29 Jul 2021
Name: Jeffrey Minnis
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Position at Harvest USA: Administrative Assistant
Description of work at Harvest USA: As the administrative assistant, my duties cover a variety of things. I welcome visitors and ministry recipients when they arrive at our office. When people call Harvest USA, I answer their general inquiries, connect them to our direct ministry staff, and sometimes even have the pleasure of praying for them. As you can imagine, many of the calls I receive are from men and women who are really struggling, so prayer is a way that I can serve them right then and there. I also help to process donations, so I input gifts in our donor database and issue receipts for those gifts. When Harvest USA staff are getting ready to teach at an event or exhibit at a conference, I prepare and ship the materials they might need. I’ve also had the opportunity to exhibit for Harvest at various events, and that was a lot of fun!
How did you get to Harvest USA? I started working at Harvest USA about seven years ago, after a former Harvest USA staff member, who attended my church, offered me the administrative assistant position.
What is your favorite Scripture? The whole of Psalm 119. I love the way that the psalmist holds onto the Word of God through all the circumstances of his life: the joys, the pains, and the falls that he experiences. In every situation, he lifts up the Word and centers his very soul on it. This psalm gives such a resounding reminder that, day by day, we are to connect to his Word, to delight in it, and to meditate on it, for, when we do this, we are really delighting in and worshipping God, who is the Word!
What do you appreciate most about your local church? Ten years ago, when I began attending my church, the things that stood out to me most were the authentic love and fellowship of the folks there. This made me say, “Yes! I want to be a part of this church!”
What is your favorite thing about living in Philadelphia? Now, this will probably sound a little out of the ordinary, but one of the things that I love about Philadelphia is the bus system here. It is so easy to get around to various parts of the city by bus. I found out many years ago that not every city has this, so I have learned to really appreciate it. In addition, as a youth with no car, it was the bus system that taught me how to get around Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs. Now, I am “that guy” whom my friends call when they need to catch a bus to get somewhere, and I don’t mind at all because I like helping!
Can you tell us an interesting fact about yourself? Here is an interesting fact that most people outside of my family do not know: I wanted and studied to be a comic book artist. I grew up drawing, and, at the age of 15, I decided that this was the profession for me, so I started creating my own stories and illustrating them. When I was 20, I went to a vocational-technical school for cartooning, and later I even met and befriended some people who were well-established comic book artists for both DC and Marvel. Since I’m at Harvest now, I would say that the Lord had another good calling in mind for me!
Join Shalee as she talks about commonly deferred hopes, dreams, and expectations; the painful feelings that accompany these unfulfilled longings; a biblical way of hoping well; and how God sees our pain and wants us to come to him.
01 Jul 2021
Do the Ten Commandments intimidate you? I grew up hearing about them, and every so often they came up in the church services I attended. What were they anyway: Ten things that get us in trouble? Ten ways to keep people from enjoying life?
As I’ve grown in the Lord and studied the Scriptures, I’ve realized that these commands are God’s way of loving us by putting guardrails around our desires, thoughts, and behaviors. When God commands one thing, he is at the same time protecting us from what disobedience to that command brings.
The First Commandment: Keep God as our hearts’ priority
In my fourteen years of ministry at Harvest USA, I have probably discipled women with the First Commandment more prominently in view than any other. Women whose marriages have been devastated by a spouse’s sexual sin, or those who are battling to overcome pornography, emotionally entangled relationships with other women, sexual fantasies, and promiscuity, have all been helped by honest conversation about the First Commandment. It says, “And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me’” (Exodus 20:1–3).
In other words, God loves us too much to allow other things to displace him in our desires, priorities, and hopes. When he is in his rightful place as loving Lord, Savior, and healer of our hearts, our relationships with people and our sex lives are protected.
Elevating people over God never ends well
Women and men alike wrestle with turning to created things, including God’s sweet gifts of people and the blessing of sexual joy, over relationship with him. Whether you call it codependency or idolatry of people, the heart’s motivation is the same: You need to make me feel good about myself, and if you don’t, I’m sunk.
Have you ever thought or said something like the following?
- Why hasn’t he texted me today?! Is he spending time with someone else? Why wasn’t I invited? Am I being replaced?
- I love her so much—I need her! If this relationship ends, I don’t want to live anymore; life has no meaning without it.
