At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued a series called God Heals You.
Abuse in our society is widespread but often remains a hidden wound for so many. We want to be healed, to live in God’s compassion and grace, but this menace of secret pain continues to flow under the current of everything we do. Even if you have not experienced this type of wound, you likely know or live with someone who has. We can’t escape the effects. We find ourselves or those we love chained, deeply hurt, and separated from the freedom God wants to provide. How can we discover the wholeness that God has for us? How can we share it with those around us who desperately need to hear? During this series, God Heals You, we will seek to learn from experts and hear stories about those who have found this healing from God.
In this series, we talked about things too often not discussed:
- God Heals from Physical, Verbal, and Emotional Abuse
- God Heals from Sexual Abuse
- God Heals from Abortion
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
Message Notes from John Burke:
Cyndi and her husband, Dan, are leaders in our church today. A movie was made about Cyndi’s life of being sexually abused, human trafficked, and her healing journey with God—It’s showing this year at Sundance Film Festival.
But as horrific as the things done to Cynthia are, it’s way more common than you realize—there’s an epidemic of sexual abuse, and what you need to know is, it’s evil, it’s going on all around you, and we need to be a safe haven, a shelter, a place of healing for victims of evil done through sexual abuse.
Although it’s at epidemic levels in our society, it remains very hidden.
- 1 in 3 women
- 1 in 4 men according to the CDC are or will be victims of sexual abuse.
- It affects all of us. Either it happened to us or to someone we know and love.
- That’s outrageous.
It’s evil, and evil loves hidden things, which is why we need to talk about it
- so we can both prevent it
- stop it if you’re doing it
- and heal from it if it’s been done to you
- as well as learn to be a community God uses to bring healing.
And if you weren’t here when we talked about how God likes you, but Evil hates you—this shows the extent of deception and evil:
- 1 in 5 children are sexually abused by age 18
- but only 7% of their abusers are strangers
- 93% of sexual predators are family, moms, dads, step-dads, brothers or sisters, relatives, family friends
- those who should have protected children, instead abused them.
So let me address several groups of people as we get started.
- First, if you have been a victim of abuse, my heart breaks for what you’ve been through, and I hope today you’ll realize you’re not alone, you’re not damaged goods, and there’s Hope for Healing, and for the Power from God to set you free, so you’ll be able to set others free just like Cyndi and others here are doing.
- For those who have sexually violated others, if you’ve been hiding from it’s reality, you’ve been deceived by evil, and I pray your eyes will be opened today, and you’ll turn from evil today and turn to God and also find Healing, and Power from God to overcome.
- And if you’re in neither category, I hope you will understand the intense, spiritual schemes of evil and what abuse victims suffer through, so that we can be a healing community as we walk with those healing from sexual abuse.
Why is this so prevalent in our society?
It’s prevalent in our society because evil lies to us, deceives us, gets us thinking sex is just physical, nobody’s getting hurt, evil trains our minds with sexually violent films and pornography, and then we can be manipulated to do destructive things to each other.
John Burke shared with me about talking to men who abused their stepdaughters, who later came to faith in Christ and realized the evil they’d done, and turned from it and made restitution.
But when he asked, why did you do it, he said:
“I was so caught up in my fantasy world of pornography, I really couldn’t see straight, and I believed the lie that it’s no big deal—just a physical thing, like a back rub—and she won’t remember.”
That’s pure evil talking, because it’s NOT just a physical thing. It’s a spiritual assault.
God created us sexual creatures, and our sexuality is tied to our identity, and it’s intended to be used in marriage to bond us in a unity that mirrors the Oneness of God.
Sex is sacred.
That’s why evil tries to destroy us through something God created as good and sacred.
It’s not just physical.
It’s extremely damaging to the psyche.
If you compare all traumatic acts of violence, according to experts:
“Sexual assault has the most extensive, and longest-term impact on it’s victims compared to all other crimes.”
Sexual abuse survivors have PTSD symptoms more than any other trauma victims, except war vets.
Compared to physical abuse, being mugged, robbed at gunpoint, physically traumatized, sexual assault victims are
- 3 times more likely to suffer depression,
- 6 times more likely to suffer from PTSD,
- 13x more likely to abuse alcohol,
- 26x more likely to abuse drugs,
- 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide,
There are devastating psychological effects that show it’s a Spiritual Assault.
In my 28 years as a pastor, I’ve witnessed personally how the effects of sexual abuse are the most devastating. I’ve seen men and women, in their 40’s or 50s, still struggling from what happened as children—coloring everything. If it were just physical, that wouldn’t be.
But there’s Hope—because God Heals You.
I’ve seen that in abundance—it’s a journey, but it can happen.
I am the Lord, who heals you.” – Exodus 15:26
But here’s the challenge I’ve seen, if you’ve suffered from sexual abuse, you don’t want to think about it. You don’t want to go back there—you want to move on.
John Burke interviewed MJ Denis, an expert in the field of sexual trauma.
