function has returned to the prefrontal cortex. That's a gradual process. We really need a lot of support in the early stages. It was very disheartening when I had my first relapse. I didn't want to call. I remember rehearsing my phone call. I waited several days to call my sponsor because I wanted to get my feet back under me. I wanted to have three days of abstinence before I called him so I could talk about it in the past tense. Then I rehearsed my call. Then I called him and I gave him this very upbeat check in. Then I said toward the end, I said, "By the way, I did have a slip last Tuesday but I'm fine. I know why it happened. I've got it figured out, and it's all for the good, and I'm good. I'm fine." Then I waited for the punch. It never came. He said, "I'm sorry. That must have sucked. I'm really sorry."

Gary: Beautiful. 

Nate: He gave me empathy and he gave me respect. With that, he gave me hope. He said, I said, "I hope next time you can call me sooner. Someday, you can call me before it happens."

Gary: You started doing that. You started calling before-- [crosstalk]

Nate: Yes. It turns out that we plan our slips. It seems like they happen suddenly, when we go over the edge but we've been working our way to the edge for a while. Learning to be more aware of when I'm moving toward the edge, and to be able to talk about it and let somebody else speak into my life, so that I can stay farther away from the edge. It takes humility to do it. It takes wisdom that comes with time. It takes the support of an accepting and gracious and empathetic community and perceptive guy. I almost think it's a rare person who can help me in my struggle, who hasn't shared the struggle. There are few angels out there, who God has given empathy for addicts like me, who've never had the struggle. Mostly it's people who've been down the same road.

Gary: That's where the demarcation between different types of struggles a sex addict, a drug addict or alcohol, that's where the nuances help a little bit.

Nate: They got the nuances help a little bit, but I have found that alcoholics can help me. I can be some help to an alcoholic, but not as much help as a guy who that's really his favorite medication.

Gary: You were in the recovery mode for a number of years. Then something started shifting and you started thinking about Jesus in the center of it was slightly a lot more or just-- Something started being birthed in your heart, a vision.

Nate: I really did. It was almost like being born-again again. I had started to become… there’d been this seed of cynicism that was growing in me during those desperate years of active addiction. This gnawing doubt, does God really care? Can God really heal? Is this as good as it gets?

Gary: Can He really set us free? Are His promises true and then ultimately, is He even there? Is there really a God?

Nate: Sure. At one point, I remember thinking either He doesn't care or He doesn't exist. I prefer to think He didn't care. Now, from the basement of the church-- When I picked up the Bible there, Gary, it was like a different book. It was like I saw verses from a whole different angle. The love of God shone through those pages in a way it never had before.

Gary: It's like you shifted from theology to a real experience with God in the sense that you didn't have experience with God before. There's something about going through the miracle of transformation even if it be a process, that when you realize that your prayers are being answered, and the process is working and something's happening in your life. You're beginning to see it and experiencing it. I think certain scriptures leap off the pages that would not have before whom the Son sets free is free indeed.

If you're stuck and you're reading, you just go like, "What's wrong me or what's wrong with this Bible that's not telling me the truth or what's wrong with the God who had this printed for us." To be able to experience that now and go like, "Okay, I think I know what that means." Then you realize, "He who is forgiven much loveth with much." That's not just for love for God, love of people, but also the love of the Word. I think you love the Word because you go like, "Man, this thing is telling me about my own life really." That started moving you towards creating something, right?

Nate: Yes. I remember at one point, a guy asked me to sub for him in teaching his adult Sunday school class. He had about 30 people in the class. He asked if I would sub, and I said, "I don't think I can." He said, "Why not? You've been to seminary. Why can't you teach the class?" Well, I don't tell a lot of people this, but I'm a sex addict in recovery. I can't promise that I'll never slip again. I can't expose the church to that risk. So, I can't." He said, "No, I think you should teach the Sunday school class." I said, "Well, I respect that, but you're not the pastor of the church."

He said, "Well, talk to Scottie." I made an appointment to see Scottie and he's a busy guy. He was about a month later before I finally got into see him and then-- I told Scottie, he says, "I hear that George has asked you to teach a class with him and you don't want to do it." I said, "Well, here's the deal." Scottie was so great. He goes, "Nate, please teach the class. By the way, can you sub for me preaching in three weeks from now?" He put me in the pulpit.

Gary: That's cool.

Nate: Because he understands grace. What I found is a lot of guys, as I-- Now I started teaching the Sunday school class even when I preached that Sunday, I talked about addiction, but never named sex addiction. That was really at Allie's request because she was really concerned that if people found out I was a sex addict, that we would lose the friends we had, the people would pull their children away from me. I'd be designated a danger and probably show up on the internet somewhere. We just catastrophize.

I spoke about being an addict. I became a regular in that Sunday school class. I became a co-teacher. The class blew up. We're now we're got 300 people in the class. I'm seeing the gospel like I've never seen it before. I'm teaching and preaching like I never have. I'm talking as an addict without ever naming my addiction. I'm sure there was a lot of speculation. Probably people thought I was a Scrabble addict.

Gary: Those with a gambling addiction, we're putting money out whether it was alcohol or something like that.

