02 Mar 2016
Testimony: By “Ben”
Read the first post to this testimony here. The power and hope to overcome pornography and other sexual struggles is not found in resisting impulses, changing one’s habits, or even in religious practices. It’s found in the power of relationship—specifically the transformative grace of Jesus Christ. One of our former support group members, who wishes to be anonymous, shares his story.
The turning point finally came through tragedy. My wife died, having suffered twenty years with a disabling illness. My horrible grief magnified the pain of my guilt. I know it doesn’t seem possible, but I loved my wife. I thought that God was punishing me by taking her. I know now this was not true. Perhaps he was protecting her from the potential consequences of my sin. In any case, God was demonstrating a “severe mercy.” It was severe and painful, but merciful because he was using these horrific circumstances to draw me to himself. I was finally reaching the point where I had had enough of the struggle.
Over the next twenty months, the Lord continued to draw me to himself as I began to regularly call out for him to reveal himself to me and take away the pain. For a long time, my behaviors did not change. Still trying to self-medicate, I engaged in sex more frequently and took more sexual risks. But I did not stop praying.
Two years after my wife’s death, I learned from my church’s new pastor that my spiritual condition was far worse than I thought. I had always thought that homosexuality and pornography were the roots of my sin problem. However, even before he knew my secret, my pastor told me that I did not need to merely stop sinning but also find rest from struggling. Such rest could only be found in the love of Jesus Christ.
One Sunday, my pastor preached on the man who came to Jesus with his demon-possessed son (Mark 9:14-29) for healing. When Jesus asked him if he believed Jesus could do the healing, the man replied, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24, ESV).
I needed help to believe that God could love me in spite of my sin
I was that man! I had believed in Jesus since I was five years old but still thought that God’s love was contingent on my behavior. I needed help to accept that I could never make myself righteous in God’s eyes. I needed help to believe that God could love me in spite of my sin. I needed to believe that not only did Jesus suffer the punishment for sin that I deserved, but that God had also credited Jesus’ sinless life to me. I needed help to believe that I was no longer an object of God’s wrath, but a son in whom he delighted. I prayed for another nine months, meditating on various scriptures, and tearfully crying out, “Help me overcome my unbelief.”
Finally, my desire to know God’s love was so great that nothing else mattered. I lost all fear of rejection. A friendship had been growing between my pastor and me. I told him that I wanted to share something I had never revealed to anyone. After my confession, to my amazement, he did not turn from me in disgust but told me that God loved me and he loved me. He showed me Romans 2:4 where Paul writes that God’s kindness leads us to repent. Through my friend, I felt God’s pleasure for the first time. I repented.
When I confessed to my pastor, I was waiting for the stones. Instead, my friend told me there was no more condemnation. Jesus, my Savior, had set me free at last.
Spiritual change doesn’t take place in secret. Only when sins come to light are the lies of Satan exposed. Satan had told me that no one, even Jesus, could love me. But he lied. In addition to caring brothers and sisters at Harvest USA, Jesus proved his love to me through many other Christians who encouraged me with the gospel. Among these were my children, my siblings, and my best friend of thirty years, who is like a brother. Satan told me that if any of them knew my heart, they would desert me. Instead—praise God—our relationships have grown deeper. I know I don’t deserve any of this. I deserve everything that Satan told me. All I can say is that it is God’s grace!
Although I am thrilled to share how God has worked in my life, it has been a painful exercise to recall many of the events. At times I just want to forget the past; I want it to have never happened. Thankfully God is redeeming even the way I view the past. He is teaching me that my past is not about what I have done, but is part of a larger story revealing what he has done for all of us. He is not asking me to share my story, but to share Christ’s story.
Christ’s story is simple. He has changed places with me. On the cross, he received the full punishment from God that I truly deserved, then gave me his perfect record. I am learning to share this story with joy because I’m beginning to believe the Bible. It tells me I am not the man that I used to be. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
24 Feb 2016
Testimony: By “Ben”
The power and hope to overcome pornography and other sexual struggles is not found in resisting impulses, changing one’s habits or, even in religious practices. It’s found in the power of relationship—specifically the transformative grace of Jesus Christ. One of our former support group members, who wishes to be anonymous, shares his story.
I was reared in a family with one brother and two sisters—all older than me. In our home, my mother was the nurturing one, and although I loved her dearly, I craved my father’s love. He worked hard to provide for us and so was absent much of the time. When he was around, he was busy, tired, and easily angered. He rarely had time for me. His favorite saying was, “Go peddle your papers!” We shared no interests. Talking with him was always awkward. I’m not sure I ever really pleased him or made him proud.
I viewed my relationship with God in the same way. Although I desired him, I had little hope of having a relationship with him. He was unattainable. I tried to convince myself that if I was good and worked hard, one day I would be worthy of his love.
I don’t remember how young I was when I was first exposed to pornography. I doubt that it was very graphic, but I do remember it had a strong attraction. Then, as a teenager, one of my neighborhood friends showed me a hard-core porn magazine that he had stolen from his uncle’s bedroom. This was the first time I had viewed sexual acts between men and women. I was instantly hooked. The images burned into my brain and ignited my fantasies. However, instead of imagining myself with women, I wanted to sexually please the men who used them.
Other than some curiosity-based sexual exploration in my early teen years, I never physically acted on my fantasies with men until after graduation from high school. I had opportunity but feared crossing the line from thoughts to actions.
When I turned eighteen, I started to cruise adult movie theater restrooms and interstate rest areas. Sometimes I was a voyeur, sometimes a participant. More than once on the news, I saw the places I frequented raided by police. But that never stopped me from going back.
At twenty-one, I was arrested for engaging in homosexual sex in an adult theater restroom. During the night I spent in jail, I prayed for forgiveness and swore I would never act out again. But it wasn’t long until I took the same chances, and my desire for men grew stronger. I no longer just wanted to experience sex with a man; I wanted him to tell me that I was the best he had ever had. I didn’t merely want to please him; I wanted him to worship me.
Oddly enough, I rarely had sex with the same man twice. I knew that what I was secretly doing was not pleasing to God. It was more than homosexuality; it was idolatry. I tried to stop repeatedly. I did not want this life for myself. I wanted real relationships with real people and with God. I wanted to be married and have a family. So I compartmentalized my same-sex struggles and lived the illusion of the socially acceptable Christian life.
I attended a Christian college in South Carolina. Upon graduation, I taught in a Christian school for four years. I married a Christian woman, and we served the Lord in our church. Together, we raised a son in a home where we tried to actively live out our faith.
