Matt Coker | @MatthewSCoker
My name is Matt Coker and I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with pornography, overeating, depression, and co-dependency.
I’ve given my testimony a quite a few times in the past few years, and I’ve always focused a lot on what God has saved me from. But now that I’ve got some significant clean time under my belt, I plan on also sharing what God has done with me since. But first, let me tell you how I got here.
Usually, when I give my testimony in person, it's when I'm standing in Celebrate Recovery meeting. And not many people tend to come to CR because they have a problem with pornography. But statistically, 80% of the men and 50% of the women have viewed pornography in the last month and 50% of the men and 20% of the women look at it habitually, addictively. In fact, that's true of ALL men and women.
So, the odds that you reading this right now have a problem with pornography are high.
I'm about to say something that might shock you, but I beg you to read until the end. Don't jump ship when I say this, because it's hard for me to admit, but a necessary part of my story: I’m a registered sex offender. And when someone wears that label, people immediately assume you have done the worst, most disgusting, perverted, devious things a human being can do and you are endangering them and their children just by existing.
So, what did I do to get put on this list?
I gave up fighting.
I discovered porn when I was 11, stumbling upon a box of Playboys my oldest brother had left behind when he moved out. I didn’t have a hard childhood, but at this time, my parents were going through a rough patch, my dad’s business was failing, my mother got breast cancer, and my family was going bankrupt. My house was constantly on the edge, overly stressed, and hard to cope with. When I discovered porn, I discovered a way to cope.
Things didn’t get easier for my family until several years and several moves later. By the time I had hit high school, I had figured out every way an underage kid can score pornography there was and used it as a drug. I knew that it wasn’t something I should be doing, but it was an escape that could last several hours a day, every day, that would put me in a world of happiness and pleasure.
I had been in church in one form or another for several years, but got saved in 2002, my sophomore year. I was driving home from my girlfriend’s house and listening to a preacher on the radio talk about habitual sins and how they can harden our heart against ever accepting Christ.
I knew that is what was happening to me. I knew what Christianity was about, I believed in God, in Jesus, in what the Bible taught, but I never took that step. I avoided making that commitment, because I knew that would mean I would have to give up my porn habit. And honestly, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to cope without it.
But finally, in this short drive home, I realized that I was clinging on to something destructive and running from the potential God saw in me. So, that night, in my driveway, I gave my life to Christ. I was hoping that would end my habit, but it didn’t. If anything, it got worse.
One of the tougher points we learn when we get to Principle 3 in Celebrate Recovery, is that just because we turn our lives over to God, it doesn’t mean we’ve turned out WILLS over to him yet. They are two separate decisions. One secures your eternal life, the next secures your Earthly life. The first is a decision you make once for eternity, the second is a decision you must make every morning when you wake up - every moment of every day. Accepting Christ is just the first step in your journey of faith. To grow, you must commit to him, give him priority in your life, rely on his willpower, follow his will for your life, even if that takes you out of your comfort zone, which it almost certainly will.
I turned my life over to Christ at age 16, but it wouldn’t be until I was 22 that I started to turn to my will over to him.
By the time I was a senior, my girlfriend and I were planning our wedding already, so I decided to stop fighting. I figured, once I got married, I wouldn’t need pornography anymore. So, until then, I decided, I’d just enjoy it.
I honestly didn't realize just how much I was already fighting this subconsciously, until I forced myself to stop. This opened the floodgates for increasingly taboo material and more and more time spent looking at it. And even worse, two years later, when my girlfriend and I DID get married, my habit didn’t go away. It didn’t even lessen up. My wife would work evenings and I would often spend the entire time she was gone looking at pornography. That’s 5 to 7 hours straight, 3 or 4 times a week. I had become a professional liar, a con-artist, a master of hiding places… I had this porn thing perfected.
Six months into our marriage, I made the worst mistake of my life. A series of bad clicks brought me to an illegal pornography website that sold folders of pornography labeled by ages. In my sex-crazed idiocy, I pulled out my credit card and bought a folder labeled “15 to 17-year-olds.” Now, I was 19 at the time, so the biggest age gap here was 4 years. I'm not saying this to minimize what I did, I just want to make it clear that I was never a pedophile or a predator. I was just an addict looking for a new drug. But even though what I bought was photos of older teenagers, the website I put money into exploited children of all ages.
