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!
01 Jun 2023
This post is a contribution from guest author Julie Lowe, Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation faculty member and counselor.
Young people are growing up in an increasingly godless world which requires deep wisdom and discernment to navigate. More than ever, they need to know how to traverse the dangers around them. Consider 1 John 5:19: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” God’s Word tells us that “Evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13).
If we only shelter our children and do not equip them to act in wisdom, we inadvertently raise young people who don’t know how to make sense of evil or respond to it wisely. Wisdom sees potential danger and takes protective measures against it.
We shouldn’t be afraid to talk with confidence and hope to our children about evil in the world and the hope we have in Christ. Our willingness to talk about the hard things helps convince our kids that we have something helpful to say. By teaching them well, with God’s grace, we aim to raise kids who aren’t fearful but competent and confident.
So how can we help our children to walk safely through this threatening world?
Discernment to See Right and Wrong
Teach young people to navigate this world by giving them the ability to discern good from evil and right from wrong. Our culture is pressing in on our children, indoctrinating them with false views of romance and love, morality and truth, sexuality and identity. Our world calls intolerant what is good and holy and good what God calls wicked. Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”
It’s tempting to shelter our kids, but it is far better to equip them to discern right from wrong and help them practice wise responses.
Safety is built on the foundation of discerning right from wrong—understanding how God created life to be lived. Young people cannot safely navigate this world without this ability to distinguish good from evil. Our goal is that children would know the ways of God and walk in truth; safety skills are a fruit of godliness. Walking by faith and knowing good from evil will be their shield, and I believe that safety skills will be the fruit of teaching our children the ways of the Lord.
Discernment to Name the Darkness
Wisdom and discernment are the substance: “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14). Notice that the mature have “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
Discussing the dangers our children might encounter helps us understand how we can begin the process of equipping both ourselves and our children for setting up appropriate protective measures. Name the darkness that exists and equip your children to know how to avoid it and respond to it if it finds them.
For example, proactively teach your kids about pornography and sexting—what it is and why it’s dangerous, with a game-plan for what to do if (when) they see it. Teach them about respect and privacy, the God-imbued value of their bodies, and how they can protect and steward their bodies well. Teach your kids what God says about gender and sexuality. Discuss (age-appropriately) some of the many examples of each of these issues and role play ways they can respond when faced with the wrong view. It’s tempting to shelter our kids, but it is far better to equip them to discern right from wrong and help them practice wise responses. Doing so protects our young people from the temptations that exist and the entanglements of destructive choices.
Our safety ultimately rests in the hands of our God. . . . At the end of the day, God is the one who watches over us.
Knowing good from evil and right from wrong is primary. Safety skills flow from that foundation. Safety skills are a fruit of the way we parent our children. This is important to emphasize, because if we raise children who have been shielded from the worst perils of this world but do not walk with the Lord, do not know right from wrong, or are unaware of the dangers that exist from within—we have failed them miserably.
Discernment to Rest in the Lord
Our safety ultimately rests in the hands of our God. Psalm 37:39–40 reminds us, “The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in times of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them, he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.” Our ultimate hope is in a sovereign God who is our high tower, our very present help in trouble (Ps. 46:1, Prov. 18:10). Consider Psalm 138:7:
“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life, you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.”
At the end of the day, God is the one who watches over us. As we explore Scripture, we will understand more deeply the call to be wise, to see danger and run from it (Prov. 27:12), to have courage (Prov. 28:1, 2 Chron. 32:7–9), and to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves (Isa. 1:17, Prov. 31:8–9). We are not to be passive in our engagement with injustice, danger, mistreatment, and evil. We must respond to it, while resting in our ultimate Protector.
Article adapted from content in Safeguards: Shielding Our Homes and Equipping Our Kids ©2022 by Julie Lowe. Available at newgrowthpress.com. Used by permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
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.
18 May 2023
How can I believe that my heavenly Father truly loves me when he won’t take away my insomnia or chronic pain? How can I trust God with my future when my whole world has exploded at the revelation of my spouse’s infidelity? How can I possibly believe that God knows what’s best for me when he calls me to turn from desires that feel completely natural? How can I entrust my child to the Lord when they’re about to inflict irreversible damage on their body?
