June 2, 2019
Series: The Other Hours
Father, we thank you so much that you come running after us, that there’s no shadow you won’t light up, mountain you won’t climb up, coming after each one of us. There’s no wall you won’t kick down, lie you won’t tear down, coming after us. That, God, you have a plan and a purpose for your people this morning, and I do thank you for the privilege of speaking into that. We ask that you would receive all of the glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
My name is Melissa Ingraham. My husband, Gary, and I have been attending Living Streams for about a year and a half. They have really welcomed us and our ministry, Love and Truth Network, with open arms—literally. We spoke to the staff at a staff meeting before we started coming. And after we were done sharing our personal stories and our call to ministry, Pastor David came over and he was like, “Can I give you a hug?” And we were like, “Yeah! That would be awesome. We’re all about hugs!”
So we founded Love and Truth Network about five years ago. My husband had been on pastoral staff at a large church in upstate New York, and he was divided in his attention with all kinds of pastoral concerns, you know, Financial Peace University, Divorce Care, and then also really helping people deal with sexual, relational brokenness. And I’m a licensed professional counselor. We run a twenty-week program that deals with all kinds of brokenness. He realized that God was kind of kicking him to of the nest to form our own ministry so that he could work full time on equipping churches on how to develop environments of transformation for the majority of Christians dealing with sexual or relational brokenness.
When your job is to go around the country talking to churches about, basically sex, it’s really helpful to have a church that believes in you and believes in what you’re doing. So we’re so grateful to be here this morning. I’m grateful to be here. He’s grateful. He’s out of town, traveling.
In this series, the Other Hours, we’ve been talking about how God wants to make us, not just good at church, but good at life. We’ve covered some of the major areas of our lives: relationships, work, rest. And so, think about this for a minute. If you have a troubled relationship, you can seek space for a season or go to another room, it’s your spouse or a child. Hopefully, most days, you leave work at work. If you need rest, you can take the time away from other things. Maybe you can actually schedule a vacation where you don’t run around like a chicken with your head cut off, but you actually rest, right?
But our sexuality is something we can’t get away from. We take it with us wherever we go. Why is that? Because it’s woven intentionally into every part of our being—emotionally, physically, psychologically and spiritually—by a God who knows what he’s doing. It may not feel like God knows what he’s doing sometimes, especially with regard to sexuality. It may not feel good, because most of us, I would submit to you, have been wounded in some way in our sexuality, in our relationships, and we’ve experienced a lot of pain and a lot of shame.
My heart, this morning, our heart, my husband and me, our heart is for the church. We love the church and we want to see reconciliation and healing come. And we want to see freedom. The reality is, we are all sexually broken. Does that surprise you? You may think to yourself, “I’ve never struggled with porn or this or that,” but we’re all sexually broken because we’re all born into sin. We all have disordered desires for different things as a result of the fall.
We’re also living in the consequences of the sexual revolution, the breakdown of the family, fatherlessness, no-fault divorce culture; and as the boundary lines have been burned down, there’s childhood sex play, exposure to pornography, and, honestly, horrific sexual abuse. Some of you have experienced that. I experienced that.
We need to be honest and open about facing our brokenness in this particular area, because the church is being rendered ineffective in reaching a hurting and lost world. In case you haven’t noticed, everyone else is talking about it. The media, your public education system (just check and see what books they’re reading to your kids), the government. The government is, like, legislating sexuality like you wouldn’t believe.
Dr. Howard Hendricks, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary for over sixty years, said, “We should not be ashamed to discuss what God was not ashamed to create.” Right? Sex was God’s idea in the first place.
One of my spiritual gifts is exhortation and I like to recommend books. And because our living is made with dealing with sexual and relational issues, if I say that a book on this topic is good, it is. Dr. Julie Slattery, she was with Focus on the Family for a long time, she now has her own ministry called Authentic Intimacy. Her new book is called Rethinking Sexuality. She says sexuality is not a problem to be solved, but a territory to be reclaimed. Isn’t that awesome?
