In our Spring 2018 issue of harvestusa magazine, Juli Kellogg, who works as a volunteer in our women’s ministry, shares her story of sexual abuse as a child and how her growing understanding of God’s justice led to her healing. (You can read the entire magazine issue online: Women, Sexuality, and the Church)
For months, I’ve seen and heard story after story of women who were sexually abused, mistreated, and manipulated. I can imagine how hard it was for these women to tell their stories.
I know, because it happened to me.
When I was twelve, my family was in turmoil. My biological father left when I was two. My mother and stepdad were struggling through an impending divorce, and life was chaotic. I didn’t know what to expect from day to day, so I learned the art of taking myself out of real life and fabricating my own reality. I read books, lived in fantasy worlds, and hid under the stairs for hours to rock with my knees hugged tightly to my chest when trouble brewed on the home front.
During this time, my mother left me for a month with a man she thought she could trust to take care of me. After my first week with him, he began coming into my room nightly and raping me for the rest of my time there. Moreover, he spent the days prepping me by taking me out to dinner, paying stylists to make me look a particular way, and showing me pornography.
I reacted to this just like I had trained myself to react for years; under the guise of protecting myself, I pretended I was unaffected. While I could not control what was happening to me, there was one thing under my control: I refused to acknowledge that it affected me. When asked how things were, I put on my rose-colored glasses and replied, “Everything is fine.” My security was purchased at the cost of reality.
After going back home, I even returned to his house and endured several more months of abuse. Why did I go back; why did I not protest? Because in my mind, nothing bad had taken place. If I didn’t go after he invited me back, I would have to acknowledge that something awful happened to me. A war ensued inside me: either I give up reality to have control or give up control to live in reality. I chose to ignore what was happening to me for the illusion of control.
Reality, however, was about to come for me.
In the midst of this turmoil, a friend invited me to church. A few months later, God captured my heart, and the landscape of my life underwent a gradual transformation. Growth was slow, messy, and painful, as I grew in understanding that control does not lie with me but with a sovereign God. At times, I felt safe, believing this. Other times, when I encountered hard circumstances, I would slip back into my typical way of controlling my world. I felt safe then, not because I believed God was in control, but because I wouldn’t acknowledge the reality of what was going on.
This continued into my marriage. Jacques and I, friends since middle school, got married in college. A great job offer moved us to a scenic city where we became leaders within our church, expanded our friendships, cherished our extended family, and had a beautiful son. Things were “good.”
All these wonderful things were cut off in an instant when Jacques took his life.
Like all human relationships and marriages, we came up against difficulties. Jacques struggled with depression, and the more he struggled, the harder it was for me to believe I was secure. So, when things started to get hard, I slipped back into my old way of denying reality, seeking to control my interpretations as a means for security. I believed that things were, in fact, “good,” and I did nothing to deal with reality.
My husband’s death finally blew apart my way of handling life. Ignoring reality was no longer an option. Thanks to the loving pursuit of others in the church, I sought counsel. In counseling, other issues were brought in, including the abuse that I had reinterpreted in such a way that seemed to deny the bad. My counselor challenged me to face the trauma of my experience. Yet acknowledging the evil done to me invariably led to the question, where was God during the abuse? In my mind, it seemed that both could not exist at the same time. I had no answer.
As I began wrestling with this question, another believer guided me to Ezekiel 34, which radically reoriented the way I looked back at my story and God in the midst of it. This chapter begins with God speaking to the shepherds of Israel, accusing them of treating the sheep with “force and harshness.” They abused their authority, leaving the sheep “scattered” and defenseless, “food for all the wild beasts” (vv 4,5).
I saw the connection between the abuses the people of Israel endured with my own. We both had shepherds charged with our care who, instead of caring for our needs, used us for their appetites.
As I read the passage, it seemed that God was just letting this happen. But then I read verse 10. He says, “I am against the shepherds.” This is not a weak response. This is an indictment. In Jeremiah 23:1-2, speaking of the same shepherds, God speaks judgment to the shepherds, “I will attend to you for your evil deeds.” Then it hit me: I saw the connection between the abuses the people of Israel endured with my own. We both had shepherds charged with our care who, instead of caring for our needs, used us for their appetites. God hadn’t ignored what happened to me. He didn’t look past what was done to me. Rather, he condemned the shepherds who abdicated their responsibility and said that He would demand full payment for the weight of their atrocious actions.
As I continued to read, God’s wrathful response to injustice became as much a comfort as his grace was to me when He first saved me. To somebody like me, who had experienced unspeakable abuse as a child, the truth of God’s justice was what I needed.
I was finally freed to face reality, to call the abuse done to me wrong, and to grieve my losses. Because God did.
I saw that God did not relinquish control to these wicked shepherds. Instead, he was enraged by their abuse, and he was always the ultimate Shepherd, fully in control, as he promised, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak…” (Ezekiel 34:15-16).
Not only was God present, but he also was not watching idly. He was working out his plan of redemption in my life.
