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Archives for 116 – Casting a Biblical Vision for Healthy Sexuality

I’m thrilled with the “guests” (translation: Christians who aren’t from our particular tribe) who will be presenting at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures. Here are a few of them—and why I wanted them to join us.

GENE APPEL is the senior pastor of the Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim. When we met in 1998, Gene was the minister for the Central Christian Church in Las Vegas. Out of his own personal brokenness, a dream was formed and Central became one of the fastest growing churches in America. From there, Gene moved to Willowcreek Community Church for several years before moving to Anaheim. He’ll be speaking at our leadership session on Tuesday afternoon.

NADIA BOLZ-WEBER grew up at the Eastside Church of Christ in Colorado Springs before becoming a student at Pepperdine. When I read her book Pastrix and after hearing her on NPR, I wanted to know more. So I asked if I could hang out a bit when I went to Denver. I joined a small group for morning prayers that she led, and then we went to a coffee house. This was not Starbucks in Abilene, however! As she says, people may think she’s “out there,” but in her world she’s considered a soccer mom. How true! Our quick visit turned into three hours. During this time I realized that she was the de facto pastor of most of the people in the coffee shop, whether they attend any church or not. She is a powerful communicator of the gospel, and I’m so thankful that she’ll be returning to Pepperdine to present on Thursday morning.

CHAP CLARK, one of the authors of Sticky Faith, is professor and chair of youth, family, and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. He’ll be presenting as part of the Boone Center for the Family track. (What a great partnership I’ve enjoyed with Sharon Hargrave, the executive director of the center!)

DAVID KINNAMAN is the president and majority owner of the Barna Group, based just up the coast from us in Ventura. In his 19 years at Barna, he has supervised or directed interviews with more than 400,000 people. Many will be familiar with his books unChristian and You Lost Me.

MARK AND DEBBIE LAASER have blessed the Christian community as leaders on the subject of sexual addition. Their session on “Sexual Integrity in a Fallen World,” will also be in the Boone Center track.

SCOT MCKNIGHT has been a good friend ever since he spoke at one of our Zoe conferences in Lubbock. “We” (in Churches of Christ) have been blessed by his user-friendly New Testament scholarship. And he has felt a special affinity to our heritage. I’m hoping to baptize him before the week is over. Ok, not really. But I might at least give him some kind of honorary membership. (Actually, now that I think about it, who is in charge of giving those in our tribe? Randy Harris maybe?) He’s our lead scholar as we study through James. It was a great blessing last fall when he Skyped in with our keynote speakers to lead us through the book.

JASON RUSSELL is one of the cofounders of Invisible Children. While in Africa many years ago, he promised a boy named Jacob that he’d help end that decade-long war; and when he returned home he launched the now infamous film. He’ll be one of the guests in a session hosted by Mana Nutrition.

DAVE STONE is the senior pastor of the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville. Dave, a popular speaker all over the country, will be joining Jeff Walling in a morning session at Firestone Fieldhouse.

Finally, I want to mention how glad I am that KENT BRANTLY is going to join us (though he’s certainly not a “guest” as defined above). I was his minister when he was a college student, and the spiritual passion that people all over the world now know about was there even then.

We’d love to have you join us in Malibu on May 5-8. Registration is here.

Siburt-Mcneal1The Siburt Institute for Church Ministry is delighted to bring Dr. Reggie McNeal to CitySquare ACU in downtown Dallas. The event will be a half day seminar for church leaders April 9, 2015 from 10am – 2pm.

Reggie is a noted author; his books include A Work of Heart; Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders, Missional Renaissance, Missional Communities, The Present Future and more. And his work as the Missional Leadership Specialist with Leadership Network takes him across the country to teach and consult with leaders.

Reggie is releasing a new book in May entitled Kingdom Come: Why We Must Quit Our Obsession Over Fixing the Church and What We Should Do InsteadHis seminar on April 9 will provide a engaging preview with opportunity to interact with him.  We expect Reggie’s time with us to be relevant, engaging, and immensely practical–especially as we think about the intersection of God’s kingdom and the practices of leadership.

Reggie writes,

“A movement of God is underway that looks to be the most transformative development since the Reformation.  It is the move from a church-centric to a Kingdom-centric ministry approach.  Church leaders making this journey are involved in nothing short of cultural change.  Shifting cultures requires that leaders pay attention to three strategic items that impact every aspect of ministry efforts.”

Throughout the day, Reggie will identify these three components and explore some of the ramifications for leaders who want to steer toward a Kingdom focus. I can’t imagine a better event to bring a ministry staff or an elder group to for a fast paced day of learning and development! To find out more and to register please go to http://www.acu.edu/siburt-institute/ . The cost is $40 per person (includes lunch).

