21 Sep 2023
It was a snowy day in January 1850, and Charles Spurgeon was only 15 years old. Walking to Sunday service at his own church, he was overcome by the snowstorm and slipped into a small, sparsely attended church along the way. The pastor was absent, presumably due to the storm, and a lay leader took to the pulpit. He preached on a single verse from Isaiah:
“Look to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22)
That day changed young Charles Spurgeon forever—he came to a saving knowledge of Jesus. Spurgeon went on to be one of the most prolific ministers of the 19th century, whose mark on the church today is hard to overestimate.
Spurgeon was saved through the irresistible call of God’s Word to look to the only Savior. But what does “look to Christ” mean? It may feel frustrating because it sounds so deep and spiritual. How do we do it?
Deadly Snake Bites
In Numbers, we come to a truly harrowing scene as the people of Israel travel with Moses through the wilderness:
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4–9)
Did the people have to crawl over and touch the bronze serpent to be healed? Did they have to chant any particular words or pray with special emotion? No! They looked.
Our Only Cure: Look and Live!
When we look to Christ, we’re doing the same thing that the snake-bitten Israelites did in the desert. Stung by serpents, with venom coursing through their veins, they were doomed. The problem was within them—death was certain. Can you see the amazing simplicity of their salvation? As Spurgeon said, “look and live!” What must we do to receive God’s effective and ready help? Simply look! Even those who are suffering and weary can look. You may not feel you can run a race; maybe you can barely lift your head. But can you look?
Jesus is not only the destination for our soul’s rest; he is the way as well.
Jesus points to this story, too: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14–16). What is salvation? Believing in—looking to—Jesus.
But looking to Christ is not a single action when we first come to saving faith. Looking to Jesus is a believer’s continual act and lifelong pursuit. Jesus is not only the destination for our soul’s rest; he is the way as well (John 14:6).
Where do you find yourself today? Are you stuck in a rut? Does your broken marriage, your pornography secret, or the struggles of your child feel like a death sentence? Have you given up hope that Jesus can help you in the mess of your suffering and sin?
Reasons We Don’t Look
Shame can feel like a heavy blanket covering us. It can be a powerful de-motivator, keeping us from risk or transparency because our hearts are sunk deep down. I’ve been there. The paradox is that the true antidote to shame is to be known and loved amid it, not waiting to look to Jesus until you feel you’re on the other side. Jesus bore our shame; he became sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21). As your compassionate Savior, he sympathizes with you as you feel shame’s sting; he longs to meet you in it with his gentle care.
It’s humbling to look outside yourself for the rescue you need. Some days I’m addicted to self-sufficiency— “pulling myself up by my bootstraps.” One painful lesson I’ve been learning is that my pride keeps me from receiving the humbling help I need from outside myself. Why is it so humbling? Because I have nothing to do with it! Looking to Christ requires that we abandon all hope in ourselves—our best intentions, our best efforts—and wholly cast ourselves on Christ’s mercy and strong help.
Sometimes looking to Christ seems too good to be true. How can God really help me? What could Jesus possibly do in this darkness? We ask these questions from a place of unbelief and hard-heartedness, not knowing that the God we serve is able to do more than we could even ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20)!
Jesus Is Your Only Real Hope
Referring to Israel’s pilgrimage in the wilderness, Jesus speaks about himself as the bread of life and gives an incredible promise: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).
Your growth in holiness depends on Jesus and happens as you behold him!
Jesus repeats the very same “look and live” concept, and he points to himself as the only hope for eternal life. Believing Jesus is not merely coming to Christ for salvation; by believing, we have life in his name (John 20:31). The whole life of the Christian—in suffering, through struggles with sin, and all the way to heaven’s sinless glory—is believing the Lord Jesus, not just all that he has said, but all that he is to his people. Looking to Jesus is turning our attention to him as our only hope, rescue, and refuge and surrendering to obey him, whatever the cost.
Behold! Your Path of Sanctification
What does all this have to do with the struggle of a pornography addiction or feeling ensnared by an unholy relationship? Friends, it is only by looking to Jesus that we will be transformed to look more like him (2 Cor. 3:18). Your growth in holiness depends on Jesus and happens as you behold him! Will you agree today that your greatest need is to look to Jesus and live? Let your heart be changed by beholding him in his Word, with his people, and by his Spirit. We all need help to grow more like Jesus; we can’t do it alone. Reach out to a trusted friend, a church leader, or Harvest USA. In whatever darkness you’re carrying, you’re not alone.
19 Jan 2023
Shame-filled tears streamed down my face as I said to a friend, “I can’t go to God again! This is my own fault.” I described a scene that, in my mind, perfectly captured my relationship with Christ. It’s now infamously known as “the sledgehammer illustration.”
It went like this: God is the owner of a luxury car, and each morning I’d wake up and take a sledgehammer to the windshield of God’s car. Then, at the end of the day, I’d go to him crying for forgiveness. God would forgive my sins and comfort me. And the very next day, I’d walk right back up to his car, sledgehammer in hand, and smash his windshield again.
