11 Nov 2014
Below is a brief excerpt from John Freeman’s book, Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, from New Growth Press.
Men struggling with sexual sin are, at deeper levels in their lives, God-haters and idol-makers. A third element that goes on under the surface in the men who come into our office is that they are accomplished game–players, juggling all the seen and unseen parts of their lives. I see this game-player category in virtually everyone who struggles with sexual sin, but more so with believers. Why? Because in the church, struggles are kept secret from others as the pressure of appearances takes over. You are accepted if you have it all together, but you are viewed differently if you admit you have problems or difficulties. This is especially so when the struggle involves sex, with its attendant shame and guilt. In other words, Christians believe they should not have these problems. The church should not be this way, but oftentimes the “culture” of a church creates this relational dysfunction.
This was made clear to me a number of years ago when our ministry placed carefully-worded ads in local newspapers and magazines, aimed at those who might be questioning what was going in their lives. The short ads would say something like, “Porn Struggle? Help Is Available” or . . . “Does Porn Have a Grip on You? There’s Hope for You.” When we ran those ads, we could get up to forty calls a day.
As I talked with people who responded to these ads, I noticed something: A good number who called were non-Christians, but the ad spoke to them with some kind of clarity and hope anyway. One of the verses that has always been foundation for our outreach is Proverbs 14:13, “Even in laughter the heart may ache.” No matter how much people’s lives look put together as they bask in their sexual freedom, there can still be a lot of pain and hurt underneath—even in an unbeliever!
I realized something else about those who initially came to us as unbelievers. If men came into our ministry, joined one of our Bible study/support groups, and then eventually came to a first-time, saving knowledge and faith in Christ, they often had a much better prognosis for dealing with their sexual sin biblically and sincerely. They had a healthier journey of growing in Christ and “putting off” their sexual sin than did believers who came to us after living disjointed, compartmentalized lives for many years.
How could that be? First, you’ve got to realize that, if you are a believer dealing with struggles. . . no one may know about your hidden struggles because you’ve designed it that way! Maybe no one even suspects the deep waters of your heart in this area and the efforts you make to keep it all working. People can go on for years with these heart-crushing, life-devastating behaviors. No one in your life may ever catch on, and you’re worse off because of it. If you are ever going to deal with your heart with integrity, you will have to unlearn all the coping mechanisms you’ve developed to function in both worlds—your sin-oriented, secret world as well as your “Christian” world.
We have a wonderful man named Bob Heywood on staff in our national office in Philadelphia. He disciples men and works with some of our small groups. His is an amazing story of how the Lord broke into his heart over a dozen years ago, as he lived one of these game-playing, compartmentalized lives. Bob talks about the way his half-hearted Christian life was able to co-exist for so long with his sexual addiction. Bob was an active elder at his church. . . But he had hidden problems that were compounded by the fact that he was able to get away with living a double life. Bob says, “As I began giving in to this temptation, I realized I was getting in way over my head. I felt like I couldn’t stop. I’ll never forget when I came to what I now consider the worst soul-deadening conclusion ever in my life. And that was, ‘Maybe I can do both. Maybe I can be a leader in the church and look at porn at the same time.’”
When Bob teaches and shares his testimony now, he often uses Proverbs 7:13-18 to describe his experience. In that passage, Solomon describes the way a prostitute seduces a young man.
She seizes him and kisses him,
and with bold face she says to him,
“I had to offer sacrifices,
and today I have paid my vows;
so now I have come out to meet you,
to seek you eagerly, and I have found you.
I have spread my couch with coverings,
colored linens from Egyptian linen;
I have perfumed my bed with myrrh,
aloes and cinnamon.
Come, let us take our fill of love till morning;
let us delight ourselves with love.”
Bob uses this vivid picture to say that he was more like the prostitute than the seemingly innocent victim of someone’s charms and seduction. Bob will tell you that for years he did what the prostitute did—he “offered sacrifices and paid vows,” thinking this would take care of his spiritual problem and relieve him of guilt and shame. In other words, he did all the Christian stuff—went to church, read his Bible, prayed, put money in the offering basket, etc.—just as the woman in the passage carried out her religious activities. At the same time, he spent twenty years viewing adult videos. Bob’s Christian life had become a works-oriented, graceless world where doing was more important than being. His carefully crafted façade allowed him to function in two worlds and fool everyone because he looked really good—at least, on the outside.
When it comes to sexual sin. . . men can live for years without anyone knowing how they’re misusing sex. The secret nature of sexual sin allows it to go on for years without anyone ever knowing. Therein lies its deepest power to do soul and heart damage. It can lead to dozens of years of being a game-player, even as a Christian man. How does it happen? Easy. We learn to compartmentalize, that is, to wall off many parts of our lives early on. . . We can be this person over here, that person over there. And the person, even as a Christian, who learns to do that at age fifteen is soon the person doing that at twenty-five, thirty-five, forty-five, or fifty-five. . .
Being a game-player can be exhausting. But one of the most deadly consequences of learning how to live with a pornified heart is the inevitable corrosion that takes place in our hearts over years. The problem, though, is that you won’t know that your own heart is decaying! You may be the last to know. . .
The real effects of a corroded heart
Our sexual sins not only cause our hearts to go dead, but they also keep us from being who and what we should be as men, husbands, and fathers. Due to years of sexual temptations and unforsaken sins, our neglected hearts will rob everyone in our lives of something! There are at least three ways that this happens.
First, a continued history of failures, a commitment to playing games with these issues and with the Lord, and a commitment to silence will rob you of your effectiveness as a man of God, as a husband, and as a father. It will rob you of the gospel words you’re called to speak on a regular basis to your own heart and to the hearts of those closest to you. You can no longer preach the gospel to yourself with authority. It falls on deaf ears. You cease to believe it for yourself, even though you may go through the motions of acting like you believe it. This can be true even if you are in ministry.
