11 Oct 2017
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.
21 Sep 2017
Openness and transparency are markers of a healthy Christian community. Honesty about one’s struggles and needs leads us to reach out to Christ and others for the help we need. But this is harder for believers who live with same-sex attraction.
One would think that with a growing acceptance of gays and lesbians becoming more visible in the culture there would be a corresponding acceptance within the church of Christians who follow God’s word on sexuality and who live with same-sex attraction.
But at Harvest USA we continue to see this issue remain hidden in the church. That means there are lots of brothers and sisters with same-sex attraction whose lives remain shrouded in secrecy. They don’t want to disclose their struggle because of the possible consequences of doing so.
The most obvious reason for staying silent is the fear of rejection. The most intense fear is the fear of rejection from your friends (and yes, I know many who have friendships lasting for years and, sadly, they have never opened up about this to them).
Will my friends think any different of me? Will I be treated with distrust? Will I understand their responses? Will they understand me? How might this news radically change the level of friendship I already have? I want more, but I’m deadly afraid to lose what I’ve got.
I already feel alone and different; I don’t want to feel this anymore.
But the fear is greater than the hope that they might finally be known, and loved, for who they are. So in staying hidden, there remains a part of them that never sees the light of day.
Then there is the fear of gossip. You don’t need everyone knowing this about you, but you fear that it will leak out and spread. Keeping secrets and confidences for a long time is a hard thing to do. If everybody knows this about you, then you’ll dread living in a fishbowl. You are certainly not ready for that.
Then there is the fear of hearing opinions that are inaccurate about same-sex attraction, putting you on the spot, needing to explain again and again.
The desire to keep quiet may seem valid—and feel like the only safe option—but continuing to do so keeps you from growing in your faith. Holding onto a secret from others is also a failure to trust God.
And then there is the fear that, if you stumble and fall into sexual sin, then you know there will be some (many?) who think that sexual sin is the worst kind of offense for a Christian. (And if that’s the kind of church you’re in, there are other gospel-believing churches where that is not the case, and you should seek them out.)
But even if you are in a church that sees sexual struggles and sin as being essentially no different than other faith struggles, these are some legitimate concerns that can keep you from opening up.
But let’s talk for a minute about one other thing that’s hurting you by keeping silent. Not sharing keeps you isolated and feeling alone, which is how you feel almost all the time. The desire to keep quiet may seem valid—and feel like the only safe option—but continuing to do so keeps you from growing in your faith. Holding onto a secret from others is also a failure to trust God.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the cross of Christ is that although it is marked with suffering and shame, it also swallowed up death. In other words, Christ’s death puts to death our sins and fears. We are now given the power to face our fears and struggles and seek help from God and others. And in seeking help from others, we are, in fact, seeking help from God.
The person struggling with same-sex attraction can freely share what God has done, even if there is fear of rejection. I know it’s hard to do this. I get it. I’ve mentioned some of the dangers and difficulties.
And in remaining silent, the church won’t grow. Because how you live your life in the body of Christ affects others.
But when you remain hidden, you won’t grow as you could grow; you won’t experience trust and joy in Christ as you could.
And in remaining silent, the church won’t grow. Because how you live your life in the body of Christ affects others.
My hope is that if you are a same-sex attracted struggler, that you would ask God for the grace to share your struggles with a few others in your church. Start small. To be increasingly honest about who you are. And that in doing so, you will be surprised. Surprised that there will be many who will receive you and love you just as you are, and in accepting you, will love you enough to keep showing you Jesus, and walking with you every step of the way towards him.
To see Desmond talk more about this issue, click on Desmond’s video blog, Hiding My Same-Sex Attraction—Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
19 Sep 2017
Harvest USA Women’s Ministry will be starting a new support group for women on September 19, 2017.
This group is for women who need help overcoming sexual sin and growing in the grace of Jesus Christ. The group will meet each Tuesday at 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm – starting on Tuesday, September 19, 2017 to Tuesday, January 30, 2018.
Please contact Ellen Dykas, Women’s Ministry Coordinator, if interested, as an appointment with her is required to be considered for group membership. [email protected], 215-4820-0111 x 108
11 Jul 2017
There are few hurts deeper than sexual betrayal. Sex is supposed to be a space of deep vulnerability and intimacy, a place of joyful self-giving. No wonder the Bible calls marriage a “one-flesh” union, where physical nakedness is a profound image of intimacy, of total knowing and complete trust between a wife and husband.
