Providing information and resources for parents, youth workers and educators to help kids navigate their sexuality.
Center for Parent/Youth Understanding Phone: (717) 361-8429
Jan 19, 2018
By Walt Mueller
A Theology Of Masturbation: Tackling One Of The Tough Questions
Yes, we want our kids to ask questions about God’s good gift of sex, gender, and sexuality. We might not be well-prepared to answer their questions, but as many parents have said to me, “It’s easier for my kids to bring up the questions rather than me!” But there’s one question that always seems to generate a period of hemming and hawing that can go on and on and on. That’s the question of masturbation.
Let’s be honest here. . . my informal surveys of an entire older generation of boys reveals they either a) indulged in auto-eroticism without borders or boundaries (“Ninety-five percent of all teenage boys say they masturbate. . . and the other five percent are liars!” . . . remember that?), b) never discussed the issue with their parents beyond hearing a one-sided “Don’t do it!”, or c) lived their lives in fear and trembling believing that they were going to go blind by the age of 19.
In today’s hyper-sexualized culture, the questions are rarely even being asked. And when a young person (or an old person) seeking to develop a healthy God-honoring approach to His good gift of sex and sexuality starts to ask questions about masturbation, most adults either go blank or have no idea how to answer. I’m fully aware that in the world of theology, and specifically youth ministry, there are a variety of perspectives on how to best answer the question.
Like all questions about sex, sexuality, and gender, this is a question that can only be answered in the context of the story in which we choose to live. If we choose to live in the cultural narrative, it’s not even a question. But for those who have been called into the biblical narrative, we need to listen diligently to that story as we faithfully ponder what God’s answer is. . . even if we don’t feel like His answer is the easiest one to accept and enlist.
Yesterday, I spotted a post on “Solo Sex and the Christian” from my friend David White at Harvest USA. I’ve spent years trying to think through the best way to hear the Scriptures speak and how to communicate those answers to the kids (and adults) I encounter who ask. David’s article is, without a doubt, the most thoughtful practical theology of masturbation I’ve ever seen. It is worth a few minutes of your time. . . and perhaps you will find it as helpful as I do.
We are all sexual strugglers at some level. . . all of us. Here’s what David writes about the struggle with masturbation. . .
One of the frequently asked questions at a Harvest USA seminar is whether masturbation is a sin. There has been a lot of debate on this issue in Christian circles, largely because it’s a behavior without a condemning, biblical proof text. Although I can’t point you to a specific chapter and verse forbidding this behavior, God’s design for sexuality makes it clear that there is no room for masturbation in the life of a Christian.
As I’ve written elsewhere, there is theological significance to our sexuality. Two things are crucial to have at the forefront when considering solo sex. First, in the Bible sexual activity is always reserved for marriage. It is designed to be inherently relational, a deep knowing of and intimacy with another. Second, the goal of sex is selfless service, the pleasuring of another. This latter point is particularly clear from 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, the only “how to” passage in the Bible prescribing sexual activity.
God designed sexuality to be like every other aspect of the Christian life: a turning away from selfish desires to honor God with my body and use it to serve others. Sex in Christian marriage should reflect the New Testament’s ethic in general. Describing discipleship, Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This is much more than a proof text for the atonement; it is the culmination of Jesus’ teaching on what it means to be his disciple.
As a solitary activity, masturbation is not rooted in relationship with another. There is no opportunity for deepening intimacy and knowing of another. Further, far from selfless service, masturbation is a picture of incarnate selfishness. To engage in this behavior is to say. . . (to keep reading, click here).
Matt Lauer, Teachable Moments, and Theologizing About Sexuality and Sin
Trending. . . Matt Lauer. . . at number one on my news feed. As of this morning, one of the voices that’s been sharing the growing cascade of #metoo stories over the last few weeks is now the subject of those stories himself. I watched as visibly rattled co-workers Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb explained Lauer’s absence on this morning’s Today Show.
How did you react when you heard the story? What thoughts went through your mind?
At times like this, I’ve learned that it might actually be a wiser move to focus on my own thoughts/reaction than on the story and its subject. And I’m not at all proud of the fact that the learning curve on this skill took much more time for me than it should have. And, I’m still tempted to default to focus on guys like Matt Lauer than on myself. That’s a blatant confession.
Upon seeing the news pop up in my feed this morning, I experienced a bit of jolt. Matt Lauer??? Come on. But that jolt very quickly morphed into the thought of “sad but not surprised” . . . a consequence of years and years of watching culture, pondering the reality of human depravity, and looking more deeply into my own broken and messed-up heart. This isn’t the last one of these stories we’re going to hear. . . not at all.
What is that you do with news like this? I think that there’s great value in self-evaluating how each of us evaluates and responds to these kinds of stories. In other words, before getting on with the rest of our day, it’s a good thing to theologize about, to learn from, and to think about how to process these stories with our own selves and with the kids we know and love.
