21 Sep 2023
It was a snowy day in January 1850, and Charles Spurgeon was only 15 years old. Walking to Sunday service at his own church, he was overcome by the snowstorm and slipped into a small, sparsely attended church along the way. The pastor was absent, presumably due to the storm, and a lay leader took to the pulpit. He preached on a single verse from Isaiah:
“Look to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22)
That day changed young Charles Spurgeon forever—he came to a saving knowledge of Jesus. Spurgeon went on to be one of the most prolific ministers of the 19th century, whose mark on the church today is hard to overestimate.
Spurgeon was saved through the irresistible call of God’s Word to look to the only Savior. But what does “look to Christ” mean? It may feel frustrating because it sounds so deep and spiritual. How do we do it?
Deadly Snake Bites
In Numbers, we come to a truly harrowing scene as the people of Israel travel with Moses through the wilderness:
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4–9)
Did the people have to crawl over and touch the bronze serpent to be healed? Did they have to chant any particular words or pray with special emotion? No! They looked.
Our Only Cure: Look and Live!
When we look to Christ, we’re doing the same thing that the snake-bitten Israelites did in the desert. Stung by serpents, with venom coursing through their veins, they were doomed. The problem was within them—death was certain. Can you see the amazing simplicity of their salvation? As Spurgeon said, “look and live!” What must we do to receive God’s effective and ready help? Simply look! Even those who are suffering and weary can look. You may not feel you can run a race; maybe you can barely lift your head. But can you look?
Jesus is not only the destination for our soul’s rest; he is the way as well.
Jesus points to this story, too: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14–16). What is salvation? Believing in—looking to—Jesus.
But looking to Christ is not a single action when we first come to saving faith. Looking to Jesus is a believer’s continual act and lifelong pursuit. Jesus is not only the destination for our soul’s rest; he is the way as well (John 14:6).
Where do you find yourself today? Are you stuck in a rut? Does your broken marriage, your pornography secret, or the struggles of your child feel like a death sentence? Have you given up hope that Jesus can help you in the mess of your suffering and sin?
Reasons We Don’t Look
Shame can feel like a heavy blanket covering us. It can be a powerful de-motivator, keeping us from risk or transparency because our hearts are sunk deep down. I’ve been there. The paradox is that the true antidote to shame is to be known and loved amid it, not waiting to look to Jesus until you feel you’re on the other side. Jesus bore our shame; he became sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21). As your compassionate Savior, he sympathizes with you as you feel shame’s sting; he longs to meet you in it with his gentle care.
It’s humbling to look outside yourself for the rescue you need. Some days I’m addicted to self-sufficiency— “pulling myself up by my bootstraps.” One painful lesson I’ve been learning is that my pride keeps me from receiving the humbling help I need from outside myself. Why is it so humbling? Because I have nothing to do with it! Looking to Christ requires that we abandon all hope in ourselves—our best intentions, our best efforts—and wholly cast ourselves on Christ’s mercy and strong help.
Sometimes looking to Christ seems too good to be true. How can God really help me? What could Jesus possibly do in this darkness? We ask these questions from a place of unbelief and hard-heartedness, not knowing that the God we serve is able to do more than we could even ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20)!
Jesus Is Your Only Real Hope
Referring to Israel’s pilgrimage in the wilderness, Jesus speaks about himself as the bread of life and gives an incredible promise: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).
Your growth in holiness depends on Jesus and happens as you behold him!
Jesus repeats the very same “look and live” concept, and he points to himself as the only hope for eternal life. Believing Jesus is not merely coming to Christ for salvation; by believing, we have life in his name (John 20:31). The whole life of the Christian—in suffering, through struggles with sin, and all the way to heaven’s sinless glory—is believing the Lord Jesus, not just all that he has said, but all that he is to his people. Looking to Jesus is turning our attention to him as our only hope, rescue, and refuge and surrendering to obey him, whatever the cost.
Behold! Your Path of Sanctification
What does all this have to do with the struggle of a pornography addiction or feeling ensnared by an unholy relationship? Friends, it is only by looking to Jesus that we will be transformed to look more like him (2 Cor. 3:18). Your growth in holiness depends on Jesus and happens as you behold him! Will you agree today that your greatest need is to look to Jesus and live? Let your heart be changed by beholding him in his Word, with his people, and by his Spirit. We all need help to grow more like Jesus; we can’t do it alone. Reach out to a trusted friend, a church leader, or Harvest USA. In whatever darkness you’re carrying, you’re not alone.
Charles Dickens fans may wince at my blog title. His iconic first line of A Tale of Two Cities says, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” and I purposely misquoted it because it aptly describes the inner-wrestling I experienced for almost 40 years.
