Breaking the Chains: A Christian’s Struggle With the Effects of Sexual Abuse

breaking-the-chains“If you tell anybody, I’ll kill you.”

These words are still as fresh in my mind as the feeling I felt from the barrel of a .22 derringer pressed against my neck. That night marked a series of evenings that would leave me laying in tears—and sometimes blood—violated and ravaged by someone I looked up to. Someone I trusted.

If you have ever been molested, raped, or sexually abused, then you can understand the mixture of emotions I felt. You can understand going through life, hoping to wake-up from a nightmare that never seemed to end.

And while I am not an expert in the study of psychology or counseling, I am an expert in the painful effects of molestation. I’ve lived with the effects of sexual abuse for over twenty years, and while the power of God allows me to experience freedom and a heart that forgives, the long-term impact that the abuse has had on my life has been devastating.

Sexual abuse affects so many areas of our lives, from the physical to the metaphysical, that simply telling someone what had been done, is not enough. Confronting your abuser, and telling someone what they did to you is only the beginning of a lifetime of dealing with the pangs of molestation.

Here are two of the most evident ways in which being sexually abused has impacted my own life. And while I do not intend for this to be an exhaustive treatment on the subject, my hope is that it will shed some insight into how sexual abuse affects its victims, and a couple of practical ways in which the Christian may begin to experience freedom.

Identity

If you were a growing young boy at the time of your abuse, like I was, and your abuser was another male, you have undoubtedly experienced identity issues. Perhaps you were asking yourself whether or not you were now “gay” as a result of your abuse. Or, like me, out of disgust at the very thought of being violated by another man, you decided to sleep with as many girls possible in order to prove your manhood, leading into a lifetime of homophobia and sexual immorality.

Or maybe there were times when you became aroused as a natural reaction to stimulation and, thus, minimized the fault of the attacker. Because, after all, you enjoyed it right?

For years—and, at times, even now—I’ve lived my life trying to prove I am a man. I’ve let my abuser have control over my identity as a man. In fact, his subconscious control over my life had inevitably fostered control issues within, which aimed to “take back” my life from my abuser through always trying to control my situations, circumstances, and relationships. Yet, be that as it may, I had no control. I was lost and broken. He told me I was at fault, so I was at fault. He told me I was the one that was sick and twisted, and so, I was sick and twisted. He told me that I was insufficient to please anybody, and so, I was. I lived for far too long believing these things about myself.

But God did not create me to be viewed in any of the ways in which my attacker viewed me. God created me (and you) in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). I am a man, because God created me as a man, and no one has the right to redefine that which God has created.

God did not create us to be violated, to be used like lifeless instruments of gratification for the purposes of serving man’s sick and twisted sinful desires. When we experience the trauma of sexual abuse, we are experiencing the depravity of man, not the will or the purposes of God.

What you’ve done or what has been done to you, should never serve as the basis for understanding your identity. You must never let the sinfulness of mankind affect that who you are, in Christ. You are a son or daughter of the living God, fearfully and wonderfully made—a new creature. Find yourself in Him, and you will begin to find yourself liberated from the effects of your abuse.

Relationally

When I started having children of my own, I was afraid. Not because I felt that I might abuse them too, but because the way in which my abuse has shaped the way I view boundaries.

Honestly, for years I was uncomfortable being naked and exposed around anyone, much less my own bride. Second to that, came the fear of performing what we would consider “normal” parental duties, like teaching your children to use the potty, or giving them a bath. Any of those things reminded me of my abuse. In the same sense, I didn’t want to violate my children’s boundaries. This, however, produced an unhealthy effect in the way in which I parented. I needed to move beyond having my attacker in view, and love and lead my children in a way that was healthy and fatherly.

This leads back to our identity. Our identity as sons or daughters of our God the Father, gives us a sense of what it looks like to be loving parents to our own children. To father and and mother in grace and truth, warmth and compassion, from the example set fourth from our own Father, who is in Heaven.

Yet perhaps the most devastating sense in which my abuse has affected me relationally, is in the area of trust.

