22 Nov 2017
Of Boys and Cultural Stereotypes
“Is it OK for my son to play dress-up like a princess and dance?” asked Bob, after one of our parenting seminars. Bob, who looked like the former college athlete he was, and his wife were concerned about their five-year-old son 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 traditional cultural stereotypes.
Here’s some advice I gave these parents:
Affirm and Validate
True gender differences and gender roles come from God our Creator. But every culture has certain gender-specific stereotypical standards. The problem is that, since Genesis 3, every culture’s ideas on gender contain fallen elements. So, before we guide our sons away from behaviors we don’t like (or the sub-culture in which we live, like the church, deems unacceptable), we have to ask if a biblical line is being crossed.
All our little guys, whether or not they present any atypical gender 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.
Often parents are worried when their sons have different temperaments, talents, and interests that are not stereotypical for boys. Dads need to 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’s purpose for him is to bless the world and build up his Kingdom through his unique giftings.
We want to help our little guys find safe ways to integrate into the world of boys, which eventually becomes a world of men.
Dad, if you’re the guy who loves sports, then you’ve got to let “it” go as a must for your son. Instead, explore what your child’s personality, gifts, and passions are, and then support them, develop them, and cultivate an appreciation of them. So, a father who loves football and has a son who loves art, dance, and drama needs to show up for recitals or performances, appreciate the inner complexities of his son’s fine art with him, and support and celebrate his efforts and successes.
Protect and Guide
Bob and his wife have a good 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 atypical gender behavior. And this is a very valid concern. We have to protect our little boys from bullying and shaming. So we have to be engaged, stepping in to stop verbal or physical abuse by other boys while avoiding a tendency to overprotect.
But protecting your son is not isolating 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 martial arts, put him in a choir, started trumpet lessons, and tried art classes. At nine, we are still discerning his top gifts and cultivating his passions. Sample lots of boy-related and general kids’ activities, but be wary of requiring your son to remain in an activity he doesn’t like.
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 feeling overwhelmed and anxious in a loud, crowded place.
I started to gently break his habit of holding my hand and hanging back from the other boys. I 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 to interact with the boys. He is more reserved than other boys, but over time 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 to toughen him up. We need to gently guide and redirect them, and that is far different than isolating or shaming them. This way we can help our sons feel included, part of the tribe of men to which they belong.
As parents, and especially dads, we need to pray for wisdom in raising little guys up to be men who follow Christ, who is the ultimate model of manhood.
And for Bob and his wife, that might mean their son grows up to be a dancer.
16 Nov 2017
Protecting Your Home from Porn – Part 2
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.
16 Nov 2017
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?
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?
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, 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).
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.
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?”
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.
09 Nov 2017
Protecting Your Home from Porn – Part 1
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
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.
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.
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.
09 Nov 2017
Protecting Your Home from Porn – Part 1
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
16 Dec 2015
Questions About Sexuality Need Good Answers
“I know in my head what Scripture says about homosexuality, but in my heart I sometimes struggle with that because I see students who are quite happy being gay. How do I reconcile these two?”
At the end of talking to 140 ministry interns, that’s the question someone asked me. It was June, in hot Atlanta, where the Student Outreach of Harvest USA spoke to Reformed University Fellowship interns about how to help college students with sexual struggles. They had all participated in RUF ministry while they were students and were now working with RUF as graduate interns. Ahead of them was a ministry with a student population in the thousands. These kinds of questions were the ones they needed to know how to answer.
The struggle this intern had is the same that many in the church face today, especially among our youth. Our society has normalized same-sex relationships, and it’s becoming easier to accept it and go with the flow. The biblical position on sexuality is now the one that looks out of place. RUF is a solid, evangelical student ministry organization, and yet as we travel to speak to lots of student ministers we see how they are wrestling with the impact of today’s swiftly-changing sexual mores. Their struggle shows how much they care about trying to connect the power of the gospel to the lives of those who are embracing our post-Christian culture.