I’ve been working on doing that this morning. In fact, I’ve put other tasks aside for the simple reason that my mind’s been racing. Here are some of my initial, typically-incomplete, and hopefully-helpful thoughts. . .
First, if your initial reaction is a smug, self-assured, disapproving finger wag in the direction of Matt Lauer and others like him. . . well, that’s quite telling. I’m ashamed to admit that in years past I was more prone to head immediately down this Pharisaical avenue than I am now. . . I hope. It’s easy to default into self-righteous finger-wagging when the subject of the story is someone who doesn’t share your views on faith and life, and who is one who sometimes pushes back hard on your views of faith and life. Let’s be honest here. . . if you’re a person of Christian faith you are tempted and even beyond tempted to rejoice in the downfall of folks who think, believe, and behave differently. But when that happens, we really aren’t thinking, believing, and behaving differently. Our actions prove that. Nor are we bringing honor and glory to the One who saved us when we had absolutely no hope at all of saving ourselves.
Second, if you politicize this and other stories like it, then you are making a horrible, horrible mistake. The reality is that this isn’t a political issue. It’s a human nature issue. It’s not an issue for either just conservatives or liberals. It’s evidence of a universal struggle. Sexual brokenness, temptation, and sin in thought, word, and deed is no respecter of persons, faith commitments, or political views. Whenever someone uses the issue as political or ideological ammo. . . no matter who they are. . . well shame on them. And shame on me if I cave into that temptation.
Third, this is a time to remember this rock-solid truth: “There but for the grace of God go I.” While my own human depravity should never be used as an excuse to write-off or justify the sin of others (or God-forbid, my own sin), I must also never forget that if I’m honest with myself, “there but for the grace of God go I.” And while I must reckon with the ever-present enemy of my own depravity and the one who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” I must always “stay alert” and watching out for this enemy who would love nothing more than to take me down. And, we all need to be reminded that even he might not be successful in taking us down through sexual sin, any self-righteous gloating over the fact is an indicator that he is very sneaky in other ways. . . like taking us down through pride.
And finally, today’s story and others like it offer us great opportunities to teach our kids in ways that will equip them for a sober-minded life which makes them continually aware of the enemy within. It was timely that even before seeing the story on Matt Lauer this morning, I prayed these words from today’s entry in Scotty Smith’s Everyday Prayers book: “Protect us from the evil one, and rescue us from ourselves.”
One good sin never deserves another. That’s why we need to spend so much time looking inward at ourselves. Today’s story is not one that should teach us about Matt Lauer. Why? Because in so many ways Matt Lauer is each one of us. Because of that, this is an opportunity to learn even more about ourselves and to teach our kids the increasingly-forgotten skill of doing the same.
I’m not a reader of The Weekly Standard. But I was directed there this week by my friend Sean McDowell, who had posted a link to an interview with feminist Camille Paglia.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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!
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 Brain. I’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.
What the Sexual Revolution Got Wrong. . . And What We Must Get Right. . .
In thinking about the changes announced at Playboy magazine and what I blogged on two days ago, I started to dig through my memory and my notes (you should see my desk!) to find an article on the sexual revolution that I had read in ByFaith magazine a couple of years ago. That article, “The Shameless and the Unashamed” by Alan Dowd, offers a concise and compelling critique of the sexual revolution and what it’s left in its wake, along with biblically-based suggestions for the way forward. The article is spot on and very good. That said, I want to encourage you all (especially parents and youth workers) to take a few minutes to read Dowd’s article, as I believe it can shape our response in significant ways. . .
Those who pushed the sexual boundaries in the 1960s fancy themselves as revolutionaries throwing off the shackles of centuries of taboos and stigmas. “Emancipation is now a reality,” as Margaret Drabble wrote in 1967, cheering what she called “the golden age of adult sexual equality.”
The reality is quite the opposite—in two ways: First, the sexual revolution did not usher in a golden age. And second, God is the real revolutionary, challenging us to aspire to something more than the base instincts of human nature.
Promises and Consequences
The free-love sexual revolution of the 1960s was anything but a revolutionary step forward. Instead, it was a step backward, to the ways of the ancient past.
The context of Genesis 6 and 7, for instance, strongly suggests that human kind had taken an anything-goes approach to sex. The twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were so hungry for sex that some 4,000 years later, they are still synonymous with depravity. Lot’s life was deformed by the misuse of sex. Even the patriarch Abraham agreed to a plan to conceive a child outside of marriage—and outside of God’s will.
David took a whatever-feels-good approach with Bathsheba and stole another man’s wife. In following their impulses, his sons followed his example: Amnon was blinded by lust and assaulted his half-sister. Absalom disgraced his father and his father’s throne by having relations with David’s concubines—“in the sight of all Israel” no less (2 Samuel 16). Solomon was so controlled by his flesh that he had 1,000 wives and concubines (I Kings 11).