- You make my day, and you have the power to break my day. My heart, stability, and sense of being valuable and lovable rise and fall with how much attention you give me. You are me, and I am you. Don’t leave me!
- I know I’m a bit over the top in how involved I am in my kids’ lives, but they need me—I’m their mother! If my marriage is suffering, so what? God gave me these children, and they are my reason for being alive. If they don’t need me, I won’t exist anymore.
- I just can’t understand why my marriage isn’t as satisfying as I thought it would be. I mean, isn’t it supposed to be the one relationship in my life that meets all my needs? Isn’t my spouse supposed to complete me?
It’s good to desire satisfying and loving relationships
God is the Creator of relationships, whether in the context of friendships, family, ministry, work, neighborhoods, and, of course, spiritual siblings in the Body of Christ. However, God never intended for us to turn other people into our primary refuge or home. God wants us to depend on him, to live under his authority and care, and to grow in satisfaction with his love for us. When we are secure in Christ, our love for the people in our lives can be healthy, holy, and honoring to God. But when love for Christ and obedience to him become secondary to our relationships or aren’t a part of them at all, friendships, romantic relationships, mentoring relationships, and family relationships can all slide into idolatry.
According to the Bible, whenever something or someone sidelines God from our thoughts, desires, and focus, our lives have gotten off track. The toxic nature of these kinds of relationships can be difficult to diagnose because they can feel so intoxicating! The emotional buzz or euphoria that often accompanies intense conversations, physical affection, or someone’s adoration of us can be addictive. However, a dynamic of “I need your need of me, and you need my need of your neediness” is messy at best and destructive at worst. Instead of helping us to grow and flourish, sinful dynamics in our relationships imprison us.
I’ve had my share of relationships in which my love for and dependency upon God was displaced by my love for a person’s need of me or my role in that person’s life. I know what it’s like to be anxious, fearful, jealous, and insecure when relational terrain suddenly changes, and you’re left feeling ousted, left behind, and brokenhearted. God has me on a trajectory of growing freedom from interpersonal patterns that were mired down for years in toxic, unholy dependency.
No matter where you are, God is compassionately aware of the circumstances you’re in and knows, really knows, what you are feeling. If you are in relational turmoil, are you willing to have the eyes of your heart and mind reoriented toward him? To gaze upon who he is and then begin to diagnose why there is toxicity in one or more of your relationships? To consider who Jesus is and then move toward humbly understanding that people will be in their rightful places in our lives when he is in his rightful place?
We need faith-fueled realism
You may struggle to believe that God can change your codependent patterns, and perhaps you don’t feel desirous of change. Are you, however, willing to ask God to work “in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13)? Your first step in pursuing spiritual growth is to believe God’s Word and to surrender control of your life to him.
Your next step is to have realistic expectations. Most of us want quick, pain-free solutions to our problems, and problematic relationships are no exception! But your desires, interpersonal patterns, and relationships won’t change overnight. Instead, repentance brings about directional change—a slow, steady upward trajectory of growth, transformation, and healthiness.
What might growth look like?
- Honestly examining your relationships and asking others to give you feedback on how they see it.
- Putting space between yourself and a person upon whom you are too dependent, especially if you’ve been involved with each other outside of marriage. If you are married and involved in an affair, this relationship needs to be severed immediately!
- Initiating time with a new friend or an acquaintance, which shows a growth in your willingness to engage with other people relationally.
- Engaging with a community of believers through a Christ-centered, biblically faithful local church. God’s people are your “household of faith” (Galatians 6:10), and local churches provide a unique opportunity to cultivate a variety of types and depths of healthy relationships.
- Reading God’s Word as a way to know him, love him, and cultivate your relationship with him.
- Longing for God more and more, loving him, and seeking him out as your primary relationship.
Jesus frees us from toxic relational dynamics
People problems have been around as long as people have existed outside the Garden of Eden! You’re not alone in this struggle. Many are familiar with the fear, anger, anxiety, discontentment, jealousy, and pain that come when others don’t seem to like, love, or respond to them in the way they desire—in the way they’re convinced they need. Women and men alike have experienced what it’s like to feel trapped, even imprisoned, in a relationship that is obsessive and consuming.
That’s why, of all the prayers and songs David uttered from his heart as a shepherd, king, military commander, sinner, and chosen one of God, the cry that resonates with me the most is, “Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name! The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me” (Psalm 142:7). God has indeed brought me out of relational prisons and allowed me to have healthy, Christ-honoring relationships in my life. Even though I am surrounded by the righteous, I’ll never outgrow the need for God to be my refuge, first love, and source of security—and neither will you!