The entire day was designed to address big questions like the one I got. Here’s another one: Why do we, as Christians, struggle with sexuality so much? Aren’t Christians supposed to be different?
Good question. The answer is that sexual struggles and sin don’t just happen by themselves; they’re connected to something deeper. We must look to the underlying factors that drive our behavior—the hidden motives of the heart. Even Christians struggle with a multitude of idols, good things we want in life that become things we feel we cannot live without. At some level we begin to believe God cannot meet the desires of our heart, and we turn to find life outside of God. We all need to know our own idols in order to effectively turn from them.
Another question these student interns will face: How can I help a student who keeps falling into sexual sin? Here we advised the interns to move towards sexual strugglers with empathy and compassion, in the same way that Jesus moves toward us. Good accountability relationships will be important for the struggler but ought to be grounded in grace and not legalism. Real change is not just about behavior, working hard to live differently; it’s finding life in Christ, where turning from sin is a response to God’s amazing grace to sinners.
Here’s the final question the RUF interns must answer today: What’s wrong with sexual behavior that is consensual and doesn’t hurt anyone? This is the post-modern justification for any and all sexual behavior (and is, frankly, what causes the struggle the student intern was talking to me about).
Here we tried to help the interns understand the worldviews that drive this postmodern understanding of sex, where truth is found only in your own personal life experience, and your sexual desires define the core of your identity. In contrast, the Christian worldview is that personal experience is not objective truth, but God’s Word is, and that Word tells us about our broken condition and of our desperate need for God. God has designed our sexuality for purposes greater than our own appetites, and love, without a moral standard, is too easily twisted into self-centeredness, even when two people want the same thing. Mutual self-centeredness as a core principle is brokenness, not health. But God’s love, when lived out in a marriage relationship between a husband and wife, displays a growing other-centered love that finds life in giving, as Christ demonstrated for us on the cross.
Cooper, my Student Outreach colleague, and I walked away from our time with RUF with a deepened sense of how today’s students are bombarded with an anything-goes sexuality that looks appealing but does not bring about the life God has for his creation. This necessity of our mission to equip churches to proclaim the goodness of Christ and his design for sexuality to emerging generations was only strengthened during our time with them.
14 Jan 2014
God Gives the Best Sex
A positive theology of sex
Harvest USA articles usually deal with the negative realities of sexual sin, and many people think evangelical Christians, when it comes to discussions of sex, are negative, nit-picking prudes who do not have enough fun and who believe God is anti-pleasure and only says “No!” Harvest USA, in its work with people who struggle with sexual brokenness and sin, speaks seriously about these issues, but serious does not mean negative.
We are about an incredibly positive message; we are about real joy, restoration, and redemption that flow from God’s grace, mercy, and love. This applies to matters of sex!
Scripture says God makes and gives to his creation the best pleasures. Psalm 16 says, “At your right hand are pleasures forevermore!” (ESV). Sex, with all its emotional and physical components of pleasure, came from the mind of God. It was not something man invented in opposition to God’s plan. Scripture declares that God designed us to please him and live a life full of lasting pleasures and joys.
This is good news. Even though sin has corrupted all good things, much of the goodness of God’s work of creation remains and God’s work of redemption extends hope to bring joy from despair. We are called to live within the good and right parameters of God’s design. In the area of sex, it is imperative to grasp the positive theology of sexuality that God designed. Doing so will help us live lives that are glorifying to God, enjoy his creation more and avoid the entanglements of sexual idolatry and sin.
Consider the following seven truths about God’s great gift of sex.
1. God made us male and female–the crowning masterpieces of his creation
The good news about God’s gift of sex and sexuality begins with God the almighty, all wise and all loving Creator. God declared the world was good and that man and woman were very good. Our maleness and masculinity or our femaleness and femininity are great and astounding works of divine creativity. Every man and woman is a crowning masterpiece of the Creator.
