02 Nov 2023
Creativity—and imagination. Humans are blessed with these things by their Creator. It’s part of the image of God in us. He, after all, is endlessly creative.
The trouble is that our creativity, like all other good things he has given, is twisted by our fallenness; we’re very good at misusing it.
Consider our tendency to imagine the future. There’s a place for planning and organizing, but “thinking ahead” can simply mean manufacturing negative what-ifs. It can become a constant habit of borrowing trouble; it can be the incubator of false assumptions, worry, and despair. We often readily adopt those what-ifs as real possibilities, which soon develop into probabilities. Before we know it, we’re imagining them as prophecies. . . and soon, in our mind’s eye, they’re facts!
This negatively creative mindset can become our regular context of thinking and cause us to progressively doubt much of what God has told us in his Word.
It’s incredibly easy to wander into the fearsome Land of What-If and live there.
Why Is What-If Thinking So Easy?
Parents and families of sexual strugglers may ask:
- What if my son marries his partner?
- What if I’m the only one in the family who says this is wrong?
- What if my daughter decides to do hormones or surgery?
- What if the people at church shut us out because our son is gay?
- What if my daughter tells the grandchildren that Uncle Jim is now Aunt Jane?
- What if my son stops all communication with me because I accept Scripture?
- What if my daughter’s new “friends” lead her into drugs, or worse?
- What if this all goes on for years . . . and years?
We’re capable of filling our thinking with awful possibilities. But to what end? Why do we do that, especially when we don’t (and can’t) exist in the future?
Control and Trust
Our desire to be in control is the primary motivation for what-if thinking. We want to make and control the plans. In this, we’re still doing what Adam and Eve did: trying to know, be, and do what only God can know, be, and do. We want to replace him; we want to be sovereign. That may sound like an extreme diagnosis, but when we’re controlled by worry and manufactured assumptions about the future, we usually spend our time fearing and trying to manipulate that future based on the self-deception that we can manipulate or prevent it.
In essence, then, we have forgotten what we know about a sovereign God who is in charge. His will always culminates in good and glory, regardless of what it looks like to us in the process. When we forget this, fear seems warranted—even necessary. It’s a vicious cycle. Essentially, we’ve panicked over the “horizontal”—the relationships and situations between us and other people—and forgotten the “vertical”—our relationship with our Creator and Savior. We’ve stopped trusting the only One who can help. What-if thinking fixes our eyes on ourselves—our wisdom, understanding, and desires—instead of trusting the Lord who knows and loves us.
How Can We Escape What-If Thinking?
We do what-if thinking so very well. We can’t just stop thinking this way; our what-ifs must be replaced by something even stronger—and the good news is that we have that in the gospel of Jesus. Look at it this way:
- What-if thinking consists of possibilities. It makes sense to replace possibilities with something that is for sure, always factual—the person of a Creator God.
- What-if thinking requires that I, myself, create and manage scenarios that look like solutions. However, working a heart-change in a sexual struggler is beyond my ability. So why not rely on the Holy Spirit to do a job that was never mine in the first place?
- What-if thinking quickly loses its hold on our minds when we see prayer for the struggler as our main ministry. Prayer means laying our concerns before our Father—without including timetables or directions. We admit our inability, we trust him to work, and we ask him to direct us clearly toward any role that he has for us. In other words, we pray; we follow.
Not surprisingly, Philippians 4:6 says that the outcome of this dependent, prayerful, patient-with-God approach will indeed be a stronger way, made-to-order for keeping us from the Land of What-ifs entirely:
“And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Look to the cross of Christ and see our Lord’s faithfulness; consider our Father’s overcoming grace. Ask him for the grace to focus on all he is and says. Let him be God. As for the Land of What-ifs? No need to go there!
14 Sep 2023
This post is an edited excerpt from Across the Kitchen Table: Talking about Trans with Your Teen, by Sam A. Andreades. Available to preorder now at Harvest USA!
A difficult case confronted Jesus as he came down from the mountain in Mark 9. His disciples had been trying to help a father whose boy was really messed up, but the problem was too difficult for them. What follows is the longest description of a healing/exorcism in the Gospels. The uncommon amount of detail affords us insight into how Jesus worked to restore people to wholeness. While we do not know all that Jesus did each time he made someone better, this lengthy example shows that it sometimes involved a process.
Jesus the Diagnostician
Jesus works with families. The process of addressing the child’s need first turns into an instruction for the friends trying to help—in this case, the disciples (Mark 9:14, 18–19, 28–29). It then turns into an address of the father’s need as well. Jesus talks to the father about the man’s own heart as revealed by the situation (Mark 9:22–24).
We similarly find, in trying to help a condition like teen trans, God challenges our own hearts. As secular psychologists Susan and Marcus Evans recognize, “exploring the family dynamics is an essential part of any assessment [of gender dysphoria].” As you help your son or daughter, God is after your growth as well. At the very least, a gender-troubled loved one will require you to grow in love and faith. You, as the parent, are instrumental in your child’s progress.
Then the Diagnostician turns to the boy himself. Jesus has a way of drawing the real problem out of people. In his presence, the evil possessing this man’s son soon shows (Mark 9:20). The boy is in the grip of a spirit that brings him to body-mutilation. This self-destructive force has overcome his soul (Mark 9:18, 20 and Matthew 17:15 emphasizes the boy’s self-harm). As Jesus observes the manifestation with the father, he asks the man a telling question about his son: “How long has he been like this?” (Mark 9:21, NIV). Jesus is interested in the boy’s history; it somehow helped to hear what may have led to the present condition.
Breakfast and Other Past Events
Revisiting the past to study a key moment when “it all started” occurs in other places where we see God’s counsel in the Bible—in fact, the first one. God revisits the beginning of Adam and Eve’s problem by asking them what they had for breakfast (Gen 3:11). He thereby takes them back to see the decision they made that produced the shame under which they now labor. Isaiah the prophet conveys God’s diagnosis of how Israel had, at one point, gone wrong in adopting another means of security instead of God himself. He takes them back to a past key time when they “made a covenant with death” (Isa. 28:14–19).
