27 Jun 2016
Here we are…again. A student looks at you hopelessly and says, “I just can’t stop masturbating. I don’t know what’s wrong with me!” Despite the temptation to throw up our hands and respond in frustration or exasperation, in our first post we offered an introduction in helping this student: draw near both in commonality and in advocacy. If you missed part one, check it out HERE.
Now, what are some possible next steps we can consider to help a student who is habitually enslaved by masturbation?
Make sure their access to porn has been cut off.
Masturbation is often tied to pornography. If you’ve already addressed the issue of pornography with your student, come back around to it. Students, like all of us, are desperate to find solutions for life’s sufferings, so they will many times find ways around their internet blockers and accountability structures and simply not tell you about it. Why? Because, despite a student’s honesty in the past, pornography, by its very nature, perpetuates shameful silence and isolation.
A student’s ongoing issue with masturbation may be clueing you into their ongoing struggle with pornography. Remind them of your love for them, remind them of Jesus, and then ask, What kind of role is pornography playing in your life right now? Is there a possible link there? This might reveal further actions they need to take regarding filtering or accountability software. It might bring up other feelings such as loneliness, longing for control, or a desperate desire for pleasure. As these situations and feelings rise to the surface, they provide new discipleship content for you to explore together.
Most likely, however, there is more going on than meets the proverbial eye, so…
Ask whether enemies are digging underneath another wall.
Imagine that sin and temptation are like an army trying to overrun the castle of our “New Man”. If students are in Christ, they are New Creations (1 Corinthians 5:17) assaulted by old desires (Galatians 5:16). We can easily spend our time fortifying sections of the wall where we know a specific enemy will attack. If a student finds a link between masturbation and pornography, we can diligently help him or her with internet blockers and accountability software. If the student struggles with intense feelings of loneliness, we might suggest making it a habit to call a friend in the midst of temptation.
Focusing on a section of the wall to fortify it is not a terrible plan! But there’s a subtle problem: we can be so concerned with a single section of the wall that we might not realize another enemy digging quietly underneath another part of it.
Every bit of the wall needs to be fortified. While we certainly need to address it, masturbation isn’t the only issue in students’ lives. But for anyone who struggles with sexual sin, this can seem like THE issue to focus on. Students feel shameful and dirty, so it might appear to them that the issue of masturbation needs to be front and center, every day, in the fight against sin.
And while we want to affirm the necessity of addressing and dealing with masturbation, we also don’t want this student to forget that they are protecting the entire New Man castle, not simply a single section of the wall.
In other words, we are all prone to focus on those sins which we feel are the most “horrible” while, at the same time, neglecting or even excusing those sins we feel are minor. Here is the main point of learning to see the entire wall: we must see that sin feeds into sin, all of which works to harden our hearts towards our God.
A student’s unsubmissive relationship with a parent can work to harden her heart over time, making her more susceptible to the temptation to masturbate–and visa versa! What we want to do is to help students gain a proper understanding of their entire lives as ones to be submitted under Jesus.
First, for discouraged students, we want to help them begin to see that masturbation, while damaging to both their relationships with God and others, is not the “be-all-to-end-all” sin.
Second, a hyper-focus on any sin is always a hyper-focus to the exclusion of others. We want to broaden students’ knowledge of and need for repentance in all areas of their lives, rather than obsessing over a single area. We might address this by asking…
What are some other areas of struggle for you?
How are your relationships with your family and friends?
Are there other areas, other beliefs, other fears in your life right now that are difficult for you?
In general, how are you doing with your walk with the Lord?
As students begin to see their need for Jesus in every area of their lives, they will begin to long for, pray to, and rely on Him in deeper and more meaningful ways. Christ paid for every sin with which a Christian might struggle: masturbation is certainly not outside of the cleansing power of His blood. And as students explore more and more of where they fall short in holiness, they will begin to see that masturbation is not an isolated experience from the rest of their lives but is an integrated part of the whole of their Christian life. Ultimately, they will come to understand that, while sin feeds into other sin, Jesus is Faithful Physician over all.
20 Jun 2016
A recent article entitled “Sexual Freelancing in the Gig Economy” appeared in the New York Times. Its premise is this: economics influences dating. The fact that we prefer a Netflix binge nowadays to the Leave-It-To-Beaver date night means that our economic situation has, yet again, shaped us.
And here’s where things get interesting: the article argues that dating simply “applies the logic of capitalism to courtship. On the dating market, everyone competes for him or herself.” Hold on. Is this really the way we view dating? Honestly, I think we have to own it: We do, in fact, tend to treat people as objects instead of people. But is this the way it should be?
