22 Mar 2017
One God, eternal, sole, my creed doth know,
Mover of Heavens, being Himself unmoved;
Loving, desiring Him, around they go.
– Dante, Paradiso, Canto XXIV, 142-145
When Dante looked up at the night sky, he perceived that the universe was literally moved by the Author and Creator Himself. In other words, Love set the circles of the cosmos in motion. I think it’s safe to say, we don’t naturally think like that, especially in regards to sexuality.
In attempting to torch Jacob’s ladder, we have forsaken our only hope of sexual meaning, purpose, and peace.
Our sexuality is naturally secularized. The reason it is secularized, however, isn’t because we live in a progressively-secularized culture; our sexuality is secularized because we live in a cosmic insurrection, a post-Eden, pre-New Heavens/New Earth jam-fest of sin and rebellion. So what is the most foundational part of a secularized sexuality? And in light of that, what is the one thing we can give students to help them live sexually faithful lives as followers of Jesus?
Burning Jacob’s Ladder to the Ground
In defining secularization, I haven’t come across a better definition than this: secularization is “essentially forgetting Christ, because secularization is the isolation of the world within its own immanence” (G.C. Berkouwer, The Work of Christ, 18). A secularized sexuality has forcefully isolated itself, drummed up its own existence as all-defining, and attempted to burn Jacob’s ladder to the ground. We have asserted ourselves as creators, movers, and independent powers over and against the reality that we are creatures to be moved and dependent on the goodness of God for the very breath we breathe. And Genesis 3 declares that it is our abandoning of God Himself which actually causes and accounts for all of the angst, confusion, loneliness, guilt, shame, and absolute mayhem we experience in our secularized sexuality.
If we want to recover a meaningful sexuality; if we want to experience freedom from the guilt and shame of porn; if we want to know that our same-sex attractions are not the end of the story; and if we want the peace that comes from knowing that the sexual chaos in this world, including our own fear, insecurity, pain, and longing, is not calling the shots, we need to wake up: we do not live in an isolated, cosmic snowglobe. In attempting to torch Jacob’s ladder, we have forsaken our only hope of sexual meaning, purpose, and peace.
Recovering the Wonder
While we can talk about best practices in terms of technology, relationships, sexual boundaries, etc., the most fundamental aspect of discipling a sexual struggler is to reposition his or her gaze around the Love that moves the universe. We must aid them in rekindling the wonder, devotion, fear, and love that come from knowing the One Who is the “Image of the invisible God” and “the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15), through Whom and for Whom all things were created (v. 16); the One who is “before all things” and in Whom “all things hold together” (v. 17); the One who is the “head of the body, the church”; “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (v. 18); the One in whom dwells “all the fullness of God”; and the One through Whom peace was made “by the blood of his cross” (v. 19-20).
You might be surprised that most youth ministry curricula actually fail to talk about Jesus and His work. How many small group or large group talks simply edit Christ out of the picture and promote either moralism or licentious living through cheap grace? Do we pray with our students, coming to the feet of Jesus together? Are we constantly talking about Him and His work in our talks and in our relationships with kids?
As parents, are we actually talking—and I mean literally talking—about Jesus? Do we pray with our children? Do we stop at the sunrise to comment on how our Saviour and King loves to give good gifts to us? When we visit my parents, my mom will sing in the morning, “This is the day that the Lord has made” to my little girl. What a wonderful reminder of the Creator and Sustainer of our universe! Do we confess sins specifically in our homes and ask for forgiveness? Is there grace extended in the name of Jesus?
Combatting the secularized sexuality of our students—and of ourselves—starts with turning our gaze elsewhere, with developing a family and ministry vocabulary that centers around the reality of Jesus Christ. This is about escaping the prison of our own immanence to rejoin the universe in its grand song to its loving Creator, Sustainer, and Savior.
The opposite of a secularized sexuality is a Christ-exalting sexuality, and a Christ-exalting sexuality has been de-isolated from the self. It has re-established a communion bond with God, a heavenward gaze that stands in wonder, awe, fear, and love at the face of our God in the person of Jesus Christ. The one who glorifies God with his or her sexuality thinks like a creature, as one who is dependent, finite, and above all, loved. Only when we fix our gaze on Jesus will our sexuality find its true place in the universe: not as creator, but as creature; not as master, but as servant; not as mover, but as moved. Only then will we be set in motion, not by pride, selfishness, angst, isolation, and fear, but by Love Himself.
High phantasy lost power and here broke off;
Yet, as a wheel moves smoothly, free from jars,
My will and my desire were turned by love,
The love that moves the sun and the other stars.
– Dante, Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, 142-145
“In attempting to torch Jacob’s ladder, we have forsaken our only hope of sexual meaning, purpose, and peace.”
22 Feb 2017
The proverbial kid in the candy store is a striking portrait, and so is our obsession with smartstuff, the internet, and porn. The Internet and smart technology, permeated by a wonderland of varied apps and social media platforms, seem to be omnipresent in our niche of the world. And with porn being a seemingly ubiquitous part of our existence, it might be prudent for us to develop deeper levels of thoughtfulness regarding Christian discipleship.