On the outside my life appeared normal and fulfilled, but on the inside there was not one minute of rest from my struggle with sin and my frustrated desire for God’s approval. For forty years I hid this part of my life from everyone, including my wife.
Before we were married, I tried to share my secret sin with my fiancée. Not being totally honest, I told her that I had sex with a man one time and assured her that this was in the past, never to be repeated.
I wanted to believe that what I told her was true, but it wasn’t. I sneaked away to have anonymous sex in an adult bookstore just three weeks after we were married. Realizing that determination alone would not bring me victory, I became all the more unwavering in hiding the truth. I feared that being honest would cost me my wife, my family, my friends, my job, and any hope of having what I perceived to be a “normal” Christian life. Pornography and same-sex encounters continued to be very much part of my life throughout twenty-one years of marriage.
Realizing that determination alone would not bring me victory, I became all the more unwavering in hiding the truth. I feared that being honest would cost me my wife, my family, my friends, my job, and any hope of having what I perceived to be a “normal” Christian life.
Over the years, I sat in Sunday school classes that discussed relevant topics like sinful addictions. I wanted to be honest about my struggles and free of them. I longed for others to walk along side of me and encourage me. But I didn’t see anyone else struggling. Instead of facing my sin, I sat silently in pain, telling myself I just had to try harder. Loneliness and despair, however, drove me deeper into my sin patterns. I continued to hide the truth because I was convinced that no one would love me if they knew the truth. I feared rejection from other Christians more than I feared hell.
I did seek help during those years. Twice I paid psychologists to hear my confession. Both were Christians. Neither were helpful. One told me that if I wore a rubber band around my wrist and snapped it every time I had a lustful thought, I would eventually associate pain with the thought. That would lead me to eventually stop acting out. It failed to produce the promised result.
The turning point finally came through tragedy.
You can continue reading Part Two by clicking here.
17 Feb 2016
The power of community is where we experience the transformative power of the cross in our lives. “Tom” came to Harvest USA to end his decades-long pornography addiction. What he got was that—and much more.
How long have I been living a lie by pretending that pornography and my flesh are not huge issues for me? My story of struggling with pornography began like so many others—when I was young. Just before my tenth birthday, I went to my classmate’s house to look at some Playboy magazines that he’d hidden under his bed. Even though I was not a Christian and didn’t grow up in church, somehow I knew this must be kept secret, hidden from my parents and my siblings. Going over to my friend’s house became a regular occurrence.
When I became a Christian as an adult, the guilt and shame of looking at porn, which was now years later, came into sharper focus. The nagging guilt now became overwhelming. Yet I continued to live a double life of secrecy for over a decade. No matter how strong the guilt and secrecy, I was terrified to let anyone know. Would anyone understand?
Then God brought a prayer partner who also struggled with Internet pornography. But he was doing something about it. As I saw him walking in the light and the freedom he had in Christ, I began to learn how to walk in the light too. By confessing what was happening in the darkness to my prayer partner, I began to realize how great God’s love for me was. As I considered the seriousness of my sin, I realized how great my debt to God was. Rather than be crushed by that, however, the cross of Christ got bigger and more significant to me. This is what Jesus came to die for—my sin! The gospel began to grow in new ways and new places. But I still struggled with porn, I’m sad to say.
Years later, God led me to marry a devout Christian woman. Now I thought: My porn struggles would finally be over. I don’t need to fantasize about sex with someone anymore. My loneliness would end.
On the outside, I looked pretty good, solid, upright. But on the inside, I continued to treat women as objects to be used. How ugly!
Those who know about struggles with pornography addiction know that, of course, didn’t happen. I began to live a double life again. On the outside, I looked pretty good, solid, upright. But on the inside, I continued to treat women as objects to be used. How ugly! Mercifully God led me to another godly man who became my prayer partner. After another long period of indulging in porn, I confessed my sin to him. He gently encouraged me to discuss my porn use with my wife and then follow up with my pastor. It was my pastor who suggested Harvest USA as a good resource for men with sexual sin issues.
But going to a men’s support group terrified me. What scared me most about going to Harvest USA was being exposed for what was my most shameful problem and sin. I’d have to talk about how porn was controlling my life. I had to admit that I was too weak to beat this. I resisted going for a while. However, the Holy Spirit was on the move in my heart. I couldn’t resist.
At Harvest USA, I discovered I was not alone, and I was now no longer isolated. God was exposing the root of my biggest issue: unbelief. My sexual sin was but a surface symptom of what the real struggle was. I didn’t believe that God was enough for me, that I could rest in him and be satisfied, no matter what happened in my life.
In Mark 9:14-29, there’s a boy possessed by a mute spirit that threw him to the ground and into convulsions. His father sought out Jesus to heal him, crying out for help. Jesus replied, “All things are possible to him who believes.” What the father said next is what we all wrestle with: “I do believe; help my unbelief.” Jesus heals the boy, even though the father’s faith remained weak. What counted was not the strength of his faith, but the object of his faith. He sought out Jesus.
Daily, Jesus is healing my unbelief. When I am drawn to the world and the flesh for comfort and escape from difficulties, I speak the gospel to myself: Jesus died on the cross for my sins; his blood washes me clean even though my sins run red like scarlet. The best thing that’s happened by joining a support group is the freedom of confessing my sins, experiencing the power of prayer, and knowing that by the power of the Holy Spirit my Abba Father is speaking to me, shepherding me, and holding me in his embrace. He will never let go of me.
“Tom” lived most of his life “in the shadows.” Read John Freeman’s chapter, “Living in the Shadows: Life as a Game-Player,” from his book, Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, followed by another testimony of how a defeated man discovered hope and change. Click here to get it.
Robert Lynn, Associate Pastor, Knox Presbyterian Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Part of Harvest USA’s mission is to encourage and equip churches to reach out to individuals struggling with sexual brokenness and sin. Several years ago, two Harvest USA staff members traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to meet with the pastoral staff and present a seminar at Knox Presbyterian Church. Pastor Robert Lynn spearheaded this cooperative effort. He writes how God has since used him in the lives of strugglers and how he has reaped personal benefits. Here’s another blog post that will encourage you to lead a support group for men; you can read it here.
I recall some years ago, one of the pastors I serve with stopped me as we left a bi-weekly meeting. “I’ve got to tell you,” he said, “that you’ve really changed over the past eight months or so. You seem so much more relaxed and at ease. You’re taking things in stride in ways you didn’t use to…” The conversation went on a few minutes as he articulated the differences he noticed. I was taken by surprise, but it didn’t take long to see the significance of the eight-month time frame.
