15 Aug 2016
It was another phone call from a pastor asking what to do. A woman in his church, married, is beginning to look like a man. Over several months it has increasingly become clear that something significant is happening. But neither the woman nor her husband has come forward asking for advice or help. No one has said anything. But the silence obviously cannot remain. People are talking… transgenderism? What should this pastor do?
For a church to help someone with gender dysphoria is first to see the person in distress. When we get down to the level of the individual, this becomes not a cultural battleground, but a person who is struggling. Yes, our culture has made transgenderism the issue du jour by its insistence that gender is not connected to one’s sexual anatomy at birth, but rather what someone feels they are. Gender identity politics has become the latest cultural battleground. In an increasingly secular culture, sexual freedom is sacred ground.
But if someone in your church is silently struggling with what gender they feel they are, we need more than promoting adherence to Genesis 1 and 2 to set him or her straight. Yes, good biblical teaching is necessary. We must not abandon the anchor position of Scripture, that God created humanity in two genders, male and female, and those genders are, in fact, who we are, and living out our given maleness and femaleness is an essential part of what it means to be human.
Nevertheless, we also live in a Genesis 3 world.
A world that is broken at its core, resembling God’s original design, but increasingly showing deep cracks and fissures in how God’s image bearers live and reflect his image. Men and women have struggled with their sexuality and gender for countless ages, so this isn’t anything new. What’s new is the forceful demandingness of an anything-goes sexuality-and-gender culture, with its message that there is no inherent order or design in who we are and how we should live. The only order and design is the one I create.
But while the culture insists that how one lives is entirely up to the individual, there will be those in your church who are not trying to be rebellious here. Rather, they are confused, lonely, and despairing strugglers trying to make sense of their pain. The distress they feel is real. And for many, the message the world gives seems more hopeful, and so they embrace the post-Christian (really, post-Fall) message of radical individuality.
For this pastor and his church, continued silence is not a godly option. There is no compassion to say or do nothing when someone in the church is living in ways that contradict God’s design for being a congruent-gendered person.
But speaking a biblical message on sexuality and gender to a man or a woman who has come to despise their biological sexual identity is a difficult matter. We must combine wise words with our loving presence. Good teaching is rarely, if ever, the sole factor that moves someone in the right direction. Our words and our loving presence with them are what they need.
So what is our advice to what this pastor could say to this woman? How does he speak a message into her life that might give her hope? Maybe enough hope for a future that would allow her more time to choose to slow down and hopefully reverse the transition process she seems to be pursuing. More time to begin to understand, perhaps for the first time, the biblical categories of male and female that God has chosen for us to live within.
What “alternative script” of biblical truth, in stark contrast to the world’s message, can we give to her? Here are four basic principles:
Affirm and recognize the struggle
Affirm the likelihood that this struggle has been going on for some time. Recognize that this is not a superficial struggle and that the person is trying to make sense of what they experience. Ask good questions so that you can begin to grasp what this struggle is like, and why this person feels so strongly that she needs to transition to the opposite gender.
Seek to be involved as much as possible
Communicate the reality that deep, persistent struggles grow stronger when we deal with them in isolation. As a professing believer (or better yet, a member of the church), ask if they would allow you to keep speaking into their life about this. To hear further about their struggle, but also to allow you to speak about a biblical position on gender and sexuality. An appeal to Scripture’s call to be one body, Christ’s, where brothers and sisters assist one another in the daily struggles of life, should be a constant refrain.
Help them to grasp that our lives, and even our bodies, first belong to God
Believers in Christ have a much deeper foundation for their identity/personhood than those who do not follow him. Whom we belong to is a deeper, more foundational question than the one the world asks: How do I be myself, or how do I find freedom (from my distress or situation in life)?
Some life-situations are chronic, persistent, and some will not end in this life (like many chronic disability circumstances). Finding healing or freedom from struggles is not a wrong thing to do, unless it violates God’s design and purpose expressed in Scripture. Then, a Christian is called to persevere faithfully in the struggle, to discover that God’s grace gives meaning and purpose, along with daily strength, to live and grow in and through it (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
Call them to bring God into the heart of the situation
Too often, obeying Scripture is made to feel like obeying a set of rules. But following Christ is a life-affirming direction, even when we must turn from those things that promise a fix or a solution (Mark 10:27-31). One important thing to stress is that all our decisions, even the smallest ones, will either strengthen our resolve to follow Christ or weaken it. Lovingly communicate the importance of pursuing obedience in Christ, with whatever means are available (counseling, listening to stories from others, teaching them good theology, prayer, etc.). In doing so, you will help them learn to accept and grow into the gender God gave them. And if they are willing, walk with them for as long as it takes, through all the successes and failures that will most likely be a part of their journey.
The narrative today about this issue is that the struggle is biological and/or psychological. Putting aside legitimate intersex complications for some, what is noticeably missing is a discussion of how spiritual issues are also at the heart of a person’s struggle.