The gospels tell us that Herod took Herodias, his brother’s wife, as his own. Then he cast his eyes on Herodias’ daughter. And the Roman world of Paul’s day, as underscored by Paul’s letters, was a society consumed by aberrant sex.
p align=”left”>In short, there was nothing revolutionary about our own sexual revolution. In our time, as in Paul’s, Solomon’s, David’s and Lot’s, the enemy’s promises are never fulfilled—and the consequences are never fully considered until it’s too late. . . continue reading the rest of the article here.
Playboy’s Move In A Changing Cultural Landscape. . . A Call To Respond. . .
The New York Times headline offers up what appears, at first, to be good news. In reality, the headline reveals just how sexually indulgent and broken we’ve become. “Playboy to Drop Nudity as Internet Fills Demand” we’re told. In other words, the hard-to-find gateway and only-available avenue into pornography that so many men my age sought out in an effort to indulge our childhood curiosity in depraved ways has more-or-less given up. The New York Times article tells us that the magazine’s executives “admit that Playboy has been overtaken by the changes it pioneered.” Playboy chief executive Scott Flanders says, “That battle has been fought and won. You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passe at this juncture.”
Sounds like the sexual revolution ushered in by Hugh Hefner and his magazine is over. At least that’s what those who were at the forefront of the revolution are now telling us. Mission accomplished. And that is tragic.
Accurate statistics on pornography’s place in our culture and the lives of our kids are difficult to come by. Because of the continuing rapid proliferation of pornography through the internet, it’s all so fluid and fast-moving. Rewind to the best statistics from 2006, and we knew then that the average age of first exposure to pornography was 11-years-old. Now, nine years later, elementary-school-aged kids are walking around with smartphones that offer them 24/7 internet access. . . sometimes with little or no adult supervision. I can’t imagine what my inquisitive fourth grade self would have done with that kind of freedom. . . which leads me to wonder what fourth graders growing up in a culture of ambient hypersexuality are accessing on their smartphones.
At CPYU we’ve been working hard to understand and respond to the issue of sexual brokenness and pornography with helpful, hope-filled, biblically-based resources. This morning, I went back and looked over our “Parents’ Primer on Internet Pornography,” a free pdf download that you can access on our Digital Kids Initiative homepage. I was reminded that experts tell us that pornography addiction is fueled by three factors that are unique to our current online/digital (and now post-Playboy) age. . .
• Pornography is accessible. There are thousands of sites that can be easily accessed when one is alone in their own home. In addition, mobile devices with Internet access offer 24/7 connection to pornography.
• Pornography is anonymous. A person can access pornography privately. Nobody has to know them, and they don’t have to know the people behind the images.
• Pornography is affordable. The fact is that a large portion of Internet pornography can be accessed free of charge. Pornography that requires payment can be instantly accessed through the use of a credit card. What are the effects of pornography on children and teen
We live in a fast-changing world. It’s our hope that together we can offer Godly, Gospel-centered responses that lead our kids into a full and wonderful experience of the God-given gift of their sexuality!
Listen and Watch! . . . Kids, Sexual Identity, and Social Media. . .
This is a simple “heads up!” If you care about understanding kids and pointing them in the direction of Gospel-centered human flourishing, then I’m about to point you to three listening/viewing opportunities that I hope you won’t ignore or miss. Two can be accessed today and tomorrow as they run and air. The other can be accessed at your leisure.
First, over the course of the next couple of days, there is a conference on issues related to sexuality that is live-streaming. The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors is meeting on the campus of Southern Seminary. The pre-conference for two days on “Transgender Confusion and Transformational Christianity” is running today. You can access the live-stream here. Of special interest is tomorrow’s 5pm session with Dr. Rosaria Butterfield. Dr. Butterfield is a voice you must hear and heed. She is an articulate voice of Biblically-faithful reason who has come out of the academic community and was once living in a committed lesbian relationship.
Second, I want to encourage you to listen to this very helpful podcast from Eric Metaxas that includes an interview with Rosaria Butterfield. I was absolutely blown away by Butterfield’s suggestion that hospitality is actually a form of spiritual warfare. Wow! The implications for youth ministry are many. Be sure to give it a listen.
Finally, CNN is running what looks to be an eye-opening one-hour special report tonight at 9pm, #Being13: Inside the Secret World of Teens. If you’re in youth ministry you should not only watch, but get the word out to parents that this might well be worth their time.
Sex Trafficking, Porn, and A Powerful video Message For Our Kids. . .
Earlier this morning I arrived at our CPYU office and logged on to my computer. As I do many mornings, I checked to see what kind of traffic we had on our website yesterday. But it was today’s traffic stats that caught my eye. Listed under the tab marked “Search Engine Terms” were seven search term phrases that somehow led searchers to our site. Here are the seven terms that popped up in that screen. . .
