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Twenty-one years into my marriage, my husband announced one day, “I’m leaving you for another woman.”  I was devastated.  I fell into a deep emotional abyss as my life and my heart broke into a million tiny pieces. My friend, “Lydia,” who had been talking to me for several years about Christ, stepped into my pain with gentleness and love.  Into my broken world, she ministered to me, sitting with me for hours as I poured out my pain and my tears.  She read to me from the Bible and continued to share Jesus with me.

Several months later I did ask Jesus into my heart and accepted Him as my Savior. “Lydia” and I continued to meet almost daily; ours was a completely new level of relationship for me.  With her, I felt complete and deeply known for the first time in my life.  I needed her desperately and soon began to long for her when she was absent.

Without noticing it, my life began to revolve around our time together.  When we were together, she held me as I cried and rubbed my back and dried my tears.  Her touch was such a comfort to me, and there was an intense feeling of being connected.  It was just a matter of time before we moved into sexual touching and then, a full sexual relationship. Even as a new Christian, I knew that this was not OK with God, and I struggled to understand how what felt so right could be so wrong.  After several years, our secret relationship became public and what started out then as a whole new devastation in my life was actually the first step of a new journey into wholeness.

This new struggle lasted for many years.  I have moved from identifying myself as a lesbian, to a woman who struggles with same-sex attraction, to a follower of Jesus who has experienced relational brokenness.  I have learned, with the help of godly counsel and Bible study, that the intense, all-consuming, emotional connection I craved from another person was not God’s design.  What I perceived as intimacy was a dysfunctional enmeshment; an entanglement of two relationally-broken people looking to each other to fill the space that only God can fill.

I put my relationship with “Lydia” on the throne of my life, occupying the place that belongs only to Jesus.  Praise God that he continues to heal me as I seek to worship only him and find the answer to all of my longings in Christ.

Click here for the first part of this two-part blog post: When Women’s Friendships Turn Sexual – Part 1; where Ellen describes the kind of friendship between women that crosses over relational boundary lines into emotionally and sexually enmeshed relationships.  

God’s Word brings clarity and a new direction

God’s Word speaks hope and clarity to women who find themselves in relational lifestyles of emotionally-enmeshed and sexually-unholy same-sex attachments.   John 15 reorients our hearts as we long for a safe place to call home.

Our true home is a person: Jesus Christ. 

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.  (John 15: 1-17 ESV)

In this passage, Jesus describes himself as the true vine, and we are to be intimately connected to him as branches.  He is the only one in whom we are to dwell in such intimacy and closeness.   Female to female emotional and sexual entanglements are a distortion of John 15, as two “female branches” seek to make their partner the vine from which they draw their life.

The key to understanding the metaphor of vine/branches is first found in John 14:23 when Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Then, in the next chapter, Jesus explains this new “home:” it is a home that gives hope to women who long for deeper relationships.  Women can be wonderful friends, Christian sisters and spiritual companions to each other.  They are meant to be branches living closely alongside each other.  But branches are meant to be branches, not vines!  Branches make lousy and destructive vine replacements!  Only Jesus Christ is true Life, Security, Savior and a HOME in whom we live and move and have our being.

Consider some biblical realities from Jesus’ words about what deep connection with Christ looks like and apply it to yourself or the woman you know who is living somewhere along the spectrum of female homosexuality.

  • I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (v.5). Jesus explains that he is the vine and source of true life and what a life in God is meant to be. In him, we are branches and are created to remain/abide/dwell in Christ. This language speaks of our deep connection with Jesus and the promise of John 14:23 being true in a person’s life.

Women who are drawn into these same-sex relationships are in one way or another seeking from another woman the kind of deep connection that should be reserved for God alone.  Of course, this applies to heterosexual relationships, as well.  Branches are not meant to abide in one another or in isolation from one other. God’s healthy boundaries for relationships affirm intimacy and closeness, but when two women shrink their relational world to an entangled twosome, the relationship becomes an idolatrous, life-dominating focus.

