Blog Archive

The Internet is a great place to learn, but it’s also a potential danger – especially for children! Pornography is just a click or two away. Children need protection and guidance for going online. Dan Wilson continues his talk about how parents can protect their family when using Internet-enabled devices while outside the home.

Click here to read Dan’s blog on this: Protecting Your Home from Porn – Part 2.

In part one of this blog, I laid out a multi-layered plan to protect your family from porn while they are at home and connected to your home Wi-Fi network.  Now, let’s get to the outside-the-home protection plan.

How can I protect my kids when they leave the home?

Outside-the-home-protection

One great way to eliminate the temptation for your kids to use their phone for viewing porn is to get them a basic phone. Do they really need a hand-held device that is more sophisticated than the information technology that sent the Apollo Space missions to the moon—especially when a unfiltered smartphone can connect to porn in mere seconds? Believe it or not, I know of some brave teens who’ve asked their dads to let them trade in a smartphone for a “dumbphone,” because they were sick of being tempted by porn.

But if your kid must have a smartphone, how can we protect them?

  1. Install Filters and Accountability Software

I spoke about this at greater length in my first post, but let me repeat just a few things here.

First, you need to buy filtering and accountability software for each Internet-enabled smartphone, tablet, or laptop that leaves your home protection.

Most of the Harvest USA staff favor Covenant Eyes, but there are other good options out there like Net Nanny, Safe Family, K9, and X3 Watch.

Remember Circle with Disney from my first post, the software that I’m currently using? Circle with Disney recently released an app called Circle Go that applies those same filter settings used on your home router to devices as they go outside the home. This can be a great way to kill the proverbial two birds with one (and a half) stone(s).

  1. Disable the Downloading of Apps

It used to be that one had to use a browser to find a website. Today, apps are the new web browsers. As you might guess, kids can use many apps to access porn. You need to go into the settings of your child’s smartphone or tablet and disable the downloading of apps so they can’t add apps on their own. If you install a filter/accountability app but don’t disallow adding new apps, your child can load an app that works around the filter/accountability app or delete the one you just installed!

The parental settings, including disabling the downloading of apps, should be password-protected. That way, when your kids want to download a new app, they have to have a conversation with you about it. In other words, we don’t lock down apps so that kids with a smartphone can only make calls. We lock down apps so that, when they want to download one, they have to come to us to do so. All this, like receiving accountability reports from your kids, facilitates dialogue.

  1. Research and Dialogue about Devices, Apps, and Media

Your child says, “Can Johnny drive us to the game tonight?” Before we say, “Sure,” we ask some questions and even do a bit of private investigative work, like calling another trusted parent for the inside scoop. So don’t take their word on how appropriate an app, artist, or movie is. Research it yourself.

Knowledge of and trust in Jesus’ power helps us parent out of dependence, trust, and faith. And that’s a good place for any of us to be.

Use Google to your and their spiritual benefit.  Go to Google and type in, “Is (blank) safe for kids?” or “Can (blank) app be used to access porn?” We also recommend Commonsensemedia.org, as a great research tool. It is the best place I can find for researching new apps, websites, TV shows, movies, etc. Iparent.tv also includes many “how-to” videos, reviews of apps, etc.  Pluggedinonline.com is also a good resource.

All of this research facilitates a running tech-dialogue.  When your child has to come to you for the downloading of an app, it gives you time to research it. It also helps you begin to ask good questions of your child in the meantime: “What do your friends use this app for? What are some benefits of the app that you can see? What might be some downsides to having this app? What do you want to use this app for?”

  1. Test Your In-The-Home and Outside-The-Home Protection Plans

You won’t be doing anyone any favors by failing to check to see if things are running smoothly. Randomly test the protection systems you’ve put in place.  You may find yourself on a site that you don’t want to see, so do your checking together as a married couple or with a trusted Christian friend. Check all the devices. Something almost always doesn’t work from time to time. Nothing is foolproof.

After being as faithful and as savvy as we can to protect our kids from the sexual corruptions of the world, we must trust the Savior and Redeemer with our kids. Only He can save our kids from the sexual corruption, self, and sin within. We can trust Jesus to work in our kids’ hearts and in the sexually-broken world they inhabit until His kingdom comes in fullness. Knowledge of and trust in Jesus’ power helps us parent out of dependence, trust, and faith. And that’s a good place for any of us to be.

In all of this, we want to keep the dialogue open with our kids about technology.  We want to be talking to them about the measures we are taking to steward technology well. We want to be talking to them about both the dangers and the benefits of the technology we have. And most importantly, we want to approach them as fellow sufferers, not just sinners, in this crazy world, who can approach the throne of Jesus together for help and strength in our moments of weakness.