12 years old girls sex
12 year girls any sex
12 yaer garls six video
12 year sex girl vedio
sex 12 years hot
12 girls hd sex
12 yer sex grilie video
To be honest, we’ve seen this before. . . just about every day in fact. . . but not in way that we saw this morning. Seven terms were listed. All seven were searches for child pornography. Our friends over at Covenant Eyes tell us that 1 in 5 searches on mobile devices are for pornography. On a running counter that you can see here, they tell us that as of 8:14am this morning, there have been 1,682,047, 674 searches for pornography since the start of 2015. Check out that counter now and you’ll see how the number is climbing.
If there’s any shred of goodness that could come out of what I noticed on our site this morning it’s this: the most accessed post on our CPYU website since midnight last night is a one-minute radio spot we ran back on August 4, entitled “12-Year-Old Girls and Sex.”
The good news is that if those who were searching for child pornography happened to listen to the one-minute spot, they were getting a sixty minute challenge to the truth, rather than being pulled further and further into the dark and addictive abyss of pornography. That’s a good thing.
Looking at this morning’s web traffic has served to remind me of how important it is for us to trumpet the message that viewing pornography is actually involvement in sex trafficking. We live in a culture that for this moment, at least, believes widely that trafficking human beings is dead-wrong. Many of our kids are vocal about the problem. Challenging them to see how pornography feed sexual trafficking is a way to get them to do something about it. It might also be one more deterrent in promoting sexual integrity that sees and responds to pornography for what it is. . . a horribly skewed, sad, and broken expression of God’s good and wonderful gift of our sexuality. We’ve got a wide open window to do so in today’s world, so let’s take it!
#shoutyourabortion. . . A Tragic Sign Of The Times. . .
Last night I saw this post from a Facebook friend: “As a woman conceived in rape and incest, I am so very grateful that my 14 year old birthmother didn’t join the voices of #ShoutYourAbortion. My life has been incredible and 6 children and 15 grandchildren later, I am thankful for this dear woman every single day!!!”
Wow. Not only was that post moving and thought-provoking, but it sent me on a quest to learn more about the alarming hashtag launched last Friday that started receiving publicity in a big way yesterday. #shoutyourabortion was a Twitter hashtag launched by three female activists who are disturbed by conservative efforts in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood. The women are calling for women who have had abortions to proudly share their stories and thus remove any remaining stigma attached to having an abortion. One of three posted this on Facebook as they began their efforts to send the #shoutyourabortion hashtag viral:
And this tweet from another of the activist organizers. . .
One of my heroes of the faith, Francis Schaeffer, pushed back hard on the abortion movement and the worldview from which it came and which it promotes back when Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. An astute cultural critic who knew that ideas matter, Schaeffer wrote these words that I’m contemplating today. . .
“Certainly every Christian ought to be praying and working to nullify the abominable abortion law. But as we work and pray, we should have in mind not only this important issue as though it stood alone. Rather, we should be struggling and praying that this whole other total entity ‘(this godless) worldview’ can be rolled back with all its results across all of life.”
“But the dignity of human life is unbreakably linked to the existence of the personal-infinite God. It is because there is a personal-infinite God who has made men and women in His own image that they have a unique dignity of life as human beings. Human life then is filled with dignity, and the state and humanistically oriented law have no right and no authority to take human life arbitrarily in the way it is being taken.”
“If man is not made in the image of God, nothing then stands in the way of inhumanity. There is no good reason why mankind should be perceived as special. Human life is cheapened. We can see this in many of the major issues being debated in our society today: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, the increase of child abuse and violence of all kinds, pornography … , the routine torture of political prisoners in many parts of the world, the crime explosion, and the random violence which surrounds us.”
With the proud trumpeting of the hashtag #shoutyourabortion this week, we have moved one steep deeper into the hole of narcissistic cultural decline that we as human beings continue to dig for ourselves. The great and tragic irony in all of this is that our efforts to secure what we believe is human freedom results in humanity killing itself. . . whether the victims are the unborn, the poor, the refugee, the trafficked, or those who look different than ourselves. Lord, save us from ourselves.
Perhaps we need to #shouttheimagodei with courage and conviction. And our shouting needs to be seen and heard.
Post-SCOTUS Chatter. . . And Trying To Get It Right. . . .
While tracking some of the social media chatter after yesterday’s Supreme Court decision I had a few thoughts that, I hope, are helpful. So many of them have to do with how we, as followers of Jesus, respond to what’s happening.
For me, this isn’t about a “culture war.” I’ve never liked that language, I’ve never considered or seen myself as a soldier in a culture war army, nor do I think the “culture war” posture or language reflects a faithfulness to Christ’s calling on our lives. While I believe that politics maps and mirrors the spirit of the times, I don’t believe that politics solves anything or is ultimately salvific. I believe that the “culture war” posture creates and maintains division and anger. That’s why I find fundamentalism repulsive and counter-productive. Instead, I think we do need to adopt a posture of “faithful presence” in the world in a manner that is clearly marked by conversation and love. For those of us who are not happy with the Supreme Court’s decision, we need to look inside and evaluate whether we are angry or grieved. I think there’s a big difference between the two, with the latter being indicative, I believe, of being on the right track. Anger causes us to write off people. Grief is driven by a response of love, care, and concern due to the loss of something good. It is a deep brokenness over a shift from the way things are supposed to be to the way things are not supposed to be. That’s why a life snuffed out by death causes grief.
