Enslaved in secret, man finds liberty, open life in Christian conversion

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Steve Centafont, center, chats with, left, Jeremy Roberts, minister of Highland Park Baptist Church, and Chuck Patrick, a pastor at Silverdale Baptist, at a CBMC meeting.

By David Tulis

At family worship we have been following our church reading schedule in the book of Judges that tells how for just over 300 years God ruled His people directly and through the instrumentality of judges. These men were powerful rulers who took the role of king, general, priest and savagers of Israel’s villainous neighbors.

The judges were “saviors.” Among them are Deborah, who sat under a palm tree as the people came to her for judgment; Gideon, the warrior against the invading Midianites; and Samson, whose lechery stained his judgment and weakened his physical might.

Judges is a warning to God’s people in every age because it shows how ready we are to turn from righteousness to evil. The failing of God’s people is their lack of self-government within the light of God’s commandments. When they turn away from God and resort to fertility idols, God purposes His people into slavery at the hand of the ungodly. Israel’s half-dozens rotations from liberty to servitude to liberty inform us of how a sovereign God works geopolitically.

Slavery can also be imposed on us from within and operate on the small scale of a man’s personal life. By fleshly vices we separate ourselves from the word of God and His mercy, and alienate ourselves from our wives and families, and ourselves. We are slaves to our sins.

An East Ridge restaurateur tells his story

On Thursday I sit at a lunch table with businessmen who meet at Country Place restaurant near Hamilton Place mall for encounters with testimonies about God. Nearby sits Steve Centefont, manager at the Wally’s restaurant in East Ridge for 16 years. Mr. Centefont skips the meal to keep his clarity of mind. As we finish our meat and mashed potatoes he goes to the podium for the CBMC, the Christian businessmen’s committee, and tells a tale of human prodigality and godly mercy.

Just as Judges recounts sin, judgment, repentance and relief granted for a people, the parable of the prodigal son tells that tale about an individual. The prodigal’s story pivots on the point when the wastrel, starving in a far country while feeding pods to swine, “comes to himself” and decides, by God’s grace, to cast himself as a servant upon his father’s mercy (Luke 15:17).

Mr. Centafont tells of getting two scorpions from his parents. The first he discovered nosing about among the effects in his parents’ bedroom — a sexually explicit magazine.

“First it scared me.Then it intrigued me as I continued to explore,” he says to the 25 men in the room. “That one little expedition led me into a 25-year addiction to pornography. Some of you all may be there today. Well, my addiction to pornography fell right into place with goal No. 2 — a life of fantasy kept me from pain and rejection [of human relationships]. There was no accountability in my life and that worked really great. You see, then I received a second gift *** from my mom. *** For mom, alcohol was a severe addiction. So I started stealing beer from the refrigerator. I would go to the liquor cabinet and add liquor to my Coke.”

So greatly did Mr. Centafont become a law unto himself in his fantasmic sexuality that he became muddled. “I was engaged to two women, same time, two different states. This is how bad the thought processes. When you have that much loneliness and that much anger and you so desperately want something in your life, you’ll do anything it takes. So I figured, if I broke up with Robin in Florida, I always had Claire. And if things go south in Nashville, then I had somebody to go to in Ft. Myers. Until they met one day — literally met.”

The slavery to sin fitted well into Mr. Centafont’s lifetime personal goals, which had been shaped partly by the faults and peculiarities of his parents. As a boy and young man he had determined to keep people at a distance and maintain only “nominal friendships that guaranteed no personal rejection.” Pornography supported and rewarded his evasion of personal relationships.

Vices feed from self-centered desires

One other ironclad conviction influenced the man he became, giving him a determination to earn as much money as possible in the restaurant business. He desperately wanted to be free of any financial support from home.