Share the news with ministry leaders and friends. Spaced is limited so go ahead and register as early as possible.

–Carson E. Reed, Executive Director, Siburt Institute for Church Ministry

Warning: The contents of this post are of an adult nature. Our goal in posting this is to raise awareness of a very dark side of humanity that may be closer to us than we think so that it can be addressed and combated more intentionally in our churches.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”—Jesus

“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Eph. 5:3-5 ESV).

It was not until the discovery that my father, a former preacher, was a pedophile that I realized how diseased the hearts of Christians are. He is currently serving a 30-60 year prison sentence, sentenced in 2012 after my mom and I reported him to police following an allegation of sexual abuse. I have since gone on a quest not many have undertaken—to enter the mind of a pedophile. Until we are willing to see the world from behind their eyes, we will never be able to understand how they so easily become perverted, rob the innocence and destroy the lives of our children, fool us, and so forth. And what I discovered was more shocking than I ever would have imagined—the church is full of closet sex perverts, pedophiles included. I can’t help myself, I’ve got to quote a line from my dad in his most recent letter to me: “But I know that I know in running through my mind in my past conversations and observations with preacher friends down through the years—show most any of them T&A and they turn into tongue-draggin’ hounds.”

I wish I could say that he is a delusional inmate who has no sense of reality, but my experience tells me that he is being conservative in his thoughts. Unless you experience the volume of pleas for help from churches experiencing carnage from sexual abuse, you will choose to believe that there is not an epidemic of perversion within the church. A good preacher friend of mine called me up and shared his discovery of a 6 year old boy who was raped in the church building during worship. My friend discovered it after seeing the boy limping down the church hall with a huge blood stain on the back of his pants. The perpetrator was acquitted and still attends church there, after the perp’s attorney threatened my friend and the church with a lawsuit. These stories are not rare. I hear stories just like this DAY AFTER DAY. It’s going on in the church, and it’s going on a lot. Pornography has taken over the church, and it has poisoned the hearts of Christians, old and young alike.

We cannot talk about healthy sexuality until we first address the disease and know how to treat it. This, in my opinion, is why the Bible talks about sexuality so much in terms of restrictions and harsh judgment. We have drunk the devil’s Kool-Aid of “exploration” and “sexual freedom,” and in doing so the church has become fully pornified.

In my field of work, I can assure you that there is no shortage of perverts in the church, even among church leaders. And it’s getting worse. We sanitize the Bible and describe sexual sin in soft terms that detach our emotions and free the sexual sinner of any real responsibility. We say that porn addicts and sexual abusers are “struggling,” have “issues of lust,” just “went down a wrong path,” etc. Contrast that with Jesus talking about gouging out eyes, cutting off hands, tying millstones around necks, and Paul’s haunting words, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things (sexual sins) the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6). Why?

It’s because God understands supply and demand better than we ever will, and he knows that our perverted fantasies increase supply while harming actual people. Strangely, maybe Jesus was serious when he said that any man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. I could fill dozens of pages with statistics showing that sex trafficking and child sexual abuse are the fastest growing industries on the planet. And, pornography is the common denominator every single time. In dad’s last letter (where I asked him what we can do to keep people like him from harming our children), he said: “Gotta think like perps to catch them or dissuade them. You sure aren’t gonna keep them out of churches, scouts, youth sports, schools, etc. They are your family, best friend, preacher, teacher, judge, attorney, etc. . . . I can name you 3 preachers in ­­­­___________ who are porn addicts. They’ll act out somewhere, sometime with someone guaranteed. I talked with a prison psychologist who told me that of the thousands of sex offenders who he’s counseled, he has yet to meet one who was not fully entrenched in pornography. Will every porn addict abuse someone? No, but rest assured perversion of God’s biblical intention of mutual sex, caring for, and compassion is driving the masses to act out in unhealthy ways. As I type this, there are Christian women reading this whose husbands are forcing them to act out fantasies in the bedroom that they see played out in porn. The most common of these are dressing as teenagers, anal sex, and submission while the husband ejaculates onto their bodies (see Pamela Paul’s book Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families). In the words of a friend of mine, “I cannot get aroused by my wife anymore unless I am watching a porn video while having sex with her.” How romantic.