When that trust is broken, a husband and wife will struggle to believe that their sexual intimacy can ever be restored. For those who stay together (and sadly, sometimes that will not be possible), they will need a way forward to become vulnerable and again. It will not be easy, but a focus on the gospel gives real hope and practical help.
To understand how to rebuild trust, it helps to see God’s intention for sexual intimacy within marriage. As Dave White says in his blog, “Just What is Godly Sex?” sexual expression is “analogous to a deeper, eternal reality—a husband and wife are to be devoted to one another, forsaking all others, as a reflection of Jesus’ desire that we be utterly devoted to him, forsaking worship of all others.”
Sexual unfaithfulness breaks trust at the most vulnerable aspect of oneness as a spouse chooses, rather than forsakes, something or someone instead of the one to whom they promised faithfulness. Whether the betrayal is mental, emotional, or physical (or all three), the sins of pornography, sexual fantasy, masturbation, and adultery are ways a spouse breaks from devotion to Christ and their spouse, for worship of self and pleasure.
It is crucial for relational trust and spiritual togetherness to grow between two spouses before they attempt to restore sexual intimacy. If you are already actively pursuing healing in your marriage after the disclosure of sexual unfaithfulness, then consider the following four steps which can bring the kind of healing that makes the renewal of sexual intimacy a reality. If you are a friend, counselor, or pastor, these steps can enable you to help.
Sexual unfaithfulness breaks trust at the most vulnerable aspect of oneness as a spouse chooses, rather than forsakes, something or someone instead of the one to whom they promised faithfulness.
1. Pray and commit for Jesus to have the first place in your heart. Colossians 1:16-17 describes Jesus as Lord and Creator over all, which means he is to be first in all things. This includes your marriage and your sex life! Ask God to show how this failed to happen in your marriage, and in repentance begin learning what a biblical view of sex within marriage is and how Jesus helps you love your spouse.
2. Turn towards your spouse. Firm and strong choices to turn from all things that led to sexual sin must be another initial step. That means cutting off people, places, and situations that are sources of temptation. Trust cannot grow if the offending spouse is not actively seeking to flee from sin. However, fleeing is not enough! It is just as important for both to choose to turn towards the other sexually. This means making your marriage relationship a priority, as well as learning what cultivates an atmosphere of trust and safety for sexual intimacy, before, during, and after being together.
To move in that direction, pray for God to give you renewed emotional, mental, and sexual desire for your spouse alone. In other words, ask God to make you spousal-sexual: radically oriented and devoted to your husband or wife. God delights to respond to this prayer! After all, godly sex is his idea.
3. Cultivate honest communication about sex. God will use the exposure of sexual sin to open up communication on many topics, but the one that will require major focus will be your sexual relationship. Rebuilding trust will require an openness to share feelings, thoughts, and desires in this area. You need to learn what the other enjoys, what brings pleasure, what is uncomfortable, what communicates being used rather than being delighted in. These are extremely vulnerable topics; go slowly, and remember to continually/actively build up your emotional trust with each other. For some, fasting from sexual activity can enable a couple to communicate honestly without the pressure (and fear) of engaging sexually.
4. Pursue and receive your spouse with patient love. Restoring your sexual relationship will take time. Expressing non-sexual affection is a way to express love for the ‘whole person’ of your spouse. Remember that pain and hurt don’t go away quickly, so be patient with yourself and your spouse as you learn new ways of relating. Patience and perseverance are the key words!
You can watch Ellen talk some more about this on her video: Rebuilding Sexual Intimacy After Sexual Betrayal These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
10 May 2017
In 2013 I finished the Philadelphia half-marathon with integrity, even though I wasn’t on board with the race’s motto: “For the Love of Running.” I don’t love to run, and in fact I walked the entire 13.1 miles! My form was less than professional, and my running clothes were not high-end gear, but I did finish the race. I finished what I started. That was my integrity, the principle for which I strove for: Finish well what you started.
I did it by keeping the finish line in mind. One step at a time. Not getting distracted by the scenery along the race, like the beauty of Rittenhouse Square or the exotic landscape of the Philadelphia Zoo.
Women who desire to live with sexual integrity—with themselves and in their relationships with others and with God—also need to run the race of faith well.
Which means throwing off distractions and hindrances, like how I finished the half-marathon.