Bringing God into the heart of the situation can do two things: it legitimizes the person’s real distress with their inability to align their physical and psychological selves, and also injects another not-to-be-ignored dynamic: that the person’s distress has an additional element of struggle to it, that to go against God’s design and purpose does bring about increasing confusion and pain. Following God’s design may not be the easiest path to walk (particularly when the world shouts another message), but in the long run it draws us to him, to the One who says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
There’s a whole lot more to say and do here with this person. But starting out this way might better open doors to effectively help a struggler seek God’s help and grow into being who God has called them to be.
For additional resources go to our Transgenderism: Resources page.
05 Aug 2016
In the first post in this blog series, “Transgenderism: A Truth and Mercy Response: Part 1“, we looked at what is meant by gender, specifically how the post-Christian culture views it. Gender is now seen as being divorced from one’s biological sex; that how one views oneself as either male or female (or neither or both!) is based on one’s feelings and self-perceptions. Therefore gender is fluid, changeable, and virtually limitless.
What Does Scripture Say About Gender?
With that said, what does Scripture say about gender? In short, it says lots. Perhaps more than you might think. In this post we’ll examine two key points:
- Scripture identifies two (and only two) genders in creation.
- Scripture describes the brokenness of creation in the Fall, and gender confusion results from that.
Scripture identifies two (and only two) genders in creation.
We see this plainly when God establishes two genders—male and female—by decree in Genesis 1:27:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Male and female in God’s creation are created for a particular kind of relationship with one another: a covenant relationship of marriage where a major reason for sexual expression is the creation of children, leading to the development of both family and society. Sexual activity is connected to humanity’s purpose in life—a purpose that God mentions in 1:28: to manage the earth and make it a place of bounty and beauty. Creating life is an essential part of this.
But the Genesis story, in being the anchor for our understanding of sexuality and gender, doesn’t limit gender differences at reproduction. Male and female reflect God’s image to the world, and particularly so when a husband and wife join together in marriage. The narrative in Genesis gives profound hints of how gender differences contribute to a deeper shaping of humanity. Adam’s exclamation when he first sees Eve speaks of both similarity and difference, and between them there grows a relationship where intimacy, transparency, mutual love and unity grow in a way unlike any other human relationship (Gen 2: 21-25). And Eve’s designation as “helper” to Adam speaks of a relationship of unity and shared purpose (and not, as some erroneously think, that woman is inferior to man).
Gender differences are not relegated to marriage, either. Living out one’s life as either male or female, as a single person, will also display God’s unique design (more on the complexity of gender roles will follow in another blog post).
In stark contrast to our culture’s mantra that gender is fluid and determined by the will and wishes of the individual, God declares that who we are individually grows out of the biological sex given to us at birth.
So, God has established two genders—male and female—generally, in creation. But, we must note that he has also established these genders particularly in the lives of particular individuals. That is to say, God has assigned one of the two genders to each at his or her birth. Biological sex should be the anchor of gender identity for any individual, not the modern psychological concept of gender. Scripture declares that God has planned out who we are, and that includes the biological sex we were born with.
The Psalmist in Psalm 139 says clearly that God established the form and personality of each person before that individual existed:
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13)
“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139:15)
“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” (Psalm 139:16)
God both declares and foreknows the gender he has given to us. Examples of this are found throughout Scripture: Hagar is told she will bear a son and is to name him Ishmael (Genesis 16:11); Abraham and Sarah are told that Sarah will bear a son, and they are to name him Isaac (Genesis 17:19); the angel of the Lord tells Manoah that his barren wife will soon bear a son (Judges 13:3); and Mary receives the startling news, as an unmarried woman, that she would bear a son, Jesus, who would be the Messiah (Luke 1:31).
These key redemptive-historical acts, while they only mention the birth of sons, nevertheless establish the fact that God ordains who we are as both male and female, as both sons or daughters.
Scripture describes the brokenness of creation in the Fall, and gender confusion results from that.
Christians do not live in a make-believe world; they share in the brokenness of all of creation. That brokenness is extensive. In the area of human sexuality, the numerous prohibitions in the Old Testament regarding particular sexual activity is telling. The reason why God had to spell out one sexual prohibition after another was not that he declares sex as intrinsically evil (as some think Christian doctrine teaches), but because our fallen, sinful hearts are capable of doing evil with the good things God has created.
The order in which the world was created still remains, though it exists in fractured form. Regarding gender confusion or fluidity, in Deuteronomy 22:5, the Lord tells his people that to live as if you are someone of the opposite gender is sin. For many years, Deuteronomy 22:5 was used as a proof text against transvestitism, but its meaning goes far beyond simply wearing the clothes of the other gender. The verb-object clause used in the verse means to “put on the mantle” of the opposite gender—in other words, to live as though you were of the other gender.
This law principle is the same as the other laws God has given to us. That is, to live outside of his design and purpose is to engage in rebellion against him, even if that rebellion is the result of confusion and personal pain.