Thoughts to ponder if you are a struggler:

  1. What initial steps can I take to disentangle myself from this woman?
  2. With whom can I talk to think this through, and pray?
  3. How do I need to grow in my understanding of remaining (abiding, dwelling) in Jesus Christ?
  4. How do I need to let women off the hook for being a Jesus replacement in my life? (see Psalms 16 and 146, Colossians 3:1-17, James 5:16)
  • If you remain in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples (vs. 7-8).  Jesus gives a promise that comes from obedience to his command: as His words and truth make a home in us, our desires will increasingly be conformed to His will and purposes. Our thought lives will increasingly become free of obsession with one person as we learn to focus on Him. Our affections will grow in being outward- focused on others, rather than on comforting ourselves through one intense relational connection. Our lives will grow in being increasingly uncluttered from the emotional prison of an enmeshed and dependent (idolatrous) relationship with another woman.

Thoughts to ponder:

  1. What fills my thoughts and to what degree am I enslaved by fantasy or fear related to this friend or lover?
  2. What steps do I need to take in learning how to have God’s Word become a home in me?
  3. Who can I ask for help to learn how to have my mind transformed and my thoughts cleansed from so many sexual memories? (see 1 John 1:9, Romans 12:1-2, Phil. 4:4-8, Psalm 86:11)
  • I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more Fruit. . . As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love (v. 1-2, 9-10). These verses offer promises for those who are in Christ (the cut-off branches refer to those who reject salvation in Jesus). Our loving Father is committed to shaping our lives to increasingly reflect the character of Christ. His pruning process is painful, and it will lead through valleys of loss, grief and emotional pain. The road away from an enmeshed homosexual relationship is one that is painful and full of loss. Anguish and grief are real as a woman surrenders to the merciful pruning of Father God, turns from the Jesus-replacement in her life, and takes steps of loving obedience as an act of worship and trust, learning to abide in Jesus’ love.

Thoughts to ponder:

  1. Pray for courage and strength to walk in obedience! If God is calling you to let go of an unholy relationship with a woman, is there a mature Christian you can go to for help, encouragement, prayer, accountability?
  2. Jesus speaks of loving obedience and obedient love. Ask him to give you a desire to obey him and to grow in trusting His love for you. Jesus said one of the reasons he came is to heal the brokenhearted (see Isaiah 61 and Luke 4:18-20). It is through relationship with him that your hurting heart, and the places of pain in your life that have influenced you towards homosexuality, can be healed.

Although this article focused on one aspect of the female homosexual experience—the pull of emotional idolatry between women—there are many other facets that this blog post cannot totally describe.  The next blog post will give a testimony of one women’s story.

Please feel free to drop me an email to talk about these things, [email protected]

Ellen, we never saw ourselves as gay but rather as ‘Anna-sexual’ and ‘Beth-sexual*…this is how we felt about each other.  We have never been in love with another woman or man in this way.”

This was the explanation one woman gave about her two-year secret lesbian affair. Beth, in her 40s and married, met Anna, a grad student who visited her church. Beth’s marriage to a ministry leader was, in her words, living under the same roof but being physically and emotionally divorced. With Anna, however, she experienced the deeply satisfying emotional oneness she had always craved.  Since she had a significant church leadership role, no one seemed to question the intensity of her relationship with Anna. “Everyone just thought we were the best of friends and even envied our ‘connection.’”

Beth’s story contains a thread woven into the experience of many women who struggle somewhere on the spectrum of female homosexuality.[1] This thread is the experience of longing for and securing what feels like an “emotional home” through connecting intensely and intimately with another woman.

Beth’s story. . . is the experience of longing for and securing what feels like an “emotional home” through connecting intensely and intimately with another woman

Beth and Anna’s description of their relationship as being “her-sexual” (to a specific woman rather than to women in general) is what I hear from many same-sex attracted women, and especially from young adult women who’ve experienced their first romantic awakening (and perhaps sexual relationship) with a woman. Many would not have previously self-identified as gay, nor would they express a sexual attraction to women in general. Rather, they are attracted to this woman.

