A few years ago my best friend from college called me in tears. Their six-year-old son typed a “potty word” into a search engine and, for three weeks, watched hard-core porn videos until he was caught.

No one wants to be an overprotective parent. Overprotective parents breed ill-equipped kids. But we must be appropriately protective. Even though boys 12-17 are one of the largest per capita consumers of Internet porn, the threat of porn exposure is very real for younger kids and girls. Almost all kids are exposed to porn in their tween and teen years. The call is clear: We have to both minister to [Catching Your Child in Sexual Sin] and protect this rising generation in the face of such a media-savvy, sexually-broken culture.

I know this will sound alarmist, but it needs to be said. Parents will harm their children if they fail to take steps to first, protect them, and then second, to help them manage their use of media and the Internet as they grow older. [Should Parents Gouge Out Their Child’s Eyes?]

This post is about taking specific steps of protection:  In part one, I will cover an inside-the-home protection plan, and in part two I’ll discuss an outside-the-home protection plan.

What ways can we protect our home from pornography usage? Our family protection plan includes overlapping means of protection. Some of these might seem like overkill, but trust me, they are necessary.

Inside the Home Protection

  1. Filter Your Router

All your wireless devices (laptops, tablets, e-book readers like Kindle, smartphones, gaming consoles, and even newer TVs) can connect to the Internet via your Wi-Fi router. Filters act like walls that prevent users from accessing inappropriate content, and filters that connect to your router block porn at the source. Routers can be filtered by installing software like OpenDNS, but another option is to get a hardware device that filters all Internet enabled devices you assign to your home Wi-Fi network.

In my home, I spent a one-time purchase of $99 on such a device, Circle with Disney. After downloading the Circle app on my wife’s phone, we customized the filter for each child and each device. We can set time limits, view search histories, block specific websites and apps, and set bedtimes, all customized to each of my four children. Other devices like this include Torch and Clean Router.  And there are more devices coming on the market in response to the need for parental oversight.  So far, Circle with Disney is working great for us.

There are, however, two things these awesome router filters can’t do. First, if your child takes her device over to a friend’s house, she can access the Internet on that family’s Wi-Fi but without your router’s protective settings.

Second, even if your child is at home, he or she can go into the settings on a smartphone or tablet and switch off its connection to your Wi-Fi. Then the cellular data plan kicks-in, and the device accesses the Internet via their data plan.

  1. Enable Password-Protected Search Engines

Some may think that if you have router protection, then this step is unnecessary. However, we advise multiple layers of protection. While there are many search engines like Yahoo and Bing, as of now, Google is the only major search engine that gives the option for password-protected parental controls (Google Safe Search).

Our kids are in a war, outwardly assailed by the world and inwardly wrestling with lust, selfishness, confusion, and shame. If we abdicate talking about these struggles, and if we simply neglect to protect them, we leave them isolated and vulnerable in this war.

The big point here:  You must set and guard the password for using any search engine. Why?  Because search engines have become the highway that leads to pornographic websites. Just type in a word and it’ll take you right there. Without a password-protected search engine, even the small image icons will present hard-core porn.

Everything mentioned so far restricts access to inappropriate content on the Internet, but you will need one more, crucial element to your family protection plan.

  1. Install Accountability Software on All Devices

Accountability software is a program that records all the websites a device visits. Accountability software will email a report of Internet use to an accountability partner; it’s the hall monitor of the Internet. Router protection only filters and blocks (and that is not foolproof), so we recommend accountability software as well.

A filter is simply mechanical, but accountability is relational. An accountability report invites discipleship conversations with your kids that you can talk not only about their Internet behaviors, but also about their heart and walk with the Lord, as you see what is most important to them via what they are accessing on the web. Adults need honesty too with peer accountability partners, their brothers and sisters in Christ.

There are a lot of great companies offering accountability software: Covenant Eyes, Net Nanny, and many more. The big point here is to actually check those accountability reports. Accountability software only works when accountability in relationship is in place.

Our kids are in a war, outwardly assailed by the world and inwardly wrestling with lust, selfishness, confusion, and shame. If we abdicate talking about these struggles, and if we simply neglect to protect them, we leave them isolated and vulnerable in this war.

So, use everything we’ve mentioned in this post to move toward your child’s heart and encourage them with the grace and hope of Christ. They need that in the face of their hyper-pornified culture.

You can watch Dan talk some more about this on his accompanying video: Protecting Your Home from Porn – Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

The Internet is wonderful, but it’s also a dangerous wild-west of pornography and other inappropriate content. Just as you wouldn’t send your young child on a trip all alone, you shouldn’t do the same for when they log online. They need appropriate guardrails. Dan Wilson talks about three keys steps every parent needs to take in this two-part video and blog.