The 7 most common genres of pornography in the US are, in order, Girl on Girl, Man on Man, Hentai (Japanese animated porn), MILF (women usually age 25-50, an acronym for “Mother I’d Like to $@#&”), Shemale Porn (transsexuals, watched almost exclusively by straight men), BBW (big, beautiful women), and BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism) http://graphs.net/most-popular-porn-genres.html Who are the biggest consumers of this filth? It turns out that a study monitoring paid subscriptions to porn (with the availability of free pornography, paid subscribers are deeper entrenched in porn and have moved beyond being “casual” users) “revealed that online subscriptions are ‘more prevalent in states where surveys indicate conservative positions on religion, gender roles and sexuality.’” http://www.cnbc.com/id/31905302/page/1 Check out the lists for yourself. Turns out that folk in the Bible belt are studying more than their Bibles. Utah ranked the #1 state for paid porn subscriptions per capita. Not surprisingly, Utah, a state that has the lowest percentage of its population in prison, ranks as the #1 state with the highest percentage of its prison population as sex offenders. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58406311-78/offenders-sex-prison-utah.html.csp?page=1

While some experts argue that tougher laws and longer sentences for sex offenders are what’s driving that population up, I disagree. It is extremely rare for sex offenders to get caught in the first place, no matter how tough the laws are. The vast majority (90+%) of sex offenders will never get caught. So how are so many getting caught in UT, unless there are a plethora of them within that state?

All of this to say, we’ve got an epidemic on our hands and we have got to get more serious and aggressive about it. Porn use and sex abuse are at epidemic levels within the church and statistics show that it is getting worse, not better. Are church leaders willing to preach about sex, oppression, and abuse? Are they willing to stand with victims? Are they willing to call each other to a higher standard of moral living and demand transparency? Are we adults willing to create a safe place for our kids and sniff out abusers who are hiding within our churches? Are we willing to preach hard against sexual sin for the oppressors while understanding that victims of child sex abuse may be caught up in promiscuity because of their abuse? Will we demonstrate through our own sexual lives that our spouses have worth and value and they are not reduced to perverted fantasies? It is a complex problem that cannot be remedied in this short article. But my prayer is that we boldly begin the dialogue and restore God’s original intent for compassion, care, and sexuality. We churches are sick and in need of radical healing. Lord, please heal us by means of painful operations. Cut the cancer of sexual perversion and oppression from your Body. Cut us to the core and make us whole again. Amen.

write_off

Yes, I know this months theme for Wineskins is about Casting a Biblical Vision for Healthy Sexuality. Rebel that I am, I am not writing about sex… However, the following has something to say about a healthy spirituality and that does have an impact on every facet of life, including the sexuality God created…

It’s everybody’s favorite season, right?

Tax season. April 15th looms large. Some of us are excited because we are going to get a tax refund. Others of us are wondering what we are going to do to limit our tax liability.

Tax season finds many scrambling to find another write off. Limiting your tax liability without compromising your integrity shouldn’t be that difficult and yet many of us struggle. Deductions, losses, expenses… It can be very confusing and disheartening. At the end of the day, whether you get a refund or owe Uncle Sam, if you can get it all done legally and without compromising Christian values or principles, it is a win!

Write-offs.

I really wish we could limit the usage of that word to accountants, tax preparers, and (shudder) IRS agents.

Write-offs.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel, The Scarlet Letter, the main character, Hester Prynne, is labeled for her infidelity and other indiscretions.

It has occurred to me that the good people of fictional 1642 Boston are not much different from me. And neither is Hester Prynne.

Write-offs.

Isn’t that what we do?

When someone with whom we have a relationship (however tenuous that may be) fails to meet our standards—whether it be doctrinally, theologically, behaviorally, or any other word that indicates how a person lives, acts, or believes—there is the temptation to write them off.

Maybe we don’t quite say it like that, but functionally and attitudinally there is no difference.

I confess.

There have been those folks of whom I have grown weary. There have been those who wouldn’t conform to my standards—who wouldn’t accept my understanding—who wouldn’t do the things I thought they should.

And to my shame and discredit, I wrote them off.

Unfortunately, I know how painful being written off can be, because at times, others have written me off. In fact, I have recently been labeled and written off for writing in Wineskins and speaking in certain places.

Sigh…
Yes, It’s what we do when we disagree or are challenged

Sadly, the most common and easiest way to do this is by assigning a label with a pejorative twist.

  • She’s a hopeless case (and if we are being charitable that day, we follow the comment with bless her heart).
  • He’s an idiot (and if we are being nice that day, we’ll just leave it at that).

And then there are the religious write-offs all said with a sneer and a sense of uber superiority.

  • He’s a liberal.
  • She’s conservative.
  • He’s ultra-conservative.
  • She is a progressive.
  • He is a digressive.
  • She’s a change-agent.

Oh my! We use these labels and more to write-off and erect barriers.

It’s even worse when we write-off whole churches/ congregations of people (as if everybody in any one place thinks exactly the same)!

Here’s the problem we face:

  • We don’t all look alike.
  • We don’t all think alike.
  • We don’t all understand alike.
  • We don’t all come from the same background.
  • We don’t all read the Bible through the same pair of glasses.
  • And, we don’t all find ourselves at the exact same mile marker of our journey…

This is not a plea to ignore doctrinal error.

