Extolling the Desolate

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

The following words are going to lose me some readers, so know my heart before you proceed. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I don’t desire complete homogeny in my life. Never, ever will I advocate being a jerk. Neither do I believe that we are to be anything other than loving.

But that love? It is to have a backbone. It is to be rooted in what is true. 

Gentle Reader,

Why do we praise that which is not praiseworthy?

Those who call themselves Christians baffle me in their responses to current events. I choke on the saccharine, sticky, feel-good buzzwords. Acceptance. Tolerance. Love. Forgiveness. Courage.

Nobody defines those words correctly.

When did we become blind to the fact that there is no sin that should be celebrated? Why has our understanding of grace become so disgustingly cheap? The community of faith seems to, in general, buy into the lie that “as long as you’re not hurting anyone, do whatever you want.” Such an idea is antithetical to the Gospel.

No, we Christians should not praise Bruce Jenner. Neither should we call him names or use the anonymity of the internet to share vile thoughts about him. We should be sad. Our love for God and our love for people who struggle with issues like transgenderism should compel us to speak truth. Gentle truth. Respectful truth. But truth nonetheless.

We do not have a God who tells us to surrender to every desire. He does not tell us that salvation came at little cost. He does not tell us that obedience does not matter. He tells us through His word and through the consequences of our experiences that sin and struggle are real because of the pernicious growth of evil in our hearts due to the Fall and our own inwardly warped natures – and He can and will save us from that. Praise Him forever because He loves us as we are but that love means that He cannot allow us to stay as we are.

He is the God who tells us that our hearts are desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). We are not to “follow” them so we can be “happy.” We are to follow Him. He is the God who tells us to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). We are not to dwell on every little thing that comes into our heads. Our minds cannot be trusted unless they are renewed and transformed in Him (Romans 12:2). That same verse tells us that we are not to be conformed to the pattern of this world. We are not to shape our lives based on the ever-changing whims of society. We are to base them on God’s truth.

No, we Christians should not engage in the doctrinal gymnastics and outright denial of Scripture that is required to “support” any kind of marriage that is not made up of one man and one woman. Neither should we call any person names or use the anonymity of the internet to share vile thoughts about them. We should be sad. Our love for God and our love for people who struggle with issues like homosexuality should compel us to speak truth. Gentle truth. Respectful truth. But truth nonetheless.

We do not have a God who says it’s fine to ignore Him. He is the God who tells us that He formed us within the secret place of the womb. He knows us at a level beyond minute intimacy (Psalm 139). He says that we were made for His glory (Isaiah 43:7). He arranged creation in such a way that it screams of His continual presence (Romans 1:21). We do not get to shape Him to fit us.

No, we Christians should not swallow the bubble-gum, fortune-cookie, cotton candy garbage continually hawked by men like Joel Osteen. Have we forgotten warnings about deception and itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3)?

If I had been coddled in my sin and praised for my bad decisions, I would be dead today. If I fed on a steady diet of fluff, I would be dead today. It’s that stark and that simple. I know precisely where I would go if left to my own devices. I know exactly what God has saved me from. I am dependent on Him for every breath, awash in His good graces that I can never, ever deserve or repay. I am intolerant of anything less than the radical, transformative, powerful Gospel and the holy, majestic, entirely-other God behind the message.

Yes, intolerant. It breaks my heart. I can’t stand it. There is a physical pain that presses against my chest when I consider all those who blithely march to hell in the name of “progress” and “openness” and “acceptance” and the people who call themselves children of God let the parade go by without so much as a word. No, I don’t believe in being nasty. I do believe in truth. I do believe that Christ’s death and resurrection were for naught without sin. If we remove that ugliness, that separation, from the equation; if we twist words and decide that God did not mean that _________ is wrong, then what would be the point of the Atonement? If there really isn’t such a thing as sin, and this is what we communicate when we support and give pride of place to it, then why did Christ come?