What’s more, the article goes on to state,
The generation of Americans that came of age around the time of the 2008 financial crisis has been told constantly that we must be ‘flexible’ and ‘adaptable.’ Is it so surprising that we have turned into sexual freelancers? Many of us treat relationships like unpaid internships: We cannot expect them to lead to anything long-term, so we use them to get experience. If we look sharp, we might get a free lunch.
If the article is right, in spite of the fact that humanity has always thought of people as objects to be used, students might be growing up in a world that intensifies this attitude. But we shouldn’t be surprised. Think about the porn epidemic. Think about the hookup culture. Our own use of Instagram might even reflect this mindset of consumeristic relationships!
But this isn’t simply an issue with dating. We tend to treat everyone in this manner. So, as ministers of God’s children, we need to confront a worldly attitude that promotes using other people, and that includes taking each other seriously.
Take Each Other Seriously
We must help ourselves and our students to take each other seriously. People are not commodities to be used or bought for our pleasure. They are not to be invested in for the simple return they may yield to us. As always, C.S. Lewis says it well at the end of his sermon, The Weight of Glory:
There are no ordinary people . . . it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously — no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love. . .
Do you see what he’s getting at? We Snapchat with immortals. Every friend on Facebook will one day be everlastingly transformed into glorious or horrendous beings. And this means that, even in the dating realm, we are to take each other seriously. And part of what it means to take each other seriously is to actually love one another instead of using and exploiting each other for our own profit.
Jesus’ words are hard to hear: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25); “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13); and “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
In the topsy-turvy ethic of the Kingdom, true life on this planet looks more like losing an investment than gaining a profit. Love looks more like the cross than the crown. Meaningful relationships look more like the servant who washes feet rather than the master whose feet get washed.
In other words . . .
Meaningful Relationships Are Costly
We need to teach our students that meaningful relationships cost time. In an age of instant gratification and constant stimulation, simply finding the time to talk meaningfully about life is rare; it’s commonplace to see couples at restaurants perusing their Facebook and Twitter feeds. But a meaningful relationship will cost an hour here and there, or thirty minutes when you feel you need to be doing something else. And it must cost a social media-less dinner.
Meaningful relationships also cost the facade. The thing about the freelance mentality of relationships in our culture is that this constant shopping around helps us avoid the true vulnerability that comes with meaningful relationships where we are both known and loved, not simply for our accomplishments but for our failures as well. In fact, social media plays to the maintenance of our facades, but meaningful relationships will cost them.
Meaningful relationships demand the vulnerability and honesty that come from living out of the security of our identity in Christ. In Christ, we are free to demolish our facades. We don’t have to pretend to be someone we’re not. The safety that Christ brings allows us to say “I’m not okay” to our neighbor. This vulnerability is crucial for human flourishing, because vulnerability pushes us toward the Kingdom. It helps us to lean into Jesus and into the identity we have been provided in Him. It also causes us to link arms with our neighbor and say, “Me too. Let’s walk this road together”.
Of course, then, meaningful relationships cost ourselves. I’m not saying that we should give ourselves away to every Jack and Jill on the street, but maybe sooner, rather than later, we ought to be thinking, How can I intentionally sacrifice for and serve this other person? How can I serve others in the lunchroom, on the football field, in the school hallway, on social media?
Let’s reorient ourselves and our students around the ethic of the Kingdom. We seek the good of others because He gave Himself away for us (1 John 4:10-11). We give ourselves away in love and service because we get Christ (Philippians 3:8-11) — because we ultimately already have Christ.
Model it for Students
How do we, then, teach and model the concept of taking each other seriously for our students? A couple of things come to mind. . .
Ask students tough questions. Ask them how life really is. Ask them about their doubts and worries. Ask them about their functional view of God, themselves, and others. Ask them to explain further when they talk about life’s hardships or how happy they are. Ultimately, ask them questions to let them know that you take both them and God seriously.
Put away the phone. When meeting up with students, let’s ditch our phones. Turn them on vibrate and don’t answer them unless it’s our spouse. Let’s not ever check social media when we are engaging with students. Let’s be present. Let’s be with them.
Be vulnerable. When talking about how things really are, while still being wise about how much we share, let’s open up about our own doubts, fears, and failures. Let’s let them know that we are no more a super-Christian than they are.
Taking each other seriously means that we really listen to, learn from, sacrifice for, ask the hard questions of, and pray for the students that come into our paths. It is to truly and thoughtfully help each other towards Jesus.
What is the prevalent view of people we are passing on to students? Does it look more like the gig-relationship mindset that pervades our culture? Or does it look more like Jesus, who takes us and our lives seriously from the outset, who served us that we might be washed, and who sacrificed Himself that we might have life in Him?
