Blog Archive

Shame is a ruthless slave master, keeping us alone, isolated, broken with despair. Harvest USA’s ministry focus helps strugglers grasp the gospel of Jesus Christ, bringing his forgiveness to cover our shame, his power to engage the struggle and free us, and his community to end our isolation. Click here to read Ellen Dykas’ related blog.

Harvest USA brings the truth and mercy of Jesus Christ by helping individuals and families affected by sexual sin and by providing resources that address biblical sexuality to individuals and churches.

Christians who are single have a real battle to face. In the midst of sexual temptation, they can easily wonder where God is in this ongoing struggle.

Jesus made many things abundantly clear to his followers, and they particularly apply to those who are single. He was clear about his love, forgiveness, and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit to live a holy life.

It can seem like God has left us on our own in this struggle, telling us what to do but seemingly not helping us. Oh no! Jesus is there with those of us who are single.

His disciples understood that following him had to be synced up with a willingness to let go of sin, die to self, and to embrace obedience as we “stay in our lane” in the race of faith.

…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1–2, NIV)

This race of faith, however, isn’t easy. For those of us who are single, staying within God’s boundaries for sexuality can seem impossible. Life without sex feels tragic to some, foolish to others. Sexual integrity is an experience of both sanctification and suffering. Sanctification, because as we battle to slay sin and to live fully for Christ, we learn to entrust him with every area of our lives, growing in Christlikeness. (See 1 Peter 1:6–9.) Suffering, because resisting the enticement of sin and temptation is a trial common to humanity and an unavoidable reality of living in a fallen world.

It can seem like God has left us on our own in this struggle, telling us what to do but seemingly not helping us. Oh no! Jesus is there with those of us who are single. He absolutely gives us help in our sexual struggles. I’d like to focus on three ways to help us see that he is indeed present. By looking at who he is, we can understand what he provides.

  1. Our loving Lord and Creator. We belong to Christ, and all things were created by him and for him (Colossians 1:16-17). These wonderful truths orient our hearts and our thinking when ‘staying in the lane’ of sexual faithfulness is tough. When we believe that our entire self belongs to Christ (body, thoughts, sexual desires, relationships, etc.) and that he has a specific and wise plan for how we are to ‘use’ each of these things, it helps us to bend the knee of our will to him. We can submit, though it might be with tears and painful angst, “Lord, your will, not mine… your will, not mine! Help me, comfort me, rescue me.”
  1. Our Rescuer and way of escape. 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 explains that in every temptation, there is a way of escape out of it. God himself is our refuge and place of escape when we rush to him, nestling in close to him, allowing his enveloping presence to stand between us and the sexual temptation. Think here of Jesus, when he walked unwaveringly on storm-tossed waves to his scared and exhausted friends. He entered into their experience, calming their hearts and the outside forces battling against them (Matthew 14:22-33). Ponder the image of Christ as Shepherd, who knows his own, and gently holds and carries them (Isaiah 40:11, John 10:14-15). God rescues us from temptation by entering into our circumstances of sexual and emotional struggle.
  1. Our Redeemer and Mercy-giver. Our Lord knows we’re not going to stay in our lane 24/7. He is holy, commanding us to throw off sin. But the throne he sits on is one of mercy and grace (Hebrews 4:14-16). Therefore he is also gracious, receiving us in our desperate need and hearing our cries for help, especially in our brokenness. If you struggle to know what to say to him when those times come, look to the words of Psalm 13, 16, 34, or 51. These words can give voice to your own words. You can also find a worship song and pray it to the Lord.

Teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus you’re my hope and stay!
(“Lord I Need You,” Matt Maher, 2013, All the People Said Amen (Live))

The most important tool in battling sexual temptation or emotional pain is knowing Jesus. And knowing that he wants you to run to him when you are even at your worst. As a single man or woman, you need more than behavioral strategies to succeed. You need a growing understanding and trust in Jesus. He gives us his presence and his power to run the race of faith that bears out in sexual faithfulness!

Nonetheless, we DO need a specific battle plan. That’s what we’ll look at in the next post.


To see Ellen talking about this issue, click on Ellen’s video blog, Sexual Integrity for Singles: It’s not a tragedy, and it’s not impossible, Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters (together with the accompanying written blog) in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

Click here for the first part of this two-part blog post, When Women’s Friendships Turn Sexual – Part 1, in which Ellen describes the kind of friendship between women that crosses over relational boundary lines into emotionally and sexually enmeshed relationships. 