Living by faith is difficult. We all struggle every day to remember, believe, and make choices based on God’s Word and his promises to us in Christ. Words on a page can feel meaningless when painful circumstances don’t change. What helps us nurture belief in these hard moments, days, and years?
Unbelief Is a Matter of the Heart
Our flesh looks at these situations and says that God hasn’t given us sufficient evidence that he’s worthy of our trust. But faith is not a matter of evidence. Scripture gives us testimony after testimony of people who had abundant evidence to trust God but still chose unbelief. The Israelites saw God perform over a dozen miracles rescuing them from Egypt, culminating in the parting of the Red Sea. And yet, in a matter of days, they doubted God’s ability or desire to keep them alive in the wilderness. Jesus fed over 5,000 men with nothing more than five loaves and two fish. But later, the crowd refused to believe his explanation of the miracle. His followers drastically decreased after this incredible display of his power and sustaining kindness.
Faith is a matter of the heart, not the eyes. Apart from God’s grace, all of us are born with dead hearts that cannot believe what is evident in all creation (Rom. 1:19–20). But in the new birth, God makes our hearts alive, and we believe. This is saving faith. And yet, this heart transplant does not guarantee an easy road of faith. We still struggle, and so much of our struggle with sexual sin comes down to unbelief.
Every time we give way to temptation, we’re believing those deceitful arguments and choosing to live in a world that’s fundamentally untrue.
Lies about God, ourselves, and others become powerful arguments for giving in to sin. After all, our heart says, God doesn’t care, God won’t deliver me, God can’t meet me in this moment—but sex can. Sex always delivers, sex has never let me down, and unlike God, sex doesn’t ask me to believe, just feel. Every time we give way to temptation, we’re believing those deceitful arguments and choosing to live in a world that’s fundamentally untrue.
Where Does Unbelief Grow?
I’m convinced there’s one primary behavior that keeps us stuck in patterns of unbelief: isolation. A man in one of our biblical support groups worked in the mold remediation business, and he compared sexual sin with mold. It grows in the dark, in hidden places, where nobody sees it, and before you know it, it’s infected the entire house.
Why does sin love darkness? Because in the darkness, no one can challenge your unbelief. Over time, that unbelief has a compounding effect. You don’t only believe all the lies that keep you going back to your sin, you also believe the lies that keep you from confessing your sin to others: My sin is too heinous, too dirty to tell others. I won’t survive the consequences of my actions. I can live a double life without anyone ever knowing.
Where Does Faith Grow?
At Harvest USA, I’ve asked dozens of men what the most helpful thing about their experience with us was. They almost always say the same thing: “Having other brothers to walk with me in this battle.” The most helpful thing wasn’t our staff’s expertise or our profound materials, but other group members, week-in and week-out, hearing their struggles and reminding them of the truths of the gospel.
I just finished a 20-month group with 12 men. At the end, I gave them one specific warning: Don’t go back to hiding. Don’t isolate yourself after this group finishes. That is the fastest way to guarantee going right back to old patterns of unbelief and sin. Hebrews 3:12–13 says,
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Notice the two words accompanying “evil” and “sin”: “unbelieving” and “deceitfulness.” Sin deceives us, leading to unbelief, which causes us to turn away from God—his precepts and his promises.
Isolation is the soil in which unbelief grows. But the body of Christ is the good soil through which our Father causes our faith to go from strength to strength.
One of the most powerful weapons to guard against unbelief is genuine fellowship with the body of Christ. This is where we’re known, exhorted, comforted, and pointed back to the truth over and over again. This passage assumes that even going one day without other Christians reminding us of the truth leaves us vulnerable to sin’s hardening effects on our hearts. Do we give other Christians that level of importance in our lives? You will if you remember that this life is a spiritual battle, and lone rangers are the first to get picked off.