You can watch Dan talk more about this on his accompanying video: Protecting Your Home from Porn – Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

A few years ago my best friend from college called me in tears. Their six-year-old son typed a “potty word” into a search engine and, for three weeks, watched hard-core porn videos until he was caught.

No one wants to be an overprotective parent. Overprotective parents breed ill-equipped kids. But we must be appropriately protective. Even though boys 12-17 are one of the largest per capita consumers of Internet porn, the threat of porn exposure is very real for younger kids and girls. Almost all kids are exposed to porn in their tween and teen years. The call is clear: We have to both minister to [Catching Your Child in Sexual Sin] and protect this rising generation in the face of such a media-savvy, sexually-broken culture.

I know this will sound alarmist, but it needs to be said. Parents will harm their children if they fail to take steps to first, protect them, and then second, to help them manage their use of media and the Internet as they grow older. [Should Parents Gouge Out Their Child’s Eyes?]

This post is about taking specific steps of protection:  In part one, I will cover an inside-the-home protection plan, and in part two I’ll discuss an outside-the-home protection plan.

What ways can we protect our home from pornography usage? Our family protection plan includes overlapping means of protection. Some of these might seem like overkill, but trust me, they are necessary.

Inside the Home Protection

  1. Filter Your Router

All your wireless devices (laptops, tablets, e-book readers like Kindle, smartphones, gaming consoles, and even newer TVs) can connect to the Internet via your Wi-Fi router. Filters act like walls that prevent users from accessing inappropriate content, and filters that connect to your router block porn at the source. Routers can be filtered by installing software like OpenDNS, but another option is to get a hardware device that filters all Internet enabled devices you assign to your home Wi-Fi network.

In my home, I spent a one-time purchase of $99 on such a device, Circle with Disney. After downloading the Circle app on my wife’s phone, we customized the filter for each child and each device. We can set time limits, view search histories, block specific websites and apps, and set bedtimes, all customized to each of my four children. Other devices like this include Torch and Clean Router.  And there are more devices coming on the market in response to the need for parental oversight.  So far, Circle with Disney is working great for us.

There are, however, two things these awesome router filters can’t do. First, if your child takes her device over to a friend’s house, she can access the Internet on that family’s Wi-Fi but without your router’s protective settings.

Second, even if your child is at home, he or she can go into the settings on a smartphone or tablet and switch off its connection to your Wi-Fi. Then the cellular data plan kicks-in, and the device accesses the Internet via their data plan.

  1. Enable Password-Protected Search Engines

Some may think that if you have router protection, then this step is unnecessary. However, we advise multiple layers of protection. While there are many search engines like Yahoo and Bing, as of now, Google is the only major search engine that gives the option for password-protected parental controls (Google Safe Search).

Our kids are in a war, outwardly assailed by the world and inwardly wrestling with lust, selfishness, confusion, and shame. If we abdicate talking about these struggles, and if we simply neglect to protect them, we leave them isolated and vulnerable in this war.

The big point here:  You must set and guard the password for using any search engine. Why?  Because search engines have become the highway that leads to pornographic websites. Just type in a word and it’ll take you right there. Without a password-protected search engine, even the small image icons will present hard-core porn.

Everything mentioned so far restricts access to inappropriate content on the Internet, but you will need one more, crucial element to your family protection plan.

  1. Install Accountability Software on All Devices

Accountability software is a program that records all the websites a device visits. Accountability software will email a report of Internet use to an accountability partner; it’s the hall monitor of the Internet. Router protection only filters and blocks (and that is not foolproof), so we recommend accountability software as well.

A filter is simply mechanical, but accountability is relational. An accountability report invites discipleship conversations with your kids that you can talk not only about their Internet behaviors, but also about their heart and walk with the Lord, as you see what is most important to them via what they are accessing on the web. Adults need honesty too with peer accountability partners, their brothers and sisters in Christ.

There are a lot of great companies offering accountability software: Covenant Eyes, Net Nanny, and many more. The big point here is to actually check those accountability reports. Accountability software only works when accountability in relationship is in place.

Our kids are in a war, outwardly assailed by the world and inwardly wrestling with lust, selfishness, confusion, and shame. If we abdicate talking about these struggles, and if we simply neglect to protect them, we leave them isolated and vulnerable in this war.

So, use everything we’ve mentioned in this post to move toward your child’s heart and encourage them with the grace and hope of Christ. They need that in the face of their hyper-pornified culture.


You can watch Dan talk some more about this on his accompanying video: Protecting Your Home from Porn – Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

The Internet is wonderful, but it’s also a dangerous wild-west of pornography and other inappropriate content. Just as you wouldn’t send your young child on a trip all alone, you shouldn’t do the same for when they log online. They need appropriate guardrails. Dan Wilson talks about three keys steps every parent needs to take in this two-part video and blog.

