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!
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!
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.
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.
01 Feb 2016
We can all relate to the blockbuster action hero Jason Bourne. In his first movie, The Bourne Identity, our hero wakes up plagued with a mean case of amnesia. He then spends all of his subsequent adventures trying to piece together an answer to a simple question: Who is Jason Bourne?
Like Bourne, one of the most basic questions our students are asking is, Who am I? The teenage years of life are, above all, years of questioning and discovering who we are and who we will be for the rest of our lives. And, simply put, our culture, our sin, and the Enemy want us to believe that our identity is determined by our sins and struggles. Thief. Murderer. Adulterer. Sex addict. Identities abound.
From the battle with pornography to sexting and masturbation, our students can be desperately confused. Some love Jesus and want to follow Him, but strong, unrelenting sin tendencies within them cause them to question the very core of who they are.
How do we help students think about sin, particularly sexual sin, in relationship to their identity?
For the believer, perhaps the most confusing of these struggles is that of same-sex attraction. Our culture says, “If you experience same-sex attraction, you’re gay. It’s okay! Accept it. Embrace it. Love it! It’s who you are.” But, on the other hand, the Church has oftentimes said, “You’re not born this way. You can choose differently.”
But the truth is much more complex than a churchy one-liner. In fact, none of us lined up at the cosmic Burger King to “have it our way” and choose our particular struggles. A lot of our students who wrestle with SSA want to change! Many times they are stuck between the two competing messages of the church (“just stop it”) and the world (“just embrace it”), in a grey area where their identities hang in the balance.
Students, like all of us, wonder:
Who am I? Am I defined by my intense, fallen desires? Am I defined by the temptations that keep assaulting me?
Because of the pervasive nature of sexual temptation, students can begin to feel like these struggles define them. Their temptations can feel like an unwelcome, hyper-sexed house-guest that will never leave. Put simply, sexual sin always tempts us to believe in a false identity.
What Does the Bible Say?
Check this out: “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). In other words, those who accept and embrace their sins and struggles as their identity have no stake in the glorious future of the Kingdom. That’s a warning both to our students and to ourselves.
But Paul goes on: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v. 11, emphasis added). For those who have trusted in Jesus, their identity is washed, sanctified, and justified, all in the name of Christ and because of His Spirit’s work.
Homosexuals and adulterers are both on the Paul’s list. All of us fit into one of those two categories, because all of us are sexually broken in some way. We might not imagine ourselves as adulterers, but we all have used our sexuality against our God in ways that completely reject him. Ultimately, Paul writes to us all who claim the name of Jesus. He tells us that our sins and fallen tendencies no longer define us; Jesus does.
The warnings and exhortations are clear: We should not embrace our struggles, our temptations, or our sins as our identity. We’ve got something better in Jesus.
Identity in Student Ministry
Students are desperately searching for their identities. Because we all wrestle with the persistent nature of our sin, we should be diligent to remind each other, “We are not defined by our sins and temptations. We are washed, sanctified, and justified. We are children of the living God in the name of Jesus Christ.” That’s who we are. Now. Forever.
Though we continue to be plagued by that unwelcome, hyper-sexed houseguest, God loves us, defines us, keeps us, and is committed to bringing us into glory with Himself. Our identity in Him is secure: we are beloved, we are children, we are saved.
If students buy into and adopt identities not given to them by their Father in Christ, they cheapen the true identity they actually have in Him, thus depriving themselves of a strong motivation to continue in the fight against sin: if they are trusting in Jesus, they are more secure than their temptations would have them to believe. They are His, and no struggle can change that.
A student and I were recently talking about his sexual issues. As we talked, his face lit up while the tension lifted from his shoulders. I asked him what he was thinking, and he continued to smile as he said, “It’s just good news that God doesn’t define me by my sin.” Amen. We are not what we struggle with or what we feel. We are who God says we are. It’s just that simple, and it’s such good news.
14 Jan 2016
It’s easy to go on idol hunts. Do you know what I mean? A student might be sitting in front of me, talking about how hard life has been for him, how sexual sin just keeps dominating him, and I’m on the prowl! I’m hanging on to every word, thinking, That smells like worship! Is that an idol!?
To be an idol-maker is to be a sinner. And for many of us, the sinner category is the only category out of which we operate when we minister to students. I’ll confess: I tend to love both quick fixes and to be the “fixer” of people. And when I’m operating from the sinner category, it’s easy to call students to repentance and expect quick change.
But simply emphasizing this category results in conversations like these:
“Dude, repent.You just need to stop this. It’s destroying you.”
It often results in impatience and frustration inside of me and the same in the student I’m trying to help. But, like all emphases, the category of “sinner” doesn’t give us the total picture. God gives us another category, one that nuances and deepens our ministry to students.
