Creating a Pro-Sex Home

Now that the title of this article has gotten your attention let me explain to you what I mean by pro-sex. Is your home a place that promotes healthy sexual lives? No one needs me to give examples of how sexualized our culture has become in America. No one needs me to tell them that the vast majority of sexuality depicted in the media is not consistent with the Christian story of sex. Very rarely are the depictions of sex and sexuality of a married man and woman, and when it is it’s typically a depiction of them not having the time or energy to do it. Add that to a formula of mom and dad only talking about sex when the onset of adolescence forces their hand, what you end up with is a message of “good sex only happens outside of God’s good design”. What we risk happening is that you have many Christians who live obedient lives to God in reference to their sexual lives and yet struggle accepting the reality that they are sexual creatures.

There’s no telling whether or not our society will continue to become more and more sexualized in the coming decades. Though most say things will only get worse we tend to forget that things go in cycles and that our society could experience a retreat from its current hyper-sexual state. Either way children should be raised in homes where they are encouraged to think positively of sex. They need to feel comfortable talking to mom and dad about things related to sex because mom and dad don’t treat it as a taboo matter, moreover because they are aware that mom and dad have actually done it not just to have children. Children need to be prepared to transition into being creatures with a sexual nature without a sense of being grossed out and or ashamed. By sexual creature I don’t just mean a creature that has intercourse, rather I mean creatures with a body that will have an array of things going on inside of it from, facial hair, changing voices, breast development, erections, menstruation, nocturnal emissions to carrying a baby, and sexual intercourse. But even more importantly teenagers need to be prepared to transition into becoming creatures with a growing desire for intimacy of which sex is one component. Even as I typed all of those indicators of a sexually developing man and woman my red flag went up, but why is that? For some reason those things have a certain amount of shame that has been associated with them that if not normalized possibly get in the way of experiencing real intimacy down the road. In reality most if not all those things were a part of Adam and Eve’s nakedness in the garden of which scripture says, “and they were not ashamed”.

I hate to define things by stating what they aren’t, but here is a couple of things that I believe do not promote sex properly. If you are doing these things then your home may not be pro-sex.

  1. The only conversations about sex are quick negative disdainful commentary in response to cultural depictions of sex and sexuality: Instead, when age appropriate from time to time use TV, movies, music, and commercials as an opportunity to constructively critique the message of the story of sex in that piece of media to God’s story of sex.
  2. The only lengthy conversation about sex involves taking the boy on a father son camping trip or taking the daughter out for a girl’s weekend with mom: The first in depth conversation about sex should be had very early on using age appropriate material around middle to late elementary age of 3rd to fifth grade.
  3. Conversations about sex become an awkward dance around trying to figure out what terminology to use for anatomy and fluids because all of it just seems ‘dirty’: Using the technical textbook terminology is often the best way to go and to say it without hesitating helps the conversation feel more natural and less awkward.
  4. Little to no physical intimacy is ever witnessed between mom and dad, which would lead kids to wonder if mom and dad actually find one another physically attractive: Hold hands, snuggle or cuddle up on the couch, exchange a kiss or even flirt with one another a little bit, in view of the kids. Doesn’t have to be all the time, but enough for kids to see that intimacy can be had within a marriage because the vast majority of cultural depictions convey the opposite.

I’m well aware that this is a controversial topic and my frankness in some sections may be concerning coupled with a lack of any positive examples of what I’m trying to encourage. So here is my one golden nugget of wisdom to guide you into creating a pro-sex home. Watch the Cosby Show. That’s right Cliff and Claire Huxstable. I don’t watch tons TV sitcoms, but they nailed it on that show in terms of depicting a pro-sex house. They weren’t over the top in expressing their affection for one another, but it was clear that they loved each other “like that”. They both had careers and responsibilities in and around the home that created stress and ate away at their time. The show rarely ever depicted them in bed together but you knew that they were still intimate.  More than anything teenagers that are starting to develop a desire for intimacy want to know that real intimacy is possible in the home within the confines of marriage.

Connecting the Pieces of the Puzzle: A Cool Moment in Sunday School

So I just have to brag on my students for a moment. We’ve been going through the Old Testament in Sunday School since the beginning of September. The whole point being that they become more familiar with God’s story in the Bible and how it all connects. As children they heard different narratives from scripture in a random fashion that kept them totally disconnected from being the complete narrative that they are.

