One Day At a Time
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John ElmoreJohn Elmore is the senior director of pastoral care and director of recovery at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas. Now, over fifteen sober years later, he leads the world’s largest weekly recovery gathering, called re:generation, where more than 1,200 people with every known sin struggle find healing in Christ. Just months after sobriety, Elmore attended and was discipled at the Kanakuk Institute. He holds a BBA in Marketing from Baylor University, a MA in youth and family mini...more
Feel like you mess up all the time? You’re not alone. Pastor John Elmore helps listeners understand why the struggle exists and shares about the power to overcome each day.
One Day At a Time
John: I’m staring through the windshield, just so angry; and she says, “I just wish we wouldn’t fight for the rest of our lives.” In that moment, I feel like the Lord said to me, “I freed you from alcoholism. I can free you from arguing with your wife.”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife—
When I gave my life to Christ in college, and started really reading the Bible for the first time—because I wasn’t much of a Bible/I didn’t know I was biblically illiterate—now, [as a college student] I’m finding out a man of God is a man of the Word; so I started reading the Bible. There’s a passage I came across that I could not believe was in the Bible.
Ann: I have no idea where you’re going with this.
Dave: You don’t know where I’m going with it.
Dave: I mean, I remember reading it and going, “A guy who wrote the Bible writes this?” It was Romans 7; and the Apostle Paul writes, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate (Romans 7:15).” I’m like, “What?!”—because I had experienced that.
Ann: Oh, we all have.
Dave: I’m like, “There’s no way a guy that close to God”—this is Apostle Paul—“the guy we all want to become.” He goes on to say, “I have the desire to do what’s right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing [Romans 7:18-19].”
I’m like, “Oh, my goodness, how in the world is this guy describing so clearly and specifically the same struggle that I have?” In fact, it’s one of the reasons I love the Word of God; because it’s so honest—
Ann: —and so practical to our everyday lives and what we’re going through.
Dave: Yes, and it doesn’t hide the struggle. It says, “No, I know the struggle.” And by the way, I haven’t read the rest of the passage; but he does lead you to what we want to talk about today is: “Where do you find victory in the struggle?”
We’ve got the perfect guy to talk about this with us. Again, John Elmore is back. Welcome to FamilyLife Today, John.
John: Love being here with you all. Thanks for the invitation.
Dave: I mean, you have—obviously, we’ve talked about it so far this week—you’ve walked through a similar struggle with alcohol. You direct the ministry at Watermark Church in Dallas to thousands—and I mean, literally, 1200 or so—a week on Monday nights in a Recovery program.
You, obviously, have read Romans 7; you have walked through this. You’re a father; you’re a husband; you’ve got kids; you have this dynamic ministry. You’ve written a book called Freedom Starts Today: Overcoming Struggles and Addictions One Day at a Time.
I know people are listening, who literally are living Romans 7, “I want to do the right thing; I feel like I can’t. I don’t even have the power to do it.” John, you’ve been there. You walk with people every week—
Ann: —who maybe feel hopeless, too, in it.
Dave: —how do you get to victory? How do we win over the struggle?
John: Yes, such a good question. It’s one everybody is asking, because whether or not they’ve read Romans 7, they’ve lived Romans 7. Everyone has known that experience: “I don’t want to do this anymore; and yet, I keep going back to it. What is this cycle that I’m in that I hate; and yet, I keep returning to?”
Here’s the crazy thing—it’s not just localized to like Paul writing to the Romans, and we read it as the Bible—it is the common experience of all of mankind. Forbes and Inc. did this study on New Year’s resolutions. Everybody has this thing in their life: maybe it’s over eating; maybe it’s not working out; maybe it’s unhealthy lifestyle—whatever it may be—spending too much. They make a resolution, meaning they go public with it; and two-and-a-half weeks later, on January 19, 90 percent of people have already quit; so much so they call it National Quitting Day. [Laughter] Like how funny is that?
They do a follow-up study; because they’re like, “What is going on?”—like—“People know something shouldn’t be in their life; they make a declaration, and they return to it two-and-a-half weeks later.” Follow-up study revealed, far and away greatest reason: “We don’t have enough will power.”
It’s not your job to war against sin. You have no ability to fight sin; that is the Spirit’s job. It’s Romans 8:13, where he says: “If you live according to the flesh, you’ll die,”—“You do what you want to do, it’s not going to go well; you’ll die [paraphrased],”—“But if by the Spirit”—He is the means—“you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you’ll live
We’re told in 1 Peter 1: the Father adopts; [we] have a cleansing by the Son; and then the Spirit’s job is the Sanctifier, the One who makes us holy. He’s the One who takes us from justification all the way through glorification. He gets that big, lifelong job of sanctification; it’s His job.