23 May 2016
This student is stuck. You’ve made progress in helping him with his struggle. You’ve uncovered things within him that can be reoriented and repented of: misplaced desires, sinful beliefs, and the like. Together, you’ve talked through ways he can avoid it and flee to Jesus. But, yet again, this student looks up at you and says, “I just don’t understand it. Why can’t I stop masturbating?”
What can you see in their eyes? Helplessness? Desperation? Despair?
Across from you is sitting a weak, wounded Christian, one who has fallen asleep and failed to watch and pray…again. What can you say? Where can you go?
Perhaps one of the most natural responses to a student’s recurring sin is frustration. Godly frustration at sin is good, but our frustration is mixed at best.
Why can’t they just stop this?
Seriously? They’ve messed up again?
Believers can get stuck. As student ministers, we have been stuck in sin. So, perhaps we first need to counteract our tendencies towards frustration and exacerbation. How about we start here: Let’s draw near to students to help, empathize, and re-commit to walking with them.
Here are two ways we can draw near to them:
Draw Near In Understanding
Let’s draw near in understanding. Let’s remember what it feels like to fight sin, time and again, with little or no “success”. Let’s remember how persistent our own sin is. Let’s remember what despair feels like. And then, let’s speak.
Sin is crafty, friend. It comes back time and time again. It’s the same in my life.
I have felt trapped and hopeless before. What does it feel like for you?
In the confusion and frustration that sexual sin tends to produce, we can help students see that we relate to and understand the struggle they walk in.
We can also re-acquaint ourselves with the life of our student. Perhaps there have been some new pressures at school. Maybe some new experiences or feelings have emerged in recent weeks.
Draw Near In Advocacy
After drawing near in understanding, let’s draw near in advocacy. Of course, Jesus is our primary Advocate: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Christ remains an ever-present, patient, and persistent advocate on our behalf in the presence of the Father.
John clearly pushes his readers to keep the commandments of God (v. 3-4), but the first thing he tells those who find themselves in sin is that they have an Advocate in the person of Jesus Christ.
Though Christ is the primary Advocate of His people, we, as His followers, are advocates of our students as well! We need to let our students know both that Jesus is committed to them and that we, in His name, are committed to helping them through their sexual sin as well. Let’s spend our time praying and pleading for our students’ holiness in this area, making it a point to express our commitment to them.
Do the students who sit across from us know that they have an advocate in Jesus? And do they know they have an advocate with us?
Let me say to you, even though this is hard, we are going to walk through this together.
Christ is, right now, interceding for you and is a helper for you.
Let’s just stop and pray together and ask Him for help.
When fighting a sin that has taken hold of a student’s life for so long in such a private manner, I want to always question my gut reaction to frustration. Oftentimes, students already feel alone, defeated, and perhaps abandoned.
Let’s draw near to students instead of pulling away, and in that moment, come back to the common ground we have. Together, let’s approach our Advocate, who suffered, died, and rose that we might find the strength to fight all sins, including the sin of masturbation.
This is the first in a series of blog posts titled Masturbation: When Students Are Stuck.
Check out Part 2 HERE.”Do the students who sit across from us know that they have an advocate in Jesus?”
28 Apr 2016
Choosing a good student ministry curriculum on sexuality is tricky business, simply because moralism is the most popular way of teaching students about sexuality. It sounds like this: “Just run away like Joseph! Pop your wrist with a rubber band to keep the bad thoughts away. Be holy in your sexuality because it’s good to be holy! Bounce those eyes.”
But simple morality never saved anyone.
The curriculum that we ought to use, however, needs to speak as the Scriptures do. The Scriptures primarily motivate believers to godliness through the saving and gracious work of God in behalf of sinners and the resultant identity they have in Jesus. This is an example of the imperative/indicative framework from the last post.
What are some other things we need to be aware of when choosing a curriculum?
Beware of Need Theology
A disturbing strand of “need” theology, imported largely from pop psychology, has leaked into mainstream Christian literature. “Need” theology is couched in language like, “Let’s discover how to fulfill and meet our sexual needs in a good, godly way.” The culture loudly proclaims that a life without sex is no life at all. The issue is this: the Bible rarely speaks this way. And when it does speak of needs, those needs do not include sexual things.
Take, for instance, Matthew 6:25-33. Jesus tells us not to be anxious about our lives: what we will drink or eat, our bodies, or our clothing (6:25, 31). He then says, “For the Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (v. 32). Here, needs are related to physical life.
