20 Jul 2017
In the Christian worldview of sex and sexuality, sexual pleasure points to something greater than the mere physical experience of it. Although most Christians know the moral “guardrails” of sexuality – one man, one woman, for life–they’re unable to explain the theological realities behind God’s design for sex. The idea that the Bible encourages sexual pleasure between a husband and a wife is generally minimized (by the church), in favor of speaking of what’s permitted/not allowed in order to keep things safe. When churches fail to teach God’s intention to enrich our lives and that of society as a whole through our sexuality, it leaves believers unable to adequately respond to a culture that sees biblical sexuality as restrictive and repressive. Yet, the Bible has much more to say about sexuality than procreation or “wait until marriage.”
Like Paul restating his point (Philippians 3:1), we need to keep returning to what God has said about this glorious and powerful gift of sex. We need to recapture the rich meaning of sex and God’s desire to bless men and women with it.
We’ll examine two theological aspects of godly sex and three practical considerations.
God loves pleasure
Scripture is unashamedly positive about sex. Remember God’s first command to newly created humanity? “Be fruitful and multiply!” Genesis 2 records the beauty of human sexuality prior to the Fall: Adam rejoices in Eve (“This at last is bone of my bones…”); their union is described as becoming “one flesh”; and the passage concludes they were “naked and not ashamed” (ESV). Shame surrounds our nakedness and sexuality because of sin. It’s not the design of our loving Creator. Jesus came to restore our sexuality, that we may know God’s joy in it. God designed sex to be pleasurable. He’s the one who crafted everything, including orgasms, and declared it all “very good.” This is hard for us to believe because we are prone to overdo pleasure, whether food, entertainment, sex, etc. This leaves us feeling guilty and ashamed; our problem is we worship “created” things, rather than letting these good gifts lead us to a deeper worship of the Giver. As the majesty of a sunset declares God’s glory (Psalm 19:1), all beauty—and pleasure!—should lead to worship of our Creator.
The Bible extols the pleasure of sexuality. Proverbs 5:18-19 tells husbands, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth… Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.” God wants married couples to be drunk with sexual delight! Further, the Song of Songs contains passages with profoundly sensual language. Most English translations render the Hebrew with accurate, but very safe, interpretive decisions. The bride proclaims, “His body is polished ivory, bedecked with sapphires” (5:14). Many scholars observe that knowing ivory comes from an animal’s tusk gives a clearer picture of the object of her delight. Prudish views of sex are added by church tradition but are foreign to Scripture.
The wooing Bridegroom—the importance of “otherness”
God created us with an erotic drive so we’d glimpse his heart for us and be amazed by his love. We see this in the OT Prophets, where God describes his relationship to Israel as a Husband with his Bride. In the NT, Jesus takes the OT description of God as Israel’s husband and says, in effect, “I AM!” He places himself in the center of this metaphor, in the very role of God. And, of course, all of human history is hurtling forward to the New Heavens and Earth, beginning with the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-10). Why did Jesus teach there’ll be no marriage at the resurrection (Matthew 22:29-30)? Because marriage points to our relationship with him. Writing about marriage, Paul makes this explicit: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). This glorious reality should be reflected in, and guide, sexual activity in marriage, so a couple’s physical intimacy appropriately mirrors Christ’s love for his Bride.
God designed sex to be pleasurable. He’s the one who crafted everything, including orgasms, and declared it all “very good.”
God created you as a sexual, romantic being with deep, powerful longings so you would understand his longing for you! When I was engaged to my wife, Isaiah 62:5 bowled me over: “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” This verse teaches my love and longing for my wife, my desire to be one flesh with her (which far transcended mere physical desire), was a drop in the Pacific Ocean of God’s heart toward me. And you. He created us that we would catch a glimpse of this “profound mystery” through our longings—Christ’s love and longing to be consummated with his Bride. God insists on sexual expression within an exclusive, covenantal relationship because it is analogous to a deeper, eternal reality—a husband and wife devoted to one another, forsaking all others, as a reflection of Jesus’ desire that we be utterly devoted to him, forsaking worship of all others.