Ultimately, Jesus is your closest friend. He’s the one who never stops praying for you that your faith may not fail (Luke 22:32). He sympathizes with how excruciatingly difficult it is to trust in our heavenly Father (Luke 22:44, Heb. 12:4). And he uses his people as his mouthpiece to remind you of his love, care, goodness, and power over your life. Isolation is the soil in which unbelief grows. But the body of Christ is not only an effective spiritual weed killer, it’s also the good soil through which our Father causes our faith to go from strength to strength (Ps. 84:5–7).
This post was written by Harvest USA Women’s Ministry intern YaPing Li.
The single life has brought challenges for me—maybe you too. Suffering and being misunderstood can take different forms for those of us who aren’t married, whether we’ve never been married or are single again due to death or divorce. I planned to be single, but long-term singleness is still a learning curve. I’m lucky because I don’t burn with desire, yet neither am I cold to the beauty of marital fellowship. I can’t explain why, but singleness is God’s plan; he has chosen it for me.
Sometimes, suffering comes through lost opportunities. I feel this sting when I think about something on my bucket list (if heaven doesn’t come first): standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and taking in the spectacular view of God’s designed colors and majesty. I don’t have a lifelong companion to share this joy with—to say, “Do you see it?! Are you thinking what I’m thinking? This is amazing!” I probably won’t have children to share stories like this with, either. At times, this causes my tears to fall.
I know my sorrow will transform into praise. No earthly wonder can compare to Christ’s own face, presence, and loving kindness. Still, life in this world—single or married—has its sorrows. This feeling of loss keeps me asking a question that can only be answered through the Scriptures: Where is my confidence?
God’s Word makes me want to know and pursue God’s goal for my singleness: that I would embrace Jesus and find my confidence in him.
I believe in the all-sufficiency of God’s Word, which enables me to walk through sorrow when it comes, looking to my hope in Jesus. God’s Word makes me want to know and pursue God’s goal for my singleness: that I would embrace Jesus and find my confidence in him.
Jesus really loves us—all of us. God’s ultimate goal for me isn’t that I paint a picture of a single woman living a perfectly holy and happy life, but that I would delight ever more in Christ. While I’m learning daily that his presence is sufficient, my life is not here to prove that living well single is better than a good marriage. Life is not a competition. It’s not about who can glorify and enjoy God most. In Christ, our fruitfulness comes from being faithful to God in the life he gives us, not personal triumph.
In God’s kingdom, the least is most satisfied. How we measure ourselves and others, including the least among us, says a lot about how we live as Christians.
God’s kingdom requires child-like admiration. We’ve all been children. When infants are separated from their parents, they cry, searching for the attentive gaze of their mother or father. They want to see their parents’ faces and be picked up in their loving arms. Their security and joy come from their parents. And when they’re with their parents, they want to stay in their embrace. That’s joy! Like infants desperate for their parents, all believers need the loving presence of God. As infants receive their parents, single men and women receive our Lord Jesus Christ in this world and the world to come. Our heavenly father is never far, and he will embrace us all the way home. Singles are not measured by their unmarried status, their gifts, or their ministry contributions. All are measured by the loving gaze of our Maker, Redeemer, and Advocate.
While I’m learning daily that his presence is sufficient, my life is not here to prove that living well single is better than a good marriage.
I may never travel to the Grand Canyon. But I can still be so overwhelmed by God’s abundant, loving kindness that a thousand Grand Canyons will not compare. And I can still be brought low. Single or married, we will be undone by Jesus Christ and be made into creatures who admire his goodness, kindness, beauty, gentleness, and compassion. All that he is and has will totally undo our worthless pursuits, competition, and ideas of worldly status.
I wonder if the more we embrace Christ, the more fulfilled our lives will be. Hence, the more content we can grow in our sexuality, relationships, and future hopes. “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance, and need” (Phil. 4:12).