This romanticized (sometimes sexualized) attachment grows as seeds of emotional intimacy are sown and watered, sometimes over a relatively short period. The harvest that results (a feeling of deep emotional connection), feels like “home” for a heart that is hungry and searching for a satisfying, comforting experience of being known, loved, nurtured, safe and anchored. What feels like home emotionally leads to a sexual relationship that many are shocked to find themselves in. The sexual component that develops feels like a natural expression of the emotional haven and mutual “at-homeness” that has come to characterize the relationship. For many women, the next step of self-identifying as a gay or lesbian woman seems a logical fit.

A National Public Radio segment recounted experiences of older women who pursued their first lesbian relationship after many years of heterosexuality, which included marriage for some. Reflecting on the idea of the fluidity of female sexuality, Professor Lisa Diamond of the University of Utah commented, “It does appear that women’s erotic desires are pretty tightly linked to their emotional feelings. [Author’s emphasis] And so for some of these women, they authentically did not really feel attracted to women before they met one particular woman they completely fell in love with.”[2]

Many women will experience at a young age significant “emotional crushes” for other girls, and/or older women in their lives (educators, mentors, Sunday school teachers, and youth ministry leaders). These emotional feelings can morph into romantic desires and even sexual fantasies and usually exist alongside strong emotional cravings for verbal affection and affirmation, maternal-like nurture and nonsexual touch. As one woman said, “I didn’t have a close relationship with my mother. When, as a young woman, I connected emotionally and then physically with another woman, that sense of intimacy was overwhelming, and I didn’t want to lose it. I didn’t understand what was so powerful in the relationship, but I knew the physicality of being held and of holding another brought me to life – and I wanted more of it.”

In God’s design for sexuality, we are not meant to be sexually fluid

However, in God’s good and loving design for sexuality, we are not meant to be sexually fluid (heterosexual one day, homosexual the next, bi or pansexual or whatever later on).  We are not meant to be ruled by our desires or find our truest home in another human being.   God created us to live out of an increasingly devoted love for Jesus, unselfishly loving others,  and giving ourselves for his purposes in the world.  Our sexuality—and how we express it—is meant to be one part of who we are and how we express our “at-homeness” in Jesus Christ.

Unholy attachments (emotional and sexual) between women are attempts to mimic what we can only find in a dynamic, living relationship with Christ.  The closest human expression of that is experienced in the oneness of union between a husband and a wife, even in its imperfectness.   In fact, it is in the imperfect and brokenness of all human relationships that many women will move toward other women to find what no other human being (female or male) can fully and completely give.

Signs of unholy attachment

If you are a woman who is in this kind of relationship situation, or if you are someone who sees this in a friend, here are some relational dynamics that are indicators of unhealthy attachment between women.

  • Fused lives, schedules, and relational spheres. The relationship begins to feel like a marriage.
  • Exclusivity, possessiveness and a closed circle of two. Other people feel like intruders, as a threat to your harmony.
  • The relationship needs constant clarification of each person’s role in it. One woman will play the needy/weak/take-care-of-me role, and the other will be the needing-to-be-needed/strong/caregiver role. Fear, insecurity, and jealousy are triggered when one steps out of her role.
  • Maintaining consistent emotional connection is vital. Texts, emails, calls, and time spent together grow and intensify to become life-dominating.
  • Romanticized affection through words and physical touch. Sexual involvement.

These idolatrous “emotional homes” happen between women in Christian mentoring relationships, too!  When that happens, the spiritual component in the relationship adds tremendous confusion.

Do you see yourself here, or “almost here?”  Do you have a friend who needs your help to move away from an unholy attachment and learn how to cling to Christ for her true home?  The next blog post will give some important steps to take.

Click here for Part 2

 

 

* Names in this article have been changed.