Expert is an understatement:
- She’s an LPC (licensed professional counselor),
- LMFT (licensed marriage and family therapist),
- CST (certified sex therapist focused on healing sexual trauma),
- she’s also a CCPS (a certified expert on betrayal trauma when sex addiction is involved).
- John told MJ, all you need is an XYZ and you’ll have the whole alphabet behind her name.
MJ is a survivor herself, listen to what she says as an expert in healing sexual trauma having walked the path:
VIDEO [4:25mins] 4:24 – 8:49 include Imprinting]
That’s why Healing is so important, and Healing can happen. It starts by understanding that Sexual abuse is Disgrace. But we as Christ followers can help survivors find Grace – Grace to undo the evils of disgrace from sexual wounding.
Studies have shown 5 after-effects of sexual abuse
If you’re a survivor and have struggled with these, listen to what God wants you to hear and understand on your path toward healing.
1. Denial and Minimizing
The flood of negative emotions for a victim of sexual abuse is overwhelming, so survivors may try to get rid of it by denying or minimizing the abuse.
The problem with that is something was taken from you – there’s loss and grief.
Facing the grief and sorrow is the path toward healing.
But realize, God is more sorrowful than we are even, He gave us free-will to Love God and each other, so it grieves God when we rebel and do evil, causing his children pain.
Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. – Isaiah 63:10
When someone abuses another, they take what God intended as sacred and good, and use it for selfish evil—it grieves God. Let that give you permission to grieve, and as you grieve, know God grieves it with you—you’re not alone facing it.
2. Distorted Identity
This is another after-affect. Evil first deceives abusers, then lies to the victims telling them:
“you’re worthless, it’s your fault, you’re dirty, disgusting, you’re shameful.”
It’s amazing how many survivors of sexual abuse struggle with these feelings. But God sees you the opposite. In Christ, your identity is chosen and blameless. Unstained. Pure. Perfect. Holy. As white as snow.
[God] has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. – Colossians 2:22
That’s Reality—God’s reality—a bigger reality than the lies of abuse.
If You surrender your life to Jesus as your Lord and Savior, because of what He’s done, you stand before God without spot, blemish, or stain—blameless, without a single fault because of Christ.
Now this isn’t just you telling yourself positive affirmations. Secular psychologists have found that positive affirmations can backfire—like replacing: “I’m dirty” with “I’m pure” or “I’m bad” with “I’m good.”
But they found it backfires because people know after a while, I’m the only one saying these positive things about me. Then they plummet deeper.
Instead, this is God saying these things. They ARE true because God IS truth. You’re Declared righteous by God.
God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God. – Romans 4:24-25
A huge path toward healing comes when we see ourselves as God sees us.
Shame is another effect of sexual abuse. This is a big one—so I want to spend more time on it.
Shame is a deep sense of feeling that
- “I’m uniquely bad”
- “Something’s wrong with me.”
- Not just “I did wrong” but “I AM wrong”
Listen to how MJ Denis describes its affects:
VIDEO [2 mins] – Shame 12:12-14:15
If shame from sexual abuse is not healed, it may manifest in victims doing self-harm, like cutting, or suicidal thoughts, or re-entering abusive, risky relationships, sexual promiscuity, stripping or prostitution.
Victims often partially or fully blame themselves for the evil done to them.
This is evil lying to them, but it’s also a coping mechanism to find a way to protect themselves next time.
They think: “if I did something wrong, then I can change it and stop it next time.”
But the truth is, sexual abuse was just evil. Evil hates us and wants to steal, kill, and destroy.
So Evil tries to lie to survivors of sexual assault saying “you’re dirty, you’re stained, you’re not worth more than what you experienced.”
If it’s not replaced with God’s truth, survivors ironically may engage in more Sexually abusive relationships or sexually acting out, and evil knows how to manipulate victims to sexually act out.
This seems counter-intuitive, so it’s important to understand and have compassion to walk with survivors. The post-abuse acting out can range from struggling with pornography, often violent or rape pornography, to living in a cycle of sexually abusive relationships, to working in the sex industry.
Kay Warren, who helped found Saddleback church, talks about how sexual abuse by a teenager when she was 6 plunged her into a secret life of pornography and shame.
At Gateway North just a few weeks ago, John Burke baptized a person who told him she was a prostitute, he said: “I’m so sorry for the things evil did to you” and then he asked: “was there abuse growing up?” In tears she said she was serially raped as a child.
Toni is a counselor who spoke here at Gateway in the summer of 2018 who like Cyndi, was sex trafficked told us that every prostitute she’s ever known was sexually abused as a child.
This stems from 2 evil lies: “This is all I’m worth, this is my value, sex is what made me desirable.”
The second lie manipulates the victim to gain some control saying: I decide. I can control what I do sexually.”
I have heard from people coming to faith out of the sex industry saying:
“It was a way to win. Men did this to me, now I was going to get them back by using my sexuality to get their money and better myself.”
It seems counter-intuitive, but evil lies to us and keeps us in cycles of shame, but God Heals us.
