Blog Archives

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.

Transgender_Banner_Live_streamFirst, 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.

being 13Finally, 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.

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Sex Trafficking, Porn, and A Powerful video Message For Our Kids. . .

sex traffickingEarlier 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!

Here’s a little Parents’ Primer on Internet Pornography  (a free download from our CPYU Sexual Integrity Initiative) that is helpful for anyone who wants to understand the issue and address it with kids. In addition, I’ve found this little video from the folks at Fight the New Drug to be a helpful tool we can use in our efforts to communicate this sexual trafficking message to our kids:

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#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.

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What Does Porn Do To Us? . . . An Infographic. . . .

Ever since we launched our Digital Kids Initiative here at CPYU, we’ve been paying special attention to the issue of pornography and its influence on children, teens, and adults. Pornography is powerful, life-shaping, and extremely addictive. Our friends at Fight the New Drug put together this helpful infographic that’s worth your time and attention. And, all this week on “Youth Culture Today” we’re running a series of one-minute spots on how pornography influences, shapes, and hurts our kids. Take a look and a listen. . . (and, you can access our free download, “A Parents’ Primer On Internet Pornography”)

porn infographic

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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.

white house scotusLast 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 Grace and 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.”


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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 WaitingI 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. . .


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Tony Campolo, Biblical Interpretation, and How ImM Feeling This Morning. . .

Sleep didn’t come easy last night. Writing these words is equally difficult.

While sitting on the couch taking in a Phillies game last evening (lost. . . again), I checked my Facebook feed and spotted a story linking to Tony Campolo’s public statement released yesterday, “Tony Campolo: For the Record.” I read Tony’s words – several times – with a heavy heart.

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. . .

blog photo 2

. . . should be jettisoned and look like and be shaped by this? . . .

blog photo 1

God, keep us from being shaped by the spirit of the times. Holy Spirit, shape us.

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Jenner. . .

“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 question mark10someone 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.”

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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.

Kid needing help

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. . .




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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.

go and sinFor 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.

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Should We Be Surprised??? . . . We’ve Set The Table For Spring Break Gang Rape. . .

If you track with the news, you’ve probably been seeing some of the many reports coming out of Panama City Beach, Florida about Spring Breakers gone wild. The latest is that a third young man has been arrested in the alleged gang rape of an intoxicated (or perhaps, drugged) 19-year-old girl on the beach during Spring Break.

That’s horrifying enough. What makes the story even worse is that hundreds of onlookers watched and did nothing. . . in broad daylight.

It’s a story reminiscent of the Kitty Genovese rape and murder back in 1964. . . except that occurred during a cultural era where there was extreme disbelief and outrage. In today’s world, what happened in Panama City might just be the result of vice becoming normalized. I wonder if the perpetrators even thought they might be doing something wrong.

The Today Show ran this news story on the incident this morning. . .

Should we be surprised? I don’t think so. This is certainly sad. . . very sad. . . but not surprising. We have raised a generation of kids on a steady diet of moral relativism, narcissism, and entitlement in a hyper-sexualized culture void of a shared moral compass. If you throw all of these ingredients into the devekopmental mixing bowl and let it all simmer and bake during childhood and adolescence. . . well, this is what will pop out of the oven.

We need to seek, know, tell, and trumpet the truth to adults and kids alike. If we don’t, we will continue to spiral down into moral oblivion and social anarchy. We want our kids to know and follow their Maker. We want them to flourish and embrace their full humanity. We don’t want them to fail.

A group of young adults failed miserably on the beach in Panama City. . . and they should be held accountable. Prior to that, they were horribly failed. . . and that needs to stop too.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading through the history of the Israelite Exodus. The Israelites were always wavering between going their way or choosing to go God’s way. Perhaps the words of Joshua to the Israelites are worth pondering here: “Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.  If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15). 

Yes, we too, are at a crossroads.

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These Facts About Sexting Might Make You Rethink Pressing “Send”

Sexting. It’s a buzzword that has become synonymous with irresponsibility or promiscuity, something we know exists and yet we don’t quite want to openly acknowledge, kind of like not really wanting to admit that frozen yogurt doesn’t actually contain less sugar than plain old ice cream.

But here’s the exposed truth about sexting: It DOES exist, and it’s something most teens will participate in or face sometime in their young years.

