Breaking Free, Part 1
About the Guest
Marriage didn’t solve Fred’s lust problem. On today’s broadcast, Fred Stoeker, author of Every Man’s Battle, talks about the covenant he made with his eyes and what it did for his marriage.
Fred StoekerFred Stoeker is coauthor of the best-selling Every Man series. He is founder and chairman of Living True Ministries and a conference speaker who has counseled hundreds of men and married couples. Fred and his wife, Brenda, live in the Des Moines, Iowa, area with their four children.
Fred Stoeker talks about the covenant he made with his eyes and what it did for his marriage.
Breaking Free, Part 1
Bob: In his early 20s, Fred Stoeker was a man who was deeply involved in sexual sin, who had just become a new creation in Christ. Obviously, there were some things that needed to change.
Fred: I didn't understand how this related to God, okay? And so on my way home I felt that repugnance, but I kind of fought through the repugnance for a while, because I thought, "Well, this is just strange." I didn't understand what was going on. But eventually I began – as I began going to church, and as God began to sanctify my heart, I was able to begin to see this and drop away from the pornography itself.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, August 16th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. How does a man begin to break free from the besetting sin of pornography? Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the broadcast. We've been talking about a serious subject all this week, Dennis. A subject that – well, is not appropriate for younger listeners, and we want parents to use some discretion as they decide who ought to listen to this broadcast, but I've got to tell you, as we've been talking about it, I've been thinking my son Jimmy, who is just short of 13 at this point, this may be the time when we need to sit down, father and son, and look through this book or listen to these programs, because our young men need to be warned about what we've been talking about this week – the whole area of sexual sin.
Dennis: And I think it's important to have the standard of Scripture before us, and all this week we've highlighted Ephesians 5, verse 3, which is a strong exhortation by the Apostle Paul, especially for this culture, he writes, "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or of any kind of impurity or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people" – not just people. We are to be holy people, we are to be imitators of God, we are to be like Him, and if we're going to do that, that means we can't allow this sin to be even hinted at in our lives.
Fred Stoeker has written a book, "Every Man's Battle," we've been talking about over the past couple of days, and I want to encourage you, if you haven't heard those broadcasts, you ought to go back and maybe do what Bob talked about – get your son, maybe take an hour trip, just to go for a drive and listen to the broadcast, because there's a story there of how pornography really did its damage in his life, and I want to welcome you back to the broadcast, Fred, and thank you for being willing to risk the vulnerability of coming clean publicly. And, Fred, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Fred: It's good to be here.
Dennis: You've mentioned on previous broadcasts, just of how your grandfather and your father passed on this sin to you – how you became hooked on pornography, even promiscuity, as a young lad going through high school and college, and on yesterday's broadcast, you talked about an encounter with God where He revealed to you just how depraved and sin-sick you were, and that brought about a repentance from this sin and ultimately you came to faith in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and began to grow as a Christian, and you gave your dating life to God, and He didn't give it back for a year.
Fred: Yes, that is what happened. At the end of that year, I'd gotten to the point where I'd been in church for a while, and they'd been teaching me about what women were supposed to look like as Christians and how men were supposed to treat them, and I still hadn't met any girls, so I didn't really know what it looked like in real life.
Dennis: And I need to mention there, you went to a class on marriage.
Dennis: It was part of how you started growing as a Christian, because you wanted to see what healthy relationships looked like.
Dennis: You were a single guy going to this marriage class.
Fred: Yes, and I did get some funny looks, but, anyway, what happened was I went to the Lord, and I said, "Lord, could you please introduce me to someone that embodies these characteristics, because I need to see what this looks like so I can understand better." I was not asking for a date, I had no intention of looking for a wife or anything like that, I just wanted to see it.
And about a week later, my dad called and said "I have a blind date set up for you." And normally I would say, "No, absolutely," to my dad, because he had really butchered a few blind dates for me in the past.
Bob: But we need to say here, too, that your dad had come to faith in Christ …
Fred: … by now, yes.
Bob: … from the time that you were growing up because, as you shared on a previous broadcast, at age 14 he wanted to introduce you to a prostitute.
Fred: Yes, it's different now.
Bob: Yeah, so the blind dates he was setting up for you at this point had a little bit more to offer, right?