Going backward sometimes helps people go forward. A probable cause of pronounced body alienation is earlier-life trauma. As John Calvin put it, “Satan mixes up his attacks with natural means.” Sins by others against our bodies can greatly exacerbate the shame to which we are already susceptible. If one feels like one’s body is the problem, a reasonable place to look for the source of that discomfiture is in an experience that would make one want to separate from the body. Unfortunately, childhood sexual abuse, an example of the kind of trauma that can derail a person’s gender, can take place without anyone finding out until much later.
Sometimes, for example, in response to being hurt by a man, one finds in an abused girl a desire to be a man in order to not get hurt: “I want to be a man because men are not vulnerable.” Early on, she makes a decision to never get hurt again, and this is the best way to ensure it. She deeply wants what she perceives as the protective power of being a man. Sometimes, a sexually abused boy concludes, “I am treated by men as a woman, so I must be a woman.” He internalizes his abuse and shields himself from disgust by the strong desire to be a woman.
Of course, such a horrid experience as child abuse is very difficult to revisit. It is easier to say, “I’m in the wrong body” and never have to speak of it again. But, if that is our reality, ignoring it further damages us. When a person is ready to talk about past excruciating experiences, licensed counselors can help provide the delicate care needed to make the recalling tolerable. Furthermore, revisiting such awful memories can only help if the person reinterprets them in light of God’s presence and acceptance. As cited above, God directed his first “How long has it been like this?” question to Adam and Eve. God revisited their initial decision to help them connect their wrong reaction to temptation to what they were currently experiencing. He then lovingly clothed them, giving them a new way to deal with their shame (Gen 3:21). Jesus’s questioning of the boy’s father showed that his presence can overcome any trauma, even if it dates to childhood (Mark 9:21).
In Prison No Longer
When, as Jesus found in his diagnosis, we see a greater evil has taken hold, God will take greater measures. One time, a cross-dressing man—we’ll call him “Archie”—contacted me at his wits’ end. He came over to talk, and we reviewed his strange history. Since age fourteen, Archie had periodically adopted a woman’s persona. Therapist after therapist, psychologist after psychologist, told him this was just how he was made. But it didn’t help. He ended up in prison. When he got out, he said, “I am still in prison.” He was, at times, close to suicide. When, decades later, he finally broke free of the addictive medications he was on, he began to have clarity about himself.
As he described his strange history to me and asked for my help, he made no bones about having a demonic possession. It was more a matter of Archie doing the diagnosing rather than me. He could tell that Satan lay behind his man-denying behavior. The Dark One exploited the sexual molestation visited on Archie at six years old by an evil grandfather.
I do not tend to rush into these things. Archie had not been to church in 25 years. But he did understand his guilt, shame, and need for reinterpretation in Christ. After further discussion, prayer, and enacting appropriate safeguards, I (as I’ve done on rare occasions) performed an exorcism. That was the beginning of Archie as a changed man. In my last contact with him, he wasn’t in prison anymore. (We can expect more need for demonic deliverance as our culture continues its steady march to paganism.)
Trauma-induced gender tearing can be redeemed by re-understanding it to be inside the care of our heavenly Father and including it in the reason for Christ’s work on our behalf. But this the Holy Spirit is faithful to do with God’s children. It is remarkable to see him apply Jesus Christ’s excruciation to areas of pain in our lives to bring about healing, forgiveness, and, in the end, freedom. Yet this, he does.
 Susan Evans and Marcus Evans, Gender Dysphoria: A Therapeutic Model for Working with Children, Adolescents and Young Adults (Oxfordshire, Oxford, England: Phoenix Publishing House Ltd., 2021), 93.
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (1852; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1981), XVI:II:322.
07 Sep 2023
Whether you’re parenting toddlers, teens, or both, today’s sexual climate probably concerns you. I once heard parenting described as walking around with your heart outside your body ; that feels accurate. Parents face intense vulnerability as we strive to keep our dear children safe. Now that I have a teen and a ten-year-old, keeping my boys safe looks much different than when they were babies and toddlers. I’m no longer worried about them catapulting out of their crib or flinging themselves into a pool.
But the dangers they face as they grow older are even scarier. Will they cling to Christ amid an antagonistic culture? Will they continue to know who they are as boys—growing into men—made in God’s image to glorify him? Will they resist the dehumanizing and addictive lure of pornography? If they marry, will they commit to women who fear the Lord? Of course, I care about their physical well-being. But will their souls be safe?
More than anything, I long to rejoice in eternal glory with my sons as my brothers.
God Uses Means
It’s easy to look around at the world and let fear shrivel our hearts. According to a recent Barna survey, 73% of Christian parents are “concerned about their children’s spiritual development.” This concern isn’t groundless; our children are under attack (see 1 Peter 5:8). As Mark Sanders highlighted, so many of our youth are deceived and seeking purpose in identifying as LGBTQ+. What can we do to make sure our kids will be okay?
Being not sovereign, not omniscient, and not omnipotent, we can’t guarantee anything. Our parenting can’t secure any particular outcome for our children. Faithful Christian parents might, heartbreakingly, watch their children turn away from the Lord.
Yet God works through means. In his providence, godly parents are a gift to their children and instruments in the Lord’s hands. How can we parent our kids from a place of confidence in the Lord rather than fear? Here are some thoughts and practices I’ve observed in wise Christian parents that my husband and I seek, by God’s grace, to follow.
- Trusting the Lord
Exhausted and defeated when my newborn wasn’t sleeping despite my having read, underlined, and applied all the baby book instructions, I agonized over what I was doing wrong. Don’t we all like a clear “do this, get that” sequence? But children are not programmable robots and only sometimes do what we expect.