Think about it. You lose your bout with Internet porn on a regular basis. You’re filled with guilt and shame most of the time, with the harsh realization that you’re living in defeat all the time. Now, are you going to be engaged emotionally and practically the way you should be with your wife? Are you going to be proactive in speaking into her life and your children’s lives the way you know Gods wants? Probably not. You know the reality of your record, and it’s zapped your relational strength, vitality, and integrity. You’ve come to see yourself as a fake, a phony, a sham. . .
Second, this heart-neglect robs men of their confidence in, love for, and excitement about things of God, especially about the gospel. How could it not? When you know deep down what’s going on in your heart, how you’ve been taken captive by your own untamed desires—and when you know your own record of defeat—it robs you of the love for the gospel you once had.
Third, our unaddressed struggles, our sexual idols and compulsions also rob God! How do they do that? . . . The counterfeit sexual idols we bow to vie for a deep place in our hearts, a place where only God was meant to dwell.
So, does your continual inaction, resignation, and inattention to your heart rob God? You bet. Do they rob you and those around you? Absolutely. They keep you from being fully available to God and others. They rob the body of Christ in a very real way. Your secret sexual idolatries, your addictions, and your compulsions keep you from being who you were called to be. In our addictions, our hearts seek attachments that cripple our image-bearing capabilities and the exercise of our gifts to bless others. This is one of the saddest, most damaging consequences of our hidden sin—everyone loses out. . .
Real change isn’t measured just by what we stop doing. It’s always measured in character change; whereas your former preoccupation with yourself robbed others, now you begin to be more interested in others than yourself. You see yourself wanting to bless others, desiring their good and not just your own. You no longer hide what you are doing; instead, you are increasingly open with others about your struggles and faults. As one man said to me about his decades of hidden sexual struggles: “I’ve been a liar all my life.” But now, he is learning how to be a truth-teller, to his wife and to everyone he knows. Character grows when we live for God and serve others. One of the ways God starts to change us is to move us to start dealing with our sexual idols.
What does it take to want to start walking in repentance and find the help you know you desperately need? How do you get there? What is the path to freedom? How do you start to live with sexual integrity when you know you don’t have the human resources to do so? You have to be willing for God to do something new and to begin to see yourself as you’ve never done before.
John’s intent in this chapter is to give hope to sexual strugglers who feel the pain and pressure of their hiding (from God and others), yet feel either hopeless to do anything about it or falsely believe that they can battle it on their own. The book lays out a way to go forward into freedom from sexual sin. Check out the testimony that follows for one man’s story of hope and change.
You can take a look at John’s book by clicking the following link: http://stores.newgrowthpress.com/hide-or-seek-when-men-get-real-with-god-about-sex/
Stepping into the Light after a Lifetime of Shadow Living: One man’s testimony of transformation
When does the healing from a life time of viewing porn begin? How do I measure victory over a sin that has dogged my footsteps for decades? How many days must I make it without giving in yet again to temptation? These are questions I struggled with for years before finding any answers.
At ten I found a hidden stash of pornographic magazines that proved irresistible to my young mind. I began a life long journey of living life in the shadows, one foot in the world of my family, church, and jobs; the other foot hiding in the darkness of fantasy and sin and increasing despair.
The first thirty years I was successful in hiding my sin from everyone, but like most men enslaved to pornography, I got caught. More than just my sin was exposed; my whole life crumbled. My wife discovered not only that I looked at porn, but also that I was not the man, husband and father I pretended to be. For the next twenty years I struggled to be the man I was supposed to be while wresting with the man I actually was.
Years of disappointing and isolated self-effort got me nowhere. I would go for as long as six months before falling. Then the hiding cycle, with its lies and deception, began all over again. Even when I had some success from engaging with porn, my heart and mind remained trapped in the lies I was living. The biggest lie I believed was that no one could possibly love me if they really knew me. That drove me to believe that I had to fight this battle on my own. I could stop doing this, and no one had to know the real me, especially the ugly parts that I carefully kept hidden.
But this also meant that I was cutting God out of all this. You see, if God was a part of my change, I knew things would be really messy. While I had prayed for decades for God to rescue me from my sin, I also was dimly aware that I was terrified he would answer that prayer. Did I want to be clean? Yes! But I knew God wanted more of me than just being a man of sexual integrity. He wanted all of me, not just that part of me that needed fixing. I have spent most of my life in fear of being discovered. This sin warped and twisted all my relationships, from God, to my wife, to my children, to my friendships. With God in the mix, I would be completely exposed for who I was, and in my mind I was unlovable.
Did I want to test the limits of everyone’s love? No! I’m not a stupid guy. I’d rather remain hidden. But to change, that would mean no more hiding. I would need to live fully in the open. No more lies, half-lies, rationalizations, excuses; I would need to confess, admit failure, acknowledge how I hurt people, be a truth-teller, and learn to live fully in the present without escaping into my fantasy world.
Only the last few years has that elusive healing finally begun. What happened?
I joined a community of men who also struggled.
When I started to meet with other men I found out I was not alone. I was pushed to examine my life in a safe environment. There is no judgment on Monday nights when we meet. I found I could confess my lies and struggles, while also helping other men who also struggled. In this group I learned to trust Jesus. I learned that I was not unlovable, but loved beyond anything I could imagine. I knew all along that Jesus died for my sin, but I didn’t know it deep in my bones, deep in my heart. The reality of Jesus and His love for me is now being woven into the tapestry of my life; it is becoming a part of who I am.
I discovered that I cannot learn, much less know, of the love of Jesus by myself. I need men, sinners like myself, to remind me of Jesus and how his costly love pursued and embraced me. Do we hold each other accountable for our sin? Absolutely, but even more important we hold each other accountable for seeing Jesus at work in our lives. The question we ask over and over of each other is this: Is Jesus enough for us?
For far too many years the answer was no. Fleeing to porn to escape was my instinctive reaction to pain and difficulties. Now when asked that question, I stop and think and step out in faith, knowing that he is. When I attend a service in my church and look around the sanctuary and see those men whom I meet with, I am reminded of Jesus, because these men know the real me and love me anyway. When I come home now, it is not in fear, but in relief, knowing that my long-suffering wife knows who I am and like Jesus loves me anyway.