I found this incredible! “I,” “my,” and “myself” are repeated more than almost any other word in the entire chapter. It is so personal. Far from being far away, God mourned for me, as he reminded me that “I am the Lord [your] God with [you]…” (Ezekiel 34:30). My security lay not in myself–through my habit of denying reality–but in God, who, through everything, was with me and watching over me and would not leave me, until his purposes would be accomplished in my life, just as he promised Jacob (Genesis 28:15).
Not only was God present, but he also was not watching idly. He was working out his plan of redemption in my life. “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out… and I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered…” (Ezekiel 34: 11, 12). God himself came to the rescue in Jesus, who said, “I am the good shepherd [who] lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Jesus, God incarnate, identified with me in experiencing perversion, betrayal, abuse, and all the pain this world has to offer. Then, Jesus experienced the full justice of God’s wrath, so that he could rescue me.
Now, when I struggle, I am freed to look to the God of Ezekiel 34. Instead of battling to feel secure by denying what is happening, I can recognize the reality that I have a protector who came to battle against the powers of evil on my behalf, who has redeemed me, who knows my pain, and who continues the work he began in me through his Spirit.
I have found that living in the reality of God’s story is far richer than any false reality I could ever create.
Amidst these joys, I fight to remember that in healing, terrible wrong is not meant to be simply washed away, but it can be used as a tool, in God’s hands, to drive me deeper into relationship with him and others. Remembering that also brings to mind the faces of those he sent to me in my church, walking with me in my pain, showing me how to live and love.
I look forward to that glorious day when the brokenness I see in myself and the world will truly be healed. On that day, we will meet our Savior face to face and “[we] shall dwell securely, and none shall make [us] afraid,” (Ezekiel 34: 28).
Penny Freeman talks more on this subject in the accompanying video: How Do I Live with My Story of Childhood Sexual Abuse? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
If childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is part of your story, Penny Freeman offers three suggestions in this video that might help you move forward. To read more on this topic, read Juli Kellogg’s blog, “Sexual Abuse, Brokenness, and Redemption: A Journey of Healing and Seeing.“
11 Jul 2017
Pornography has destroyed countless marriages. Sexual sin of all kinds inflicts deep pain and damage. But in order to repair and restore the marriage, if possible, Ellen talks about four key things every couple needs to do.
The good boy-who-would-be-pastor, so respectable and humble, was living a double life. Struggling with same-sex attraction and dealing with it in ungodly ways, he didn’t care what anyone thought. What mattered most was finding what he felt he needed. But deep inside he feared greatly what those in the church might think.
What did he fear from the church? From his family? Mainly, he feared their anger and rejection. He had so few relational anchors that he didn’t dare risk these. It would be devastating if he failed in their eyes. So, he was careful to live a flawless life, at least the part they could see. But the pain just kept increasing.
The person above was me, more than 20 years ago, before I sought help at Harvest USA. It took a long time to make that decision. But what might have made me seek help sooner was if my church had said that the body of Christ was a safe place to get help.
I didn’t hear that message. What I heard spoken about sexual sin was that it was the worst kind of sin. That made me more determined not to confess to anyone how desperate and despairing I was, how trapped and hopeless I felt, living in constant fear of exposure.
One major passion we have at Harvest USA is to partner with churches to help sexual strugglers, to help churches become safe places for sexual strugglers. One way to do that is by speaking openly about the reality that everyone struggles to live faithfully in these sin-broken bodies. To say that God is not shocked by our sins, but that he sent his Son to cover our shame, forgive us of our guilt, and begin the amazing grace-fueled process of growing and changing. As the psalmist says, “God is. . . a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1, ESV).
When church leaders admit the truth that Christians struggle with sex, then the church starts the journey toward helping strugglers. It becomes a “one-anothering, we’re in this together” community. As the main article in our Spring 2016 issue of the Harvest USA magazine (“Living Faithfully with our Bodies: It Still Matters, But the Church Must Help”) says, “A healthy church is not one without problems; it’s one where problems are addressed openly, with the gospel.”
The Lord has put us together to walk with one another in learning how to obey him and live lives worthy of him. Not to look good, but rather to be honest about our struggles and sin, while believing the gospel that God loves us in spite of who we are. When we live this way, experiencing his power that works in and through our weaknesses, we grow, we change, and we find increasing freedom to live joyfully.
Harvest USA can help your church learn how to help sexual strugglers. We have developed a great program to help churches do ministry to sexual strugglers. We’d love to partner with your church to do so. Here is a brief description of our Partner Ministries, and how we can help get your church up and running for this kind of vital ministry.
30 Mar 2016
“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 forties and married, met Anna, a grad student who was visiting 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. 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.”
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 imperfection 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 in 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.
 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.
 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.
09 Mar 2016
Do you suffer from “Mug Shot Theology?” We’ve all seen mug shots of people who have been arrested. It’s that photo the police take of a person when they’ve been caught—in the wrong place at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing. We’ve all seen Hollywood personalities looking their worst and having it all captured, for posterity, in their mug shot. These glamorous and handsome stars are almost unrecognizable when you catch a glimpse of them on that tabloid paper at the check-out counter at your local store. The image of one’s mug shot follows one around forever, coloring everything.