The “facts” of non-binary gender states, which some proclaim as evidence of a “third” gender or sex, is merely evidence that God’s original design is broken. In these rare cases of sexual development disorders, difficult medical and personal decisions need to be made. There should always be compassion given in these situations. But these disorders do not constitute evidence that there is more than male and female to humanity.
The confusion about gender that is sweeping through our culture is the result of numerous personal and societal issues, and the help these people need is not encouragement to undergo gender change but to learn to live within God’s design. Following his design is always a path toward growth and health. Not doing so leads to further brokenness.
For additional information and resources go to Harvest USA’s Transgenderism: Resources Page.
21 Jul 2016
On May 13, 2016, many were surprised to learn that the federal government issued a directive to schools receiving federal Title IX grants. The directive said that schools must allow transgender students to use whichever bathroom and locker room most closely matches their gender identity. A confusing issue became even more confusing. Is there a way to pick through the pieces of this puzzle and respond with biblical truth and mercy?
That news raised questions in the minds of many Christians: Why would someone identify as transgender? What is the nature of gender? Is it possible that there are really more than two genders, male and female? How does Scripture call Christians to interact with transgender individuals?
These are big questions to think about. Christians need to know how to reason through the issues on gender and transgender that are being discussed and decided culturally. In this post, I’ll walk you through an understanding of gender identity – and transgender identity – from Scripture.
What is a traditional understanding of gender?
For the whole of human existence, society has affirmed a male-female binary regarding gender. In other words, a human was one gender or the other – male or female – and that individual’s gender was consistent with the individual’s physical sex at birth.
There is, of course, a condition currently known as intersex, formerly known as hermaphroditism, when an individual is born either with genitalia of both sexes or with ambiguous genitalia. While intersex individuals exist and may face certain challenges, it should be noted that they are a very small percentage of the population: about 1 out of every 1,500 births (or, about 7/100 of 1%).
What is transgenderism?
In order to answer that question, we must first look at the new, culturally-accepted understanding of gender. Whereas a traditional understanding of gender existed in a fixed male-female binary framework, the new understanding is that gender is fluid. All possibilities for gender exist not as two fixed points but rather on a continuum ranging from male to female. Not only is one’s experience of gender no longer fixed between two choices, but the individual may switch back and forth between genders as his or her experience of gender changes.
As a result/consequently, a second element of this new understanding is that gender is not innate. While a child is born with a physical sex by virtue of male or female genitalia, that child does not develop its gender until well after birth. Gender, according to psychologists, develops independently of one’s physical sex and generally develops by the sixth year of age. In most individuals, psychological gender is congruent with physical sex. However, in some cases, this is not so. Hence, it is possible to have an individual born with genitalia associated with one gender, but to have a psychological gender that is incongruent with one’s physical sex.
Transgender is a blanket term applied to an individual whose psychological gender—essentially, one’s subjective experience of gender—is incongruent with his or her physical sex. Because of this perceived incongruence, a transgender individual may elect to live in any number of ways. One might choose to live in a manner that is the culturally-accepted norm for his or her physical sex. One might choose to identify as a particular gender different from his or her physical sex, but never take measures to surgically or pharmacologically alter his or her physical sex. One might go through a process of using certain drugs to alter one’s brain chemistry and hormone levels to develop physical characteristics of his or her preferred gender. Or, one might elect to go through gender reassignment surgery. These last two processes are known colloquially as transitioning from one gender to another.
It should be noted that this particular cultural concept of gender is new and is itself in a state of evolution. In 2012, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association identified the types of gender incongruence mentioned in the previous paragraph as fitting the category of a psychiatric disorder: Gender Identity Disorder (GID). Just four years ago, the psychiatric community would have counseled the GID-presenting patient to accept his or her physical sex.
When the DSM was updated in 2013, the diagnostic criteria for GID changed, so that most people who formerly fit into that former category of a psychiatric disorder are now diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria—a perceptual problem— where the goal of the therapist is to help patients reach congruence with their psychological gender.
What is the problem with transgender? Essentially, this practice makes the experience and the feelings of the individual primary. Everything else – whether Scripture, or physical reality, or millennia-old accepted social practice – is secondary. It says that if I feel as though I am another gender – whether male, female, or something in-between – that is who I actually am.
This continuing movement of our culture renders the individual increasingly self-referential and the individual’s perceptions increasingly authoritative. Such a worldview does not allow for any kind of objective truth from God. The church is experiencing tremendous pressure to change its understanding of Scripture—and to even change Scripture itself to conform to the primacy of personal freedom. Governments, from the local to the national level, are racing to change laws and add new ones to protect the individual’s right to self-determination. Truly, we are becoming a people who do only what is right in our own eyes (Proverbs 21:2).
For additional information and resources go to our Transgenderism Resources Page.
In the next post, we’ll talk about what Scripture says on the issue of gender and how Christians can respond to transgender people.
14 Apr 2016
I’ve been on staff with Harvest USA for over ten years, and almost all of the adults I’ve spoken with have said that their parents didn’t talk to them about sex. Yet many of these same adults say that they try to keep sex and sexuality on the table for discussion all the time with their kids.