God’s Word brings clarity and a new direction

God’s Word speaks hope and clarity to women who find themselves in relational lifestyles of emotionally enmeshed and sexually unholy, same-sex attachments. John 15 reorients our hearts as we long for a safe place to call home.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:1-17, ESV)

In this passage, Jesus describes himself as the true vine, and we are to be intimately connected to him as branches. He is the only one in whom we are to dwell in such intimacy and closeness. Female-to-female emotional and sexual entanglements are a distortion of John 15, as two “female branches” seek to make their partner the vine from which they draw their life.

                       Our true home is a person: Jesus Christ

The key to understanding the metaphor of vine/branches is first found in John 14:23, when Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Then, in the next chapter, Jesus explains this new “home:” it is a home that gives hope to women who long for deeper relationships. Women can be wonderful friends, Christian sisters, and spiritual companions to each other. They are meant to be branches living closely alongside each other. But branches are meant to be branches, not vines! Branches make lousy and destructive vine replacements! Only Jesus Christ is true Life, Security, Savior, and a HOME in whom we live and move and have our being.

Consider some biblical realities from Jesus’ words about what deep connection with Christ looks like, and apply it to yourself or the woman you know who is living somewhere along the spectrum of female homosexuality.

  • I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (v.5). Jesus explains that he is the vine and source of true life and what a life in God is meant to be. In him, we are branches and are created to remain, abide, and dwell in Christ. This language speaks of our deep connection with Jesus and the promise of John 14:23 being true in a person’s life.

Women who are drawn into these same-sex relationships are in one way or another seeking from another woman the kind of deep connection that should be reserved for God alone. Of course, this applies to heterosexual relationships as well. Branches are not meant to abide in one another or in isolation from one other. God’s healthy boundaries for relationships affirm intimacy and closeness, but when two women shrink their relational world to an entangled twosome, the relationship becomes an idolatrous, life-dominating focus.

Thoughts to ponder if you are a struggler:

  1. What initial steps can I take to disentangle myself from this woman?
  2. With whom can I talk to, think this through, and pray?
  3. How do I need to grow in my understanding of remaining (abiding and dwelling) in Jesus Christ?
  4. How do I need to let women off the hook for being a Jesus replacement in my life? (See Psalms 16 and 146, Colossians 3:1-17, James 5:16)
  • If you remain in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples (vs. 7-8). Jesus gives a promise that comes from obedience to his command: As his words and truth make a home in us, our desires will increasingly be conformed to his will and purposes. Our thought lives will increasingly become free of obsession with one person as we learn to focus on him. Our affections will grow in being outward-focused on others, rather than on comforting ourselves through one intense relational connection. Our lives will grow in being increasingly uncluttered from the emotional prison of an enmeshed and dependent (idolatrous) relationship with another woman.

Thoughts to ponder:

  1. What fills my thoughts and to what degree am I enslaved by fantasy or fear related to this friend or lover?
  2. What steps do I need to take in learning how to have God’s Word become a home in me?
  3. Who can I ask for help to learn how to have my mind transformed and my thoughts cleansed from so many sexual memories? (See 1 John 1:9, Romans 12:1-2, Phil. 4:4-8, Psalm 86:11)
  • I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more Fruit. . . As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love (v. 1-2, 9-10). These verses offer promises for those who are in Christ (the cut-off branches refer to those who reject salvation in Jesus). Our loving Father is committed to shaping our lives to increasingly reflect the character of Christ. His pruning process is painful, and it will lead through valleys of loss, grief, and emotional pain. The road away from an enmeshed, same-sex sexual relationship is one that is painful and full of loss. Anguish and grief are real as a woman surrenders to the merciful pruning of Father God, turns from the Jesus-replacement in her life, and takes steps of loving obedience as an act of worship and trust, learning to abide in Jesus’ love.

Thoughts to ponder:

  1. Pray for courage and strength to walk in obedience! If God is calling you to let go of an unholy relationship with a woman, is there a mature Christian you can go to for help, encouragement, prayer, accountability?
  2. Jesus speaks of loving obedience and obedient love. Ask him to give you a desire to obey him and to grow in trusting his love for you. Jesus said one of the reasons he came is to heal the brokenhearted (see Isaiah 61 and Luke 4:18-20). It is through relationship with him that your hurting heart, and the places of pain in your life that have influenced you towards same-sex attraction, can be healed.

Although this article focused on one aspect of the female homosexual experience—the pull of emotional idolatry between women—there are many other facets that this blog post cannot totally describe. The next blog post will give a testimony of one women’s story.