What does that have to do with Christians, you may be thinking? Mug Shot Theology is that picture we’re sure God has of us and always looks at when we’ve been behaving at our worst—when we’ve really blown it.
I’ve not known very many men who don’t suffer from Mug Shot Theology, especially when it comes to their deep and unrelenting sexual temptations, struggles, and sin. It just seems to come with the territory.
When we labor under this, it affects everything in our life. So it’s a very practical issue. When you have Mug Shot Theology, it’s rare to ever experience any joy in your life. It’s virtually impossible to possess the ability to run to the throne of grace at your time of deepest need. It keeps you from access to the power of God to help counter temptations. It turns your face away from God because of your shame and guilt. You are shut down from communicating with God. You feel left all alone with your temptations and sin, not knowing what to do, because Mug Shot Theology will make sure the cross is the last place you’ll run to.
“You stand in grace, you do not slink into it, you do not creep into it, you do now shuffle into it, you do not crawl into it. You stand in it, fixed, firm, established, because of Christ.”
When you don’t know what to do with your guilty heart and your sins, you will (because you’re a sinner) always adopt one or more of the following strategies.
- You’ll let yourself off the hook, explaining, excusing, or rationalizing your sin, falsely believing it’s not as bad or deadly as it is.
- You’ll put yourself under “house arrest,” only going through the motions of faith, severely limiting your attempts to love and serve God and others well.
- You’ll just try to say no to your temptations while constantly resolving to do better and white-knuckling it along the way.
- You become you own executioner, punishing yourself relentlessly.
- You’ll put yourself on probation with God, slinking back to him when you’ve put enough distance between your temptations or failures until you get up the courage to approach God again.
All these behaviors are the ways most men deal with their sin and struggles. But when we change that Mug Shot Theology to a Gospel Theology—in which we understand and admit that we, always, stand guilty, before a holy God, and yet our God beckons and invites unworthy sinners to his throne because of Jesus—then everything changes. Martyn-Lloyd Jones, in his commentary, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 5, Assurance, states it quite well.
“God has become one who delights to see us coming, receives us, loves us and sits us at a banqueting table. God is always looking upon us with favor and smiling upon us . . . So it is in prayer. . . we remind ourselves of this and rush into his presence . . . we rush in with boldness and full confidence, having access to the throne room. . . You stand in grace, you do not slink into it, you do not creep into it, you do now shuffle into it, you do not crawl into it. You stand in it, fixed, firm, established, because of Christ. You own this great truth and act upon it in your prayer life. . . knowing He is a Heavenly Father who delights to see us, to receive us. . . and whose love for us is way beyond our imagination.”
What a way to blast away Mug Shot Theology! It captures the essence of what it means to be dearly beloved children, ransomed by our God. It also moves us, in humility, towards God in our worst moments, daring to believe, once again, that the gospel is for us.
To learn more about these concepts of Christ’s love and grace for the downcast and disheartened, be sure and check out John’s new book, Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex.
11 Nov 2014
Below is a brief excerpt from John Freeman’s book, Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, from New Growth Press.
Men struggling with sexual sin are, at deeper levels in their lives, God-haters and idol-makers. A third element that goes on under the surface in the men who come into our office is that they are accomplished game–players, juggling all the seen and unseen parts of their lives. I see this game-player category in virtually everyone who struggles with sexual sin, but more so with believers. Why? Because in the church, struggles are kept secret from others as the pressure of appearances takes over. You are accepted if you have it all together, but you are viewed differently if you admit you have problems or difficulties. This is especially so when the struggle involves sex, with its attendant shame and guilt. In other words, Christians believe they should not have these problems. The church should not be this way, but oftentimes the “culture” of a church creates this relational dysfunction.
This was made clear to me a number of years ago when our ministry placed carefully-worded ads in local newspapers and magazines, aimed at those who might be questioning what was going in their lives. The short ads would say something like, “Porn Struggle? Help Is Available” or . . . “Does Porn Have a Grip on You? There’s Hope for You.” When we ran those ads, we could get up to forty calls a day.
As I talked with people who responded to these ads, I noticed something: A good number who called were non-Christians, but the ad spoke to them with some kind of clarity and hope anyway. One of the verses that has always been foundation for our outreach is Proverbs 14:13, “Even in laughter the heart may ache.” No matter how much people’s lives look put together as they bask in their sexual freedom, there can still be a lot of pain and hurt underneath—even in an unbeliever!
I realized something else about those who initially came to us as unbelievers. If men came into our ministry, joined one of our Bible study/support groups, and then eventually came to a first-time, saving knowledge and faith in Christ, they often had a much better prognosis for dealing with their sexual sin biblically and sincerely. They had a healthier journey of growing in Christ and “putting off” their sexual sin than did believers who came to us after living disjointed, compartmentalized lives for many years.
