Matt Lauer…Teachable Moments…and Theologizing About Sexuality and Sin

[Editor’s note: This article was originally posted at the end of November at  www.cpyu.org. While Matt Lauer is no longer at the top of our news feeds, hardly a day goes by without another well-known individual being called out for sexual misconduct. These are points worth reflecting on regardless of the specific name in the headlines.]

Trending. . . Matt Lauer. . . at number one on my news feed. As of this morning, one of the voices that’s been sharing the growing cascade of #metoo stories over the last few weeks is now the subject of those stories himself. I watched as visibly rattled co-workers Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb explained Lauer’s absence on this morning’s Today Show.

How did you react when you heard the story? What thoughts went through your mind?

At times like this, I’ve learned that it might actually be a wiser move to focus on my own thoughts/reaction than on the story and its subject. And I’m not at all proud of the fact that the learning curve on this skill took much more time for me than it should have. And, I’m still tempted to default to focus on guys like Matt Lauer than on myself. That’s a blatant confession.

Upon seeing the news pop up in my feed this morning, I experienced a bit of jolt. Matt Lauer??? Come on. But that jolt very quickly morphed into the thought of “sad but not surprised” . . . a consequence of years and years of watching culture, pondering the reality of human depravity, and looking more deeply into my own broken and messed-up heart. This isn’t the last one of these stories we’re going to hear. . . not at all.

What is that you do with news like this? I think that there’s great value in self-evaluating how each of us evaluates and responds to these kinds of stories. In other words, before getting on with the rest of our day, it’s a good thing to theologize about, to learn from, and to think about how to process these stories with our own selves and with the kids we know and love.

I’ve been working on doing that this morning. In fact, I’ve put other tasks aside for the simple reason that my mind’s been racing. Here are some of my initial, typically-incomplete, and hopefully-helpful thoughts. . .

First, if your initial reaction is a smug, self-assured, disapproving finger wag in the direction of Matt Lauer and others like him. . . well, that’s quite telling. I’m ashamed to admit that in years past I was more prone to head immediately down this Pharisaical avenue than I am now. . . I hope. It’s easy to default into self-righteous finger-wagging when the subject of the story is someone who doesn’t share your views on faith and life, and who is one who sometimes pushes back hard on your views of faith and life. Let’s be honest here. . . if you’re a person of Christian faith you are tempted and even beyond tempted to rejoice in the downfall of folks who think, believe, and behave differently. But when that happens, we really aren’t thinking, believing, and behaving differently. Our actions prove that. Nor are we bringing honor and glory to the One who saved us when we had absolutely no hope at all of saving ourselves.

Second, if you politicize this and other stories like it, then you are making a horrible, horrible mistake.The reality is that this isn’t a political issue. It’s a human nature issue. It’s not an issue for either just conservatives or liberals. It’s evidence of a universal struggle. Sexual brokenness, temptation, and sin in thought, word, and deed is no respecter of persons, faith commitments, or political views. Whenever someone uses the issue as political or ideological ammo. . . no matter who they are. . . well shame on them. And shame on me if I cave into that temptation.

Third, this is a time to remember this rock-solid truth: “There but for the grace of God go I.” While my own human depravity should never be used as an excuse to write-off or justify the sin of others (or God-forbid, my own sin), I must also never forget that if I’m honest with myself, “there but for the grace of God go I.” And while I must reckon with the ever-present enemy of my own depravity and the one who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” I must always “stay alert” and watching out for this enemy who would love nothing more than to take me down. And, we all need to be reminded that even he might not be successful in taking us down through sexual sin, any self-righteous gloating over the fact is an indicator that he is very sneaky in other ways. . . like taking us down through pride.

And finally, today’s story and others like it offer us great opportunities to teach our kids in ways that will equip them for a sober-minded life which makes them continually aware of the enemy within. It was timely that even before seeing the story on Matt Lauer this morning, I prayed these words from today’s entry in Scotty Smith’s Everyday Prayers book: “Protect us from the evil one, and rescue us from ourselves.”

One good sin never deserves another. That’s why we need to spend so much time looking inward at ourselves. Today’s story is not one that should teach us about Matt Lauer. Why? Because in so many ways Matt Lauer is each one of us. Because of that, this is an opportunity to learn even more about ourselves and to teach our kids the increasingly-forgotten skill of doing the same.

Article by Walt Mueller, founder and President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. Learn more at www.cpyu.org.

They’re Right. Abstinence-Only Education Doesn’t Work.

The New York Times and other prominent news sources recently reported that there is now proof that abstinence-only programs don’t work. A meta-analysis of data (this means analyzing data from a number of different studies) “found no good evidence that such programs delayed the age of first sexual intercourse or reduced the number of partners an adolescent might have.”