This post is based on Ellen’s 31-day devotional book, Toxic Relationships: Taking Refuge in Christ.
17 Jun 2021
His response surprised even me. He had asked how many were in the group. “Six?!” he exclaimed, his eyes wide with shock and dismay. I was inviting him to join a group of men who met regularly to share fellowship in the gospel and encouragement in the same lifelong sexual sin struggle as he. I had been the first person with whom he had ever been so honest. But a group was, for now, still too much. He was not yet ready for even a few more to know him that well.
By inviting him to express himself with open humility before a larger number of men, I was gently coaxing him into fellowship in the light with God and others (1 John 1:5–7). Without such fellowship, there is no gospel joy, no gospel transformation; fear and shame are both jail and jailor—especially for those who struggle with sexual sins and temptations. Far too often, the message they have received is that they will be rejected if they let anyone know that they even struggle with such things. Many know this through cruel experience. So they remain in hiding and isolation. Sin and darkness reign and grow in that place.
This is why Harvest USA strives to create an environment that encourages people to come into the light, to speak the hardest truth about themselves, to speak in community about the temptations and sins that have dominated their lives. And we believe that many churches still need to be encouraged to grow in this. We urge community in which both truth and mercy are undiminished. I see many churches making progress in this direction.
And yet, we do not view this simplistically as a pendulum that needs to swing to the other side. Yes, the Church must continue to grow in being a place where sin struggles of all kinds can be discussed and met with gospel mercy, gospel challenge, and gospel hope, not disgust, disdain, and condemnation. But as we make this progress, we need to be alert to some pitfalls along the way. I will describe two.
- The pitfall of God-less authenticity
We live in a culture that prizes a sort of brazen authenticity that is only occasionally corralled by, “TMI!” Our culture’s love for authenticity is not exactly the same thing as the fellowship we aspire to. In fact, it is quite different. Put simply, in our culture’s practice of authenticity, God is not in the audience. Our culture presupposes the non-existence of God. In this context, authenticity flows from the individual’s need to create meaning from within herself. Without a transcendent standard, without God, authenticity is unmoored from accountability. There is no aspect of confession, no sin, only honesty and freedom of expression.
We must resist this God-less authenticity. First, because its presupposition is false; God does exist, and we are accountable to him. But also, because the gospel—the good news—is that our accountability to God need not lead to condemnation. There is grace, redemption, and hope in Christ. It is largely because our world either does not know or does not believe this that it seeks an authenticity based on denying God’s existence.
- The pitfalls of “identifying”
In our culture, “identification” has become a common tool in the service of authenticity. So, for example, someone might “identify” as gay or some other subset of LGBTQ+. The idea is tricky to describe and evaluate, but some precision and clarity is necessary. Here is the relevant dictionary definition¹:
identify as: Assign (a particular characteristic or categorization) to oneself; describe oneself as belonging to (a particular category or group)
As defined here, especially in the first sense of assigning a characteristic to oneself, this is fairly common. Grammatically, it involves connecting a predicate adjective or a predicate nominative to ourselves—“I am blonde,” “I am a conservative,” “I am male.” But not every instance of saying something about self is “identifying as.” The second part of the definition adds the sense of placing ourselves in a category, class, or group. The idea of “identification” comes with pitfalls in two directions—one to the left and the other to the right, we might say.
Pitfall #1: Communicating the unstated assumptions of identity politics
It is the second part of the definition, placing oneself in a category or group, that has come to be used in what some call “identity politics.” Used in this way, identifying with a particular group generally implies a whole set of other unstated assertions about that group. Let me suggest a few of the unstated connections that often are implied in such identification:
a. This use of identity is generally claimed on the basis of a trait that is assumed to be indelible.
b. The connection of the group is not merely by commonness of trait but, rather, forms a distinct community with mutual belonging and purpose.
c. The group or class identified by that trait is assumed to have been subject to systematic persecution or oppression.
d. Therefore, as a corrective of c., both the trait and the community identified by it are to be affirmed and celebrated.
e. Lastly, a point which seems to go with the cumulative combining of the previous four: When identification is done in this “identity politics” way, it often represents a level of personal meaning and significance that places it at the core of the sense of self.