Is Jesus enough for you?
The following was written by Brad Currie, who led the LifeLine Group at New Life Presbyterian Church in Dresher, PA.
1. I would never say that I am the leader. I am a facilitator in a group of fellow strugglers. I am a fellow struggler in a battle that every man faces: a battle for sexual integrity and purity in a culture that is saturated by sexual content grossly out of perspective from what God intended for us. I cannot face this battle alone. I need the men in this group as much as they need me, even though I am the facilitator. Even though being a facilitator is a scary position, the Lord meets us as we step out in our own weakness.
2. A fellow struggler is someone who has been on the road of recovery for several years and, despite falling, is able to get up and keep going. A fellow struggler knows that, regardless of temptations and setbacks, he continues on the path and is headed in the right direction toward progressive victory over lust and sexual impurity. A fellow struggler is one who has empathy and compassion for other men who are entangled in similar patterns. A fellow struggler is not someone who thinks they have all the answers, telling other men what to do. A fellow struggler is someone who knows what it is like to be trapped down in that pit of sexual bondage, and since he knows how to climb out, he is willing to help others start their climb.
3. In our groups, we use a rock-climbing analogy to illustrate how the members of the group are connected to each other. Rock climbers are connected to one another from above and below by safety ropes and carabiners. Every man who comes to the group gets his own carabiner to remind him of his connection to the others. We bring the carabiners to our meetings and hook them together as a symbol of our connection with one another. The message is, “You may fall, but you are connected to others who will pull you back up and continue your climb.” This is a powerful, visual reminder of our need of one another. In group, we learn that what heals us is being engaged in strong, connected, and honest relationships with other men. Men become men in the presence of other good men.
4. The connection that is created among men belonging to a group that is safe, confidential, and supportive is immeasurably valuable. Most men are alone in their sexual struggles, believing that they are the only one grappling with their particular issue. Seeing the openness that develops among men as they begin to share their stories in a support group is astonishing. Their self-imposed barriers come down, and the honesty and intimacy that is developed with other men in the group is often the foundation for establishing honesty and non-sexual intimacy in their relationship with their wives. A Christ-centered group provides the essential framework of safety where there is no condemnation or judgment. Most men do not know how to be open, honest, and vulnerable, but in that safe atmosphere, we begin to experience true forgiveness, healing and repentance. As Christ’s love surrounds and permeates these men, they are delivered from their guilt and shame, and their spiritual vigor is restored.
5. Perhaps the best reason to be involved as a facilitator in a men’s group is the need to carry the message of hope and recovery, found in the gospel, to those who are sick and suffering. Comforting others with the comfort that you have received (II Corinthians 1:4) forces you to live out what you know to be true. You can’t effectively encourage other men in their pursuit of their sexual integrity while you are still acting out yourself. Being a facilitator in a group of fellow strugglers keeps you sharp, like iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17).
When Indiana Jones found the Ark of the Covenant, it was buried in a tomb and covered with snakes. Being deathly afraid of snakes, he cries out, “Why does it have to be snakes?” thereby revealing his worst fear. But he faced his worst fear and was able to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant. In the same way, the Lord uses men who, even while they face their greatest weakness and fear, are willing to make themselves vulnerable and available to “hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11, ESV).
14 Jan 2014
We routinely approach churches to request they add Harvest USA to their missions budget, as we rely on God’s people for all our support needs. Many churches reply with a response I hear often: “We really love Harvest USA, but you‘re just not missions; you don’t fit into any of our giving categories.”
That’s ironic! Years ago I was deeply impacted by a seminary professor named Dr. Harvie Conn. Harvie was the missions professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, PA, when I was a student. He walked with a limp, literally. That’s because Harvie, prior to being a professor, had been a missionary for years in Korea—to prostitutes! There, he was grabbed several times by a gang of men while walking down a street, dragged to an alleyway, held down, and had his feet beaten and broken with two-by-fours. He was told, “Quit telling these women about Jesus.” It turned out that the pimp’s income was being affected as these women came to Christ and left prostitution.
So, when Harvie spoke—well, you just listened a little more closely. He had earned his stripes, suffering for Christ. One day he told the class, “Today we’re going to talk about a different kind of mission field. We’re going to talk about an unreached people group—a hidden people group.”
Harvie then talked about the need for mission work in the homosexual community. The church, historically, had a totally “hands off” approach to the gay community. At the time, in 1983, it was becoming the fastest-growing group in the country. He went on to define a people group as any group of people who had a self-perceived identity which bonded that group together and facilitated their growth as a specific community. Harvie explained how the gay community was cemented by common political, social, economic, philosophic, and psychological identities.
But Harvie didn’t stop there. He said the real hidden people were men and women who became believers, bringing into the church all their sexual baggage, confusion, and histories, along with the pain of scarred hearts and souls from sexual abuse, pornography, etc. Then they sit there in silence, because these things aren’t talked about in the church. Often paralyzed by the guilt and shame that sexual sin uniquely produces, most have given up hope that anyone cares whether they find forgiveness or freedom. Harvie explained that the gospel, if it truly is the gospel, must meet these people where they are at, with the hope of a cleared conscience and a changed life. This, he told us, was impossible for them to experience without the love, intervention, and assistance of others in the church.
This intrigued me. Here I was, sitting in this class, hearing someone I respected saying, “These are the unreached, the hidden, the disenfranchised moral discards of our day. The church must be about this kind of ministry, both outside and within the church.” I was also personally interested, due to the work God had done in my own sexually-scarred heart and life. After much prayer and discussion with others, several people caught the vision for such a ministry. Harvest USA was soon formed, and I became the first staff member.
So when a church says, “You’re not missions,” I want to laugh and cry at the same time! Not missions? You’ve got to be kidding. Just consider these recent ministry opportunities we had.