What is the best way to do this with teens? In earlier posts, we talked about the grammar stage with children 8 and under and about the logic stage with tweens. For teens, the key component is rhetoric, and that means dialogue — building on what they already know. We will only exasperate our teens if we try to give them basic, informational “birds and bees” lectures.
Dialogue and Persuasion
The rhetoric stage of mental development is when a teen, who is a young adult in the making, becomes able to make arguments to persuade others of their convictions on how life works and what they want to get out of life. In their tweens, ages 9 to 12, most kids can tell you what their parents believe. Teens, however, can tell you what they believe and can offer reasons why they differ with their parents about style, economics, ethics, politics, religion, and, of course, sexuality.
Can you remember being lectured by your parents when you were a teenager? Lecture, in the form of concise, kind-hearted, logical and biblical teaching, is needed in the tween years. In the teen years though, we have to engage our teens in dialogue and discussion. This is most effective when we parents do so calmly, respectfully, reasonably, and without yelling or pinching their heads off.
Prepare and Practice
Some teens love to press our buttons to make us mad. Other teens avoid any and all substantive conversation with their parents. A great way to fruitfully dialogue with your teen is to prepare: read, think, and practice ahead of time.
Especially when we’re tired and driving in traffic with our kids, none of us want to get ambushed by our teen asking the question, “What could be wrong with two gay people who love each other?” So, a word to the wise: prepare by figuring out the biblical truth to the sexual issues and topics your kids face, and practice by dialoguing with your believing spouse or a trusted mentor at church about those topics. Our blogs and Harvest USA mini books are great resources for preparation.
Springboard Off the Media
The media offers us powerful insight into understanding what the world is teaching our kids and what they are likely beginning to believe about sex and sexuality. These sexual ideas, values, and narratives from TV, movies, music, and news are often unbiblical. But, nonetheless, they offer us an inroad to converse with our teenagers about the implications of Christ on sex and sexuality.
AXIS.org offers free weekly updates, and Walt Meuller’s CPYU.org and our own StudentOutreach.org offer monthly updates on the latest tidbits and trends within youth culture. These email updates allow you to both know what’s going on in pop-culture and provide a springboard to converse with your teens.
The big point here is not to simply point out all the wrong and sinful stuff going on in their culture. The point here is to engage your teens in conversation and ask questions that let them reveal what they have come to believe about God, other people, and their own selves. Then you will know better how to pray for their hearts, desires, and beliefs.
It would be great if we could simply correct their fallen beliefs and desires by dialoguing with them. But for persuasion to be deep and fruitful, the Holy Spirit must be the One who does the persuading. Sure, our part is to be winsome, authentic, and share the love and truths of Christ. We sow gospel seeds and pray fervently because only God makes them grow.
Wisely and Kindly Investigating Their Reality
Dialoguing with teens is about getting them to think about their opinions and convictions. And asking good questions that leave them thinking is helpful. Here are some questions for wisely and kindly (your manner and tone are important) investigating their reality.
When your teen says he believes something about sex that is unbiblical, here are a few questions that can help you get at his heart and help him to consider otherwise:
- Could you clarify what they mean by that? (Perhaps you are misunderstanding them or perhaps they don’t really know. This is loving dialogue, not a hostile lawyer’s cross-examination.)
- Would you explain the reasons for your view? (This question is asking them to unpack their reasoning for why their opinion seems true.)
- Where did you get your information? (This drills deeper to ascertain what facts, truths, or authorities uphold their reasoning.)
- Do you see any legitimate alternatives to this view? (This invites them to consider the consequences to their position if they got their reasoning or facts wrong.)
A natural question flowing out of the fourth question is, “How does this square with the gospel?” It gets to ultimate matters — the big picture, since Jesus Christ is relevant to every issue.
Wrap all this in prayer, asking that God would graciously use your questions to turn your teen’s heart toward the grace, worth, and glory of the Lord.
11 Mar 2016
Should we DTR? Are we friends or are we more? Should I date someone who struggles with porn?
Questions abound in the realm of dating, and let’s face it: we all long for better relationships.We asked a number of young men and women about their dating experiences, and all the stories had pronounced, common threads. Stated intentions, good boundaries, and thinking through sexual brokenness are all significant issues when it comes to dating. But instead of simply waiting for others to up their game, it’s time to begin cultivating better relationships ourselves, starting with the basics.
We need to take personal responsibility for clarifying our own intentions [and motivations].
One woman shared that in college she’d spent a lot of time with guy friends, but she could tell they were being very careful not to push conversations to deeper, more intimate levels. Their efforts to keep conversations casual were so valuable to her, and their carefulness meant she could have good guy friends without relational ambiguity.
A lot of times it can be easy to push or simply allow friendships to meander into romantic places, leaving both parties absolutely confused. One of the ways to have better relationships is to carefully establish clear boundaries in your mind regarding your relationships. A good question to ask yourself if you are not (or not yet) wanting to pursue a romantic relationship is…
Would saying or doing this be okay if I were married to another person?
