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Superman Syndrome

Years ago, HABITATION OF DRAGONS changed my life. Its author, Keith Miller, said whenever he read about great Christians he was cowed by their achievements. On rare occasions, some shared a failure or struggle. Such vulnerability encouraged his faith more than all their "glory stories," so he wrote a whole book about his failures.

 When I was a pastor, that book helped me to decide to be honest with my congregations. That's not always easy for pastors. The Superman Syndrome plagues the church. Parishioners want leaders who are pullet proof, totally beyond reproach, pastors who act bigger than life. I vowed to be human. Though it sometimes got me in trouble, I'd do it again. In fact, I will right now.

 I've shared my struggles before with sexuality. I wrote my first book on sex. Before I was a Christian, I was intimate with many women. Afterwards, my heart lusted after many more. After my divorce, well, even my openness has some boundaries! Let's just say I did some things I didn't think I'd ever do.

 But I feel led to broach this taboo topic of sex yet again. There is nothing men struggle with more, and few things the church is more reluctant to discuss. Our neglect in that area causes an amazing amount of suffering, pain, divorce, guilt, and heartbreak. It's time to take the brown paper wrapper off of one of God's greatest gifts to us. It's time we come clean on sex.

 God is not bashful. He openly shares the notorious sexual struggles of His greatest servants. King David's problems are legendary, pushing him into adultery and even murder. Sampson's downfall was Delilah. It cost him his life. Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines. Even I can't grasp that! But perhaps the most helpful of all sexual strugglers in the Bible is the Apostle Paul.

 I'm speaking of something Paul referred to as his "thorn in the flesh" -- something that caused him enormous anguish.  Three times he asked God to remove it. God gave him an answer he didn't expect.

 Theologians argue over what Paul's thorny problem was. Some say it was a physical affliction. If so, he would have asked for its healing not its removal. Others maintain it was a person who caused him much grief but Paul never hesitated to name names when people caused him problems. A few say it may have been simply a bad habit. Close, but no cigar.

 The word for flesh is sarx. It doesn't refer to the physical body but rather to our stubborn human will in opposition to God's will. Personally, I believe Paul was grappling with sexual temptation. Here's why. In Romans 7, Paul openly admitted that he faced a terrible problem with evil concupiscence (immoral sexual desire). Paul was so burdened by guilt he pondered whether it could cost him his salvation. However, even more fascinating is God's response to Paul's request that He remove his 'thorn in the flesh'. God said, "My grace is sufficient for you." Grace is not what you offer a person dealing with afflictions, bad habits or obstreperous people, it's what God extends to us sinners!

 Maybe, just maybe, Paul's letters are his own HABITATION OF DRAGONS -- his attempt to offer hope to fellow strugglers; compassion for our sin; grace to Jesus' followers in every subsequent generation. I can't prove that but I do know this: it's something I need!

 Consider this: churches usually draw far more women than men. Women are more spiritually sensitive than men and more open about their spiritual hunger. The church I attend has numerous programs, Bible studies and support groups for women. We even have a women's pastor. But there's little of that for men.

 However, I think a greater reason why so many more women attend church is because most churches preach against men's sins far more than women's. We harp on holiness and purity and financial responsibility. We are quick to point out how men should love their wives as Christ loves the church - sacrificially. Men's sins are more obvious; they make easier targets. We can grind guilt into the souls of men with great and ease never cause much of a fuss. And sadly, most preachers use guilt more than anything else to try and get people to be faithful.

 Few and far between are the preachers with the audacity to tell women they should respect and submit to their husbands, or that men should rule their households well. Few will give gossip the same weight as lust, though the Bible clearly does. I almost never hear a sermon against being a busy body, or a message that corrects manipulative wives. It's far safer to address the horny and leave the hornets nest alone! It's easier to condemn the more obvious indulgences of men. Besides that, preachers usually preach what they need to hear. When a pastor rails against divorce, he is probably facing marital problems and trying very hard to talk himself into staying true!

 What's my point? I love the church but I think churches encourage lying. We pray for revival but we don't really want it. Revival comes when people openly repent - from the pulpit. We say we believe in healing then we make no room for it in our curriculum. Instead we offer feeble prayers that God would guide the doctors. Biblical healing requires transparency, honesty and confession. Who's ready for that?

 Look, the church has about the same number of divorcees, bulimics, alcoholics, sex addicts and adulterers as the rest of society. That's the problem. Jesus came to save us not only from the penalty for sin but also from its power. He was named Jesus because He would save us from our sins. The church should be a sinner's anonymous not a saints autonomous. If that's ever going to happen we need to start leveling with each other.

 The most powerful things occur at our retreats when we encourage honesty. We give people permission to talk about where they really live; to explore the terrible things that really hurt them; to admit, in the presence of loving, accepting people, that they don't have it all together. That's when healing happens, it's when God can break through. That's when His Spirit really shows up. It's amazing what a little honesty can do.

 I was recently reminded of an incident that vividly illustrates this very point. Over 30 years ago, I was a young, longhaired Jesus freak. I lived and worked as an editor for an underground Christian newspaper in a commune in the inner city of Cleveland. One day, a heroine addict asked me to help him kick his habit.

 A young woman and I locked ourselves into a room with him until he had. We stayed awake all night, talking and praying and watching him agonize with withdrawal pains. We shared a lot of our lives with each other during that long night. Sometime, in the wee small hours of the morning, as he struggled not only with the pain of his body but also the deeper agony in his soul, he realized he had lots of things to get off his chest. He told us all the awful things he did to support his habit, but he held something back; something he felt terrible about; something he had never shared with anyone.

 After we listened compassionately for many hours and even shared some of our own personal struggles he finally knew we wouldn't judge him. At last he go up the nerve to blurt out the worst thing he had ever done. As soon as he did that, an amazing thing happened. Once he shared his most terrible sin, his withdrawal pains instantly stopped. His total openness about his life somehow freed him from his miserable drug addiction. No sooner had he done that and the battle was over, the vice grip turned to victory, the living nightmare of his life finally ended.

 As a spiritual therapist doing healing ministry I've seen similar things happen again and again. There is nothing God won't forgive, nothing He can't heal. But usually, people need 'God with skin' to help them receive his all sufficient grace. They need real people to hear their confession, and share their own. Then and only then can deep healing begin. This is how Jesus breaks our bonds and sets us free from our captivity to sin. It's how we secure the abundant life He came to give us. And once that's done, His gentle Spirit lovingly comes to heal our broken, hurting places. No more Superman Syndrome here, just "one beggar helping another beggar find a crust of spiritual bread." That's a powerful solution. The kind that brings a new and brighter sunrise to sin darkened souls.



Ken Unger is President of and founder of, where you can learn more about him and his transformative ministry. click here ,
 "Ken's new book, The Ultimate Breakthrough, goes beyond self help to self healing. You can preview it at  The Ultimate Breakthrough "
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