[1]  By spectrum of female homosexuality, I’m referring to a continuum that on one end you find emotionally-enmeshed (idolatrous) relationships that have a romantic/sensual feel to them to the other end where you would find a homosexual lifestyle. Female homosexuality is sometimes an experience that is ‘launched’ relationally when an emotionally-dependent attachment to someone becomes sexualized.

[2] Diamond, Lisa.  “Late-Life Lesbians Reveal Fluidity of Sexuality,” NPR, All Things Considered, August 7, 2010, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129050832&sc=emaf.

Testimony: By Ben*

Read the first post to this testimony here. The power and hope to overcome pornography and other sexual struggles is not found in resisting impulses, changing one’s habits or even in religious practices.  It’s found in the power of relationship—specifically the transformative grace of Jesus Christ. One of our former support group members, who wishes to be anonymous, shares his story.

The turning point finally came through tragedy. My wife died, having suffered twenty years with a disabling illness. My horrible grief magnified the pain of my guilt. I know it doesn’t seem possible, but I loved my wife. I thought that God was punishing me by taking her. I know now this was not true. Perhaps he was protecting her from the potential consequences of my sin. In any case, God was demonstrating a “severe mercy.” It was severe and painful, but merciful because he was using these horrific circumstances to draw me to himself. I was finally reaching the point where I had had enough of the struggle.

Over the next twenty months, the Lord continued to draw me to himself as I began to regularly call out for him to reveal himself to me and take away the pain. For a long time, my behaviors did not change. Still trying to self-medicate, I engaged in sex more frequently and took more sexual risks. But I did not stop praying.

Two years after my wife’s death I learned from my church’s new pastor, that my spiritual condition was far worse than I thought. I had always thought that homosexuality and pornography were the roots of my sin problem. However, even before he knew my secret, my pastor told me that I did not need to merely stop sinning, but to find rest from struggling. Such rest could only be found in the love of Jesus Christ.

One Sunday, my pastor preached on the man who came to Jesus with his demon-possessed son (Mark 9:14-29) for healing. When Jesus asked him if he believed Jesus could do the healing, the man replied, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24, ESV).

I needed help to believe that God could love me in spite of my sin

I was that man! I had believed in Jesus since I was five years old but still thought that God’s love was contingent on my behavior. I needed help to accept that I could never make myself righteous in God’s eyes. I needed help to believe that God could love me in spite of my sin. I needed to believe that not only did Jesus suffer the punishment for sin that I deserved, but that God had also credited Jesus’ sinless life to me. I needed help to believe that I was no longer an object of God’s wrath, but a son in whom he delighted. I prayed for another nine months, meditating on various scriptures, and tearfully crying out, “Help me overcome my unbelief.”

Finally, my desire to know God’s love was so great that nothing else mattered. I lost all fear of rejection. A friendship had been growing between my pastor and me. I told him that I wanted to share something I had never revealed to anyone. After my confession, to my amazement, he did not turn from me in disgust, but told me that God loved me and he loved me. He showed me Romans 2:4 where Paul writes that God’s kindness leads us to repent. Through my friend, I felt God’s pleasure for the first time. I repented.

When I confessed to my pastor, I was waiting for the stones. Instead, my friend told me there was no more condemnation. Jesus, my Savior, had set me free at last.

Spiritual change doesn’t take place in secret. Only when sins come to light are the lies of Satan exposed. Satan had told me that no one, even Jesus, could love me. But he lied. In addition to caring brothers and sisters at Harvest USA, Jesus proved his love to me through many other Christians who encouraged me with the gospel. Among these were my children, my siblings, and my best friend of thirty years, who is like a brother. Satan told me that if any of them knew my heart, they would desert me. Instead — praise God — our relationships have grown deeper. I know I don’t deserve any of this. I deserve everything that Satan told me. All I can say is that it is God’s grace!

Although I am thrilled to share how God has worked in my life, it has been a painful exercise to recall many of the events. At times I just want to forget the past; I want it to have never happened. Thankfully God is redeeming even the way I view the past. He is teaching me that my past is not about what I have done, but is part of a larger story revealing what he has done for all of us. He is not asking me to share my story, but to share Christ’s story.

