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Beth Moore - Developing Compassion for the Sexually Abused

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We'd have to have lived under a rock not to be aware of the sexual abuse scandals that have surfaced in the last several years all the way from Hollywood, to houses of worship, rocking denominations from Roman Catholicism, to Southern Baptists. I am serving here in this place in Houston, Texas and I've gotta tell you something, I am proud to be from Houston, Texas because it is the "Houston Chronicle" that brought so many things to light in regard to SBC churches. And we may think that that seems like an adversary to that denomination, but that could not be more untrue. That is a friend to us. That is a hero to us, someone like Robert Downen who is worthy of our gratitude, because in doing so, many things are beginning to change.

So, we've all had an open ear to this in one way or another, and I'm gonna tell you this, I believe these things have been timed exactly like we've seen and heard, intentionally and divinely, I truly do. There is a wonderful word in Hebrews 4:13 it says, "All things are open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do", That he knows and he knew that the time had come to expose something that desperately needed to be revealed so that healing could come. God is the revealer, and when God reveals, the people of God are meant to respond. I want to say to you, we are meant to be first responders when God reveals. We have not been first responders in matters of scandals of sexual abuse. We have not been first responders as the church to those who have been harmed, we've not, but we can be now, we can be now, and I think we are seeing some response.

Many people are beginning to speak, I'm trying to be part of that, actively responding and this message is in keeping with that. But I do want you to know upfront that I don't come to you as an expert. I want you to know what it is I do bring to the mix and what I don't. I don't have a refined area of professional expertise in this, but I do offer a perspective from four different realms of experience. So, the first one is I am a very vocal survivor of child sexual abuse. I told it early because I knew that if I didn't, I would not be able to be myself. I have never regretted that decision, as much angst as it brought some of my family members.

I never did identify who the abuser had been. I simply told that that was my background, and I felt like if I didn't, I couldn't somehow get across what Jesus had done for me because I knew, I knew the wonder of it, and I knew that to be able to minister authentically, I would have to tell it. There are details I'll never tell just for my family's sake. But I come from that background. I also come from the perspective of a Scripture-devouring Jesus follower, who has received a whole lot of healing and restoration after a very tumultuous and defeated young life. I would imagine someone can relate with me on that. And one reason I believe in miracles is because I put mascara on a miracle every single morning in my bathroom mirror, and I know some of you know what I'm talking about.

I also come to you from the perspective of a servant to women for 40 solid years, and as a Bible teacher to women for 35 years. And so, all of these women, and then statistics just tell me you by the time we know, one third, between a third and a fourth, of all women have been statistically, have been abused, have a background of some kind of sexual abuse. So, you can imagine how many. That was not a ministry I intended to get into, but I found myself in it because just serving that many women meant that there was that percentage of women who had that background. And lastly, definitely as an advocate for the sexually abused.

And so, what I'm gonna do tonight is speak to you from a fusion of those four things. We all read about the cover-ups, and even those of us who were not particularly surprised, were still horrified because of the extent of the cover-up, how far it would go and how it would be covered very often. And I'm talking now in the church context. From church to church, they just passed from this one to the next one, and predator would move from place to place without any kind of accountability. And what was perhaps most jarring about it is so much of it had been masked behind a facade of righteousness, and it had been a form of spiritual bullying.

And so, that part was so slack jawing to any of us who were paying attention. And here's the thing about God that when people try to hide grievous sin in the shadow of the Most High, the Most High has an uncanny way of moving. And so, let it be said today, and let us be grateful it can be said today that God is certainly moving. Can I hear somebody say amen?

But here's what I want to do, this from a little different angle tonight. As I've read one story after another, here's what I've become convinced of is an increasingly that yes, there are those who've just been like brazenly wicked and sheltering abuse, and sheltering abusers and predators, but what I've also found, article after article, story after story, is just that a whole lot of people did not think it was a big enough deal to respond to swiftly, or definitively, or legally, or even helpfully, that there were a lot of people going, "Wow, what a shame. And man, that kind of thing ought not happen". Y'all agree with me on that? I mean, there was a lot of that. "Man, that is too bad". And a lot of shaking my head over it, and all this reacting at a two over a matter that calls for a ten, for a ten.

And so, this became interested seemly clear to me is that, you know what? I want to give people the benefit of the doubt because I know a whole lot of people who really do care about the hurts that others go through. And so, I've come to the conclusion that for a whole lot of us who don't have any kind of experience with that background, we just don't understand what it's like. And so, my hope is that somehow we can work through some of that so that we can increase in our compassion because sexual abuse is not just unfortunate, it's devastating, and the repercussions of it, without the intervention of God, are just, are unrelenting.