Even if we want to move things down the romantic road, it’s always good to ask ourselves about our own intentions and to remember this truth: we are here to love and serve other people, as Jesus has loved and served us. Will pushing romantic boundaries, without expressing clear intentions, truly love and serve this other person?
We need to take personal responsibility for stating our intentions.
Following on the heels of the first suggestion is this one: when we want more than a simple friendship, a good litmus test of whether we are loving and serving this other person well is is to ask ourselves…
Have I verbalized my intentions?
One of the ways to lovingly pursue another individual is to clarify and communicate those boundaries we’ve set in our minds. This doesn’t mean we need to have the marriage conversation right up front, but it does mean that we are letting others know our trajectory. Whether we are pursuing another for marriage or just want to see if a romantic relationship could be possible, DTR-ing (Defining the Relationship) is always helpful. Again, stating our intentions clearly puts the other person’s sanity over the dreaded relational ambiguity.
We need to take personal responsibility for setting, clarifying, and sticking to boundaries.
Whether they are emotional boundaries (saying “I love you”, talking about and planning the future, or sharing intimate aspects of our hearts) or physical boundaries (everything from watching movies alone in dimlit dorm rooms or basements to sexually intimate behavior), we need to verbally set those boundaries at the beginning of a romantic relationship. Playing catch-up with relational boundaries rarely, if ever, works.
A good way to begin thinking through boundaries is to ask yourself…
What honors the Lord most in our relationship? What honors my significant other most in this relationship? How can I guard both myself and my girlfriend/boyfriend from sexual sin? How can we avoid avenues that might end up in sexual sin?
Once you start moving towards intentionally dating someone, you will need discernment in developing and sticking to wise boundaries as well, which means it’s always a good idea to bring a couple of wiser, older Christians into these conversations.
Talking about intentions and boundaries might sound archaic, but let’s keep this foundation in front of our eyes: love for neighbor flows from God’s love for us in Jesus (1 John 4:10-11). The ultimate question regarding dating is the question of love and service. We believe that incorporating these aspects into our dating relationships facilitates that love for our brother or sister in Christ, which points them ultimately to God’s sacrificial love for them in Jesus.
We need to realize all men and women are more susceptible to temptation and sexual sin than we know.
Recently, we heard that a mentor advised a girl never to date a guy who struggles or has struggled in the past with pornography. So…
Should we date sexually broken people?
Well, all of us are sexually broken! Whether it’s porn, masturbation, lust, same-sex attraction, or even idolized day-dreaming about the future, all of us are broken because of the Fall. If you choose to date, you will date a sexually broken person.
The real question is . . .
What is my significant other doing about his or her sexual brokenness?
If he is enjoying sin and reveling in it like a lazy river at Six Flags, that’s a problem. If she is daily pursuing faith and repentance with godly accountability, that’s a good thing. Just because your potential significant other struggles with sexual sin does not mean that he or she is not godly, and it certainly shouldn’t mark him or her as un-datable.
This brings up another point. No one in a dating relationship should be forced into talking about their dirty laundry. No one wants these questions posed on the first date: So, do you look at porn? Have you ever had feelings for someone of the same-sex? How sexually broken are you? These details should come out eventually as you build trust with each other and, perhaps, move towards engagement and marriage. But forcing your significant other’s hand when dating is just a bad idea, unless you want him or her to feel cornered, frustrated, guilty, shameful, and fearful.
Better dating begins with godly intentions, boundaries, and understanding that honors and reflects Jesus who loved, served, and sacrificed Himself for us. Our best dating relationships will mirror this fundamental and life-directing truth.
02 Mar 2016
I didn’t struggle with porn at first; I enjoyed porn. Porn promised satisfaction, uncovered secrets, and pretended intimacy. Then at a moment of spiritual crisis, I realized that porn wouldn’t ultimately satisfy me.
But though I saw the truth, living it out in my life was a much harder and longer process, one that took years.
What got me through that struggle? As “Sunday school answer” as it sounds, a Bible verse did. At the time, though I imagined a life free from pornography, it didn’t seem like I could ever get there.
Then I read Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus” (ESV). This verse transformed my mindset.
Before reading Philippians 1:6, I thought that I had little chance of me shifting from the way I was living to the way I should have been living, because whether I succeeded was up to me. But what could I do? I was someone who regularly gave into the temptation to view porn, so the chances of success were slim. Then Philippians 1:6 taught me this: Whether I succeeded in escaping from porn’s grip was not up to me, but up to God. And God always finishes what He begins.
Has God Begun to Work in You?
That was the question I had to ask myself. If God had begun to work in me, then He would finish it. If not, maybe I would never be free.
In my life, God gave me a sign. When I repented of my porn struggle and confessed it, God gave me half a year without porn. I had a decisive (though temporary) break with this sin. Looking back at that time, I knew that God had started something.
