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THE GAME PLAN
By Joe Dallas
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Joe Dallas
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDay 1
RECRUITMENT: GETTING BACK INTO THE GAME
To join in what God is doing, what adjustments must I make in my life? -Henry Blackaby and Claude King, Experiencing God
I loved Little League; I just didn't care for baseball. Hand-eye coordination didn't come naturally to me, and I've never been fast, so strikeouts and missed catches were a problem. I could manage a football pretty well, and I blocked and tackled better than most, but baseball eluded me. Still, there I was, season after season, wearing a Little League uniform.
That, I liked. I liked the status. I liked saying, "I'm a ballplayer." I loved the camaraderie of the team and the social privileges it brought. I liked everything about baseball, in fact, but the game itself.
So I made up my own. At each game I'd sleepwalk through the first half, strike out, flub catches, or get tagged. Then when the others in the lineup took over during the second half, I'd sit on the bench with a concealed comic book, sipping a soda and letting my mind wander. Disinterested in the real game, I had my own game going.
Until my coach intervened.
I was in the middle of a terrific Green Lantern story while ignoring, as usual, my teammates and the game, when my coach snatched me off the bench, pulled my astonished face within a fraction of his, and said, "Dallas, nobody made you join this team. You wanna play, play. You don't wanna play? Then turn in the uniform and quit calling yourself a player. Because when you carry this team's name but don't really play, you let the rest of us down. So make a decision."
That's the day I got serious. And within weeks, as I played seriously rather than halfheartedly, the game took on a whole new meaning.
Don't Carry the Name If You Won't Play The Game
Christian men by the thousands are sitting on the bench, carrying the Name but ignoring The Game. And while there's no telling just how many believers have sexually compromised, the estimates aren't encouraging. More than 18 percent of the men polled in a Zogby/Focus on the Family survey, for example, identified themselves as Christians who used pornography. Studies quoted in Newsweek magazine suggested that as many as 30 percent of the ministers interviewed had committed adultery, and during an informal poll at the 1996 Promise Keepers men's conference, one out of three men admitted they "struggle with pornography." James T. Draper Jr., the president of LifeWay Christian Resources, in fact, has gone so far as to say "it appears the sin of choice among Christians today is pornography."
In other words, there are plenty of guys out there wearing the Christian uniform, calling themselves players but not truly and consistently playing The Game. If you're one of these guys and you're still looking for reasons, I want to offer you three.
YOUR MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIPS ARE SUFFERING
I liked my Little League coach. Truth to tell, I loved him. He was tough, funny, and dedicated; and like all good coaches, he loved his team by pushing them. But the more I slacked off on the field, the more I withdrew from him. It was especially hard looking him in the eye during practice, because his eyes were full of delighted pride when they looked at my hardworking teammates but full of irritation and disappointment when they rested on me. He knew I was failing, I knew that he knew, and our coach/player bond was polluted by that mutual knowledge.
My unwillingness to put effort into the game ruined my relationship with my coach, so I ducked him whenever possible.
I wasn't too fond of my teammates, either, because I knew I was letting them down. Have you noticed that when we know we're wronging another person but not willing to make it right, we tend to resent that person? I've seen this time and again in my married clients, for example, who know they're cheating on their wives via pornography or adultery. They're guilty, and the wife is the focal point of the guilt. But rather than deal with it, they avoid her and resent her for being a reminder of their sin.
My primary relationships suffered. Yours do too. You may belong to God. But something's missing, because you know that He knows there's compromise in your life, and the Father/son bond is polluted by that mutual knowledge.
Perhaps you're avoiding Him?
No surprise there. Man's first response to sin, after all, was to run away and hide from God, rather than run to Him for help. When Adam sinned, he fled the scene, making an insane attempt to duck God. And to my thinking, there's no sadder line in all of Scripture than God's heartbroken call to His rebel son: "Adam, where are you?"
Stop right there. Write your name in the blank in this sentence:
"________________, where are you?"
Read the sentence out loud with your name in it. Hear God saying it to you. Do this a couple of times. Can't you sense a Father's heart, angry and hurt, trying to get His beloved son to emerge from the bushes, discard those pathetic fig leaves (which aren't covering anything, anyway), and deal with the problem?
