25 May 2017
In the Bible, living out one’s faith is sometimes referred to as a race. A race we are called to run well—and that includes living with our sexuality. Living a life of sexual integrity involves what Ellen calls “staying in our lane.” God has marked out a path for us, and it is in that very path that we grow and prosper. Not outside of that lane.
25 May 2017
Running my race of faith well and with sexual integrity is tough! If I’m going to make progress in living a life of sexual integrity, I need to handle four things well. First, I need to intentionally throw off distractions and everything that hinders me (my first blog on this). Second, I need to persevere, learning that hanging tough in rough times is when I most experience Christ’s strength and comfort (my second blog).
Now, another thing: I’ve come to see how crucial it is to watch over my heart and be aware of when discontentment is hovering and lingering. I need to be honest about painful circumstances and deep disappointments that I’m facing.
Why these things? What do they have to do with living a life of sexual integrity?
Because disappointment tends to grow into discontentment, and discontentment can lead us in one of two directions. Which direction you go in is critical.
Positively, a growing sense of discontentment in my life can lead me to run to God, which is exactly what he wants us to do. Hebrews 12:1-13, which is the passage I’m looking at in all these blogs, says that I’m to run the path “marked out for us” (NIV). This path—filled with disappointments and discontentment—is the one God will use in my life to transform me.
I need to stay in this lane.
In other words, sexual integrity (living honestly and intentionally within God’s stated boundaries for sexuality) is not something that is just handed to us. It is pursued and embraced as we wrestle with the fallenness of our own hearts and all of life in general. God intends that trouble and pain would draw us to himself in dependence and humility.
Hebrews 4:16 says beautifully, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (ESV). I would suspect that, like me, millions of people throughout history have crumpled down at that throne with aching and disappointed hearts. The One sitting on the throne graciously welcomes disappointed and discontented people!
Look at Hebrews 4:16 again. Do you see it? Jesus embraces us when we run to him with aching and angsty hearts!
What surprises many people is that pornography, and even sexual fantasy, are not primarily fueled by sexual lust. Lust is a key part of it, but it first begins in a heart that is failing to handle disappointment and discontentment well.
But on the negative side of disappointment and discontentment, it can lead us in a dark and dangerous direction. Instead of going to Jesus, we go anywhere and elsewhere. Why? Because our painful emotions seek relief, seek escape, seek comfort.
Recently a woman confessed how years of looking at pornography created a fantasy world in her mind. It was a quick and easy place of escape when trouble came. Her fantasy world was simply more appealing than the real world in which she lived. It was as if her heart said, “That path God marked out for me? I’m not going there!”
What surprises many people is that pornography, and even sexual fantasy, are not primarily fueled by sexual lust. Lust is a key part of it, but it first begins in a heart that is failing to handle disappointment and discontentment well.
In the case of this young woman, emotional lust and a craving to feel good (loved, pursued, celebrated) propelled her towards the unreal world of sexual fantasy and pornography. The places in her life that were disappointing to her (her singleness, her loneliness in not having women friends, and some tough, physical trials) seemed to vanish in the hours she spent online.
So, what was this woman to do—just “sit” in her disappointment? Should she believe the lie that echoed in her heart: “This is your lot in life. Just deal with it!”?
Absolutely not! Jesus calls her to himself, not to a fatalistic resignation about her life. As I said in my second blog, God isn’t calling us to merely gut it out.
Jesus wants her to fix her eyes on him, trusting that he is with her on this path and that he will provide what she needs. Her life is filled with trials and temptations, but also with an abundance of mercy and comfort from God that is readily available to her.
He wants her to stay in her lane, fixing her hopes on him rather than frantically escaping her troubling emotions. Jesus, who is with her on this path, is the reality her heart really needs. Made-up worlds in our minds, sexual or not, can’t offer lasting comfort or peace!
To run the race of faith with sexual integrity, we must be honest about how we struggle with discontentment. I struggled for years with my own escape to fantasy life, but I’m thankful that I’m not tempted to look at porn or to rent movies that are sensual or sexual. I’m saying this to encourage you, that it is possible to overcome deep-seated sin patterns!