Perhaps you can already see how some of these, or perhaps all of them, would be a problem for a Christian if the trait that was the basis of the identification was a sinful condition. Viewing the trait as indelible conflicts with the gospel promise of ultimate glorification and current progressive transformation. A sense of mutual belonging and purpose with a distinct community might, if carefully defined and limited, be seen as a mission-field connection. But it is just as easy to imagine it becoming an alternative and competitor to the Church. As to points c. and d., while godly compassion will always seek to come near to suffering with healing and justice, it cannot do so by affirming or celebrating sin. Finally, no identification with any trait or with any category or group should compete with the gospel reality of what we are in Christ, variously described in the Scriptures.
These unstated implications of identification, as used in identity politics, are the reason why we at Harvest USA have preferred the term “same-sex attraction (SSA)” over terms like “gay” or “lesbian.” You’ll notice that there is no “S” in “LGBTQIA+.” The goal is not to have a different way to say the same thing; it is to avoid the pitfall of communicating those problematic assumptions listed above while encouraging unhindered openness and fellowship in the Lord.
However, this brings us back to the concern I started with, and the other pitfall…
Pitfall #2: Reacting against any language that sounds like identification in such a way that people are driven back into silence and isolation
Focusing so strongly on the issue of identification can inadvertently communicate that honest description of sin struggles is unsafe. Rather than the mercy of the gospel gently inviting self-disclosure and confession, a culture of shame and stigma encourages everyone to “play the game,” look good, and make sure nobody finds out what the real battle is in our hearts and minds. In order to love those who are struggling to come into the light, we may need to be less concerned with the terms used and more concerned with their hearts. That may require us to forego a discussion of terms of identity and the wisdom of using particular language, and instead prioritize discipleship in the gospel truths that counter all of the false implications that may be attached to their current vocabulary.
Also, we should keep in mind that outside of the world of identity politics, it is quite normal to “identify as,”—to assign a particular categorization to oneself or describe oneself as belonging to a certain category or group—while neither intending nor being heard to mean any of the unstated assertions listed above. It is even possible, if wisely subsumed in a gospel context, to do this with a sinful category. For instance, Paul can write, “The saying is trustworthy, and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). He is displaying an extraordinary humility of self-expression, identifying not merely as “sinner” but, in the older versions, “chief of sinners.” And he encourages others to do the same. But Paul communicates none of the erroneous implications listed above. His freedom to identify as a sinner is firmly set in the context of redemption. His identification as chief of sinners does not share the same place in either his argument or his sense of self as does his identification as “an apostle of Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:1). No one reading Paul in context would think otherwise. His use of identity language here is subsumed under and serves the gospel: “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [of sinners], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). Paul carefully and wisely uses language in a way that does not encourage people to remain in sin and darkness, but draws them from it to the mercy of Christ. Indeed, it would seem healthy for all of us to stand before the Lord and declare who we are apart from him, that he may declare to us who we are now in him.
Let us pray and strive for wisdom and humility as we call people out of darkness into fellowship in the light and into an identity in Christ which is eternal.
¹“identify.” Oxford’s Lexico.com. 2021. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/identify (8 June 2021).
In this new video, John Freeman shares a ministry update and an invitation to partner with us. As we approach the June 30 deadline of our fiscal year-end campaign, we need your help to meet our $250,000 goal. Would you prayerfully consider supporting Harvest USA with a gift of $100 or more today?
03 Jun 2021
Name: Mark Sanders
Position: Director of Discipleship
Hometown: Willow Grove, Pennsylvania
Describe your work at Harvest USA.
As the Director of Discipleship at our main office in Dresher, PA, I oversee the Men’s, Women’s, and Parents and Family Ministries, but the majority of my work is focused on the Men’s Ministry. I am in charge of shaping and directing what we offer to men who come to us for help with a variety sexual struggles. I also recruit, train, and provide support for interns and volunteers who serve in our biblical support groups. While I provide a large amount of oversight, I spend a fair amount of time doing individual discipleship and facilitating our in-house biblical support groups each week. Alongside of my responsibilities in our direct ministry, I am also a part of our equipping team at Harvest USA. In seeking to equip the Church to faithfully disciple her members in matters of sexuality, I am involved in resource development, teaching and training events, and writing articles for our blogs and magazines. Lastly, I also film, edit, and produce the majority of our video content at Harvest USA, including our 15-lesson Sunday school DVD series, God’s Design for Sexually in a Changing Culture.