Think of it like a squid with tentacles into virtually every area of the victim's life. But sometimes it's hard to recognize a ten when you've not experienced it, so that's fair to say. And so, my hope in this place is to offer a very simple illustration, very elementary, in an effort to somehow explain, in general terms, what it's like to be sexually abused, and how you might picture it if you don't have this background, don't know anyone really well who has, or maybe you do know somebody really well, but you just don't know how to come into any kind of relationship to it. You just have no place to put it. And so, what I'm hoping is that we'll see a way that we can, in a certain respect that I hope you'll understand soon, try it on as we explore the metaphor together.

So, this is what you gotta know, the intricacies of the effects of sexual abuse are as individual as the victims are. For instance, you could have an abuser in a home that abuses two different siblings, perhaps sisters, or maybe brothers, same gender, and each of those siblings will have different kind of coping skills. They'll have different ways of responding to it. It will have a different kind of impact. They'll have all sorts of distinct ways that they're processing what has happened to them.

So, it's very important to know, I'm gonna speak in some elementary terms, I'm gonna speak in some general terms so that we can get a picture of it. But the intricacies, how it falls on each person, what it's like inside of the individual. Man, that is completely distinct from person to person. So, keep that in mind whether those coping skills are healthy or unhealthy, they're individual because we are individuals. The writer of Proverbs conveyed an aspect of this when he said, "Each heart knows its own bitterness". What he meant by that is that you really can't fully enter in to what I have been through, even if we went through the same thing in the same home, and I can't fully enter into what you're going through because we're distinct from one another, distinct mechanisms, methods of survival.

They differ broadly for people with a background like mine. Some crying ocean, and some go completely cold and never shed another tear. Some are riddled by fear, and some lose all sense of self-protection, absolutely fearless and put themselves constantly and purposely deep in their hearts in harm's way. Some will seem to live with it okay from all outward appearances. There will usually be people that stay extremely busy and keep as preoccupied as possible. And a greater number than we will ever know choose not to live at all. But there's this basic word picture, I believe, that God stirred in my heart that I think might be reasonable to illustrate about virtually all of us who have this background, and then an equally simple word picture from it, how we can respond to someone having been through sexual abuse. It's not particularly creative or brilliant, but if it gives us a way to imagine it, then it will have provided a service.

So, this is where we began. Each individual, regardless of spiritual belief, is created in the image of God. We know that we say it, we preach it, we teach it, and we're right about it. Each is distinctive, each of us incases a strand of DNA that is completely personal to us. Your mind belongs to you. Your eyes belong to you. Your emotions are your own. Your personality is your own completely distinct from another. When we speak of God's holiness, we are speaking of his all together otherness. Part of being created in God's image is that we have a certain amount of otherness from one another, you know that, like you're not just bleeding your soul on the person next to you. We have a lot in common, but you are not me, and I am not you. Is that fair to say in the house?

So, our very bodies enclose us separately from one another. So, none of us would think of walking through the front door of someone's private residence, be it a dorm room, an apartment, or a house without being invited or let in. And so, how much more so would we not do that with their person, their body? We clearly understand their belongings are theirs, but how much more they're very person? And if that is true of their very person, what I've come to ask you is, how much more would that be true of their sexuality? God made humankind in the words of the psalmist David a little lower than the angels, and crowned us with glory and honor. This is our God-given dignity, which, in essence, I would think dignity is the intrinsic value we carry just by virtue of being humans.

Merriam Webster's defines the dignity as this, and I'm quoting, "The quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed". You're worthy, honored, and esteemed because you bear God-given dignity in the simple fact that you are a human created in his image. I think it's fair to say that respect is even treating one another with the God-given dignity that he has assigned to us.

So, here's what I want you to picture with me, the circle around me represents the boundaries of an emotionally healthy person, his or her separateness, a sense of reasonable safety and control and the right to decide, hear this carefully, the right to decide who has access to the intimate parts of us. So, that's this circle, this boundary. Boundaries are, in essence, the rules of engagement for how others get to behave toward us. Boundaries are limits people set in order to create a healthy sense of personal space. Boundaries can be physical or emotional in nature, and they help distinguish the desires, needs and preferences of one person from another.

The most classic book that has come about in our day on the concept is one written by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend called "Boundaries". Many of you have probably read it. The subtitle of it is so important. It says, "When To Say Yes, How To Say No To Take Control Of Your Life". And this is the way they describe boundaries. "Boundaries define us", and I'm quoting them. "They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership". It goes on to say, "Boundaries help us keep the good in and keep the bad out".