How could that be? First, you’ve got to realize that, if you are a believer dealing with struggles. . . no one may know about your hidden struggles because you’ve designed it that way! Maybe no one even suspects the deep waters of your heart in this area and the efforts you make to keep it all working. People can go on for years with these heart-crushing, life-devastating behaviors. No one in your life may ever catch on, and you’re worse off because of it. If you are ever going to deal with your heart with integrity, you will have to unlearn all the coping mechanisms you’ve developed to function in both worlds—your sin-oriented, secret world as well as your “Christian” world.
We have a wonderful man named Bob Heywood on staff in our national office in Philadelphia. He disciples men and works with some of our small groups. His is an amazing story of how the Lord broke into his heart over a dozen years ago, as he lived one of these game-playing, compartmentalized lives. Bob talks about the way his half-hearted Christian life was able to co-exist for so long with his sexual addiction. Bob was an active elder at his church. . . But he had hidden problems that were compounded by the fact that he was able to get away with living a double life. Bob says, “As I began giving in to this temptation, I realized I was getting in way over my head. I felt like I couldn’t stop. I’ll never forget when I came to what I now consider the worst soul-deadening conclusion ever in my life. And that was, ‘Maybe I can do both. Maybe I can be a leader in the church and look at porn at the same time.’”
When Bob teaches and shares his testimony now, he often uses Proverbs 7:13-18 to describe his experience. In that passage, Solomon describes the way a prostitute seduces a young man.
She seizes him and kisses him,
and with bold face she says to him,
“I had to offer sacrifices,
and today I have paid my vows;
so now I have come out to meet you,
to seek you eagerly, and I have found you.
I have spread my couch with coverings,
colored linens from Egyptian linen;
I have perfumed my bed with myrrh,
aloes and cinnamon.
Come, let us take our fill of love till morning;
let us delight ourselves with love.”
Bob uses this vivid picture to say that he was more like the prostitute than the seemingly innocent victim of someone’s charms and seduction. Bob will tell you that for years he did what the prostitute did—he “offered sacrifices and paid vows,” thinking this would take care of his spiritual problem and relieve him of guilt and shame. In other words, he did all the Christian stuff—went to church, read his Bible, prayed, put money in the offering basket, etc.—just as the woman in the passage carried out her religious activities. At the same time, he spent twenty years viewing adult videos. Bob’s Christian life had become a works-oriented, graceless world where doing was more important than being. His carefully crafted façade allowed him to function in two worlds and fool everyone because he looked really good—at least, on the outside.
When it comes to sexual sin. . . men can live for years without anyone knowing how they’re misusing sex. The secret nature of sexual sin allows it to go on for years without anyone ever knowing. Therein lies its deepest power to do soul and heart damage. It can lead to dozens of years of being a game-player, even as a Christian man. How does it happen? Easy. We learn to compartmentalize, that is, to wall off many parts of our lives early on. . . We can be this person over here, that person over there. And the person, even as a Christian, who learns to do that at age fifteen is soon the person doing that at twenty-five, thirty-five, forty-five, or fifty-five. . .
Being a game-player can be exhausting. But one of the most deadly consequences of learning how to live with a pornified heart is the inevitable corrosion that takes place in our hearts over years. The problem, though, is that you won’t know that your own heart is decaying! You may be the last to know. . .
The real effects of a corroded heart
Our sexual sins not only cause our hearts to go dead, but they also keep us from being who and what we should be as men, husbands, and fathers. Due to years of sexual temptations and unforsaken sins, our neglected hearts will rob everyone in our lives of something! There are at least three ways that this happens.
First, a continued history of failures, a commitment to playing games with these issues and with the Lord, and a commitment to silence will rob you of your effectiveness as a man of God, as a husband, and as a father. It will rob you of the gospel words you’re called to speak on a regular basis to your own heart and to the hearts of those closest to you. You can no longer preach the gospel to yourself with authority. It falls on deaf ears. You cease to believe it for yourself, even though you may go through the motions of acting like you believe it. This can be true even if you are in ministry.
Think about it. You lose your bout with Internet porn on a regular basis. You’re filled with guilt and shame most of the time, with the harsh realization that you’re living in defeat all the time. Now, are you going to be engaged emotionally and practically the way you should be with your wife? Are you going to be proactive in speaking into her life and your children’s lives the way you know Gods wants? Probably not. You know the reality of your record, and it’s zapped your relational strength, vitality, and integrity. You’ve come to see yourself as a fake, a phony, a sham. . .
Second, this heart-neglect robs men of their confidence in, love for, and excitement about things of God, especially about the gospel. How could it not? When you know deep down what’s going on in your heart, how you’ve been taken captive by your own untamed desires—and when you know your own record of defeat—it robs you of the love for the gospel you once had.
Third, our unaddressed struggles, our sexual idols and compulsions also rob God! How do they do that? . . . The counterfeit sexual idols we bow to vie for a deep place in our hearts, a place where only God was meant to dwell.