All I have to do is try and count my closest friends, and this is where I will fail miserably. In fact, I have no close friends. Sure, I have plenty of Facebook friends that will occasionally post a “Happy Birthday” message on my wall and maybe “like” a status here or there, but I have had no real lasting friendships. Neither am I close with any of my family members, besides my immediate family of course.

When I look at how I have failed in relationships, I see, not only the result of a broken childhood, but also the result of my abuse, once again holding the reigns of my life in the palm of its hand. Not only has it affected friendships, but it has also infected my marriage.

While I was dating my now-bride, I ended up breaking up with her at least five times. I was constantly trying to find ways to end the relationship, to keep her at a distance—I didn’t want to let anyone in. But she kept pursuing, and loved me, despite my unhealthy attitude towards relationships. This, in turn, has had a profound impact on the way in which I now view trust and love working together.

It’s easy to distrust people, especially in light of being sexually abused. Our trust has been supremely violated; often times by those closest to us. Our view of people has been marred. But rather than building up a wall of distrust around us, and keeping ourselves from establishing healthy relationships, we must learn to trust, with the same love that God has shown us. God will not leave us nor forsake us—He is our God, whom we can trust, and depend upon.

Sure, trust is taking risks, but the benefits of it allow us to begin to see the world through the lenses of love, rather than viewing everyone as the one who betrayed our trust, and hurt us deeply. We mustn’t play the victim the rest of our lives, because then it becomes an excuse, and a means of escaping reality and responsibility. Not everyone will hurt us the way in which we’ve been hurt. In fact, you’ll be surprised at the amount of love you’ll experience from the church, family, and friends, when you begin to tear down that wall of distrust, and allow trust to be established and rooted in love.

Proverbs 3:5 encourages us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (emphasis mine). Here, it is our own understanding that leads us away from the very gifts that God has given us in family and friendships, in life itself. We must trust that God will lead us into true and lasting relationships that will allow us to be built up and encouraged in love and life with Him.

Conclusion

Have you forgiven your abuser? If not, I invite you to experience the freedom that comes from forgiving those who have wronged us. We don’t forgive merely because we are told, but because we know that all people have wronged God and others, in some shape or form. Even us. And just as Christ came to die for our sins, and offer us the gift of life, so has He died for them, extending to them the same forgiveness and everlasting life with Him. When you forgive your abuser, you are also freeing yourself from the power of sin over your life—freeing yourself from the control that your abuse has had over you for so many years. You are being found in the grace of God, and becoming the man or woman that God has created you to be—a reflection of His own love and mercy.

Finally, when you allow your identity, found in the image of God, to shape your relationships with others, you learn to be a forgiving people, a trusting people, a people who can live together, in love, and grow together, in Christ.

The Fault in Our Stars, and Devoid of Hope

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Don’t worry I’m not going to spoil the movie for you.

But after watching The Fault in Our Stars with my wife, I couldn’t help but express a couple of thoughts that surfaced throughout the film.

The Fault in Our Stars is a movie based upon a novel by John Green that, apparently, according to those who’ve read the book, remains faithful to its original intent.

The film is well written and directed, alluring you into the hearts and minds of a couple of teenagers who have been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Despite their imminent fate, the couple, which met at a cancer support group, decides to take the risk of falling in love. Soon after, the growing bond between them leads them into an adventure filled with questions; questions of meaning, and purpose.

Sadly enough, I felt that this tragic love story never really offered any hope.

You live. You die. And that’s it.

It was as if they had “YOLO” (You Only Live Once)–the modern mantra of young people–tattooed across their hearts. They believed only in the here-and-now, and that there was nothing beyond their young love; nothing beyond their short existence.

Is it true? Is this it, for us, as mankind? Is there no hope beyond this life, beyond death itself?

For the Christian, the answer is a resounding yes!

The Apostle Paul had been beaten, stoned, whipped, shipwrecked, hungry, tired, thirsty, and threatened with all sorts of unimaginable dangers.