Of course, your relationships with others are suffering too. Secrecy does that, and if you've been entertaining a sexual sin, don't tell me you haven't become a pro at the secrecy game. You have to, in order to keep sexual sin alive. You have to do it secretly, then cover it up, lie about it, and pretend it isn't there. And the ongoing cover-up can't help but erect a wall of secrecy between you and the people who love you the most.
Close friendships and family relations suffer when a man leads a double life. Something dark and more than a little frightening happens to a guy like that. He's ashamed but not ready to admit the cause of his shame. So it poisons him, leaving him defensive, isolated, and spiritually dulled.
Yet all the while he may still function as a husband, parent, friend, church member, and brother. He may, in fact, have many good qualities and gifts; he's often (in my experience) likable and productive, even as his primary relationships suffer.
He's not a bad man. He's just not nearly the man he could be.
YOU'RE BEING GRATIFIED, PERHAPS, BUT NOT REALLY SATISFIED
Gratification is immediate and short-lived. Satisfaction, even when it requires gratification delay, is a long-term payoff.
Compare this to the difference between hunger and appetite, and I think you'll see what I mean. When your body requires food, it creates hunger pangs to satisfy that need. The hunger message is honest; it tells you what your body really needs, and when you respond by eating, you satisfy its requirements.
But along with your natural hunger, you may have also developed a large appetite, which is a desire for certain types and portions of food. If you overeat, that's usually why-your appetite claimed you needed more food (and probably food of a different sort) than your body required.
Appetite is dishonest in two ways. First, it disguises itself as hunger by saying, "I need," when a more honest statement would be, "I want." If you don't indulge your appetite, you'll find you can do with much less food than it demands.
Second, appetite often demands the sort of food you really don't need. Haven't you noticed that when your appetite is up, it usually doesn't call for broccoli? Mine sure doesn't. It wants cake, milkshakes, and barrels of red meat. In other words, it craves gratification-the quick intensity of rich foods in large quantities-rather than the foods my body needs to truly satisfy it.
Let's take this idea further. When you go for gratification rather than satisfaction, you pig out. Since no one loves pigging out more than I do, I understand the joy of stuffing, chugging, and munching on foods rich in grease, fats, and starches. It's so gratifying-so immediate and intense. And for the moment, I'm a happy man.
But the happiness soon gives way to any number of discomforts: digestive problems, sluggishness, shame over my gluttony, and a general sense of being a loser who can't control himself. Only then do I realize (for the thousandth time!) I've sacrificed hours of satisfaction for a few minutes of indulgence.
When I diet successfully, though, I delay gratification and learn to eat what my body really needs. For the moment, yes, I'm a bit uncomfortable when I choose the salad over the burger. But when I delay gratification, the discomfort soon gives way to enhanced physical performance, higher energy, heightened self-respect, and the peace of being a man who takes care of himself properly. And I realize, gratefully, that this time I did it right. I earned hours of true satisfaction by sacrificing minutes of gratification.
When you sexually sin, you're gratifying an appetite that is inherently dishonest. It convinces you that what you want-the porn, the adultery, the hooker, the ritual-is, in fact, a need. And who can deny there's immediate impact when you say yes to that want? Intense sex can be amazing, all-encompassing, and utterly gratifying.
It soon shows itself, though, to be the sensual counterpart to pigging out, as pleasure gives way to discomfort-shame, disgust, guilt, fear of consequence, decreased self-respect, spiritual sluggishness, lost money, wasted time, broken promises, and perhaps even the general sense of being a loser who can't control himself. Only then might you realize you've sacrificed hours of emotional, mental, and spiritual satisfaction for a few minutes of indulgence.
There's a good reason for that. Let's look at the eating example again. Your body can only be satisfied, in the truest sense, when you fuel it properly. Even if you crave certain unhealthy foods, if they're not what your body is built for, then they'll eventually bring you more discomfort than pleasure.
Likewise, if you've truly been born again, then you've received a new nature that can only be satisfied, in the truest sense, when you fuel it properly. Paul illustrated this to the Romans when he asked, rhetorically, "How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:2).
Notice he's not just saying sin is wrong. He's also pointing out its futility by showing the general futility of doing anything that violates your nature, even though it's pleasurable. Because if an activity is against your true nature, it can gratify but never satisfy.
