15 Apr 2021
This blog, along with the sampling of questions, is an excerpt from Lesson 4 of Sexual Faithfulness: Gospel-Infused, Practical Discipleship for Women, our new small group curriculum. Sexual Faithfulness is available as a free digital download in our online store.
Nobody wants to suffer, right? We know from experience how this broken world overwhelms us, and we know the suffering that our sinful choices bring. Yet the Bible is clear that followers of Christ are called to participate in his sufferings (1 Peter 4:13), along with the pain that accompanies “working out our salvation” (Philippians 2:12–13). Though we all experience trials and sufferings differently, the pain, heartache, and struggle on this side of heaven can feel wearisome and lead us to question God.
When we hear the word “suffering,” we think of things like broken relationships, chronic illness, cancer, or the loss of a loved one, but have you ever thought about struggling with temptations and sexual sin as a form of suffering? Many of us tend to dismiss our own experiences and minimize our suffering as we look at others who have what we perceive to be real suffering.
Sexual sin is one of the primary ways we seek comfort or escape in response to suffering. We give way to beliefs influenced by mistaken expectations of the Christian life. But to choose false comforts is to miss out on what delights God.
It doesn’t take more than a quick glance at our culture to realize that we love and crave comfort! Products, social media, and ads offer a life of ease, free of pain, with fulfilling romantic match-ups, financial security, appliances, and technology that do all the things we don’t want to do. Goods and services are daily marketed to us with the promise of relieving our suffering: Apps that allow you to filter your selfies, hook-up sites, online videos, streaming entertainment that consumes you for hours, day spas, plastic surgery, magic cures, and the latest, most successful dating site or marriage therapy technique all vie for our attention as we continually seek ease, comfort, and escape from suffering. The reality is that we can pursue these things for many reasons, but wanting to escape from the pain of life is frequently a significant driving force.
Sadly, the Christian life is too often presented as consistent with and affirming of this kind of comfortable lifestyle, but this understanding of the Christian life did not come from the Bible! Rather, the Bible is clear that living out our union with Christ means glory in the next life and suffering in this one. However, whether we suffer from life circumstances, persecution, or the costly battle against sin itself, we are promised great meaning, hope, and comfort, both in this life and in the one to come, in transforming into Christlikeness.
Of course, there is a sense in which it is natural and good to want to avoid suffering. It’s healthy to avoid someone’s betrayal, an illness, or living in the anguish of depression day after day. The Bible, though, never says that we are to attempt a pain-free life! In contrast, the world shouts loudly and persuasively that if we have the money, beauty, power, and will, we can escape suffering.
The world around us and our own sinful nature seek to dissuade us from this life of faith. In response to just about any suffering, sin offers an immediate, though deceptive, alternative to communion with Christ. Because of its drug-like pleasure and easy availability, sexual sin is one of the most powerful alternatives to gospel faith and comfort. Relational sin, which often accompanies sexual sin, also gives emotional highs and endorphin rushes that feel good now.
But faith in Christ and faith in sin are mutually exclusive; growth in one weakens the other. Just as habitually returning to sex to escape present suffering makes it harder for us to grasp the joy and hope of the gospel, so too will growing in love for Christ and in confidence in his promises give us strength and comfort to endure suffering for his sake
Romans 8:16–17, 2 Corinthians 1:5, Philippians 3:10, Colossians 1:24, 2 Timothy 1:8, and 1 Peter 4:13—Scripture abounds with statements that suffering is a basic component of the Christian life. Through these verses, God teaches us about proper expectations for the Christian life. Further, we often think of comfort as an absence of suffering, but one of God’s purposes of Christians experiencing suffering is that we would receive direct, personal comfort from God and, in turn, be able to use that experience to minister God’s comfort to others (2 Corinthians 1:4).
The comforts of this life can be both addictive and deceptive. They tend to give us easy, immediate relief. What effect do you think sexual fantasy, sexual hookups, pornography, and other escapes have on your faith and hope in the gospel promises of resurrection and glory?
There are sweet blessings for God’s daughters as we courageously resist the temptation to rush towards the supposed comforts of sin. For example, Galatians 6:7–8 and Romans 8:5–8 spell out the benefits for “sowing to the Spirit” and the promises of God that can impact our lives in the present.
Although we would not choose to endure suffering, nothing is wasted in God’s economy; he uses our suffering to produce endurance, character, and hope, which transform us into being more like Christ. As believers, we have a strong assurance of hope.
Questions for Reflection, Discussion, and Application
- What do you think is the most common way in which you suffer?
- How do you typically respond to pain and suffering? Why do you think you choose those specific escapes? How well do those escapes, sexual or otherwise, offer relief to you in both the short run and the long run?
08 Apr 2021
On April 9, 2021, Ellen Mary Dykas will be speaking at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference (TGCW21) in Indianapolis, IN. To access her recommended resource lists and speaker’s notes for the following breakout sessions, see the hyperlinks below with attached PDFs.
Breakout Session Round 1: Sexual Issues Women Face
When: April 9 at 1:00 PM
Description: When was the last time you attended a women’s brunch addressing sexual issues? Most likely, you haven’t! This breakout will address a variety of struggles that women face when it comes to sexuality. We’ll discuss sexual temptations and the pursuit of sin, and the trauma of being sinned against sexually. Come listen in as our panel shares honestly about these tough topics, keeping our focus on Jesus and the hope we have in him for transformation.
