In 1987 I was serving as minister of a Presbyterian church in Dunblane, Scotland. The country had been my home since 1972. One evening the news reported the emergence of a new and fatal disease in the United States that was affecting primarily gay men. Accompanying the reportage was a clip from a televised sermon in which the preacher affirmed that this illness was a judgment from God on gays. The manner of delivery was harsh and hateful, and I remember thinking this was not necessarily the best response of the Evangelical Church to an emerging problem.
Sometime later, while reading the Scriptures, the words “you will work with AIDS patients” came to mind. The impression was so strong and overwhelming, I actually said aloud, “No!” What followed was a remarkable series of coordinated events that made it abundantly clear that the words I heard in my mind were a call from God.
Sometime after the strong sense of call I experienced to work with AIDS patients, I was at a minister’s conference in London. In the course of a conversation with another pastor, he suddenly said that I should be working with AIDS patients. Another man who had just come back from America said he had recently worshiped at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, and at the morning service, an announcement was made about a collection being taken to start an outreach in the city to minister to those with AIDS. Shortly after this, I was invited to the Shetland Islands to address a medical conference on the subject of terminal care. As part of my research connected to this talk, I wrote to Tenth Presbyterian Church to find out what they were doing regarding the AIDS crisis. Sometime later, John Freeman answered and told me about the project. That began the process which ended in an invitation to return to the United States.
Harvest USA, in conjunction with Tenth, had gathered enough money to begin an outreach to people with AIDS in the Philadelphia area. There was funding for one year, but still it was unimaginably difficult to take my wife and family away from all that was dear to us in Scotland.
The beginning of what became known as Hope was extremely difficult. The gay community did not welcome the involvement of Christians in what was regarded as their issue, and we had to endure a measure of protest and hateful behaviors that were distressing and discouraging.
Everyone we served knew us as a Christian ministry, but the point of contact was not evangelism or Bible study; it was the illness.
At the time Hope began its work, the gay community was deeply committed to serving its dying members. When word of Hope’s existence spread, there was concern regarding the presence of Christians in this field. On one occasion a protest was staged outside the offices of Tenth Presbyterian Church. I was not present at that time, and the situation was defused by a pastoral staff person. But angry activists continued spreading the word to beware of anyone from Hope visiting sick patients. Occasionally our paths would cross in hospital rooms of individuals who had asked me to visit, and it was difficult to endure snide remarks and hostile looks. Eventually, however, through our relationship with a patient from Tenth, the secular AIDS agencies were told about the good work being done, and the hostility evaporated.
From then on, for the next fourteen years, with no advertising or programmatic plans, Hope ministered to a wide variety of men, women, and children affected by a disease that at that time killed most of them. Everyone we served knew us as a Christian ministry, but the point of contact was not evangelism or Bible study; it was the illness. The initial question we asked was, “What would you like us to do for you in this situation?” In retrospect, we saw over and over that what most wanted was companionship shaped by the changing circumstances of their lives.
And that is what we did, particularly with those who were dying. Each individual case was different. Some needed nursing care, especially at night. Others wanted a listening ear or someone to coordinate with other AIDS agencies. In essence, we were a ministry which offered friendship to those who wanted it. The degree of intimacy and demands of these friendships varied widely but, in some cases, carried us right to our friends’ deathbeds, gravesides, and beyond.
Not a few of our patients came from Christian homes and experience, and sometimes AIDS proved to be God’s way of bringing them back to the faith of their youth.
To form relationships with the dying is both intense and emotionally stressful. With AIDS, it was particularly difficult at the beginning. Concerns about casual transmission meant visiting patients in the hospital wearing protective clothing, which added to the fear and anxiety. Eventually, though, as the disease became better understood, the difficulties for staff and volunteers centered on the distress associated with walking patients through the dying process.
And staying with the dying until the very end was never easy. Sometimes at the end, it was only immediate family members and Hope workers who were there to deal with the messiness of dying and all that follows. Given that some of our patients were from difficult and impoverished backgrounds, it was only the strongest of our volunteers who remained after working with someone who died. Looking back, I see that only God’s grace allowed us to do what we did for fourteen years. But the lessons learned, and occasionally the intimacy of relationship allowed with some individuals, were precious gifts for which we will always be grateful.
What did we learn during those fourteen excruciatingly difficult years? First, that the Church and Christian ministries can and must serve their own, even when sinful choices and destructive behaviors have left them bereft and needy. Not a few of our patients came from Christian homes and experience, and sometimes AIDS proved to be God’s way of bringing them back to the faith of their youth.
Secondly, Christians need never be afraid of engaging creatively with non-Christians in their time of trouble. Our volunteers, staff, and I often had access to situations and places where normally no Christians were welcome, nor our message believed. But as Ambassadors of Christ, we were allowed the privilege of representing him as best we could.
Did we help? Did we have an impact? We are never the best judges of the effectiveness or ultimate meaning of our service. We must simply follow where God leads, through good report and bad, trusting him to use what He chooses for His glory. As one of our volunteers said after the death of a particularly difficult and angry patient, “Even changing diapers is a sacred act.”