What are we masterpieces here for? Our culture says life is for sex, and sex is the reason for life. Our culture teaches us to radically devalue our masculinity or femininity unless we are sexually active. Unmarried Christians are tempted to believe their single years are a waste if they cannot have sex and tend to make marriage an idol in their hearts. This “life is for sex” view is far too one-dimensional. If by “sex” we only think about acts of sex—the acts that lead to orgasm—then our definition is extremely narrow and artificial. It is easy to “miss the forest for the trees.” If we think only about the sex act, we miss a grand forest of God-made sexuality and sexual identity.
While it is true that God designed us to have the capacity for sex, we are really created for relationships. We are not a masterpiece to hang alone in an art gallery, nor are we made only for sex. In Psalm 8, King David praised God that we were made “a little lower than the angels” (v. 7, NIV). As male and female, we each have astounding dignity—even glory—to bear his image and have a personal relationship with him. God also enabled us to enjoy a kaleidoscope of relationships because he lovingly gave each of us our gender identity. Maleness or femaleness is the context not only for being husbands and wives, but also fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, male friends and female friends, etc. We best experience this dignity and glory that God graciously intends for us as we love God and our neighbors as ourselves.
2. God’s gift of sexuality reveals his own nature and glory
Art reflects the character of the artist, and a novel yields insights into the mind of the author. In a mysterious way, the fact of two genders capable of sexual intimacy reflects the nature of God. Even before time began, God the Father loved God the Son. The Father, Son, and Spirit shared a communion that was complete and perfect. It is the perfect relationship and reflects absolute transparency and intimacy. The Bible specifically teaches that each person of the Trinity has total awareness of the others (Luke 10:20; Romans 8:27; 1 Corinthians 2:11, etc.). The intimacy of the Trinity—the three in one—is the source of and reason we are humanly capable of cultivating intimacy. The ability to build trust, closeness, and knowledge of another is itself a love-gift from our Triune God who delights, for example, when two of his children “become one flesh” in marriage.
Scripture also shows the nature of God’s love for his people through metaphors relating to marriage. Ezekiel 16, Hosea 2, and Song of Solomon in various ways point to God as a faithful husband who redemptively loves his undeserving bride. Paul specifically states that marriage reflects the love Christ has for his church (Ephesians 5:32). When married couples have sex they can reflect a glimmer of God’s passion for his church, and the reality of perfect intimacy in Heaven—our state after the marriage of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).
Through faithfulness, chastity, and modesty, unmarried people can enjoy many levels and types of intimacy (other than engaging in sex) in the context of their God-given gender identity. Marriage is not the only venue for a deep and abiding relationship. Singles can and ought to involve themselves in close, long-lasting friendships. These, too, are relationships that reflect the intimate connections of community that the Trinity displays. Unmarried individuals also can reflect the sacrificial love of Christ for the church. Single men can sacrifice themselves for others by doing things that seemingly come naturally to men—manual labor, repairing things, etc.—yet which require them to act relationally towards others. Single women can sacrifice themselves for others by doing things that reflect a woman’s natural affinities. Women often seem more alert to an individual’s needs, both physical and emotional. We each function out of our sexual identity even if we are not engaging in sex.
3. God’s gift of sexuality is for all of us, whether we are single or married
God made each man and woman able to live righteously and have an abundant life regardless of his or her age or marital status. Both the married and unmarried state can be joy-filled and God-honoring, yet many Christian singles are not feeling the glory of being single. The gift of celibacy sounds like a hard sell. “If only…” riddles and even cripples their joy in life, especially as they strive in good faith to live pure against the backdrop of our orgasmically-obsessed secular culture.
Single Christians wonder, “Will I miss out on something fundamental to life if I never have a full sex-life merely because I don’t have a spouse?” Are the pleasures of sex in marriage better than the pleasures of godly unmarried sexuality? If we say, “yes,” we fall into a two-class view of Christianity that is both un-biblical and destructive. This is just as erroneous as saying that having children is essential to the Christian life and that childless couples are somehow second-class Christians.