Breakout Session Round 2: Compassionate Care in a #MeToo World
When: April 9 at 2:30 PM
Description: The #Metoo movement has exposed widespread sexual harassment and brought accountability to those who have misused power and authority. This breakout will provide guidance on how to love our friends as they share with us about past (or current) sexual abuse. We’ll explore how to create redemptive communities where women can share their stories of abuse and trauma, and be compassionately helped in the process of healing and transformation available through Christ.
08 Apr 2021
A few years ago, I made my first journey to Niagara Falls. I had seen pictures and videos and heard stories about this iconic landmark, but nothing could prepare me for the awe and wonder of seeing the falls up close. The sound was overwhelming. The mist spilled over into the parking lot. The sheer magnitude of this mammoth waterfall took my breath away.
For the first hour, I couldn’t get enough of viewing the falls from every angle possible, taking in the joy of feeling so small in comparison to something so glorious. But after three, four, then eight hours of being there, the dopamine rush in my brain dissipated. I no longer saw the falls with the same excitement or awe. They were just waterfalls—beautiful, yes, but I was ready to leave. I didn’t care to stay any longer.
The same could be said about sex. Sex is a wonderful gift from God to humanity, and every good feeling that accompanies sex is something God takes delight in, because he created it that way. He created our bodies to experience such soaring pleasure and excitement. He created husband and wife to know a depth of intimacy in sex that has no equal in other human relationships. He created sex to be a physically enthralling and intensely loving experience that makes husband and wife want to be nowhere else in the world except united to one another in those moments.
But then, it’s over. While the joy and intimacy of sex should last well beyond the moment, eventually, it’s time to move on to other good things. Holy, godly, loving sex is a wonderful experience, but it can’t fully satisfy our hearts, because God never designed it that way. God created Niagara Falls and sex, and both point beyond themselves to our Creator, who invites us into pleasures that are forevermore at his right hand.
All good, earthly experiences only satisfy to a certain point. Whether it is your favorite song, your favorite food, your favorite vacation spot, or your favorite person, they all have their limitations. C.S. Lewis put it best in Mere Christianity when he said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”¹
We’ve come to expect that every good experience has an expiration date. We all know the phrase, “Nothing good lasts forever.” But that’s not true, and it’s not the language of our hearts. Even though we find in this life that nothing fully satisfies, we still keep looking, hoping that eventually we’ll find what our hearts were made for. For all of those in Christ, we have found the One for whom our hearts were made.
God created our hearts to be satisfied fully in him alone. I know that some of you reading this might start to tune out because your experience of God doesn’t compare to the pleasures you find in this world. Your experience of worship, Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship often pales in comparison to food, sex, entertainment, and what the world holds up as “the good life.” If you balk at the idea that God alone can satisfy your heart, consider these two realities.
First, the life we live in the flesh, we live by faith. Faith is the instrument through which we delight in God in this life. Just as taste buds are required to enjoy food, so too faith is required to enjoy God. If you have found our triune God to be boring, unsatisfying, and a weak offering compared to the world’s delights, it is because you are coming to him on the basis of sight, not faith.
But if, by the agency of the Holy Spirit, you walk by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you, you will find that our God has no comparison, that he alone has the words of life. Every promise you’ll find in Scripture of life, delight, joy, and pleasure in the Lord are all eschatological realities that Christ himself has already entered into in his resurrection and ascension and freely gives to you through Spirit-wrought union with him. We must lay hold of these realities by faith, as they are not fully consummated realities yet.
Think of it this way. Jesus has already entered into heaven. Right now, he sits at the right hand of Father with every spiritual blessing. He is living in the fullness of resurrection life. If you are united to Christ by faith, Paul is so bold as to tell you that you are presently seated with him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). The Father has blessed you with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places through Christ (Ephesians 1:3). You not only died with Christ to sin, but you have also been raised with him as well! This present resurrection is only a spiritual resurrection, which is why we must walk by faith in “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Second, I want to challenge you to meditate on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:9: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Whatever you imagine heaven to be, it’s far better! Your mind has no capacity to even begin to comprehend what God has in store for you. While that should keep us humble about speculating what heaven will be like, it shouldn’t stop us from getting excited. To whet your appetite, let’s return to Niagara Falls.
Imagine going to Niagara Falls, and, instead of experiencing a slow diminishment of wonder and delight, your awe at the falls is not only sustained but also increases over time. This is what fellowship and communion with God will be like for all of eternity. Or, for you music lovers, just imagine listening to the same song on repeat thousands of times, and, each time you hear it, it’s sweeter than before! Worshipping the Lord for all of eternity will never get old. There will never come a point when we’ve had enough, when we’ll want to move on to something else.
Knowing God for all of eternity will be like climbing a mountain range. Hiking towards the peak, you expect to reach the end of the range, but, as you come to the summit, you look out ahead to see a dozen more peaks in the distance.² Even in eternity, God will still be the infinite Creator, and we will still be finite creatures. We’ll never exhaust the deepest mysteries of our God. There will always be secret things that only belong to the Lord, but what he will reveal to his people will sustain us for all of eternity and will only get sweeter over time!
Sex is a wonderful gift that God wants married couples to delight in, but, as my former colleague David White liked to say, “In eternity, it will be laughable to think about someone bemoaning a lack of sex here on this earth.” Why will it be laughable? Because we will have everything that sex was pointing towards. Both the delight and the unsatisfied longings that accompany sex should point us towards heaven!