Just as we’re saved only by God’s grace in Christ, not by our works, he is the only one we can rely on in all aspects of raising our kids. If they resist LGBTQ+ ideology and other sexual sins, it will be by God’s grace. This shatters my pride and gives me hope. If our children stand firm, praise Jesus—it’s his work alone. If they turn away, God is still good and accomplishing his plan in their lives and ours. I am finite and less good than God, the author of my children’s story as well as my own.
I am finite and less good than God, the author of my children’s story as well as my own.
The Judge of all the earth shall do what is just (Gen. 18:25) and calls himself “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6b). This truth soaks comfort into a believer’s soul, helping us entrust our precious children to the everlastingly faithful Father. We can’t guarantee anything, and we certainly can’t save them—and this is good news, because we make terrible saviors. The hopeful reality is that they’re in the hands of the triune Creator, who is justice, mercy, and love.
I’m happily convinced that praying for and with our kids is the best thing we can ever do for them. It’s better than all the discipline, school choices, family times, and device limits in the world.
Praying for Our Children
In Christ, frail humans are united to the One who spoke the universe into existence and keeps our breath circulating each moment. Prayer acknowledges that we are God’s, his way is best, and he is mighty. Before stating that “children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward” (v. 3), Psalm 127 begins with a foundational truth: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (vv. 1–2). We can rest (“he gives to his beloved sleep”) because God is the builder and the watchman (v. 2).
Yet here lies one of Scripture’s great paradoxes: the almighty Lord chooses to work through the prayers of his people. Our prayers are part of God accomplishing his plan for our children. Let’s earnestly plead for them—for their salvation, their preservation, their delight in Jesus, their Kingdom usefulness, their eternal joy.
Praying with Our Children
Praying together establishes the family as a team, united in seeking the good of unbelievers for God’s glory. It lifts our gaze up and away from ourselves, opening our eyes to a world that needs the gospel and increasing our compassion for the lost. You most likely know a young person experiencing gender dysphoria—as a family, bring him or her before the throne of grace.
Praying with our children also models how believers can respond to intense emotions. In Christ, none of us must bear life’s weight alone. What a gift this is! We’re introducing them to our lifeline—a replenishing stream of communication with the living Lord who welcomes us in our sin, confusion, weakness, and fear. In prayer, directed by God’s Word, our children can run to Jesus with the deep troubles of their hearts instead of looking for hope in sexual sin and misplaced identity. We teach our kids to call 911 in an emergency; how much more to run to Jesus in prayer.
- Christ-Centered Marriage
Marriage in the Lord is holistically beneficial. Instituted by God for his glory and our joy, marriage between one man and one woman leads to whole-family flourishing that ripples out into the church and wider community. The radiating warmth of a godly marriage undermines today’s cultural idea that traditional marriage is oppressive. It’s so good for children to experience the loving stability of a home where their parents’ marriage is anchored in the Lord.
However, families face the reality of sin daily, and sometimes grievously. Your marriage may not be a haven; it may be broken. I’m sorry if you’re carrying this heavy burden.
Marriage, as great as it is, is not a final destination. It exists to illuminate the eternal spiritual reality of Christ and his bride, and, in the church, we bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Being part of a local church also provides the opportunity to see healthy families in action. My husband’s dad had an affair with the neighbor’s wife when my husband was only two years old. Later, his stepfather physically and emotionally abused him. Yet in the church, he saw husbands and wives loving one another and children happy in their security; he began to learn what it means to follow Jesus as a husband and father.
- Christian Community
I’ve learned much from families who are consistently involved in their local church, pursuing the means of grace despite physical obstacles and pain. This communicates to our kids that meeting with God’s people, under the preached Word, is not optional but essential. Taking communion, singing, praying together in the Lord—this is oxygen to believers living in a carbon-monoxide world.
And in the family of God, our children get to experience a truly gracious community. A desire for belonging may often drive young people toward an LGBTQ+ lifestyle. But the church offers a far richer, more diverse, beautifully hopeful community where every individual matters not for how they self-actualize, but because God says they are innately precious image-bearers.
We need not hide from the world, afraid of being infected by its cultural agenda. Exercising wisdom is not the same thing as letting fear guide the way we interact with unbelievers.
Hospitality has always been central to following Jesus, and following Jesus leaves no room for fear, snobbery, or judgment. We were not saved by a superior understanding of male and female chromosomes or because our sexual preferences align with the Bible’s teaching, but by God’s welcoming mercy. We who call Jesus “Lord” were welcomed by him when we were deceived and hopeless. The bedrock of Christian hope is that the triune God loved us when we were still sinners and made us alive together in Christ when we were dead in our trespasses (Eph. 2:4–9, my emphasis).
In a culture saturated by an anemic, clichéd understanding of love—where “love is love” and “love wins”—the biblical assurance is this: God is love and Jesus wins.
When we extend hospitality, our children get to be exposed to a variety of people, lifestyles, and personalities. They see that the transforming love of Christ causes us to love others, even those who are different from us. Especially in our partisan world, this is a powerful apologetic for the gospel. I’m inspired by families who demonstrate their theological convictions through gospel-motivated and Spirit-sustained hospitality.
To begin teaching your kids about sexuality, one friend says, just read the Old Testament during family worship. It will provoke all sorts of questions. She’s joking but also serious—God’s Word doesn’t shelter us from the ugliness of human depravity. It’s right to explain to our kids (age-appropriately) what’s going on and how it points to our Redeemer.
The temptation to avoid uncomfortable topics is real, but if we don’t speak with our kids about sexuality, we can rest assured the world will. Let’s resist any hint of shame culture that would cause embarrassment about the bodies and functions God created. Individual families need to decide when they’ll introduce things like biologically correct anatomical terms, the reproductive cycle, puberty, pornography, LGBTQ+ ideology, and other sexual developments and sins our children will face. But we must own our responsibility to teach them. I pray my boys know that they can come to their father and me with any—any—question and receive a truthful answer.