Click here to read Dan Wilson’s blog on this:  Protecting Your Home from Porn—Part 1

Youth pastors have challenging ministries, and that’s an understatement today. I took a phone call from Tom (all names have been changed), a youth pastor at a large, PCA church, and his situation is something churches will be encountering everywhere.

Tom said he had worked hard to build a thriving, discipleship-oriented youth ministry. He solicited many 30-something adult helpers and small group leaders. His ministry emphasis was on biblical education and personal ministry, but he also worked to develop an outreach mindset for the unsaved and outsiders among his kids.

And it was working. The youth group grew. Many un-churched kids regularly attended as a result of being invited by his kids. But one day his outreach approach came close to tearing the entire ministry apart.

What happened? One of the invited kids, Eric, who got very involved in the youth group, announced one day that he was gay.  This is where the problem for Tom began.

The kids from church had different responses to Eric’s disclosure, and they fell into three camps. The first camp was, “That’s wrong!  He shouldn’t be in the youth group.” The second was, “He should be here. The church is the best place for him to learn about Christ.” And some said, “There’s nothing wrong with being gay.”

All three responses created confusion and turmoil.

And then the parents got wind of it all. Not only were they shocked by the emerging disorder in the youth group, but many of the parents began to learn, for the first time, what their children believed about this issue. And they responded with anger and fear at everything that was happening.

Tom’s phone rang, and his email overflowed. “How did this kid get into the church’s youth group?” asked one dad.  One mom gave an ultimatum: “If that boy continues to attend, we’re pulling our sons out.”  Another said, “I don’t want that kind of bad influence around my child.”

Some church kids threatened to leave if Eric was asked to leave; others said they would never invite anyone else to come. To top it off, Tom’s staff had different responses. Tom was in no-man’s land, feeling pressure to make the right decision. Clearly, there would be consequences no matter how he handled the situation. Hence his phone call to me!

We must take seriously this awful fact: the culture (not parents, not the church) has become the predominant and authoritative teacher of sexuality for our youth. If youth leaders don’t want to take the initiative to address these issues, they should not be in youth work today.

As issues of sex, sexuality, and gender become the defining identity marker in the culture, it has never been more critical for the church to be educated and equipped.  With the church and parents often committed to not speaking about these matters to our kids, most kids make up their minds about sexuality and gay marriage by the age of 12 these days (and it’s getting younger every day). The culture has “discipled” them well. They are listening to the voices on the Internet and media, which they spend hours each day consuming.

Churches need to educate their leaders and volunteers in how to lovingly and compassionately minister to youth, some whom struggle silently with sexual issues from a relatively early age. Parents need to be taught how to talk to their kids, well before an issue explodes and they respond in anger and fear.

Those who are involved in ministry to junior and senior high youth must speak boldly, frequently, compassionately, and truthfully about sex, sexuality, and gender, especially because most kids struggle in their silent formative years when sexual identity is being formed and embraced. We must take seriously this awful fact: the culture (not parents, not the church) has become the predominant and authoritative teacher of sexuality for our youth. If youth leaders don’t want to take the initiative to address these issues, they should not be in youth work today.

Yes, you want 13-year-old Jason to trust you (or his small group leader) to tell you he’s looking at porn on his smartphone. Yes, you want 15-year-old Erica to confide that she’s attracted to other girls, and wants to know, is she gay.  You want Sam to tell you he feels he’s another gender. You want these kinds of talks because God has placed you in their lives at this crucial time, while they still live at home and before college. Believe me, once they get to a secular college, there will be plenty of voices saying, “Yes, please come talk to us. We’ll help you figure this out.”

I’m so serious about this I’m going to repeat it:  if youth leaders are not willing to engage these issues with the youth under their care, they shouldn’t be involved in youth work today!

HARVEST USA is ready to help your church become educated and proactive in dealing with these matters. We can meet with your church staffs and elder boards to help them strategize and implement how to do 21st-century youth ministry work.

Email me at john@harvestusa.org.

As we conclude this blog series on coming out and parental responses, let’s review where we have been. I’ve discussed three things parents should do in responding to this process of coming out.

Part 1: Get to know your child. Love is getting to know your child more deeply and learning the details of how he has wrestled with his sexuality or gender.

Part 2: Reflect on what is in your heart too. Do not neglect all that is happening in your own heart as a result of your child’s situation.

Part 3Have wisdom in ongoing conversations. Keep track of the good, the bad, and the hard as you seek to display Christ accurately through the relationship you have with your child.

Now we look toward two final things you should do when you discover your child is identifying as gay or transgender. As you consider the road ahead, I want to encourage you to do two things: Set your expectations on loving your child as Christ has loved you, and keep a long-term view in mind.