I can think of no better way to end this short reflection than the final stanza of “Amazing Grace.”
When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Then when we first begun.³
¹ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 136–137.
² This analogy of the mountain range did not originate with me, but, at this time, I am unaware of any other original source.
³ John Newton, “Amazing Grace,” in Trinity Hymnal (Rev. ed.), no. 460. It is commonly known that Newton did not write this stanza in the original hymn. All that is known is that this version of the hymn was arranged by Edwin O. Excell in 1900.
Awhile back, when I led a discipleship group for women seeking to overcome sexual sin, I was amazed at how prevalent abuse was in the stories of these dear sisters in Christ. It’s not that abuse is an unusual part of the backstory of women who come to us; sadly, most who reach out to us for help have experienced sexual abuse in one form or another. What made this group different, though, was the depth of trauma that was so common across the board among group members. I took in their courageous sharing with sobriety, heartbreak, anger, and confusion.
The very questions that many of them asked were now flooding my thoughts: “Why, God? Why did you allow this? What good could possibly come from this? How are they supposed to trust you when you didn’t stop this from happening?”
These are difficult questions, and there are no easy answers. It is too much for me to sort through why God allows what he does. It is too great for me to discern whether sin is to blame or if it is just a result of the fallenness of this world—or both. I admit that I have given in to demanding answers from God as I have attempted to sort through confusion created by others’ suffering.
In those times, I turn to Isaiah 55:8–9, which says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours and my thoughts than your thoughts.” There are answers that my finite mind can’t understand, and it lies in the character of who God is and the fact that he knows all of the things I don’t.
But, as helpers, what are we to do when God allows us to come face to face with what seem like “splashes of hell”?¹
If we’re going to truly identify with Jesus in this world, it’s important to realize a few things as a helper. First, hearing traumatic stories is hard, but it is a part of our calling as believers to bear with one another, and Jesus is compassionate to us in this process. Second, we can hear, hold, and steward these stories wisely.
Hearing Traumatic Stories Is Difficult
In Genesis 34, we read about Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, who was horrifically raped by a man named Shechem. This chapter largely focuses on her brother’s response to the rape, which resulted in his anger boiling over into murder as a form of retaliation. But consider for a moment what it would be like to sit with Dinah. What anguish would you hear her heart express? What fears did this experience cause to rise up in her? What questions is she struggling to find answers to? It would be an understatement to say that her answers would be hard to hear and, most likely, grieve our hearts.
Now let’s consider Jesus: We see him entering into these broken spaces with people. He knew the story of the Samaritan woman who had slept with and married many men (John 4) and the woman caught in the very act of adultery (John 8:1–11). We don’t know the details of those actual relationships and what exactly those women endured leading up to the moment they encountered Jesus; we only get a glimpse at where they ended up. Yet Jesus wasn’t overwhelmed by their sin or suffering. He saw them and engaged them through his questions, listened to them, offered hope, and even offered himself.
We can do this too, but we need to be prepared: Hearing traumatic stories is difficult. We need to be aware of a few possible temptations for us helpers.
- Dependence on self. Many of us can rely on ourselves to heal, fix, and come up with answers for pain that often doesn’t have easy solutions.
- Pride. Our desire to help can get mixed in with pride that convinces us, “Look at what a great helper I am by hearing such traumatic stories!” Or we can begin to think someone needs us in order to get better.
- Avoidance. In many ways, it is easier to ignore hard things. We put our heads in the sand and pretend it away, or we even run away all together.
We need to remember that we aren’t entrusted with abuse stories unless they have first been heard, seen, and known by Jesus. He cares for the sufferer and for us, the one called alongside those who have endured horrific pain.
Dane Ortlund says in his book, Gentle and Lowly, “In our pain, Jesus is pained; in our suffering, he feels the suffering as his own even though it isn’t—not that his invincible divinity is threatened, but in the sense that his heart is feelingly drawn into our distress. His human nature engages our troubles comprehensively. His is a love that cannot be held back when he sees his people in pain.”²
Holding Difficult Stories Can Be Done Wisely
So what should we do when someone comes to us and wants to open up, to share a painful experience of abuse with us? What about childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, sexual harassment at work? This is a wide and deep topic with lots of necessary detail that would need to be explored in each situation.
Let me offer four key starting points to keep in mind.
- Pray. Prayer must be utilized often as we confront this type of evil. Pray for wisdom to know what God is inviting you into as a helper, for God to guard your own heart as you listen, and for heart healing and comfort for the person sharing.
- Listen and learn. Don’t worry about having the perfect theological answer or the right thing to say. Intentional listening and seeking to understand the person in front of you will help eliminate your responses that lean towards, “I don’t know what to do with what I’m hearing.” Jesus was the ultimate question asker, and he already knows the ins and outs of a person’s heart and situation.
- Get the help you need. As we have talked about, being a helper in these situations can take its own toll on you. Hold the person’s story with honesty and integrity, but invite others to know you in this so they can pray specifically for you. In addition, seek safe spaces to talk about how the weight of these stories is impacting your heart.
- Help the person connect with someone trained in trauma care if needed. Often, the most helpful and loving thing we can do is to acknowledge that we care yet aren’t equipped to address certain experiences of trauma. So, seek to help this person connect with someone who is trained to help in these areas. Practical ways to do this are offering to research professionals in your region, making a phone call to learn more about their specific areas of focus, and providing contact information to the person in need. This doesn’t mean we eliminate ourselves from the situation, though, because God gives us the Body of Christ, and there is wisdom in coming alongside hurting people together.
