26 Sep 2019
We live in a culture of the immediate and find waiting for anything insufferable. The advertising industry exacerbates the situation, ironically stoking perpetual dissatisfaction by promising each new product will really satisfy you. Add to this the cultural obsession with sexual fulfillment, coupled with the prominent lie that a life without sex is meaningless, and there is tremendous pressure to live for sexual satisfaction.
Living with unfulfilled sexual desires is seen as the height of folly. Not just folly; some even argue it’s actually harmful. As a result, many Christians wrestle with the Bible’s sexual mores in the face of discontented sexual experience.
The first thing that needs to be said is living with unsatisfied desires is hard! Christians are mocked because the world is shocked that we don’t “join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign” us (1 Peter 4:4). Because the profound mystery of sexuality points to Christ’s love for us as his bride (Ephesians 5:32), there is an experience of transcendence even in its sinful expression. This means the absence of sexual fulfillment is a real and painful loss.
The absence of sexual fulfillment is a real and painful loss.
I know something of this challenge. After 12 years of marriage, I lost my first wife suddenly after complications from her breast cancer treatment. Diagnosis to death in five weeks. Although we were acclimating to a dire prognosis, her sudden death was like the shock of a car accident. As you can imagine, there was an intense experience followed by an eruption of emotions. When the dust settled, what remained was the challenge of being single again—including living with unsatisfied sexual desires.
The hard truth is Jesus described self-denial as a hallmark of following him (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). There are two aspects of sexual self-denial I want you to consider: 1) unsatisfied desires are a place where God meets his people; 2) unsatisfied desires whet our appetite for the world to come.
Unsatisfied Desires Are a Place Where God Meets His People
Paul describes God as “the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3), but here’s the rub: you only learn this through suffering. Paul discovered this after being “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (v. 8). God wants to meet you in your places of pain and unsatisfied desire. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). When we are pushed beyond our ability to endure, God shows up to strengthen and restore. That’s why Paul later recounts that Jesus wanted him to learn, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (12:9).
Know this: Jesus gets your experience. His grace is sufficient because he suffered through temptation and unsatisfied desires victoriously. Are you drawing near to the Lover of your soul in your pain and disappointment? Does sexual discontent drive you into the arms of Jesus, or other lovers? According to Ephesians 5:32, sex and marriage are signposts pointing to our relationship with Jesus. This means even our unsatisfied longings are an invitation to know his burning desire for us, his deep longing for the coming wedding supper that launches God’s new creation in fullness (see Revelation 19:6-9).
Unsatisfied Desires Whet Our Appetite for the World to Come
Further, unsatisfied desires are such a critical aspect of Christian discipleship because, in some way, God asks all of us, “Will you wait on me? Will you trust me?” We can live with unsatisfied desires now because the Day is coming when we’ll know pleasure forevermore at his right hand. The blessings of this life should lead to the worship of the Giver of all good gifts. In this transitory world, where all joys and pleasures are fleeting, they should lead us to long for the solidity and permanence of the world to come. The kingdom that cannot be shaken. The momentary delights of this life point forward to the eternal world to come.
Unsatisfied desires are such a critical aspect of Christian discipleship because, in some way, God asks all of us, “Will you wait on me? Will you trust me?”
Whatever your sexual experience, all of us need to see Jesus more clearly at the signpost of sex. Are the blessings you experience deepening your love for the Giver of all good gifts? Does your pleasure in marriage lead to praise and worship of God? Can you give thanks in your singleness and allow your longings and sexual desires to direct you to his heart for you? Can you hold fast to his promises to make your life fruitful for his kingdom even in the absence of marriage or biological children? The call of the Christian is to go deeper with him through the pilgrimage of life in preparation for the world—and relationship!—to come. Learning even now the truth we’ll know fully when we see him face to face, that his “steadfast love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3).
Editor’s Note: This blog is adapted from David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
01 Aug 2019
Harvest USA is committed to helping churches disciple men and women dealing with life-dominating sexual struggles and sin. Theo and Brittany, who now run a ministry out of their church, one that Harvest USA helped start, give testimony to the power of the Body of Christ in shaping faith and lives.
Theo: It started in college during freshman orientation. Brittany and I met during a pivotal season in our lives. Brittany’s mom had passed away that fall, and I was facing the reality that I struggled with same-sex attraction. When we met, we sensed that there was a connection, but thought we would just be friends forever—nothing more. We clung to each other that first semester, becoming fast friends—sharing our backgrounds, secrets, wishes, and dreams. Brittany provided comfort to me in a time I needed it.
Brittany: Throughout most of college, Theo and I went our separate ways. I buried myself in my schoolwork. I was an art major, and it was demanding enough to justify escaping from my grief. Losing my mom was something I ran from, and college came at the perfect time. Theo dove head first into the athlete world—morning weights, long practices, and parties all week.
Theo: When we graduated, we both moved to Charlotte, NC. Over the next year, we both hit rock bottom. Brittany was in a godless relationship, making poor decisions, and planning a future that didn’t fit with what she believed. I was drowning myself in the party scene, looking for validation, acceptance, and whatever made me feel “masculine.” I was desperate to escape my developing attraction to other men, sporadically giving into these desires.
Brittany: I just signed a lease with my boyfriend to move into an apartment the following weekend. My mom’s best friend lived in Charlotte and was like a second mother to me. She got wind of my plans and confronted me in a way no one else could. She spoke as a mother, a friend, and a believer in Christ. Her boldness gave me the courage to take my first step in trusting the Lord, deciding to not live with my boyfriend. Throughout the next year, with the help of my new small group leaders at church, I felt convicted to walk away from this relationship. I saw the contrast in who God was asking me to be and who I had become.
I didn’t know a soul at the church, but within a year, some of these guys became my first genuine, healthy male friendships.