Please feel free to drop me an email to talk about these things, [email protected]

Ellen, we never saw ourselves as gay but rather as ‘Anna-sexual’ and ‘Beth-sexual*…this is how we felt about each other. We have never been in love with another woman or man in this way.”

This was the explanation one woman gave about her two-year, secret lesbian affair. Beth, in her forties and married, met Anna, a grad student who was visiting her church. Beth’s marriage to a ministry leader was, in her words, living under the same roof but being physically and emotionally divorced. With Anna, however, she experienced the deeply satisfying emotional oneness she had always craved. Since she had a significant church leadership role, no one seemed to question the intensity of her relationship with Anna. “Everyone just thought we were the best of friends and even envied our ‘connection.’”

Beth’s story contains a thread woven into the experience of many women who struggle somewhere on the spectrum of female homosexuality.[1] This thread is the experience of longing for and securing what feels like an “emotional home” through connecting intensely and intimately with another woman.

Beth’s story. . . is the experience of longing for and securing what feels like an “emotional home” through connecting intensely and intimately with another woman

Beth and Anna’s description of their relationship as being “her-sexual” (to a specific woman rather than to women in general) is what I hear from many same-sex attracted women, and especially from young adult women who’ve experienced their first romantic awakening (and perhaps sexual relationship) with a woman. Many would not have previously self-identified as gay, nor would they express a sexual attraction to women in general. Rather, they are attracted to this woman.

This romanticized (sometimes sexualized) attachment grows as seeds of emotional intimacy are sown and watered, sometimes over a relatively short period. The harvest that results (a feeling of deep emotional connection) feels like “home” for a heart that is hungry and searching for a satisfying, comforting experience of being known, loved, nurtured, safe, and anchored. What feels like home emotionally leads to a sexual relationship that many are shocked to find themselves in. The sexual component that develops feels like a natural expression of the emotional haven and mutual “at-homeness” that has come to characterize the relationship. For many women, the next step of self-identifying as a gay or lesbian woman seems a logical fit.

A National Public Radio segment recounted experiences of older women who pursued their first lesbian relationship after many years of heterosexuality, which included marriage for some. Reflecting on the idea of the fluidity of female sexuality, Professor Lisa Diamond of the University of Utah commented, “It does appear that women’s erotic desires are pretty tightly linked to their emotional feelings [author’s emphasis]. And so for some of these women, they authentically did not really feel attracted to women before they met one particular woman they completely fell in love with.”[2]

Many women will experience at a young age significant “emotional crushes” for other girls and/or older women in their lives (educators, mentors, Sunday school teachers, and youth ministry leaders). These emotional feelings can morph into romantic desires and even sexual fantasies and usually exist alongside strong emotional cravings for verbal affection and affirmation, maternal-like nurture and nonsexual touch. As one woman said, “I didn’t have a close relationship with my mother. When, as a young woman, I connected emotionally and then physically with another woman, that sense of intimacy was overwhelming, and I didn’t want to lose it. I didn’t understand what was so powerful in the relationship, but I knew the physicality of being held and of holding another brought me to life—and I wanted more of it.”

In God’s design for sexuality, we are not meant to be sexually fluid

However, in God’s good and loving design for sexuality, we are not meant to be sexually fluid (heterosexual one day, homosexual the next, bi or pansexual or whatever later on). We are not meant to be ruled by our desires or find our truest home in another human being. God created us to live out of an increasingly devoted love for Jesus, unselfishly loving others, and giving ourselves for his purposes in the world. Our sexuality—and how we express it—is meant to be one part of who we are and how we express our “at-homeness” in Jesus Christ.

Unholy attachments (emotional and sexual) between women are attempts to mimic what we can only find in a dynamic, living relationship with Christ. The closest human expression of that is experienced in the oneness of union between a husband and a wife, even in its imperfectness. In fact, it is in the imperfection and brokenness of all human relationships that many women will move toward other women to find what no other human being (female or male) can fully and completely give.

Signs of unholy attachment

If you are a woman who is in this kind of relationship situation, or if you are someone who sees this in a friend, here are some relational dynamics that are indicators of unhealthy attachment between women.

  • Fused lives, schedules, and relational spheres. The relationship begins to feel like a marriage.
  • Exclusivity, possessiveness and a closed circle of two. Other people feel like intruders, as a threat to your harmony.
  • The relationship needs constant clarification of each person’s role in it. One woman will play the needy/weak/take-care-of-me role, and the other will be in the needing-to-be-needed/strong/caregiver role. Fear, insecurity, and jealousy are triggered when one steps out of her role.
  • Maintaining consistent emotional connection is vital. Texts, emails, calls, and time spent together grow and intensify to become life-dominating.
  • Romanticized affection through words and physical touch. Sexual involvement.