People who are willing to begin facing abuse and trauma are courageous. To invite someone else to know about that truth is even braver. So, while it is an honor to be entrusted with such stories, we, as helpers, need to be prepared for how those stories will impact our hearts. We also need to be prepared that removing the blinders of the depth of evil and suffering around us is often painfully uncomfortable.
When my co-leader and I finished the group I mentioned earlier, we marveled, with tears, at what we had witnessed in the lives of the group members. They had grown forward, healing had gone a bit deeper, and the pull of sin was lessening. Their stories of trauma had changed us as we bore witness to Jesus, the One who draws near to the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1–3).
Jesus was moved to compassion when he saw the needs of those around him (Matthew 9:36 and 14:14). As we sit with those who have experienced abuse and trauma, may we be moved to compassion, knowing that, although it is hard to hear such stories, Jesus is the one who redeems, restores, and enables us to hold challenging stories wisely.
¹ Joni E. Tada described suffering this way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tU6q1r1Z9jg&t=2s, last accessed 2/24/21.
² Dane Ortlund. Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. Wheaton: IL, Crossway, 2020. 46.
Join Chris and Shalee as they talk about how to help parents whose children self-identify as LGBTQ+. They discuss common struggles and challenges that Christian parents face as they process the initial discovery, hold on to the truth of God’s Word, and walk forward in a loving relationship with their children.
What parents need most when they first discover that their children identify as LGBTQ+: Someone who can listen to parents’ experience of shock, grief, pain, and confusion is what they most need in these initial stages.
Specific challenges that parents now face in their relationships with their children: Parents need support in figuring out how to navigate their relationships with their sons and daughters, love them with integrity before God, and trust the Lord’s sovereign purposes.
Unexpected findings on this journey: Parents can learn how God works to draw parents to himself, making them more like Christ as they persevere through this trial.
Impact on the helper: It is a great privilege to walk with hurting parents, to be trusted with the most sensitive matters, and to witness strong faith and courage in the midst of very difficult circumstances.
18 Mar 2021
“What will I do if they make me sign something that goes against my biblical beliefs?”
“How will I feed my family if I lose my job?”
“If we lose federal funding by staying faithful to our convictions, how will our organization survive?”
No doubt many of you have already been asking these very questions in light of bills like the Equality Act, which pose genuine threats to expressions of religious freedom in the United States. To be clear, very real injustices, violence, and hatred of people claiming an LGBTQ+ identity should be abhorrent to all Christians who honor God. Harvest USA is passionate that all people are made in the image of God and deserve to be cared for, respected, and treated with honor and dignity. But Christians are right to be concerned about the government forcing individual Christians or Christian organizations to do things that would go against their beliefs.
While the Equality Act may or may not dramatically change the limits of religious freedom in America, it is hard to deny the general direction that our country is headed in. The Church must face the reality that it is no longer advantageous to be a Christian in the larger culture. For a long time, it was considered a boost to your job resume to attend church regularly, and, to this day, it still seems a prerequisite for the highest public offices in our nation.
But, more and more, we are feeling and experiencing the liabilities that come with faithfully identifying with Jesus Christ. The cross is not only foolish to our culture; it is increasingly seen as dangerous. Faithfully holding to a biblical sexual ethic in the years to come will become even more costly for the church of Jesus Christ. So I ask you, as I need to ask myself, “Have you counted the cost of following Christ?”
Jesus told a great crowd in Luke 14:26–27, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
This passage, and many others like it, shares words that the Church in America has always needed to hear. But often, to our spiritual detriment, these warnings have felt largely inapplicable in our lives. Our expectations for life in America have often shown a blatant denial of Paul’s words that, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
But every believer, every church, every Christian organization in America is being called at this moment to do some spiritual accounting and boldly face the real cost of following Jesus. While I know that I still have much to pray through and many fears that need to be continually submitted to my high priest, I thank the Lord that he has already given me countless examples of men and women at Harvest USA who are showing me what it means to count that cost!
What do I mean by this?
Much of the work we do with men and women seeking out help for sexual struggles revolves around one central question: “Is Jesus worthy of your trust and complete submission?” One of the biggest reasons we often go back to our sins of choice is that we don’t believe that God will take care of us. As Isaiah described it, instead of trusting God to be our light in the darkness, we light our own torches, which results in torment (Isaiah 50:10–11).
The husband who is unwilling to confess his sexual sin to his wife doesn’t believe that God will bring him through the relational pain that would inevitably follow. And so he continues to play the role of the perfect husband, all the while sinking deeper into hidden shame and misery.
The single woman who desperately wants to be known, loved, cherished, and cared for seems to have found what she’s looking for in another woman. She is faced with the gut-wrenching choice of being offered two antithetical paths, wishing she could hold onto Christ while also pursuing what she feels would make her happy.
The young man who, from an early age, has struggled to fit in with his peers finds himself more drawn to his mother than his father, his sisters than his brothers, and even female clothing and makeup. Now he feels the daily pressure from the wider culture to embrace the narrative that he is actually a woman trapped in a man’s body and that to deny this reality would be to live a lie.
The wife whose husband has gravely sinned against her in committing adultery is now faced with the excruciating call to forgive her husband, and pray for him, while her own world is collapsing all around her.
