Transparency, the Next Step Beyond Accountability

Mark Sellers

There is this old Russian joke from the Cold War days of the former Soviet Union. It goes something like this:
– ‘Moscow has only two television stations.’
– ‘Oh, really?’ someone asks.
– ‘Yes. One is the government station with the official Party line.’
– ‘Well then, what is the other?’
– ‘There’s this guy in a KGB uniform telling you to go back to the first station.’

I thought it was funny the first time I heard it, but the more I thought it through, the more I found parallels for what passes today as accountability.

The idea of accountability partners has been a staple in the Christian men’s movement for some time. Having an ‘accountability partner’ has a momentum of its own, one many of us accept without question, yet one that falls short of what I believe is really needed.

In many circles it is seen as a major piece of sexual sobriety. You and your partner meet weekly, usually at a restaurant, more often than not for breakfast. You ask each other the tough questions, ones typically pointed and direct. They often go like this:
(1) Have you been sexual with yourself, or with someone besides your spouse?
(2) Have you viewed pornography?
(3) Have you purposely lingered over sexually-suggestive programming on television and/or cable? and the real killer
(4) Are you lying to me now?

I probably have my questions around somewhere, folded up in one of my Bibles. Yet such meetings had a strange feel. I felt pressured to give good news each week to keep my partners as friends. Fortunately I know them now, and know our friendship is intact no matter what, but back in those early days our energy was wrong.

Let’s be honest. Men struggling with sexual addiction are terrible at investing in mutual relationships. We are instinctively secretive, we pull back a lot, and we give ‘happy news’ because we don’t want to be seen for who we really are. We are Marlboro Men, riding the prairie alone, keeping our worlds to ourselves.

Fortunately my partners are exceptional men, and we have pushed past accountability to a better place. We couldn’t sustain our friendship on the shaky platform of a question list. There has to be more than a KGB officer directing us back to the Party line.

Unbalanced partnerships form when one person is identified as the addict and the other is seen as the healthy one. These usually don’t survive the long haul.
I once had to console a man who was dumped by his partner because he wasn’t ‘serious.’ Certainly there are two sides here, but what killed it from the start was the lack of mutuality and its unbalanced nature.

Another time a man shared his story with his partner, and it was good. But the partner heard that the man’s wife had not been sexual with him for some years, and passed the information on to his own wife, who in turn passed it on to the man’s wife. We almost lost a marriage then and there.

One former pastor I know confided with an accountability partner about his struggle with pornography; only the partner had different ideas. The pastor wasn’t moving fast enough in his eyes, so he reported him to the other pastors. What could have been wonderful grace-driven restoration instead became a dramatic platform dismissal.

To be honest, the picture I laid out is not that bleak. God continues to move in all their stories, and they are seeing restoration despite such setbacks. More importantly, God is receiving the glory for it. Still we can do better. Accountability partnerships based solely on asking the hard questions cleans only the outside of the cup. Jesus said, ‘First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.’ (Matthew 23:26 NIV)

I suggest caution before we move into accountability relationships. We can seek out men who are also in recovery, who have had their lives broken, who are not spiritual superstars, but who will sit with us through our worst storms. We need partners who will love us even if we mess up and act out. Such men should earn our trust, and we theirs.

I suggest an even higher standard. How about ‘transparency partners.’ ‘ men with whom we can walk in the light together, experience mutual Godly fellowship and not demand an immediate external fix? God heals in our openness. We already know that (1st John 1:7). Still we must discern the wolves out there hiding in sheep’s clothing. With a transparency standard we can be mutually open, and move beyond our false selves, see the dirt inside each other’s cups, and celebrate together as God begins to clean those cups.

For more help see Every Man’s Battle.

Shame vs. True Conviction: Knowing the Difference at the Heart of the Battle

Jim Grimes

Shame and true conviction are very difficult concepts to grasp for shame can easily masquerade itself as true conviction. In addition, both produce very strong emotional reactions that result in changed behavior. So what are the definitions of shame and conviction? Shame is a negative emotion that combines feelings of dishonor, unworthiness, and embarrassment, while true conviction is a firmly held belief or opinion. Knowing the difference is at the heart of the battle in dealing successfully with sexual addiction. Let’s take a look at where the resulting behaviors that come out of shame and true conviction lead.

On a recent visit to the discovery science center with my family, we spent some time at the sand and water exhibit learning about the effects of erosion. In reflection, this exhibit is a visual picture of destruction that shame can cause, and the devastating effects of shame on the spiritual health of men.

To begin with, the interactive exhibit allows you to construct a dam using sand, thereby backing up the water behind. Once the water accumulates, it literally tears away the walls of the dam, creating a small canyon for the water to escape through. Observing this phenomenon I was struck with how it reflects the effects of shame when dealing with addiction, and was reminded of Matthew 7:26 where the foolish man built his house on the sand.