But once I fell back into repeatedly viewing porn, I started to doubt. Is God really at work in me? Maybe that’s where you are as you read this. But this is what I realized: The very fact that I was concerned about the question was a sign that God was already at work in my heart.
Completing the Work
That meant something huge. Since God had started His work in me, I knew He would finish it.
Maybe as you read that, you’re thinking, “Well, if God is going to do it, I don’t have to try so hard, right?” But that’s not the attitude that makes sense.
Imagine you’re running a half marathon. You know that you can only win if you run the race faster than you’ve ever run, which seems impossible.
Now imagine that somehow, you know that you’re going to win the race as long as you keep running. What are you going to do? Give up? No! You’ll run even faster because you know you will win!
When you have Philippians 1:6 in hand, you have hope and encouragement to fight pornography and any other sexual sin. If you can see the value of the prize, the promise of success provides more motivation to overcome the power of pornography.
Winning the Prize
What is the prize? On one level, it’s freedom from the shackles of pornography . It’s also freedom from guilt. But most important, the prize you get from quitting porn is intimacy with God.
Right around the time I realized that porn really wasn’t worth it, I remember thinking, in a moment of inspiration, If I don’t get porn out of my life, I can’t draw near to God. I’ve never again felt the force of that thought quite in the same way (inspiration just never seems to last!), but neither have I forgotten it. How could I draw near to God when there was a huge part of my life that I wanted to hide from Him? How could I love God when my heart was wrapped up in pornography?
What about you? In your most sane moments, when sex isn’t anywhere in your mind, wouldn’t you prefer a life of sexual integrity and knowing God closely, to a life of sexual sin and distance from God and others?
Perhaps you don’t feel any desire for God. What then? Well, think about what you’re reading here: Even if you don’t feel a desire for God, maybe you at least wish that you had a desire for God. Maybe you just hope that some day you could wish for a desire for God. That smallest hint of desire might be the first flicker of God’s work in you. Add to that the promise of Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.”
So run the race! Because of Jesus, we know that we will succeed. Fan that flicker of love for God into flames, and one day, you will be free from pornography. Then, on the day of Jesus’ return, we will all be free from sin forever, and we will know God, the deepest desire of our hearts, perfectly and eternally.
What Bible verses have impacted you in your battle for Christ-honoring sexual purity? Do you have verses that remind you of the truths about right and wrong? What verses remind you of why Christ is worth fighting sin? Are there verses that give you hope in the midst of your struggle?
25 Feb 2016
Ever packed your child’s backpack for a trip? Did you remember lunch, a water bottle, towelettes, sunscreen, and extra pair clean socks?
There are many truths Christian parents need to put in their kids’ spiritual backpacks for their journey as disciples of Christ. And giving your kid a solid sexual education from a Christian worldview is crucial backpack material.
I have found grammar, logic, and rhetoric — the three stages of the classical method of education — helpful in the task of discipling my children. The grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages correspond with the childhood years, tween years, and teenage years.
In Sex Talks: Birth to 8, I encouraged you to give your young children grammar building blocks – basic definitions concerning sexuality like body parts, general information on where babies come from, and body safety. But next comes the logic stage in which we are helping our kids discover the how’s and why’s of sexuality.
What’s Going into Your Kid’s Backpack?
The world has its own sexual logic, and tweens, who consume an average of six to seven hours of electronic media per day¹, are getting their backpacks stuffed with secular sexual ideas, values, and narratives. What are you putting in your kids’ spiritual backpack concerning sexuality? Silence? Awkwardness? A minimal glossary of biological terms? Maybe that’s what was put in your backpack when you were growing up, but we need to do better today.
The Logic of Sexuality: How’s and Why’s
The birds and bees facts aren’t enough. Our tweens have inquiring minds. They want to understand the logic of how things work and why things work. We have to start reasoning with them, and one sex talk won’t cut it.
Think of the how’s and why’s as the two sides of each sexual topic that we need our tweens to understand logically.
Take the dreaded “sex talk”: explaining sexual intercourse. The how part deals with biology. The why part deals with theology and morality.
For example, when explaining God’s why’s for marriage, we can point to creation and the gospel. Tweens can understand the creational why behind marriage. In love, God designed two complementary sexual natures so that in marriage a man and woman can become one flesh for life. The love of a one-flesh marriage covenant is far better and more faithful than other sexual relationships.
The gospel why of marriage is that a faithful and sacrificial relationship between husband and wife, especially when sin problems arise but are graciously resolved, points to the logic of Christ’s love for the Church (as in Ephesians 5:22-32). The definition of marriage is not up for grabs. Jesus’ cross-work to save His Bride proves that our marriages ought to be relationships of total commitment and sacrifice, not just for as long as we both feel in love.
Tweenage Topics of Sexuality
The tween years are the season for the heaviest lifting for parents in giving a sexual education. There are so many sexual topics to cover to prepare them for life.
Some topics are positive and others negative. Two positive topics, for example, are marriage, as seen above, and puberty, when we need to help them understand how and why they are changing.