The parents whose child tells them that she is transgender threatens to cut off all relational connection with them if they do not embrace her choice to transition. They desperately want to maintain relationship with their child, but they feel stuck about how to do that.
Each of these men and women are, in their own ways, being forced to count the cost of following Christ. For most of them, this cost is not financial, but relational. It is a sobering reality to sit with a man and call him to do something that may change his life forever. It is heart-wrenching to have to tell him that his obedience may not result in the outcome that he wants. I’ve felt my body shake as I imagine the very real possibility of a future wrought with loneliness, rejection, and difficult consequences as a result of his obedience.
But there are few moments in my life as precious as seeing these men and women count that cost and do so with genuine hope and joy. When someone decides to follow Jesus into the valley of the shadow of death, I’ve never seen them do so despairingly. Without exception, I always see a measure of hope, peace, and even joy as they follow their good Shepherd. If only we could see what is happening spiritually when the Holy Spirit brings that conviction and hope. I firmly believe that I have witnessed miracles in our office that exceed the wonder of walking on water. I have seen brothers and sisters boldly and courageously step out into the storm with their eyes fixed upon Christ! I have seen young men struggling with same-sex attraction, never knowing if God will grant them a spouse, boldly testify that God is their portion, both in this life and in the next. I have seen husbands resolve to confess their sin of adultery to their wives, knowing that it may lead to the end of their marriages. I have seen wives graciously extend costly forgiveness to their husbands, even when their churches and their own families were opposed it.
We get regular front-row seats into the stories of fellow saints carrying heavy crosses. But here’s the key: They don’t carry them alone. None of them do this in their own strength. They do so through abiding in Christ and through genuine fellowship with his Body. The Church in America will not survive if our relationships with one another only stay on the surface. We will not bear up under the pressure if Jesus is not our life and deepest satisfaction.
You may be reading this and asking yourself, “Will I have the strength to lose anything in order to follow Christ?” If you’re concerned with your response, ask yourself these four vital questions:
- Have I learned the secret of having plenty, and being full, through Christ who strengthens me? If you haven’t learned Christian contentment in seasons of plenty, you won’t be ready for a season of hunger and want.
- Have I been getting through life as a functional lone ranger, or do I have brothers and sisters who truly know me? In times of peace and ease, our sense of need for one another can go numb. But when the true cost of following Christ is put before you, you shouldn’t expect to make the right decision on your own.
- Is Jesus my portion in this life and the next? God describes himself in Scripture as a generous Father who knows not only how to provide for his children’s needs but who also loves to give us an abundance of good gifts that show his lavish character. But more than the gifts he gives, God wants us to ultimately rejoice in him, the greatest gift to his people. If you don’t love Jesus more than anything right now, you won’t be ready to lose whatever is required of you for his sake and the gospel.
- Am I seeking first his Kingdom and righteousness? Jesus knows that we are prone to anxiety about our earthly needs, and, as our good Shepherd, he doesn’t merely chastise us for our concerns. Instead, he shows us how to live a life of genuine peace and hope. To paraphrase Matthew 6:33, Jesus basically says to his people, “Focus your energy on the Kingdom, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
Working at Harvest USA has shown me that it is possible to hate even my own life as a faithful disciple of Christ. I’ve seen so many men and women do so in our offices to the glory of God. And our Lord’s promise to us is that, if we lose our life for his sake and the gospel’s, then we will save it (Mark 8:35).
Our Direct Ministry Team—which encompasses our Women’s, Men’s, and Parents and Family Ministries—delights to receive questions about the how, why, and what of our discipleship. Over many years, we have met with women and men from all over the United States and many countries. It has been our joy to share the hope of Christ with people from all backgrounds and many ethnicities, which brings me to a question that was sent to us recently.
“How are you equipping your staff to help people of color (non-whites) who struggle with sexual issues?”
Let me say that I love that someone asked us this! Harvest USA is committed to remaining firmly planted in a biblical view of a) people, b) sexual struggles, and c) the gospel’s hope for real transformation, which is extravagantly and indiscriminately available for all people. Let me answer our reader with two foundational commitments that our staff team lives out and to which we hold each other accountable.
We listen to our ministry recipients and seek to understand their stories
Our team anchors our discipleship ministry in asking questions and engaged listening. We equip ourselves through learning from the men and women who come to us for help. We sit at their feet, if you will, even as they have reached out due to personal pain and addictions. We ask many questions to understand their stories, backgrounds, cultural messages to which they have ascribed, and how the specifics of unbiblical values became accepted as they grew up.
Our ministry team of staff and interns represents a variety of ethnicities, but we are mostly white. The individuals who come to us, however, truly span the beautiful array of God’s image bearers. As I shared earlier, my discipleship to women has included those who are African-American, Latina, Asian, S. Asian, and white sisters who come from so many backgrounds. The same is true for the staff in our Men’s and Parents and Family Ministries. I’ve had my cultural blind spots exposed by asking questions, inviting feedback, asking more clarifying questions, and—can I mention it one more time?—listening.
If Christ came to heal the brokenhearted and to set the captives free (Isaiah 61:1–3 and Luke 4:18–20), then it’s crucial for our staff team to know how people have been uniquely bruised, broken, and wounded because of their histories. Cultural and racial influences can shape our thinking to be anti-biblical at worst and confusing at best.