These idolatrous “emotional homes” happen between women in Christian mentoring relationships, too! When that happens, the spiritual component in the relationship adds tremendous confusion.

Do you see yourself here, or “almost here?” Do you have a friend who needs your help to move away from an unholy attachment and learn how to cling to Christ for her true home? The next blog post will give some important steps to take.

Click here for Part 2.

 

 

* Names in this article have been changed.

[1] By spectrum of female homosexuality, I’m referring to a continuum that, on one end, you find emotionally enmeshed (idolatrous) relationships that have a romantic/sensual feel to them, to the other end, where you would find a homosexual lifestyle. Female homosexuality is sometimes an experience that is ‘launched’ relationally when an emotionally dependent attachment to someone becomes sexualized.

[2] Diamond, Lisa. “Late-Life Lesbians Reveal Fluidity of Sexuality,” NPR, All Things Considered, August 7, 2010, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129050832&sc=emaf.

With the legalization of gay marriage, Christians more often find themselves invited to same-sex wedding ceremonies. This poses a dilemma for believers of whether to attend an event that celebrates a life-union that God nowhere approves of in Scripture.

Declining to attend seems like an easy solution. But because it involves friendships or family connections, the matter can be quite complex. The issue is more difficult if the wedding involves a child or other close family member. (For additional insights, read our mini book, Your Gay Child Says “I Do.”)

Reaching a decision will involve careful theological reflection, an understanding of your relationship with the one(s) getting married, and earnest prayer. Here are some things to think about that we hope can help you make a wise decision.

The space for this article is not sufficient to adequately examine the scope of Scripture on this matter, but here are three scriptural principles that should guide you.

                    Reaching a decision will involve careful theological reflection, an understanding of your relationship with the
                    one(s) getting married, and earnest prayer

  1. Be in the world but not of it. Knowing how to engage with the world is important for Christians. Being set apart from the world (who we are and how our lives reflect who we live for) is demonstrated by our living in the world. Loving and investing [time] in our neighbor is the means by which the world comes to know God.
  2. Freedom in Christ. 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 and Romans 14 are key passages where Paul argues for the freedom of the believer to engage with others in society, centered around the contentious issue of that day: eating meat from an idol’s temple. For Paul, (Christian) freedom involves examining issues of motivation, concern for the impact on other believers, and the context of the situation (see 1 Corinthians 10: 23-33 and Romans 14:20-23). Freedom in Christ enables us to think through how our actions affect others.
  3. Faith/conscience. Paul’s conclusion in Romans 14 is that we decide on issues such as these based on conscience, and that if one remains unsettled, then it is wiser to not participate because it “is not from faith.” Christians can stand on both sides of difficult issues, so the freedom we have in Christ to discern how to live strategically in the world should move us to extend grace to those who decide differently.

After examining Scripture, which must be the basis for all decisions, here are some relationship issues that can guide you in making a decision.

  1. What is your current relationship to the person getting married?

Are they a casual co-worker, friend, distant relative, or someone with whom you have a closer relationship (like a family member)? Has the invitation been given to everyone in your office, department, or family? Or, has it been given to you because you have a closer relationship? These factors can help you determine how best to respond. For example, if the person is someone with whom you have a good friendship, then you are in a position to speak directly to him or her about the issue of attending. If your friend knows you are a Christian, then this becomes another opportunity (or maybe the first!) to discuss your faith and how that influences your decision.

  1. What would you be trying to convey by your attendance?

Some people make the distinction between supporting the person, whom they love and care about, and supporting the event, of which they don’t approve. In making this distinction, it can communicate that attendance is not an implicit approval of their marriage. This is a meaningful distinction. We do this constantly in our other relationships, communicating our differences but remaining involved in each other’s lives.

This distinction may depend on how vocal you have been about your faith. What kinds of conversations have you had? Do they know you are a Christian? Do they know your views about homosexuality? If so, your presence could actually “stun” them or really mess up the categories they may have about Christians like you? Christians, living intentionally by the gospel, can sometimes be confusing to people, causing them to rethink their positions and perhaps see new and bigger realities. That’s a good thing.

If you feel that attending would lend weight to your Christian witness, then you might go. Your attendance would be in line with your desire to pursue a relationship because you care for them, and you want to keep the relationship open to have further opportunities to share the gospel with them.

