Powerful Vices–and Your Way Out: Jonathan Pokluda
The vise-grip of lust or critical thoughts can feel insurmountable. But from personal battles, author Jonathan Pokluda has come to a tangible escape hatch. If you're wondering how to break a bad habit at last, don't miss this thoughtful wisdom.
About the Guest
- Learn more about Jonathan Pokluda at jonathanpokluda.com
- Connect with JP – @jpokluda
- Find JP's new book, Why Do I Do What I Don't Want to Do? here.
- Check out all of JP's podcasts on the FamilyLife Podcast Network
- Find resources from this podcast at shop.familylife.com.
- See resources from our past podcasts.
- Find more content and resources on the FamilyLife's app!
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The vise-grip of lust or critical thoughts can feel insurmountable. But from personal battles, author Jonathan Pokluda has come to a tangible escape hatch.
Powerful Vices–and Your Way Out: Jonathan Pokluda
Dave: Okay, I’ve never done this on FamilyLife Today. I’ve done it as a preacher in a sermon; I’ve done it at a marriage conference, Weekend to Remember,® from the stage; but I’ve never done it in the studio. It may never work, but we’re going to try this.
Ann: Oh, great!
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: By the way, we’ve got Jonathan Pokluda with us.
Dave: We’re calling him JP because those are his initials.
Jonathan: She’s nervous right now.
Dave: Are you nervous?
Ann: I’m nervous.
Dave: What are we doing?
Ann: I’m totally nervous!
Jonathan: I know, there’s a thin line between genius and about to get crazy.
Ann: You know, Dave walks that thin line.
Dave: I like that line; I really do! I should grab my guitar and sing something about it, but I’m not going to.
I call it the Ten Commandments Test. Have you ever done this?
Dave: Everybody stand up. I’m going to have to stay seated, because I have to be on the mic.
Dave: You guys stand up.
Ann: Oh, we’re actually standing up?
Dave: Literally, standing up.
Ann: Oh, okay.
Jonathan: We’re not going to be standing up long, I have a feeling. [Laughter]
Dave: You’re standing up. I’m going to start with commandment number one of the Ten Commandments. When you’ve broken a commandment, you sit; if you haven’t broken this one, you stay standing. Exodus 20: “And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.’” Here’s number one: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Jonathan: I’ll have to sit.
Dave: JP went down; Ann went down. Is anybody standing?! I’ve pastored 30 years; about every couple of years, I would do it again.
Dave: Sometimes, it was for fun; but often, I was teaching about something I wanted to illustrate. Most of the room is still standing after commandment number one.
Jonathan: Yes, which is—
Dave: And you know, as a pastor,—
Jonathan: —a misunderstanding;—
Dave: —you’re sitting there,—I knew all of you guys would go down, because you understand commandment number one.
Dave: As we talk about your book today, Why Do I Do What I Don’t Want to Do?
Jonathan: —they’re thinking: “Oh, I’ve never worshiped Satan,”—
Jonathan: —or “I’ve never worshiped Ba’al,”—
Jonathan: —or, you know, “…sacrificed to some idol.” Man, every pair of ears, right now, out there has had another god before God.
Dave: What’s that mean?
Ann: Amazon Prime! [Laughter]
Jonathan: —to name one!
Jonathan: To name one.
Jonathan: Shoes, watches,—
Dave: Anything that comes before God.
Jonathan: —food is a big one.
Dave and Ann: Yes.
Dave: When I do it at the FamilyLife® Weekend to Remember, we do a session on Saturday morning, where we’re trying to help people understand: “Without Jesus, you have no hope for your life or your marriage; and you are a sinner.”
Dave: Often, people look up at you, like, “Well, the people sitting beside me—especially my wife!—she’s a sinner, but I’m not.” When you do this, you’re hoping for them to say, “Woah!”
Ann: It levels the playing field.
Dave: But the fact that people are still up at number six or seven is what you just said: “They don’t really understand.”