Last night, I grieved. As I was flipping around the TV channels I encountered this picture of The White House. It’s powerful. And then I pondered what the image represents about our collective spirit. I thought about words I had read just an hour earlier in a little book penned and recently published by my 83-year-old father. His book is titled God’s Amazing Graceand it’s about the message of John Newton’s magnificent hymn, “Amazing Grace.” My dad wrote, “We think love allows everything and gives everything. But though this be what we think, deep down we know this isn’t true. Love denies that which isn’t good for the one who is loved.” I think my Dad’s words capture well that which a growing majority of people, even Christian people, do not understand about the deep, deep love of Jesus. This is how he loved the woman on the verge of being stoned.
At this point, I think my grief is occasioned far less by the loss of God’s order and design for marriage in our culture. Rather, it is fueled by what appears to be a diminishment of the understanding of “love” among my brothers and sisters in Christ. It is occasioned by the scales tipping perilously from that delicate balance we’ve been called to strike between truth and grace in ways that increasingly leave the truth-side of the balance sitting empty. And when that delicate and difficult balance is lost. . . on either side. . . then we have nothing truly Christ-like and transformative to offer to a broken world.
The culture-at-large is already deeply entrenched in conversation equating “love and welcome all” with “marry all.” Therefore, those who do not marry all are said to not love and welcome all. That’s a horribly erroneous assumption. . . and I hope and pray that we followers of Jesus don’t buy in.
One of my friends posted this powerful and helpful three-word reminder on Facebook last evening. . . “Citizen of Heaven.”
Wesley Hill. . . Framing Conversations on Same-Sex Attraction and Sexuality. . .
The culture continues to discuss and frame discussions on sex and sexuality. Ambient sexuality is the order of the day.
One voice seeking to remain faithful to Christ and the Scriptures is Wesley Hill, a young New Testament scholar who is same-sex attracted. As a result of his struggle to understand his sexuality in light of the Scriptures, Hill has become a voice not only for the same-sex attracted, but for those believers who long to show compassion to the LGBTQ community. His insights are helpful and profound.
In the past, you’ve heard me recommend Hill’s book, Washed and Waiting. I want to encourage parents and youth workers to listen to Hill. His book is well worth your time.
To give you a little taste of Wesley Hill and his message, I’ve posted this short 10-minute interview. . .
To be honest, I wasn’t surprised, but I was saddened. Then, as I continued to read, I saw social media lighting up with folks responding and taking sides. Some were less than gracious and charitable. Others, reflected a pendulum swung to the other side. I want to be biblically balanced and fair to a brother I have known for a long time.
Tony’s statement has left me with a pit in my stomach. You see, early on in my walk with Christ, Tony Campolo was a loud voice who God used to summon me to a deeper understanding of God’s call on my life. . . first and foremost to integrate my faith into every nook and cranny of my life and to live my life to the glory of God. Then secondly, to teach kids to do the same. I still remember Tony’s rousing call at a couple of Jubilee Conferences in Pittsburgh well over thirty years ago. He encouraged me and a room full of young college students to seek first and to embrace the glorious and wonderful Kingdom of God. Those were watershed moments in my life. They changed me. As I got older, I appreciated Tony’s ability to serve as a kind of evangelical conscience. . . poking and prodding guys like me out of spiritual slumber and into a life of devotion to Jesus. As the years have passed, I have continued to appreciate Tony’s heart. I have always, however, listened to Tony with a bit of caution, knowing that everything he says needs to be evaluated in the light of Scripture. Consequently, as I’ve gotten older, there have been times when I’ve had to disagree with Tony on some of his positions. Never, though, in the way I feel I have to disagree this morning. I’m saddened and disappointed.
I don’t believe it to be coincidental that I spent a good portion of yesterday reading, writing, and posting some things that I think are necessary and helpful as we navigate the issues of the day. For the Christian, the issue isn’t just matters of sexuality. It goes deeper. At it’s root, we have to think seriously about our hermeneutic. . . those foundational principles of interpretation that we embrace that serve as our starting point for understanding and responding to any theological issue that comes our way. I had blogged on this last week in my post that was simply titled “Jenner. . . ” Yesterday, I blogged again, this time with “A Message to Parents,” written to encourage parents to take the Christian education and nurture of their children seriously. If you check out my Facebook page and my posts from yesterday, you’ll see that I included some relevant quotes, an article from my friend Nicholas Black on “Voices that Confuse: Reclaiming Biblical Truth from Interpretive Distortions,” and the announcement about a new book from Mark Yarhouse on Gender Dysphoria that I look forward to reading. In other words, Tony’s statement is just a small part of this larger conversation that’s front and center in our culture and our churches. But even though it’s a small part, it’s big.