A bit of background might be helpful to understand this small tale of pastoral transformation. Eight years ago, I found myself in a difficult season of ministry for me. It was difficult to the point of me thinking, “I don’t want a new church. I want a new career!” The last half of 2007 was a time of tending to wounds, so if you had asked me at the beginning of 2008 how I was doing, my answer no doubt would have been, “Great.” And on many levels, God had done some wonderful heart work, but clearly the work wasn’t finished.
What happened in my life that took my healing to new depths. Quite literally, God opened a door, and one by one a string of men struggling with sexual sin entered my life. They’re still coming. I look back now and see that God was preparing me for all this—understandably, I couldn’t see that then.
What is the result of walking with these men in their sexual struggles? First, there is the opportunity to bring good news to them again and again. I have the privilege of calling them to the only One who has the wisdom and power to make all things new.
What is the result of walking with these men in their sexual struggles? First, there is the opportunity to bring good news to them again and again. I have the privilege of calling them to the only One who has the wisdom and power to make all things new. It seems that I’m always talking about the gospel!
Second, there is growth and strengthening of my own faith—my own understanding of how Jesus is sufficient for the men and for me. When I begin to grasp that and stake my life on it, things begin to change. Jesus will meet all my needs; therefore, I do not need to trust in worldly things to find meaning or peace.
Third, there is an overflow of deep, deep joy. As I read the Psalms, David provides words that say it best, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7, ESV). How can fellow sinners get together with the Gospel at the center and not see an explosion of joy? If anything brings new vitality and passion for ministry, it’s Gospel-promised, cross-purchased, and resurrection-guaranteed joy.
Fourth, I have a new love for my fellow strugglers. In 401 AD, Saint Augustine wrote his friend Pammachius, “I have seen your inner being… Seeing this has made me know you, and knowing you has made me love you.” I have experienced this same truth. These men have all let me into their hearts to see their needs. I have seen Christ at work in them as we engage the Gospel. Seeing has made me know them and knowing them has made me love them.
Finally, I now realize how much a pastor needs strugglers. My personal struggles have been ministry wounds and anger, while theirs has been sex, but we each need Jesus desperately. To my surprise, I find that the one who points them to Jesus needs Jesus as much as any of them.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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).
- 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.
26 Nov 2015
Ryan and Jen’s kids have always been active in church and school, involved in extracurricular activities, and have great friends. Their parents have modeled godly living to their children from a very early age. Like most parents, they hope to see their kids finish school, start a career, and raise a family. They don’t expect anything out of the ordinary since the children have never given them cause for worry.
Their son, Bobby, just finished his junior year of high school. He has always been a quiet kid but performed well academically and is naturally obedient. One day, when Jen asked to use her son’s phone, she discovered that Bobby was visiting gay porn sites. When Jen asked Bobby about the porn, Bobby became very withdrawn. After more questions, he finally confessed, “Mom, I’m gay . . .” Jen was in disbelief.
Jen wondered how her son could possibly be sure that he was gay. She thought he must simply be a confused teenager. The truth is that Bobby has wrestled with these feelings since middle school. He tried to ignore these desires but always found himself longing to be in a relationship with another guy. Ryan and Jen hadn’t the slightest clue that their son struggled in this way.
Living in the middle is place filled with tension. Parents want to help their child, but often the message they hear is that they must affirm their child’s decision.
Many Christian parents share Ryan and Jen’s experience of a child self-identifying as gay. Cultural messages about sexuality are influencing young people to define their sense of self and identity with their feelings and emotions. When a child embraces the identity as a life direction, in contrast to Scripture’s view of sexuality designed by God, parents and family members are thrown into crisis. They feel caught in the middle between their love for their child and their convictions to stand firm in what God says. Living in the middle is a place filled with tension. Parents want to help their child, but often the message they hear is that they must affirm their child’s decision. Anything short of that feels like a crushing rejection to their child.
It’s a difficult path for parents to walk, and they will need understanding and support, especially from their church community, to help them. Here are some ways pastors, church leaders, and friends can do so.
Where to begin?
Parents in this situation struggle to know how to make sense of what they are feeling, much less what to do. Helping them to identify some common initial reactions and know how to guide them will help them move forward.
Many parent’s first reaction is shock, which is often followed by anger. Why is this happening? Why are you doing this to us? Questions and strong emotions like these are understandable. Helping them to channel them well is critical.
The first thing is to encourage them not to direct anger at their child. It took a lot of courage to say what he or she said, and while it hurts, it’s still better to know than to be kept in the dark. Healthy relationships require honesty. Help them to acknowledge their child’s courage. If they have already expressed anger at their child, encourage them to go to their child and ask forgiveness, modeling humility and repentance. The relationship will need this healing.
Then help them deal with what might be anger toward God. Why are you letting this happen to us, God? Haven’t we been faithful in raising our children? Encourage them to express such troubling questions to God, as their own relationship with him requires honesty also. Suggest that they read the Psalms, which can provide them with a God-given language to voice their powerful and tumultuous emotions in a way that still directs faith back to him. This will be a safeguard against bitterness taking root. God is strong and loving enough to hear our words of pain, and even to identify with them.
Parents will grieve over the fear they have of losing the life they anticipated for their child. They will grieve the loss of the son they thought they knew, along with the hopes and dreams they attached to him. Because the child’s revelation feels like a deathblow to the family’s future, give them space to grieve unreservedly and without judgment. Weep with them (Romans 12:15). Validate the pain and loss they feel. Having the support of friends in their moments of grief will help them to move toward their child, learning to love him as he is, in this new reality, but with new eyes of faith. Adjusting to this new reality will be difficult to do. Help them to see that continuing to love their child, just as always, will be an important connection to God that can give hope for the future.
Guilt and Shame
Almost every parent will think that they have failed in some way, asking where they went wrong. Ryan and Jen began to believe that maybe they could have done something, if only they had known how Bobby felt when all of this began – but they didn’t realize what was going on, and now they feel like terrible parents for missing it. The feeling of guilt may be consuming. It will be helpful here to listen to their anguished questions, and point out that such questions, though legitimate, may have no answer, nor could they have known what was kept secret. To get stuck here will only hurt them further. What counts now is to live in the present and release these questions to the One who does know all the answers.
Because parents fear others’ opinions and judgement of their parenting, shame will often accompany guilt. There is a feature to sin and suffering where shame attaches not only to the individual, but also to those who are associated with him. It is not uncommon that parents will feel marked by their child’s decision or actions. Invite them to speak their emotions and not feel ashamed for wrestling with such thoughts and feelings. Shame pushes us to hide in the shadows and stay away from others. But isolating from others is spiritually dangerous, so help them to remain connected to their church community. Sadly, families that keep silent and isolate themselves over this situation are more likely to resolve the tension they live in by changing their view of Scripture and affirming their child’s gay identity. Staying in the middle is very hard to do, and faithful friends are critical in helping them find a measure of peace in the midst of that tension.
