By Mike Fehlauer
It's amazing, the terrifying thoughts that run through your mind when you're holding a gun to your head.
"If I pull the trigger, will anybody hear the sound?"
"How long will it be before anyone finds the body?"
"My hand is shaking . . . will I hit the target?"
In my case, I was the most unlikely person in the world to be sitting there in the darkness of my car with a .357 magnum trembling in my hand and aimed squarely at my head. After all, I was the pastor of a successful, growing, central Florida church. I had a wonderful family - a beautiful wife and two lovely children.
So, what was I doing sitting on the side of the road with the cold steel of a gun barrel pressed against my head?
Looking through the foggy windshield at my church building across the street, I thought long and hard about the circumstances that led to that confused moment. That very night I had scheduled a guest speaker to preach, and I was supposed to introduce him! But, as I watched members of my congregation file into the building, I sat glued to my car seat, filled with terror and unable to move.
Four years earlier, my wife and I had arrived in the city, driving a rented U-Haul truck, with great expectations for building a church. Life couldn't have been better. We were young, in love, and the idea of the new pastorate filled every moment with an unusual thrill. After checking into a motel, we immediately began looking for a house to rent, and within a few hours, we experienced success. It was on the main boulevard of this central Florida city and, although it was priced right and convenient, it came with the requisite problems of a main street - noise, traffic, and worst of all, beer bottles and other trash liberally tossed onto the lawn. But that was of little concern - we had more important challenges ahead.
I began pastoring the new church, and with the multitude of responsibilities associated with a new position of leadership, our lives were filled with a fresh excitement. We hardly had time for work around the house, but grudgingly, I soon decided that I needed to stay on top of the growing trash heap that was accumulating outside in the front yard.
It was a Saturday morning when I first confronted the trash problem, the obvious result of a raucous beachfront Friday night. I was out on the front lawn picking up the beer bottles when I noticed a paperback book by the roadside. Out of curiosity I picked it up and started leafing through the pages. It didn't take long to realize it was pornographic - no dirty pictures, but a collection of pornographic stories that immediately carved crystal clear sexual images in my mind. I tossed out the book, not realizing the mental replicas couldn't be forgotten quite so easily.
After a week or two those images began coming back to my mind with a vengeance. Looking back, I am reminded of how a photographic image grows more and more in focus as it is developed. These pictures built a stronger and stronger foothold in my subconscious and I would begin waking up in the middle of the night thinking about them. As the months passed, they became the first thing I thought about when I awoke in the morning and the last thing I pictured before I went to sleep at night.
Being a young pastor, I struggled to deny the thoughts. I read the Bible and prayed. But, having no experience in fighting pornography or sexual sin, I had little knowledge of how to deal with the problem other than with sheer willpower - which I discovered was a futile weapon in the face of such an enemy.
The battlefield was slanted against me as well. Because of the unique nature of this county's obscenity laws, there is an amazing range of obscene and pornographic services offered throughout the county. Within a short drive from my home there were strip joints, massage parlors, escort services, bars, adult bookstores, X-rated movies, and more. Therefore, even my daily drive through the city exposed me to a barrage of signs and building. Instead of the sexual "rush" I had hoped for, all I could feel was disgust and self-loathing. I remember sitting in my car and literally screaming - screaming at God, at the world, but most of all at myself. I continued screaming without let-up until I pulled into my driveway, and walked into my house, hoarse and ashamed.
That "first experience" opened a gateway to a flood of sin. I once heard an evangelist say that, "Our lives always go in the direction of our most dominant thought." That was certainly true in my case.
Strangely enough, during this time I still kept up my pastoral duties. I still preached sermons, visited the sick, and managed church affairs. Absolutely no one had any idea of my double life. I discovered that a sexual addiction was unlike an addiction to drugs in that it left no tell-tale signs. There were no needle marks, no physical changes, no lethargy, and no signs of weakness. I was keeping my double life going full bore, and it left no incriminating trail whatsoever.
Today, I realize that this is one of Satan's greatest weapons in the battle - its sheer invisibility. A double life of sexual sin leaves an obscure trail, therefore there is very little chance of being caught or even noticed. It's fairly easy to spot someone in the advanced stages of heroin or crack addiction - but much more difficult in the case of sexual sin.