It is not bigotry to say that something is wrong. It’s not. It is not anything-phobic to say that such and such action or stance does not hold up in the light of God’s word. It is actually loving. It is loving to look someone in the eyes and say, “I know that you are hurting. I know that you have this struggle. I know that you have questions. But please, I beg you, do not go your own way. I can’t stand by and let you, a person I care about, tear your life apart. There is something – Someone – so much better.”

Isn’t this what we say to drug addicts? To alcoholics? To women who keep diving in to bad relationship after bad relationship? To the depressed and anxious? Don’t we try to surround them with love that says, “you are safe and I’m with you” and truth that says, “let’s work through this together?”

So why are sexual sins treated differently?

Don’t we look at liars and say, “You are false. You are fake. I cannot trust anything you say and I will not listen to you.”

So why are we silent in the face of false teachers?

I do not expect the world at large to act if they are saved. I do not expect them to care about anything God has to say. I do not expect my national, state or local governments to suddenly shift course and made decisions based on Scripture.

I do expect this of anyone who calls himself a Christian. I expect us to stop extolling the desolate. I expect us to stop giving people enough rope with which to hang themselves. I expect us to expose liars for who they are.

I expect us to follow Christ.

His refrain when interacting with sinners (i.e. everyone)? “Go and sin no more. Repent and be saved. Take up your cross.”

There are also some words about whitewashed tombs and broods of vipers that would apply nicely to the Osteen’s and Hinn’s of the world.

My journey to faith. (15)

Sex and the Christian Family

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

The continued mishandling of sex in the Christian community…

It’s not working.

The Bible is clear. Marriage between one man and one woman is the only legitimate context for sex. I don’t deny that at all. I just don’t think the conversation can stop there. The Bible also speaks of men and women falling in love. An entire book celebrates the physical expression of love in sex (Song of Solomon). Prostitutes are redeemed, Jesus saves an adulteress from stoning, Paul enjoys the single life. There’s more to sex in the Bible than “just don’t.”

We’re falling down on the job in a major way. We tell people “don’t, don’t, don’t” and they “do, do, do,” sometimes with awful and twisted consequences. Parents are on the front lines here. They are the ones teaching the next generation. They need to move beyond “don’t.” Now, someone out there is going to say, “You’re not a parent, so what do you know?” I know enough. I know plenty of people who have been abused. I know people who maintained every shred of their purity before marriage and I know people, myself included, who didn’t. I know that kids have questions and we need to get better at answering them, in age-appropriate ways.

In no particular order:

Move beyond “don’t” and into “why.” It’s not enough to tell anyone not to do something without explaining why. God Himself doesn’t even do that. He either spells it out clearly or reveals the reasons through events. So it must be in our conversations about sex. Kids need to know why saving sex for marriage is the right thing to do, especially as they get into those years of raging hormones. They need to know about more than STDs and abortion. They need to know about emotional attachments, spiritual dulling and baggage. They need to know about long-term consequences.

Kids need to be told that they are normal. It’s normal to be curious about the body, both your own and others. It’s normal, as we age, to develop crushes and have desires. There is no shame in that. God designed us this way.

Boundaries. In telling kids that they are normal, the importance of boundaries must be emphasized. They need to know that their curiosity doesn’t give them license to do whatever they want. They also need to know that their “no” means something and it’s not right for their “no” to be ignored.

– An explanation of boundaries must begin at an early age. Kids need to be told that it is NEVER okay for anyone to touch them anywhere in any way that they don’t like, and certainly never okay for anyone to touch their intimate places. They need to know that they should and can IMMEDIATELY tell their parents or other trusted adults if something inappropriate has happened.

– If your kid comes to you and tells you that she has been violated, you need to take action. Not tomorrow. Not later. NOW. If you don’t, you communicate to him devastating things: You don’t believe what he says. You don’t value her. You think that it’s fine for him to be abused.

– If the perpetrator is your own kid, he or she needs to receive immediate help. (He/she should also be removed from the house if he/she is abusing the other child/ren). You cannot deal with this on your own. You need the services of a professional therapist or a pastor with extensive counseling training.