How did you get to Harvest?
Like most people involved in ministries like Harvest USA, my heart longs to see men experience deep repentance, transformation, healing, and change in the area of sexual brokenness because this is my own story. My generation was the first to grow up with entire adult bookstores readily available within the confines of your own bedroom. I spent many years, first as a Christian adolescent and then as a young adult, fighting and wrestling to break free of the chains of sexual sin. Through the ordinary means of grace that God provides for his people, the Holy Spirit did a decisive and powerful work of redemption in my life, and, as I considered potential vocational ministry, Harvest USA was always in the back of my mind as one way that God could turn for good what Satan and my own heart meant for evil. While going through my counseling degree at Westminster Theological Seminary, I had the privilege of volunteering and interning with both Harvest USA and CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation). My internship with Harvest was both challenging and rewarding, and it eventually led to me joining the staff in June of 2015.
What is your favorite Scripture?
As my colleague, Jim, has said, different seasons tend to highlight different Scriptures. Right now, I continue to come back to Colossians 3:1–4 for a few reasons.
First, my counseling degree at Westminster Theological Seminary whetted my appetite to go further into the insights of my school’s theological forerunners. In particular, the writings of Geerhardus Vos as expounded on by Richard Gaffin have deeply shaped me. Gaffin’s work on union with Christ and his explanation of the centrality of the resurrection in the writings of Paul have greatly enriched my understanding of the gospel and salvation. Colossians 3 and Romans 6 have become so important to me when I think about the practical implications of being presently raised with Christ.
Second, this passage has given me great comfort as I watch my mother’s decline with late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Apart from occasional smiles, precious-but-momentary eye contact, and squeezing my hand, my mother has lost virtually all of her ability to communicate with us. I have so many difficult questions about her experience, with few answers, but what God has made clear to me is that my mother’s life is “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). This idea of hiding has so many precious implications for my mom. First, who she truly is in Christ is hidden from us right now. We don’t yet see her in her glorified state, but, in Christ, she has already been raised with and united to the firstfruits of one resurrection harvest. Second, being hidden with Christ means that she is safe in his arms. Nothing, not even Alzheimer’s disease can steal her away from her permanent home in the heavenly places. Third, Christ hides what is most precious to him. There is not one second of my mother’s suffering when Christ is not actively caring for her and providing for all of her needs.
To end this brief reflection, verse 4 is incredibly hope-giving. Right now, my mother is not who she once was. She used to be strong, filled with life and vigor. Her laugh lit up a room. Now, looking at her, it is impossible to escape the ravages of the curse that mark her present experience. But as this disease slowly steals every earthly thing from her, even her life one day, I am reminded that, ultimately, Christ is her life. In almost every chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus says that he is our life. My mom’s entire life is wrapped up in Christ. Her hope is fully tethered to him and him alone. One day, not only will I see her as she was before Alzheimer’s, but I will also see her as she will be when Christ appears in glory. It will be the extreme opposite of her current state. She will be radiant, glorious, and fully fit for eternal communion with our triune God.
What is your favorite thing about living in Philadelphia?
For anyone who is local, it’s important that I clarify that I don’t live in Philadelphia proper, but in Montgomery County, which is part of the greater metropolitan area. It’s hard to have an objective perspective because I’ve spent the majority of my life here. Philly is home. Most people I know and love live here. And while I must admit I’d rather live in a state with more natural wonder and beauty, I think this is wonderful area to live in. There is so much diversity in Philadelphia, and, as a self-proclaimed foodie, I have much of the best cuisine from around the world within driving distance of my home. Lastly, growing up in Philly afforded me the privilege of not having to move away in order to attend seminary.
What is an interesting fact about yourself?
I lived in South Korea from 2007–2012. It was in Korea where God did some deep spiritual work in my heart, and he gave me a wealth of opportunities to share the gospel. I met my wife there and still have my in-laws and many friends there whom we love going to visit on a biennial basis. Before working at Harvest USA, I had a vision in seminary of doing similar work in South Korea. South Korea is like my second home, and my wife and I are fairly content not seeing much of the world as long as we can make frequent trips back to Korea! I’ve grown to feel strangely comforted every time we get on a plane and hear the captain speaking in Korean. It’s like I’m going back home. While the Lord clearly has called us to Philadelphia for this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually flew a U-Haul back to Korea one day.