Christ’s story is simple. He has changed places with me. On the cross, he received the full punishment from God that I truly deserved, then gave me his perfect record. I am learning to share this story with joy because I’m beginning to believe the Bible. It tells me I am not the man that I used to be. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (ESV).

*Ben is a pseudonym

Testimony: By Ben*

The power and hope to overcome pornography and other sexual struggles is not found in resisting impulses, changing one’s habits or even in religious practices. It’s found in the power of relationship—specifically the transformative grace of Jesus Christ. One of our former support group members, who wishes to be anonymous, shares his story.

I was reared in a family with one brother and two sisters — all older than me. In our home, my mother was the nurturing one, and although I loved her dearly, I craved my father’s love. He worked hard to provide for us and so was absent much of the time. When he was around, he was busy, tired, and easily angered. He rarely had time for me. His favorite saying was, “Go peddle your papers!” We shared no interests. Talking with him was always awkward. I’m not sure I ever really pleased him or made him proud.

I viewed my relationship with God in the same way. Although I desired him, I had little hope of having a relationship with him. He was unattainable. I tried to convince myself that if I was good and worked hard, one day I would be worthy of his love.

I don’t remember how young I was when I was first exposed to pornography. I doubt that it was very graphic, but I do remember it had a strong attraction. Then, as a teenager, one of my neighborhood friends showed me a hard-core porn magazine that he had stolen from his uncle’s bedroom. This was the first time I had viewed sexual acts between men and women. I was instantly hooked. The images burned into my brain and ignited my fantasies. However, instead of imagining myself with women, I wanted to sexually please the men who used them.

Other than some curiosity-based sexual exploration in my early teen years, I never physically acted on my fantasies with men until after graduation from high school. I had opportunity, but feared crossing the line from thoughts to actions.

When I turned eighteen, I started to cruise adult movie theater restrooms and interstate rest areas. Sometimes I was a voyeur, sometimes a participant. More than once on the news, I saw the places I frequented raided by police. But that never stopped me from going back.

At twenty-one, I was arrested for engaging in homosexual sex in an adult theater restroom. During the night I spent in jail, I prayed for forgiveness and swore I would never act out again. But it wasn’t long until I took the same chances, and my desire for men grew stronger. I no longer just wanted to experience sex with a man; I wanted him to tell me that I was the best he had ever had. I didn’t merely want to please him; I wanted him to worship me.

Oddly enough, I rarely had sex with the same man twice. I knew that what I was secretly doing was not pleasing to God. It was more than homosexuality; it was idolatry. I tried to stop repeatedly. I did not want this life for myself. I wanted real relationships with real people and with God. I wanted to be married and have a family. So I compartmentalized my same-sex struggles and lived the illusion of the socially acceptable Christian life.

I attended a Christian college in South Carolina. Upon graduation, I taught in a Christian school for four years. I married a Christian woman, and we served the Lord in our church. Together, we raised a son in a home where we tried to actively live out our faith.

On the outside my life appeared normal and fulfilled, but on the inside there was not one minute of rest from my struggle with sin and my frustrated desire for God’s approval. For forty years I hid this part of my life from everyone, including my wife.

Before we were married, I tried to share my secret sin with my fiancée. Not being totally honest, I told her that I had sex with a man one time and assured her that this was in the past, never to be repeated.

I wanted to believe that what I told her was true, but it wasn’t. I sneaked away to have anonymous sex in an adult bookstore just three weeks after we were married. Realizing that determination alone would not bring me victory, I became all the more unwavering in hiding the truth. I feared that being honest would cost me my wife, my family, my friends, my job, and any hope of having what I perceived to be a “normal” Christian life. Pornography and same-sex encounters continued to be very much part of my life throughout twenty-one years of marriage.