So, does your continual inaction, resignation, and inattention to your heart rob God? You bet. Do they rob you and those around you? Absolutely. They keep you from being fully available to God and others. They rob the body of Christ in a very real way. Your secret sexual idolatries, your addictions, and your compulsions keep you from being who you were called to be. In our addictions, our hearts seek attachments that cripple our image-bearing capabilities and the exercise of our gifts to bless others. This is one of the saddest, most damaging consequences of our hidden sin—everyone loses out. . .
Real change isn’t measured just by what we stop doing. It’s always measured in character change; whereas your former preoccupation with yourself robbed others, now you begin to be more interested in others than yourself. You see yourself wanting to bless others, desiring their good and not just your own. You no longer hide what you are doing; instead, you are increasingly open with others about your struggles and faults. As one man said to me about his decades of hidden sexual struggles: “I’ve been a liar all my life.” But now, he is learning how to be a truth-teller, to his wife and to everyone he knows. Character grows when we live for God and serve others. One of the ways God starts to change us is to move us to start dealing with our sexual idols.
What does it take to want to start walking in repentance and find the help you know you desperately need? How do you get there? What is the path to freedom? How do you start to live with sexual integrity when you know you don’t have the human resources to do so? You have to be willing for God to do something new and to begin to see yourself as you’ve never done before.
John’s intent in this chapter is to give hope to sexual strugglers who feel the pain and pressure of their hiding (from God and others), yet feel either hopeless to do anything about it or falsely believe that they can battle it on their own. The book lays out a way to go forward into freedom from sexual sin. Check out the testimony that follows for one man’s story of hope and change.
You can take a look at John’s book by clicking the following link – here
Stepping into the Light after a Lifetime of Shadow Living: One man’s testimony of transformation
When does the healing from a life time of viewing porn begin? How do I measure victory over a sin that has dogged my footsteps for decades? How many days must I make it without giving in yet again to temptation? These are questions I struggled with for years before finding any answers.
At ten I found a hidden stash of pornographic magazines that proved irresistible to my young mind. I began a life long journey of living life in the shadows, one foot in the world of my family, church, and jobs; the other foot hiding in the darkness of fantasy and sin and increasing despair.
The first thirty years I was successful in hiding my sin from everyone, but like most men enslaved to pornography, I got caught. More than just my sin was exposed; my whole life crumbled. My wife discovered not only that I looked at porn, but also that I was not the man, husband, and father I pretended to be. For the next twenty years, I struggled to be the man I was supposed to be while wresting with the man I actually was.
Years of disappointing and isolated self-effort got me nowhere. I would go for as long as six months before falling. Then the hiding cycle, with its lies and deception, began all over again. Even when I had some success from engaging with porn, my heart and mind remained trapped in the lies I was living. The biggest lie I believed was that no one could possibly love me if they really knew me. That drove me to believe that I had to fight this battle on my own. I could stop doing this, and no one had to know the real me, especially the ugly parts that I carefully kept hidden.
But this also meant that I was cutting God out of all this. You see, if God was a part of my change, I knew things would be really messy. While I had prayed for decades for God to rescue me from my sin, I also was dimly aware that I was terrified he would answer that prayer. Did I want to be clean? Yes! But I knew God wanted more of me than just being a man of sexual integrity. He wanted all of me, not just that part of me that needed fixing. I have spent most of my life in fear of being discovered. This sin warped and twisted all my relationships, from God, to my wife, to my children, to my friendships. With God in the mix, I would be completely exposed for who I was, and in my mind I was unlovable.
Did I want to test the limits of everyone’s love? No! I’m not a stupid guy. I’d rather remain hidden. But to change, that would mean no more hiding. I would need to live fully in the open. No more lies, half-lies, rationalizations, excuses; I would need to confess, admit failure, acknowledge how I hurt people, be a truth-teller, and learn to live fully in the present without escaping into my fantasy world.
Only the last few years has that elusive healing finally begun. What happened?
I joined a community of men who also struggled.
When I started to meet with other men I found out I was not alone. I was pushed to examine my life in a safe environment. There is no judgment on Monday nights when we meet. I found I could confess my lies and struggles, while also helping other men who also struggled. In this group I learned to trust Jesus. I learned that I was not unlovable, but loved beyond anything I could imagine. I knew all along that Jesus died for my sin, but I didn’t know it deep in my bones, deep in my heart. The reality of Jesus and his love for me is now being woven into the tapestry of my life; it is becoming a part of who I am.
I discovered that I cannot learn, much less know, of the love of Jesus by myself. I need men, sinners like myself, to remind me of Jesus and how his costly love pursued and embraced me. Do we hold each other accountable for our sin? Absolutely, but even more important we hold each other accountable for seeing Jesus at work in our lives. The question we ask over and over of each other is this: Is Jesus enough for us?