  1. What are you concerned about if you decide to attend?

Are you afraid that your attendance would communicate your approval? Or, are you afraid of explaining why you feel you cannot attend? Are you afraid you would not know how to act or how to talk with other guests, most who would support the marriage? There can be lots of fear involved in making this decision. Ask the Lord to guide you regarding all these issues. Fear or anxiety about disappointing someone is never a good motivator to make a decision. A better question is this: What response might cause further openness to the gospel?

  1. If you decide you cannot attend, could you substitute something else?

If you reach the conclusion that you cannot attend, you might consider an alternative response. For instance, giving a card or gift would still show your care for them and acknowledge that this was an important day for them (it was, but you don’t necessarily have to join in on the celebration).

If you are close to the person or couple, but still conclude that you cannot attend, then consider taking them out to lunch or dinner. Of course, this may be an uncomfortable get-together, especially if the person will feel hurt by your absence. But a quick follow-up may go a long way toward bringing understanding and another opportunity for you to share your faith. Another decision some people make is to not attend the wedding (because of the nature of wedding vows) but to attend the reception (if this is, of course, agreed upon by the wedding couple).

  1. Do one or both parties claim to be Christians?

Someone once said, “We shouldn’t expect Christian behavior from non-Christian people.” If the person or persons getting married are unbelievers, this doesn’t mean you have an unhindered green light to attend—but if someone claims to be a Christian and yet is in rebellion to God’s design and intention for how his people should live, and is celebrating it and inviting others to join in, then that is another matter.

Many would argue that even if one of the parties is a confessing Christian, attending would be entering into their delusion that the marriage union is fine with God and is sanctioned by him. But some will make the distinction that attending is not the same as approving.

As you can see, these are hard issues! Your decision must come from wrestling with Scripture, drenched in prayer, and discussed with close friends or family members. But know this: Your wrestling with this is itself evidence of your heart wanting to do the right thing to honor Christ and to open doors for the gospel. Realize that there is no ONE answer to this, but there is one thing you can count on: Like Jesus, you’ll probably be misunderstood regarding the implications of any choice you make. So, when you make your decision, know that you have made it on the basis of what will honor God, and be at peace on that basis.

Updated 5.12.2017

Who you are sexually is who you are spiritually. They are inseparable. Dave White talks about why it’s so important that one’s inner life, the one lived privately, matches one’s life on the outside. (From a Harvest USA Seminar, Discipleship Leader Training.)

 

Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8: Part Five

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (ESV)

I mentioned two other ways of living that are crucial for us as believers and as the church to live honestly in dealing with sexual struggles and sin. You can read about these here.

Three, we need to be truth sayers

Our churches must speak the truth. I mean two things here regarding speaking truthfully.

One, of course I mean speak the truth about sex and sexuality as the Scriptures teach it. We do not need to be ashamed of what God’s Word says here. The gospel offers something good to us and to the world. God, as the Creator, knows how the world and all of life should work. Today, we need to have the backbone to speak what it says.

But in speaking truthfully, we need to go beyond merely saying what it says: we also need to articulate clearly why God’s design for sex is good; that it makes sense; that it really is good for individuals and for society. It is not enough to simply know what the sexual boundary lines are—we need to articulate why these boundary lines should be in place and that good things come in our lives from honoring God with our bodies.

In just the past month, I’ve talked to two parents whose college-age children, raised in the church, are sexually active, and they were unable to engage them in a conversation about the goodness of God’s design for sex, why it matters, and why it’s best for relationships. On the one hand, they were grateful for the honesty of their child; but on the other hand, they had no words other than to say to their children, “You shouldn’t do that; it’s not what God wants.”

Two, the second way to speak truthfully is to present information that isn’t distorted or wrong. On the issue of sex and sexuality, it’s easy to for us to do that.

I might step on some toes here, but some of the abstinence education I’ve heard presents inaccurate information. In our zeal to protect our kids from early sexualization, we’ve said that pre-marital sex will bring lifelong guilt and that if you only wait for your wedding night, sex is going to be great!

No, that’s not true in all cases, and it certainly isn’t accurate.

And on the issue of homosexuality, the church has said some misleading and incorrect information about gays and lesbians. Christians have made derogatory statements about their character and labeled all gays and lesbians as being people whose sexuality is out of control.

No, that’s not true in all cases. If you go to Florida during spring break, you’ll see a whole lot of straight people whose sexuality is out of control. Are heterosexuals all the same?