Click here to read Dan Wilson’s blog on this:  Protecting Your Home from Porn—Part 1

I, like every other father in the world, have a perfect daughter. My four-year-old princess is the only girl among four children. In theory, I know that my “perfect” daughter is a sinner. In reality, I actually believe that somehow she miraculously dodged the infection of original sin. At least, that’s the best rationalization I have in the fantasy-based, biased view I have of “daddy’s special girl.” Given her long, Shirley Temple curls, radiant smile, and warm personality, can you blame me?

This sentimental conception of my precious daughter works fine now as she currently emerges into “big girl” phase from toddlerhood. However, this naiveté will present major problems for her if I cling to it as she starts to enter school.

In my years of youth ministry, I have watched parents struggle to accept the realities about their maturing children. It’s hard. It’s sad. It’s a source of grief. We mourn our babies growing up and progressing toward adulthood. But here’s the truth: children do not remain babies forever.

I often have observed parents resisting this struggle in conversations about pornography and Internet protections. I tell all parents in all talks about technology in our church that they need an Internet reporting device on any screen to which their child has access. Just checking the Internet history is insufficient as 70% of kids admit to erasing history or concealing online activity from parents.¹

More times than I can count, I have suggested to parents of middle school boys that they install a filter and reporting device on their children’s phone and tablet. Too often, I have watched in amazement as parents suggest that their 14 or 15-year-old boy isn’t interested in things like that yet. He’s still so young.

I understand the struggle. I do not want to admit that my precious angel ever could have an interest in pornography. I can hardly imagine the thought of her receiving a sext solicitation from some teenage punk—and caving to the pressure. However, two sources tell me that I should not be so foolish.

If you have a boy, I promise you, that boy really wants to look at pornography. Porn is an incredibly powerful temptation for your son. Statistics suggest that your daughter has enough of a temptation to look at pornography that the risk warrants protecting her.

First, statistics tell us that the rate of teens accessing inappropriate material online is rampant. In the United States, 93% of boys and 62% of girls have looked at pornographic videos online before the age of 18.² And 54% of young people ages 18-22 admitted that they engaged in sexting while they were minors.³

The second (and more reliable) source, which warns of the risks and temptations of teenagers, is Scripture. The Bible does not paint a pretty picture of the human condition. Jesus said that “people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). Not “people have a mild attraction to” or “people stumble from time to time,” but people love darkness.

James writes that temptation is not simply evil wooing us from the outside. He said, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire (James 1:14, emphasis mine).  Our sinful nature wants to be tempted because it is inherently attracted to darkness. He does not say that the flesh tempts some people but that it tempts “each” and, thereby, every person.

Here’s what I am saying about your child’s inherent sinfulness as it relates to sexual sin and technology. If you have a boy, I promise you, that boy really wants to look at pornography. Porn is an incredibly powerful temptation for your son. Statistics suggest that your daughter has enough of a temptation to look at pornography that the risk warrants protecting her.

As challenging as accepting this reality may be, your children—like my children—have not escaped the effects of the fall. They have a natural affinity to sin sexually. Of course, your child needs you to be their champion and cheerleader who believes the best in them. Simultaneously, your child also needs you to be the responsible adult who realizes that his or her sinful flesh can lead them into very damaging places if they are not protected. If parents cannot accept their child’s inherent sinfulness and take action, then they will endanger their child.

Jesus said “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). He exercises hyperbole here in telling people to exercise whatever means possible to distance themselves from temptation and sin.

While Christ’s words here pertain to our own sanctification, this principle can be extrapolated to parenting, as well. Technology opens doors to sexual sin for your child—so close them. Install a filter/monitoring system on every device and apply parental controls.

Parents, I plead with you, do not be naïve. Protect your child.

¹http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/25/tech/web/mcafee-teen-online-survey/index.html
² https://www.brushfiresfoundation.org/youth-are-exposed-to-pornography-worldwide/
³Van Ouytsel J; Ponnet K; Walrave M. “The associations between adolescents’ consumption of pornography and music videos and their sexting behavior,” Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2014 Dec; 17(12): 722-8.

Youth pastors have challenging ministries, and that’s an understatement today. I took a phone call from Tom (all names have been changed), a youth pastor at a large, PCA church, and his situation is something churches will be encountering everywhere.

Tom said he had worked hard to build a thriving, discipleship-oriented youth ministry. He solicited many 30-something adult helpers and small group leaders. His ministry emphasis was on biblical education and personal ministry, but he also worked to develop an outreach mindset for the unsaved and outsiders among his kids.