27 May 2021
Do you enjoy or despise it when someone asks you, “Is there anything I can do for you?” This question might be a kind gesture that makes you feel seen and provides just the care you need. Or maybe you find this question difficult to answer. Not only can it be challenging to receive help, but pinpointing specific needs can also feel impossible as we struggle to articulate what we may have kept hidden in our hearts.
Not so with a man named Bartimaeus! This blind, marginalized man responded succinctly and immediately when Jesus asked him straightforwardly, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight” (Mark 10:51).
Friend, how would you answer Jesus’ question? Do you have secret sins that you dare not mention to Jesus because you fear his response? Maybe you wonder, “Can I actually talk to him about sexual addictions?” You may not be blind, but, like me, you have a lot more in common with Bartimaeus than you think, and that’s a good thing!
You can be boldly dependent
In Mark 10:46–52, we read about Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus. Apart from a miracle, there was no cure for his blindness; he would experience this ailment the rest of his life. One day, he was sitting on the side of the road when he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. In desperation, he began yelling and crying out for mercy. The people around him tried to quiet him; how dare a blind man interrupt Jesus, who was journeying towards his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1–11)? But Jesus heard Bartimaeus and stopped to ask him a pointed question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51).
Like Bartimaeus, the men and women who come to our ministry for help and hope deeply feel their weakness and utter desperation to change. Yet what we see in this story is that simply acknowledging his impediment wasn’t sufficient for him; he needed to boldly acknowledge it before Jesus (and others!) and ask for help, which is a good model for us. Can you imagine what Bartimaeus may have been thinking and feeling after he uttered the words, “Let me recover my sight!” He couldn’t see Jesus’ facial expression or tell if he was listening carefully, but he believed enough to cry out for help, boldly and with utter dependence. You can too!
What does bold dependence look like?
- Naming your neediness to God (1 Peter 5:7, Psalm 145:18, and Psalm 28:1–2).
- Asking him to help you and to give you courage to reach out to others (Psalm 121:2, Matthew 11:28–30, and Philippians 4:6–7).
- Looking and waiting for God’s help (Jeremiah 29:12–13, Hebrews 4:16, Psalm 27:13–14, and Proverbs 3:5–6).
Jesus responds to us with attentive compassion
In this passage, we see Jesus respond to Bartimaeus’ specific need. Jesus knew he was blind, and he knew that the man desired his sight. Yet Jesus stops, asks him what he wants Jesus to do for him, listens, commends his faith, and eventually heals him. Before Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?,” he needed to approach Jesus in his heart. Here’s the crazy thing: Bartimaeus’ dependency and blindness is what qualified him to approach Jesus! He needed help from the only One who could truly help him!
Dane Ortlund says in his book, Gentle and Lowly, “The minimum bar to be enfolded into the embrace of Jesus is simply: open yourself up to him. It is all he needs. Indeed, it is the only thing he works with. Verse 28 of the passage in Matthew 11 tells us explicitly who qualifies for fellowship with Jesus: ‘all who labor and are heavy laden.’ You don’t need to unburden or collect yourself and then come to Jesus. Your very burden is what qualifies you to come.”¹
Not long ago, a friend of mine asked what I wanted Jesus to do for me. I struggled to answer. What am I allowed to say? The thing that scared me the most about answering this is that to be honest is to be vulnerable. If I bared my heart before Jesus in such an honest way, how would he look at me? How would he respond? Would he hurt me or be disappointed in me like others were when I was vulnerable with them? Would this be the one time that he withheld grace or forgiveness?
To answer honestly would mean an additional layer of trust and surrender to him, which is why I think Jesus asks the question in the first place. Answering his question gives us an opportunity to express our trust in him. I see this same tension in some of the women who come to our ministry. In the midst of wrestling with sexual sin, they can be tempted to believe that what they’re going through is where Jesus draws the line. Strugglers can believe that his compassionate care, his tenderness, his forgiveness applies to everyone else—but not you and not what you’re going through. But, like Bartimaeus, our specific heartaches and struggles are the very things that qualify us to go to the One who can help. His attentive compassion awaits us.
Steps to help you engage conversation with Jesus
First, know that Jesus sees you and is inviting you to be honest with him in the same way that he addressed Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:50). Would your answer to Jesus solely focus on healing you from your sexual sin? Healing from porn addiction, attraction to the same sex, etc.? What can or should we ask for?