Fear and Despair
A child’s coming out takes parents’ normal fears to another level. Ryan and Jen fear what their son’s declaration means for his future and how people will treat him. They fear that their son has fallen away from God, or never truly knew God. Fear loses sight of God’s sovereignty, and can give way to despair. Parents of gay children struggle to see a sovereign and righteous God on the throne when the “wisdom” of the world’s view of sexuality infiltrates their homes. They need an anchor, so keep pointing them to images that describe God the way David saw him, as one whose “way is perfect,” whose “word…proves true,” and who is “a shield for all those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30). God remains on the throne even when everything in life feels out of control. God is still at work in this situation. Their child is not beyond the reach of God’s arm, as Isaiah proclaimed to rebellious Israel (Isaiah 59:1). Remind them that the timing of God’s work is perfect. So, encourage them to acknowledge to God all that they fear, and to patiently hear God speak to them through his word and his people.
In all these ways, patiently listening to how they process this experience will give them a lifeboat in a tossing sea. Their responses may not be pretty. Especially in the early stages, remain unruffled at the parents’ raw, emotional responses, leaving gracious room for what they are experiencing. Consider the Psalms as you ponder your response to them. God does not rebuke his children for expressing the breadth of their suffering to him, so neither should we chastise parents in their anger, grief, guilt, shame, fear, and despair. Rather, it is much wiser and more profitable to help them explore what they are feeling, and learn to see how God is cultivating their faith in the midst of their turmoil.
Once the initial storm subsides, parents need help navigating questions about how to love to their child while standing true to biblical convictions.
It will be difficult for parents to know how to have conversations with their son or daughter. Typically, parents will either want to make this the primary topic of conversation with them, or they may ignore the issue altogether, hoping their child’s struggle will quietly disappear. Parents in the first category can unknowingly slip into relating to their child solely on the basis of this issue. Parents panic and want to change their child because they realize the seriousness of sinful sexual behavior. Just as parents mistakenly fear that they caused their child to become gay, they can also erroneously believe they can somehow change their child, which becomes their chief focus. But they need to be reminded that the work of sanctification belongs to the Lord. We do influence our children’s lives, and we want them to live faithfully before God, but our faith must acknowledge that God is the one who is sovereign over our child’s life. God is not just after a child’s behavior; he is after his or her heart.
Those who fall into the second category believe that “keeping the peace” and not talking about it is better than speaking the truth in love. This may be out of fear to keep a close relationship with their child at all costs. Speaking into their child’s life, or keeping quiet, will be a tough balancing act. Help the parents to move beyond their fears to seek wisdom and wait for opportunities to speak, even if it may be upsetting. But remind them that to make this issue the primary focus will seriously hurt the relationship. Let God lead the way in this.
Most importantly, remind parents of their child’s greatest need: the gospel. A child’s sexual orientation/behavior can consume a parent’s vision, but parents need to remember that their child’s fundamental need is to see their need of God’s love and redemption in Christ. The goal for our children is not heterosexual happiness, but grasping an identity in Christ that becomes their chief focus in life. Looking at the situation from this perspective helps the parents see that what their child needs is no different than what everyone needs: to live by faith in Christ and learn how to follow him in obedience, glorifying him even in the brokenness of life (see Philippians 2:12).
Finally, we can remind them to continue in the assurance and hope of Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This may not be the best passage to give when parents are really hurting at the beginning of all this, but over time this glorious truth will resonate with them. In the midst of our confusion, God is faithful to draw us closer to himself, make us more dependent on him, humble us in our need for grace, and strengthen us in our faith that he does care for our families. When we embrace this reality we have eyes to see that God works his redemptive purposes most powerfully in the midst of brokenness and suffering. Waiting on God and praying for a child is no guarantee that God will cause him to turn away from a gay identity, but it does guarantee the cultivation and deepening of patience, faith, and love in the parents’ hearts and lives—and isn’t that how God reaches the world, displaying his love through the transformed lives of his people?
If you want to connect with Chris, you can reach him at email@example.com. Or you can make a comment at the end of this post.
For a deeper examination of these issues, a few of our popular mini books give further insightful and practical help for parents, pastors, church leaders, and friends. Go to www.harvest-usa-store.com for these resources:
Can You Change if You’re Gay?
Your Gay Child Says, ‘I Gay’
Your Gay Child Says ‘I Do’
Homosexuality and the Bible: Outdated Advice or Words of Life?
08 Jul 2015
Dr. Clair Davis, retired church history professor from Westminster Theological Seminary, writes on church and gospel issues. When he writes on sex and sexuality, he has a lot of good things to say, so we thought you’d like to read it also. Dr. Davis wrote in respomse to the Supreme Court ruling in June 2015 that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.
The Supreme Court’s decision enabling same-sex marriage in all states has gotten much attention, positively and negatively. It will facilitate unbiblical marriages everywhere, and God and his law will be massively mocked. Of course that is very serious. Going ahead, will those opposing this decision be convicted of hate-crime? It is very possible.
But how is this anything new? Some of us can remember when states followed biblical norms, permitting divorce only in cases of adultery. That was when people went to Reno, Nevada, to live for six weeks until they could obtain a “no-fault” divorce there. Those finding that inconvenient were able to enlist private detectives to help them set up a phony adultery in raids on hotel rooms. I can’t remember how believers responded to Reno, but wasn’t that just as serious then as the Court’s decision today?
No doubt there are legal and social advantages to “marriage,” but in a hook-up culture, that has little to do with sexual activity. Puberty comes earlier and marriage much later; do the math yourself. No one says “common-law marriage” any more, but what could be more common? Has the evangelical Christian church, along with Catholic and Orthodox churches, been consistently clear?
This has nothing to do with our welcoming people. Jesus welcomed all us sinners, and we are so glad. But along with our trusting Jesus Christ comes repentance for our sin, and that is what we know ourselves and seek to tell others. I tell this story, one that I actually experienced, about getting drainage pipe for a plot of ground and asking for a much bigger pipe than the clerk suggested, prompting his response as he sold me the really big one, “You do have a drainage problem.” That the Beloved Son of the Father should give up his life for us sinners, crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”—that wasn’t to show off, that was because of our sin.
We are called to welcome all to Jesus, but clearly turning to him means turning away from whatever idol you worship, including same-sex relations. We need to show and tell that this means us too. We are not called to be Pharisees, to look down on those not as holy as we are. In no way are we worthy.