And it was working. The youth group grew. Many un-churched kids regularly attended as a result of being invited by his kids. But one day his outreach approach came close to tearing the entire ministry apart.

What happened? One of the invited kids, Eric, who got very involved in the youth group, announced one day that he was gay.  This is where the problem for Tom began.

The kids from church had different responses to Eric’s disclosure, and they fell into three camps. The first camp was, “That’s wrong!  He shouldn’t be in the youth group.” The second was, “He should be here. The church is the best place for him to learn about Christ.” And some said, “There’s nothing wrong with being gay.”

All three responses created confusion and turmoil.

And then the parents got wind of it all. Not only were they shocked by the emerging disorder in the youth group, but many of the parents began to learn, for the first time, what their children believed about this issue. And they responded with anger and fear at everything that was happening.

Tom’s phone rang, and his email overflowed. “How did this kid get into the church’s youth group?” asked one dad.  One mom gave an ultimatum: “If that boy continues to attend, we’re pulling our sons out.”  Another said, “I don’t want that kind of bad influence around my child.”

Some church kids threatened to leave if Eric was asked to leave; others said they would never invite anyone else to come. To top it off, Tom’s staff had different responses. Tom was in no-man’s land, feeling pressure to make the right decision. Clearly, there would be consequences no matter how he handled the situation. Hence his phone call to me!

We must take seriously this awful fact: the culture (not parents, not the church) has become the predominant and authoritative teacher of sexuality for our youth. If youth leaders don’t want to take the initiative to address these issues, they should not be in youth work today.

As issues of sex, sexuality, and gender become the defining identity marker in the culture, it has never been more critical for the church to be educated and equipped.  With the church and parents often committed to not speaking about these matters to our kids, most kids make up their minds about sexuality and gay marriage by the age of 12 these days (and it’s getting younger every day). The culture has “discipled” them well. They are listening to the voices on the Internet and media, which they spend hours each day consuming.

Churches need to educate their leaders and volunteers in how to lovingly and compassionately minister to youth, some whom struggle silently with sexual issues from a relatively early age. Parents need to be taught how to talk to their kids, well before an issue explodes and they respond in anger and fear.

Those who are involved in ministry to junior and senior high youth must speak boldly, frequently, compassionately, and truthfully about sex, sexuality, and gender, especially because most kids struggle in their silent formative years when sexual identity is being formed and embraced. We must take seriously this awful fact: the culture (not parents, not the church) has become the predominant and authoritative teacher of sexuality for our youth. If youth leaders don’t want to take the initiative to address these issues, they should not be in youth work today.

Yes, you want 13-year-old Jason to trust you (or his small group leader) to tell you he’s looking at porn on his smartphone. Yes, you want 15-year-old Erica to confide that she’s attracted to other girls, and wants to know, is she gay.  You want Sam to tell you he feels he’s another gender. You want these kinds of talks because God has placed you in their lives at this crucial time, while they still live at home and before college. Believe me, once they get to a secular college, there will be plenty of voices saying, “Yes, please come talk to us. We’ll help you figure this out.”

I’m so serious about this I’m going to repeat it:  if youth leaders are not willing to engage these issues with the youth under their care, they shouldn’t be involved in youth work today!

HARVEST USA is ready to help your church become educated and proactive in dealing with these matters. We can meet with your church staffs and elder boards to help them strategize and implement how to do 21st-century youth ministry work.

Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been watching youth culture for almost thirty years. I’m convinced that there’s no visible cultural shift that’s been faster, more significant, more widespread, and more life-altering than our beliefs and behaviors regarding sex and sexuality. And if culture refers to the way that we define and live in the world, then the road map we’re following in today’s world is pointing our kids to a sexual ethic void of borders and boundaries, with the exception (at least for the time being) of labeling anything non-consensual as “wrong.”

The life-shaping cultural soup that our kids swim in 24/7 tells them that when it comes to sex, you can do whatever you want, however you want, whenever you want, wherever you want, with whomever you want. To be “sex positive” is to be authentic and true to your desires and feelings in the moment.

Over the course of my years watching culture, I’ve looked for ways to effectively engage in conversations that might challenge kids to rethink the cultural narrative in light of the biblical narrative on God’s good gift of sex and sexuality. One valuable tool we have at our fingertips is the cultural artifact of popular music, which happens to be one of the more voluminous ingredients in the cultural soup. So, why not use it to our advantage?

Perhaps we can take a lesson from the missionary approach of the Apostle Paul. In Acts 17 we read of his encounter with the Athenians and their pagan culture. Before challenging their cultural narrative with the biblical narrative, Paul took the time to look carefully at what they held near and dear (v. 22-23). He kept his eyes and ears open, listening to their beliefs and behaviors before confronting their beliefs and behaviors with the Gospel. Then, when he opened his mouth to speak the truth, he did so in ways that reflected his knowledge of their culture.