Could God have compassion on me, I thought, when I just kept smashing his windshield and asking for forgiveness? The pain and ruin I was experiencing were undoubtedly my own fault. My friend looked at me and said, “Caitlin, God is a Savior. That’s just what you need—a saving, rescuing God.”
Could God have compassion on me, I thought, when I just kept smashing his windshield and asking for forgiveness?
Have you ever felt like I did? Have you ever felt as though God didn’t want to hear from you again? Have you imagined that God is withholding his help and care because your suffering is a direct result of your sins, failures, and choices?
Perhaps you’ve taken a costly step of obedience and confessed your infidelity to your spouse, and now you’re engulfed in the destructive consequences. Or maybe you’re in a season of loneliness and grief because you walked away from an unholy relationship you never should have pursued in the first place.
Does God Care When We Have No One to Blame But Ourselves?
In Psalm 107 we’re introduced to four vignettes, each describing someone in a dire situation who cries out to the Lord for help. I recommend you read the entire psalm, but for our purposes we’ll focus on the third vignette found in vv. 17–22:
Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!
We’re introduced to a fool who, because of his iniquities, suffered distress and needed deliverance from his own destruction. Does that sound familiar?
But this is truly good news for the ruined sinner. Can you see why? God gives the same healing and deliverance to the foolish sinner (vv. 19–20) as he gives to the other case studies presented in Psalm 107—he doesn’t measure out his help based on our merit.
This Psalm puts the character of our Savior on beautiful display. Is God a compassionate Savior? Psalm 107 gives a resounding YES!
The hymn Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy beautifully summarizes this idea:
Let not conscience make you linger,
nor of fitness fondly dream;
all the fitness he requireth
is to feel your need of him.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
lost and ruined by the fall;
if you tarry till you’re better,
you will never come at all.
What Am I Really Believing?
Do you find yourself mired in the anguish of your sin’s fallout? Below are some diagnostic questions for you. Perhaps you can talk through these questions with a pastor, counselor, or trusted friend.
- Is there a part of you that wants to bring a work to your repentance (a changed attitude, a new resolve, a step in the right direction) to merit God’s compassion?
- If you believe God is against you because of your sin, what, in your mind, would cause him to be for you in the future?
- What are you believing about God that’s keeping you from going to him in confession and repentance today?
- Do you believe God warms or cools his compassion toward you based on your behavior? Why or why not?
Jesus: The Rescuer
Do you feel your need for Jesus amid the consequences of your sin? Are you weary and heavy-laden from your own destructive decisions? Do you need comfort in the firestorm created by your own failure? Oh ruined sinner, look to Christ! Cry out to him in every trouble, even if the trouble is your own doing—look to Jesus.
We bring nothing. Let that free you to bend the knee before your Rescuer. Humbly receive his comfort and help in the midst of the affliction you face from your own sinful choices.
Our hearts naturally push against the humility and dependence this requires. We bring nothing. Let that free you to bend the knee before your Rescuer. Humbly receive his comfort and help in the midst of the affliction you face from your own sinful choices—he is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us (1 John 1:9), and his mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22–23).
If your husband has sinned sexually, you might be surprised at how deeply you feel ashamed. Shame can be a vague, haunting, smothering feeling in our hearts. It may hover the way a low-grade physical ache emerges with the flu. Or it can suddenly fall over us, collapsing our hearts inward as if a heavy, water-soaked blanket was dropped on us.
The Bible connects shame and guilt, yet also distinguishes between them. Guilt communicates, “I’ve done something wrong.” Shame communicates, “Something is wrong with me.” Ed Welch, a biblical counselor, makes the distinction in his book Shame Interrupted:
Shame lives in the community, though the community can feel like a courtroom. It says, “You don’t belong—you are unacceptable, unclean and disgraced” because “You are wrong, you have sinned” (guilt), or “Wrong has been done to you” or “You are associated with those who are disgraced or outcast.” The shamed person feels worthless, expects rejection, and needs cleansing, fellowship [community], love, and acceptance. (11)
Note what Welch says about shame coming not only from our own sin but also from association with those who are disgraced. Just as you’ve perhaps been troubled by your troubles or anxious about your anxiety, maybe you’ve been carrying the shame of your husband’s sin as your own.
But your husband is guilty of sexual sin, not you. Regardless of how either of you (as sinners and sufferers) may have contributed to brokenness in your marriage, your husband chose to act on desires and pursue his own sexually sinful behaviors. Yet the intimacy of the marriage covenant does closely associate you with his guilt and the shame that comes with rebellion against our holy God. Why is this, and how does it happen?
Marriage, Sexual Sin, and Shame
Marriage creates a powerful opportunity for a husband and wife, in covenant before God and witnesses, to enter into a oneness-of-life relationship. Traditional Christian wedding vows usually include the following components.
Will you have this woman/man to be your wife/husband, to live together in holy marriage?
Will you love, comfort, honor, and keep her/him in sickness and in health?
Will you forsake all others, being faithful (relationally, mentally, sexually, emotionally, physically) to her/him as long as you both shall live?