Theo: The Lord intervened in my life by watching Brittany and her involvement in church. I saw her trusting the Lord. I felt a pull to the church—like it could be an answer to my struggle with sexual sin. The only Christian I knew in Charlotte was Brittany, so I reached out to her to ask about finding a small group.
She pointed me to a men’s group. I didn’t know a soul at the church, but within a year, some of these guys became my first genuine, healthy male friendships. Later that year, we went on a retreat. A friend asked some hard questions that enabled me to share my struggles with same-sex attraction, as well as my patterns of pornography and hook-ups associated with these sinful desires. That weekend, I felt the Holy Spirit push me to tell the other guys on the retreat. This was my first act of obedience and was the start of my healing.
Following the retreat, the guys in the group pursued me, asking questions and praying for me. It was the first time that I truly felt like I had a church family who was not afraid to enter the mess of my life and help me out of it, pointing me to Christ. The pastor of our community regularly met with me—he never made me feel ashamed but encouraged me and prayed for me. Coming into the light was critical for my walk with God to grow.
It was the first time that I truly felt like I had a church family who was not afraid to enter the mess of my life and help me out of it, pointing me to Christ.
Brittany: My friendship with Theo grew stronger and more intimate. We shared our discovery of God and our excitement for the church. People told us frequently that we would be good together, but we were just friends. Best friends. I heard the expression once, “As you run the race toward heaven and continue to pursue holiness in the Lord, look to your left and right and see who is running beside of you.” We were always beside each other, finding new ways to get involved, to serve, to gather our community. Eventually, Theo started to see as more than friends, but I was oblivious. Yet my love for him was growing.
Theo: When I realized I wanted to pursue Brittany as more than a friend, I was terrified of her rejection. After all, what woman would marry a man who admits to having an attraction to other men? It felt like a disease—and I wasn’t “healed” yet. I finally told her about the work God had been doing in my life. I confessed my sexual sin to her. Brittany told me later that this was the moment she fell in love with me. Six months later, we started dating, and soon after, we would be two of the grass-root leaders of the Set Free Ministry at our church, dedicated to walking alongside men and women who come out of the shadows of sexual sin in search of the healing power of the Gospel.
Set Free Ministry was launched with the help of Harvest USA in 2015 as a ministry of Christ Covenant Church in Charlotte, NC. The leadership team consists of ten leaders who shepherd men, women, wives, and parents of those who are struggling. Were it not for the men, women, and pastors who pursued us, two young wanderers, we may have never found the church, the Lord, or each other. Our God orchestrates his timing over everything, and it’s always perfect. Praise the Lord for his handiwork and the, sometimes messy, pursuit of his children!
This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of harvestusa magazine. You can read the entire issue in digital form here.
01 Aug 2019
Where do you begin when someone in your church tells you they struggle with sexual sin of some sort? What is the first thing you say? And after that, what specific help can you give? What if you have never done something like this before?
The answer is not a series of precise to-dos laid out in sequence. It first starts in your view of personal growth and change. And that brings up a much bigger question, the one you must begin with if you, and your church, will effectively help strugglers. It’s about discipleship.
How is the Church called to disciple its people? Not in terms of content, but of practice? What does discipleship in the local church actually look like? What should it look like?
It can be difficult for churches to talk about discipleship because a precise definition is often a moving target. Some would say that discipleship encompasses everything that the church does to help people follow Jesus. Others would say that discipleship is one very specific educational model, counted as one of the many ministries of the church. If we look at the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of the early church, one might find that both of those perspectives of discipleship can and should be valued. At the same time, there are some common shortcomings in practice that are often associated with both views.
For those who favor a broad definition of discipleship, it is common (though certainly not universal) that, in practice, discipleship looks like a speaker-to-listener monologue. From Sunday mornings to weekly classes, the primary means of growth is lecture. But while instructing God’s people in the truth of his Word is an essential aspect of discipleship, if we look at Jesus’ ministry, we can see that it is not the whole of discipleship.
For those who lean towards a more specific or precise understanding of discipleship—characterizing it as a unique educational model—there can often be a spoken or unspoken two-tiered classification of believers. In this case, there are the “regular” Christians, and there are the “real disciples” who are most committed to the faith. Historically, this perspective has led to discipling movements that can trend in high-pressure, legalistic directions.
It is amazing to think that Jesus, in His earthly ministry, would spend more time with twelve men than with the rest of the world combined.
This paradigm is completely contradictory to the New Testament model. The word Christian is only used three times in the New Testament. The word disciple is used far more often to refer to followers of Jesus. All of his followers are disciples. God’s forgiveness in Christ is complete and full of grace. Growth in grace is also just that: gracious. Our Father doesn’t look at his people in two categories: Christian and super-Christian. He looks at his people and sees beloved children.
So then, how do we define discipleship? Is it everything the church does that helps people grow more and more like Christ? Yes! But if we look at the ministry of Jesus, we can flesh that out a bit more. Should Jesus’ model and methods of ministry inform what we do as His church? I believe it should.
It is amazing to think that Jesus, in His earthly ministry, would spend more time with twelve men than with the rest of the world combined. In fact, the closer he got to the cross, the more time he spent with the twelve and the less time he spent with the crowds. If we’re honest, most of us would not consider that to be a top church-growth strategy for today. But this was Jesus’ plan for the world to hear the good news of His life, death, resurrection, ascension, reign, and return: a few ordinary, uneducated men who had been with him. This had been Jesus’ plan from the beginning of his earthly ministry.
“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” is an invitation into relationship and growth with a mission in mind. When Jesus calls the twelve in Mark 3:14, he calls them “so that they might be with him, and he might send them out to preach…” In Jesus’ discipling of the twelve, monologue or sermon-style content transfer was not his only means of transformation. At the heart of His discipleship was this “withness” and mission. We see this in Paul’s ministry as well in his first letter to the Thessalonians: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (2.8).