So, last night I posted a reminder to myself that I hope others might find helpful. It was the best thing I could do at the moment. I wrote this: “To all my young friends: immerse yourself in the Word. . . Incarnate and written. Always evaluate the words, teaching, and opinions of those who are older (even loved and respected) under the light of the Word, not vice versa.” It doesn’t matter who the teacher or preacher is. . . evaluate under the light of God’s Word.
This morning, still churning inside, I posted this: “While laying in bed last night pondering the events of the day, I once again considered the battle inside. I truly wish the Kingdom of God was all-inclusive. All sheep. No goats. All born again. None dead in their trespasses and sin. But God is not our genie. Our wish is not His command. We don’t get to define. Even better, we get to follow. Our calling is to submit our wills, desires, hopes, minds, hearts opinions, and very lives to Him.”
I hope and pray that my words this morning and the spirit of this post are gracious and charitable. I also hope and pray that it humbly reflects truth. I think there is much at stake here. Yes, this is about sexuality. But that’s only a small part of it. The real issue is much, much deeper.
This morning, I looked across my desk at my book shelves. I looked at the shelves that are loaded with Bibles, commentaries, and theological texts. I realized that everything I learned in all those years of reading, listening, education, discussion. . . all those things that have shaped me, what I believe, my commitments, and how I do ministry. . . all those things are being called into question. Seriously. . . I wonder if I have wasted all my time, my money, even my life on errors and lies. I don’t believe I have, but the culture and even respected brothers and sisters in the faith would, I think, have me believe it’s all for naught. I’m not wavering here. Just processing and giving more than just passing thought to the critique of others. Taking the time to do that will only serve to further cement my commitments.
After a conversation with a friend last night and thinking about what shapes us most these days. . . I don’t ask this snidely. . . but seriously. . . Are we living in a time where theological education and Christian education that was once shaped by and looked like this. . .
. . . should be jettisoned and look like and be shaped by this? . . .
God, keep us from being shaped by the spirit of the times. Holy Spirit, shape us.
“Jesus. . . always keep opening my eyes and giving me wisdom.” That’s the prayer I was reminded to pray once again this morning as my heart felt like it was in the grip of conflict.
Last night, I returned from five days spent totally off the grid and out of touch with anything and anyone other than the guys who were with me. I was in the North Woods wilderness of Ontario. When our travels intersected us with a phone signal and we eventually hooked up to wireless, the craziness and pace of the world we had ignored for five days took center stage once again. We had actually wondered out loud what we were missing while we were away. Who died? Have there been any world catastrophes? Did the Phillies climb their way back into first-place? (Not a chance on that last one!)
The connection led to some kind of news about “Call me Caitlyn.” It took some time to process those words and the accompanying photo. Yes, more than we imagined had happened while we were gone.
Now, once again, my ongoing journey to grow in my faith and then to move and engage faithfully and to the glory of God in a rapidly changing culture has gotten even more difficult and confusing. And with social media offering me infinite opinions and directives on what it means to respond to these and other issues to the glory of God making things even more confusing. . . well, my head is really spinning and the conflict in my heart is strong.
How are we to process, understand, and engage with these issues as followers of Jesus? That’s the question that drives me here. The commitment that drives me is to the revealed Christ of the Scriptures. . . not some revisionist Jesus who has been tweaked and remade in our own image, opinions, feelings, and hopes (a reality that I fear is happening to more and more of us without us even knowing it). Yet, I want to always be open to what God’s Spirit might be teaching me because, after all, I can’t and don’t have it all figured out and right. So, with a combination of a stake in the ground regarding Biblical authority, and an earnest search for humility and teachability, I process.
This morning, one blog post appeared in a variety of places. It was shared by a few friends. So, I read it. It’s from someone I don’t know, Josh Cobia, who is a worship leader and pastor. His post caught my eye because of its title: “I went to church with Bruce Jenner and here’s what Caitlyn taught me about Jesus.” I’ve read it a few times over. I believe it to be an honest and straightforward recounting of what Josh Cobia has experienced and believes regarding the Kardashians and the Jenners. It’s heartfelt. As a result, there is a certain kind of tug that it elicits on one’s heart and emotions. It certainly did for me. In many ways, I want to believe and affirm his sentiments and analysis. After all, based on our current cultural leanings, that would be what most believe to be the kind, compassionate, and right thing to do. Still, I can’t go there.