How do we reclaim it? Discipleship. Oh, its not about being mean and telling people they’re going to hell and that’s somehow going to help people want to know Jesus? No! It’s discipleship.
Matthew 28:19&20, you know, our great commission: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will surely be with you till the end of the age.
So discipleship is the integration of what we believe into our everyday lives and relationships. And, honestly, this is where it’s breaking down in terms of what the church believes and how we’re actually living.
Discipleship involves three things:
Knowing what we believe. Maybe you’re new to the church and you don’t actually know. Oh, this is interesting. They’re actually talking about sex? I wonder what they’re going to say. What is right? What is wrong? What do they believe? What’s okay? What’s not okay? We need to know what we believe.
Living what we believe is the second part. Living what we actually believe.
And passing on what we believe.
She makes a case that we need sexual discipleship because we’ve been discipled the world’s view of sexuality and relationships, haven’t we? Think about it. Have as much sex as you want with whoever you want, and you’ll be happy, Be whoever you feel like you’re supposed to be, and you’ll be happy. If you’re not happy in your marriage, try another one. It’ll be better for the kids. The list goes on and on. All of these messages. And if that were true, that we could just have as much sex with whoever we want and we’ll be happy, the rates of depression and anxiety would not be rising the way they’re rising. I’m also here to tell you, personally and professionally, that it doesn’t work. I mean, I’ve been there. I’ve done that.
Sexuality is so much more than just the physical act of sex. And yet, that’s the first thing we think of. As Christians, maybe you grew up and the message was, “Just don’t do it.” And then, somehow, when you get married, you cross some magical line, right? And, boom, now it’s okay. So, shame, shame, shame, naughty, naughty, naughty, and then you cross this line and it’s okay. That doesn’t work. It doesn’t.
We need to learn and integrate, really come to believe—and not just believe up here—and experience that God’s boundaries, God’s design for our sexuality is good. He’s not a cosmic killjoy just out to spoil the fun. Within those boundaries is the best…I’m just going to say it… it’s the best sex you’ll ever have. And so, if that’s not your experience, and for the majority of Christians it’s not, we need to change that. Because we need to have an answer and real-life examples—when all of the people out in the world who don’t know Jesus and they’re running after all these other things—when they realize they’ve been sold a bill of goods and they come looking for a real answer, we need to have it. And that means we needed to look in this house first and allow Jesus to clean it out and to deal with us.
Sexuality is the totality of who we are as male and female made in the image of God. Genesis 1:27, so God created mankind in his own image. In the image of God he created them. Male and female he created them.
So sexuality includes our biological sex, our gender; but also our gender identity, our psychological and emotional sense of what it means to be male or female. It also includes our spirituality, We cannot separate our relationship with God from our sexuality, It’s not possible because we’re made in the image of God.
Identity is the condition or state of being a specific or thing. An image is a representation of the form or features of someone or something. So what does all of that mean? That means that our sexuality, how we express that, should reveal and reflect God, the goodness of God.
Dr. Slattery believes that the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, the good news of God’s covenantal, sacrificial love, is written in our sexuality. I had never heard that until she wrote it. The gospel is written in your sexuality. I don’t know about you, but that caused me to pay attention. The gospel? The good news? Yes! It’s that important. And that means we can’t just do whatever we want to with it.
For me, I felt for a long time like my sexuality was bad news, not good news—for me and for everybody else. And what is the gospel? It’s the reality that God gave everything for you to be in a relationship with him. It was costly. It cost Jesus his life.
While God loves us just as we are, he does not accept us just as we are. That’s hard to hear. That’s the reality of sin and a holy God. Our sin is offensive to him. God’s greatest demonstration of love is not to overlook our sin, but to save us from it. So I’m just going to be honest. This is the realm that Gary and I are seeing. We’re speaking into this a lot. We’re helping churches who want to be loving and full of truth. That razor’s edge, really. And you’re part of a church that’s on that razor’s edge and that’s awesome. And it’s that razor’s edge of saying, you know what? It’s not loving to actually tell someone that their sin is okay. It’s not loving. It may be easy. It may less uncomfortable to not bring it up. But the, reality is, hopefully you heard a message that you were a sinner and you needed to be saved from that sin. Right? If you take sin out of the equation, why did Jesus die?