There is both content delivery (the gospel) and deep relationship (“withness”) at the heart of this discipleship ministry. However we define discipleship, we cannot leave it devoid of personal relationship.
We believe that discipleship in the context of a group is important because of the need for interdependence within the body of Christ in Christian maturity and because Jesus did his discipling with the Twelve.
I have the privilege of speaking with pastors each year in the US and abroad who believe that their church is doing well, but there is a missing piece that they just can’t put their finger on. They’ve got good preaching, good classes, and a sometimes great, sometimes frustrating small group structure, but they’re not seeing people mature in their faith the way they had hoped. What I’ve found repeatedly as I listen is that they are longing for an intentional approach to help their people become mature and equipped followers of Christ, and they don’t know what that looks like.
We at Life on Life Ministries (a ministry of Perimeter Church) have a working definition for what we call life-on-life missional discipleship: laboring in the lives of a few with the intention of imparting one’s life, the gospel, and God’s Word in such a way as to see them become mature and equipped followers of Christ, committed to doing the same in the lives of others. We believe that discipleship in the context of a group is important because of the need for interdependence within the body of Christ in Christian maturity and because Jesus did his discipling with the Twelve.
Surely, it’s not a perfect definition, but it is a helpful one. As we work to build a discipling movement in our church and equip pastors of other churches to help them do the same, we want to focus primarily on what we see in the ministry of Jesus with his twelve men. Certainly, we are not asking anyone to become an itinerant preacher and recruit twelve people to spend all day together every day, but I do believe there are principles from Jesus’ life and ministry of discipling that we can apply to our context today. And I think the definition of life-on-life missional discipleship captures some of those principles in ways that we can use in the church today.
It could also be helpful to think about life-on-life missional discipleship in terms of what it is not. It is NOT life on curriculum (though a good curriculum is certainly helpful). It is NOT life on knowledge (though understanding God’s Word is essential). It is NOT life on programs. It is NOT an event.
So, what might a healthy discipling culture look like in a church? It’s one that’s rooted from beginning to end in the gospel. The goal of discipleship is not behavior modification; it is to be conformed into the image of Christ. That happens as we engage with Christ in the gospel day after day (see 2 Corinthians 3:18). As this kind of transformation happens, behaviors do change because the heart is changed. A healthy discipling culture is also built on intentional, accountable relationships that are mutually committed to growth. It also must be built with the mission of the church in mind: to seek and save the lost and to help others grow into Christ-likeness. A healthy movement should be holistic. Any sphere of life is on the table for growth: work, family, sexual struggles, joys, etc. Within relationships that reflect the heart of 1 Thessalonians 2:8, study of the Scriptures, equipping, accountability, prayer, and missional living bear fruit in lives, families, communities, and workplaces.
What do you specifically do when someone brings up a sexual sin struggle?
Your reaction will speak volumes to someone who has just opened up about a struggle—maybe for the first time.
It starts by investing in just a few people, helping them move towards maturity in all areas of life. This kind of discipling relationship is not a quick fix, it’s messy, and it’s difficult. If you knew me personally, if you knew my heart, you would easily be able to verify that I am no “super-Christian” exception.
What would it look like, then, to disciple people who are just as messy and difficult as we are? What if their messiness and difficulties look very different from our own? The key to developing intentional accountable relationships is a gospel-centered culture. Performance-based cultures promote pretense, not vulnerability. And within that environment, there will be no freedom to reveal, share, and confess our sin. No opportunity to ask for help.
So the first step is to create a safe space for people to be transparent in their need both for Jesus and for the support and encouragement of his body. Setting the expectations for the group before it begins meeting is vitally important. Before I invite someone to join my group, I tell them that I believe honesty and vulnerability are incredibly important for our group. We are not doing this because we’ve got it all together, we are doing this because we are desperately in need of Jesus and each other to grow more towards maturity. That may be intimidating to hear, which is why I also emphasize that I don’t expect this will happen in the first week or month because it takes time to build trust, and trust will be the foundation of healthy accountability. This is one of the reasons that we have a discipleship covenant that members are asked to pray through and sign before joining the group. The second critical step, in my opinion, is that the leader of the group lead with vulnerability, modeling repentance, and asking for accountability.
With that established, I can circle back to how to help a sexual struggler. What do you specifically do when someone brings up a sexual sin struggle? You listen. Your reaction will speak volumes to someone who has just opened up about a struggle—maybe for the first time. Francis Schaeffer once said in his sermon, The Weakness of God’s Servants, “A Bible-believing Christian should have the experience of never being shocked; if we read our Bibles, we should never be shocked.” I love that.
From the beginning, this discipleship group has been a place for sinners in need of God’s grace for our growth, so when we confess our sins to one another and ask for help, this should be no surprise. I want this person to know two very important things: that no struggle with sin is beyond the reach of the gospel and we are not going to run away from you because of what you’ve just shared. You do not have to be a licensed counselor to listen and support someone. Where you go from here varies from situation to situation. You will learn as you go. As a discipleship leader, you are not in a vacuum. Discipleship happens in the context of community. You are a part of a local and global church that displays a variety of gifts for the building up of one another. Other godly men and women can come alongside that person and equip you as a leader along the way.
All of this will take time, and more importantly, it will take dependence on God to be the one who ultimately does the work of transformation. If you’ve never had someone invest in you in this way, that’s OK. Look at Jesus. Look at how he invested in those twelve men. See his relationships with them, his compassion and patience, how he challenged their wrong beliefs, how he equipped them, how he sent them out.