In all that time, I lived a double life—caught in a cycle of sin and shame, full of self-inflicted guilt, stuck in a rut that I thought was never going to end. But—praise the Lord! —God was working behind the scenes to bring something beautiful from it all.
The Poison of Hidden Sin
For 35 years, most people would have described me as a gregarious and friendly guy. My wife and I seemed to have a happy marriage. We were blessed with a big family. I had a good job. I was a homeschooling father, a leader in my church, lived in a nice home in a beautiful neighborhood, and was always quick with a funny story at social gatherings.
But what most people didn’t know was that I was fighting—and regularly losing—a battle with pornography.
I feared being exposed. I became good at lying to hide my activities. Protecting my secret became all encompassing, and after years of failure, it seemed impossible to overcome. I prayed time and again for forgiveness as well as for strength to win this battle over sin. But at other times I was apathetic, and placated my guilt by telling myself that my small personal sin wasn’t really hurting anyone.
I lived a double life—caught in a cycle of sin and shame, full of self-inflicted guilt, stuck in a rut that I thought was never going to end.
But that was an illusion. My sin wasn’t private. My family—and especially my wife—were affected by my “secret sin.” We kept up appearances of a well-ordered family life, but the reality was that our marriage was in trouble. Despite my wife’s many requests for us to get marriage counseling (which I deflected or ignored) we simply settled into a fairly soulless relationship.
God Steps In
Then, in a matter of months, God stepped in—in a way that was overwhelmingly confusing and disorienting, but which later became evident as his particular care for us. I lost my job, and less than a year later we had to radically downsize and move out of our spacious home of 17 years to a new city 300 miles away. Our new place was a compact church apartment, and my new job was the church custodian. I had been a busy traveling marketing manager, but now I opened and locked the church, mopped floors, changed light bulbs, scrubbed bathrooms, cut grass, trimmed hedges, shoveled snow, moved chairs and tables—and even dug graves!
We slowly began to realize that this devastating “subtraction” was God’s way of removing the things in my life that were holding me back from submitting myself more fully to his will. Up to that point, I had pretty much lost hope of changing the sinful patterns in my life. But in the heat of my sin, God didn’t let go of me. Instead, although I didn’t listen to his whispers and hardened my conscience to his shouts, he used this traumatic experience as a megaphone (as C. S. Lewis illustrates) to get my attention. We were isolated, basically starting over, and shaken to the core—but it provided a merciful opportunity to reassess our priorities and to hear the Lord’s voice anew.
My faith was weak, and I feared taking the biblical steps I needed to break free from pornography. But through it all, my wife never stopped praying and asking God to break through my stubborn heart. In hindsight, I can see how he heard my wife’s prayers and took pity despite my weak faith.
We were isolated, basically starting over, and shaken to the core—but it provided a merciful opportunity to reassess our priorities and to hear the Lord’s voice anew.
In an amazing series of providences, my wife met Ellen Dykas, the director of Harvest USA’s women’s ministry. And because their ministry offices were just a few miles away from our new apartment, they began meeting together so my wife could understand her own struggles (which mostly stemmed from the fallout of my sexual brokenness). As my wife shared with me about what she was learning, I finally took her advice, visited Harvest USA, and joined one of their discipleship support groups for men.
Healing and Hope
For the next two years, my part-time job and our simple living arrangements made it possible for both of us to study God’s Word deeply, assess our hearts, wrestle with past trauma and fears, and learn to trust God in areas where we had previously kept him at arm’s length. We slowly moved toward each other, working through our wounds, and reconnecting where we had lost trust.
The 22-month discipleship program at Harvest USA helped me in several ways. Each week we learned to become more and more vulnerable with each other, sharing personal failings, past wounds, and current struggles and calling one another to live more obedient to God’s will. We built transparency and trust and prayed for each other knowing we were dependent on God’s strength in our battle with sin. We also encouraged each other to develop a support network at our churches, recognizing how important it was to have others help us when the program was over.
Amid it all, God did not abandon my wife and me. Even when I cried for help while still unwilling to change my behavior, he was patient with me. I was a wandering sheep, but he was a pursuing Shepherd (Ezek. 34:12; John 10:11; Ps. 119:176). I was stubborn and recalcitrant, and he remained unwavering in his fatherly discipline. I didn’t know it, but when things seemed darkest and hopeless, he was at work behind the scenes.
Similarly, despite the hurt and loneliness my wife felt due to my sin, she held onto the promise that God would be a faithful husband to her (Isa. 54:5). When she cried out to him in prayer, she found him to be a comforter (Isa. 51:3; 2 Cor. 1:3–4) and counselor (Ps. 16:7).
Only Christ Satisfies
C. S. Lewis was right. God loves us so much that he will use painful experiences, even pain itself, to awaken us from being overly content with our attachment to worldly ease and the comforts of this life. He takes us through such difficult times not to punish us, but to make us more like Jesus. It is not easy, but we learn to love him more through it.