That’s one piece. The other piece is, either you believe that God is the ultimate authority on everything and that the Bible, in its entirety, is true, or you don’t. We can’t have both. We can’t pick and choose what we believe.
The Old Testament tells the story of Israel’s idolatry and unfaithfulness to God. And the biggest stumbling block for them wasn’t that they entirely rejected God, it was that they added worship of other gods to their worship of God. Sound familiar? That’s what we’re doing today. We believe in God. We come to church. We generally believe that certain things are wrong and so on, but somehow, when it comes to our sexuality, we feel like that off limits to God. That’s personal. That’s my choice. When, in reality, it has everything to do with how God designed us and what he wants for you—his best for us.
Dr. Slattery writes that this is why sexuality is important. It’s a holy metaphor of a God who invites us into a convenient relationship with himself. Sexuality is that metaphor of a holy God inviting you into a relationship with him. God created you as a sexual person in order to unlock the mystery of knowing and invisible God.
So sexual desire matters—and what we do with that desire. Sexuality is the ultimate expression of our desire to be loved. Yes, by others, but first and foremost, to be loved by God. That’s why marriage isn’t the ultimate solution. It is a picture. In Ephesians 5, it is a picture of this covenantal love—of God and his church. It’s not just about the roles of men and women, Mae and female, although that’s important in that passage, but it’s a picture of this spiritual reality that God wants us to grasp. But even the best marriages leave us longing for something higher, something deeper, something eternal.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that the pursuit of purity is not about the suppression of lust, but about the reorientation of our life to a larger goal. You know what came to mind when I read that? Galatians 2:20 — I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.
So whose life are we living?
I want to talk about a major passage of Scripture that addresses what we’re talking about in terms of, does the Bible really say that sexual sin is wrong? Isn’t that kind of outdated and archaic? No.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 in the New Living Translation. I love the way it says it:
9 Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality,
Usually, we’re like, well that’s obviously wrong, those things. But then we keep reading:
10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.
So this is important to understand, that, yes, we are all sinners. We commonly hear one of the arguments for being more affirming of certain identities: We’re all sinners, why are singling out, for example, homsexuality. Aren’t we all sinners? Yes! We are all sinners. We need to be saved. Absolutely. What Paul is talking about here is those who indulge and practice sin—whatever that sin is. Versus the next piece:
11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
There’s a difference between indulging and practicing sin, in a sense, living that way, versus struggling against sin with a desire for righteousness. That’s very, very important. Do not be silenced because, “Well, I’m a sinner, too, so I can’t really say anything.” Either Jesus is in the business of changing lives or he’s not.
My life is forever changed by Jesus—forever. My husband and I have been married almost twelve years. We have two boys, ten and almost eight. My husband comes out of a background of homosexuality. He bartended in a gay bar. He was in several relationships. I have a lot of brokenness in my background, which I’m going to tell you about. This verse here, “that’s what some you were…” That’s hope. That Jesus can actually change you. You don’t have to settle. And if you haven’t gotten freedom, deliverance, healing or reconciliation—whatever it is—you keep coming to Jesus for it, because he wants to give it to you.
Then, in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
12 You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything.
In other words, we can’t use our freedom in Christ to just do what we want. That’s not why Christ died.
13 You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.”
Now, I get this. Yesterday my good friend, Becky, and I took our boys and we went to Urban Cookie Bakery. It’s amazing. We were doing market research. No, we were! She’s looking to open a bakery. She’s trained as a pastry chef. And we had to sacrifice to do this research with her. These cupcakes were just amazing! So, yeah! My body was made for food and specifically sugar. It was yummy. But it says this is true that …
(This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. 14 And God will raise us from the dead by his power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead.
