Abortion and mercy

“As of today, I am responsible for 18,617 abortions.”  I’m not sure how she knew. I’m not sure I believed it when she first told me. I had no idea how many abortions a single clinic carries out in a day. But that was the estimate of destruction from one woman working for a few years in one small network of clinics in Georgia.  That job, by her account, nearly destroyed her soul.

From yesterday’s post, we learned that at the very least, abortion is a serious social justice issue in the U.S.  In their locations and marketing, clinics target minorities and poor people.

The world is also full of young women who have made life-changing mistakes and who found a short-term solution in a clinic. I’ve talked to dozens of those women over the years and have discovered a kind of pain that rests uniquely with someone who holds the shame of a secret. That might not be your story, but it is the story of many women who still struggle years or even decades later.

What about those who feel trapped by a recent or maybe not-so-recent choice? How do we best respond as followers of Jesus to someone in a crisis situation, who is wondering how to get out? How do we respond to shame?

Here are a few thoughts on how to respond with grace and truth:

Respond biblically. Psalm 82:3-4 gives us a blueprint for a compassionate response. Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. In other words, care for the ones Jesus cares about (both mother and child). I believe what folks want most is not a way out, but a way through. Most people want to know they are not alone. To walk with them through the valley (not around it) is a compassionate and biblical response.

Understand how God uses suffering and redeems mistakes. Because he does. In God’s economy, nothing is wasted. One of our families in church gave birth to a child with significant health issues.  He was in critical care for months in another state and has had multiple surgeries since.  After they arrived home, we visited this little one in the hospital, where he stayed for more months. As I stood on one side of the bed looking at this child — tubes everywhere — his mother said, “I can’t believe God trusted us enough to allow us to care for this one.”  That’s the very spirit of Romans 8:28. “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Likewise, God can redeem years the locusts have eaten. He can make good out of our worst when we surrender to it and refuse the voice of shame in our lives.

If you have an opinion, express it with integrity. Paul told the people of Galatia that “the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:14-15). Every time a clinic is bombed or a hate letter is sent, the enemy of God wins a point. Make sure your opinions are biblically based and constructively shared. Voice your concern at sites like manhattandeclaration.org. Give to Care Pregnancy Centers and Christian adoption services. Keep this crisis line number with you: 706-724-3733.  For the sake of the Kingdom, don’t spew hate or negative emotions on Facebook. Let your conversations happen in relationship.

And if you have received or participated in an abortion (as a man or woman), the best thing you could possibly do is this: receive forgiveness and seek healing. It can’t be easy to read these posts if you’ve ever been involved with the choice to have an abortion. It may stir old feelings of guilt or grief.  But remember this:  there is no shame in Christ. The message of Jesus was made for people who make mistakes — even big ones. John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9-2:1).

The Word promises that nothing can separate us from God’s love for us.  That’s surprisingly good news.  Nothing we’ve done is beyond the reach of God’s mercy. Nothing we’ve done is beyond forgiveness. Nothing.

Some years ago, after our church hosted a Bible study for those healing from the pain of abortion, I received an email from someone recovering from multiple abortions. She wrote, “Abortion physically kills an unborn child and spiritually kills a mother.  After abortion, a woman is expected to ‘get on with her life’; within the confines of her own shame, guilt, anguish, depression, anger … all prisons …  It’s not over yet, but I’m more equipped than I’ve ever been to pursue my powerful enemies, which were always too strong for me, the enemies that lived right inside my own mind.  God really does stoop down to make us great.  There truly is healing power in the name of Jesus.”

Amen.

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Fear kills dreams

Two years after the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt, they stood with toes touching the border of the land God promised them. Two years after they’d walked out of Egypt, the silver of the Egyptians clinking in their backpacks, they stood on the brink of God’s best. They’d seen waters part and enemies drown. God was intimately involved with their lives. They knew him. They followed him. And just two short years after packing up and moving out of bondage, there they stood on the verge of greatness, Yes, there were vicious armies and untamed wilds on the other side of that border but they had smoke and fire blazing their trail.

