18 May 2015
This was Ron’s (name has been changed) conclusion after the second week of the men’s Biblical Support Group at our office. “I look around the room, and all these guys are wearing wedding bands, and their problem is about porn. But they still get to have sex. How am I going to live without it?”
In his late 20s, Ron is a babe in Christ, coming to faith just six months ago. Although he was raised in a Christian home, he’s lived a wildly promiscuous gay life for the last decade. Beginning in his first semester in college, his last ten years are a blur of parties and sexual decadence. Now he is here after a startling encounter with God.
Ron was deeply moved when I shared my conversion story the first week of the group, describing God’s amazing condescension to me– opening my eyes to his reality while I was tripping out on LSD. Despite our differences, Ron’s conversion experience was similar to mine in its strangeness, so he felt comfortable opening up to me about feeling so disconnected from the other men and their struggles.
Ron is battling with the reality that there is no way for him to engage sexually the way he craves. Life without sex seems unbearable. I acknowledged that, yes, it is hard to remain celibate when your mind and body want sexual release. But it has been made even more difficult for young men like Ron because the culture in which they have been raised proclaims that a life without sex is a tragedy. Sex is now seen as a human right, of sorts, and to live without engaging in it is considered ridiculous—and impossible. Why would anyone want to do that? How stupid!
I shared with him my own “single again” experience following my wife’s sudden death years ago. For more than two years, I had “knock-down/drag-out” conversations with God: What am I to do with my sexual feelings and desires? At times it felt almost tortuous to dismiss my sexual longings and to not give in to sexual fantasy and masturbation for relief. I recall saying to God once, “I really hope it matters to you that I’m not masturbating right now!”
And the Holy Spirit’s response to me seemed to say, “Yes, it does matter to me; I want to be your comfort and refuge! In your present reality, which to you is hard and painful, I want you to live in the present and not escape to a fantasy world of false pleasures, a fantasy world that is incapable of giving you real life.”
Ron and I talked further. We discussed that we have no idea what God has in store for us in our futures, but that he promises it is going to be good! In obeying him, we are drawn ever closer to his heart. He calls us to obey today, entrusting the future to his nail-scarred hands. Please pray for Ron, as his entire life has been uprooted since his conversion.
For a brief look at how to successfully engage sexual temptation, click the link here on my blog post, “Suffering with Temptation.“
31 Dec 2014
The call came from a PCA pastor’s wife. “John, an elder’s wife asked me a question recently which I thought I knew how to answer. However, the more we talked the more I realized, as did Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, that ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore.’ I soon realized it was more complicated than I thought at first.”
The elder’s wife had asked, “Now that gay marriage is legal in our state, if a gay couple begins to attend our church and if one or both of them claimed faith in Christ, would we encourage them to separate? How can we stand against something which is now legal?” She went on to say, “And we certainly wouldn’t encourage them to separate if there were children involved, would we? I mean, would we want their children’s experience of Christianity to be: ‘My mom became a Christian, and it destroyed our family’”?
I heard a similar dilemma in another pastor’s phone call. In his church’s membership class, the issue of homosexuality came up, and several people who desired to join the church expressed support both of homosexuality and gay marriage. While they themselves were not gay, they nevertheless supported and agreed with those who were.
These situations are happening in conservative churches right now. How do we think about these things? First, we need to remember that people coming into our churches today come out of a culture inundated with post-modern, totally secularistic beliefs. And while we all bring our faulty and fallen thinking into our relationship with Christ, it must be our job, as leaders in the church, to offer venues to openly discuss these things and offer sound biblical teaching.
As I result, I encourage all pastors and church leadership to begin addressing these issues in membership classes (and other venues as well). It is naïve of us to believe our people are on the same page in how they think about sex and sexuality. Please consider spending an hour or so in membership classes talking about God’s intention for sex and sexuality and why God intended marriage to be between a man and a woman. If God’s very first words to man and woman were about sex (Genesis 1:28), why are we so afraid to talk about it?
One PCA church recently contacted us because several people in the congregation had come out in one year. As the Session moved to enter into these situations with gospel mercy and truth, several families ended up leaving the church, having felt victim to a “bait and switch” framework. In other words, the church prided itself in being known as a church of love and mercy, yet when members found out that the church saw homosexuality as sin, they felt betrayed. A lot of turmoil resulted which, now several years down the line, is still being felt in the church. Much of this could have been avoided had the leadership spoken directly about biblical sexuality. Our church community is always impacted by the culture more than we realize regarding these issues. Even those with a more solid grasp of the Scriptures are being impacted.