Killer, Ted Bundy, confessed on Florida's death row that he was able to compartmentalize his crimes in his mind so that after brutally murdering a woman, he could clean himself up, go to work, and act completely normal. As horrible as it is to compare yourself with someone as overtly evil as Ted Bundy, I understand that ability to compartmentalize your thoughts into distinctly separate areas of your mind. One moment I could be in my office counseling a church member, and within an hour I sitting in a dark, smoke-filled strip joint.
I thought about that double life while sitting in my car across the street from the church. I begged God to kill me, or at least make me invisible so I could disappear from my family, my friends, and my loved ones.
Then, I also remembered my growing paranoia.
My escapades seemed to take place in three-month cycles. For three months I would experience relief and life free as a pastor, family man and friend. But then Satan always knew the right buttons to push. It might have been a television program, a magazine ad, or a comment on the radio, but whatever it was, I would find myself once again inside an adult bookstore, in a massage parlor, or calling an escort service.
I was finding it harder and harder to cover my tracks as my church continued to grow. I became fearful that sooner or later someone would see me in the "wrong part of town" or perhaps walking into an X-rated movie. I began to wear complex disguises and took more care to use back doors and alleys.
The paranoia continued to grow . . .
It began dominating church affairs. I began to argue with friends I deeply loved and became despotic in church meetings. My wife literally cried a river of tears trying to uncover the source of my hurt and pain, not knowing the horrible reality that flowed underneath my raving personality like a river of molten lava.
I became consumed with the "Elijah Syndrome" - "I'm the only one left, God. I'm the only one left. No one can understand the responsibilities I have. No one can relate with what I am going through."
This is one of the most dangerous places for a Christian leader to find himself. He becomes an island - separate from other reasoning human beings and supportive contact.
Tragically and predictably, that egotistical attitude began to systematically cut me off from the very ones that could have helped me. Nevertheless, I continued to estrange myself from even my closest friends. The pressure was too great, and that's when it seemed that the only real end to my pain was the pistol I held in my hand.
While sitting there in the darkened car, images of the past flooded through my mind. The hiding, the disguises, the shame, the disappointment, all came rushing forward like a raging army of darkness. Somehow, by the grace of God, I was so afraid of dying that I didn't have the courage to pull the trigger. Still shaking, I uncocked the pistol, quietly laid the gun down on the car seat, and, through blinding tears, slowly drove home.
The implosion caused by my reckless and sinful behavior had finally caused my life to collapse around me. I felt like I was suffocating - alone and without hope.
That night I finally confessed everything to my wife, Bonnie. Holding nothing back, I told her the nightmarish history from the moment I picked up that paperback book on the front lawn to the moment I dropped the gun on the seat of the car.
Of course, she was devastated. I fully expected her to leave, to slam the door in my face and never return. But I hadn't counted on the depth of Bonnie's commitment to God and His unlimited grace in the face of a horrific circumstance. I did know that the healing and recovery might take years. I started sleeping on the couch, knowing that although there was forgiveness at the cross, the consequences of my sin would take great time and even greater effort to repair.
Although it was the most difficult time of my life, over the next few years God began to work a miracle in my life and the life of my family. Along with my wife's determination to never give up, God graciously helped us break the bondage of that addiction and begin a new life together.
But it wasn't simple or easy.
Perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned during my long period of recovery is that a "stronghold" can be described as any destructive system of thinking. In my case, I was fighting a stronghold of sexual thoughts, ideas, and desires. In other cases, a stronghold may be an intense struggle with drugs, alcohol, violence, power, self-image, finances, or any other addictive thinking that preoccupies your mind to the point of being obsessive. Therefore, while Christ offers complete forgiveness and salvation, we still must break the mental stronghold that has often taken years and occasionally a lifetime to build.
Through the difficult experience of restoration, I have discovered some important steps to recovery from a sexual or pornographic addiction - especially for those in positions of ministry and church leadership. In reality, these steps can be used to break the bondage of whatever "stronghold" you may be struggling against.
1) Repent - This attacks the victim mentality.