This is really fascinating, too—Owen talks about the negative work of the Spirit—and when I first read this, in mortification of the flesh, I was like, “Wait; what?” What he says is: “We always focus on the positive work of the Holy Spirit; we have altogether neglected the negative work of the Holy Spirit. The negative work of the Holy Spirit is that He is that Sin Killer; it’s His job.
We wrestle, for all our lives, trying to kill sin; and we’re getting killed. And our wives, and spouses, and children are looking at us, like: “Don’t you know this is wrong? Why don’t you just stop?” “Just stop looking at porn!” “Just stop hurting us!” “Just stop being passive,” “…raising your voice,” “…over eating!” “Just stop!”
We’re trying, but we can’t. We fail, because it’s the Spirit’s job.
Ann: I have—like this eating thing is hard—my numbers/my cholesterol is bad. They’re like, “Hey, if you just stop eating these certain things…”; and I feel more compelled to go to it than ever before.
John: Right; right.
Ann: I think maybe it’s not a huge addiction, but it’s anything that’s controlling us or our flesh is controlling us.
John: I think everybody, when they hear something like this, they’re like: “Oh, my nephew needs that,” “My spouse needs that.” [Laughter] Well, we’ve all got our thing that we run to.
In 1 John, the Apostle John writes to the church; the ending of it says: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols [1 John 5:21].” Because all of us, daily,—as Calvin wrote—the heart is an idol factory. We’re all going to have these ditches/these things that we run to. Maybe they aren’t as insidious socially, but they’re every bit insidious to the holiness of God. As Owen said, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”
Dave: How?—because, obviously, there’s part of me going, “Okay, I have the whole power of the Holy Spirit—you do—
Ann: —the Sin Killer.
Dave: —the Sin Killer. I’ve experienced that; and yet, there’s moments of weakness, where it’s almost like Paul wrote in Philippians, “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” There’s part of working—I mean, it’s all done by the blood of Christ in the power of the Spirit—but there’s our side.
Dave: We have to take a step. How do you defeat an eating addiction? You don’t just go, “Oh, God did it.” He did,—
Dave: —but what is my participation? What is my working it out? Tell us how to work it out.
John: When I was freed from alcoholism, probably ten years sober, married to Laura, we’re on a date night. We had not made it two blocks from our house, and we’re already in a fight. I’m staring through the windshield, just so angry; and she says, “I just wish we wouldn’t fight for the rest of our lives.” In that moment, I feel like the Lord said to me, “I freed you from alcoholism. I can free you from arguing with your wife if you’ll just ask.” It’s bringing God into the fight.
I started doing what I did 15 years prior, getting on my knees every day, asking God to keep me sober. But this time, it was: “God, keep me from fighting with Laura. She’s your daughter; she’s my wife/my sister in Christ. This is not Your will, so free us.” That first year, we probably fought three times. Single people are like, “Hah! See, it didn’t work.” [Laughter] Married people are like,—
Ann: Oh, yes, “Victory!”
John: —“…the goal; oh, my goodness!”
Dave: It’s three times yesterday? You mean, “three times the whole year.”
John: Three times in a whole year, and it was a miracle. Half way through the year, Laura’s like, “Have you noticed we don’t fight anymore?” I hadn’t told her what I was doing—that I was seeking daily repentance—which is what it is. It’s not daily sobriety; it’s daily repenting; turning from sin by turning towards Christ; that I was like daily, being, “Lord, today by Your strength, don’t let me fight with Laura,” and we didn’t.
She was like, “That’s amazing! We haven’t fought.” I was like, “Well, I need to tell you something.” What’s crazy is I’m the only one that changed anything. She didn’t change anything, which squarely places the blame on me—
John: —for the fighting.
Ann: But, John, you did—
John: But with one spouse’s efforts, look what can happen.
Ann: And you did it every single day.
Ann: That’s really big. You’re really going to God, asking God to be the Sin Killer in your life.
Ann: You’re repenting every day.
John: Yes, I don’t believe there’s any other way—I’ve tried, and I fall headlong into sin—there’s just no other way.
Right now, it needs to be daily repentance from being short with my kids. That’s the one that’s—with kids that are seven, five and three—I just/man, they own me.