However, when the stress of ministry and responsibilities are high, I can be tempted to run after Netflix, Redbox, or the hundreds of free DVDs at the public library. And when I give way to escaping into entertainment in an unplanned way, out come the salty snacks. Unplanned eating leads to overeating for me.
Running in the path marked out for me means fixing my eyes on Jesus when life is simply hard, when nothing seems to go well. It means calling out for help to Jesus and to his people, confessing my weaknesses, burdens, and the sinful temptations that lurk all around me.
Staying in my lane also means that in the toughness of life, I submit to God’s authority as my loving Lord and allow my heart to go where Mary’s did. When faced with an unbelievable task, to do something that was impossible because of who she was, she replied, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Oh, to grow in that kind of peaceful trust of God when the path marked out for me is different from my plans and even my desires. With Christ in us and beside us, we can run this race well! We can stay in our lanes with our hearts fixed on Jesus.
You can watch Ellen talk more on this subject here in her video, Running the Race Well—Part 3. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
17 May 2017
In the Bible, living out one’s faith is sometimes referred to as a race. A race we are called to run well—and that includes living with our sexuality. Living a life of sexual integrity involves perseverance—and that is something Jesus enables us to do.
Click the following link to dig deeper into what Ellen is saying on in this blog: Women: Running the race well—Part 2.
17 May 2017
For women who desire to run their faith race well—and that includes living a life of sexual integrity—it’s important to know that Jesus doesn’t expect us to just gut it out. No, as I said in my first blog, Jesus enables us to throw off distractions and to run the race with perseverance when it gets tough.
1 John 3:8 says Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil—and that means our unbelief and all the sin attached to it. Living a life of sexual integrity, particularly during times of struggle, shows our commitment to cooperating with Jesus in what he wants to accomplish in us.
And that is, that we persevere, that our faith is for the long haul.
But how do we persevere? How do we run and hold on over a long distance?
First, we need God’s strength to do it. We need to know that the Holy Spirit pours out strength and courage when we are fearful and weary in the battle against sexual sin. I remember a woman I met two years ago who boldly took a step that she knew would be extremely costly to her. She went to a mentor in her life and was honest about being emotionally involved with a married man. In the days following her confession, she felt the anguish of letting go of something which had become intoxicating to her. Intoxicating and dangerous.
But she still had the desire, although weak by that time, to persevere and to walk in sexual integrity. She knew that faithfulness to Jesus meant being willing to part with anything that could hijack her heart from love and obedience to him. That was a costly obedience! When we persevere like this, not only will sexual integrity grow in our lives, but we will also experience Christ’s strength and comfort through our costly obedience.
Secondly, we need God’s discipline to reshape us. Discipline, as described in Hebrews 12:5-11, doesn’t mean a scolding or bearing the brunt of harsh punishment. When Hebrews 12 talks about God disciplining us, it describes God as a father caring for his child.
The goal of God’s fatherly discipline is our holiness; that is, we increasingly become Christ-like in our character, growing in maturity and bearing good fruit throughout our life.
His discipline can come in a number of ways. It might come in the form of someone asking you difficult and humbling questions about your online life or about a relationship in which you’re involved. It might be someone challenging you about a relationship that isn’t good for you. It can be through God not giving you something you desire because what you want might lead you far from him. God’s discipline is tough love! But you have to see it as love!
“God’s discipline is tough love! But you have to see it as love!”
Thirdly, we need to be changed from the inside out to persevere. We need to see that God’s discipline does not just mean outward changes in behavior. God is always targeting our hearts first! God is always wooing us back to him. Yes, discipline should result in changed behavior, but for it to last, for it to deeply please him, for it to be real in our lives, it must flow from a heart that is being changed from the inside out.
Finally, we need to humbly recognize that sometimes God will allow us to experience the consequences of sin when we refuse to turn from it. This is also a form of his loving discipline: to convince us that when we turn from his path, we are in a danger zone.