Were we sloppy about Reno? Hook-ups? It is time for us to repent of that and our own respectable sins too. The Court has gotten everyone’s attention right now, so why should we delay our own repentance? And along with that, calling the world around us to Jesus the Savior? Not just same-sex people—that suggests their sin is greater than ours, and it isn’t. That suggests cultural narrowness, and our calling is to the whole world. The Court has people awake. Now is the time to talk—more clearly and consistently than ever before.
11 Jun 2014
What I have been asked to share with you is not so much my story of how and why I came to Harvest USA, but rather what has happened to me since then. I will not pretend to have answers to many questions. This is a story of a ‘work in progress’ and how God ceaselessly and actively works in my life.
I came to Harvest USA because I was convicted that there was something very wrong in what I wanted from people and women in particular. I remember the night I finally began to see the subtle differences in what was good and bad in my friendships. It was a New Year’s Eve party to which a certain few had been invited. As I sat there, I was aware of, as if for the first time, the lingering, meaningful gazes, the exclusive conversations and private jokes, the hand resting too long on a shoulder. I had the sensation of being sucked into something that was no longer alluring. Everything worked in this group by hints and insinuation; nothing was ever said openly; so nothing could be defined. I remember it being a long, long night.
The next morning, I spoke to someone who shared with me her New Year’s Eve. She talked about how she and her friends had come together and prepared a meal. Then during that meal they renewed their friendships and prayed for the coming year and what it would bring. I walked away from her, into another room–and cried. The openness and honesty of the events of her evening contrasted sharply with the complete lack on anything meaningful in mine, and this cut me to the bone.
The Silent Sisterhood to which I belonged required secrecy, and for maintaining the secret my reward was an aching hollowness that gnawed deeper and deeper into my soul. I was a living, breathing lie. I had spent a lifetime building a pleasant, inoffensive façade keeping all but a tiny few out. Now this façade was so thick that it seemed impossible to break through. This is testimony that God can pulverize even the thickest walls around our hearts.
If God says, “No, this not the lifestyle to which I call you,” then to what does he call me? There has to be more to living than just not being gay anymore. For me Harvest USA is not just about walking alongside men and women coming out of the homosexual and lesbian lifestyle. It is a mistake to think that when someone stops acting out the gay lifestyle that it ends there. In most cases all you’ve got is a celibate homosexual or lesbian who lives in an androgynous twilight world of simply knowing what they shouldn’t do. Having been there, I found it’s a cold, comfortless place to be. Those who stop there find little to rejoice about; their hearts are rarely open or warm, their anger something to be avoided.
So, as I came to know what I shouldn’t do, my heart cried out to God to know what he was calling me to be! There had to be more, my heart yearned too much for these deep changes to stop there. What was it? What was it I was tasting, glimpsing, that drew me to the cliff edge of choices, and to the realization that I had choices. It was in this place I first began to understand what it was to be a child of God–the child of a loving father.
Though it sounds simple, to move from seeing myself as a child of God to being his daughter was a momentous step. I could easily have held on to the idea of being a child, seeing myself simply as a child–not even as a little girl, for the rest of my life and effectively never grown up.
But God calls me to be his daughter, his beloved daughter, to grow into womanhood, capable of seeing and experiencing him, people, and life in a totally unique way through my femininity. He teaches me in Word and leads me to women in church, in groups, and in friendships who, as in the words of Proverbs 31, are clothed in strength and dignity, who do not fear the future because of him and who speak with wisdom and faithful instruction. These women move freely and enjoy the respect and confidence of others and shatter my old notions of strength, independence, and freedom. These women are interdependent, they do not see themselves as separate, and they are connected closely to others and enjoy it! The connection is neither smothering nor exclusive as I found in lesbianism, but springs from being present to one another even in the hard, raw times that God uses to shape his daughters.
I am at that point of my journey where I have begun to explore my femininity, this intrinsic part of me–and it is not without fear. I am often frightened by the newness of everything. In a world in which I have heard femininity described as a ragbag of discarded female values to be passed over in search of something better, allowing my life to be shaped by God through his gift of femininity is also frightening. But to expose myself to the refining fire of my Father, to feel the sharpness of his knife as he cuts deep into the shadowy corners of my soul is also to expose that fear for his attention so that he may deal with it.
And I also know this: God sets me on a high cliff, and there I feel the breath of God; it can burn like fire, searing through me and separating sinew from bone. And all the while as I come apart he reshapes me for his purpose, and all the while the protection of his love holds my feet firm in that place. Only God protects and gives safety as I look in things long buried and discarded and am willing to pick up and own as part of me.
From the safety of his protection I face the temptations to go back, to strive at being strong and independent, and consequently to being untouchable in the core of myself. For these temptations are still there. But in God’s love I no longer welcome them as old friends, but see them as the soul destroyers they are.
My femininity, my sexuality, my place as a daughter: These are all gems for the taking from my Father’s hands. How I will wear such precious gifts is something that only time can reveal. But as I look on these well-cut stones, their facets catch and reflect the light of my Father’s love. The luster of his promises never fades, they are promises more enduring than the hardest diamond. Promises worth dying for; and Christ died so that I might receive these gifts.
To receive is something that was impossible for me not so long ago. There is beauty in this that I know I am just beginning to understand. God has lifted the curtain and I have glimpsed something wonderful–that promises more. I want to know, see and be more of what he is calling me to be. As he reveals more, I know this process will not end in this lifetime, but this a journey I want to make; I want to make it hoping and trusting always in him, my loving Father.
14 Jan 2014
A weary traveler is looking for shelter on a dark stormy night. Off in the distance, he can see lights coming from a city. Since it is the only place of refuge the traveler can see he sets off towards that city to see if he can find shelter there. As he comes to a clearing where he can see the city more clearly he stops to study it and consider his options.
He can see signs of life and the comforts he longs for in the city. This seems like the refuge he is looking for, yet he has heard such strange and conflicting things about this city from other travelers. Should he enter the city hoping for a warm welcome or stay where he is taking his chances alone in the darkness of the storm? Sound familiar? If we’re honest, we have all had times in life when we have felt some of the same things this traveler is feeling. Life is full of difficult choices. Choosing to do what is right isn’t always easy or popular. Sometimes making those difficult decisions takes us on a journey away from the safety of the familiar and into the stormy darkness. It takes a lot of courage to enter an unknown city or situation asking for refuge when we are not sure of the welcome we will receive.
In Matthew 5:14, Jesus uses the image of a city to describe the church. He says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (ESV). Since we are the city on the hill, we need to decide what kind of a welcome we will offer travelers seeking refuge from us. In many ways, we already do an excellent job of offering the hope and grace of Christ himself to our communities. The issue of gay marriage seems to be so emotionally charged that our ability to minister to others who seek truth and refuge from us might be hindered. What do the weary travelers see when they look at the church? Do they see a warm, inviting place to talk about truth and the deceptiveness of sexual sin, or do they see our confusion and fear?