Dave: I don’t want anybody to miss this: you didn’t do what I would probably do. If we’re fighting, and I want God to help us with fighting, I would have said, “God, change her/change Ann. She can’t see my perspective. She always brings up stuff.” It’s a hard thing to look in the mirror and say, “This isn’t her fault/problem.”
Dave: Of course, she’s got her thing; but you said, “God change me.”
John: Well, there was about seven years of that—like, “This woman you gave me…—you know, it’s Adam [about] Eve.
John: “It’s her fault.” It’s like, “No.”
Ann: What’s your wife’s name?
Dave: Talk about her role—and anybody’s role in a person that is—get back to where we were saying—okay, God brought you a partner/some of us have partners; some of us don’t—but we all want a road to victory. The struggle we started with: “I can’t do what I want to do.” We have the Holy Spirit in our lives, but we’ve got to take some steps; so walk us through the recovery that you’ve been through and that you help others through.
John: Yes; I tell people: “If you want to be forgiven, confess to God. If you want to be healed, confess to others: 1 John 1:9 and James 5:16.” There’s no way around it.
For healing sake, and this is like super simple—A-C-T—you just ACT. “A” is “Ask God.” You bring God into the fight—that’s Romans 8:13—where you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you invite Him into the fight, because He’s the Sin Killer. He’s the One that wars against sin. You just ask Him; just be like, “God, I’m addicted to porn. Will You help me? Will You free me from it?”
This is a daily walk with God, of like, “Hey, God, I have a struggle today. Will You free me today?”
Ann: —every day.
John: Yes, ask Him every day; and I recommend you do that in a position of humility—so on your knees if you can—if you can’t [because of] physical limitations, raise your hands. My kids, when they come up to me, they’re hands are up; they’re helpless, especially my three-year-old.
Somewhere along the way, we stopped doing that. God reminds us, “Men with holy hands lifted high praying [1 Timothy 2:8]. You see it all throughout the Psalms; you see people, on their knees, praying. I recommend doing that—it just helps—He made us body, mind and soul. When you engage your body, with where your mind and spirit are, I think it’s really beneficial.
Dave: Now, let me ask you this:—
John: Yes, please.
Dave: —“Have you ever talked to anybody that said, “I’m too embarrassed,” “I’m too unworthy to ask God for help. I’ve failed Him so badly.” I mean is that ever a problem?—
Dave: —because that’s identity. That’s understanding that they are forgiven, but I think that’s something that, sometimes, we are afraid.
John: That’s a wise pastor asking that question; because I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “But I’m just not worthy.”
My response is: “You’re not, and God loves you so much in our unworthiness. There’s nothing we could do to make ourselves worthy. If you wait until you’re worthy, you’re going to be waiting a really long time.
Dave: That’s good.
John: But He comes to us; that’s His only choice.”
I tell people this a lot/I say:
Jesus in Jericho—like what’s He doing there?—it’s a God-forsaken city. Joshua says, “Whoever rebuilds this, you’ll do so at the cost of your children.” Then they rebuild it.
Then Jesus goes to Jericho, and you think, “He’s about to tell people what’s up. They shouldn’t have rebuilt their city.” [Laughter] Instead, he goes to the worst person in the whole city—He goes to the chief tax collector—He seeks out the one, of His own people, that should have known better and didn’t. It [passage] says he was rich. Like He just goes to the worst in the worst city.
Why?—and how does this relate to: “What if someone doesn’t feel worthy?”—that’s the only kind of person that God can go to is unworthy people in sin—and yet, He does. That’s where Jesus set His sights: it’s like, “I’ve got to go to Jericho to meet Zacchaeus.” Church history tells us he went on to become the bishop of Caesarea, like pastor over a whole city.
Unworthiness is actually a really healthy heart condition. Yes, you are altogether unworthy; and He loves you all the more. It’s beautiful.
“A” is “Ask God to help.”
“C” is “Commit.” I think we can often have a reactive confession of sin—like, “I’ll tell you if and when my sin gets bad enough/big enough; I’ll bring it into the light, if ever.”
But this, now, is a proactive commitment. Rather than telling you, if and when I sin, I’m going to decide, in advance/I’m going to commit—that’s the “C”—commit for the next
24 hours to not give into my thing, whether that’s food, porn, control, nagging—whatever it may be—giving myself away to guys, passivity. I commit, by God’s strength—that’s really important; that’s the “A”—by God’s strength, for the next
I’m not going to quit forever—don’t focus on forever—focus on today/daily bread: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness today. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow’s got enough worries of its own [Matthew 6: 33-34].”