And that was Hope. When it became clear at the beginning of the 21st century that AIDS was now a chronic and manageable illness, I realized the reason God called me to work with AIDS patients was over. We closed our doors in 2002. Often we feel Christian work in which we are heavily invested must perpetuate itself, but the Lord may well have other plans. Now, many years later, I look back on Hope’s ministry with gratitude. All but a few of the Christians and non-Christians we served are gone, but their faces, stories, and the lessons learned are ineradicable. The world in which AIDS was the crisis of the moment has changed dramatically, and new issues have taken over the headlines. But the needs of sinful men and women are the same, the Gospel has not lost its ancient power, and Jesus still tells His people to go into that world as His ambassadors.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of harvestusa magazine. You can read the entire issue in digital form here.
01 Aug 2019
Harvest USA is committed to helping churches disciple men and women dealing with life-dominating sexual struggles and sin. Theo and Brittany, who now run a ministry out of their church, one that Harvest USA helped start, give testimony to the power of the Body of Christ in shaping faith and lives.
Theo: It started in college during freshman orientation. Brittany and I met during a pivotal season in our lives. Brittany’s mom had passed away that fall, and I was facing the reality that I struggled with same-sex attraction. When we met, we sensed that there was a connection, but thought we would just be friends forever—nothing more. We clung to each other that first semester, becoming fast friends—sharing our backgrounds, secrets, wishes, and dreams. Brittany provided comfort to me in a time I needed it.
Brittany: Throughout most of college, Theo and I went our separate ways. I buried myself in my schoolwork. I was an art major, and it was demanding enough to justify escaping from my grief. Losing my mom was something I ran from, and college came at the perfect time. Theo dove head first into the athlete world—morning weights, long practices, and parties all week.
Theo: When we graduated, we both moved to Charlotte, NC. Over the next year, we both hit rock bottom. Brittany was in a godless relationship, making poor decisions, and planning a future that didn’t fit with what she believed. I was drowning myself in the party scene, looking for validation, acceptance, and whatever made me feel “masculine.” I was desperate to escape my developing attraction to other men, sporadically giving into these desires.
Brittany: I just signed a lease with my boyfriend to move into an apartment the following weekend. My mom’s best friend lived in Charlotte and was like a second mother to me. She got wind of my plans and confronted me in a way no one else could. She spoke as a mother, a friend, and a believer in Christ. Her boldness gave me the courage to take my first step in trusting the Lord, deciding to not live with my boyfriend. Throughout the next year, with the help of my new small group leaders at church, I felt convicted to walk away from this relationship. I saw the contrast in who God was asking me to be and who I had become.
I didn’t know a soul at the church, but within a year, some of these guys became my first genuine, healthy male friendships.
Theo: The Lord intervened in my life by watching Brittany and her involvement in church. I saw her trusting the Lord. I felt a pull to the church—like it could be an answer to my struggle with sexual sin. The only Christian I knew in Charlotte was Brittany, so I reached out to her to ask about finding a small group.
She pointed me to a men’s group. I didn’t know a soul at the church, but within a year, some of these guys became my first genuine, healthy male friendships. Later that year, we went on a retreat. A friend asked some hard questions that enabled me to share my struggles with same-sex attraction, as well as my patterns of pornography and hook-ups associated with these sinful desires. That weekend, I felt the Holy Spirit push me to tell the other guys on the retreat. This was my first act of obedience and was the start of my healing.
Following the retreat, the guys in the group pursued me, asking questions and praying for me. It was the first time that I truly felt like I had a church family who was not afraid to enter the mess of my life and help me out of it, pointing me to Christ. The pastor of our community regularly met with me—he never made me feel ashamed but encouraged me and prayed for me. Coming into the light was critical for my walk with God to grow.
It was the first time that I truly felt like I had a church family who was not afraid to enter the mess of my life and help me out of it, pointing me to Christ.
Brittany: My friendship with Theo grew stronger and more intimate. We shared our discovery of God and our excitement for the church. People told us frequently that we would be good together, but we were just friends. Best friends. I heard the expression once, “As you run the race toward heaven and continue to pursue holiness in the Lord, look to your left and right and see who is running beside of you.” We were always beside each other, finding new ways to get involved, to serve, to gather our community. Eventually, Theo started to see as more than friends, but I was oblivious. Yet my love for him was growing.
Theo: When I realized I wanted to pursue Brittany as more than a friend, I was terrified of her rejection. After all, what woman would marry a man who admits to having an attraction to other men? It felt like a disease—and I wasn’t “healed” yet. I finally told her about the work God had been doing in my life. I confessed my sexual sin to her. Brittany told me later that this was the moment she fell in love with me. Six months later, we started dating, and soon after, we would be two of the grass-root leaders of the Set Free Ministry at our church, dedicated to walking alongside men and women who come out of the shadows of sexual sin in search of the healing power of the Gospel.
