18 Jan 2018
One of the frequently asked questions at a Harvest USA seminar is whether masturbation is a sin. There has been a lot of debate on this issue in Christian circles, largely because it’s a behavior without a condemning, biblical proof text. Although I can’t point you to a specific chapter and verse forbidding this behavior, God’s design for sexuality makes it clear that there is no room for masturbation in the life of a Christian.
As I’ve written elsewhere, there is theological significance to our sexuality. Two things are crucial to have at the forefront when considering solo sex. First, in the Bible sexual activity is always reserved for marriage. It is designed to be inherently relational, a deep knowing of and intimacy with another. Second, the goal of sex is selfless service, the pleasuring of another. This latter point is particularly clear from 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, the only “how to” passage in the Bible prescribing sexual activity.
God designed sexuality to be like every other aspect of the Christian life: a turning away from selfish desires to honor God with my body and use it to serve others. Sex in Christian marriage should reflect the New Testament’s ethic in general. Describing discipleship, Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This is much more than a proof text for the atonement; it is the culmination of Jesus’ teaching on what it means to be his disciple.
As a solitary activity, masturbation is not rooted in relationship with another. There is no opportunity for deepening intimacy and knowing of another. Further, far from selfless service, masturbation is a picture of incarnate selfishness. To engage in this behavior is to say, “In this moment, what matters most is that I experience the most intense pleasure possible.” This is radically against the call of discipleship described above.
And there are practical considerations here as well. Even if it’s possible to masturbate without the use of porn or sexual fantasy, a single person is programming him or herself with a self-focused sexuality. If the Lord provides a spouse, this individual will not approach marriage looking to selflessly serve another. The focus of sex will be getting “my needs” met. Admittedly, all couples need to grow in practicing God-honoring, selfless sexuality, but masturbation places singles in a more challenging position.
Similarly, a married person is defrauding his or her spouse through masturbation. A healthy sex life takes work in marriage, requiring selfless emotional and spiritual investment, as well as learning to physically serve someone built very different from yourself. Masturbation selfishly takes the easy road of personal gratification at the cost of deepening oneness and intimacy in marriage.
And that highlights another problem. Many Christians justify masturbation because our culture elevates sexual desire to a physical “need.” But the hard truth is, no one has ever died for lack of sex (unlike oxygen, water, food, or shelter). This is not to say that living with unsatisfied sexual desires is easy! We should have great compassion for singles living in celibate faithfulness to Christ and couples languishing in sexless marriages. The reality is that sex is a wonderful blessing – a good gift from God – but it is not a source of life in and of itself.
The reality is that sex is a wonderful blessing – a good gift from God – but it is not a source of life in and of itself
Are Christians just too uptight about sex? Isn’t this repressive? Not at all. We believe God invented pleasure and gave us the capacity to enjoy it in all kinds of ways. But he also prescribed the ways certain pleasures should be expressed. All pleasures can entice our hearts to supplant the Giver of the gift to worship the gift instead.
Finally, most secular therapists agree that masturbation is a means of self-soothing and finding comfort. Here’s the problem: God declares himself to be the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). He wants to meet us in our sadness, loneliness, and frustration. He promises to satisfy “you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:5). There is a danger when we turn to things of this world to soothe the ache in our soul. Jonah 2:8 warns, “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them” (NIV). When we embrace the false and fleeting comforts of this world to satisfy the deep longings of our soul, we will not find lasting satisfaction or a balm for our yearnings.
We should seek comfort in ways that can facilitate deepening fellowship with God. A helpful gauge of whether your pursuit of comfort is drawing you closer to the Giver or not is the lens of Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Does whatever activity you are doing invite you to engage God and give thanks to him?
Wise Christians will tread this road carefully; we don’t want to heap shame on those struggling with masturbation. If we are honest, the issue is virtually universal for all of us at some point in our lives. This should mean we show compassion as those who can empathize. But we never want to shrink back from calling out sin for what it is. We want to invite people to return to their First Love, the One who has promised pleasure forevermore at his right hand.
David talks more about this on his accompanying video: Is Our View of Masturbation Outdated? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
04 Jan 2018
HARVEST USA did two day-long seminars for parents and youth leaders at Chelten Church, in the suburbs of Philly. Afterwards, we sat down with Jon Shepherd, their Student Ministry Director, to talk about ways he addresses sexuality with his youth group.
As a bit of an ice-breaker, what’s one of the funnest moments you have experienced in youth ministry?