Earlier I quoted out of Psalm 8 where we're told that God created us a little lower than the angels, and he crowned us with God-given glory and honor. In that same psalm, David also says that our Creator entrusted humans with rule over the works of his own, speaking of God's own, hands, entrusted us with rule. I want you let that thought steep a moment because it's so important to our concept. Hear this all the way down into the marrow, God ordained that a certain amount of rulership would be inerrant to the human that inherent in us is something that gets to rule over some aspect of God's creation. Well, you can imagine if that would be true for the birds of the air, as it goes on to say, or the fish of the sea, or the herds and flocks, how much more important is the right to get to rule over our own bodies. It's completely crucial to the human.

And I want you to think this through with me for a moment because sound parenting, for instance, is teaching a child how to rule wisely over their own bodies. Wouldn't you say that's true? The parent rules over the body wisely and respectfully, until the child is old enough to increasingly exercise their own. So, in the child's infancy, or in their childhood, this is the parent stewarding that rule for them. There's another example in 1 Thessalonians 4:4 where it says, "Each of you know how to control his own body and holiness and honor". This is our own body, and it was given to us in holiness and honor by God, and we get to treat it as such.

All right, here's where this begins to turn because when the rule that we have the alienable right to exercise over our own bodies is violated, particularly in a way that is in the very intimate realm of our sexuality, that wall gets breached. There's a loss of safety and control and unfortunately, there's a loss of a sense of self-worth. And I want to stop for a moment and I want to reemphasize this because it's a loss of the sense of self-worth and not a loss of the self-worth because we have to know that our value before God cannot and has not ever decreased a single atom. Can I get somebody in the house to believe that? It may be the loss of a sense of self-worth, but it is not the reality of that loss.

It's important for us to know that there is no age that is invulnerable to sexual abuse like, "Well, if it happens at this age, it's not so bad. Like if they're an adult, why would that be so upsetting? I mean, for heaven's sake, the woman was 40 years old when she was assaulted, that ought not to be that bad". And that seems so outrageous for most of us to think through, but there are attitudes exactly like that. I read not long ago about the devastating rape of an elderly woman, and my heart just broke for her because not only was she dealing with the physical anguish, and pain, and damage to her body, but the pure demoralization of it is unimaginable. I think in terms of a child, the losses are so compounded because there's also the colossal loss of innocence, of coming into a knowing that cannot be unknown.

Now, understand with me, it can happen so early in childhood that there might not be an awareness of it that is in the front of the mind and operating with memories intact. But inside of us, oh, we know something that cannot be unknown, and it's the subjecting of the emotions to events that we were not ready to handle.

And so, here's what can happen when boundaries get removed, which we're demonstrating in this lesson with these bricks, most often one of two things will happen. The first one is, some of the remaining ones get overbuilt to compensate. See if you can relate with me on this one. What we can control, we may overcontrol. I need to know if anybody's relating with me in the house because we've only got these few things left. And so, what we do, since that boundary's been destroyed, and so I still got this one over here so whatever I can control, I will. Like, "I can't help that I've been through this, but I will dang well make sure my children never go through it. Furthermore, they will not walk out the front door without me".

Anybody know what I'm talking about? Because I can't control what happened to me, but I will buckle down and try to control everything else I possibly can. We can decide, you know, I can't control that that happened to me, but I can control my eating. I can control my work. That whatever we can control, we do control. That's one way we deal with it. The other way is that over time, we can forfeit most of the boundaries we have left. So, we've just built them up and they crumbled.

In the illustration that I'm using to hopefully stir up a mental image of what happens to the victim, here's the thing in our metaphor, if you'll go here with me for a moment, those bricks, the weight of that, those bricks don't just move out of the picture. The weight of that brick wall that we're using as the picture, the illustration of boundaries around us, the weight of that brick wall was knocked down and now that weight, I'm not saying pound for pound, I just want you to go with me in the concept of it, now inadvertently goes on the back of the victim and all that weight is carried right here.

This illustration first came to me several months ago after a good friend showed me the most precious picture of her granddaughter. She was walking toward the door of her mother's day out for the very first time, her very first day, and you know how little kids feel about this. It's her very first day of school, and the picture was from the back and you could see the little top of her blonde head, I mean, tiny, tiny thing, see a little crown of blonde right here. And you could see her little tennis shoes with about this much of her little legs, her hands out from under her, and this enormous backpack, just enormous. It was so precious, it was nearly unbearable because, you know, they have those big old backpacks because your sleeping bag has to go in it, their pillow has to go in it. They have a separate blanket, it's got to go in it. Their change of clothes is in it, their lunch is in it.