- I once did a half-day seminar at a very poor Jamaican church in The Bronx, NY. They began ministering to the sexually broken in their community and wanted more training. We did this as part of our mission work. They couldn’t afford to pay, not even our travel expenses up there and back for the day, as we ministered the gospel and trained them. At the end of the day, the pastor told everyone, “I asked them to come help us, and they sent the head guy.” Then he began to cry.
- A month after that, I met with the staff and lay-leaders of an inner-city Portuguese church in Newark, NJ. The church is in a community of 30,000 Brazilian immigrants. Five young people had “come out” at the church within the past six months. The elders know this is the state of the church today and needed help. In early 2012, we are working toward providing them a whole day’s training seminar.
- A Muslim professor asks us to lunch after our presentation to his university class, telling the staff he has a PhD and has published books but doesn’t have a relationship with God like they had described. He then begins to ask how to get that.
- At a nearby university, I spoke to a group of 250 students on “The Gospel And The Gay”—95% of the students are Asian (Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese).
- Recently we’ve received requests to translate Harvest USA materials into Spanish, Farsi, Urdu, and Punjabi.
Wow! This all sounds pretty much like missions to me! If you’re on a missions committee, or know someone in your church who is, please advocate for us. Encourage the church to become partners in ministry with us. Since the economy has taken a nosedive, we have lost over a dozen supporting churches and about 150 individual donors. We really need more of God’s churches to help us. If that’s not possible, we also encourage churches to consider an annual “love offering. “Thank you for partnering with us, and praying along with us in this Kingdom missions’ work!
14 Jan 2014
Your friendship and your church can be a safe place for honest revelations. This blog is based on a prior article by Rev. Philip Henry.
Have you ever wanted to unburden yourself from a problem or share a deep, dark secret, perhaps of a difficult or sexual nature, with someone? If you have chosen to reveal your heart in this way, reflect on this for a moment: What was it that allowed you to feel safe enough to open up?
As I have personally pondered this question, I asked myself, “What do I need to do to help someone feel safe enough where honest revelations of the heart can be shared?” Or to put it another way, “How can I help my church community become a safe place where strugglers can unburden themselves from secrets that have kept them enslaved to sexual struggles and sin?”
I’ve come to several principles gleaned from Bible study, ministry, therapy, teaching, and supervising counselors, as well as from friends and my own life experiences regarding how to help people talk about their struggles. Here are some insights from those observations that I hope will be helpful to those who struggle with sexual sin and those who want to help.
1. Make honesty the only policy you live by
We all desire to talk with a friend who will honestly tell us what they think. Why? Because an honest person is a safe person—at least you know what you are getting is the truth. Good or bad, a friend is someone who does not withhold truth, but tells it like it is. Because we know that they have our best interest at heart, we are confident they will tell us the whole truth.
Yet it does seem difficult for Christians to be honest. This is surprising because we make such a big deal about lying. It’s a sin to tell a lie, but we are all too human. Those half-truths and shaded meanings come quickly to the sons and daughters of Adam.
Perhaps we struggle with telling the truth because we have been taught that not being nice is the greatest sin. For the average Christian, the truth is, on occasions, something to be covered over and avoided because it is not nice.
“Why would this be?” you might ask. Confrontation and genuineness are a problem because, above all else, we often value being comfortable, not just with our surroundings but most of all with our emotions. Honesty makes us a little too uncomfortable. It means we have to be involved. “Do you really want to know what I have to say?” someone asks. Eventually, others might even see that we are not perfect and mention it to us. Then what would happen?
Twelve-step groups teach that honesty is not just telling the truth, but the telling the ‘whole’ truth. Therefore, lying is not just failing to be truthful about facts. Leaving out key events, emotions, thoughts, and details or leaving a person with a different impression other than what is right or what really happened is also lying. Often in the church community, people try to be nice, and so the reason given for a particular decision may not be the real reason.
Here is an example: A woman on the missions’ committee has no social skills. She is rude, and as a result of her, rudeness no one wants her to head committees or work with her any longer. However, when she is rejected from becoming the head of the committee, she is told another, more palatable reason, so as to not ruffle any feathers. This lack of honesty with someone dealing with a very obvious problem (which everyone else can see) makes the sexual struggler that much more reluctant to share his story. Why? Because the underlying message they hear is, “We can’t handle the truth here.” These short-cuts or lies, as the Bible calls them, end up short-changing spiritual growth. In the effort to avoid conflict, we fail to really love. Honesty creates the environment where honest revelations of the heart can grow. Honesty is the best policy because, as Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (ESV).
You help someone open up about a hidden truth by being and becoming someone who is honest, first, about yourself. You don’t hide your issues or struggles; you speak openly and plainly about them. With others, you consistently practice telling them what you see in their lives and in their behavior, and in doing so, you create a place of safety for the sexual struggler. They know you are a real person, someone with inner strength; that you are someone who can handle the truth because you love them.
2. Make humility a central part of your character
The Bible instructs us that we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we actually are. Jesus on many occasions attacked the Pharisees because they placed themselves in a better light than that which was true. They were always more spiritual than those who followed them, and they wanted everyone to know it.
If you want to be someone who is a safe haven to receive honest revelations of the heart, you must have an attitude of humility, starting with you first. There is an old joke about a pastor who was walking through the sanctuary and felt God’s presence. He knelt down at the front near the altar and began to pray, crying out loud, “Lord, I’m nothing. I’m nothing. I’m nothing.” A short time later, the associate pastor was walking by and heard the pastor calling out, and he, too, was moved. He entered the sanctuary and knelt by the pastor and began to cry out, “Lord I’m nothing. I’m nothing. I’m nothing.” As it happened, the church custodian passed by a short time later and saw the two ministers. He too was moved and came to the front of the church and called out the same as the other two. About this time the associate pastor looked over at the pastor and said, “Look who thinks he’s nothing now.” Pride takes many forms. The Bible instructs us that, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
The opposite of pride, then, is to look honestly at ourselves and be open to looking at our own faults first and admitting them. I John 1:8-9 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Humility involves modeling for the struggler your own honest heart revelations. For an entire church community, it means that the leaders of the church model before the congregation a humble and honest spirit about themselves. A humble attitude is not an option if we desire the growth of a safe climate where openness develops. This can begin by admitting not our deepest darkest sins, but the common sins that we all struggle with. Once this is done, consistently over time, you will be identified as a safe person to whom one can share the deepest and messiest stuff of one’s life. By allowing humility to grow deeper into your character, you are letting strugglers know that you are not someone better or more holy than they are—just another follower of Christ who needs his work done in their life, as well.