Hebrews 12:1-13 gives us many rich truths to consider in this regard, but let’s start this discussion with the importance of throwing off the endless distractions we all face in this world and the sins that easily trip us up.
After the 2014 Philadelphia Marathon, there were four tons of discarded clothing collected along the marathon route!¹ Serious runners start the race wearing gear that can be tossed off in the first miles as their bodies warm up. These articles of clothing are helpful at the start but a heavy hindrance once underway.
Similarly, we need to recognize and be willing to part with not only obvious sin but also influences in our lives which distract and hinder us from loving Jesus in our pursuit of sexual integrity. We need to take seriously the influences which can weigh us down and make it easier to walk into sinful situations.
“The key here is not so much the thing itself but the impact it has on us. Sexual sin most often has a seemingly ‘innocent’ beginning—when a potential hindrance or distraction is given room to grow, when a temptation is managed rather than run from!”
People, forms of recreation, activities, and so on may be good things but may also have a power in our lives to pull us away from following Jesus. A person or relationship can easily hijack our heart’s contentment in Christ. A form of entertainment can quickly become our default source of comfort or escape from the stresses of life. A ministry or work scenario can put us near someone to whom we’re growing in an unholy attachment, even to the point where we feel we need that person’s affirmation to be okay or feel secure.
The key here is not so much the thing itself but the impact it has on us. Sexual sin most often has a seemingly ‘innocent’ beginning—when a potential hindrance or distraction is given room to grow, when a temptation is managed rather than run from!
Hebrews 12:1 says that not only are we commanded to throw off hindrances, but the sin which so easily entangles us” [emphasis mine]. The idea here isn’t sin in general, like “Lord, please forgive me of all the sins I’ve done this week,” but rather the specific sins that we are more likely to give into—our characteristic sins that easily tempt us.
In my life, I’ve not generally been prone towards anger, coveting things, or lying, but I have at times been prone towards people-pleasing, worship of comfort, selfishness with my time, fantasy, and abuse of food. And that’s just for starters!
Over the years of walking with Jesus, I’ve had my fantasy life cleaned up, food has now become an occasional distraction, and I don’t crave people’s approval of me anymore. I’m not entangled by these things anymore. However, worship of comfort and possessiveness with time? Those are an ongoing part of my race of faith in which I need the throne of grace to be open for heart-business 24/7, and I need others to help me grow.
What about you? What are the sins that easily trip you up? What are the sins that seem to precede sexual sin in your life? Women who battle against various forms of sexual sin usually give way to other things first: things like unbelief, laziness, exposure to questionable entertainment, dabbling in inappropriate physical affection with someone, and withdrawing from other believers.
No one floats or coasts into holiness or Christian maturity. Years ago my battle against fantasy had to be serious: meditating upon God’s Word, not allowing my eyes to take in things which tempt me, prayer, confessing immediately to others. I had to lay aside many hindrances and potential distractions so that they wouldn’t grow into sin.
In 2013 I wasn’t a fast runner or a top finisher in the Philly half-marathon, but I did cross the finish line! You can run your faith race well and increasingly grow into being a woman of sexual and relational integrity—persevering one step at a time.
Running the race of sexual integrity well is possible through the love and grace of Jesus! But experiencing that love and grace means we commit to throwing off sin and distractions. This process of laying aside must be intentional sisters!
You can watch Ellen talk more on this subject here in her video, Running the Race Well—Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
In general, people rarely come forward to talk about their sexuality, sexual struggles, or sexual identity issues. Therefore, it can be difficult to address people pastorally, even when pastors are willing and want to help people deal with their sexual brokenness. On the other hand, pastors are sometimes increasingly reluctant to address these issues themselves. One member of a church filled with millennials told me that his church never addresses issues like sexuality at all. That’s pretty ironic, given that this generation is the most porn-exposed, gay-affirming, and pro-gay marriage group of any generation—even in very conservative churches. In the absence of guidance from church leaders, the culture has done its own job of discipleship in this area quite well!
“Every day, it’s almost like I’m only one step away from starting to believe that, just maybe, we are the ones who have been wrong [about homosexuality].”
Indeed, pastors have told me they fear that the culture, sexually speaking, is starting to impact their leadership and elders as well. Case in point? Sam, an elder at a larger congregation with a mostly younger crowd, confessed to me recently, “Every day, it’s almost like I’m only one step away from starting to believe that, just maybe, we are the ones who have been wrong [about homosexuality].”
