19 Aug 2021
The following is adapted from Unit 2, Lesson 1, of our newest curriculum for men, Discovery: A Biblical Support Group Curriculum for Men Pursuing Sexual Integrity, which is available as a FREE digital download here.
Do you really think the Church can be helpful to you in your current struggle? What impact do you think the Church has had, good or bad, on your struggle with sexual sin?
In Harvest USA’s Tree Model, the soil—your environment—is everything around you that you cannot control. Most of what has happened in your past is “fallen” and has been influential in the development of your particular sin patterns. Influential, but not determinative. The soil is not determinative because, ultimately, your heart is always interpreting and interacting with the soil. As we have seen in the last several lessons, though, the fallen world in which you live—in which your heart seeks life apart from God—plays a very significant role.
However, those of us who are in Christ, who have been given a new heart, also have new soil in one sense. Our new identity in Christ is not a lone identity. God puts every person with a new heart within a new context, the Church, which is called “the Body of Christ” in Scripture. Eventually, the new life we have in Christ will thrive in a wholly new heaven and new earth, perfect soil for a glorified humanity. For now, in this time of living by faith and not by sight, the Church is our experience of renewed soil. We are emphasizing here the fact that your placement in the Church is something that God has done; you don’t actually get to decide whether or not you will be a part of Christ’s Body.
Though a model can make everything seem neat and tidy, this life is messy and challenging, even in the Church. All of the patterns, habits, and desires of the old life are still with us. As the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 5:17, “flesh” wars with “Spirit.” This is the case for all the other people in Christ’s “Body” as well. The Church is made up of forgiven sinners on the path of being transformed, put into relationship with other forgiven sinners on the path of being transformed. So, the soil of the Church will seem like part-fallen soil, part-renewed soil. Yet, as with each of us individually, the Church’s true and eternal identity is not defined by the sin that remains but by the righteous and glorious future that is guaranteed in Christ. Indeed, the Church is the true and only soil in which our new hearts are designed to grow and thrive, so we must consider how God intends for that to happen. This is the subject of the next few lessons.
When we are united to Christ by faith and given new hearts, those new hearts are placed by God into the context of his Church, the community in which they are designed to grow and thrive.
In Ephesians 2:18–22, Paul uses three metaphors to describe the Church: citizenship, a household, and a building. We want to draw out some of the implications of those metaphors. A citizen belongs in his or her nation or commonwealth. A citizen has both rights and responsibilities—rights to benefits, to protection, and to enjoy the riches and resources of the nation, as well as responsibilities to loyalty and to participation in joint national activities, whether celebrations or wars. It shouldn’t be too hard to see how these things apply to our inclusion in the Church.
Household implies family, and the Church is our true family. The head of this household, our Father, is very rich! As members or his family, we enjoy his wealth, which is strength and power in our inner beings. It is Christ in our hearts through faith and a strong foundation “rooted and grounded in love.” Just like the love shared in a normal family is experientially deeper than in general relationships, we have insider knowledge of the love of Jesus as we experience his love in the context of the church family. God, who is more powerful than we can ever think, makes that power to work in us together, not just in individuals.
How much of what we wrongly seek in sexual sin—safety, love, affirmation, togetherness, power, and strength—is rightly provided to us in the Church? For many of us, our natural human families were not a source of many of these things, but we make a great mistake if we transfer our disappointment and pessimism about our families of origin to God’s family. We need to vigorously pursue the resources of being in God’s family.
Verses 21–22 depict the Church as a building or structure—specifically, a “holy temple.” The image of a temple highlights that God himself is among us, “a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” “Being joined together” and “being built together” communicate the idea of the many different people in the Church enjoying deep unity. The vital connection to the foundation, the apostles, the prophets in the Bible, and Christ as the cornerstone is common to all the individual parts.
Despite a certain cynicism about the Church, we must strive to see the Church as God intended her to be. Our experiences in the Church as sexual sinners have often been rocky. The truth is that the Church hasn’t been a friendly, welcoming environment for many sexual strugglers, but this is not the way God designed it. It is never wrong for us to hear the promises of God’s Word and dare to believe them, in spite of past experiences.