I have been brought low. I’ve been unfairly denied jobs. I’ve become more comfortable with the “Joy of Missing Out,” learning that many people, though they have good intentions, are busy and forgetful of a single woman. I’ve had chronic migraine headaches, leading others to think I’m antisocial, and have been unable to think about the future while waiting for two biopsy results. I’ve been misunderstood when requesting a third person in the car if a brother gave me a ride and hurt when people I cared for only wanted me as their counselor, not their friend. When Christmas approaches, I dread being asked about my plans—deciding who needs me most, where I will be blessed, and which family to celebrate with to glorify God. Some of these circumstances feel awful, while some are just inconveniences and opportunities to grow in Christ-like wisdom. In all these lowly circumstances, Christ is sufficient to receive my honest lament.
Encouragement When You’re Brought Low in Your Singleness
Maybe your struggles are more secret and difficult to share. Maybe you’ve thought about seeking help in your suffering or have received counsel that didn’t build you up, leaving you wounded. Maybe your suffering is tangled with big or small enchantments with sin and the flesh. I don’t know all your struggles, but Jesus does. And he publicly proclaims you to be his friend; he calls you his own. Christ’s love defends your honor; who dares to despise you when nothing can separate you from his love (Rom. 8:38–39)?
The time is now. Don’t just gaze at Christ from afar—go to him. Draw close to the God who loves you inside and out. Whether single or married, Christ alone is our confidence. Embracing him is our joy.
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.
Friend, are you caught in a sticky relational concoction? Intoxication, entrapment, love, hate, fear, romance, addiction—it’s a garbled mess that once felt wonderful, like life itself. But now this friendship, “bromance,” or “you’re my person” connection isn’t feeling so great. You’re neck-deep, attached, and dependent on someone’s affection, attention, touch, and need for you. You want out, yet you can’t let go. Maybe this relationship started with Jesus in the mix, but he’s not the one filling, fueling, or guiding it anymore.
Jesus knows what’s happening and isn’t backing off or going anywhere, though I would guess he may seem distant right now. That’s one of the costly consequences of displacing him with something else; our desires slowly orient toward and are reshaped by the object of our hope. You know, deep down, that this relationship isn’t right, yet you’re scared to surrender it. Your heart has been hijacked from devotion to Jesus.
Still, he loves you. Your Savior is on a rescue mission through your dissatisfaction with the creation you’ve displaced him with.
I’ve been here before and have journeyed with others who are where you are today. I hope these words will guide you to pause, cry out to God, and take a step toward true freedom, healing, and wholeness. Please, don’t stay stuck by refusing his rescue. There’s a lot at stake!
A Prayer to Help You Face a New Direction
Father in heaven, I pray for my sister or brother reading this who knows deeply that this describes them. The bestie, the dating relationship, the coworker, counselor, counselee. . . someone has become like the air they breathe; how do you live without air? But God, this person isn’t essential. That’s a lie, yet it feels so real. So, Lord, I want to start by asking you to bring your comfort and hope to their heart through your Spirit. Flood their mind with the merciful assurance that they aren’t the first person to be in a relationship that enslaved rather than nurtured wholeness, joy, security, and holiness. It’s good to know that even sinful relational addictions are common to all of us and your truth really can set us free.
Your Savior is on a rescue mission through your dissatisfaction with the creation you’ve displaced him with.
Lord Jesus, it helps to know that, in our weakness, you are praying for us. You always live to intercede for your beloved children! Cause my sister to know that what seems to be a ‘mini-marriage’ with her girlfriend isn’t marriage nor a true friendship. Help my brother to know that you’re sympathetic to his desire for someone with whom to go deep, to have a safe emotional connection—but no mentor can be a replacement for you, our Good Shepherd, who has a unique and irreplaceable voice. Please, Lord, counsel the spouse who’s terrified of being found out; they didn’t mean to get tangled up in this emotional affair. Convince her, persuade him, that this relationship will lead to devastation rippling out in many directions. Obedience through letting go will be costly, but our repentance awakens our hearts afresh to your love and goodness.