Further, gender asymmetry is foundational to godly sex as the only physical coupling that suitably reflects the mystery of “Christ and the church.” While male and female is directly connected to procreation in Genesis, theologians have long pointed to gender differences as contributing to a deeper shaping of humanity. All that can be said in this brief space is this: the unity and diversity of male and female, in life as well as in sex, is a call to explore, know, and delight in someone who is “other.” As each spouse grows in wonder of the “other,” it is a snapshot of our ultimate union with the One who is holy, which means “set apart”—profoundly and infinitely “other.”
God created you as a sexual, romantic being with deep, powerful longings so you would understand his longing for you…Our sex drive is an invitation to worship!
Our sex drive is an invitation to worship. Perhaps you’re experiencing the richness of this in your marriage. You worship God easily in your sexuality. But what if you’re single or, like many, in a marriage that falls short of your sexual hopes? Jesus invites you to draw near to him in your unsatisfied longings, realizing they ultimately point to him and the sure promise that they will be forever satisfied on That Day. At his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11), which God says we can’t even begin to comprehend (1 Corinthians 2:9).
This doesn’t mean singleness isn’t hard and at times crushingly lonely, or that a distant, sexless marriage isn’t painful. But these frustrated desires point beyond themselves to something God will eventually give you with a fullness you can’t begin to imagine. And you need to know Jesus “gets” your experience. He suffered in this life with all kinds of unsatisfied desires, and he’s been waiting 2,000 years for the glorious consummation to come. He’s sitting at the right hand of the Father, ruling over the universe, still waiting and fasting (at least from wine; see Matthew 26:29) until he can celebrate with us at the Wedding Feast. He understands your suffering, groans within you by his Spirit, and promises that you will be satisfied if you hunger and thirst for righteousness.
You can watch Dave talk some more about this on his video: Just What is Godly Sex? – Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
20 Jul 2017
Christians seem to know morality when it comes to sex and sexuality, but most are not able to articulate the full picture of what God’s design for sex, sexuality, and pleasure 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.
13 Jul 2017
As a youth minister, it’s an already confusing task to lead youth to the feet of Jesus when you yourself need to take the journey. How can we bear students’ sins and sufferings when we’re barely holding on? How can we lead youth to streams of living water when we’re dying in the desert?
And then throw porn into the mix. Some churches call for an all-out air strike on any of their staff who might wrestle with pornography: the staff position will be taken away, and the staff person will leave in shame. While we don’t have time to get into church policy, the measures taken by any church should be nuanced enough to vary by situation. But as youth ministers, how can we ourselves move forward? What are some initial categories we can keep in mind?
Confession to My Spouse, Boss, or Mentor?
Placed in context, the richness of James’ teaching on confession becomes apparent:
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working (5:13-16, ESV).
Confession does help others hold us accountable, but more than that, confession is a means for others to join their healing prayers for us with the two Divine intercessors, our Great High Priest and the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26-27, 34). Sin says, “Don’t confess. No one can be trusted.” Jesus says otherwise. Sin casts confession as insecurity and defeat. Jesus casts confession as a means to healing.
Confession is scary, and I always wrestle with it whatever my sin. But I’ve got to lean into what I know is true: God says there is healing here, not destruction.
If there is a pattern of confession already taking place in your marriage, confess to your spouse. It’s a wonderful way to practice the type of humble one-anothering that is required of us in Ephesians 5. But should you confess to your boss? It certainly depends on the type of church culture you are in and, more particularly, the relationship you have with your boss. Confessing to bosses cannot be mandatory. Do we confess to peers? I certainly think so, but peers usually do not have the grey streaks of wisdom that come with age and experience. That grey-streaked wisdom can help to lift us from the mire instead of simply commiserating with us in the midst of it.
Consider confessing to someone older and wiser, possibly in ministry, who has demonstrated not only a record of humility but also a record of being able to shoulder other people’s burdens. This person will be able to both empathize with you and point out potential blind spots in yourself.
The urgent call is clear: we need to brainstorm ways, to whomever we confess, to practically turn from our sin and turn to Jesus. At minimum, it will mean installing filtering and accountability software on all devices you use. But it could also mean getting rid of smartphones or personal computers altogether. It could mean setting up times of Bible study and prayer with the person to whom you confess. It will certainly mean making a habit of daily prayer to cast ourselves upon our God. The key is practical, daily repentance, not lofty, vague goals.
