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Virginity Doesn’t Make You A Better Christian

Several years ago, I was walking around Boston with an old friend and one of her friends whom I had just met. I can’t remember exactly how the topic came up, but her friend ended up saying something along the lines of, “Yah, we’re both Christians; we both still have our virginity.”

It was such a small comment, but it clearly reflects something many of us raised in Christian homes subconsciously believe:

That being a Christian=Being a virgin

and

Being a virgin=Being a Christian.

There are a number of problems with this mindset, that the sole factor in you being a Christian is your ability to control your private parts, and I want to look at a couple of them here. But before we get started, I’ll dispel any notion that Ethan is actually against purity now. Nope. Still a virgin and will be till my wedding day.

 

Problem #1: What about non-virgins?

 

I imagine anyone overhearing our conversation who was not a virgin would have immediately been turned away from Christianity. The notion that virginity is core to the Christian faith erases any chance for those who have slept around in the past to be saved. It’s as if their previous relations have disqualified them from the one relationship which is enduringly life-giving and soul-nourishing.

The Jesus I’ve come to know is one who reaches out to those who are especially filthy; to those who feel the mostunworthy. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that our sexual transgressions are what make us unworthy in the eyes of God.

In fact, it would appear that the things which disgust God the most are things like pride and religiosity, the pointing of fingers at ‘sinners’ without first examining one’s own heart. Jesus seemed to chill with the prostitutes more than with the religious leaders of the day. Maybe the prostitutes had a unique view of God’s grace in a way the religious leaders never did with all their rules and laws and judgment…

 

Problem #2: Sexuality isn’t the only category of holiness

 

A couple months ago, I was in a thrift store thinking deeply (We’ve all been there…) when a simple yet profound line came to me:

He is no better a Christian who can control his penis but not his angry thoughts, his gossiping tongue or his worrying heart.

If you grew up in the church, your mentality may persuade you to believe that you are fulfilling your Christian duties by keeping it in your pants until marriage and maybe even reading your Bible every now and then. Some pockets of American Christianity have put so much emphasis on sexual ethics that the rest of the scope of Christianity has been mitigated to the back burner. Things like work, money, missions, friendship, food, and justice have taken second seat to the mammoth topic of Christian sexual ethics.

We would much rather debate about “How far is too far with my boyfriend?” than discuss how the Church can work toward ending human trafficking, or how we can make our inner-city neighborhoods safer.

Have you worked on growing in holiness in all areas of your life?

Keeping yourself sexually pure is a noble and admirable feat, and all Christians should strive for it (inside and outside of marriage…one needs to remain sexually pure even after the wedding day and remain faithful to their betrothed). But have we focused on this one topic to the neglect of other categories of holiness?

Do we still lust for more money and nicer possessions?

Are we generous with the money we do have, or do we spend it solely on ourselves, improving the quality of our own lives?

Do we have a handle on our emotions, especially in areas like anger and envy?

Are we patient with our coworkers and loving to everyone we meet?

Or are we merely concerned with how far we can get with our girl before God starts to frown?

What a small religion.

God cares about our sexuality and what we do with our bodies, yes, but He cares about so much more than that! If sexuality is the only area in which you pursue holiness, perhaps take a look at Scripture and see what God spends the most time talking about (Hint: It’s not sex…).

 

Problem #3: It removes the need for grace

 

Virginity, by definition, is something someone chooses to keep. Therefore, by your own willpower, you could hold onto it until your wedding day, and share that very special gift with your spouse.

But when we conflate this (very good!) choice with our faith, then the Gospel suddenly becomes more about our own willpower than it is about the gift of grace. We don’t get a special trophy in heaven because we kept our hands to ourselves until the honeymoon. We don’t earn our salvation, period.

If the focus of our faith is on our own restraint and self-control, then it entirely removes the need for a Savior to come and lift us up out of our sin and death; we could just get there on our own. Praise God it’s not up to us or our decisions to get ourselves into the kingdom!

 

Problem #4: It places sex on such a ridiculously high level

 

This is similar to #2, but with a few slight differences.

We live in a culture in which everything is highly sexualized. TV ads, Facebook ads, magazine covers, and yada-yada-yada. To ignore the topic of sexuality in the American Church would be a huge misstep, but we also must not let our culture’s fascination with the topic define our own views of it.

My friend’s friend in Boston seemed to think that because she was sexually pure, that counted as evidence of her faith. However, this does not reflect the teaching of the Bible, but rather a specific subculture of American society which waits for marriage. If we as Christians let our faith be dictated by our sexual views, we are not thinking biblically, but rather floating along with the cultural tides of American trends. Our priorities are being dictated by popular culture rather than by the Bible.

In other words, our faith should dictate our sexual beliefs, not the other way around.

 

Conclusion

 

Jesus did not come so that all may be virgins again.

He did not come to save only the sexually pure, nor does He turn His back on the ‘unclean.’ If anything, He moves toward those who feel the most ashamed and draws them into the sphere of His love so they can feel clean and new again.

American Christians have somehow married virginity to our faith in such a way that we have come to frown on those who screw up and cast out anyone with different beliefs than ours in the arena of sexual ethics. Yet, nowhere in Scripture do we see Christ doing this. In fact, just the opposite. He rescues a woman who was caught in adultery from her punishment and tells her to be free from her sin.

And that is a religion I want to be a part of. I wan to chill with a God who doesn’t mark me down for my sexual misdemeanors, but who sees past them to a wounded soul and a struggling spirit, inviting them to come and cast my cares upon Him.

My virginity cannot carry the weight of all my sin; Jesus can.

May we be people who look to Him, rather than our own sexual restraint, to cure us of our sin, shame, and fear.

e

A version of this article appeared on Ethan’s Blog on August 5th, 2017.


 

johnny-61-e1484779008898-2

I’m Ethan & I love Jesus as much as my little heart allows. I’m an artist, traveler, and the Lord often speaks to me in poems. I’m a personal trainer, youth pastor and photographer. I graduated from Moody and now live in Colorado. Come check out my blog at www.ethanrenoe.com.

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Watching Gender: Kids And Media Stereotypes… A Helpful Infographic

Our media mantra here at CPYU has always been this: Media serves our kids as a map. In other words, it shapes the way they think about and live their lives. And, with teenagers engaged in 9 hours of daily media time. . . and tweens (ages 8-12) engaged with media for 6 hours a day. . . it makes sense that we (parents, grandparents, and youth workers) reckon with this reality by teaching our kids how to think critically and Christianly about music and media. We want to train them in ways that equip for a live of critical engagement rather than mindless consumption.

A recent report issued by Common Sense Media looks at issues of gender equity in media.  Along with the report comes an interesting infographic (see below) that reveals what parental concerns regarding media influence in today’s world. Give it a look. Then, take a look at a resource we’ve created here at CPYU that will help you help your kids engage in lifetime of thinking critically and Christianly about media and music.

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Dear Internet,

I just got back from a week in the mountains with my beloved children. I’m a youth pastor without any kids of my own, so when I talk about “my kids,” I mean these teens and tweens whom I love with all my heart. We had a phenomenal trip, but the more time I spend with them, the more my heart breaks as I get to peer deeper into the culture in which they dwell.

And that culture is shaped in large part by you, Internet.

When I was in high school not that long ago, girls would wear the sports jacket of the boy they adored. They would fill their notebooks with his name, and perhaps her own name followed by his last name.

But today, to catch the eye of the boy she likes, a teenage girl will just send naked pictures via Snapchat or any other myriad apps designed for just that kind of communication.

Today, in order to impress her boy, she has to strip down and reveal her body just to keep a guy interested for longer than a few minutes.

So thank you for that, Internet. Thank you for disrobing my kids just to let them feel a little bit of value or beauty. Thank you for putting into their pockets unlimited connectivity and unrestricted access to the world.

Thanks to you, I walked in on three of my 8th graders talking about sexual acts I didn’t know about until well into my college years. So thanks for spreading your wealth of information.

Thank you for stripping down and beating to a pulp any hope my kids had of holding an attention span longer than 14 seconds. They have become addicted to your apps and videos like a drug addict to his beloved heroin.

When we first arrived at the cabin, we made a rule that during group activities, discussions and meals, your phones were to be nowhere near you. That rule lasted about five minutes before my kids were pasted to their screens once again, unable to enjoy the company of the friends and leaders present with them.

 

And I know this is no accident, dear Internet. I have read article after article about how you rake in the profits the more time my kids and I spend on your apps. Not only do you beckon them back to your beloved apps with push notifications and unique sound effects, you want to keep them there as long as possible. You have countless little algorithms in place to ensure that my kids will whittle away their time (aka, lives) glued to your precious screens, unable to break from their devices longer than a few minutes.

Unable to sit in silence, their minds unstimulated.

Unable to be with their closest friends in a mountain cabin for a week.

Unable to read a book (those heavy paper things) because ‘it’s too boring.’

You hide behind the cloak of connecting us with our friends, when just the opposite is true. You don’t want to connect us; you want our time. Because the more time we spend on your slice of the web, the more money you make.

Dear Internet, you are heartless and cold; a vacuum cleaner sucking in not only our time but our money as well. You don’t see humans or feel warmth, you only see dollar signs and addictive triggers in the chemicals inside our brains.

My kids are less healthy because you have glued them to their beds and couches.

My kids are less secure in themselves because you flood them with images of far away models flaunting as much skin as Instagram will allow.

My kids are less at peace because you have programmed them to crave your constant stimulation and to wonder who has contacted them in the last 3 minutes.

My kids don’t see their bodies as things of value; they see them as a means to some kind of cheap digital affection.

My kids are more exposed, not only to sexual and pornographic content, but violent and gory images as well. One of my students is addicted to looking at snuff films and pictures of humans who had died brutal deaths. Did he wake up one day and decide to look at these? Or were they served to him on one of your popular websites?