As Christ has loved you, so love

God has called you to the challenging place of loving your child just as he loves you. Your child’s decision to come out and embrace an unbiblical identity will, of course, be the major issue that causes you pain. But in that, there will be other relational sins that your son or daughter will commit against you that go along with the pursuit of what he or she feels will be ultimately satisfying. I encourage you to make every effort not to count your child’s sins against him. Doing so will cause great harm in your relationship.

Rather, seek in multiple ways to show her the mercy and grace that you have received in Christ. It is important to remember the words of Colossians 1:21: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” (NIV). Always remember that God demonstrated his love for you by sending his son as a propitiation for your sins. You were once his enemy, living for yourself and spurning his love and lordship. Not only so, but he continually demonstrates his love, patience, kindness, and compassion towards you every day.

Does this reality shape your love for your child? I find that we often forget that we are broken, sinful people ourselves, in need of his constant grace. If you do not engage your child with this mindset, it will be impossible to love her.

But showing this love will not be easy. The situations you face will not be black and white. For example, you find out your teenage son has had a boyfriend for the past year. How do you respond? Loving your child will entail determining what boundaries you think are appropriate to set with him regarding this relationship, communicating this to him, and standing firm on these limits even when there is resistance. It will also look like disciplining him when he goes beyond the boundaries while still communicating that you recognize his strong desire for this relationship. Voicing your understanding, or asking questions in order to understand, shows compassion for his struggle to obey. This demonstrates how God sets boundaries that are for our good. He disciplines us in love when we rebel and comes alongside us to help in our struggles.

As I mentioned in my second blog, I encourage you to bring others in to help you so that you may receive clarity on how to love your child, given the details of your particular situation. If there is a group of parents who are also going through this (like we have in our parent groups), then it would be ideal to reach out to them. Discerning how to respond to a multitude of situations in ways that display God’s love will require more wisdom than you have within yourself.

Keep a long-term view in mind

Although you don’t want to hear this, I need to say it: You are most likely in for a long journey. This is where you need to set your expectations. Most parents initially set their gaze on the short term, pushing their child to see the right counselor, listen to the right sermon, and read the right book, all in hopes of changing their child’s mind.

If your child feels like a project that needs fixing, he will close himself off and not give you access to what’s really in his heart

Although all these things can certainly be helpful given the right setting, this yields minimal fruit more often than not, especially if your child is resistant. Parents who pull out all the stops to help their son or daughter may find that this does more harm than good, damaging the relationship with their child. This can cause your child to distance herself, close up, and move away from you (emotionally if not physically). If your child feels like a project that needs fixing, she will close off and not give you access to what’s really in her heart.

Part of having the long-term view in mind is understanding that change is slow and, even more importantly, that God’s time frame is not ours. God is ultimately the one who sovereignly works in your child’s life. We all appreciate the success stories of someone coming to Christ and experiencing complete freedom from ingrained sin patterns, but God doesn’t always work that way. A more accurate picture of repentance is a gradual process of turning away from sin and turning to God more and more, usually with many bumps along the way.

Consider the father in Luke 15 who waited for his son to “come to his senses” before finally returning home with a repentant heart. The father was waiting right there to embrace his son, showing him the surprising grace, love, and compassion of our heavenly Father. This will be very challenging to consider that your child may have to experience some form of trial or suffering, like the son in this story, before she changes direction. No parent wants to watch their child go through hardship, but this may be the path God uses to bring her back to himself.

So what does patience and trust in God’s sovereignty look like? It doesn’t make your role passive; rather it allows you to have the patience to look for opportunities to display Christ to your child when those opportunities present themselves over time.

This may look like listening to him when he is in a vulnerable moment, praying with him as he struggles with the usual ups and downs of life, carefully throwing in your thoughts about how only God is ultimately fulfilling when he experiences unfulfillment in his sexual or gender identity or just has a deep unrest in his heart. As in the language of Jeremiah 2:13, his “broken cisterns” will be sure to run dry in the end and never ultimately satisfy. Your relationship with him over time may give you an opportunity to point him to the living water in specific moments of pain and unfulfillment.

Intentionally seeking to love your child as you experience Christ’s love for you, and resting in his sovereignty as you wisely seek opportunities to engage your child’s heart, will enable you to be an instrument in God’s hands. He is the agent of change—not you. In doing so, you will find freedom and peace as you entrust your life and the life of your child into God’s hands.

Coming out. It’s a scary expression for most parents. It is a far too common experience today for a parent to discover their child is identifying as gay. Teens and young adult children suddenly coming out as transgender is also a growing occurrence in Christian families.

News like this is a very difficult thing for parents to navigate when they hold to biblical convictions of sex, sexuality, and gender. It is hard to know what to do when you are thinking of how to love your child while moving them towards walking in the truth of the gospel. At this point, most parents want to do just about anything to keep their kid on the right path after hearing this news. Their approach to their child can swing in wildly opposite directions.