As a youth leader, you are already serving. But as a way to battle the inward spiral of selfishness that porn facilitates, let’s look for ways for you to serve more. Can you set up regular times to do the dishes for your wife or husband instead of surfing the Internet? Can you set up a standing meeting with students that will interfere with your usual time of looking at porn (i.e., early breakfasts, dinners)? With the person to whom we confess, it’s good to brainstorm little, practical ways that we can further love and serve others for the kingdom of God.
All of the above ideas–confession, repentance, and love–happen in the midst of a relationship with someone we trust. I would strongly advise finding older and wiser men and women who can serve as mentors for us. This could mean having a standing meeting where we talk about life, stress, good things, hard things, or anything at all. During these meetings we could spend time in prayer, perhaps walk through a book on Christian living together, or simply read Scripture.
The main point is this: pornography thrives in the darkness of isolation. It is best dispelled in the light of relationship with others.
Jesus Chose You
It is difficult to reconcile our own sin with the leadership task we have been given as youth ministers. But we also need to recognize that God has chosen sinners to act as youth ministers; He has chosen us in our weakness and sin to point others to Himself. Jesus’ words are obvious, but I often forget the obvious: “‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Mark 2:17).
When fighting porn as a leader, we must remember that Jesus came for people like us and has united us to Himself in a Spirit-forged bond. The Spirit residing within us is power to engage the fight passionately and relentlessly. He will not give up on us. And that truth is water to a desert-ridden soul, hope for the confused youth minister, and fuel to keep leading others to the very same Savior that we ourselves so desperately need.
06 Jul 2017
Many people today think reparative therapy is Christian-based, but it’s not. There is no gospel in it, and it’s important for Christians to speak intelligently about how helping someone with same-sex attraction in a gospel-focused way is altogether different.
06 Jul 2017
Expectations. We all have them, whether we acknowledge them outright or hide them in our hearts. We are hope-based creatures; we need to have hope in order to live. Yet there is danger in hope; it will crush you if you put your trust in something that can’t deliver.
I think about the destructiveness of false hope whenever reparative therapy pops up in the news. Every few months another state or city government proposes legislation to outlaw reparative therapy. All over the web are stories of gays and lesbians who were harmed by attempts from therapists or Christian ministries to change their sexual orientation. The faith of many broke over those unbiblical expectations.
Putting one’s faith in anything outside of what God has explicitly promised is courting disaster. I remember sitting with a church leader, pouring out my fears about the impending birth of my third child. Three years earlier our second child was born severely disabled. We had a 25% chance of the same birth defect occurring with other children. We decided not to have any more. God decided differently. It was a pregnancy full of fear for us.
In that meeting, what I heard from him deeply unsettled me: “Don’t worry. God isn’t going to give you another disabled child.” How did he know that? He didn’t, but he said he couldn’t fathom that God would do that, again, to us.
I left that meeting confused but already determined to reject that advice. I knew that no page of Scripture promises specific things we want in life. I had been painfully learning for the past three years, in raising my disabled son, to let God be God. While I didn’t understand what God’s purposes were for giving us such a child, I had, unexpectedly, come to trust him more. My relationship with God was no longer based on what I expected him to do for me. (Isn’t that much of the way we relate to God in our hearts?)
I had come to see that my prior expectations of what God would do in my life were but projections of my own hoped-for future. False expectations. God had mercifully smashed them. And in doing so, I came to grasp that his death on my behalf was a sufficient display of his love for me. I could live on that.
So, we are asked from time to time whether HARVEST USA does reparative therapy. Can we promise the kind of change many have desperately hoped for? And our answer is a compassionate, biblical “No.”
The essence of reparative therapy is that homosexuality can be changed into heterosexuality through following its counseling practices. Some of those practices were immoral and unethical (past practices included aversion therapy, “cuddling,” using pornography to encourage heterosexual desire, etc.). But the expectation of change—that was what deeply pulled on the hearts of those who wanted to live without same-sex desire.
A significant part of HARVEST USA’s ministry work is with those who live with unwanted same-sex attraction and who reach out to us for help. Many of these men and women grew up in the church, and many of them want the kind of “guarantee” reparative therapy falsely offers. So, we are asked from time to time whether HARVEST USA does reparative therapy. Can we promise the kind of change many have desperately hoped for?