Then it happened. Human nature kicked in. They became more cautious than optimistic. There at the edge of God’s plan, they sent twelve spies into that question mark of a promise to check things out. When the spies came back ten of them said, “Don’t do it! It is great real estate, but the people are giants. We will all die if we go over there.” The majority report was full of fear and trepidation.

Only two of those twelve spies — two young men named Joshua and Caleb – saw more possibility than problems. “I think we should do this,” they challenged. “This is God’s land and God’s fight. Let God defend us!”

The people did what people mostly do. They heard the voice of fear over the voice of potential and it cost them dearly. That day, God turned them back from the border of promise. He sent them out into the wilderness again where he promptly promised that not one of their generation would see the land flowing with milk and honey. Fear would not be woven into the DNA in his chosen people, not if he had anything to do with it.

So the people got in the wilderness what they were most afraid of getting in the promised land. They were destroyed by their own choice. For thirty-eight years they wandered like dead men walking before another generation found itself toe to toe with God’s purposes.

I wonder if most of that first generation even knew how close they were? I wonder if, way down the road, some of them sat around campfires and wondered aloud, “What do you suppose would have become of us if we’d listened to Joshua and Caleb? How do you suppose it would have turned out?” Did they even stop to think about it as they poked their fires or packed up their tents yet again or held their cups beneath water flowing from rocks?

Or did they even think that deeply? Did they assume, like most people, that what they had twenty or thirty years out from that decision was all there was? Did they ever stop to imagine more than mediocrity punctuated by death? Or did they simply go about their lives, making grocery lists, making beds, making do, making a living?

I wonder, knowing I am an Israelite myself. I peak over into spiritual promises and my little internal band of spies reports back, “That’ll never work for you,” and I listen to those voices of fear or laziness and I miss out on so much good stuff that way. Who knows how long I’ve wandered, unconscious of the promises I’ve turned down, while God in his mercy determines to kill off all in me that wreaks of fear?

Who knows what promises I’m toeing now as I poke my fires, count my money, check my phone and absent-mindedly get back to what I know?

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Four (and a half) thoughts on hearing from God

What is it God might be asking you to do – what totally illogical, foolish-looking, unpredicted thing might he be calling you to?  And if you’re hearing it, how do you know its God (and not just last night’s Mexican food)?

We don’t all hear God with equal accuracy. I’ve had folks tell me they’ve heard God tell them to do things that have no basis in what I know of the Bible. I’ve also learned from my own mistakes a few lessons about how to know when it is God speaking and when it probably isn’t.

1. Test everything by the Word of God. If I can’t find what I’ve heard in the Bible then I ought to be very slow to move forward. The wise men who first sought the Messiah didn’t actually begin with a star. They began with Jewish prophecies written in the scriptures about the Messiah. In Herod’s office, they quoted scripture as their motivator.  Test everything by the word of God. If you can’t find it there, wait.

2. Listen with a heart for obedience.  Because God is usually not just doing it to hear the sound of his voice. He speaks when he is either ready for us to respond or when he is ready for us to prepare for a response down the road. Either way, when God speaks he is doing more than just making small talk. He is bringing in the Kingdom and plans to do so through us. That ought to provide a point of great humility, and also a point of readiness.

3. Be ready for glory (God’s, not yours). God does not usually (or maybe ever) call us to things or places or works that glorify us. He usually calls us to things that glorify him. When we are following well, either the work itself or our testimony of God at work in us will point back to God.

Side note: One of the best lines I’ve ever heard on the subject of hearing from God comes from my friend, Dr. Bob Tuttle, who says he knows it is God’s voice when what he hears is smarter than what he could have thought of himself.

4. Be ready to surrender your reputation. God will often call us to do things that don’t seem logical and may even make us look foolish. If so, we’re in good company. Read Hosea’s story. Imagine what it was like to be Noah — building a huge boat on a sunny day. Consider the change of reputation that happened in Paul’s life the day he accepted Christ as Lord.  This may well be why Paul said (1 Corinthians 3:18), “If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God.”