So, the kid is this big, but the backpack, the backpack is enormous. I began to pray for some kind of illustration of how sexual abuse affects a person, and that mental image came back to me. I want you to understand something, I know that most of you know this, but there are children all over this world no older than the child I just described who have been sexually abused. And it's not pink and darling. It's dark, and difficult, and heavy, and there's a tiny child and now they are bearing a weight that is difficult even for an adult and it's heaped on that baby. They may not remember that they were abused, they may grow up without any memory whatsoever. All that they know is it for whatever reason, they seem void of boundaries, that was me, sexually harmed, and weighed down by something they cannot even identify.

I want you to imagine a first grader like this one that I'm putting on the screen. Imagine with me that that backpack is not full of books like it happens to be for that first grader, but full of the heavy weight of a rightful boundary that should have been around that child, should have been respected even in infancy, and was not and the weight of it all goes on her back. And we take it with us everywhere we go. We may not mention it, probably won't. We could go a lifetime and never mentioned it. We may not face it because it's gonna be right back here. We might not even recognize it. Oh, but it's on there, all right, because it cannot help but be.

Something very harmful happened to us. Somebody came today just in order to have affirmed to you, you keep wondering why it has bothered you so much, because it was devastatingly harmful, and the body, and the mind, and the emotions cannot help but carry the weight of it. It affects how we do relationships. It affects, listen carefully, who we do our relationships with. It affects who we see in our mirrors. It affects how we think other see us. We make life-altering decisions with these bricks on our back. We go on every single date with this on our back. We go on our honeymoon, if we get married and if someone could afford a honeymoon, with this on our back.

We have children, we go to the delivery room with this on our back. We go to church with this on our back. We go get any kind of education carrying this thing on our back. In our friendships constantly, right here on our back. May not say a word about it. We may be hilarious. We may be the funniest people you know because we have got to keep you from knowing what is on our back. We set ourselves up for what we think we deserve. We can inadvertently self-sabotage every good thing that happens to us. I just want to know, I just need to hear your voice if you know what I'm talking about, I just want you to say, "amen". Something so good, such good news and somehow we will find a way to trip that thing up where that good somehow comes to destruction.

I want you to imagine this load on a 15-year-old just trying to get through high school, just trying to deal with all the peer issues, and they're walking around with this wondering who can see it, 25-year-old, 35-year-old, 60-year-old, how about an 80-year-old with this on her back if none of that weightiness ever gets put down.

I cannot even count the times that I have hugged a woman with gray hair that she has whispered into my ear, "I have never told anyone I was abused". I have no idea how many. I have no idea how many never once carried that all of those decades. There are people that will take all of this weight of that broken wall to their graves, and this thing will just get in the coffin right with them, just get in the coffin right with them. But the beautiful thing about it is that we do not have to live that way, and someone needs to hear that, that as devastating as it has been, we do not have to live that way. There is good news for us and there is gospel news for us. Can I hear somebody say, "hallelujah"?

If we take God at his Word in the job description that he gave prophetically about his own Son Jesus in Isaiah 61, he told us, and Jesus himself said in Luke chapter 4, "This has been fulfilled in your presence", when he preached out of the portion of Isaiah, that he came to set the captives free, to heal the brokenhearted, to comfort those who mourn, to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes. Has life done that to you, just dumped ashes on you, I mean, just dumped death on you? And exchange that unrelenting heaviness for a garment of praise. Either we take him at his word, or we call him a liar. But that's what he said he had come to do. We don't have to wait until we see him face to face to find some relief and restoration.

Yes, we will be complete then, but there is some relief and some rest from this agony, and this torment and the power it has over us now, now. Surely as God used Nehemiah and his cohorts to rebuild the wall around to demolish Jerusalem, any of you maybe familiar with the story in the Old Testament? He can use us. He can teach us, we're teachable. He can empower us. I've been thinking a lot about what would be a relevant question if we could just have question and answer in this house I thought, I wonder what I might ask.

And I anticipated that somebody might ask what I would have wanted so much to hear an answer to years ago. Can't God just instantly heal us, like, poof, it's done? Like, I've been through all of this, gone through all of this agony, I've known the torment of mine over having a background of sexual abuse, but I mean, like, I don't want to take the journey. Didn't he heal instantly very often in the gospels? Well, absolutely, of course he can. Nothing is too difficult for him. Nothing is impossible for him. But here is the issue, it's in learning how to rebuild the breached wall that so much of the healing and the fortification comes back into the light. So, it's in that process. I mean, if we're just like instantly healed, I mean it's done.