The life-shaping cultural soup that our kids swim in 24/7 tells them that when it comes to sex, you can do whatever you want, however you want, whenever you want, wherever you want, with whomever you want.

When it comes to talking to kids about sex and sexuality in today’s world, it’s not enough to know the ins and outs of biblical sexuality. We must also know the ins and outs of what culture is teaching our kids on these matters so that we might be able to celebrate and affirm where the culture might be getting it right (and that happens from time to time), and where the culture might be getting it wrong. That can only happen when we are committed to taking the time to listen carefully.

At the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (www.cpyu.org), we endeavor to allow popular music to serve as a tool that pulls back the curtain on the “spirit of the age.” By listening carefully to the music, we begin to unfold and see the maps that guide our kids. Then, we work to bring the light of the Gospel to bear on the realities that exist. A simple way to hear the music speak and to frame a response is to utilize what we call a “3(D) approach.” We begin by Discovering the worldview woven in and through the musical piece. Then, we work to Discern how that worldview affirms or conflicts with the biblical worldview. Finally, we Decide how to best respond to what we’ve Discovered and Discerned.

Singer Ed Sheeran’s song, “Shape of You,” offers a great example of how to use music to spark conversations on sex and sexuality. Pre-released as a single digital download on January 6, 2017, this Caribbean-flavored dance song from Sheeran’s album “÷” (Divide), has already topped the charts in 30 countries (including the U.S.), and just might wind up being the most-listened-to song of the year. Find the song’s lyrics online and give them a read. Then, go to YouTube and watch the official video for the song. Then take a look at how we’ve broken the song down using our 3(D) methodology (see below). Finally, take what you’ve learned and use it to spark discussions with the kids you know, love, and have been called to lead!

 

Discover: What is the message/worldview?

  • The song’s title is a straightforward reflection of the song’s message. The song and video depict and promote a quickly-formed mutual male/female relational connection prompted solely on the basis of visual/physical attraction.
  • In the video, Sheeran and his female interest cross paths while training in a dimly lit boxing gym. In the song, Sheeran sings of his deliberate quest to hook-up in a bar: “The club isn’t the best place to find a lover/So the bar is where I go/Me and my friends at the table doing shots/Drinking fast and then we talk slow/Come over and start up a conversation with just me/And trust me I’ll give it a chance now.” With inhibitions lowered due to alcohol, the couple agrees to dance.
  • The dance leads immediately to each of them declaring a desire for a sexual connection. He sings to her, “Girl, you know I want your love/Your love was handmade for somebody like me/Come on now, follow my lead.” She follows his lead while discouraging any getting-to-know-each-other through conversation: “Say, boy, let’s not talk too much/Grab on my waist and put that body on me/Come on now, follow my lead.”
  • The encounter quickly leads to a hook-up: “I’m in love with the shape of you/We push and pull like a magnet do.” Sheeran tells us that continuing sexual encounters based on visual attraction precede love: “Although my heart is falling too/I’m in love with your body/And now my bedsheets smell like you/Everyday discovering something brand new.”
  • Reflecting and promoting current cultural trends regarding sex, dating, and love, Sheeran puts a dating relationship following a week’s worth of sexual encounters: “One week in we let the story begin/We’re going out on our first date.” The song ends with Sheeran singing his mantra of physical attraction: “I’m in love with your body/Oh-I-Oh-I- Oh-I-Oh-I.”

 

 Discern: How does it stand in light of the biblical message/worldview?

