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2020: Summer Of Love

Here we are, just a little over six months into 2020, and already we know that this will go down in our own histories as a year filled with unexpected challenges. The first half of the year has brought monumental lifestyle changes and interruptions thanks to a pandemic, along with the challenges of dealing with our culture’s long-standing inequalities. In addition, political divisions are widening. If you’re like me, you’re wondering what surprises the second half of 2020 will bring. It seems like we’re all already living in a thick and confusing fog.

As I’ve been thinking back to the late 1960s and my own years of early adolescence, I can’t help but notice how similar 2020 has been to what we experienced during those days of cultural change and unrest. Those years were challenging years through which to parent, and the same holds true for those of us raising kids today.

While the issues are complex, let me suggest just one very timely spiritual truth we must teach our kids in the midst of this time where our differences have occasioned discord and hate. It’s a lesson I believe can help us all as we live in a world where civility can so easily diminish when people disagree on how to understand and handle issues like the current pandemic, politics, and racism.

The spiritual truth we must teach is one that is foundational to who we all are as human beings. . . a commonality that exists in spite of our differences. It is a truth that was revealed at creation and the beginning of time. Take a minute to read the Creation account, paying special attention to Genesis 1:26-28. This is where we learn about how all humanity has been created in the image of God. To be created in the image of God means that He has endowed us all with dignity and significance. Not only does this matter for how we view ourselves, but it matters deeply for how we view and treat others. Theologian Gregg Allison tells us that the doctrine of the image of God means that “all people should be treated with respect, with appreciation for God’s excellent design. Racism, sexism, classism, and ageism are categorically excluded.”

As the summer unfolds, our temptation to see those who might disagree with us on the issues of the day as “less than” ourselves will continue. In response, here are four practical steps you can take to instill in yourself and your kids a view of all people that will derail hatred that comes when we dehumanize those who are different, while moving us in the direction of loving God by loving our neighbor.

First, pray to see all people through God’s eyes. Our vision is clouded by our sin, our histories, and our circumstances. Pray for clear vision.

Second, when you are tempted to diminish the value of another, remind yourself that he or she is, like you, an “image-bearer.” The father of lies wants us to deny the image of God in others.

Third, treat all others with Christ-like respect. While legitimate disagreements might exist, show the grace and kindness of Jesus Christ in all of your interactions.

And finally, denounce the diminished view of other human beings wherever you encounter it.

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Cardi B, WAP, And Our Kids…

So the female rapper Cardi B has us all thinking. She’s got us all talking. And as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most-Influential-People of 2018 (labeled by Time in that list as a “pioneer”), her latest single release has landed in big, big ways in a youth culture that’s primed and ready to be influenced and led. More on that in a bit. But first, this. . .

As a long-time pop culture watcher, junkie, and even pop culture lover, there’s very little I encounter that’s surprising. If you are a careful observer of cultural undercurrents, you can develop strong hunches regarding how emerging beliefs will soon spread and ultimately manifest themselves in outward behaviors. Yesterday, I was reminded of that fact when I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 1977 Francis Schaeffer film series, How Should We Then Live, is now streaming for free on Amazon Prime. Schaeffer has long been one of my culture-watching heroes and mentors. And when I quickly opened up and watched the first couple minutes of the last episode in the series, I was reminded again of Schaeffer’s brilliant Scripture-guided skill for discernment. . . to see things as they really are. . . and it was astounding to me how well in 1977 he was describing what is happening in our world today. But even after listening to and being trained by so many sharp culture-watchers, Cardi B’s newest single, “WAP”, has my head-spinning with surprise and sadness as I think about where we are as a culture and how we’ve gotten here.

So before jumping into some initial thoughts sparked by Cardi B’s latest release, let me give you a little who and what background if you’re finding yourself a bit behind in this conversation.

First, the who. As far as the music scene goes, the 28-year-old is a relative newcomer. In just a little over three years, the self-described Catholic who speaks of her strong relationship with God has gone from relative obscurity to being seen as Hip-Hop’s Reigning Queen. Truth be told, at this moment she might just be the most influential female on the music scene. She is a multiple-award-winner (way too many to list here) who is a life-style influencer and icon in everything from fashion, to gender definition, to identity, and to sexuality. If she’s new to you, you can eliminate your ignorance with a quick search on the Internet. In fact, check out her page on Wikipedia for an updated overview.

Second, the what. . . and this is where is gets a bit difficult for me to communicate details. . . as communicating the details about her hit song and video, “WAP” , is risky business. It starts with the song’s title, which is an acronym for a vile term for female genitalia. In this case, the song’s title doesrelate clearly to the lyrical and visual themes of the song and its’ video as it celebrates and promotes a version of female sexuality that is raw, expressive, table-turning dominant, and as one affirming critic has said, “Class-A filth, a torrent of horny one-liners. . .” I do believe that in order to fully understand what’s being talked about here and to prepare an informed response, you would have to watch and listen for yourself. However, that’s your call. You need to know that the music critics are loving it. And, it seems that the music-consuming population loves it as well. It has topped the global Spotify chart, debuted at #1 on The Apple Music songs chart (highest debut ever by a female artist), debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and the video garnered well over 26 million views during its’ first 24-hours. New York Times’ music critic Ben Sisario says it’s perhaps the raunchiest No. 1 single in history.

Simply said, Cardi B and her song “WAP” . . . and everything it tells us about culture. . . demands our attention.

As I’ve been processing Cardi B’s latest song over the last few days, a few initial thoughts have come to mind. At this point, they’re early in development and I’m sure they will take shape in new ways over time. But since the song is so new and having such an impact, I thought I would share just ten of my thoughts here.

First, as we always say here at CPYU, culture is a mirror. Cultural artifacts serve to reflect the spirit of the times and what the Bible calls “the course of this world.” Whether in print, on the screen, through the earbuds, etc. . . music and media are powerful forms that must “be read” if we are to understand the days in which we live. Culture shapes art, and art reveals to us the beliefs which are at the root of our behaviors. One of the great benefits of evaluating art and music is that as followers of Christ, we can eliminate the lag that so often exists between the time that ideas take root and grow, and the time it takes for us to respond by either affirming or challenging what it is we see and hear. In this case, “WAP” might not be telling us where our kids are today, but it does offer a peek into where they are most likely headed tomorrow.