How profound it can be when people get up and do things for and in cooperation with the Kingdom of Heaven! And how incredibly important it is to learn the voice of the Father so we don’t end up on the wrong road in our enthusiasm to get there.

So I come back to my opening question: What is it God might be asking you to do – what totally illogical, foolish-looking, unpredicted thing might he be calling you to? What friend is he asking you to make of an enemy, what marriage is he asking you to repair, what humility is he asking you to reach for, what job is he calling you to do, what story is he asking you to tell?

In what way is God calling you to be obedient, to point back to him, to proclaim him by taking up a cross and carrying it?  And what if that move ends up wrecking you for this world while it prepares you for Kingdom greatness?

In other words, if God decides to make a spectacle of you, are you ready to provide?

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Isn’t this supposed to be fun?

When you’ve seen one, the next one becomes easier to spot.

That’s how C. S. Lewis begins to describe (in his seminal work, Mere Christianity) a new kind of person — a breed, he says, that begins where most of us leave off:

“Their very voices and faces are different from ours: stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. … They will not be very like the idea of ‘religious people’ … They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. … They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. … they recognize one another immediately and infallibly … In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.”

It is that last line that most stuns us, that is too often overlooked in this pursuit of holiness. To become holy must be great fun.

How have we missed this detail (which is not a detail at all)?

How have we come to define holiness as all the things we don’t do, rather than the rich treasure of possibility it is?  This is the yearning of one who orients toward life from a desire to live a more holy existence. It is the cry to be something more — more love, more joy, more peace, more Presence, more perfect. Not in the sense of gaining perfection on our own strength, but in the sense that this life can be more.

As Lewis also says, “The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. [God] is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. … He meant what he said. Those who put themselves in His hands will become perfect, as He is perfect — perfect in love, wisdom, joy, beauty, and immortality.”

I’m reading this and thinking about my own spiritual disciplines.  The great surprise, I’m discovering, is just how easy it is to master the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 13 (“If I have prophetic powers … if I have faith so as to move mountains …”) , without sufficient attention to the heart of that poem (“Love is patient and kind …”).

It is humbling (and a little deflating) to admit just how much easier it is to be spiritually disciplined than it is to pay sufficient attention to the goal of love. Paul has warned me over and over that without love, all the rest of it is senseless noise. He teaches me that as I orient my life toward love privately, it will show up publicly. How can I reorient my spiritual life so that more love is exposed?  So that I begin to take delight in letting the love flow — in my prayers, in my serving, in my reading, in my journaling?  I ask this question recognizing just how far I have to go.

So then, that is my prayer for the coming season: that I will become one of those people who is easy to spot — so infused with patience and kindness, so obviously lacking in jealousy, envy or pride, that they will say of me, “Doesn’t she love well?”

And just as often, “Doesn’t she seem to be having fun?”

 

*From Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity.

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Hell, and people who have been there

(Today, I revisit a piece first posted in 2012, with the prayer that it inspires fresh thoughts about hell, hope and the enemy of our souls.)

The first time I heard someone say he didn’t believe in hell, I was stricken. It was the associate pastor of our church, a generally bright guy — full of energy, very musical, a good preacher — to whom we had all entrusted our spiritual formation. He’d attended seminary in Texas and up until that conversation, I’d assumed he’d gotten a valid education that qualified him to care for my soul.But then he said he didn’t believe in hell.

I don’t remember the words of our conversation that day but I can still feel the spirit of it. I was mortified; he was stone-faced. We were standing in the hallway of my church when something I said must have inspired him to enlighten me on the subject of hell and the devil. “I don’t believe in hell,” he said, matter-of-factly, the way you’d say you don’t want another helping of green beans. “Or the devil.”

At fifteen, that came as shocking news to me. I had no context for it; I didn’t know the difference between liberals and conservatives, fundamentalists and universalists. All I knew was what I knew. All my life, I’d been in church, in that church. I’d been served the kind of bland, orthodox teaching that makes one at least culturally Christian. I didn’t know there were variations on the theme. I certainly didn’t realize one could pick and choose among doctrines as if Christianity were a cafeteria plan.