How do you start a discipling movement in your church? We have a simple motto that guides all of our training: Think Big, Start Small, Go Deep. We long to see the world transformed by people encountering the living God. We want to pray and plan and work hard for the gospel to go to places where it has not yet taken root. Discipleship is about following Jesus and pointing people to Jesus: let’s let him be our primary model.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of harvestusa magazine. You can read the entire issue in digital form here.
16 May 2019
“To be honest, I can’t imagine life without it.” He was referring to porn. His tone expressed exasperation, discouragement, defeat. There were nods of agreement in the room from the group of men—several had said roughly the same thing recently and continued to feel it that way. Giving up porn was their life or death battle.
I had known these men for a few years having led their biblical support group at Harvest USA. They had all showed progress against their sin, with varying levels of “victory.” The one who spoke up had gone a significant time without a fall. Every day he said no to porn, every day he fought to give up porn—but only by harboring the secret concession that he could still go to it tomorrow.
I felt tempted to give in to their discouragement. A slew of biblical scenes came to my mind: Rachel hiding the family gods in her saddlebag (Genesis 31); Achan burying some of the spoil in his tent (Joshua 7); the rich young ruler walking away sad, unwilling to give up his “one thing.” (Mark 10:17-22).
Here is their fatal flaw, I thought—they will not forsake their idol. This will not have a good ending.
My discouragement increased.
But in my mind I settled on the story of the rich young ruler and remembered that sentence, “Jesus loved him.” While the rich young ruler walked away thinking I can’t imagine life without it, Jesus was loving him. We are not told the end of that young man’s story. But I have more than a little hope for him—because Jesus loved him. And that’s why I ultimately couldn’t lose hope for the men that I had come to love, either.
Could it be that moments like this, when confronted by the stark choice Jesus gives us, to follow him or to follow our wayward hearts into idolatry and sin, are when the necessary climatic turn can happen in one’s life?
How dear is an idol. It claims to fill a core place in our life—an emotional need, a desire unmet, a hurt unhealed. Over time we steep ourselves in its desire until it is so familiar that it seems a part of us. We cannot imagine ourselves without it.
They—and all of us—are faced daily with the choice to believe the gospel and follow Jesus. Other biblical phrases echo the scene from the young ruler story: “He that loses his life, for me, will find it. . . ”; “. . . consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God. . . ”; “If you are in Christ, you are a new creation; the old is gone; the new has come”; “Behold, I am making all things new.”
You see, these men have reached a point where they are facing the question of their existence at its starkest and darkest: “Am I willing to die to all that I’ve been living? Am I ready to forsake forever my familiar idolatrous refuge? Am I willing to let Jesus re-create me? Do I want to be holy, to be steadily reshaped into the character and image of Christ?”
How dear is an idol. It claims to fill a core place in our life—an emotional need, a desire unmet, a hurt unhealed. Over time we steep ourselves in its desire until it is so familiar that it seems a part of us. We cannot imagine ourselves without it. We had thought repentance was change, only to discover that it really means becoming a completely different person!
How do we help someone who is at this place?
First, cheer them on to the right choice.
Remind them that Jesus’ promise of new life is for crises such as this. He said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” There is nothing but death in the “old,” and nothing but life in the “new.” Implore them to run after new life. At the point of crisis, remind them that Jesus loves them. Even in their struggle; even in their doubt; even in their stumbling and falling.
Second, model life-long faith and repentance yourself as you walk with your brothers.
Your role in encouraging them is not just for this crisis moment; you need to show them by example that this is an ongoing turning. We want to believe we can turn once from an idol that has been a long-time staple of our life, then never have to face the decision again. It is true that there is a decisive turning when we know in our hearts that we belong to Christ and no longer to ourselves, but the full implications of that take a lifetime to work out.
As a new believer, this decisive turning comes with a sense of joy and freedom. But we do not know ourselves very well. God knows us perfectly. We do not see all at once what it will mean to “put off the old self” and “put on the new.” There are other idols we do not immediately see.
As we mature in our life as a Christian, the Spirit progressively brings us from one repentance crisis to another, each time showing us another piece of what is earthly in us and giving us the opportunity—no, the necessity—of saying goodbye to it, of reaffirming, “This is not who I am anymore; I don’t have to do this.”
Third (and this is of course the most important), pray with and for them.
Prayer is how we re-focus on the person who is the power behind our repentance, Jesus himself. It is his work. He is the one to whom we turn. His is the life by which we turn. His is the voice that beckons us to forsake our old life to live his new life.
I have more than a little hope for these friends of mine. I have every reason to believe Jesus loves them, and has brought them to this crisis of eternal identity with his hand outstretched, inviting them to trust him, beckoning them to life, “Come, follow me. . . I am making all things new.”
Relationships: We want so much from them, and when they fail to satisfy, they can crush us. We can spin off into deep disappointment and despair, and that can lead us down dark roads of self-destructive behavior. Listen to Ellen share three ways of rethinking disappointments that will encourage your heart and help you respond in new, redemptive ways when your relationships are tough.
Ellen also writes about disappointment in relationships in her blog, “The Danger Lurking in Disappointing Relationships.”
For further study, consider the following minibooks: Your Husband is Addicted to Porn: Healing after Betrayal by Vicki Tiede (also available in eBook and Kindle formats) and Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart by Ellen Dykas (also available in eBook and Kindle formats).
Disappointment in key relationships can hijack our hearts if we’re not careful. Experiences of being snubbed, misunderstood, disregarded, or flat out rejected have the power to send us reeling. And when that happens, it can pull us to seek out pleasures and comforts that are harmful and destructive. Many women and men who become ensnared in the false intimacy of pornography, sexual hookups, and affairs took steps in those destructive directions when they were disappointed by the street level reality of real relationships.
Have you felt disappointed in someone lately? Has someone recently had the courage to tell you that they are disappointed in you? Relationships are such a sweet gift of God. But they can also be so challenging when the required work of healthy connections with people is just too much to handle. Sadly, many people today settle for superficial, online connections because they believe that investing in real relationships with real people requires too much time, energy, and vulnerability.