Realizing that determination alone would not bring me victory, I became all the more unwavering in hiding the truth. I feared that being honest would cost me my wife, my family, my friends, my job, and any hope of having what I perceived to be a “normal” Christian life.

Over the years, I sat in Sunday school classes that discussed relevant topics like sinful addictions. I wanted to be honest about my struggles and free of them. I longed for others to walk along side of me and encourage me. But I didn’t see anyone else struggling. Instead of facing my sin, I sat silently in pain, telling myself I just had to try harder. Loneliness and despair, however, drove me deeper into my sin patterns. I continued to hide the truth because I was convinced that no one would love me if they knew the truth. I feared rejection from other Christians more than I feared hell.

I did seek help during those years. Twice I paid psychologists to hear my confession. Both were Christians. Neither was helpful. One told me that if I wore a rubber band around my wrist and snapped it every time I had a lustful thought, I would eventually associate pain with the thought. That would lead me to eventually stop acting out. It failed to produce the promised result.

The turning point finally came through tragedy.

*Ben is a pseudonym

The power of community is where we experience the transformative power of the cross in our lives. “Tom” came to Harvest USA to seek the end of his decades-long pornography addiction. What he got was that, and much more.

How long have I been living a lie by pretending that pornography and my flesh are not huge issues for me? My story of struggling with pornography began like so many others—when I was young.  Just before my tenth birthday, I went to my classmate’s house to look at some Playboy magazines he had hidden under his bed. Even though I was not a Christian, and I didn’t grow up in church, somehow I knew this was something that must be kept secret, hidden from my parents and my siblings. Going over to my friend’s house became a regular occurrence.

When I became a Christian as an adult, the guilt and shame of looking at porn, which was now years later, came into sharper focus. The nagging guilt now became overwhelming.  Yet I continued to live a double life of secrecy for over a decade. No matter how strong the guilt and secrecy, I was terrified to let anyone know.  Would anyone understand?

Then God brought a prayer partner who also struggled with Internet pornography.  But he was doing something about it. As I saw him walking in the light and the freedom he had in Christ, I began to learn how to walk in the light too. By confessing what was happening in the darkness to my prayer partner, I began to realize how great God’s love for me was. As I considered the seriousness of my sin, I realized how great my debt to God was. Rather than be crushed by that, however, the cross of Christ got bigger and more significant to me. This is what Jesus came to die for—my sin! The gospel began to grow in new ways and new places. But I still struggled with porn, I’m sad to say.

Years later, God led me to marry a devout Christian woman. Now I thought: My porn struggles would finally be over.  I don’t need to fantasize about sex with someone anymore.  My loneliness would end.

On the outside, I looked pretty good, solid, upright.  But on the inside, I continued to treat women as objects to be used. How ugly! 

For those who know about struggles with pornography addiction, that, of course, didn’t happen. I began to live a double life again. On the outside, I looked pretty good, solid, upright.  But on the inside, I continued to treat women as objects to be used. How ugly!  But God led me to another godly man who became my prayer partner. After another long period of indulging in porn, I confessed my sin to him. He gently encouraged me to discuss my porn use with my wife, and then follow up with my pastor.  It was my pastor who suggested Harvest USA as a good resource for men with sexual sin issues.

But going to a men’s support group terrified me.  What scared me most about going to Harvest USA was being exposed for what was my most shameful problem and sin. I’d have to talk about how porn was controlling my life. I had to admit that I was too weak to beat this. I resisted going for a while. However, the Holy Spirit was on the move in my heart. I couldn’t resist.

At Harvest USA, I discovered I was not alone, and I was now no longer isolated. God was exposing the root of my biggest issue: unbelief. My sexual sin was but a surface symptom of what the real struggle was. I didn’t believe that God was enough for me, that I could rest in Him and be satisfied, no matter what happened in my life.