In response to all of these questions, the man and woman both promise, “I will.”
The marriage covenant is unique, in part, because it’s the only God-blessed context for sharing sexual intimacy. The lifelong, exclusive, loving relationship provides a protected context for spouses to share themselves completely with another. Both spouses commit to do this in dependence upon and out of love for Christ. When experienced according to God’s design and intent, shared sexual love is indeed a beautiful gift that keeps on giving.
Sexual sin doesn’t merely intrude into a marriage as a physical act of betrayal; it brings destruction to the very foundation. This relationship of intimate oneness was built on trust and a mutual commitment to viewing yourselves as “we” rather than “I.” Wives experience covenant treason from the one man they promised to love, cherish, and faithfully honor, and from whom they were promised the same.
Sin in any relationship is serious, but since marriage is a unique covenant that represents Christ and the church, betrayal from a spouse is particularly devastating. Sexual unfaithfulness can shatter a wife’s sense of identity and worth. Her husband has not only gone outside the marriage but has actually brought pollution and idolatry into their union. Wives feel this intensely, even when they’re not the ones who pursued sexual unfaithfulness.¹
Jesus Brings Freedom from Shame
Sister, is shame a coat you’re wearing or a tattoo on your soul you can’t wash off? You may say, “Yes, but it’s not my fault. . . . I didn’t choose it; it was put on me!” Or maybe you’re convinced you caused the sin and deserve to bear this shame until your husband gets his act together, even just a little. If that’s the case, you need to hear this again: your husband’s sexual betrayal came out of his heart, desires, and beliefs—you did not cause it!
Jesus sympathizes with the shame you may carry in response to your husband’s sin and the condition of your marriage. Your Savior understands the ugliness of sin and the shame it brings; he’s experienced the painful betrayal of his bride, the church. Jesus, your loving, gracious, sovereign Lord, knows what it’s like to experience the “dirtiness” of someone else’s sin becoming his.
And there is hope in what Jesus achieved for us through his death and resurrection. As Heather Nelson explains, “In place of shame, [Jesus] gives honor, beauty, joy, comfort, justice, favor, and freedom—what our hearts long for most when shame rules our emotions, thoughts, and desires” (31).
Sister, only through faith in Jesus can you truly be free from the shame you carry, whether it’s due to your own sin or sin done against you by others, including your husband. The way we access Christ’s healing and cleansing from shame is by faith in him alone, believing that through him and by union with him we are forgiven of sin, cleansed from unrighteousness, and kept safe in his mercy.
These beautiful truths are good news for you and your husband. You are both holy, chosen, beloved saints if your faith is placed in Jesus alone (Col. 3:12). You are both sinners who continue to wrong God, each other, and other people (1 John 1:10) and sufferers who daily experience life in a broken, sin-filled world (John 16:33). Christ alone covers the guilt and shame of your husband’s sin, so neither of you has to carry it any longer.
This article is an excerpt from Harvest USA’s new resource, “Jesus and Your Unwanted Journey: Wives Finding Comfort After Sexual Betrayal,” launching August 31 at Harvest USA.
¹Women, including wives, do pursue sexual sin! Harvest USA is committed to ministering the gospel of grace to women who are sexual strugglers. Here I address the audience of the workbook from which this article is extracted: wives of husbands who struggle with sexual sin.
[Throughout my journey,] walking towards God and not away from him takes effort and deliberate choices. However, just yesterday, God brought to mind a quote from Harvest USA’s women’s support group: “I do not want to let Satan make me ineffective.” I also came across these words on a bookmark: “I refuse to…I choose to…,” something we had discussed in our group.
So, I refuse to let Satan squash my desire to glorify God with my sexual struggles. Instead, I choose to believe that God is good and faithful. His truth far outweighs the thoughts and emotions trying to take over my attitude. I will persevere with my eyes focused on Jesus and eternity, not on myself or on this life of light and momentary afflictions (2 Corinthians 4:16–18). Now, my testimony.
I have been a Christian since I was young, but it wasn’t until high school that I started to understand how the real gospel applied to life. Not long after, I figured out that I am attracted to women. It’s been about 15 years since I started this journey, and a lot has happened.
The part I’d like to share with you has to do with shame. Satan’s greatest weapon against me has been shame. Shame is a lie that says we’re worthless because of things we’ve done or things that have been done to us. Those lies must be measured against God’s truth because God tells us something very different. He tells us we are worth his Son’s life.
To give you a picture of where I went with shame, I basically walked out on my life four years ago. I distanced myself from almost everyone who loved me. I refused to associate myself with God. I rarely went to church. It wasn’t anger at God that led me to do those things; it was shame. I didn’t think I was worthy of calling myself a Christian, let alone broadcasting that I claimed to be one. I was in a very deep pit of darkness because I saw no way out and no future with purpose. Shame had eaten me alive.
My shame is rooted in a strong desire to be right—not me being right and you being wrong, but more like me doing what is right and honorable and always pursuing perfection in my thoughts and actions. (To be clear, these are the expectations I have for myself, not what I expect from others.)