You may have done a lot of good for the world, but most of what I see is destructive and uninhibited. You don’t care about the souls of my kids, you care about dollar bills. Perhaps if you were only aware of just how much damage I’ve seen you do in the lives of my students, you’d at least try to make an effort to improve things.

Please leave my kids alone and stop berating them with your addictive tactics and ruthless dopamine stimulation. I love them more than you ever will, so the least you could do is make an effort to change.

…or just go die.

Angrily,

e

A version of this article appeared on Ethan’s Blog on July 15th, 2017.


 

johnny-61-e1484779008898-2

I’m Ethan & I love Jesus as much as my little heart allows. I’m an artist, traveler, and the Lord often speaks to me in poems. I’m a personal trainer, youth pastor and photographer. I graduated from Moody and now live in Colorado. Come check out my blog at www.ethanrenoe.com.

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Healthy Cross-Sex Friendships

 

“Healthy Cross-Sex Friendships”

“Are you two a thing?”

“No, we’re just friends.”

 

The knowing stare of disbelief that usually follows this answer is telling; our society struggles to accept cross-sex friendships.

 

Heterosexual males and heterosexual females are generally considered to be at the mercy of their biological urges, unable to be in a relationship with an individual of the opposite sex without harboring a romantic attraction. This view is quite prevalent in our society, “demonstrated in some of the most popular American television series and movies of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s – Moonlighting, Cheers, When Harry Met Sally, Friends, The Office, Scrubs, He’s Just Not That Into You – all of which thrive on romantic tension and excitement portrayed between cross-sex ‘friends’ who end up either in a romantic partnership or a temporary attempt at one.”, says scholar April Bleske-Rachek. In fact, a 2011 YouTube video called “Why Men and Women Can’t Be Friends”, which has garnered nearly 10 million views to date, apparently ‘proved’ this point beyond a shadow of a doubt.

However, while much of society may believe this, experts disagree. Cross-sex relationships, or, non-romantic friendships between persons of different sexes, can be incredibly rich and rewarding. One reason that society has so much difficulty accepting these relationships, according to Dr. Tracy Shaw of UCLA, is that “people confuse intimacy and sexuality.” Understanding the difference between the two concepts is important for those in cross-sex relationships, wanting cross-sex relationships, or even observing friends in cross-sex relationships. Developing a supportive, encouraging and close relationship can be divorced from sexual attraction, and result in benefits for both parties outside of physical pleasure. The healthiest cross-sex relationships will have benefits, but will also have defined boundaries to keep a desire for intimacy from compromising sexual integrity. Here are three benefits and three boundaries that ought to be present in healthy cross-sex relationships.

 

Benefit 1: Diverse friendships

 

No matter one’s view on equality of the sexes, Christians ought to all agree that different sexes are a God-given blessing. Cutting oneself off from the other sex in every way but sexually misses the mark on what God intended for his people. Setting aside the issue of more than two genders, the God-created male and female are meant to be in close relationship, and refusing intimacy with half of the world’s population misses the beautiful diversity of the image of God. As Dylan Selterman, psychology professor at University of Maryland, writes “cross-sex friendships [also] provide people with unique insight into the mind of the opposite sex, which can be very fulfilling and enlightening in a way that same-sex friendships are not.”

 

Benefit 2: Social Ease

 

This one may seem trivial, but it is no secret that men and women often have difficulty interacting with one another effectively. Different expectations, needs and patterns of communication can lead to strained relationships and unpleasant interactions between members of opposite sexes. Until my own upperclassmen years in high school, I had very few female friends, simply because it was more comfortable to be in the company of other boys and I did not have to worry about how I would be perceived by females. When I came to college and was thrown together with more women, I was initially tentative and unsure of how to interact with women, and while I cannot pretend to be a pro at this stage, I now have a comfortable level of social ease around members of either sex.

 

Benefit 3: ‘Bilingual’ Communication

 

Whether due to social conditioning or biological inclination, women and men can tend to speak totally different languages. For anyone seeking a marriage relationship or even just a long-term relationship with a member of the opposite sex, learning to ‘speak the language’ of the opposite sex is vital. Contrary to popular portrayals, most of a long-term relationship lies in simply living with your partner. Learning how to live everyday life with a member of the opposite sex is an important skill that ought not be overlooked before stepping into a long-term relationship.

 

 

While these benefits are important, we cannot ignore the fact that cross-sex relationships can be complex, and certainly have the potential to blossom into romantic feelings. For anyone with cross-sex relationships, especially if you are in a committed romantic relationship as well, boundaries become incredibly important to keep a healthy relational dynamic.

 

Boundary 1: Physical

 

Project Six19 teaches a series called Life Up Close, illuminating to high school students what it means to live with sexual integrity. One important piece that is presented is the need for physical and situational boundaries – and these must also be applied in cross-sex relationships. While non-romantic relationships are of course possible, it is best not to ask yourself for trouble. The reality is that even strictly platonic relationships can and should have good boundaries. Once you begin to cross lines, limiting a once-romantic relationship into a healthy, comfortable, platonic relationship may be more difficult than you might expect. Physical boundaries give both you and your friends the respect you deserve and keep your relationship healthy.

 

Boundary 2: Situational

 

Similarly, situational boundaries can eliminate difficulties for you and for the people in your community. If your friendship consists of the two of you only going on secretive walks or choosing to see romantic movies, not only is there more likely to be a shift in relational dynamic, but perception of your relationship can be warped in the minds of those around you. Now, you might be thinking ‘how could he say this, he just told me to ignore what society says about cross-sex relationships!’, and in a sense you are right.

However, having a clearly defined cross-sex relationships can reform the perceptions of society, not build further suspicion of romantic attraction. If you are in a romantic relationship, it is not fair to your partner to constantly ask them to trust you as you spend hours alone with another member of the opposite sex or go to ‘date’ locations. It is also worth noting that when married or in a serious relationship, it is best not to strain the relationship by intimacy with members of the opposite sex.

 

Boundary 3: Expectation of friendship

 

Finally, this is perhaps the most simple but profound lesson of all. It is really more of a shift in mindset, rather than a tangible boundary. All too often people enter cross-sex relationships thinking of every new face as a potential mate. Instead, enter relationships with an expectation of friendship. Of course, it is possible that something may arise beyond that friendship; in fact, I have personal experience with this phenomenon. However, the important piece is that learning to see members of the opposite sex as friends rather than potential spouse-to-be’s is important to having healthy, productive cross-sex relationships.

Cross-sex relationships can be hard, and just as with any relationship, need to have some boundaries. If done correctly, however, they can have unique and beautiful benefits beyond what one might normally expect from a friendship with a member of the same sex.

– Phillip Allevato

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Camille Paglia On Transgenderism

 

Going straight to the source, I read Jonathan V. Last’s interview with Paglia. I’ve been tracking with a wide-spectrum of opinions on transgenderism as I seek to understand and respond to this emerging cultural reality in ways that bring honor and glory to God. And so today, I’m simply passing on this exchange between Last and Paglia. . . (you can read the full article here). . .

JVL: I keep waiting for the showdown between feminism and transgenderism, but it always keeps slipping beneath the horizon. I’ve been looking at how the La Leche League—which stood at the crossroads of feminism once upon a time—has in the last couple years bowed completely to the transgender project. Their central text is (for now) The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, but they’ve officially changed their stance to include men and fathers who breastfeed. The actual wording of their policy is wonderful: “It is now recognized that some men are able to breastfeed.” Left unsaid is the corollary that some women are biologically unable to breastfeed. Though this would go against the League’s founding principles, one supposes. What does one make of all of this?

CP: Feminists have clashed with transgender activists much more publicly in the United Kingdom than here. For example, two years ago there was an acrimonious organized campaign, including a petition with 3,000 claimed signatures, to cancel a lecture by Germaine Greer at Cardiff University because of her “offensive” views of transgenderism. Greer, a literary scholar who was one of the great pioneers of second-wave feminism, has always denied that men who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery are actually “women.” Her Cardiff lecture (on “Women and Power” in the twentieth century) eventually went forward, under heavy security. And in 2014, Gender Hurts, a book by radical Australian feminist Sheila Jeffreys, created a heated controversy in the United Kingdom. Jeffreys identifies transsexualism with misogyny and describes it as a form of “mutilation.” She and her feminist allies encountered prolonged difficulties in securing a London speaking venue because of threats and agitation by transgender activists. Finally, Conway Hall was made available: Jeffrey’s forceful, detailed lecture there in July of last year is fully available on YouTube. In it she argues among other things, that the pharmaceutical industry, having lost income when routine estrogen therapy for menopausal women was abandoned because of its health risks, has been promoting the relatively new idea of transgenderism in order to create a permanent class of customers who will need to take prescribed hormones for life.

Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave, which I think has been produced by far more complicated psychological and sociological factors than current gender discourse allows. Furthermore, I condemn the escalating prescription of puberty blockers (whose long-term effects are unknown) for children. I regard this practice as a criminal violation of human rights.

It is certainly ironic how liberals who posture as defenders of science when it comes to global warming (a sentimental myth unsupported by evidence) flee all reference to biology when it comes to gender. Biology has been programmatically excluded from women’s studies and gender studies programs for almost 50 years now. Thus very few current gender studies professors and theorists, here and abroad, are intellectually or scientifically prepared to teach their subjects.

The cold biological truth is that sex changes are impossible. Every single cell of the human body remains coded with one’s birth gender for life. Intersex ambiguities can occur, but they are developmental anomalies that represent a tiny proportion of all human births.