15 Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never!
And don’t get caught up in that word prostitute. That’s what the Corinthians were doing. That was a major issue in that city at that time. These new believers were still indulging in basically cult prostitution as part of their worship. What he’s saying here is any kind of sexual sin.
16 And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” 17 But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.
In other words, sexual sin, sexual immorality directly impacts our relationship with God. There’s a worship going on. So either we’re worshiping God or we’re worshiping someone or something else. It could be us. It could be an image. It could be another person. So it’s clear.
18 Run from sexual sin!
Run as if your life depends on it.
No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 19 Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.
So the reality is, homosexuality, living together and having sex before marriage—sexual sin is not a “worse” sin than any other sin, but it does have worse consequence. It’s spelled out right here that it directly affects our bodies, our souls, and our spirits. It can affect our ability to attach in longterm relationships. Like, if you have been “hooking up” with people—because your brain releases hormones for bonding and connectedness.
So the issue is that those hormones are value neutral. Your brain can’t tell whether you’re in a committed relationship or in a one-night stand or you’re looking at an image on a computer screen. So if you do that over and over to your brain, it’s going to impact your ability to actually bond to a real person in the future. That’s serious business.
And we’re seeing this. Time magazine had a cover article in the last couple of years on men—not Christians—young men who basically couldn’t perform sexually because of their addiction to pornography, in relationships with women. They could not do it. This was not about Christianity. Scientific studies are supporting what the Bible says is true.
Living together before marriage undermines the stability of the couple, even if they wind up getting married later, because it promotes a consumer mentality. Basically, what can you do for me? And both people in the party are exhausted from trying to measure up—trying to prove they’re worth what they’re committing to. Study after study shows that cohabitation is not good.
What about pornography as an epidemic? It’s an epidemic in the church. Upwards of 70% of men in the church are looking at porn regularly. And it’s not just a male problem. Upwards of 30% of women are now involved in looking at pornography or erotic literature online. We have to start talking about it. Not just talking about it. That’s what we’re doing this morning. But proclaiming the truth that Jesus can set you free. Jesus can heal you. I am a living testimony of that.
I grew up in a religious family. We went to church every week. I went to a religious school. And yet there was no talk of a personal relationship with Jesus. There was no integration of that spirituality into our daily life.
My parents marriage was very troubled. My dad dealt with that. They were both very sexually broken. There was adultery on both sides. Lots of stuff I won’t get into. The way that my father dealt with that was by staying away from home more and more. I internalized his absence. And I think a lot of people would experience this, if you’ve had a father that was absent in some way, either physically or emotionally, I basically internalized that as I wasn’t worth sticking around for.
In addition to that, my mom worked full time. So my older brother, my identical twin sister and I were left home after school for hours. Latch key kids in the eighties. We had access to cable tv. There was lots of smut on there. And I found my father’s pornography in our storeroom when I was twelve. I was scared and confused and it also awaked something within me. So, combining that with my brother making sexual comments about my body—he would grab me in sexual ways—cumulatively the message was it was not okay to be a woman. It was a liability, actually. I also developed an addiction to fantasy and masturbation. Yes. I just said masturbation in church. Should I say it again? No? Cover the ears of little ones.
Then there was this one time where my dad came home and I was standing in the hallway outside my room. They didn’t know I was there. And my mother went to kiss him and he recoiled from her in disgust. In that moment, I made a vow that I would never be like her. I would never be financially or emotionally dependent on a man. And I totally rejected my femininity.
I didn’t realize that then. I just was like, “Nope. Not going to do that. I’m going to protect myself.” And I began to develop this false masculine kind of strength, if you will. I was going to take care of myself. At the same time, I desperately needed the love, attention and affirmation that I didn’t get from my dad. So, even though I didn’t trust men, and I actually believed that all men wanted was sex. I’m just being honest with you. That’s how I internalized everything that went on in my home. I still went looking for that love in all the wrong places. And I allowed boyfriends to pressure me sexually, and I gave myself away.