Repentance literally means "to change your mind - to turn around and go in another direction." Change your mind and renew it by meditating on the Word of God. Any stronghold starts in your mind, and the greatest victory for a believer is when he or she conquers their thought-life. Your body cannot go in a direction your thoughts and imagination have not gone, so begin to take God's Word as an incorruptible seed to replace the pictures and thoughts that have dominated your mind and driven your flesh.
Remember - your willpower is not enough to erase the pictures in your mind, but God's Word has supernatural power to paint a new picture of deliverance.
Also, repentance means taking personal responsibility for your actions and your choices. It means not blaming anyone else for your circumstances and then making a decision to act on scriptural promises. No matter how afflicted or tormented a person is, he or she never loses their power of choice. Also, maturity doesn't necessarily come with years, it comes with accepting responsibility!
Repent and face the music.
This is the beginning of recovery.
2) Change Your Environment - This attacks the availability of sin.
This means taking control of what you expose your senses to. In some cases it may be necessary to change jobs, or even geographical locations. You will need to find a place with a network of friends and supporters that will help you experience total victory.
I immediately resigned my pastorate and moved my family to another state and into a Bible-believing church that would provide the environment necessary to begin the process of recovery.
3) Discover God's Love - This attacks fear.
Only when we discover God's unconditional love for us, can we begin to feel a sense of worth and significance - not in what we do, but in what He has already done for us. Nothing you do can nullify your worth in God's eyes. In discovering His love for me, I was able to escape the definition of who I was based upon my failures and successes. This was the only way I could really escape the past! You will never escape the past if you allow your actions to define your worth.
As I rest in His love for me, it releases the power of His grace to free me from other passions that would enslave me.
Although I had preached the message of God's love to others, I had never really understood the depth of its power. Once I had repented, I immediately began to meditate on and accept God's redeeming love, and that love began to release me from the shackles of fear.
4) Develop Godly Relationships - This attacks deception.
Deception disappears when we become transparent and accountable to others. When I led my double life of mystery, I was exposed to Satan and his attacks. In addition, developing Godly relationships destroys the attitude of, "I can make it on my own." Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:22 to, "pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart."
Timothy's success was going to be determined by what he knew of God's Word and by surrounding himself with the right people. Proverbs 18:1 says, "A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise counsel."
After moving, I immediately took a job outside of ministry and submitted to another pastor for counseling and restoration. Both my wife and I began to serve under a qualified pastoral team and were counseled directly from God's Word. This point is critical. I am living testimony that fallen ministry leaders can be saved and restored, but sadly, we allow too many to fall by the wayside and forever lose their unique gifts and callings.
5) Begin To Think Long-term - This attacks lust.
Sin is fueled by short-term thinking. One of the chief characteristics of lustful thinking is, "I want it, and I want it now." Obviously, this can be applied to any area, not just sexual addiction. Again, Paul counseled Timothy to "flee youthful lusts." The great sin of immaturity is impatience.
Patience is trusting God with our future. When we begin to think long-term we are demonstrating our trust in God. The force of patience forges the character of God to be built in our lives.
Impatience is a symptom of lust. To break free, I had to see time as a friend, and not an enemy. To reach the depth of sin that I had plummeted to did not happen over night. Adultery does not come on someone like a seizure. A person has spent many hours meditating and fantasizing about it. He, or she, sees themselves doing it long before they actually commit the act.
Forgiveness is instantaneous, but restoration takes time. In Proverbs 5:9 it says that when someone commits adultery he gives his honor to others and his years to the cruel one. I gave years of my life away to Satan for a few hours of pleasure. As a result, it required months and years of renewing my mind - allowing God to build a foundation in my life and carve out those inner disciplines that are now my safeguards.
I began to grasp a new long-term vision for my life and ministry. After years of counseling, training, and submission to proper church leadership, I began a new role on the pastoral staff of the church. This came about only at the personal invitation of the senior pastor who knew completely of my past, my sin, and my subsequent disciplined restoration.
6) Discover Servanthood - This attacks pride.
Learn to be a disciple. I had to become a disciple before I could effectively minister to others. Servanthood breaks the trend toward self-centeredness which is ultimately the focal point of sin.