Consider asking God for grace (2 Corinthians 12:9–10), for comfort amidst the pain of ongoing struggle (2 Corinthians 1:3–4), that you would know him more amidst trials (John 17:3), for healing for your broken heart (Psalm 147:3), and to feel his nearness (Psalm 34:18).
God uses suffering as an opportunity to know him more, so instead of praying solely for the pain to go away, how might you pray for more of him amidst it? Here are some ideas:
- Walk towards Jesus. Bartimaeus “sprang up” and came to Jesus (Mark 10:50). He didn’t cry out for help and then sit back, hoping Jesus would find him. Despite not being able to see Jesus, simply knowing he was there was enough to make Bartimaeus reach out to him. We too can do this by going to Jesus rather than walking away to false comforts, distractions, or pulling away in isolation.
- Start with honesty. Tell him your pain, struggle, and shame. Try to put words on it. I mean really tell him. This might be messy and full of tears or feel like emotional turmoil; it probably won’t feel neat, tidy, and emotionally composed. We are complex beings, so when our emotions get stirred, we need to keep intentionally bringing these things to the Lord. Jesus is a Shepherd who also shepherds us through our emotions. You know what? It is okay if you go to Jesus, and you can only muster up “I don’t know” in answer to his question.
- Are your thoughts all that you’re listening to? Sometimes our shame and pain can drown out what God is trying to share with us. Answering Jesus’ question is only a part of his interaction with us. After Bartimaeus told Jesus what he wanted him to do, Jesus spoke back to him (Mark 10:52). His Word and his Holy Spirit also speak promises and comfort to us, but we live in a noisy world, and our own thoughts usually have a lot to say. Silence can feel awkward or even painfully loud. Listening is a skill that often requires practice, so consider how you can pursue quiet, slow down, and simply listen. Are you leaving space to pause and listen?
The physical healings we observe Jesus doing in the gospels reveal his power and the in-breaking of his reign as Savior. Can Jesus simply take away and heal your struggles? Yes, he could, but it seems that God more often leads his children through a process of transformation that draws us closer to him, and not only to answers. He longs for our full restoration, yet is just as passionate about having a close relationship with you.
Think about that! Your sexual and relational sins are serious, and God does want them to be repented of through changed behavior. Yet, more than that, he wants your heart changed through faith, dependent upon him, especially when temptations remain or growth is slow. He is not withholding anything from you and will not withdraw from you either!
Which of the above seem to be the most necessary step for you to take? Are you sitting on the road like Bartimaeus, needing to cry out for help with bold dependence? Have you heard Jesus’ call to come near to him, to leave where you are and ask for help? Have you been praying, seeking to grow, and yet change is slow? Jesus not only knows what you need to do next but is also with you as you take that step. Don’t give up; follow the example of a blind beggar who got up, approached Jesus, and followed him on his way.
¹ Dane Ortlund. Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. Wheaton: IL, Crossway, 2020. 20.
In any family, conflicts between parents and their children are to be expected. Especially as a child grows into adulthood, it is only natural for them to develop their own unique beliefs, values, and worldviews that may differ from those of their parents. Although parents can invest all the time and energy in the world into instilling biblical values into their children, they have little control in determining who their children will become. I can still remember the feeling of unease when my dad was preparing to lecture my brothers and me after we had done something foolish. Of course, I already knew everything my dad was going to say, so it registered about as well as Charlie Brown’s teacher saying, “Wah, wah, wah.” (Little did I know I would be here sitting in my mid-30’s reflecting on how true my dad’s words were in those lectures!)
When a child adopts values and beliefs that go against the teachings of Scripture, Christian parents find this extremely challenging, resulting in tension, arguments, and conflict. Perhaps there isn’t a clearer place this can be seen today than in Christian families with an LGBTQ+-identified child. The child’s worldviews, adopted from the LGBTQ+ community that contrast directly with biblical worldviews, often result in tremendous turmoil among family members.
Let’s consider just a few of the arguments and presuppositions of the LGBTQ+ community that conflict with a biblical worldview.
- “My experience of sexuality and gender is the truth I must follow and the authority by which I come to understand myself,” versus, “God’s Word is the ultimate authority that informs how I understand myself and my experiences, including matters of sexuality and gender.”