Set Free Ministry was launched with the help of Harvest USA in 2015 as a ministry of Christ Covenant Church in Charlotte, NC. The leadership team consists of ten leaders who shepherd men, women, wives, and parents of those who are struggling. Were it not for the men, women, and pastors who pursued us, two young wanderers, we may have never found the church, the Lord, or each other. Our God orchestrates his timing over everything, and it’s always perfect. Praise the Lord for his handiwork and the, sometimes messy, pursuit of his children!
This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of harvestusa magazine. You can read the entire issue in digital form here.
31 Jan 2019
Parenting is one of life’s greatest joys—and greatest challenges! One of the more daunting challenges that parents face is, “How am I going to talk to my children about the birds and the bees? Where do I start? What do I say? What age is the best? Do I really have to do this?”
For most parents getting started is the hardest part of talking to their children about sex. Why is that? FEAR. Fear of where these conversations will go, fear of the inability to answer their questions or fear of doing it poorly. I get that! I had to face my own fears, as well as the fear of the unknown because my parents had never approached this subject with me.
If you are a parent paralyzed by fear, not wanting to talk to your children about sex, let me have your attention for just a moment. Let me give you four ways of thinking about this intimidating subject so that you can, with God’s help, overcome your fears and do what God calls us to do as parents: raise our children in the Lord so that they might follow his ways when they become adults and spouses.
One, let me ask you to consider the phrase, “Pick Your Pain.”
All of us understand that these conversations are uncomfortable for most parents, but that pain pales in comparison with the pains that can come from a family where these conversations never happen. Children are then left to other outside influences and these days that can be quite perilous. If your fear feels overwhelming, let me urge you not to sit with that pain alone. Ask friends and other parents for help and prayer. Look for resources like the material I have developed.
Two, start the conversations early.
I have developed a different strategy that I have been teaching parents for years. I encourage parents to start at a much earlier age with much more simple conversations, not just one talk. When this happens, parents are given the power of the first impression and are better equipped to be the loving authority on this subject for their children.
Topics that are left OUT of conversations at home are left UP to others. Where there is a void of influence at home, it will be taken up by the culture at large.
Parents can overcome their fears once they know how simple some of these conversations can be. The beauty of God’s design is a great place to begin, making simple observations to our children about seeds and eggs, simple yet factual explanations of birth and conception. In fact, in our family, Dave and I usually started every answer to their curious questions with the phrase, “By God’s design…” And that got us started in the right direction.
Traditionally, parents wait for the pre-teen years to have THE TALK…but that is a completely outdated idea. When you think about it, having the most awkward conversation at the most awkward age is pretty much a recipe for disaster, so I understand the fears that surround that idea.
However, now some of you may fear that you have waited too long and now it’s too late. Fear not…it’s never too late. We suggest you get started right away, however, and begin with an explanation that this subject is now on the table. Yes, it will be tougher to do so if they are older, but use this opportunity to model repentance: ask for their forgiveness, and then follow through with the conversations that need to happen next, based on their ages and knowledge of what they already know. Remember, “Pick your pain” and embrace your role as their parent.
Remember, too, that this isn’t about you and your comfort level or your past, it’s about them and their future. You are not just shaping your child’s sexual values, you are casting a vision for someone’s future husband or wife.
What many parents have found successful is to begin a series of after-dinner walks. Talking about sex is best-done shoulder to shoulder and not eyeball-to-eyeball. Limiting your time is helpful, and taking a walk minimizes interruptions. Invite questions, and give plenty of grace. Don’t be afraid of the silent moments either. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’ll have to think about that and get back to you.”
Three, think like a sponge.
In my teaching to parents, I encourage them to think about a sponge being in the mind of their children. Let’s label that sponge “Curiosity about sexual things.” Children are born with this curiosity. “Where do babies come from? How is that baby getting out of mommy? Why do people kiss?”
We believe it’s best for parents to fill that sponge with the answers to those questions about sexuality because otherwise their children will absorb whatever they may pick up on the playground or the next click on the computer. I don’t say this to frighten parents but to open them up to the great opportunity that is before them. Before the hormones kick in, before the culture has its turn, you can have the power of the first impression.
You have the chance to fill the sponge, drop by drop, sprinkling small bits of information in everyday life! Let them absorb the facts and hear your values. Ask some curious questions yourself, “Why do you think God wanted two of every kind of animal on the ark?” If your child is older, raise a current topic about sexuality and ask “Why do you think people your age believe that?” Let them absorb the facts, engage in a conversation, and hear your values.
Who has the power to influence your children? According to research, that answer depends on the age of your child. From ages 0-7 parents have the strongest influence, from 7-11 teachers and coaches, and from 11-16 their peers. This makes sense because as their world widens, they are met with forces outside of the home that have new and different ideas that sometimes reinforce what was taught at home and sometimes challenge them.
Topics that are left OUT of conversations at home are left UP to others. Where there is a void of influence at home, it will be taken up by the culture at large.
Four, look to the future.
Remember, too, that this isn’t about you and your comfort level or your past, it’s about them and their future. You are not just shaping your child’s sexual values, you are casting a vision for someone’s future husband or wife. How exactly did God intend for us to understand sex? What words can we use to shape that vision correctly? How can we help our children to think biblically about sex?