Yesterday we covered Genesis 29-31 where Jacob has given away 14 years of his life in service to Laban to have Rachel as his wife, even after being deceived into marrying the markedly less attractive sister Leah after the first seven years of work. I spent much time explaining to them the complicated web of relationships and personal brokenness (Jacob’s obsession with Rachel, Laban’s obsession with his wealth, Leah’s obsession with being loved, and Rachel’s obsession with herself), all coming to a climax in Leah and Rachel’s baby race, where even the servant of each wife is brought into the middle of quite literally. Of course the sisters spirited competition to give Jacob sons results in him having twelve sons the last of which and put an end to it all, because it was the first and only born from Rachel.

As I am saying all of that and saying, “And the twelve sons are the ones that eventually became…”, and before I could get the words out of my mouth the collective light bulb of many of the students about nearly exploded. In the blink of an eye they started to piece together little bits of those disconnected stories they had heard all their lives and things they had always just accepted or knew about started to make sense! Without me telling them they (1) realized that these were the twelve sons (of course Benjamin would be born much later) for whom the twelve tribes of Israel are named (2) that the last son and only one born from Rachel to that point was Joseph (3) and that is why Joseph was the favorite of his father Jacob and therefore why his brothers hated him so much. The same favoritism that Jacob showed Rachel was given to Joseph and indifference same indifference shown towards Leah and the servant girls he likely showed towards his other sons.

It made my day that 35 minutes into a lesson with it’s fair share of random tangents and technical difficulties they were tracking in a manner that clearly indicated that they were thinking, comprehending and concluding on their own.  It was really cool to see how impressed they were with themselves for putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Not in an arrogant way but in a way that says “This makes so much more sense. These seemingly random stories that I grew up with aren’t so random now that I have more information”. Not that it never happens, but it was just really cool to see it happen in such a vivid way.

5 Prayer Paradigm Shifts for Shaping Your Child’s Prayer Life

“Read your Bible and pray,” are the two essential disciplines of the Christian life. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my observation has been that because those two activities are universally assumed every Christian does, they are too often the two things very little time is spent training and teaching people how to do. The result is that many people do them just to check it off the list, and others just stop doing them all together.

For as long as I have been a youth pastor I have made prayer a priority; both the practice of it and teaching students how to do it. I’ve had the privilege of hearing students pray and share what is weighing on their heart. Most students when I get them have been given one of two strategies for praying, or order of operations; P.R.A.Y. praise, repent, another, yourself, and A.C.T.S adoration, confession, thanks, and supplication. I was given the same formula for praying as a student and to be honest as an adult I struggled with it for a while because it was just too formulaic.

A few years ago, reading Richard Foster’s book Prayer, I read a statement that began altering the way I prayed. He simply said something to the effect that prayer is not meant to be a tool by which we shape or bend God to our will, but it is meant to be one of the primary ways God shapes and changes us. The flaw in the way that I exercised the acronym prayer style is that it became a boring routine of going before God’s throne and thanking God for making my life comfortable and happy, repenting of how I may have not earned or squandered away being entitled to a comfy happy life, asking for people I like (and maybe a few I didn’t) to have comfy happy lives (centered in Christ of course), and requesting the same for myself. Even when I dared to permit God to bring a little displeasure and discomfort into my life in my subconscious I was thinking that I would make out big in the long run.

I suspect I’m not the only one who has loathed their prayer life and felt that something was off. Listening to the prayers of students pretty much convinces me of that. My conclusion is that they need better prayers modeled before them. Here is five paradigm shifts for shaping your children’s prayer life. If any of these resonate with you then try making those shifts in your own prayer life. Most importantly don’t be afraid to model it before your kids by praying with them.

 