Second, as we always say here at CPYU, culture is a map. What we see and hear defines the world for us. It tells us how things are and how things should be. It guides us into embracing beliefs and behaviors, normalizing them for better or for worse. Have you listened to the lyrics in “WAP”? Have you watched the video? Have you laid out Cardi B’s map that is serving to direct an entire generation of kids into how to think about and live out matters of identity, personhood, value, and sexuality? If we want to effectively lead our kids into a lifetime of embracing that which is good, true, right, and honorable according to God’s Word, then we must be able to answer the pervasive, attractive, compelling, and powerfully convincing messages coming at them 24/7 through pop culture. . . including this message from Cardi B that’s coming through loud-and-clear.

Third, wake up people. We’re not in Kansas anymore. I’ve never believed that “the good old days” were actually good old days. Human beings weren’t necessarily any less sinful and depraved in the 50’s and 60’s. Everyone had to live (here’s my Calvinism coming through!) with their own total depravity in a world broken by sin. What was different were the categories of vice and virtue.  By and large, people knew and shared the lines between right and wrong. Sure, while there was a more widely-held agreement, people still chose to cross lines from virtue into vice. But it was usually done on the sly. And when it was exposed, there were typically some kind of consequences. What’s different now is that those lines have disappeared, and what Cardi B and the rest of our culture have been encouraged to embrace and are encouraging others to embrace are old vices as current virtues. What used to be condemned is now celebrated. Truth be told, Cardi B is only being true to the worldview she’s grown up with. It’s a world where we are encouraged to “follow your heart” and “do the right thing”. . . the right thing being whatever your heart tells you to do. In a world like this, why wouldn’t individuals take God’s good and glorious gift of sexuality and indulge it without borders and boundaries? One more thing. . . for the Christian, we don’t own the conversation anymore. . . and I’m not sure we ever really did. We are pilgrims, strangers, and guests in this brave new world.

Fourth, whoever speak on matters of sexuality first will set the bar and own the conversation.Parents and youth workers MUST believe this to be true. . . and act accordingly. With pop culture filling the minds and hearts of even our preschool screen-centered and obsessed kids, the lyrical, visual, and lifestyle message peddled by Cardi B and so many others is being consistently seen and heard by the most impressionable and moldable human beings among us: our kids. What this means is that we need to have what might be difficult and hard-to-frame conversations at younger and younger ages about God’s grand and glorious design for His good gift of gender, sex, love, and marriage. Home and church need to be diligent at working together to make this happen. Think of it as a process of fertilizing  the soil of young hearts and minds so that the seed of God’s grand and glorious design will take root and grow, resulting in the sexual flourishing of our kids as they grow up. If we aren’t cultivating and fertilizing this soil with the Gospel, the fertilizer of “the course of this world” will do its’ job. (Check out CPYU’s free-resource-packed Sexual Integrity Initiative for help in this task).

Fifth, we need to know and teach God’s design for love, sex, and marriage. Both the culture and the culture-in-the-church are getting this wrong. The place to begin on these matters is in the Genesis creation account. What exists in the Garden at creation is God’s shalom. Things are the way they are supposed to be and the creation is set up to flourish. What exists is pronounced “Good!” by the Creator of all things, including sexuality and gender. Sex is to be embraced, indulged and experienced within the context of a covenantal monogamous life-long union between one man and one woman. (Here’s a link to a free “Parents’ Guide to Teaching Kids God’s Design For Sexuality”)

Sixth, we need to realize that the culture is promoting a “sex-positive” movement. Sadly, the cultural sense regarding biblical sexuality is that God and the Bible are “sex-negative”. In response to what is seen as out-of-date and repressive rules an regulations, the sex-positive movement is all about changing old values while promoting all consensual sexual activity as normal, healthy, and pleasurable. There are no borders and boundaries beyond mutual consent. It’s all a matter of personal preference. Cardi B is a contemporary mouthpiece for this movement. And chances are that your kids. . . even your Christian kids. . . have been so influenced and nurtured into this way of thinking over time that your conversations with them about biblical sexuality might meet with resistance. Again, they are only being true to a worldview they’ve consistently heard and they might know nothing else. Of course, parents and youth workers can and must change that for the good of our kids and the glory of God.

Seventh, there is a power play taking place in our culture. As we battle over worldviews and ways of looking at and living life, we are now beyond the point of civil discourse and discussion. Sure, that is happening in some places. But by and large our culture that celebrates and grabs for empowerment takes the power and runs with it. . . no discussion to be had. In the case of Cardi B and “WAP”, this is an expression of the move toward female empowerment in all areas of life, including sexuality. No question, there has to be pushback on the horrible and destructive ways in which men have misused, demeaned, disrespected, and abused women in our culture and our cultural history. . . sexually and otherwise. It has to stop. But there is always the danger that as the pendulum swings-away from one systemic sin, it might swing too far and land in practicing another. Be sensitive to this as you engage in conversations where those conversation happen.

Eighth, prepare yourself for conflict. . . even with your kids. I fear that to engage in civil discussion when there is disagreement is quickly becoming a thing of the past. We now live in a “cancel culture.” the dictionary defines cancel culture in this way: “Cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.” In recent months, I experienced this in a personal way, all without any kind of effort made on the part of the canceler to ask for an explanation or clarification. It is a practice void of opportunity for conversation or expression of grace. A quick scan of the internet offers ample evidence of cancel culture in full bloom as pundits offer critique (many times grace-filled and reasonable) of Cardi B and her song. Labels are slapped on people (conservative vs. liberal), conclusions are drawn, commentary and analysis are taken out of context, and chasms grow. In the case of the kids you know and love, prepare for pushback as you seek to address the advance of the course of this world. And always remember that an investment in the people you know and love will require the kind of patience and grace that we ourselves have been shown by Jesus Christ. . . even when we are canceled.