For someone who wants so desperately to be right and pure, just knowing that my own sexual desires are twisted and broken produces a lot of shame. Choosing to actively pursue relationships with women, while knowing these choices were in direct rebellion against God, intensified my shame. My struggle lasted a number of years before my greatest shame, which came from taking that last step with women that I didn’t think I would ever take. When I finally let those relationships progress to a sexual level, I did it with a huge bang. God’s not kidding when he says that, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
I’m not sure if I just refused to let go of my shame or if I wasn’t aware I could, should, or needed to do it. Whichever it was, I know I felt utterly lost and powerless. God used a dear friend gently, but plainly, telling me I was hurting Jesus by not letting go of my shame. I was saying that his suffering and death weren’t enough. I tried to rationalize keeping my shame by saying he was already taking the punishment for my sins; I didn’t want him to have to feel the weight of my shame, too. But where is the gospel in that? He voluntarily died knowing that he would also be carrying that shame for me. That day, I asked forgiveness for holding onto my shame and started giving it over to him. He willingly took it; he keeps his promises.
God didn’t leave. He waited and then pursued me hard because he loves me. Once I repented, God started preparing my heart to step back into serving him. I completed the counseling homework I had previously abandoned. I was seeking God.
One day, I ended up in John 21. Now, nearly every time I read the exchange between Peter and Jesus after Jesus’s resurrection, I tear up. Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times before Jesus’s crucifixion after stating he would never do that exact thing. Peter’s pride showed, and then he fell hard—just like me! He denied even knowing Christ who loved him and who was willing to sacrifice his life to be Peter’s Savior. Imagine the shame!
But Jesus gently reminded Peter that his actions did not negate his love for Jesus. Peter couldn’t bring himself to say that he loved Jesus after his denial. He knew he had chosen to preserve himself instead of sacrificially loving Jesus. The tenderness Jesus shows Peter hits deep in my heart. Jesus recognized the struggle in Peter and made a point to assure him that he still loved him.
Then Jesus tells Peter to tend his sheep and follow him! I know levels of shame and certainty that I no longer had anything to give in this life, let alone give to God. I felt so broken that I would never be able to do anything worthy again. I thought I had failed God and had lived in complete rebellion: denying God, giving up hope that I could ever change, believing that he did not love me because he had left me with this unbeaten struggle.
If you can imagine the shame, then you can also imagine the feeling of knowing that God isn’t done with me; he has work for me to do. Reading about Jesus telling Peter he was worthy of being used for the kingdom’s sake is something I can latch onto. The work to which God called him was not second-rate. Does that give you hope for what God has in store for you? It does for me!
I need to hear the gospel frequently. That is the only thing that keeps me above water and out of the woods. God has provided people in my life to help me keep my eyes on him because, as much as this single, independent woman would like to do it on her own, it’s just not possible.
God provided a fellow struggler who shared her story publicly at a conference we both attended. She has been on this road with me longer than anyone else, and we have experienced the full gamut together. A great core group of people in my church have been walking with me for years, celebrating the victories, pointing me to Jesus, praying me out of the pits, and just doing life together. They are the people I can’t hide from, and that’s a good thing.
I’ve been connected to Harvest USA for almost nine years now, and I’ve seen God use the Women’s Ministry in my life. They have opened my eyes to Jesus’s compassion by helping me work through some of the deeper intricacies of my heart’s struggle. I have found a community of others pursuing Jesus in their sexual brokenness. I didn’t know I needed that community as badly as I did, but God did. He always provides.
I have been praying that anyone who reads this will have a renewed sense of hope. Because there is hope. I say that with such certainty. I’ve seen God show up over and over again in my life. He’ll do the same for you—I promise!
This blog is an adapted article from our Fall 2020 Harvest USA magazine, which is available as a free digital download. In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s real name because she has requested to remain anonymous.
11 Oct 2018
An essential aspect of walking alongside married couples dealing with a pornography issue is helping the husband see how this sin hurts his wife. Helping him understand how porn hurts will be a necessary part of his true repentance.
In Christian circles, pornography use carries a heavy weight of shame. A husband caught in porn tends not to see beyond the shame to face its true nature. Typically, the response is a surface repentance which is merely an effort to shed an embarrassing habit. This is not only ineffective; it is not true repentance. Good pastoral intervention is to help him see the particular ways his wife suffers as a result of this sin and the related behaviors that often go with it.
When Nathan confronted King David on the adultery and murder that he was hiding so carefully, he did so by drawing David into a story of a man whose actions were so selfish, so unloving, so disturbingly hurtful that David’s sense of justice and right was acutely aroused. Only then was David able to finally view his own hurtful actions from God’s point of view. Until then, repentance was impossible. The goal was to get David to deal with God (Psalm 51:4), but he would get there by facing how he had hurt people.
A husband caught in porn tends not to see beyond the shame to face its true nature. Typically, the response is a surface repentance which is merely an effort to shed an embarrassing habit.
It is helpful to identify three different levels at which a husband, mired in a porn habit, may be hurting his wife. As with King David’s sin, you will notice that this one sin draws into its service other, more aggressive sins. So, each succeeding level is more than just a step up in hurt; each represents an exponential increase in relational disruption and personal injury.