It is far too easy for us to respond to descriptions of what the Church is designed to be by becoming cynical or critical of all the ways we think people in the Church have fallen short of this ideal. Indeed, the failure of God’s people is real; we are called to forbear and forgive within the Church, as well as cry out to God to heal his Church and make it flourish. We also should be asking God to help us see how our own actions or inactions have contributed to the Church not being what we may have hoped. Either way, God is asking each of us to play a part in being the Church. As we grow in this, not only will it bring essential help and strength for our own battles with sin, but we will also be used to encourage and build up others in the Church.
May you gain an appreciation for the necessity of the Church for your growth in Christ; reflect on how your sin struggle has negatively affected your ability to reap the full blessings of life in the Church; and grow in motivation to seek nourishment for your heart in the soil of the Church.
12 Aug 2021
The following is adapted from Unit 1, Lesson 3, of our newest curriculum for men, Discovery: A Biblical Support Group Curriculum for Men Pursuing Sexual Integrity, which is available as a FREE digital download here beginning August 13, 2021.
Autonomy is literally self-rule. In the context of our relationship with God, it is broadly connected to our turning away from him, our rejection of him and all that he is. It is not just a desire to be free of his rule; it is a rejection of his care, a repudiation of his love, a condescension over his wisdom, and a mistrust of his plans and purposes. In a nutshell, it is turning away from all that God is and turning toward ourselves in order to be on our own.
This central heart-desire for autonomy, and the way it affects our ongoing experiences, is profoundly illustrated in the story in Genesis 3, though this is not just an illustration; it is the history of our fall into our current sin-filled existence. It also describes the personal sinfulness that shapes all of our lives. To truly see how this story is representative of our sin struggles, we need to have a biblical understanding of sin as being organically connected to the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of the heart. Our focus in this story is usually on the act of eating the forbidden fruit, so we don’t imagine sin having any existence until that final moment. It is true that the act of eating is “the sin” in its most mature form.
In Genesis 3:6, we see the woman perceiving the world around her with a heart that has already begun to turn away from God. She has begun to think of making life decisions independent of God. Again, this is autonomy because she interprets and evaluates the fruit on her own without the wisdom of God’s instructions. How does her ignoring of God’s perspective and instructions affect her perception of the fruit? Is any part of what she sees about the fruit only true if she removes God’s perspective and instructions from her sight? What should her perception have included if she had continued to heed and believe God’s words?
The idea is that the fruit would never have appeared “good for food” (good food doesn’t kill you) or “to be desired to make one wise” (it has made us all fools) if Eve’s heart was guided by a secure resting in God’s love and confidence in his instructions, even though the fruit may have had a certain objective “beauty.” Her heart desires and commitments shaped her interpretation of the reality in front of her!
However, an act is only the completion of what the heart has already committed to doing. As James 1:15 says, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and when it is fully grown brings forth death.” The childbirth imagery is helpful. We mark our age by the day we were born, but that day is only one stage of life, ending our time in the womb; more life is to follow. Similarly, sin begins with an initial stage, and more stages follow after the first one. Granted, in the first sin, Adam and Eve did not start with a hearts that were already corrupted, but, at some point, their hearts turned, the desire towards sin was conceived, and the sin that had been growing in their hearts was finally born as they sunk their teeth into the fruit. God gave us the whole story on their sin so that we would understand our own, not only as an action but also as a profound turning of our hearts away from him.
Before moving on, recall that the central desire of our fallen hearts is autonomy, imagining ourselves as independent of God and even in the place of God. In this lesson, you will seek to not only identify your fallen heart’s central desires but also to see how those desires continue to shape your perception and feelings about God, others, and yourself; to begin to see connections to your struggle with sexual sin and temptation; and to see your struggle with sexual sin on a deeper heart level and then begin to pray differently about your struggle.
The opposite of the central heart desire for autonomy is having hope in God, trusting in his purposes for us, growing confident in his Word and his character, being content with his gifts and timing, and receiving and trusting his love for us, just to name a few. The gospel working in your heart produces these things in you and helps you toward repentance from sexual sin. By seeing how your lack of trust, contentment, and lack of confidence in God’s love contributes to your sexual sin, you can begin to see how the opposite of these will …
Sample of Discussion Questions
- What things does the serpent say to the woman? How do you think the serpent is trying to get the woman to think and/or feel about God, about herself, and about the tree?