When we speak falsely, we contribute to the confusion our people have today about sexuality. This is especially so with our youth—when they hear the church say one thing but the reality is something different and more nuanced, no wonder they begin to doubt what the Bible says is true or not.

Four, we need to be mercy givers

What do I mean here?

Loving mercifully invites help. The sexual brokenness of our culture is everywhere. It’s not easy to resist the pull and temptations of our culture and our sinful nature. Our sexual natures are powerful, and living in this broken world hurts. That is a powerful combination! All of us are sinners—and all of us frequently slip and fall.

Loving mercifully says, “We are in this together; let me help you get back on your feet. I’ll be patient with you as you learn and grow.”

Eighteen years ago, I went to a counselor because I needed help. It took me more than a year to make that appointment, because I kept trying to figure things out on my own. And when I sat down in my counselor’s office, she leaned over and simply said, “How can I help you?”

I wanted to reply with a well thought-out answer, but instead I started to feel overwhelmed with emotion. I felt so shamed that I had a reached a point in my life that I couldn’t figure out how to help myself.

Her response was full of mercy: “Tell me what you think the problem is, and together we’ll find a way to help you.” Her answer gave me hope. I wasn’t a problem to be fixed and therefore needed someone smarter than me to figure it out. Instead, I now had someone who would walk with me to help me find a way through the problem.

Secondly, loving mercifully means forgiving and restoring. What sexual strugglers need is God’s forgiveness, communicated through your love for them. Forgiveness surprises us. We expect judgment and condemnation for our sins and failures, but sexual strugglers feel that way even more so.

I love the story of Jesus and the “woman sinner” in Luke 7. Jesus ate at the house of a religious leader. The leader was shocked when a woman, described as “a woman of the city, who was a sinner” (a prostitute), knelt behind Jesus at his feet and wept. She covered his feet with her tears and poured a jar of perfume over his feet.

The Pharisees were shocked that Jesus allowed this sexually sinful woman to draw near to him, to even touch him. She was so defiled.

Jesus wasn’t shocked or offended. But then he shocked the Pharisees even more—by forgiving her and honoring her embrace of him. Jesus understood that her embrace of him came as a result of her experience of being forgiven.

It is only when we minister out of our own brokenness and forgiveness that we will love others mercifully. God’s forgiveness of us levels the playing field.

One more thing about the story in Luke 7: I particularly like that Jesus said of the woman, “her sins are many.” That’s a challenge to us. Many of us don’t like to get our hands dirty with messy people; people who have a long history of sins. But if we increasingly live like Jesus, then we’ll see more strugglers in our churches, and we’ll love them well. And God will set them on the road to healing and freedom from enslavement. Forgiveness both cleanses and empowers.

Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8: Part Four

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

Up to now, we have seen Paul saying very clearly in this passage that how we live our lives sexually matters. God’s will for his people is that we learn to manage our sexual desires and channel them in the direction of his design. Sexuality and holiness go together (v. 7), and God wants us to use these amazing gifts in the way he created them.

But we have also seen Paul admit that doing this is difficult. (To read the prior posts, click here.) But Paul gives us a hint in this passage about how we can navigate our sexual desires, our wants, and the intrusions of a culture that prods us to live any way we want, in a way that honors God and gives health to our bodies and minds.

Where do we find this in the above passage?

Go back to verse one. “Finally, brothers, we ask and urge you…”

Do you notice something? This is not the language of command. This is not a rebuke that says, “Stop it!” This is not a final warning to shape up or else.

This is relational language. There is a tenderness to what Paul is saying, an appeal to our minds and hearts. “Brothers. . . we ask you and urge you.” Why is Paul speaking this way?

We find the reason for his approach two chapters earlier in this same letter, in chapter 2:11: “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”

Paul knows these people. He has loved them like a caring father. He knows this is not easy, and he wants to help them learn to control their sexuality so that they might live in freedom and honor their Savior.

The way forward is in relationship. You will not escape sexual struggles and sin by dealing with it by all by yourself. We say at Harvest USA that the way to ensure you will never find freedom from sexual sin and its slavery is to privately pray and ask that God will take this away from you. This is not blasphemy; God can do whatever he wants, in whatever way he wants.

But the way he generally works is through his people, the church, the body of Christ. Sexual sin lives in secrecy; it is killed out in the open. Sexual sin lives in fear of other people; it is banished when we begin to be honest with God by being honest with someone else about our struggles.

For those who struggle with this, you need to believe that the deepest relationship is the one you have with Jesus Christ.