For that reason, you'll go on reaping any number of uncomfortable feelings when you sexually sin. Count on anxiety, depression, shame, irritability, or despair, and count on them growing with time. Get into The Game, though, and you'll regain the joyful energy you're craving.
YOU'RE NOT FULFILLING A PRIMARY FUNCTION
Maybe I exaggerated my lack of baseball skills. I wasn't that bad. Sometimes, I was even fair. And I did, after all, have a position to play.
You guessed it: right field. It's a lonely place, right field-the ball doesn't visit often, and many a boy has found it either a place of banishment or a haven for daydreaming. But at least I had a function on the team, however small. And I was expected to fulfill it, because the ball does make it into right field on occasion, and a missed high fly could translate into a home run.
So when I approached the game halfheartedly, I wronged my team in a number of ways. We lost points because of my errors, my indifference demoralized my teammates and discouraged them from trying, and my behavior told the fans (parents, mostly) who'd come to the game that I didn't care, so why should they? I encouraged the opposing team, of course, and robbed everyone involved by diverting the energy I should have invested in the game, and instead putting it into my comic-book ritual.
I had a primary function. Neglecting it meant consequences.
Have you thought lately about a primary function Jesus said you have-one you cannot, to my thinking, fulfill as long as you're involved in ongoing sexual sin? "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden" (Matthew 5:13-14).
He didn't invite you to be salt and light, nor did He ask you to consider it. He said that's what you are. That's your function, and moral compromise weakens your ability to fulfill it, just as surely as drunkenness would weaken an athlete's ability to run a race. When your ability to fulfill your role is weakened, we all suffer.
Let's get practical about this. Suppose a Christian employee works in an office cubicle near an attractive woman. She's heard the gospel before, considered it, and maybe even attended a few church services. But she's undecided and, thereby, unsaved.
The man has an opportunity, through conversation and example, either to strengthen or to weaken her regard for Christianity. If he flirts with her, or if she overhears him crack a dirty joke, or if he views porn on the job and she finds out about it, his credibility (and worse, the gospel's credibility) is snuffed out. His sexual sin made him unable to fulfill a primary function, and the ripple effect kicks in. The church suffers by losing yet another notch of credibility; the woman suffers (perhaps eternally, a terrible thing to consider) by continuing to live apart from Christ; and whoever else might have been impacted by either of their lives if their lives had taken a better course suffers as well.
It's not just about you. It never was. Someone else, directly or indirectly, is also affected by your compromise. Every time a Christian's secret sin is brought to light, people who already hold Christianity in contempt get fresh ammunition, the undecided are given yet another reason not to decide, and fellow believers are demoralized in their own efforts to be an effective influence. And even if your sin has not (yet) been brought to light, the thing itself can't help but weaken your zeal by polluting your mind and hardening your heart. In that case, you may be a true believer, but you're hardly one who's equipped for battle.
Intervention Is Inevitable
Considering all this, is it any wonder your Coach is intervening? The desire you have to preserve your integrity, the fear you have of losing what you value, or the guilt, anxiety, or dissatisfaction you're feeling over the form and degree of sexual sin in your life-these are all signs of God's intervention. He's interrupting your life because something is wrong and needs to be made right.
But interruption and rejection are far from the same. My coach interrupted me, not because he was rejecting me; on the contrary, he knew I could do better, and he still wanted me on the team. He knew my potential, and he still had purposes in mind for me.
He pulled me up short, in other words, because he wasn't through with me.
Your Coach hasn't given up on you either. In fact, He probably has more confidence in your future than you do. But for now, something's holding you back.
Whatever that something is, you can be sure of this much:
1. It's hurting someone. It's hurting you, of course; and it's offending God, which is no small offense. But it's also hurting someone close to you-a wife, a friend, a child-who deserves better. 2. It gratifies, but your own history by now should prove it doesn't really satisfy. 3. It's keeping you from fulfilling your potential, calling, and role. And we're all suffering as a result.
So I trust you're ready to get pulled over, corrected, repaired, and rebuilt. Because The Game is still on, and we do need you to play.
Excerpted from THE GAME PLAN by Joe Dallas Copyright © 2007 by Joe Dallas. Excerpted by permission.
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