Why is it that relationships can lead to such deep disappointment? Disappointment that can tempt us to not only to seek comfort in self-damaging ways, but to avoid, disregard, or reject people in order to keep safe?
Jesus promised something that is difficult to accept: that in this life we’ll have trials, disappointments, and pain (John 16:33). Relational trials and disappointments are the most painful for me. Health trials scare me, and financial stress can lead to anxiety. But stress in key relationships? Deep disappointment by someone? Those can really break my heart.
Sadly, many people today settle for superficial, online connections because they believe that investing in real relationships with real people requires too much time, energy, and vulnerability.
Disappointment is a common human experience because of sin. The ravages of the fall have left sin’s mark on everything and everyone. Our desires don’t align with God’s will perfectly. Our expectations usually aren’t purely anchored in God. Our relationships aren’t satisfying, and if we’re honest, we often don’t wake up singing Psalm 90:14 joyfully, “Satisfy me with yourself O God…I’ll sing and be glad all day and every day!”
It helps me, when facing disappointment in a relationship, to consider where the pain is coming from. In other words, what leads me to experience someone not loving me, not being there, listening, caring, knowing, pursuing me, etc., in the ways I want?
Consider these three things for yourself.
1. Are your desires and expectations off-track from the gospel (remember Jesus’ words about living in a world of tribulation)? Are you living out of a me-centered focus that has pushed Jesus out of his rightful place in your life? Some people live in consistent hurt and anger because people aren’t responding to them the way they want. They want a person to consistently give what only God can truly provide: true heart satisfaction and unfailing love. God says “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (Proverbs 29:25).
2. Is it possible that this person is oblivious or unable to love you as you desire? Sometimes people just have no clue what our desires are, because we’ve not communicated clearly. Perhaps your fear of being vulnerable, or pride has kept you from honestly expressing a need.
I have many relationships which have become technology-mediated. We send texts, voice recordings, and videos back and forth rather than having an actual conversation. It is wonderful in one way because this quick style of communication has allowed me to stay in touch with people in ways I couldn’t before.
Here’s some good news for all of us when faced with relational disappointments: God wants to meet us in and through our unmet desires.
Sometimes though, I feel sad and unpursued when all I’m getting from someone is a text rather than a phone call. One friend had no idea that her flood of texts did not communicate love to me, but rather distance. I needed to have an honest conversation with her about my desire to actually talk, voice to voice! Thankfully she responded gently and lovingly. But the reality was that her current season of life made it difficult for her to have frequent phone or Skype talks with me. I needed to accept this and not manipulate or demand.
But it’s not just busy schedules that can hinder our relationships. People can be unable to love us the way we want, due to their own brokenness. They just don’t have it in them to reciprocate or relate to us deeply. Accepting this has transformed a few relationships in my life and I’ve experienced peace and thankfulness replacing frustration and disappointment. It’s so much better to cultivate gratefulness rather than allowing unmet desires to churn frustration and anger over and over in our hearts.
3. Finally, is God stepping in-between you and this person? This can be hard to swallow, but it has brought peace to my troubled, craving heart to accept that God does cause space to exist between certain people and me. A man I wanted to marry. A friend from whom I wanted more attention. A ministry leader I longed to know and spend time with. A group of friends whose circle I wanted to break into. Disappointment was God’s purpose for me in these hoped-for relationships for reasons I may never know. Trusting God and resting in Him helps me in the not-knowing.
Here’s some good news for all of us when faced with relational disappointments: God wants to meet us in and through our unmet desires. He will use the way people disappoint us to draw us closer to himself. And we need to believe that when that happens, God is enabling us to love people even more selflessly.
Don’t give up! God has appointed something good for you through this disappointment.
Ellen has more thoughts on this topic and shares them in the accompanying video: How Should I Handle Disappointments in My Relationships? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc
13 Dec 2018
One of the questions we receive most frequently at Harvest USA goes something like this: “My daughter just found out that she has a transgender classmate. How do I help her to respond?”
Or, “We just found out that my husband’s brother is gay. We’re not sure how to explain this to our 12-year-old son.”
These situations, and others like them, are confronting more and more families. The number of adults self-identifying as LGBTQ+ has grown to 4.3% of the adult population, which is almost double what it was 18 years ago.
And among Generation Z (that’s kids 18 and under), the percentage is higher. Roughly 8 percent of high school students report being lesbian, gay, or bisexual. And, studies show that 2.7 percent of teens are unsure of their gender identity.
So even if your child doesn’t experience same-sex attraction or gender struggles, they probably know at least one other person who does.
One goal, then, is for parents to help their children understand some basic information about LGBTQ identity. But there is another important goal—discipling children to speak the truth in love and compassion to those around them who identify as nonstraight and gender nonconforming.
Help your child to think: What does the Bible say about gender?
Scripture tells us that God created all of his image-bearers as either male or female (Genesis 1:27). There is nothing in the Bible that leads one to conclude that gender is distinct from birth sex, or that gender is on a continuum from male to female, or that gender evolves over time.
Rather, in Psalm 139:13–16, we see a tender and intimate rendering of the fact that God “knitted [us] together” in our mothers’ wombs, and that he wrote in his book every one of our days before one of them came to be. Gender is not something that develops as a psychological process. It is ordained by God from beyond eternity. Babies born boys in Scripture are called boys from birth and grow up to be men. Babies born girls grow up to be women. Birth sex and gender, according to Scripture, are one and the same concept.
Help your child to think: What does the Bible say about sexual orientation?
Scripture does not have a category of sexual orientation; that some people are straight and some nonstraight. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture affirms that sexual desire and behavior is rightly ordered between a man and a woman as husband and wife. In every place where sexual lust and behavior are outside of marriage (all homosexual lust and behavior, as well as heterosexual lust and behavior), Scripture condemns it.