I think of someone I knew who held on to her sin until all was lost: ministry, marriage, relationship with her kids, and all of this in a very public way. Into this person’s life came God’s rod of loving discipline. The sin was found out, her marriage crumbled, her children left her, her job was lost. All of it so painful, but all of it was allowed by God as a loving and rescuing wake-up call.
Amazingly, the discipline worked! She persevered through the valley of humiliation and is now growing more and more as a humble, Jesus-loving person who is running with integrity in her life.
Jesus said to his followers in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (NIV).
Perseverance is costly obedience over the long haul, but it’s empowered by the ongoing rest we receive in leaning into Jesus.
Are you weary, sister, in your battle against temptations and sin? Go to Jesus, who welcomes the weary and gives strength! Are you hurting and perhaps feeling the anguish of having let go of a person or situation for the sake of holiness? Run to Jesus; he is gentle and desirous to give you rest!
You can watch Ellen talk more on this subject here in her video, Women: Running the race well—Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
10 May 2017
In the Bible, living out one’s faith is sometimes referred to as a race. A race we are called to run well. One part of our life to run well is how we live with our sexuality. A life of sexual integrity doesn’t just happen—it takes serious steps to run this race well!
Click here to dig deeper into what Ellen is saying on Ellen’s blog here: Women: Running the Race Well—Part 1.
10 May 2017
In 2013 I finished the Philadelphia half-marathon with integrity, even though I wasn’t on board with the race’s motto: “For the Love of Running.” I don’t love to run, and in fact I walked the entire 13.1 miles! My form was less than professional, and my running clothes were not high-end gear, but I did finish the race. I finished what I started. That was my integrity, the principle for which I strove for: Finish well what you started.
I did it by keeping the finish line in mind. One step at a time. Not getting distracted by the scenery along the race, like the beauty of Rittenhouse Square or the exotic landscape of the Philadelphia Zoo.
Women who desire to live with sexual integrity—with themselves and in their relationships with others and with God—also need to run the race of faith well.
Which means throwing off distractions and hindrances, like how I finished the half-marathon.
Hebrews 12:1-13 gives us many rich truths to consider in this regard, but let’s start this discussion with the importance of throwing off the endless distractions we all face in this world and the sins that easily trip us up.
After the 2014 Philadelphia Marathon, there were four tons of discarded clothing collected along the marathon route!¹ Serious runners start the race wearing gear that can be tossed off in the first miles as their bodies warm up. These articles of clothing are helpful at the start but a heavy hindrance once underway.
Similarly, we need to recognize and be willing to part with not only obvious sin but also influences in our lives which distract and hinder us from loving Jesus in our pursuit of sexual integrity. We need to take seriously the influences which can weigh us down and make it easier to walk into sinful situations.
“The key here is not so much the thing itself but the impact it has on us. Sexual sin most often has a seemingly ‘innocent’ beginning—when a potential hindrance or distraction is given room to grow, when a temptation is managed rather than run from!”
People, forms of recreation, activities, and so on may be good things but may also have a power in our lives to pull us away from following Jesus. A person or relationship can easily hijack our heart’s contentment in Christ. A form of entertainment can quickly become our default source of comfort or escape from the stresses of life. A ministry or work scenario can put us near someone to whom we’re growing in an unholy attachment, even to the point where we feel we need that person’s affirmation to be okay or feel secure.
The key here is not so much the thing itself but the impact it has on us. Sexual sin most often has a seemingly ‘innocent’ beginning—when a potential hindrance or distraction is given room to grow, when a temptation is managed rather than run from!
Hebrews 12:1 says that not only are we commanded to throw off hindrances, but the sin which so easily entangles us” [emphasis mine]. The idea here isn’t sin in general, like “Lord, please forgive me of all the sins I’ve done this week,” but rather the specific sins that we are more likely to give into—our characteristic sins that easily tempt us.