And our answer is a compassionate, biblical “No.” HARVEST USA has never used, nor approved of, reparative therapy. We believe it to be thoroughly unbiblical and unhelpful because it attempts to correct a spiritual issue with behavioral modification. Reparative therapy is a product of our culture’s obsession with all things therapeutic. Tragically, the evangelical community jumped on the therapeutic bandwagon and found themselves wed to a psychological methodology that was never biblical to begin with.
The church is now, thankfully, repenting of proclaiming this kind of unbiblical hope. Not because there is no hope; rather it is not the hope Scripture gives to sexual strugglers.
Homosexual behavior is a sin that needs repentance. Like all sin, it comes out of our fallen hearts. All sin rises, as Luther said, from the “inherent bentness of our hearts” toward idolatry, and away from God. That’s the message of Romans 1. Paul is not singling out gays and lesbians as being the worst of sinners; he is pointing the finger at every single human being because all of us possess a disordered heart. A heart whose inclinations and desires, whether chosen or discovered, insist and demand to live life on its own terms. Following Christ, however, is about always submitting our heart’s desires to his kingly rule over every part of our life.
Therefore, we call everyone to a different kind of change, an inner heart change. HARVEST USA is not in the “sexual re-orientation” business, but rather seeks to help men and women grow into radical Christ-orientation in all areas of life, including our desires and attractions. Our core ministry is to help sexual strugglers of all kinds know and learn from Jesus (Matthew 11:29), who promises to meet us in our struggles and give us new life, daily. In our teaching, we acknowledge and address the complex life experiences that each person brings through our doors. Our work is about applying the power of the gospel to inform all the external and internal factors that shape a person’s life while calling and helping everyone to live a life of sexual integrity according to the Scriptures. That kind of life is supernatural, and it does lead to surprising joy.
Authentic submission to Christ is allowing God to direct our lives and our future in ways that exceed our expectations—even when the reality might be that one continues to live with same-sex attraction and on-going temptation.
In our culture, living a life of sexual integrity that the gospel calls us to is an especially hard journey. Now both secular society and proponents within the wider church say that same-sex behavior is an acceptable life to God. Tragically, leaders in the church are now proclaiming this kind of false hope also.
What about change then? We believe that people are changed when they grasp ahold of the gospel. But we don’t say what that change will exactly be. We don’t create unbiblical and unrealistic expectations of how God is going to work in every person’s life (for a fuller discussion read our mini book, Can You Change if You’re Gay, available at harvest-usa-store.com). Jesus promises to make his followers into his image, expressing his character, steadily growing in outward obedience to his will. This is not behavioral modification. Authentic submission to Christ is allowing God to direct our lives and our future in ways that exceed our expectations—even when the reality might be that one continues to live with same-sex attraction and on-going temptation.
One quick point about the legal issues surrounding reparative therapy; the push for legislation does raise legitimate concerns about religious liberty. Would the way HARVEST USA helps people with same-sex attraction—to follow Christ faithfully and live according to God’s design for sexuality—be viewed as being no different from reparative therapy? Will it one day be illegal to even speak of the Christian position on sexuality to a young person in the church who wonders about his or her sexuality? This is a significant matter and one that we must defend. For that reason, we must also be clear about the lines we draw in how we help people, and not go beyond Scripture.
I still wonder as I think about all this, if I had put my trust in the well-meaning words of that church leader, where my faith in Christ would be now, because my third child was born with the same genetic disease, and his short life ended six months later. Thankfully, I had learned to put my hope in God and his glorious cross—and not my hoped-for expectations of what I needed him to do in my life. That made all the difference in my life and for my faith, and it has led to surprising joy.
You can watch Nicholas talk some more about this on his video: The Dangerous Expectations of Reparative Therapy.
06 Jun 2017
The Triad of Life is a distillation of Scripture’s most basic building blocks for the Christian life—a three-pronged, mutually enforcing and informing concept that shapes everything we do as believers. In our writing, speaking, and equipping the Church across the country, this is the principle we encourage parents and youth leaders to integrate into the lives of their kids, enabling students to use and steward their sexuality for the glory of God.