This is not a preacher gone soft on sin asking for us to tolerate what God has clearly defined as wrong.

On the other hand, this is a prayer for the extension of grace.

This is a preacher begging for the church to be the church—to exercise the full fruit of the Spirit

  • To be kind, patient, and gentle.
  • To show goodness and love.
  • To seek peace.
  • To exercise self control.
  • To have faith in God (He’s got this too, right?)
  • To maintain a sense of joy in the uniqueness of others and the work God is doing in us all.

I am a work in progress. God is not done with me yet.

Amazingly enough, John 1:16a says, Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness…

I am so glad, because as it turns out, I need just that much grace and more!

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Madison/ Ridgeland, MS

The culture of the world around us laughs at the concept; it is as outdated as poodle skirts and penny loafers — or the idea that someone can be (or even try to be) objective.

And the subculture of Christians who made it a four-letter word is at least partly to blame.

We made sexual abstinence a four-letter word, and that word is “Don’t.”

That’s all the world around us can hear when the word is spoken in the context of sex, because that’s the way we preached it.

A prohibition. A command. A requirement. A demand. An imposed sacrifice.

It wasn’t always that way.

Centuries ago, those who sought the heart of God and the grace of Christ saw abstinence as something completely different; something more; something blessed and blessing to those who committed to it. Church orders practicing vows of celibacy sprang up and called to those who yearned for that more-ness and closer-ness through consecration and dedication, as surely as the desert had called to those who sought it through isolation, meditation and poverty.

Maybe that life doesn’t resonate with us, but that’s no reason to discount it entirely — or reduce it to a four-letter imperative. There was more to the concept than that, and there still is.

When God warned Moses to have Israel’s people consecrate themselves by washing and three days of sexual abstinence, it was coupled with a warning that the mountain of meeting would be off-limits to them. They were called to purity — not just the single people; the married as well — as a recognition of the extraordinary holiness and significance of God’s presence among them. (Exodus 19)

In the forty days and nights which followed, a significant number of the laws God revealed to Moses would have to do with sexual purity, and by the process of elimination (of those one must not have sexual relations with, per Leviticus 20) they all boiled down to this: God’s intention, gift and desire was for a man and woman who loved each other exclusively — bound by a vow of commitment to each other — to seal that vow through sexual union.

No one else.

Nor was this simply a singular incident isolated to the Old Testament.

In a teaching on marriage and divorce, Jesus raises the stakes on the divine intention for marriage — and closes it by (possibly) recognizing those who choose another path as a “eunuch” for the sake of the kingdom. (Matthew 19:12) A eunuch, as one can see from frequent mentions in scripture, is someone not only deprived of sexual function but also taking the role of a servant.

And unquestionably, Paul’s advice to married people is generally to honor each other through sexual relations, and the only exception he makes is a temporary period of abstinence by mutual consent for the purpose of prayer. I tend to take that period of “fasting” as an expression of purity and devotion to God. Whether married or single, either way of life should be considered a “gift from God.” (1 Corinthians 7:1-7)

Abstinence, especially among those who are not married, can provide an unparalleled opportunity to serve God.

How?

Focus. Through the very reason Paul mentions later in the chapter: even without the same “present crisis” or shortness of time taking place today that was current then (7:25-31), the interests of the single can be singly on the Lord; the interests of the married are naturally divided between Lord and spouse (7:32-35).

We tend to see that as quaint but antiquated doctrine, and easily ignored. That was then; this is now; no one today could possibly think that abstinence could provide an unparalleled opportunity to serve God.

But the truth of it remains; the principle is as strong today as it was in the first century.

The culture around us sees it as unrealistic; a violation of personal rights; an expectation of God that is unreasonable and cannot be followed.

Really?

None of us has any self-control anymore?

No one is capable of using the power of brain over the power of genitalia?

No one can remain faithful to a spouse if they travel away from the home for a period of a few days?

No one has an unselfish desire to devote themselves wholly to serving the Lord over the transient pleasures of sexual congress?

And we believers, in our subculture, don’t see it all that differently. We won’t say it’s unrealistic (though we might think it); we just say its time has come and gone.

To our great loss.

I’m not calling for a renewal of monastic orders because I don’t believe Jesus was calling for them. I am, however, advocating a renewed way of looking at an opportunity we have neglected and sometimes denigrated — an opportunity for deep, personal spiritual formation through service to God and through a kind of kenosis we don’t like to talk about.

I’m not a martinet, nor a fool.

There are so many today who — by nature, their own choice or the choice of others (to use Jesus’ phrasing) — have had no opportunity to honor a beloved one with a pledge of fidelity sealed with sexual union. Many of them never will. That can be viewed one of two ways: a terrible, tragic oversight by an unfair God or an opportunity to serve in a unique way focused on liberation from the limitations of this life in an eternity graced by the presence of God.