I cry out to you, God, on behalf of those resonating with my prayer that your Spirit will convict unbelief and energize faith today. Forgive us for recreating love into something of our own making. You know that to disentangle from a sinful relationship will hurt and is frightening. And yet also, Lord God, you know it’s supremely worth it because you’ve not created us to be addicted to creation. You want us to love and be loved in human relationships as we look to you as our true Friend—you are Love incarnate. Please be a sun, shining light on the next step, and a shield to protect from the enemy who would deceive and destroy. Give courage, humility, and a will to want your holy pleasure. I pray through Jesus for my brother and sister who need your help. Amen.
Three Steps in the Right Direction
Recognizing you’re in a relational mess is humbling, yet it’s a sign of God’s love. He is rescuing you through self-awareness. But awareness isn’t enough; there are steps to take.
- You can’t do this alone. And that does not mean you should text or meet up with the person you’re involved with! That mistake is like two people caught in quicksand grabbing at each other, only to sink deeper. Wise humility leads you to reach out to another mature Christ-follower.
- Intentionally put space between yourself and the person you’re involved with. This distance may need to be permanent and comprehensive. Your helper will guide you in this but, like most addictions, unholy and unhealthy dependency needs to be starved out. This is what it means to love and follow Jesus: letting go through faith and repentance of any sinful attachment. It will hurt and the grief will be deep, but Jesus is an expert in healing broken hearts. He uses the pain of repentance for beautiful purposes.
- Seek out a discipleship or counseling relationship that can help you understand how you got into the mess and help you grow in the richness of God’s beautiful way of doing relationships. This is our inheritance in Christ as resurrection people! Jesus didn’t call you to himself only to give you bland, superficial, disconnected relationships with people. Of course, we’ll have relational conflicts, disappointments, and losses in this lifetime. But when you absorb the commands and promises of God’s Word, it’s evident that our Father has created his family to love one another deeply.
This is what it means to love and follow Jesus: letting go through faith and repentance of any sinful attachment.
Brother, sister, friend: you’re not alone. Jesus knows what you need. He is not pointing a shaming finger at you but invites you to come to him, step away from this person, and collapse before him for the help you need. Then, take the next step!
Ellen’s 31-day devotional book, Toxic Relationships: Taking Refuge in Christ, will guide you in relational growth centered on Jesus.
13 Apr 2023
This post was written by Harvest USA Men’s Ministry intern Nate Fowler.
My blood pressure seriously drops at the sight of blood. My four-year-old son once tripped and split his forehead on the corner of the table. Thankfully, I remained clear-headed enough to pull him into the bathroom and evaluate the matter until my wife brought our first aid supplies and took over.
Then, feeling the shock set in, I went to the kitchen for a splash of cold water in the face and an electrolyte-heavy drink. Within a minute or two, I was able to return with my wits about me and assist my wife. My son was safe; the fall just broke his skin. But I’m certain that if I’d remained in that bathroom any longer, the shock would’ve sent me to the ground, doubling my wife’s tasks.
Sexual Temptation Is Like Shock
Sexual temptation can be just as surprising as a medical emergency. Whether it’s a pop-up ad, a phishing email, a graphic movie scene, a visit to the beach—one minute we feel impervious, and the next we’re in a spiritual ambulance grasping for anything useful. What can we do in the moment of temptation? How can we address the shock before falling to sin? Which Scriptures or tools can help us respond effectively?
This is why I formulated a “first aid kit” for sexual temptation. This practical tool is meant to give direct assistance in the hour of need. I pray you’ll find it useful.
What’s in the Kit?
My kit is an envelope filled with extracted pages of journaled prayers, 3×5 cards with Scripture verses, letters from loved ones, and photographs. I place this envelope in my work bag and, when tempted, pause all obligations to open the envelope and prayerfully survey its contents. After a sufficient period of time, I’m reoriented and ready to fight the day’s temptations with vigilance.
Here are some principles to help you develop your own first aid kit for sexual temptation.
A first aid kit must be prepared to address several possible scenarios. Preparation and variety are vital for effectively addressing temptation (see 1 Pet. 5:8–9; Eph. 6:10–15; Phil. 4:8).