Help your child to think: The primary purpose of our sexuality
I say all this to point toward the primary use (or orientation) of sexuality in Scripture, and while this is not intuitive, it’s very much worth helping your children understand.
Sexuality is supposed to be oriented toward God, in obedient and self-sacrificial stewardship (1 Corinthians 6:15-20). When we misuse sexual desire and sexual expression, we sin primarily against God. Why? Because sex, among other things, is meant to be a kind of signpost, pointing us to the union we have with God through Jesus Christ.
While we temporarily become “one flesh” with another human being in sexual expression (6:16), we are continually “one spirit” with God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believers (6:17-20). Sex, within the covenant context of marriage, is meant to be a dim earthly picture looking forward to the far more glorious and long-lasting union the believer has with God through Christ.
Help your child to respond: Ten strategies to talk with your child about LGBTQ+ identity
We honor Christ most in this context by speaking the truth about God and his design for sex and gender—but by doing so in love. Speaking the truth in love generally occurs within the context of relationship—one friend humbly and graciously asking the other to reconsider his or her views and actions. Are we willing to truly love our LGBTQ+ neighbors, and to engage them as friends?
Here are ten ways to begin that process with your child.
- Adopt a zero-tolerance policy on bullying and cyberbullying.
Bullying has no place among God’s people. Teach your child to prayerfully take a stand to defend his or her LGBTQ+ friend or loved one from acts of injustice.
- Teach your child how to pray for his or her LGBTQ+ friend or loved one, and pray together as a family.
Pray first and foremost that the friend or loved one would know Christ, and from a relationship with him, would grow to love and trust Jesus as Savior. Pray that he or she would understand God’s goodness in the way he designed sex and gender, and to walk in repentance.
- Speak with your child in age-specific ways about God’s design for sex and gender.
Even young children can begin to grasp the goodness and design of sexuality and gender that God created. Children can comprehend some of the emotional and spiritual struggles that a child their age experiences when they feel different from their peers with regard to sexuality and gender nonconformity. Children can learn how to befriend and stand up for others, without accepting the untruth that their peers believe.
- Talk about the immutability of gender—that people don’t change from one gender to another as they grow.
Who they are as a gendered being today is who they will be for the rest of their life. Children—particularly young children—often learn about gender and their particular roles in social groups through play. Don’t discourage children from play-acting as members of the opposite gender. But, remind them of the difference between play and reality. There is inherent goodness in embracing one’s God-given gender.
- Discuss gender roles with your child.
Explain that just because a boy likes to engage in activities that might be culturally classified as “feminine,” like baking, crafting, or taking care of children, that doesn’t mean he’s any less of a boy. The same goes for girls who enjoy activities that might be culturally “masculine.”
- Help your child resist the temptation to be judgmental toward others.
Even though it is sinful to self-identify as transgender, remind your child that he or she is a sinner, too, in need of the same grace to be saved and to repent as his or her peer! This can be a way to encourage your child to begin to understand his or her own need of Christ.
- Make sure that you show respect for your child’s peer in your attitude, words, and actions.
Don’t mock or exclude the other child. Invite him or her into your home. Treat him or her as you would any other of your child’s peers. Your child will model his or her own attitudes after your own.
- Ask your child if he or she has ever been confused about sex, sexuality, or gender.
Invite them to share those questions with you. Encourage them that feelings never equal identity. Identity comes only from God, the Creator.
- Invite your child to dialogue with you about friends, classmates, or family members who have adopted an LGBTQ+ identity.
Ask them what they think about their friends or loved ones living in alternate lifestyles. If they think it’s OK, you’ll need to do more teaching to show them what Scripture affirms. Be patient in explaining. The culture is daily sending out persuasive worldviews.
- Brainstorm with your child ways in which he or she could respectfully speak the truth in love to their LGBTQ+-identifying friend or family member.
Let’s be honest here: it’s difficult to speak biblical truth—and by that, I mean a Christian worldview of life, including sexuality and gender—to those who are not living it. This is hard even for adults to do; harder still for kids who are more prone to peer pressure and peer conformity. Brainstorm with them how they might be able to talk (in their own words) about these issues with them in timely and respectful ways. The goal here is to help them not to be afraid to talk about what they believe. It’s not about convincing their friends that they are wrong, but about helping their friends (who most likely don’t know what a Christian worldview is) discover there is another way to think and live. And we who believe that God can take the smallest of seeds and grow something large out of them, will trust the Holy Spirit to use even the words of our children to bring others, in his time, to faith.
There are many resources on our website that will help you explain LGBTQ+ identity to your child. One additional resource is my minibook, Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child: Biblical Guidance and Wisdom. This resource is available for purchase in three formats: eBook, Kindle, and Minibook 5-pack.
Tim talks more about this issue in the accompanying video: How Do I Explain LGBTQ+ Issues to My Children? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
04 Oct 2018
Women involved in friendships and ministry (discipleship, caregiving, counseling, etc.) sometimes become ensnared in messy, emotional, codependent attachments with each other. These codependent relationships easily take on a romantic feel and can become sexualized. Breaking free can be excruciating! However, rest assured that messy relationships are a “common to man” temptation and sin struggle. Consider Beth and Anna.
“Ellen, we never saw ourselves as gay, but we have never been in love with another person in this way.”
This was how Beth¹ a woman in her forties, described her affair with Anna, a young grad student who began coming to her church. They connected easily, and a warm friendship and casual mentoring relationship developed quickly.
Beth described her marriage to her husband, a pastor, as “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. Their physical affection slowly pushed past appropriate boundaries. Before long, these two Christian sisters were involved in a sexual relationship. No one questioned the intense, consuming nature of the relationship. “Everyone just thought we were the best of friends and even envied our connection,” Beth told me.