Phil, a pastor in a large metropolitan-area church, told me that some people stopped attending his church when they found out that the church held a biblically faithful stance on homosexuality. “Visitors are often offended when they learn what we believe about this issue, even though we talk about it with grace and mercy.” It’s true. Today it’s quite normal for someone to inquire of an individual, once they find out they are a Christian, “Well, what do you think about homosexuality? Is it a sin?” It’s seen as the new barometer of trustworthiness in the eyes of the inquirer. In an analogous way, church visitors, even those who may attend an introductory or membership class, also want to know up front now, “What does your church think about homosexuality?” One pastor described trying to navigate these waters today as a minefield—no matter what he says or how kindly he will say it, someone is going to be upset. In fact, the upset party may very well leave the church, perhaps taking some others with them.
Maybe that’s why one pastor of another large city church told me not long ago, “We’ll never have anyone from Harvest USA come and speak to our congregation. I don’t want to offend anyone, especially those who may be gay in the church.” Well, okay, but my question to that pastor would be, “How do you plan to educate your people biblically about sex and sexuality? Or are you just going to let them figure it out for themselves, continuing to allow the hundreds of other voices out there be their instructors?” I also wonder how struggling members of such a congregation might ever be encouraged towards honesty, faith, and repentance when it comes to their sexual temptations, struggles, and sin—to even want to get help.
My guess is that fear of man and a desire to not upset the apple cart are often ruling forces here. We err when we dismiss or fail to teach on something as big and important to God as sex. If we talk about these things biblically (as in really teaching what God says), we may fear that our message won’t go over well with those who are exploring the faith.
But church leadership doesn’t have to walk on eggshells, fear, be confused, or choose silence. Yes, teaching and speaking the whole counsel of God, offering mercy and grace all the while, can be a challenge. Yes, we’ll need to be more strategic in learning how to engage the culture that is already deeply influencing our own people. But if there’s any time that we must proclaim the truth and grace of God about these issues, it’s today!
Harvest USA wants to help pastoral staff, other church leadership, elder boards, etc., to better consider how to communicate all this with their congregations. No longer can we just wait on the sidelines. As leadership, we must intentionally think about how we can guide and help our people better understand God’s intention in these areas.
Please let us know if you’d like Harvest USA staff to help your church leadership and key volunteers think through these things. Your church staff and other leadership will be much better prepared to help the congregation if you do. Send me an email for more information on how your church leadership can begin to tackle these issues—and, therefore, be enabled to lead your people well in concerns close that are close to the heart of God.
14 Jul 2016
As the church steps into the trenches of the sexual struggles with which her people are wrestling, it is encountering a new reality and new challenges in how to do faithful ministry. As the culture continues to push into the church, the following “givens” impact how Christians are thinking about sexuality:
- Increasing cultural acceptance of homosexuality, especially among millennials
- Growing acceptance of a genderfluid and genderless society
- An awareness of Christians who experience same-sex attraction (SSA) but confusion about how to help them
- Legalization of gay marriage
- The encroachment of pro-gay theology and its inroads into the evangelical church
- The trend toward casual sexual relationships and co-habitation
- The ubiquity of pornography and the steady erosion of biblical sexual ethics
All of the above signals the need for churches to think strategically about how to “do ministry” as the culture continues to push into the church. John Freeman has spoken to church leaders and presbyteries, helping to bring awareness of the pressing issues that need attention. John highlights four things churches must address.
1. Leadership—insuring everyone is on the same page
While leadership certainly means your key leaders—pastors, elders, deacons, etc.—it also includes your leadership volunteers like women’s leaders, youth leaders, Sunday school and adult teachers, small group leaders, and so on. The importance of all leaders being on the same page, theologically and pastorally, has never been more critical. Asking the following questions will (hopefully) result in dialogue and clarification.
Do you know your current leaders’ views on sex and sexuality? Considering the “givens” listed above, how do you approach your leadership in determining what they believe and where they might be feeling pressure to change? We used to take it for granted that leaders would adhere to biblical sexual ethics, but some are changing their views and remaining silent about it. How do you get everyone on the same page?
Do you know if your leaders are struggling here? As important as what they believe, do you know if some of your leaders are struggling here? People, and especially leaders, hide sexual struggles. How can you call them to be honest, and in what ways do you help them? We know that when leadership falls sexually, it deeply injures the church and how people see Christ.
