Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Freedom: Walking away from the Chains of Sexual Sin

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A few weeks ago we had our annual counseling conference at BCC. This year we had a special Youth & Young Adult track titled Pathway to Life. In this track we covered 5 main topics which we are now going over during our IMAGE Sunday School class. Next week’s topic will be “Freedom: Walking away from the Chains of Sexual Sin” so I wanted to discuss it a bit more for our youth parents this week.

Sex, sexuality, and gender are huge topics in our society today. Sadly, we can easily let society define our children’s thoughts on these topics. Often times we either see these as hard conversations that must be discussed and grit our teeth through the process, or we assume our child is so young and innocent that they certainly haven’t been exposed to or thought about these things yet. Here are a few thoughts I have as we seek to care for our youth kids in this area of their lives…

1. Sex is prevalent in our society and our culture does not hesitate to teach and inform our kids about it. According to Covenant Eyes 2019 stats, “The first exposure to pornography among men is 12 years old, on average.” If that is true it means that most our young men will be very visually informed about sex and sexuality before they ever reach high school. I would actually suggest that our children are being taught about these topics even in utero… Think about the songs on the radio in your car, shopping at a store, or the commercials on TV. Many of these inform how we think about sex and sexuality. I would suggest our culture is pushing the World’s views onto our children in and outside of our homes multiple times a day.

2. As Christian parents we should not hesitate to talk about sex with our kids. We must have conversations with our kids about sex or all they will hear are the World’s thoughts. Start early and have conversations often. I would strongly advocate that we be the ones to inform our child about these things, not the ones having to try to correct misgivings or false worldly ideas our child has gained from their culture and world around them. I know there is a fear of bringing things up too soon or harming their innocence but I would suggest starting an ongoing conversation early is best. If your child’s response is, “eww that’s gross.” You may not need to go as far as you may have planned, but you’ve opened the door for them to know you are available for further discussion and invited them to come to you for answers as questions grow within them. Along with this I would challenge the mindset of having “the talk.” I’m not saying it’s wrong to do something special and have a focused conversation with them about sex, BUT I am suggesting it should not be the only conversation we have. I would suggest it be one of many.  We should make these conversations a part of life, not always something scheduled and unique.  If our child brings up a question in relation to sex, we should answer it. Answer it like we’d explain why we cook food or how a device works. And, answer it in front of all the kids it was asked in front of. Often times we send very strong messages to our kids that sex is something dirty, gross, and to be hidden not by what we say, but by HOW we say it.

3. God does not hesitate to present sex to our kids both visually and in His Word. Our urbanized society misses many of the benefits of growing up in a rural farming community like so many past generations all the way back to Bible times have. It can take years to put together that the tasty chick at the store is the same as the feathered bird they saw on TV. It also means that our kids don’t get the same firsthand show of the physical nature of sex. Growing up in an agrarian society, kids at an early age saw animals in the field procreating. It was not a dirty thing. It was actually good to maintain their way of life. God could have designed humans to procreate in a different manner than animals. Instead, by His sovereign design, it would seem He intentionally gave a very visible picture for us parents to use in teaching our children about sex. It might be worth considering how to take advantage of this more rural picture of life God has given. Whatever we do, it seems wise to take the pictures God has given us and use them to the fullest extent possible.

God not only provides visual helps for us to teach our child about sex, He also discusses it in His Word. Think about it from the very start in Genesis 1. Every living thing produces after its kind in its image. Man, however, in his sexuality is very different. He and she are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). Immediately following this, human procreation is introduced (Gen 1:28) and this culmination leads to God’s statement of the final totality of His creation being “very good” (Gen 1:31). But it doesn’t end there. One chapter later God is explaining more about human sexuality. Not only are men and women different in their gender/sexuality yet equal before God, they also have different roles that perfectly complement each other (Gen 2:18 and 20). This picture of their complementarity finds its culmination in their “one flesh” relationship that could not be pictured any more perfectly than in the act of sex itself with two different people having different functions coming together intimately to accomplish God’s goals in a way only they could. Sex is a picture of God’s intentions for their entire marriage relationship to be a coming together in oneness, a pursuit of each other and understanding, and a deepening love and appreciation for the other in the unique differences, giftings, and abilities God has given each. How different this is from the World’s view of sex being a no strings attached purely physical act.