In the Gospel of Mark (Mark 9: 14-29), there’s a boy possessed by a mute spirit that threw him to the ground, throwing him into convulsions.  His father sought out Jesus to heal him, crying out for help. Jesus replied, “All things are possible to him who believes.” What the father said next is what we all wrestle with:  “I do believe; help my unbelief.” Jesus heals the boy, even though the father’s faith remained weak. What counted was not the strength of his faith, but the object of his faith. He sought out Jesus.

Daily, Jesus is healing my unbelief. When I am drawn to the world and the flesh for comfort and escape from difficulties, I speak the gospel to myself:  Jesus died on the cross for my sins; His blood washes me clean even though my sins run red like scarlet. The best thing that’s happened by joining a support group is the freedom of confessing my sins, experiencing the power of prayer, and knowing that by the power of the Holy Spirit my Abba Father is speaking to me, shepherding me, and holding me in His embrace. He will never let go of me.

“Tom” lived most of his life “in the shadows.”  Read John Freeman’s chapter “Living in the Shadows: Life as a Game-Player,” from his book, Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, followed by another testimony of how a defeated man discovered hope and change.  Click here.

Robert Lynn, Associate Pastor, Knox Presbyterian Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Part of HARVEST USA’s mission is to encourage and equip churches to reach out to individuals struggling with sexual brokenness and sin. Several years ago, two HARVEST USA staff members traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to meet with the pastoral staff and present a seminar at Knox Presbyterian Church. Pastor Robert Lynn spearheaded this cooperative effort. He writes how God has since used him in the lives of strugglers and how he has reaped personal benefits. Here’s another blog post that will encourage you to lead a support group for men: click here.

I recall some years ago, one of the pastors I serve with stopped me as we left a bi-weekly meeting. “I’ve got to tell you,” he said, “that you’ve really changed over the past eight months or so. You seem so much more relaxed and at ease. You’re taking things in stride in ways you didn’t use to…” The conversation went on a few minutes as he articulated the differences he noticed. I was taken by surprise, but it didn’t take long to see the significance of the eight-month time frame.

A bit of background might be helpful to understand this small tale of pastoral transformation. Eight years ago, I found myself in a difficult season of ministry for me. It was difficult to the point of me thinking, “I don’t want a new church. I want a new career!” The last half of 2007 was a time of tending to wounds, so if you had asked me at the beginning of 2008 how I was doing, my answer no doubt would have been, “Great.” And on many levels, God had done some wonderful heart work, but clearly the work wasn’t finished.

What happened in my life that took my healing to new depths? Quite literally, God opened a door, and one by one a string of men struggling with sexual sin entered my life. They’re still coming. I look back now and see that God was preparing me for all this– understandably, I couldn’t see that then.

What is the result of walking with these men in their sexual struggles?  First, there is the opportunity to bring good news to them again and again. I have the privilege of calling them to the only One who has the wisdom and power to make all things new. 

What is the result of walking with these men in their sexual struggles? First, there is the opportunity to bring good news to them again and again. I have the privilege of calling them to the only One who has the wisdom and power to make all things new. It seems that I’m always talking about the gospel!

Second, there is growth and strengthening of my own faith – my own understanding of how Jesus is sufficient for the men and me. When I begin to grasp that and stake my life on it, things begin to change. Jesus will meet all my needs; therefore, I do not need to trust in worldly things to find meaning or peace.

Third, there is an overflow of deep, deep joy. As I read the Psalms, David provides words that say it best, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7, ESV). How can fellow sinners get together with the Gospel at the center and not see an explosion of joy? If anything brings new vitality and passion for ministry, it’s Gospel-promised, cross-purchased, and resurrection-guaranteed joy.

Fourth, I have a new love for my fellow strugglers. In 401 AD, Saint Augustine wrote his friend Pammachius, “I have seen your inner being… Seeing this has made me know you, and knowing you has made me love you.” I have experienced this same truth. These men have all let me into their hearts to see their needs. I have seen Christ at work in them as we engage the Gospel. Seeing has made me know them and knowing them has made me love them.

Finally, I now realize how much a pastor needs strugglers. My personal struggle has been ministry wounds and anger, while theirs has been sex, but we each need Jesus desperately. To my surprise, I find that the one who points them to Jesus needs Jesus as much as any of them.