Let me first state that such research and reporting is always approached with a bias. It’s impossible to conduct research and write articles like these without the desire to prove what you already believe to be true (just as I write with a bias towards a biblical view of sexuality). In fact, the New York Times article concedes that some research suggests that four abstinence-only programs have had a positive impact (Healthy FuturesPositive PotentialHeritage Keepers, and Promoting Health Among Teens (PHAT)).

While I believe we must be teaching abstinence, I agree with the New York Times that teaching abstinence alone is not enough. In fact, no form of “sex education” is going to ultimately keep teenagers from engaging in sexual activity. We live in a world where sexual experimentation, viewing sexually explicit shows like “Game of Thrones,” and engaging with pornography have become accepted norms even among Christian teens. We have a sexually permissive and explicit culture targeting teens and young adults who have sexual desire and a sin nature. Add to that the impact of smart phones, streaming technology, and the delay of marriage and you have a toxic recipe that seems practically impossible to stand against.

I truly wish there were some course or magic pill we could give teens (including my own) that would instill in them the danger of sexual immorality and the beauty of God’s plan. Unfortunately, there is no such fool-proof plan.

Even Christian-based abstinence programs that have positively impacted thousands of teens and young adults have also created confusion and disillusionment for others who felt God promised them a happy marriage with great sex if only they abstained. Some reacted to such programs with deep shame that they could no longer be among the elite sexually pure because of past choices.

Whatever your opinion of abstinence-only education, please don’t think that what the world is offering is effective in advocating a healthy understanding of sex. Modern sex education encourages experimentation, sexual/gender fluidity, and self-exploration as natural and healthy. This will inevitably end up in more confusion and a view of sexuality is that is completely divorced from God’s created purpose of this gift in our lives.

The bottom line is we need a new model for how we approach sexuality, not just with teens, but even among adults.

We have to have a greater goal than sexual purity.  

While abstinence is very important to teach children and youth, it is not the most important message we have to give. More valuable than a teen’s sexual choices is the choice of trusting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Sometimes I fear that we get the cart before the horse. Being sexually pure does not lead to eternal salvation for our children. By contrast, it’s only through a relationship with Jesus Christ that a person has a compelling reason and the spiritual power to say no to peer pressure, strong sexual desire and temptations.

Sexual purity is not just about saying “no” to having sex with your boyfriend. It has to be rooted in a broader understanding of our God’s love for us, the harmful impact of rejecting His design, and the hope of His redemption in our lives. The reality is that most teenagers are looking at porn, experimenting sexually and are not convinced that there is anything morally wrong with any of these behaviors. In fact, the culture is working hard to erase any sexual ethic other than do what you like as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. Showing up with a “just say no to sex” message is like bringing a Dixie cup to confront a Super Soaker.

We need more than education.

While I wholeheartedly support the efforts of those who are teaching abstinence in schools, churches and in their own homes, it’s a mistake to think that information alone will be enough to stand against the internal and external pressures teens are facing. Similarly, a promise ceremony or signing a purity pledge may be external symbols of a commitment to abstinence, but teens and young adults must be equipped with a more complete picture of the spiritual landscape of sexuality. Why does sexuality matter to God? Why do I matter to God? Why is sex so often associated with shame? Most importantly, how do I understand the gospel in light of my sexuality and my sexual choices?

If you’ve been engaging with Authentic Intimacy as a ministry, you know that we are passionate about sexual discipleship™. The sexual discipleship™ model means that we teach about sexuality within the lifestyle of following Jesus, not just a class addressing purity or cultural questions. Discipleship requires relationship, modeling and honest dialogue throughout daily life.

Whatever models we might use in academic settings to teach about sexual health will ultimately be insufficient in keeping them “safe” if teens do not have parents and mentors who have a greater goal for them abstinence.

By Dr. Juli Slattery

This blog has been re-posted from Authentic Intimacy. Used with permission. 

Hope in the New Year

With the new year often comes reflection on the past, and resolutions for moving forward. But when the past is full of pain and brokenness, it can be difficult to hope for any change in the future:

“For many of us, pervasive, day in and day out brokenness has turned our youthful boast that “nothing is impossible with God” into a weary “nothing is ever going to change.” You might not voice it out loud, but you’ve come to expect that God will not answer prayer, much less “rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1), and that brokenness will dominate your life’s headlines until your obituary takes its place.

It might be a broken country, where terrorists’ bombs explode every attempt at systemic development. Or a broken marriage, where mistrust has evicted tenderness from the home. Or a broken ministry, where the word seems to land only on the path with the birds. Or perhaps just a broken soul, where darkness has extinguished the last shreds of light.