To bring about the deep and lasting change in our lives, God didn’t just change our circumstances—he broke the power of reigning sin by dying on a cross.
Such trials and times of testing are evidence of God’s undying love for us. In them, he reveals to us the folly of thinking that the transitory pleasures of this world will satisfy.
But we also learn how far he is willing to go to show us that we will only be truly fulfilled and happy when we seek him first. To bring about the deep and lasting change in our lives, he didn’t just change our circumstances—he broke the power of reigning sin by dying on a cross. By doing so, he set us free indeed! As the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:22–23).
24 Aug 2023
Joan McConnell serves as Harvest USA’s Director of Parents and Family Ministry.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)
To be able to look back on one’s life and see at least some of the Lord’s ways and purposes is not just a privilege; it is astounding. In Take Heart: Daily Devotions to Deepen Your Faith, David Powlison says, “We are caught up into the purposes of a Savior and a King” (157). Through pain and joy, the Lord has prepared me to serve with Harvest USA.
Several years ago, when I was interviewed before joining Harvest USA’s Board of Directors, I remember saying, “it just makes sense.” I meant that, for decades, the Lord had been weaving strong threads into my personal resume—threads that were not necessarily welcome. However, in the light of his sovereignty, I had to trust that they had purpose. Those threads included growing up in a broken home, having a 38-year marriage damaged by my first husband’s pornography involvement, and, eventually, my dear son’s pursuit of a homosexual lifestyle. By God’s grace, I realized I needed to use the pain rather than ignore or resist it.
I met Harvest in 2004. The Lord’s timing was more than coincidental with my son’s situation. In a church that has supported Harvest for years and uses their resources widely, my background easily led to my facilitating a Harvest-organized parents’ support group since 2013. I also became involved in Harvest events my church hosted. Now, stepping from membership on the Harvest Board into service on its staff “makes sense” again since my personal passion has long been for those whose lives are touched. . . and, yes, changed. . . when family members struggle with sexual issues.
The vision of Harvest’s parents and family ministry has two facets. First, of course, is the need to understand what’s going on in the life of a sexual struggler and to learn what Christ-like ministry toward them should be. Second is the need to offer an undergirding ministry to that closest circle of parents and relatives. I especially look forward to opportunities to create insightful, biblical resources that meet the second need.
The threads of education and experience also weave into my work at Harvest USA. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I’ve lived in the picturesque “travel postcard” of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, for 33 years. I have two grown children, one grandson, and eight step-grandchildren. After 29 years teaching Spanish and Latin, I joined my church staff in 2007 for women’s ministry and counseling, all of which has used my training at Houghton College, Dallas Theological Seminary (MA in Biblical Studies), and Liberty Theological Seminary (Doctor of Ministry). Though twice widowed, I continue to see my Father’s goodness and to rely upon another verse from Romans (11:36): “For from him, and through him, and to him are all things. To him be glory forever!”
03 Aug 2023
Beloved, I wonder if you can relate. I remember praying, “Father, my transgressions are ever before me. I do the very thing I hate. Why do you call me ‘son’ despite this wretched body?” I felt hopeless, cursed, and unloved. I heard the gospel’s truth, but, as sexual sins poisoned me, my sinful heart persisted in lying about my identity.
Remember Truth: Our Identity in Christ
For me and for you, believer, the foremost remedy is remembering who we are in Christ. Please turn with me to Romans 8:12–17. I pray you may see the truth today.
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
The Apostle Paul begins verse 12 by drawing a conclusion (“so then”) from verses 9–11, which talk about union with Christ. In union with Christ, life is enabled by the Spirit even though our mortal bodies are bound to die in sin. This is why Paul says believers are “debtors” in verse 12—without Christ, death is the only thing at work in us. But with Christ, we are given the gift of eternal life because he paid the ultimate price on our behalf. Thus, in a deep sense, we have a tremendous debt before the Lord in light of our deserved death, the due penalty of the law of sin.
We are set free from sin and able to persevere in this broken world because the Lord is with us. Through him, we can look at our brokenness and have hope.
Remembering the truth of who we are in Christ—because of his perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection—changes how we live every day and leads us in perseverance against sin.
Remember Faith: Our Adoption in Christ
Death means complete separation from God (v. 13). The only way to avoid death is to abandon the flesh. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” But how can any of us accomplish this? Truly, we cannot! That is why Paul grounds our actions in this foundation: “by the Spirit.” In faith, we need to remember two things from this verse.
- First, believers can’t be only passive about their faith in Jesus. A movement needs to take place. Because of the cross, believers are enabled—or, perhaps, conditioned—to mortify sin. If you belong to Jesus, there will always be something in your heart telling you to fight against fleshly evil. You are simply no longer driven by sin but life in Christ. Coming to faith in Jesus is necessarily connected with actively fighting sin: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).