That is what really disgusts me about my past behavior. I put money into the industry of sexual predators. I knew that’s where the money was going and I sat there and justified my behavior, convincing myself to do it anyway. I wish I could take that back. But I can’t.
I was saved. I was a Christian. I knew God was in my corner, but instead of relying on him, I chose to give in to my human nature instead. To have made my biggest mistake AFTER coming to Christ, that shames me.
Almost a year later, the person running that website was caught and the records he kept were used to arrest about 100 people across America, including myself. After a couple years of waiting, I was finally given a merciful sentence of 6 months in prison with 3 years probation, which is usually unheard of in cases like this. Most people in my situation get 3 years in jail and 10 years-to-life on probation. I attribute this to the amount of people who stood beside me. Even at my day in court, standing right beside me was my wife, my pastor, my parents, my in-laws, and even an officer that helped collect evidence against me - all there to support me.
When I was first interviewed by ICE about the purchase, I had to tell my wife what I had done. She immediately told me that she wasn’t going to leave me and that she still loved me. Her bravery, love, compassion, and unwavering faith in God and in us is something that still inspires me to this day and I did not deserve such grace from her.
After I was first arrested, and my face was in the paper and on the nightly news in my town, I was released on bond and when Sunday rolled around, I did not want to go to church. Eventually my wife convinced me it would be good, but I agreed to go only if we came in late, after handshaking time, and left early so we wouldn't have to talk to anybody. However, after a very somber sermon, during the alter call, we felt lead to go pray at the steps. And as we prayed, we felt a few hands touch our backs. I thought, "Thank God there are a few people who are willing to stand by us." But nothing could prepare us for what we saw when we turned around. Almost everyone in the church had come up and surrounded us. More grace, more unconditional love, more strength that only God can provide.
In the nearly 2 years between my initial arrest and my 6 months on the inside, I was introduced to Celebrate Recovery. In fact, the first night I attended was the first night that they were starting a Men’s Sexual Purity group. It was a great place to start going in the right direction with other men who struggled like I did. In that time, I even became a leader. I made it an entire year without looking at porn. But I had to step down after I relapsed on the very day I made it to one year clean. At that point, I was more depressed than ever. I had made it a year, and then I just threw it away for nothing. I felt like it was hopeless for me. And shortly after that, at what I feel like was my lowest point, I entered prison.
I lived in fear each day I was there. I was put in rooms with violent gang members. I was bitten by a crazy spider and had a huge bulge on the back of my neck for a month. I was beginning to get scales on my body from the extremely terrible quality of the water. I was constantly afraid of diseases like Hepatitis or worse. And I worried every day that someone would find out what I was really in for and decide to take me out, because, frankly and without any exaggeration, sex offenders are killed in prison.
I did my time, which was relatively short, but plenty long enough for my taste, and God protected me. And he also took the time to grow my faith in a way that I never had before. You see, I had been saved in 2002, but, as I said, I had done nothing with that faith since. I pretended to be super spiritual and a perfect Christian, and I fooled most with that act. But it wasn’t until my life, my friends, my wife, and my freedom were ripped from me that I found myself entirely dependent on God.
That’s usually how “rock bottom” goes, isn’t it? When you’re as low as you can go, you realize the only thing you can do is look up.
The next 3 years were focused on actually overcoming the addiction, with a combination of CR, direct discipleship, and a lot of helpful books, God helped me make the right choices more and more often. I relapsed several times, but God rewards perseverance. Getting up and trying again. And eventually, I was able to see the path He was showing me. I was fortunate enough to receive free counseling from a Christian counselor who could see things about me that I couldn’t see myself.
And because of all of that, this past June, I celebrated 5 years clean.
I want to tell you about these past 5 years. Once my probation was over, my wife and I were free to return to Clovis, so we did. I’m sure a few of you just muttered under your breath, “Why?!”, but we like it here and our families are here.
But when I arrived back here, I was afraid. Not many people I knew in high school had seen me since I was arrested. I was afraid of running into people who knew me before. I was also terrified of making new friends and eventually having to tell them. But God has been with me every step of the way, so I had no reason to think he would abandon me now. And in all the time since, I’ve only ever had one person respond to me negatively, and so many more giving me a chance, giving me grace, not writing me off based on one mistake.
My marriage has gone through more than most can survive, but our commitment to each other continues to grow stronger and stronger.