Having been a part of the Youth Ministry at Chelten since 2006, I have so many fun memories. One that everyone can enjoy involved one of our senior guys laying on the beach at Ocean City, NJ letting a flock of seagulls eat Cool Ranch Doritos off his bare chest.
We know you have a heart for youth, so tell us a bit about why you got into youth ministry.
One of my favorite quotes is from Frederick Douglass who said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” I got into youth ministry because I want to use the gifts that God has given me and my own experiences to help the next generation know Christ and follow him from a young age.
What do you think are some of the unique challenges facing youth ministers today in discipling students in the area of sexuality?
In my opinion, the biggest challenge is the culture’s definition of normal sexuality. From billboards to TV shows, songs to smartphone apps—we are combatting a message that says that you get to define your sexuality and do what seems right for you.
Also, what is unique to our day and age is the role that the smartphone has played in the lives of our teenagers. Social media, for example, tells our young people that they don’t look good enough. Other apps make hooking up or sexting as easy as a swipe of your finger. Unfiltered cell phones provide accessibility to endless amounts of pornography with just a few simple clicks.
This type of leading, from a point of need and weakness, creates a culture within the church where it becomes safe for students to approach leaders to share their struggles.
Leaving the depressing state of our world, what have been some of the best moments in addressing sexuality amongst students?
The most impactful times with students have always come after another leader or I have made the first move toward individual students by sharing some of our own struggles. I can remember a night where we had a “guy’s night” and allowed the students to anonymously write questions on index cards where a panel of their regular youth leaders would take turns answering. Several of our leaders were very vulnerable with our guys and shared both past and present struggles with sexual sin. This type of leading, from a point of need and weakness, creates a culture within the church where it becomes safe for students to approach leaders to share their struggles.
As we take the risk of sharing our need for Jesus in the area of sexuality, we open the door for students to invite us into their lives. Young men will come and share their addiction to pornography. Young ladies share that they have turned to self-harm or an eating disorder because they don’t feel pretty or sexy enough. It is then a privilege to walk beside them to Christ, knowing that we both need the same grace.
HARVEST USA came to your church to do Gospel Sexuality: Student Ministry Training. What did you take away from the seminar that you would like others who work with students to hear?
One reason youth leaders don’t talk about sexuality is that we feel the pressure to have an entire night or series devoted to the topic, which is overwhelming and quite honestly, terrifying! Your training gave us some great tips on how to make sexuality a regular topic of conversation. For example, when addressing different sins that students may be battling, include in your talk a sexual sin like looking at pornography along with lying to your parents and trashing someone else’s reputation.
Also, we learned that when we don’t talk about sexual issues, it communicates shame to the one who is struggling in those taboo areas. Jesus invites all sinners to come forward from a place of shame, as he did the woman with the bleeding problem in Mark 5. We must create a church culture in which sexual sin is not ignored but is instead safe to talk about, a place where we can confess and find healing in Christ.
Push through the awkwardness when talking about sexuality. That first step to begin a conversation that’s uncomfortable to you and the student—or your child—is hard, but it’s totally worth it.
What did you take away from Gospel Sexuality: Raising Sexually Healthy Kids that you would like parents to hear?
Gospel Sexuality: Raising Sexually Healthy Kids began with providing the bigger picture on sexuality and sexual sin by using the metaphor of the tree. This metaphor showed that we cannot simply address the fruit—the behaviors that we see—we must also address other factors as well.
Also, it is not enough to have “the talk;” we must, instead, engage in multiple discussions at different levels over the course of our child’s life. In other words, discussing sexuality with our kids is not a box to be checked, but is instead an ongoing topic of conversation and discipleship. We want to maintain ongoing communication to the point where we can be there to help pick up the pieces when they mess up and walk with them to Christ.
As a parting gift, what are three words of wisdom you want to give to youth ministers or parents on talking about sex and sexuality?
Push through the awkwardness when talking about sexuality. That first step to begin a conversation that’s uncomfortable to you and the student—or your child—is hard, but it’s totally worth it. Sharing your own need is also a great way to begin that conversation. As you share your own story, where you talk about your past and present need for Jesus, you invite them to open up and share their struggles.
Second, shepherd in community. Sexual sin can be a dangerous area to enter into with a young person. It is essential that we shepherd our students in community. Developing a team of adults in your youth ministry is key to this. In our youth ministry, every student is divided into small groups based on age and gender with multiple volunteer youth leaders over every group. We regularly divide into small groups for processing God’s word, sharing, and prayer. When a student comes to a staff member or volunteer leader with a sexual sin, we ask the student to continue to widen the circle of knowledge by involving another staff member, volunteer leader, or parent into the conversation. While it is extremely important to protect the student’s trust and privacy, it is also important that we, as youth leaders, are accountable to one another for our own protection.