I would encourage you to read Josh Cobia’s blog. I think it provides clear evidence of where we’ve gone as a church culture. It’s the reason why I earnestly pray, “Jesus. . . always keep opening my eyes and giving me wisdom.” I desperately desire to follow and please my Lord. I want desperately to follow Him in His kindness, compassion, and rightness. But I want to do so in a way that reflects good, faithful, and correct exegesis of God’s revelation of Himself in the Scriptures, and good principles of Biblical interpretation. I fear, however, that more of more of us are praying that prayer while seeking wisdom not from the Word, but from some kind sage-like cloud that hovers in the ethos, dispensing an enlightenment that’s trumping decades of historical orthodoxy.
In the world of biblical studies, this task of interpretation is called Hermeneutics. While this is a complex matter, I fear that a growing number of us are forsaking responsible biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, and resorting to reading the Scriptures and the life and ministry of Jesus through a heremeneutic that’s driven by cultural values and personal emotions. Could it be that more of more of us are praying that prayer while seeking wisdom not from the Word, but from some kind sage-like cloud that hovers in the ethos, dispensing an enlightenment that’s trumping decades of historical orthodoxy? And so, we wind up being drawn to “niceness” and “kindness,” somehow assuming that since this reflects love and compassion (as we define them), then it must be right. So when Jenner and the Kardashians do and say the right things in kind and nice ways. . . well. . . then what they do and say, like them, must be good, true, and right.
Let me be blunt. . . I don’t want Caitlyn to teach me about Jesus. I don’t even want me to teach me about Jesus. I want Jesus to teach me about Jesus. I want Jesus to teach me about the complete Jesus. I don’t want a Jesus who is all about truth with grace that’s been amputated. Nor do I want a Jesus who is all about grace and love, with truth amputated. We must first and foremost seek the complete Jesus who has been revealed in the Scriptures. . . not a Jesus who has been revealed in our hearts, minds, and emotions.
The writer of Proverbs tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” You and I need to tread fearfully, carefully, and with deep humility into God’s revelation of Himself, all the while praying, “Jesus. . . always keep opening my eyes and giving me wisdom.” And, we need to realize that He will never take us down a road where He contradicts Himself. That’s why, as I read Josh Cobia’s blog, I couldn’t help but think about the Jesus who loved, cared for, reached out to, and forgave the women caught in adultery. That’s why I had to remember that He also said to her, “Go. . . and sin no more.”
Once again, I want to remind you of these words from Alex Davidson (a Christian who has wrestled through his same-sex attraction) in his book The Returns of Love:A Christian View of Homosexuality –
“The part of the jungle where I am lost may be miles away from the part where you are lost, but the same map and compass can help us both. That map and compass I take to be the Word of God, both Christ the living Word and Scripture the written Word. Why do people who are otherwise thoughtful and sincere find it so easy to break the third commandment? They take the name of the Lord, and call themselves ‘Christians’; yet they take it in vain, by emptying it of what is necessarily contained within it. The only Christ I can accept is not the tenth-hand Christ of the popular imagination, but the first-hand Christ of the New Testament, and once I admit Him I find I have to admit a whole range of teaching which is inseparable from Him – not only His own as reported in the Gospels, but that of the prophets whom He upheld and ratified, and that of the apostles whom He taught and commissioned: in other words, biblical revelation as a whole. It is on the principles the Bible lays down that I try to base my belief and behavior in general, and therefore my attitude to the matter (homosexual attraction) discussed in this book in particular.”
One line from Cobia’s blog has really caught my eye. He’s not stating anything new here as we’ve been hearing this more and more these days: “What’s more pressing to me is how the church (my tribe) will respond to Caitlyn. The LGBTQ people I know are loving, excepting (sic), beautiful people and many of them have been so hurt by their church communities that they have left the faith.”
How we will respond is the issue. Our response is the issue with any and all matters of sin. When we lean on the law and we are void of grace – which happens far too often – shame on us. But shame on us as well when we fail to faithfully serve Christ and sinners by showering them with grace void of truth. In the former, we hurt them through condemnation. In the latter, we hurt them through accommodation. In addition, we must realize that even when we do strike a faithful, God-honoring balance, there will be those who walk away due to the offense of the Gospel. When that happens, we can’t remove or water down the Gospel to keep people in the building.
‘Jesus. . . always keep opening our eyes and giving us wisdom.”
Sexual Assault, Abuse, and Molestation In The News. . . Framing The Conversation. . .
For the last few days, the social media splash of the moment has been all about sexual assault and molestation. Triggered by revelations of a media icon’s heretofore hidden history of horribly destructive and damaging behavior, everyone is talking about this story. Of course, we easily forget that the story is mediated. . . too many times to count. . . in ways that should make us all careful and cautious about what is and isn’t fact. So maybe rather than debating what did and did not actually happen in this one particular case, perhaps it’s best to stand back, pause, and consider the bigger picture, of which this incident is only a part.