Paul could be tender because he himself knew the mercy and grace of Jesus. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). You can go to Jesus with this sin because he has already made you clean in his eyes. God’s wrath for your sin is over; he poured it all out on his Son.

The more you grasp the truth of Hebrews 4:16, that you can approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help in your time of need, the more you will freedom to move toward Christ and others for help.

Our new life in Christ must be lived out with others. The road to sexual integrity begins out in the open.

So, what do we need to do to live this way, as individual believers and as a church community? There are four ways to live this way. I’ll show you two of them now, and two at the next blog post.

One, we need to be real about life

By real, I mean being honest about ourselves and our struggles. The church too often plays an “I’m OK, you’re OK” game of pretend, where we all look good on the outside and show people that this is a good place to join.

Some of us, and some churches, do this every Sunday for years and years. We are so afraid to talk about what is really killing us inside.

But remember what I said about the church in 1 Corinthians. We do not have it all together. We are all messes at one stage or another.

I like the way one pastor, speaking about sexual issues, describes the kind of people who sit in church on Sunday morning:

“When these people sit in our pews, they are in various stages of dealing with their problems. Some are denying that they have a problem. Some know they are sinning against God’s law, but have secretly rebelled and live lives of hypocrisy and deception. Some are struggling with various degrees of success and failure in making the changes God requires. Most of them are desperately struggling in silence and feel increasingly hopeless and powerless. . . The challenge for the church today is to welcome sinners, but not be content to leave them where they are. The challenge of the church is to assist sinners at all of these stages. The church must invite in and hold the attention of those who would not have dared (or desired) to look to the church for either hope or help.”

I recall talking to a woman who told me that when she was looking for a church, she visited one where everyone there was dressed up and looking real good. Not a bit like her; she came from a tough background, and she dealt for a long time with addictions and sexual brokenness. But as she sat in the pew feeling like she was wasting her time coming to this church, she came across this notice in the church bulletin: “Do you struggle with sexual sin of any kind? We want to help, and walk with you as you find increasing grace and freedom in Christ. We all need help with our struggles. No one has it all together. Call ________ to speak in confidence.”

The simple honesty of those words captured her. She decided to stay at that church, because they were honest about the people of God and that God loves broken people.

Two, we need to become un-shockable

By un-shockable, I mean we need to have a “God can handle this” attitude. Paul said gospel is the “power of God for salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Salvation is not just about conversion; it’s also about how coming to Christ leads to growth and change in our lives.

Steve Brown of Keylife Network referred to a poem he once read titled, “Jet Sex Engine,” that poses this question: “Why did God put a jet sex engine in my Volkswagen body?” What a great line!

What Steve Brown was saying is that we need to stop being shocked at the sexual struggles that Christians have. They exist in the lives of Christians, too.

Harvest USA’s Founder, John Freeman, wrote a book called Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex. (You can get it here.) In the foreword, Steve Brown summed up what it means for the church to be un-shockable:

I don’t care where your mind has gone, what you’ve watched on the internet, with whom you’ve slept, what direction your desires have gone, how hard you’ve struggled and failed, whom you’ve hurt or how ashamed you are. The good news is that, first, you haven’t surprised the God who gave us the ‘jet sex engine’ and, second, he’s not angry at you but will show you a way to live in the light. Jack Miller used to say that the entire Bible could be summed up in two sentences: “Cheer up, you’re a lot worse than you think you are. And cheer up, God’s grace is a lot bigger than you think it is.”

Do you hear what Steve is saying? God is not shocked by our struggles. He sees us, he sees right through our masks, and he still desires to draw near to us and set us free.

When we stop being shocked that these things can happen to us, we can then walk with one another, helping each other take steps of faith toward sexual wholeness.

Our next post will examine two more ways of living that bring honesty and healing.

Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8: Part Three

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

If you are just picking up this post now, click here and here for parts one and two.

Paul’s plea to the Thessalonians is that they not live sexually as though they are free to do whatever they want. As he said in another letter: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6: 19-20).

And his point in verses 4-5 is this: If you are not serving God by living for him, learning to control your body’s powerful sexual desires, you will be a slave to desires you will be unable to control. And if that is what is happening in your life, if you are living sexually anyway you want, what you think is sexual freedom is, in God’s economy, slavery.

You will be living as if God doesn’t matter to you at all.