  • Culture is bombarding our kids with hyper-sexual messages that lead them to equate “love” with sexual activity of all kinds. “Shape of You” both reflects and promotes the message they hear, specifically that there are no boundaries when it comes to sexuality, except for mutual consent. When it comes to sex, you are to “follow your heart” and your emotions, pursuing physical intimacy by doing whatever you want, wherever you want, however you want, whenever you want, with whomever you want. Increasingly, dating may now follow sexual hook-ups (which are increasingly random and anonymous). Contrary to these beliefs, the reality is that sex has been created by God as a good gift that He’s given to humanity. The Scriptures are clear from Genesis to Revelation: Sex is a wonderful and good thing that has its place: shared between one man and one woman within the context of a covenantal marriage (Genesis 2:24). Sex also has its divinely-ordained purpose: consummation of marriage, procreation, intimacy, and pleasure. We are to flee from any sexual activity which is outside of this place and purpose (Colossians 3:5; Galatians 5:19-21; I Corinthians 6:18).
  • The Bible defines “lust” as a strong attraction and desire that can move in either a good or evil direction. In this case, Sheeran is promoting indulgence and servitude to the lusts of the flesh, which the Bible states are not of God and which war against the soul (Ephesians 2:3; I John 2:16; I Peter 2:11). Indulging lustful feelings is not only immoral, but it selfishly sabotages personhood (both of self and other), our flourishing, and the potential for full relational intimacy (both now and future).
  • Culture puts a premium on physical appearances. Our boys are growing up in a culture that encourages them to view females as nothing more or less than sexual objects. Our girls are learning that they must center their lives and identities on creating a sexually attractive visual persona that is attractive and pleasing. Identity is now found in curating one’s self to satisfy “sexual consumerism” where we display ourselves, window-shop, purchase, consume, and then quickly dispose of that which is no longer novel. The Scriptures tell us that we have been made by God and for God. Finding our identity in anything other than Christ is idolatry (I John 5:21; Exodus 20:3-6). While humans mistakenly idolize outward appearances, we must rewrite the cultural narrative by cultivating inward character and hearts bent on faithful obedience to God (I Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 31:30).

 

Decide: What do I do with it?

  • You can be assured that the overwhelming majority of kids have seen and/or heard “Shape of You.” The song’s video treatment is relatively tame, using the boxing gym as a metaphorical representation of the song’s lyrical content. We recommend showing the video to students and then talking about the song’s lyrical messages, contrasting those messages with the message of the Scriptures on sex, sexuality, love, identity, personhood, objectification, and dating.
  • Ask students to evaluate how Sheeran’s song reflects the movement towards “expressive individualism” (being faithful, true, and authentic to one’s self) in our culture, as opposed to following the way and will of Jesus Christ (being a faithful, true, and obedient follower of Jesus).
  • Show the video to parents and youth workers, demonstrating how a cultural artifact serves to mirror current beliefs and behaviors. Specifically, describe the current cultural order of relationship building (hook-up, conversation, dating relationship). Then, teach them how to use “Shape of You” as a springboard for engaging in narrative-shifting conversations in a manner Jesus himself used: “You have heard it said that. . .” (the erroneous cultural narrative)… “but I tell you…” (the corrective of the biblical narrative).
  • Ask students to consider this quote from Lord Acton in relation to “Shape of You,” from a talk that Os Guinness gave to Cambridge University students: “Freedom is not the permission to do what you like. It’s the power to do what you ought.”¹

 

¹ http://bethinking.org/is-there-meaning-to-life/os-guinness-on-big-questions/3-truth.
Note: This blog originally appeared as an article titled “An Exercise in Cultural Discernment: From Bar to Bed..and Other Lies” in the Fall 2017 harvestusa magazine.

 

We are bombarded with practical strategies for helping our children and students live rightly and well.  Nothing wrong with that, but to reach their hearts you can’t start with a technique. You have to start with your own heart. You have to be authentic with them about how God is working in your life first.

Click here to read more thoughts from Cooper Pinson in his blog:  A Look Up: Touching the Heart of Students

Every adult generation has a similar refrain: a proverbial uphill-both-ways-commute, a more centralized family, a simpler life, and perhaps even a better America. And some of the generational shift is true. The neighborhood newspaper kid has been replaced with the online news feed. The drive-ins and Blockbusters of the world have been put to rest by Netflix and Amazon Prime. Those RC colas have stepped aside for pour-over coffee and craft beer. Now we have transgender bathrooms in elementary schools. Students are exposed to hardcore porn on smart devices at their friends’ houses. Fueled by the catalysts of hyper-individualism and secular humanism, a new sexual mantra has emerged:

Sexually, you are the only one who can define yourself, your truth, and your happiness.

But consider what has not changed: students are still searching for Meaning. Ever since we decided to forsake Meaning and rebelliously set out east of Eden to subdue the great unknown, we have forgotten who we really are. Yet we still search for that which we lost. At its core, our secularized sexuality is a meaning-quest, a desperate grasp at self-definition, finding ourselves. Rather than simply lament the state of today’s youth and the sexual chaos that has enveloped them, let’s take a fresh look at this quest.

Self-Defining as an Expression of Suffering

Think about transgenderism. What thoughts rise up inside of you?

“What is the world coming to today? The LGBTQ agenda…those liberals…the world is going to hell in a handbasket…”

But when the culture is preaching a message of radical self-expression, and when we ourselves feel the insecurity within us, is it any wonder that students seek to self-define? Who else can they trust? Newsfeeds are awash with upheaval in other countries, corrupt leaders, neo-Nazi hate groups, and TV preachers hyped up on riches. In other words, do we see gender-dysphoric students as political subversives or as human beings caught in a post-Eden world of chaos?