Third, pray for your students more than you talk to them about sexuality. The reality is, we cannot fix the brokenness in our own lives or the lives of students. Redemption and healing can only be found in Jesus Christ. Knowing this truth is a huge relief and comfort. God is far more invested in your youth ministry and the sexuality of your students than you are.
Watch Jon talk more about this on his accompanying video: How does a youth pastor address sexuality with students? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Whether you’re a youth minister or a parent, talking about sex and sexuality to teens is uncomfortable, to say the least. But it needs to be done. Listen as one youth minister at a large church gives his tips on how he and his youth team handles it.
11 Oct 2017
We are bombarded with practical strategies for helping our children and students live rightly and well. Nothing wrong with that, but to reach their hearts you can’t start with a technique. You have to start with your own heart. You have to be authentic with them about how God is working in your life first.
Click here to read more thoughts from Cooper Pinson in his blog: A Look Up: Touching the Heart of Students
11 Oct 2017
Every adult generation has a similar refrain: a proverbial uphill-both-ways-commute, a more centralized family, a simpler life, and perhaps even a better America. And some of the generational shift is true. The neighborhood newspaper kid has been replaced with the online news feed. The drive-ins and Blockbusters of the world have been put to rest by Netflix and Amazon Prime. Those RC colas have stepped aside for pour-over coffee and craft beer. Now we have transgender bathrooms in elementary schools. Students are exposed to hardcore porn on smart devices at their friends’ houses. Fueled by the catalysts of hyper-individualism and secular humanism, a new sexual mantra has emerged:
Sexually, you are the only one who can define yourself, your truth, and your happiness.
But consider what has not changed: students are still searching for Meaning. Ever since we decided to forsake Meaning and rebelliously set out east of Eden to subdue the great unknown, we have forgotten who we really are. Yet we still search for that which we lost. At its core, our secularized sexuality is a meaning-quest, a desperate grasp at self-definition, finding ourselves. Rather than simply lament the state of today’s youth and the sexual chaos that has enveloped them, let’s take a fresh look at this quest.
Self-Defining as an Expression of Suffering
Think about transgenderism. What thoughts rise up inside of you?
“What is the world coming to today? The LGBTQ agenda…those liberals…the world is going to hell in a handbasket…”
But when the culture is preaching a message of radical self-expression, and when we ourselves feel the insecurity within us, is it any wonder that students seek to self-define? Who else can they trust? Newsfeeds are awash with upheaval in other countries, corrupt leaders, neo-Nazi hate groups, and TV preachers hyped up on riches. In other words, do we see gender-dysphoric students as political subversives or as human beings caught in a post-Eden world of chaos?
Our students are wrestling with the ever-increasing darkness of our culture. We are not seeing them accurately, nor are we helping them, when we criticize their behavior without taking into account the larger context of their world.
Think about the hookup culture.
“Kids can’t control themselves…I would have never thought about…If parents would just…”
But given the rampant divorce rate and relational hurt many experience in broken families, doesn’t it seem logical to protect yourself from that by-gone institution? Shouldn’t we take the “best” of that bubble, the sex itself, and celebrate it without chaining ourselves to the social construct? The hookup culture is not simply a symptom of our sex-drive; it’s also an attempt to discover a better way.
Students aren’t mindless drones. They are responding to the world around them in panic, like sheep without a shepherd. What if we saw meaning-making and self-defining as desperation in the face of deep suffering?
Perhaps it’s time to give voice to what we often fail to recognize: following Christ in this world is hard and seems absurd at times. When the mantra, “God is in control,” is spoken, it can be horrendously applied. Our students are wrestling with the ever-increasing darkness of our culture. We are not seeing them accurately, nor are we helping them, when we criticize their behavior without taking into account the larger context of their world.
But our kids are not alone in dealing with the chaos. We, too, have struggled with the notion of a good God in the midst of a twisted world. We were once the hippies, the punks, and the dropouts.
The Gospel of Jesus doesn’t promise daisy fields on this side of eternity; it promises crosses. And crosses are still heavy, despite the fact that they will give way to crowns. It’s only as we are honest about our own sufferings that we will be able to effectively walk arm and arm as fellow sojourners with kids.