Ninth, pray for those who are mapping and mirroring life. . . including Cardi B.I will stand first-in-line among those who are willing to write-off and condemn those who we believe are leading our kids and culture further and further away from the Creator’s design for our human flourishing. I confess that I desire to see these voices silenced. . . many times with little or no desire to see those voices and their messages change through an encounter with the Living God. I am continually reminding myself that all people. . . ALL people. . . are divine image-bearers. Everyone is given dignity, value, and worth. And just as I desire to see the culture swing more towards creational shalom and flourishing, so must I desire the same for individuals. We must pray for God’s grace to visit all people. . . including those with whom we disagree and even battle. . . with that grace settling on them in big ways through conversion and sanctification. This morning I encountered these helpful words from Fergus Macdonald regarding how to engage in this battle: “We dare not forget that God’s church is engaged in spiritual warfare. All our attackers are in servitude to unseen evil forces. Our priority is to pray for our visible enemies and against the ones who are invisible.”

And tenth, “WAP” serves as a powerful reminder of our responsibility to teach our kids skills in biblical media discernment. The Christian faith must be integrated into all of life, including the media choices we make and how we make those choices. We’ve been trumpeting this message here at CPYU, and over the years tens of thousands of kids have been trained by their youth workers and parents in the 3(D) process of Discover, Discern, Decide that is taught in our How To Use Your Head To Guard Your Heart 3(D) Guide To Making Wise Music Choices. You can learn more about this resource and this process here. It is a skill that when learned will serve our kids well for the rest of their lives. (Here’s a link to a helpful podcast on media discernment: Sex & Christian Parents: Biblical Media Discernment)

So, what now? As you respond to Cardi B and “WAP” in the midst of this teachable moment that’s dropped into our youth ministry and parenting laps, don’t forget to exercise diligence by doing the following:

  • Know God’s design for all of life by immersing yourself in His Word.
  • Live His design with reckless abandon in your life.
  • Teach His design to the kids you know and love.
  • Ask lots of clarifying questions. Listen before you speak.
  • Be patient. Cultural and individual change do not happen overnight.
  • Show the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ as you tell your kids the truth.

And now. . . I’m going to watch Francis Schaeffer. . .

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My Kids, My Identity…

If it doesn’t happen, who is going to be more disappointed? You? Or your kids?

That question haunted me in a personal way as I rode past a high school football stadium during the last week of July. Coaches and players were assembled on the field for workouts in preparation for a season that might or might not happen due to our current pandemic. I rewound 17 years to my own son, and I began to wonder how he would have responded if his last year of high school football had been shut down. Then, I began to wonder how I would have responded as his dad. Truth be told, I don’t know that it would have been easy for me to take it all in stride. . . which I’m afraid reveals an aspect of my character that’s not very attractive.

The reality is that just about every extra-curricular activity in which our kids engage is in jeopardy. Sports, concerts, clubs, academic competitions, and other areas where our kids have a chance to shine might not happen. And what that means is that our parental opportunity to shine through our kids and their talents might disappear as well. I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.

In his book Parenting: Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family, Dr. Paul Tripp includes a chapter on the topic of “Identity.” Dr. Tripp states the “Identity Principle” this way: “If you are not resting as a parent in your identity in Christ, you will look for identity in your children.” While expecting our children to be successful and do their best is not a bad thing, far too many of us are harboring parental hearts that are more focused on our children achieving the kind of success that makes us look good, rather than on the child who is required to deliver it. The result is that we crush and embitter our children through the weight of our pressures and expectations. When that happens, God bless our sons and daughters.

The remedy to this is to rest in our identity in Jesus Christ. If we are not finding our identity in Christ, we will to find our identity in something in the creation. . . possessions, vocation, accomplishments, and even our children. Simply stated, this is idolatry. As Dr. Tripp remind us, only Christ is able to give us the identity, peace, and meaning that our hearts seek.

So, how can you know if you are living to find your identity through your children rather than in Jesus Christ? What are the signs that your parenting is driven more by what you need from your children rather than by what God wants to do through you in your children? Dr. Tripp shares these five “sure indications”:

  • Too much focus on success. You want your children to succeed because you need them to succeed.
  • Too much concern about reputation. You rely on your children and their performance to polish your reputation as a parent.
  • Too great desire for control. You control situations and people to make sure your children succeed and enhance your reputation.
  • Too much emphasis on doing rather than being. You focus on your child’s physical, social, and educational accomplishments rather than on their heart.
  • Too much temptation to make it personal. You focus not on how their behavior is viewed by God, but on how their behavior affects you.

Parents, take stock of how you’re parenting. Are you putting undue, spirit-crushing pressure on your kids, or are you seeking to find your identity in Christ?

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HOW TO TAKE A SOCIAL MEDIA “PURPOSEFUL PAUSE”. . .

Two of social media’s most negative effects are 1) How it can become a time waster for both those who post and those who are consumed with reading posts, and 2) how social media is uniquely suited as a playground to indulge our sinful natures in impulsive “speak-before-thinking” ways that lead to all kinds of trouble. . . including glorification of self rather than glorification of God.

In Proverbs we read these wise words: “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20) and “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).

While I am far from consistently hitting the mark, I endeavor to follow the wisdom of Proverbs whenever I’m using social media. Here are some steps that you might find helpful as you take a  purposeful pause” before hitting “send”, “post”, “tweet”, or “reply.” Share these steps with parents, kids, and your church staff as a way to promote healthy social media use as an act of worship. . .

Download the rest of this article as a helpful handout here.

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Love, Sex, and Marriage… The Conversation With Your Kids

For me, my conscious first memories of engaging in the simplest of ways with the topic of love began in Kindergarten. Every year when I was in elementary school, I would spend the evening of February 13 punching out two-dozen Valentine’s Day cards from perforated sheets, signing them with my name, and stuffing them in envelopes. . . each one addressed to a different member of my class. Back then, we used those little dime-store cards to send the same message to everyone. . . male and female as I remember it. . . “Will you be my Valentine?”

Now that I’m grown-up, I often think back to those days and wonder if our willingness to throw our meager and meaningless little expressions of “love” around might have contributed in some way to the widespread confusion about the nature of romance that seems to have gone viral throughout our culture. When I look around at our cultural expressions (movies, TV, music, etc.) and personal practices (premarital sex, cohabitation, sexual identity issues, polyamory, etc.) I wonder if anyone even knows where to go to gain a clear understanding on matters of love, sex, and marriage.