11 facts you need to know about sexting:

  1. Teenage girls have a few reasons for why they participate in sexting: 40% do it as a joke, 34% do it to feel sexy, and 12% feel pressured to do it.
  2. 17% of sexters share the messages they receive with others, and 55% of those share them with more than one person.
  3. While nearly 70% of teen boys and girls who sext do so with their girlfriend or boyfriend, 61% of all sexters who have sent nude images admit that they were pressured to do it at least once.
  4. Nearly 40% of all teenagers have posted or sent sexually suggestive messages, but this practice is more common among boys than girls.
  5. Sending semi-nude or nude photos is more common among teens girls. 22% of teen girls report sending images of this nature, while only 18% of same-age boys have.
  6. 15% of teens who have sent or posted nude/semi-nude images of themselves send these messages to people they have never met, but know from the Internet.
  7. Sending or receiving a sexually suggestive text or image under the age of 18 is considered child pornography and can result in criminal charges.
  8. 24% of high-school age teens (ages 14 to 17) and 33% of college-age students (ages 18 to 24) have been involved in a form of nude sexting.
  9. Sexting is defined by the U.S. court system as “an act of sending sexually explicit materials through mobile phones.” The messages may be text, photo, or video.
  10. In the U.S., 8 states have enacted bills to protect minors from sexting, and an additional 13 states have proposed bills to legislation.
  11. 11% of teen girls ages 13 to 16 have been involved with sending or receiving sexually explicit messages.

Folks, underage sexting is NOT COOL! While sexting might seem like a better alternative than real, in-person physicality, sexting does nothing to lessen the temptation of going too far when you’re actually in the same room with that person. And sending a picture to someone you may or may not know, who may or may not show that picture to other people, and who may or may not still have that photo for months or maybe even years after you regretted sending it? Just plain risky (and in some cases, illegal – see #7). And, let’s face it, stupid.

Get the citations here.

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Battling Pornography…

fighting pornographyOver the course of the last couple of weeks I’ve had several people ask me this question: “What do think is the biggest challenge facing children and teens today?” That’s a tough question to answer. Without a doubt, today’s “biggest challenge” is nothing new. It’s a challenge shared by every human being who has drawn breath in our post-Genesis 3:6 world. It’s our brokenness and sin.

Still, the question asks about how our sin is nuanced in our culture, our times, and our lives. My answer, with little hesitation, has to be “pornography.” In an effort to help us help our kids navigate this horribly fallen expression of the good gift of our sexuality, we created a little primer on pornography that offers helpful definitions, insights, and steps to stem the tide. . . something we must do if we want to see humanity flourish in love, sex, marriage, and family. Pornography leaves an absolute mess in its wake.

Yesterday, I ran across this little list of facts from our friends at Fight the New Drug:

  • Porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon, & Twitter combined. (HuffPost)
  • 35% of all internet downloads are porn-related. (WebRoot)
  • 34% of internet users have been exposed to unwanted porn via ads, pop-ups, etc. (WebRoot)
  • Porn increased marital infidelity by 300%. (WebRoot)
  • 30% of all data transferred across the internet is porn-related. (HuffPost)
  • Most common female role in porn is women in their 20’s portraying teenagers. (Jon Millward. In 2013, Millward conducted the largest personal research study on the Porn Industry in the U.S. He interviewed 10,000 porn stars about various aspects of the business.)
  • Child porn is one of the fastest growing online businesses. (IWF)
  • 624,000 child porn traders have been discovered online in the U.S. (Innocent Justice)
  • Approximately 55% of teen girls living on the streets have engaged in prostitution. (
  • Child porn is a $3 billion industry. (TopTenReviews)

And yesterday Scotty Smith’s Everyday Prayers included this powerful prayer for friends struggling with pornography. It’s a prayer that sadly, is timely in today’s world. . .

Jesus, my heart goes out today for friends and their spouses whose lives are being assaulted by the ravaging and enslaving grip of pornography.  I know of no other power sufficient for the task but the gospel. This is why I run to you today with grave concern, but also with great hope.

O Lord of resurrection and redemption, bring your mercy and might to bear in stunning fashion. Things impossible for us are more than possible for you. You have come to set captives free and to heal the brokenhearted. Pornography is creating an over abundance of both.

Jesus, for friends somewhere in the pornography continuum of titillation to addiction, we ask you to reveal yourself in the deepest place of their hearts. We ask for the holy gift of godly sorrow, not the short-lived remorse of worldly sorrow. For your non-condemning love has great power to deliver those who cry, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body which is subject to death?”

Lead them to that cry, Jesus. They need a lot more than embarrassment and fear, they need contrition and hope. Where pornography has desensitized our friends, re-sensitize them so they can see and feel the horror of their entrapment, and more so… much more so, the wonder of your deliverance.

For our friends who are married to someone in the talons of pornography, dear Jesus, theirs may be the greater pain and struggle. No one but you can help them with the anger, the disgust, the wound, the shame, and the mistrust that goes with this story. Help us walk with our friends who are right in the middle of this dark vortex. Show us how to validate their feelings without confirming hurt-driven conclusions. Bring patience and perspective, forbearance and faith.

Only you can rebuild the trust. Only you, Jesus, can bring a willingness to hope again. Only you can heal the places in our hearts which have suffered the greatest violation and harm. Absolutely no one understands all this like you, Jesus, and absolutely no one redeem these messes but you. So very Amen, we pray, in your great and glorious name.