Giving some thought to the answers to these questions can put us on the path to parenting our children purposefully on the subject of sex. No one does it perfectly—absolutely no one. So put the idea of perfection out of your mind. Instead of being paralyzed by fear, lean in to conversing with your kids as purposefully and as simply as possible.
This blog post also appears in our Fall 2018 harvestusa magazine, along with other articles for parents and families.
24 Jan 2019
Pornography is everywhere you look today. Between TV, movies, streaming videos and the internet, it’s become almost impossible not to find it. And the images are not just sexual (which can be detrimental to a young child); a great deal of sexuality on the internet combines sexuality with violence or sexuality and perversion. This stuff is shaping the minds of our children.
Nicholas talks about four major strategies to shepherd your child in their use of technology and gives some more helpful information on a topic that parents cannot ignore.
To learn more, read Nicholas’ blog: “4 Key Strategies for Parenting Children in Using Technology,” along with two other blogs for parents: “A Father’s Story: My Child Hooked on Porn,” and “6 Dangers to Teach Your Kids about Porn.”
With so much capturing our children’s attention—from smartphones to video games to social media—there are serious dangers they face in a world where problematic technology exists at their fingertips. The best solution is to jump in and manage all the technology that is used by everyone in the family. But for many parents, the mere thought of doing that brings up fear: fear of technological inadequacy and fear of World War III battles for control with their kids.
Sadly, tragically, the typical response most parents take is to ignore the threat and deny that their kids could look at porn: “Not my kids!” But such denial is leaving our kids defenseless, ushering them into a future of hidden sexual struggles, eroding faith, and relational brokenness. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Here are four key parenting strategies that, once started, can set your family on a path of not just sexual integrity, but honesty, transparency, and mutual dependency upon God and one another.
1: You need to talk about the good and the bad of technology.
Technology is not the villain here. But you need to think of it as a gateway; what are you going to allow through? What you allow through that gate will, if you open it enough, take up residence in the minds and hearts of your children.
You need to talk with them about both the upsides and the downsides of technology in a way that communicates respect for technology. You want them to understand what using technology can do for good, but also for evil. So you need to talk about the dark side of technology, about pornography and the worldview it teaches, and why you want to protect them from that. They need to understand that looking at pornography is much more than staring at naked bodies, it’s allowing in a corrupt and deviant worldview of sex and relationships that will erode the goodness of sex in the way that God has designed, and even, for some, entrap them in destructively addictive behavior.
2: You need to be their parent. Take charge.
You need to be their parent. You’re in charge of guiding them. You need to implement boundaries and controls over the family’s use of technology. That might not be popular, but it is absolutely necessary. Today, parents are fearful of, well, being parents. Parents have the right and the responsibility to oversee and inspect their kid’s devices and take them away if they misuse them. If you don’t, one day in the future their employer will when they misuse technology at their workplace.
This means using more technology to oversee how they are using their devices. I’m talking parental filters, accountability software, imposing time limits, and regularly checking in on what they are looking at. Do not see this as being an impossible task! It’s a bottom-line necessity. Letting them roam the internet without supervision is like dropping a young child off in a major city and letting them get home on their own. You just wouldn’t do that.
Be their parent first, before trying to be their friend. They will one day thank you for that.
3: You are not their Big Brother (or NSA).
But being their parent does not translate into a license to control them or deny them any privacy. You don’t want your oversight of their use of technology to be a Big Brother (or in current terms, an NSA—National Security Agency) experience. Supervising them is not secretly peering over their shoulder all the time.
Letting them roam the internet without supervision is like dropping a young child off in a major city and letting them get home on their own. You just wouldn’t do that.
So how do you not be a Big Brother? Basically, you will always tell them what steps you are taking, what you are doing, and why you are doing it. You will be checking up on them, but you will always be reminding them why you are doing this. You will keep them in the loop on everything. No secrets. No behind-the-back snooping that they are not aware of. Everything should be out in the open.
4: We’re all in this together.
Here is the “buy-in” that will help your children with this plan: We’re all in this together. The blocking, the restrictions, and the oversight include you, too. Why is this important? One, kids resent things they think are unfair. It helps them when no one is excluded. Two, as a parent you’re not free of this kind of temptation, either. When you visibly show that you also need help in managing sexual boundaries, you demonstrate how important it is to protect this gift that God has given to us.
You can’t shield your children from the world, nor should you. Ultimately, you can’t protect your children from the dangers of pornography unless you also teach them about God’s good design for sex and sexuality. You don’t want to teach about sex from an entirely negative slant, if all you do is talk about the dangers of misused sex.
There is a profound beauty about sex when it is boundaried in a committed, covenantal, self-giving relationship of marriage between a man and a woman. You need to do more than just tell your kids to wait; you need to talk, explain, and equip them to grow into the character of a future husband or wife for the glory of God.
And this involves you being a wise gatekeeper of technology.