Sufferers. Not Just Sinners.
The Bible tells us that our students are not simply sinners; they are sufferers as well. In fact, the Scriptures make suffering a stipulation for sharing in the coming glory of Christ: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, their heirs—fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him,” (Romans 8:16-17).
Paul says, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” (Phil. 1:29). Doesn’t a large part of our suffering as believers have to do with the “passions of the flesh” that “wage war” against our souls (1 Peter 2:11)?
All of us are walking battlegrounds, hosts to the war between flesh and spirit. As new creations in Christ, we bear the scars. The very presence of the “old man” waging war against our new selves means that we are sufferers.
What are some sufferings that students might face? For a student who struggles with same-sex attraction, her gifts and personality might not match up to the particular cultural group in which she lives. Feelings of isolation, shame, and being out of place might result from not matching up to a particular ideal of what it means to be a woman.
She didn’t choose her gifts! And she didn’t choose to have a peer or parent say, “What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you like to do X like the other girls?” Her gifts not matching up to cultural norms or those comments made by peers or parents are not sins on her part; they are her sufferings.
For a student who struggles with pornography, his home life might be an absolute mess. His mom and dad might constantly fight. Perhaps he perceives porn as his only escape and refuge from life’s storms. He didn’t choose his home life! It is a part of his sufferings.
What Does This Category Do?
While students who struggle sexually need to hear the call to repentance that comes from the sinner category, they also need the compassion, empathy, patience, and oftentimes silence that come from the sufferer category.
The way we talk to a robber and the way we talk to someone who has been robbed differ drastically. We would usually be stern with the robber. But how would we speak to the one who has been robbed? We would be gentle. We would be compassionate and empathetic. We would be patient as they work through feelings of insecurity and fear. We might simply be quiet, letting our presence do the talking. As sexual sin rears its head, students, many of whom are new creations in Christ, are simultaneously the ones robbing themselves and the ones being robbed of the joy that Christ brings.
Sometimes we need a firm hand to guide us. Other times we need a gentle hand to sustain us. Sometimes we need to hear about our need to rest in our identity in Christ. Other times we need to be told to pick up our tools and start working. The truths we give to students shift depending on the situation.
The category of sufferer provides our students with the truth that, though they sin, they are not defined by their sins. They can cry out to the Lord for help in the moment as one who is being assaulted by sin and temptation. This category also helps students draw near to the Lord who knows what it is like to suffer. He willingly suffered in their place and is with them now in the valley.
We might not operate out of it every time, but when students are so beaten down and broken over their sexual sin that they can’t find the strength to move, this can be a useful tool. This category will help students find the helping hand of Christ who is God With Us and will give us, as ministers, God-like and nuanced patience, compassion, empathy, and love for the students under our care.
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.
14 Dec 2015
We’re going to jump right in here with Part 2 of our series, Breaking the Sin Cycle. If you missed Part 1, check it out here!
In discipling students, we can often become confused by the complicated issues of sexual sin. How do we begin to help a student who is struggling in this way?
Thankfully, all cycles are predictable. They repeat themselves over and over again, which means that we can anticipate each segment before it happens.
Students enter the sin cycle with sin and suffering, and in response to these they arrive at a decision point. Who or what will they trust to save them from what they think they need saving from? Their decisions, then, carry them to acting out.
These moments of acting out reveal where students have turned for life, salvation, and refuge. They reflect students’ faith decisions. In terms of sinful acting out, this stage includes both the rituals students do to accommodate their sins and the sins themselves.
Rituals are steps that students take which will ultimately place them right in front of whatever savior they’re panting after. In terms of pornography, acting out may include rituals such as isolating herself, refusing to be around others, or simply opening up a web-browser. Some good questions to ask of a student might be, “Specifically, how do you set yourself up for ‘success’ in getting porn? What are the steps you take to get there?”
If we choose to turn to God out of desperation, trust, and repentance, however, our actions may include crying out to God in prayer, calling a friend in the midst of temptation, turning off the computer, getting rid of a device, or reading the Word.
We want to help students see their specific “rituals” and how they arise within the cycle. Sin is a choice, and we want to help students understand that, while we often get caught up in the moment and feel as if we’re slipping down an irreversible water slide, the sins and the rituals we devise to accommodate those sins are actually the natural outworkings of the faith decisions we have already made within ourselves.
The last part in the cycle is the reaping stage. Remember Paul’s words: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:6-8).
As a result of our faith decisions and the actions flowing from them, we’ll get a natural yield.