There were people in the first century who served the Lord married; Peter, for one (he had a mother-in-law, remember?) … yet he spent a great deal of his time in Jerusalem, possibly at home with family as it should be, and only getting out for the occasional short mission trip to Antioch.

There were also people in the first century who served the Lord single, and people like Paul had the occasion to get their equivalent of passports stamped all over the Mediterranean while sharing the gospel, baptizing new believers and helping establish local church plants.

You may well think, “Keith, it’s easy for you to say these things — you’re a widower and pushing 60 like a hot rod accelerator.”

Granted. To a degree. I can say these things, but it is not easy.

Hey, I’m old … not dead.

I am almost two years away from having lost my dearest; I have not forgotten. Of course sex with the one you’ve committed to love for the rest of your life is fantastic. It’s incomparable. There is nothing else like it.

Yet as a single person again, I am beginning to see that there is also nothing else like an uncomplicated, undistracted opportunity to serve the Lord you love with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.

I am not there yet.

But I do recognize the potential described in scripture.

And it is so much more than the four-letter word “Don’t.”

I grew up in a home where sex was never talked about.  We weren’t allowed to watch shows like All in the Family, MASH, Three’s Company, and other shows that often times talked about sex. I really didn’t understand much about sex other than it was something that we didn’t talk about. If for some reason the subject of sex came up on a television show, someone would quickly get up and turn the channel. As a young boy growing up, pretty much the only thing I remember being discussed about sex was it was something that was not good, and something that you should not do.

As for church, the only time I remember hearing about sex was when the preacher would say, “stop doing it,” or “it’s a sin.” I remember vividly in junior high when my brother and I realized the preacher would use secret code words for sex during his sermons. “And Adam knew his wife Eve,” the preacher would say. My brother and I would cut our eyes around at one another and grin, knowing we had broken the secret code for sex talk … it was the word “knew”.

My wife was also raised in a home much like mine, where the subject of sex was never discussed. That made for some awkward moments on our honeymoon night that we still laugh about today. On the biggest night of our married life, we were a bit embarrassed because everyone knew what we were doing.

Twenty-six years have passed since that time, and we have become much more comfortable talking about sex. Maybe it’s because 26 years of marriage makes you more comfortable, or maybe it’s because we do marriage seminars where we talk about sex, but most likely it’s because we have realized that sex is a gift from God. It was never created to be dirty, shameful or embarrassing.

We don’t fault our parents, or the churches in the past, for their lack of discussion on sex, but we have definitely handled the subject wrong. Ignoring the subject in our families and in our churches is not the answer. While our society has become very open and vocal about sex, we have made the mistake to become very quiet about it. The world has swung the pendulum too far to the left and declares “sex is god,” and so Christians have swung the pendulum back to the right too far and said, “sex is gross.” God never created sex to be gross.

Hollywood and our society have made sex a god. Sex sells and we see it in almost every commercial. Commercials that have nothing to do with sex, use sex to sell their product. Movies like “50 Shades of Grey” and “Magic Mike” have glorified our bodies for sex. The porn industry makes a profit of 90 billion dollars a year. Do you realize how much 90 billion is? If you were to take the amount of money ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX made last year and combine them, they didn’t even come close to 90 billion. If you were to take the NFL, NBA, MLB and NCAA and combine how much money they made last year, they didn’t even come close to 90 billion dollars. That’s simply another sign that sex has become an idol in our world. Sadly, often times churches and Christians only reaction to stats like this is to ignore it and not talk about it or to say, sex is bad or dirty. We never preach the whole truth that God does in his Word. The truth that sex is a gift from Him for married people, and that He created it to be good and beautiful in the confines of marriage.

My wife, Lea, and I do marriage seminars all over the country. One of our favorite lessons that we do is called, “Keeping the Spark in Your Sex Life.” We enjoy the feedback from this lesson because we often hear comments like, “We’ve never thought of sex that way,” and “We were raised that sex was dirty.” We personally feel that Hollywood and our society have preached the wrong message about sex, and we, as Christians, need to step up and preach God’s message about sex.

I’ve been preaching in Childress, Texas for the last 12 years. It is my yearly custom to preach on marriage and family subjects every spring. I do this because it’s a need, not just in the church were I preach, but in every church. A couple of years ago in my series on marriage, I decided that it would be the perfect timing for a sermon on sex. I wasn’t going to preach about what’s wrong with it, to stop doing it if you’re not married, etc. I wanted my whole sermon simply   to be about how sex is God’s awesome gift to married people.