Then perhaps we've been healed from the past, but what was it that fortified us for the future? How do we develop the muscle to be able to enforce what boundaries we could and to walk in the dignity that he gave us? Part of what restores your strength and your sense of God-given dignity is this process, that learning the truth of who Christ says we are is absolutely crucial to the journey and the renewal of the mind. I mean, it's paramount. The most important part for me was, without a doubt, I mean, it just has no competitor, without a doubt was it that I didn't just come to know healing, I came to know my healer. That was what was transformative to me, is I won him out of it. Because of what had happened to me, I didn't get to live in the gray.

In order to survive it with my heart and mind intact, I was gonna have to live out in the light where I was taking him daily at his Word. Our healer is a great physician, and he knows us so intimately. He knows every thought, he knows every word before it hits our tongue. He knows what it will take. He knows the personal protocol for each one of us. I'm gonna tell you what mine was. For me, it was coming to a place where I forthrightly dealt with it with God. I mean, I had to take it on. It didn't come accidentally. I think some of it did early on, I think that I had to get well enough to even realize how sick I was. I wonder if anybody can relate to that.

So, I was studying Scripture, I mean, like feverishly, voraciously when I began to come face to face with just how broken I was. So, I think I had to heal up some to even be able to face it. So, I had to deal with it forthrightly and that meant it became a very open part of dialogue with him. If you want to look at where we're defeated, look at what we're not talking to God about. One reason why we are so defeated in areas of sexuality is because it is the thing we will not deal with outrightly with God, anything that we're keeping over here it just goes, you know what? He doesn't want to hear that. Listen, he already knows all of that.

So, forthrightly dealing with God through Bible study and prayer and very specific Bible study so that I could know how he speaks to brokenness. Scripture memorization was just huge to me because I was in a constant cycle of thoughts where it would come in and out continually, and I would go into that cycle of defeat and then release, and then defeat and then release, and I would just live in that over and over again because I could not break out of that thought process. We've all heard it, we know that it's true that the battlefield truly is the mind. That's it's the mind.

And so, you know, I've had people tell me from time to time, "You know, it's so radical to have memorized and really gone to all that extent". Well, you know what? Freedom from bondage is pretty radical, it really is. But we have a radical deliverer who, with his love, can bring us to a place of what I would at least call functional wholeness. Does that make sense? I also got some good solid counseling, and I do not mind telling you, more than once. And something else that was really, really important to me in my process, was community. My church body, the people I was doing life with, that was very, very important to me. When I would discern that somebody couldn't take it, I had to, for a time, pull away from them because I thought, you know what? I'm having to attend to this right now and if I get around you and I feel ashamed of myself while I'm trying to get out from under it, that's not going to work.

It's a certain amount of self-protection you get to take on when you're in a process and you're in your journey because you know that somebody's gonna be dangerous for you emotionally. And you're trying to get it off of you and every time you're around them, they're trying to put it back on you. I know some of you know exactly what I'm talking about. And so, there was that, I had to choose a little bit of what my community was gonna look like. I definitely believe in therapy, and I believe in seeking a professional, listen carefully, who is trained in trauma, and not just going to a minister for counseling that is for trauma. They're not, it'd be like going to someone who's not a doctor to get an antibiotic.

I believe in the power of ministry. I believe that those in ministry ought to encourage us next steps to take. I believe that God invades every part of the process and that he is the healer, but I want someone, and I would recommend someone to you, that has been trained in dealing with therapy because victimization is a serious wounding. It is bringing into the light. The wound needs cleansing, it needs clarifying with the truth that sexual abuse is not the victim's fault. I want to say that again, that sexual abuse is not the victim's fault. That has to be affirmed and reaffirmed until it makes it into our marrow. And it needs to become something that we talk about so freely that it doesn't terrorize us internally so that we can finally be loose from the shame that the secrecy breeds.

So, here's what I'm gonna tell you. We can either deal with it, or it will, I promise you, deal with us. But here is where the miracle can begin to happen. Brick by brick, that wall of strength, dignity, and emotional safety can start being rebuilt just one brick at a time. This is really an important part of the lesson, not as if it never happened. Somebody please hear me on this. The wonder is what God can do in spite of it happening. The wonder is what God can do out of it happening.

So, one of the questions we're here to try to answer in some general way is, what can the families, and friends, and churches, and communities of victims do for them? Well, they can come alongside the victim and help him, and there are plenty of hims, and help her carry this burden until they are empowered to start setting some of it down. So, that's what we do when we come alongside someone who's very much in the hurt of it.