Nicholas talks more about this topic in the accompanying video: How Do I Talk to My Kids About Porn? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
17 Jan 2019
It was halftime several years ago during the Super bowl, and we were with extended family at our home. During the second quarter, my brother-in-law logged onto our family computer to catch up on business emails. When logging out, it’s his custom to clear the history from the computer so his company’s passwords are not saved. In doing so, he brought up the recent history and found some websites that troubled him. He alerted my wife (his sister), and they both viewed several extremely graphic websites full of porn that had been saved in the computer’s history. They discussed it for a few moments and decided to pull me away from the game to confront me about what they had found.
I am in my mid-40s and a father of four children. Based on the ages of our kids and the graphic nature of the websites, my brother-in-law and wife assumed the websites were connected to me. After we settled that it was not me, I proceeded to view the websites and knew we had a big problem. These sites were not just topless women or partially nude couples, but included sites with extremely graphic sexual videos. Although I was shaken up by the content, I was determined to find out who in our family was drowning in this stuff. I don’t really know why, but I suspected that it was my youngest: my 10-year old son.
During the rest of the game I was in and out of the family-filled TV room, pacing, praying and thinking of words to say, words that would both confront and also leave the door open for honesty. Near the end of the game, families began to pack up and head out. It was a school night and our family was starting to fade; my 10-year-old son poked his head into the office where we keep our computer and said, “Goodnight.” I said the same back.
Through his tears he described how bad he felt about himself and how powerless he felt in trying to stop.
Before he hit the stairs I got up and said to him, “Hey, have you been looking at anything you shouldn’t be looking at on the computer?” He quickly and confidently replied: “Me? No, I haven’t at all.” I said, “OK, good.” He then started upstairs, but I gently stopped him and asked him to come back down into the office. He did. I said to him, “I’m going to ask you one more time; think before you answer. Have you looked at anything you shouldn’t have looked at on that [pointing to the desktop computer].”
He paused, looked away from me to the floor and said “Yes.”
When I tell you I have never seen a look of shame and guilt so clearly, I am being totally honest. I did not feel anger or disappointment. I reached out and embraced my boy, whom I later learned had been sucked in by the power of pornography for a long time. I embraced him; he wept, I wept, and we rocked as we had done so often when he was an infant. During the next several hours he confessed his daily habit of viewing pornography at certain “safe” hours, when our daily family pattern would allow him time on the computer while others were out of sight. Other times were with friends at sleepovers, where they would use their smartphones or internet capable game consoles to surf pornography websites. Through his tears he described how bad he felt about himself and how powerless he felt in trying to stop.
The hour was now 2am. We were both beat, and we were still embracing. Instead of disappointment and anger I felt relief and a deeper love for my son who was almost asleep in my arms. As I carried him to bed I thought about God’s yearning to have us in the same place every night: after a day of messing up, if we only felt the “ease” to tell it all as it really is and then find the peace to collapse in his arms, that’s exactly where God wants us. He does not want us living a lie, running up the stairs, brushing our teeth, burying our secrets and going it alone. Once I placed him in his bed he fell asleep and subsequently woke several times during the next hour, calling out my name to discuss and confess some more. Eventually he got everything off his chest and finally fell asleep.
I did not sleep that night, nor did my wife. We talked. We cried. We prayed. We argued. The weight on us was heavy. The next day was long; I was desperate to help my son and I felt incompetent to do it myself. I reached out to several close friends, one of which was John Freeman from Harvest USA.
This was a wake-up call, but instead of being a start to an ugly, downward cycle it has opened our family to a better way of dealing with the ever-present world of pornography and, more than that, the relentless, never-ending love that God has for each of us.
John and I are close friends. I told him everything. There were long pauses, as I could not speak through the tears. John was patient. When I was done, all I could do was ask him, would my son be all right. John didn’t take the role of an expert but rather a deep and close friend. He did not at this time encourage me to seek outside help, as he thought we had everything we needed within our family. He did not blithely point to Bible verses or books but instead reminded me of my close relationship with a God who loves me and would never turn His back on me.
John comforted me and gave me the courage to be a loving father to a hurting and scared son who was full of shame. He encouraged me to be a safe place for my son, someone to talk to and help interpret what he had seen and what he was feeling. He suggested that a remedy would not come instantly but would come over a long period of time as I grew into being a safe and loving place for my son to come and rest.
John’s words, along with those of other men who know me well, helped me rise up to become the place where my son could find grace, forgiveness, and “ease”, so he could move beyond the trap he found himself in.
Now that my son had felt the healing and cleansing power of confession and forgiveness, the days ahead became darker for me; they were filled with despair and discouragement in thinking about what my child had been exposed to for a long time. Conversations between my wife and I were nonstop about what to do now and how this could have happened. For one of the first times in our 24-year marriage, the conversations were starting to dramatically break down and anger crept in. I did not know it at first but I was slowly coming to terms with my guilt of removing our home internet filter years ago (because it was a nuisance). I started to admit to myself both that we had been lax in forming our daily schedule that allowed for consistent unsupervised time after school and our naïveté of allowing him full access to internet capable devices for his personal use at a very young age. I have been through dark seasons in my life, and I rank this as one of the most difficult.