When these messy relational dynamics happen in Christian mentoring relationships, the spiritual component adds tremendous confusion and fuels the agonizing question, “How can this be wrong when it feels so good?”
Diagnosing a Messy Relationship
Here are five indicators of an unhealthy attachment.
- Fused lives, schedules, and relational spheres.
- Exclusivity and possessiveness. Other people feel like intruders, as a threat to your closeness.
- The relationship needs regular clarification of each person’s role in it. Generally, one woman has a needy/take-care-of-me role and the other a needy-to-be-needed/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 typically become life-dominating.
- Romanticized affection through words and physical touch, and of course any sexual involvement.
When these messy relational dynamics happen in Christian mentoring relationships, the spiritual component adds tremendous confusion and fuels the agonizing question, “How can this be wrong when it feels so good?”
The Mess of Relational Idolatry
Our desires for unfailing love and being deeply known are beautiful aspects of being image bearers of God. He loves us perfectly, knows us completely, and exists in a holy relational Trinity. However, every detail of our image bearing capability is distorted by sin.
The Bible is clear that no one and no thing is to be exalted in our lives over obedience and love for God. As God’s redeemed and no-longer-belonging-to-ourselves people, we are created by, through, and for Christ as Colossians 1:16 beautifully declares. This means that all of our relationships, and the place we give people in our lives, are to be submitted under the loving Lordship of Christ. No friend or woman we may be mentoring should ever become a god or Jesus-replacement in our life!
The Bible is clear that no one and no thing is to be exalted in our lives over obedience and love for God… Relational idolatry happens when we look to people to give us only what Jesus can.
The truth is that messy relationships can still feel beautiful and loving. But even our desires are disordered and need the radical Christward orientation that only the clarity of Scripture gives. Desires can be corrupt and sinful (2 Peter 1:4), or they can be “of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17), which bears out in the sweet, holy good fruit of the Spirit. Though created for wholeness and holiness, all of us struggle in one way or another in our desires and relationships.
Relational idolatry happens when we look to people to give us only what Jesus can. Sister, if you are involved in a relationship similar to Anna and Beth’s, know that idolatry is a common struggle to all of us.
The Bible and Idolatry
My journey of faith, relationships, and sin has included the worship of people, including women I’ve mentored. Though Scripture does not use the phrase “relational idolatry,” it’s in there.
Consider these passages.
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:2-3)
God does not command us to be exclusive in our devotion to him because he is insecure or narcissistic! Instead, God loves us and knows that when we worship him alone, we glorify him, and people will be in their proper place in our lives as godly friends rather than Jesus-replacements.
“For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and dug out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:13)
God’s people had committed a variety of rebellious acts, yet he sums up their sin with two statements that apply to us today: a) we turn away from him and b) seek other sources as our living water. What do you value in your relationships?
- Is it to fix someone’s life?
- Is it to have someone put your life back together when you feel broken?
- Is your heart empty and you want someone to make it whole?
You know the name for this: codependency. But it’s deeper than that: it’s co-idolatry as two women look to each other for their value, identity, and security, something only God is able to give to us.
Steps of Repentance if You’re in a Relational Mess
God is committed to rescuing us, and keeping himself as our ultimate source of life, joy, and identity. Wholeness in our relationships comes from holiness in our relationships, which is a fruit of worship and trust of God alone. Here are steps of faith and repentance to take.
1. Admit your relational sin and flee into the loving arms of Jesus. Fleeing to Jesus means letting go of this relationship by turning towards him. Which means you must leave where you are, throw off sin and hindrances. He is faithful to hear, forgive, and love all who come to him (Heb. 4:16).
If you don’t know where to begin, try praying Psalm 139:23-24. Here’s my expanded version.
“Lord, search and examine me…explore all the crevices of my heart and mind…all my anxious thoughts. See if there are any sinful paths I’m walking in, if there are patterns of painful idolatry in me. Reveal the true nature of my heart Lord and give me spiritual guidance in your good, holy pathways.”
2. Expect a season of pain and grief that can lead you to God’s deep comfort. Letting go will be anguishing; it will get more painful before it gets better. But the pain which comes from costly obedience is healing rather than enslaving pain. Soul surgery requires you to allow the gospel to touch, cut, and heal the deeper issues of your heart (unbelief, fear, insecurity, anger, trauma, pain, etc.).
3. Separate and allow space to happen between you and this woman. Colossians 3:5 is a hard word, but one that leads to true life. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” If you’ve been sexually involved, you must sever ties completely. Indefinitely. This is how you will put to death the messy attachment that has formed between you.
God is committed to rescuing us, and keeping himself as our ultimate source of life, joy, and identity. Wholeness in our relationships comes from holiness in our relationships
On this point, I usually get pushback. But Ellen, we love each other as friends! We encouraged each other so much in Christ before things got sexual…can’t we just go back to what was good?!
If you are in this situation, I wish I could see your face now and talk to you tenderly, yet directly. Sister, you must flee temptation and sin at all costs! 1 Corinthians 10:14 says you are to flee from sin…not try to manage it, heal it, or contain it. Put to death, flee, repent (or turn a relational 180). These are the words that God’s word uses in considering our relationship to sin. When sexual sin enters a non-marital relationship, obedience means turning from that person and relationship so that your heart can become set fully on Christ, your true life, once more (Colossians 3:1-4).
Consider this a season of intentional fasting from any contact with this person. No social media stalking. Do not muse over texts, emails, etc. Let go and the comfort of God will be a bottomless well of comfort if you stay the course.
New gospel life WILL come from this death. “For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord…” (Jer. 30:17).