- Second, we don’t have the strength to fight the good fight on our own. We come short of being able to do anything about these deeds of the flesh—pornography, abusive traumas, torn families, and never-ending, painful days of suffering. We are utterly incapable of fixing it—it’s too much. This is why Paul exhorts us to put to death the deeds of the body “by the Spirit of God” (v. 14, my emphasis). We are set free from sin and able to persevere in this broken world because the Lord is with us. Through him, we can look at our brokenness and have hope. Though our sins are red like scarlet, we can proclaim “they shall be as white as snow” (Isa. 1:18). If you ever needed evidence about God, beloved, here it is. Your fight against sin is the very evidence of the Spirit of God moving in and through your life. He claims you as his possession, giving you belonging and status. God’s Word calls you his sons and daughters, a people led by his Spirit (Rom. 8:14). The world and the flesh have no claim over you, only the Spirit.
Verse 15 expands on this new identity in Christ. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Paul writes from the context of the Roman Empire, where the adoptee is removed from their previous state and placed within a new family. Old debts are transferred, a new life begins, and the head of the household owns the adoptee, with all accompanying liability. This child is born again into a new hope, receiving a unique name that grants privileges, responsibilities, and a belonging. Thus, adoption perfectly explains what it means to have newness and fullness of life through the relationship a believer is brought into with Jesus Christ.
This is how God embraced his people throughout history, like a father who takes an illegitimate child into his family.
Yes, it’s out of adoption that we call God “Abba, Father.” This expression of warmth and confidence that God is our heavenly Father carries a filial tenderness and reverence made possible by the Spirit, without whom such a declaration would be pretentious and false.
And this is how God embraced his people throughout history, like a father who takes an illegitimate child into his family. That’s the reality and beauty of adoption. Children of God now have full access to and relationship with him.
Remember Hope: Our Longing in Christ
But the Christian life is hard as we wait for Jesus to return. You’ve probably felt the weight of suffering prolonged, maybe for many seasons—your prayers feeling empty and silent. We are in pain while longing for the final day when our faith will be made sight.
Nevertheless, this longing is one critical way in which we experience redemption being applied in our lives. We are already the adopted children of God. However, there is a deep-seated ‘not yet-ness’ about this reality. We rejoice as God’s people. And yet, having received the Spirit of adoption, we groan inwardly, waiting eagerly for the resurrection of our bodies upon Christ’s return (Rom. 8:18–25).
The promise is that when he appears, we shall be like him, and he will transform these bodies of humiliation into glory. “But our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul says, “and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself (Phil. 3:20–21).”
This expresses the heart of our present and future condition and is an essential element for understanding the Christian life. The law alone is not enough. If we only had the law, it’d be challenging to understand the agony of the Christian life because those with the Spirit experience profound incompleteness. And it is within that context that we cry, “Abba Father.” Paul is not talking about an upbeat cry. The language for “cry” in Greek is typically used in times of immense pressure and opposition, portraying a violent atmosphere rather than a peaceful one. This cry springs from an anguish that leaves us fragmented, where the fullness of God-given privileges comes face to face with our brokenness and prompts us to cry, out of all unsettling weaknesses and earthly difficulties, ‘Abba, Father.’
Be comforted, hurting believer: the fact that you’re calling out to the Lord in your desperate longing reveals that you belong to him.
And we are not alone, for the Spirit is with us in our cry. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (v. 16). Our spirit and God’s Spirit express their mutual witness in crying, “Abba, Father.” It’s impossible to express this unless the Spirit is working in our lives. Be comforted, hurting believer: the fact that you’re calling out to the Lord in your desperate longing reveals that you belong to him. Beloved, I hope you see “what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).
Remember Love: Our Sanctification in Christ
Verse 17 defines the destination of God’s adopted children. Glory awaits us in the guarantee of eternal life! The adoptee is an heir of God and co-heir with Christ through the inheritance given by the Lord—this inheritance is our union and communion with Christ as his portion (in suffering and glory) is shared with us (John 17:5, 24). It’s not as if we contribute to redemption. No. Christ alone bore the cross and rose from the dead to reconcile the world to himself. But it’s about the call to obediently “walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8b) because “the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6b). This looks like partaking in the sufferings of Christ, filling up what is lacking in his afflictions (Col. 1:24), and yearning for future glory.
Oh, beloved, I pray you may see the Father’s love in all this. What else is there? Yes, “faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). Because “God so loved the world,” millennia can pass but the gospel shall remain (John 3:16a).
And when breathless, suffocated by the lies of sexual brokenness, come as you are, oh, child of God, and cry “Abba! Father!”