For those of you who live in close proximity to our Central Pennsylvania area, I want to invite you to a day-long training seminar on Saturday, March 28 that will address the issue of pornography, along with other difficult issues facing kids. I will be sharing the teaching load with my good friend, Dr. Marv Penner, in our first “Tackling the Tough Stuff” training day. You can learn more and register here. 

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Russell Brand on Pornography…

Common grace. . . general revelation. . . all truth is God’s truth. We talked alot about these things in theology class, didn’t we? Yes, even those who might not actively and consciously pursue a life under the way and will of God have an amazing ability to get it right. . . perhaps even more right than those of us who think we’ve got it all together.

So here’s Russell Brand. And this is good. If you find yourself waiting for a punchline, you’ll be disappointed. If you find yourself looking for truth, you’ll find it here. This is a video worth watching and talking about with kids. . .

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Fifty Shades Today. . . A Plea To Christian Parents & Youth Workers

movie ticketAnd so it arrives. It’s already proclaimed a blockbuster and judging from the predictions of those who seem to know about these things, it will most likely bring in about $90 million over its first three days, an opening which will rival the record-setting opening of American Sniper. That’s not at all surprising since the books have sold over 100 million copies and there will be much-anticipated sequels to this first film in the series.

Now. . . the big question. . . Are you going? Seriously. Are you going? Or, are you planning on viewing the film sometime in the future, perhaps in the comfort of your own home?

These are necessary questions for us to answer as parents, youth workers, and most importantly, followers of Jesus Christ.

If our hearts are truly in line with the way and will of our Creator and our desire is to flourish in our humanity by honoring His borders and boundaries for His great and glorious gift of our sexuality, well. . . the answer should be clear.

Sadly, based on what I’m hearing, the answer’s not so clear. Just as I heard with the books, a large number of Christian women, young and old alike, mothers and grandmothers, singles and marrieds, are eagerly anticipating and can’t wait for their trip to the movies this weekend. Many are giddy with excitement. And, we can expect that some Christian men will be there as well. . . some brought by their wives. . . both of them expecting the film to spice it up for them a little over the Valentine’s Day weekend.

The reality is that there’s not one of us who doesn’t have to deal with our own sexual brokenness and the temptations that come with that. There’s not one of us who hasn’t stepped out of the will of God and into sexual sin in thought, word, and deed. But to knowingly invite, entertain, and indulge sexual temptation while making a clear decision to step into sexual sin. . . well. . . that’s where we need to be stepping up and calling each other out with a good dose of Biblical accountability.

God’s design for His grand and glorious gift of sex is this. . . that sex is a gift to be indulged by one man and one woman within the context of an exclusive, monogamous, covenantal, life-long marriage. That’s it, plain and simple. Sex is something God made, gave to us, and enthusiastically declared “Good!” But with everything else, we go and mess it up. And when the Bible commands us to “flee from sexual immorality,” the word that it uses is porneia, which means “to practice prostitution, sexual immorality, or fornication.” In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul frequently used the word in reference to any kind of sinful and illegitimate sexual activity. Porneia is, in fact, the very thing from which followers of Jesus are commanded to “flee!” (I Corinthians 6:18).

And so tomorrow, millions of folks will pay to settle down in dark theaters to be entertained by, get lost in, and be provoked to enter their own little world of sexual fantasizing by watching a young man with a penchant for BDSM systematically and intentionally stalk, seduce, and deflower a young virgin. This is not a film where non-gratuitous depictions of sexuality are truthful in nature, adding to the story. In this case, sexual fantasies and BDSM are the story and they are the draw. In other words, millions will pay to sit in a dark theater and indulge in pornography. . . a practice that is not only sinful, but highly destructive and addictive.

Yes, pornography! And if you are considering indulging in Fifty Shades of Grey, please take a minute to consider these definitions of pornography that I’ve found to be particularly helpful. . .

  •  From my friends at HarvestUSA: “Pornography is anything that 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.”
  • From the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.” 

Still undecided? Consider the fact that Fifty Shades of Grey has indeed been fairly labeled as “mommy porn.” Then let me ask you to consider these questions as you ponder your decision. . .