Below are a few of the stories that trained me, opening my understanding to how culturally-specific experiences of pain can shape a person. The insights I’ve gained from women’s stories have helped me grow in knowing how to apply the gospel in specific ways for women of color.
- One woman grew up in a community where it was just expected and understood that married men have mistresses. What this hurting woman needed was the same message that most of the wives who reach out need, but understanding the cultural message from her upbringing guided me in delving into her beliefs about marriage and sex, which included a lot of distortion.
- A dear sister shared that, in her church, homosexuality was named publicly as “the most disgusting” sin, yet other expressions of sexual sin, which were definitely happening in that church, were not condemned. Tragically, many majority-white churches operate in the same way, but, in this woman’s cultural world, it was completely unacceptable to wrestle with same-sex temptations. She came to our women’s ministry carrying the burden of so much shame due to her attractions towards women. She needed grace, mercy, and truth to soothe and reorient her heart back to Jesus—just like all of us do. Knowing her cultural lens and how she had been shaped by growing up in her particular religious environment helped me know how to understand the shame and fear that burdened her.
- Finally, a young single woman fearfully confided in me about her secret struggle with pornography and masturbation. She could barely lift her eyes as she slowly let these words come out of her heart and mouth for the first time. She was a non-English speaker, so another Christian woman needed to translate this conversation…can you imagine what this was like for her?! I had previously learned, thankfully, how shame shackled many sexual strugglers in this culture, keeping them in isolation and fear. So, I didn’t go deep with questions about her sexual struggle in that first conversation. I listened, sought to pour hope and mercy over her, and sorrowed with her as she shared about a painful, lonely life. That first conversation opened the door for her to engage with other Christians about her sin.
Our staff team stands on Scripture not only to understand the stories we hear from people of color but also to show us how we ought to love, disciple, and come alongside them, as well as white people. Believe me: I’ve been trained by my mistakes and cultural blunders too many times to count, but, by God’s kindness, I am growing! As 2 Corinthians 5:14–15 says, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and 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.”
We anchor our understanding of people and sexuality in the Bible
Over the fourteen years that I’ve served with Harvest USA, a highlight has been five international trips to Asia and South America. As a former missionary, something in my ministry DNA comes alive in cross-cultural situations. My international teaching travels, as well as discipleship calls from all over the globe, have given me many opportunities to have honest, real conversations with sexual strugglers from many parts of the world.
My interactions in Asia, South America, and Latin America, along with women from the U.S. who are Latina, African American, and Asian-American, have proven to me what the Bible says: We are all more alike than different! People were created in the image of God, yet we all experience the brokenness of sin and the need of forgiveness, healing, and transformation. We each have unique experiences regarding cultural values, family histories, peer and religious influences, and more that have exerted powerful shaping influence on our hearts. However, the Bible is clear on several points.
“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come”
(2 Corinthians 5:17).
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16–17).
These three biblical touchpoints teach us that all people need the radical intervention of God through new life in Christ and the power of the Spirit. We all need the Spirit’s help to turn away from sinful thoughts, actions, and desires, including pornography, sexual fantasy, adultery, promiscuity, and any sexual struggle. The Bible does not discriminate in its bold and clear proclamation that we all need our Lord Jesus’ salvation, grace, and mercy to live faithfully in regards to our sexuality.
I could share many more details, but these two commitments lay the foundation upon which we seek to love and care for the men and women of color who reach out for help. Our staff listens to learn about each person’s unique story and beliefs, and we read, study, and meditate on the Bible’s teaching about people and sexual struggles, which keeps us anchored to a biblical worldview.
Jesus sent his people out to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:18–20), a commission which Harvest USA takes to heart! Please continue to send any questions you have about the how, why, what, and when of our commitment to live this out.
Many Christian parents of an LGBTQ+-identified child feel at a loss for what God is up to in their families. One of the most common questions you may find yourself asking again and again is, “God, what are you doing!?” When you contemplate your child’s situation—from the devastation and deep hurt you have felt to the haunting question of your son or daughter’s relationship with the Lord—you will undoubtedly search anywhere and everywhere to discover where God is working.
More often than not, you may feel that these questions are left unanswered, but you can be assured that God is at work, and you can pray for his purposes to prevail. God may use these difficult circumstances to draw your child closer to himself and to bring conviction of the truth deep into your child’s heart, dislodging the false beliefs they have adopted and the negative influences that surround them. The God of Joseph, who used what was meant for evil to bring about good (Genesis 50:20), is the same God in whom you can place your hope and trust as you consider where your child’s journey may lead.
Out of all the ways in which God could possibly work, there is one purpose that you can be sure he is accomplishing through these difficult circumstances. This particular work of God may not be as obvious to you, but rest assured that it is there. This is the purpose that God is actively working on your heart. Consider these words from the Apostle Paul:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28–29).
This familiar passage in Romans may not be the most comforting words at first glance—this is not my “go to” passage for a parent first discovering their child’s chosen identity—but opening your heart to this promise of God is sure to bring clarity and hope as you see God’s tangible work unfold in your life.
The Lord, in his sovereign providence, has placed you on the difficult road on which you find yourself. If you are in the love of God, he is at work using these circumstances to make you more like his Son, Jesus Christ. Certainly, the Lord desires to comfort you in your pain, guide you in relating to your child, and soften your child’s heart. But there is more that God desires to do through the suffering and trials you are experiencing; he wants nothing less than to remake you into the image of his Son.