Let me briefly tackle two negative topics, pornography and homosexuality. One avenue for explaining why porn is wrong and harmful is to point out that porn use is selfish. It’s using someone’s image for selfish pleasure. God made sex to bring a man and woman together in self-giving love. A porn user just takes, then exits the screen or deletes the picture, and never shares any care or service for the person who is made in God’s image. That does not live up to God’s design for intimacy on the creation side of marriage or the faithful, sacrificial love pictured in the gospel.
Why can’t two men or two women get married? Many same-sex couples certainly love each other and some of them achieve lifelong monogamous relationships. But God’s design from creation was for two-gendered marriage. And in the logic of the gospel, Jesus is the Groom who is faithful to redeem His Bride, the Church. From a Biblical definition, not necessarily what is practiced and permitted by changing a particular country’s laws, marriage looks like Adam and Eve before the Fall and like Christ and His Church for all eternity.
Helps and Pointers in Covering the Topics
If you are raising a tween on your own without a believing spouse, don’t be alone. Find some trustworthy parents and church leaders to mentor and coach you in reaching your tween and packing that backpack.
You need to answer your kid’s questions, even about the negative topics, and even if they don’t voice questions about these sexual topics. But here’s a pointer: as you bring out the theological reasons for why something is sexually broken and harmful, be careful not to be moralistic or use scare tactics.
Some parents use STD descriptions to scare their kids into chastity. Some parents warn kids about what porn does to the brain.Yet as Christian parents, we must value our child knowing Christ as much as protecting their bodies and brains.
The why’s give us an opportunity to go deeper than simple morality to pointing our children to their relationship with Jesus and with others. And remember, in parenting sexually healthy kids, the highest goal is their growing in faith, repentance, and love.
05 Feb 2016
“Judge not, lest ye be judged!”
Matthew 7:1 is the Bible verse most commonly used to peg contemporary Christians as hypocrites. Those who claim to follow Jesus pass judgment on others as “sinners,” while Jesus stands by chiding anyone who judges.
When we hear this argument made by other students on our campus, how can we respond?
What Does It Mean?
Look at Matthew 7:1-5:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Jesus’ words are somewhat difficult to understand. But perhaps we can make sense of them through an example.
Imagine if the Christian student group on your campus were to condemn homosexual behavior publicly, but then the group made excuses when two students were having premarital sex. Something would be seriously wrong. The group would be condemned by their own standard if they were judged the way they judge others.
In the same way, one of the biggest mistakes we can make as Christians is spending our time thinking about the sins of people “out there,” while we turn a blind eye to the sin “in here,” in our hearts. This is Jesus’ first point: Remember that you will be judged by the same standard by which you judge others.
But does Jesus mean to say that we shouldn’t judge others at all? Take a look at the story of the log and the speck. What is Jesus’ point? If Jesus’ point were that we shouldn’t judge at all, He would say that you shouldn’t take the speck out of your brother’s eye, ever. But that’s not His point, and it wouldn’t make sense if it were. Taking the speck out of your friend’s eye is a kindness to him.
Jesus’ point, as before, is that we will only be able to see clearly to judge our brother (in a good way) if we first examine ourselves to make sure we aren’t hypocrites.
Judging Actions, Not Condemning People
There’s another careful distinction to make when it comes to judging. While we judge people’s actions, we do not condemn people.
The easiest way to understand this is to think about how Jesus treats us. Jesus clearly condemns all sin, all the actions we do that show that we love ourselves more than Him. But Jesus doesn’t condemn us – that’s the point of the gospel! Instead of condemning us for our sins, Jesus forgives our sins.
But forgiveness doesn’t mean that Jesus stops judging that our actions are wrong. They are! That’s why our forgiveness cost His life! But forgiveness does let us escape from condemnation for our sins. Jesus still judges our sins as wrong, but He doesn’t condemn us for them.
The same is true for other people, even if they aren’t Christians. Jesus offers forgiveness to all, just as we should tell all people about the gospel. When we bear witness to the truth that certain actions are sinful, we are judging people’s actions, but we aren’t condemning them. In fact, judging people’s actions is the basis for offering them the gospel, the way they can escape condemnation! If we don’t judge others’ sin, how can we tell them they need forgiveness of sin?
What Does It Mean For Us?
What does this mean for Christians?
- Even if someone’s behavior is wrong, we cannot condemn the person because we’re in the same boat! We’ve done what is wrong, but Christ forgave us. That person can be forgiven too by trusting in Jesus! He or she can’t be written off as a “reprobate” simply because of a particular sin.
- When we talk to people about their actions or others’ being wrong, we should always keep in mind, and probably mention, that the gospel offers forgiveness for their sin. We are often afraid to share the gospel with people, because many people don’t respect religious views. But if we don’t share the gospel, the only thing others will know about Christians is what we’re against.
- The sins we should be most concerned about are our own, not others’. If we don’t take care of our own sins, not only will people ignore us when we talk about others’ sins, we may actually find ourselves in the place of the Pharisees, outside of the Kingdom of repentance and faith in Jesus.