Dave: As you wrote this book about—the subtitle: Replace Deadly Vices with Life-Giving Virtues—we have to at least admit, “We do what we don’t want to do,” right?
Jonathan: That’s right.
Dave: You’ve got to start there.
Jonathan: Every human being that has ever lived, with one exception, has done lots of things they didn’t want to do. You see it in parenting so clearly—you know, the struggle is real—it’s like, “Man, why do that?”
Dave: Well, it’s interesting, as we walked through the book, we talked a little bit yesterday about ancient vices.
Dave: And then you’ve got modern—you call them modern—wars. We only hit one; you have ten! [Laughter]
Jonathan: I know; I know.
Dave: We had a whole 30 minutes, and we got one.
Jonathan: One down.
Dave: So we won’t get all ten; and I would just say, “Get the book! It’s really good.”
Let’s talk about one that really affects all of us—butt affects our marriages big time—lust. And the virtue is—
Jonathan: I became a Christian in my early 20’s. There were lots of things that people had warned me: “Hey, this will grip you.” So many of those things I could pick up and set down; it wasn’t like, “Oh, man! I need to do that again. I can’t wait to!”
Prior to marriage, I thought, very, very naively:—
Dave: I know what you’re going to say! We all think it.
Jonathan: —“I’ll struggle with this, at least, until I’m married,”—
Jonathan: —which is the biggest, most laughable joke in the history of history; because all marriage does is: it takes a giant magnifying glass and puts it on your struggles in singleness. I always say, “I’ve never met somebody with marriage problems. They all have single-people problems that they brought into their marriage.” That was certainly true with me when it came to lust and pornography.
The problem with sin is, when you feed something, it grows; so this is the lie of “…one last time.”
Jonathan: We think: “Oh, I’m going to look at that one last time,” “I’m going to give in to that one last time.” What you don’t realize is: you fed that thing one last time; so next time, it’s going to be bigger and stronger than the last time. The next time is actually more difficult than the last time.” Our best move is to really think, “Hey, my last time is behind me; so what does it look like for me to put these things in place so that I actually fight this?”
I’m blown away by how many men and women, after a message on lust or whatever we’re talking about, will come up—I’ll share some of my story—they’ll come up and say: “Man, I’m really struggling with lust,” or “I’m really struggling with porn.” I’ll say, “How do you access porn?” They’ll say, “My phone.” And I’ll say, “Well, where is your phone?” They’ll say, “Well, it’s in my pocket.” I say, “Oh, I thought you said you were struggling.” They say, “I am!” I say, “No, you’re not; you’re carrying it around with you everywhere you go. If this is the thing that you want to win!...”
If somebody says, “You’re legalistic,”—I say, “Let’s turn to Matthew 5; because Jesus says, “If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off,”—I think the point of his sermon/his preaching there is: “Do what it takes; make it difficult on yourself.” People will say, “Well, it won’t help.” Well, at least, it will make it harder for you to just give into it than if you carried it around with you in your pocket everywhere you go.
Dave: That’s where you start, with self-control? Because you’re sitting here with an iPad and a phone beside you. [Laughter]
Jonathan: Yes, that’s true; it’s true, and somebody would say, “What about you?” And I would say, “There was a time when I couldn’t.” So what does that look like? I almost never travel alone. When I go into that hotel room by myself, I don’t cut on the TV. If a hotel—and they’ve kind of moved away from this, praise God—but if they have adult streaming, I say, “Hey, can you cut that off?” Sometimes, it’s the awkward conversation in the lobby: “Oh, Mr. Pokluda, are you traveling with children?” “Nope, just me! Just a guy who wants to avoid all temptation as much as possible.”
Dave: You know, I’m a little older—but I traveled with the Lions, and I remember one time, I called down to the front desk, and I did that, JP—I said, “Hey, can you turn off the adult channels in my room?” And the lady at the front desk said, “Why?”
Dave: I said, “I don’t want to watch them.” She said, “Well, don’t watch them.” I said, “I can’t just not watch them! Please turn them off!”