In a democracy, everyone, no matter how nonconformist or eccentric, should be free from harassment and abuse. But at the same time, no one deserves special rights, protections, or privileges on the basis of their eccentricity. The categories “trans-man” and “trans-woman” are highly accurate and deserving of respect. But like Germaine Greer and Sheila Jeffreys, I reject state-sponsored coercion to call someone a “woman” or a “man” simply on the basis of his or her subjective feeling about it. We may well take the path of good will and defer to courtesy on such occasions, but it is our choice alone. As for the La Leche League, they are hardly prepared to take up the cudgels in the bruising culture wars. Awash with the milk of human kindness, they are probably stuck in nurturance mode. Naturally, they snap to attention at the sound of squalling babies, no matter what their age. It’s up to literature professors and writers to defend the integrity of English, which like all languages changes slowly and organically over time. But with so many humanities departments swallowed up in the poststructuralist tar pit, the glorious medium of English may have to fight the gender commissars on its own.

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15 Things You Should Know About Marriage

In just a few days, my husband John and I will be celebrating our 10 year marriage anniversary!

 

It seems so short and yet sooooo long at the same time. We’ve been with each other through some of our most formative years- and have together experienced the most significant moments of each other’s lives. We’ve walked with one another through some incredible highs, and through some difficult lows. We’ve changed, grown, matured, fallen, failed, conquered, succeeded and have learned so many things together.  Yet the greatest lesson we’ve learned, is that there is so much still left for us to learn.

As we’ve been reflecting over the past decade of our marriage including changing careers, moving 4 times, and having 3 children, we had to chuckle at some of the lessons we’ve learned the hard (and sometimes awkward) way. There are so many things about marriage that we had no clue about while we were single. Here are some things we wish we would have known about marriage…but by God’s grace, we’re learning along the way:

  1. Attraction grows. In the next decade you’ll both put on weight, acquire grey hairs, and welcome the world of post-marriage (likely even post-baby) body. But don’t fret. Because even as your body fades, your desire for one another can continue to grow brighter and brighter. Be sure to keep fanning that flame…because genuine attraction is made up of so much more than just the physical.

  2. Conflict is a healthy part of marriage. It’s important to learn how to fight fair, to express your feelings in a constructive way, and to learn how to forgive often. Conflict breeds communication, and communication can breed heightened intimacy. So take advantage and fight well.

  3. Your sex life takes up a small fraction of your relationship. But it’s a really important fraction because it has the power to connect you emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually. So protect it while you’re single, and then learn to make the most of it in marriage.

  4. Your spouse’s family will likely have a huge influence on your life and marriage– so know what you’re getting into because who you choose to do life with can bring barriers or blessings.

  5. Contrary to what the movies say, you will NOT sleep romantically intertwined and interlocked with your spouse all night long, so do yourself a favor by investing in a large, comfy bed and getting a good night’s rest! People tend to argue less when they’re well rested 🙂

  6. Believe it or not, research shows that the longer you’ve been married the less time you actually talk. Make communication important by scheduling time to just sit and talk.

  7. Unlike in soap operas and movies, marital sex takes work, practice, selflessness, and a whole lot of patience to perfect. Don’t expect to get it right away, but know that you will in time. Let go of the pressure to be perfect and just enjoy the practice!

  8. No matter who you marry, someday you will probably wonder if you’ve married the “right person”. Be assured- you have (from the moment you said “I do”). So do whatever it takes to fight for what you have and to turn it into something beautiful.

  9. True love between two people has very little to do with how you feel, and so much to do with what you do thereafter. Learn the actions of love, and practice them often (aka every moment, of every day). Always choose to protect your marriage.

  10. No matter what conflict you are facing, 100% of the time you have a responsibility in it. Learn to take ownership of your own flaws right here, and right now, long before you point the finger.  It will always work out better in the end.

  11. Most of marriage is made up of the monotony of day-to-day routine. So marry more than just a lover. Marry a best friend, a partner, a co-worker, and a true companion.

  12. Opposites do attract, but then they have the tendency to attack. Learn to work through your differences and always appreciate the beauty of your spouses uniqueness. It’s likely what drew you together in the first place.

  13. Your past has a huge impact on your present relationships, so learn to look inward. Working through your past wounds has the ability to bring so much healing to the here and now. Take the time to take care of your self.

  14. Marriage can’t bring you purpose, healing, or security– but it can bless you, challenge you, and enrich your life in so many ways. Keep your expectations grounded in reality. You’ve been given a spouse, not a super-hero, a help-mate, not a healer.

  15. Your relationship with God has the power to bring you closer to one another in powerful ways. Learn to love out of the overflow of God’s love for you. It will likely change your life, and in turn, your marriage.

Here’s to the next decade with my beloved. May God continue teaching us, shaping us, and drawing us closer to each other with each passing day and through each coming lesson.

And here’s to all of you, whether married or single: May God continue shifting your expectations of marriage and relationships to become more and more in tune with His.

Comment below: What have been the most surprising lessons you’ve learned about marriage along the way?


A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on June 8, 2017. Used by permission.

True Love Dates, is the book that world-renown #1 New York Times best-selling authors and relationship experts Drs. Les & Leslie Parrot have claimed to be exactly what “your love life needs”.

 

Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, speaker, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life21 Days to Jump Start Your Love Life, and 21 Days to Pray For Your Love Life – where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. You may also recognize her voice from her 150+ articles at Relevant Magazine or Crosswalk.com! She’s also the creator of this True Love Dates Blog!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter!

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Pornography: Necessary Talking Points With Kids. . .

“I want to talk about pornography.” That’s what the 15-year-old boy said to me after hearing me talk at his Christian school on “God and Sex.” Sadly, he wasn’t a curious young dabbler looking for someone to help him understand whether pornography was right or wrong. Instead, he was already spending time every day looking at online pornography while masturbating regularly. He was already a pornography addict. He’s not alone. A growing number of our students are either hooked on pornography or on the path to living future lives dominated and destroyed by pornography’s sick and twisted distortion of God’s good gift of sexuality. Should we be surprised?

The United States Department of Justice recognized the prevalence and life-shaping potential of pornography when they issued this statement: “Never before in the history of telecommunications media in the United States has so much indecent (and obscene) material been so easily accessible by so many minors in so many American homes with so few restrictions.” Oh. . . by the way. . . that statement was released back in 1996. . . more than 10 years before the advent of the smartphone! Since then, the “pandemic” of porn has spread like wildfire.

It is estimated that anywhere between 12 and 37 percent of all Internet web pages contain pornography. And with the average age of first exposure to Internet pornography being 11-years-old (again. . . an outdated statistic that’s over 10 years old), our youth, children’s and parent ministries must recognize, understand, and address the issue with urgency, knowledge, and depth.

 

 

The rapid rise in pornography’s popularity has been facilitated by a perfect storm of factors. At its root is the fact that we have been created for sex and wired for intimacy. God made us as sexual beings with deep sexual desires. . . and said it was “good.” But with the advent of sin into God’s “good” world, nothing remains the way it was supposed to be, including our sexuality. Sex “becomes distorted” – as Dennis Hollinger writes in his book The Meaning of Sex“in its longings, directions, misdirected end, and idolatrous impetus.” No surprise, our fallen sexuality yearns for, creates and consumes pornography. Pornography, in turn, is a “gasoline” that fuels our fallen sexual fire.

Experts also cite the “three A’s” as contributing to the problem. First, pornography is accessible. Fifty years ago, pornography started its trek into the mainstream with  Playboy magazine. As of 1973 there were fewer than 1000 adult theaters across the country. Eventually, home video technology created a gateway for pornographic film to enter the privacy of one’s home. Now, technology provides 24/7 access to pornography regardless of who you are or where you are. Google the term “xxx” and over a billion and a half results appear. A seemingly limitless ever-expanding supply has created a world where even if your kids don’t go looking for pornography, it will find them.

Second, pornography is anonymous. All you have to do is sit alone at home or focus your gaze on your hand-held device. There’s no need to go into a quick-mart to interact publicly with a clerk. The stumbling-blocks of embarrassment and age-restriction are relics of the past. In today’s world, nobody sees you, and you can even hide your identity on online. Even those who have a clear sense of right and wrong can sit alone and indulge. Sadly, the anonymous nature of pornography won’t even matter in future years as pornography becomes more culturally acceptable and normalized. There will be no need to hide.

Third, pornography is affordable. Internet pornography doesn’t have to cost you a penny. Surveys show that 80 to 90 percent of those who access pornography online only access the free online material. It couldn’t make it any easier. . . especially for a kid.

I was a curious and inquisitive 12-year-old boy when I was first exposed to pornography.  Like most other men my age, that watershed moment from my childhood was so powerful that the memory is still ingrained in my brain. I remember where I was, who I was with, what was said, and what I saw. I’m not at all proud about it. I shudder to think who I would grow up to be if I was a 12-year-old boy living in today’s porn-infested world. I fear for our kids, both boys and girls. What kind of men, women, husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers will they become after spending their formative childhood and teenage years in a world where encountering pornography is no longer a possible if, but an inevitable when?

Parents and youth workers have a window of opportunity and an even greater responsibility to address the pornography issue with kids. Here are three initial elements that must be present as you address pornography in your family or youth ministry.

 

First, define pornography.

 

Not only do kids need to know what pornography is if they’re going to face it in their lives, but they need to know how ugly and broken it is so that they can develop a healthy hate for pornography. Used a variety of times in the New Testament, porneia  (por-knee-a) refers to fornication, whoredom, sexual unchastity, sexual immorality, harlotry, and prostitution. “Pornography” comes from the Greek word pornagraphos, which is written descriptions or visual depictions of prostitutes. Drawing a connection between these definitions and the current worldwide scourge of sexual trafficking and victimization might serve to open their eyes to just what pornography really is. In his book Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free, Tim Chester defines pornography as “anything we use for sexual titillation, gratification, or escape – whether it was intended for that purpose or not.” Another helpful definition comes from Harvest USA : “Anything the heart uses to find sexual expression outside of God’s intended design for relational intimacy. It is anything that tempts or corrupts the human heart into desiring sexual pleasure in sinful ways.” Be sure to emphasize the “anything,” as our boys are typically drawn to visual representations and our girls are typically attracted to literary pornography (think Fifty Shades of Grey). . . although these differences are leveling out as more and more girls access visual pornography.