I want you to picture that backpack is still full of very heavy bricks, how heavy? It's all depends on them. They're completely distinct in their DNA, in their background, in their personality, and in their home life and the kind of support they were, it's as distinct as their own personhood is, but we can come around them and we lift it up, come in under them. According to Galatians chapter 6, bearing one another's burdens, lifting it up. We really can help victims rebuild these boundaries, in the power of Christ, we can. I mean, Jesus was a carpenter. He definitely knows how to rebuild. And help them recover their true selves.

Let me say this, help them and help us by accepting what we have endured and believe with us, and when we can't believe for ourselves, believe for us that God can make a miracle and something more beneficial to the world to our sphere of influence, than we might have been had we not been abused. I have to believe that, I have to believe that, that this happened to me in a providence of God, that he is bound by his goodness if I will trust him. Though he did not bring this evil to me, he has promised to do something good with it, do something good, and decent, and pure with it. If I will trust him and walk in his purposes.

We have some pastors and church staff members here tonight, and so you're wondering, or you wouldn't be here. You care, and I'm so thankful for that, what can you do to help? First, where the individual victim is concerned, you really can help rebuild those boundaries by addressing these matters openly in sermons and Bible studies, just like you would any other very prevalent hurt or challenge that is in the life of your parishioners or your congregation. In other words, you're talking about adding it into sermons and messages where you bring it up, where it's no longer in the shadows and no longer whispered, but it's talked about just as clearly as it would be if you knew that these kind of statistics, that many people had cancer in your congregation, you wouldn't be talking and I would be talking about it. We would be teaching to it, you would be preaching to it because we would know that that huge need was there.

We learn from the Center For Disease Control and Prevention that more than one in three women, and nearly one in four men, have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact at some point in their lives. Nearly one in five women have experienced completed or attempted rape in their lifetimes, one in five. We know that if those statistics were true of any other malady, man, we would be talking about it. That helps take the stigma of shame off of it. It also tells them, "Okay, I'm in a safe place where I really could come forward to someone to a trustworthy person in leadership and go this is my background. What do you have? What do you offer? What would you recommend"? It's when we stop whispering and start actually talking about it that we can get over this sense of shame of it because that shame is being heaped on a victim and it does not belong to them.

Second, you can do every wise thing possible to make your church one of the safest places on earth that people could go. Think of this wall around the individual. If you are in a pastor in this house tonight, if you're a staff member at church in this house tonight, you're doing the same thing with your church. You're building a wall of boundaries around it, every wise thing you can do to build fortification around it. If you are an employer, I have a good friend here who is the principal at one of our 5A high schools. What can she do and what can her staff do? Well, they can start building that wall, that boundary around that school and we do that by becoming educated on what steps to take, becoming builders of healthy walls, learning how to be a shelter to the abused, rather than a shelter to the abusers, and this is what has been so common.
It's been a safe place for abusers and predators to hide out, instead of a safe place for people to heal. Gotta pastor the flock. I tell you this, and I think you know this. I think it's one reason why you're here because there is one bit of really good news amid the horrific sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church and it rocked the Southern Baptist Convention denomination, is that these things have been used by God to cause an awakening that is resulting in a whole lot of training and in people writing, very, very educated people in trauma, writing curriculum.

So, I want to tell you about a couple of them, not to sell them to you because I don't make anything off of this, but a couple of things that I want to tell you about, one of the ones I'm most impressed with, for those of you who are staff members of a church or pastoring in some way or in some kind of ministry, there is a brand-new handbook. This has just come out recently over the last months called "Becoming A Church That Cares Well For The Abused". It goes with an online series of messages. It takes that group of people that are willing to really stand against abuse and get educated through a yearlong process of training to learn how to respond to a victim, how to respond to someone coming forward, how to respond to a report of abuse, when the police need to be called. Specialists are teaching us what to do and so, we want to learn from them. This is one really great way to learn. I'm gonna tell you, as far as we're concerned at Living Proof, there are different ministries that have different materials that are toward the same goal of releasing healing.

When I wrote "Breaking Free", I wrote it specifically so that it would be general enough that any woman taking it could simply apply whatever her area of bondage may be, whatever stronghold it may be, that it would still fit, that these Scriptures would still address that in a very personal way. But what I tried very hard to do, in this ten-week study, was to articulate my own journey to what I'll still call functional freedom, which is just living out from under it. What we do when we want desperately to get over a mental area of addictive thinking, compulsive thinking, we can't just decide, "I'm never going to think about that again", because even thinking about how we're not going to think about it again causes us to think about it again. What we do, it causes it to be captive to the knowledge of Christ, is we think new thoughts about the old situation.