Much of the turmoil and hard feelings could have been avoided had the leadership addressed these issues in some of the “entry points” in the church, like small groups, membership classes, etc.
Harvest USA is here to help your church leadership in this area. Please contact us if we can be of help. We’d love to talk with your church staff and elder boards/leadership teams about this. If you’re within a few hours of the Philadelphia or Pittsburgh area, we can do this in person. If you’re farther away, we can do this with a Skype or WebEx meeting. We’re here to serve God’s church and leaders.
I’m glad summer is over, and not just because my girls are headed back to school. I’m done with the heat. One of my friends is sick of Philly summers. He’s heading back home to Minneapolis. He’d rather face those winters—20 feet of snow and four months of daily temperatures below freezing. As a nation, we experienced the hottest July on record. And in Philly it’s not just the temperature; the humidity is miserable too.
The air is already sticky at 5:30 in the morning. The combined heat and humidity makes me want to just lie on the couch in a dark, air-conditioned room. It sucks the life out of you.
This is exactly how David describes the effects of hidden sin in our life. “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:4-5, ESV). We turn to sexual sin trying to make life “work.” It offers escape from the stress of work and real relationships. It promises to spice up the day-to-day monotony. It provides the illusion of intimacy to the lonely. We use sex as a pressure-relief valve when we’re anxious, frustrated with various life circumstances, or angry at our spouse. Psalm 32 describes the tragic irony of hidden sexual sin: We run to it for life, but it leaves us depleted and desolate. I enjoy yard work, but the summer heat makes it an oppressive chore. Similarly, sexual sin promises blessing and offers relief from life’s pressures, but is actually the thief of John 10 that comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
So we don’t find relief. In an instant the fantasy evaporates, the pleasure is gone and we’re left with all our original problems. Only now things are worse, exacerbated by our guilt and shame. And with each fall, the mounting inner turmoil sets us up to repeat the cycle again and again and again.
This Psalm points to the way out of this mess. It begins making the glorious declaration that we are blessed by God when our sins are forgiven. The gospel invites us to revel in this blessing because we have the irrevocable guarantee that our sins are forgiven. Jesus paid the debt in full. The Psalm concludes by assuring us that we are surrounded by the steadfast love of the Lord. God so loved the world he sent Jesus for us. Jesus invites us to abide in his love that our joy may be full (see John 15:1-11). Peter says one of the reasons we fail to grow in the Christian life is because we forget we’ve been cleansed from our former sins (see 2 Peter 1:3-9).
And it goes further. We are promised care and protection through the trials of life. When the flood waters rise, they won’t sweep us away. Note: The passage is clear that trials will come. But it assures us we will be delivered. God will be our “hiding place” and “preserve” us from whatever the trouble may be. Unlike the false god of our sexual sin that brings emptiness and despair, embracing God in the midst of life’s trials brings comfort. We receive spiritual solace that sustains our soul, even as the chaos of life continues to swirl around us.
Finally, we’re exhorted to “be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” Embracing the hope of the gospel—God with us—takes us from guilt, anxiety, frustration, shame, etc., to joy and thanksgiving. We are invited to know hope and peace. And it all begins when we stop hiding and get real with who we are and what we’re doing.
How has your experience with sexual sin been like the summer heat, sapping life and vitality? Can you imagine what it would be like to be free?
17 Feb 2011
Here at Harvest USA, we facilitate Biblical Support Groups for people who struggle with sexual sins. One of our groups for male strugglers incorporates a study of Scripture with an eye toward our behavior. One recent question we focused on was this: What’s really going on in our sexual fantasies?
Are they harmless expressions we all engage in? If these fantasies are inside my own head and don’t affect anyone else, what’s the problem with them? As one guy in the group said, “Is it really anybody’s business what I’m thinking?”