But that’s not the whole picture: humans possess a life that is more than physical. Our lives are spiritual as well. Therefore, because we are all naturally spiritually dead (Ephesians 1:1-3) we also need the gifts of God to bring us alive spiritually (Ephesians 2:1-10).
But sexual needs do not exist in Scripture! Sex is not like food or clothing. Contrary to the culture, we can actually live without it. Psychology can be extremely beneficial, but we need to filter pop psychology through a Biblical lens, keeping the good and Scriptural while discarding the harmful. Biblically, some perceived “needs” are better repented of than fulfilled. After all, seeing ourselves as need machines tends to reduce people to objects, rather than people to be loved and served.
Look for Bible Language
The Bible is overwhelmingly unified in how it speaks about sexual matters; it does so in terms of sin, repentance, faith, and union with Christ. Post-fall, our sexuality is naturally broken. If sin, repentance, and faith are not mentioned repeatedly in a curriculum, that’s a problem.
But we can also use our sexuality for the glory of God! Only through Jesus, however, can this happen. So, curricula need to speak about how students are united to Christ, about how, through the empowering of the Spirit and their dependence upon Jesus and His work in them, they can actually follow Him.
Notice the flow of Colossians 3:1-3: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
If students are believers, they have died to sin in Christ and have been raised with Him in newness of life. In light of this drastic break with their old life, students are to fix their eyes on heavenly things every day. It’s the imperative/indicative again!
Beware of the “Practical”
In studies for youth on sexuality, it is commonplace to emphasize the “practical” over the theological. There seems to be a stream of thought out there which perceives theological truths as irrelevant to sexual issues. This is a false dichotomy masquerading as wisdom.
We can never divorce the “practical” from the theological because the “practical” is always packed with theology, good or bad. In fact, “practical” suggestions tend to be nothing more than rehashed moralism. Only good, “practical” suggestions grounded in rich, theological truths avoid moralism.
Look for the [Distinctly] Christian
Here’s the bottom line: if a Muslim or Buddhist could walk through the curriculum and accept it wholesale, then something is wrong. I was reviewing a “Christian” small group study the other day, and in its entire four sessions of teaching, Jesus was mentioned one time. That’s a serious problem. It seems that many studies for youth fear that theology is just too abstract, so they will rely heavily on “practical” suggestions.
Talking about Christ and His work, the “theological”, only remains abstract when it isn’t connected to the details of students’ lives. But to jettison the theological, thinking that in doing so we are being helpful, is to actually give students an un-Christian way of life, a life divorced from the truths which can sustain them day in and day out.
We should be picky about our curriculum because we should be picky about what we’re feeding and teaching our students. Happy hunting for that great curriculum! Here’s one we enjoy: True Love Project: How the Gospel Defines Your Purity. Check it out here!
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.
21 Mar 2016
When I worked in student ministry, I constantly had questions regarding the best curriculum to use with my students. And, having sifted through many a small group study for The Student Outreach, I thought I would toss out some trends I’ve seen in curricula that desire to teach students about biblical sexuality.
There are numerous studies out there; some are good, and some are not so good. But at the end of this two-post series, I do want to offer you some resources that we have found profitable.
Some of us in youth ministry will even be lone-rangering it and putting together our own curriculum! So, whether you’re looking for a curriculum or about to create your own, let’s navigate some things we should be aware of and things we should look for when teaching our students about sex and sexuality.
Beware of Joseph-izing
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the Joseph/Mrs. Potiphar story rehashed to give students a simple, moral template for avoiding sexual sin. And hope dies within me every time I hear that story treated as such. Running from sexual sin is just not that easy. And running from sin also isn’t enough. It never has been. Furthermore, the Bible is not foremost a giant character study–Be like Joseph! Don’t be adulterer like David! It is primarily a road map to Jesus.
Any curriculum that gives simple answers like, “Run away. Pop your wrist with a rubber band. Just bounce those eyes,” and calls it a day is dangerous. Plain and simple. Running is fine, but if our students aren’t running to Jesus by faith and repentance, they are running right into the arms of another idol and sin, be it sexual or not. In other words, simple morality is never the end game. If you see curriculums whose sole method is to moralize biblical stories, beware and run away (like Joseph)!
I’m not saying that character studies have no place in the Christian life. But character studies divorced from the power of Christ’s person and work for us will render students incapacitated, as students are left without the strength, motivation, and hope to use their sexuality in godly ways.
Look for the Imperative/Indicative Framework
Rather than moralizing, we should look for a curriculum that mirrors the Scriptural model of grounding obedience in the salvation and good news of our God. The giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 provides the framework for how the Scriptures primarily talk about the do’s of the Christian life. The commandments themselves are not simply thrown out there for the people to latch onto; they are grounded in the saving work of God: “‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me…” (Exodus 20:2-3).