Our Hope: Jesus Alone
In a culture saturated by an anemic, clichéd understanding of love—where “love is love” and “love wins”—the biblical assurance is this: God is love and Jesus wins. Hopefully these aims encourage you in your parenting. Raising children in a world increasingly hostile to Christianity is scary. But—perhaps you’re feeling this, too—my sin scares me even more than the sin “out there.”
Inconsistency, irritability, distractibility, preoccupation with other things—these are some of the dangers my children face from a mom who claims to follow Jesus yet so often doesn’t live like it. Will they know I love them when I’m half paying attention and half trying to figure out my next task? Will they still see the beauty of Christ when they see me grumbling about chores or restless in discontent?
My hope as a weak and fallible mother rests in Christ alone. His children are clothed in his righteousness, and he will finish the work he started in us (Phil. 1:6). He is faithful; he is powerful; he is enough. Parents: with our confidence rooted in our Savior’s character and victory, we have every reason to press on, courageously raising our kids amid a threatening world.
1] As yet, I’m unable to pin down the source for this quote. It’s commonly attributed to Elizabeth Stone, but I’ve also seen it attributed to Ellen Cantarow. If anyone knows, please contact Harvest USA and fill me in!
31 Jan 2019
Parenting is one of life’s greatest joys—and greatest challenges! One of the more daunting challenges that parents face is, “How am I going to talk to my children about the birds and the bees? Where do I start? What do I say? What age is the best? Do I really have to do this?”
For most parents getting started is the hardest part of talking to their children about sex. Why is that? FEAR. Fear of where these conversations will go, fear of the inability to answer their questions or fear of doing it poorly. I get that! I had to face my own fears, as well as the fear of the unknown because my parents had never approached this subject with me.
If you are a parent paralyzed by fear, not wanting to talk to your children about sex, let me have your attention for just a moment. Let me give you four ways of thinking about this intimidating subject so that you can, with God’s help, overcome your fears and do what God calls us to do as parents: raise our children in the Lord so that they might follow his ways when they become adults and spouses.
One, let me ask you to consider the phrase, “Pick Your Pain.”
All of us understand that these conversations are uncomfortable for most parents, but that pain pales in comparison with the pains that can come from a family where these conversations never happen. Children are then left to other outside influences and these days that can be quite perilous. If your fear feels overwhelming, let me urge you not to sit with that pain alone. Ask friends and other parents for help and prayer. Look for resources like the material I have developed.
Two, start the conversations early.
I have developed a different strategy that I have been teaching parents for years. I encourage parents to start at a much earlier age with much more simple conversations, not just one talk. When this happens, parents are given the power of the first impression and are better equipped to be the loving authority on this subject for their children.
Topics that are left OUT of conversations at home are left UP to others. Where there is a void of influence at home, it will be taken up by the culture at large.
Parents can overcome their fears once they know how simple some of these conversations can be. The beauty of God’s design is a great place to begin, making simple observations to our children about seeds and eggs, simple yet factual explanations of birth and conception. In fact, in our family, Dave and I usually started every answer to their curious questions with the phrase, “By God’s design…” And that got us started in the right direction.
Traditionally, parents wait for the pre-teen years to have THE TALK…but that is a completely outdated idea. When you think about it, having the most awkward conversation at the most awkward age is pretty much a recipe for disaster, so I understand the fears that surround that idea.
However, now some of you may fear that you have waited too long and now it’s too late. Fear not…it’s never too late. We suggest you get started right away, however, and begin with an explanation that this subject is now on the table. Yes, it will be tougher to do so if they are older, but use this opportunity to model repentance: ask for their forgiveness, and then follow through with the conversations that need to happen next, based on their ages and knowledge of what they already know. Remember, “Pick your pain” and embrace your role as their parent.
Remember, too, that this isn’t about you and your comfort level or your past, it’s about them and their future. You are not just shaping your child’s sexual values, you are casting a vision for someone’s future husband or wife.
What many parents have found successful is to begin a series of after-dinner walks. Talking about sex is best-done shoulder to shoulder and not eyeball-to-eyeball. Limiting your time is helpful, and taking a walk minimizes interruptions. Invite questions, and give plenty of grace. Don’t be afraid of the silent moments either. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’ll have to think about that and get back to you.”
Three, think like a sponge.
In my teaching to parents, I encourage them to think about a sponge being in the mind of their children. Let’s label that sponge “Curiosity about sexual things.” Children are born with this curiosity. “Where do babies come from? How is that baby getting out of mommy? Why do people kiss?”
We believe it’s best for parents to fill that sponge with the answers to those questions about sexuality because otherwise their children will absorb whatever they may pick up on the playground or the next click on the computer. I don’t say this to frighten parents but to open them up to the great opportunity that is before them. Before the hormones kick in, before the culture has its turn, you can have the power of the first impression.
You have the chance to fill the sponge, drop by drop, sprinkling small bits of information in everyday life! Let them absorb the facts and hear your values. Ask some curious questions yourself, “Why do you think God wanted two of every kind of animal on the ark?” If your child is older, raise a current topic about sexuality and ask “Why do you think people your age believe that?” Let them absorb the facts, engage in a conversation, and hear your values.
Who has the power to influence your children? According to research, that answer depends on the age of your child. From ages 0-7 parents have the strongest influence, from 7-11 teachers and coaches, and from 11-16 their peers. This makes sense because as their world widens, they are met with forces outside of the home that have new and different ideas that sometimes reinforce what was taught at home and sometimes challenge them.
Topics that are left OUT of conversations at home are left UP to others. Where there is a void of influence at home, it will be taken up by the culture at large.
Four, look to the future.