Shame is sand when it comes to building relationships with ourselves and others. When the storms of life such as stress, problems at work, or conflict with your spouse arise, the coping abilities you possess can crumble because addiction provides you with a false sense of mastery. This is sinking sand because it produces shame. These strong negative emotions can lead to isolation, hiding, denial, division of the self, depression, decreased self-esteem, and feelings of anger towards oneself and others.

In Philippians 3:18-19 Paul speaks of people who are ‘enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.’

Shame focuses on the here and now, just like in the sand and water analogy of the exhibit. Once a breech was created, we had to focus our attention towards that one area, and we found that considerable effort was required in order for us to seal the breech and restore the dam.

Having seen that shame erodes away the very fabric of relationships with self and others, what are the results of true conviction? First off, a person receives numerous blessings from living out a life based on true conviction. Where shame led to the destruction of relationships, true conviction leads to strengthened relationships and community, openness, acceptance, union of the self, joy/happiness, healing, and increased self-esteem.

Living through true conviction is like building your house upon the rock. The storms of life will come and rage against you, but you will stand because you have built wisely. Proverbs 28:13 states, ‘he who conceals his transgression will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.’ 1 John 1:9 says that ‘if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ Within a humble man, true conviction leads to confession. In confession, you find compassion, and in compassion, healing and restoration.

This week, I challenge you to spend some time engaging in an object lesson: create a dam in your backyard using dirt and a garden hose, and observe the devastation that transpires when a small break is formed in the dam you built. As you do this, train your mind to listen to and respond to true conviction rather than to shame. Shame works to destroy your inner life and your sense of self, just like water quickly erodes away a dam once it’s broken. Instead, stop the break and erosion. Rebuild your life and character by responding to the true conviction of the Holy Spirit through confession, openly taking responsibility for your actions, and choosing to build your house upon the Rock.

For more help on this subject, see Every Man’s Battle.

Celebrating God’s Attributes: His Strength

Dwayne Collins

“Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!”

We may all be familiar with this line. It is from the Superman series and is a description of the attributes of the famous caped hero and mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet, Clark Kent. It almost sounds like Superman is God. But borrowing from a line by the late Senator Lloyd Bensten during the 1988 Vice-Presidential debate, I know God, and Superman is no God.

His Strength Defined

God is omnipotent or all-powerful. This is one of His attributes. According to the dictionary, it means that God is almighty, having unlimited authority or influence, and unlimited power.

It is hard to imagine All-powerful. Even Superman’s strength was limited, especially if he was exposed to kryptonite. In our finite minds, it is hard to imagine an entity that has no limitations whatsoever. The task of comprehending God’s unlimited power is further hindered with the task of realizing that His power always was and always will be. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8).

But it is God who created everything, and it is God that holds it together. He created everything and He maintains everything (Colossians 1).

His Strength Manifested

We see God’s strength manifested in many ways. First we see it in the creation (Genesis 1). And we see that the only power that we, the created, have is the power granted by God (John 19). 

We also see God’s strength manifested in the plagues He placed on Egypt when Moses was asking Pharaoh to free the Israelites (Exodus 5).  It is manifested in the parting of the Red Sea and the manna from heaven (Exodus 14, 16). We see His power manifested in the story of Joseph (Genesis 37), and when Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den (Daniel 6). There are numerous illustrations in the Bible where God’s power is manifested.

We can see God’s power manifested in everyday life. God’s strength has been manifested in the improvements of society and the whole human race through of the introduction of schools, hospitals and charities. We have seen it in the improvement in the status of women and the abolishment of slavery. Proverbs 14:31 says, He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

But by far the greatest manifestation of God’s power is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He not only conquered death, but also assured us of eternal life. Regarding his Son,’who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:3-).

His Strength Purposed

God’s power and strength are not without purpose. All of His attributes work in harmony with each other and without His power His other attributes would be limited or voided. His power was purposed to select the Children of Israel as His chosen people (Exodus 19). His power also purposed that all who believed would be His chosen people. John 3:16 reads, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ We are all called to be His chosen people (Romans 9).

His Strength Celebrated

The fact that we as believers tend to forget all too often is that as His children, we share in His unlimited power. Through His power, we are able to do anything. Matthew 19:26 says, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” As His children, even though we experience sufferings, we need not fear the suffering. Daniel 3:17 reads, If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it. If we face danger, we need not fear the danger. We are kept by His mighty power. (1 Peter 1).

God is all-powerful. By His power we are created. By His power we are cared for. By His power we are assured of eternal life with Him. Because of the Power of God, it is time to celebrate. Exodus 9:16 says, But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

Let us all take time to join in celebrating His attribute: His Strength, His Power.

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation. 4:11).