The core blessings of the gospel are for everyone who believes, whether married or not. The diverse benefits of the gospel, however, are not equally distributed to all believers at all seasons of life. Remember Jesus? He was unmarried, sinless, and lived without the pleasures of sexual intercourse. Remember Paul? He said that he would rather remain unmarried. Remember Daniel and numerous other singles in the Bible?
The pleasures of sex in marriage are not better than the joys God provides unmarried believers. In the same way that chocolate chip cookies are great and strawberry shortcake is super, these pleasures are not better or worse; they are simply different. An apple pie lover would be foolish to say rhubarb pie is bad simply because he or she had never tasted it.
So is the married state to be preferred to the unmarried state? Not necessarily. While Paul does say that it is better to marry “than to burn” in lust, he also advocates the gift of celibacy over marriage for the sake of service to the Kingdom, especially during times of persecution (I Corinthians 7:9, 28-29). Here is a reality check: Many unmarried Christians experience more intimacy through godly friendships and fulfillment through unhindered service for the Kingdom than others in poor marriages. Singles and married people can be miserable or content. It is all a matter of God’s grace, which good gift God chooses to give his children, and what we do as stewards of these gifts. Some are called to celibacy—not a season but a lifetime of singleness—and so God gives special grace, special opportunities, and especially significant service.
In a season of singleness, God’s powerful and diverse grace is the real key to joy and brings significance to times of challenge. Singles are not the only ones asking, “What am I to do with all my sexual desires?” Single chastity is not easy, but married people will tell you that maintaining purity and growing in intimacy is not a cake walk either.
The fact that purity is hard cannot be a rationalization for compromise. Acting out sexually is not synonymous with intimacy. Masturbation is a prime example. It can give fleeting pleasure, but it is often addictive, always selfish, and cannot deliver intimacy or lasting relational joy.
God our Father is not surprised or outwitted by the sexual temptations we all face. Our Heavenly Father wired us to have desires, and he gives strength to draw near to him and avoid sexual or any other sin. He does not tempt us to sin, but he affords us opportunities to seek and find what is far better, himself, rather than fleeting bodily pleasures. Unmarried men and women can channel their sexual energies toward non-sexual but very fulfilling relationships, noble accomplishments, and adventures in service and ministry. The biggest hazard of singleness is not missing out on sexual release—it is being isolated and alone. Isolation is choice, but it is not God’s will for Christian singles to live without the grace of Christian friends and spiritual family. Life is too short to not have and be family. God provides his body, the church, as a functional family for both time and eternity.
4. God designed sex with marriage to bless, protect, and empower us
Some fear the power of sex, but God gave sexual intimacy the sacred power to bond a husband and wife together—body and soul—in a covenant of loyalty and love. “Becoming one flesh” within marriage is more satisfying that anything the world offers as a sexually attractive substitute. Like a fire inside a fireplace, it provides light and warmth, but outside the right context, sex can destroy like an un-extinguished cigarette can burn down a huge forest. Sex is not the purpose of marriage or a good enough reason to get married. Sex is not the goal. It is a means to an end. The Lord gave sexual intimacy, as a natural part of married-life, to be an intense, joy-giving way to celebrate and reaffirm covenant love. Rest assured God is very pleased when godly couples enjoy it.
Marriage protects sex from promiscuity and exploitation, and sex is to protect marriage by giving comfort and relieving temptation. That is why Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, commands husbands and wives not to defraud each other sexually but to lovingly fulfill their marital duty to one another. A church that neglected to celebrate Christmas and Easter would be spiritually malnourished. A marriage without sexual intimacy is likewise emotionally impoverished. Godly, other-centered sex protects married couples from temptation and helps keep marriages together. Proper sexual expression in marriage is a celebration that renews commitment and love.