For parents, youth workers, and anyone who works with kids, what does it look like to come alongside of our students as they make sense of this world? It means sitting your kid down this week to take a look at the news, asking questions about how he or she is processing the suffering in the world while not giving canned answers in response. It means taking a student out for a meal and asking, “What has been particularly difficult for you this week? How has that impacted you?” It means talking about our own hardships as well. Notice that Jesus weeps with Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazarus before he reframes suffering in a flood of resurrection-light (John 11:35-44).
Self-Defining as an Expression of Sin
However, our students’ attempts at self-defining are more than expressions of suffering. They are ultimately expressions of sin.
As one theologian said, secularization is “essentially forgetting Christ, because secularization is the isolation of the world within its own immanence.”¹ But since we can never truly isolate ourselves from our Creator, our secularized sexuality is at best attempted isolation, an endeavor to cut ourselves off from God. It is, essentially, an effort to burn Jacob’s ladder to the ground. But true purpose and meaning come from beyond the self.
When we have no Cosmic Norm, we brew confusion. If there is no Authority, we are all authorities, and when we are all authorities, there are no legitimate rights and wrongs. So while we need to approach our kids with a compassion that seeks to validate their suffering, we also need to approach them with a challenge about their rebellious hearts.
We need to help students see that repentance and faith are things we practice every day, not just things we did long ago when we were immature and foolish students ourselves.
How can we do this practically? If we want kids to trust God, and what his Word says about sex, sexuality, and gender, then as parents and leaders, we must be willing to wisely talk about our own sins with kids. We must be honest about our mess and the truth that Jesus — yes — has changed us, and that He, by His Spirit, is currently changing us as well.
We need to help students see that repentance and faith are things we practice every day, not just things we did long ago when we were immature and foolish students ourselves. Maybe we let our older teens in on some of the sins we struggled with, and still struggle with, as youth ministers. When we are honest, we open up space for students to be honest with us. If we want to make disciples, we’ve got to be willing to walk alongside of our children and our students for the long haul, not simply lecture them momentarily on morality.
Self-Defining as a Farce
Under the angst, both we and our kids know that our experiment in self-defining is a farce. We all “know” the true Meaning of the universe, and our knowledge of Him betrays us even as we seek to suppress it (Romans 1:18-20). We know that our attempts at self-defining are exercises in hewing broken cisterns that hold no water and give no life (Jeremiah 2:13; John 4:13-14).
Take a look at the celebrity culture. These people can have all the sex, all the money, and all the fame they want. But what sense can we make of those tip-top celebrities being jailed for drugs or racing their Lamborghinis to spite the police? What do we make of all the rampant divorce plaguing the celebrity world?
If we are attentive to the culture, we will see this truth: human beings can never be “authentic” when we attempt to separate ourselves from God. Even in attempting “authenticity,” we find ourselves just repeating our culture’s sexual mantra. In other words, we are still “going with the flow” even if we buck traditional, Cosmic authority.
We can only be authentic when we are being worshipfully derivative, “receptively reconstructive” of our God-created sexuality, not “critically constructive” to the exclusion of our God.² In other words, when we construct meaning ourselves, we sinfully burden tweens with the idea that they can choose their own gender. When we don’t receive the meaning of sexuality from God, we praise porn stars for their “artistic” ability as we chain them to an industry bent on their exploitation.
With so much time spent looking down these days, it might be best to do the reverse.
A Way Out
I, like all high school students, experienced the pull to meaning-make, to self-define. But there were two, physical spaces that threw cold water in my face during those years.
The first was an observatory on an extremely large, and rural, college campus. This building was in the middle of nowhere (in a wheat field to be exact). I would drive my angst-ridden self out there many days after school and sit in the silence. I could see the pond across the gravel road, feel the wind in the wheat, touch the dirt, and experience the immensity of the land. I could see that the world wasn’t waiting on, or revolving around, me.
The second was the deck attached to my parents’ house, which is situated on top of a mountain in Northwest Georgia. In the late hours, when the house was asleep, I would often sneak out to the deck, and on clear nights, the billions of stars and the expanse of the valley infused Meaning back into my quest. But that Meaning came from seeing that I, in fact, did not live in an isolated snow globe of my own existence. I lived in a universe that sang a different song, and I was not its Theme.
If we are attentive to the culture, we will see this truth: human beings can never be “authentic” when we attempt to separate ourselves from God. Even in attempting “authenticity,” we find ourselves just repeating our culture’s sexual mantra.
I think, at times, given the chaos of our world and the genuine love we have for our kids and students, we run around looking for quick solutions, for a list of do’s and don’ts. But in our hectic spirit, we have neglected to look up.