Practically speaking, what might this look like?
Embracing this purpose of God’s refining begins by taking your eyes off of your child and putting them on yourself. The purpose is for you to pause and consider, “Where do I see God at work in me?” More specifically, ask yourself the following questions.
- How do I see God teaching me to trust in him with my whole heart and not lean on my own understanding?
- In which area(s) is God prompting me to relinquish control of my child’s life?
- What does this trial show regarding what my heart truly believes about God and who he claims to be?
- How is God challenging me to stand firm in his Word and its promises?
- How am I handling this differently now compared to when I first discovered that my child was identifying in this way?
- Where else have I seen God work in my heart through this hardship?
Questions like these will help you see evidence of God’s purposes at work in you and challenge you to embrace his sovereign will all the more.
Below are some of the things you may discover and enjoy as you walk in this purpose of God.
- God will show you more clearly your own broken condition and need for him.
- He will teach you how to love messy sinners in the same way he has loved you.
- He will give you the desire for him to be glorified through your family situation above everything else.
- He will open the door for you to comfort other hurting people with the comfort that you have received from God.
God has promised to use your son or daughter’s situation to bring about his good purposes in your life. I encourage you to invite God to work in you, in accordance with his will, that you might more clearly see his sovereign and good plan unfolding as he cares for you.
18 Feb 2021
Name: Jim Weidenaar
Position: Director of Harvest USA in the Greater Pittsburgh Region
Hometown: I almost don’t have a hometown. I was born in Grand Rapids, MI, but some of my childhood and my first two school years were in Waupun, WI. Most of my growing-up years were in Dearborn, MI. I guess that qualifies as the closest thing to my “hometown.”
Description of HUSA work: My job entails a wide variety of responsibilities. I am responsible for all aspects of Harvest’s ministry in the Pittsburgh area and supervise our small Pittsburgh staff. I oversee all direct ministry activities, and that includes doing some one-on-one targeted discipleship with men, as well as leading men’s groups and a parents’ support group. I create the budget for the Pittsburgh office and maintain a relationship with our praying and giving partners who support our ministry in Pittsburgh. As part of Harvest USA’s teaching team, I write blog posts, articles, and curricula and provide the theological and pastoral review of all other Harvest USA publications. I teach at various public events, preach in local churches, present to Sunday School groups, and speak at seminars and conferences. I also lead the Partner Ministry Program, by which Harvest consults with and trains teams that are setting up ministry to sexual strugglers in their own local churches.
How did you get to Harvest? My personal journey in seeking gospel repentance from pornography began when I was engaged to be married, and it has continued as an important part of my growth in marriage. When my wife and I were in the Philadelphia area for my studies at Westminster, we were members at Tenth Presbyterian Church, where we first encountered Harvest USA via teaching events like Sunday Schools and seminars. Having spent many hours wrestling with, thinking about, and discussing these issues together, we were immediately impressed with how biblical, balanced, and wise the Harvest USA perspectives were. This remained merely appreciation and gratitude until shortly after completion of my degree. Then, after encouragement from a friend to consider a calling to ministry “outside the box,” it suddenly occurred to me that ministry with Harvest USA might perfectly fit my personal and theological story. Discussions and interviews with Harvest staff confirmed this. We moved to Pittsburgh, and I joined the staff in June of 2012.
What is your favorite Scripture? I have always found this to be a difficult question. I guess my “favorite” Scripture changes with my season of life. At this time, I would choose 1 John 3:1–3:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (ESV)
I love this passage because it captures so succinctly the character, the hope, and the motivation of our fight against sin. First, the foundation of our fight is in the incredible realization that we are loved by God himself—not just any love, but the love of a father for his children. We are reminded every day when ministering with Harvest USA how strange and alien this truth is to the rest of the world around us. But it does not stop there, for we are given the promise that a glorious and unimaginable transformation awaits us. We may not be able to fully comprehend yet what the “revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19) will be like, but we are told this much: When Jesus returns, we will see him, and seeing him as he is will complete our transformation. I am increasingly understanding that any change we experience in this life follows that same pattern: The more we look at Jesus clearly, the more we become like him. Energized by love for the glory of his purity, we pursue purity. This Scripture is, to me, like a manifesto of personal sanctification and ministry.
What is your favorite thing about living in Philadelphia? Well, I don’t live in Philadelphia anymore, but I did for 10 years before moving to the other side of the state. So I can say in retrospect that the two things I loved about living in Philadelphia were 1) the ever-present echoes of American history and 2) the international and ethnic diversity of the city’s people. However, since I now live in Pittsburgh, it is fitting that I say what I love here. I love Pittsburgh’s small-town feel, which I think is partly from the confining geography and partly the friendly culture.
An interesting fact about myself: I mentioned above that I’m not confident of identifying my “hometown.” The truth is that in the first 26 years of our marriage, my wife and I moved our household 13 times. We lived in three locations near Grand Rapids, MI, two cities in Haiti, a small town in the Dominican Republic, a suburb of Chicago, four different suburbs of Philadelphia, and two suburbs of Pittsburgh. We have been in our current house near Pittsburgh for almost 8 years. That is the longest we have lived in any one place in our married life.
11 Feb 2021
The following is meant to help those who are weary in their battle to overcome sin and who need help knowing how to pray and cry out to God for a fresh start.