The weight that was on our hearts lightened as time passed. In the weeks that followed the opportunities to speak to my son, my wife, and my girls about these topics and about God’s unwavering love for us no matter what we do, think, feel or see, were many.
We now have a top rated content filter on our computer, are clear with our kids about the dangers of web-enabled devices, have set up “house rules” for our family and friends regarding those devices, and have kept this topic in the forefront of family discussion. This was a wake-up call, but instead of being a start to an ugly, downward cycle it has opened our family to a better way of dealing with the ever-present world of pornography and, more than that, the relentless, never-ending love that God has for each of us. Through this I am reminded that there is nothing we can do that will cause God to withhold his love and affection for us. All he wants is for us to collapse in His arms, give him all of our troubles, shame, guilt, and secrets, and then to find rest in him.
This blog post also appears in our Fall 2018 harvestusa magazine, along with other articles for parents and families.
10 Jan 2019
Porn is everywhere on the Internet. Everywhere. Type just about any word in a search engine and the chances are good you’ll strike something sexual. The links to pornographic posts, images, and videos are embedded in this medium.
The impact this has on your kids is devastating. Two forces are at work to make avoiding porn nearly impossible.
First, its accessibility. Because of technology, we are awash in 24/7 anonymous and accessible pornography. We’ve gone from the public realm of convenience stores and adult bookstores, to the anonymity of computers, to the instant accessibility of mobile devices. We now carry around the entire contents of an adult bookstore in our pocket.
Second, we live in a culture of hyper-sexuality. It’s the air we breathe. We are increasingly deadening our sensitivity to the biblical boundaries that actually protect what is good about sex. Many people (including Christians!) say, “There’s just nothing we can do about it,” or even, “What’s the big deal?”
Here is the big deal: Porn is a worldview, and, like any worldview, it becomes a set of “lenses” through which we look at the world, interpret what we see, and then live out. Porn teaches a destructive message about sex, human relationships, and what life is all about.
Christians have long been in the forefront of sounding the alarm about the effects of pornography on children, marriages, and relationships. But now even those outside the church are seeing what is happening and are reacting with concern.
The June 2018 issue of Philadelphia Magazine featured an article on Al Vernacchio, a sex education teacher in the Philly suburbs, who teaches a popular high school class about “porn literacy.” Here’s how the article describes his class: “The emerging subject is exactly what it sounds like: It’s grounded in the understanding that kids (whether we like it or not) are watching porn, and that we need to provide them with the critical thinking necessary to understand its messages.” Vernacchio clearly recognizes the reality of porn in the lives of students.
While Vernacchio isn’t telling his students not to look at porn, he does talk with them about the harm it can do. “Is porn harming our culture? Yeah, I think it is…and we have to find ways to stop that harm.”
Because parents are the chief disciplers of their children, we have to start—and continue to have—age-appropriate discussions about how viewing pornography will harm them deeply and profoundly. But first, we need to keep the conversation centered on this point: Christians do not have a negative view of sex. The Bible is extremely positive about sex and sexuality when expressed within God’s wise boundary lines. God created it for us, and God knows best how it should be used. Walls are for protection, and God wants us to enjoy his gift of sex and sexuality. When sex is used properly, individual lives and a whole society flourish.
But something so profoundly good is incredibly powerful. The Bible acknowledges the fact that sex can be dangerous—dangerous when it is misused; dangerous when it is out of control in one’s life. There are victims when sex is used wrongly.
The Six Messages Your Kids Need to Hear About the Dangers of Porn
One: Porn teaches a false view of sex and relationships.
Porn turns real people into fantasy objects to be used for my needs. It objectifies and demeans. Whole people are deconstructed into body parts—commodities to be used and discarded. On to the next encounter!
Porn teaches that the sexual act is what most matters, not building a loving relationship with the person.
Porn teaches radical self-centeredness—the images or videos cater to you, feeding the lie that people exist to serve your wants and desires. You begin to live more and more in a fantasy world—but the tragedy is that, the more you spend time online, the lonelier you become in real life. Porn becomes a substitute for real relationships.
Sex was designed for real relationships, but relationships take work, and the work of a good relationship takes years. Love is about giving, not getting. And sex is merely a part of it. While important in marriage, it is just one of many parts that work together to slowly shape a life and a relationship into something beautiful. Porn doesn’t teach that.
Two: Porn slowly drains vitality out of reality—and can lead to addictive behavior.
Here’s something that is universal: My life, your life, is never entirely what we hoped it would be. We live in a fallen world that dashes our dreams and gives us thorns and thistles, bringing suffering and hardship into our lives.
Sex involves the release of powerful brain chemicals that trigger intense pleasure. In many ways, we are wired to seek pleasure, even when our minds say it might be harmful. That’s what happens when people become addicted to substances, even though they know they’re destroying them.
Engaging in porn, with its objective of sexual release and pleasure, triggers the same reward or pleasure centers of the brain. As porn use increases, the mind and heart keep looking for a greater high. Like drugs, there are diminishing returns. You need more and more to get from it what you did at the beginning. This leads to greater depravity.