All of us, any of us who want it.
The Bible has 3 images of shame:
- Nakedness (Genesis only when they turned from God did they feel naked and shame)
- Being cast outside (removed from the camp)
- And filthy or defiled.
Shame tells us because of abuse we are naked, cast out, filthy and disgusting.
Jesus took our shame on himself—in our place, he was stripped naked; crucified outside the city; a filthy, disgusting, bloody, defiled mess.
If you struggle with feeling shame, God says this to you:
“[Fix your] eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” – Hebrews 12:2.
Jesus took your shame on Himself.
- He gets it.
- He’s felt it.
- He despised that feeling
- But more importantly, He paid to remove it from you forever.
- He was our shame, so instead of naked and defiled, you can say:
“he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness.”
– Isaiah 61:10.
Instead of cast out:
“he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” – Romans 8:15
That’s how we fight shame, with God’s truth.
Guilt is often another effect of sexual abuse that needs to be distinguished from Shame.
- You are not guilty for the sin and crime done to you when you were abused.
- You did nothing wrong.
- That’s very important.
Unfortunately, sexual abuse survivors will often take control of the sword of sex, use it as a weapon of self-defense.
- So if you’ve let evil manipulate you into using sexuality against God’s will, now you are making destructive decisions.
- If because of sexual assault, you’ve abused alcohol or drugs, or maybe blamed God for what evil people did, and as a result lived in rebellion against God, don’t minimize it!
God forgives us when we don’t deny it or hold onto it, but instead hold onto God’s love and forgiveness offered in Christ.
He paid a costly price to forgive us all if we admit we need it.
A woman was caught in adultery by the religious leaders who would later crucify Jesus.
They dragged her out to him, trying to trap Jesus, because they knew Jesus showed mercy to those they branded “sinners.”
They threw her at Jesus feet, surrounded her with rocks in hands, and said:
“Jesus—Moses and the Law says to stone to death the adulterer—what do you say?”
“You’re right—death is the cost of rebellion against God. So stone her—and whoever has never rebelled against God, you throw the first stone.”
It says one by one they dropped their rocks and left. Jesus turned the woman, buried in guilt—she was guilty—and asked, did no one condemn you?
“No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” – John 8:11
He doesn’t condemn because he paid the death we owe—she wanted forgiveness, and if you want what Jesus did to count for you, you’re forgiven—so you can leave that old life and live to follow God.
Anger is another after affect, but Anger is not a sin.
It’s actually a healthy response to being sinned against.
God’s angrier than you are at the evil done to you.
God is Just, and righteous anger is a right response to the vandalism of his creation.
Be angry, but “In your anger do not sin” Ephesians 4:26
It’s okay to be angry at what happened, to hate the evil done.
But know God’s justice will be served, vengeance is mine God says:
Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.
– Hebrews 12:15.
Anger is a just response to evil, but we must trust God to be just rather than holding onto it in revenge or bitterness.
Nelson Mandella—who had every right to seek revenge said:
“Resentment is drinking poison thinking it will kill the other person.”
God will make sure justice is done—you can trust him.
Having said that, a huge mistake Christians can make when survivors first share of being victimized is to say:
“You need to forgive—for your own sake.”
While that’s eventually true, that’s a burden they are not able to bear without some grieving and healing.
- The first emotion should be anger, and sadness, and grief for the evil and injustice done to them. That’s how God feels, we should say that first.
- God’s anger and grief is demonstrated in Jesus’ crucifixion.
- Forgiveness will need to come as healing comes.
- But it’s important survivors understand: you can forgive (for your own sake) without ever trusting the abuser if they have not repented or sought help.
- Sometimes the wisest thing is to never let the family member who is an abuser ever see the kids if he has not gotten help.
- But forgiveness can still happen–but that comes after anger, grief, sadness, and some healing.
Despair is an after-affect that can turn to HOPE!
Despair is a deep darkness that can seep in after sexual abuse.
God’s promise is light and life.
God is the God of hope.
When Jesus was crucified, it felt like evil had won, but…
- God brought life out of death,
- healing out of abuse,
- Hope out of despair.
That’s what He will do for all who walk this healing Journey with God and safe community.
So what are steps toward Healing, and how can we be a healing community?
Listen as MJ talks about that.
VIDEO [2:40 mins] 14:21-16:44 + 17:07-17:28 “called to be with people.”
“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” – James 5:16
It’s why we say NO Perfect People Allowed—so we will be an honest, confessing community that prays for each other.
Because that’s often what God uses most to Heal people—a community of people who can be with others and help them see and trust the heart of God along the healing journey we are all on.
If you’re ready to begin that healing Journey, we have resources to help you, Open Share on Wednesdays, local counselors, and you can email Restore@Gatewaychurch.com for Resources Our counselor at Gateway North will send you resources and next steps sheet.
As we listen to this next song—whatever you’ve been through—listen to these words as God’s truth to give you strength and courage to walk with Him toward healing.