Sadly, we’ve forgotten that love, sex, and marriage all have their origins in God’s good creation. We have to start with the Creator and His design. These days, the culture isn’t doing that. Sadly, many in the church aren’t doing that either. The Creator of humanity has given us love, sex, and marriage as a gift. In Genesis 2:24 we read, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” When understood in this light, we see that our current cultural beliefs and behaviors are not what they’re supposed to be.

We must take the time to teach the kids you and know and love God’s good truth about His order and design for marriage. Don’t wait. Whoever has the conversation with kids first sets the bar and owns the conversation. Will it be the culture? Will it be you?

Theologian John Stott reminds us that we need to see that Genesis 2:24 tells us that marriage is a relationship with 5 facets. Share each of these with your kids:

-Marriage is meant to be heterosexual. It is between a man and a woman. . . nothing more or nothing less.

-Marriage is meant to be monogamous. It is a relationship reserved for one man and one woman.

-Marriage is meant to be a commitment. A man is to leave his father and hold fast to his wife. What’s missing in a relationship where a couple simply chooses to live together is a commitment.

-Marriage is meant to be public. The leaving from parents is a social occasion where a couple commits themselves to each other in front of family and friends.

-Marriage is meant to be physical. A couple becomes one flesh by consummating their commitment to each other through the act of sexual intercourse, something God’s given them to indulge with each other exclusively!

The culture is educating our kids 24/7 on the nature of love, sex, and marriage. Are you telling them the truth?

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MASSACHUSETTS & POLYAMORY. . .

Like you, I saw the headline a few days ago: “A U.S. first? Massachusetts city votes to recognize polyamorous relationships in domestic partnership policy.”

The headline took me back a few years to some things we had written and recorded on this growing trend toward polyamory moving in our culture from vice to virtue. Specifically, we took at look at Polyamory back in the October 2014 edition of our monthly CPYU Parent Page. Here’s what I wrote. . .

The New Monogamy

Last March, an article in Rolling Stone magazine caught my eye. . . and made me grieve. Alex Morris reported on “Tales From the Millennials’ Sexual Revolution” and some troubling values, attitudes, and behaviors that are becoming normalized among our kids as they transition into adulthood.

Unlike the traditional understanding of monogamy where a man and woman are joined together and pledge their faithfulness to one another in marriage, this new monogamy exclusivity really isn’t about exclusivity or faithfulness at all. Rather, partners enter into a marriage, or even cohabitation (who gets married anymore?), with a “primary partner.” Then, they share and even celebrate the understanding that there will also be one or more “secondary partners” who are willingly and openly embraced and acknowledged. Why? Because the “primary partner” will not be able to meet all of one’s emotional or sexual needs. Sure, a version of this has been around for a long, long time. But it used to be called an “affair,” “cheating,” “adultery,” or just plain old “sneaking around.” Now, it’s being called “normal.”

Our culture is moving closer and closer to full-scale acceptance and normalization of what’s known as “polyamory.” The word combines the prefix “poly”- meaning “many or several” – with the Latin word for love, “amor.” In other words, those who embrace polyamory believe in having several emotionally and/or sexually intimate relationships at one time, and doing it all out in the open, with the approval of everyone involved. After all, if its no longer seen as a vice but now a virtue, there’s no reason to even consider hiding anything. This takes the commonly accepted practiced of premarital promiscuity and amps it up to new levels, where it’s not only something that’s expected and celebrated before marriage, but is now accepted and celebrated after marriage. In other words, your kids are now swimming in a cultural soup where relational and sexual faithfulness and exclusivity in marriage might soon be seen as an archaic throwback to a time that was . . . well. . . just plain old-fashioned.

Whether they call it polyamory or not, every one of your students will encounter this trend, and some will even embrace it. How can we equip our students to think about and respond to  polyamory and the new monogamy to the glory of God through being faithful to God’s will and way?

First, you need to talk about the new monogamy. Don’t ignore it or hope it will go away. Engage with your kids as you label, define, and describe polyamory and the manner in which it is sneaking into our culture.

Second, set the bar high for marriage. As Christians, we must always return to God’s Word if we hope to understand his design and intent for the institution of marriage. Marriage is a an exclusive covenantal union between one man and one woman.

And finally, bring the light of God’s Word on marriage to bear on this new understanding of monogamy. Help them to critique the new monogamy to help them see how far it falls short of God’s design for love, sex, and marriage.

I’ll be sharing more perspective on marriage that we can teach our kids in coming days. Stay tuned.

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Pandemic Pornography Use Is Increasing… A Response

It’s not at all surprising that a host of news outlets and researchers are reporting a spike in the use of online pornography during the current Covid-19 pandemic. People of all ages. . . children, teens, and adults alike. . . are hunkered down during the stay-at-home quarantine with extra time, stress, social distancing, loneliness, and boredom on their hands. Consequently, the temptation for those alreadyengaged with pornography is to run to this fallen expression of God’s good gift of sex with greater frequency. And with people of all ages able to access their devices due to increased time, the playground of the internet offers greater opportunity for pornography to find them.

This perfect storm has been seen by pornographers as an opportunity to build their audience. As an example, the world’s largest online porn site, Pornhub, made their exclusive subscription-based premium content free for 30 days. Consider this sad fact: during the 3-week pandemic shutdown in India, porn use increased 95%. In the end, it’s not only Covid-19 that’s going viral, but sexual immorality and the scourge of pornography as well. It’s frightening to think about what the fallout might be.

For parents and youth workers this is a moment that cannot be overlooked or missed. First, we need to help our kids understand that sex, sexuality, and gender are all good gifts from God. Second, we need to help them understand what to do when, not if, they encounter pornography. . . if, by chance, they are one of the few innocent and naive kids left. Third, we must equip ourselves not only for the aforementioned tasks, but to handle the temptation we will experience and face not only now, but for the rest of our lives.

Here are some resources we’ve put together than can help. . .

First, check out our Sexual Integrity Initiative. The website is loaded with all kinds of free resources to help you point your kids away from sexual brokenness and towards sexual flourishing.