- Have you experienced any of these kinds of thoughts and feelings? Please describe.
- How do these thoughts encourage you to separate yourself from God? In other words, how do they tempt you towards autonomy?
- What are some of the actions and habits you see in your life that flow from the thoughts and feelings you listed in your response to question 2? How have these led you away from God?
18 Feb 2021
Name: Jim Weidenaar
Position: Director of Harvest USA in the Greater Pittsburgh Region
Hometown: I almost don’t have a hometown. I was born in Grand Rapids, MI, but some of my childhood and my first two school years were in Waupun, WI. Most of my growing-up years were in Dearborn, MI. I guess that qualifies as the closest thing to my “hometown.”
Description of HUSA work: My job entails a wide variety of responsibilities. I am responsible for all aspects of Harvest’s ministry in the Pittsburgh area and supervise our small Pittsburgh staff. I oversee all direct ministry activities, and that includes doing some one-on-one targeted discipleship with men, as well as leading men’s groups and a parents’ support group. I create the budget for the Pittsburgh office and maintain a relationship with our praying and giving partners who support our ministry in Pittsburgh. As part of Harvest USA’s teaching team, I write blog posts, articles, and curricula and provide the theological and pastoral review of all other Harvest USA publications. I teach at various public events, preach in local churches, present to Sunday School groups, and speak at seminars and conferences. I also lead the Partner Ministry Program, by which Harvest consults with and trains teams that are setting up ministry to sexual strugglers in their own local churches.
How did you get to Harvest? My personal journey in seeking gospel repentance from pornography began when I was engaged to be married, and it has continued as an important part of my growth in marriage. When my wife and I were in the Philadelphia area for my studies at Westminster, we were members at Tenth Presbyterian Church, where we first encountered Harvest USA via teaching events like Sunday Schools and seminars. Having spent many hours wrestling with, thinking about, and discussing these issues together, we were immediately impressed with how biblical, balanced, and wise the Harvest USA perspectives were. This remained merely appreciation and gratitude until shortly after completion of my degree. Then, after encouragement from a friend to consider a calling to ministry “outside the box,” it suddenly occurred to me that ministry with Harvest USA might perfectly fit my personal and theological story. Discussions and interviews with Harvest staff confirmed this. We moved to Pittsburgh, and I joined the staff in June of 2012.
What is your favorite Scripture? I have always found this to be a difficult question. I guess my “favorite” Scripture changes with my season of life. At this time, I would choose 1 John 3:1–3:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (ESV)
I love this passage because it captures so succinctly the character, the hope, and the motivation of our fight against sin. First, the foundation of our fight is in the incredible realization that we are loved by God himself—not just any love, but the love of a father for his children. We are reminded every day when ministering with Harvest USA how strange and alien this truth is to the rest of the world around us. But it does not stop there, for we are given the promise that a glorious and unimaginable transformation awaits us. We may not be able to fully comprehend yet what the “revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19) will be like, but we are told this much: When Jesus returns, we will see him, and seeing him as he is will complete our transformation. I am increasingly understanding that any change we experience in this life follows that same pattern: The more we look at Jesus clearly, the more we become like him. Energized by love for the glory of his purity, we pursue purity. This Scripture is, to me, like a manifesto of personal sanctification and ministry.
What is your favorite thing about living in Philadelphia? Well, I don’t live in Philadelphia anymore, but I did for 10 years before moving to the other side of the state. So I can say in retrospect that the two things I loved about living in Philadelphia were 1) the ever-present echoes of American history and 2) the international and ethnic diversity of the city’s people. However, since I now live in Pittsburgh, it is fitting that I say what I love here. I love Pittsburgh’s small-town feel, which I think is partly from the confining geography and partly the friendly culture.
An interesting fact about myself: I mentioned above that I’m not confident of identifying my “hometown.” The truth is that in the first 26 years of our marriage, my wife and I moved our household 13 times. We lived in three locations near Grand Rapids, MI, two cities in Haiti, a small town in the Dominican Republic, a suburb of Chicago, four different suburbs of Philadelphia, and two suburbs of Pittsburgh. We have been in our current house near Pittsburgh for almost 8 years. That is the longest we have lived in any one place in our married life.