 

Second, educate on pornography’s consequences.

 

The old saying “actions have consequences” couldn’t be more true of pornography. Disobedience to God’s sexual will and way through pornography leads to consequences that are immediate, long-term, and far-reaching. Contrary to what is rapidly becoming widely-held opinion, pornography is not harmless, benign fun. The consequences are spiritual, physical, emotional, and relational. Like all sin, pornography destroys your relationship with God. Research points to a host of other negative outcomes.  It distorts your view of sex and sexuality. It shapes sexual expectations as users expect others to “make love like a porn star.” It leads to sexual dissatisfaction and intimacy issues. Pornography teaches us to view other people not as individuals made in the image of God, but as nothing more or less than sexual objects. The more you use, the more desensitized you become, leading into the downward spiral of more frequent and extreme use. Pornography fuels lust and leads people to believe that marriage is sexually confining. Pornography users tend to engage in sexual activity at earlier ages, and they grow up to see having children and a family as unattractive prospects. New research on the brain shows conclusively that pornography is highly addictive. Finally, a growing body of research is connecting pornography use to sexual addiction, sexual abuse, and sex trafficking. On the flip side, there are absolutely no benefits to the use and abuse of pornography!

 

Third, take steps to respond.

 

While there are no fool-proof and immediate strategies to protect the kids you know and love from seeing and suffering from pornography, there are steps you can take to prepare them to deal with the inevitable temptation that most – if not all – of them have alreadyfaced and indulged. As Martin Luther once advised, we might not be able to stop the birds from flying over our heads, but we can stop them from building nests in our hair.

Here’s a list of some of the steps to regularly include in your youth ministry:

  • Teach on positive biblical sexuality. Start with the positive. Sex is a good gift from God to be expressed/experienced within the context of a monogamous covenantal marriage between one man and one woman. God does not look down on sex!
  • Remind them that their sexuality is broken. . . just like everything else in the world. Their default setting is sin and it’s for that reason that they must be “soberminded and watchful” as “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion” who seeks to devour them and their sexuality (I Peter 5:8&9).
  • Let them know that Jesus knows what it’s like. Yes, he shares in their temptation and he is praying for them! (Hebrews 4:15).
  • Engage in biblically-based sex education at a young age. The reality is that by the time they arrive in your middle-school youth group much of pornography’s initial damage will have been done. Raise the awareness of parents and children’s ministry people at your church so that they can proactively educate children in age-appropriate ways.
  • Teach them to respond to their engagement with pornography in healthy and redemptive ways. Encourage them to talk to their parents, to seek help, to share their struggle with others who can hold them accountable, and to run to God rather than to pornography.
  • Process media portrayals of fallen sexuality as you encounter them together. Think with them about the skewed portrayals of sexuality that they see and hear each and every day in film, music, TV, and advertising. Challenge those portrayals that are sinful and wrong, while celebrating and affirming portrayals that reflect God’s will and way for sexuality.
  • Have people tell their stories. Invite those who are battling pornography addictions to share their stories along with how they are making it through with God’s help. Have them answer these questions: “What made you give in?”, “How has pornography affected you?”, “How has pornography affected your relationships?”, and “How have you learned to effectively deal with pornography now?”
  • Provide redemptive and recovery resources. There will come a day when you will have to act. . . and quickly. Have a referral list of competent Christian counselors and other referrals at your fingertips. Know where the recovery and support groups meet. Provide a list of mentors who have not only been through it themselves, but can guide students to redemption and hope in Christ.

The reality is that we might not want to talk about pornography, but we must. And whether they know it or not, our students want to talk about pornography too. They might not think so now, but they will wish they had done so if they get caught in pornography’s addictive grip. We have a small window in which to get talking. Culture is shifting quickly in ways that are moving pornography from something once seen as a vice, to something seen as a matter of personal choice. . . or even a virtue.

What steps are you taking to guide your students through the spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational minefield of pornography?

Some additional resources you can use. . . .

-CPYU’s Sexual Integrity Initiative – loaded with free downloads, resources, and media clips.

-CPYU’s  Handout on Internet Pornography. . . found on this page at our Digital Kids Initiative.

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Bill Nye The Science Guy. . . Sex Junk Education. . .

If you’ve been paying attention at all to those elements of the rapidly changing culture soup that have been talked about online over the course of the last week, you’ve probably heard some rumblings regarding the latest venture from long-time science educator, Bill Nye. From 1993 until 1998, Nye was a PBS staple with his popular kids’ show, Bill Nye the Science Guy. Nye never disappeared from television, making numerous appearances over the years in an effort to promote his view and theories. He now has a new venture. . . which we’ll get back to in a minute. .  .

Interlude. . . for a little bit of social science reality. As we say and teach here all the time at CPYU, culture is both a map (directive) and a mirror (reflective). As a map, it tells us what to believe and how to live. It’s especially powerful in the lives of kids since they are at a very vulnerable and formative stage of life developmentally. Consequently, we need to know what the cultural maps are and where they’re leading our kids. When they lead them in the right direction, we can celebrate and affirm those maps. But when they lead in a direction away from God’s order and design, we are called to issue challenges and correctives in an effort to lead our kids onto the narrow road that leads to life. As a mirror, culture helps us see who we are, the choices we’ve made, and the course we are on.

So, back to Bill Nye and his latest venture that’s been getting so much press over the last few days. . .

 

 

Ironically, on the same day that our CPYU family gathered for our annual Celebration Banquet of our mission and ministry to know ulture (April 21), Bill Nye was making culture and mapping life through the debut of his new Netflix series, Bill Nye Saves the World.  While the show’s moniker is telling in and of itself, a peek into Nye’s beliefs and the show’s mapping message can be found in Episode #9, titled “The Sexual Spectrum.” During the show, Nye introduces a performance by Rachel Bloom as a “cool little segment” that’s “very special.” Bloom’s performance of the song “My Sex Junk” clearly maps and mirrors emerging societal attitudes on gender, promoting the idea of behavioral relativism, personal choice, a sexual/gender spectrum, and fluidity. . . or as Bloom sings, “there’s nothing taboo about a sex stew.”

I want to encourage you watch Bloom’s performance. I want to encourage you to quietly ponder and digest how her performance serves as a map and a mirror. And, I want to push you to view the performance and the beliefs at its’ core through the framework of a biblical sexual ethic. Then, talk to the kids you know and love. The Scriptures must shape our view and practice of God’s good and glorious gift of sexuality. Our transitory feelings and shifting opinions on sexuality should never be used as the foundation from which to develop a view of Scripture. Overall, we need to be speaking up and framing the issue in God-honoring ways with our kids.

The culture is speaking. We must be speaking even louder.

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Should I Give My Kid A Smartphone

 

I got this email today. I get this at least once a month, so thought I would just post it.

Note, this is exactly what was written:

 

“My 11-year old daughter wants a phone and my Ex-wife wants her to get one. 

Only 26% of kids her age have one and they’re mostly all rich kids in Orange County.

I wanna find ways to protect her from seeing big c*cks as much as possible.

Help me Craig!”

Here is my response to this email and so many others. 

It’s also what I have done with my kids, who are 11 and 14 years old:

1. First of all, if you are worried about your kids having an emergency and not having a phone, then head down to Walmart or 7-Eleven and get a pay as you go flip phone. Those will work great if your kids need to call you. 

You can’t use the “My kids needs a smartphone” line because of emergencies.

Not needed.

 

2. If you want to get your kids an iPhone or Android, don’t ever give it to your pre-teen or better yet 9-year old out of the box as it comes from the store. 

3. Don’t give your kids a device you are unfamiliar with and don’t know how to use yourself.

4. Don’t allow your kids to play an app, watch a movie or binge on a show on Netflix that you are unfamiliar or unaware of. 

5. Parents still must be parents and that is a hard one, I know. 

Most parents are clueless and cave into the pressure from their kids. Then kids get into trouble on devices because they are acting like kids, but playing with devices designed for adults.

6. A lot of parents have an old iPhone 4 or 5 sitting in their junk drawer and when the times comes will give that one to their kid. That is an okay idea, but you need to keep reading.


iPhones and Androids have parental control settings built into the phone.

 

Use these before you try and buy an app or search for another option. The best options are now built into the phone.

For iPhones head to Settings -> General -> Restrictions and then enable restrictions with a four digit passcode that you don’t give to your kid. This puts you in charge. 

Both my kids have phones and have these restrictions:

– I have turned Safari OFF – I don’t need or want them searching the web or wasting time online with their phone. They can use the computer at home to do that. 

– Installing Apps turned OFF – I don’t allow them access to the iTunes store to purchase or get free waste-of-time apps. If they want something, I look at it and if I allow, I will enter the passcode and download.

My rule is they can have productive apps but only 3 games on their phones. I am not going to have my kids playing games on a phone all day. I can’t stand grown-ass men and women playing candy crush or words with friends on their devices all day long. WASTE OF TIME! 

Whenever I board a plane with my kids, I have them look at the first class section and ask them to find a person in the first class that is on their phone playing games. Never. Successful people today don’t waste time playing these games. 

Go to the middle seat in the back of the plane and see that dude who is 35 playing some Game of War game. I don’t want my kids to be that guy/girl. It’s not about the money you make, but the time you waste with your life. Worse than that, people on their phones all day long can’t talk to people in person. 

I don’t need my kids growing up with their heads in a screen and not experiencing the life and people in front of them.

I wrote some more reasons why I don’t let me kids play on their phones when their friends are over here. You can read that HERE

– Deleting Apps turned OFF – I don’t let me kids delete things on their phones. This applies to text messages, emails, and apps. This is more of a life lesson for kids online.