As we at the Student Outreach speak at events across the country, a lot of parents and youth workers yearn for the details of helping students deal with porn and their technology: the methods, the words to say, the filters to use, and everything in between. And the “nitty-gritty” is important to talk about. The concern for the nitty-gritty, however, is trying to manage how to eat the candy in the candy store, but I’m concerned that we’ve refused to acknowledge that the candy might be laced with cyanide. In other words, it might not be a question of simply modeling good tech usage for our kids, or teaching them how to use their technology for the glory of God. Mr. Wonka might actually be a fiend and not a friend.
More basic than method or detail is the worldview by which we interpret the universe around us. Along with the nitty-gritty ways to help students manage the Internet and their devices, are we coming to terms with our own worldviews—and helping students come to terms with theirs—which oftentimes assume an enslaving normality?
Let’s hear from Jesus: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).
Implicit in Jesus’ words is a love for Him than surpasses anything else on this planet. Christ Himself is the motivation for students and ourselves to take drastic measures in our lives, to ponder our walk thoughtfully even to the worldview level. In the wake of Him, every minute detail of life, even the thing that seems so indispensable, is to be filtered through this question: will this contribute to me following Jesus? Another way to put this would be in terms of the two great commandments: will this help me love God and love others (Matthew 22:36-40)?
One of the goals, then, of discipling students is to help cultivate in them a superior love for Christ that will enable them to formulate worldviews which are radically oriented around the Kingdom of God. To be sure, evil doesn’t begin in the candy store; sin begins in our own hearts. But the candy store can play a significant role in how our flesh roams. Assuming, then, that there’s more to be done than simply “cutting off” whatever facilitates our stumbling, let’s turn our attention to the sugar-saturated store itself.
Question the Closeness of the Internet
In helping students deal with pornography, what’s a more basic worldview question than, what are the best filtering and accountability options for my device? It’s this: is having the Internet so close to me all the time facilitating my walk with Christ? For the student who consistently struggles with pornography, the answer seems to be an emphatic no.
But let’s push things further. Shouldn’t we all be concerned with having such a powerful and potentially destructive force in our hands at all times? The answer is less emphatic, but we must certainly wrestle with the question. Practically, we would do well to consider whether any of us should have our own passwords to download any app we see fit. But more than that, it should cause us to question the very world-wide web itself and its accessibility in our lives. What if we actually removed our capabilities to access the internet on some of our devices altogether? What if, through our use of filtering software, we implemented times throughout the day during which we can’t access the Internet?
Question the Smartness of Smart Technology
As a corollary to questioning the closeness of the internet, maybe we should also thoughtfully ponder the role that smartstuff plays in our lives. Apart from the somewhat terrifying reality that smartstuff might actually be conditioning us for impulsive consumption, let’s bring our phones, our tablets, our watches, our tvs, and everything else that we can use to access pornography before the feet of Jesus.
Perhaps we should begin with this question: Should I even have smartstuff? Before we rejoice that we aren’t like that guy over there looking at porn regularly on his smart device and thus might be able to manage our technology, we should also remember that we are more like that guy than we would often care to admit. How much time are we spending on our devices, so radically close to the dangerous porn-precipice? It might be time to get rid of that tablet. It might be time to regress to a dumb phone.
I want both myself and the students whom I serve to be so radically devoted to Jesus and His Kingdom that they question the very assumptions and foundations of our modern culture. Are we helping kids to form worldviews that perceive the supremacy of God in Christ as the ultimate point of life? Are we helping them to see that everything else flows from and is informed by their primary allegiance? Are we ourselves thinking thoughtfully about the things we allow to invade our lives?
Jesus knows that anything we give up on this side of eternity will be nothing compared to what is now given to us in Him and what will be given to us by Him when we reach the other side. If we centered the discussion around our devotion to Christ, with His splendor, glory, and superior beauty, and asked hard worldview questions of the assumed pillars of our existence, we might begin to look radically different than the world around us, find a measure of sanity when it comes to porn, and most importantly become more thoughtful, intentional, and devoted followers of our Lord.”Mr. Wonka might actually be a fiend and not a friend.”
02 Dec 2016
“I really need to talk,” one student recently said to me over the phone. We met at a good barbeque place, and for the first couple of minutes, we caught up on life. Then he fell silent.
Finally, after a couple of minutes, he spoke.
“I can’t tell you what I need to tell you. But I’ve written it down for you.”
He pulled a letter out of his jacket pocket, put it on the table, and slid it across to me. I unfolded it and began to read. On page after page, he described his four-year battle with same-sex attraction and, consequently, his identity.
Imagine yourself in that moment. Imagine the importance of your time together. What will you say? How will you respond? Perhaps this post can offer some beginning steps, although you might want to check out our more general post on having a ministry that can effectively shepherd same-sex attracted students. Here, we’ll be more specific.
Listen and Learn
If you’re anything like me, when students come and talk about their struggles, you want to do something about it quickly. And our desire to help is certainly good! Unfortunately, this fix-it-quick attitude tends to ignore students as complex people with unique stories (see our blog post, “Ministering to Same-Sex Attracted Students”). Human complexity puts a check on swift, fix-it-quick methods and attitudes.