  1. Praise God for who he is v. Praise God for what he’s done:  I remember trying to make this shift, and discovering that I had been shifted into silence. I was at a loss for words. This is where scripture comes in handy. So many of the scripture writers, especially Old Testament prophets, lauded God continually for who he is. They covered every aspect of his character, not just his love, his power, and his majesty. They understood that the name of the Lord is to be praised. Too often we portray that the actions of the Lord is to be praised.
  2. Asking for signs of God’s kingdom coming and will being done v. Praying for God to simply fix your problems and problems of others: Many of us including myself have been taught that when Jesus returns he will take Christians up to heaven and destroy the earth. On the contrary Revelation 21 paints a picture of heaven coming down to earth, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Isaiah prophesied that when God put everything back to rights heaven and earth would be like new (Isaiah 65.17-25).  All that to say that Jesus doesn’t come to destroy his creation he comes to “make all things new” (Revelation 21.5).
  3. Repent of your state of being v. Repenting of your state of doing: Not that we shouldn’t repent of very specific deeds that we know are disobedient acts against God, but if all we deal with is our behavior we’ve never really gotten to the root of the issue. Our behavior is only a symptom of what is going on in our heart (John 15.18-19).  Even our good deeds are often guided by false motives. We often do good things not simply from a grateful heart but from a heart seeking to (1) justify ourselves before God when Jesus only can do and has done that for us, or (2) we don’t trust God and want to be in control of our life so we behave to keep him at a safe distance.
  4. Acknowledge that every thing belongs to God v.  Asking for things: Psalm 24 is a good place to start where we are reminded that “The earth is the Lord’s and everything it”. It goes on to say what we will receive from God his presence (“blessing”), vindication and righteousness. It ends in a crescendo of praising and honoring the name of the Lord who is the “King of Glory”. If our happiness and joy in life was more anchored in those three things, which God gives graciously and generously, we would discover true happiness and joy that can’t be snuffed out completely by circumstances of life this side of God’s kingdom being ushered in (think paradigm #2 above). Instead we envy the kingdom of other people the glory of which is subject to death and decay.
  5. Acknowledge/recite truth regarding God, mankind, creation and nature v. Sharing what you think about stuff: My prayer life often resembled more of a journal. A running commentary of my day, my encounters, and my thoughts. Not that it is a bad practice because it exposed my heart, but it needed to be tempered alongside the truth regarding all those things. In this case I believe it is a “both and” as opposed to “either or”.

 

In One Ear and Out the Other: Stuff All Parents Say

I have no doubt that I exasperated my mother and father at times as a teenager and even as a young adult. I know this because I can recall particularly my mother saying to me the phrase I’m sure every parent says at one time or another, “It just goes in one ear and out the other”. Which as we all know is just a frustrated way of saying, “you don’t listen to a word I say”. Whether it be advice, instruction, whatever, you haven’t had to parent if you have never felt like your words are completely ignored by your children.

The one that my mother used to always say to me that she felt I never heard was, “do first things first”. I was extremely gifted in the art of procrastination. No one had to teach me how to procrastinate because I was a natural. My gift got in the way of me reaching my potential academically, and my grades suffered. This went on through all of High School and most of college

One day frustrated with the hole that I had started to dig for myself after being granted a tremendous second chance I finally decided to put into practice the thing my mother had been telling me for years, do first things first. I would actually begin to prioritize and order things so that I would be successful, and successful I was.

The reason I tell this story is not to laud praise onto my parents or even myself for finally raising the bar of academic mediocrity and failure that had dogged me for years. The purpose is to encourage any of you parents that find yourselves as exasperated as my mother and father must have been. I want to encourage you with this simple fact that I shared with my mother when she asked what I did differently to turn things around. I finally put first things first. In other words contrary to their belief, their words of advice, instruction, wisdom and encouragement did not go in one ear and out the other. I heard every word. It just took a while before I decided to put it into practice.

You may have reached the point where you hear yourself repeating the same thing over and over to your children and thus feel like a broken record. Don’t lose heart and keep repeating these things that they are too hardheaded or stubborn to do, but don’t believe for one second that they don’t hear you. I’m sure if your honest with yourself you can think back on the things your parents use to tell you all the time much to their exasperation because you too, like your teenager, took forever to apply it. Just as you remembered what your parents said and delayed to apply it, more than likely they will too.

3 Remedies for the Common Fear of Teens

Working with teenagers and trying to convince or recruit other people to invest in the lives of teenagers has made me very aware of a problem that is nearing epidemic proportions. There is a lot of ephebiphobia going around and it is rampant. For those not up on their vocabulary words ephebiphobia is the irrational fear and loathing of teenagers. It is also recognized as the “inaccurate exaggerated and sensational characterization of young people”.
You need only talk to any youth pastor, youth worker middle or high school teacher, or parent of an adolescent to discover how widespread ephebiphobia is. I’m treated with near saintlike status when people discover that I’ve worked with pre and early teens for nearly 15 years. “Oh bless you!,” is often the reply I get. “Man, it really takes a special person to work with teenagers,” is another one I hear. The loathing aspect of ephebiphobia is caught in this oft given quip, “I think all kids should be burried (or locked in a closet or shipped off to a deserted island) when they’re twelve and unearthed (or let out or returned to civilization) when they’re 18 (or 25).
I get it. There is a lot of people who just find teenagers difficult, hard to manage, wild and out of control, but is that the norm? If it is the norm should we just be resigned to it being the way things are, and regard them with perpetual suspicision, avoidance, and the lowest possible expectations? As a youth pastor it really bothers me (read REALLY BOTHERS!!!!) that so many people are so negative about teenagers. Allow me to give a few insights that may serve as a rememdy for those who suffer from ephebiphobia?