Repositioning our secularized sexuality starts with turning our gaze elsewhere, escaping the prison of our own self-centeredness to rejoin the universe in its grand song to its loving Creator, Sustainer, and Savior.
A Look Up
There are tons of things we, as parents and youth ministers, can say and do to reach our kids. But we mustn’t begin there. Addressing the secularized sexuality of our kids starts with humbly addressing our own, with lifting our eyes to meet our Savior’s. We need to apply both the balm and challenge of Jesus to our own suffering wounds and sinful flesh in real, practical ways today.
As to our sexual sufferings, we need to bring them to the One who cares for us. Consider Psalm 56:8: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”
Can you imagine your God compassionately tallying your many, excruciating battles with pornography, loneliness, insecurity, or same-sex attraction? Can you imagine Him holding a bottle up to your eye to catch your tears shed for the son or daughter who has embraced a rebellious life? Can you think of Him with His cosmic book, recording your sorrows in prose?
But doesn’t that make the world about me? Certainly not. It is the ironic nature of grace. Grace is water to a dry mouth, enabling speech and song to our God.
How can we bring our sorrows and sufferings to Him? Let me suggest one thing: let’s honestly pray to Him today. Let’s lay our frustrations, our despairs, our inabilities, our sufferings at His feet. And, in doing so, let’s remember the One who hears us. He is the One who did not stay aloof but suffered with us, for us.
As for our sins, the call for repentance must be laid upon us before it can be laid upon our kids or students. In the warmth of his kindness (Romans 2:4), let’s turn back to Him in practical ways even today. When we get angry with our children, let’s apologize to them and ask for their forgiveness, teaching them how we come to our Father. Instead of trying to manage the pull to look at porn on our smartphones, let’s consider a dumb phone.
Do we need to apply the balm and challenge of Christ to our kids’ sufferings and sins? Absolutely. But we cannot offer to them something we haven’t received ourselves. We cannot ask our students to lift their gaze if our own is downwardly fixed.
Only when we, ourselves, fix our gaze on Jesus in everyday ways will our families and ministries find their true place in the universe, not as creators, but as creatures; not as masters, but as servants; not as movers, but as moved. Only then will we, and those kids under our watch, be set in motion, not by our farcical, self-defining meaning-quest but by love for our Great God.
High phantasy lost power and here broke off;
Yet, as a wheel moves smoothly, free from jars,
My will and my desire were turned by love,
The love that moves the sun and the other stars.³
Note: this blog was originally published in our harvestusa magazine as “A Look Up: Discipling Students in an Age of Pour-Over Coffee and Smart-Tech.”
¹G.C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: The Work of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), 18.
² Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th Ed., Ed. K. Scott Oliphint, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing), 72.
³ Dante Alighieri, Paradise, Trans. Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds, (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1969), 347.
To see Cooper talk more about this issue, click on Cooper’s video blog, A Look Up: Touching the Heart of Students. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
21 Sep 2017
Openness and transparency are markers of a healthy Christian community. Honesty about one’s struggles and needs leads us to reach out to Christ and others for the help we need. But this is harder for believers who live with same-sex attraction.
One would think that with a growing acceptance of gays and lesbians becoming more visible in the culture there would be a corresponding acceptance within the church of Christians who follow God’s word on sexuality and who live with same-sex attraction.
But at Harvest USA we continue to see this issue remain hidden in the church. That means there are lots of brothers and sisters with same-sex attraction whose lives remain shrouded in secrecy. They don’t want to disclose their struggle because of the possible consequences of doing so.
The most obvious reason for staying silent is the fear of rejection. The most intense fear is the fear of rejection from your friends (and yes, I know many who have friendships lasting for years and, sadly, they have never opened up about this to them).
Will my friends think any different of me? Will I be treated with distrust? Will I understand their responses? Will they understand me? How might this news radically change the level of friendship I already have? I want more, but I’m deadly afraid to lose what I’ve got.
I already feel alone and different; I don’t want to feel this anymore.
But the fear is greater than the hope that they might finally be known, and loved, for who they are. So in staying hidden, there remains a part of them that never sees the light of day.
Then there is the fear of gossip. You don’t need everyone knowing this about you, but you fear that it will leak out and spread. Keeping secrets and confidences for a long time is a hard thing to do. If everybody knows this about you, then you’ll dread living in a fishbowl. You are certainly not ready for that.
Then there is the fear of hearing opinions that are inaccurate about same-sex attraction, putting you on the spot, needing to explain again and again.