I had no doubt in the hundred-year history of the church in Childress that there had ever been a sermon on the subject of “Sex is Good!”  I’ll admit I got a little tickled when our very serious worship leader called me a couple of days before the sermon and said, “I am wanting to know your sermon topic for this Sunday so I can pick out some songs that go along with it.” I stood there on the other end of the phone just smiling. After I told him I was preaching on sex, there was a long silence, and then he said awkwardly, “Okay, I’ll see what I can come up with.”  

I felt as if society constantly was telling us about sex through commercials, movies and magazines, so it was important for my congregation to hear a message on sex from God’s perspective. Please know that there have been about 3 sermons I’ve preached in the Childress church in the past twelve years in which no one moved … this was one of the three. Amazingly, I wasn’t stoned outside the church when I was done. Many said it was a sermon that needed to be preached, and they looked forward to talking to their kids about it.  I felt, and still do, that it’s extremely important for our kids, families and churches to hear the real message that God tells us about sex in His Word. Sex is a beautiful wedding gift given to married people.

How do we know God is pro sex? Out of all the species He created, there is only one species that has sex for pleasure and not just for procreation … yes, that is us, humans. It’s as if God created us and said, “Here is your wedding gift from me. Enjoy it for pleasure.” I also find it amazing that God chose an entire book in His Bible to be dedicated to the subject of sex between a husband and wife, the Song of Solomon. I love Proverbs 5 where Solomon is talking to his boys and tells them not to look for love from other women, but to delight in their wife.  He says, “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer – may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love,” (emphasis mine). I love the idea of being intoxicated by your spouse and the love they give you. It’s as if you can’t ever get enough.

The church hasn’t always looked upon sex as an amazing gift from God. Unfortunately, most churches have only preached about its dangers and focused on how sex in the wrong context can destroy. Sadly, a lot of folks have gotten the wrong idea, even Christians, that sex is only dirty, only sinful. While the world chooses to be obsessed with sex many Christians and churches have ignored the subject unless it’s to preach against it.

As Christians, we will do well not to ignore the subject that the rest of the world so openly talks about. Instead we must share the truth of God’s message with our children, our churches and the world.

Photo Credit: Andrey Popov http://www.dreamstime.com/andreypopov_info#res10054844

Photo Credit: Andrey Popov

This is the first time I have ever written for Wineskins. For those of you who blog here frequently, my next statement may seem absurd. I feel like a rock star today. Yes, I know that’s crazy. It’s just that Wineskins was a part of my journey. A stack of print edition copies over two decades old remain in my library. My faith really came of age during the era when this magazine was first published. So, to be asked to write something associated with Wineskins had a special meaning to me. It may be the only time I ever do so. Still, I am grateful.

Ironically, Matt invited me to share on a subject that has been at the epicenter of my pain. My wounding began with sexual abuse and sadly the shaming and legalism of my early experiences in Churches of Christ was all too formative. I was a very messed up 20 year young man in the US Marines when I surrendered to God’s grace. Trying to make sense of those painful memories became more complex when I took human life in combat only a short time later. Trauma was fused to my DNA. Several years of marital misery, sexual sin, and lots of therapy followed. Still, today I am at peace with my past because of the healing journey in God’s grace. That should not surprise as God is the Master at repurposing broken lives for our healing and His glory.

Parallel to my healing journey I felt called by God to ministry. To increase my competency as a helper I became a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. I’ve practiced for twenty years and have specialized in the treatment of trauma for over a decade. During that time, I led a group for church leaders who have sexually compulsive behaviors and I have treated hundreds of individuals and couples who were sorting through infidelities, sexual abuse, and other related traumas. I teach at the University level in my field and I have been in full-time ministry for over 17 years. There are an infinite number of subjects about which I am completely ignorant. This is not one of them.

The main reason so many church leaders struggle with the question of what to do when it comes to helping someone with sexual issues is that they have not done a thorough job working on their own. This failure to talk honestly with people from the pulpit or in private is about their own history and deep-seated shame produced by an ongoing silence in their life and that of their family of origin. This silence will have potentially devastating effects on their marriage, their children, and their congregation because they are not providing appropriate information and biblical guidance about their own sexual development.

Modeling a healthy relationship with your spouse, others, and most importantly, God, is every bit as important as the actual conversations we have with our church and family about sexuality. The first task church leaders must approach is exploring and discussing our own beliefs and feelings about the subject. I realize that is a challenging task and for some of you it is a potential hornet’s nest. Before your own fears and frustrations cause you to hang up on me, please let me offer some words of encouragement. As I have dealt with my own sexual issues and other traumas and walked alongside others doing the same, I have become all the more convinced that God is lovingly in control of each of our journeys, if we let Him. As you face the possibility that the task of exploring your own sexual beliefs and experiences is a potentially painful one, I would like for you to consider that you will be doing so for the benefit of God’s kingdom. Your willingness to grow in your sexual wholeness can be a tremendous gift to all.

