By Matt Coker
If you Google my name, you’ll find a couple cool things, like the time I fought for our school newspaper’s First Amendment rights and won or my work and love for the Celebrate Recovery program.
But mostly, you will find a whole lot of the same news story from 2006.
This is an introduction to myself. And I’m just going to get this out of the way: I’m a sex offender.
Did I lose you? How many people clicked off? If you’re still here, then let me explain.
First, what exactly did I do? Sex offenders tend to be thought of as wiry, drug-addicted, balding, drunk, kidnappers who hide in the bushes at playgrounds.
Those people do exist, but they are rare. Despite what Nancy Grace has told you, 9 out of 10 sex offenders are first time offenders who made one terrible mistake.
When I was 19-years-old, a computer virus lead me to a website that sold illegal pornography, sold in folders labeled by ages. In a moment of great weakness and stupidity, I purchased a folder of 15 to 17-year-olds engaged in sexual activity.
Now, don’t get me wrong. What I did was terrible, at best. I may have been looking at teenagers within an acceptable age range compared to me, but I did put money into a website that exploited children of all ages. That is what makes me most ashamed.
But I am not a pedophile. I am not a child molester. I am not a kidnapper.
Not that it’s anyone’s business, but the only person I’ve ever had any kind of sexual contact with is my wife (and we even waited until our wedding night).
I’ve never been in any other trouble (aside from a speeding ticket or two). I’ve never been in a fist fight, been sent to the principal’s office, tried drugs, gotten drunk, smoked a cigarette… I mean, truthfully, I’m quite boring.
Clinical depression runs in my family and hit me early in life. I also discovered pornography at an early age thanks to a carelessly stored box of Playboy’s my oldest brother left in my closet.
I discovered pornography before I even hit puberty. My fascination forced puberty on me early. And so, at the same time I was discovering what being a boy meant, I was looking at pornography. It was always a part of me.
And it became my escape of choice when depression was too much to handle.
I'm not saying this to claim that none of this was my fault. It was 100% my fault. I may have been addicted to pornography, but I'm the one who made the decision to buy something illegal. I knew what I was doing, but I justified it to myself, saying that it wasn't really wrong, since my wife at the time was the same age as the girls in those photos.
But it was wrong. And it was my fault. This was me at my worst.
My depression problem and subsequent use of pornography only grew as I became a teenager.
I faked church for a long time, never accepting Christ as my Savior, because I knew that meant I had to stop using pornography.
But, in 2002, I finally broke down and asked for salvation, after hearing a preacher on the radio talk about habitual sins and how they can harden our heart, where we may never accept Christ.
I was afraid of this happening, because I did believe Christianity to be true, but I wanted to ride the fence as long as possible because it was my only escape from the crippling depression I had.
I hoped salvation would save me, fix the depression, and cut off the need for escape.
But, if anything, my use of pornography only increased.
My girlfriend and I had been dating for many years and already planning our wedding. So, I convinced myself marriage would save me and, until then, I would give up fighting.
This was my big mistake.
I was collecting (legal) pornography in Gigabytes.
I became so much more addicted than I had ever been, spending hours a day feeding my habit.
And, a year and half later, when we got married – surprise, surprise – it didn’t fix my problem.
Six months in to our marriage, I was still spending hours a day (when my wife was at her evening job) looking at pornography. It was here when I made the worst mistake of my life.
After being arrested, put in the paper, being publically humiliated and ostracized, and losing two jobs, I waited for the axe to fall for about 2 years.
I signed a plea agreement, saying I would admit my guilt and be given a two-year prison sentence.
But, my day in court, I had a stack of two dozen character letters from friends in the community and my family, my in-laws, my Pastor, and many other members of my church standing behind me.
The judge threw out my plea agreement. I was given a merciful sentence of 6 months.
The six months were the worst of my life, but I’m glad I went. Not only did God keep me safe the whole time, but he put several people in place to help me cope and grow in my faith. And best of all, he took away my depression (at least the emotionally crippling kind).
I came out a better man.
People who don’t know me personally, but find out my legal status, hate me automatically.
I don’t blame them. It’s how we’re conditioned to react.
But people who do know me, they don’t treat me any differently than before I broke their trust.
I have been involved in Celebrate Recovery for a long time now. It is a faith-based 12-step program for all kinds of addictions.
It played a huge role in helping me finally break my 13-year addiction to pornography.
Now, I lead CR program with a friend of mine at my church. I even sponsor some guys who are currently struggling with sexual addictions.
That’s the reader’s digest version of my story. I’m more than willing to answer anyone’s questions.
But, what does this have to do with church?
I am blessed, because my church stood behind me.
When I was first arrested, in the paper, and on the news, everybody knew what had happened.
I was in jail for 4 days before being released until my court date.
I did not want to go back to church on Sunday.
How could I face those people? How could I even look anyone in the eye? What if, God-forbid, someone asked me about it?
But my wife convinced me to go. We showed up after the service started, sat in the back, and planned to leave early. No conversation.
However, when the invitation came, I had to go pray at the altar with my wife.
As we prayed, I felt a few hands touch my back. I was overjoyed to imagine two or three people praying for us. I was not prepared for what I saw when we stood up and turned around.
Almost everyone in the sanctuary had gathered behind us to pray with us.
My church has done something that few churches would have the courage to do. They stood with me during my darkest hour.
Currently, this is what God is having me do with others: Stand with them during their dark times until they can learn to trust God with their hurts, habits, and hang-ups.
As Christians, we have started forgetting something.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” –Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
This verse is put on graduation placards and Bible covers for all the good Christians to be given a happy promise of an awesome future.
But that verse is not for those doing things right.
God was talking to His people who had, time and time again, rejected Him. It didn’t matter how much He blessed them, they started worshiping false gods and pleasing themselves.
This verse was in the middle of a declaration that God was going to let His people be taken captive, become slaves, live in the consequences of their sins.
Then, He said this:
“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” –Jeremiah 29:12-14 NIV
God was letting them be punished for their sins in order to open their eyes and train them to do what was right, so God could restore them and then let them grow.
I made a mistake that I will be reminded of every day for the rest of my life. I used to be ashamed. But now, I’ve accepted it as a part of my story.
If you judge me based on my failure and don’t give me a chance to prove my worth to you, that’s your problem, not mine. Again, I don't really blame you. I can't say I wouldn't be the same way if the roles were reversed.
But God is using me already. God is going to use me much more in my life.
And I just can’t wait to find out what He has in store for me, now that I’m finally on the right track.
This is me.
This is my story.
And it’s only just begun.
Matt Coker is a Media Director at a church in his hometown, where he also is a leader at a Celebrate Recovery program. He's a huge comic book nerd, Whovian, and Funko Pop Collector. Matt and his wife live in New Mexico. This post was taken with permission from Congruent|Culture.