4. Pursue biblical discipleship regarding:
How to cultivate an intimate relationship with Christ. It’s possible to be busy for the Lord, without loving and abiding in him. A wise Puritan pastor said, “The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfillment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones. The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of a Savior’s presence. When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers.”²
The underlying heart issues you need to address. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free!” (John 8:32). What made you vulnerable to this messy relationship? What is off kilter in your beliefs?
God’s design for healthy relationships. What does it mean to have the kind of wise love that Paul prayed for in Philippians 1:9-11? Christ is eager to teach you what it looks like to have himself in his rightful place in your life so that people will be in theirs.
5. Seek accountability for your relationships. I’ve learned that I must have people who have meddling rights in my life! Trusted, spiritually mature friends who love and encourage me to cultivate godly relationships and will help me discern if I’m blind to a potential relational mess.
6. Cry out to Jesus your Deliverer day after day. He is our precious Savior… and our faithful Bridegroom, the One to whom we are married to for all of eternity. He will help, love, and comfort us while we live during this short earthly time. He will grow “into us” the testimony of David:
“He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” (Psalm 18:19)
God loves his daughters so much that he faithfully calls us to himself away from idols, including messy relationships. Hear this promise today as you ponder what your next steps of faith are:
“Now to him who is able to Keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)
This blog first appeared on Revive Our Hearts under the title: “Untangle Twisted Relationships: When Women’s Friendships Become Unhealthy.”
² John Flavel, “The Method of Grace,” The Whole Works of John Flavel (London: Baynes, 1820), vol. 2, p. 438.
Ellen talks more on this subject in the accompanying video: When Do Friendships Between Women Become Codependent? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
28 Jun 2018
“Judge not, lest ye be judged!” – Matthew 7:1 is the Bible verse most commonly used to peg contemporary Christians as hypocrites. Those who claim to follow Jesus pass judgment on others as “sinners,” while Jesus stands by chiding anyone who judges.
When we hear this argument made by other students on our campus, how can we respond?
What does it mean to not judge?
Look at Matthew 7:1-5:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Jesus’ words are somewhat difficult to understand. But perhaps we can make sense of them through an example.
Imagine if the Christian student group on your campus were to condemn homosexual behavior publicly, but then the group made excuses when two students were having premarital sex. Something would be seriously wrong. The group would be condemned by their own standard if they were judged the way they judge others.
In the same way, one of the biggest mistakes we can make as Christians is spending our time thinking about the sins of people “out there,” while we turn a blind eye to the sin “in here,” in our hearts. This is Jesus’ first point: Remember that you will be judged by the same standard by which you judge others.
But does Jesus mean to say that we shouldn’t judge others at all? Take a careful look at the story of the log and the speck. Read again what Jesus says. What is his point? If Jesus’ point were that we shouldn’t judge at all, he would say that you shouldn’t take the speck out of your brother’s eye, ever. But that’s not his point, and it wouldn’t make sense if it were. Taking the speck out of your friend’s eye is a kindness to him.
Jesus’ point, as before, is that we will only be able to see clearly to judge our brother (in a good way) if we first examine ourselves to make sure we aren’t hypocrites.
Judging actions, not condemning people
There’s another careful distinction to make when it comes to judging. While we judge people’s actions, we do not condemn people.
The easiest way to understand this is to think about how Jesus treats us. Jesus clearly condemns all sin, all the actions we do that show that we love ourselves more than him. But Jesus doesn’t condemn us—that’s the point of the gospel! Instead of condemning us for our sins, Jesus forgives our sins.
But forgiveness doesn’t mean that Jesus stops judging that our actions are wrong. They are! That’s why our forgiveness cost his life! But forgiveness does let us escape from condemnation for our sins. Jesus still judges our sins as wrong, but he doesn’t condemn us for them.
The same is true for other people, even if they aren’t Christians. Jesus offers forgiveness to all, just as we should tell all people about the gospel. When we bear witness to the truth that certain actions are sinful, we are judging people’s actions, but we aren’t condemning them.
How, exactly, do we judge rightly?
What does this mean for Christians?
- We are no different than others! Even if someone’s behavior is wrong, we cannot condemn the person because we’re in the same boat! We’ve done what is wrong, but Christ forgave us. That person can be forgiven too by trusting in Jesus! He or she can’t be written off as a “reprobate” simply because of a particular sin.
- Remember the positive side to judging. When we talk to people about their actions or others’ being wrong, we should always keep in mind, and mention, if possible, that the gospel offers forgiveness for sin. We are often afraid to share the gospel with people because many people don’t respect religious views. But if we don’t share the gospel, the only thing others will know about Christians is what we’re against.
- Our primary focus should be on our own sins. The sins we should be most concerned about are our own, not others’. If we don’t take care of our own sins, not only will people ignore us when we talk about others’ sins, we may actually find ourselves in the place of the Pharisees, outside of the Kingdom of repentance and faith in Jesus.
- Love for others must motivate us. We must show love to others as we bear witness about the truth. It can be easy to think that sharing truth is in conflict with loving people. Most of us are tempted to do only one or the other. But in fact, speaking the truth is an act of love, and love requires speaking the truth. When we come to others with Christ-like love, we don’t bash people over the head with truth, but neither do we paper over people’s sin.
Our sin is dangerous, and God does judge it as evil. But we must remember in our own lives, and in the lives of those to whom we speak, that God does not condemn a sinner who trusts in Jesus. Though our sin is worthy of judgment, and even condemnation, God offers forgiveness to us, and to all who will believe.
17 May 2018
In the Church, men and women are brothers and sisters in Christ. This means we can relate to one another as friends by sharing life together and helping one another run the race of faith. To learn more about biblical friendship, read Aimee Byrd’s blog, “Does a Woman’s Sexuality Hinder her Capability for Friendship?” You can also read our latest harvestusa magazine, “Women, Sexuality, and the Church,” here.