A Necessary Love
Jesus says this in Matthew 22: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets’” (22:38-40, ESV). Love, with its dual—but not ultimately equal—objects of God and others, forms the third piece of our Triad, informing and enforcing the two other principles of faith and repentance. But how do we even define love in the first place?
The apostle John tells us, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His only son to be the propitiation for our sin” (1 John 4:10). Simply put, love is sacrificial action on behalf of another, a self-denying, others-serving act that encompasses all of life. John helps us see something else as well: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). In other words, God’s love for us in the face of His Son is the catalyst, the igniting flame, for our passionate self-denying, others-serving love for our fellow man. God’s movement of love towards us provides the context, the grounds, and the passion for our love towards others. And it is our movement of love towards Him that works itself out in love for others.
The world’s understanding of sex, sexuality, and gender, however, is an inward-referenced one. The world finds its catalyst for understanding sex, sexuality, and gender in the self and seeks to define sexual reality apart from the One who created sexuality in the beginning. In other words, the world has crippled sex, sexuality, and gender by stripping them of their intended focus: God and others.
One of the best ways, then, to steward our sexuality for the glory of God is to reestablish our heavenward gaze (check out Secularized Sexuality), and then, in light of Him, to focus on others. We act like true men and women when we sacrificially love God and others in practical, self-denying ways.
So how do we cultivate love in student ministry?
Embody the Language
The first thing we need to do is to actually embody love itself. The question to ask ourselves is this: “Am I a man of love? Am I a woman of love? Am I striving to obey His commands, from making my own time with the Lord a priority to practically serving my husband, wife, or friends? How am I doing in thinking of practical ways to love and serve my students?”
In other words, love begins with us, not with our students. And if we want a culture of love in our student ministries, it must begin in our own hearts.
Use the Language
Anyone learning a new language can tell you that if you don’t use it, you’ll never truly learn it. This means we need to actually talk about love. What would that look like?
- We are constantly calling on students to love God and others in practical, small ways. A mistake I tend to make is calling on students to love God and others by “giving their lives to Him” or by “living for Him alone”. These are grand statements, but love for God and others is often worked out in the small moments that often pass us by. Love looks like actually doing our chores with a spirit of thankfulness to God for what He’s done for us. Love looks like taking the tray of another kid to the trash. Love looks like obeying Mom and Dad immediately. We must help students respond to the love of God for them by giving them practical ways to love Him and others in response.
- We are constantly unmasking the empty “love” of the world with the full and life-giving love of Christians. The world’s “love” tends to fade at inconvenience. The “love” that the hookup culture promises is a self-exalting, others-consuming love that exploits and dehumanizes. The world’s “love” is more about feeling and acceptance, rather than challenging, changing, and serving action in the face of God.
- We are constantly teaching and talking about the love of God. The apostle John, as noted above, wants to motivate us to love for others by showing us the love of God for us in Jesus Christ. Let’s paint for students, through the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word, a beautiful, compelling picture of God’s love for us in the sending of His Son. The Spirit will use this constant focus on the love of God in the Son, expounded from the Scriptures, to compel students outward in a life-act of sacrifice.
Facilitate Times of Love
One more thing we can do to cultivate a culture of love in student ministry is to give students opportunities to sacrificially love others. Is there a servant leadership team that a student can join to set up or clean up before and after events? Can you establish a mentor program with older, more mature high schoolers and younger, less mature middle schoolers?
The Triad of Life—faith, repentance, and love—is what we are after in our students. A life lived in constant and daily faith, practical repentance, and acts of love is one that necessarily forsakes the emptiness of sinful sexuality to find life in our life-giving God.
09 May 2017
The Triad of Life is a distillation of Scripture’s most basic building blocks for the Christian life—a three-pronged, mutually enforcing and informing concept that shapes everything we do as believers. In our writing, in our speaking, and in our equipping the Church across the country, this is the principle we encourage parents and youth leaders to integrate into the lives of their kids, enabling students to use and steward their sexuality for the glory of God.
And the second aspect (check out the first post) of the Triad is a not-so-in-vogue concept: repentance.
A Necessary Repentance
Jesus’ announces His ministry in Mark 1:15 with an enormous statement: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Repent. He’s commanding people to turn from whatever they are hoping in, in order that they might turn towards Him alone. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin and imply similar concepts. Both necessarily imply that you have turned from trusting something or someone and turned to someone or something. And both are worked out practically in everyday life.