Fred: Yes, and he had said that she's a Christian girl from his church, and he had heard that she's a fine girl, and that it would be a good thing for me to meet her. So normally I would have said no, but I said yes. And when I met her, as I turned to see her, I just felt kind of a quickening in my heart that she's the girl I'm going to marry. It was a stunning thing.
I really hadn't, up to that point, related my dad's call for the blind date with my prayer, but at that moment I understood that the Lord was not only just going to show me a girl that embodied these characteristics but was going to give one to me.
Bob: At what point in that whole process did you pull her aside and say, "Listen, there are some things you need to know about me."
Fred: Well, that was the shocking thing. I actually started sharing some of it just the second date, and she was kind of afraid because she grew up very pure, she grew up in a Christian home, and she didn't know anything about this kind of promiscuity thing.
Bob: You'd kind of broken with the past in terms of the depth of your sexual sin, but you had not come all the way to a place of purity in your life, had you?
Fred: No. I think a lot of times with Christians we become Christian, and then we say, "Okay, this just means I can do the same things but only less often." And I think that's essentially what happened for me. I knew the pornography was not right, but also I didn't actually shut it down totally until I got married, and it was for an odd reason. It wasn't because I felt that it was necessarily wrong, to necessarily look at that while I was with Brenda and being married, it was because of a stewardship issue. I didn't think it was right to spend her money on pornography for me, and that was the main reason why I stopped.
Dennis: Wait a second.
Fred: I know.
Dennis: You're saying you didn't understand the sense of betrayal, the sense of unfaithfulness – it was an issue of finances?
Fred: I thought it was a stewardship issue, and that just shows how I was still blind – now, we've known already – I've already told my story that God had begun to clean me up, but there was still some confusion in my own mind as to just how damaging sexual misconduct is.
Bob: In the early years of your marriage did these issues start to come to light? Did she begin to realize, "I've got more here than I thought I'd bargained for?"
Fred: No, she really didn't notice. When she got married, she looked at marriage as a wondrous thing and that sexuality was a wondrous thing. She had never experienced it yet, but she was looking forward to it, and our sexual relationship actually was quite healthy. But what really began to happen was that my own relationship with God was the thing that was being affected, and as that relationship began to be affected, there were some traces, then, in her life as well as.
Bob: In the early years of your marriage, the issue wasn't between you and Brenda, as you said. The issue was between you and God. You found yourself on Sundays in church just wrestling with Him every week.
Fred: Yes, on Sunday mornings, I would look forward to the newspaper coming, because it would have all the colored ads for the week, and always on page 2 or 3 of the department store ads would be the lingerie ads, and every Sunday morning, that would be the first thing I'd go for. And while that's embarrassing, it really took its toll once I got to church, because I understood when I stood in church and looked around at all the other men worshipping, all the other women worshipping, I knew that they were experiencing a closeness to God that I was not experiencing, and there seemed to be a distance between God and I.
Now, I know that He loved me. I knew even then that He had saved me, and I knew that I was moving in the right direction. But I knew there was a definite problem that still existed.
Dennis: I don't want to let you off the hook, and the background you had in where you were as a man with all your past and your tendency toward sin in this area, but I've heard you make a comment about the dress of women at church.
Fred: Yes. I had a man come up to me recently. He's in a drug abuse program, a drug treatment program, and he's just learning about controlling his own life, just learning about God himself, and he walked up to me and said, "You know, I'm really wanting to learn about God, but it makes it so difficult in church when the women wear what they wear." He said, "You know, there's the women wearing all the tight clothes, the tight sweaters, trying to look as attractive as they can, and it just drives me crazy, and I can't keep my eyes off them even when I'm sitting in church." And he was just frustrated, he was angry at women for doing that.
Dennis: You know, I want to underline that, and I don't want to appear to be picking on women at this point because …
Bob: … we've got our issues.
Dennis: We have our own issues, that's right, Bob. We are responsible for our own choices.
Bob: That's right.
Dennis: But there is a reason why the Apostle Peter admonished women to dress modestly, and I really fear today we have lost all semblance of modesty in our dress and, trust me, I'm speaking from experience here. I have four daughters, and we've been in a process of raising them in a culture that has increasingly lost its sense of modesty. It is not easy today to call them to a sense of righteousness. But I think women need to be strong in terms of how they dress, first of all, and, secondly, calling their daughters to modest clothing and turning men's hearts rather than turning men's heads.