On one end, parents may try to argue with their child to no end about their decision to come out, seeking to convince them of how misguided they are, and use everything in their power to change them. On the other end, parents may seek to keep things light and superficial in hopes to not ruffle feathers or push them away and hurt the relationship. They refrain from bringing this issue up altogether. Wherever you find yourself on this spectrum, this is a very hard journey to walk.

Wanting your child to turn back from what they are considering is what your heart and emotions scream for, but as it stands now, you have some important work to do—work that is smack in the middle of these two opposite poles.

And the work you need to do… should be directed toward keeping your relationship open with your child. That’s the only way you will still have a voice in their life.

And the work you need to do—as much as it depends on you, as Romans 12:18 says—should be directed toward keeping your relationship open with your child. That’s the only way you will still have a voice in their life. And working to stay connected is still the way to show them how much you love and care for them.

So, I want to give you five things you can do that will help this situation. Five things that won’t guarantee your child will change, but that can be used by God to stir up his or her heart.

Get to know your child

Here’s the first one. Whether your child is 14 years old or 24 years old, you need to get to know your child’s unique life experience and what has led to their decision to identify this way. When someone first comes out as gay or transgender, they most likely have been wrestling with these thoughts for years. There was an interior life that you were not part of, and now one of the most significant ways you can know and show love to your child is by listening to their story.

Here are some sample questions you can use to help you get this important (and yes, scary!) conversation started:

  • When did these feelings of (same-sex attraction) begin? Or, when did you start to feel that you were a boy (or girl)? What made you feel that way? (As much as possible, move toward getting specific here, but don’t push too hard at the beginning—this will be a difficult conversation for both of you.)
  • What was it like to grow up in our Christian home and struggle with these thoughts and desires?
  • How did you feel sitting in our church and struggling all this time in isolation? What were you thinking when you were feeling so alone?
  • Why did you feel like you could not come to us when you knew you felt attracted to people of the same sex (or feeling like you were in the wrong body?) Why? What was one thing that kept you silent?
  • How do you envision yourself living out your sexuality (or gender) from here on? What do you want your life to look like?
  • How do you see this decision to come out and identify as gay or transgender as being OK for a Christian?
  • How do you want our relationship to be now that this is in the open?

These questions are by no means meant for interrogation (although that may be a temptation). I encourage you to sincerely desire to know your son or daughter’s experience, not as a means to “fix” them, but out of a desire to love and know them more fully. It’s never too late to have these conversations, even if you are farther out from their initial disclosure.

This discussion (or series of talks) may be an opportunity to strengthen your relationship by talking about past relational hurts or experiences that have impacted your child. It may also present opportunities for you to speak truth to them in a way that they can be open to receive it. You might just be surprised by what they share.

In the last blog, we explored how to weave the biblically weighty word faith into conversations when we talk to our kids about their sexuality. Using the language of Scripture, such as the word and concept of “faith”, elevates our conversations with our kids from merely addressing rule-breaking to matters of the heart and their relationship with God. But what do we do with other biblical words, such as “repentance” and “love”?

Using the word “faith” is not hard, but here’s a question for you: Would you use the word “repentance” in conversations with your kid? Would that just be too weird, and would you fear sounding like a Puritan who just got off the Mayflower?

Despite how old-fashioned the word may seem, repentance is central to knowing Christ. In Mark 1:15 Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.” Faith and repentance go hand in hand. Martin Luther’s first of his famous 95 Theses was, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”

I’d like to encourage you to use not only the word “faith” but also “repentance” regularly in your parenting, and not just when one of your children stumbles into a sexual sin. To incorporate repentance into your language as a natural part of your conversation, let’s look at two things repentance isn’t, one thing it is, and why using the word is so good despite its puritanical associations.

 Two Things Repentance Is Not

First, tears, remorse, and regrets are not repentance. Many of us are looking for the signs of repentance in our kids. And we can be fooled by tears, but those may be the signs of what Paul calls “worldly sorrow” in 2 Cor. 7:10. Your children may be extremely sorry they got caught, but their sorrow might be selfish: “I no longer get to enjoy this,” or “I’m frustrated that I got caught.” Worldly sorrow is not repentance.

Second, begrudging “repentance” isn’t true repentance, either. This is where repentance gets a bad public relations image. It has all the allure of a dentist drilling cavities without Novocain. This view of repentance is principally about having to give up something you enjoy. You resent God whom you see as a killjoy instead of a good God who wants what is best for your life. This is a religious (moralistic) mind-set, where one repents to gain favor with God, to obtain a ticket to eternal reward. If we approach repentance as a necessary evil, we have failed to truly repent.

What is Repentance?