And yet Paul, despite his weakened condition, wrote to the church at Corinth, saying:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Now do you notice all of the contrasts concerning the temporal versus the eternal?

Outer self / inner self

Wasting away / renewed day by day

Light / beyond all comparison

Momentary affliction / eternal weight of glory

Seen / unseen

Paul is declaring to us that his motivations in life are predicated upon the eternal hope that he has in the resurrected Christ. So then, whether Paul was beaten, shipwrecked, or suffering from physical ailment, he would not allow the temporal things in this life take his eyes off of Jesus!

One commentator has this to say, concerning Paul’s usage of contrasts:

The outer person is what belongs to this world that is temporary and crumbling and what those who only evaluate things from a fleshly perspective can see. By contrast, the inner person belongs to what has ultimate significance and is being transformed and prepared for resurrection life through God’s matchless power.[1]

We are being prepared for resurrection life. Therefore, everything that we see in this life, in the here-and-now, we ought to see as a stepping-stone into the next. We ought to focus, not on what is seen, but that which is unseen; namely, eternal existence within the Kingdom of God, and being face-to-face with God Himself.

Throughout church history, and even as recorded by Scripture itself, suffering has been the means by which mankind has been strengthened in their faith. Suffering causes us to reflect upon our weak and temporal state, and depend upon the Creator for whom we are created.

While some may say that death is the only thing that is for certain, the believer knows that the resurrection life and eternity with God is for certain, for those whose hope is found in Him. A life that’s far greater than any life we could ever live, here, on earth.

As for the movie, I think you should watch it, think about it, and then think about it some more through a Gospel-lens. Maybe even go one-step further and talk about it with friends, both believer and non-believer alike.

Talk about the hope that lies beyond the grave. The hope we have in a resurrected Savior, who promises us life after death, in eternity with Him.

Oh, and don’t forget the Kleenex. It’s a bit of a tearjerker.

[1] David Garland, The New American Commentary: 2 Corinthians (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1999), 240.

Confession is NOT Repentance

true_repentance

Confession is not repentance. But at the same time, the two are not mutually exclusive. A confession, in light of the biblical imperative, should always be coupled with repentance.

But that depends.

Why are you confessing to begin with?

Is it because you’ve been caught red-handed, and so you confess, in hopes of a lighter sentence? Or do you confess out of the grievous nature of your sin, a weight to which you can no longer bear?

That is the difference between, what Paul calls, worldly sorrow and godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10). Godly sorrow is concerned for how they’ve sinned against God, and others, while worldly sorrow is just plain sorry they’ve been caught, with no regard for the way in which they’ve hurt others.

Worldly sorrow is self-centered and, ultimately, leads to death. Whereas godly sorrow is God-centered, and leads to life.

If the ladder is the motivation of our confession, than repentance should naturally follow. Repentance is a “turning away” from our sin; so that, we begin to hate the sin that we once loved, and love the God that we once hated. Repentance turns us from sin, causing us to flee from sin, and turns us towards God and His way and will for our lives. Repentance is motivated by a love for God, and a hatred for sin.

In the Gospel according to Luke, repentance is a fundamental theme (3:8; 5:31-32; 15:1-32; 18:9-14; 24:47). In Luke 13, verses 1-5, the crowd tells Jesus of the Galileans, in an attempt to compare varying degrees of sin. Jesus, in turn, responds by asking them if they thought, “these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans,” and answers his question to the crowd with an emphatic “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-3).

Throughout all of Scripture, we are called to not only confess our sin, trusting that God is faithful to forgive us of our trespasses, but also to repent of our sin, as an expression of our love for God, and our hatred for sin.

Even as a professing believer, I spent the first few years confessing, but never truly repenting. As a result, I constantly found myself down at the altar each Sunday, confessing my sin, while “rededicating” my life to God. Yet there was never any real repentance, never any turning away, or warring against my flesh, just a leaning upon the grace of God as if it were a license to sin.

Quite honestly, I never really understood the gravity of my sin, or the magnitude of His love for me, until more recently.