- We must show love to others as we bear witness about the truth. It can be easy to think that sharing truth is in conflict with loving people. Most of us are tempted to do only one or the other. But in fact, speaking the truth is an act of love, and love requires speaking the truth. When we come to others with Christ-like love, we don’t bash people over the head with truth, but neither do we paper over people’s sin.
Our sin is dangerous, and God does judge it as evil. But we must remember in our own lives, and in the lives of those to whom we speak, that God does not condemn a sinner who trusts in Jesus. Though our sin is worthy of judgment, and even condemnation, God offers forgiveness to us, and to all who will believe.
03 Feb 2016
In this blog series called “Sex Talks”, parents of younger kids may question when they should start talking about sex with their young children. Did you realize that you’re already having talks about sexuality with your child?
We parents naturally speak and model our theology and worldview of sexuality in all the “as you go” moments of living with our kids. From bath time to times at the pool, we are already talking about babies, body parts, gender, singleness, and marriage by what we say and don’t say. The question is, how can we intentionally frame these teachable moments with God and the gospel?
As we think through these moments, we can capitalize on our kids’ developmental stages. Birth to age eight corresponds to the grammar stage. During this stage, we can give our children basic sexual grammar with words, definitions, and concepts from a Christian worldview. Later blogs will focus on tweens in the logic stage and teens in the rhetoric stage.
Here are two questions to guide you as you teach your children about God’s positive design for our sexuality.
- What topics does my child need to know about sex and sexuality between birth and eight years old?
- How can I teach my child that God loves them; that God’s design for sexuality is good and trustworthy; and, though sexual sin harms us, God forgives and restores us in Christ?
Bathtime is a golden opportunity to lay down sexual grammar. While you may have kiddy names for private parts, you can also introduce more official terms. “God gave you a wee-wee for making pee-pee. Did you know that Dr. Smith calls that your penis? That’s the medical word for it.” (I never thought I’d be blogging about this, by the way.) This is a light, happy time of playing with soap suds and toy boats while salting in both God-talk about sexuality and medical terms that your child may hear at kindergarten.
And it can also be an opportunity to build his positive body image. “God loved you so much that he made you a boy. And He loves your little sister so much that He made her a girl. He makes us all different sizes and shapes and colors, but the Lord makes us all male or female in His image so that we can know and love Him.” This is an example of when Christian parents can push against the world’s desire to promote a genderless society.
A pool time outing can also be a great opportunity to talk about both modesty and body safety. You could pose the question, “Is it ever ok to touch someone else’s private parts? No, we want to respect other people, their bodies, and their modesty. So you shouldn’t touch other people on the parts where their swimsuits cover or let people touch you where your swimsuit covers. Did you know that God gave Adam and Eve their first set of clothes? So the Lord wants us to be modest and to touch others appropriately.”
Where Do Babies Come From?
What’s your answer to “Where do babies come from?” Some young children don’t ask sexuality questions. Others are very inquisitive. I have four kids. Three didn’t ask questions, and the other actually asked for and got a microscope for Christmas when she was eight! I recommend you practice your answer to this question. If your child does not verbalize this question, you still need to teach them. Bringing up this conversation helps establish you as their go-to authority for sexual knowledge.
I recommend giving two different answers. Early on, most little kids are satisfied with, “God makes babies come from mommy’s tummy.” Then, around age six or so, I’d say, “God made it so that it takes a mommy and a daddy to have a baby.” This later answer begs the question, “Why does it take a mommy and a daddy?”
Here’s a positive way to address the question: “Just like in the Garden of Eden, God gave Eve to be Adam’s wife, and He told them to be fruitful and multiply. That means that He gave them a wonderful way for the man’s body to come together with the woman’s body so that they could have a baby. It’s a special kind of hug, called sex. God is very happy when husbands and wives love one another and have babies that they can love and raise to be grown-ups.” And if your child asks, “What is this special hug, and can I have this special hug now?” you can respond with, “No, sweetheart/son. That’s for when you get married. Right now, you can enjoy being a little girl/boy!”
We want our children to know that they can ask any question and that we are excited for them to come to us with questions. We want to help them discover all of God’s good gifts concerning sexuality and sex. It’s important that we are very positive and inviting. Kids will pick up on any tense, negative, or shaming vibes.
I highly recommend Mary Flo Ridley’s book/DVD combo, Simple Truths, and Stan and Brenna Jones’ How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex and the attending four age-graded books for kids. Seize the opportunity to begin talking about sexuality in this grammar stage with your young children. We aren’t looking for long discourses here. We are just trying to give them vocabulary and informational building blocks that we’ll use in future sex talks in their tween and teen years.
04 Jan 2016
This week, we want to highlight an article from our friends over at Rooted: “How Do I Talk to My Kids About Homosexuality”. Check it out! Rooted exists to transform student ministry by fostering grace-driven and cross-centered leaders through rich theological and contextual engagement.