In my professional experience I would say that the leadership in churches runs behind this issue and says too little too late. Even if they do successfully transmit information about biblical sexuality, leadership does not often realize how crucial it is to take the conversation to the next level. Our churches need to know a lot more than your XXX sin is bad, be accountable, or go to Celebrate Recovery. I believe one of our primary tasks in leadership is to teach and model healthy relationships and to create a vision in the hearts of our people for the rich, fully developed relationship that married couples can enjoy and to understand that we don’t cease to be sexual beings when we aren’t in the context of marriage.

Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can’t have effective discourse with your church until you have successfully completed your own work. No one is perfect and wholeness will elude all of us during this lifetime. It is a process of exploration and some issues may even need to be deferred to a later time for one reason or another. How then could or should it be necessary to have done everything in your own process before you can lead effectively? If that were true, none of us would have a chance. So take this seriously but relax. Deal with your stuff at God’s pace and if you are married give your spouse the grace to do the same.

I believe the fundamental issue is that leaders be conscious of being on that journey and that we be appropriately transparent about that as we are led by the Spirit. A common theme for every person with whom I have worked is the plastic, spin control life that they managed to live. Let me add myself to that group as well. I mean, it’s as if we have never read the Bible. Is it not populated with the biggest bunch of sexual screw ups you have ever seen? Yet, they were leaders. One of the few people in all of scripture that comes off looking like he has it together is Daniel and he was probably castrated when he was sent to live at court. I’m not recommending that for anyone because we are still sexual beings even if we were paralyzed from the neck down.

Still, the myth of a leader who has it all together, figured out, stands head and shoulders above others is the prototype for too many churches. Has anyone read the story about King Saul? Experience has taught me that far too many leaders try to hide personal problems and work them out on their own. It drove Saul mad and it will do the same thing with us. That is why I am not a big proponent of some of these online support groups or classes because they are really thinly veiled places where you can trick yourself into believing you are in some sort of genuine community. As I write this @priestDavid is taking confession via SnapChat. Really? Remember we call the wireless world a “virtual” community not a real one. It is no substitute for help with skin on it. Confession literally means agreement. We are called to live a life on the outside that agrees with what is going on inside.

Difficulty talking to each other about sex can be caused by a few problems common to many people. First, you might have some sexual difficulty. In the age group 18-59 sexual dysfunction is prevalent at a rate of 43% for women and 31% for men. For those over 60 years of age that number increases. Second, you may have a history that causes you shame about who you are sexually. When I began acting out sexually at a young age in the 1970’s there was not a lot of healthy information available. While there was a time when I would direct a lot of my blame at the church or sadly towards my parents, I accept today that there was very little cultural awareness of this subject at that time and living as a victim of my past is not going to make things better today. But, living as a victim as I did for so long breeds fear, suspicion, and worst of all…secrecy. In recovery I learned a mantra whose truth is powerful and liberating, “You are only as sick as your secrets.”

Read Paul’s take on this. “We have spoken freely to you…opened wide our hearts to you…are not withholding our affection…my children – open wide your hearts also” (2 Cor. 6:11-13). He discussed sexual issues and my understanding of his writings suggests he had the same battles other women and men have. If you are a leader or a parent or an influencer of some sort…that is, if you are human, God has called you to a full new life…one where you can be who you are in Him. The struggle to live and be fully human as God created us to be brings pain. Oh, but it brings great relief as well. Try it. It’s like Green Eggs and Ham. Try it. You’ll like it. (That’s a nod to Dr. Seuss week).

The problem is that those of us in leadership often fear seeking help because we don’t want to be exposed and lose our job or power or whatever your idol is. Look, you are going to lose it. It may not be because you get busted for sexual behavior but it will be related. Your shame will come out in other ways and impair your relationships. What you will do depends. But, for those who don’t seek help I typically see a lot of finger pointing and blaming. “My elders….” or, “This church member…” Trust me; it has more to do with you and your unresolved issues than it has to do with an elder who has a control problem or a church member who has an axe to grind about your theology. Get help!

A reputable therapist is not going to report you unless you are a danger to yourself or others or for reasonable suspicion that a child has been abused. I served a church in the Deep South, for over a decade and my shepherds knew I was in recovery. They were very supportive of me continuing to attend a group and see a professional as needed. One of the first things I did in preparation for our move to Massachusetts to plant a church was to set up a system of accountability and ongoing recovery. I go to a support group facilitated by a licensed therapist every other week and I have since developed redemptive relationships with men in that group and elsewhere in New England.