Remember, too, that this isn’t about you and your comfort level or your past, it’s about them and their future. You are not just shaping your child’s sexual values, you are casting a vision for someone’s future husband or wife. How exactly did God intend for us to understand sex? What words can we use to shape that vision correctly? How can we help our children to think biblically about sex?
Giving some thought to the answers to these questions can put us on the path to parenting our children purposefully on the subject of sex. No one does it perfectly—absolutely no one. So put the idea of perfection out of your mind. Instead of being paralyzed by fear, lean in to conversing with your kids as purposefully and as simply as possible.
This blog post also appears in our Fall 2018 harvestusa magazine, along with other articles for parents and families.
With so much capturing our children’s attention—from smartphones to video games to social media—there are serious dangers they face in a world where problematic technology exists at their fingertips. The best solution is to jump in and manage all the technology that is used by everyone in the family. But for many parents, the mere thought of doing that brings up fear: fear of technological inadequacy and fear of World War III battles for control with their kids.
Sadly, tragically, the typical response most parents take is to ignore the threat and deny that their kids could look at porn: “Not my kids!” But such denial is leaving our kids defenseless, ushering them into a future of hidden sexual struggles, eroding faith, and relational brokenness. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Here are four key parenting strategies that, once started, can set your family on a path of not just sexual integrity, but honesty, transparency, and mutual dependency upon God and one another.
1: You need to talk about the good and the bad of technology.
Technology is not the villain here. But you need to think of it as a gateway; what are you going to allow through? What you allow through that gate will, if you open it enough, take up residence in the minds and hearts of your children.
You need to talk with them about both the upsides and the downsides of technology in a way that communicates respect for technology. You want them to understand what using technology can do for good, but also for evil. So you need to talk about the dark side of technology, about pornography and the worldview it teaches, and why you want to protect them from that. They need to understand that looking at pornography is much more than staring at naked bodies, it’s allowing in a corrupt and deviant worldview of sex and relationships that will erode the goodness of sex in the way that God has designed, and even, for some, entrap them in destructively addictive behavior.
2: You need to be their parent. Take charge.
You need to be their parent. You’re in charge of guiding them. You need to implement boundaries and controls over the family’s use of technology. That might not be popular, but it is absolutely necessary. Today, parents are fearful of, well, being parents. Parents have the right and the responsibility to oversee and inspect their kid’s devices and take them away if they misuse them. If you don’t, one day in the future their employer will when they misuse technology at their workplace.
This means using more technology to oversee how they are using their devices. I’m talking parental filters, accountability software, imposing time limits, and regularly checking in on what they are looking at. Do not see this as being an impossible task! It’s a bottom-line necessity. Letting them roam the internet without supervision is like dropping a young child off in a major city and letting them get home on their own. You just wouldn’t do that.
Be their parent first, before trying to be their friend. They will one day thank you for that.
3: You are not their Big Brother (or NSA).
But being their parent does not translate into a license to control them or deny them any privacy. You don’t want your oversight of their use of technology to be a Big Brother (or in current terms, an NSA—National Security Agency) experience. Supervising them is not secretly peering over their shoulder all the time.
Letting them roam the internet without supervision is like dropping a young child off in a major city and letting them get home on their own. You just wouldn’t do that.
So how do you not be a Big Brother? Basically, you will always tell them what steps you are taking, what you are doing, and why you are doing it. You will be checking up on them, but you will always be reminding them why you are doing this. You will keep them in the loop on everything. No secrets. No behind-the-back snooping that they are not aware of. Everything should be out in the open.
4: We’re all in this together.
Here is the “buy-in” that will help your children with this plan: We’re all in this together. The blocking, the restrictions, and the oversight include you, too. Why is this important? One, kids resent things they think are unfair. It helps them when no one is excluded. Two, as a parent you’re not free of this kind of temptation, either. When you visibly show that you also need help in managing sexual boundaries, you demonstrate how important it is to protect this gift that God has given to us.
You can’t shield your children from the world, nor should you. Ultimately, you can’t protect your children from the dangers of pornography unless you also teach them about God’s good design for sex and sexuality. You don’t want to teach about sex from an entirely negative slant, if all you do is talk about the dangers of misused sex.
There is a profound beauty about sex when it is boundaried in a committed, covenantal, self-giving relationship of marriage between a man and a woman. You need to do more than just tell your kids to wait; you need to talk, explain, and equip them to grow into the character of a future husband or wife for the glory of God.
And this involves you being a wise gatekeeper of technology.
Nicholas talks more about this topic in the accompanying video: How Do I Talk to My Kids About Porn? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
17 Jan 2019
It was halftime several years ago during the Super bowl, and we were with extended family at our home. During the second quarter, my brother-in-law logged onto our family computer to catch up on business emails. When logging out, it’s his custom to clear the history from the computer so his company’s passwords are not saved. In doing so, he brought up the recent history and found some websites that troubled him. He alerted my wife (his sister), and they both viewed several extremely graphic websites full of porn that had been saved in the computer’s history. They discussed it for a few moments and decided to pull me away from the game to confront me about what they had found.
I am in my mid-40s and a father of four children. Based on the ages of our kids and the graphic nature of the websites, my brother-in-law and wife assumed the websites were connected to me. After we settled that it was not me, I proceeded to view the websites and knew we had a big problem. These sites were not just topless women or partially nude couples, but included sites with extremely graphic sexual videos. Although I was shaken up by the content, I was determined to find out who in our family was drowning in this stuff. I don’t really know why, but I suspected that it was my youngest: my 10-year old son.
During the rest of the game I was in and out of the family-filled TV room, pacing, praying and thinking of words to say, words that would both confront and also leave the door open for honesty. Near the end of the game, families began to pack up and head out. It was a school night and our family was starting to fade; my 10-year-old son poked his head into the office where we keep our computer and said, “Goodnight.” I said the same back.