How will your leaders approach sexual issues pastorally? Key leaders have the greatest influence, so it’s more important than ever to make sure they believe fully in what the Scriptures say and will speak that compassionately to those who struggle. Sometimes that’s not easy to do, but true compassion is grounded in speaking God’s truth, not in defining truth as we wish it to be.
How would your church address a leadership candidate who experiences same-sex attraction? As we call believers to openness and honesty about their sexual struggles, we should expect to find men and women who live with same-sex attraction and are living faithfully according to Scripture. When they pursue leadership roles in the church, what help and assistance do they need?
2. Membership—confronting complex issues
The culture greatly influences church members. Confusion is growing as pro-gay theology, rooted in secular thought, influences believers who know too little of Scripture. How will your church in this new reality address some of the following scenarios?
What if someone identifies as a gay Christian? Is this a private matter known only to some, or is this becoming public? Do you know what this person means by adopting this identity label?
What about someone who supports gay marriage and homosexuality? Again, is this a private opinion or an advocacy position? What is a pastoral approach to members whose views are in opposition to Scripture? What if someone with these views wants to join your church?
Are you talking about sex and sexuality to prospective members in your membership classes? Do you approach the issue from a discipline angle, or first from a Christian worldview perspective? Or do you not mention the topic at all, and if so, why not?
What if a same-sex couple comes to faith (one or both)? What if they are legally married? How do you approach the complex situation of pastorally shepherding a family, particularly when there are children, when the parents are legally married?
What about church discipline? While recognizing the complex issues involved with sexual sin, where might church discipline come into play as someone is being shepherded through the ups and downs that go with this struggle? Is there an approach that is more helpful, or less so?
3. Church Culture—what kind of church culture do you want to nurture?
Do you have a sense of the culture in your church in how it relates to the culture “out there?” How does your church address the new reality of sexual issues that are prominent in the culture? How do you speak about them publicly, from the pulpit, in Sunday school classes, in the things your church writes? There is a big difference between churches that speak harshly about sexual issues and those that say hardly anything at all. The first approach leaves people hiding, and the other leaves people in confusion. That we need to talk about these issues has never been more critical, but the words we use (or do not use) are equally important. How do you speak to those who are opposed to his ways; and to those who are confused about what Scripture says; and to those who want to obey but struggle to submit to the Lordship of Christ in this area? Our approach, our words, our faithfulness to Scripture, and our presence with those who struggle are the many ways we show who God is to them.
4. Policies and Procedures—possible dangers ahead
Two seismic changes have transformed the landscape for ministry: the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the use, or threat, of non-discrimination laws and regulations, known as sexual orientation and gender identity ordinances. Churches with a history and tradition of opening their doors to the community for weddings and receptions, local community events, outside groups that use the church to meet—all of these connections may become problematic in light of the increasing use of anti-discrimination ordinances.
These new laws and court rulings mean that churches must carefully think about ministry in three key areas.
While this issue gets a lot of press, the reality is that the First Amendment seems quite solid in protecting ministers from performing same-sex marriages. However, the matter is more uncertain if your church has been open to hosting outside weddings and receptions. What steps can your church take to remain open to traditional weddings while not hosting wedding events that oppose biblical truth?
Building usage by outside groups
Apart from weddings, building use for other outside events might become more difficult, particularly for churches that rent their facilities or allow them to be used by the community. The challenge for churches that want to remain invested in their local community is to determine how to both invite and define that involvement, in ways that will avoid potential lawsuits.
Anti-discrimination laws regarding employment are another new reality that is increasingly stepping on religious turf. Churches that discipline ordained staff for misconduct are again protected by the First Amendment. But addressing non-ordained staff behavior is not so clear. What if a staff person comes out as transgender, or a staff person legally marries someone of the same gender? Gender fluidity and sexual orientation are major battlegrounds for employment law today. The area of employment law for religious groups seems to be up for grabs today. How churches will be affected is not yet clear, but they should now find ways to try to protect themselves while also shepherding staff who are struggling in these areas.
We’ve just scratched the surface on a few of the crucial issues churches are facing with these new realities. Harvest USA can help! We can help you think through these issues and conduct a healthy conversation among your leaders.
Contact John Freeman at [email protected] to get the conversation started.
07 Jul 2016
In January 2016, Ellen Dykas returned to Taiwan, East Asia, to teach a two-week course entitled “Biblical Sexuality and Ministry to Strugglers.”