OK. So where should I go for help or where should I send someone else? First, I would say that it isn’t necessary to seek out someone who is a Christian. If there is any consolation for my deep shame it is that it led me to believe that I was the chief of sinners and if there would ever be hope I needed to see the individual with the best training. To my biased surprise, one of the most outstanding therapists I ever worked with was a 67 year old woman divorced from a former alcoholic Church of Christ minister. She didn’t have a favorable opinion of God or the church. She was a consummate professional and was not interested in imposing her values on me but she did share those personal details in the course of our work. I am convinced God used that therapeutic relationship to do some healing for two people.

I ask you, “If your child were going to have brain surgery tomorrow, would you prefer Ibrahim Azar, M.D. an agnostic of Iranian descent, lauded as one of the best talents in the field or Jim Bob because he got his undergrad degree from Harding?” (No offense to my alma mater and both Ibrahim and Jim Bob are fictional characters) Sure there are a few Ben Carson’s out there. But, if you believe that the kingdom of God is bigger than the church, and I absolutely do, then you can appreciate that the skills this person has acquired have come from God whether or not they choose to acknowledge that.

What skills? You need to encourage people who are sorting through sexually compulsive behaviors to find a therapist who has a lot of training to deal with trauma. The first place I would recommend checking is the International Institute of Trauma and Addiction Professionals. If your DNA demands that you see a Christian or that this person must have some sort of understanding about Churches of Christ then contact Marnie Ferrie at Bethesda Workshops, Richard Blankenship and crew at Capstone in Atlanta, or Onsite Workshops which is owned by Miles Adcox (son of Jimmy and brother of Russ). They can help you or they can refer you to someone they trust.

Next, people need a group. We are wounded in relationship and we will heal in relationship. I believe in individual therapy but I’ve always referred my clients to a group that I led or to one that was led by others. Celebrate Recovery is a great program. It doesn’t deal with the trauma related aspects of recovery but it is still good stuff. There are also Christian groups around the country that do have trauma recovery as a part of their process. L.I.F.E. Recovery offers support groups in almost every state and they often know of connections that are not listed on their website. If you don’t know what I mean by trauma recovery; don’t worry, just point people to help. I don’t expect you to know this stuff. But, I promise you that EVERY (I am not prone to making blanket statements) EVERY compulsive sexual behavior is related to trauma.

There’s a lot of other things I could say like get an accountability partner, pray more, study the Bible, be in Christian community, computer monitoring, read a book, etc… You already know that. What I am saying is take it to the next level. Don’t be satisfied that you have really pointed people to help if you have told them those same old things. They need those things but an experienced professional and a group are imperative. What’s that you say? You did it without these recommendations? Probably not. Yes, the Spirit of God can spontaneously heal people. More likely, God used some informal support group and counseling experience or you may just not be acting out right now and you are hanging on for dear life trying to convince yourself and others that things are better. Really? Not messing up isn’t recovery. Jesus said that he came to, “give life to the full.” That’s recovery.

Next, I know a number of churches that have developed relationships with counselors over the years who provide services to their congregations. Just because a person is a licensed therapist does not mean that he or she is the best resource for every situation (think general practitioner vs. cardiologist). Help people find the best resource first and then let them make their own decisions. Don’t default to a good ole’ boy system. If you really think they can’t afford help, then see what you can do as a church to assist. I don’t recommend paying for everything. People should have some skin in the game. Someone in your church right now is struggling. No, several people are struggling. Be proactive as a leadership and set some resources aside.

Finally, I’m not a sin snob. That is, sexual sin is a convenient target for this sort of attitude (especially if it involves same gender attraction). I could enumerate a long list of personal sins that I battle – pride being one of the worst. Thank God for His grace, for the reconciliation through Jesus at the Cross, and the power of His Spirit. Please don’t be that church leader or that church that holds people with unhealthy sexual behaviors to a different standard than other sin. We all have a battle. This is just one among many.

Eric Greer

Missional Greer

P.S. If you have read this far, visit my page on 500 For The Fallen and consider sponsoring me as I run to honor some fallen mates.

Powerful words from our brother Josh Patrick who has been battling stage 4 colon cancer.

 

SofS2.16Sex and money are two of the most cited reasons for divorce in America. Neither one ranks highly on what most of our churches are talking about. We can talk doctrine all day, all the while marriages fall apart and people are being used and abused in ways we can’t even begin to imagine.

There is a disconnect here that needs to be bridged. The world does not shy away from casting a vision for what sex and sexuality are all about while the church remains silent. The church doesn’t remain silent because the Bible is silent on the matter…no, the Bible has much to say on this topic…churches remain silent because we have let our comfortability level dictate our teaching. And people are dying for it.

So let’s spend some time discussing these issues and sharing resources that churches can use to better inform Christians on what sex and sexuality are all about from a biblical perspective. As always, I look forward to the conversation!