Second, download and familiarize yourself with this free handout, A Parents’ Primer On Internet Pornography. This handout offers a succinct overview and response strategy.

And third, carve out some time to listen to this latest episode of our Youth Culture Matters Podcast. . . which features a conversation with Michael Cusick about how to navigate the issues related to increased pornography use during this pandemic.

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How Being Self-Aware Helps Interrupt The Destructive Porn Cycle

One of the bigger challenges of pornography is being able to disrupt the debilitating porn cycle that leads to “messing up”. If you’ve ever struggled, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You have a genuine desire to move beyond the addiction, but keep finding yourself back in familiar cycles. You wake up in the morning crying out to God, “I’m so sorry! I’ll never do this again!” in a prayer that is heartfelt and real. So, what keeps you stuck then?

1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”

What is it about porn that keeps drawing us back even though it’s destructive not only to others but also yourself?

Surprisingly, it’s less about porn than you think. I’m not saying the sexual ramifications aren’t real, but we can almost always identify the events that lead up to the moment we regret.

A different question may be, “How do I catch myself early enough and keep from making self-destructive decisions?”

SELF-AWARENESS IS KEY.

Learning how to become self-aware is essential for feeling empowered. When you don’t understand the “why”, it is easy to feel hopeless and out of control. On the other hand, you begin to feel more in control of your life when you understand what’s causing the internal reactions.

The problem is this: Most of us didn’t grow up in an environment that taught us how to be self-aware.

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We didn’t hear questions like:

“What are you feeling right now?”

“Why are you feeling that way?”

“What caused you to react so aggressively?”

“Why do you feel out of control?”

“Learning self-awareness is like working out a muscle. It will feel a bit awkward at first, but the more you practice, the easier it will get.”

1. Identify your needs. We all have needs. The challenge is to find out what yours are and get them met in a healthy way. If we neglect our legitimate needs, we become reactionary.

2. When you feel a strong emotion, stop yourself and ask, “why am I feeling this way?”

3. Allow your heart to feel emotions. This may sound basic, but you’d be surprised how many people choose to stuff their emotions. It’s not hard to find distractions in today’s world. Social media, fast food, games, smoking, or porn… they’re all escapes in one form or another.  You have to consciously choose to block out temporary distractions to engage your emotions. Even the “negative” ones are there for a reason, helping to alert you of something else. Don’t be afraid to work through them.

4. Find healthy outlets. When do you feel “alive” or “refreshed”? Is it when you’re outsideSpending time with friends? Painting? Journaling? Date night with your spouse? Begin to notice when you feel engaged and present. That’s an indicator that you’ve found a healthy outlet.

When we begin to identify our needs, our pinpoint triggers, give our emotions room to express themselves and find healthy outlets, we are able to identify what’s causing the tendencies for self-harming decisions.

It’s how we can “Flee from sexual sin….”

The good news is learning self-awareness will not only help you with porn but in every other area of your life!

Like anything else in life, it takes time to create habits. Give yourself grace as you learn how to identify areas of your life you may have been neglecting for a long time.

Are there other things you do to maintain self-awareness? If so, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

This post originally appeared on Josh’s blog. Used with permission.


Josh Cearbaugh is a life consultant with a unique ability to lead people through transformation. Through a combination of consulting techniques, he helps individuals to identify, and then dismantle, the crippling cycles where the majority of us find ourselves stuck. He has a passion for connecting people to their heart and helping them create practical strategies to change their lives. Most Recently, Josh’s consulting practice has been located in Austin, Texas. He met Danielle, his wife of ten years, in Mozambique while attending Iris Harvest School. They currently have two boys an one beautiful girl.

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4 Ways To Porn-Protect Your Home

This blog was adapted from the fifth episode of the second series of Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime.

One thing – no one solution will protect you 100%. We don’t live in boxes and there is going to come a time where pornography makes its way into your families life. The hope, however, is to mitigate its influence and impact as best as possible. Make Sure Your Kids Know Your Values. Ask yourself the following questions:

  •     Does my family have a view of sexuality founded on the truths in scripture?
  •     Do my kids know I value these same truths when it comes to sex, sexuality, and relationships?
  •     Do my kids have an understanding of what pornography is and how to reject it immediately if they see it?
  •     Do my kids feel comfortable talking with me about all things related to sex and sexuality?
  •     Are you giving a lecture or engaging in questions and dialogue when you discuss these subjects with your kids?

If you’re able to answer yes to most or all of these questions you are well on your way to porn-protecting your home.

Block Access Points

What are you doing to block access to pornography? Communication is by far the most important tool when protecting your home but it doesn’t hurt to have some tools that help you stop porn from ever entering your home.

Recognize where the points of access are in your home. These include a variety of locations – most of them found online. The obvious culprit is going to be mobile devices. Having a game plan for when your kids receive their first device should be well thought out. Remember, the most common point of entry for first-time porn exposure is through mobile devices. So knowing how they will be used before they are ever in your kid’s possession is important. 

If your kids already have a device then be sure to use the parental controls on the device. Also, limit the number of apps they can have on the device at one time. This better helps you (and them) manage what is coming and going. I might also consider removing the browser, social media channels, and YouTube from the phone till you feel they are ready. 

Encourage your kids to be open and honest with you about what apps they use on their phones or tablets. For some families, a “no secret password” policy works, where family members either forego the use of passwords on their devices or share their passwords with you, the parent.

From time to time, take an inventory of which apps your family members have downloaded, what they seem to spend the most time on, and what the purpose or content of the app entails. If necessary, use a service like OurPact, which allows you to set time limits, block calls from strangers, and more.

You might want to also consider Netflix, Hulu, and other similar accounts. Most services have filters or kid-friendly channels. Hulu has parental controls, so does Netflix, Amazon, and Sling. Take the extra time to set up filters and controls to keep your family safe.

Consider How You Spend Time With Your Kids

Often we spend time with our kids on our terms at the places we choose. However, this may take away opportunities for us to enter their world and learn about other points of access. 