1. You Were a Teenager Once: It may have been a while but don’t forget what it was like to be a teenager. The teenage/adolescent experience can be summarized by one word… change. Birth to two years old is the only stage of life and development that has more change than the adolescent years. Change is difficult enough as it is for most fully formed adults. It is literally like turning your life upside down as an adolescent. Physical, mental, emotional, social, change change change. Have a little sympathy, no, a little empathy. Everyone expects them to be fully formed adults which by definition they are in the process of becoming but incomplete. When they demonstrate their immaturity (or put another being in process) people resort to treating them like children which again by definition they are not anymore. How frustrating it must be for them if it is for those of us who interact with them?

2. Role of Teenagers in Society: People often feel sorry for today’s youth upon observing today’s social landscape, and all the pressures they face. You’ll often hear the “experts” talk with great tribudation about all the exposure and temptation that the current generation faces that is unparalleled to the previous generations. Could the reason teenagers today face so much temptation and pressure is not because the world is wilder and crazier than ever, but because the world sees adolescents primarily as consumers? Name a product that isn’t primarily targeted at teenagers? Name a product that isn’t marketed by showing how youthful it is? I’m sure you can think of something but it may take a minute. There used to be a day when adolescents and early teens were primarily seen as contributors to society. It wasn’t that long ago that the adolescent stage of life in America was seen as a time to prepare young people for a lifetime of contributing to society and the world. They were pushed and encouraged to cultivate and create. Now that stage of life is treated primarily as a time to prepare them for a lifetime of being customers and consuming things. On opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum you have students who go looking for trouble because they want what they can’t have, or because they have so much they are bored. More and greater things need to be expected of them because they thirst for a life of meaning and significance. All human beings are created to be cultivators and creators and not simply consumers of stuff.

3. Need For an Investment: I recently recruited a new member to my volunteer team. One of the main motivations for getting involved was her unfulfilled desire for someone aside from just her parents to show an interest in her as a developing young woman. The reason why I and others are good with teenagers has nothing to with how cool or hip or knowledgable of youth culture we are. We are good and successful because we care. We care enough to show an interest and make an investment in their lives from our own. I don’t know of a teenager who won’t respond positively to that, or I’ve yet to come across one. Two of the most effective youth ministry volunteers I’ve ever seen were both 50-plus years old, which totally goes against conventional wisdom, but totally makes sense if you ever saw how they loved on and invested in a teenager. They weren’t cool nor hip because and didn’t need to be. They just came alongside of teenagers and provided another safe and constant harbor in the ever changing sea of adolescence. Which allowed for those students to stop being tossed around by the currents of life and just be.

Are You Raising A Pharisee?: Modeling Justification

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 5.1

I recently listened to a sermon by Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian where he talked about justification by faith. In his own brilliant way he explained in an easy to understand manner how justification by faith works. My huge takeaway was that most lifelong Christians really should begin to repent of the ways they try to justify themselves. In other words many of us start conducting our lives in a way that says, “even though Jesus through his perfect life, his death, and his resurrection has become my justification, I am going to eventually justify myself by being a good Christian. By reading my Bible, Christian service, giving, church attendance, local church involvement, moral obedience, evangelism, ministry involvement, etc, I will eventually earn my peace with God through my deeds and behavior.”

He used the illustration of a job resume. That when we apply for a job we are looking for more than a source of income. We are seeking the acceptance and approval of the person making the job hire. Our resume is more than just a listing of our previous job experiences and qualifications. It is the deeds that we use to justify ourselves even applying for the position in the first place. Being hired is more than just getting the job over and above the other applicants, it equates to being accepted and approved of.