3. Give comfort in confession
Once we have examined ourselves and begun to admit our own struggles, we can help others find comfort in confession. The truth is, if you are going to hear the honest revelations of people’s hearts, you must become comfortable with confession. This means having a tolerance for messiness. If you are to minister to people effectively, you must be willing to let things get a little messy (maybe a lot messy). In an operating room there will be blood, pain, skin, and even some guts. But all of these are necessary if the healing process is going to take place. What is important is not the blood or guts, but that in spite of the messiness, the surgeon (and hopefully the patient) believes that the effort will be worthwhile.
God certainly does believe it is worth the effort. How many times have you yourself brought the same sins to God? I have brought the same dirty laundry over and over and over. Why does God not become disgusted by our sin, by our weakness, by our messiness? Because he chooses relationship over the pain. He has chosen confession as the place of connection with us and lets us find comfort and safety there. So we too must connect with others in the messiness of their lives. As you hear their confession, grieve with them and weep with them over the damage they have done in their own lives and in the lives of others. Then lead them to the cross of Christ where a holy God brought truth (the stain of our sin) and mercy (his free grace) together. As we wade through the messiness that often accompanies honest revelations of the heart, we connect with others and lead them to connect with our Father.
4. Demonstrate acceptance
If you yourself have shared with another person an honest revelation of your heart, what was the response? Whatever the it was, if you have experienced sharing with someone deep and painful things from your heart, you know that the response given is extremely important. As a counselor, I have heard many, many confessions. Many things come into play as someone confesses a sin or heart struggle with me. My own words, facial expressions, body language, and attitude are all being weighed very carefully by the confessor. This is, in a sense, the moment of truth. The person stands before you emotionally naked, as it were, and you are there to pass judgment—or so they will often fear. As you hear the revelation, at that moment you have the power of life or death, blessing and cursing. I believe that this is one of the most sacred trusts we possess in these encounters. We must use extreme caution in our response, because heaven and hell literally may be in the balance.
This does not mean that you agree with what the person did or said. I have rarely had to convince a confessor of their wrong. It simply means that you stop, look past the confession itself, and look at the person. The revealer has taken a step of faith, and it is important that while they understand they are wrong—yes and even sinful—they are accepted and loved.
5. Take time to care for the whole person
“There is a time for everything,” Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 3. If you are meeting with a struggler over a period of time, he or she needs to know that you will hear what they have to say, even if they bring to you more or less the same stories of failure. But what you are doing in this helping relationship is building a friendship; you are not merely meeting with a ministry project. There is a place in this emerging friendship where breaks are needed from sharing even honest revelations. This gives everyone a breather. It helps the struggler see that there is more to them than their particular struggle or temptation. There are other things to talk about and to share.
We must help each other not fall into the trap of defining ourselves by our struggles. We must remind ourselves, as well as others, that we are not our struggles. God has said that we are a new creation. There should be times when we relax, go out for a meal together, share an event, worship together, laugh, and have fun. God is still central in all of these things.
The poet Samuel Coleridge once compared friendship to a “sheltering tree.” Growth of this kind, that of a strong tree, takes time, even years. Yesterday, as I walked with a friend, we shared some things that we have not shared with perhaps anyone. As I thought about this later, I realized that our sharing came about because I have walked with this friend several times a week for over four years. The passage of time with others and the investment of time is a key healing element that many need. There is no shortcut to this. When you minister to the whole person by getting to know them in a number of contexts you create community that can be a “sheltering tree.” It is beneath this tree that real, honest revelations of the heart are safely shared.
6. You and the church must be grace-full
We must convey to strugglers, and to the whole church community, that sexual struggles are common. But more than that, we must communicate that grace is greater than any sin they have committed. I know of a client who kept a sexual difficulty quiet for over fifty years. For some reason, this church member decided to share the secret at a Wednesday night prayer meeting he had been attending. The result? The pastor asked that the person not return to the church. This ought not to be. The church must overflow with grace.
Paul, writing to the church at Corinth says, “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves, nor greedy, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But, you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.”
I have always wanted, when preaching, to mention this passage and then say, “As I read this passage, I want you to stand as I mention the sin that you have struggled with.” (Perhaps this is why I get asked to preach only once at so many churches). The truth is that if we truly realized the measure of grace given us in Christ, then honest revelations of the heart would be the norm and grace would fill our churches. The bottom line, when all is said and done, is, Does grace or sin win? If we extend grace the way that God says we should, grace always has the last word.
A final warning
A final word of caution is in order here. While the suggestions mentioned here seem relatively simple, they are not. They are, in fact, impossible. Let us not forget that what has begun in us is supernatural and that we need the power of God in our lives daily to even begin the process. It is only in constantly remembering this again and again that we develop the correct attitude and learn the best approach to hurting people. Then we can be responsive to him as he leads us to be his instruments in creating a safe place for the honest revelations of the heart.
14 Jan 2014
Ellen Dykas, the Women’s Ministry Coordinator for Harvest USA, shares her thoughts on showing the love of Christ to our unmarried brothers and sisters.
God calls us to live in community, so we should consider how to love and care for one another. Here are four thoughts for the married and unmarried members of the church to ponder as we seek to love our unmarried sisters and brothers in Christ and encourage them in godly sexuality.