I got plugged back in with my church, which welcomed me back without a judgmental word or suspicious glance. I’m treated no differently than anyone else there. I was even given a job there again, the same job I had and lost when this whole mess started.
Not only that, but when I came back, I got the opportunity to become better friends with Cipriano Martinez, the director of my church's Celebrate Recovery and the CR State Rep for Eastern New Mexico/West Texas. When they were revamping our CR program at Highland, I was asked to join as a co-leader and help get the program off the ground again. Since then, while I’ve stepped back a bit in my roll because of some new amazing journeys God has taken me on, I’ve been extremely grateful and honored to stand beside Cipriano. He has kept me accountable, been an endless encouragement, and has knocked some sense in me when I needed it. And at CR, God has blessed me with the opportunity to lead men in Step Study classes, to sponsor men who struggle with pornography, and to encourage others as they reach their milestones in recovery.
It has been a huge blessing in my life.
Outside of CR, God has been building a new ministry around me called The Back Row, an online ministry dedicated to those of us who tend to sit on the back pew, the pew closest to the door, because we are afraid of what others would think if they really knew us, how much we really struggled, and we sit in the back just in case we need to make a quick exit.
The ministry is to both minister to people like us, Christians who are still struggling with addictions, bad habits, and hurts, and also to encourage us who have been in that position to never whitewash our testimonies, but to be open and brutally honest about our past so anyone can see that there is NO LIMIT to what God can redeem, that there is NO SUCH THING as a worthless human being, and that RESTORATION is offered to everyone.
This past year, I’ve been putting a lot of focus into The Back Row and God has really been blessing it with tremendous growth. We were even featured in "Faces Magazine" in July, just a few weeks ago, which is a Christian publication from New Zealand, of all places! We're ministering to people through devotionals, testimonies, videos, and one-on-one accountability, as well as trying to brighten their day with several humorous outlets on social media. It's been a wonderful new journey that God has taken us on.
And speaking of new journeys, I’ve also been blessed with a wonderful baby boy, 18 months old, who is the biggest blessing God has ever given me. And being a father just reminds me that I need to continue to follow the path God wants me to, to be a good example for my son.
Here’s the biggest truth you need to realize, and this is true for any addiction or bad habit: When I was living in my addiction, it helped me cope with a miserable life. But without that addiction in my life, life was much less miserable. My addiction made me live the life of a liar. A life of selfishness, of fear, of guilt, of depression, of constantly worrying that one day I’ll get caught, and then what will the consequences be?
My life without my addiction has been one of happiness, one of strength in the face of tough times, one where I’m not worried about the consequences of my bad actions because I’m not living that life anymore, and one where there is nothing that I can’t do, because my willpower and my strength comes from God Almighty.
The last thing I want to share with you is Psalm 51, from the Message paraphrase, which I kept on my person every day while I was fighting:
Generous in love—God, give grace!
Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
Scrub away my guilt,
soak out my sins in your laundry.
I know how bad I’ve been;
my sins are staring me down.
You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen
it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
You have all the facts before you;
whatever you decide about me is fair.
I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
in the wrong since before I was born.
What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.
Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.
Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love
don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.
The original version of this was written by King David, one of the greatest heroes of the Bible, after he hit rock bottom in his life, after he slept with a married woman, accidentally got her pregnant, and had her husband killed as part of the cover up. Human nature doesn't go away.
Even after this, David was known as a man after God’s Own Heart. His legacy is one of heroism, righteousness, and honor. When we own up to our mistakes, work to overcome them, and accept the consequences - when we hand our lives and wills over to God - he can not only give us a new life, but he can give us a legacy.
I stand before you a product of God’s grace. Without Christ, I was nothing. Without his mercy, I was doomed. Without his will, I was lost. But now, through him and him alone, I am found, I am saved, and I have a new and greater purpose. If God can restore my life, protect my relationships, and provide for my future, after all I’ve done, He can and will do it for anyone.
Matt Coker is the Ministry Director of The Back Row. He is married to a beautiful woman he met when they were both in youth group and they have one mischievous son together. Matt collects Funko Pop figures, loves time travel movies, and enjoys exotic jerky meats. You can contact Matt via the contact page or on Twitter at @MatthewSCoker.
The real, brutally honest testimonies to God's redeeming power from people on The Back Row.