Genesis 1:26-28 reveals that God designed sex within marriage to empower us. God never rescinded his plan for us “to have dominion … be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” Dominion may sound like an archaic and politically incorrect concept. Yet, God gave sex within marriage for not only joy, intimacy, mutual comfort and support, but also procreation of children! Without moms and dads, where would we be? One divine purpose of sex in marriage is to provide a context to bear and then empower children who will grow up to fulfill a Kingdom purpose—to spread God’s justice, wisdom, and love to the entire world.
5. God gave our sexuality so we could know Christ better and love others as Christ loves us
The world teaches that whatever one person can do to get another “consenting adult” to please him or her sexually is permissible. God gave us a sex drive not to make us sin but to love well. It takes knowing Christ better to realize that sex is not a toy and we are not consumers of sexual experiences. It takes loving Christ better to see our sexuality as a platform for self-controlled and self-giving love.
When we are tempted to trust sex to heal our emotional needs or save us from emptiness, we become convinced that our pain is worse than sin. We defend our sexual compromise. It takes knowing Jesus better to believe sin is worse than our pain. It takes loving Christ better to sincerely want freedom from sin rather than freedom to sin. This moral challenge does not surprise God. He allows these tensions and tests as opportunities to turn to him for grace and power in our times of need.
The joys and trials of marriage in general and sex within marriage are given to make us holy more than to make us happy. In seasons when a marriage becomes strained, hard, or painful, the desires accompanying sexual intimacy can turn a maturing Christian’s heart toward Christ. Christ provides wisdom and strength to love an imperfect and even unlovely spouse with sexual faithfulness and perseverance, even when one’s flesh wants to run or rage. We can learn, “The better I love Christ, the better I will love my spouse. The better I love my spouse, the better I will love Christ.”
All these sexual tensions, temptations, and emotional desires offer singles and those married opportunities to grow finding paths to joy as God faithfully provides our true needs. When we find him faithful and follow him with trust and integrity, we honor him. Our sincere hearts shine through our good deeds of self-sacrificing love and sexual integrity. This is one way our sexuality gives God glory.
6. Sexuality points to Christ and the church—we need the church to shepherd the story of our sexuality
The world really cannot find a grand story for human sexuality. Secular people want life to be a comedy where being sexually active brings happiness. They find monogamy as boring as re-runs and the sexless narrative of chastity or celibacy a pointless tragedy. In Scripture, on the other hand, God places our sexuality into the grand story of redemption. Our sexuality points towards the grand divine drama—the true story of the High King who builds a Kingdom of people redeemed by a blood covenant through his Son, Christ Jesus.
The gospel story of God making and keeping the covenant of redemption is the grand context within which we should express our sexuality. Our story and Christ’s story are forever united. This union is compared to the connection of the head to the body. As the body of the crucified and risen King, we extend his truth, life, and redemption against all sin, death, and evil. All sexual matters are placed into the epic struggle of good and evil—the Kingdom versus the evil empire.
Since God made sex to be powerful, Christ commissioned the church to function as a shepherd and guide in this area as well as in all other areas of life. The church—the people of God—is a gracious gift to each Christian. It is in the community of Christ that we give and receive guidance, encouragement, correction, and company. Other Christians are crucial to assist us when we are struggling with sexual issues and to keep our eyes on Jesus. Our sexuality is not just our story; it really is part of the family story, and the church family has a say and stake in how we live out our sexuality. Our sexuality is so big no Christian can handle it alone. Christ gave the church as the “family of God” (1 Timothy 3:15) because when sexual brokenness and sin enters our lives, we need a healing community to affirm the forgiveness we receive from Jesus. The church is the spiritually functional family that accepts and guides us in repentance and into the joys of restoration.