I’ve been working hard to think more about the issues than the personalities involved. I’ve been trying to frame this story in the bigger picture of our sexuality, God’s sex story, and the sexual stories our culture is communicating to us all. This morning, my walk through II Samuel with Scripture Union’s Encounter With God took me to Chapter 11 and the gut-wrenching story of David and Bathsheeba (yes, for those of you following along, I’m a week behind in my readings!). After reading, I jotted some thoughts that I hope will be helpful in framing the conversation about the individual stories of sexual assault, abuse, and molestation that we encounter, and the bigger picture and scope of the issue itself. Perhaps you’ll find them helpful. . .
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 tell’s 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.
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 now 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.”
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.
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 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.
So that’s a start that’s not at all complete . . more tomorrow. . .
What Rules My Life? . . . A Homosexual Ponders Desire. . .
The battle rages every day for me. I am a broken person. Consequently, my desires, wishes, and wants are marred. Quite often they move in the wrong direction and they need to be reigned in. I cannot deny it. I must recognize it.
“Following my heart” as a guide in decision-making. . . a mantra preached by today’s culture. . . could wind up in the making of some good choices from time to time. I wish that were true in every case, but it’s not. I continue to realize just how untrustworthy my heart really is. I realize this more and more as I read the Scriptures, grow older, add to my human experience, and as I look in the mirror and am brutally honest with myself.
For those of us who are followers of Christ, we tend to be pretty good at trumpeting our understanding of God’s borders and boundaries, especially when those borders and boundaries speak to areas of life where we might not personally struggle. In recent months, my reading and conversations regarding my quest for a deeper understanding regarding homosexuality and other issues of sexual identity have forced me to encounter the very valid criticisms regarding the church’s aggressive outspokenness on the issue of homosexuality, but all-too-often blind eye when it comes to other things that the Scriptures call sin. . . sexual and otherwise. In effect, we might be guilty of pointing an accusing finger at heart-followers who follows their hearts into homosexual activity, all the while ignoring the way we thoughtlessly follow our hearts into greed, narcissism, injustice, gluttony, gossip, pride, lust, and all other kinds of excess that the Scripture’s clearly call sin.
The antithesis to following one’s own self and desires is the intentional, thoughtful, prayerful, and informed pursuit of knowing and following God’s will. And yesterday, it was some words written by a man struggling with his strong and ever-present homosexual impulses that not only prompted these thoughts, but which ministered to me in a deep way. The words were penned way back in 1970 in a book titled The Returns of Love:A Christian View of Homosexuality, by Alex Davidson (a pseudonym). The book, published by InterVarsity Press, is a collection of forthright letters to a male friend, written by Davidson about his battle with his homosexual desires.
Davidson’s approach to his battle is exemplary, and I think there is much that he teaches any Christian who is battling with any kind of sinful desire. . . which means, all of us. Davidson strives first and foremost to be biblical. . . that is, he wants the Scriptures to inform his response to his desires, rather than vice-versa. He writes, “The part of the jungle where I am lost may be miles away from the part where you are lost, but the same map and compass can help us both. That map and compass I take to be the Word of God, both Christ the living Word and Scripture the written Word. Why do people who are otherwise thoughtful and sincere find it so easy to break the third commandment? They take the name of the Lord, and call themselves ‘Christians’; yet they take it in vain, by emptying it of what is necessarily contained within it. The only Christ I can accept is not the tenth-hand Christ of the popular imagination, but the first-hand Christ of the New Testament, and once I admit Him I find I have to admit a whole range of teaching which is inseparable from Him – not only His own as reported in the Gospels, but that of the prophets whom He upheld and ratified, and that of the apostles whom He taught and commissioned: in other words, biblical revelation as a whole. It is on the principles the Bible lays down that I try to base my belief and behavior in general, and therefore my attitude to the matter (homosexual attraction) discussed in this book in particular.”
As I pondered Davidson’s words, I thought about all the desires, passions, and heart-pulls that we experience as human beings. When I talk to kids about the “Just follow you heart!” mantra I tell them in no uncertain terms that that’s the kind of stuff the Greek word skubalon best describes. It’s the Greek word for dung. I also tell them that if I had lived my life by that mantra I would most likely be living in a jail cell right now. Reality is, the same is true for you too.
At the time of writing his book, Alex Davidson had enlisted all the resources he could imagine to see change come in his life. Still, his desire remained. His attitude, once again, is exemplary for all of us, regardless of the type of sinful desires that constantly remind us of their presence in our lives. He writes, “One should groan over it as a sample of the perversions evil has wrought into the world, and long for something better. But if in spite of everything it is there, and the Lord apparently sees fit to leave it there, then surely my concern is to see what He can make out of such unpromising material? Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ came from Satan, and Paul longed to be free of it; but the Lord let it remain, and made it a means of blessing. It was a risk he thought well worth taking.”
Whose heart will I follow? That’s the question our first parents asked in the Garden, isn’t it? And in a world misshapen by their faulty and horribly destructive choice of answers, we must realize that our default setting is to follow in their footsteps.
That’s all the more reason to know and name your sin, to be on guard. . . and to know God’s heart.