What helps us take students’ complexity and uniqueness seriously is when we pause, listen, and learn from them as fellow strugglers on this journey: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). Let’s begin by asking questions of our students rather than trying to simply fix their broken situations. Where are they in their lives right now? How has their struggle with same-sex attraction affected their lives in the past? How has it affected their lives in the present? How can we best support them and walk with them now?
Along with listening and learning, we also want to be realistic with our students about what life is going to be like (see our posts, “Preparing Students for the Margins” and “Sexual Sufferers. Not Just Sinners”). Because we live in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christian beliefs, our culture is always going to look more inviting than following Jesus. But we also want to help same-sex attracted students see that following Christ is now, and will be in the future, truly life-giving.
We also want to give our students the ultimate goal of life: holiness and Christ-likeness, not heterosexuality. God never promises heterosexual desires to the exclusively same-sex attracted person. The point is that God wants us to seek Him above all things, even if He might leave those same-sex desires in place to drive us to Himself. Pursuing Christ above a simple, 180-degree change of desires is hard to grasp, but it makes Christ-likeness, not heterosexuality, the goal of our pursuit of holiness.
Give Them a Vocabulary for the Christian Life
Along with this realistic view of the Christian life, we must give same-sex attracted students a vocabulary for following Christ. This life is lived in daily faith, repentance, and love; we must daily reorient our trust around the person of Christ, daily turn to Christ in the moment of temptation, daily turn from our sins to follow Him, and daily love others by serving them. How can we practically help our students engage in these practices?
Not only must we hold up the goal of Christ-likeness for our students who struggle with same-sex attraction, we have to help them understand that change and growth in godliness is a process, a daily fight to turn again to Jesus by use of prayer, Scripture reading, spiritual disciplines, openness in community, Christian service, and the like. That brings us to our next point.
Help Them Grow in Community
In light of the voices which seek to comfort our students by affirming their same-sex attractions as simply another option for a thriving life, we run the risk of losing our same-sex attracted students to the open arms of our culture if we remain silent. At the same time, we must let students know that they have a community in Christ’s Church. Oftentimes, same-sex attracted students struggle in the church to grow in openness and community because of the intense, prison-like nature of shame, other people’s judging gazes, and the Church’s unwillingness to talk about it.
Part of our job in ministering to our students who wrestle in this way is to help them, over time, open up about their temptations, sufferings, and sins to other godly people and find life in godly community. This doesn’t have to happen right away. But as you meet with this student, instilling within him the grace of God and the identity he has in Jesus, we should be helping him to identify other people in whom he can confide, encouraging him to let in more and more light into his life.
Help Them Grow in Love and Ministry
While same-sex attraction should be taken to the feet of Jesus in faith and repentance, same-sex attracted students, like the rest of us, have been given gifts to contribute to the building up of the Body of Christ. Let’s help them discover, develop, and use those gifts in love and ministry, helping them to cultivate their God-given uniqueness to build up the Kingdom.
We need to be aware, however, that many times, same-sex attracted students’ gifts will not match the gender-stereotyped norms of the culture in which they live. This is more than okay. The question is: what gifts has God given them, and how can they, in turn, use them for His glory?
It’s a blessing when any student approaches a student minister for help, and it is our privilege to walk alongside them. Let’s commit to bringing the truth and mercy of Christ to our same-sex attracted students, to walk alongside them as we both move forward in the life-long process of discipleship.”Human complexity puts a check on swift, fix-it-quick methods and attitudes.”
27 Oct 2016
Recently, the blogosphere has been abuzz with denunciations of the pervasive purity culture hailing from the 1990s and early 2000s, and with good reason. While helpful in some—albeit very few—ways, the oversimplified purity culture, which advanced delayed sexual gratification until a far-off wedding day, was never very biblical and, in the long term, not particularly helpful in facilitating faithful disciples of Jesus. At best, this purity culture pointed out the sheer cliffs and dangers associated with sexual brokenness without providing a helpful path to navigate them.
And if I’m honest, I’ve endorsed this very culture in many conversations with students. But youth are savvy, and with the sobering realities of divorce and family brokenness splattered all over our culture and the church, they have seen through my smoke and mirrors. It might be helpful, then, to ask, ”What should I give students in lieu of a purity culture steeped in delayed sexual gratification and marinated in the false promise of an all-satisfying marriage?”
True love waits? Nope.
While it is certainly true that true love waits for good timing, espousing marriage as a satisfying alternative to sexual promiscuity simply leaves students to pop their wrists with rubber bands, hoping to drive away lustful thoughts through a culturally-appropriated medieval practice.
True love waits? Ok. But more than that, true love serves (1 John 4:10-11; Luke 10:27). Sexual sin uses others. So instead of asking students to delay gratification until a far-off wedding day, which may or may not be in the cosmic cards, why don’t we help them discover how to counteract the inward, self-exalting nature of sexual sin and actually use their gifts to love and serve both their friends and their significant others?
What would dating look like if, instead of asking “How far is too far?”, we asked, “How can I love my brother or sister in Christ to better point them to Jesus?” What if we really helped students steward and use their gifts, whether by serving on a leadership team, cleaning up lunch trays at school, playing in the worship band, or serving as a small-group leader to younger students? An emphasis on serving others will help to counteract the sexual sin that urges them towards isolation and self-exaltation. It might seem strange, but perhaps one of the greatest ways to fight sexual sin is to roll up our sleeves and do good for someone else (Matthew 23:23).