In anticipation of writing this article on gay marriage, I conducted a number of impromptu interviews with people impacted by this issue. Just mentioning the issue brought about a variety of impassioned responses. I was able to talk with several pastors who are dealing with their congregation’s concerns and questions. I spoke with parents and family members of men and women who are struggling with the issues of homosexuality, some of whom are already married to someone of the same sex. I also interviewed a number of believers who shared their concern about how God expects them to respond to the gay community in light of the current political debate.
While everyone I talked to had an opinion about gay marriage, few people agreed on what defines gay marriage. It seems that gay marriage means different things to different people. Gay marriage also means different things in different states across the country. All of the people I spoke with agreed that homosexuality is contrary to God’s plan for mankind. Their other thoughts on gay marriage seemed to fall into three general categories: (1) Some responses reflected a concern that the gay community is trying to force acceptance of their beliefs and lifestyle on the rest of our society. (2) Other people feel that the sanctity of marriage is threatened by the labeling of homosexual unions as marriage. (3) Lastly, a group of people believe that the gay community is justified in seeking some forms of social change, but most of these people were not sure exactly what should change or in what ways.
Is it any wonder with so much confusion over the issues involved in gay marriage that it has become a divisive issue? While these issues are cause for great concern, we do not have to let them be. We can use them as a starting point to gaining a deeper understanding of these issues, the gay community, and one another. This might allow us as a community of believers to become a more welcoming refuge for men and women struggling with these issues.
Acceptance of gay unions
Everyone wants to be accepted; God has built this desire into us. Men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction have this same desire in them. It is only after much pain and heartache that a man or a woman will come to the conclusion that they are gay. These men and women have found acceptance in the gay community that feels like light in their darkness. They have found a relationship with one specific person that they want to make into a life commitment. Now they would like everyone else to accept their lifestyle and share their joy.
As believers, we do need to accept men and women who struggle with homosexuality. We need to accept them as men and women as precious because they have been made in the image and likeness of God. We can admit that, like us, they are sinners in desperate need of a Savior. Homosexuality is not a worse sin than any other. Yet, we are never supposed to be silent in the face of sin. Our response to the gay community should be open and welcoming, full of grace and truth.
This type of acceptance might be harder for some believers than for others because acceptance of these unions was by far the biggest concern that others shared me. The gay community is not going to stop pursuing their agenda just because resolutions to legalize gay marriage were defeated in 11 states in the presidential election of 2004. The gay community is fighting for freedom that they believe is in their best interest. To be a more effective light in the world, we need to establish ourselves as a refuge that is ready and waiting to accept men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction without condoning homosexuality.
Civil rights and taxes
Listening to gay rights activists, it would seem that gay marriage is all about attaining the same legal and tax standings as heterosexual couples. The issue of gay marriage raises some interesting questions about our system of taxation and civil rights. Should people be taxed at a higher rate or denied certain benefits because they do not marry a member of the opposite sex?
Being married, I never gave thought to the benefits I have because of that choice. The rights to medical insurance; sick, parental, and bereavement leave; and death benefits are among the rights that the gay community is seeking. If I did not have these rights, I would feel a significant loss of safety and freedom. The US General Accounting office reports that there are 1,049 benefits the US government provides to married couples. The most important benefits listed were the entitlement to receive social security benefits, pensions, tax breaks, and visitation rights in hospitals or prisons.
Taxation is a political issue of importance to everyone. It is also an important spiritual issue. We are all called by God to pay our share of taxes. In Matthew 22:15-22, the Pharisees were looking to trap Jesus with his words. They tried to put Jesus in a double bind by asking him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Whether Jesus answered yes or no, the Pharisees knew that he would alienate some of the people. But Jesus avoided the trap, silencing his opponents, by going straight to the heart of the matter. In verse 21 Jesus simply says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” As believers, we should follow the example of Jesus by seeking to walk wisely on this issue of taxation. In one short sentence, Jesus separated the tax issue from the spiritual issue. His directives to us as believers are clear: We should be willingly pay what is due to the earthly nation
This means that we should want to establish a system of taxation that is in the best interest of all of our citizens, regardless of their lifestyle choices. Our country was founded on the premise of no taxation without representation.The current cultural norm for taxation is a working husband and a stay-at home wife. This norm reflects the lifestyle circumstances of less than 10% of American households. It would seem that a more equitable tax system that better reflects our culture might be in order. After carefully considering this issue one can conclude that this tax issue is not a heterosexual versus gay issue at all. This is a married versus single taxpayer issue. There is no Biblical prescriptive to support giving married people tax incentives and benefits that are withheld from single people.This practice may not be appropriate any longer.
How might addressing the taxation issue help the church minister to the gay community? First, it will allow us to avoid the trap that has been set for us over taxes. Jesus was careful to avoid the tax-trap question. Are we? Secondly, it will allow the real heart issues to come to the surface in the gay marriage debate. If the tax question is removed from the debate, then the deeper issues can be seen and addressed.
The Defense of Marriage Act amended the constitution of the United States and went into effect on September 21, 1996. This amendment legally defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Although this amendment might face a legal challenge in the future, for now marriage is defined as a one man and one-woman union. Many people feel that the gay community’s desire to call their unions “marriage” threatens the sanctity of marriage. While there is no way to accurately gauge the validity of these concerns, there are two factors that will continue to add to the confusion of the gay marriage debate. These factors are domestic partnership and the infallibility of God’s Word.
The term gay marriage is often used in reference to domestic partnership. Laws protecting and defining the rights of individuals under domestic partnership are already in effect in 12 states. In most of these states, any homosexual or heterosexual couple over the age of 65 who do not want to be married can receive legal status through domestic partnership. Older people often make this choice over marriage because of the financial consequences a new marriage will have on their standard of living. This does threaten the sanctity of marriage. Older generations are choosing not to marry because of the financial consequences that entering a new marriage will cause them. As models on relationships for successive generations, elders who choose domestic partnership definitely threaten the sanctity of traditional marriage.
No matter what the courts decide, how a congressional vote is cast, or what the gay community would like to demand of us, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ cannot condone gay marriage. The church cannot condone gay marriage because we do not have the power to so. This is the spiritual issue at the heart of the gay marriage debate. The gay community wants to feel at peace with God without making peace with God. The Word of God has clearly declared that marriage is a covenant relationship between three parties: the man, the woman, and God (Genesis 2:24). Each party enters into the covenant relationship by his or her own choice. God will not enter into a marriage covenant with a homosexual couple. We cannot change the Word of God. He has been clear that homosexuality is wrong. God is against gay marriage, and there is nothing the church can do to change that.