This is why my years working outside the ministry were so important. I worked in the secular world as a salesman. This put me back in touch with those to whom I used to minister - those whom I had hurt so much. I made my living selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door, perfume on the street, and clothing. During this time I also spent hours each week volunteering at the church. I was willing to serve in any task no matter how small or difficult. The first assignment I had was to retrieve a pair of eye glasses that had fallen into the toilet. It required removing the entire toilet from the floor and took all day. I was happy to do it because I began to understand the real joy of serving.
7) Expect Total Deliverance - This attacks failure.
Peace only comes when there is total victory and total victory comes when we fight to win. In earlier wars, America fought to win, but in Viet Nam we were cheated of the opportunity for victory. David said in Psalm 18:37 that he pursued his enemies until he had overtaken them and destroyed them. Most Christians do not go further than just pursuing their enemies and chasing them over the horizon. Then, they walk back to camp under the mistaken assumption that they have obtained victory. When the sense of physical pressure and influence is diminished, they think the battle is over. But, anyone who has fought Satan for long, knows that, after a season, the enemy begins stalking once again and, before long, comes in for the kill.
But how do we know the enemy is truly defeated?
Victory comes when the influence of that stronghold is completely broken and we are no longer controlled by it. This is what the Bible calls "mortification of the deeds of the body." ( Romans 8:13)
There is a place in God where we can, by His grace, experience freedom from the domination of the flesh. It is not God's desire for us to "white knuckle it" through life trying to stand against the pressure of the flesh by sheer will power. We can, through the Spirit, experience permanent freedom from the influence of familiar sins of the flesh. The Holy Spirit can enforce the reality that our flesh does not have the right to rule us. Through the finished work of Christ, the power our flesh has over us is broken!
Romans 6:6 says: "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed. And that we should no longer be slaves of sin." It goes on to say in Romans 8:12, "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh."
This is not to say that we will never again be tempted. Even today I am constantly aware of Satan's power and desire for my defeat. That is why after all these years, I still actively avoid any situation where I could again bring sin and reproach on my life and ministry. Satan never gives up, and therefore neither will I. But, neither am I controlled by the obsessive thoughts and desires that once held my life in the balance.
Fighting to win attacks complacency, and brings deliverance.
It has been more than five years since I confessed everything to Bonnie and began the long road back to freedom. I kept this story private until now, because I believed time was important to accomplish the healing and deliverance in my life. So often we find those in the Christian community that experience a dramatic healing or other change in their life, but haven't really been put to the test. I needed to go through a complete program of restoration before I was ready to resume a leadership role. During that process I learned what it means to really love my wife and make my family a priority.
Now, by the grace of God my life has remarkably changed. I have learned to take God's Word at face value and act on its promises and power. Earlier in my ministry, I didn't have the tools to effectively fight Satan's onslaughts, but armed with His love and His weapons, my life has dramatically changed.
By Bonnie Fehlauer
This testimony would not be complete without hearing from the one person who has been the most instrumental in this whole saga - my beautiful wife, Bonnie. To me, she must be one of the most Godly women ever. Here, she shares some of what she experienced and learned as a result of God's grace in her life.
From the beginning, our marriage had been built on rocky ground. Immature and naive, the only things we had going for us was a sincere love for Jesus Christ and a desire to honor our marital commitment before God. Admittedly, that desire was severely tested the night Mike confessed everything to me. I had always thought that a marriage unmarred by marital unfaithfulness was the most important ingredient in a healthy and long-lasting relationship, so you can imagine how my world went up in smoke as he stood there confessing my worst nightmare.
Even in the midst of the ashes, God was faithful. In fact, somehow he had been preparing me for what was about to happen. Mike had been behaving very erratically and had not even preached in our church for over six weeks, but refused to discuss anything with me. I knew something was dreadfully wrong, and during a time of prayer the Lord led me to Deuteronomy 33:29 which says, "Your enemies will be found to be liars unto you, and you will tread upon their high places." That scripture showed me that whatever was tormenting Mike would be exposed, rendered powerless against him, and he would walk in victory over it.