I’m not saying we should be explicit or inappropriate with our children as we talk to them about sex. We need to be conscious of their present understanding. What I am saying is if God doesn’t shy away from these topics (check out Lev 18 that every 13 year old Jewish boy would have memorized before his bar mitzvah or Song of Solomon) neither should we.

4. We must present sex in a positive light, warning of its dangers but telling of its delights when used rightly. I had a professor in seminary who described sex as a raging fire. When used in the context of the fireplace of marriage it would add great joy, warmth, and benefit to all those around. Used outside of that place of protection it will burn your house down. His statement is well made and I think describes much of how our conversation about sex should be with our kids. We should tell them it is good. We should tell them it was made by God and is holy, not dirty. We should tell them, used in the way God prescribes, it is a wonderful thing they can and will enjoy if God allows. We should tell them that it is one of our hopes and desires for them to get to experience should God allow it for them. And then, after telling them how wonderful it is, we should tell them of how the World would seek to lie to them and rob them of this joy. We should take them to Genesis 3 where Eve, having the very best, is tricked into giving it all away because she doubted God’s goodness and tried to live life her own way. We should tell them that is what the World is holding out for them –a fruit that they promise will bring great delight, but used outside of God’s plan only brings death and destruction. We should tell them how the World will package it. At appropriate times and in appropriate ways we should talk about pornography, masturbation, same sex attraction, homosexuality, transgenderism, assault, and any other lies we can think of. We should prepare our kids for how to think and act when these topics, thoughts, or pictures pop up in front of them. In our Pathway To Life talk we defined sexual immorality as, “any sexual fantasy (thinking), sexual longing (desire), or sexual conduct (behavior) outside the confines of marriage as God ordained it to be between one man and one woman for life.” That might be a great jumping point for a conversation about sex being good and perversions that will cause destruction.

5. Ask lots of questions. How will I know if my child is ready to talk about these things? I think the chief way is to keep bringing the topic up and ask questions of them. It doesn’t need to be explicit… It might be as simple as your son saying something about “the girls” at the playground or you daughter asking why your son likes playing with trucks instead of dolls. Then ask a question like, “What do you think makes them different than you?” What a great opportunity to discuss values, desires, and thoughts of the two genders. Ask what they are thinking as they say things. Ask how their conclusions make them feel. Ask how they came to their conclusions. Ask what they think God would say about whatever topic they’ve brought up. This questioning and drawing out of our child doesn’t just have to be related to sex either. Actually, it would be best not to be focused only on that topic. Having regular conversations with our kids about what’s going on in their heads and hearts will lead to openness on many topics including sex.