In my life, I’ve not generally been prone towards anger, coveting things, or lying, but I have at times been prone towards people-pleasing, worship of comfort, selfishness with my time, fantasy, and abuse of food. And that’s just for starters!
Over the years of walking with Jesus, I’ve had my fantasy life cleaned up, food has now become an occasional distraction, and I don’t crave people’s approval of me anymore. I’m not entangled by these things anymore. However, worship of comfort and possessiveness with time? Those are an ongoing part of my race of faith in which I need the throne of grace to be open for heart-business 24/7, and I need others to help me grow.
What about you? What are the sins that easily trip you up? What are the sins that seem to precede sexual sin in your life? Women who battle against various forms of sexual sin usually give way to other things first: things like unbelief, laziness, exposure to questionable entertainment, dabbling in inappropriate physical affection with someone, and withdrawing from other believers.
No one floats or coasts into holiness or Christian maturity. Years ago my battle against fantasy had to be serious: meditating upon God’s Word, not allowing my eyes to take in things which tempt me, prayer, confessing immediately to others. I had to lay aside many hindrances and potential distractions so that they wouldn’t grow into sin.
In 2013 I wasn’t a fast runner or a top finisher in the Philly half-marathon, but I did cross the finish line! You can run your faith race well and increasingly grow into being a woman of sexual and relational integrity—persevering one step at a time.
Running the race of sexual integrity well is possible through the love and grace of Jesus! But experiencing that love and grace means we commit to throwing off sin and distractions. This process of laying aside must be intentional sisters!
You can watch Ellen talk more on this subject here in her video, Running the Race Well—Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
05 May 2017
When a child comes out as gay or transgender, parents go into crisis mode. Often, their response to their child can make the situation worse. Chris Torchia shares with parents one more thing they should do in engaging their child: love as Christ loves us and be patient for God to work. Click the following link to read Chris’ related blog: Coming Out as Gay or Transgender: Five things a parent needs to do—Part 4.
As we conclude this blog series on coming out and parental responses, let’s review where we have been. I’ve discussed three things parents should do in responding to this process of coming out.
Part 1: Get to know your child. Love is getting to know your child more deeply and learning the details of how he has wrestled with his sexuality or gender.
Part 2: Reflect on what is in your heart too. Do not neglect all that is happening in your own heart as a result of your child’s situation.
Part 3: Have wisdom in ongoing conversations. Keep track of the good, the bad, and the hard as you seek to display Christ accurately through the relationship you have with your child.
Now we look toward two final things you should do when you discover your child is identifying as gay or transgender. As you consider the road ahead, I want to encourage you to do two things: Set your expectations on loving your child as Christ has loved you, and keep a long-term view in mind.
As Christ has loved you, so love
God has called you to the challenging place of loving your child just as he loves you. Your child’s decision to come out and embrace an unbiblical identity will, of course, be the major issue that causes you pain. But in that, there will be other relational sins that your son or daughter will commit against you that go along with the pursuit of what he or she feels will be ultimately satisfying. I encourage you to make every effort not to count your child’s sins against him. Doing so will cause great harm in your relationship.
Rather, seek in multiple ways to show her the mercy and grace that you have received in Christ. It is important to remember the words of Colossians 1:21: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” (NIV). Always remember that God demonstrated his love for you by sending his son as a propitiation for your sins. You were once his enemy, living for yourself and spurning his love and lordship. Not only so, but he continually demonstrates his love, patience, kindness, and compassion towards you every day.
Does this reality shape your love for your child? I find that we often forget that we are broken, sinful people ourselves, in need of his constant grace. If you do not engage your child with this mindset, it will be impossible to love her.
But showing this love will not be easy. The situations you face will not be black and white. For example, you find out your teenage son has had a boyfriend for the past year. How do you respond? Loving your child will entail determining what boundaries you think are appropriate to set with him regarding this relationship, communicating this to him, and standing firm on these limits even when there is resistance. It will also look like disciplining him when he goes beyond the boundaries while still communicating that you recognize his strong desire for this relationship. Voicing your understanding, or asking questions in order to understand, shows compassion for his struggle to obey. This demonstrates how God sets boundaries that are for our good. He disciplines us in love when we rebel and comes alongside us to help in our struggles.