Our children need to know that viewing porn can be just a step away from enslavement. At Harvest USA, we see men and women who have lost years of their lives to compulsive porn use, while losing spouses, friends, careers, and sometimes even faith. What the world proclaims as sexual freedom, the Bible knows as slavery.
Three: Porn disconnects sex from love and respect and encourages aggression and abuse.
A great deal of porn is filled with images of aggression and violence—especially toward women. I’m not saying that all porn does this. But it is terribly easy to find violent and demeaning images online.
Vernacchio’s class is learning this. “While there’s little definitive cause-and-effect research on adolescents and porn… studies have shown that kids are often first exposed to porn—some of it depicting violent or criminal behavior—in their early teens. And analysis has correlated pornography usage with sexual aggression…”
Vernacchio, when asked what he thinks kids learn from porn, goes on to say, “They learn that men are supposed to be sexually aggressive…They learn that women are objects. They learn that in the absence of consent, you don’t need a clear ‘yes.’ They learn that sex doesn’t require communication.”
Think about college campuses, where youth and sex and alcohol mix in dangerous combinations. Then think about the amount of pornography being consumed by young men in particular. Having grown up in an online world, they have been consumers of porn for more than a decade. You cannot immerse yourself in this stuff and not have it affect you in some broken way.
Four: Porn teaches a lifestyle of lies and deceit.
Children will get this point because they’ve been doing it almost since they entered the world: hiding sinful behavior. The person looking at porn will cover his tracks. It may not be active lying, but over time you’ll be living a double life. And making sure you keep that part of your life hidden takes work! You can never really relax and be yourself, because the secrecy of your behavior—and the isolation secrecy breeds— makes that impossible. Keeping a part of yourself hidden is tiring, is deeply unsettling, and intensifies shame.
As a Christian, guilt and shame will dog your footsteps. And if you one day stop feeling guilty and shamed, then you are in a worse place—because you will have seared your conscience.
Ultimately, you’ll be playing games with God. You will feel profoundly unsettled in your walk with God. You’ll work hard to look good on the outside, all the while hiding what’s on the inside.
Many in the world will argue for moderation in using porn (even for teens) so that honesty is not compromised, but we need to see porn for what it is: poison. A destroyer of relationships, and the first relationship impacted is our relationship with God. The porn user who thinks it’s “no big deal” needs to face what Jesus said about lust (Matthew 5:27-28).
Five: Porn normalizes perversity and diminishes human dignity.
There is a general pattern of behavior for the porn user. The law of diminishing returns results in looking at edgier and more extreme images, thereby normalizing perversions. Perversity in pornography knows no bounds. Especially child pornography. Porn’s ugliest underbelly is its ability to push perversity to previously unimagined levels.
We have reached a point where we are no longer shocked by what we see. Paul’s encouragement to focus on “whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely…” (Philippians 4:8) is a crucial discipline to teach to our kids. Porn obliterates that, and it takes years to empty the mind of images after exposure.
Six: Porn makes you participate in abuse and global injustice.
Pornography is not a harmless, private activity. It is one of the major engines fueling the demand for sexual exploitation in all its forms.
Our children must know that many involved in the pornography industry come from abused and broken backgrounds. Sadly, pornography is seen by some women as an opportunity for a higher paying job.
But in the entire process, from filming to production to posting and distribution, people are used and exploited—including the consumer. In the complex web of sexual distortions that pornography weaves among its viewers, the dignity of men and women made in the image of God is increasingly defaced. Viewing it, engaging in it, contributes to the entire system of broken sexuality throughout the world.
There is one more thing, however, beyond these six points that should undergird everything we say to our kids.
In talking about sex and the dangers of pornography, morality is not the main objective. We have to connect what we say to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul puts it perfectly in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him, who, for their sake, died and was raised.”
The motive for sexual faithfulness is rooted not simply in achieving good morality but in a vital, trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. To magnify him is the ultimate goal of our talking to our kids about sex and seeing them grow up to follow him from the heart in this powerful area of life.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of harvestusa magazine.
20 Dec 2018
The Body of Christ is a spiritual family. We all need spiritual brothers and sisters, spiritual fathers and mothers, to help us follow Christ faithfully. In other words, we need a bigger, wider family than just the traditional nuclear family in which we were born or into which we now live.
But for those who struggle sexually, they especially need this spiritual family to come alongside them in the journey towards sexual redemption and integrity. For a variety of reasons, many of these individuals cannot look to their family for encouragement, accountability, and street-level discipleship regarding how to live as a Christian, much less how to live sexually-faithful lives!
The apostle Paul begins Colossians 3 teaching God’s people that their new identity in Christ compels them to live set-apart lives, not as isolated individuals but together as brothers and sisters in the household of faith: “If then you [Plural!] have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1).
When I lived in Romania, immersed in culture and language learning, God opened my eyes to the beauty of spiritual family. The Romanian language has many ways of saying our simple English word “you”, depending on the circumstance. What struck my individualistic, American heart was that You (Plural) was used many times in bible passages which address the Christian life. When I began studying my Romanian Bible, passages that I had interpreted for years as You (Singular), (or just to me) burst within me into a new understanding of life together as God’s family.