For far too many years the answer was no. Fleeing to porn to escape was my instinctive reaction to pain and difficulties. Now when asked that question, I stop and think and step out in faith, knowing that he is. When I attend a service in my church and look around the sanctuary and see those men whom I meet with, I am reminded of Jesus, because these men know the real me and love me anyway. When I come home now, it is not in fear, but in relief, knowing that my long-suffering wife knows who I am and like Jesus loves me anyway.
Is Jesus enough for you?
14 Jan 2014
Have you ever wanted to unburden yourself from a problem or share a deep, dark secret, perhaps of a difficult or sexual nature, with someone? If you have chosen to reveal your heart in this way, reflect on this for a moment: What was it that allowed you to feel safe enough to open up?
As I have personally pondered this question, I asked myself, “What do I need to do to help someone feel safe enough where honest revelations of the heart can be shared?” Or to put it another way, “How can I help my church community become a safe place where strugglers can unburden themselves from secrets that have kept them enslaved to sexual struggles and sin?”
I’ve come to several principles gleaned from Bible study, ministry, therapy, teaching, and supervising counselors, as well as from friends and my own life experiences regarding how to help people talk about their struggles. Here are some insights from those observations that I hope will be helpful to those who struggle with sexual sin and those who want to help.
1. Make honesty the only policy you live by
We all desire to talk with a friend who will honestly tell us what they think. Why? Because an honest person is a safe person—at least you know what you are getting is the truth. Good or bad, a friend is someone who does not withhold truth, but tells it like it is. Because we know that they have our best interest at heart, we are confident they will tell us the whole truth.
Yet it does seem difficult for Christians to be honest. This is surprising because we make such a big deal about lying. It’s a sin to tell a lie, but we are all too human. Those half-truths and shaded meanings come quickly to the sons and daughters of Adam.
Perhaps we struggle with telling the truth because we have been taught that not being nice is the greatest sin. For the average Christian, the truth is, on occasions, something to be covered over and avoided because it is not nice.
“Why would this be?” you might ask. Confrontation and genuineness are a problem because, above all else, we often value being comfortable, not just with our surroundings but most of all with our emotions. Honesty makes us a little too uncomfortable. It means we have to be involved. “Do you really want to know what I have to say?” someone asks. Eventually, others might even see that we are not perfect and mention it to us. Then what would happen?
Twelve-step groups teach that honesty is not just telling the truth, but the telling the ‘whole’ truth. Therefore, lying is not just failing to be truthful about facts. Leaving out key events, emotions, thoughts, and details or leaving a person with a different impression other than what is right or what really happened is also lying. Often in the church community, people try to be nice, and so the reason given for a particular decision may not be the real reason.
Here is an example: A woman on the missions’ committee has no social skills. She is rude, and as a result of her, rudeness no one wants her to head committees or work with her any longer. However, when she is rejected from becoming the head of the committee, she is told another, more palatable reason, so as to not ruffle any feathers. This lack of honesty with someone dealing with a very obvious problem (which everyone else can see) makes the sexual struggler that much more reluctant to share his story. Why? Because the underlying message they hear is, “We can’t handle the truth here.” These short-cuts or lies, as the Bible calls them, end up short-changing spiritual growth. In the effort to avoid conflict, we fail to really love. Honesty creates the environment where honest revelations of the heart can grow. Honesty is the best policy because, as Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (ESV).
You help someone open up about a hidden truth by being and becoming someone who is honest, first, about yourself. You don’t hide your issues or struggles; you speak openly and plainly about them. With others, you consistently practice telling them what you see in their lives and in their behavior, and in doing so, you create a place of safety for the sexual struggler. They know you are a real person, someone with inner strength; that you are someone who can handle the truth because you love them.
2. Make humility a central part of your character
The Bible instructs us that we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we actually are. Jesus on many occasions attacked the Pharisees because they placed themselves in a better light than that which was true. They were always more spiritual than those who followed them, and they wanted everyone to know it.
If you want to be someone who is a safe haven to receive honest revelations of the heart, you must have an attitude of humility, starting with you first. There is an old joke about a pastor who was walking through the sanctuary and felt God’s presence. He knelt down at the front near the altar and began to pray, crying out loud, “Lord, I’m nothing. I’m nothing. I’m nothing.” A short time later, the associate pastor was walking by and heard the pastor calling out, and he, too, was moved. He entered the sanctuary and knelt by the pastor and began to cry out, “Lord I’m nothing. I’m nothing. I’m nothing.” As it happened, the church custodian passed by a short time later and saw the two ministers. He too was moved and came to the front of the church and called out the same as the other two. About this time the associate pastor looked over at the pastor and said, “Look who thinks he’s nothing now.” Pride takes many forms. The Bible instructs us that, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
The opposite of pride, then, is to look honestly at ourselves and be open to looking at our own faults first and admitting them. I John 1:8-9 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Humility involves modeling for the struggler your own honest heart revelations. For an entire church community, it means that the leaders of the church model before the congregation a humble and honest spirit about themselves. A humble attitude is not an option if we desire the growth of a safe climate where openness develops. This can begin by admitting not our deepest darkest sins, but the common sins that we all struggle with. Once this is done, consistently over time, you will be identified as a safe person to whom one can share the deepest and messiest stuff of one’s life. By allowing humility to grow deeper into your character, you are letting strugglers know that you are not someone better or more holy than they are—just another follower of Christ who needs his work done in their life, as well.