So, that unforgiveness, it could be anything, anything, all the things that torment us. We're going to still think about them because we've been thinking about them for 5, 10, 15, 20 years, but what we can do is think new thoughts, think Christ-centered thoughts about the old things, and that is when it begins to change. I want to say something to you that I'm just convinced about, I'm just convinced about. I really, truly do believe that one reason why we are very reluctant to respond swiftly and appropriately to sexual abuse is because of our own sexual baggage, because there is so much sexual dysfunction and it is rampant in many religious atmospheres. And, my word, is it rampant outside the church. Don't get the idea that I'm saying that things are better out there than they are inside the church. But there is this hiding it in the church that makes it very hard to deal with because we are trying to keep it, trying to keep it unknown. And so, we're just caught in it.

And so, it is so important. If we're gonna get where we need to go in healthiness and in setting boundaries that go with those that have the the functional dignity of Christ, it is imperative that we learn how to differentiate between sexual immorality and sexual criminality. Can somebody step in that with me? Because we're not dealing with sexual criminality because of our sexual immorality. And so, we think, "Who am I, who am I to respond to this? Who would I be to turn them in after I have slept with this many people in the last year"? Is anybody tracking with me on this? You are mistaking immorality for criminal behavior, those things have to be separated. Both of them, both immorality and sexual criminality, both of those things would call for repentance, but one of those things calls for police, it calls for police, and we have to respond that way.

It's also absolutely imperative that we face and respond to the connection between pornography and escalating sexual abuse to children. The pornography, the kiddie porn and child porn that is available to anyone looking is astonishing. It's astonishing. And if we're thinking all of that thought process is not ending up in action, that it is in no way lived out, and that those fantasies are not then turned into something of a pursuit of the reality of it, we are out of our minds. I know these are not easy subjects, but these are not days for the faint of heart. And I want to remind you, when God predestined this generation, he knew who he would put on this planet at this hour, and he thinks we have what it takes to respond, and we have to, we must, because there's no one else to do it.

I don't see the Apostle Paul anymore. I don't see John, all those, I mean those like those warriors, those fierce men and women of God. We don't have them anymore. It's us. We look around us and go, "I hope it gets better than this". Well, you know what? No, it's us. I don't suppose that they looked at their own reflection and really thought, "You know, you have it going on". I don't think they did that. I think they felt weak in their natural selves. I think many times they felt that they were over their heads, but they were brave. And this is our hour and we got Holy Spirit power. By his power, and his grace, and his limitless mercies, we are well able to respond.

I'll tell you, as far as pornography goes, it is not a victimless sin. There's victims all over the place. I very recently been in Nehemiah in my morning Bible reading and, boy, was it hard to resist some parallels to the tasks that we have before us, specifically in our churches. You may be very familiar with the story, but Nehemiah has heard reports of the destruction of the wall in Jerusalem, but he wants to go and survey the damage for himself. So, he agonizes to find that the walls are collapsed and had, say it with me here, God's people been faithful to God, they would have still been standing to keep the inhabitants safe. But as it was, because of unfaithfulness, countless lives had been put at risk, had been harmed, had been displaced, lives had been taken. And I mean, they were just like hill-size heaps of devastation so grief just overtakes them.

And Nehemiah 4:10 describes the overwhelming sight, and I'm quoting. "In Judah, it is said: 'The strength of the laborer fails, since there is so much rubble. We will never be able to rebuild the wall'". Somebody's thinking that tonight about her own life, his own life, "It's too much rubble. I'll never be able to rebuild that". Look at all the churches, hundreds of churches where these atrocities have surfaced. We think, "Too much rubble. There's no way to rebuild these walls". But the problem is, there will be no protection without it and without protection, no matter what gets built inside, it would be just as vulnerable as before. So, there we are. So, the church is faced with the brokenness of countless people, the need to repair, and the massive task of building walls of protection.

And man, can we ever relate to Nehemiah 4:19 that says, and I'm quoting, "The work is enormous and spread out". Yes, it is. We take courage to do the work, restoring, repairing, rebuilding without stopping, despite what discouragements may arise, and despite the skepticism. Listen, we earned the skepticism. Can somebody amen that? We earned that people are saying it will always be an unsafe place to go because talk is cheap and only the work's gonna work. So, we gotta take the courage to restore, repair, and rebuild to spot all sorts of inevitable moments when we're gonna feel like we have taken three steps forward and two steps back. You will feel that way even in your own journey, rebuilding the wall that you feel like has been demolished around you.