  • Is “It’s just a movie!” a reasonable justification for sin? Couldn’t we also be saying, “Come on, it’s just a magazine, or a DVD, or an on-demand movie, or an adult-bookstore, or a free website!”
  • Have you considered the fact that when you view pornography you are complicit in sexual trafficking? Yes, whether the individuals depicted are actors or real people, or if they are appearing willingly or by coercion, your presence, attention, and payment all combine to make you a willing consumer and market expander of the ever-growing and always exploitative pornography industry.
  • If you are a young mother, an older mother, or grandmother, how would you feel if it was your precious children on that screen in that darkened theater. . . again, willingly or coerced? Would you want your son to, in real life, become a Christian Grey? Or, would you want your daughter, in real life, to be pursued and seduced like Anastasia Steele?
  • What kind of model does God call us to present to your watching and growing children? Are they learning about the joy of healthy, biblical sexuality? Or if they watch you will they be learning something else?
  • Do you really believe that in a day and age when sexual assault and violence are pervasive, that we should actually be choosing to celebrate depictions of such on the big screen?
  • Do you really believe in a day and age where women are objectified and stripped of their dignity by men who see them as nothing but objects to be used, that it is a positive thing to carve out time and eagerly indulge in viewing a film which does the same?
  • Do you realize that pornography doesn’t spice up and improve the marriage bed or marriage, but rather, it drains the life out of and destroys a marriage?
  • And finally, are you willing to take something that God has given you that is amazingly good, and twist it in a way that does not bring glory to God, but instead brings glory to the kingdom of the world, the flesh, and the devil? Or simply stated, are you willing to willingly go your way rather than God’s? Remember, that’s what got us human beings in trouble in the first place.

I’m not so sure that the biggest problem here is the book  or the film Fifty Shades of Grey. This kind of stuff has always existed. And in a broken world, sadly, it will continue to exist. Our greater concern should be the widespread appeal, the ready acceptance, and even the willingness to engage in secretly reading the books or sneaking off to the film. . . an indication that we know that there’s something that’s just not right about what we’re doing. We’re now talking about mainstream stuff. This isn’t some dark corner or fringe. And as one who studies youth culture I wonder. . . . what will middle school-aged kids do with this one it’s on DVD and Netflix? Or, what will this stuff do to middle school-aged kids. The most pressing issue is the heart that’s drawn to and shaped by this stuff.

Perhaps today is a great day. . . THE day. . . to leverage all the attention our culture is giving this film and sit down to talk with our kids. . . openly, frankly, seriously, and honestly. . . about the very real pull, power, and dangers related to pornography use.  .  . to talk about what it will do to us and what God is calling us to do with it. (Click here for a resource you can use to get the discussion started)

The great Reformer Martin Luther once famously said, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.” That’s a clear and powerful picture of the difference between the temptations we face and the sins we choose. I pray that this weekend, none of us will have allowed pornography to nest on or in our heads.

Because of my own brokenness, I’ve learned to constantly remind myself that every time I make a choice, I’m choosing sides.

Which side will it be this weekend? The Gospel offers so much more!

To learn about helpful resources on pornography and sexual integrity from CPYU, click here

To read a helpful article, “Sexual Sanity for Women in a World Gone Mad,” click here.

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Fifty Shades of Grey. . . Almost Here. . .

Some of the most frightening words in the Bible are these words from the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians: “Flee from sexual immorality” (I Corinthians 6:18). I remember talking to a room full of curious middle school students in the mid-1980’s. Our little middle school youth group had gathered and I was speaking openly and honestly to them about things they were all feeling, discovering, and wondering about as they were experiencing the dawn of one of the most incredible, good, and glorious gifts God has given to humanity.

But like all other human beings, they were living in a world that encouraged them to indulge the good gift of their sexuality without borders and boundaries. My job was to communicate the words of a different voice as clearly as possible. . . specifically the Designer’s plan for how to indulge their sexuality to His glory. I also knew that every adult in that room could attest to the goodness of that plan, especially as we communicated that our knowledge of that goodness came not only from knowing the plan’s Source, but from the ways each of us had strayed from that plan – in thought, word, and deed – over the course of our own lives. And so, we talked about Paul’s command to “flee,” likening the sin of indulging our sexuality without borders or boundaries to eagerly seeking and choosing to stay in a burning building. I’m not sure it’s the best metaphor, but it was the best we could muster at the time.

fifty shades1My newspaper, television, the Internet, and that book store display I saw the other day in the airport are all telling me that over the course of the coming days, we will all have the opportunity to choose to walk into a burning building. The long anticipated film, Fifty Shades of Grey, is set to release. Yes, there will be plenty of men who willingly venture into the flames. But the largest draw by far, will be for the women. . . young and old alike. . . who will go to see the film.

I don’t think that we should be at all surprised that Fifty Shades of Grey will be dubbed “blockbuster” after it’s first few days of release. After all, all those voices I was warning those impressionable young middle schoolers about thirty years ago have been convincing. But for the Christian, the one who has chosen the costly life of following Jesus, making the choice to read or watch the story is flat-out foolishness and compromise. Still, the power of those cultural voices and the choices to which they have and will lead (choosing a movie and at least some level of life style), is already clear from the fact that the debate over the movie among Christian women has gone public, especially in the blogosphere. We’re hearing of more and more Christian women who are eagerly and almost girlishly giggling with eager anticipation over the film’s release. Is there no desire, sense, or wisdom to even consider Paul’s loving warning to “flee from sexual immorality?”