I was going back to Taiwan to speak to twenty-nine students who all spoke Chinese. Back to China Reformed Theological Seminary in Taipei, to help train men and women preparing for ministry. They came from Taiwan, main-land China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Canada, and Australia. I had been there before, in 2013, when I first addressed sexual struggles in Asia, and I was eager to return. I hoped to meet up with some students who I taught three years ago. As a teacher, you always wonder if anything you said or taught made a difference.
Upon arriving, I learned that Taiwan was considering legalizing gay marriage. The news dismayed my students, and I gave them insight into what Christians in the USA faced when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage last summer. We found common ground as Christians living so far from each other: As sexual sin outside of God’s design becomes the norm, standing firm for biblical truth may cost us more than it has in the past. We agreed that ministry would need to be more strategic and nuanced than ever before in order to speak into the culture.
But we also concurred that ministry still needs to be relational and personal, appropriately caring for each individual. I met up with one of my students from 2013 and heard her story of parenting her gay-identified daughter. She expressed fresh sorrow over her daughter’s life, but shared with me new insight about the faith to which God is calling her as she loves her daughter in a new way. She recalled my teaching from three years ago, that telling her daughter to “Stop!” would not lead to true repentance. She began learning how to engage her daughter relationally while also holding true to God’s design for sexuality and relationships. It is so good to know that God uses even my words to strengthen his people!
How does the church address sexual struggles in Asia? Much the same as we do, but with one very big difference: In Asia, the church hardly talks about sexuality at all. A powerful culture of shame encourages hiding and silence on an even a deeper level than what we see in churches in the USA. And the silence from church leaders is much “louder” than here, compounding the confusion and despair of Christians struggling alone.
But by offering courses like the one I taught, China Reformed Seminary is beginning to change that culture of silence. What the Asian church needs now are solid biblical resources translated into their languages.
I have one more memory to share: The seminary partners with a local biblical counseling ministry. On Saturday, between my two weeks of classes, the counseling ministry hosted a community lecture at which I was the featured speaker. You can imagine my surprise when I realized that the lecture made the front page of the Taipei Christian newspaper! Serving with Harvest USA has certainly led to many unexpected adventures!
Also, here is one last prayer request: God is expanding Harvest USA’s influence outside of the United States, and it’s exciting! I will have the opportunity to teach on biblical sexuality at a national women’s conference in Columbia this coming July 2016, but I need some special funding to make this happen. I need to raise $1500 to cover the costs, so that Columbians will be able to attend. Tax-deductible donations may be made by check to Colombia Reformed (please add a note that this is for Ellen Dykas, but do not write that on the memo line!) and mailed to: Colombia Reformed, P.O. Box 102, Lovettsville, VA 20180. Thank you!
In an earlier post (below), Dave White talks about whether it is ever appropriate to tell you children about your own sexual struggles and sin from the past. In the video above, Dave gives a number of options on how to do this.
Do you have sexual skeletons in your closet? Many Christian parents do, and as their kids edge toward the teen years, they begin to dread the questions that may come and begin to ask their own: How can I expect my kids to hold the line sexually when I failed at their age? Isn’t disclosing my own failures giving them license to do whatever they want?
In light of these concerns, does it ever make sense to open the closet door and let your kids see your past?
It depends. There are some kids in a place of rebellion, looking for any excuse to act out. The parent/child relationship may be so contentious that any vulnerability will be exploited and used later to lash out and possibly wound when you seek to address your child’s behavior. Were you a Christian while you were sexually active? This could cause your Christian teen to think they can sin now and repent later. All of us should pause and seek the Spirit’s guidance in broaching these issues with our kids.
That said, in the vast majority of cases, I believe it can be wise and helpful to let your kids see into the closet. Here are three good reasons why.
First, your story can provide a cautionary tale. Even if you were spared the harsh consequences of STDs or an unplanned pregnancy, you can discuss the soul damage that can occur when we don’t follow God. Our “anything goes as long as it doesn’t hurt someone” culture tells us we can indulge sexually with impunity, but God says it is a sin against our very selves (1 Corinthians 6:18). Our kids need to hear that there are unseen consequences in carelessly squandering God’s great gift in this area of life. There can be some real losses later in life. Even if the sin was only with your spouse prior to marriage, you can share the challenges this may have caused early in marriage, the way it impacted the joy of your honeymoon, etc.