Here is what we need to know about desires and wants and how they are closely connected to our sexuality. Our sexuality is fed by desires that often are not sexual at all, like loneliness, fear, anxiety, depression, inadequacy, power, control, wanting to be loved, known or valued, fear of missing out, peer pressure—there are an unlimited number of wants and desires that become excessive desires and rule over us. They become things we think we absolutely need in life; they become ultimate things; they become idols that we live for—to have or to avoid.

And if we use our sexuality to erase our loneliness, combat our anxiety or fears, or to convince ourselves that somebody now loves and wants us, then we will keep doing so in order that life gives us what we think we need.

But what these desires give us is an illusion of control when in fact they give us slavery; they control us.

And when we find ourselves at that place in life, Paul’s description of non-believers becomes true even for believers: We become like “the Gentiles who do not know God.” When our hearts are given over to something or someone else, Jesus is pushed aside. He simply is not enough for us to give us what we need in life. So, we begin worshiping a false god of our own making.

Our sexuality reveals our spirituality; it reveals the allegiance of our hearts.

Today, pornography is a clear example of how sexual freedom is really sexual slavery.

Let me show you four ways our struggles with sexuality brings slavery—and how it hurts us and others.

One, it brings crippling self-doubt about salvation

Many Christians live defeated lives of fear and self-loathing. Their struggles with sex drives them away from God. They hide from him and from others. When they look to God all they see is a judge, not a Savior who came to rescue them from the very slavery that binds them.

A man from a support group wrote this for one of our newsletters: “When does the healing from a lifetime of viewing porn begin? How do I measure victory over a sin that has dogged my footsteps for decades? These are questions I struggled with for years. . . 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.”

People like my friend here think, “If I struggle here, I must not be a Christian.”

Two, sexual strugglers live double lives

I’m talking here about compartmentalizing, about splitting your life into separate parts. I can be a Christian at church and be someone else at school, at my workplace, etc. Sexual strugglers live double lives. Our organization’s founder, John Freeman, just published a book called Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex. He uses the phrase “game-players” about sexual strugglers. They put their game face on when they are in public with other believers, but underneath the mask there is tremendous fear and shame and guilt.

Compartmentalizing, however, slowly bleeds into every area of your life. Another man in my support group said he’s been a liar all his life. Now in his 50s, his early encounter with porn as a child led him for decades to hide his sexual addiction, first from his parents and then from his wife and children.

He got so used to lying to cover up his porn addiction. He soon didn’t realize that he unconsciously lied to cover up all his behavior, no matter what it was. He could never relax and just be himself. His constant fear was being found out.

Three, the slavery Paul talks about leads to hopelessness

Crippling doubt about salvation and living a fear-driven double life ultimately brings hopelessness about ever being free. Many men and women give up. They either give up outwardly and leave the church or they give up silently and just go through the motions of living their Christian faith. But they distance themselves from church, from family relationships, and from those closest to them who sense that something is amiss, but they can’t put their finger on it.

Slavery gives you the feeling that the gospel has no power. It is utterly useless to help you with the problems and struggles you face once you leave church on Sunday. And if you feel God himself can’t help you, you are indeed hopeless.

Four, slavery to our desires leads us to harm others

In verse 6 Paul slips this in: “that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.”

Paul is referring to the relational damage of sexual sin. He connects it with sexuality: “in this matter.”

Here’s the point: Sexual sin is not a private matter. It is not a harmless, private activity. When our desires control us, we become intensely self-centered. Sex was designed by God as a means to bless our spouse. But when our focus is only on ourselves and what we can get out of it, we hurt people and relationships.

A husband who looks at pornography hurts his wife, as he prefers a fantasy life over his real one. At best, his wife becomes merely an object of his own pleasure like all the women he sees on the screen. He uses people.

Someone who engages in porn contributes to the sexual exploitation of the performers and the widespread damage to the minds and hearts of others who are in slavery to this. Increasingly the evidence is growing that sex trafficking is embedded in this porn epidemic.

And then there is sexual abuse. Child porn, and the awful tragedy of church leaders abusing men and women under their pastoral care, is the extreme display of all this sexual slavery.

Lust is not something that is easily contained. There is a reason Jesus said, in exaggerated language, in order to make a point: “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out” (Matthew 5:30).

When we feed our lusts, they will control us and consume us.

Can you hear Paul’s plea? “Don’t live by your desires, now that you know something of what this slavery looks like!”

But if that warning is not enough, Paul gives a stronger one: “the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.”

(Looking ahead: Is there a way forward through all this, a way for us individually, and for us as a church, to live our lives in sexual integrity before God?)

Link to Part 4.


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