Over the coming days, I hope to offer some thoughts that I hope will serve to add to the conversation for the simple reason that the decisions we make on this matter. For today, I thought I would re-post the words from my first blog on Fifty Shades of Grey. . . a post from almost three years ago. Here’s that post. . .

The conversation was between me and two of the women in my life. . . my wife and one of my adult daughters. We were driving from church to Costco. The conversation began with some comments and questions about Fifty Shades of Grey, the first book in E.L. James’ best-selling fiction trilogy. The books are all over the New York Times’ Bestseller List and it seems like women everywhere are devouring them.

I listened as the ladies discussed the literary phenomena. None of us have read the books. But like everyone else, we’ve heard about them. During our short drive and conversation we talked about the content. We talked about the plot. And we talked how curious and disturbing it is that so many women are immersing themselves with reckless abandon in a work of erotic fiction that sounds like a Harlequin romance novel on steroids.In case you haven’t heard, Fifty Shades of Grey is about the exploits of a young college graduate and a businessman. The story is summarized on Wikipedia this way: “The plot traces the relationship between recent college graduate Anastasia Steele and manipulative billionaire Christian Grey. Steele is required by Grey to sign a contract allowing him complete control over her life. As she gets to know him she learns that his sexual tastes involve bondage, domination and sadism, and that childhood abuse left him a deeply damaged individual. In order to be his partner she agrees to experiment with bondage/discipline/sadism/masochism, but struggles to reconcile who she is (a virgin who has never previously had a boyfriend) with whom Christian wants her to be: his submissive, to-do-with-as-he-pleases partner in his ‘Red Room of Pain.'”  

As we discussed this current cultural trend, I wondered out loud about doing what I always think is the responsible thing when it comes to evaluating and commenting on a cultural artifact. In this case, the responsible thing is to read the book. The response from my wife and daughter was immediate and direct. . . and I’m glad it was. They told me I didn’t need to go there. I was reminded of what I tell youth workers all the time. . . “Don’t cross the line. . . and you know where the line is for you.” Sometimes we need others to remind us of where our lines should be. I know that the directive of these two ladies was good advice. I’m not going to read this book. . . . for the simple reason that I don’t need to look at pornography to know what it’s about. And from everything I hear, Fifty Shades of Grey is literary pornography.

Upon arriving at Costco, I bee-lined to my favorite place in the store. . . the book table. It’s a regular habit. As always, the book table was surrounded by browsers. The browsing was particularly dense on one side of the table. It was dense with women. What they were looking at and loading up on was a fast-diminishing pile of books. . . which happened to be the E.L. James trilogy. I eaves-dropped and quickly realized that everything I had been hearing and everything we had been talking about in our car was true.

One conversation in particular rattled me. A younger woman was holding the book and pondering the purchase. She had an inquisitive and slightly guilty look on her face. An older women standing nearby happened to see the same inquisitive and guilty look and decided to engage the younger lady in conversation. . . . a conversation that pushed the latter to a tipping point. “Thinking about reading it?”, the older woman asked. “Yes, but I hear it’s a little dirty,” the younger woman replied. At that point, the young woman’s husband appeared behind her with their cart. Noticing her husband was now privy to the conversation, the young woman turned a little red and muttered something about her husband showing up. . . as if the conversation needed to come to an end. She looked like a guilty kid who had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. The older woman. . . probably in her mid-60s by my estimation. . . looked at her, gave her a little wink, and said, “It’s ten dollars well spent.” With that, the young woman placed the book in her cart. . . . and I watched her exchange a sly little smile with her husband. That was an interesting mentoring moment that says a lot about who we are and what we’re becoming as a culture.

I’ve mentioned before that research shows that on any given Sunday, our church pews in evangelical churches hold people who struggle with pornography. That research says that 50% of the men and 20% of the women in those pews are addicted to pornography. My friends at Harvest USA define pornography as “anything the heart uses to find sexual expression outside of God’s intended design for relational intimacy. It is anything that tempts and corrupts the human heart into desiring sensual pleasure in sinful ways.” (It’s well worth your time to read the full article that this definition comes from). In general, men are drawn to visual pornography. And in general, women are engaging with literary pornography. Fifty Shades of Grey seems to fit the bill.

And so we seek it out, we read it, we love it. . . and we don’t see much wrong with doing any of those things. We’re in trouble folks. Al Qaeda might as well just sit back and wait. . . we’re doing a fine job of taking ourselves down. Anyone else hear Paul Simon quietly singing “Slip Slidin’ Away”?