Nate: Meanwhile, I did disclose it to one-on-one when guys would come. I told Scottie, I said, "When you run into a guy who has this problem, here's my phone number. Have him call me." My phone started to ring.

Gary: I imagine so.

Nate: I started meeting guys and telling my story. Then a lot of them really identified. I would take them to 12-step meetings. Some of them connected with 12-step meetings, and some of them didn't. It was just too tough. The transition was too big because if you'd name Jesus in the 12-step meeting, they look at you funny. One of the things that I had a tough time with early on was they talk about addiction as a disease rather than-- I remember having it out with my sponsor one day saying. I said, "I keep talking about this as a disease and it really makes me mad. I'm sure it makes God mad too, because we're defying a Holy God. This is sin."

I remember my sponsor said, "Think of it this way. What if addiction is a sickness caused by sin?" I said, "Well show it to me in the Bible." He said, "Romans 7. Let's go to Romans 7. We go to 7:21, where Paul says, if I continue to do the thing I hate, it's no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. That is, in my members." He repeats that phrase, "In my members," twice in three verses. It's in me now. It has affected me. I spent years begging God, for forgiveness that was already mine, because I didn't believe the gospel. Not knowing that what I really needed was healing and not knowing that healing was only going to come as I get-- That whole vulnerability of mine its roots are in an intimacy disorder.

I have a deep need for connection. That's how God made me. We are the body of Christ. We actually are not an organization. We are an organism whose members are so closely connected we can only move together. Jesus came to reconstitute the family of God. This is an organic thing. I'm never going to be free, never going to be really happy and enjoy the freedom of Christ until I am in real relationship with other members of the body of Christ. That can only happen when I bring my real self, which means I've got to be willing to speak the truth. I've got to confess, and that means I confess my failure. I also, by the way, confess my gifts and strengths. I don't hide from either, and I don't hide any of it from you.

Healing comes, James tells us. When we confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, then healing comes, and it comes progressively. It comes to us individually. We heal individually, and we become progressively healthier as an organism when we have authentic relationship. When nobody can send the real self to church, when the building is full, but nobody's there because everybody sent somebody else, I don't think Jesus even bothers to show up. That's a shame.

Gary: It is. Well, so much what you're saying is raising up tons of questions in my mind, and I'm sure and those who are listening as well. Men or women who are saying, “Okay, I'm addicted to this or I have a sexual addiction.” Can we take the next session? Can you stay a little longer?

Nate: I would love to.

Gary: I want to get into some of the ways of escape the scripture talks about it, but there's a way of escape. You've already talked about interwoven in your story so profoundly and powerfully. I'd like for us to come back and do one more episode, because there's tons of questions in my mind, and I'm sure those listening as well. Thanks Nate, I appreciate that.

Key Questions from the Podcast

  • Can we truly love others when we’re struggling with lust?
  • Will getting married solve my porn problem?
  • Can Jesus really set us free from pornography and sexual addiction?

Notable Quotes from the Podcast

I didn't understand the damage I was doing to myself. The way I was allowing pornographers to define beauty for me in a way that eventually would blind me to the beauty of my wife. The way I was learning just to objectify women to see bodies and not people. The way sex became, in my own mind connected to lust rather than love, to taking rather than giving. – Nate Larkin

Lust kills love. They are enemies of one another. Lust is about me. Love is about you. Lust is about taking. Love is about giving. – Nate Larkin

I was greatly distressed, very disappointed, to discover that marriage was not a solution to my porn problem. I told myself that once I had an actual physical committed sex partner, porn would lose its attraction and that was not the case. – Nate Larkin

The church is to be a safe place for repentant sinners. We're never ever to excuse or accommodate sin, but we're always to be open and accepting and empathetic and helpful to the repentant sinner. – Nate Larkin

You know what your biggest problem is? Your biggest problem is you think that sex is your problem. If you think that just stopping that sexual behavior is going to fix you and make you happy, you are crazy. Sex is not your problem. Sex is your favorite solution. Sex is the medication that you have been using to numb the pain caused by your deeper problems. – Nate’s first SAA sponsor

Resources Mentioned in the Podcast

About Nate Larkin

Nate Larkin, the founder of the Samson Society and author of Samson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Brotherhood, grew up as a preacher’s kid. He married his wife, Allie, on the day he graduated from St. Lawrence University, and they headed off toward Princeton Seminary and the ministry.

If you’ve heard Nate’s story, you know his plans didn’t work out so well. He was ensnared by a sexual obsession he couldn’t tame, and the fear of discovery eventually drove him to abandon the professional ministry. It’s a miracle his marriage survived.

After more than two decades of secret and steadily intensifying compulsive sexual behavior, Nate’s nightmare finally ended in a painful collision with reality. Today, he helps overlooked victims of the commercial sex industry – addicted users – find their way back to integrity and the true intimacy that every person craves.

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About Gary Wilkerson

Gary Wilkerson is the President of World Challenge, an international mission organization that was founded by his father, David Wilkerson. He is also the Founding Pastor of The Springs Church, which he launched in 2009 with a handful of people. He has traveled nationally and internationally at conferences and conducted mission ventures such as church planting, starting orphanages, clinics, feeding programs among the poorest of the poor and the most unreached people of the earth. Gary and his wife Kelly have four children and live in Colorado Springs, CO.

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