Here are some items I recommend:
- Psalms and Scripture verses. I have a single notebook page labeled “When Tempted, Pray…” followed by Psalms and personal prayers. I also have a list of Scriptural truths like, “My body belongs to God (Rom. 12:1–2; 1 Cor. 6:19–20)” or “My sanctification is more important to God than my ease (1 Thes. 4:3–8; Rom. 5:1–5; James 1:2–4).”
- A list of goals. For example: “To love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength,” “to love my wife as Christ loves his Bride,” and “to be a role model for my kids in this area.”
- A list of spiritual consequences for falling—things God’s Word tells us we can expect as a result of sin. For example, “quenching the Spirit and feeling God’s heavy hand (1 Thes. 5:19; Ps. 32)” or “unable to bear my brothers’ burdens (Gal. 6:2).”
- A list of spiritual rewards for fighting. For example, “joy and peace in the Lord,” “more time to focus on relationships, tasks, and hobbies,” or “feeling clean, pure, and free from shame.”
- Self-written prayers. Call on the Lord to fulfill his promises in Scripture (Acts 4:23–31). Feed your future self words you know you’ll need to hear.
- Letters written by loved ones. My wife has written verses and encouraging notes to remind me she’s in the trenches with me. I also keep general letters from family and friends.
- Photos of loved ones you’re fighting for.
- Poems or song lyrics that speak to the issue in a unique, compelling way.
- A list of people to contact in the moment of trial (ideally your accountability partners or one of the loved ones you’re fighting for).
- Voice or video recordings of loved ones if you can’t call.
You must be equipped with proper training. How do Navy SEALs learn to execute strategies effectively, or ice skaters learn to seamlessly perform daring stunts? How do EMTs know which tools and operations to use in a crisis? Muscle memory. They practice over and over until the motions are ingrained into their minds and bodies.
Deuteronomy 6:6–9 tells us that God’s commands become ingrained into our hearts as we teach them, talk about them (when sitting, walking, lying down, and rising), and as we bind them as signs on our hands, doors, gates, and even our eyelids.
These are some ways I practically apply this step:
- Place your kit with another frequently-used item. I keep my envelope in a folder in my backpack so, when I open that folder, I see it and have an opportunity to review the contents.
- Use your kit on days of minimal temptation. Even when my temptation level is around 15%, I try to pull out the kit for a couple of minutes and review my goals for fighting.
- Make it a part of your repentance plan. If I fall into sin, I follow this process of repentance: 1) Confess to God contritely. 2) Confess to my wife and accountability partners. 3) Spend as much time fighting sin as I spent succumbing to it. I use step three to bolster my first aid kit with Scriptures, prayers, and other resources that soften my heart.
Ease of Access
Lastly, A first aid kit must be accessible. Hikers don’t hope for a shack to miraculously appear in the middle of the woods; they carry the essentials on their backs. Neither can you embark on your daily spiritual journey without the proper supplies on hand. As a matter of preference, a hiker may decide to use GoogleMaps over a compass. Similarly, you might choose to:
- Develop your collection in an envelope, like me.
- File a digital collection on your smart device or in an online folder (if it’s not more tempting).
- Pack your kit into a collection of 3×5 cards.
Your decision should be based on what’s most useful and accessible to you. Either way, the most successful hikers are those who keep the essentials close at hand.
Bonus Expansion Pack
This tool is versatile. While my first aid kit for sexual temptation is fully developed, I’m working on a first aid kit for anger and have thought about creating one for gluttony. Whatever your area of sin, a collection of prepared materials, a plan for regular review, and easy access to the kit will strengthen your fight and help you look to Christ.
May the Lord bless you and keep you as you fight for him.
06 Apr 2023
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:16–18)
Our heavenly Father uses all things for his children’s good (Rom. 8:28). Even hard things from God are better than anything we might wish for. But he’s generous with his feel-good gifts, too. Loving relationships, delicious food, even the glimmer of gifts as simple as birdsong and budding trees point to the unchanging goodness of our “Father of lights.”