Your needs will be met? Nope.
I love the emphasis on God fulfilling our needs, but oftentimes we confuse human wants with godly needs. Sex isn’t a need. Feeling a certain way about myself, whether being accepted by a spouse or feeling fulfilled in a good marriage, isn’t a need. But being in God’s family is a need. Worshipping the Lord is a need for human flourishing. So while I’ve sat with many students and simply told them that either their needs will be met in a future spouse or that their needs will be met in Jesus, I’ve actually failed to help them distinguish between true and false needs, repent of false needs, and turn outwardly in love and service towards others and the Lord.
The “need” to be sexually fulfilled—which says, “Life would be fulfilling if I could just have sex”—simply isn’t going to be fulfilled this side of eternity or the next. Our sexual “needs” are tainted and distorted by our own sinful nature, and since none of us are going to marry in the New Earth (Matthew 22:30), I need to awaken students to the self-denying and others-serving reality of being in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 16:24; 19:30). Ultimately, I need to teach them the humbling, hard, but necessary, tasks of repentance, suffering, and service.
Marriage might be an answer? Ultimately, nope.
Certainly, marriage is a wonderful thing and a gift that God has given us. It does alleviate a measure of isolation. It does makes us more like Jesus as we learn to live with another person who is just as much of a sinner as we are. And it also tells the wonderful story of Christ’s relationship to the Church.
Marriage does help in staying sexually pure. But it only helps our brokenness; it doesn’t cure it. Even the wonderful intimacy that marriage provides remains tainted by sin and selfishness. Marriage is not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. It does not take away our brokenness or selfish expectations. In fact, it really only highlights them.
For all its glory and aid in fighting sexual brokenness and in providing a safe context for true intimacy, marriage is only a signpost, a shadow of a deeper reality that will outlast all vows and covenants and one which will cure and re-create all that’s broken and distorted. This deeper reality is, of course, the Person and Work of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-33; Revelation 19:6-8). Our sole hope is His person as Savior, Lord, Prophet, Priest, and King and His work of salvation for us, including His work of the Spirit in us.
Let’s ask ourselves today: am I promoting a purity culture that is devoid of the self-sacrificing, others-serving, Jesus-following nature of being in the Kingdom of God, or am I giving students Kingdom realities that will truly carry them through self-denying death and into others-serving life?
19 Oct 2016
“Is it OK for my son to play dress-up like a princess and dance like a girl?” asked Bob, a father, after one of our parenting seminars. Bob, who had the look of a former college athlete, and his wife were concerned for their five-year-old boy and some of his behaviors. At the same time, Bob didn’t want to squash his personality or crush his son’s spirit. He also worried that his son might be bullied because he did not fit into cultural stereotypes.
Here are the two points of advice I gave these parents:
Affirm and Validate
True gender differences and gender roles come from God our Creator. But every culture expects certain stereotypical behaviors from boys and girls, men and women. The problem with this is that, since Genesis 3, every culture’s ideas on gender contain fallen elements. So, before we guide our sons away from certain behaviors that our culture deems unacceptable, we have to ask if a clear, biblical line is really being crossed.
All our little guys, whether or not they present any gender atypical behaviors, need us to envelop them in love and affirmation. We need to affirm them first of all for who they are. They need to hear, “I’m so glad God sent you to us,” and “I love you!” before we affirm what they do by saying, “You’re great at ________,” or “I’m glad you do ___________.”
Oftentimes parents are worried when their sons have different temperaments, talents, and interests that are not stereotypical for boys. Dads need to honestly deal with the idol of having a son just like them — a chip off the old block. Therefore, affirm and validate to your son that his personality and gifts are from God. Tell your son that God will raise him up to bless the world and build up His Kingdom through his unique giftings.
Dad, whatever you’re into, from football, baseball, basketball, or anything from NASCAR and monster trucks to investing stocks and the golf channel, you’ve got to let “it” go as a must for your son. Instead, find out what your child’s personality, gifts, and passions are, then support them, develop them, and cultivate an appreciation of them. This means that a godly football coach whose son loves art, dance, and drama needs to supportively show up for recitals or performances, appreciate the inner complexities of his son’s fine art with him, and celebrate his efforts and successes.
Protect and Guide
Bob and his wife have an idea of their young son’s personality but not a clear sense of his giftings and passions yet. Dads like Bob fear that other boys may bully their sons when they see their gender atypical behavior. And this is a very valid concern.
We have to protect our little boys, and that means having our radar up for bullying and shaming. So we have to be engaged, observant, and step in to stop verbal or physical abuse by other boys. And yet we must beware of a “helicopter parent’s” tendencies to overprotect.
The way to protect your son from being bullied is not to isolate him from other boys and boyish activities. This is where gentle guidance comes in. We want to help our little guys find safe ways to integrate into the world of boys, which eventually becomes a world of men.