Level 1: Pornography itself.
Too often this is viewed as merely a shameful habit and not the serious breach of covenant that it is. I cannot give a detailed theology of sex here, but I will summarize by saying that sex is designed by God to function uniquely as the physical, literal culmination of the one-flesh union of the husband and wife, and as such is in multiple ways a picture of the gospel itself, as union with Christ (1 Cor. 6:12-20; Eph. 5:25-32).
Sex is designed to express the permanent, exclusively faithful, self-sacrificial love that characterizes our Savior’s love for us. When a man takes what is supposed to express his highest, most profound love and commitment to his wife, and repeatedly focuses it on other women’s bodies, it becomes an anti-gospel message to his wife:
“I am not yours forever, but belong to whatever turns me on for a while; I have not set you apart as the object of my affection, in fact you don’t compare all that well to the hundreds of women I look at; I am not giving myself to you to love you, nurture you, and cherish you, because all I want is for you or anybody who is available to meet my needs and desires on my terms.”
Pornography in a marriage makes a wife feel unloved, insecure, and worthless. An addiction to pornography, if we use that word, is not merely something a husband struggles with— it represents serious mistreatment of a wife.
But there is a worse level of deception. That is when even after the sin is exposed the husband persists in refusing to commit to complete honesty.
Level 2: Deception.
At some point the use of pornography involves deception. But deception comes into a marriage relationship in some deeper and more damaging ways.
First, there is the accumulation of deception over time. The longer a man uses porn without fully confessing to his wife, the harder it will be to restore trust in the relationship. If a man spends significant time hiding his sin, and eventually confesses and commits to complete honesty and transparency going forward, a wife will be rocked by the realization that he had been deceiving her for all that time. It is not uncommon for a wife in such a circumstance to say, “I don’t even know who I married!” With real repentance, trust can be mended. However, to restore trust, it is likely that a husband will have to spend just as much time practicing total openness and transparency as he spent hiding and deceiving. Long-term deception seriously handicaps a relationship.
But there is a worse level of deception. That is when even after the sin is exposed the husband persists in refusing to commit to complete honesty. This could be rejecting outright to be completely transparent, or just delaying that transparency. Delaying transparency has virtually the same effect as denying it altogether—on what basis can a wife believe him when he suddenly decides to “tell the truth?” He has already proven that there is much he values over being honest with her. This persistent kind of deception destroys the relationship.
Level 3: Abuse.
I am always nervous about using this word. It is a severe word, and not to be thrown around lightly. But I am using it for this third level because a strong word is needed. The key word in abusive behavior is control.
The desire for control is a common heart-idol fueling pornography use. Pornography caters to that need for control in obvious ways. And, to varying degrees, the control impulse porn caters to also takes aim at the wife. Who she is isn’t enough; he needs her to be someone of his own desires and imagination.
So, a husband will learn to think of his wife like a porn object—there for his pleasure, at his bidding, on his terms. He may control her sexually—pressuring her to do what he wants, when he wants, how he wants, even against her wishes. This is sexual abuse.
It can be even worse—the control impulse that porn feeds on can manifest in broader emotional abuse and manipulation. But it’s important to realize that even if one’s behavior is not yet overtly abusive, pornography always trains a man to think abusively—people exist for your own pleasure, entirely under your control.
This is not love, and a wife knows it. She feels used, cheap, and dirty. To the extent that a husband exerts abusive control over her, she will also feel trapped, helpless, even hopeless. This kind of treatment destroys a person.
This is how hurtful pornography, and all that comes with it, can be to a wife. If you, like David, are hearing, “You are the man,” as you read any of these levels of hurt, then remember also that Nathan’s rebuke was the instrument of God’s grace to David. Restoration of worship, love, and joy is offered to you, but it begins with a clear view of the hurt you have done.
Jim Weidenaar shares more thoughts on this topic in the accompanying video: Why Should Husbands Know How Porn Hurts Wives? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
11 Oct 2018
To learn more, read Jim’s accompanying blog: How Porn Hurts: Husbands and Porn.
14 Jul 2016
As the church steps into the trenches of the sexual struggles with which her people are wrestling, it is encountering a new reality and new challenges in how to do faithful ministry. As the culture continues to push into the church, the following “givens” impact how Christians are thinking about sexuality:
- Increasing cultural acceptance of homosexuality, especially among millennials
- Growing acceptance of a genderfluid and genderless society
- An awareness of Christians who experience same-sex attraction (SSA) but confusion about how to help them
- Legalization of gay marriage
- The encroachment of pro-gay theology and its inroads into the evangelical church
- The trend toward casual sexual relationships and co-habitation
- The ubiquity of pornography and the steady erosion of biblical sexual ethics
All of the above signals the need for churches to think strategically about how to “do ministry” as the culture continues to push into the church. John Freeman has spoken to church leaders and presbyteries, helping to bring awareness of the pressing issues that need attention. John highlights four things churches must address.
