Hide or Seek
About the Guest
It's time we get real with God about sex. John Freeman, president of Harvest USA, a ministry that helps those dealing with sexual brokenness, recalls his past struggles-first with sexual abuse and then with same-sex attraction. John shares how he found deliverance through God's people as well as God's Word. John offers advice to parents whose sons and daughters may be dealing with sexual sin.
It’s time we get real with God about sex. John Freeman recalls his past struggles, and how he found deliverance through God’s people and God’s Word.
Hide or Seek
Bob: Some parents, who want to help guidetheir children in the area of sexuality during adolescence, find themselves paralyzed by their own past. Here’s John Freeman.
John: A lot of parents want to do that because they themselves bear so many sexual scars. They feel like, “How can I talk about this?” So one of the things I often tell parents is: “If that’s you, and you’re aware of that, be like the flight attendant when they say, ‘If this mask falls, put it on your face first and then on your child.’” This may be an area where you need to get help and start putting the mask of the gospel on the wounds in your life so you can be a better parent in this area.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, July 31st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. All of us are broken when it comes to our sexuality. Today, we’re going to talk about how we can find help, and hope, and healing, and about how we can help others as well. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to have the kind of conversation that guys are sometimes not all that comfortable having; you know?
Dennis: And women kind of scratch their heads when they even hear men talk about this. They don’t quite understand what’s taking place. We’re going to talk about—well, how should I say it?—men and sexuality. We have a gentleman with us—John Freeman—who runs a ministry, Harvest USA, that has been all over this ministry to men—and women, as far as that goes—but especially to men for the last 30 years or so.
John, welcome to the broadcast. I want you to explain a little bit to our listeners about Harvest USA—what you guys do and kind of what it’s about.
John: Thank you, Dennis. It’s really an honor to be here. We have two foci—one is to be a ministry of truth and mercy to the increasing numbers of individuals, families, churches, youth impacted by pornography, sexual addictions, homosexuality, and same-sex attraction.
Our second [focus]—which is about half of what we do—is to be an educationally-equipping resource for the local church to enable them to pastorally care for the increasing numbers of people struggling with those things in the church body.
Dennis: That’s headquartered in Philadelphia; right?
John: That’s right. Correct.
Dennis: You and Penny live there. You’ve been married 38 years / have three grown children. You speak at universities/seminaries, and you’ve written a book called Hide or Seek. Here’s the subtitle—this should tip it off: When Men Get Real with God About Sex. Men are not comfortable talking about this; are they?
John: They are not.
John: They don’t want to talk about something that’s totally warping their life and their worldview—which misused and unaddressed issues with sex will do. They don’t want to talk about it because of the shame and guilt of unconquerable—or seemingly unconquerable—things in their life, dealing with their sexual issues that they have never talked about with another person.
So they’re in a prison; and they feel no one will understand: “What will it say about me if, as a fine, upstanding member of this church, I say I have ‘X’ problem?” Of course, the evil one capsulises all that and keeps them hidden in their own pit.
Dennis: Your first chapter in your book is entitled, “No One Escapes.” “No one escapes our sexualized, pornified culture and its consequences.”
Dennis: That’s really at the heart of your book—that we, as men, are being bombarded in this culture.
John: We are being bombarded, and we need to quit pretending that we are not—and quit pretending that it’s not impacting us on many deep levels.
Dennis: What does “pornified” mean? What are you describing there?
John: What I mean is that your exposure to porn has now colored the lens of your life of everythingyou lookthrough. The Scriptures talk about, and they use the phrase, “people walking around with eyes full of adultery,”—which means that I’m walking around and my lens has now become my sexual temptation’s sin pattern—my shame and guilt, related to sex.
Bob: Okay, let’s reel this back a little bit because it’s God who made us the way we are; right?
Bob: So my desires—my impulses, my urges, my sexual drive, and my sexual appetite—comes from God?
John: Absolutely—to be used in the framework and environment He created it to be used.
Bob: So, being fallen men—that’s affected our sexual desire; right?
John: Absolutely. It means—being fallen means everything has been affected about how we look at other people and how we use and misuse the good gift that God intended.
Dennis: You teach in your book, and I believe the Bible teaches, that temptation is not wrong. So, you coach me in what you believe men need to do when they face the bait—maybe it’s the bait on a screen / as in clicking on something that is pornographic, maybe it’s a TV show, maybe it’s a movie, maybe it’s a woman.
What are we to do with our temptation because of who we are, as men?
John: Number one: I think we have to admit the reality of it. That’s where a lot of men lose the ball game. They don’t want to admit the reality that my heartstrings have just been pulled in a direction that could be bad if I follow it in that direction. So, admitting the truth—of reminding yourself that this is someone made in God’s image—but then what are you going to do with that? Is that person then going to be something that becomes an object of your lust, internally?