With my son, we’ve tried most of the major sports, dabbled in some martial arts, put him in a choir, started trumpet lessons, and tried some art classes. At nine, we are still discerning his top gifts and cultivating his passions. Try and sample lots of boy-related as well as general kids’ activities, but be wary of demanding or requiring your son to remain in an activity he doesn’t like or stay in a setting in which he does not feel safe.
Now, remember, Bob had a specific question about dress-up and dancing. And in helping your son grow up, there are times when you need to gently guide and redirect his behaviors and help reshape some of his attitudes. My son held my hand and clung to me like glue when I first started taking him to Cub Scouts. He was probably feeling overwhelmed and anxious in a loud, crowded place. But, like Bob, I didn’t want him to be the brunt of ridicule.
I started to gently break his habit of holding my hand and hanging back when we went to Scouts. I simply said, “Guys don’t usually hold their dad’s hand all the time unless they are in a dangerous place.” I would even leave the room to go to the water fountain so that he had interact with the boys. He is more reserved and less rambunctious than some of the other boys, but eventually he found his place, figured out some social cues, and began to enjoy the loud, large group meetings.
Note that I didn’t shame my son with any “Man up!” commands. I did not say, “A real man doesn’t ______” to ‘toughen him up’. When a dad says, “We guys do _____ or don’t ______,” we are guiding and redirecting rather than isolating and shunning. This way we can help our sons feel like they’re on our team and that they belong in our tribe of men.
As parents, and especially dads, we need to pray for wisdom in raising little guys up to be men who follow Christ, our savior and ultimate model for manhood.
14 Sep 2016
This our final post in the series Masturbation: When Students Are Stuck. Check out the first two blogs – Part 1, and Part 2. But if you are coming to this topic for the first time, you really should read our “Theology of Masturbation”, part one and part two; these will provide you with a great foundation for what we at Harvest USA and the Student Outreach believe regarding masturbation.
The situation is a familiar one: a student has been struggling with masturbation since the dawn of time—or at least that’s what he feels like. He’s been plagued by it and can’t seem to stop, despite all efforts. You’ve talked. You’ve prayed. You’ve examined. You’ve dug down deep. But here he is—again.
We have offered three approaches so far, and we’ll finish up with two more in this post.
Number Four: Keep Digging.
While some sins may have a more discernible starting point than others, it is ultimately impossible for us to pinpoint the exact source or cause of any particular sin. So, while you may have uncovered some desires, beliefs, situations, sufferings, and worldviews that play into masturbation, we must not be naïve in thinking our exploration is over. Seemingly familiar territory can often yield new discoveries. What could we ask to help?
I know we’ve talked about this before, but let’s look at this again. What are some reasons, do you think, that masturbation looks so good to you?
Do you see any relationship between when you’re tempted to masturbate and and how you’re feeling at the time?
What does masturbation offer to you? What lies does it tell you about life? About yourself? About Christ?
Obviously, we do not want to make this student feel as if they are in some sort of police interrogation, but it might be helpful to occasionally revisit the underlying desires, beliefs, and motives that accompany this student’s struggle.
Sometimes, it might even be prudent to step back and let the Spirit do his mysterious heart-work in His own timing, patiently waiting to see how things turn out. What we don’t want to do is to exhaust and exasperate the student, making it seem like masturbation is the only topic we should address.
Number Five: Teach Students to Trust in Jesus.
Following Christ is hard, and it will remain so as long as we are on this side of eternity. The journey is exhausting and tedious: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Self-Denial. Cross-carrying. Daily. Why the need for this daily self-denial and cross-carrying?
Because we have a remaining principle of sin within us! We are not giving students a credit card to sin, as if we should freely engage in it just because sin remains inside of us. We are simply giving them reality: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
Every day is a new fight, a new chance to repent and believe the truths in which we have to come to trust. This student may struggle with masturbation for a long time. It doesn’t excuse the sin, but it does help students see that the most important thing in life is to diligently pursue holiness and Christ by faith and repentance, whatever may daily come our way.
This reality of following and trusting in Jesus has another dimension as well: we must daily trust Him to work within us. While students should be diligent about fighting masturbation, they must also trust Him to work and move in them by His Spirit. Indeed, this must be their final hope: “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). If He is working with us, in spite of the fact that we often feel alone, all of us who deal with sexual sin must learn to be patient. In other words, change doesn’t happen overnight. It happens slowly, over time, with much perseverance, seeking, and praying.
In these posts, we have strayed away from giving students aversion tactics like taking cold showers, phoning friends, running out of the house, or shooting some basketball. We have stayed away from these oftentimes good suggestions not because we believe them to be unhelpful, but because, at times, these “practical” suggestions can leave heart motives untouched and the Lord unengaged. Relying on aversion tactics and “practical” suggestions tends to become simple moralism: just try harder or just do this, and everything will be fine.
While do want to give students helpful, practical suggestions to flee the temptation to masturbate, like phoning an accountability partner, getting out of the house, and fleeing isolation, we must also teach them to do the heart work needed to examine motives, belief structures, and the whys of masturbation’s draw. We must also teach students to actually engage the Lord in fervent, passionate, and desperate prayer, instead of simply relying on their own savvy and ability.