Our students are wrestling with the ever-increasing darkness of our culture. We are not seeing them accurately, nor are we helping them, when we criticize their behavior without taking into account the larger context of their world.

Think about the hookup culture.

“Kids can’t control themselves…I would have never thought about…If parents would just…”

But given the rampant divorce rate and relational hurt many experience in broken families, doesn’t it seem logical to protect yourself from that by-gone institution? Shouldn’t we take the “best” of that bubble, the sex itself, and celebrate it without chaining ourselves to the social construct? The hookup culture is not simply a symptom of our sex-drive; it’s also an attempt to discover a better way.

Students aren’t mindless drones. They are responding to the world around them in panic, like sheep without a shepherd. What if we saw meaning-making and self-defining as desperation in the face of deep suffering?

Perhaps it’s time to give voice to what we often fail to recognize: following Christ in this world is hard and seems absurd at times. When the mantra, “God is in control,” is spoken, it can be horrendously applied. Our students are wrestling with the ever-increasing darkness of our culture. We are not seeing them accurately, nor are we helping them, when we criticize their behavior without taking into account the larger context of their world.

But our kids are not alone in dealing with the chaos. We, too, have struggled with the notion of a good God in the midst of a twisted world. We were once the hippies, the punks, and the dropouts.

The Gospel of Jesus doesn’t promise daisy fields on this side of eternity; it promises crosses. And crosses are still heavy, despite the fact that they will give way to crowns. It’s only as we are honest about our own sufferings that we will be able to effectively walk arm and arm as fellow sojourners with kids.

For parents, youth workers, and anyone who works with kids, what does it look like to come alongside of our students as they make sense of this world? It means sitting your kid down this week to take a look at the news, asking questions about how he or she is processing the suffering in the world while not giving canned answers in response. It means taking a student out for a meal and asking, “What has been particularly difficult for you this week? How has that impacted you?” It means talking about our own hardships as well. Notice that Jesus weeps with Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazarus before he reframes suffering in a flood of resurrection-light (John 11:35-44).

Self-Defining as an Expression of Sin

However, our students’ attempts at self-defining are more than expressions of suffering. They are ultimately expressions of sin.

As one theologian said, secularization is “essentially forgetting Christ, because secularization is the isolation of the world within its own immanence.”¹ But since we can never truly isolate ourselves from our Creator, our secularized sexuality is at best attempted isolation, an endeavor to cut ourselves off from God. It is, essentially, an effort to burn Jacob’s ladder to the ground. But true purpose and meaning come from beyond the self.

When we have no Cosmic Norm, we brew confusion. If there is no Authority, we are all authorities, and when we are all authorities, there are no legitimate rights and wrongs. So while we need to approach our kids with a compassion that seeks to validate their suffering, we also need to approach them with a challenge about their rebellious hearts.

We need to help students see that repentance and faith are things we practice every day, not just things we did long ago when we were immature and foolish students ourselves.

How can we do this practically? If we want kids to trust God, and what his Word says about sex, sexuality, and gender, then as parents and leaders, we must be willing to wisely talk about our own sins with kids. We must be honest about our mess and the truth that Jesus — yes — has changed us, and that He, by His Spirit, is currently changing us as well.

We need to help students see that repentance and faith are things we practice every day, not just things we did long ago when we were immature and foolish students ourselves. Maybe we let our older teens in on some of the sins we struggled with, and still struggle with, as youth ministers. When we are honest, we open up space for students to be honest with us. If we want to make disciples, we’ve got to be willing to walk alongside of our children and our students for the long haul, not simply lecture them momentarily on morality.

Self-Defining as a Farce

Under the angst, both we and our kids know that our experiment in self-defining is a farce. We all “know” the true Meaning of the universe, and our knowledge of Him betrays us even as we seek to suppress it (Romans 1:18-20). We know that our attempts at self-defining are exercises in hewing broken cisterns that hold no water and give no life (Jeremiah 2:13; John 4:13-14).

Take a look at the celebrity culture. These people can have all the sex, all the money, and all the fame they want. But what sense can we make of those tip-top celebrities being jailed for drugs or racing their Lamborghinis to spite the police?  What do we make of all the rampant divorce plaguing the celebrity world?

If we are attentive to the culture, we will see this truth: human beings can never be “authentic” when we attempt to separate ourselves from God. Even in attempting “authenticity,” we find ourselves just repeating our culture’s sexual mantra. In other words, we are still “going with the flow” even if we buck traditional, Cosmic authority.