What you’re doing is committing to another person—like, “I’m going to tell Dave,”—“Hey, Dave, I commit to you, by God’s strength, that I will not be short with my kids for the next 24 hours.”
And, now, we’re going to go for the “T” because this is ACT: “Ask God,” “Commit,” and then “T”/“Talk or Text”—however you want to phrase it. If you want to call—probably not meet in person—that would be a lot of meetings; or text: “I’m going to follow up with you this time tomorrow. I’m going to set an alarm on my phone for 3:15. I’m going to let you know how I did in 24 hours, if I was free from being short, and sharp, and harsh with my kids for the last 24 hours.”
If I fell, your response is to pray for me—James 5:16—you’re going to say, “Hey, man, thank you for confessing. You want to re-up? You want to go another 24 hours?”
“Yes, of course. I want to turn from this. Proverbs 28:13 ‘Whoever conceals a sin will not prosper. Whoever confesses and renounces will find mercy.’ So, yes, I want to fall forward seven times and rise again.”
Or I call and say, “Yes, I was free from being harsh and sharp with my kids.” “Man, awesome! Praise God! Let’s thank the Lord. Do you want to go another 24 hours?”
We then start walking daily. Again, this is not some Christian life hack; that’s Hebrews 3:13, where it says, “Encourage one another daily so that…” “Why?—why do we need to encourage each other daily? Isn’t Sunday enough? Isn’t women’s Bible study on Wednesday enough?”
“No, every single day.” “Why, God?”—“…so that you will not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin [Hebrews 3:13].” Every single day, you’re going to be hardened by sin, unless, you have a daily encouragement with a brother or sister in Christ.
That ACT: “Ask God”; “Commit for 24 hours”—not for life/for 24 hours—people can’t quit porn for life or they already would have. When I was struggling with drinking, the doctor would be like, “You know you need to quit drinking.” I’m like, “Oh, that’s profound; brilliant. Thanks for the help.” [Laughter] “Yes, of course I know that. I don’t know how.”
Do it for one day, 24 hours—daily bread—and then “Talk/Text”—that’s the ACT—follow up with someone the next day [with Talk/Text].
Ann: That requires friendship; it requires accountability.
Ann: How do people get that? I’m thinking especially, sometimes, you feel so isolated; you’re living in so much shame. What would your first steps be in encouraging someone to find that person or find a few people?
John: I would start with your church. If they say, “I can’t tell my church, because then my church would know.” Well, that’s a whole bigger problem if you can’t tell your church.
Be the first one. If you get mocked because of your sin, then widen the circle and say to your group’s pastor, whoever it is, “Hey, I brought this into the light. It resulted in gossip.” Work through it; don’t go find another church. Don’t church shop; that’s not right. Be the change; bring health. Repentance is a thing that catches fire. God will use it. If you just keep bouncing and running—or “I’ll tell my over-eaters anonymous group,”—it’s like, “No, no; these are scriptural instructions for the church.”
I would say find a brother or sister in Christ. I would do same gender just because of everything that could happen there. I would say, not with your spouse, just because your spouse may be one of the ones that you’re sinning the greatest against. Walk with a brother in arms.
I think a lot of times, with guys, they’ll be like/they’ll just honestly want to unpack their guilt with their wife. They should; they have sinned against their wife. They need to ask their wife for forgiveness; they have withheld themselves from their spouse as
1 Corinthians 7 says not to. They do need to ask for forgiveness; but I think, sometimes, you need a brother—who’s going to exhort you, admonish you, rebuke you, encourage you—all the different ways that Scripture instructs.
And for a sister in Christ—it could be spouse for different couples, who are different maturity levels—if a spouse it ready to probably own mutually, there’s different dynamics—but I’d say a brother or sister in Christ.
Dave: Yes, and I would just—man, it’s been so helpful—because I learned what you said earlier, years ago, and I never understood it: that when you confess to God you receive forgiveness; when you confess to a brother, or a woman confesses to a sister, you receive healing.
I was always like, “How are you healed? God’s the healer.” But there’s a healing that happens. Again, we said earlier, when you bring something out of the dark into the light, in community with somebody you can trust, the healing starts. Again, it doesn’t mean you never struggle with this again. It’s not: “This demon is gone”; but it is this beautiful step toward healing. It just shows how God made us to need one another; you know.
John: It’s the body of Christ.
Ann: Yes, community.
John: It’s 1 Corinthians 12, where he says, “You can’t say to another part of the body, ‘I don’t need you [I Corinthians 12:21].’”
John: We are all [an] inextricably intertwined temple in which God dwells.