That night, as he confessed his sin, I somehow could sense the sincerity in his heart. He was visibly repentant and was willing to do whatever it took to get the serious help we needed. But that's not to say it was easy. From that moment on, I learned some important things that made the difference in Mike's recovery and the healing of our marriage:
1) First, I was able to see that Mike's sin was not against me. This was an incredible miracle, because the normal reaction would be: "Why have you done this to me!?" I recalled King David's life and his own sin before God, and I discovered this offense was between the Lord and Mike. With that awareness, the Lord ministered Ephesians 4:32 to me: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you." Somehow I was able to remain tenderhearted toward Mike and see the situation from his perspective as well as my own. I came to the realization that the world didn't revolve around my own hurt and pain.
2) I knew I was free and not bound by scripture to remain in my marriage. In other words, there was no judgment in Christ whatever choice I made. After growing up in a church which condemned divorce under any circumstances, this was a liberating revelation. I was free to pursue a higher standard - the law of love. Therefore, I knew that if I stayed in our marriage, it was because I wanted to, not because I felt compelled.
I realized that whatever decision I made must be made in faith. If I stayed, I needed to believe that God would heal and restore our relationship. If I chose to leave, I needed God to give me a new future.
After experiencing the divorce of my parents and the devastation it brought to everyone involved, I chose to believe that we could walk forward together in victory.
3)It was God's Word that ultimately was the key to healing and restoration for me. After all, think of the multitude of everyday fears that were going through my mind. What about Sexually Transmitted Diseases? AIDS?!? Because of the knowledge and faith of God regarding health in my life, I was able to stay free from that and other fears.
The most wracking personal pain was the broken trust and lack of an open and loving marriage. That pain was tough to live with as the days and weeks went by. I became insecure, defensive, and suspicious. During this time, God gently and persistently dealt with me about me. He exposed my own faults and shortcomings, keeping me humble and dependent on Him. I had been crushed, but He promised that if I would humble myself under His mighty hand, in due time He would lift me up (I Pet. 5:5-7). He began to build within me an identity that is rooted in my relationship with Him and transcends any human relationship. This security gave me the strength and patience to wait on God to work in Mike's life.
I also realized that Mike had put the pursuit of success and recognition before our marriage and children, and when the Lord changed his heart we discovered a vibrant love that is a treasure beyond price.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned through this process was the power of forgiveness. James 2:12 and 13 says to, "speak and do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. He who shows judgment without mercy will find no mercy himself." Therefore, I wanted to put myself in the position of giving Mike forgiveness and mercy, rather than judgment and condemnation. I knew that whatever I sowed I would receive back as a multiplied harvest. James 2:13 goes on to say that mercy rejoices (or, is a joy) against judgment. It is a joy to God to extend mercy rather than judgment and I, too, found it was a joy to forgive!
As a result of that forgiveness, I also experienced a new understanding of what it means to "walk in love." I Peter 4:8 says to have fervent love for one another, for "love will cover a multitude of sins." Admittedly, I had never been faced with needing to love to the point of covering such a multitude of sin! Yet, my heart was drawn time and time again to the fountain opened up through the shedding of Jesus' blood. As I kept my focus on the abundant supply of His overflowing compassion and mercy toward me and the world, I could love Mike enough to let his sin be covered, and ultimately forgotten - as if it had never happened!
Looking back, I can see that because of God's faithfulness, our marriage has not only been healed, but now we are able to help others work through the obstacles threatening their destruction. In our work with other couples, our greatest desire is to show that Satan's plan is to ruin lives, stealing their purpose and destiny. But we discovered him to be a liar and thief, and now by the grace of God, we are walking in the high places where Jesus paid the price for us to live.
If you feel that you are in a pit of despair and hopelessness right now, let me encourage you to cry out to the Lord for His help. Psalm 40 tells of David finding himself in a horrible pit and stuck in miry clay.
Here he was, the Anointed Man of God, in dire circumstances that threatened his life. Just like David, Mike and I found ourselves in a terrible trap that the devil had set for us! But the Lord brought David out and He brought us out. The Psalmist says that God not only delivered him, but set his feet upon a rock, and established his goings, and put a new song of praise in his mouth. This is what we are enjoying and what you can look forward to as well.
Remember . . .
No situation is too hard for God!
You are greatly loved by Him!!
For more information on Foundation Ministries, or to book a Foundation for Life Seminar, contact Mike Fehlauer at:
P.O. Box 3099
Colorado Springs, CO 80934-3099