Listen: I’m not big on scare tactics. Graphic STD photos aren’t helpful to show to your teen. But there is a benefit to hearing that this is God’s world and following him is the only path to true blessing and joy.
Second, it gives glory to the God who redeems. My past is extremely messy, and my kids have known it for a long time, getting more details at age-appropriate stages. Why do they know this about me? I want them to know that my life is a testament of God’s grace! The Spirit of God has radically changed me from the inside out. They need to know that God forgives sinners and there is no one beyond his grasp. I praise God that the man I was 20 years ago would be unrecognizable to my kids (and not just because of the Afro!).
Real honesty removes you from any pedestal that would cause you to eclipse Jesus. He alone is the righteous one, and your kids should know that you’re as needy as they are for his grace—and that means today, not just in your distant past! One of the most crucial things we do in passing on the Christian faith to our kids is to model authentic faith, which revolves around confession and repentance.
During a season often marked by growing distance between parents and teens, this is a way for you to build a bridge relationally. Being vulnerable, inviting your kids to know the “real” you, invites a reciprocal response. True, they may not be willing to open up, but at the very least it lets them know you want a deeper relationship. The essence of relationship is to be “known,” so we should be striving to let our kids really know us in age-appropriate ways. And it is always huge for teens to be treated as the budding adults they are.
Finally, your kids need to know that the gospel speaks to their sexuality, affected by the Fall, as is everything. “Youthful lusts” are a powerful force at this age. All teens enter these turbulent years wrestling with physical desires they’ve never experienced before, and to make matters more difficult for them, parents generally are not asking them about this stage of development. So, kids are wrestling with strong physical and emotional feelings and desires, and the real-life guidance they need is sadly lacking from their own parents. If no one speaks about these struggles, then, to them, neither does the gospel. But it does!
This is a crucial time for them—and you, as their shepherding parents—to apply the gospel in deeper ways! Our sexual struggles (and failures) are often a significant place of learning our utter dependence on God’s Spirit and the body of Christ to grow and live in the way we are called to live in Christ. And the best way for your kids to learn these things is for you to be vulnerable about your own neediness, and encourage them with how Christ and his people have met you in your own struggles with sexual sin.
For further thoughts look for our mini book, Raising Sexually Healthy Kids, published by New Growth Press, available at harvest-usa-store.com/minibooks/.
11 Apr 2015
Raising Sexually Healthy Kids
This is a one-day seminar for parents of young children and teens.
It’s tougher than ever to be both a kid and a parent today! The world’s culture is continually pushing an anything-goes sexuality on our children. Gospel Sexuality: Raising Sexually Healthy Kids gives you gospel-centered principles and practical helps to disciple your kid’s hearts and nurture their faith as they face the sexual chaos of their world.
Session 1: Fallen Sexuality
How can we understand our children as fallen image-bearers? God gave a great plan for sex and love, but sin twists our worship, mars our identity, and distorts our relationships.
Session 2: Gospel Sexuality
How can we understand our children in light of the Gospel? Christ gives us a new vision for sexuality. He transforms us and our sexual brokeness, so that we can live by faith, repentance, and love.
Session 3: The Sex Talk(s): Getting the Subject out in the Open
How do we talk with our children about sexuality? Learn how to share a Gospel vision for sexuality with your family, receive practical guidance for age-appropriate conversations, and find grace for the challenging road ahead.
Session 4: The Technological Terrain: Where your Kids Live
How can we know our children’s world? The latest innovations in technology and social media are being used to indoctrinate a fallen sexual worldview. Learn the dangers of this terrain, what you can do about them, and how to further walk with your children on the road of discipleship.
There will be a charge for this event. Lunch WILL be provided.
For additional information please call the church at 423-629-1421.
To register for this seminar – Click Here!
Dan Wilson is the Student Outreach Coordinator for Harvest USA. Dan is also an ordained minister, and has served as a youth minister, education minister, pastor, with para-church ministries, and taught New Testament at Bryan College, Dayton, TN.
Before coming north to Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Cooper Pinson, a life-long southerner, graduated from Samford University in Birmingham. There he met his wife, Katie, and worked as the Junior High Director at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, also in Birmingham. Cooper has a passion to help youth live with sexual integrity, and to walk with them as they grow in a deeper faith in Jesus Christ. A new comer to Harvest USA, he serves as our Student Outreach staff member.