Through his tears he described how bad he felt about himself and how powerless he felt in trying to stop.
Before he hit the stairs I got up and said to him, “Hey, have you been looking at anything you shouldn’t be looking at on the computer?” He quickly and confidently replied: “Me? No, I haven’t at all.” I said, “OK, good.” He then started upstairs, but I gently stopped him and asked him to come back down into the office. He did. I said to him, “I’m going to ask you one more time; think before you answer. Have you looked at anything you shouldn’t have looked at on that [pointing to the desktop computer].”
He paused, looked away from me to the floor and said “Yes.”
When I tell you I have never seen a look of shame and guilt so clearly, I am being totally honest. I did not feel anger or disappointment. I reached out and embraced my boy, whom I later learned had been sucked in by the power of pornography for a long time. I embraced him; he wept, I wept, and we rocked as we had done so often when he was an infant. During the next several hours he confessed his daily habit of viewing pornography at certain “safe” hours, when our daily family pattern would allow him time on the computer while others were out of sight. Other times were with friends at sleepovers, where they would use their smartphones or internet capable game consoles to surf pornography websites. Through his tears he described how bad he felt about himself and how powerless he felt in trying to stop.
The hour was now 2am. We were both beat, and we were still embracing. Instead of disappointment and anger I felt relief and a deeper love for my son who was almost asleep in my arms. As I carried him to bed I thought about God’s yearning to have us in the same place every night: after a day of messing up, if we only felt the “ease” to tell it all as it really is and then find the peace to collapse in his arms, that’s exactly where God wants us. He does not want us living a lie, running up the stairs, brushing our teeth, burying our secrets and going it alone. Once I placed him in his bed he fell asleep and subsequently woke several times during the next hour, calling out my name to discuss and confess some more. Eventually he got everything off his chest and finally fell asleep.
I did not sleep that night, nor did my wife. We talked. We cried. We prayed. We argued. The weight on us was heavy. The next day was long; I was desperate to help my son and I felt incompetent to do it myself. I reached out to several close friends, one of which was John Freeman from Harvest USA.
This was a wake-up call, but instead of being a start to an ugly, downward cycle it has opened our family to a better way of dealing with the ever-present world of pornography and, more than that, the relentless, never-ending love that God has for each of us.
John and I are close friends. I told him everything. There were long pauses, as I could not speak through the tears. John was patient. When I was done, all I could do was ask him, would my son be all right. John didn’t take the role of an expert but rather a deep and close friend. He did not at this time encourage me to seek outside help, as he thought we had everything we needed within our family. He did not blithely point to Bible verses or books but instead reminded me of my close relationship with a God who loves me and would never turn His back on me.
John comforted me and gave me the courage to be a loving father to a hurting and scared son who was full of shame. He encouraged me to be a safe place for my son, someone to talk to and help interpret what he had seen and what he was feeling. He suggested that a remedy would not come instantly but would come over a long period of time as I grew into being a safe and loving place for my son to come and rest.
John’s words, along with those of other men who know me well, helped me rise up to become the place where my son could find grace, forgiveness, and “ease”, so he could move beyond the trap he found himself in.
Now that my son had felt the healing and cleansing power of confession and forgiveness, the days ahead became darker for me; they were filled with despair and discouragement in thinking about what my child had been exposed to for a long time. Conversations between my wife and I were nonstop about what to do now and how this could have happened. For one of the first times in our 24-year marriage, the conversations were starting to dramatically break down and anger crept in. I did not know it at first but I was slowly coming to terms with my guilt of removing our home internet filter years ago (because it was a nuisance). I started to admit to myself both that we had been lax in forming our daily schedule that allowed for consistent unsupervised time after school and our naïveté of allowing him full access to internet capable devices for his personal use at a very young age. I have been through dark seasons in my life, and I rank this as one of the most difficult.
The weight that was on our hearts lightened as time passed. In the weeks that followed the opportunities to speak to my son, my wife, and my girls about these topics and about God’s unwavering love for us no matter what we do, think, feel or see, were many.
We now have a top rated content filter on our computer, are clear with our kids about the dangers of web-enabled devices, have set up “house rules” for our family and friends regarding those devices, and have kept this topic in the forefront of family discussion. This was a wake-up call, but instead of being a start to an ugly, downward cycle it has opened our family to a better way of dealing with the ever-present world of pornography and, more than that, the relentless, never-ending love that God has for each of us. Through this I am reminded that there is nothing we can do that will cause God to withhold his love and affection for us. All he wants is for us to collapse in His arms, give him all of our troubles, shame, guilt, and secrets, and then to find rest in him.
This blog post also appears in our Fall 2018 harvestusa magazine, along with other articles for parents and families.
20 Dec 2018
The Body of Christ is a spiritual family. We all need spiritual brothers and sisters, spiritual fathers and mothers, to help us follow Christ faithfully. In other words, we need a bigger, wider family than just the traditional nuclear family in which we were born or into which we now live.
But for those who struggle sexually, they especially need this spiritual family to come alongside them in the journey towards sexual redemption and integrity. For a variety of reasons, many of these individuals cannot look to their family for encouragement, accountability, and street-level discipleship regarding how to live as a Christian, much less how to live sexually-faithful lives!
The apostle Paul begins Colossians 3 teaching God’s people that their new identity in Christ compels them to live set-apart lives, not as isolated individuals but together as brothers and sisters in the household of faith: “If then you [Plural!] have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1).
When I lived in Romania, immersed in culture and language learning, God opened my eyes to the beauty of spiritual family. The Romanian language has many ways of saying our simple English word “you”, depending on the circumstance. What struck my individualistic, American heart was that You (Plural) was used many times in bible passages which address the Christian life. When I began studying my Romanian Bible, passages that I had interpreted for years as You (Singular), (or just to me) burst within me into a new understanding of life together as God’s family.