1. Leadership—insuring everyone is on the same page
While leadership certainly means your key leaders—pastors, elders, deacons, etc.—it also includes your leadership volunteers like women’s leaders, youth leaders, Sunday school and adult teachers, small group leaders, and so on. The importance of all leaders being on the same page, theologically and pastorally, has never been more critical. Asking the following questions will (hopefully) result in dialogue and clarification.
Do you know your current leaders’ views on sex and sexuality? Considering the “givens” listed above, how do you approach your leadership in determining what they believe and where they might be feeling pressure to change? We used to take it for granted that leaders would adhere to biblical sexual ethics, but some are changing their views and remaining silent about it. How do you get everyone on the same page?
Do you know if your leaders are struggling here? As important as what they believe, do you know if some of your leaders are struggling here? People, and especially leaders, hide sexual struggles. How can you call them to be honest, and in what ways do you help them? We know that when leadership falls sexually, it deeply injures the church and how people see Christ.
How will your leaders approach sexual issues pastorally? Key leaders have the greatest influence, so it’s more important than ever to make sure they believe fully in what the Scriptures say and will speak that compassionately to those who struggle. Sometimes that’s not easy to do, but true compassion is grounded in speaking God’s truth, not in defining truth as we wish it to be.
How would your church address a leadership candidate who experiences same-sex attraction? As we call believers to openness and honesty about their sexual struggles, we should expect to find men and women who live with same-sex attraction and are living faithfully according to Scripture. When they pursue leadership roles in the church, what help and assistance do they need?
2. Membership—confronting complex issues
The culture greatly influences church members. Confusion is growing as pro-gay theology, rooted in secular thought, influences believers who know too little of Scripture. How will your church in this new reality address some of the following scenarios?
What if someone identifies as a gay Christian? Is this a private matter known only to some, or is this becoming public? Do you know what this person means by adopting this identity label?
What about someone who supports gay marriage and homosexuality? Again, is this a private opinion or an advocacy position? What is a pastoral approach to members whose views are in opposition to Scripture? What if someone with these views wants to join your church?
Are you talking about sex and sexuality to prospective members in your membership classes? Do you approach the issue from a discipline angle, or first from a Christian worldview perspective? Or do you not mention the topic at all, and if so, why not?
What if a same-sex couple comes to faith (one or both)? What if they are legally married? How do you approach the complex situation of pastorally shepherding a family, particularly when there are children, when the parents are legally married?
What about church discipline? While recognizing the complex issues involved with sexual sin, where might church discipline come into play as someone is being shepherded through the ups and downs that go with this struggle? Is there an approach that is more helpful, or less so?
3. Church Culture—what kind of church culture do you want to nurture?
Do you have a sense of the culture in your church in how it relates to the culture “out there?” How does your church address the new reality of sexual issues that are prominent in the culture? How do you speak about them publicly, from the pulpit, in Sunday school classes, in the things your church writes? There is a big difference between churches that speak harshly about sexual issues and those that say hardly anything at all. The first approach leaves people hiding, and the other leaves people in confusion. That we need to talk about these issues has never been more critical, but the words we use (or do not use) are equally important. How do you speak to those who are opposed to his ways; and to those who are confused about what Scripture says; and to those who want to obey but struggle to submit to the Lordship of Christ in this area? Our approach, our words, our faithfulness to Scripture, and our presence with those who struggle are the many ways we show who God is to them.
4. Policies and Procedures—possible dangers ahead
Two seismic changes have transformed the landscape for ministry: the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the use, or threat, of non-discrimination laws and regulations, known as sexual orientation and gender identity ordinances. Churches with a history and tradition of opening their doors to the community for weddings and receptions, local community events, outside groups that use the church to meet—all of these connections may become problematic in light of the increasing use of anti-discrimination ordinances.
These new laws and court rulings mean that churches must carefully think about ministry in three key areas.
While this issue gets a lot of press, the reality is that the First Amendment seems quite solid in protecting ministers from performing same-sex marriages. However, the matter is more uncertain if your church has been open to hosting outside weddings and receptions. What steps can your church take to remain open to traditional weddings while not hosting wedding events that oppose biblical truth?
Building usage by outside groups
Apart from weddings, building use for other outside events might become more difficult, particularly for churches that rent their facilities or allow them to be used by the community. The challenge for churches that want to remain invested in their local community is to determine how to both invite and define that involvement, in ways that will avoid potential lawsuits.
Anti-discrimination laws regarding employment are another new reality that is increasingly stepping on religious turf. Churches that discipline ordained staff for misconduct are again protected by the First Amendment. But addressing non-ordained staff behavior is not so clear. What if a staff person comes out as transgender, or a staff person legally marries someone of the same gender? Gender fluidity and sexual orientation are major battlegrounds for employment law today. The area of employment law for religious groups seems to be up for grabs today. How churches will be affected is not yet clear, but they should now find ways to try to protect themselves while also shepherding staff who are struggling in these areas.
We’ve just scratched the surface on a few of the crucial issues churches are facing with these new realities. Harvest USA can help! We can help you think through these issues and conduct a healthy conversation among your leaders.