7. God gave sex to point us to heaven—sex is not for forever
In Matthew 22, Jesus stated there will be no marriage and therefore no sexual intimacy in Heaven. How can something as intensely good as sexual intimacy be left out of heaven? God will not leave sex out of Heaven because it is inherently sinful. God declared all things good on Day Six after He told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply—a task that required sexual activity. If sex is good for time, why is it not good enough for eternity?
It is because there is something better. It is because sex, in the fullness of its meaning, points to greater realities in the way a road sign points to a great city. The sign of sex will be obsolete in Heaven because the reality it points to will be replaced by the greater reality itself. It is the same way with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In Heaven, both sacraments will cease since they have their fulfillment there. The Lord’s Supper—a meal remembering Christ’s death and signifying our union with him—will be replaced by the great Wedding Feast. We will be the Bride and he the Groom! Baptism, which is a sign that we belong to Christ, will be replaced in Heaven because we will be face to face with Christ.
The intimacy we will have with Christ throughout eternity will be so great that sexual intimacy will pale in comparison. The ecstatic pleasure of even the best orgasmic 15 seconds shared in a godly marriage will be like tasting the plainest food compared to the everlasting joy and intimacy we will share with Christ at his banquet table.
If sex can be this good now, even in a world tainted by sin, think how much better sinless and perfect intimacy with our Creator will be! It will be the coming home into the embrace of the One who has loved us before the foundations of the world. It will be so glorious not one of us will regret “missing sex.” Instead, we will wonder how we were ever so preoccupied with it. Nothing can compare to entering into the presence of the glorious radiance of God Almighty.
God gives the best sex
God gives the best sex. He gives sex and sexuality for our joy and, ultimately, for his glory. Our Father does not deprive us from pleasures, nor does he condemn us for our failures. God faithfully provides forgiveness and empowering grace so that the trials and joys related to our sexuality work together to prepare us for eternal intimacy with Jesus Christ. Our sexuality offers a tremendous opportunity to live a life of faith and love. As we live with his gift by means of his grace and together with his grace-giving people, we live out the hope of the gospel and are a light to the world.
28 Jul 2011
Rescuing Young Minds from Pornification
Don and Dave are college students. Don asks Dave, “What’s you major?” and Dave replies, “Business Administration.”
“What’s yours?” asks Dave, and Don says, “English Lit.”
Don then asks, “So, what’s your minor?”
And Dave says, “Porn is my minor.”
After a long pause, Don incredulously asks, “Is that in . . . the Women’s Studies Department?”
The fictional Dave in this snippet of dialogue would probably never be this honest. But a study of 29,000 North American college students revealed that 51% of men and 16% of women spend up to 5 hours each week online “for sexual purposes” [Cited in Porn University: What College Students Are Really Saying About Sex on Campus, by Michael Leahy. Moody, 2009].
And catch this: An additional 11% of men spend anywhere from 5 to 20 hours on porn per week! That is a lot of carnal study. No wonder many say, “Porn is the norm.”
Is pornification just a crisis among non-Christian students? Not by a long stretch. Every campus minister with whom I speak says that almost 100% of the men who are student leaders in their ministry have or have had a fierce struggle with porn. Likewise, they add that most of their female student leaders who are dating stumble a lot with varying levels of sexual activity with their boyfriends.
What will happen to these Christian students if this practice is not dealt with? What will be the impact on their relationships, now and in the future? What will happen to the church if most of today’s rising Christian leaders have been habitually pornified and promiscuous?
If Christian students today see little or no problem with such sexual behavior, then it means they will use sex and porn as their recreational drugs of choice, as their habitual escape from the pressures and struggles of life. Whatever the motive, the end result will be disastrous: Pornified and promiscuous behavior leads to a divorce between love and sex, between committed relationship and intimacy.
Sex becomes just another commodity for consumers to consume. Sex is used not to glory God within the parameters of his design, but for sheer personal and self-centered reasons. This consumer mindset about sex will have devastating implications for when young people do marry. Expectations about sex will run up against the all-too-familiar struggles that every marriage encounters. The odds are good that, when dealing with such marital pressures, they will use the same escape mechanisms they utilized as students—porn and sexual encounters. But this time, it will be adultery.