The first two points apply to married people as well. We should remember that God’s truth on how to love and encourage others crosses over all age, cultural, and circumstantial distinctions and life situations. Personalized love should be shown to every person.
Consider how Christ-centric and gospel-filled ministry to the unmarried can be guided by these four principles:
1) A kingdom mindedness
Jesus’ command to “seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33) is a foundational truth. The Kingdom of God includes many realities. Here is a partial list: (a) love and loyalty for the King; (b) receiving the reign of the King in our lives (struggles, decisions, relationships, affections, etc.); (c) love and service to other kingdom citizens; (d) good works the King has prepared for each citizen to do (Ephesians 2:10); and (e) participation in the mission of the King and his kingdom. Our mission is that all the nations of this world will be blessed by hearing the gospel of grace and forgiveness in Christ.
When a church—leaders, adult education committee, women’s and men’s ministries, etc.—attempts to plan a ministry to the unmarried without Kingdom mindedness, that ministry can easily become focused on the here and now rather than the bigger picture of what God is up to in this world. When ministry is only planned around a focus on the present, good discipleship tools offered for singles (social groups and activities, counseling, seminars, conferences, etc.) will tend to encourage a perspective that implies, “We are singles who happen to be followers of Jesus,” rather than, “We are followers of King Jesus and citizens of his kingdom who happen to be unmarried.” There is a huge difference!
Our goal is not to make our unmarriedness ‘work’ or to be manageable while we live on this earth. Our goal is to seek first the Kingdom of God as we live in an unmarried state! When a kingdom of God heartbeat pulses throughout a local church family, it will change the way the unmarried are encouraged, discipled, counseled, and exhorted.
2) A foundation of family—God’s family!
It is significant that each local church not only disciples from a Kingdom-of-God mentality, but with a conviction that radically new, relational realities come with the gospel. We are sons and daughters of the Father, and thus are brothers and sisters to one another! Jesus said in the presence of his own family, including his mother, “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:47-50). In Christ, we are entrusted with the gift of being true family to one another. This does not deny the beauty of marriage or human families. Rather, it elevates the spiritual reality of Christ’s blood creating a family of His own.
Effective and fruitful ministry to the unmarried will not seek to downplay the beauty and sanctity of marriage. However, there is cause for healthy examination of whether the local church idolizes marriage with questions, such as:
- Do we as a church view each other more as fellow church members, rather than as brothers and sisters in Christ? Do categories such as married, unmarried, single-again, widowed, and college/career signify ‘identities’ in our church, or do we view each other first as fellow Christ-lovers who happen to be single, married, etc.?
- Am I intentional and purposeful in seeking to love, know, and serve others who are in a different life situation than I am?
- For the married: Is our family closed or inviting? Do we only spend social time with others who are married? Do we teach our children that the ultimate goal is to grow up and have a family, or that the ultimate goal is to seek the Kingdom of God and to love him with all our hearts and lives?
- For the unmarried: Do we draw attention to our singleness to the point that the radiance of Jesus through us is smothered? Do we complain against and despise the will of God in our lives? Sometimes those of us who are not married are distracted from who we are in Christ because we do not have a ring on our finger. This is not living out our identity as a son or daughter of God!
Last year I attended a seminar at a local church that was focused on the theme of relationships. It was clearly publicized towards the married, dating, and singles. Singles were encouraged and welcomed to come. The teaching was biblical and mainly focused on the relationship of marriage. However, the way in which the seminar was run led me and several other unmarried folks to feel extremely uncomfortable! After each teaching session there was a ‘discussion time’ in which couples went off alone to share together what they were learning.
Those of us who were single or at the conference alone, however, were instructed to stay in our seats and to ponder how to apply the principles in our relationships. This was not necessarily a bad approach, but it seemed like my unmarriedness was being put under a flood light as I sat there by myself, while most of participants went off to have an intimate discussion. Two words sum it up: awkward and lonely! Had it not been for the two dating-each-other friends with whom I was attending the conference, the next day’s sessions would have been absent of at least one unmarried woman.
My experience at that seminar is the way many unmarrieds feel every Sunday when they go to worship. However, lest this sound like whining, the unmarried, along with the married, must not only live out of a Kingdom mindedness and an understanding of the family of God, but promote it. Both singles and married people need to focus on making their church function like a family.
3) Biblical wisdom
We must be faithful to present the wisdom of God as we disciple and counsel the unmarried. It has been said to me, “Well, after all, singleness really is about selfishness!” and, “Well, when you’re content with God alone, then you will get married!” Such words are not only unhelpful but unbiblical! Singleness can indeed be governed by selfish desires, but so can marriage! Learning contentment in God should not have as its goal the getting of what we really crave and desire.
Biblical wisdom will:
- Put Christ first as King, Healer, Forgiver, Companion, and the One who is always loving and worthy of being trusted, followed, and served.
- Teach that we and our situations do not belong to ourselves but to him, and thus we do not have the right to ‘do with it’ what we want.
- Not shy away from rich truths that God desires to reveal through those who are unmarried and surrendered to him. (See 1 Corinthians 7:7-8, 32-33, 35; Matthew 19:12; and Isaiah 56:1-7. Also listen to John Piper’s sermon on Isaiah 56 at www.desiringgod.org.)
- Seek to draw those of us who are unmarried towards Christ and trust of him, rather than to appease us or only soothe the struggles we experience as unmarried persons.
- Teach and exhort us about having a radical approach to our sexuality. For this to happen, biblical wisdom must be applied specifically to specific individuals!
4) Specificity in view of a person’s circumstances of unmarriedness
Someone close to me said, after a 14-year marriage ended in divorce, “I feel like I’ve been dropped in a foreign country. I don’t want to be here. I don’t know how to act or relate to others.” Another friend honestly shared with me, after hearing me teach on singleness to an audience of married and unmarried women, “Ellen, I don’t know how to relate to singles. I feel uncomfortable around them.”