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Pornography and Sexual Trafficking… One and the Same…

Since we began researching and talking about the issue of pornography, we’ve seen the value of telling the truth about the connection between pornography and sexual trafficking. This is a truth that our kids need to hear. We must connect the dots for them. Sexual trafficking is an issue that the emerging generations care deeply about. Still, pornography use is pervasive among this very group, shaping them (more accurately misshaping them) in powerful ways. Not only must we seek justice in response to sexual trafficking, but we must seek justice by seeing how pornography use makes us complicit in sexual trafficking. If we seek to fight sexual trafficking yet engage in it ourselves, we are divided, dis-integrated selves. We are doing wrong.

This great little video is something you can use to spark discussion and a thoughtful response to these issues. . .


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When A Child Comes Out. . . And Dies. . .

For many years, I subscribed to Entertainment Weekly magazine. It was part of my regular culture-watching routine in those pre-Internet-glut-of-information years. Twenty years ago, in December of 1994, the magazine published their annual “Faces of AIDS” tribute to those in the entertainment industry who had died of AIDS during the previous twelve months. I remember sitting in my basement office (pre-being-able-to-afford-a-real-office years) and thumbing through the magazine tribute. Up to that point in my life, I was not aware of anyone that I knew who had died of AIDS. As I glanced through the article, the face and reality of AIDS suddenly became very personal for me. There, looking at me from the page, was the face and name of “Mark Carson,” a fellow Geneva College student who had graduated two years ahead of me. Since Geneva was a very small private college, Mark was someone I knew. I also knew his younger siblings who attended Geneva. . . something that was not at all surprising since their father, Norman Carson, was an English professor at the school. He too, was someone I knew as I had sat in many of his lectures over the years. Suddenly, AIDS had a face and a family.

In many ways, I was stunned. At that point in my life, remnants of the horribly naive belief that “these things don’t happen to Christians. . . certainly not to Christians that I know” surfaced, a reality that served as a much-needed gut-check of my theology, both regarding our tendency to make sinful choices, and the fact that the rain does indeed fall on both the just and the unjust. Seriously, I thought I had long-since moved beyond that point, but the reality is that the fact that this disease and this death visited this family convinced me that I was still not where I should be in regards to my understanding of pain, suffering, and the sovereignty of God.

precious sonTwo nights ago, I drove down to our church for a meeting. While I was waiting for the meeting to start, I wandered into the darkened church library, turned on the lights, and surveyed the books on the “new books” table. One particular book caught my eye: Precious Son: The Impact of AIDS on an Evangelical Christian Family, by Norman Carson. I picked it up, signed it out, and brought it home. . . reading it before I went to bed.

This was not a story. . . but a story about people I knew. I didn’t need pictures other than the memories in my head. The other night, I read this book differently than I would have twenty or thirty years ago. I read as one who has been on a deliberate and targeted journey for the last two years to understand homosexuality and the Christian faith. I read as one who knows, thankfully, that life isn’t as black and white or ridiculously simple as I once believed. I read as a parent who has seen deep brokenness in himself and in his family. . . a parent who wonders how to best understand and respond to brokenness and suffering in ways that are biblically faithful and that bring honor and glory to God. I read as one who because of his vocation, has deep and difficult conversations with a growing parade of people he meets as he fulfills his calling in life.

Today, as I can’t stop thinking about Mark Carson’s story and the father who has told it so well, I am grateful for Norman and Beverly Carson’s vulnerability and candor. Our Geneva College world was one where a certain unhealthy breed of theological dogmatism, fundamentalism, legalism, and judgmentalism could easily take root and breed more of the same if we weren’t open to understanding the full counsel of God. At times, I must admit, this is the kind of shameful thing that I chose to allow happen to me. To be honest, it still happens. But in the midst of that Geneva environment, we were also taught a rich theology of God’s sovereignty, providence, and grace. Fact is, it usually takes the difficult journey through suffering to get us to realize just how sovereign, providential, and graceful God is. In this way, suffering is a gift.

As I read Precious Son, I thanked God for the Carson’s vulnerability and willingness to share their story. . . a story which, I know, is shared by an ever-growing host of broken parents who struggle to raise broken kids. It’s all of us really, isn’t it?

I love these words that Norman Carson penned in the book’s Afterword: “When we look back to that August morning in 1994 we remember vividly how the death of our firstborn caused both of us enormous suffering and long-term grief. We must testify, however, that through God’s grace he eventually brought joy back into our lives. . Still, as we look back at those first dark months we ask ourselves how and why did this happen to us? Furthermore, we have often asked, how did God prepare us for this overwhelming tragedy? Believing in the God of providence, we came to believe that he had been preparing us for this event through the circumstances of many prior years. 