Jonathan: Yes, it’s demonic.
Ann: It is demonic.
Dave: You’ve shared that here publicly, and I’m sure in your own church. A lot of pastors would never say this out loud, that that’s a struggle. Why do you do that?
Jonathan: We could get to the perception management chapter.
Jonathan: I’ve got a story, and I’ll tell this as briefly as I can. A seminary wanted me to speak on how to reach the next generation. One time, prior to giving a sermon, I was talking about how we need to be authentic—which is the virtue to perception management—is authenticity. I talked about how, one time, I was going to preach; but the day before, I was on Instagram, and I clicked on a hashtag. It was innocent, but the next one wasn’t; I intentionally clicked on a hashtag, hoping to see something lustful.
Before I preached the sermon—that had nothing to do with lust—I just confessed that to the congregation. I said, “Guys, this was yesterday; and shame is just beating me up today. I need to tell you this; and I’m so sorry, because I’m going to tell you not to do the very thing that I did at some point. I didn’t give in to it; I didn’t act further on it—the Holy Spirit, in His kindness, awoke me to: ‘Hey, you need to flee now,’ and I did—but I had intentionally looked at something that I would say all of you should never look at. I’m truly sorry. Will you forgive me?” I prayed, then I preached a sermon that had nothing to do with that. That night, I had the longest line of people wanting to talk to me than any other time in the history of speaking.
Jonathan: I was there—it was an evening message—but I was there until 11 pm, when security made us leave—11pm, talking to people, who said, “I can’t believe you said that! Me, too; I’m struggling so much.” Nothing to do with the sermon I had just given, right? [Laughter]
At that seminary, that invited me to speak on reaching the next generation, I shared that story. The feedback afterwards—I’ll never forget, because I began to weep as I read it—it said: “You’re a person in ministry. You need to present to be holy. You need to give the perception that you are holy. You cannot use words like that in a mixed-gender audience.” That was some of the feedback I got; and I just began to weep, because I thought, “You’ll never reach the next generation.” They do not want someone who presents to walk a foot above the earth and never struggles. They need to know how you’ve struggled. Don’t manufacture things—don’t say things for shock value—but be honest.
Jonathan: You know, as I was driving here with my son this morning, we were talking about something. I said, “Hey, your dad is always going to be honest with you. When you want to know the truth, find me or your mom, and we will tell you the truth. We’ll tell you things that some parents will say you’re not ready to hear; but I want you to hear it from us rather than from people who are trying to figure it out themselves. I’ve made a lot of mistakes; and if you ask me a question, I’m always going to tell you the truth.”
Dave: Here’s a question I was asked last weekend, which I’d never been asked—it’s not that unique—but I thought, “Huh?” Do you know what question I’m going to say?—you were sitting there.
Ann: I have no idea.
Dave: Ann and I spoke at a Fellowship of Chrisitan Athletes Football Coaches’ Marriage Retreat in Branson, Missouri.
Dave: It was pretty cool, because FCA now has a football division. I was a football coach, and it was like our people. The artist they brought in to lead worship, Michael O’Brian, used to be the lead singer of New Song.
Dave: The guy is phenomenal.
Dave: And he sits at our table, and he says, “I listen to you guys on FamilyLife Today. My wife…”—blah, blah, blah. And he says, “I’ve got to ask you something,” because we talked about struggles in our marriage. I talked about—and we put it in our book, Vertical Marriage—my porn struggle, back 40 years ago. He said, “Let me ask you this: when is it needed that somebody steps into a person’s life, especially a minister’s life?”
Dave: He said, “It’s good that you’re honest, and you share your struggle.”
Dave: But when is it the time that the elders or somebody should step in, and say, “Okay, this is not okay.
Ann: “You need to apply church discipline.”
Dave: “You’re doing it once every two weeks now,” or “You’re doing it once a month.” What is the number that says, “Okay, it’s really cool you’re vulnerable and authentic,”—that’s the counterpart to entitlement—but when is it that we probably need to get you help?