A recent informal survey that I gave, entitled “How can the church best minister to singles?”, revealed that there are as many ideas on how to encourage and love the unmarried as there are people! What was obvious, however, was that unmarried and married respondants both agreed that ministering to the unmarried is not about primarily speaking to their singleness, but about Christ! This was said in a variety of ways, pointing to the need for solid teaching which exalts (a) Christ, (b) his Kingdom purposes, (c) the gifts that he has entrusted to all his followers, and (d) kingdom community among believers that is honest and family-of-God oriented.
God’s family loves by knowing others in specific ways. This is important as we seek to love unmarried people: We must know them well and specifically! The struggles, temptations, dreams, and desires of a 25-year-old person who has never been married may look and feel very differently from a 55-year-old who has children and finds herself single again. The unmarried 35-year-old virgin will have different issues than the 35-year-old who has been sexually active from age 15. To have a ‘generalized’ plan and script that serves as a coverall for anyone who is unmarried is dangerous—and unhelpful!
We should seek to minister the specific love and wisdom of Christ, to the specific struggles and needs of the unmarried we know. Here are some examples:
- If you are unmarried, be willing to be ministered to through not only encouragement but also by being challenged, exhorted, and asked the difficult questions. Are you allowing yourself to be known and held accountable? Also, are you reaching out to other unmarrieds? Are you pointing each other to Jesus more than some new person to date or marry? Are you exhorting each other to not ‘play games’ with sexual temptations or unholy emotional attachments?
- When speaking with singles, we all need to be asking questions like, “What is your experience as an unmarried person? In what ways are you misunderstood by others? How is Christ revealing himself to you through being ‘his alone?'”
- Churches need to have honest, direct, and biblical teaching and preaching on sexuality and sex that addresses married and unmarried realities. This teaching must go deeper than statements like, “Don’t!” “ Wait!” “You need to change your desires or behaviors or dreams!” “Have you tried searching online Christian communities?”
- When speaking with individuals who find themselves single again, be courageous, and prayerfully ask how they are walking out the call to be sexually abstinent. This requires wisdom for sure, but many people struggle in secret and with a sense of deep shame and defeat.
- Matchmaking might be desired by some and not by others, so ask if a person would like assistance in the prayerful discovery of others.
- Be willing to use odd numbers in groups and not just even ones (i.e. couples) when planning a social event. Remember, we want to promote the concept of our being the family of God.
- Build relationships with the unmarried who just have “let’s hang out together” friendships, not only those oriented around mentoring.
Much of the prior advice seems very basic, but for some reason churches seem to organize and complicate the simplicity of living as the community of Christ. Our goal is not to “fix” singles, but to discover how each one of us is able to best glorify Christ with the unique gifts he has given us in our particular circumstances.
14 Jan 2014
Ed LeClair, the Development Director for Harvest USA, attended a denominational conference at the invitation of the moderator and another pastor within the denomination’s more conservative contingent. We wanted to tell you about his journey, so that you get a sense of how we proclaim a truth-and-mercy response to the divergent views that many within the church proclaim today.
We attended one denomination’s conference at the request of the conference moderator and the pastor of a church in the denomination’s “conservative camp.” They knew that the LGBT organization which exists within the denomination would be represented and would be presenting some workshops. Some more conservative pastors wanted to see a biblical witness to sexual issues also represented.
Prior to attending, a post appeared on our Harvest USA Facebook page. A member of the denomination expressed his opposition to our presence at the conference and urged the moderator to disinvite us. He saw us as an organization engaging in “spiritual and emotional violence” toward gays and lesbians because our biblical position on homosexuality was not affirming. We responded to his letter, replying that we are not hateful toward gays and lesbians, but rather call all people (not just gays and lesbians) to live within God’s design for sexuality, affirming that there is no place for violence and hatred within or surrounding this subject. Following this post, we began to notice on the web that some others within the denomination were upset at our attending.
So, I went to the conference with some trepidation. Frankly, we are used to this at Harvest USA, but it is never easy to be disliked, attacked, or have our message distorted and maligned. We have come to expect this in an age of “tolerance,” when anything short of total affirmation is chalked up as bigoted and hateful. How did we get to the point in our culture, in which the mere expression of different positions is considered completely unacceptable and, in the name of “tolerance,” virulently shut down and dismissed?
Having all this hanging over me, it was a wonderful relief on the first day to engage with many people who stopped by my exhibit table to say they were happy to have us there representing God’s Word. Many expressed concern for my well-being and said they would be looking out for me. Looking out for me? Someone reported to me that, at a previous conference when the issue of homosexuality came up, fights broke out. During this year’s conference, there was a team of “Reconciliation Ministers” who roamed the convention floor in pairs, on the alert for any signs of trouble developing. They all made it a point to assure me of their immediate support if I should need it. It’s always good to be looked out for!
Shortly after the conference began, the leader of the LGBTQ organization approached me to talk. The exchange was tense at first. She explained her reasons why she did not want our representation here. She cited instances of people, particularly young people, being “harmed” by ministries such as ours, which in some cases led to depression and even suicides. She expressed her concerns about “reparative therapy,” in which she believed we engaged, and also a concern about how we counsel parents whose children self-identify as gay.
As I listened, it became clear that her perception of our ministry is typical. I clarified our position on reparative therapy—we never engage in it, primarily because the gospel is not a foundational part of this therapy. We never advise parents to shun their children who profess same-sex attractions or identify as gay. I spoke about the countless number of men and women who have come to Harvest USA over the past 30 years, who desired to follow the long-held, orthodox interpretation of the Scriptures regarding their sexuality, and they needed help. Far from harming them, we gave them hope! I stressed that our mission and our methods are steeped in the mercy and truth of Jesus Christ, and that we have long been advocates of opposing disrespectful or hateful intent towards gays and lesbians.
As we talked, I shared about my own long struggle with homosexuality and the hope I encountered when I first came to Harvest USA. Gradually, the tension began to subside, replaced by a growing trust and respect between us. She even invited me for dinner with some of her friends, and I gladly accepted!