For instance, video games are a popular way kids spend time playing. Sit down and play the games with your kids, or at least watch them play. This will help you make sure the game complies with your family standards. Also, be smart about which games you let your children play. Use the ESRB rating system (“E for Everyone,” “T for Teen,” etc.), but be sure to use it wisely. Even a Teen rating on a game may not be suitable for teens in your home.

The same could be said of books, music, or television shows. Take time to enter their world and listen to what they are hearing and watch what they are seeing.  

Utilize Filters

Finally, there are some great new filters for the home that help you manually control content on each of the devices connected to your internet. One of those is Circle by Disney. This deviceconnects to your router and allows you to filter content on every device connected through WiFi. This will also allow for TIME LIMITS on certain apps, such as social media, YouTube, and Minecraft.

Another filter is Koala safe. This deviceallows you to establish a child-safe WiFi network. When your child’s friends come over they can use the child-safe WiFi password to connect. The filters and limits previously established on this child-safe network will be applied to the friend’s device or phone as well.

There are many others and finding the one that works best for you and your family will be important. But do it before it’s too late.


DriveTime is a tool for you as a parent to get equipped, so you can better engage the world your son or daughter inhabits.

Check out further discussions around parenting and all the reasons you should be encouraged on Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime. Available now where ever you get your podcasts.

Jason Soucinek is the Executive Director and founder of Project Six19. Dedicated to talking honestly about matters of sex, sexuality and relationships. Jason has spent more than a decade engaging audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

Walt Mueller is the founder and President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding and has been working with young people and families for over 35 years.

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5 Reasons Christian Singles Aren’t Dating

In the last post from #TheDatingScene blog series, I reported that over 53% of singles who took my survey reported that they have not been on one date in the past 6 months. You can read that entire article here.

The majority of Christian Singles are NOT dating.

At the end of that article, I asked singles to tell me why. Why aren’t Christian singles dating? Why has the common date become such a rare thing? The comments rolled in, and some fantastic conversation came of it. As I read through and interacted with the comments, 5 big-picture themes emerged as to why #TheDatingScene is on snooze for most single Christians:

#1 They have unrealistic expectations.

One of the most common things that many singles reported experiencing from the opposite sex is the unrealistic standard of what they’re looking for in a relationship. Men are looking for a cross between Mother Teresa and America’s next top model(click to read more), while women are after the Jesus-loving-Brad-Pitt (click to read more). There’s a false standard that we’ve perpetuated and let’s just put this out there: no one is measuring up.

I believe it’s important to have our standards of character, integrity, and morals when it comes to a dating relationship – but could it be that in the name of “not settling” we’ve confused our PREFERENCES for our NEEDS? Maybe it’s time to prioritize our majors from our minors, and consider pursuing someone that might typically be considered “outside of our usual type”.

Men, Stop Looking for a Super Model Wife.

Women, Please Learn to Settle for the things that DON’T Matter.

#2 They aren’t being asked.

There’s definitely a fear culture surrounding the topic of asking someone out on a date. We’re so paralyzed by fear, failure, and rejection. It’s almost as though we’re so afraid to fail- that we’d rather not even try. In fact, the majority of singles reported that when it comes to dating: they aren’t usually do the asking.

If majority is not asking, that also means majority is not dating.

I think it’s time to exchange our fear for faith, and take the necessary steps to get healthy and then seek out a healthy relationship. If you’re at that point in life, here’s an article I wrote with some basic how-to’s of asking someone out on a date. If you WANT to get to that point, consider taking my 21 Days to JumpStart Your Love Life e-course (more details on that plus a promo code at the bottom of the article).

#3 They’re having a hard time meeting one another.

I think this is a really legitimate concern, and one in which I hope and pray the Church will listen and begin to fill the needs of this generation. Too many churches are not offering a way for their Singles to meet – leaving them to fend for themselves with things like social media, online dating, and everything in between in an attempt to meet. We offer groups for every other category of life, but when it comes to singles – if you’re past college, there’s a good chance you’re out of luck when it comes to finding a group to connect with at your local church.

My hope and prayer is that by having and sharing these conversations, men and women in leadership will realize that the 25+ singles are a truly neglected demographic within the Church – and then do something about it. It’s time to make some noise, approach our leaders, and do our part to build bridges and opportunities for singles to connect. Start a group, initiate a conversation, share your concern, and do what YOU CAN to create a places for singles in the body of Christ to connect. (One place that’s doing this INCREDIBLY well is Saddleback Church – with a Singles Event that I’ll be speaking at coming up this weekend!)

#4 They’ve been taught that women shouldn’t initiate a relationship.

Part of the problem with the lack of interaction among sexes is that woman have been taught that their role is to simply do nothing. They’ve been told the lie that a “woman of God” lets the man initiate, pursue, and make things happen. This leaves women feeling powerless – as though they have no control in their relationship status and no right to take initiative themselves. I’ve been pretty outspoken about how I feel about this subject. If you’ve yet to catch up on those posts, you can give them a read here.

#5 They’re taking dating way too seriously.

Twenty years after the I Kissed Dating Goodbye movement, and we’re finally learning to lighten up about dating. But I believe we still have a long way to go. I’m a firm believer that dating in high school is something that teenagers should do without – the problem is that too many people then take that mentality long into ADULTHOOD.

Christians tend to put the decision of who to date on the same level as the decision of who to marry. There’s so much pressure surrounding the topic, when at the end of the day, a first date is nothing more than getting to know someone better over a cup of coffee. Christians need to stop stressing so much about dating.

I believe that the more we talk about these things, the more we’ll know. And the more we know – the better we’ll do. 

Stay tuned for my entire blog series with the rest of the survey results all about #TheDatingScene

COMMENT BELOW: I want to take this conversation to the churches and ministries I interact with across the country: What is something the CHURCH could do to help encourage healthy dating and interactions between men and women? 

 

A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on August 9, 2017. Used by permission.


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

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

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Should I Give My Kid A Smartphone

 

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

Note, this is exactly what was written:

 

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

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

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

Help me Craig!”

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

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

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

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

Not needed.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

Both my kids have phones and have these restrictions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all I’ve got!

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

 

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


 

craig-gross

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

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

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

james-charles

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

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

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

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

So, how are you processing these things with kids?

 

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A Christian Approach To Same-Sex Marriage. . .