In the wreckage of that kind of brokenness, we feel entirely justified as we adopt a hopeless view of our life. We might even call our hopelessness realism….”

Read the full article by Scott Hubbard at https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/begin-to-hope-again 

Sexual Assault and the Scandal of Repentance

Article by Trevin Wax, The Gospel Coalition
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/sexual-assault-scandal-repentance/
(Reposted with permission)

During his lengthy tenure as an evening commentator on CNN, Larry King often posed two questions to pastors and theologians who came on as guests.

First, is Jesus the only way to God? This was Larry’s way of seeing if the Christian representative would insist on the uniqueness of Jesus no matter how offensive that claim might come across in a pluralistic world. You mean good people from other religions might be condemned?

The second question came from a different angle. Could a serial killer, or someone like Hitler, or a rapist, or a pedophile receive forgiveness and wind up in heaven? This was Larry’s way of seeing if the Christian representative would insist on the offer of grace, no matter how offensive that pronouncement might come across in a world that demands justice. You mean abhorrently wicked people might repent and be saved?

Larry King is not a Christian. But he knows where the scandalous power of Christianity is found. It’s in the narrowness of insisting on universal, eternal condemnation for all sinners who fall short of God’s glory, and in the broadness of calling everyone to repent of their sins, trust in Christ and be saved. Everyone, even the “vilest offender,” in the words of the old Isaac Watts hymn.

The “vilest offender” today is the person who engages in sexual assault and abuse.

VILENESS KNOWS NO BOUNDS

Once upon a time, Hollywood elites winked and nodded at those who were well known for their brazenness. But no more. The dynamic has shifted. Women’s testimonies are (finally) taken seriously. More and more people feel the freedom to speak up. Contracts have been canceled. Stars find themselves blacklisted.

In politics, from the far right to the far left, we are discovering case after case of lecherous and predatory behavior, and we are coming to grips with a cultural sickness that promotes and protects such travesties.

(Unfortunately, partisan impulses that have been present since the Bill Clinton era have ossified into tribalism so powerful that it’s unclear if there’s anything egregious enough to cause voters to abandon their party’s candidate. Far too many have fallen for the myth that candidates who promise to vote the right way are to be preferred no matter their honor or character. This was the myth that many conservative Christians rightly exposed during the era of Clinton, before succumbing to the same line of reasoning in the era of Trump.)

Religious people have no room to point the finger and say, “I told you so!” to Hollywood moguls and corrupt politicians. In our own churches and institutions, we’ve seen how sexual abuse and assault can thrive in the shadows of piousness and self-protectiveness. Moral laxity is not the only condition necessary for evil to flourish. High moral standards or the “right positions” on biblical morality do not serve as a safeguard against those who would abuse their power in their pursuit of prey.

BEAUTIFUL PARADOX

How then should we respond?

As Christians, there should be no equivocation or excusing of inappropriate sexual advances or abuse. Lord forbid the world be clearer than the church in naming and shaming evil deeds!

The church must be unflinching in its naming of sin. And yet the church must also not shrink back from the call to repentance. Repentance is the hope-filled call of the gospel: anyone can repent and be restored. Yes, anyone can turn from sin and find forgiveness.

Herein lies the scandal of the gospel. Christians name evil for what it is. Yet we also believe that evil desires and deeds can be confessed and overcome, that sin can be forgiven, and that people can be redeemed. The church is the peculiar society that insists that certain acts the world finds praiseworthy are sinful, while certain sins the world finds unforgivable can be wiped away.

So, the offense of the Christian gospel is twofold. We will seem narrow and strict when we insist on calling out sins. And yet, we will seem too generous when we insist that anyone no matter their past can repent and be restored. Our stark vision of sin is grace to the victim; our call to repentance is grace to the offender.

REPENTANCE AND RESTORATION

Repentance and restoration are powerful realities, but they are neither cheap nor easy.

True repentance over sin is more than remorse over consequences. It is a change wrought in the depths of one’s heart. Sexual offenders no longer dismiss or downplay their actions. No longer do they blame the victims, retreat into defensiveness, or seek to discredit the men and women who come forward. The church calls the offender to agree in naming the evil deed and refusing to make any excuses for it.

Likewise, forgiveness and restoration does not mean we abandon precautions in how we live among people who are guilty of sexual assault. It does not mean we overlook past offenses or set aside earthly consequences. The outworking of restoration must be applied with wisdom and care and prudence. Full restoration of human relationships (where a victim stays in contact with a repentant abuser) may not be advisable or possible on this side of eternity.