The desire to keep quiet may seem valid—and feel like the only safe option—but continuing to do so keeps you from growing in your faith. Holding onto a secret from others is also a failure to trust God.
And then there is the fear that, if you stumble and fall into sexual sin, then you know there will be some (many?) who think that sexual sin is the worst kind of offense for a Christian. (And if that’s the kind of church you’re in, there are other gospel-believing churches where that is not the case, and you should seek them out.)
But even if you are in a church that sees sexual struggles and sin as being essentially no different than other faith struggles, these are some legitimate concerns that can keep you from opening up.
But let’s talk for a minute about one other thing that’s hurting you by keeping silent. Not sharing keeps you isolated and feeling alone, which is how you feel almost all the time. The desire to keep quiet may seem valid—and feel like the only safe option—but continuing to do so keeps you from growing in your faith. Holding onto a secret from others is also a failure to trust God.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the cross of Christ is that although it is marked with suffering and shame, it also swallowed up death. In other words, Christ’s death puts to death our sins and fears. We are now given the power to face our fears and struggles and seek help from God and others. And in seeking help from others, we are, in fact, seeking help from God.
The person struggling with same-sex attraction can freely share what God has done, even if there is fear of rejection. I know it’s hard to do this. I get it. I’ve mentioned some of the dangers and difficulties.
And in remaining silent, the church won’t grow. Because how you live your life in the body of Christ affects others.
But when you remain hidden, you won’t grow as you could grow; you won’t experience trust and joy in Christ as you could.
And in remaining silent, the church won’t grow. Because how you live your life in the body of Christ affects others.
My hope is that if you are a same-sex attracted struggler, that you would ask God for the grace to share your struggles with a few others in your church. Start small. To be increasingly honest about who you are. And that in doing so, you will be surprised. Surprised that there will be many who will receive you and love you just as you are, and in accepting you, will love you enough to keep showing you Jesus, and walking with you every step of the way towards him.
To see Desmond talk more about this issue, click on Desmond’s video blog, Hiding My Same-Sex Attraction—Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
11 Jul 2017
There are few hurts deeper than sexual betrayal. Sex is supposed to be a space of deep vulnerability and intimacy, a place of joyful self-giving. No wonder the Bible calls marriage a “one-flesh” union, where physical nakedness is a profound image of intimacy, of total knowing and complete trust between a wife and husband.
When that trust is broken, a husband and wife will struggle to believe that their sexual intimacy can ever be restored. For those who stay together (and sadly, sometimes that will not be possible), they will need a way forward to become vulnerable and again. It will not be easy, but a focus on the gospel gives real hope and practical help.
To understand how to rebuild trust, it helps to see God’s intention for sexual intimacy within marriage. As Dave White says in his blog, “Just What is Godly Sex?” sexual expression is “analogous to a deeper, eternal reality—a husband and wife are to be devoted to one another, forsaking all others, as a reflection of Jesus’ desire that we be utterly devoted to him, forsaking worship of all others.”
Sexual unfaithfulness breaks trust at the most vulnerable aspect of oneness as a spouse chooses, rather than forsakes, something or someone instead of the one to whom they promised faithfulness. Whether the betrayal is mental, emotional, or physical (or all three), the sins of pornography, sexual fantasy, masturbation, and adultery are ways a spouse breaks from devotion to Christ and their spouse, for worship of self and pleasure.
It is crucial for relational trust and spiritual togetherness to grow between two spouses before they attempt to restore sexual intimacy. If you are already actively pursuing healing in your marriage after the disclosure of sexual unfaithfulness, then consider the following four steps which can bring the kind of healing that makes the renewal of sexual intimacy a reality. If you are a friend, counselor, or pastor, these steps can enable you to help.
Sexual unfaithfulness breaks trust at the most vulnerable aspect of oneness as a spouse chooses, rather than forsakes, something or someone instead of the one to whom they promised faithfulness.
1. Pray and commit for Jesus to have the first place in your heart. Colossians 1:16-17 describes Jesus as Lord and Creator over all, which means he is to be first in all things. This includes your marriage and your sex life! Ask God to show how this failed to happen in your marriage, and in repentance begin learning what a biblical view of sex within marriage is and how Jesus helps you love your spouse.
2. Turn towards your spouse. Firm and strong choices to turn from all things that led to sexual sin must be another initial step. That means cutting off people, places, and situations that are sources of temptation. Trust cannot grow if the offending spouse is not actively seeking to flee from sin. However, fleeing is not enough! It is just as important for both to choose to turn towards the other sexually. This means making your marriage relationship a priority, as well as learning what cultivates an atmosphere of trust and safety for sexual intimacy, before, during, and after being together.