Biological and nuclear families are indeed significant and a gift designed by God. However, Christians also believe that God establishes an eternal family only between those who are born spiritually through faith in Jesus Christ. He identifies these people as his children, guiding us through his Word regarding life together as siblings in the household of faith.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 (ESV)
Jesus responded this way when his “family of origin” requested his attention:
“Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:48-50 (ESV)
Desmond, one of our Men’s Ministry staff, is a single man whose father died when he was a child. Experiences of sexual abuse introduced him to homosexual activity that confused, yet also intrigued his hurting heart. Though broken and disordered, these sex acts made him feel wanted. By the time he reached his teens, he was prostituting himself to men and spiraling into despair and darkness.
In the midst of deep pain and loneliness, Desmond sensed God calling him back, to turn again to his true life found only in Christ. He responded and began to walk forward slowly in faith and repentance. However, his past didn’t just fade away. He needed help, and God provided men who loved and encouraged him as spiritual fathers by leading, exhorting, and admonishing him to walk in a manner worthy of God (1 Thessalonians 2:10-11). They spoke truth into his life, while living honestly before him. Desmond told me, “The authenticity of these men drove me to realize that no matter where we come from, God will use us; they became brothers in Christ who loved and respected me rather than rejected and shamed me. The healing power of those relationships is hard to express. ”
What struck my individualistic, American heart was that You (Plural) was used many times in bible passages which address the Christian life.
The brotherhood that Desmond experienced produced a redemptive trickle-down effect in his life. He didn’t want to hoard this spiritual blessing but wanted to share it with others who were hurting, alone and scared to reach out for help. Desmond has since invested his life ministering to others, including men who are ensnared in patterns of sexual sin. Many single and married men have benefited tremendously through Desmond being a spiritual brother and father.
You (Plural) is what the gospel is all about!
Leia is in her thirties and has been married for over 10 years. Her kids are under six years old and her biological family lives thousands of miles away. When her husband’s infidelity of many years came into the open, she was devastated, afraid, and wrestled with who to tell. Her parents wouldn’t understand; her guess was that they’d simply say “get out of the marriage”. Her husband demanded that she not go to the church leaders. She felt ashamed to open up to any women, as she had rarely ever heard sexual sin talked about by them.
Leia dug down deep into the Word and cried out to God for help. Eventually she found out about Harvest USA’s support group for wives and welcomed being in a circle of spiritual sisters in Christ who not only shared her pain but also helped her to see Jesus at work in her own heart. Then, when her husband was caught in adultery again, Leia’s group leader urged her to bring their broken marriage situation into the light with a trusted pastor. She took this bold step of faith, even though it went against her husband’s wishes.
What was the result of Leia reaching out to a spiritual father? The Body of Christ got involved in this family’s life; the church lovingly confronted her husband and exhorted him to get serious about repentance. It’s been a long road, but Leia and her family are beginning to heal and move forward in part because the family of God entered in with care.
You (Plural), life in community, is where repentance and freedom from sexual sin begins.
Sister, brother, what about you? You might not have a family of your own, or maybe you do! Regardless, there are boys and girls struggling sexually, men and women all around us who need the family of God to be the family of God. We must grow in a mindset of what Rosaria Butterfield teaches in her recent book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key. Her exhortation is that we open up our homes and lives as pathways to love God and our neighbors with all our hearts.
God’s people, knit together through the deep and wide love of Jesus, will share eternity together. His love gives us confidence to reach out and enfold struggling brothers and sisters into the fellowship of the eternal, wide, beautiful family of believers in Jesus Christ.
This blog post also appears in our Fall 2018 harvestusa magazine, along with other articles for parents and families.
Ellen shares more thoughts on this topic in the accompanying video: How Does Jesus Call Us to Live as a Spiritual Family? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Sexual strugglers often feel isolated and alone, ashamed of their struggles, and fearful of rejection if they ask for help. But in the Body of Christ, the Church, Jesus opens wide his arms and calls every one of us his brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. The Church is called to be a family where God does his best work of forgiveness, healing, and transformation.
Ellen has more insights on how the Church as spiritual family can be a catalyst for change and growth in her blog, Living as Spiritual Family. Additional Harvest USA resources that might interest you are the following minibooks: Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart by Ellen Dykas and Your Husband is Addicted to Porn: Healing After Betrayal by Vicki Tiede.
13 Dec 2018
With the culture rapidly changing, more children are describing themselves along the lines of the LGBTQ+ acronym. While there are lots of reasons for why this is happening, Christian parents need to help their children understand sexual and gender identity from a biblical perspective, as well as help them communicate to their peers a Christian worldview of sexuality and gender. Read more about this in Tim’s blog, How to Talk with Your Kids about LGBTQ+ Identity.
There are many other resources on our website that will help you explain LGBTQ+ identity to your child. One additional resources is Tim’s minibook, Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child: Biblical Guidance and Wisdom. This resource is available for purchase in three formats: eBook, Kindle, and Minibook 5-pack.
13 Dec 2018
One of the questions we receive most frequently at Harvest USA goes something like this: “My daughter just found out that she has a transgender classmate. How do I help her to respond?”
Or, “We just found out that my husband’s brother is gay. We’re not sure how to explain this to our 12-year-old son.”
These situations, and others like them, are confronting more and more families. The number of adults self-identifying as LGBTQ+ has grown to 4.3% of the adult population, which is almost double what it was 18 years ago.
And among Generation Z (that’s kids 18 and under), the percentage is higher. Roughly 8 percent of high school students report being lesbian, gay, or bisexual. And, studies show that 2.7 percent of teens are unsure of their gender identity.
So even if your child doesn’t experience same-sex attraction or gender struggles, they probably know at least one other person who does.
One goal, then, is for parents to help their children understand some basic information about LGBTQ identity. But there is another important goal—discipling children to speak the truth in love and compassion to those around them who identify as nonstraight and gender nonconforming.