Therefore, remember the call of Christ: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34b). And when breathless, suffocated by the lies of sexual brokenness, come as you are, oh, child of God, and cry “Abba! Father!” Fix your gaze upon Christ who promised, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22, my emphasis). Isn’t it worth waiting for such joy, my friend? Eternal life with Christ. Join me for one more day, just one more day at a time.
This morning, I again read the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. And as always, I wanted to shout, “David! Get off that roof and cry to God to rescue you from temptation! Don’t let curiosity lead you down a road you ultimately don’t want to travel!” What unfolds in the remainder of 2 Samuel is a sad, sobering, cautionary tale of how curiosity can entice weak people toward foolishness and destruction.
David wasn’t the first person in the Bible to see, take, sin, and attempt to cover it up. Adam and Eve did the same, as did Achan. Read his words and see if you can identify choices you’ve made:
Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” (Joshua 7:19–21)
Achan saw, wanted, took, and tried to hide the evidence. His curiosity and desire sparked temptation, leading to sin, leading to death (James 1:14–16).
Unchecked hearts, hidden motivations, and enticing opportunities so easily lead to the next curious step that may stir desires, unbelief, and sin.
David saw Bathsheba and was curious enough to inquire about her, take her from her home, and (probably) coerce her to have sex with him. Nathan’s parable of a selfish and manipulative man taking a vulnerable ewe lamb implies that this encounter was not consensual. David’s abuse of power—his initiative toward adultery, deception, and sinful scheming that led to murder—started where? In his heart, of course, as he “was walking on the roof of the king’s house,” and “saw from the roof a woman bathing” (2 Sam. 11:2).
Curiosity and Sin: Seeing, Wondering, Wanting, Taking, Hiding
I’ve had my share of seeing and wondering about things that watered my desires to know more, leading to temptation and sinful choices. It can start as simply as a random idea coming to mind and then typing those words in a search bar online. I’ve heard of others who, like Achan, David, and me, allowed unwise curiosity to open the door to temptation’s seduction. In many cases, this leads to entanglement in sin.
- What’s my ex doing now? I’ll just take a quick scan of her social media.
- Anything good in the fridge?
- What’s on that website anyway?!
- I wonder what an LGBTQ+-friendly bar really is? I’ll look it up online.
- What’s the big deal with a quick text? I just want to say hello.
- That new start up is hot. . . my buddy has tripled his investment in three months. How much could I invest if I pulled it out of savings?
- That influencer doesn’t mention Jesus much, but she’s so popular! Maybe I’ll take a listen to see for myself.
- What would that feel like? I’ll just do it for a quick minute. . . that won’t hurt!
Often, curiosity about something or someone starts innocently. We don’t intend to get into an affair, or an addiction, or tangled up in a messy relationship or business dealing. But we see or think something, and—without stopping to check our hearts’ motivation or consider where that ‘innocent’ click, text, or encounter might lead—we pursue and take.
Curiosity is not evil. We must, however, learn how to steward it toward that which honors God and grows love for him in our hearts.
Achan saw a beautiful cloak, David saw a beautiful woman, and I’ve seen advertisements for movies, books, podcasts, ministry conferences, and photos and posts of what other ministry leaders are up to. Unchecked hearts, hidden motivations, and enticing opportunities so easily lead to the next curious step that may stir desires, unbelief, and sin.
Curiosity and Holiness: Beholding Christ
Don’t hear what I’m not saying. Curiosity and the ability to imagine and desire are amazing gifts our Creator has entrusted to us. Consider the sermon, book, podcast interview, or Bible study that further opened your understanding of an aspect of the Christian life, character of God, or beauty of the gospel. Or the question you asked (or received) that led to a conversation which grew a relationship into greater intimacy centered on Jesus. Curiosity about creation—learning about the natural sciences, enjoying music, art, and literature—helps us delight in the great God who made all these things. Curiosity is not evil. We must, however, learn how to steward it toward that which honors God and grows love for him in our hearts.
Consider the five questions below for personal growth and talk to a friend in Christ this week about how to avoid unhelpful curiosity as you cultivate wise wondering.
- How are you tempted toward sin when feeling bored, angry, distressed, or happy?
- What sights, sounds, and sensations tempt you to look away from Christ?
- What circumstances trigger temptation for you to spin the truth, deceive, and manipulate the facts?
- What did you learn from God the last time you saw, took, and hid?
- Do you have one to two people in your life who help you seek, love, and enjoy Jesus? If not, why not? Pray and ask him to provide what you need to establish relationships with spiritual journey companions.