But the gracious call to repentance still goes out, and it is still powerful. We worship a generous God who takes sin so seriously that he gave up his body to be crucified, for the sins of victim and abuser alike. The rugged grace that flows from the cross does not minimize sin or redefine wickedness; it floods the cavernous heart and washes away our stains.

So, if the world is shocked that we still believe in sin, let the world be even more shocked that we still believe in repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. When the world is rushing headlong into sexual libertinism of all types, we continue to bear witness to the truth of God’s design for sexuality and the reality of sexual sinfulness. But when our vilest sins make us retreat in shame or double down in guilt, the church bears witness to the truth that any person, no matter how vile, who repents and believes will be forgiven and restored.

 

The Four Levels of Listening

A mother and her teenage son were arguing in the kitchen. The issue was what time for him to be home on a weekend night. Standing by the sink, with her arms folded she just could not understand why he was so adamant about being out late.

He sulked in the chair at the kitchen table. “You never listen to me,” he complained.

Non-Verbal Communication

“Yes, I do,” she countered, “Look, I let you explain for quite a few minutes. I never interrupted; I was as quiet as a church mouse that whole time. What do you want me to do?”

Continue reading

Is It Okay to Take Sexy Photos of Myself for My Husband?

Today’s reader question is one I get asked a lot, even in person, but often in whispers: Is it okay to take sexy pics for my husband?

After all, he’s allowed to see you naked, so there’s nothing actually wrong with it, right? And there are even “classy” places that will do boudoir photo shoots, with you in lingerie. That would be a good gift, wouldn’t it? Especially if he were going away for a time (like a military deployment)?

Well, let’s think this one through, because I don’t think it has a black and white answer. Like many things in marriage, I’m inclined to say, “it depends.” So here are just a few thoughts that I have, and then you can work it through in your own marriage.

We all know this; we see it all the time with celebrities. But it’s true for “real life,” as well. Photos that you intend to stay private often don’t. Kids may come across them (and who wants their kids seeing this?). If they’re on a phone, someone else may see it.

Continue reading

In Touch With The Heart

Pastor Pete Scazzero had for 8 years been the founding pastor of one of the most diverse churches in America. Planted in Queens, New York, he had people in his church from 67 different countries. It was a big, active, growing church! They emphasized all the right aspects of Christian discipleship: evangelism, Bible study, Quiet times and family devotions. Everything was going well until first, one of his assistant pastors betrayed him, left the church and took a portion of it with him. Then, after some years of tension in their marriage, his wife put her foot down and declared, “I quit; I am not going to this church anymore.” Imagine the pastor’s wife not wanting to be in the church! And then finally, Pete experienced a strange, life-threatening disease that stopped him in his tracks altogether. After 6 months of recuperating, God finally had his attention.

Pete began to see he was not paying attention to a big thing – the emotions. He was living a life of denial. He was so busy pastoring this big successful church, getting program after program up and running that he was only living on the superficial. He wasn’t catching what was going on underneath the surface. So he missed that his assistant pastor needed to be invested in and cared for, but he just got him running part of the church. He missed that his wife was desperately lonely at home with the children, and felt totally neglected. And sadly he wasn’t paying attention to his own needs for rest, intimacy and care, until his body could take it no more.

So he began slowly with his wife, rebuilding what had been lost, listening to her and spending time with the kids. He began to be more present for her. And as he changed there, his interactions with the church changed as well as he saw what was missing in the life of the church. It was not an emotionally healthy church! And just as he had originally built it, he rebuilt it in an emotionally healthy way.*

A lot of churches emphasize the words of Jesus in Mark 8:34-35, ““If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” And they interpret it, as meaning they must deny their emotions, and not listen to them. Certainly we don’t follow everything our emotions tell us to do, but they do give us clues about what is happening in our hearts. And if we don’t pay attention, we will be like Pete and miss the deeper real needs underneath for ourselves and others.

Probably the most powerful example is King David. The Psalms are full of his feelings about whatever he was going through. There are few Biblical authors who reveal so much of their inner lives. Why does he do it? In Psalm 139:23-24, David prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me, and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (KJV) So he asks God to show him his heart and then in humility he opens his heart to us in the pages of the Psalms.

So what can you do? Take time with the Lord, not to only pray for others, confess your sins and give thanks, but to listen. Listen to your heart and what you are feeling and ask the Lord why and what you need to do about it. For some that might mean journaling, for others it means listening to music, for still others it means going for a walk in the woods. Or you can do all three.

And then with someone you can trust, open up about what you are feeling. Take a risk and be vulnerable with others and share your heart. As you do you will be more in touch with your feelings and you will grow more and more emotionally healthy and more and more spiritually mature.

You can find the original article here.

by D. Craig Hickey