Bob: You know, Fred, there are some men who are listening who – maybe they've listened all week, and they've heard about how you used to follow the calendar to know when the magazines came in at the drugstore so you could go buy them. And they think you've come all the way from there to now you're a married guy, and so you're getting up, and you're looking a lingerie ads in the department store. I mean, you've come so far – is that really so bad?
Fred: Yes. The prices I was paying are really overwhelming, and you have to be – you have to open your eyes and let the Holy Spirit speak to you. But I was paying a price with God, first of all, as I mentioned. I could not look Him in the eye. I knew who I was, and He knew what He had told me, and He knew I was ignoring it. And it was getting very painful. I was paying prices with my wife. I could not fully give myself to her 100 percent. I knew the betrayal. I was paying prices with my children. I would hear sermons about generational sin, and I knew the patterns in my families, and I knew I had to do something, or that would be passed on, and they would struggle the same way that I was, and I also knew when I went to church, I would get there, and I would not be able to minister to anybody. I was so – I needed so much to be ministered to. I was so broken, and I was so distant from God that I wasn't able even to hold up my responsibility to the other church members.
And as I began to see these bills pile up, and the robbery that it was creating in my life, I just couldn't – I couldn't take it. I mean, it started to just overwhelm, and it was just a perpetual lack of peace. I couldn't live.
Dennis: Speak to the man who is thinking right now – "That's me." I'm sitting in that living room with you, and maybe it's not the lingerie ads, maybe it's cable TV late at night after his wife and children are in bed, or the Internet, and it's just a little bit. It's not hard-core stuff, but he knows it's not right. Speak to him.
Fred: There is no oneness with Christ outside of holiness. There is love between Christ and you, but there is no oneness, because He's holy, and for us to be one and close and intimate fully, we need to walk like Him. We need to be intimate like Him, and what I would say to anyone is that the standard is clear. There must not be even a hint of sexual immorality in our lives. Closeness with Christ, oneness with Christ has terms. It's the terms of holiness, and we need to walk purely. If you submit and allow yourself to walk in God's grace purely, He will just pour abundant life into your midst. He will fill you.
Bob: How'd you get there? How did you go from that nagging, gnawing guilt to a point where you said, "I've got to make a clean break?"
Fred: Well, it took a while, because I loved my sin as much as I hated it, and you have to get to the point in your life where you hate your sin more than the reward of your sin or the love of your sin. And there was a day that I was driving down Merle Hay Road in Des Moines, Iowa, and I had just failed God for about the 30 millionth time, and it was just killing me, and I remember the spot in the road. I slammed my fists on the steering wheel, and I said, "Lord, I don't care what it takes, but I am going to make a covenant with my eyes, and I'm going to break this thing. It stops right here. It stops here." And I meant it. Oh, did I ever mean it.
Bob: And that was it?
Fred: Well, that was just the beginning, but you have to get there first.
Dennis: You just summarized a passage over in James, chapter 4 – "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourself then to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God, and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up."
You know, FamilyLife Today is a broadcast where we attempt to deal with real-life issues that people are facing day in and day out on a spiritual level. I believe life is lived on different planes, and if you want to live it on the highest plane, it's found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, and with God, by walking with Him daily and being obedient to this Book, the Scriptures.
And that means peeling the onion – dealing with layer after layer of sin and selfishness and all the issues in our lives that have built up and that we tolerate. And God delights in divine surgery, which is what He performed on you that day and still does, I'm sure, Fred – performs surgery. He's doing it in my life, I promise you. But the process is what we just described here. It's a man who humbles himself and comes clean before God and said, "Clean me, wash me."
Fred: It's a decision to stop mixing our standards with God's standards. In "Every Man's Battle," I talk about that, because that was the crucial point, where I got to that point in the road, and I said, "No more. I am going to accept His standard as it is, and I am going to die trying to live up to it." Because we spend so much time looking at that verse, "Not even a hint of sexual immorality," and we say things to ourselves like, "Well, that's too hard. He could not possibly have meant that." And so we mix in our own standards. Oh, it's a little bit okay here, it's a little bit okay there, and pretty soon you're stuck like I was stuck, and there is division, there's distance, there is pain, you're paying bills, and you don't even know half the time how deep it's getting.