Not believe in hell? How can you not believe in hell? Can you have good without bad? Light without dark? God without satan? Those were my teenage arguments in that hallway that day, but they were no match for a seminary graduate. “Do you have to believe in hell to go to heaven?” he challenged. “Is the point to believe in heaven and hell, or to believe in Jesus?” I hated that question. For years after that, I debated him in my head.

He went on some time later to pastor other churches. I went on to study religion at a secular university and can remember the day I quit believing in God altogether. It didn’t last long, but it happened. For about ten years, I lived the life of one who didn’t believe in God. On the day years later when I heard that pastor had killed himself, I grieved. I remembered our hallway debate and wondered about the theological confusion that kept him at arm’s length from the hope he deserved. I still think of him often.

I thought about him again as I was chatting with two women sitting on a curb in downtown Augusta. “Lisa” had just attended our worship service; “Mary” was her friend. Evidently, Mary was recovering from some addiction or another. She has a couple of kids she’s not in touch with. She is young, maybe thirty at the most.

Mary works in a restaurant. Another waitress at the restaurant has been talking with her about religion. From the way she tells it, it sounds like her co-worker is concerned about Mary’s soul. Bless the lady’s heart, she has made sure more than once that Mary understands God is watching. That God knows her every move. That he knows when she’s been good or bad. This well-intentioned soul has warned Mary in no uncertain terms that if she does not straighten up God will send her to hell with the same lack of remorse with which a mother sends her child to his room.

Mary has not been moved. Evidently, she has been conditioned to resist this brand of theology. She told me, as we stood there in the fading light at the curb behind her apartment complex, that her parents also made it very clear that God exists to send people to hell. All her life, God has been presented as a Thing To Be Feared. Growing up, Mary never liked that God. She was not saved by that God and she has no intentions of pledging allegiance to him now that she’s out from under her parents’ roof.

I don’t blame her. I’m not too fond of that God, either.

Mary and I talked until her boyfriend came to pick her up. We talked about what she does believe. I found out that the twelve steps are working for her, but that she is confused by the freedom they give her in those meetings to believe in anything she wants to call a Higher Power. A doorknob. Oprah. Anything. That kind of freedom confuses her. The one thing Mary desperately wants to believe in right now, other than the validity of her 12-step program, is that there is no hell. She wants to believe that, and doesn’t want to believe in a God who would send people there.

Listening to her, I remembered the pastor who also needed to believe there was no hell. I remembered his duplicity and also in later years, his desperation. I remembered how sad I was when I heard in my twenties that he’d been trying to kill himself for a while. That the successful attempt wasn’t his first. I wondered about the congregation he’d been serving when he died. How were they handling it? How dreadful was it for his mother? For his ex-wife? For his daughter?

I remembered him and I said to Mary, “I’m just guessing you’ve already been to hell.” She looked dead into my eyes and said, “Yes.”

Well, then.

I invited Mary to begin where she was. As her boyfriend hovered, impatient for her to come along with him, I invited her to believe in a Father who loves her, who has no desire to send her to hell, who wants nothing but the best for her, who is after her like the hound of heaven, hungry to bless her soul. I invited her to believe in a Spirit who wants to cover her like a hen covers its chicks, to believe in a Jesus who wants to heal her, who wants to make sense of her life, who wants to be the friend who will never leave her or forsake her or stoke the fires of shame already burning in her life.

Start there, I said. Start there. And maybe one day, Mary, you will find enough peace in your life that you can rest in the Truth. Maybe one day you will even realize there is a hell and that people send themselves there all the time. And that Jesus, unwilling that even one of his own should perish, crossed over into enemy territory for the sake of your soul, capturing the power of death and bringing it back under God’s power. He did that for you, Mary, while you were still a sinner, and before you believed.

Where, o death, is your victory? Where, o death, is your sting?

That same Jesus walked through hell for you, Mary. But that is not a truth that can be debated into your life or imposed on you by fear. It is a truth that comes by encounter with the living Christ, who redeems lives from the pit, who restores mamas to their children, who heals our diseases and casts out our demons, who loves us with an everlasting love.