Help your child to think: What does the Bible say about gender?
Scripture tells us that God created all of his image-bearers as either male or female (Genesis 1:27). There is nothing in the Bible that leads one to conclude that gender is distinct from birth sex, or that gender is on a continuum from male to female, or that gender evolves over time.
Rather, in Psalm 139:13–16, we see a tender and intimate rendering of the fact that God “knitted [us] together” in our mothers’ wombs, and that he wrote in his book every one of our days before one of them came to be. Gender is not something that develops as a psychological process. It is ordained by God from beyond eternity. Babies born boys in Scripture are called boys from birth and grow up to be men. Babies born girls grow up to be women. Birth sex and gender, according to Scripture, are one and the same concept.
Help your child to think: What does the Bible say about sexual orientation?
Scripture does not have a category of sexual orientation; that some people are straight and some nonstraight. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture affirms that sexual desire and behavior is rightly ordered between a man and a woman as husband and wife. In every place where sexual lust and behavior are outside of marriage (all homosexual lust and behavior, as well as heterosexual lust and behavior), Scripture condemns it.
Help your child to think: The primary purpose of our sexuality
I say all this to point toward the primary use (or orientation) of sexuality in Scripture, and while this is not intuitive, it’s very much worth helping your children understand.
Sexuality is supposed to be oriented toward God, in obedient and self-sacrificial stewardship (1 Corinthians 6:15-20). When we misuse sexual desire and sexual expression, we sin primarily against God. Why? Because sex, among other things, is meant to be a kind of signpost, pointing us to the union we have with God through Jesus Christ.
While we temporarily become “one flesh” with another human being in sexual expression (6:16), we are continually “one spirit” with God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believers (6:17-20). Sex, within the covenant context of marriage, is meant to be a dim earthly picture looking forward to the far more glorious and long-lasting union the believer has with God through Christ.
Help your child to respond: Ten strategies to talk with your child about LGBTQ+ identity
We honor Christ most in this context by speaking the truth about God and his design for sex and gender—but by doing so in love. Speaking the truth in love generally occurs within the context of relationship—one friend humbly and graciously asking the other to reconsider his or her views and actions. Are we willing to truly love our LGBTQ+ neighbors, and to engage them as friends?
Here are ten ways to begin that process with your child.
- Adopt a zero-tolerance policy on bullying and cyberbullying.
Bullying has no place among God’s people. Teach your child to prayerfully take a stand to defend his or her LGBTQ+ friend or loved one from acts of injustice.
- Teach your child how to pray for his or her LGBTQ+ friend or loved one, and pray together as a family.
Pray first and foremost that the friend or loved one would know Christ, and from a relationship with him, would grow to love and trust Jesus as Savior. Pray that he or she would understand God’s goodness in the way he designed sex and gender, and to walk in repentance.
- Speak with your child in age-specific ways about God’s design for sex and gender.
Even young children can begin to grasp the goodness and design of sexuality and gender that God created. Children can comprehend some of the emotional and spiritual struggles that a child their age experiences when they feel different from their peers with regard to sexuality and gender nonconformity. Children can learn how to befriend and stand up for others, without accepting the untruth that their peers believe.
- Talk about the immutability of gender—that people don’t change from one gender to another as they grow.
Who they are as a gendered being today is who they will be for the rest of their life. Children—particularly young children—often learn about gender and their particular roles in social groups through play. Don’t discourage children from play-acting as members of the opposite gender. But, remind them of the difference between play and reality. There is inherent goodness in embracing one’s God-given gender.
- Discuss gender roles with your child.
Explain that just because a boy likes to engage in activities that might be culturally classified as “feminine,” like baking, crafting, or taking care of children, that doesn’t mean he’s any less of a boy. The same goes for girls who enjoy activities that might be culturally “masculine.”
- Help your child resist the temptation to be judgmental toward others.
Even though it is sinful to self-identify as transgender, remind your child that he or she is a sinner, too, in need of the same grace to be saved and to repent as his or her peer! This can be a way to encourage your child to begin to understand his or her own need of Christ.
- Make sure that you show respect for your child’s peer in your attitude, words, and actions.
Don’t mock or exclude the other child. Invite him or her into your home. Treat him or her as you would any other of your child’s peers. Your child will model his or her own attitudes after your own.
- Ask your child if he or she has ever been confused about sex, sexuality, or gender.
Invite them to share those questions with you. Encourage them that feelings never equal identity. Identity comes only from God, the Creator.
- Invite your child to dialogue with you about friends, classmates, or family members who have adopted an LGBTQ+ identity.
Ask them what they think about their friends or loved ones living in alternate lifestyles. If they think it’s OK, you’ll need to do more teaching to show them what Scripture affirms. Be patient in explaining. The culture is daily sending out persuasive worldviews.
- Brainstorm with your child ways in which he or she could respectfully speak the truth in love to their LGBTQ+-identifying friend or family member.
Let’s be honest here: it’s difficult to speak biblical truth—and by that, I mean a Christian worldview of life, including sexuality and gender—to those who are not living it. This is hard even for adults to do; harder still for kids who are more prone to peer pressure and peer conformity. Brainstorm with them how they might be able to talk (in their own words) about these issues with them in timely and respectful ways. The goal here is to help them not to be afraid to talk about what they believe. It’s not about convincing their friends that they are wrong, but about helping their friends (who most likely don’t know what a Christian worldview is) discover there is another way to think and live. And we who believe that God can take the smallest of seeds and grow something large out of them, will trust the Holy Spirit to use even the words of our children to bring others, in his time, to faith.
There are many resources on our website that will help you explain LGBTQ+ identity to your child. One additional resource is my minibook, Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child: Biblical Guidance and Wisdom. This resource is available for purchase in three formats: eBook, Kindle, and Minibook 5-pack.