As evangelical Christians, we take the injunctions of Scripture seriously, and so we found ourselves, inevitably, bearing the shame of having a son who had chosen to practice homosexuality. More devastating, however, was the crushing question of his final destiny, for he had gone to the grave , as far as we knew, still rejecting the Christian faith. We never tired of sharing with each other our sorrow, comforting and encouraging one another and reminding ourselves of God’s promises. We had to learn to live without our son and to overcome our guilt, for we thought we had surely failed him. It was difficult to understand that God was working in and through us. We prayed for the balm of healing so that we could go on with our lives serving God in the Kingdom. . . We never turned our face away from God. . .  We can truly say that God has been good to us though we still live with earthly sorrows that we cannot understand. . . We have come to believe that the two realities – of grief and of joy – can be shared in our life.”

And then this. . . “Now a word to Christian parents, remember this: no matter how hard you try to bring your children to God; no matter how faithful you may be in the nurture of your children, the choice ultimately must be your child’s. And remember this well: although we are not perfect, your Lord is. If we are obedient to his commands, faithfully teaching our children about him, hope remains for us and for our children. In God’s providence, our children can turn to him, even on their death-bed, because, because we have not neglected to teach them the truth.”

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Common Sense and the Culture of Sexual Assault. . . Things to Talk About With the Kids. . .

Columnist Nicholas Kristof asks some provocative questions and makes some very good points in his recent editorial, “Bill Cosby, UVA, and Rape.” Kristof reminds us that we shouldn’t be surprised when we see the news saturated with stories about Bill Cosby, or the Rolling Stone Magazine article on the culture of rape at the University of Virginia. . . which, by the way, isn’t at all limited to that campus in Charlottesville. After all, we live in a culture that actually promotes it.

Everywhere we turn these days, sexual assault is being talked about. And so it should be. It’s pervasive.

But I wonder if there are some sacred cultural cows feeding this beast that we’re either too blind to see or too frightened to address?

Kristof offers a powerful example of this when he writes, “Too often boys are socialized to see women and girls as baubles, as playthings. The upshot is that rapists can be stunningly clueless, somehow unaware that they have committed a crime or even a faux pas. The Rolling Stone article describes how the rape victim at the University of Virginia, two weeks after the incident, ran into her principal assailant. ‘Are you ignoring me?’ he blithely asked. ‘I wanted to thank you for the other night. I had a great time.’ Likewise, a university student shared with me a letter her ex-boyfriend wrote her after brutally raping her in her dorm room. He apologized for overpowering her, suggested that she should be flattered and proposed that they get back together. Huh?”

There are a few threads in the tapestry of this culture of sexual assault that I think we need to recognize, call out, and then address with our kids. These certainly don’t comprise all the threads that we need to be concerned about, and no one individual thread should be cited as THE reason this culture of sexual assault exists. What are they?

uva rapeFirst, the thread of narcissism feeds a growing sense of entitlement that has infiltrated, informed, and distorted all of life, including our sexuality. We are selfish people. We covet, desire, and feel like we deserve anything and everything whenever and wherever we decide we want it. If we are willing to push and shove our way into trying to satisfy our retail cravings on Black Friday, we shouldn’t be surprised that we selfishly push and shove our way into sexual encounters, all in an attempt to satisfy the lusty sexual desires that have come to rule our lives. So strong are these desires that nowadays that we don’t stop to get the other person’s name, pause to consider the purpose and place of sex, or think about how our time with our pants off could affect multiple lives for a lifetime after our pants are back on. Our kids need to hear that sex is a good and wonderful gift from God for one man and one woman to experience together within the context of a life-long, monogamous, covenantal marriage.

Second, our entertainers continue to create and peddle “art” that glorifies aggressive, no-holds-barred sexuality. Once again, I can’t help but think about vulnerable and curious little boys and little girls who grow up watching, listening to, and learning from things like Adam Levine and Maroon 5’s visual and lyrical depiction of how to live out your sexuality in their video “Animals.” Or how about what they see and hear from Nicki Minaj in her song “Anaconda?” Or DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What?” Or. . . .? Why can’t or don’t we speak up about these things, showing and telling our kids the difference between right and wrong? Our kids need to see and hear depictions of sexuality that are good, true, right, and honorable. And they should easily recognize and cringe at those which aren’t.

And third, we need to establish borders and boundaries from an early age. Things like. . . this is how you treat another human being with respect and dignity. . . this is how you should and should not dress . . . there is where you should and should not go, etc. Our kids need to treat sexuality as the sacred trust that it is. This will evidence itself in how they treat one another, in a modest appearance, and in reminding their little hands and feet to be careful about where they go.

In his book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis invites readers into the head of the enemy, with some words that clearly reflect our tendency to take God’s good things and totally distort, misuse, and destroy them. . . which in the end, winds up destroying both ourselves and others. What he writes applies to the good gift of our sexuality: “To decide what the best use of it is, you must ask what use the Enemy want to make of it, and then do the opposite.”

Seems like it might be working.