Friends, I doubt that Achan or David realized, when they saw a beautiful part of God’s creation, that their curiosity and desires would lead to the devastation—for generations—that came from them sinfully taking it. Their Escape was near, ready to receive their cries for help and rescue them from sin! Our Savior is near to us today, as well. He promises to not only provide wonderfully satisfying gifts for our Christ-fueled curiosity, but also to rescue us when temptations are hovering behind the doors we curiously prod when our eyes are distracted from him.
29 Jun 2023
“Of all the people we have met and all the organizations we have encountered in ministry to those who want sexual sanctification, John Freeman and Harvest USA are the ones we trust. The fruit of John’s experience in this book should be a help to many.” – Tim Keller
“We live in a hyper-sexualized culture, where porn is the norm and everyone is harmed by secret sexual sin. Thank God for the ministry of John Freeman, who for decades has been helping people in sexual darkness find the light of Jesus Christ. Freeman is savvy about sexual temptation, sensitive to men who feel hopeless, and sold on the power of the gospel to bring real spiritual transformation. Before you give up hope for sexual healing, give Hide or Seek a chance to help bring the change you need.” – Philip Ryken
“Here is what you will appreciate about John’s book: It’s the fruit of the work he has done in helping men for over thirty years. He was talking with men about sexual temptation while it was still taboo to make any sexual reference in most churches. You will find him to be an experienced, wise mentor who will guide you with both his words and his life.” – Ed Welch
“John Freeman’s Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex is an authentic look into the deepest struggles of masculine sexuality. It is a gift of hope to the Christian soul. Here you will find not just the sting of truth, but also the joy of grace, the light of wisdom, and the encouragement of a trusted counselor and friend. You need this book and so do the men in your life that you know and love.” – Peter A. Lillback
15 Jun 2023
This post is a contribution from guest author John Perritt, Director of Resources for Reformed Youth Ministries.
I remember a specific day from my childhood all too well. I was in sixth grade. The school day had ended, and a friend invited me over to his house. We were in his brother’s bedroom and my friend got down on his knees to reach under the dresser. My eleven-year-old self had no clue what was about to happen to my heart and mind as I was exposed to a pornographic magazine.
At that point in my life, I really didn’t know what sex was. What my eyes saw that day wasn’t sex, but a perversion of it. I’m now approximately three decades removed from that incident, but I can recall the exact image to this day. It’s seared in my mind. Like a scar, it seems it’s going to be with me until I go home to be with the Lord.
By God’s grace, that image deeply upset me. It was enticing but repulsive. Amid my ignorance and naiveté, I knew something wasn’t right about what I was viewing. Part of what I remember about that moment was the feeling I had—not arousal, but something more akin to sickness. A feeling that made me want to go home immediately. That image hurt me.
The Weight of Pornography
There’s a weightiness to pornography that, I think, gets at a creational good from the Lord. God created man and woman as sexual beings (Gen. 1:26–28). As Christians, we know that sexual desires are to be expressed specifically between members of the opposite sex in the context of marriage. This gift from the Lord carries weight because he’s given us precise instructions for stewarding it. The specificity of the gift points to its weightiness.
There’s another aspect of this weightiness. I never told my parents about when I saw pornography. I don’t even know if I spoke about it with the friend who showed me the image. I took that image to bed with me that night. I carried it with me in the hallways of my school. I’m sure it poisoned the way I looked at the opposite sex. The initial sickness I felt became a weight I carried around, a weight I didn’t allow others to help me carry.
What are your children carrying around with them? What secrets are they keeping from you? How have these images heaped burdens upon their shoulders?
To be sure, the Lord was helping me carry that weight, but I wasn’t reaching out to the community the Lord had given me. I was too young to know what I should do with that weight. I’m confident I was a Christian at the time, but I didn’t talk to the Lord about this. I didn’t know what accountability was—so I carried that weight with me.
There’s weightiness from the good things of the Lord because they point us to his glory, his immensity and omnipotence. At the same time, there’s weightiness from the evils of a broken world, too, which become burdens we carry around.
As you read this article, you know what I’m talking about. Right now, you’re carrying some burden. It may be a specific sin you’re wrestling with or your marriage, divorce, or singleness. It may be the burden of parenting or barrenness, an illness or chronic pain. The fall birthed endless burdens that plague us.
Our Children’s Burdens
What about our children? Single or not, we’ve all been given children because of the body of Christ—we have spiritual sons and daughters. And those sons and daughters are carrying burdens right now. How many of their burdens are related to pornography?
Some are saying that most teens spend approximately nine hours a day on screens. Even though they’re in classes and have after-school activities, they manage to find hours upon hours to look at a screen. What do they see?
In those nine hours, they’re looking at thousands of images. No doubt, some of them are pornographic. Others may fall in the category of ‘soft porn’ or implicit sexual images: bodies may be fully clothed, but the images are sexual in nature. To state the obvious, this still stirs up lust, and God’s Word doesn’t take that lightly. These images leave deep impressions upon our children.