Last year one of my college friends, Dan Doriani, released a new book on being a man. Dan’s book, The New Man: Becoming A Man After God’s Heart, is one I’ve been reading carefully for my own personal enrichment. Dan’s goal was not to write the typical book for men that’s full of lists. Rather, he encourages us to be shaped by knowing God and His Word. It’s been a good, a challenging, and an encouraging read. It touches on everything from marriage, fatherhood, friendship, work, wealth, health, and play.

Throughout the book, Dan has inserted some pastoral thoughts (or what he calls “A word on. . .) on some of the more pressing cultural issues of the day. . . things like pornography, play, working too much, etc. I found Dan’s thoughts on same-sex marriage to be especially helpful. With Dan’s permission, I’m encouraging you to read the full text of his “Word on the Legal Status of Marriage in the West, ” which was penned well over a year ago. . . .

At the moment that I write this short essay, socially aware Christians are justifiably concerned about the legal and institutional status of marriage in the West. The focus of attention today is on same sex marriage. Throughout Western Europe and South America, several nations have decided to legalize same sex marriage or to recognize civil relationships so that same sex couples have the legal rights and privileges of marriage. In America and other federalist nations, the same shift occurs on a state-by-state basis. Courts increasingly argue that interference with same-sex marriage is a prejudicial assault on human dignity and a deprivation of human rights. This positions conservative Christians as foes of human rights, which is hardly a welcome development. There are several results. First, wherever we live, same-sex marriage either has come or is coming soon. Second, it will not be easy for Christians to gain a hearing for their position. Third, we now know, if we ever doubted it, that there are no Christian nations. In pluralistic democracies, leaders are beholden to the will of the people, not the will of God.

Christians have a variety of opinions about these developments. Many are pleased by the way rights have been extended to an often oppressed group. Whatever our view of marriage may be, we should know that the law of Moses often insists on equal legal protection for all (e.g. Exod. 23:8, Deut. 16:19, 21:15-17). On the other hand, Genesis states and Jesus reaffirms God’s good plan for marriage: “From the beginning the Creator made them male and female… For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matt. 19:4-5).

As always, we need to put current events in context. Specifically, Western nations have been falling away from biblical norms for decades. Divorce has become easier and easier, accelerated most notably by no-fault divorce laws that allowed either party to a marriage to terminate it at will (that is, regardless of the wishes of their spouse). Decades ago, easy divorce codified disregard for Jesus’ word, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:6).

A few decades ago, cohabitation was rare, and widely considered shameful. The term for it, “shacking up,” suggested that it was a practice for the underclass. Today pre-marital cohabitation is typical. Studies have found that a period of cohabitation already preceded most first marriages by the mid-1990s. Today, that number is far higher. We now ignore another biblical norm. In America, the most recent studies report that 41% of all children are born outside of wedlock. In Great Britain, the number is 47%. These numbers are rising steadily and in almost every demographic group. Yet deliberately childless marriages are more common. Finally, there are ever more marriages with no sexual intimacy. This means that Western cultures have disregarded the created order – marriage, then sexual intimacy, then children. Today there is no strong link between sex and marriage, sex and procreation, or procreation and marriage.

The confusion about the order of cohabitation, marriage, sexual intimacy, and procreation will create additional challenges in coming years. For example, everything is in place for polygamy to become the next challenge to God’s design for marriage. Advocacy groups already make the case for polygamy and unofficial polygamy is on the rise. It will be all too easy to make a legal and  experiential argument for polygamy.

Legally: At the moment, polygamy is illegal in all Western nations, but enforcement is lax as officials increasingly tolerate unofficial polygamy among Muslims in France and Mormons in America. Reports say that Canadians leave their polygamists alone. If an official hauled the members of a local polygamist community into court, how (unless the accused chose to incriminate themselves) could they prove that the group is practicing polygamy? If society sees no essential connection between sleeping in the same bed and marriage, what evidence could be presented? Besides, if “male and female” is irrelevant to marriage, how can the number of participants become its one immutable feature?[1] Can anyone argue that a marriage between two men promotes the social good more than a marriage between one man and two women? Moreover, the so-called right to privacy assumes that governments have no legitimate interest and no right to intervene in private acts between consenting adults.[2] As a thought experiment, try to construct a principled argument (as opposed to an emotional or historical argument) against polygamy that doesn’t also condemn same-sex marriage. If we approve one, we must approve the other.

Experientially, people will say polygamy is loving and compassionate. “Yes,” they may concede, “Monogamy is ideal, but we hardly live in an ideal world. Many women long to marry but can’t find a suitable mate because men have no money, no character, no interest in marriage, or no interest in women. If a man can support several wives, financially and emotionally, how can anyone deny an interested woman the right to love, companionship, and children? Even if it isn’t ideal, we constantly accept things – like divorce – that are less than ideal. Besides, several of the world’s religions have accepted polygamy.”

So then, how do cohabitation, common divorce, same-sex marriage, births outside wedlock, and (one day) polygamy affect the cause of Christ and the gospel? In a vital way, nothing changes. Jesus is still Lord and Savior. As Christian ethicist Russell Moore said, the gospel doesn’t need family values to flourish: “Real faith often thrives when it is in sharp contrast to the cultures around it. That’s why the gospel rocketed out of the first-century from places such as Ephesus… Corinth and Rome.” The Roman Empire lacked a moral system that promoted healthy marriages. In fact, the very contrast between Christian marriages and the wreckage of pagan marriages, which included slave concubines, easy divorce, and sexual chaos strengthened the appeal of Christianity.

A nation’s authorities may permit, tolerate, or even promote marriage-like arrangements that fall short of God’s plan. But let us remember that those acts do not compromise our freedom to love our wives, husbands, and children. Courts permit many things that are contrary to biblical morality. Abortion is legal in most countries, but we can still have children. Legislatures promote gambling, since states expect to profit from it. But the state cannot drag us to casinos any more than Rome could force its people to attend gladiatorial shows.