Jonathan: Yes, yes. That is a great question! I’m glad he asked.
Dave: Well, I didn’t answer it very well; so I want you to answer it.
Jonathan: Well, here’s the deal: I think, when we talk about these things—and there’s what you say, and then there’s what people hear, and then the gaps that they fill in—somebody might be out there, thinking, “Oh, man! This guy is still struggling with porn, and he’s preaching every week,”—
Jonathan: —you know, this guy is like, “No!”
Jonathan: If I’m regularly looking at pornography, I think I am disqualified for, at least, a season. There needs to be a long season where I’m getting help; I’m in recovery; I’m being ministered to; I’m not doing the ministering. If someone’s listening, in ministry, I think that’s true; and I’ll say, “Consider all things. Consider what you’re doing/where you are.” The bottom line is: “If this is a recurring deal, where you’re giving in to it, you’re losing the battle. Get help!”
Jonathan: That’s what I’m trying to say; there’s no shortage of recovery ministries, church programs, and pastors out there. In every city in America, there is someone there who is going to want to come alongside you and help you. Get help!
That’s a difference between: “Man, this is not recurring. I’m fighting lust; and man, I made a mistake yesterday; I went too far.” Now, I’m playing the game of: “How fast can I confess this? How quickly can I bring it into the light?” I’m not trying to hide it from someone; I want everyone to know; I’m not concealing this. You know, ‘Whoever conceals their sin does not prosper’; but I’m saying, “Hey, this is what happened.”
As you lead a church staff, you’re confronted with this often. I have the kind of relationship with our staff where, if they did something like that, they would shine a spotlight on it and say, “Hey, here’s what happened.” It’s not—we don’t shoot our wounded—but we say: “Okay, how are you doing?” “What led to this?” “Was this coping from some experience? How/when was the last time?”
We’re trying to determine: “Hey, are you in a place, where you can still minister to others?” or “Do you need a sabbatical?” or “Do you need us to meet and talk through recovery?” You know, “What is actually going on?” or “Do you need to move into another job while you get well for a season?” There’s a little bit of art, not science, there; but I would not be afraid of doing hard things, right?
Jonathan: Because God’s going to bless obedience.
Jonathan: He blesses obedience.
Dave: I was actually—as you were talking, JP, I was thinking, “All of the same things you just said, in my opinion, apply to the marriage. If my husband or my wife has a struggle with—it could be lust; it could be greed; it could be pride—any one of these—apathy—how do you bring her in?—how do you bring him?”
Obviously, Monica’s been part of your story, right?
Jonathan: Yes; that—and what I think about as we’re going back and forth on provoking thoughts—I think there are a lot of people, whose marriage is hurting, and they pull the curtains down/they pull the blinds down.
Dave and Ann: Yes.
Jonathan: They’re like, “We can’t let them know how we’re struggling.”
Jonathan: They get out there, and it’s all laughs; it’s the Instagram highlight reel and “All things are great,” and “We’re on vacation.” They get in the living room; and you know, they don’t know how to speak to each other.
Y’all are doing that thing—right?—Art of Marriage?
Dave: Yes. [Laughter] What do you mean? You’re in the Art of Marriage—
Dave: —the new one.
Jonathan: I didn’t know where you were with it, but I’m so glad you’re putting together that resource.
Jonathan: That’s going to bless people.
Ann: We’ve updated it, and we’re going to talk about that in our next episode some more.
Jonathan: Great! Thank you for all you guys do to help people in their marriage, because don’t you agree that people are pulling the blinds down? They’re saying, “Hey, I don’t want you to know.”
Dave: I agree with that, especially in the church.
Jonathan: And that’s the perception management piece, too. I think, “Hey, guys! Wherever you’re struggling, and wherever you’re doing what it is you don’t want to do, step one is to tell some other brothers and sisters: ‘Hey, I continue to do something I don’t want to do. I continue to look at something,” “…spend in ways,” “…watch something,” “…say things,” “…respond in anger in ways that are inconsistent with what Jesus wants for me.’ Start there!” It’s confession, you know?