What are your children carrying around with them? What secrets are they keeping from you? How have these images heaped burdens upon their shoulders?
Christ, the Burden-Carrier
This entire article may be burdensome to you. While I want this to be a sobering look at the world our children are growing up in, I also want to give you some hope. Remember our Savior’s words:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28–30)
Jesus not only carried our burdens on the cross and triumphed over them in the resurrection, but he also bore them throughout his perfect life. He is the one human in history who endured temptation without sin (Heb. 4:15–16). He knows our weaknesses. He remembers that we are dust (Ps. 103:14), and he will not break a bruised reed nor quench a faintly burning wick (Isa. 42:3). We can come boldly to our Lord and point our children to him in hope.
Talk to your children. Today. Push things aside and ask your children about the burdens they’re carrying.
So, first, take those burdens to the Lord. Voice them to him and know that he hears you and loves to talk to his children. Also know that he loves your children more than you do.
Second, talk to your children. Today. Push things aside and ask your children about the burdens they’re carrying. Even if they don’t open up, let them know you’re in their life to help carry their burdens; they don’t have to carry them alone. Remind them that their heavenly Father is carrying them as well. Remind them he’s always listening, and he always understands.
We can approach our children with compassion, pointing them to Christ and praying for them to know the peace of laying their burdens at the foot of the cross.
John Perritt, DMin, serves as the Director of Resources for Reformed Youth Ministries (www.rym.org) and has served in student ministry for over twenty years. He is the host of “The Local Youth Worker” podcast. John is the author of several books, including “Insecure” and “Social Media Pressure: Finding Peace Alongside Jesus.” He and his wife, Ashleigh, have five children and live in Ridgeland, Mississippi.
08 Jun 2023
Name: Jim Barr
Hometown: I was born in Pennsylvania, raised in Massachusetts, but spent more than 35 years in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia where my wife and I raised our family. We’re now empty nesters living in Lafayette Hill, a suburb of Philadelphia not too far from the Harvest USA office.
Position at Harvest USA: Director of Ministry Partnerships and Stewardship.
Description of work at Harvest USA: Some people would call my job fundraising, but I describe it as friend-raising. One important aspect of my work is to update and encourage those who support our ministry—both individuals and churches. Their prayers and financial support are crucial to our work, and I want them to know how people are finding help and hope, how marriages are being restored, and how churches are being strengthened because of their partnership. Additionally, I seek opportunities to meet with people, particularly pastors, to share about Harvest USA and the gospel-based resources we’ve developed.
I want to expand the awareness of Harvest USA across the United States and into other nations so that more men, women, and families discover how the love and mercy of Christ can provide them the healing and hope they’re desperately seeking.
Fundamentally, though, this is more than a job. You see, my life and marriage were wonderfully changed by the ministry, and I want to expand the awareness of Harvest USA across the United States and into other nations so that more men, women, and families discover how the love and mercy of Christ can provide them the healing and hope they’re desperately seeking.
What is your favorite Scripture? That’s like asking me which of my seven children is my favorite—can’t do it! But I have always been intrigued by how Eugene Peterson translated John 1:14 in his paraphrased Bible called “The Message.” He put it this way: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” I think he captured the reality that God actually became a man and knows our joys and sorrows intimately.
How did you get to Harvest USA? Even though my wife and I had been a part of three churches who have supported Harvest USA, it was when we moved to Philadelphia in 2019 that I visited the Harvest USA offices looking for help with my own struggle with pornography. After years of shame and hiding, I found true and lasting freedom through their biblical support group and discipleship program. The change was so profound that I immediately volunteered to mentor another group of men and was able to provide counsel and accountability for others at my church. Then, when Harvest USA contacted me about working here, I saw an opportunity to use my past professional experience—and my personal testimony—to advance the work of Harvest USA and continue to help others.
After years of shame and hiding, I found true and lasting freedom through (Harvest USA’s) biblical support group and discipleship program.
What is your favorite thing about living in metro-Philadelphia? The city is often called “America’s Garden Capital,” so along with the world-renowned museums, the Liberty Bell, and the iconic statue of Rocky Balboa, we’ve enjoyed visiting some historic estates that have beautiful grounds and gardens. The 1,800-acre Wissahickon Valley Park with its dozens of hiking trails, beautiful stone bridges, and even an historic covered bridge is our go-to destination for getting back to nature.
Can you tell us an interesting fact about yourself? When our seven children were young, Sunday mornings had to be streamlined to get everyone dressed, fed, and out the door in time for church. It became a tradition that I made a big pancake breakfast for everyone almost every week, which included lots of different toppings and yummy variations. At some point one of my kids determined that I usually made 50 to 60 pancakes each week—and at some point (according to their calculations), I had made more than 40,000 pancakes over the 20-plus years that we had children in our home! Even I was surprised by that!