Snapchat and Instagram stories tell you things delete in 24 hours, but ask Draymond Green if you can still see his penis online? The internet keeps a history, and so does your Ex-boyfriend or future employers. Everything you do online doesn’t disappear. Even Hillary Clinton couldn’t delete her emails forever yet kids are growing up thinking things they do will just disappear or be deleted. That kind of thinking is the furthermost thing from the truth.

 

If my kids send a text message or email to a friend, my kids know that they better be okay with the whole school seeing it because nothing is private.

– No Social Media apps on their phones – This could be old school. That’s okay. I don’t need my kids on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or anything else right now on their phones. Over time I will loosen up there, but how many stories do I hear every day of kids and adults making stupid decisions on social and wasting a ton of time?

If my kids want to get on social, they do it on my phone. I also am aware of who they follow and activities on their accounts. When we are on a trip, I will allow my 14-year old to download and post updates and I have started to allow more access to Instagram with him at the house.

As far as your home goes. There is one device I recommend to anyone with kids still at home. It is called CIRCLE. You can read all about it HEREIt will cost you a one-time fee of $99 and it is amazing!

Last thing, Check out www.xxxchurch.com/parents. You can get a free book I wrote called Touchy Subjects and read more about things you might not know anything about. If you are a pastor and want to host a parents night at your church, we have a free video available for download HERE.

That’s all I’ve got!

Don’t get overwhelmed, it’s all doable, you just have to be willing to jump in. 


A version of this post originally appeared on xxxchurch‘s blog on May 10th, 2017. Used by permission.

craig-gross

Craig Gross is a pastor and the founder of xxxchurch.com and author of Eyes of Integrity / Pure Eyes / Jesus Loves You This I Know / Starving Jesus / The Dirty Little Secret / The Gutter / Questions You Can’t Ask Your Mama / Open: What Happens When You Get Real, Get Honest, and Get Accountable / Touchy Subjects / Go Small / and most recently Through A Man’s Eyes. Craig lives in California with his wife and two kids. Craig speaks at a number of church services, colleges, festivals and youth events each year.

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Ed Sheeran, Body Image, and New Rules For Dating. . .

It’s been on the charts for 18 weeks. It peaked at #1. Today it sits at #4. “It” is Ed Sheeran’s single “Shape of You,” one of two lead singles from his third studio album, ÷ (divide). The video (embedded below) has amassed well over 1 billion views. And with Sheeran currently touring in South America and ready to start the North American leg of his tour on June 29th, the song is sure to stick on the charts for quite some time.

 

 

What’s the big deal and why would the song be blog-worthy? For culture-watchers who understand the power of music to serve us as both a map and a mirror, “Shape of You” is not only reflecting how we now think about love and sex, but directing us into a normalcy on these matters that disrupts God’s good design for His good gifts.

“The club isn’t the best place to find a lover so the bar is where I go,” sings Sheeran in the opening lines (see lyrics below). Some fast-drinking , a conversation, and then a dance to a Van Morrison tune lead to a sexual hookup(s) fueled by nothing more than physical attraction. Thus, the song’s title. Sheeran’s declaration of love is not about a person. Rather, it’s about a body (“I’m in love with your body/Everyday discovering something brand new/I”m in love with the shape of you”). And then, a week into more hookups, “we’re going out on our first date.” That’s the way it works in today’s world.

Today, we posted a 1-minute “Youth Culture Today” radio spot on Sheeran’s song, “Shape of You.” Give it a listen. Then, talk to your kids about God’s order and design His good gift of sexuality, along with challenges to our culture of objectification. “Shape of You” is a matter-of-fact statement of cultural opinion. And that’s why it needs to be talked about.

 

Ed Sheeran and Dating Standards

 

The club isn’t the best place to find a lover
So the bar is where I go
Me and my friends at the table doing shots
Drinking fast and then we talk slow
Come over and start up a conversation with just me
And trust me I’ll give it a chance now
Take my hand, stop, put Van the Man on the jukebox
And then we start to dance, and now I’m singing like

Girl, you know I want your love
Your love was handmade for somebody like me
Come on now, follow my lead
I may be crazy, don’t mind me
Say, boy, let’s not talk too much
Grab on my waist and put that body on me
Come on now, follow my lead
Come, come on now, follow my lead

I’m in love with the shape of you
We push and pull like a magnet do
Although my heart is falling too
I’m in love with your body
And last night you were in my room
And now my bedsheets smell like you
Every day discovering something brand new
I’m in love with your body
Oh—I—oh—I—oh—I—oh—I
I’m in love with your body
Oh—I—oh—I—oh—I—oh—I
I’m in love with your body
Oh—I—oh—I—oh—I—oh—I
I’m in love with your body
Every day discovering something brand new
I’m in love with the shape of you

One week in we let the story begin
We’re going out on our first date
You and me are thrifty, so go all you can eat
Fill up your bag and I fill up a plate
We talk for hours and hours about the sweet and the sour
And how your family is doing okay
Leave and get in a taxi, then kiss in the backseat
Tell the driver make the radio play, and I’m singing like

Girl, you know I want your love
Your love was handmade for somebody like me
Come on now, follow my lead
I may be crazy, don’t mind me
Say, boy, let’s not talk too much
Grab on my waist and put that body on me
Come on now, follow my lead
Come, come on now, follow my lead

I’m in love with the shape of you
We push and pull like a magnet do
Although my heart is falling too
I’m in love with your body
And last night you were in my room
And now my bedsheets smell like you
Every day discovering something brand new
I’m in love with your body
Oh—I—oh—I—oh—I—oh—I
I’m in love with your body
Oh—I—oh—I—oh—I—oh—I
I’m in love with your body
Oh—I—oh—I—oh—I—oh—I
I’m in love with your body
Every day discovering something brand new
I’m in love with the shape of you

Come on, be my baby, come on
Come on, be my baby, come on
Come on, be my baby, come on
Come on, be my baby, come on
Come on, be my baby, come on
Come on, be my baby, come on
Come on, be my baby, come on
Come on, be my baby, come on

I’m in love with the shape of you
We push and pull like a magnet do
Although my heart is falling too
I’m in love with your body
Last night you were in my room
And now my bedsheets smell like you
Every day discovering something brand new
I’m in love with your body
Come on, be my baby, come on
Come on, be my baby, come on
I’m in love with your body
Come on, be my baby, come on
Come on, be my baby, come on
I’m in love with your body
Come on, be my baby, come on
Come on, be my baby, come on
I’m in love with your body
Every day discovering something brand new
I’m in love with the shape of you

 

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You Don’t Find “The One,” You Choose “The One”

There are so many Christian singles out there who believe that they just need to wait around until God reveals to them the lucky “one” they are going to marry.

As though the right relationship is just going to fall from the sky.

As though God is going to knock on the door one day, and all of a sudden there will be the one they are supposed to marry.

As though somehow, they will “just know” when they come face-to-face with the right person.

And sadly, Christian culture perpetuates this lie. I had the opportunity to speak at two different Christian colleges at each end of the country in the past two weeks, and the students affirmed to me that this belief still runs rampant within the student body.

But no matter how many Hollywood films you’ve watched, or how many romantic stories you’ve heard, I’m here to tell you this: you can’t just “know” from the outside looking in whether or not someone will be a good match for you. It’s not about a feeling, and it’s definitely not just about getting lucky.

Relationships don’t work like that. And generally speaking, neither does life.

I was at the grocery store this summer, and found myself standing in front of a bin of beautiful, green watermelons. My family loves watermelon, and especially my four year old son who could eat watermelon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

So I decided to pick one out to take home.

 

 

Now if you knew anything about my family, you would know that purchasing a watermelon is a process. First you have to find the right one, typically because of it’s bright green color. After you’ve found the right one, you test it out to make SURE it’s the right one by drumming on the outside of it, and listening for the sound it makes. I don’t know if it’s just my family, or of this is a universal thing (I’d like to think everyone does this….otherwise my family is just strange) but based on the thumping sound the watermelon makes, you know whether or not it’s a good one.

The only problem with this theory, is that I actually don’t have any idea what sound it’s supposed to make. So I end up grabbing a watermelon, drumming on it one or two times, and putting it in my cart. When I take it home and cut into it, it’s always a mystery. Even with the special drumming I did at the grocery store, I still have no idea whether or not it’s going to be a good one until I bite into it. And frankly, it’s a hit or miss process. As illogical as this all may sound, I do it every time I go to the store.

But you know what? When it comes to relationships, SO many people are JUST as illogical.

They look for “signs and wonders”, “feelings and emotions”, “chemistry and connection” in a relationship that will ultimately tell them whether or not this person is going to “be the one”.

But at the end of the day, they ultimately have no idea what they’re getting in a relationship until the relationships progresses further – or even until marriage.

You can choose a bad watermelon with little to no consequences, but choosing the wrong marriage is absolutely devastating.

 

Despite the lies we’re being fed from our culture on a regular basis, the most important thing you need to grasp about all of this is that good relationships aren’t just “found”. They are CHOSEN. They are made. 

 

They are built through a series of choices, a consistency of exchanges, over a proper length of time, with important conversations, healthy communication, and one positive decision at a time.

They are not something you find, they are something you CREATE, with someone who is just as willing to create a healthy relationship as you are.

There are so many people who rush into relationships without ever assessing the risk. Without knowing enough about the person they are dating. Without giving it enough time. Without having some really important conversations.

They meet. They like. And then they rush…..without ever knowing how healthy their partner is.

And so many times, going blindly into relationships, they end up with a broken heart and shattered dreams.

God gives us the responsibility to use wisdom, discernment, and discretion in choosing who we are going to marry. We’re responsible for this most important life-decision, and we’re the ones who have to deal with the ultimate consequences.

In choosing someone to marry, it’s up to each and every one of us to take our time, to assess the risk, to uncover the baggage, to invest in counseling, to prepare, and train, and learn everything we can possibly know. It’s up to us to choose well. Because once you choose “the one”, they become “the one” – til death do us part. 