The Cross of Christ has become the impetus that drives me to my knees, in confession and repentance. Indeed, Christ’s death upon the Cross is not merely to absolve the punishment of my sin, but to free me from the power of that sin that has held me captive from my mother’s womb.

Therefore, beloved, remember the Cross of Christ, confess, and repent.

Forget About You

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I love me.

But, I also hate me.

I love when people praise me, and I hate it when people don’t.

I find myself constantly—and silently—comparing myself to others in an attempt to see if and how I measure up.

Measure up to what, you ask? I have no idea. All I know is that there is this constant struggle within my innermost being to outshine all of the rest of you.

In my former years, before Christ, it was the clothes I wore, or the money I had. The songs I recorded, to the fights I fought.

Now, in Christ, my ego is still there. Sure, I am a new creature, with new desires and new motivations. But that doesn’t stop my ego from surfacing and demanding that I feed it and nurture it. After all, it’s the flesh—and the flesh wants, what the flesh wants.

So, instead of feeding my ego through how many more women (and comparatively more beautiful women) I’ve slept with than you, I compare how much more theology I know than you. I compare whether or not I can interpret a particular passage of the Scripture more accurately than you. I compare how much more better I am at this “Christian-thing” than you, with all of my marvelous works and righteous deeds. I even compare myself to other preachers, and ministry leaders, imagining how “I could do much better than that!”

The problem is, in all of my comparisons, I still don’t measure up. And I believe that I never will.

And neither will you.

The fact of the matter is that there will always be someone smarter, richer, and more spiritual than you are. And there will always be someone smarter, richer, and more spiritual than they are. His name? Jesus Christ.

If Jesus is the standard—and He is, than we will always fall short. The Bible tells us “all have fallen short of God’s glorious standard” (emphasis added).[1]

C.S. Lewis, in his beloved classic Mere Christianity, illustrates how competitive our prideful, self-centered, tendencies can be.

Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about.[2]

So then, what shall we do to overcome our egos? Forget about yourself.

Recently, my wife and I attended a marriage seminar at Southern Seminary. The truth is, I went into this marriage seminar believing I knew all there was to know all ready, but, nevertheless, of course I’ll go to appease my bride. It wasn’t long, however, that after the seminar began, that I began to realize that I don’t know jack. In fact, I have a whole lot of learning to do. I have a whole lot of “forgetting of self” to do.

For my friends in ministry, seminary, and those of the more pious degree, I’ll leave you with this:

Jesus did not save you to Himself to become like Him in all His greatness, but to become like Him in all of His weakness. Jesus made Himself weak in the sense that He attempted to accomplish nothing apart from dependency upon God the Father—and nether should we. It’s not about the powerful sermons you or I may preach, or the souls we may think we’ve delivered into the Kingdom. It is about the humility we walk in day-by-day, and the love we’ve shown to God, and others, through forgetting about self, and living for Him.

 

[1] Romans 3:23

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

Holy Ghost, A Misguided Film

HolyGhostLogo “Can the Holy Spirit direct a movie?” That is the question asked by Darren Wilson (Furious Love and Father of Lights) in his latest film, Holy Ghost. In a nutshell, the plot begins with Wilson and his crew, setting out to “make a movie that is completely led by the Holy Spirit. No plan, no script, no safety net—just go wherever he feels the Spirit leading him to try and discover the adventure God has for him.”

It sounds wonderful. Epic even.

I think we all would enjoy a good adventure. In fact we, as mankind, are an experiential people. We want to see it, to feel it, to taste it. To feel the wind beneath our wings as we set out to boldly go where no man has ever gone before.

Maybe.

Now, I must admit, despite my skepticism and obvious satire, I do believe in the continued work of the Holy Spirit and that He is often neglected in His work, and our worship.

I also believe that people try to reverse that neglect by over-emphasizing what they call “the gifts of the Spirit,” while clearly lacking the necessary fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26).