But sexual sin makes repentance passé: The narrative of sexual sin says, “Sin is an outdated way to view sexting. It’s an antiquated stance on hooking up.” If sin itself is outmoded, then there’s nothing of which to repent. The narrative of the world tells us there’s nothing wrong with pursuing our own lusts while at the very same time leading us to the edge of the cliff. “It’s okay”, the narrative coaxes, while it pushes us over the edge. You recognize this voice, don’t you? “‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Genesis 3:4-5).
Stewarding our sexuality, then, involves practically repenting from our sin-induced trance and obsession with the sweet words of Satan to listen again to Reason, to Life, to Jesus.
Embody the Language
So how do we begin to create a culture of repentance in student ministry? The first thing we need to do is to actually embody repentance. And this, like faith, is an easy aspect to fake. The question to ask ourselves is this: “Am I a man of repentance? Am I a woman of repentance?”
It means we need to ask the hard questions of ourselves, like, “How have I neglected to practically repent of my sins today? How have I harbored secret doors to porn in my life and failed to turn from it? Am I running on fumes, trying to manipulate spiritual outcomes in my ministry while neglecting prayer, Scripture reading, and communion with God and His church?”
Repentance begins with us, not with our students. And if we want a culture of repentance in our student ministries, it must begin in our own hearts.
Use the Language
Anyone learning a new language can tell you that if you don’t use it, you’ll never truly learn it. This means we need to actually talk about repentance. What would that look like?
- We are constantly calling on students to repent of their sins and trust in Christ in practical ways. And we are also encouraging Christians to keep repenting from their sins. Repentance is not something to be done once and left behind in favor of Christian perfectionism, as if we had no need of repentance on the other side of conversion. And repentance does not mean we will never wrestle with sin again. Every day the Serpent’s voice and our own flesh tempt us to the edge.
- We are constantly drawing parallels between the death-infused voice of sin and the life-giving voice of Jesus. What does the temptation to sext tell us about life in Christ? What practical things does my sin and flesh tell me to do that are absolutely opposed to the Way, the Truth, and the Life?
- We are constantly demonstrating how repentance is practical. Repentance includes getting rid of Instagram and handing the password to our phones over to trusted mentors if Instagram is a porn-problem for us. Repentance includes stepping out of certain friend groups if they are facilitating the downward spiral of sin.
- We are constantly teaching and talking about the kindness of God. Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” The ironic thing about Romans 2:4 is that those to whom Paul is writing are actually ignoring and plugging their ears to God’s kindness. But the intent is still the same. There is, of course, a time for preaching about the coming judgment (Romans 2:5), but I think this is the default way we try to cultivate repentance in our students. Have we tried to cultivate repentance by consistently preaching and talking about the goodness, kindness, mercy, and grace of God in the face of Jesus Christ?
Create Opportunities to Repent
A wonderful way to cultivate repentance in student ministry is to actually facilitate times where students can repent. In my leadership Bible study with eighth grade guys, we had specific times built in for confession and accountability, when we would also encourage each other in prayer and Scripture reading, searching for practical ways to help each other turn from our sin and pursue Jesus.
It is repentance—true and practical—that will enable us all to thrive sexually as Christ works powerfully within us by the Spirit. Ultimately, however, repentance is a gift from God (2 Timothy 2:24-25). In other words, we must be on our knees daily, asking Him to grant passionate and practical repentance to both us and the students we love and serve.
02 May 2017
We at the Student Outreach have a concept we affectionately call the Triad of Life. It’s a distillation of Scripture’s most basic building blocks for the Christian life—a three-pronged, mutually enforcing and informing concept that shapes everything we do as believers. In our writing, in our speaking, and in our equipping the Church across the country, this is the principle we encourage parents and youth leaders to integrate into the lives of their kids, enabling students to use and steward their sexuality for the glory of God.
And in this first post of a series on the Triad of Life, I want to look at faith.
But why is faith necessary to steward our sexuality for the glory of God, and how do we create a culture of faith in student ministry?