That’s where you can do something about that and preach the gospel to yourself about it. To have victory in this area, you have to have a good theology of temptation, and sin, and struggle—to realize that struggle is going to be a part of the normal Christian life. Especially, if you have spent years upon years of looking to something to find life in that’s been elicit, it may continue to be even a heavier struggle for many years.
Bob: John, tell us how you got involved in dealing with this particular area of ministry because, when you went to seminary, you weren’t thinking, “I want to go to seminary so that I can help people who are struggling with sexual issues in their lives.” Were you?
John: No, actually, I thought I was going to be a pastor in the pulpit somewhere. That was my desire and what I felt God was leading me to, but I got involved with this because of a missions professor who taught missions at seminary. One day, he came in the missions’ class, which—you usually learned about the philosophy of mission work in Asia, South America, and Africa.
He said: “We’re going to talk about a different kind of mission field today. We’re going to talk about an unreached people and a hidden people—those involved folks, who are dealing with sexual sins and struggles that sit in the pews and don’t have anywhere to go and don’t know how the gospel applies.” Of course, he said one of the unreached people groups were the homosexual community because the church says: “We don’t like them. We don’t want them. What do we have to do with them?—hands off!” Harvey told us, at that point in 1982, that was the fastest growing community in the country—
— “people group”—he called them.
Also, I grew up with a very sexually-broken background as well. I was exposed to pornography at a very early age, at five or six. I was also the victim of sexual abuse, from the age of six until seventeen, by peers, which caused me actually to question who I was, as a man. Tried to convince myself I was gay. Actually, I had decided I was gay when I was about 17; and this was just how I was going to live the rest of my life. In college—in the first year of college—the Lord met me in a powerful way through a friendship of a Christian guy and through reading the Bible.
Bob: So, how do you go from there—saying there’s a need—to knowing how to deal with / how to minister to people who are dealing with lust issues / sexual brokenness in their life? How does all of that evolve?
John: Through the training I was getting in seminary / through the revelations God was teaching me about my own heart as I actually got into some counselling for my own heart but, also, just realizing that the very issues that people struggle with today, sexually, have been around since God’s people have been around.
Someone can—through the Scriptures and through the Word of God—encourage, help, disciple, and mentor sexually-broken people.
Dennis: Take us into what’s taking place at Harvest USA and what you’re seeing in terms of how this brokenness manifests itself in men and women.
John: Both the numbers and the degree of spiritual and emotional damage we see in people has increased tremendously because the taboos and boundaries have been lowered so much in our culture. And because, again, we are exposed to our culture and it bombards us every day, we see even believers taking risks—doing things they would have never done years ago—because of the opportunity, the availability, the anonymity to do all these things.
Also, sometimes, the church has not been good at inviting people to realistically talk about these struggles in our life. We see people being, of course, exposed and getting into trouble earlier and earlier in life now.
The average age of exposure, about seven or eight years ago, to pornography, was 11 to 12—now, it’s about 7 to 8. What that means is—because people can have this available to them earlier and more in secret, they’re going to start having heart patterns and bondages that are in place earlier than people used to have those. Does that make sense?
Dennis: Oh yes. We’re going to have a larger people group in the church than, perhaps, we’ve ever had at any point in history.
John: We haven’t seen the coming tsunami yet—it’s still coming—but it’s going to come. It’s going to impact many people.
Bob: The different kinds of sexual brokenness that exist in the culture / the kinds of sexual sins that you address in book, Hide or Seek—there is a common root to all of this; isn’t there? There’s an issue of lust that, however it manifests itself, it’s still the same core; right?
John: Lust basically is, “I want to be the boss and lord of my own life in this area of life.”
Lust is that heart hunger in me that disregards those made in the image of God and reduces them to what I can get out of them right now to fill my hungry heart.
Dennis: I want to go back to something earlier that you said. I just put my hat, as a parent, on because a lot of parents are listening to our broadcast. They heard you just quickly brush by how this culture is pressing pornography and images down into younger and younger boys and girls lives and that there is a coming tsunami. What should parents do?
John: Put things in place that monitor the electronic usage in your family, even if it makes you be the bad person for the teenager. Set up time to talk about these things. If there’s anything good that would come out of this, is that it’s forcing parents to be more realistic and have better conversations with their children earlier—
—that’s the ideal—so that they’re opening up conversation with their kids about these things earlier.
What I’ve found is—and this is another sad thing—is that a lot of parents typically don’t know how; but a lot of parents won’t do that because they themselves bear so many sexual scars that they feel, “How can I talk about this?” One of the things that I often tell parents is: “If that’s you, and you’re aware of that, be like the flight attendant, who starts to tell you how the plane operates when they say, ‘If this mask falls, put it on your face first and then on your child.’ This may be an area where you need to get help and start putting the mask of the gospel on the wounds in your life so you can be a better parent in this area.”