Finally, in walking with and helping students who struggle with masturbation, we must constantly point them to their Savior, who has begun a great work and will bring it one day to glorious completion despite constant opposition by Satan, others, and even ourselves. On that day, masturbation will be no more.
02 Sep 2016
We are getting an increasing number of requests from parents, pastors, friends and others in the the church for good, biblically-sound resources to help understand and address issues of transgenderism. There’s a lot of good stuff scattered around the web, and on our sister website at www.harvestusa.org, we’re trying to collect some of them into a Resource Page: http://www.harvestusa.org/transgenderism-resources/
The Resource Page is being updated as Harvest USA staff come across more articles, sermons, blog posts, etc. that we believe are helpful from a gospel perspective. So check back from time to time. Just click the link to the page above. We hope what we have gathered will help you think biblically and compassionately about how to love those struggling with their gender.
15 Aug 2016
It was another phone call from a pastor asking what to do. A woman in his church, married, is beginning to look like a man. Over several months it has increasingly become clear that something significant is happening. But neither the woman nor her husband has come forward asking for advice or help. No one has said anything. But the silence obviously cannot remain. People are talking… transgenderism? What should this pastor do?
For a church to help someone with gender dysphoria is first to see the person in distress. When we get down to the level of the individual, this becomes not a cultural battleground, but a person who is struggling. Yes, our culture has made transgenderism the issue du jour by its insistence that gender is not connected to one’s sexual anatomy at birth, but rather what someone feels they are. Gender identity politics has become the latest cultural battleground. In an increasingly secular culture, sexual freedom is sacred ground.
But if someone in your church is silently struggling with what gender they feel they are, we need more than promoting adherence to Genesis 1 and 2 to set him or her straight. Yes, good biblical teaching is necessary. We must not abandon the anchor position of Scripture, that God created humanity in two genders, male and female, and those genders are, in fact, who we are, and living out our given maleness and femaleness is an essential part of what it means to be human.
Nevertheless, we also live in a Genesis 3 world.
A world that is broken at its core, resembling God’s original design, but increasingly showing deep cracks and fissures in how God’s image bearers live and reflect his image. Men and women have struggled with their sexuality and gender for countless ages, so this isn’t anything new. What’s new is the forceful demandingness of an anything-goes sexuality-and-gender culture, with its message that there is no inherent order or design in who we are and how we should live. The only order and design is the one I create.
But while the culture insists that how one lives is entirely up to the individual, there will be those in your church who are not trying to be rebellious here. Rather, they are confused, lonely, and despairing strugglers trying to make sense of their pain. The distress they feel is real. And for many, the message the world gives seems more hopeful, and so they embrace the post-Christian (really, post-Fall) message of radical individuality.
For this pastor and his church, continued silence is not a godly option. There is no compassion to say or do nothing when someone in the church is living in ways that contradict God’s design for being a congruent-gendered person.
But speaking a biblical message on sexuality and gender to a man or a woman who has come to despise their biological sexual identity is a difficult matter. We must combine wise words with our loving presence. Good teaching is rarely, if ever, the sole factor that moves someone in the right direction. Our words and our loving presence with them are what they need.
So what is our advice to what this pastor could say to this woman? How does he speak a message into her life that might give her hope? Maybe enough hope for a future that would allow her more time to choose to slow down and hopefully reverse the transition process she seems to be pursuing. More time to begin to understand, perhaps for the first time, the biblical categories of male and female that God has chosen for us to live within.
What “alternative script” of biblical truth, in stark contrast to the world’s message, can we give to her? Here are four basic principles:
Affirm and recognize the struggle
Affirm the likelihood that this struggle has been going on for some time. Recognize that this is not a superficial struggle and that the person is trying to make sense of what they experience. Ask good questions so that you can begin to grasp what this struggle is like, and why this person feels so strongly that she needs to transition to the opposite gender.
Seek to be involved as much as possible
Communicate the reality that deep, persistent struggles grow stronger when we deal with them in isolation. As a professing believer (or better yet, a member of the church), ask if they would allow you to keep speaking into their life about this. To hear further about their struggle, but also to allow you to speak about a biblical position on gender and sexuality. An appeal to Scripture’s call to be one body, Christ’s, where brothers and sisters assist one another in the daily struggles of life, should be a constant refrain.
Help them to grasp that our lives, and even our bodies, first belong to God
Believers in Christ have a much deeper foundation for their identity/personhood than those who do not follow him. Whom we belong to is a deeper, more foundational question than the one the world asks: How do I be myself, or how do I find freedom (from my distress or situation in life)?
Some life-situations are chronic, persistent, and some will not end in this life (like many chronic disability circumstances). Finding healing or freedom from struggles is not a wrong thing to do, unless it violates God’s design and purpose expressed in Scripture. Then, a Christian is called to persevere faithfully in the struggle, to discover that God’s grace gives meaning and purpose, along with daily strength, to live and grow in and through it (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
Call them to bring God into the heart of the situation
Too often, obeying Scripture is made to feel like obeying a set of rules. But following Christ is a life-affirming direction, even when we must turn from those things that promise a fix or a solution (Mark 10:27-31). One important thing to stress is that all our decisions, even the smallest ones, will either strengthen our resolve to follow Christ or weaken it. Lovingly communicate the importance of pursuing obedience in Christ, with whatever means are available (counseling, listening to stories from others, teaching them good theology, prayer, etc.). In doing so, you will help them learn to accept and grow into the gender God gave them. And if they are willing, walk with them for as long as it takes, through all the successes and failures that will most likely be a part of their journey.