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Music, Kids, and Sexuality. . .Thoughts Prompted by “The Voice”

Today, I’m grieving the continued loss of sexual joy and sanity in our culture. Not surprisingly, the understandings that are prompting my grief will most likely be seen by most in today’s world as silly, hopelessly old-fashioned, and largely unfamiliar in an “are-you-kidding-me?!?” kind of way.

My grief this morning has been prompted by a series of reminders, encounters, and even conflicts that have piled up over the last forty-some hours. . . all of which stand in marked contrast and opposition to a biblical view of sexuality.

It began with watching one of my favorite TV shows, The Voice, two nights ago. This fall, I’ve been especially impressed with the chemistry and demeanor of the judges. Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, and Pharrell have been fun to watch as they interact with each other and the show’s singers. On several occasions, Lisa and I have commented on how truly nice each of them seems to be. But always sitting in the back of my mind is what I know of how some of them are mapping life for listeners and fans as they promote ways of looking at and living in the world through their music. Their niceness actually serves as a doorway into accepting without question the worldviews they promote in their music. One example is Blake Shelton’s recent commitment to getting down and dirty by focusing more and more on “bro-country” themes in his music.

Music is a map and mirror. As a map, it teaches us about life. . . what to believe and how to behave. As a mirror, it clearly reflects back to us widely-held and/or emerging cultural values. In other words, it tells us who we should be along with showing us who we are. Music. . . and all media. . . is powerful.

sex edI explained these realities yesterday morning to a group of house-parents at the Milton Hershey School here in Pennsylvania. The group I was with yesterday are parenting middle-schoolers. . . impressionable young kids who are developmentally locked-into a search for identity as their worldviews are being shaped in significant ways. We talked specifically about the map and mirror of music, along with strategies for helping kids thoughtfully and critically evaluate and engage with every message they see and hear. It’s an important task, as music and media are primary shapers of our hearts and minds. One of the media themes that we discussed is that of sexuality. Being the God-made sexual beings that we are, it’s not surprising that we are extremely curious about and susceptible too messages that define and shape our sexuality.

And that’s where the grief comes in. . . knowing that we long for and need sexual guidance. . . and then encountering that guidance as it comes to us through the culture. So, Tuesday night on The Voice, Adam Levine performed the Maroon 5 song “Animals.” Pharrell performed his song “Hunter.” Here’s the video for “Animals,” and a video of Pharrell’s performance of “Hunter” . . . and I encourage you to sit still, give them a watch, and check out  the lyrics to “Animals” and “Hunter.”

I’m thinking as well about nice-guy Pharrell’s part he played in Robin Thicke’s misogynistic and blatantly pornographic “song of the summer” of 2013, “Blurred Lines,” the video of which is available in both a “clean” version, and a version in which the females are fully undressed.

As I’ve been processing Tuesday night’s edition of “The Voice” and the performances I saw, I couldn’t help but think about our culture’s sexual schizophrenia. On the one hand, we promote and perform an understanding of sexuality that reduces our God-given sex drive to nothing but an appetite that we should satisfy without borders or boundaries. If we want it, we hunt it. . . we stalk it. . . and we treat people as objects that are nothing more than prey, animals, or pieces of meat. And then when these ideas and beliefs give birth to the behaviors they promote, then we need the “No More” PSA campaign to step in to tell us that the rising tide of sexual assault is wrong.


Why can’t we see that we have wound up in a situation where we must constantly be telling ourselves not to do the very things we are constantly telling ourselves to do? We are truly duplicitous and conflicted. We lack integrity.

Sex is on the minds of our kids. Not at all surprising, first and foremost because God has made them – like us – to be sexual beings. But how are we socializing and nurturing them into thinking about and engaging with their sexuality? The biblical worldview is celebratory about sex. Sex is a good thing, given to us as a gift by God. But when the cultural messages map and mirror something else, our hearts should break.

This morning, I read Scotty Smith’s “A Prayer About Seduceability” in his book, Everyday PrayersThe Scripture verse at the top of the page was taken from Proverbs 7:21-27, a passage that warns us about how easily we can be drawn beyond the borders and boundaries of God’s good gift of sex and what happens when we are. While the passage speaks specifically about lure and consequences of adultery, it applies to all sexual sin. It reads:

With much seductive speech she persuades him;
    with her smooth talk she compels him.
 All at once he follows her,
    as an ox goes to the slaughter,
or as a stag is caught fast
    till an arrow pierces its liver;
as a bird rushes into a snare;
    he does not know that it will cost him his life.

 And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth.

 Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;
    do not stray into her paths,
 for many a victim has she laid low,
    and all her slain are a mighty throng.
 Her house is the way to Sheol,
    going down to the chambers of death.

Broken sexuality hunts us as dehumanized animals. And when we choose to be hunted, it will cost us everything. That’s not the message our kids are getting from the culture. But it is the liberating message we need to be communicating without apology or pause.

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