As I mentioned in my second blog, I encourage you to bring others in to help you so that you may receive clarity on how to love your child, given the details of your particular situation. If there is a group of parents who are also going through this (like we have in our parent groups), then it would be ideal to reach out to them. Discerning how to respond to a multitude of situations in ways that display God’s love will require more wisdom than you have within yourself.
Keep a long-term view in mind
Although you don’t want to hear this, I need to say it: You are most likely in for a long journey. This is where you need to set your expectations. Most parents initially set their gaze on the short term, pushing their child to see the right counselor, listen to the right sermon, and read the right book, all in hopes of changing their child’s mind.
If your child feels like a project that needs fixing, he will close himself off and not give you access to what’s really in his heart
Although all these things can certainly be helpful given the right setting, this yields minimal fruit more often than not, especially if your child is resistant. Parents who pull out all the stops to help their son or daughter may find that this does more harm than good, damaging the relationship with their child. This can cause your child to distance herself, close up, and move away from you (emotionally if not physically). If your child feels like a project that needs fixing, she will close off and not give you access to what’s really in her heart.
Part of having the long-term view in mind is understanding that change is slow and, even more importantly, that God’s time frame is not ours. God is ultimately the one who sovereignly works in your child’s life. We all appreciate the success stories of someone coming to Christ and experiencing complete freedom from ingrained sin patterns, but God doesn’t always work that way. A more accurate picture of repentance is a gradual process of turning away from sin and turning to God more and more, usually with many bumps along the way.
Consider the father in Luke 15 who waited for his son to “come to his senses” before finally returning home with a repentant heart. The father was waiting right there to embrace his son, showing him the surprising grace, love, and compassion of our heavenly Father. This will be very challenging to consider that your child may have to experience some form of trial or suffering, like the son in this story, before she changes direction. No parent wants to watch their child go through hardship, but this may be the path God uses to bring her back to himself.
So what does patience and trust in God’s sovereignty look like? It doesn’t make your role passive; rather it allows you to have the patience to look for opportunities to display Christ to your child when those opportunities present themselves over time.
This may look like listening to him when he is in a vulnerable moment, praying with him as he struggles with the usual ups and downs of life, carefully throwing in your thoughts about how only God is ultimately fulfilling when he experiences unfulfillment in his sexual or gender identity or just has a deep unrest in his heart. As in the language of Jeremiah 2:13, his “broken cisterns” will be sure to run dry in the end and never ultimately satisfy. Your relationship with him over time may give you an opportunity to point him to the living water in specific moments of pain and unfulfillment.
Intentionally seeking to love your child as you experience Christ’s love for you, and resting in his sovereignty as you wisely seek opportunities to engage your child’s heart, will enable you to be an instrument in God’s hands. He is the agent of change—not you. In doing so, you will find freedom and peace as you entrust your life and the life of your child into God’s hands.
You can watch Chris talking some more about this on his video, Coming Out: Five things must do—Part 4. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
27 Apr 2017
When a child comes out as gay or transgender, parents go into crisis mode. Often their response to their child can make the situation worse. Chris Torchia says the third thing a parent should do is to engage in three kinds of conversations—conversations that aim for the heart. Click the following link to read Chris’ related blog: Coming Out as Gay or Transgender: Five things a parent needs to do—Part 3.
In Part I and Part II of this four-part blog series, I talked about the experience of a child coming out to his or her parents, and I mentioned two essential things you can do when your child is identifying as gay or transgender:
First, get to know your child. Listen to his or her unique experience, and ask thoughtful questions out of a desire to love and understand them.
Second, reflect on what is in your heart too. Be honest about all that you are experiencing as a result of your child’s decision to come out. Invite God and others to share in the burden of pain and keep the sinful responses of your heart in check.
Now I want to add another useful step to help you to respond to your child in wisdom.