To move in that direction, pray for God to give you renewed emotional, mental, and sexual desire for your spouse alone. In other words, ask God to make you spousal-sexual: radically oriented and devoted to your husband or wife. God delights to respond to this prayer! After all, godly sex is his idea.
3. Cultivate honest communication about sex. God will use the exposure of sexual sin to open up communication on many topics, but the one that will require major focus will be your sexual relationship. Rebuilding trust will require an openness to share feelings, thoughts, and desires in this area. You need to learn what the other enjoys, what brings pleasure, what is uncomfortable, what communicates being used rather than being delighted in. These are extremely vulnerable topics; go slowly, and remember to continually/actively build up your emotional trust with each other. For some, fasting from sexual activity can enable a couple to communicate honestly without the pressure (and fear) of engaging sexually.
4. Pursue and receive your spouse with patient love. Restoring your sexual relationship will take time. Expressing non-sexual affection is a way to express love for the ‘whole person’ of your spouse. Remember that pain and hurt don’t go away quickly, so be patient with yourself and your spouse as you learn new ways of relating. Patience and perseverance are the key words!
You can watch Ellen talk some more about this on her video: Rebuilding Sexual Intimacy After Sexual Betrayal These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
10 May 2017
In 2013 I finished the Philadelphia half-marathon with integrity, even though I wasn’t on board with the race’s motto: “For the Love of Running.” I don’t love to run, and in fact I walked the entire 13.1 miles! My form was less than professional, and my running clothes were not high-end gear, but I did finish the race. I finished what I started. That was my integrity, the principle for which I strove for: Finish well what you started.
I did it by keeping the finish line in mind. One step at a time. Not getting distracted by the scenery along the race, like the beauty of Rittenhouse Square or the exotic landscape of the Philadelphia Zoo.
Women who desire to live with sexual integrity—with themselves and in their relationships with others and with God—also need to run the race of faith well.
Which means throwing off distractions and hindrances, like how I finished the half-marathon.
Hebrews 12:1-13 gives us many rich truths to consider in this regard, but let’s start this discussion with the importance of throwing off the endless distractions we all face in this world and the sins that easily trip us up.
After the 2014 Philadelphia Marathon, there were four tons of discarded clothing collected along the marathon route!¹ Serious runners start the race wearing gear that can be tossed off in the first miles as their bodies warm up. These articles of clothing are helpful at the start but a heavy hindrance once underway.
Similarly, we need to recognize and be willing to part with not only obvious sin but also influences in our lives which distract and hinder us from loving Jesus in our pursuit of sexual integrity. We need to take seriously the influences which can weigh us down and make it easier to walk into sinful situations.
“The key here is not so much the thing itself but the impact it has on us. Sexual sin most often has a seemingly ‘innocent’ beginning—when a potential hindrance or distraction is given room to grow, when a temptation is managed rather than run from!”
People, forms of recreation, activities, and so on may be good things but may also have a power in our lives to pull us away from following Jesus. A person or relationship can easily hijack our heart’s contentment in Christ. A form of entertainment can quickly become our default source of comfort or escape from the stresses of life. A ministry or work scenario can put us near someone to whom we’re growing in an unholy attachment, even to the point where we feel we need that person’s affirmation to be okay or feel secure.
The key here is not so much the thing itself but the impact it has on us. Sexual sin most often has a seemingly ‘innocent’ beginning—when a potential hindrance or distraction is given room to grow, when a temptation is managed rather than run from!
Hebrews 12:1 says that not only are we commanded to throw off hindrances, but the sin which so easily entangles us” [emphasis mine]. The idea here isn’t sin in general, like “Lord, please forgive me of all the sins I’ve done this week,” but rather the specific sins that we are more likely to give into—our characteristic sins that easily tempt us.
In my life, I’ve not generally been prone towards anger, coveting things, or lying, but I have at times been prone towards people-pleasing, worship of comfort, selfishness with my time, fantasy, and abuse of food. And that’s just for starters!
Over the years of walking with Jesus, I’ve had my fantasy life cleaned up, food has now become an occasional distraction, and I don’t crave people’s approval of me anymore. I’m not entangled by these things anymore. However, worship of comfort and possessiveness with time? Those are an ongoing part of my race of faith in which I need the throne of grace to be open for heart-business 24/7, and I need others to help me grow.