Father, I’m scared…
I’m scared of many things. I’m scared of people finding out who I really am. I’m scared of seeing their faces when they hear about my sexual sin. I’m scared of the consequences not only for me but also for those I love if this ever gets out. I’m scared of being seen as a fraud, a pervert, a hypocrite. I’m scared that everyone will abandon me, and I’ll be alone in my sin and shame. I’m scared of wearing a scarlet A for the rest of my life.
But, Lord, I’m also scared of my heart growing colder and colder towards you. I’m scared of what this sin is doing to me and how it is destroying my mind and thought life. I’m scared that I’ve already gone far deeper into places of sin and darkness than I ever expected, and that maybe I’ll go even further. I’m scared that I’m not really your child; what if I’m just fooling myself into thinking I am? There are so many parts of the Bible I avoid because I know they expose me and my hypocrisy. It’s been so long since I’ve read your Word with delight because I’m constantly bombarded with guilt and fear when I read it.
I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. I want a third way! I want an easy way out. I want to be truly known and loved, but I don’t want people to know these things about me.
Jesus, you tell me in your Word that you are the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 to go after the one lost sheep. I know you’ve come for me. I sense your Spirit convicting me. I used to be able to live a double life with ease and even excitement. But now I feel like David in Psalm 32 when he said, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”
Lord, I feel your heavy hand upon me, and I cannot escape your conviction. I have to tell others. The thought of putting on a fake smile for one more Sunday is too much! I’m so tired of hearing compliments from others when I know they would take them all back in a second if they knew the truth. Their words of encouragement sting! Their affirmation leaves me feeling even more empty!
I know the only way forward is to follow you, Jesus, into the valley of the shadow of death. I confess that I struggle to believe that you too won’t abandon me there. I’m not sure I even know what it means for your rod and staff to comfort me—because I’ve rejected your comfort for so long in exchange for the comforts of sin. You’re asking me to trust you with something that would be completely new for me. And yet, Lord, even now, I do sense your Spirit comforting me. As painful and scary as it is, I feel a strange comfort at the thought of surrendering my life completely to you. Is this what Paul meant when he said that your peace, which surpasses all understanding, will guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus?
Father, Abba Father, I need to confess to you that I have made so many excuses for why it was right for me to hide. I don’t know whether I really believed them or not, but I kept justifying myself, and I kept hoping that somehow you’d excuse me too. I made the excuse that telling the truth would hurt people too much, and I wanted to spare them of that pain. Forgive me, Father, for I know that wasn’t really true. It wasn’t ultimately about sparing them pain—I was really protecting myself. I didn’t want to feel the pain of causing others pain. In my heart, I know that telling the truth is not what ultimately causes them pain; my actions have done that. If I really cared about them as I said I did, I wouldn’t have done these things over and over again for so long.
I need your grace, Lord, to get me through this. I don’t have what it takes. I don’t have the strength to see my loved ones hurting so much and not turn inwards on myself. I want to truly grieve with them and not sink into self-pity and despair. How could I possibly love someone this way when I feel so wretched about myself?
Jesus, did you really bear all of my sin on the cross? Did you take the shame, the mocking, the scorn, the beating, the nails, and the wrath of the Father because you love me and want me to live in freedom? Do you really love me? Do you see my sin? Do you really see the decades of hiding, of living for myself, and still want me?
Right now, Jesus, as weak as my faith is, I’m trying to believe you and take you at your word because you said, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” Lord, I come to you for cleansing, for forgiveness, and for redemption. I can’t fix myself. I can’t clean myself up. I am utterly in need of you to restore me.
I’m so scared of the shame and the scorn, but you took that shame upon yourself in love so that, “Everyone who believes in you will not be put to shame.” Lord, if I expose my sin to others, I know I will feel shame. And I know others will seek to shame me further. But I believe. I pray that you would help my unbelief, that at the final day, I would not be put to shame if I trust in you. In spite of my sin, I will be raised, and when you appear in your glory, Jesus, I will appear with you in glory!
Jesus, I died with you. I have been crucified with you. It is no longer I who live, but you who live in me. Help me to no longer walk by sight but by faith in you, the Son of God, who loved me and gave yourself for me. Hallelujah! All I have is Christ!
Help me, Father, to see that I am fundamentally beloved in Christ; while I was still your enemy, you loved me so much that you sent your Son to die for me. I have no argument against that! I only plead with you to give me the grace to believe this more and more each day.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in view of your great mercy towards me, I commit to telling ________ about my sin today! I’m picking up the phone right now to tell them that I need to talk with them about something very important, and I commit to setting a date and time to speak with them. Holy Spirit, give me your words to speak. Help me not to just spew details that are too specific, but to speak truthfully and appropriately. Lord, right now, I ask that you would make their ears and heart ready to receive this very painful news. Prepare _______’s heart to turn quickly to you, Jesus, as the one who wants to bear our burdens. Bring others around them for support in this devastating news. Guard me against wanting a quick resolution, and prepare me for whatever the response may be. I confess that I want quick reconciliation, but, Lord, even if that never comes on this side of glory, help me to continue to trust you.
I love you, Lord. I know that life is going to become very difficult. But there’s no other way, and I’m done with doing things my way. I thank you for your peace right now, and I pray for peace for my loved ones. Guide me, Savior; lead me. I thank you for being with me in this time of prayer, and I ask your blessing upon this step of faith, in the name of my Savior Jesus Christ, who loved me and gave himself for me. Amen!