Have wisdom in ongoing conversations
Knowing how to navigate ongoing conversations with your son or daughter over this will be challenging. One thing that will make this more difficult is the likelihood that your child will have bought into how our culture believes truth is arrived at today: by the authority of one’s individual experience rather than viewing oneself and the world through the lens of Scripture. Because your child has been greatly influenced by these worldview beliefs, it will be important for you to use discretion as you engage in conversation with him. You want to avoid throwing Bible passages at your kid over and over again as if this will change his mind. Rather, you want to aim toward engaging your child’s mind and heart by bringing God into the conversation in the context of his real-life circumstances.
Here are three categories of conversations to consider as you engage your child.
You want to avoid throwing Bible passages at your kid over and over again as if this will change his mind. Rather, you want to aim toward engaging your child’s mind and heart by bringing God into the conversation in the context of his real-life circumstances.
Keep track of the good you see in your son or daughter. Affirm your love for your child by celebrating the unique way that God has made her and the strengths and gifts that God has given her. Point it out to her when you witness these gifts at work. Communicate to your daughter if you see something she has done that is praiseworthy.
Don’t be afraid to speak about the good you see! If he did well in his classes, if you enjoyed spending time with him on his visit home, if he talks with you about something on their heart, if he did something caring or thoughtful for another person—share how you appreciate these things, and tell your child that you are proud of him in areas you can sincerely identify.
Here’s the bottom line: Do not reduce your child down to sinful behaviors, allowing her coming-out decision to be the only way you see from here on. Continue to genuinely love her, and say it to her. This is your child! Loving your child in all the ways she has been gifted communicates a gospel perspective: that God sees us even in our sin and rebellion and continues to show his love toward us.
As a parent, it’s okay to affirm and show compassion—doing this does not necessarily communicate agreement with the direction in which your child is going
Ask to be invited into what is hard. Your son or daughter is also going through suffering and hardship as well. Seek to identify what that struggle is and enter into it if your child will let you. This may not be easy to do, especially if your child’s struggle is way beyond your experience.
So begin by looking for things in your child’s life where he shows or expresses pain. Acknowledge the struggle and ask to hear more about it. An example of this could be if you have a son who identifies as a girl and has long felt different from his male peers. You can be sure he has struggled to a great degree with confusion and shame.
It’s appropriate to voice that pain back to him and ask him to help you understand how hard it has been to live with it. As a parent, it’s okay to affirm and show compassion—doing this does not necessarily communicate agreement with the direction in which your child is going. This gives an opportunity to demonstrate and speak to your child about the compassion Christ has for us in our struggles.
Loving your child also means mirroring back what is bad and ultimately destructive to our souls. Again, you do not want to badger your child, but you do want to lovingly display the mirror of God’s truth to her. By taking those opportunities when they arise, you help your child see—even if it’s just a glimpse—when her decisions or behaviors are self-destructive and ultimately self-defeating.
Where are those opportunities to do this? When your child experiences some of the negative consequences of his actions. Perhaps he shut out others in the family who have not affirmed his coming-out decision, so as a result he feels unloved and discriminated against. An appropriate response is to help your child see how the demand to be loved on his own terms will damage relationships in his life.
By mirroring her behavior back to her, you are lovingly keeping her accountable for her actions while helping her see some of the negative consequences of her sin. It may be a temptation to avoid these hard conversations out of fear of damaging your relationship with your child. I know this area of communication is going to be the most difficult to pull off. However, we must not shrink back from telling the truth in love. Doing so demonstrates that God’s love does not allow us to remain in rebellion and sin that is ultimately destructive to us.
In all of these conversational areas, you must recognize that, above all, your son or daughter’s greatest need is to see and experience the love of God and understand his or her fundamental desperation for his saving grace. A relationship with God must be more meaningful to your child than the desire for fulfillment through perceived sexual or gender identity. Repentance is a fruit of being moved by the love of Christ through the gospel. As you have wisdom in ongoing conversations, you can be instrumental in showing the love of Christ for your child more comprehensively in these particular ways.