*This post was adapted from my new e-course: Breaking Free From the Lies of Singleness. Sign up today to uncover the subtle lies you might be believing that are impacting your relationship status!

 


 

A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on April 12, 2017. Used by permission.

True Love Dates, is the book that world-renown #1 New York Times best-selling authors and relationship experts Drs. Les & Leslie Parrot have claimed to be exactly what “your love life needs”. Learn more, or pick up a copy for yourself by clicking the image below.

tld-3d-book cover

Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, speaker, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life21 Days to Jump Start Your Love Life, and 21 Days to Pray For Your Love Life – where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. You may also recognize her voice from her 150+ articles at Relevant Magazine or Crosswalk.com! She’s also the creator of this True Love Dates Blog!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter!

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Where Is The Line?

Anyone who grew up in an even remotely Christian culture has probably had this conversation at one point or another. How much it actually affected each of our lives is debatable, but it has certainly been a popular topic in Christian circles for decades.

When it comes to sex, where is the line?

How far can you go before it’s too far?

My hope in writing this is not to sound like a 1990’s purity-bot, spouting off the same unhelpful jargon which ultimately leads people into shame, fear and the like, but maybe to help you think through some things as we all labor together to seek out a more holy and pure sexuality.

There was once a queen who was looking for a new bodyguard to tote her around on her royal litter. This was an incredibly important position in the kingdom, as he had to be incredibly strong to tote her around on the shoulder litter everywhere she went, but he also had to be trustworthy.

The royal court had narrowed the selection down to the top 3 contenders. The first man was called into the chambers and immediately bragged to the queen, “Your Highness, I am strong and capable and if we found ourselves in the mountains on the edge of a cliff, I could safely carry you within 5 feet of the edge of a cliff!”

He continued his speech and then the queen called in the next man. He began, “My Liege, I heard what my fellow candidate here said and I want you to know that I could carry you within three feet of the edge of a cliff and you would be completely safe!”

The queen considered this and finally called in the third man. He humbly entered the corridor and said, “My Queen, if the situation arose, I wouldn’t carry you anywhere near the edge of a cliff. I would keep you as far away from it as possible in order to keep you safe.”

And for some reason, the queen picked the third man.

Because there is safety in fleeing from the edge. There is no wisdom in tiptoeing the edge of catastrophe and hoping we don’t just trip over the edge.

And when it comes to sexual purity, I think we too often embody the first two candidates; we ask how close can we get to the boundary before we are in risky territory. But if we truly want to pursue purity, our hearts should be in a place of asking instead, How far can I stay from the edge? 

But that still leaves the question of course, Where is the edge?

 

 

I once heard a chapel speaker teach that, outside of marriage, you should not do anything you would not do to your mother or father, as that would therefore subject the action to being ‘sexual’. It seemed reasonable, as I would certainly not want to do anything beyond peck my mom on the cheek, and I could see how that would draw a rigid line between what is sexual and what is not.

However, this definition, while it may be necessary for some people, seemed to fall short for me. And the reason is, you will not date your mother or father. The person you will date will most certainly be other from your parents, and with this otherness comes a different set of rules, permissions, and boundaries.

I have engaged this conversation numerous times with all sorts of people, and I have finally come to my own definition of The Edge. It may look different for you, and of course, as with any theological statement, it is subject to critique and flux.

So my definition of sexual boundaries outside of marriage is: I refrain from anything involving reproductive organs. Sex in itself is reproductive in nature. And as such, certain organs are meant for reproductive purposes.

So when people ask me if oral sex is permissible, I’m forced to say no, because it directly involves a reproductive organ. Breasts are also inherently reproductive, so they too should be reserved for the husband and the child being fed by them. The list goes on, so whenever a sexual act is in question, I simply ask if it directly involves a reproductive organ.

In other words, if I ever find a girl loco enough to date me, I plan to refrain from everything but handholding and kissing. We don’t want to initiate the reproductive process (or even stimulate any reproductive organs) prematurely.

I think there is immense value in being someone who “stays far away from the edge” when it comes to sexual purity. I know it probably makes me come off as prudish, but someday, my wife will be so happy I was able to save as much of myself for her as possible.

I also want to add, as I do with all posts about sexual purity, that there is absolutely nothing that can make you too dirty or unredeemable for Jesus. He wants you and your body, and it is never too late to be washed by Him and to begin to live differently. (And if you’re anything like me, that means screwing up several times a day at first, but thank God He is patient and gracious when we do!)

There is such a stigma in the American Christian world about being a virgin, or crossing a certain line, or becoming unclean if we do, and I disagree with that. I think these boundaries are helpful in helping us to fight for purity because God has commanded to, but with them come a heap of shame and guilt if we ever cross these lines. That is not my intent with this post. There is no sin Christ has not destroyed, and no shame He is unable to heal.

My goal with this post is to bring some clarity to what is often a foggy gray area, often left to relativistic maxims like “whatever your personal line is, don’t cross it!” I hope to bring many of us to a better understanding of sexuality, and how to fight for purity as best we can. What do you think? Agree? Disagree?

As we continue this conversation and thought process, may we be people who love purity and hate sexual immorality. May we be people who seek to please God with our bodies as much as with our souls and spirits, and may we be people who love to stay far away from the edge of the cliff.

A version of this article appeared on Ethan’s Blog on February 14th, 2017.


 

 

 

I’m Ethan & I love Jesus as much as my little heart allows. I’m an artist, traveler, and the Lord often speaks to me in poems. I’m a personal trainer, youth pastor and photographer. I graduated from Moody and now live in Colorado. Keep up with the wanderings of my mind over at ethanrenoe.com

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The Public Health Crisis No One Wants to Fund

Have you heard? Pornography is now being considered a public health crisis in three states with several more considering this option. South DakotaUtah, and Virginia are among a growing number of states whose lawmakers who are saying that children are being exposed to porn “at an alarming rate,” while noting that it is also “linked to a lessening desire in young persons to marry.” The measure in Virginia goes further and calls for more “education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level in order to address the pornography epidemic that is harming the people of the Commonwealth and the nation.”

Although this is great news we must understand the many realities that have lead to this moment in history. For much of the last decade organizations like Fight the The New Drug and ministries like XXX Church have spoken of the many ills of porn. However, up until recently no one really listened. Yes, sexual imagery has always been available but never to the extent it is today.

 

Porn is anonymous, free (or very affordable), and more accessible than ever before.

 

Divorce, sexual assault, depression, anxiety, a dismantling of trust between partners, and unrealistic expectations of the love partner are just some of the many results from habitually viewing pornography. These results have ended marriages and destroyed others before they even started.

I am grateful that so many are starting to realize the harm pornography brings to our society, but I worry it’s not amounting to much more than words.

Most of this legislation is nothing but gestures of kindness. It expresses a concern but no funding mandate, no programs they are making available, or offering any solutions to ending the cycle of distribution pornographers have created over the last several decades. Porn is being declared as dangerous with few actionable programs in place to battle exposure or addiction.

And the church is not in any better of a position to answer the call in addressing the issue of pornography.

In a 2016 Barna Group research study commissioned by Josh McDowell Ministry, church leadership indicated that this problem is much bigger than it was 20 years ago, yet only 7% of pastors said they have a ministry program for those struggling with porn.

 

Churches should be the hospitals in this health crisis, but very few have something to offer when it comes to sexual discipleship.

 

A few years ago we asked several lead pastors from around our region how often they addressed issues related to sex from the pulpit. On average the topics of sex, sexuality, and pornography were addressed 1-2 times every three to four years. This blew me away.

 

The church is struggling to offer support in this area.

 

Recently we hosted a lunch with over a 100 church leaders addressing this very issue with my friend, Walt Mueller. During our time together I realized that its not because church leaders don’t want to address it. Rather, they lack the tools. Seminary prepared many of these men and women for sharing scripture but not the resource or expertise to dive into the sensitive landscape we now find ourselves in when it comes to sexuality.

 

Let us use the momentum of states like Utah, South Dakota, and Virginia to create a measure for own congregations.

 

Initiating such vulnerable conversations can be a major hangup for most leaders, but by simply speaking about the impact pornography is having in your church will open up opportunities for change and healing.

 

Take steps to develop tools that shed light on this conversation.

 

The churches greatest resource is its people. Often we think we need the hottest or greatest sermon series or program to create change in our congregations. And there are some great organizations and programs that are incredibly helpful in this journey! But I’ve learned that the best thing we can provide someone struggling with pornography is a community that is willing to sit down, listen, and give direction. Every church has people that can do this!

 

Recognize that we sometimes need trained professionals to help us.

 

There is absolutely nothing wrong in seeking outside help. Because this issue has become an epidemic we need to understand there will be times a community of people will just not be enough. Fortunately there are several qualified counselors in every community to help. Don’t be afraid to admit if something is over your head.

What else do you think the state or church could do to end this public health crisis?

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Are You Stuck On Fantasy?

I recently overheard two women discussing their fantasy boyfriends over coffee. They were chatting about their favorite “celebs”: analyzing their “hotness”, what they love about them, why they would make amazing boyfriends, and how amazing it would be to meet them face to face…or better yet…

A while back on the news, I listened to reporters praise a pubescent teenager for asking his Sports Illustrated supermodel crush (probably his mom’s age…) to come with him to prom. How brave and courageous of him, they said. What an honorable thing to do in stepping out of his comfort zone and taking risks to engage his fantasies, they said.

To top it off, just last week I noticed the room of one of my friends’ teenage children – plastered with posters of dreamy celebrities and attractive musicians staring at her each night as she dozed off to sleep.

It’s amazing how fixated we are on fantasy.  So much so, that it’s almost become the norm.

We live in a society in which I’ve actually heard people claim they have literally fallen “in love” with celebrities, movie stars, porn-stars and supermodels.  But the problem is that they are falling in love…from a distance.