Contact John Freeman at email@example.com to get the conversation started.
03 Feb 2016
I was camping out in Hebrews 11 recently. That’s the chapter where many of the heroes of the faith are listed. Three names immediately stuck out for me. First there is Abraham. Not once but twice, Abraham offers his wife, Sarah, to other men to sleep with to save himself. And when it seems the covenant promise of an heir won’t ever come true because of old age, Sarah suggests he sleep with her bondservant. He immediately says “okay.”
David is listed there—a man after God’s own heart. But we know he was also hotheaded and impetuous at times, often acting first and thinking later. He was a deceiver, murderer, and adulterer. He had at least six wives and several concubines.
Then there’s Sampson. What!? God, you’ve got to be kidding! Sampson? He was the Charlie Sheen of his day! His life was ruled by scandal. When he saw a beautiful Philistine girl, he told his parents, “Go get her for me.” They put up a little fight because God had forbidden the intermarriage of heathen people with the Israelites. Sampson basically said to them, “I don’t care—go get her for me.” Then we see that he visited houses of ill-repute. His love (lust?) for Delilah was almost the downfall of the emergent nation and was his ruin.
These are the kind of men counted among the great men of faith. It doesn’t make sense. How can it be when each was involved in sexual sin or approved of sexual misconduct? How could these men be those in whom God took pleasure?
The record of these men’s lives is the story of ordinary but broken followers of God. Not a pretty picture, but an accurate one. They did great things for God, but they also struggled greatly too.
I think it means this. The record of these men’s lives is the story of ordinary but broken followers of God. Not a pretty picture, but an accurate one. They did great things for God, but they also struggled greatly too. Yet God blesses men like this (like us) because he mixes his grace with our corruptions—as a rule, not an exception! It’s not about our sin, although he takes that extremely seriously; it’s about his grace.
In one of my favorite books, The Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson, written in 1666, there is a chapter entitled, “Comfort to the Godly.” Honestly, I think it should have been entitled, “Comfort to the Scoundrels.” Watson says this,
“There are in the best of saints, interweavings of sin and grace; a dark side with the light; much pride mixed with much humility; much earthliness mixes with much heavenly-ness. Even in the regenerate there is often more corruption than grace. There’s so much bad passion that you can hardly see any good. A Christian in this life is like a glass of beer that has more froth (foam) than beer. Christ will never quench remnants of grace, because a little grace is as precious as much grace. As a fire may be hidden in the embers, so grace may be hidden under many disorders of the soul.”
It’s true—this side of heaven, grace and holiness are always mixed with our corrupt hearts. But experiencing God’s grace and forgiveness should move us towards a growing desire to be holy. I find many men who come for help to our ministry erroneously thinking there will be a day when they won’t desire or want things that would take them down dark roads. They think their hearts are, one day, not going to want bad things—therefore, they spiral down into depression and hopelessness when they do! Our hope is not in perfection here, or even in freedom from temptation, but in the realization that faith and obedience is a real possibility, because of God’s grace.
In his book, Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, John expands on this encouraging point that God takes us as we are and that even while he transforms our lives, he continues to work in us while we remain a mess of both corruptions and grace. Click this link to get the book.
18 Nov 2014
Atlantic Monthly has a distressing but highly informative article on teen sexting, “Why Kids Sext:” http://m.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/11/why-kids-sext/380798/
It’s a great read. But, be prepared to be distressed and a bit unnerved.
It’s not just distressing because teens are taking naked photos of themselves and sending them to others (usually boyfriends), but what appears to be a “so what” attitude about doing this by these same kids. While the majority of teens who sext do so consensually, there are still terrible unintended consequences that can occur, and the article points out several. More disturbing are those situations where some teen girls cave in to relentless pressure to send photos to boys. That’s not only manipulative; it can turn criminal when the naked photo of a minor is distributed online.
But in spite of attitudes changing about this activity, one thing also remains: the double-standard of girls losing out and being shamed, while boys are seemingly immune from consequences. In the ongoing descent into sexual chaos which our culture pushes, some things never change.
It’s an article worth reading by every parent. But what should a parent do once they’ve read it? Let me suggest four ways to respond.
One, I suggest you don’t react in fear and grab your child’s cell phone and demand to look at what’s in it (though you might very much want to do that!). And, don’t rush to punish your teen if he or she has done something like this. You won’t win your child’s heart by over reacting, and that’s the key here. Behavior is important (because behavior has real-world consequences), but character is paramount, and helping your child understand her heart is what will ultimately help her to shape her behavior to do what is right (and honor God in the process).
Two, don’t shut down access to technology, either. Taking away the cellphone or restricting Internet use won’t really work in the long run. Technology is too embedded in our kids’ lives (and ours), and trying to shut down what is ubiquitous, and what society is increasingly relying on, will only drive your teen underground. Trying to control our kids’ lives will only train them to be deceptive. It’s not control you want over your child’s life; it’s involvement in their life.