Then I hit college. I’m in a longterm relationship. I get engaged. I’ve got everything going for me. Good grades at a private university in DC. My mom divorced my dad. I was like, “Good riddance.” And yet, the emptiness inside me was just growing. I was depressed. Nothing was helping. I was getting more and more withdrawn.
Through a variety of circumstances, I began to question my sexuality. I broke off my engagement and my senior year of college, I met a woman, I started dating her and I thought, “This is what I’ve been looking for my whole life.” It just felt so right to be with her. I felt connected. How many of you know what I’m talking about? That person, whoever it is. You were just like, “This has to be right because it just feels right,”
At the same time that was happening, I began to experience a disconnect in my relationship with God. I had tried to be a religious kid. I was involved in a campus ministry. I was not a Christian, but the Holy Spirit was drawing me. And I had a distinct sense that every time I chose to be with her, that I was putting Jesus in a corner.
So she quickly moved on from me to someone else. I was devastated. It was as if the weight of all of my broken relationships came crashing down on me. I know that a lot of you have been there. Whatever your relational, sexual history is. I was in the shower, crying, and I could barely breathe. And I said, “God, you’ve got to help me.”
Next morning, I woke up thinking I’m a lesbian. I was in so much pain, I cried out to God. The next morning I woke up still depressed, still looking. I went to my campus minister and managed to tell him, mumbling, why I had broke off my engagement. He had met my fiancee and everything. And he told me that it was okay to be gay and a Christian. I thought, “I can have both. That’s the answer. I should want that answer.” And yet, I knew he was wrong because the Holy Spirit was already working in me.
About month later, I got saved. And I got saved because someone got up and said what nobody had said up until then, which is, just because you feel something doesn’t make it right. What? That had been my entire justification for this relationship and for this identity—that it just feels so right. And I realized I had been deceived into believing that was who I was. And so I repented of that. I gave my life to Christ. And that’s the end of the story.
Oh, no! I wish. I actually went up to the prayer minister. (You all will appreciate this. This gives you an inkling into my personality.) I went up to the prayer minister and I said, “What do I do now?”
She’s like, “Well, did you pray the prayer?”
“Yes. Well, what do I do now?”
She did not have a good answer. I knew, even in that moment, and I immediately felt release from the idolatry of that particular woman and blah blah blah, and I knew that the way I was thinking about other people was distorted and diseased. I knew I was objectifying people in my mind. I knew that wasn’t just going to go away. It took about two years until I could find a group, Living Waters, where I could be honest about my struggles, my sexual sin.
And honestly, that’s the thing. We look at sexual sin and we think, “Well, that’s the obvious one.” It is the obvious one. But there were so many deeper sins. Like my idolatry, my unforgiveness. I needed to look at the wounds I had received and the ways I had hurt other people. And the way I was able to do all of that is in community. The only way I was able to do that was in community. And I was able to experience Jesus through listening prayer. Through healing prayer. I was able to extend forgiveness by praying with other people.
Living Streams is committed to helping us—all of us—deal with our brokenness. We should be grateful. Honestly, it’s rare. There are a lot of churches that have a lot of good teaching and that’s where it ends. Living Streams is committed. They’re going to have a podcast coming up on livingstreams.online, an online course. Our ministry, Love and Truth Network is hoping to offer an eight-week women’s group in leading up to our twenty-week group. So there are places for you to experience healing and hope. So, I hope you guys will jump in with both feet.
Thank you for having me. I’m just going to pray and we’ll have Pastor David come up:
Lord, I want to thank you for this morning. I want to thank you for these precious, beloved people here this morning. And we ask that you would come and meet us in our areas of brokenness, whether it’s shame over something that we’ve done, shame over something that’s been done to us—maybe an addiction to sexuality in some way. Lord, we give you permission to speak to us and we’re asking that your Lordship would be established again in our lives, that the goodness of your love would come and meet us again. In your name, Jesus we pray. Amen.
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