So often you'll feel like, "You know, I had made progress and now I feel like I've taken a step back". We stay at it, we stay at it because there are gonna be people around us, this will be one of the most discouraging things, that will be able to say the same words about as in Nehemiah 3:5 that psalm that I'm quoting right here, "Did not lift a finger to help". You ever know anybody like that? Like, I've just, you know, I don't want to dog mothers because I am one. I am one. And there's just no perfect way to do it. It's just like fraught with all sorts of failures and all sorts of guilt. But I can tell you that sometimes a mother will be the last person to come alongside a daughter or a son that has been through sexual abuse because they can't handle it themselves because they feel like they didn't do their job protecting, whether or not they did.

And so often, some of those that you love the most in the world will not lift one single finger to help. But there's somebody else who will. Every single time, there is somebody else who will. Nehemiah's mockers predicted colossal failure. They said in Nehemiah 4:2, "can they bring", I love this question, listen to it. Feel the power of it. "Can they bring these burnt stones back to life from mounds of rubble"? We know the answer because it is ours as well. No, of course, they couldn't and no, of course, we can't, but we happen to serve an astonishingly gracious God who can, and He is a God of resurrection power.

And a work is ahead, I'm talking about corporately as a church, as a people, as a community, coming around so many people that have been misused and abused. We have a work ahead that is going to outlast our lifetimes. It's not just gonna be complete in front of us because the world will go on and darkness will fight the light as hard as it can, but it cannot overcome it. It will outlast our lifetimes, but I want to tell you this, God willing, listen carefully, somebody, so will the fruit of our labors. You labor toward the wholeness of people, the healing of people in the name of Jesus.

And I'm gonna tell you something, the fruit of your labors will follow you into eternity, that is fruit that lasts. So, I thought it was a very important thing to close with that we asked the question, what is the reasonable goal here for an abuse victim, or for a church that has been rocked by sexual abuse? I think it's fair to say, what can I expect? What is the goal? Well, I'll tell you what I think. Again, I want to remind you, I'm not an expert, but I can tell you what I think and what I think according to the Word, according to studying the Scriptures.

I think it's to no longer be hindered by it, or underneath its tyranny, that it does not have dominion over us, that we're able to run our race freely and fulfill our callings. And we can do what God has called us to do and be who is called us to be, that we can live. This you do have is not only a reasonable expense expectation, but God's own expectation for you that your life can be immensely fruitful. Oh, yes. Oh, yes, it can, that you could love well. I think that's a reasonable expectation. What could you expect what's reasonable out of what does healing look like? To love well, and to be able to be loved well, not to block everybody who tries to love you. Can I get an amen from anyone in the house?

Now, I'm just gonna tell you this, these days there's not much weight left in my backpack. It's just almost empty. It no longer controls my decisions. It wields no real power over me. It does not hinder me from running my race or fulfilling my calling, it hasn't for years. And I don't know, I figure that a lot of you may prefer that the end goal would be that we throw off the backpack altogether, and maybe there are a whole lot of people who do but the fact is for me, there has been no laying down the fact of my childhood abuse.

The effects of a lot of it, yes, the fact of it, no. It was too big a part of our story. It affected too much. It affected too many decisions and too many relationships. It's part of where I've been. This is part of what gives me empathy for other victims. This right here is what causes me to recognize a similar backpack on someone else, listen carefully, who does not even realize she is wearing it, who does not even realize he is wearing it. As for me, that backpack is still there, but I have no shame over it. I'm not the least bit ashamed of this thing on my back, not the least bit ashamed of it because it wasn't my fault. It wasn't your fault either.

Anyway, I know what to do when things are my fault. I know the power of the cross. I know how to bend the knee and go, "God, forgive me". Anyway, I'm gonna tell you this, the woman that wears this almost empty backpack is no longer the same woman who made so many disastrous decisions because of it, amen. So, it carries, it's back there. I don't mind it so much because it carries no shame for me. What it says, if you see me and you recognize my backpack, is that this was part of my pilgrimage on my way to Mount Zion. And when I get there and I see Jesus face to face, I'm gonna drop this backpack like a sack of rocks, and I will be home free. But until then, it assigns me to ministry.

It may be that you walk away from it and never bring it up again. You do your thing with Jesus. But for me, redemption has been, can I help you carry that load? Can you look me in the eye and without my eyes shifting, can you hear me say that Jesus has brought me so much healing and I am positive, I am positive that he does not love me one ounce more than he loves you, and that there is no point at which the abuse was so bad, so much worse than mine that, man, tough luck. He just can't do all that. There is nothing, nothing you bear the weight of that he cannot lift.
Are you Human?:*