For students who choose to turn inwardly, trust in themselves or their idols, and sin sexually, they may reap temporary relief from their sufferings and sins, but they will ultimately reap guilt, shame, despair, fear, loneliness, broken relationships, and eventually more sin. Anyone who has engaged in sexual sin for long enough can attest to this.
Though we may find a temporary refuge or a momentary pleasure from choosing to trust in ourselves, that refuge or pleasure will quickly corrode and finally result in both corrupt relationships and spiritual death. While it looks good to a thirsty human, salt water dries us up from the inside out. Sexual sin is no different.
We want to help students see the vanity and worthlessness of what they reap when they choose to trust in other things besides the Lord. We want to explore those things which are reaped by delving into their emptiness and deceit. We want to sit in those things that are reaped, hearing from students about their own experiences and sorrows.
But we also want to help them see that following the Lord will ultimately yield spiritual blessing. For the one who decides to trust in God, he or she will ultimately reap the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
We can’t, however, make it seem as if students will reap these things immediately. Being made like Jesus is a process, but we must affirm that, over time, students will begin to develop a taste for the things of God as they trust in Him day after day.
We can’t forget that this is a cycle. Sin and suffering are coming up again! Students, yet again, will have to make a decision as to who or what they will trust. Students may face one particular temptation twenty times in one day, but this is part of following Christ.
How can you help your students navigate this cycle? Obviously our sin cycle here is simplified, and it’s often more complex in the messiness of life. Still, spend some time in each of these sections with a student, discovering the relationship between what has gone on before and what is coming up next.
What is one passage of Scripture they can go to at the decision point that would help them remember the truths of Christ and then call out to God in prayer? What are some ways they can act out in a godly, faith-filled manner? You want them to think practically and biblically at the moment when temptation arises so that they will sow according to the Spirit, reaping life and joy as they learn to follow Jesus.
07 Dec 2015
Think of “The Circle of Life” from Disney’s The Lion King, the classic Ferris Wheel, the spin cycle on our washing machines, or the four seasons. Cycles are everywhere!
And sexual sin has a cycle of its own. Whether it’s lust, pornography, premarital sex, or crossing any appropriate physical or sexual boundary line, sexual sin pushes us all into damaging cycles from which, at times, we feel that we cannot escape. And like us, students are desperate for a way out. Sexual sin is enslaving, perpetually promising us what it can’t deliver.
In ministering to students who struggle with sexual sin, we can often be confused as to what we need to explore. At some point, it might be effective to delve into their experience of temptation and sin by helping them to slow down and identify the progression of their sexual struggles. Slowing down helps students reflect on their own experiences and discover how to practically follow Christ in the midst of temptation.
Sin and Suffering
All of life, sexual sin or not, consists of sin and suffering. This is where all of us enter into the cycle. Our sins are part of our sufferings, but the broader category of suffering could include any temptations, any stressors of life, any tough situations we face, or anything that is external to our control. Sin is something we do. Suffering is something done to us. And since many students are new creations in Christ, sin is both done by them and is also something done against their new identities. Suffering can be anything that causes us to despair and look for a saviour elsewhere. For students, suffering could be a bad grade on a report card, loneliness, or some particular stress at school. Many times, non-sexual situations and sufferings can lead to sexual sin.
I’ve sat with many students who choose to run to pornography because of stressors at school. Sometimes students don’t feel like they belong in their friend group, or perhaps a student doesn’t even have a friend group! That can be daily, shaky ground for anyone navigating the terrain of middle school or high school. But porn can be that stability for which a student longs. It’s always there when no one else is.
As sexting becomes a bigger and bigger issue, what are some temptations and sufferings a student might face? Maybe they feel as if being a man or woman entails this type of action. The affirmation of another might be what they crave. Perhaps students have given in to lust or inappropriate touching, and they feel as if they might as well keep going, pushing those physical and sexual boundaries further away.
In thinking through this category, we want to help students situate themselves in the context of the various sins and sufferings they face every day. What is their daily experience in following the Lord? What are some stressors or triggers that might cause them to start the cycle? What are some specific situations in which they are tempted to sin?
The Decision Point
In response to sin and suffering, we face a decision point. All of us develop tunnel vision as we seek out a saviour. Will we turn inwards in self-reliance, self-pity, and self-exaltation, or will we turn outwards to God by faith? At the decision point, we begin to think of that one thing that we think will give us relief and salvation, that one refuge from life’s storms.
Scripture describes this decision: “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). At times it seems like an evil to follow the Lord, especially when sexual sin seems so life-giving. But Joshua provokes the people to make the choice, and he urges students to do the same. If not the Lord, then whom will they trust? The decision is monumental, and it must be made daily.