Dave: And I think we play this game—it’s like, “I’ve confessed it to God; I’m forgiven. I’ve got it,”—then we struggle—“I confessed with God; I’m forgiven”; and it’s like, “No, it’s so scary”—isn’t it?—“to tell a brother.”
I’ll never forget the day I told three of my best friends, the year we started our church, that I was struggling with porn. I had no idea; but in that moment, healing started. It was finally out to some people—that I was/I was—they were my best friends—I’m still scared to death to tell them because they don’t know. I thought I would get: “Are you kidding me, dude?!” They all looked at me and said: “Thanks for sharing. We will walk with you.”
Here I am, 30 years later,—
John: That’s so beautiful
Dave: —living a different life; because there was healing in that moment that was continual healing for—and again, I would just say, if you’re listening, and nobody knows, you’ve got to tell somebody. It isn’t: “Send an email to your pastor,” unless you’re really good friends with him; it’s: “You need to text or call somebody that you know—
John: Yes, that you walk with daily.
Dave: —“that will walk with you; that you can ACT with.”
Ann: I think one of the things, too, is to get John’s book, Freedom Starts Today.
Ann: Because it’s a 90-day devotional. We could all read it, honestly; and it would help us.
John, thank you for being here. I’m wondering, “Would you just pray for our listeners to close us?”
John: I would love to.
Ann: I think it would be great.
Father, thank You so much for brothers and sisters in Christ that you’ve adopted by the blood of Jesus, now indwelt by the Spirit.
Lord, we hate sin. We love You; and yet, we return to that which we hate. I ask for freedom. I pray, Lord, that You would do what only the Spirit can do—that You would kill sin in us as we walk together, encouraging one another daily—and that we would take action. As Dave and Ann have rightly said, this isn’t just something we’re listening to as like a daily nourishment, but that this would be actionable.
You say in your Word, “Do not just be hearers but doers,” so Lord, may we employ what You have made so clear in the Scripture to be free from sin. Lord, may repentance be the root of revival so that, at Your coming, You will find the bride of Christ spotless, without wrinkle or blemish. We love You. In the mighty name of Jesus, Amen.
Bob: Our hope/our prayer actually this week is that the conversation we’ve heard with Dave and Ann Wilson and John Elmore would be the first step to freedom for many of you who are listening/all of you who are listening, who are ensnared by sinful addictions, or patterns/behaviors that you need freedom from.
John’s book, Freedom Starts Today, is a great catalyst in that journey. In fact, we’re making that book available this week to any listener who would request a copy. If you can help with a donation to support this ministry, the book is our gift to you as a way of saying, “Thank you for your partnership with us in expanding the outreach of FamilyLife Today, helping us reach more people, more often.”
We’d love to send you a copy of John Elmore’s book, Freedom Starts Today: Overcoming Struggles and Addictions One Day at a Time. You can donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call to donate: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number; that’s 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” On behalf of the people, whose lives will be impacted because of your support/your donation, thank you for partnering with us, here, in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
You know, what John has talked about today, talking about addictions or behaviors that control us and the impact that can have in a marriage and in a family, this affects so many families. David Robbins, who’s the president of FamilyLife, is here with me. David, these are the kinds of issues that we want to be addressing, regularly, because these are the issues that we know families are dealing with.
David: Yes, we really do have a passion for whatever the things that are drifting you apart. We want to halt that drift and help you move toward oneness with God, and move toward oneness with one another, whether that’s a spouse or other relationships in your home.
We went on vacation about a month ago. It was a strong-current day when our kids were boogie boarding; and within five minutes, they were already 50 yards down the beach. I spent all afternoon—waving them back to the shore, and then telling them to come walk back, so they could get back at it again—because they were having a blast.
Life does that—there’s all sorts of issues: whether it’s addictions, whether it’s communication issues, intimacy issues, a prodigal kid, conflict that we have in our marriages—the natural drift of life will drift you apart; the currents will push you away. We are passionate about helping people see what the currents in life are doing to the oneness in their homes, and helping them get to the shore a little bit to walk back; so they can get back and join what God has created them to experience in the oneness in their home with the relationships that matter most.
Bob: Again, we want to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who support this ministry financially; because you make all of this possible. We are grateful for that partnership.
Thank you, David.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to get a chance to hear from Dave and Ann Wilson about what they would do differently if they were raising their kids all over again. I mean, all of us would like a do-over; right? When it comes to parenting, we can all look back and go, “Man, I wish I had done it this way/done it differently.” They’re going to talk about some of their biggest regrets when it comes to parenting. We’ll hear about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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