Bob: How can a mom and a dad help a son understand his sexual identity / his gender identity in a way that is going to help him live out his godliness, as a young man?
John: Conversations have to become more intimate—they have to start sooner. They have to affirm their child in their boyhood and their girlhood, as God made them male and female.
They have to warn them about what they’re going to see. I think that’s a ministry our parents need to have—is warning, not in a punitive way, but just: “This is the way life is in a fallen world. I’m talking to you about this because you are a part of that fallen world, and it wants to eat you up. I’m going to help you, and I want to be available to talk to you with any questions that you have about any of this,”—then bringing that up over and over.
Dennis: And talk about your own struggles.
John: If it’s all under the blood and washed, you have nothing to be ashamed of. I don’t need to go into all kinds of detail; but it would be good sometimes to say, “Son, I wrestled with this when I was 13 years old.”
Dennis: —or “I wrestle with this, now—, that I’m 45.”
John: —or “I wrestle with this now—
Dennis: —“that I’m 45.”
John: —“and this is something I need to guard my heart about.”
Dennis: God takes our wounds and He can turn them into holy scars that can be used to declare to other broken people. When you really get to the bottom of it all—whether or not you had a background like you had, or a background like Bob had or I had—we’re all broken people. We’ve all made our share of mistakes, and we’ve had things happen to us.
The question is, “How are we going to respond today, as men, in a culture that really doesn’t make it easy/any easier to be a man today?” If anything, there’s a lot more traps out there, it feels like to me, than when—even when I was in my 20s and 30s.
John: It’s going to assault us and confront us. We, as men, need, again, to just—like the Nike® theme—“Just Do It”—to start to believe that God wants to use you in your children’s / in your family’s life and that God still has something to help you with your struggles.
I find so many men who have given up on that—that’s one of the reasons I wrote Hide or Seek—is because—there were three reasons: One was I wanted people to see the grace of the gospel for them where they’re at. The second reason was—I wanted men to either believe for the first time or begin to re-believe that God could do something powerful, pertinent, and personal in whatever pit they were in.
The third reason I wrote it was that men might be encouraged and get up the guts, after reading it, to take that first step into the light and honesty with someone.
Bob: What happens, when men get real with God about sex?—that’s the subtitle of your book. How do things change?
John: Well, a couple things happen. Number one, if they thought it was a hard battle before—it will seem ten times harder because they made the step towards wholeness and godly help. Sometimes we will have people report to us, “The struggle has gotten ten times harder since I started coming to Harvest.” I said: “Does that surprise you? The evil one does not want to let go of the areas in your life that he has caused you to disbelieve and be in sin.”
If they have an accepting person, that’s the important thing too—accepting and affirming—whether it’s a friend, or two, or three friends, or a small group—because it’s a place you can begin to be honest, and it’s an environment that’s safe.
Bob: So, the first thing that happens when men get real with God about sex is—it gets harder.
Bob: You’re not selling me on the fact that I ought to get real with God about sex because all you’ve told me so far is it’s going to get harder. What else is going to happen?
John: Well, it gets better because you’re pursuing God’s path—that you haven’t been pursuing. Whenever you do that, God meets you. I definitely believe that God meets you. The Scriptures tell us, in Titus, that the grace of God has appeared—that gives us the power to say, “No,” to ungodliness and live upright lives right now. I believe that’s true; but there are so many men who have listened to the lies of Satan, I think, in this area for so many years.
I was speaking to a large men’s group—I think I mention that in the book—on
1 Thessalonians 4, “This is God’s will, your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality and learn how to control your own body, and honor not in lustful passion, like those who don’t know God…” There was a group of about 150 men. Some young 30-something guy stood up and said “That’s crazy! God can’t expect anybody to live like that anymore.” I thought, “Well, he’s probably just expressing what a third to a half of the men believe here.”
John: So, I addressed it with him for a few minutes.
Bob: So, what did you say?
John: I said: “Well, not only does He expect that of us, but He doesn’t ever give us an expectation or a command that He doesn’t give us the power to obey—so, if there’s a rule there, or a command, or an expectation, there is some way for you to accomplish that. It’s not going to be in and of yourself—it’s really going to be supernatural.
Dennis: You point out the struggle between wanting to be pure and battling / doing battle, as you’re talking about here, with a quote from Martin Luther that I’ve heard before. Maybe some of our listeners have never heard about it. It might really encourage them that even one of the great religious leaders in history had this perspective about this struggle.
John: Can I paraphrase it?
John: Basically said, “You cannot keep a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep him from making a nest in your hair,”—
—which means that we cannot always be in control of or in charge of the things that bombard us or the temptations we have, but we can do something about making friends with them.
Dennis: He was encouraging the birds not to make the nest.
Dennis: So he disciplined himself, when he was in a busy place, not to let his eyes wander and gaze too long.