I’ve noticed a common attribute in some of my most spiritually mature friends: they pursue joy. One dear friend has been watching her only sister, a mother of two young children, fight recurring stage-four cancer. My friend’s gutsy determination to enjoy the good things that still exist even while her heart aches with sorrow is strikingly beautiful. It’s a resistance against evil, an active rebellion against the forces of darkness that feel so mighty here and now. It’s gratitude, armed and fighting.
This sturdy gratitude—the dogged decision to enjoy what’s good in life—is itself a gift of God’s grace. And it’s a key weapon in the fight against sin, including sexual sins. Behaviors like viewing pornography, sex outside marriage, or fantasizing about someone are all fed by discontentment.
Gratitude and Joy
Gratitude, on the other hand, nurtures joy. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4).
James doesn’t say “snap out of it, guys—feel happy!” but “count it all joy.” It’s a reasoned response grounded in God’s power. Trials test faith and, for one who is united to Christ, tested faith gets stronger. We can count trials as joy because God’s Spirit is refining us through them (vv. 3–4).
Believer, God is at work in your life. Gratitude involves mining for the jewels of his work.
Believer, God is at work in your life. Gratitude involves mining for the jewels of his work. Did God’s promises comfort you today? Did you respond to sorrow or stress by crying out to the Lord instead of turning to pornography? Did you repent immediately instead of waiting to confess sin? May the Lord give us eyes to see his work in us and grateful hearts to celebrate it.
Gratitude and Temptation
Our Father’s gifts compared to sin are like a blazing campfire next to a weak flashlight. God’s gifts bring us warmth, joy, and light where sin leads us into a dark forest—cold, lost, tripping over roots, stumbling off cliffs. Yet temptation would have us grip the flashlight instead of resting in the campfire’s comforting glow.
It’s striking to me that when James talks about trials, he includes temptation (1:12–15). Temptation is tied to deception and feeds on discontent. “Do not be deceived,” James says (v. 16). Our wandering hearts believe the lie that we don’t have what we need in Christ. But sin is a dim imitation of joy and ultimately leads to death. Remaining steadfast under trial has to do with remembering God’s character: “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (v. 17). He is essentially, eternally good; he is goodness.
However we feel in the moment of temptation, if we have him, we have everything. Noticing his good gifts reminds us of God’s character. It feeds gratitude and exposes sin’s emptiness. Only God lavishes goodness upon us; he alone satisfies.
This is true at every level. Consider the wholesome, mundane gifts God gives: biting into a perfect apple. Late afternoon light slanting through a window. Hugging a loved one, laughing with a friend, watching daffodils opening like concentrated sunshine. These are merely common grace good things! Believers get special grace, too—the honey of God’s Word, fellowship with believers in the bond of the Spirit, prayer. We get communion with our Savior. In union with Christ, we get God himself.
Gratitude and Jesus
When fighting temptation, we can make too much of the thing we’re fighting. It looms over everything, casting the shadow of condemnation. Our struggle with sin can appear bigger than our Savior’s victory.
Noticing his good gifts reminds us of God’s character. It feeds gratitude and exposes sin’s emptiness.
It’s right to grieve sin; godly sorrow leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:8–11). But repentance means looking away from ourselves to Jesus, trusting that his death is enough. In Christ, there is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1). He is the pure sacrifice who atones for our sin—the obedient son who clothes us in his righteousness. He gives us his Spirit to empower our fight and helps us in our need (Heb. 4:14–16). It’s particularly in our sin that we have cause for gratitude!
Still, I forget God’s mercy and miss many opportunities to rejoice over the things that punctuate life with beauty, warmth, or humor. You, too? But our hope is in Christ, who always delights in his Father.
We can run freely to Christ in daily repentance because he never needed to repent. And through him, the Father lavishes his unfailing love upon us in small and large ways, every day. What better motivation to thankfulness can there be than the unmerited mercy that’s ours in Christ?
The greatest of earthly good gifts, though, are only little tastes of our Father’s goodness. Even our experience of spiritual blessings is limited by our sin—we see in a glass dimly (1 Cor. 13:12). The greatest gifts now are small bites, just big enough to whet our appetite for the coming feast. Praise God—in Christ, we have an eternity of sinless, satisfying joy to anticipate.