What about you? What are the sins that easily trip you up? What are the sins that seem to precede sexual sin in your life? Women who battle against various forms of sexual sin usually give way to other things first: things like unbelief, laziness, exposure to questionable entertainment, dabbling in inappropriate physical affection with someone, and withdrawing from other believers.
No one floats or coasts into holiness or Christian maturity. Years ago my battle against fantasy had to be serious: meditating upon God’s Word, not allowing my eyes to take in things which tempt me, prayer, confessing immediately to others. I had to lay aside many hindrances and potential distractions so that they wouldn’t grow into sin.
In 2013 I wasn’t a fast runner or a top finisher in the Philly half-marathon, but I did cross the finish line! You can run your faith race well and increasingly grow into being a woman of sexual and relational integrity—persevering one step at a time.
Running the race of sexual integrity well is possible through the love and grace of Jesus! But experiencing that love and grace means we commit to throwing off sin and distractions. This process of laying aside must be intentional sisters!
You can watch Ellen talk more on this subject here in her video, Running the Race Well—Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
In general, people rarely come forward to talk about their sexuality, sexual struggles, or sexual identity issues. Therefore, it can be difficult to address people pastorally, even when pastors are willing and want to help people deal with their sexual brokenness. On the other hand, pastors are sometimes increasingly reluctant to address these issues themselves. One member of a church filled with millennials told me that his church never addresses issues like sexuality at all. That’s pretty ironic, given that this generation is the most porn-exposed, gay-affirming, and pro-gay marriage group of any generation—even in very conservative churches. In the absence of guidance from church leaders, the culture has done its own job of discipleship in this area quite well!
“Every day, it’s almost like I’m only one step away from starting to believe that, just maybe, we are the ones who have been wrong [about homosexuality].”
Indeed, pastors have told me they fear that the culture, sexually speaking, is starting to impact their leadership and elders as well. Case in point? Sam, an elder at a larger congregation with a mostly younger crowd, confessed to me recently, “Every day, it’s almost like I’m only one step away from starting to believe that, just maybe, we are the ones who have been wrong [about homosexuality].”
Phil, a pastor in a large metropolitan-area church, told me that some people stopped attending his church when they found out that the church held a biblically faithful stance on homosexuality. “Visitors are often offended when they learn what we believe about this issue, even though we talk about it with grace and mercy.” It’s true. Today it’s quite normal for someone to inquire of an individual, once they find out they are a Christian, “Well, what do you think about homosexuality? Is it a sin?” It’s seen as the new barometer of trustworthiness in the eyes of the inquirer. In an analogous way, church visitors, even those who may attend an introductory or membership class, also want to know up front now, “What does your church think about homosexuality?” One pastor described trying to navigate these waters today as a minefield—no matter what he says or how kindly he will say it, someone is going to be upset. In fact, the upset party may very well leave the church, perhaps taking some others with them.
Maybe that’s why one pastor of another large city church told me not long ago, “We’ll never have anyone from Harvest USA come and speak to our congregation. I don’t want to offend anyone, especially those who may be gay in the church.” Well, okay, but my question to that pastor would be, “How do you plan to educate your people biblically about sex and sexuality? Or are you just going to let them figure it out for themselves, continuing to allow the hundreds of other voices out there be their instructors?” I also wonder how struggling members of such a congregation might ever be encouraged towards honesty, faith, and repentance when it comes to their sexual temptations, struggles, and sin—to even want to get help.
My guess is that fear of man and a desire to not upset the apple cart are often ruling forces here. We err when we dismiss or fail to teach on something as big and important to God as sex. If we talk about these things biblically (as in really teaching what God says), we may fear that our message won’t go over well with those who are exploring the faith.
But church leadership doesn’t have to walk on eggshells, fear, be confused, or choose silence. Yes, teaching and speaking the whole counsel of God, offering mercy and grace all the while, can be a challenge. Yes, we’ll need to be more strategic in learning how to engage the culture that is already deeply influencing our own people. But if there’s any time that we must proclaim the truth and grace of God about these issues, it’s today!
Harvest USA wants to help pastoral staff, other church leadership, elder boards, etc., to better consider how to communicate all this with their congregations. No longer can we just wait on the sidelines. As leadership, we must intentionally think about how we can guide and help our people better understand God’s intention in these areas.
Please let us know if you’d like Harvest USA staff to help your church leadership and key volunteers think through these things. Your church staff and other leadership will be much better prepared to help the congregation if you do. Send me an email for more information on how your church leadership can begin to tackle these issues—and, therefore, be enabled to lead your people well in concerns close that are close to the heart of God.