When nothing else works, when hope fades, when your boyfriend is waiting impatiently for you to get back to his world, start there. Start there.

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Can women plant churches?

This has become my burning question:  How do we help women lead past the natural barriers so they can successfully plant churches and contribute in this way to the coming Kingdom?

I believe God is calling the global Church in the 21st century to make room for women at both the leadership and church-planting tables. To make room, we must be honest about what I call natural barriers facing women church planters (barriers faced by all women, regardless of giftedness or potential), addressing them with a generous spirit, rejecting both naiveté and defensiveness so we can help gifted and called women to lead successfully past those barriers.

I have discerned at least four natural barriers in my own experience as a planter, which I believe we must honestly acknowledge and negotiate:

Leadership as a theological issue. Because 50% of Christians (statistically speaking) don’t hold our theological position on women as leaders of churches, the pool of potential church members is smaller for us from the outset.  The pool of potential leaders is smaller, too. This is a unique dynamic for planters, because we are attracting people who don’t already have an emotional attachment to our church.  They don’t have a history with this church that holds them in place while they acclimate to female leadership.  There are people I will never meet simply because I am a woman pastor with whom they disagree theologically.

Leadership as a cultural issue. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all have leadership biases. Most of them live in some foggy place in the back of our minds as a vague, unverbalized feeling.  We want our leaders to look and act in ways that are familiar to us. We may not have reasoned through these feelings, but they are there and some of those biases have to do with the place of women in leadership. I believe, in fact, that this cultural bias is a global issue, even an issue of human fallenness and our discomforts (even subconscious discomforts) must be acknowledged honestly. How do we want women in leadership positions to act? How do we want mothers in leadership positions to act? Are we willing to allow for differences or will we cling to unspoken biases?

Leadership as a resource issue. Resources to equip women church planters are still very much in the developmental stage. Training opportunities are often geared toward a male audience. Women may find few mentors and coaches equipped to help negotiate the cultural biases influencing the communities within which we serve. In fact, we may identify few if any role models in our local context. Faced with these and other more typical lifestyle pressures, women church planters are challenged to succeed in an area of ministry that is difficult for even the best trained among pastors. Resources for church planting in general are limited, causing boards and agencies to make gender-biased choices. A clergywoman reports being told by a denominational official, “There is little evidence supporting the idea that women can successfully plant churches, so we’re not willing to put any resources into it.” That’s a mindset that must change.

Leadership as a denominational issue. For all the above reasons, I maintain that growth for a female-pastored church plant may be different than growth for a male-pastored church plant. This isn’t an issue of failure but pace. Much of the conversation in the church-planting world these days focuses on rapid growth, but women may not be able to meet that standard. Benchmarks should be carefully, sensitively calibrated so success has a chance to happen because as we’ve already said, we’re drawing from a smaller pool and pushing against culture.

We are challenged to hear Jesus as he tells Mary, “Go and tell the others,” and to trust that he is speaking that word to women still today. In fact, he is. He is raising up women leaders all over the world, many of whom are being equipped to plant churches, many of whom are leading tremendous moves of the Spirit.

In order for us to be most useful to a new generation of planters, we must be eyes-wide-open and honest about these barriers to growth in churches planted by women, even as we think soberly about ways to maneuver past them.

If you are a female church planter, or someone preparing to be, I’d love to talk further with you about your experience.  Email me at carolyn@mosaicumc.org

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Transformational? Or Just Busy?

A few years ago, an architect came to spend the day with us at Mosaic. He spent the morning listening as we shared with him what we loved about our church. People told their stories and how they got here and what mattered to them. Then in the afternoon, he and his team began to sketch out what all those stories might look like as the blueprint of a building. How do our stories shape a building that fits our mission and vision?

It was a wonderfully creative process, but like most creative processes there was a crisis moment. In the middle of the day we hit a wall. The architects were struggling to make the design work from a basic construction perspective, and we were struggling to figure out what their problem was.