Ann: One of the greatest gifts Dave gave me, early on, in our marriage—he was a young pastor—[when] I said, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if we’re supposed to hide our stuff; I don’t know if we’re supposed to confess our stuff.” And he said, “I’m an idiot! You can tell anybody you want that I’m an idiot. You can tell them everything that I do that makes you mad or that I’m failing in.”
Ann: I was blown away by that because talk about not protecting your image!
Jonathan: It is healthy, yes.
Ann: I remember—
Dave: So she went and told everybody!—that’s what she did.
Ann: No, I had a small group of friends in the church—they were in the church; Dave was the pastor—but it was good, because they realized, “Oh, they’re just like us!
Ann: “They’re walking that journey.”
And I think, too, I get kind of riled up when we’re talking about porn. I have three sons; I see this next generation of women and men being trapped! It is going to demolish marriages if we don’t allow Jesus to come in.
Jonathan: Yes, kids.
Ann: —kids. As a mom and dad,—
Dave: You’ve got to bring it into the light.
Ann: —we need to be praying, too, and asking God to protect our homes, being smart by getting devices out.
Ann: But I don’t think we should live in fear either.
Jonathan: Yes, yes.
Ann: Because our God will battle for us.
Jonathan: Yes, and we’ve got to be consistent.
Jonathan: There are critics in the church, who will say, “You’re shaming them.” “No, no, no, no, no, no, no; you don’t understand. Jesus died to set us free. There’s no shame! We’re not dealing with shame; we’re talking about freedom.
Jonathan: That’s why I go first.
Jonathan: That’s why I talk about these things. People are like, “I can’t believe you said that word.” I say, “No, no! I have found a freedom that’s available to you, and I want it for you. It’s the enemy who tries to drive you to a place of concealing sin.”
Jonathan: People say, “In talking about it, you’re inspiring people to conceal it.” “No! No, no, no, no. I want to compel people to step into the light. God is light! He is health; He is forgiveness; He is grace; He is restoration, reconciliation, and regeneration. These are the things that God is about. He’s about restoring you. He wants to do that right now!”
Dave: My hope is always—whether I’m preaching a sermon or even a broadcast right now—my hope is two parts: one, that the listener or the congregant will say, “Wow! They’re like us! They had the same conversation in their family room we had this week. I can’t believe it!”
Dave: The second part, though—because I think sometimes, we end there, saying, “Okay, that’s my job,”—I think the second part is that the person listening would say, “But they know Jesus in a way I don’t think I know. There’s a victory they’re experiencing; there’s power. They have both. I relate to them; but I also want the Jesus they know, [whom] I don’t feel like I know.”
Ann: —who gives freedom!
Dave: They’re inspired to chase after Him; we’re experiencing both sides of that.
Jonathan: I don’t want this to be a love bombardment; but that’s why I look forward to doing this with you guys so much, because the country needs examples of people who are real—they follow Jesus, but they’re honest; they’re authentic; and they know how to have fun—they still love Jesus; they love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Dave: Yes, yes.
Jonathan: I love—Ann, I’m not surprised that he said that to you, that he gave you permission to “…tell on me,”—you know, that’s healthy; and I’m not surprised God would build what He’s built around you to help other marriages, because it’s healthy.
Dave: Hey, can we get one more?
Ann: Which one are you picking, because I have one. What are you thinking?
Dave: Well, I want to hit drunkenness and sobriety, but that isn’t the one. The last chapter: cynicism and optimism.
Dave: Again, it may be just where I’m living; but the older I get, the more cynicism I’ve seen, and sometimes, I feel in my own heart.
Dave: Can you talk to that a little bit? That’s a modern war that you say we fight.
Jonathan: Yes, I see it in our church. I think a health engine of the church is empty nesters. I think there are a lot of grandfathers becoming the kind of grandfathers they don’t want to be, where their grandchildren say, “Hey, Pops is grumpy!”—you know? [Laughter] “Gramps is grumpy!”