These objections, at first glance, might appear to have some validity to them. But I challenged the men with some of these objections: What if my “private” fantasy includes having sex with your eight-year-old daughter? If you knew that was what I was thinking, you probably wouldn’t be too happy to hear I was teaching your daughter’s Sunday school class next week. Yet we still stick up for ourselves and plead “sanctuary” when it comes to our thought lives.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not pleading a case to hear all that’s going on in that head of yours! But it’s also not a “no man’s land” either. Our thought lives are a reflection of what is going on in our hearts; our thought lives are a door to examining the desires that drive our emotions and behavior. Leave that door unopened to anyone else, and it can lead any one of us down some very dark paths. If we want to find freedom from the enslaving sexual desires that entrap us, then we must be willing to allow others to challenge us at the level of our thoughts and fantasies.
So, what’s going on in our sexual fantasies? I believe, if we’re honest with ourselves, that these secret fantasies represent a place where we find ourselves in control. We live in a world that is largely out of our control, one that frequently seems to be against us. Our fantasy lives are a desperate attempt to carve out a little spot in this world where something works out our way—finally! I know that’s a major issue in my life.
Many men, for example, will ask me if it’s okay to fantasize about their wives. I’ll ask if their wives are built different in their fantasies. But most would respond that it’s more about their wives doing things in their fantasies that they wouldn’t do in real life. Does this sound okay to you? Better still, ask your wife if it sounds okay to her.
Fantasy lives always intrude upon real life, somewhere, somehow. They aren’t harmless; they affect the way we think about or even relate to others in our lives. I know I need God to speak to that part of my heart with authority and grace. I know he does speak to that place. He does so through the words of his people, to those I’ve opened up my heart to, allowing them to challenge my illusions of self-importance.
So what’s going on in my sexual fantasies? A whole lot of me that needs replacing by a whole lot of submitting to the reality of what God is really doing in my life.
What about you? What do your fantasies reveal about your heart? What do you need to do with them?
04 Jan 2011
How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions? Do you get excited about ways you can grow and mature in the coming year? Or are you bombarded with memories of all your past failures, all your grand hopes for change that were dashed before the end of January? This passage is in favor of New Year’s resolutions because it challenges us to take stock of where we are in life—and then get moving!
Read the following passage from Hebrews 12:1-3:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (ESV).
It’s the first day back after the holidays, so we’ll keep it simple. The passage describes the Christian life as running a race. What does this mean? The Christian life isn’t easy. Spiritual growth is grueling, strenuous labor. We are encumbered by “weights” and entangling sin that thwart our progress.
Many men have said to me, “I know what I have to do—I need to put Jesus where porn is in my life.” Theologically this is true. Idol worship needs to be replaced with worship of the true and living God. But here’s the rub: Jesus will never become like porn for you. If it was that simple, none of us would sin. The Christian life is always living by faith, and, as my colleague Bob says, sometimes living by faith doesn’t seem like much. We aren’t tortured for our faith in this country. Faith doesn’t usually produce a runner’s high. Let me tell you: Having spent many years abusing drugs, running the race of faith is not my definition of being “high.” But it is better in the long run.
Do you know why I keep running? Because of how I feel when it’s over. The process is torture, but the end is glorious. Sexual sin lures, promising immediate pleasure, but it withholds the truth of the guilt, shame, wrecked relationships, etc., that always follow. The Christian life is hard, probably much harder than you realized it would be when you signed on. But it’s worth it.
What do I mean? The Christian life is kind of like a runner’s high. After my wife’s passing in 2010, I started taking exercise seriously and began running regularly. I hate to run. But at long last, I experienced the runner’s high.
So, let’s look at three quick things the passage tells us about this race:
1) The race has an audience. Following the list of Old Testament saints in chapter 11, this passage begins telling us that they are witnesses to the race we are running. They are cheering us on! And, more importantly, they stand as a witness to us that the end is in sight. This race will be over before we know it. They encourage us to persevere, standing as proof that God’s grace is sufficient for us.
2) The race has been set for us. Your life is not an accident. This includes all the painful trials, temptations, unwanted attractions, etc. You are running a path set for you by a loving God who promises that he is working everything together for your good to conform you to the image of Jesus so that he will be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (see Romans 8:28-29).
3) The race has already been run by your Champion. We’ll spend more time in later posts considering this crucial reality. Jesus has already run this road, faced every trial and temptation you face, but never stumbled. He ran the race ahead of us, blazing the trail, and offers us the exact grace we need to face all the specific challenges because he has already endured them for us victoriously.
Are you weary at the start of the New Year? Where do you need to be encouraged? What “weights” are slowing you down? What sins are entangling you? May God give us the grace to look to Jesus and get up and run!