So what is genuine repentance?  Repentance is a turning from sin and turning to God. True repentance is a change of heart and mind that results in action. Romans 2:4 says that it “is the kindness of God the leads (us) to repentance.” Genuine repentance leads us to see that the “fun” of sin is slavery to an awful idol. In turn, we see knowing God as the great reward and His blessings as the truly good life.

Scripture speaks of the “fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25), and we still need to remember that sin does not magically become un-tempting in the heart of a repenting believer–particularly for a child! Repentance is often a series of steps that move toward God; it’s not often an immediate, complete turnaround. And it is in these steps that we can experience joy, peace, and a delighting and soul-satisfying fellowship with God—a fellowship in the love of God. A Christian kid can, indeed, experience this loving fellowship and grow in newfound desires, as David writes in Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Since genuine repentance always displays itself in practical steps in faith and obedience, we can enter into conversations with a sexually struggling child by asking two questions:

 How can I help you turn from this?

If your child’s sin struggle was facilitated by a device (say, looking at online porn), parents need to help students install a filter/blocker or replace a smartphone with a dumbphone. If the sin committed was with a person or peers, we need to step-in to oversee, limit, or stop the relationship.

How can I help you turn toward Jesus?

The second question goes further and deeper with our kids. Here we want to guide our children into the means of grace. Or, in other words, we want to shepherd them into ways they can seek the Lord and learn to delight in him. We can help them do this by praying with them, getting them a devotional book or Christian music for them. You might even suggest, “Would it help if we went out for breakfast once a week to spend some time in prayer and Scripture together?”

 What About Our Repentance?

The language of repentance won’t seem like such a foreign language if we are actively sharing about our repentance. You might say to your kids:

Kids, recently I’ve needed to repent of … how angry I was getting stuck in traffic … of how much time I have been spending on Facebook … looking at the news … participating in fantasy football … binging on Netflix

 And I have been asking the Lord help me turn from my idols of … entertainment, comfort, worry, etc.

When we incorporate repentance language when describing our life, it can become a normal part of our conversation. Even more, when our kids observe us turning from our familiar sins, they see evidence that we are fellowshipping with God. When they see us delighting in the Lord, then they will see the value of a life of repentance as something good.

I hope you have caught the vision of building your kids faith by using the word repentance accurately. This is how we can rehab its negative reputation, and show that it is the path toward enjoying God and experiencing his blessings.

In the next blog, we will put faith and repentance together with love, to form a triad of crucial terms for living the Christian life and helping our kids be conformed more and more into the image of Christ.

Did you ever want a glossary of biblical terms to use in raising your kids, like faith, repentance, or love? This is a new blog series on how to weave biblically weighty words that our kids hear in worship and read in Scripture into the ways we speak about matters of sexuality. Like all of us, our kids need to be marinated in the language of Scripture so that those very words can transform their hearts and minds (2 Timothy 3:16).

The language of the world teaches us to “love the world or the things of the world,” but all that is in the world is “passing away” (1 John 2:15, 17). Curated Instagram accounts and witty tweets won’t make it past Jesus’ second coming. Furthermore, Paul warns us in Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human traditions, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”

Our kids need to know Christ, and the language of Scripture is there to help them discover Him. The Spirit grows the mind of Christ within our kids as they encounter the Scriptures and its language (1 Cor. 2:16b). Let’s start with the lofty term of faith.

What is Faith?

To use the language of faith with our children, we’ve got to know what it is ourselves and how it plays into sexuality. Faith has three inseparable aspects: knowledge, assent, and trust.

Knowing about God is foundational to grasping what faith is. This why Scripture commands us to teach our kids about God and the content of the Bible. Deuteronomy 6:7 commands us: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Kids can’t put their faith in what they don’t know. This is a call to us as parents to work towards teaching the content of Scripture to our children regarding life including sex and sexuality. And we must teach more than the letter of the law, the “do’s” and “don’ts.” Take the seventh commandment against adultery for example. We need to go deeper to “why’s” (we are to faithfully love our spouse as Christ loves us) and the “why not’s” (we shouldn’t selfishly use others sexually because it destroys others, and because it does not honor Christ).

Assent moves forward on the basis of knowledge. It is not just when our kids intellectually understand something as a fact but when they agree with that fact as true. It might even be helpful, from time to time, to ask our children, for example, “Do you believe that a husband and wife ought to stay together even if it is hard?”

The third part of faith, trust, seems like it is very similar to assent; however, trust is more personal than assent. When our child trusts God, he or she is banking on God, and the assurance that faith brings results in gratitude, love, and willing service. And what started as mere intellectual knowledge culminates in knowing God in fellowship and intimacy; it becomes an active relationship that changes one’s life.