The issue of gay marriage will be an ongoing challenge for the church. Developing a full understanding of the underlying issues will be critical to being able to address the subject. This will be important in offering the world a godly and biblically accurate understanding of God’s Word as it pertains to gay marriage. Hopefully, this deeper understanding will lead our congregations to become places of open dialogue where people can wrestle with what it means to love those who struggle with sexual sin in practical terms, like how to accept the sinner and not the sin.
In order to be places of refuge, our churches need to become places of safety. We will need to offer a safe place to disclose our struggles. We will also need safe places to wonder aloud about the questions of civil rights and the inequality that the gay marriage debate has raised. We are called to actively wrestle with what kind of men and women God wants us to be on behalf of others who want to live apart from him. This is an invitation to share in the sufferings of Christ by giving of ourselves for people who might never respond to the Gospel. It might also be an invitation to become part of the social change process.
As the darkness continues to overtake our culture, we will need to have a clear voice of truth to speak. We will need to establish our light to be able to impart the truth to successive generations. We have been entrusted with the truth of God’s own Word. As his ambassadors, we have been commissioned to speak for him, sharing his grace and mercy to a lost and weary generation.
14 Jan 2014
The church pianist arched her back and stretched her arms in preparation for the opening hymn. The man in front of me didn’t miss one movement. His wife, painfully aware of the object of his gaze, jabbed him in the side, he shot back angrily, “I wasn’t looking at anything.” His remark seemed well-rehearsed, perhaps from countless other occasions of being caught stealing looks at attractive women. The couple’s hurt and anger betrayed the endless cycle of accusation, defense, guilt, effort, helplessness, and failure so often associated with struggles of lust.
Lust is a battle for us all. Christians—both men and women—have struggled with it for generations. Many have measured their or others’ spirituality on the basis of their freedom from lust. Yet for all the interest focused on lust it would seem that we ought to be far clearer about the problem and its solution. What exactly is lust, why is it so hard to change, and how can we deal with its power to shape our lives?
The color of lust
Most people have come to equate lust with sexual desire. In many cases in Scripture, lust does refer to illicit sexual desire (1 Peter 4:3). Consequently, if we are not struggling with illicit sexual thoughts or behavior, we assume we are free from lust. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The word in the New Testament that is translated “lust” means strong desire. The word can be used to describe a legitimate, godly desire. Jesus said to His disciples: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). Elsewhere Paul said he strongly desired to depart this life to be with the Lord (Philippians 1:23), and yet he also strongly desired to be with his friends (1 Thessalonians 2:17). Strong, passionate, eager desire or lust is not inconsistent with God’s purpose for our lives.
On the other hand we know from the Bible and from experience that strong desire, or lust, can be immoral and destructive. I spoke to a thirty-five-year-old man, “Craig,” who had fought an obsession with pornography since he was eight years old. He was alternately victorious and then overwhelmed by his lustful desires. His occasional lapses endangered his ministry and threatened his relationship with his family.
But this man’s battle with lust was not confined solely to sexual pictures and mental images. In fact, his lust manifested itself in workaholism, extreme absorption in hobbies and reading, and an obsessive desire to please others. To focus too narrowly on his sexual lust would have caused us to lose the bigger picture of his battle with addictive desires.
“Diana” was struggling with the desire to have a fifth child. Every time she saw a newborn baby, she ruminated and obsessed about how to convince her husband. She lusted after being pregnant. Her battle was not sexual, but I would suggest she had just as great a problem with lust as the man who struggled with pornography.
When desire goes awry
When does lust become destructive? Destructive lust is any consuming desire that is either out of bounds or out of balance.
An out-of-bounds lust is a desire for any person or object or idea that is inconsistent with God’s expressed desire for our life. To feel sexual desire for our spouse is appropriate; to covet our neighbor’s wife is an illegitimate desire.
An out-of-balance lust is any legitimate desire that blocks our ability to serve God and others. For example, a student who is so consumed by getting good grades (a legitimate desire) that he is unable to spend time pursuing God is consumed by an out-of-balance lust. Likewise, a neighbor who can’t say no to her friend’s desire to go to a movie is equally imbalanced in her lust for acceptance.
Defined in this way, no one is free from the battle with lust. Why do we battle so often with its forces? And why do those battles yield so little fruit and victory? In other words, why is lust so hard to change?
The power of lust
The answer to those questions requires a more thoughtful analysis of the design and function of lust. God made us with desire—desire for intimate relationship with Him and for meaningful service in His world. The fall perverted those desires. The quest for intimacy was replaced by a desire for its quickest counterfeit: elicit sexual pleasure. Our God-given desire for meaningful service was twisted to a lust for power over others. The longing for impact become a lust for control.
These counterfeits appeal to us because they seek to replace God and His high standards with something that is familiar and undemanding. Paul says fallen man replaced the worship of God (Creator) with worship of people or things of this world (creature) (Ro. 1:18-23). The creature does not require repentance or gratitude. The creature does not demand brokenness or service. Creature worship only requires denying the true emptiness inside and hiding the shame that arises in turning our back on God and others.
Why is that form of lust so difficult to overcome? Because it is the best alternative to satisfying our empty hearts without dependently bowing our knee before God. Changing it not only requires giving up something that has worked, to some degree, to fill our empty hearts, but it also necessitates embracing a God who invites us to experience what we deeply despise— brokenness, poverty, weakness and dependency. In the face of a walk through the valley of the shadow of death, an addiction to pornography, a fifth child, or saying no to a friend seems like a lark in the park.
Even if the lust is destructive and life-threatening it may be preferable to a God who calls us to love those who harm us and serve those who in fact are below us. True worship is too costly; creature worship is, at first, less demanding.
Two faulty strategies
What is required to deal with our battle with lust? Let me first take a look at two contemporary Christian routes for dealing with lust that at times make the problem worse. These two routes—self-denial and self-enhancement—offer some help, but often lead to even greater struggles with lust and addiction. Craig eventually followed both of these paths.
1) As a new Christian, Craig viewed the struggle with lust as an overwhelming desire for sexual pleasure or relief. He saw the real enemy as sexual thoughts and feelings, and the cure as merely choosing the right procedure for conquering his lust. Victory came when he felt sufficiently guilty over his thoughts, avoided opportunities for lust, and chose to discipline his wandering mind.