Three, parents need to wisely interact with their teens regarding their use of technology. Yes, they need monitoring. They need supervision and guidance. Think long and hard before giving your young child a smartphone. They are fun, informative, fascinating—and potentially dangerous They can be portals to some of the darkest corners of life. Are your children using smartphones, tablets, laptops, video game devices? Unless you oversee their usage and know where they are going on the web, they WILL access bad sites and maybe engage with people who can seriously harm them. And you won’t know about any of this, because web browsers are now almost universally private when it comes to concealing the history of accessed websites. Effective filters and accountability software should be as mandatory in homes as smoke-detectors. Seriously.
Four, start talking to your children about sex and their sexuality. The silence of parents is driving our kids to the most broken places on the planet to learn about sex: from the Internet, and increasingly they are emulating the practices and standards of pornography as being normative for sex. But God’s message on sex is that it is a gift to be given in a committed, covenantal union between a husband and wife, and that protecting it until such time comes is not only ideal, but it is also realistic. Not easy in today’s over-sexualized culture, but not unattainable, either. Honoring God with our sexuality is worth pursuing—for ourselves, and for our children.
We can help our children navigate this journey. But they need us to speak up. They need us to be involved, helping them to see and understand what God has said about using his gift of sex, and how their hearts need continual direction to align their sexuality with sound, wise, life-affirming biblical practices.
The benefits and blessings of managing their sexuality are life-long. When you show them the way, you’ll be learning how to live with this awesome gift, too.
To learn more how to talk to your kids about sex and how to oversee their use of technology, go to http://harvest-usa-store.com/ and check out Harvest USA’s mini books, like iSnooping on your Kid: Parenting in an Internet Age and What’s Wrong with a Little Porn when You’re Single?
A question often asked here at Harvest USA is a common one. “Why do people—Christians even—go back to a gay life after they have come for help?” It’s a legitimate question. For Christians who believe the Word, the Scriptures, and believe that faith in Christ makes one a “new creation,” the issue may seem confusing, but the answer must be honest and biblically grounded. Here is the sixth reason to explain what might be happening here, as we have seen some common denominators over the years in our ministry.
Living in dishonesty
People don’t just jump back into disobedience. What usually happens is that they walk back step by step, and both they and those around them are typically unaware of what is happening. In every case at Harvest USA, in which someone has come for help and then gone back into the gay life, this has happened. When some come back later, we ask them when they first began to experience strong and overwhelming struggles to the point of giving in; they will point back to a specific period in time long before they fell.
Yet they never opened up to anyone about the struggle! Instead, they chose to pursue bondage again to sin—totally in secret. When questioned about why they didn’t come and share their heart with anyone about their struggles, virtually the same answer is given: “I knew you would tell me it was wrong.”
In each case, when the heart begins to do what it wants to do, the idea of honesty with those closest and best able to help was intentionally not pursued. Often, the person will be open with others in the gay life—or even with those in a gay-affirming church—during their time of secrecy with you. Why? Because when they decided to slip back, the thought of hearing what you would say would cause them even more distress! Already struggling, they wanted to get out of the struggle (see the post on demandingness), and hearing truth, even truth spoken with love and mercy, was something they had already closed their ears to.
Those who begin to walk in this kind of dishonesty are sometimes beyond help at this point. They see their new change of heart as a refreshing kind of “freedom” because it eliminates—even if only temporarily—the distress they are in.
Fear and shame enter into this kind of dishonesty. We have seen it in those who have come to us after spending time in Christian counseling, having never really opened up about the real issue of their same-sex attraction or behavior. Instead, they talked about loneliness, depression, and the like, issues which skirted around and shrouded the truth of their struggles.
It’s been our experience that no one gets better, no one grows, unless they lay the cards on the table—all the time! Both with God and with other people. People dealing with same-sex attraction, as with other sexual sins, must be ruthlessly honest with themselves and a few, selected other people they are willing to trust. Sexual struggles and sin move people into lives of denial, secrecy, and silence.
These self-protective mechanisms are simply deadly. It is only in a community of mercy and truth (what should characterize the church) that fear and shame can be overcome and honesty becomes as regular as breathing. If only the church were truly like this, would we see men and women less likely to flee into sexual sin and into communities that support such behavior? When the church, even imperfectly, loves sexual strugglers with mercy and truth, then the struggler is in a better position to see and respond to Christ’s love, even when their hearts are divided. God understands our divided hearts, our doubts, and our deep pockets of unbelief.
These situations are painful for all concerned. It is especially painful to see those you love, with whom you’ve spent much time and in whose lives you have built a growing relationship with, seem to desert all that they once held so strongly. No one escapes this tragedy.
These six factors are the main reasons that people revert back to sinful behavior. I must point out that these reasons are not unique to people with same-sex attraction. I have seen men and women in the church who have deserted the faith or left their marriage vows, and their reasons for doing so can be the same ones I highlighted here. The heart of the person dealing with same-sex attraction is not unlike the heart of any other sinner. Every one of us is prone to follow his own course in life. It’s only the Lord’s grace and goodness that keeps anyone pursuing the truth and living life on God’s terms rather than his own.