In its fullness, faith is not something we can manipulate but something only God can create in our hearts (Matthew 11:27). This truth, above all, drives us to pray for God to transform our kid’s hearts.

Because of our sin nature, humans naturally put their trust not in God but in created things, god-substitutes, or idols, and this results in sin upon sin, idolatry upon idolatry. Because our faith is exercised daily, either in turning to God or god-substitutes, how can we integrate the language of faith into how we talk about sexuality?

Integrating the Language of Faith: Cultural Moments

I strongly suggest having intentional conversations with your children about what exactly faith is. God is pleased when we have faith (Heb. 11:6,) and God highly values our growth in faith (“more precious than gold … though it is tested by fire,” 1 Peter 1:6-7). Talk about how faith — knowledge, assent, and trust — play out in how we live our lives. One way to do this is to use a pop-culture moment or song as a discussion starter. Check out our friends over at CPYU (CPYU.org) for great resources on cultural analysis and how you can use that to effectively talk to your children.

Integrating the Language of Faith: When Our Kids Sin

Another important way to integrate the language of faith into parenting is to talk about faith when our children sin. Let’s say your late tween or young teen willfully used porn, sent a sext, or got caught kissing someone. Instead of accusingly asking, “Why did you do that?!”, we can directly engage their misplaced faith by asking:

What did you believe doing that would do for you?
Did it satisfy your expectation?

Of course, our kids are not cognitively aware they are rejecting faith in God’s loving wisdom and providence in favor of using their own “wisdom” to take care of themselves and whatever situation they find themselves in. But, by asking good questions, we can point this out.

The Contrast

Here, we can bring the truth of Jesus to bear on their situation, contrasting the empty promises of sexual sin with the reality of Jesus. So, as we ask questions to try to uncover their heart’s motivation for their actions, we can weave in some suggestions on how they might think and choose faith in Christ rather than sin. With the sexting example, you might ask, “Don’t you think it would be better to talk with me about how you are feeling pressured by your friend to send pictures of yourself that are inappropriate? That would be a way to follow Jesus during a real difficult time.”

Faced with a myriad of temptations, faith in God is hard to implement; it must be Spirit-given. It’s always good, then, to let kids know that putting our faith in Christ will be difficult in this world. But it’s helpful to come back to the truths of Scriptures, to match them up with the empty promises of what the world, in its “wisdom,” offers.

When we employ the language of faith, we get to turn a sinful situation into a gospel opportunity by having intentional conversations that also ground our kids in the language of the Scriptures. When we do this, we prepare them both to live the Christian life in the reality of God and to understand how the foundational building block of faith makes a difference in everyday life.

That’s it for now; the next installment will be the language of repentance.

Some of your students are sitting in deep darkness, suffering deeply for horrendous sins committed against them. Sexual abuse can bring pain and suffering to students for the rest of their lives, entrapping them in a dark prison of isolation and shame. The church must be a body that can bring light and freedom to dark places, walking alongside the sexually abused and helping to remove the guilt and shame students feel through the freeing power of the gospel. What are some initial steps in caring for these sufferers in our midst?

1) Pray

It might seem trite, but these issues are far above even the most experienced minister. We need Divine help, and our students need Divine help. Always be praying for your students who have experienced sexual abuse, even if you don’t know who they might be. Pray that they would be able to voice what has happened to them and find strong Christians who can counsel and disciple them in their suffering. Pray that they would recognize how the gospel speaks to their pain and abuse. And pray that you would be a safe person to talk to and that your community would be a safe place of healing for those who have experienced this trauma.

2) Develop a Ministry Vocabulary

Sexual abuse robs people of their voice. Just mentioning sexual abuse in a large-group talk as a form of suffering that Christians experience can be an initial step of healing for your students and can begin to put words back into the mouths of the abused. Hearing a leader speak about such dark sufferings can be a significant step in helping abused students know that you are aware of them and that they can, indeed, put words to the atrocities committed against them.

If you ever have specific times a year when you are talking about sexual issues, it’s also important that sexual abuse is discussed. The big topics like porn, making out, dating, or premarital sex can easily eclipse the topic of sexual abuse. To bring up this subject can provide a measure of free space for abused students to open up.

In other words, does your student ministry have a vocabulary for sexual abuse? Do your students know that you have sexual abuse victims on your radar? Are you helping to give voice to their silent suffering?

3) Encourage the Voice of Your Students

It takes an immense amount of bravery and courage for a student to speak about the sexual abuse he or she has experienced. For a student to share, you first have to have a community and culture where you encourage and facilitate suffering students to share about their suffering. Think and pray about how you can develop this culture of sharing through what you say and how you respond to what students disclose to you. Creating this kind of culture takes time and intentionality. One excellent ministry to gain knowledge about doing this is G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), at www.netgrace.org.