For those who are prone to despair, consider the status of abortion today. Through persistence and courage, abortion has declined in many areas. In the 1980s, my state of Missouri had abortion rate that exceeded 20%. Today it is 8% and the rate is lower in several nearby states. Since the abortion rate remains as high as ever in some states (near 40% in New York), it seems that gentle persuasion can create a moral consensus.[3] Not long ago, this sort of progress in the protection of the unborn seemed impossible.

More importantly, social trends in no way restrict our freedom to marry, have children, and love each other. If anything, they should prompt us to rededicate ourselves to Christ-like love in marriage. The Christian marriage ideal attracted many pagans to the faith in the apostolic age. When the Reformers restored the biblical teaching on marriage 500 years ago, it enhanced the call to the gospel. When Reformers like Martin Luther married and became faithful husbands and fathers, their conduct beautified the gospel. May our marriages become a similar testimony to God’s purposes.

Jesus said, “From the beginning the Creator made them male and female.” We use this statement to promote God’s ideal and rightly so, but let’s remember that Jesus made that statement to correct an error of his age – arbitrary divorce. On that front, church conduct looks all too similar to the culture around us. How then shall we live?

First, we should tend our marriages and regard our spouse as God’s great gift. (Prov. 19:14). At its best, Paul says, the love of a Christian marriage reflects the love of Christ for the church (Eph. 5:25). Strong marriages adorn the gospel (Tit. 2:10). Waves of good marriages will make the case for God’s plan more effectively than any state or federal law.

This year I officiated at a wedding on the campus of a major American University that was founded on secular principles. At the reception, I sat next to a professor who did his doctoral work at that school and now teaches at another secular university in the same state. He said that the great majority of his fellow professors are secular. Nonetheless, he said they love their Christian students. On the whole, they are far more likely to come to class faithfully and well-prepared. They are willing to argue their convictions, they are active in campus life, they volunteer for worthwhile projects, and they keep their commitments.

The Christian faith has lost the home-field advantage in Western cultures. We have to accept reality as it is, not as we wish it to be. That means we will need to acknowledge legal marriages as the state does. As always, we are free to distinguish between a legal marriage and an ideal marriage, between marriage as humanity sees it and marriage as God intended it (Long ago, pastors distinguished between the being and the well-being of marriage.) That leaves us free to articulate, and, more importantly, to live out our concept of marriage. May we seek lives that are beautiful and words that are coherent and peaceful. That is the surest way to promote God’s good plan for salvation and a good life, one that includes God’s plan for marriage and family.

[1] Mark Steyn, “The Marrying Kind,” Atlantic Monthly, May 2005, 142-3.

[2] Unofficial polygamy means there is one legal wife. Additional wives are not reported at the courthouse or claimed on tax returns, but the additional parties still take marriage vows before witnesses.

[3] These statistics are the most recent numbers from U.S. government web sites. We understand that trends may continue, accelerate, or reverse themselves and that abortifacient medications introduce uncertainty about the real abortion rate.

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Teen Dating Violence: An Infographic to Spark Discussion

For today’s kids, the word “dating” and the realities of “dating” bear little resemblance to what those of us from past generations understood and experienced as we “dated”. . . even if were teenagers just ten short years ago. It’s a new cultural context with new rules, borders, and boundaries. . . if, in fact, rules, borders, and boundaries even continue to exist. Perhaps that’s why we need an understanding of these things so that we can guide our kids into healthy habits and relationships.

Here’s a little infographic that will not only help you understand the landscape of dating in today’s youth culture, but just might prompt some much-needed discussion on dating rules, borders, and boundaries with the kids you know and love. Parents, look at it with you kids and ask them if this is an accurate portrayal of what’s happening in the world as they’ve experienced it. Youth workers, this is a discussion started that could lead to some deep, deep teachable moments and learning opportunities.

You can download the infographic here.

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Three Truths to Living a Transparent Life

phone and b packIt seems more and more often, I  become increasingly aware of how we position ourselves online and offline. Or rather, how we act when we think no one is watching.

This past year, 2015, was a testament to how prominent this phenomenon is becoming. There is a plethora of headline stories reminding us we don’t know what is really happening in someone’s personal life. Everything from celebrity pitch men being caught with child pornography to prominent Christian voices being caught in the act of adultery.

 It should surprise me, but it doesn’t.

Maybe the Internet has caused us to live two different lives. Maybe it has created a multiple personality disorder. While I’m not a social scientist, I do know I am seeing more and more people saying one thing online and doing an entirely different action in real life.

I work a lot with teens and young adults, so maybe this is not entirely surprising.

I fear we are only going to see more of the same trends in the years ahead.

In recent months I’ve listened to podcasts, had conversations with others, and read books on how we fail to acknowledge our whole being. Rather, we fail to bridge the gap between how we act around others and what we do in private.

Social media is changing the way we act.

Online we are able to create our own persona. In fact, we can craft an entirely new identity. Our identity is shaped by what we post and others see. This is powerful, but this does not mean it always translates into other aspects of our life.

One book that makes this clear is called Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder.

Rudder is the co-founder of OK Cupid and has tons of data showing this multiple personality phenomenon in action. Story after story and data structure after data structure revealed how what we say we want in our online profile might not actually match with what we want in private (or what we actually do when no one is watching).

If we are going to see change in this kind of activity I really believe we’ve got to create a more transparent and vulnerable society.

 Here are three truths I believe are important to making this a reality:

Be humble and recognize your own brokenness.

Our human condition, as we read about it in scripture, speaks of our own brokenness. Genesis reveals this reality and Jesus is the solution. But this requires humility…recognizing we don’t know everything and we are all broken. Most importantly, I am broken!

Surround yourself with other transparent and vulnerable individuals.

Often times we model what we see around us. For the last decade many of us have modeled what we see others do online while watching them do something different in their daily lives. We need individuals who are transparent and vulnerable about their own struggles (both online and in person). This takes courage but it also encourages others to do the same!

Place your struggles in the light.

Our secrets only have power when they sit in the darkness. It is why light is such a powerful tool throughout Scripture; it reveals the hidden things in our lives. By placing it in the open the power that our secrets have are washed away almost immediately.

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What the Sexual Revolution Got Wrong. . . And What We Must Get Right. . .

free loveIn 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.   

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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.

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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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#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:

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And this tweet from another of the activist organizers. . .

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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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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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