25 May 2023
This month, Harvest USA Director of Women’s Ministry Caitlin McCaffrey highlights two resources for women. Sexual Faithfulness: Gospel-Infused, Practical Discipleship for Women is available as a free digital download, and Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness is now on sale!
We pray these resources are a blessing to you and your church.
04 May 2023
This post was written by Harvest USA Men’s Ministry intern Ben Pearce.
“Just one more drink,” the drunkard says.
“I’ll just look for a little while,” the porn-addict explains.
“It’s just a little sin,” Satan whispers in our ear.
The road to life-shattering sin is paved by little sins. Small, daily decisions shape our desires and habits. The apostle James notes, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14–15). James is not arguing that wrongful desire is not sin—it is. But he is stating that the lusts of our hearts do not remain in our hearts. These desires give birth to sinful acts. Christians who dwell upon sexual fantasy in their minds cannot excuse themselves by saying it’s only in their heads. Our thoughts ultimately lead to action. Each moment we dwell upon our wrongful desires, we train ourselves to see them as acceptable.
The road to life-shattering sin is paved by little sins. Small, daily decisions shape our desires and habits.
The first “little” sexual sin many of us indulge in is fantasy. This is hard to battle. As we reject one pernicious thought, another is right around the corner ready to entice our heart. Suddenly, the lies of the enemy become too sweet to reject. He who said, “You will not surely die” was a liar from the beginning (Gen. 3:3, John 8:44) and is still a liar now. Yet, although we’ve been warned, Satan’s whispering influence stirs our hearts. With full moral culpability, we all too often feast upon the banquet set before us.
As with all sin, fantasies gradually cease to satisfy, giving birth to larger sins (James 1:15). A man frequently begins by letting his gaze linger on women in public or on images in magazines and social media. His heart hardens and desire increases. Those lingering glances last just a little bit longer than they did at first. Before he knows it, he’s not satisfied with what he sees in these brief moments and seeks something more explicit. Though he may be married, he engages other women in inappropriate conversation or begins viewing explicit pornography. Conversations become flirtatious; pornography ceases to satisfy. Suddenly, a man realizes he’s committed adultery. Broken, he may cry “I never thought I would do this!” as loudly as he’d like, but he himself paved the way for his great sins.
So, what should we consider when we’re struggling with “little” sins?
- Christ Died for Small and Large Sins
John teaches us that Jesus Christ “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). When we’re told that Christ died for our sins, we’re not told that he died for our greater sins only. God’s wrath burns hot against all sin, even the most minor. Even for just a bite of forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:17) or a mouthful of forbidden honey (1 Sam. 14:43), God has warned that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ez. 18:20). While God does differentiate between small and great sins, his Son died for all sin without differentiation. Thus, as Christians, we must remember the weighty truth that every sin we commit, however small, is a sin for which our Lord Jesus Christ died.
This weighty truth cuts both ways. For the repentant Christian, his great hope and security is the reality that his sinful thoughts and desires are covered by the forgiving blood of Jesus Christ.
This hard and glorious truth should be a deterrent for us. The marred body of our Lord was wounded for even our most seemingly minor thoughts, words, and actions. The fantasies we indulged for even a fleeting moment had to be paid for by the suffering of our Lord. No sin comes without suffering.
- Take a Long View
The ongoing, unrepentant pursuit of small sins will ultimately consume us. Neither Satan nor our own flesh are satisfied with little sins; “negligible” sins are just the top of an increasingly steep slope. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes characterizes the foolish sinner in this way: “The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is evil madness” (Eccles. 10:13). Unresisted sin gains a gradual foothold upon the soul. These advances are not easy to discern—we give in, just a little here and a little there. Before we realize it, we’ve habituated our soul to sin. Every advance weakens the will to fight until, finally, we eagerly fall to what was before unimaginable. Christian: Be alert! “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
For the repentant Christian, his great hope and security is the reality that his sinful thoughts and desires are covered by the forgiving blood of Jesus Christ.
Sin is never isolated. Our Lord says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). Every thought and action we do not surrender to Christ today trains us for disobedience tomorrow. Every small sin we commit takes us further down the slope to the cliff of larger sins. We must prepare ourselves to resist the temptations of Satan and our flesh—to recognize when our desires deceive us, making us compromise “just a little.” Are we willing to cut sin off at its root?
- You Are Secure in Christ
If you’re trusting Jesus, sin will not win. A repentant sinner is secure, despite all his struggles with sin, because his obedience is rooted in Jesus’s obedience. Paul, who cried, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” also declared “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 7:24, 8:1). Christian, let your eternal security in Christ compel your fight against sin. Resist the slippery slope of small sins by looking to Jesus—he is our solid ground.