Then we saw it. They were trying to get rid of our loading docks! And yes, to erase the loading docks would have created a huge financial and feasibility impasse. We have two of them, two different heights, on two sides of the building. It would have made more sense to level the building and start over than to get rid of them.

The problem was that while the architects had heard our individual stories, they hadn’t yet gotten the big story. They’d missed what makes us Mosaic. We’re missional. We aren’t trying to look like a church. We’re just trying to make a difference in the world. We actually want to be a church with a loading dock, because we hope one day we’ll be loading food in and out of our building five or six days a week. In fact, we hope to be loading all kinds of things in and out that will make a difference to people in crisis, that will give us permission to speak into their lives spiritually.

When the architects finally got the big story of Mosaic it helped make sense of all the little stories. That’s how we ended up with this master plan we have today.

Loading docks and all.

N.T. Wright says, “Only by understanding and celebrating the larger story can we hope to understand everything that’s going on in our own smaller stories, and so observe God at work in and through our own lives.” (Paul for Everyone, Ephesians)

It is really easy to let the details get in the way of the main point. Whether in our personal stories or in our corporate story, we can program our way into all kinds of activities that make us look very busy and engaged, but still miss the big story.

In our quest to be relevant and busy and engaged, the American Church may have done just that. We’ve allowed ourselves to become one more activity in a long list of family to-do’s, when God’s plan is not for the church to be one more activity but the basic building block in the formation of a new society. As Eugene Peterson puts it in Ephesians 1:23 (The Message), the Church is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church.

Does the place you call your church intend to participate in God’s plan to build a new society, or are they just generating more activities to fill your calendar?

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Good Sex, Part 2: Four More Things You Ought To Think About When You Talk To Your Kids

Total strangers are teaching our kids total lies about sex, love and covenant. Never mind what the culture and their favorite shows are conveying. Statistics tell us that as many as 90% of all kids have viewed porn online (many of them unintentionally). I am broken by that thought. I hope you are, too.

Our children’s curiosity is being awakened at an early age in ways that could well distort adult relationships. That’s why our conversations with our kids are so important. They need to hear what we agree with and what we don’t agree with among all the messages out there.  And they need positive messages about holy living. After all, ours is the good life!

If your standards are not the same as the standards portrayed in the media, let me give a few thoughts on how to express that to your kids:

1. Make sure your kids know you love them and are coming at this from a place of affection, not condemnation.  Just a thought: My daughter taught me that I have a “parent voice” that isn’t very welcoming in casual conversation. I appreciated knowing that how I approach a conversation makes a difference in her openness to receiving it.

2. Make it clear (over and over) that you are the safest person to talk to. No matter what the question.

3. Be clear about what you consider to be right and wrong, and connect it to the biblical perspective. Don’t just give your opinion; back it up.  If you don’t know what you believe about something, say so, then go find an answer you are comfortable with. Let your kids hear you say that God designed sex and made it special — so special in fact that he made rules about it.  God’s plan is not designed not to suck the fun out of life — far from it — but so we will have the greatest opportunity for experiencing a joyful, rich and deep life that’s full of good love.

If you need a place to start, see the starter ideas on my other post here.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask this question often: “Anything we need to talk about?” Think in terms of “talks,” not “the talk.” At different ages, our kids need different information. Don’t give the Ph.D. version while your child is still in kindergarten.

For more great ideas, look up  A Chicken’s Guide To Talking Turkey With Your Kids About Sex.

The current climate in our country gives us a great opportunity to talk with our kids about God’s design and their future.  Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the Lord your God goes with you … (Deut. 31:6)

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Good Sex (or, “Six Things Your Children Ought to Know”)

Sex has been very much in the news lately, in one way or another. What it is, what it isn’t, what’s holy, what we’re designed for and what we aren’t.  All this conversation is not lost on our kids, of course, which means we have a wonderful teaching moment in front of us, a great opportunity to buy your kid a Coke and talk to them about good sex.

Face it: Most of us are wimps when it comes to this conversation. Either we ignore it all together and hope for the best from whatever their friends, school or church are teaching; or we hide everything about sex from our kids for as long as possible then scare the daylights out of them when they finally ask.