Broken sexuality is not victimless. Affairs and porn usage devastate spouses, and they often lead to the break-up of families. Children then become the most innocent victims of a worldview mindset, so prevalent today, that sex is merely about my pleasure and my needs. Sex, used within that worldview, is far from harmless—it’s threatening, especially for society as a whole, as more and more families are torn apart.
How do we intervene into the lives of Christian students today to try and stop this tsunami of broken sexuality? This is what I’m going to explore over the next several posts. Let me hear your thoughts as well.
04 Dec 2008
Fear and False Intimacy
Fear is the enemy of love. Fear is the enemy of trust, honesty, sharing of oneself, and thus the enemy of intimacy.
In his book False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction, Harry Schaumberg defines this concept of false intimacy as essentially a selfish strategy and self-created illusion for a person to avoid the relational pain inherent in real intimacy by pursuing sexual experiences—whether through fantasy, solo sex, or acting out with another person. False intimacy reveals a deep commitment to controlling or managing actual or potential emotional disappointments or pain and seeks emotional comfort, security, peace, and autonomy over the best interests of another person.
How does Schaumberg’s idea relate to the fears and unbelief in your past or present struggles? Fear is the enemy of love, but love is the enemy of fear. Love and truth fight fear and unbelief. (Does this sound like Yoda of Star Wars or a Haikou poem?) If love is a verb, and living in truth means confession, vulnerability, and self-disclosure, then how are you doing in loving God and others, with truthful self-discovery and honest self-disclosure with others? “Heart work” is the hardest work of all.
Since God accepted you and me when we were still enemies (Romans 5:8,10), what have you been so afraid of? What has distorted your vision of God’s goodness and trustworthiness? How are you seeking honest relationships now?
False intimacy—and the fear that drives it—is endemic in our culture, and not just because of porn, which is an extreme variety of avoiding real intimacy and controlling emotions by using real people. Someone has said that the three rules of a dysfunctional family are 1) don’t talk, 2) don’t feel, and 3) don’t trust. Yet we are called to be true brothers, the real family of God, a community of true honesty, acceptance, and mutual support. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, ESV). Jesus is against the fear of false intimacy. “Perfect love cast out fear” (1 John 4:18). And, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). The true meaning of Christmas is to set us free from the fears that enslave our hearts.
10 Nov 2008
Restless? The Siren Call of Porn
Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith were hanging out.
Jones says, “Listen to this quote: ‘My heart is restless until it rests in you.'”
Smith laughs and retorts, “Must have been written by a girl.”
Jones, quiet for a while, says, “Well, sometimes I am restless. In fact, last night, I spent three hours looking at porn.”
Smith asked,”Was it good stuff?!”
Jones:”I find that the free porn is okay, but you have to put out the bucks for something satisfying.”
Smith: “Three hours, eh. Must have been some hot stuff.”
Jones: “Naw, it was basically reruns.”
Smith: “So now you’re taking up reading Bible-looking books?”
Jones, holding the leather-bound book, says, “It’s St. Augustine’s Confessions.” Then, after a pause: “From the 5th century A.D.”
Smith: “What the…huh? Who? What are you talking about?”
Feeling dejected and a bit scorned by Smith, Jones left to take a walk with uncomfortable questions poking at his conscience.
“What do I really want?”
“Can I be satisfied with a woman made of pixels—a pixelated woman?”
“Wonder why she did that photo shoot?”
“What does she really want?”
“I wonder if she is as desperate as I am.”
Jones stopped at a park bench. He took up the book, found his book mark, and read the whole quote.
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Are you like Jones? Where does your restless heart wander?
And are you satisfied where your wandering heart takes you?
What, Who can satisfy your restless heart?
Tolle Lege—”Take up and read”