It’s in all generations. I think it is definitely in the “spirit of the air” right now, just cynicism/a critical spirit. I don’t think the internet has helped us here. People go on threads and just give full vent to their anger; it’s ungodly—it is not what Jesus did when He was here on the earth. I mean, pick your fruit of the Spirit! Is it love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, or self-control?—it’s none of those things.
Because Jesus rose from the dead, and gave us hope for eternal life—where we’re going to be with God forever and ever and ever and ever and ever in paradise—the way that paradise starts today/the way that eternal life starts today is living in this broken world with this incredible hope and optimism, knowing that God’s going to restore it. I meet a lot of “Christians,”— I’m saying it in air quotes—so-called “Christians” that live like God lost, and like He’s not going to be able to put it back together, like He’s really stumped by their problems. And that’s just not the God whom we worship.
Ann: And they just talk endlessly about the next generation and how hopeless it is.
Ann: And it’s the opposite!
Dave: And we bring it into our own homes, because we get cynical about our own marriages: “He’s never going to change,” “She’s never going to change.” We should be looking in a mirror, and saying, “What about me? It’s not about her,” “It’s not about him; it’s about me. God, can You change me?” And there should be optimism there, because that’s what He does!
Jonathan: Satan loves a critical spirit. And Ephesians says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up, so that it may benefit those who listen [Ephesians 4:29].” I talk with my kids a lot: “Hey, use words that bring life,not tear down, but bring life.”
If you are just a little bit more thoughtful on anything that you’re critical about—whether it’s politics, or the next generation, or—
Jonathan: —something you see happening in church; you know, the music’s too loud [Laughter]—whatever it is—if you’re just a little bit more thoughtful, and you go slow, there’s a way to say that in a positive form; I’m not just talking about the simple compliment sandwich. I’m like, “Man, where can you speak words of life?”—then, figure that out! Use your words to build up, not to tear down.
Dave: So, JP, come back tomorrow. Let’s talk about the Art of Marriage.
Jonathan: Can we please?
Dave: Yes, let’s do it.
Jonathan: I’m in.
Shelby: You know, if I’m honest, I have a tendency to be super-critical with my thoughts and my attitude and, of course, my words, just what they were talking about there. I did stand-up comedy for four years, and it’s almost a pre-requisite to have a critical eye on the world and other people; so I really struggle with that. But hearing this conversation, especially what they were talking about there at the end, encourages me that God calls us to a better way of living, by reflecting Jesus and being a life-giving spirit instead of [being] so critical all the time. It’s so great; I love that conversation.
I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jonathan Pokluda on FamilyLife Today. Jonathan has written a book called Why Do I Do What I Don’t Want to Do?—right out of Romans 7 there. This is a book that helps you understand that practicing virtues is not just something you do; it’s something done in you slowly, by the power of the Holy Spirit transforming you into the person you were meant to be all along. So whether you’re 18 or 80, it’s never too late to change. This book will help you do that.
This book by Jonathan Pokluda is going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially at FamilyLife Today. You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com in order to do that, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” And feel free to drop us something in the mail if you’d like. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832.
Now, right at the end of the conversation, Dave Wilson asked JP to come back tomorrow and talk about the Art of Marriage. The Art of Marriage is a tool by FamilyLife that facilitates meaningful conversations and growth in relationships. We are, right now, one day away from our Art of Marriage preview event!
Do you ever wonder what marriage is actually for? Well, we’re going to have lots of guests: Dave and Ann, of course; Aaron and Jamie Ivey, and Jonathan Pokluda to talk about the Art of Marriage tomorrow, November 1st. Register while there’s still time at FamliyLife.com/comingsoon, or you can check out the link in our show notes. We hope the preview event tomorrow night will be super helpful for you.
Now, on the program tomorrow, Jonathan Pokluda is going to be back, talking about what the devil’s strategy is in your marriage. You don’t want to miss that! That’s tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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