This got me thinking a lot and one of my thoughts relates to how we parent in this respect. How are we modeling justification? Sure we may teach our children John 3.16 and that God’s love for us is unconditional and that there is nothing we can do to cause God to love us less or more, but how are we modeling justification? This is a crucial question for all of us to be in the habit of asking, especially if we tend to be people pleasers, or pursuers of the approval of others. If our drive to attend church, obey God’s moral conduct code, and practice spiritual disciplines is centered on pleasing God then you are modeling a faith in your deeds not in Christ. If your pursuit to please and gain the approval of others runs your life then others have become the god you seek to be justified before and have peace with.

Warning signs that you might be modeling a justification in something other than Christ can be seen in how much you value any of the following.

  • Success
  • Promotions
  • Image and Appearance
  • Where you are seen and who you are seen with
  • How clean your house or car is
  • How busy you are
  • Your social calendar
  • Fitting in
  • Finding others who are just like you
  • Having it all together
  • Being on time

Notice that any number of those things are in and of themselves good things or values neutral (not bad), however, if we demonstrate an inordinate amount of importance on those things with the displeasure and disapproval of others or God as the consequence to be feared then it has become your justification. I know in my own life the things I tend to confess are the very things that I secretly fear God will or should hold against me. Without or them or because of them I’m endangering my status of being accepted and approved of by God. Now having a daughter I’m curious and concerned about how I will model an understanding of justification before God through my lifestyle as opposed to what I say.

Justification by faith is modeled correctly when you are freed to simply be in the presence of God and of others without the constant worry and fear of keeping the peace with them. By faith we know that we can never lose the peace with God because of Jesus. By faith we know that while uncomfortable losing the peace with others isn’t the end of the world nor defines us because they are not God.

Death is Not Natural: Stuff Pastor Prado Said

At the first church I worked at one of the other pastors on Staff was a man by the name of Jorge Prado. A native of Brazil he was the pastor of the Spanish Speaking Congregation at our church. Jorge is one of those rare kind of people that has seen everything and so when he talks you listen, because he is likely to tell you a great story or drop a nugget of wisdom on you. After a funeral at the church for a longtime elderly member he dropped a boulder of wisdom on me that I’ll never forget. “My friend,” that is how Jorge would address you, “death is so difficult for us to deal with because death is not natural. It was never a part of what God intended.”

Consider the story of scripture; there is no death in Genesis 1-2. Death is not a part of God’s original design for the earth and creation. It is not part of the good that God wove into the human experience. Death doesn’t enter into the human experience until Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In other words as Jorge said, “People die everyday yet we can not handle it because it was never meant to happen, and therefore God never wired our hearts to be able to deal with death and dying.”

In the past four months I’ve had the opportunity to come alongside two students and one friend, all three of them girls, who had unexpectedly lost their father to death. The cause of death was different in each case, but it is fair to say in each case that no one saw death coming. All three dads were under sixty, all three daughters were between the ages of 15 and 25. With all three I had the opportunity to come alongside them within 12 hours or less of it happening; one the morning after, one two or so hours after he was pronounced dead, and one I was one of the people who delivered her the news of her father’s death. What do you say to someone who has just lost someone? What do you say to a girl who just lost her father? I remember what Jorge said.

I tell them, as I told my students last night, that there is no formula for grief. That is the “so what” to the why of death not being natural. Because death is not natural, and because we are not wired for death as being part of our human experience even though it is very much a part of our human reality, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief wouldn’t be grief if there were a step-by-step formulaic way of doing it. That kind of loss creates an inward lost-ness that there is no way to navigate, you must simply walk through it. Walking through death is not like walking across the street; there is no other side to get to. Well, that’s not completely true, but those of us who believe know that none of us know exactly when the other side will arrive (Revelation 21.1-4). So in the interim you must simply grieve.

Don’t let anyone make you feel as though you are not grieving properly. Grieve in the manner in which you are grieving. If you are in such shock that you can’t muster any response and stare into the abyss with silent numbness then be still. If you are filled with such pain and misery that it causes you to fall apart with tears until you have none left, then flood the room. If you are instead flooded with happy memories of good times that cause you to laugh with joy, then fill the halls with your laughter (or chuckle quietly to yourself if you don’t laugh loudly like me). If you are ravaged with questions that have no easy answers because you just need to vent, then find a safe audience (which by the way includes God). If you are angry, then give your anger a voice (just be cautious about giving it an activity). All of those feelings come at you during grief, and in no particular order.  They come in no natural expected order because death, though normal to the human experience is not natural.