I was camping out in Hebrews 11 recently. You know, 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. But 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 passions, 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.

Check out the video blog of Bob Heywood, where he talks about his struggle with pornography. Then, look at the steps in this blog on how to address your own struggle with pornography.

Acknowledge the reality of your sexual struggles and sin
Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (ESV) When we conceal our sins from others, our struggles become harder and deeper. Often we hide our sin (denial) even from ourselves because we do not want to admit we are weak or in need. The first step out of an addictive sinful behavior is to stop denying it and admit to yourself you caught in an enslaving sin pattern (see Galatians 6:1).

Confess your sin to God
In addition to Proverbs 28:13, I John 1:9 says much the same thing: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (ESV) It’s hard to admit your brokenness, so focus closely on what this passage says, that God is faithful to forgive us, and in Christ we are not just shown mercy, we are also made clean from the very stain of sin.

Confess your sin to someone else
Isn’t confessing to God enough? No, because faith in Christ is not just about me and him, it includes those whom he has also called to follow him, his body, the church. Recall one of the most powerful things Bob said in the video: he needed friends in the church to gently and lovingly pursue him, and he needed to be honest with them about his struggles. Reflect on James 5:14-15: “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (ESV)

Repent of your sin – which means turning from it and rejecting it
Repentance is more than feeling sorry for yourself because of your struggles. To repent means you will seek to do “whatever it takes” to turn from your sin, even if it is costly to do so. Repentance depends on being honest before God and crying out for his power to change, and then actively “putting to death” the idol of sin—again and again, no matter how long it takes— that is enslaving you. Read the whole chapter of Colossians 3 for Paul’s argument on what repentance looks like.

Seek assistance through accountability
Here’s the confession-to-someone-else and more: The power of secret sin is its secrecy. The Bible encourages us to confess to others and to both help and be helped by others in the body of Christ (again, Galatians 6:1-2; James 5:16). Find someone (of the same gender as you) to be fully honest with and to keep you accountable for what you think, say and do. Do this often, daily if necessary.

Destroy all pornography in your possession, limit and/or remove your Internet access, and eliminate access to people, places and things that tempt you.
Romans 13:14 states we dare not “make provision for the flesh.” Do not keep open any option to sin. Don’t toy around with anything that keeps this temptation right in front of you. Sin is serious, because, as Jesus said, it is an enslaving master; it will control you (look at John 8:34). Be honest with your accountability partner(s) and let them help you close off any and all access to pornography and other sexual sin temptations.

Put yourself under the spiritual direction of a mature Christian.
Find someone (of the same gender as you) who is more mature in the faith to meet with you regularly and discuss your struggles. A more mature Christian may be able to help you see the deeper dynamics of your heart and how you are responding to circumstances and to the deeper desires and longings of your own heart. For a more thorough overview of how our internal heart desires impact us here, read the blog series on 1 Thessalonians 4.

Make amends – where possible – with individuals you have harmed
We are called to a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). Do this wherever possible, unless contacting the person would cause more harm – such as in cases of sexual abuse. In those situations, seek professional assistance.

Focus on learning more about Christ, His character, love and sacrifice
Only a growing love for Christ will eventually push out your love for sin; therefore, you need to focus on him. Too much focus on your struggle will only serve to increase your self-centeredness. Balance self-reflection with learning more of Jesus.

Find ways to serve others instead of yourself
Crowd out sin by occupying yourself with serving others. Serve where your gifts are, but avoid situations that might actually increase temptation.

Continually repent of your deeper sins
The older the Apostle Paul became, the more aware he was of his sinfulness (1 Timothy 1:15). As you grow in Christ, you will see deeper areas of your heart that give energy and power to sin. Keep repenting and thank Christ that his sacrifice is sufficient for even the deeper sins of your heart!

Bob Heywood shares his story about his battle with pornography and what it took for him to change.

 


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