A Necessary Faith
Jesus’ announces His ministry in Mark 1:15 with an enormous statement: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Look at the claim Jesus is making. He’s turning the gaze of mankind towards Himself and commanding people, in light of the immanence of the very Kingdom of God in His presence, to believe in the Gospel. And the Gospel is the Person and Work of Christ for sinners. The “gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1) is the fact that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Belief in the Gospel includes knowledge of, agreement with, and trust in the Son of God for the salvation of mankind.
But sexual sin would destroy faith in the Son. Porn, making out with boyfriends or girlfriends, sex outside of marriage, or whatever the sin, would have us turn our eyes away from the resurrected and ascended Christ. It would have us deny His Lordship and His transforming grace and forsake Him for our glory, fame, and way. Sexual sin presents the next orgasm, the next moment of watching porn, and next moment alone with a boyfriend or girlfriend as all-important and all-satisfying.
Ultimately, then, stewarding our sexuality begins by trusting not in ourselves but in abandoning ourselves to rest in and cry out to Jesus in faith. It takes faith in Christ to say no to the temptations and voices that would have us do life on our own terms. It takes faith in Christ to develop eyes for both the emptiness and lifelessness of sexual sin and the superior beauty and worthiness of God.
Embody the Language
So how do we begin to create a culture of faith in student ministry? The first thing we need to do is to actually embody faith. And this is an easy aspect to fake. The question to ask ourselves is this: “Am I a man of faith? Am I a woman of faith?” This certainly looks like being honest with ourselves to see if we are actually Christians or not. But it is so much more.
It means we need to ask the hard questions of ourselves, like, ”What has been my functional savior today? When I looked at porn last night, what was my functional savior? When I lost it with my volunteers, what was I trusting in? When my numbers were low at my meeting and I was totally frustrated, was I trusting in Jesus or wanting to make a name for myself? In my discipleship relationships, am I banking on the Savior to work, or am I trying to be the savior?”
Faith begins with us, not with our students. And if we want a culture of faith in our student ministries, it must begin in our own hearts.
And we must pray. Prayer is the ultimate posture of faith, because it confesses reliance, helplessness, and desperation. Are we pleading for the Lord to do mighty works in both our own hearts and in the hearts of our students? Are we bringing individual students before His throne, asking that He might rescue and set them ablaze for His name?
Use the Language
Anyone learning a new language can tell you that if you don’t use it, you’ll never truly learn it. This means we need to actually talk about faith. In other words, our ministry vocabulary needs to be a scriptural vocabulary. What would that look like?
- We are constantly calling on students who have never trusted Christ to trust now. And we are also encouraging Christians to keep putting their faith in Jesus. Faith in Christ is not something to be done once and left behind in favor of Christian moralism. Faith is to be exercised daily in perseverance, because every day I’m tempted to bank on a million different “gods” besides the One True God.
- We are constantly drawing parallels between the faith narrative of the culture and the faith narrative of the Christian walk. What is the culture begging us to trust in instead of Jesus? What does a worldview that is all about my happiness and gain tell me about faith in Jesus?
- We are constantly demonstrating how a vital faith in Christ actually changes how we live practically. Trust in Jesus moves us towards loving and sitting with the kid in the lunchroom who no one else wants to sit next to. Faith in Christ sometimes means we get rid of a smartphone in favor of a dumb one because of the temptation to look at porn. Resting in the Son means fighting our same-sex attraction by crying out to Him for help and strength.
It is faith—true, vital, and practical faith—in Jesus that will enable us all to thrive sexually as He works powerfully within us by the Spirit. Let’s work toward building ministries that desire to know and trust in nothing but the risen and ascended Lord, awaiting in faith His glorious appearing.
27 Apr 2017
In part one of this blog, I laid out a multi-layered plan to protect your family from porn while they are at home and connected to your home Wifi network. Now, let’s get to the outside-the-home protection plan.
How can I protect my kids when they leave my home or access their data plans?
One great way to eliminate the temptation for your kids to use their phone for sexual sin is to get them a basic phone. Do they really need a hand-held device that is more sophisticated than the information technology that sent the Apollo Space missions to the moon—especially when an unfiltered smartphone can connect to porn in mere seconds? We at The Student Outreach know of brave teens who’ve asked their dads to let them trade in a smartphone for a “dumbphone,” because they were sick of being tempted by porn.
But if your kid must have a smartphone, how can you protect them?