Biological and nuclear families are indeed significant and a gift designed by God. However, Christians also believe that God establishes an eternal family only between those who are born spiritually through faith in Jesus Christ. He identifies these people as his children, guiding us through his Word regarding life together as siblings in the household of faith.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 (ESV)
Jesus responded this way when his “family of origin” requested his attention:
“Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:48-50 (ESV)
Desmond, one of our Men’s Ministry staff, is a single man whose father died when he was a child. Experiences of sexual abuse introduced him to homosexual activity that confused, yet also intrigued his hurting heart. Though broken and disordered, these sex acts made him feel wanted. By the time he reached his teens, he was prostituting himself to men and spiraling into despair and darkness.
In the midst of deep pain and loneliness, Desmond sensed God calling him back, to turn again to his true life found only in Christ. He responded and began to walk forward slowly in faith and repentance. However, his past didn’t just fade away. He needed help, and God provided men who loved and encouraged him as spiritual fathers by leading, exhorting, and admonishing him to walk in a manner worthy of God (1 Thessalonians 2:10-11). They spoke truth into his life, while living honestly before him. Desmond told me, “The authenticity of these men drove me to realize that no matter where we come from, God will use us; they became brothers in Christ who loved and respected me rather than rejected and shamed me. The healing power of those relationships is hard to express. ”
What struck my individualistic, American heart was that You (Plural) was used many times in bible passages which address the Christian life.
The brotherhood that Desmond experienced produced a redemptive trickle-down effect in his life. He didn’t want to hoard this spiritual blessing but wanted to share it with others who were hurting, alone and scared to reach out for help. Desmond has since invested his life ministering to others, including men who are ensnared in patterns of sexual sin. Many single and married men have benefited tremendously through Desmond being a spiritual brother and father.
You (Plural) is what the gospel is all about!
Leia is in her thirties and has been married for over 10 years. Her kids are under six years old and her biological family lives thousands of miles away. When her husband’s infidelity of many years came into the open, she was devastated, afraid, and wrestled with who to tell. Her parents wouldn’t understand; her guess was that they’d simply say “get out of the marriage”. Her husband demanded that she not go to the church leaders. She felt ashamed to open up to any women, as she had rarely ever heard sexual sin talked about by them.
Leia dug down deep into the Word and cried out to God for help. Eventually she found out about Harvest USA’s support group for wives and welcomed being in a circle of spiritual sisters in Christ who not only shared her pain but also helped her to see Jesus at work in her own heart. Then, when her husband was caught in adultery again, Leia’s group leader urged her to bring their broken marriage situation into the light with a trusted pastor. She took this bold step of faith, even though it went against her husband’s wishes.
What was the result of Leia reaching out to a spiritual father? The Body of Christ got involved in this family’s life; the church lovingly confronted her husband and exhorted him to get serious about repentance. It’s been a long road, but Leia and her family are beginning to heal and move forward in part because the family of God entered in with care.
You (Plural), life in community, is where repentance and freedom from sexual sin begins.
Sister, brother, what about you? You might not have a family of your own, or maybe you do! Regardless, there are boys and girls struggling sexually, men and women all around us who need the family of God to be the family of God. We must grow in a mindset of what Rosaria Butterfield teaches in her recent book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key. Her exhortation is that we open up our homes and lives as pathways to love God and our neighbors with all our hearts.
God’s people, knit together through the deep and wide love of Jesus, will share eternity together. His love gives us confidence to reach out and enfold struggling brothers and sisters into the fellowship of the eternal, wide, beautiful family of believers in Jesus Christ.
This blog post also appears in our Fall 2018 harvestusa magazine, along with other articles for parents and families.
Ellen shares more thoughts on this topic in the accompanying video: How Does Jesus Call Us to Live as a Spiritual Family? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Sexual strugglers often feel isolated and alone, ashamed of their struggles, and fearful of rejection if they ask for help. But in the Body of Christ, the Church, Jesus opens wide his arms and calls every one of us his brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. The Church is called to be a family where God does his best work of forgiveness, healing, and transformation.
Ellen has more insights on how the Church as spiritual family can be a catalyst for change and growth in her blog, Living as Spiritual Family. Additional Harvest USA resources that might interest you are the following minibooks: Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart by Ellen Dykas and Your Husband is Addicted to Porn: Healing After Betrayal by Vicki Tiede.
13 Dec 2018
With the culture rapidly changing, more children are describing themselves along the lines of the LGBTQ+ acronym. While there are lots of reasons for why this is happening, Christian parents need to help their children understand sexual and gender identity from a biblical perspective, as well as help them communicate to their peers a Christian worldview of sexuality and gender. Read more about this in Tim’s blog, How to Talk with Your Kids about LGBTQ+ Identity.
There are many other resources on our website that will help you explain LGBTQ+ identity to your child. One additional resources is Tim’s minibook, Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child: Biblical Guidance and Wisdom. This resource is available for purchase in three formats: eBook, Kindle, and Minibook 5-pack.