There is something safe about keeping people at a distance.  There is something appealing about the unknown that makes it attractive; something about the invisible that is seductive. Whether it’s the supermodel on the cover of a magazine, or that guy at work that you’ve never actually talked to.

Somehow, keeping people at a distance makes us want them even more.

Because keeping people at a distance is never messy. Loving them from far away, is never hard.  It isn’t mixed with the reality of pain, vulnerability and selflessness; nor does it know the sacrifices of forgiveness, and grace. But to really love, as C.S. Lewis says, is to be vulnerable.

So many men and women today are falling in love with a dream; falling in love with someone or something that doesn’t really exist, by taking the character of someone they don’t really know and adding the story that they find themselves living in the world of fantasy.

Falling in love with a dream, falling in love with an idea, but ultimately – falling in love with a lie.

And this isn’t just about crushing on Hollywood celebs, because fantasy can permeate so many other parts of our life. The bottom line is this…

Fantasy is living in what could be, rather than living in the reality of what actually is.

From pornography, to affairs, to toxic relationships.  The list could go on and on, but in each of these you will find men and women, imprisoned within the confines of a dream.  Stuck in a life they make up with people who don’t actually exist. We’ve succumbed to a life fueled by fantasy rather than by reality.

The married man who glances at the beautiful office secretary, mentally engaging in a relationship with her- forgetting her flaws, neglecting her deficits.

The single woman, analyzing and obsessing over a man she’s hardly talked to. Imagining what life could be if, and when…only to have her heart broken by his lack of interest. 

The housewife, trapped in the fantasy and excitement of her romance novels, leaving her own reality behind instead of dealing with it. 

The young woman stuck in an abusive marriage, making excuses and living for the dream of who he could be rather than acknowledging who he actually is and taking steps toward safety. 

The lonely young man, spending hours every evening trapped by the pornographic images on his computer screen, growing numb to the beauty of the real woman…and of real life. 

There is something provocative about living in a dream, but there is something even more paralyzing about it.

When we live in a dream, we lose sight of what’s real. We exchange our realities for something that can never actually exist.  We live for what could be, and end up missing what really is.  And in the end we are led into disappointment, disillusionment, and destruction.

We set ourselves up for failure by seeking to find this thing that doesn’t actually exist, setting expectations that cannot be met by ourselves, much less anyone else.

When we live in a dream, we stop really living.

Though they might not be as easy as Hollywood romance, real life and real relationships are well worth the investment.  With the help of God’s grace, forgiveness, and selflessness they can flourish into far greater than a simple dream, because they can become your glorious reality.

Close your eyes to the temptation of fantasy, and instead, open your eyes to the reality of life here and now.  And if reality isn’t what you’d hoped for it to be, than make a chance. Challenge yourself to learn and to grow; to forgive and mature. Deal with things in your past, face the things in your present, and become the person you want to be. Don’t live a passive life, but instead create a reality that you can be proud of.

Because only then are you able to truly live.


A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on August 16, 2016. Used by permission.

True Love Dates, is the book that world-renown #1 New York Times best-selling authors and relationship experts Drs. Les & Leslie Parrot have claimed to be exactly what “your love life needs”. Learn more, or pick up a copy for yourself by clicking the image below.

tld-3d-book cover

Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, speaker, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life21 Days to Jump Start Your Love Life, and 21 Days to Pray For Your Love Life – where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. You may also recognize her voice from her 150+ articles at Relevant Magazine or Crosswalk.com! She’s also the creator of this True Love Dates Blog!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter!

 

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Framing Sexual Sanity

In just a little over 50 years, our media culture has gone from treating matters of sexuality as a “hush-hush” topic, to putting all kinds of sexual practices and issues center-stage. That’s certainly been the case in the last few months as a variety of high profile stories regarding – among others things – molestation, abuse, and gender reassignment have filled everything from the news to “reality” TV

I’ve been working hard to think more about the issues than the personalities involved. I’ve been trying to frame these stories in the bigger picture of our sexuality, God’s sex story, and the sexual stories our culture is communicating to us all. A recent walk through II Samuel took me to Chapter 11 and the gut-wrenching story of David and Bathsheeba. After reading, I jotted some thoughts that I hope will be helpful to myself and other youth workers as we engage with kids about all matters sexual. Perhaps you’ll find them helpful.

First, we cannot deny or forget that sexual desire and curiosity is a good thing that we should expect to exist in all humanity. God is the sexual gift giver, and we are the recipients of this good and wonderful gift.  Sadly, the church has failed miserably to communicate this reality. Failing to see how our sexuality was made by God right at the start, woven in and through us, and given to us as a gift for our flourishing. . . well. . . we not only fail to communicate good theology, but our silence and uneasiness with things sexual communicates a horribly flawed theology of our sexuality which leaves young and old alike scrambling to figure out how to understand and live out these powerful drives and desires. Our silence communicates that sex and sexuality is shameful. Could this be why Christian fundamentalism is a hotbed for sexual sin? And while the church sometimes erroneously tells God’s story void of sexuality, the culture is guilty of telling a sexual story void of its rightful place in God’s story. We all struggle to get it right. . . but get it right we must.

Second, all people are horribly broken. Our sexuality is broken too. Yes, we need a robust and realistic theology of sin. When we understand human depravity, we will not be surprised by revelations of sexual sin. Perhaps even more important, a robust and realistic theology of sin should leave us looking inward with great fear and trembling. “Know yourself” is a mantra I tell myself all the time. And what I should know more than anything else are my points of weakness. And, as I tell youth workers all the time, “You are just one bad decision away from being a headline.” As sinners ourselves, we must be sure to help our kids see that their default sexual setting is to rebel against God’s good plan for sex and do the wrong thing.

Third, we are responsible to develop self-discipline. Peter issues this warning in I Peter 5:8: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” I don’t know about you, but I can easily downplay and forget the unseen battle that rages all around us and inside us. Mistake. Have you ever read the first three chapters of Genesis? Why is redemption necessary? Why is our world so broken? Know yourself. Know your default settings. Know your unique issues and temptations. Know your triggers. Don’t go where you can’t go. Seek accountability and help. And if someone you know comes to you and says you have a problem and you need help. . . listen.

Finally, in a “do-anything” and hyper-sexualized world, we will do anything and everything as we allow our lives to revolve around the idol of sexuality.  Honestly, I’m surprised we’re not hearing more stories like this. I believe that over time and in the very near future, we will be hearing more and more stories as a generation of kids nurtured by a boundary-less and border-less ambient sexuality comes of age. Sadly, many of the stories will involve both victims and perpetrators who haven’t yet come of age. That’s called “age-compression.” As I always say, “culture is the soup that our kids swim and marinate in 24/7.” If that’s the case, we shouldn’t be surprised at how they are flavored. Is it possible that we might even be moving from a world where that which is “secret sin” becomes an “open celebration?” And then there’s the schizophrenic mixed messages our culture sends to our developmentally vulnerable and easily influenced kids. . . things like “Go ahead and look at this!” but “Don’t you ever do this!” This is where so much of the difficulty comes in. Right is still right and wrong is still wrong. People are ultimately responsible for themselves and should be held accountable for their decisions and actions. But I’m not sure we can stand and point accusing fingers without any blame at all when we’ve been part of the horribly flawed nurturing process through commission or omission.

Our culture is talking about sexuality. We need to do the same. And in doing so, we must redeem this horribly misunderstood and mis-used good gift of God!

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Pornography And The Brain

This morning I got up early to head south to Daytona Beach. I’m spending the next couple of days with a group of youth workers talking about significant trends in youth culture. This afternoon, I will be speaking about pornography’s growing and pervasive influence in our culture. For some reason, my mind wandered back to a day almost five years ago when I was flying and noticed what the young women in the row in front of me was reading. While sitting here during a delay, I went back to read that post. I’m sharing it here once more. . .

Today I had a long flight. I decided to dig into the stack of books that’s growing on a spot on my office floor. My summer reading/study emphasis is pornography. . . its place in our culture and what it’s doing to our lives. The pile of books has grown in the last few weeks and I’m not at all looking forward to what I’m going to be reading and what I’m going to learn. Still, it needs to be done.

As I settled into my seat I pulled out my copy of William Struthers’ Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male BrainI’ve been fascinated by the little bit I’ve read from this Christian Biopsychologist who teaches at Wheaton College so I’ve been yearning to learn more about the not-so-surprising connection between pornography and the things it does to men’s brains. After all, we’re integrated beings created by a Maker who has made us with amazing complexity.

At the same time that I was opening my book, a young woman who appeared to me to be in her early twenties settled down in the row in front of me. She quickly stowed her carry-on bag under her seat and then eagerly opened her book. . . . Fifty Shades of Grey. You might remember that I blogged on this blockbuster book a few posts ago.

And so I proceeded to read these words about what pornography does to the male brain:

As men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on these images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with women are routed. The neural circuitry anchors this process solidly in the brain. With each lingering stare, pornography deepens a Grand Canyon-like gorge in the brain through with images of women are destined to flow. This extends to women that they have not seen naked or engaging in sexual acts as well. All women become potential porn stars in the minds of these men. They have unknowingly created a neurological circuit that imprisons their ability to see women right as created in God’s image.

Repeated exposure to pornography creates a one-way neurological superhighway where a man’s mental life is oversexualized and narrowed. It is hemmed in on either side by a high containment walls making escape nearly impossible. this neurological superhighway has many on-ramps. The mental life is fixated on sex, but it is intended for intimacy. It is wide – able to accommodate multiple partners, images and sexual possibilities, but it is intended to be narrow – a place for God’s exclusive love to be imaged.  .  .

And as I read these words from William Struthers, I kept wondering to myself about what was happening in the brain of the young lady seated in front of me. . . . . and the brains of so many other young men and women.