We want to help students slow down their actions to see how they make decisions regarding where they will turn for salvation at any moment throughout the day. Can they identify that moment within themselves? Can they slow down and pray to the Lord for help and guidance to trust in Him? Even a simple, deep breath in the midst of temptation could provide an opportunity for them to come back to the Lord and situate their trust in Him.
The cycle can be broken at any stage, but it is easier to break it at this decision point than anywhere else. Think of a kid faced with two water slides. He is poised at the top of both, but he can only choose one of the two. Once the decision is made, it’s nearly impossible to reverse the slipping and sliding that will inevitably occur.
But slowing down the sin cycle can help students see that the Lord has given us a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13) and that we, as believers, can escape. Hopefully, as we begin to see the cycles into which sin shoves us, we can help students find hope, strength, and victory in Christ over the sexual sin that clings so closely.
There are two more important parts of the cycle to go, but for brevity’s sake, we’ll include them in Part Two.
11 Nov 2015
In part one of “Sexual Worldviews” we began to contrast the “truths” our culture believes about sexuality with God’s wise and loving design for sexuality. Here we will pick up with the last two talking points for each worldview.
Secular Worldview 2: Sex Is An End in Itself.
In a culture that has three main idols – sex, money, and power – there seems to be a general conclusion: Everyone can’t be rich or powerful, but everyone can and ought to have as much sex as possible.
The message today is that “great” sex is one of the greatest experiences in life. Relationships are not necessarily about building a life together over time. Many times, it’s about how quickly we can get to sex! This view is opposite of the covenant love in a godly marriage because it teaches that people exist for you and your needs.
As a side note, since sex is one of the main points of life, sex appeal and body image have become crucial. According to our culture, these are the tickets to lots of sex. This fosters a culture that obsesses over the superficiality of body image, leading to massive amounts of guilt and shame. The perfect body eludes most of us!
A life in which sex is king ultimately leads to a profound dissatisfaction with normal life and turns people into objects.The glory of sex falls far short of the glory for which we were created.
Christian Worldview 2: Sexuality Is A Means to an End
God’s word gives us a worldview in which knowing and worshiping God through Christ is ultimate. Even though sinners misuse sex and distort sexuality, both the act of sex and our sexuality in general are good things. We can validate the desire to be intimate. God gave us sex and our sexuality because He loves us and wants to bless us! But ultimately He gave it us so that we could know and worship Him better.
How we handle sex and sexuality is also a test of faith and spiritual growth. How we express our sexuality reveals who or what we are depending on and trusting in. Sexuality begins in the heart and reveals the condition of our hearts. Christian sexuality is not simply about avoiding sexual immorality. People of various religions avoid sexual immorality all their lives! Using our sexuality in God-honoring ways is about following Jesus. Which means the ultimate questions regarding sex and sexuality are not, “How can I have as much sex as I can? Who can I have it with? And how can I be true to myself?” The ultimate question regarding sex and sexuality is, “How can I glorify God through my sexuality?”
Secular Worldview 3: Sexuality defines me.
In our culture, my sexuality is the most important aspect of my identity. This is why the idea of sexual orientation is so pivotal in our cultural debates today. It is also why when Christians say that someone’s sexual behavior is sin, the culture labels us bigots and haters. Without realizing it, the culture has reduced identity simply to sexuality. But Christians believe our identity is determined by something far deeper and greater.
Christian Worldview 3: Sexuality doesn’t define me.
The bad news is that like the rest of humanity, Christians really struggle with sexual sin and brokenness. The good news of the gospel is that we have a Savior.
Because of the greatness, power, and love of Christ our Savior, He unites us to Himself by grace through faith. And as certain as our justification is in His work on the cross, our sanctification and glorification are as sure as His resurrection. Therefore, because of our union with Christ, our past and current sexual sin, folly, and rebellion do not define us.
There are only two true identities in this world: either we are in Christ or not. Our sexuality is never the bottom line. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, where he lists some life-dominating sins, including people’s sexuality gone wrong (and it has gone wrong for all of us!). But then he makes a declaration about sexual sinners who are now in Christ by writing in verse 11:
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
The ultimate identity for someone who has come to Jesus is that they have been washed by the blood of Christ, set apart by His Spirit, and made right with God through Christ’s death. Sex and sexuality never are the bottom line with God.
All of these talking points undergird every conversation you have with your kids. Whether you are talking to a toddler or a teenager, you are always talking about how God has something to say about sexuality, how His design is good, how functioning outside of His design is harmful, how even our sexuality is about worship, and how we are not defined by our fallen sexuality.
In the following posts, we are going to ask the question: how should I talk to my kids in the various stages of life as they grow up? We’ll also break down how to communicate these talking points in ways your kids can grasp.