For the remainder of the conference, there were cordial and pleasant exchanges coming from most of the people aligned with the LGBTQ group, while a very small number of them chose to ignore me altogether. Over breakfast one morning with a pastor who firmly aligned himself with their position, we ended our meeting with an appreciation for one another, in spite of the differences between us. But I also encountered angry people who were upset by our very presence and our scriptural position. I was told several times that I should pack up and disappear, that the world and the church were moving in a different direction, and that our message was no longer relevant. These were sad and painful encounters. I could only silently pray for them as they quickly moved away from me after their short outburst. Standing for scriptural truth and authority is not a walk in the park!
Overall, it was a wonderful opportunity to attend the conference, for several reasons. Chief among them were the dialogues I had with a number of people who had held a narrow view of Harvest USA and a great dislike for us. While the dividing issues are still there, I believe some of the hostility and misconceptions in these encounters were diminished by respectful words and acts of kindness, which I strove to display—and so did many on the other side as well. I was also appreciative of the opportunity I had to meet many fine people, have good conversations, and, in particular, directly minister to a number of people wanting to share stories of their own pain and struggles with sexuality. To God be the glory!
14 Jan 2014
Harvest USA staff are on the road a lot, speaking to churches and organizations, talking with church leadership, and meeting with people to tell them of the ministry vision of Harvest USA. Brooke Delaney is our Church Ministry Coordinator who has joined the travel circuit. Here is an introduction to her, her work, and her trip to Dallas.
I am one of the newest staff members at Harvest USA, though I am not new to the organization. In 2009, I was given the opportunity to participate in the Harvest USA internship program with Ellen Dykas, the Women’s Ministry Coordinator. That year proved to be a life-changing experience that matured me personally and spiritually. I absorbed everything that I could from Harvest USA and volunteered my time for every available ministry opportunity. I came away from that year having seen Scripture come alive, both in myself and in the lives of those with whom I worked, having developed a deeper, more biblical understanding of sexual sin and how the relevant application of the gospel message gives life to hopeless strugglers. Seeing the hope that God gave the women with whom I worked gave me courage to talk about sexual addictions with others and to talk openly about my own.
When I graduated from Westminster Seminary in 2012, I jumped at the chance to apply for a job at Harvest USA. After spending several months employed as the Administrative Assistant, I was offered the position of Church Ministry Coordinator, which began on July 1, 2013. The time spent in my new position has been a joy. As Church Ministry Coordinator, there are two main aspects of my job. First, I am the event-planning liaison between Harvest USA and churches around the country, which entails the planning and coordinating of all our speaking and teaching events—of which there are many! The second aspect of my position includes cultivating relationships with pastors and other church staff and leaders around the country, keeping them apprised of the resources available through Harvest USA.
One of these resources is the establishment of Partner Ministries in their local churches. Harvest USA has a vision that churches all over the country would one day be equipped through Harvest USA to do the ministry that we do here in our own offices. Imagine what it could look like for the church to become a safe place to talk about sexual sin and struggles, and for every believer to learn how to help those who struggle grow in Christ, while experiencing the joy of a life lived with sexual integrity. That’s the gospel come to life!
Recently, I traveled to Dallas, TX, to promote our seminars and Partner Ministries to several churches in the city, as well as begin my ministry of fundraising. Though Harvest USA does have a Mid-South office in Chattanooga, TN, we do not have much of a presence in the great state of Texas. The Lone Star state is known for its mega churches, and bringing a Harvest USA seminar to one of them could make a huge difference for those struggling with sexual sin. I was surprised to learn that housed in the Oak Lawn area of Dallas is the second largest gay community in the country. Providentially, one of the churches I visited is located in the heart of this district.
Though it is often hard to convince church leaders to talk openly about these issues in their church, I found that many of the pastors desired to do so, though they were unsure of how to implement this in a way that was thoroughly biblical and grace-filled. One pastor told me that his church was not shepherding their community well in relation to sexual sin, and many were suffering greatly in silence. The possibility of starting a Partner Ministry was encouraging to this pastor, and to others, as well. The benefit of Harvest USA Partner Ministries is that our staff will train and walk alongside new leaders to equip them through the entire process of starting mentoring and support groups in their local church.
During my time in Dallas, I was also given the opportunity to present the vision of Harvest USA and our need for fundraising. Many do not realize that after 30 years, Harvest USA has continued to be almost completely donation-based. We do not charge people who come to us for help (that is, our one-to-one discipleship meetings and support-groups in our offices). As a result, we do not turn away anyone in need of help. As Harvest USA continues to grow and add new positions (like mine!) to our staff, we need to find people who will walk alongside us in this ministry through prayer and financial support. Fundraising is hard work! It’s not easy, but I’m coming to learn that it is joyful privilege to give people an opportunity to hear what Harvest USA is about, and to consider becoming a financial partner in our much-needed
I found Dallas to be a great city, and a place where many were eager to hear about Harvest USA’s vision for the church. I pray that God would continue to open up doors, and for Harvest USA to become a strong presence there, helping to equip churches to give gospel-hope to people who live way too long in silence, shame, and hopelessness. Praise the Lord for his work!
We asked some men and women who have come for help to Harvest USA if they would write a brief testimony on how the church helped (or didn’t help) them. Stories are powerful narratives that can help us learn how we can minister to others more effectively. These brief stories are not meant to cast guilt or blame, but show how struggling people need others to help them in specific ways.
By Barney Swihart M.A. M. Div.
I deal with lives that have been devastated by sexual sin every day. Just the other day I talked with a young man facing the painful exposure of having sexually fallen. This man was distraught and repentant. He shared with me his life long struggle of being raised in a solid, fundamentalist church, and yet feeling like there was no one he felt safe talking to.
Today, the church is facing a major crisis and there are few alarms going off. It is a silent crisis, one that is spreading in the shadows of secrecy and yet is doing great damage to the lives of those inside her walls.