The narrative today about this issue is that the struggle is biological and/or psychological. Putting aside legitimate intersex complications for some, what is noticeably missing is a discussion of how spiritual issues are also at the heart of a person’s struggle.
Bringing God into the heart of the situation can do two things: it legitimizes the person’s real distress with their inability to align their physical and psychological selves, and also injects another not-to-be-ignored dynamic: that the person’s distress has an additional element of struggle to it, that to go against God’s design and purpose does bring about increasing confusion and pain. Following God’s design may not be the easiest path to walk (particularly when the world shouts another message), but in the long run it draws us to him, to the One who says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
There’s a whole lot more to say and do here with this person. But starting out this way might better open doors to effectively help a struggler seek God’s help and grow into being who God has called them to be.
For additional resources go to our Transgenderism: Resources page.
05 Aug 2016
In the first post in this blog series, “Transgenderism: A Truth and Mercy Response: Part 1“, we looked at what is meant by gender, specifically how the post-Christian culture views it. Gender is now seen as being divorced from one’s biological sex; that how one views oneself as either male or female (or neither or both!) is based on one’s feelings and self-perceptions. Therefore gender is fluid, changeable, and virtually limitless.
What Does Scripture Say About Gender?
With that said, what does Scripture say about gender? In short, it says lots. Perhaps more than you might think. In this post we’ll examine two key points:
- Scripture identifies two (and only two) genders in creation.
- Scripture describes the brokenness of creation in the Fall, and gender confusion results from that.
Scripture identifies two (and only two) genders in creation.
We see this plainly when God establishes two genders—male and female—by decree in Genesis 1:27:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Male and female in God’s creation are created for a particular kind of relationship with one another: a covenant relationship of marriage where a major reason for sexual expression is the creation of children, leading to the development of both family and society. Sexual activity is connected to humanity’s purpose in life—a purpose that God mentions in 1:28: to manage the earth and make it a place of bounty and beauty. Creating life is an essential part of this.
But the Genesis story, in being the anchor for our understanding of sexuality and gender, doesn’t limit gender differences at reproduction. Male and female reflect God’s image to the world, and particularly so when a husband and wife join together in marriage. The narrative in Genesis gives profound hints of how gender differences contribute to a deeper shaping of humanity. Adam’s exclamation when he first sees Eve speaks of both similarity and difference, and between them there grows a relationship where intimacy, transparency, mutual love and unity grow in a way unlike any other human relationship (Gen 2: 21-25). And Eve’s designation as “helper” to Adam speaks of a relationship of unity and shared purpose (and not, as some erroneously think, that woman is inferior to man).
Gender differences are not relegated to marriage, either. Living out one’s life as either male or female, as a single person, will also display God’s unique design (more on the complexity of gender roles will follow in another blog post).
In stark contrast to our culture’s mantra that gender is fluid and determined by the will and wishes of the individual, God declares that who we are individually grows out of the biological sex given to us at birth.
So, God has established two genders—male and female—generally, in creation. But, we must note that he has also established these genders particularly in the lives of particular individuals. That is to say, God has assigned one of the two genders to each at his or her birth. Biological sex should be the anchor of gender identity for any individual, not the modern psychological concept of gender. Scripture declares that God has planned out who we are, and that includes the biological sex we were born with.
The Psalmist in Psalm 139 says clearly that God established the form and personality of each person before that individual existed:
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13)
“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139:15)
“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” (Psalm 139:16)
God both declares and foreknows the gender he has given to us. Examples of this are found throughout Scripture: Hagar is told she will bear a son and is to name him Ishmael (Genesis 16:11); Abraham and Sarah are told that Sarah will bear a son, and they are to name him Isaac (Genesis 17:19); the angel of the Lord tells Manoah that his barren wife will soon bear a son (Judges 13:3); and Mary receives the startling news, as an unmarried woman, that she would bear a son, Jesus, who would be the Messiah (Luke 1:31).
These key redemptive-historical acts, while they only mention the birth of sons, nevertheless establish the fact that God ordains who we are as both male and female, as both sons or daughters.
Scripture describes the brokenness of creation in the Fall, and gender confusion results from that.
Christians do not live in a make-believe world; they share in the brokenness of all of creation. That brokenness is extensive. In the area of human sexuality, the numerous prohibitions in the Old Testament regarding particular sexual activity is telling. The reason why God had to spell out one sexual prohibition after another was not that he declares sex as intrinsically evil (as some think Christian doctrine teaches), but because our fallen, sinful hearts are capable of doing evil with the good things God has created.
The order in which the world was created still remains, though it exists in fractured form. Regarding gender confusion or fluidity, in Deuteronomy 22:5, the Lord tells his people that to live as if you are someone of the opposite gender is sin. For many years, Deuteronomy 22:5 was used as a proof text against transvestitism, but its meaning goes far beyond simply wearing the clothes of the other gender. The verb-object clause used in the verse means to “put on the mantle” of the opposite gender—in other words, to live as though you were of the other gender.