But experience teaches me that there is a lot of abuse and misuse of these so-called “gifts.” Much of what is seen today, in regards to the gifts of the Spirit, does not mimic the practice or intensity of the gifts as manifested through Jesus and His band of disciples.

So then, while I believe that the gifts are for today, I am cautious about what I would deem a “work of the Spirit,” in light of its portrayals in Scripture, and throughout church history.

Now that we’ve established our context, lets take a look at some of the film itself.

The opening of the film boasts in proving that the Spirit of God exists.

That’s right—prove. They’ve got my attention now.

They then move on with attempts to shed light upon the person and work of the Holy Spirit. They declare how the Spirit’s work is indicative in everything from his participation with God (Genesis 1:2), at the beginning of creation, to the regenerative process of the believer’s being “born again” (John 3:1-21).

At one point, Lenny Kravitz (yes, that Lenny, who is apparently a devout believer) appears and states that, in his opinion, the Holy Spirit is “the presence of God here on earth.”

It is also mentioned by R.T. Kendall, and rightly so, that the purpose of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to glorify and reveal Jesus Christ. True that.

Sounds biblical enough. So what’s the problem?

The problem lies in what happens in between these moments of biblical truth (doesn’t most false teaching begin this way?).

While praying for a couple of individuals with minor physical ailments, there was this eerie sense that these “ministers” were beckoning a force, rather than a person.

In praying over one guy’s wrist, the minister kept asking,

“Do you feel that? Do you feel the heat, the energy?”

While the poor victim of this charade had seemed rather unconvinced, the minister would respond with an emphatic “double it!”

Double what? At one point, another guy exclaims that it “felt weird.”

Translation?

You’re weird Mr. “Christian,” and I don’t feel anything, so stop touching on me so I can go on about my business.

Sounds more like an attempt to summon some elemental spirits, rather than a confident display of the power of God. When compared to Scriptural accounts of signs and miracles, these “ministers” seem more like the comparison between Simon’s magic and the Apostles preaching through the power of God—minus the impressive aspect of their “magic” of course (Acts 8).

When miracles and signs and wonders were performed in the early days of the church, they were great, instantaneous, and clear displays of God’s power to affirm the revelation of His Word (Acts 14:3; Hebrews 2:2-4).

When was the last time you saw a man command a guy who had been a paraplegic to get up and walk, in which case he did so, then and there? What about someone who had been completely blind, restored to clear, and full vision within the split second of being prayed over? This sort of thing was normative in the historical accounts of Jesus and His Apostles.

Not so today.

The guys in Holy Ghost had to keep praying, and keep asking whether or not those that they were praying over had felt anything. They lacked confidence, and they lacked power. They lacked the power of God.

Another disheartening display of confusion concerning the Holy Spirit came about from the way in which one of the ministers prayed for another minister, while in front of the Mormon temple:

“…Holy Spirit, I give you permission to be God over this man’s ministry…”

Really? You give God permission to be God? Clearly, such boasting knows not the Holy Spirit that we know, who resides within us, as recorded through Scripture. If the Spirit does dwell within them, He is most assuredly grieved now, by the lack of reverence displayed for His sovereign deity.

Please know that my intentions are not to be harsh or arrogant, but to lovingly and honestly correct some of the misconceptions taking place within the church. While I do applaud the evangelistic effort of these brothers (Its encouraging to see people who will actually go rather than remain in their Christian bubbles), I cannot condone teachings or spectacles, which distort the truth about God, and have the potential to lead others astray.

I would love to see their evangelistic zeal accompanied by proper theological training. After all, a right understanding of God, breeds a right understanding of self. When this happens, we begin to see that it’s not about us, but about Him.

I am afraid that the once, forgotten member of the Trinity has now become the exalted member of the Trinity. And what’s even worse, all we want is a display of His power. All we want is signs and wonders. I guess what was true in the days that Jesus walked the earth, still rings true today:

So many people desire Jesus, not for Jesus Himself, but for the signs and wonders He can do for them. (John 6:2, Luke 23:8)

Indeed, we are a selfish generation.