Bob: You’ve seen men come through your program at Harvest USA. Some of them are there just for a short period of time and they wither—the parable of the soil says some seed is scattered on different kinds of ground—but you’ve also seen men who go through this program, and they do yield thirty-, and sixty-, and a hundred-fold in their lives. Tell us about some of those guys.
John: Absolutely. What has to happen is—at some point, you have to start to see that: “What I think brings me here is really the tip of the iceberg. It’s the symptom / it’s the fruit on the tree—it’s not the root or the soil that it’s grown up in.” The gospel is about getting at the soil. Yes, the thing that you do and gets you in trouble is something God doesn’t want you to do, but it starts much deeper than that.
What people have to start to see is how the gospel applies to my loneliness, my insecurity, my abuse, my shame, and my fears in life—those kinds of things. That’s one key. If the light bulb starts to go on and they get a bigger impact of how the gospel has to meet me, that’s a very good sign.
Also, if they begin to see that this didn’t start yesterday and it’s not going to stop tomorrow—even as far as me understanding getting a hold of it—I can start to be obedient because God says I can, and with the help and encouragement of the friends that I’ve made to help me—hold me accountable—and to be transparent. To have a realistic view, again, that the things that pushed me to this yesterday are not going to disappear tomorrow. We don’t like that—we want something done now and instantaneous.
Dennis: Yes. To that point, you don’t like the term, “recovery.” I think it really fits here because—go ahead—you explain it.
John: Yes. Recovery is a product of discovery—
—discovering who I am in Christ, discovering where I’ve helped mar the image of God in me, discovery of my own sin and temptation, discovery of how to love other people despite my own sin and my temptations.
Recovery, sometimes, I think, falls far short. It’s not just about stopping this problem and doing something else, or it’s not about getting back to a time when I didn’t have this problem—to me, that’s very short-sighted—but it’s having a heart transformed radically that goes much more beyond just the things that get me in trouble, or looking at porn, or going to that screen. Sometimes, I am not sure the recovery movement works on that kind of character development.
Dennis: I think one of the things—just the word, “recovery,” kind of hints at that you have arrived.
John: That is true.
Dennis: You have “recovered.”
John: Right; because what do we do? We seek treatment and help for things, hoping that we’re going to get recovered; right?
It’s a once and all finished thing, but that’s not—God is up to something in our life, between now and when we reach heaven.
John: It’s usually about the scars and wounds in our life, but also how we can no longer use those to hide from God or not realize He does have expectations for us.
Bob: You know that there are states that are outlawing what’s referred to as reparative therapy. I don’t know if people look at what Harvest is doing and say, “This is reparative therapy.” Do you want to speak to that issue and where you guys are on this?
John: We have never been about reparative therapy, although the gospel is reparative. We were not about reparative therapy for many reasons—again, because we did not see this as gospel-centered—but secondly, we saw too many outside-biblical things being done to try to shape a person’s character. Shaping your character—if you’re a person who struggles with same-sex attraction, it’s not about going to a ballgame or learning to fish—that can be the fruit of it / the fruit of sort of take steps into the unknown—but that doesn’t make anybody different or change their character.
The gospel is what changes your character.
Dennis: There are men, listening to us right now, who have a heart to reach other men. Really, if you look at our culture, it’s a target-rich environment to be able to reach out and to offer help, offer hope, minister to men where they live / where they struggle. I mean, we created a DVD series called Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood. A lot of guys have grabbed that and taken it and used it to minister to men. It’s going to take men helping men / engaging with men—small groups of men—where they get real about where they are in life and challenge others to pull back the veneer in their own life and get real with others.
Bob: And this issue of sex is one of the areas where guys are going to have to get real with one another and be a little more transparent/vulnerable than guys are used to being. Don’t you think?
Dennis: No doubt about it. I just want to say, “Thanks,” to you John, for writing Hide or Seek and for your work here, and for being on FamilyLife Today.
You have encouraged a lot of men. I think you are going to help a lot more in the years to follow.
John: Thank you so much. It has been an honor to be here.
Bob: Maybe we ought to mention here, before we go too far, that this is not the book Dr. Dobson wrote, called Hide or Seek. You’ve written a different book with the same title; in fact, your subtitle is: When Men Get Real About God and Sex. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I would encourage our listeners—get a copy of the book, Hide or Seek, by John Freeman. Again, go to our website: FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link you find in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” You’ll see John Freeman’s book there. You can order it from us, online, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that is: 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Ask about the book, Hide or Seek, when you get in touch with us.
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With that, we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in church this weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday. We have a physician who’s going to be in here. Dr. John Dunlap will be joining us. We’re going to talk about, not just health, but about wellness: “How do we live lives where we’re being good stewards of the health that God has given us?” We’ll talk about what that means on Monday. Hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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