1. Install Filters and Accountability Software
First, you need to buy filtering and accountability software for each Internet-enabled smartphone, tablet, or laptop that leaves your home protection.
Remember Circle With Disney from our first post? Circle with Disney filters every device using your WiFi router. Circle with Disney just recently released an app called Circle Go that applies those very filter settings used on your router to devices as they leave the home. This might be a great way to kill the proverbial two birds with one (and a half) stone(s).
2. Disable the Downloading of Apps
It used to be that one had to use a browser to find a website. Today, apps are the new web browsers. As you might guess, kids can use many apps to access porn. You need to go into the settings of your child’s smartphone or tablet and disable the downloading of apps so they can’t add apps on their own. If you install a filter/accountability app but don’t disallow adding new apps, your child can load an app that works around the filter/accountability app or delete the one you just installed!
The parental settings, including disabling the downloading of apps, should be password protected. That way, when you kid wants to load a new app, they have to have a conversation with you about it. In other words, we don’t lock down the apps so that kids with a smartphone can only make calls. We lock down apps so that, when they want to download one, they have to come to us to do so. All this, like receiving accountability reports from your kids, facilitates dialogue.
3. Research and Dialogue about Devices, Apps, and Media
Your child says, “Can Johnny drive us to the game tonight?” Before we say, “Sure,” we parents ask some questions and even do a bit of private investigative work, like calling another trusted parent for the inside scoop. So don’t take your kid’s word on how appropriate an app, artist, or movie is. Research it yourself.
Use Google to your and their spiritual benefit. Go to Google and type in, “Is (blank) safe for kids?” or “Can (blank) app be used to access porn”? We recommend Common Sense Media, too. It is the best place I can find for new apps, websites, TV shows, movies, etc. Iparent.tv also includes many “how-to” videos, reviews of apps, etc. Pluggedin.com is also a good resource.
All of this research facilitates a running tech-dialogue. When your child has to come to you for the downloading of an app, it gives you time to research it. It also helps you begin to ask good questions of your child in the meantime: “What do your friends use this app for? What are some benefits of the app that you can see? What might be some downsides to having this app? What would you like to use this app for?”
4. Test Your In-the-Home and Outside-the-Home Protection Plans
You won’t be doing anyone any favors by failing to check to see if things are running smoothly. Randomly test the protection systems you’ve put in place. You may find yourself on a site that you don’t want to see, so do your checking together as a married couple or with a trusted Christian friend. Check all the devices. Something almost always doesn’t work from time to time. Nothing is foolproof.
After being as faithful and savvy as we can to protect our kids from the sexual corruptions of the world, we must trust the Savior and Redeemer with our kids. Only He can save our kids from the sexual corruption, self, and sin within. We must trust Jesus to work in our kids’ hearts and in the sexually broken world they inhabit until His kingdom comes in fullness. Knowledge of and trust in Jesus’ power helps us parent out of dependence, trust, and faith. And that’s a good place for any of us to be.
In all of this, we want to keep the dialogue open with our kids about technology in the home. We want to be talking to them about the measures we are taking to steward technology well. We want to be talking to them about both the dangers and the benefits of the technology we have. And most importantly, we want to approach them as fellow sufferers, not just sinners, in this crazy world, who can approach the throne of Jesus together for help and strength in our moments of weakness.
24 Apr 2017
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 the largest per capita consumers of internet pornography, 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.
This post is about 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.
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 WiFi router. Filters act like walls that prevent users from accessing inappropriate content, and filters that attach 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 WiFi network.
In my home, I made 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 our 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. 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 WiFi 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 WiFi. Then the data plan kicks-in, and the device accesses the Internet via their data plan.
2. 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 browsers and search engines like Yahoo, Bing, and Internet Explorer, as of now, Google is the only major search engine that gives the option for password-protected parental controls (Google SafeSearch). The big point here: You must set and guard the password. You can, of course, block access to other search engines through your filtering programs, but this step is not foolproof.
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.
3. Install Accountability Software on All Devices
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, so we recommend accountability software as well. This report will actually enable you to see the websites your family is visiting and will give you an opportunity to see where your family is using their time.
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 world-wide web. It needs to be said: 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, Safe Eyes, 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 absolutely 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.