Sadly, the fruit of this view is often self-hatred, shame, and contempt, which lead to increased sexual struggles. After decades of failure, many with this view either conclude they are oppressed by demons or doubt their salvation.
2) Another approach to lust is found in an adaptation of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Step recovery process. This approach sees lust as a symptom of deeper hurt. The cure is to admit that everyone is addicted, Once denial is removed, then the shame of feeling deficient can be eliminated and the real roots of the problem—loneliness, insecurity, and past trauma—can be healed and the addiction controlled.
While the first approach to dealing with lust often encourages self-hatred and denial, the second approach may increase self-absorption. When Craig adopted this approach he gained more control of his sexual lusts. But he then struggled with new, equally strong addictions. He became a group-aholic, attending several recovery-type groups per week.
He was also a self-aholic. He became absorbed with making sure no one violated his personal desires. He began sharing his feelings whenever he wanted to, no matter how inappropriate it was. He lost a great deal of sensitivity and care for others.
Craig acknowledged that he had turned from a man who lacked a self to one who put self above others and ultimately above the God who called him to serve. Unfortunately, he never looked at the deeper structure of sin involved in his lust. In part his efforts to control his lust were God-honoring; but on the other hand he never faced the fact that his lust was far more than merely a struggle with sexual thoughts.
Why discipline isn’t enough
Lust is a failure to exercise the will toward righteousness. People who battle any form of lust must work at strengthening their wills. But it is never enough merely to address one’s lack of discipline. It is crucial to view lust as a product of hatred: hatred of our loneliness and our circumstances, and hatred of the God who requires us to love in spite of our pain. Lustful addictions are the vehicle to flee from the ache in our souls and use our helplessness as an excuse not to love others and God.
What is required for destructive lust to be transformed into passionate, lively, and loving desire for God and others? I don’t believe there are pat answers or even easily-articulated steps that relieve our battle with the flesh. The ultimate cure is Heaven; until then, all change and certainly all steps are mere approximations of what is involved in knowing God and being transformed by his presence. Yet I can offer a few tentative thoughts to help the process of change.
1. Face the problem. Addictive lust feeds on the darkness of denial. “I’m not an alcoholic. I just drink to sooth my nerves—or to feel more relaxed.” “I may masturbate a lot, but doesn’t everyone at one time or another?” “I know I work too late, but it’s only until I get more settled in my job.” Deception is the ally of lust in that it allows us to serve “two masters” and make it look as if all is well (Matthew 6:24).
For example, Diana viewed her desire for a fifth child as natural and reasonable. Beneath the surface, however, her motives were less than pure. Another baby would keep her from facing the eventual loss of her youthfulness and worth as the mother of young children. And as a busy mother, she would not need to face the growing distance in her relationship with her husband. Her rage at his unwillingness to have another child masked the loneliness she felt in their marriage. Every lustful obsession serves the desire to be satisfied apart from God. If change is to occur, denial must be lifted and the ugly parts of our soul exposed.
2. Wrestle with your heart as well as your behavior. Without question, lust will not be changed without a willingness to discipline the will. I must be willing to fight, scratch and claw toward holiness (I Peter 4:1-3). If I can’t say no to avoid situations where my lust will be given room to flourish, I must make the right choices. But choice is not enough. More is required than merely the effort to avoid lust and focus on godly desire. We must repent of the deeper issues that are feeding our lust. But one cannot deeply repent of what is unknown. We need to pray that God will reveal the secret things of our heart (Psalm 139). Some of the subtle categories of the heart to be considered when dealing with a tenacious lust problem are these:
One, what is the context for my struggles with lust? Many find that lust is more severe after a stressful event, such as a failure or success. It is very important to keep a journal that records the experience of lust, the context, and the battle to deal with both the heart and obedience.
Two, what significant current or past wounds am I ignoring in my struggles with lust? Many times a lust problem is easier to bear than a deep wound that seems impossible to erase. For example, Craig found that he often gave in to sexual fantasies after phone conversations with his critical and demeaning father. His sexual addiction masked the lonely wounds and anger related to his parent.
Three, what do I feel unable to do or be—because of my struggle with lust? Sadly, a struggle with lust may subtly serve as an excuse to not make choices that may seem more frightening. Craig refused to honor his father by talking about their relationship. He quietly endured his father’s reproach rather than praying and agonizing over what God might have him do to deepen his love for his father.
Repentance in the ongoing process of sanctification is not a once-for-all event. As we face our denial and repent of our rebellion against God, then we will find greater insight and increased sorrow over sin.
Honesty and repentance are crucial to change. The ultimate antidote to lust, however, is love. It is very, very difficult to destructively lust after someone you love. It is very hard to lust after something that does damage to someone you love. Lust is a consuming and absorbing possession of someone in order to dull our own pain rather than a delighting in and enhancing of another.
An engaged couple may look at one another with enormous passion and keen anticipation of their merger as one flesh, but if love prevails, then they would refuse to do anything that would mar their individual or corporate beauty. In the same way, a man and woman who work together may enjoy one another’s physical or personal beauty, but if love prevails, then each will long to increase one another’s beauty rather than stain it by the violation of destructive lust.
It is tragic that many men attempt to deal with lust by avoiding rich, intimate and honorable relationships with women. They believe that distance insures safety; in fact, reserve only seems to increase private fantasies. The only real safety net is love.
In Philippians 4:8, Paul tells us to meditate on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, and lovely. Somehow being caught up in that which is lovely is incompatible with the ugliness of destructive lust. Ultimately, the fairest and loveliest of all meditations is Jesus Christ.
Paul says the deception and enslavement to all kinds of passions begins to melt in the light of the kindness and love of God (Titus 3:3-4). The brutal power of lust will not succumb to any force of the human will unless the heart is captured by the glory and tenderness of the gospel. As the good news of freedom from God’s wrath increases our wonder, laughter, and passion to live, then the dark desire to possess, to consume, and to destroy will have less power in our lives. The joy of being forgiven, not only of behavior but also of the sin deep in our hearts, will increase our desire to love (Luke 7:47). And an increase in a desire to love will deepen our desire to see beauty enhanced in everyone whom we have the pleasure and privilege to encounter.
Lusting for godliness
Unfortunately, we will battle with lust for the remainder of our lives. But with hearts redeemed by the gospel, we will be freer to turn toward the path of beauty rather than pursue the track of hatred.
The passion of the gospel will eventually overrule and defeat the destructive lust of consumption. The pursuit of holiness will become far more than a desire to do right but a desire, or a “lust,” for the character and beauty of God. In that sense, the gospel frees us to lust after what our hearts are made for—godliness—rather than after that which leads to decay, death, and despair. Godly lust leads to life. In that sense, go and lust well.