Our curriculums, then, should primarily ground the “you should do’s” (imperative) in “this is who you are in Christ because of His work for you” (indicative). There are times for secondary motivations such as coming judgment or because not sleeping around will actually yield an STD-free life, but a nuanced curriculum will mirror the primary motivations of Scripture, namely God’s saving work for His people and the resulting identity His people have in Him.
Here are some further Scriptural examples of this model:
For freedom Christ has set us free [indicative]; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery [imperative].
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth [imperative]. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God [indicative].
This might seem so elemental, but most curricula I’ve seen for students on sexuality fall into the method of “do this” because it’s good and it’s God’s desire for us, never mentioning the strongest motivation to use our sexuality in God-honoring ways: the truth of Jesus Christ and our union with Him. In finding a sustainable motivation for actually using our sexuality in God-honoring ways, our lives must find in Him the life, encouragement, hope, and strength we need to run from our sin and ultimately run to our God.
Are there times when the Scriptures tell us to copy an example of a saint or even God Himself? Yes! But the major, primary motivations in the Word for pursuing holiness have to do with God’s saving activity and the resulting identity we have in Him.
We’ve started here with moralism because it’s so prevalent, but in the next post, I want to offer some more things to be on the lookout for when choosing or writing a curriculum. Choosing a study that will strengthen and aid our students in the fight to use their sexuality in God-honoring ways is an important task. May God guide us as we seek out such a curriculum!
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.
08 Mar 2016
Dirty and defiled. Outsider. All eyes on you.
These words are the collective experience of a student’s life in shame’s prison. It’s the pointing and laughing during elementary school. It’s the piercing, judgmental gazes of junior high and high school students. Shame is the prison of other people’s glances.
Years ago, as I sat petrified in my sin, a trusted mentor looked at me and offered some words that changed me. He said, “You know that Jesus didn’t just die for your sins. He died for your shame as well.” I sat in silence as I pieced together just what he was saying to me. What did Jesus have to do with my feelings of being an outsider, of being exposed, of being defiled?
In student ministry, shame permeates everything, especially for students who have struggled and sinned sexually. As students navigate the unstable, judgmental halls of junior high and high school, shame is the vernacular of their experience, and sexual sin brings a wholly different aspect of shame to the lives of those who have felt its grasp.
For students who can’t believe they just sent that inappropriate picture over the phone, they might desperately wonder, who knows what I just did? Who knows but isn’t saying anything? How can I ever show my face again? Or what about the student who’s been sexually sinned against by another: I’m damaged goods. Who knows about what happened to me? Who will find out?
The good news is that God has not left us or our students alone in our shame. Some wonderful passages in the Scriptures let us into this concept of Christ being shamed on our behalf, and these can help both lift the darkness and extinguish the spotlight that hangs over our students’ heads.
I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities
And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.
Jesus endured the undignifying gazes, the scorn, and the reproach of His fellow man that students might be freed from shame’s paralyzing prison. And, over time, even the most shame-ridden student can find solace and comfort in the One who knows the bitterness of shame and can find in His triumphant victory the power, identity, and freedom to live openly and unashamedly.
Because of Christ’s work, students need not fear the shame that sin brings. Shame no longer clings to them like filthy robes. Right now, students who place their hope in Jesus are clothed in His righteousness, in all of its beauty and splendor (2 Corinthians 5:21). We can join our students in proclaiming these simple truths: We are washed. We are children. We are saints.
If students listen to the voice of shame, they give into the voice of a lie that whispers, “You are other. You are an outsider. You don’t belong.” But our Father gives students the truth: “You do belong. You are mine.”
Shame would rip away from students the dignity bestowed upon them in the name of Christ. But for students who have trusted in Jesus, their dignity is preserved in Him as they themselves bear His name and righteousness and, one day, will fully bear His glory in purity and holiness. No matter if students sin or are sinned against sexually, their Saviour would have them live in community and light, not in isolation and darkness.
When ministering to students, sin and repentance tend to be my guiding principles. I forget, though, that shame wields much power over both us and our students.
If students come to you in desperation because they are gripped by things like pornography, confusion about their gender, or same-sex attraction, or if they reveal a sexual experience that happened to them, know that shame has probably closed its prison bars around them.
Let’s make an effort this week to connect the dots for a student or two – or perhaps for the whole student ministry!—between the shaming of Christ on their behalf and the beautiful truth that students need no longer hide for fear of shame. It might be just as simple as saying the words that were said to me: “Students, you know that Jesus didn’t just die for your sins. He died for your shame as well.”
Amen and amen.
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.