We are afraid we won’t know what to say or how to say it.  We’re just sure we’ll mess it up as much as our parents did. We let ourselves believe the lie that since we were (let’s just say) less than angels at their age, we have no right to talk.

Of course, all those are empty excuses to avoid spiritually shaping our kids in a significant area of their development. A better option is to take the approach God took with us — to talk honestly, openly and often about who we are, how we’re made and what we’re designed for.

If you’re ready to help your kids understand sex from God’s point of view, share at least these six thoughts:

1. Good sex is holy.  We know this because God is holy, and God invented sex. Genesis teaches us that God cut male and female out of the same cloth, so we were created out of a kind of oneness. This is God’s design and when you know how something works, that’s empowering.

2. Good sex depends on a strong covenant.  Sex is designed to be practiced inside the covenant of marriage. The basic word in this whole holy design is covenant, which is basically a solemn agreement to either hang onto or step away from something. In the case of men, women and marriage, that covenant is a solemn agreement to hang onto each other for life, and sex is the sign of that covenant. The difference between covenant and no covenant is the difference between holy and human. Sex without covenant is like putting a BMW symbol on a Ford Pinto. You may have the symbol but you don’t have the car (and the car you’ve got is likely to blow up).

3. Good sex is not shame-producing. Sex was not designed to produce shame; it was designed to generate goodness. Over and over in the story of creation, we hear that God made things that are good. Men and women are called “very good.” Genesis 2:25 says, “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” Sex inside of a healthy covenant relationship is designed to generate joy, not shame. I want your kids to hear that abuse is never acceptable, and that good sex is not shame-producing.

(note to parents: If you find yourself feeling shame when you talk about sex, you might need to go back and examine your own issues. Who spoke that word into your life? How is that word limiting your relationship to God? And how is it limiting your human relationships?) 

4. Good sex is not love-producing (but is a great response to good love). Sex does not make love; it is a response to love. And love is not an act or emotion. It is a commitment. We “make love” happen not by engaging in physical acts, but by practicing mutual submission (see Ephesians 5:21) — by practicing habits with each other like patience, kindness and humility. We practice it by not keeping score or letting our anger get the best of us, and then we celebrate our successes in moments of sweet intimacy.

5. Good sex is ultimately about life. This is the Genesis purpose of sex. God made us to be creators, and he made sex enjoyable so we’d be drawn to it. That’s why natural curiosity is a good thing. We want kids to understand God’s plan for pursuing that curiosity in a positive light. Our job is help our kids make sense of those curiosities and channel them toward God’s good, joyful, healthy design.

6. Holy sex is good. It is not something to be afraid of (goodness, no!), nor is it something we are powerless to control.  Talk to your kids about the power they have over their own lives, about the nature of true love, about the rewards of self-discipline.  Talk to them about how to begin life with a holy end in mind, and about making goals that set them up to live well. And above all, model it. Because your life is the greatest lesson your kid will ever receive.

May we so live the qualities of our design — holiness, sacredness, goodness, love and life — that our kids will look at our example and say, “I want what they have.”

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God knows.

God knows.

Do you get how profound that is? God knows everything.  Your worst moment, your weakest decision, your blackest thought. And he still loves you.

And what does God expect of us for all that knowing?  Shame?  Fear?  Regret?  Hiding?

Nope.  Faith.  Enough of it to believe in a deeper reality than what we’ve done.  Enough to believe “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Paul Tillich says, “Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.”

Meaning? Faith is a code that unlocks the acceptance of Jesus’ acceptance of me. It is my admission that Jesus knows my whole life story, every skeleton in my closet, every moment of sin, shame, dishonesty, degradedness darkening my past, and he accepts me in that light.

Right now he knows my shallow faith, my feeble prayer life, my inconsistent discipleship, and he comes beside me and he says, “I dare you to trust. I dare you to trust that I love you, just as you are and not as you should be.” Because frankly, you’re never going to be as you should be. Not on your own steam. It just won’t happen, and that fact is true whether you believe in Jesus or accept his acceptance of you or not.

God knows.

Hallelujah.

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