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Why It’s About More Than Virginity

For too long, conversations around sexual purity have included virginity as the supreme example of Christian values.

Even those outside of the Christian faith have declared the same thing; writer and feminist Jessica Valenti says the church’s obsession with virginity is hurting young women.

And you know what? I agree.

Popular culture exploits a woman’s sexuality both before and after they have sex. It is a non-stop reality for almost every female in our culture. And it is modeled most in today’s pop stars.

The rise of Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus are perfect examples. Each of them used their “sexual innocence” to win over parents of pre-teen girls. In the years that followed both wrote a book about their devotion to God and to waiting until marriage to have sex. Virginity was the key for parents to label each pop star worthy of praise and thus good role models for their daughters

Unfortunately, the church has mimicked this behavior.

For too many Christian women virginity has become the answer – the moral quick fix – to their salvation. You can be vapid or even unethical, but as long as you’ve never had sex, you’re a good person worthy of praise and admiration.

We are seeing a backlash against the purity culture that many grew up with in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Most of this frustration has not been pointed toward waiting itself but rather how this message was communicated.

For years, the typical messages of sexual purity were focused on regulating behavior rather than helping people condition their heart to truly follow Christ. It was more about what you didn’t do than what you could do with your body and your mind.

Women have become the sexual gatekeepers in our church and outside of it. Often conversations on modesty have placed the emphasis on what the women wear and do rather than the entire community. Thus, women have been responsible for men’s sexual behavior.

And this is absolutely insane.

While many have rightly taught that waiting to have sex is about much more virginity, there remains a reverse message that a girl or woman who has had sex is now “damaged goods” unworthy of the pure love of a good Christian man.  The end result is a message that denies the power of God’s grace to heal, forgive and transform. And the reality of all of this is that we are all “damaged goods” in need of God’s forgiveness, whether we are virgins or not.

For too many years the church has responded to the culture’s definition of sex by saying “No!” Collectively we have failed to look at God’s definition of sex, which is intended to bring unity and oneness, and rather limited the conversation to a matter of, “How far is too far?”

Research has proven that when the commitment to wait is attached to something beyond themselves, like a desire to follow Christ, they are more likely to find success in waiting. And they are also more likely to recover well if things don’t go as planned.

That is why our identity in Jesus Christ is so important.

He makes us completely whole again so that we might fully love without shame. This is why virginity is not important, but living with sexual integrity (being wholly obedient to Jesus with our sexuality) is. In Christ the old has gone, the new has come, and we are a new creation created in Christ Jesus to give ourselves in love as He did. That is our identity. That is what really matters.

Virginity should only be the by-product of a devotion to God and His design for sex, not the identifier.

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Teens and Online Safety. . . A Helpful Infographic. . .

We stumbled on this helpful infographic that’s worth passing on to parents. It’s all about some of the deeper and darker corners of the online world. No, we don’t believe that technology, social media, and the internet are inherently evil and unredeemable. But we do believe that parents and youth workers need to be diligent in their efforts to help kids use these remarkable tools in a way that brings honor and glory to God. An important element in that quest is to know how these tools can easily be misused. So, here you go:

teen-infographic1

 

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CoverGirl’s Cover Boy. . . A Sign Of The Times. . .

I’m still processing and working to deconstruct/understand what’s behind the tectonic cultural shifts that have set the table for last week’s social media saturation announcing CoverGirl’s enlistment of their first ever Cover Boy. James Charles is a 17-year-old high school senior who has developed quite a YouTube and Instagram following thanks to his online glammy make-up tutorials. His recent CoverGirl photo shoot with Katy Perry has sparked all kinds of thoughts regarding current cultural realities and change. The threads and thoughts are complex and many, for sure. Here are just a couple. . .

james-charles

First, social media continues to open the door for the adolescent “everyman” and “everygirl” to pursue celebrity, fame, and fortune. Of course, only a little bit of cream ever rises to the top, but the succes of guys like James Charles only serves to feed the frenzy. If kids are led to believe that anybody can maneuver social media as a path to stardom, then chances are that everybody will attempt to maneuver social media as a path to stardom at different times and different levels during their adolescent years. The dangers inherent in this are many. How much time and effort will we waste in pursuit of the elusive golden ring of celebrity? How will we manipulate and make-over ourselves in that pursuit? Will we jettison our true selves in an effort to create a false face that sells? Will we idolize self and unknowingly slide into forsaking our love for the one true God? These are just a few of the important questions to ask, as they can help us better understand the adolescent experience in today’s world, while helping to shape our ministry efforts with our kids. . . whose stories are so very complex.

Second, James Charles, his makeover, and the response to his “brand” is one more example of how the world has shifted from a stance under authority, to a stance dictated in the moment by nothing more or less than preferences. On the same day that I first heard about Charles, I was also wrapping up the book Impossible People by Os Guinness. If you’re not familiar with Guinness and his cultural insights, you should be. Guinness writes about the  the inescapable presence and power of pluralization. Endless choice and change have increased at all levels of our lives. Those “all levels” include gender and identity.

Guinness says that we have moved from a fixed world of tradition and identity to a more fluid world of modernity, “where everything always changes and nothing keeps its shape for very long. . . . People and things are always becoming, but they never become anything for long.” But rather than being reliant on self in these matters, we must realize that neither we nor the universe were self-created. We are not self-sustaining. This is not my world, but rather my Father’s world.

And for me, I would much rather find my place in God’s world in God’s way, than be left to myself to curate, fabricate, and promote a personal brand in ways that require me to step to the center of the cosmos, blur lines. . . and ultimately be left empty.

So, how are you processing these things with kids?

 

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The Shame List. . . And How To Talk About Sex. . .

Last week, the folks at Campus Pride, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating a safer college environment for LGBTQ students, released its 2016 Shame List of the absolute worst campuses for LBGTQ youth. As I scrolled through the list of colleges and universities, I began to feel like I was scrolling through one of those old Campus Life guides to Christian colleges that we used to make available to youth group kids and their families. It was not at all surprising that the list was overwhelmingly populated by religiously-affiliated schools. Included on the list was my own alma mater, Geneva College.

The Campus Pride site includes these words about the list from Executive Director, Shane Windmeyer: “Religion-based bigotry is careless and life-threatening. LGBTQ young people face high rates of harassment and violence, especially our trans youth and LGBTQ youth of color. The schools on this list openly discriminate against LGBTQ youth and many of these schools have requested or received Title IX exemptions for no other purpose than to discriminate, expel and ban LGBTQ youth from campus. It is shameful and wrong. . . Families and young people deserve to know that this list of schools are the worst for LGBTQ youth. They are not loving, welcoming, safe spaces to live, learn and grow – and nobody wants to got to a college that openly discriminates against anyone.”

I’ve been thinking about Shane Windmeyer’s words for several days. While my thoughts are still in process and therefore incomplete, here are some initial reflections. . .

Perhaps most troubling to me as I pondered the list is that fact that I know a small handful of the schools listed and believe that Shane Windmeyer’s characterization of those schools is a bit unfair. Granted, I can’t speak for all of the schools on the list. Most are schools I only know by name. Nor can I speak for the far-too-many people associated with many Christian colleges (and other institutions, for that matter) who horribly misrepresent Christ and Christianity when it comes to matters of sexuality. . . either through their own arrogant behavioral hypocrisy and failure to recognize that hypocrisy, and/or through hate-filled approaches to issues of sexuality that would be more like those crazy messed-up folks who show up at military funerals and pride events screaming, yelling, and condemning. The fact is,  these people do not represent me, and their actions shouldn’t lead to hasty judgments regarding Christ, Christianity, and all Christians.

But what also left me troubled regarding the list and Shane Windmeyer’s comments is the all-or-nothing nature of his words that I believe unfairly box those of us in who are truly working hard to listen, to understand, and to respond in ways that reflect a humble attitude of repentance (where and when we’ve been wrong. . . and we have been), along with a clear Christ-like approach that oozes grace, while maintaining a proper perspective on God’s order and design for his created gift of sex and sexuality. My own college, Geneva College, unapologetically expects and strives to nurture all students to embrace a consistent Christian faith that is integrated into all of life. . . academics, relationships, play, work, sexuality, etc. Every faculty member and student who is honest will readily admit that to do so is, in fact, a daily struggle. This mission is rooted in the transformative message of the Gospel. In Geneva’s case, the whole of Biblical history and two-thousand years of Christian history continue to come together to shape an understanding and approach to all matters of life in ways that challenge every student on a personal level, while reflecting the way and will of God as revealed in the Scriptures. For me personally, I have struggled, worked, and at times failed miserably to see how the Scriptures do in fact speak to every nook and cranny of my life. . . including sex and sexuality. While it has been a difficult venture that usually challenges my beliefs and behaviors to the point of great discomfort, it has always been a journey that is life-giving and transformative.

To all those who would come to blanket conclusions based on the Shame List, I would simply ask that you understand that in the case of what I believe is true of most Christians,  is that we endeavor to be people who represent love, welcome, and safety. This is who God has been to us. We endeavor to be those kind of people because we endeavor to be faithful to God and his revelation of himself in the Bible, which is why we believe that God’s good gift of sex and sexuality are given for a clear purpose and place. I would hope that as we endeavor to serve God and show grace, that you would not openly discriminate against us as we endeavor to follow and serve the God who has revealed himself to humanity in the Scriptures and called us to “come and follow me.” For me, to walk away from a Biblical sexual ethic would require me to turn my back on all that Christ has done in my life, and to jettison everything I’ve believed about everything. To do so would be a clear denial of Jesus Christ. . . which is not an option for me. Likewise, to stand on a corner and scream “God hates fags!” would be a denial  of Jesus Christ as well. And in the midst of all of this, I continue to pray that I would be open to understanding where I have been in error in both beliefs and behaviors.

To my fellow followers of Christ, I highly recommend this short little conversation about how to speak to our culture about sex:

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