3. Give comfort in confession
Once we have examined ourselves and begun to admit our own struggles, we can help others find comfort in confession. The truth is, if you are going to hear the honest revelations of people’s hearts, you must become comfortable with confession. This means having a tolerance for messiness. If you are to minister to people effectively, you must be willing to let things get a little messy (maybe a lot messy). In an operating room there will be blood, pain, skin, and even some guts. But all of these are necessary if the healing process is going to take place. What is important is not the blood or guts, but that in spite of the messiness, the surgeon (and hopefully the patient) believes that the effort will be worthwhile.
God certainly does believe it is worth the effort. How many times have you yourself brought the same sins to God? I have brought the same dirty laundry over and over and over. Why does God not become disgusted by our sin, by our weakness, by our messiness? Because he chooses relationship over the pain. He has chosen confession as the place of connection with us and lets us find comfort and safety there. So we too must connect with others in the messiness of their lives. As you hear their confession, grieve with them and weep with them over the damage they have done in their own lives and in the lives of others. Then lead them to the cross of Christ where a holy God brought truth (the stain of our sin) and mercy (his free grace) together. As we wade through the messiness that often accompanies honest revelations of the heart, we connect with others and lead them to connect with our Father.
4. Demonstrate acceptance
If you yourself have shared with another person an honest revelation of your heart, what was the response? Whatever the it was, if you have experienced sharing with someone deep and painful things from your heart, you know that the response given is extremely important. As a counselor, I have heard many, many confessions. Many things come into play as someone confesses a sin or heart struggle with me. My own words, facial expressions, body language, and attitude are all being weighed very carefully by the confessor. This is, in a sense, the moment of truth. The person stands before you emotionally naked, as it were, and you are there to pass judgment—or so they will often fear. As you hear the revelation, at that moment you have the power of life or death, blessing and cursing. I believe that this is one of the most sacred trusts we possess in these encounters. We must use extreme caution in our response, because heaven and hell literally may be in the balance.
This does not mean that you agree with what the person did or said. I have rarely had to convince a confessor of their wrong. It simply means that you stop, look past the confession itself, and look at the person. The revealer has taken a step of faith, and it is important that while they understand they are wrong—yes and even sinful—they are accepted and loved.
5. Take time to care for the whole person
“There is a time for everything,” Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 3. If you are meeting with a struggler over a period of time, he or she needs to know that you will hear what they have to say, even if they bring to you more or less the same stories of failure. But what you are doing in this helping relationship is building a friendship; you are not merely meeting with a ministry project. There is a place in this emerging friendship where breaks are needed from sharing even honest revelations. This gives everyone a breather. It helps the struggler see that there is more to them than their particular struggle or temptation. There are other things to talk about and to share.
We must help each other not fall into the trap of defining ourselves by our struggles. We must remind ourselves, as well as others, that we are not our struggles. God has said that we are a new creation. There should be times when we relax, go out for a meal together, share an event, worship together, laugh, and have fun. God is still central in all of these things.
The poet Samuel Coleridge once compared friendship to a “sheltering tree.” Growth of this kind, that of a strong tree, takes time, even years. Yesterday, as I walked with a friend, we shared some things that we have not shared with perhaps anyone. As I thought about this later, I realized that our sharing came about because I have walked with this friend several times a week for over four years. The passage of time with others and the investment of time is a key healing element that many need. There is no shortcut to this. When you minister to the whole person by getting to know them in a number of contexts you create community that can be a “sheltering tree.” It is beneath this tree that real, honest revelations of the heart are safely shared.
6. You and the church must be grace-full
We must convey to strugglers, and to the whole church community, that sexual struggles are common. But more than that, we must communicate that grace is greater than any sin they have committed. I know of a client who kept a sexual difficulty quiet for over fifty years. For some reason, this church member decided to share the secret at a Wednesday night prayer meeting he had been attending. The result? The pastor asked that the person not return to the church. This ought not to be. The church must overflow with grace.
Paul, writing to the church at Corinth says, “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves, nor greedy, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But, you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.”
I have always wanted, when preaching, to mention this passage and then say, “As I read this passage, I want you to stand as I mention the sin that you have struggled with.” (Perhaps this is why I get asked to preach only once at so many churches). The truth is that if we truly realized the measure of grace given us in Christ, then honest revelations of the heart would be the norm and grace would fill our churches. The bottom line, when all is said and done, is, Does grace or sin win? If we extend grace the way that God says we should, grace always has the last word.
A final warning
A final word of caution is in order here. While the suggestions mentioned here seem relatively simple, they are not. They are, in fact, impossible. Let us not forget that what has begun in us is supernatural and that we need the power of God in our lives daily to even begin the process. It is only in constantly remembering this again and again that we develop the correct attitude and learn the best approach to hurting people. Then we can be responsive to him as he leads us to be his instruments in creating a safe place for the honest revelations of the heart.