Furthermore, our students must hear from trusted leaders that abuse is not a sin the victim has committed; they must know that Jesus does not require them to answer for the crimes committed against them. They must know that He is a compassionate and loving Savior, who, by His Spirit, can work healing into the guilt and shame they might feel.

Students must hear that they can and should speak out about any abuse they’ve experienced, so more of the isolating prison walls of shame can come down. Perhaps when you talk about sexual abuse, encourage students to talk to a same-gender leader about their experiences, and know a good counselor in town or in the church community to whom you can refer them.

4) Protect Your Students

It remains tragically true that Christians (and even Christian students) are committing sexual violence against one another. But our community should have no room for sexual abuse. How can we go about protecting our students? This can start with having appropriate boundaries for volunteers and staff to meet with students (check out our post on one-to-one discipleship: here). These three boundaries can serve as a beginning point:

  1. Students should never ride alone with a staff member or volunteer.
  2. All meetings between staff, volunteers, and students are to happen in highly visible, public places.
  3. There should never be a male volunteer or staff meeting with a female student, and visa versa.

It’s good to develop both a plan for preemptive protection of students and for when that protection is violated. Your ministries and churches need to have clear guidelines, and your staff and volunteers need to be trained rigorously about your policies.

5) Know the laws

Know your church’s protocol and who you should talk to within your church about a case of abuse. Protecting your students from sexual abuse also means knowing the laws about mandated reporting. This also includes taking every hint seriously. If a student says something that’s a little concerning, don’t brush it aside. Follow up with the student and ask good questions. Too many times victims might give clues around us, and too many times we let them pass by us and think nothing more of them. The short of it is this: your staff must be trained in the laws of mandated reporting.

6) Educate yourself

Lastly, if you want resources to help you begin to care for your students, check out Justin and Lindsay Holcomb’s book Rid of My Disgrace and On the Threshold of Hope by Diane Langberg. Healing from sexual abuse starts with speaking to the darkness and helping others come into the light. May God protect us, our students, and our ministries from this grave darkness, and may students who have been abused find in Christ healing light, hope, and strength.

Christians seem to know morality when it comes to pleasure, sex and sexuality, but most are not able to articulate the full picture of what God’s design for sex and sexuality is about. Dave White discusses his two-part blog on the need for Christians to understand the bigger picture that makes God’s boundaries for sex and sexuality understandable and necessary.

Click here to see Dave’s first video on his blog. Click here to read Dave’s second post on how sexual pleasure points to God and his purposes. And click here to read the full version of our latest harvestusa magazine.

In the first part of my post, I talked about how sexual pleasure points to something greater than the mere physical experience of it. Many don’t realize that God loves pleasure, and his design for sex and sexuality in our lives is to give us a taste of his love and longing for us. You can read the first post here, and now on to three other aspects of godly sex that helps us better understand God’s purposes.

Godly sex serves

The only sex “how to” passage in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 7:1-5. It states each spouse “owes” the other “conjugal rights” and commands them not to deprive each other. It even says sex is a mandate in marriage; the only reason for not engaging sexually is when both agree specific time is needed to seek God in prayer (perhaps when facing a life or family crisis). This is another problem in many marriages: it’s too easy to let sexual expression fall by the wayside in the busyness of life. Juggling jobs, children, household responsibilities, church activities, and friendships take time. The Bible makes clear that this crucial area of marriage can’t be neglected. Couples must prioritize building mutual intimacy—emotional, spiritual, and physical—for their marriage to flourish. And deepening intimacy is further hindered when couples allow the accumulation of hurts, slights, fights, etc., to build until neither can muster the desire to be vulnerable again.

Against a culture proclaiming sex is about my pleasure, the Bible teaches sex is about giving pleasure to your spouse

Even though sex is “mandated,” there is no room in Christian marriage for sex on demand. Against a culture proclaiming sex is about my pleasure, the Bible teaches sex is about giving pleasure to your spouse. 1 Corinthians 7 mentions that each spouse’s body belongs to the other, but I should not read that passage thinking, “My spouse’s body is mine.” Instead, my body belongs to my wife; I’m called to use it to bless her. God designed sexuality in marriage to teach couples the joy and blessing of serving. God intends husband and wife to approach the marriage bed looking to pleasure his or her spouse—this is the recipe for a great sex life! And it is why a marriage must be marked by good communication. A dynamic sex life doesn’t come easily or naturally; it requires intentionality, effort, direct conversation, and practice! Part of the joy and wonder is discovering how to satisfy someone who’s built radically different than you!