What I say is that we need to move away from mixing standards towards simple obedience. That's what God asks for; that's what we need to do.
Dennis: That's how that passage in James, chapter 4 ends – "To him who knows what to do and doesn't do it – to him is a sin." And so if you, as a listener, and knowing what you need to do right now, you need to do it.
Bob: That's right.
Dennis: And I'm thinking of a quote, I'm probably not going to get it exactly right here, Bob, but it's "The door of life swings on the hinges, the little hinges, of obedience."
Bob: I'm thinking of a quote from Jesus, who said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments," and that's exactly what we're talking about here. Jesus said you are not to look on a woman to lust. If you do, you have committed adultery in your heart," and so, as men, we have to be on guard and be armored up and be fighting what you have called every man's battle, Fred. And that's the title of the book that we've got in our FamilyLife Resource Center that we would recommend to men who have found themselves ensnared in this kind of a besetting sin. We have had men write us or call us and say, "I need help. This is destroying my marriage." And I think this book provides some very practical steps that a man can follow to being to be free from this sin.
Let me mention a second book that I think is also helpful in this regard. It's by our friend Joshua Harris. The book is called "Sex is not the Problem, Lust Is," and Josh goes right to the heart of this issue and helps us understand we're not just talking about our behavior, we're talking about what's in our heart that causes that behavior to come out.
Any of our listeners who are interested in getting both Fred's book and Josh Harris's book, "Sex is not the Problem, Lust Is," we would be happy to send you at no additional cost the CD audio of our conversation this week with Fred Stoeker. Go to our website, FamilyLife.com. There you will find a red button in the middle of the home page that says "Go," and if you click that button it will take you to a page where you can get more information about these resources. You can order them online, if you'd like. Again, the website is FamilyLife.com. Click the red button in the middle of the home page, and that will take you right to the page where you can get more information about these specific resources. Or call us at 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we'll be happy to get these resources out to you.
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You know, we've been talking this week about the battle that every man faces in the area of sexual temptation – lust, pornography – with our guest, Fred Stoeker, and, Fred, there is one question we have not asked. I know there are a lot of women who would like an answer to this question. How did your wife respond? What did she do when you went and confessed to her that you had been struggling with this issue?
Fred: I didn't confess it until after I was on my way to victory. What happened was I began a process of guarding my eyes and my mind. And, see, during the time of sin, part of my sexual gratification was being filled by things outside of Brenda. So in our equilibrium of our sexuality, she was pretty much dealing with me as I needed it, and it was only about half of my gratification necessary.
When I started to go cold turkey on the images in the sexuality, suddenly my whole sex drive was aimed at Brenda. She was getting the whole thing and suddenly she didn't know what was going on. I wanted intercourse more often, I wanted to pat her more often, I wanted to hug her more often, I just wanted to tell her I loved her more often.
At first she thought it was kind of a jag, but then suddenly she panicked, and she said, "What am I doing to be so attractive so I can stop it?" It was getting pretty messy for her, okay? And what happened was at that point I needed to explain, and I explained that as I was going cold turkey, it was starting to drive me a little bit crazy, and I needed her help through this time, and that's when we began to discuss it. And because I told her during that time, I don't think it was quite as shocking – obviously, it was somewhat shocking, but she was also relieved that she wasn't going to have to live like that the rest of her life.
Dennis: Well, I appreciate your honesty, again, on the broadcast, and I just want to ask you as we close today to ask you to pray for a man who still hasn't dealt with this issue. He has heard you every day. He is driving down the road, or he's in his office right now, and he knows what he needs to do, but he hasn't been able to do it. Would you pray for him right now?
Fred: Father, I ask that you would give revelation into the heart of this man who has heard the truth and now needs to see it clearly. I ask, Lord, that as you reveal it to him that he would suddenly see and that he would suddenly decide that it was time to live up to what he says he is. I ask, O Lord, that you would draw him in in Your grace and love. Let him know immediately that You are going to be right by him as he fights, and I ask, Lord, that you would complete the work which you have begun in him. In Jesus' name, amen.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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