His father, a Roman Catholic whom Mr. Centafont did not name, made a good living as a physician. But he refused to be a spiritual leader of the family. The family went to worship on Sunday, but there was no prayer life, no family worship, no blessings upon the three siblings. Mrs. Centafont, apart from being prone to alcoholism, was fixated by two words: “What if?” She so henpecked her husband that if he so much as tore a check from the register, she would hear it from any room in the house and swoop down, demanding he justify that expense as she did the spending of every other penny.The uproar at home over finances was constant.  “This caused a deep anger and a rage to rise up in me. *** Why did he have to go through a constant interrogation every day over the checkbook?”

Mr. Centafont’s Christless upbringing fixed his mind by 19 on cash flow as an idol, on illicit sexual fantasies and on the power of inebriation.

Mr. Centafont invites a mistress into his home

The Scriptures contain wonderful love poetry and celebrate sexual passion and pleasure. No one can say sex is foul or evil in itself; the Bible contradicts any such a claim. But the Word protects sex as God’s gift, and demands its proper place in human affairs as part of the apparatus of commitment, as Rev. Tim Keller says in his book, The Meaning of Marriage. But the misuse of sex, by which God intends to bind men and women together in marriage, is a focus of many biblical warnings

Mr. Centafont could not see sexuality rightly.

How about a day in the life of a pornography addict? Awake in the morning, thinking at every opportunity how quick can I go get that next video, next magazine, that next full fantasy in darkness. How quick can I get there, how fast can I go. See, guys, I had invited a mistress directly into my marriage. I just said come on in, come on in the door. Her name is pornography. There are some young guys in here. My wife just retired from Red Lobster, and worked with 18-, 19-, 20-year old guys and they just laugh and think it’s funny, that nobody’s going to get hurt [from pornography]. She’d have to call me.

Relationally, I couldn’t talk with any woman without the thought, ‘my, isn’t she interesting!’ You guys fill in the blanks there. This put extreme pressure on family and marriage. Because pornography led to the question of my wife, ‘Can I ever live up to the expectations of the fantasy? Can I ever be what he sees  in those movies?’ Alcohol. Pornography. Even my marriage left me with a deep void.

Christian men show service to God brings freedom to man

Mr. Centafont’s addiction disrupted his married life. His wife, Vivian, and he have one child. She brought into their union a 4-year-old from a previous marriage. He held wild parties in the family home, and the older child, a girl, grew to despise her stepfather.

God ordained to bring an end to Mr. Centafont’s servitude by putting into his life ordinary — but great — Christian men. With eyes searching the scriptures, they were like judges in Israel. These are persistent men of fierce faith, great patience. Richard Jones, for example, met with Mr. Centafont regularly for months. They devoted themselves to the book of John. Others are Wayne Smith and Bill Mattheiss.

God’s word spoke to Mr. Centafont about the inner life. “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” Prov. 4:23. “Do not turn to the right or the left; remove your foot from evil” (Prov. 4:27).

Mr. Centafont also submitted to preaching of the Word of God. He pleaded for God to make Himself known to him. He describes himself as someone who is “25 years of my life in bondage, and chained, bound, and is now being offered the keys of freedom. I desperately wanted to be unbound.”

In 1997 at a local church he made a public profession of faith. He lost his taste for alcohol.

I have been reading this volume by Rev. Tim Keller and profiting in my understanding of God’s purpose in marriage.

But pornography’s snare is harder to snap and is a daily battle in his heart and mind. Mr. Centafont advises men to consider steps he has taken to remain pure in heart and keep their eye from temptation.

➤ No movie channels at home

➤ No Internet

➤ “The bounce theory.” He turns his head, or his chair, if a woman crosses his gaze and the Old Man in him stirs. ”Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you,” he says, quoting Prov. 4:25.

Four months ago Mr. Centafont and other men began a Saturday morning “man cave” organization at Silverdale Baptist Church that helps Christians gain in their accountability to their Savior by discovering accountability among other men.

Mr. Centafont can be reached at (423) 774-0804 and at stevecentafont(at)yahoo.com.