- “My sexual or gender identity defines who I am; therefore, it should be celebrated and embraced as good,” versus, “Sexual or gender struggles are a result of my broken condition as a sinner. Although my desires may feel natural and right, they must not be gratified or embraced as good if they contradict the Word of God.”
- “To disagree with my sexual or gender identity is to speak against me as a person and therefore is both unloving and an attack on my psychological wellbeing,” versus, “God’s love accepts me as I am, yet works to conform me to his holy character, so that I might be free from the bonds of sin and alive in righteousness.”
Do any of these conflicting values and beliefs resonate with what you have experienced between you and your child? Perhaps you can identify others that lie underneath the disagreements and tension.
Consider the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:3–5: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Paul defines these arguments and opinions that rise against the knowledge of God as spiritual strongholds. These strongholds include false beliefs, thoughts, arguments, and reasoning that stand in opposition to the truth of Scripture. Individuals who embrace them will be bound by them and, in turn, will be unable to see God or themselves rightly. The fruit of this bondage manifests itself in a person’s behavior.
Paul is giving us insight into where the real battlefield is: the spiritual realities at work in your son or daughter’s heart. Your child’s underlying beliefs that stand in opposition to the truth of God’s Word become a stronghold that can be seen in the fruit of their actions and words. Paul’s reminder to the church of Corinth is the same reminder we need today: Our struggle is not against flesh and blood!
Not against flesh and blood
We are often far too shortsighted when it comes to doing battle against the issues we see in our children. Typically, parents try everything in their own power to address the behaviors they see. This might look like wanting to talk sense into their child, giving them articles or books to read, rebuking or disciplining them, and trying to convince them of their error. Although these strategies may have their place, they are often a means of doing battle with ”flesh and blood” and are misguided in addressing the real powers at work. Paul’s words remind you that your aim must be set at doing battle against the spiritual strongholds that undergird your child’s beliefs. It can be helpful to consider where the bulk of your efforts and energy is directed to. Are you waging war according to the flesh or by the Spirit of God against the spiritual strongholds that exist?
Weapons of our warfare
Parents who belong to Christ possess great power to do battle for their children. In fact, according to this passage, you have divine power to do battle against the strongholds that exist in your child! This is true because of the One who is in you, as 1 John 1:4 says: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Because of the victory Christ has over sin and death, you can have confidence that battling for your child is not in vain. But how do you do this?
God gives us divine power through the spiritual weapons available to us in Christ. These weapons, as Paul lays out in Ephesians 6:10–18, consist of the shield of faith, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the shoes fitted with the readiness given by the gospel of peace. When parents suit themselves up with the armor of God and remember to pray on all occasions, they are most prepared to battle effectively for their children. Here are a few closing questions for you to consider as you examine the weapons of your warfare.
- Do you pray truth over your child more than you speak it to them? Speaking truth has had an important place in your role as parent through the years. But if you still are acting as if your own words, or even your persistently repeated biblical words, are the primary weapon that will reach the strongholds, you are mistaken. The more you recognize that the battle belongs to the Lord, the more your prayers to him will outnumber and outweigh your own words to your child.
- Does the truth of Christ guard your heart from despair and hopelessness for your child? Despair and hopelessness are bad fruits that can indicate a reliance on your own strength and effort, which simply cannot win and so can only lead to despair.
- Are you concerned with your own personal growth in righteousness, even as it pertains to how you relate to your wayward child? The true battle of prayer always brings us, ourselves, to transforming relationship with Jesus. As James says, “the prayer of a righteous person has great power” (James 5:16).
- Do your words and actions toward your child reflect the demeanor of one who is controlled by the peace of God? If you are not resting in the power of God alone, it will show in fruit like frustration, anger, manipulation, or a tendency to take over and make things happen the way you want them to.
- How might you grow in discerning when you are waging war according to your flesh? According to the power of the Holy Spirit in you?
May you remember that your struggle with your son or daughter is not against flesh and blood, and that God has given you divine power to combat the spiritual strongholds that grip your child’s heart and mind.
13 May 2021
Join Ellen and Shalee as they discuss Ellen’s new 31-day devotional, Toxic Relationships: Taking Refuge in Christ.
Ellen unpacks the phrase “toxic relationship”, defines the term “codependency”, explains how you can identify a broken relationship, and shares her hopes for this new resource.
If you find yourself in a toxic relationship, take heart. There is hope for change. Transformation and healing is possible through the person of Jesus Christ.
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