Your friendship and your church can be a safe place for honest revelations. This blog is based on a prior article by Rev. Philip Henry.
13 Jul 2012
Do you know the experience of guilt? Sometimes it is acute, a stabbing pain in your gut. At other times, it is a dull, gnawing in your soul—a vague feeling of “wrongness” about life, and when you stop to focus on why, the memory of your sin floods back. You long to be free from guilt, but as your failure persists, the pain continues. As a Christian, the guilt you experience over your sin is unavoidable.
You know the truth. You know how God calls you to live. You know the things you should be doing and the things you shouldn’t.
Worse, our experience of guilt is compounded because sexual sin is always clustered together with other sins. Lies and deceit are the constant companions of sexual sin. We squander time and resources, neglecting our calling as husbands, fathers, sons, employees, church members, etc. Sometimes we steal to support our behaviors. All these things deepen the reality of our guilt.
Because we keep our sin hidden, guilt surfaces in other ways and impacts our relationships with others. We are irritable and impatient. We become withdrawn and sullen. Sometimes we rage, even scaring ourselves. Even if you manage to hide your behavior for decades, you need to realize that there is always fallout from sin. Sin always infects our relationships with God and others. Because of the reality of your guilt, spending the evening looking at porn online will impact who you are at work the next day—how well you are able to function, interact with others, and so on. When you stop at the adult bookstore on the way home from work, it affects who you are at the dinner table with your family. When you spent time at work having a sexual chat online, you will be a different man at the home Bible study that night. If you are having suggestive conversations with a co-worker, it will determine how you interact with your wife once the kids are in bed. You may be able to hide your behavior, but there will always be relational consequences.
The hope for you today is that the gospel is true! Listen to the promise from Colossians 2:13-14: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (ESV). He does not treat us as our sins deserve, but rather, because ”the Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love,” he removes our transgressions from us “as far as the east is from the west” (see Psalm 103, especially v. 8-14). In Christ, God has forever dealt with the problem of our guilt!
How do you tend to respond to others when you feel guilty? Are you angry, impatient, or withdrawn? Who tends to be on the receiving end of these behaviors?
This excerpt is taken from Harvest USA’s workbook for men, Sexual Sanity for Men, Recreating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture, published by New Growth Press. This workbook is excellent for small groups and one-on-one mentoring. Visit the Harvest USA bookstore to check out this resource and others at harvest-usa-store.com.
17 Feb 2011
Here at Harvest USA, we facilitate Biblical Support Groups for people who struggle with sexual sins. One of our groups for male strugglers incorporates a study of Scripture with an eye toward our behavior. One recent question we focused on was this: What’s really going on in our sexual fantasies?
Are they harmless expressions we all engage in? If these fantasies are inside my own head and don’t affect anyone else, what’s the problem with them? As one guy in the group said, “Is it really anybody’s business what I’m thinking?”
These objections, at first glance, might appear to have some validity to them. But I challenged the men with some of these objections: What if my “private” fantasy includes having sex with your eight-year-old daughter? If you knew that was what I was thinking, you probably wouldn’t be too happy to hear I was teaching your daughter’s Sunday school class next week. Yet we still stick up for ourselves and plead “sanctuary” when it comes to our thought lives.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not pleading a case to hear all that’s going on in that head of yours! But it’s also not a “no man’s land” either. Our thought lives are a reflection of what is going on in our hearts; our thought lives are a door to examining the desires that drive our emotions and behavior. Leave that door unopened to anyone else, and it can lead any one of us down some very dark paths. If we want to find freedom from the enslaving sexual desires that entrap us, then we must be willing to allow others to challenge us at the level of our thoughts and fantasies.
So, what’s going on in our sexual fantasies? I believe, if we’re honest with ourselves, that these secret fantasies represent a place where we find ourselves in control. We live in a world that is largely out of our control, one that frequently seems to be against us. Our fantasy lives are a desperate attempt to carve out a little spot in this world where something works out our way—finally! I know that’s a major issue in my life.
Many men, for example, will ask me if it’s okay to fantasize about their wives. I’ll ask if their wives are built different in their fantasies. But most would respond that it’s more about their wives doing things in their fantasies that they wouldn’t do in real life. Does this sound okay to you? Better still, ask your wife if it sounds okay to her.
Fantasy lives always intrude upon real life, somewhere, somehow. They aren’t harmless; they affect the way we think about or even relate to others in our lives. I know I need God to speak to that part of my heart with authority and grace. I know he does speak to that place. He does so through the words of his people, to those I’ve opened up my heart to, allowing them to challenge my illusions of self-importance.
So what’s going on in my sexual fantasies? A whole lot of me that needs replacing by a whole lot of submitting to the reality of what God is really doing in my life.
What about you? What do your fantasies reveal about your heart? What do you need to do with them?