– Boundaries within dating should be discussed. I don’t believe that God frowns when a kiss or a hug is exchanged, but those kisses and hugs can escalate quickly. Again, that’s normal. We are sexual beings. What safeguards will dating children have in place? The point is not to be legalistic, but to develop a realistic standard based on God’s word and the maturity of the child.

Teach them the correct words. Vagina. Penis. Breasts. Testicles. Uterus. Ovaries. Orgasm. And my computer isn’t bursting into flames!

Responsibility. This is one area in which I think we fail most consistently, in several ways:

– Kids need to be told, in no uncertain terms, that it is NOT their fault if someone chooses to abuse them. All the blame must be placed squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator.

– Young ladies need to be told that they are not responsible for the actions of men. I do believe that women should dress with dignity, understanding that they are beautiful, intricately designed daughters of the King. We should dress in a way that honors the Lord by honoring our bodies, not putting every inch of skin on display. There aren’t hard-and-fast rules, though. What one woman is comfortable with another may not be. Bottom line: even the loosest turtleneck made of the heaviest fabric will not keep a man from lusting if he has a mind to do so, and this is not the fault of any woman.

– Young men need to be told that Jesus never advocated lust management or blame-shifting. Marriage was not meant to be simply an outlet for a man’s sexual desire. It is not fine for a man to indulge his lust with his wife. Sex is meant to be an expression of love and an avenue for deepest connection. If a man struggles with lust, he must recognize that as his struggle. His struggle is not made easier by the availability and increasing mainstream acceptance of pornography, nor is it made easier by a woman’s lack of understanding her own dignity in the way she dresses. Nevertheless, his struggle is not to be blamed on any woman. His choices and thoughts are his own.

The conversation must be on-going. Too many parents stop at an explanation of how babies are made. That’s not enough. Kids need to know that they can come to their parents with any questions, any confusion. They need to know that their parents are safe and won’t drag them over the coals.

Your story. Kids need to know how and why you struggled. They need to know why you feel so strongly about this. They need to know when you failed and when you succeeded. They need to know your regrets and what you’re thankful for.

Jesus. From the earliest age, like within the womb, kids need to hear about Jesus. They need to be told about God. They need to hear how wonderful and awesome and holy and perfect and loving He is. They need to know that they can talk to Him about anything. That they can pour their hearts out. They need to be told, in clear and simple terms, about sin and the cross and the Resurrection. They need to know how important it is that they ask Him for forgiveness and ask Him to be the Lord of their lives.

Grace. It must be explained, emphasized and given. Because even the best Bible study, the most comprehensive conversation, the best explanations as to “why,” the most authentic sharing of story cannot keep people from making choices. Kids are sinners, just like their parents. They need to know that stones will not be hurled at their heads. They need to know that the wonderful Jesus you’ve told them about can and will forgive them of anything they’ve done. They need to know that you’ll forgive them. They need to know that they can forgive themselves.

This is far too important an issue. We cannot keep bungling it. Kids cannot keep suffering because we’re too uncomfortable to say the word “penis” or too ashamed to tell them that we had sex before we got married. We, the adults, need to grow up and step up. We’ve got to stop wringing our hands and screaming “no!” We’ve got to stop shaming the next generation because they have the same questions, struggles, longings and desires we do.

We need to do better.

We must.

My journey to faith. (15)

May 23, 2015: After reading this post, a friend of mine pointed out that pornography isn’t just a “man’s issue” and modesty isn’t just a “woman’s issue.” She is entirely correct. Increasing numbers of women turn to pornography (though it may be labeled “erotica”). Women enjoy looking at attractive men just as much as men enjoy looking at attractive women; there’s a reason Mark Wahlberg’s Calvin Klein ad has never faded away.

So, the conversation about pornography and modesty must include both girls and boys. They all need to be taught how to present themselves in a way that honors both God and the body. And while kids should be told that it’s normal to notice and appreciate physical beauty, they must also be taught that people are not objects.

Photo credit: Shelby Deeter