This law principle is the same as the other laws God has given to us. That is, to live outside of his design and purpose is to engage in rebellion against him, even if that rebellion is the result of confusion and personal pain.
The “facts” of non-binary gender states, which some proclaim as evidence of a “third” gender or sex, is merely evidence that God’s original design is broken. In these rare cases of sexual development disorders, difficult medical and personal decisions need to be made. There should always be compassion given in these situations. But these disorders do not constitute evidence that there is more than male and female to humanity.
The confusion about gender that is sweeping through our culture is the result of numerous personal and societal issues, and the help these people need is not encouragement to undergo gender change but to learn to live within God’s design. Following his design is always a path toward growth and health. Not doing so leads to further brokenness.
For additional information and resources go to Harvest USA’s Transgenderism: Resources Page.
21 Jul 2016
On May 13, 2016, many were surprised to learn that the federal government issued a directive to schools receiving federal Title IX grants. The directive said that schools must allow transgender students to use whichever bathroom and locker room most closely matches their gender identity. A confusing issue became even more confusing. Is there a way to pick through the pieces of this puzzle and respond with biblical truth and mercy?
That news raised questions in the minds of many Christians: Why would someone identify as transgender? What is the nature of gender? Is it possible that there are really more than two genders, male and female? How does Scripture call Christians to interact with transgender individuals?
These are big questions to think about. Christians need to know how to reason through the issues on gender and transgender that are being discussed and decided culturally. In this post, I’ll walk you through an understanding of gender identity – and transgender identity – from Scripture.
What is a traditional understanding of gender?
For the whole of human existence, society has affirmed a male-female binary regarding gender. In other words, a human was one gender or the other – male or female – and that individual’s gender was consistent with the individual’s physical sex at birth.
There is, of course, a condition currently known as intersex, formerly known as hermaphroditism, when an individual is born either with genitalia of both sexes or with ambiguous genitalia. While intersex individuals exist and may face certain challenges, it should be noted that they are a very small percentage of the population: about 1 out of every 1,500 births (or, about 7/100 of 1%).
What is transgenderism?
In order to answer that question, we must first look at the new, culturally-accepted understanding of gender. Whereas a traditional understanding of gender existed in a fixed male-female binary framework, the new understanding is that gender is fluid. All possibilities for gender exist not as two fixed points but rather on a continuum ranging from male to female. Not only is one’s experience of gender no longer fixed between two choices, but the individual may switch back and forth between genders as his or her experience of gender changes.
As a result/consequently, a second element of this new understanding is that gender is not innate. While a child is born with a physical sex by virtue of male or female genitalia, that child does not develop its gender until well after birth. Gender, according to psychologists, develops independently of one’s physical sex and generally develops by the sixth year of age. In most individuals, psychological gender is congruent with physical sex. However, in some cases, this is not so. Hence, it is possible to have an individual born with genitalia associated with one gender, but to have a psychological gender that is incongruent with one’s physical sex.
Transgender is a blanket term applied to an individual whose psychological gender—essentially, one’s subjective experience of gender—is incongruent with his or her physical sex. Because of this perceived incongruence, a transgender individual may elect to live in any number of ways. One might choose to live in a manner that is the culturally-accepted norm for his or her physical sex. One might choose to identify as a particular gender different from his or her physical sex, but never take measures to surgically or pharmacologically alter his or her physical sex. One might go through a process of using certain drugs to alter one’s brain chemistry and hormone levels to develop physical characteristics of his or her preferred gender. Or, one might elect to go through gender reassignment surgery. These last two processes are known colloquially as transitioning from one gender to another.
It should be noted that this particular cultural concept of gender is new and is itself in a state of evolution. In 2012, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association identified the types of gender incongruence mentioned in the previous paragraph as fitting the category of a psychiatric disorder: Gender Identity Disorder (GID). Just four years ago, the psychiatric community would have counseled the GID-presenting patient to accept his or her physical sex.
When the DSM was updated in 2013, the diagnostic criteria for GID changed, so that most people who formerly fit into that former category of a psychiatric disorder are now diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria—a perceptual problem— where the goal of the therapist is to help patients reach congruence with their psychological gender.
What is the problem with transgender? Essentially, this practice makes the experience and the feelings of the individual primary. Everything else – whether Scripture, or physical reality, or millennia-old accepted social practice – is secondary. It says that if I feel as though I am another gender – whether male, female, or something in-between – that is who I actually am.
This continuing movement of our culture renders the individual increasingly self-referential and the individual’s perceptions increasingly authoritative. Such a worldview does not allow for any kind of objective truth from God. The church is experiencing tremendous pressure to change its understanding of Scripture—and to even change Scripture itself to conform to the primacy of personal freedom. Governments, from the local to the national level, are racing to change laws and add new ones to protect the individual’s right to self-determination. Truly, we are becoming a people who do only what is right in our own eyes (Proverbs 21:2).
For additional information and resources go to our Transgenderism Resources Page.
In the next post, we’ll talk about what Scripture says on the issue of gender and how Christians can respond to transgender people.