We can only be authentic when we are being worshipfully derivative, “receptively reconstructive” of our God-created sexuality, not “critically constructive” to the exclusion of our God.² In other words, when we construct meaning ourselves, we sinfully burden tweens with the idea that they can choose their own gender. When we don’t receive the meaning of sexuality from God, we praise porn stars for their “artistic” ability as we chain them to an industry bent on their exploitation.

With so much time spent looking down these days, it might be best to do the reverse.

A Way Out

I, like all high school students, experienced the pull to meaning-make, to self-define. But there were two, physical spaces that threw cold water in my face during those years.

The first was an observatory on an extremely large, and rural, college campus. This building was in the middle of nowhere (in a wheat field to be exact). I would drive my angst-ridden self out there many days after school and sit in the silence. I could see the pond across the gravel road, feel the wind in the wheat, touch the dirt, and experience the immensity of the land. I could see that the world wasn’t waiting on, or revolving around, me.

The second was the deck attached to my parents’ house, which is situated on top of a mountain in Northwest Georgia. In the late hours, when the house was asleep, I would often sneak out to the deck, and on clear nights, the billions of stars and the expanse of the valley infused Meaning back into my quest. But that Meaning came from seeing that I, in fact, did not live in an isolated snow globe of my own existence. I lived in a universe that sang a different song, and I was not its Theme.

If we are attentive to the culture, we will see this truth: human beings can never be “authentic” when we attempt to separate ourselves from God. Even in attempting “authenticity,” we find ourselves just repeating our culture’s sexual mantra.

I think, at times, given the chaos of our world and the genuine love we have for our kids and students, we run around looking for quick solutions, for a list of do’s and don’ts. But in our hectic spirit, we have neglected to look up.

Repositioning our secularized sexuality starts with turning our gaze elsewhere, escaping the prison of our own self-centeredness to rejoin the universe in its grand song to its loving Creator, Sustainer, and Savior.

A Look Up

There are tons of things we, as parents and youth ministers, can say and do to reach our kids. But we mustn’t begin there. Addressing the secularized sexuality of our kids starts with humbly addressing our own, with lifting our eyes to meet our Savior’s. We need to apply both the balm and challenge of Jesus to our own suffering wounds and sinful flesh in real, practical ways today.

As to our sexual sufferings, we need to bring them to the One who cares for us. Consider Psalm 56:8: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”

Can you imagine your God compassionately tallying your many, excruciating battles with pornography, loneliness, insecurity, or same-sex attraction? Can you imagine Him holding a bottle up to your eye to catch your tears shed for the son or daughter who has embraced a rebellious life? Can you think of Him with His cosmic book, recording your sorrows in prose?

But doesn’t that make the world about me? Certainly not. It is the ironic nature of grace. Grace is water to a dry mouth, enabling speech and song to our God.

How can we bring our sorrows and sufferings to Him? Let me suggest one thing: let’s honestly pray to Him today. Let’s lay our frustrations, our despairs, our inabilities, our sufferings at His feet. And, in doing so, let’s remember the One who hears us. He is the One who did not stay aloof but suffered with us, for us.

As for our sins, the call for repentance must be laid upon us before it can be laid upon our kids or students. In the warmth of his kindness (Romans 2:4), let’s turn back to Him in practical ways even today. When we get angry with our children, let’s apologize to them and ask for their forgiveness, teaching them how we come to our Father. Instead of trying to manage the pull to look at porn on our smartphones, let’s consider a dumb phone.

Do we need to apply the balm and challenge of Christ to our kids’ sufferings and sins? Absolutely. But we cannot offer to them something we haven’t received ourselves. We cannot ask our students to lift their gaze if our own is downwardly fixed.

Only when we, ourselves, fix our gaze on Jesus in everyday ways will our families and ministries find their true place in the universe, not as creators, but as creatures; not as masters, but as servants; not as movers, but as moved. Only then will we, and those kids under our watch, be set in motion, not by our farcical, self-defining meaning-quest but by love for our Great God.

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.³

 

 

Note: this blog was originally published in our harvestusa magazine as “A Look Up: Discipling Students in an Age of Pour-Over Coffee and Smart-Tech.”

¹G.C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: The Work of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), 18.

² Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th Ed., Ed. K. Scott Oliphint, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing), 72.

³ Dante Alighieri, Paradise, Trans. Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds, (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1969), 347.


To see Cooper talk more about this issue, click on Cooper’s video blog,  A Look Up: Touching the Heart of Students. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

It’s hard to be honest with someone about what it’s like to live with same-sex attraction. But keeping this struggle secret will only isolate you and make your walk with Christ more difficult. Desmond talks about some first steps you can take to begin opening up and inviting other brothers and sisters in Christ into your life, and receive the care and friendship you need.

Click here to go deeper on this subject in Desmond’s blog: “Hiding my same-sex attraction—Part 2.”


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