Godly sex takes work

If sex is such an incredible blessing, why do so many Christian couples struggle to have a fulfilling sexual component to their relationship? First, many buy into the world’s lie that “sex = life.” This guarantees you will never be satisfied, and anyone telling you sex is life-giving is lying. There is only one Life Giver. Sex is glorious because it points beyond itself to the Lover of our souls. If we think it’s more than a signpost, we’re setting ourselves up for discontent. Sex will always be more like a piece of chocolate cake—a gift to be received with thanksgiving to God—than something that will change your life. Further, many couples have broken sexual histories or present struggles sullying their experience. Sexual sin mars the blessing God wants us to experience. That’s part of the reason sexual sin is described as a sin against self (1 Corinthians 6:18). So many marriages are impacted by porn use. It violates the call to forsake all others, and its effects are devastating. Porn brings out the base instincts of our fallen nature, focusing on physical appeal and the desire to copulate with abandon, completely ignoring God’s design that sexual desire be focused on serving another in an emotionally and spiritually intimate relationship. Those ensnared by porn live with perpetual discontent. No individual will ever satisfy. Internet porn programs us for constant novelty by providing innumerable sexual “partners,” leaving many people incapable of maintaining real relationships. Years ago secular researchers were stunned to discover the fastest-growing demographic of men dealing with erectile dysfunction were not elderly, but guys in their 20s and 30s, abusers of internet porn since adolescence. There’s even greater social devastation as a generation prefers images over real people. And this isn’t just a “guys’ problem”—women are also drawn to porn. Brokenness abounds in our sexuality, so we need to grasp God’s grace for forgiveness and healing.

Because God made us his image bearers, our sexuality is greater than a physical act. Image-bearing sexuality is about becoming one with another creature, emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically.

Because God made us his image bearers, our sexuality is greater than a physical act. Image-bearing sexuality is about becoming one with another creature, emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically. We were created to be known, and marriage should be the most significant place this happens. In marriage, we are invited back to the experience of “naked and unashamed,” to be known for who we truly are and experience profound love and acceptance. Marriages become broken and distant when it is not safe to be vulnerable. Sex is intended to be a celebration of the emotional and spiritual closeness experienced by husband and wife in all of life. The Hebrew word used most frequently in the OT for sexual intimacy is “to know,” because image-bearing sexuality should be the culmination of a deep knowing and oneness. A great sex life starts in life’s mundane moments: driving in the car, sitting in the living room, during long walks, and doing the dishes.

Practicing godly sex

These two aspects of sexuality—theological implications and practical applications—are crucial in helping couples express godly sexuality. Often couples want to know what behaviors are permitted in the marriage bed. Here’s where couples need to reflect on what they are pursuing and ask: Will my spouse be served, blessed, and encouraged? Or shamed, demeaned, and feel exploited? Is our activity a reflection of Christ’s love for his church? Will my spouse experience love, safety, joy, comfort through this? Will our behavior lead to my spouse’s flourishing, or will it mainly be for the benefit of one, turning the spouse into an object of self-centered pleasure? Honest reflection and discussion about motivation is critical, considering God’s intentions for sex in marriage.

For example, many in our culture were swept up in the 50 Shades phenomena, including Christians. But activities like sexual bondage (BDSM) are completely at odds with everything we’ve been considering. To inject humiliation, pain, shame, fantasy role-play, and violence into what God designed to be the most intimate place of love, mutual trust, respect, and safety is destructive to godly sex. Many behaviors celebrated by our culture are the result of porn’s destructive influence on our imagination, and safety, trust, and respect are violated when a spouse uses power or manipulation to get their way. And some Christian couples justify using porn to try to “spice up” their sex life. The marriage bed is a place where God wants us exclusively devoted to one another, focused on each other, learning of each other, not titillated by others.

Finally, there’s also no room for pouting when your advances are met with tired refusal. Focusing on one another forces us to balance our own longings with the desire to bless our spouse. And the cultural joke about a wife’s headache is increasingly inaccurate. Many wives are desperate for their husband to engage them sexually, but often he neglects her, consumed by his own struggle with pornography and other sexual sin.

Some Christians believe the world’s lie that maximum pleasure is the goal of sex. Scripture warns that in the last days people will be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4). God wants us to know him more fully in all of life, to worship him as our Creator and see that the world and life are charged with pleasure and glory as they reflect the wonder of his majesty. Although only partial in this life, he wants our eyes open now to this wonder, even as we long for its fullness. Sex, like all of life, is profoundly theological, while being gloriously earthy and physical. There should be a “Godward” orientation to every aspect of our lives. Through sexuality Christians are invited into deeper relationship with God, knowing our Creator’s delight in our experience of pleasures he designed for his glory and our good.

May we increasingly worship God through our sexuality, knowing that whether we fast or feast, sex is a signpost to the great consummation with Jesus, a herald of the glorious life to come.

You can watch Dave talk some more about this on his video: Just What is Godly Sex? – Part 2.  These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

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