Here are some other possible questions in no particular order specifically related to sex & sexual perversion you might consider, obviously adjusting according to your child with not all being appropriate for every age…
  • What do you think about when it comes to girls/boys? Do you still think they have cooties?
  • Have you noticed any other kids talking about "liking" someone?
  • What do you think it means to “like” someone?
  • Why does God allow us to have “feelings” for other people?
  • How do you think we should respond to “feelings” we have for someone?
  • Have you ever thought of dating someone?
  • What would you look for in someone to date?
  • What do you think about someone “liking” a member of their same sex like they would “like” a member of the opposite sex?
  • How should someone respond if they have those “feelings”
  • What makes men, men or women, women?
  • Why do you think God made them different?
  • Do you think it’s possible for a man to become a woman or vice versa? Why?
  • How would you define “gender”?
  • How would you define “sexuality”?
  • How do you think most people around you might define them?
  • Do you think gender and sexuality are different or the same?
  • Where does a person’s gender come from?
  • What do you think God says about people trying to be a gender they aren’t?
  • God has built men and women with different parts of their bodies that are special and to be saved for marriage. Has anyone ever tried to touch or see those areas of your body? Have you ever been exposed to seeing those parts of other peoples’ bodies?
  • God designed man and woman to be together in marriage and for there to be physical touch. Have you ever been exposed to seeing things like this?
  • How might seeing things like that affect someone?
  • How should we respond if we feel guilty about something?
  • Why is being open about things important?
  • Why do you think God gave you a Mommy and Daddy to talk about these things with?
6. Cultivate a gospel hope and focus in all your conversations. Whether we know it or not, as we start these conversations I would suggest we begin and constantly season them with great grace. By the statistics above it is very likely our child has had some experience with a perversion of sex. Very few areas of our life bring as much guilt as that of sexual sin. We need to make sure the gospel is very present in all conversations about this and any other possible sin areas in our child’s life. It is hard enough to share about things we feel guilty for when grace is present. When it’s not, most of us would prefer to shut down than share.  A large part of this gospel focus can be started by us confessing our own sins to our kids, ways we’ve not parented them well, times we’ve responded poorly, and selfish attitudes we’ve harbored through the day may be a few good places to start. Then we can take them with us to the gospel, the hope God gives for sinners such as us. We can ask them to kneel next to us as we pray the truths of 1 John 1:9 out loud with them walking through the process of confessing our sins to God and receiving the forgiveness and grace He promises.

 All that to say, I would encourage any parent to strongly consider how to start, continue, and/or progress conversations about sex, gender, and sexuality with their children no matter what age they are, but especially in middle and high school. Our kids are thinking about these things. They desire direction though they may never say it. We can be the ones to give it, shepherding them away from danger and toward their greatest joy, pleasing Christ, whether they ever experience sex or not.

Here is a link for the audio of this session with Scott O’Malley:

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Pet 3:18)

 - Phil

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Friday, March 15, 2019

The Practical Power of 1st Peter

Over the years I have studied, loved, shared and counseled through the Book of 1 Peter countless times. When studying a book or segment of Scripture, I like to summarize the main theme, preferably in a sentence. Here’s how I’ve summarized 1 Peter: “God’s grace empowers perseverance through faith & hope.”

Consider this, if God writes a book to help us persevere in suffering, then it behooves us to pay close attention to the recurring themes. I suggest that if you are going to suffer well, for the glory of God, it might be wise to begin by paying attention to how God weaves instruction around the themes of God’s grace and your faith and your hope.

God’s Identity and Purpose
I would suggest to you that in order for you to “persevere in faith and hope”, you must continually reflect on who God is and what He is doing in the overall narrative of human history and in His personal dealings with you.
Notice that throughout 1 Peter, God continually defines or describes His own “identity” as well as the Believer’s identity. Furthermore, there is a recurring theme of purpose, God’s purposes and the Believer’s purposes in life.

Your Identity and Purpose
It is also imperative that you continually remind yourself of how God describes and defines who you are and what His purposes are for your life.

In other words, it is paramount that you and I are continually developing a “High view of God” and a biblical understanding of His overall purposes in the grand story of human history. 

Practical Application

Here’s how one counselee applied the Identity/Purpose themes of 1 Peter in a homework assignment: 
“I develop / grow in having a high view of God (God exalting) and a right view of myself (self-abasing – humility-meekness). The quality of meekness means allowing God to do whatever He wants with me even though it’s painful. (Christ showed meekness by entrusting Himself to a faithful God)”
Q. How can I intentionally fight against where I’ve come from & my conclusions & propensity to respond?  A:  With an exalted view of God
Q.  How does God’s sovereignty affect me in the moment?  How does God’s sovereignty foster meekness?   These are the types of questions I need to be asking myself to help in the renewing of my mind/thinking.

Rather than continuing to regret my sin, place my sin where God has [placed it] once I have confessed/repented.  Colossians 2:13-14 represents a high view of God.  He has nailed our sin to the cross.  So, I don’t (shouldn’t even) keep holding myself accountable for my sins against others once I have repented.
Instead, remember that there is redemption in a right response to sin (Psalm 32, Psalm 51).
Instead of saying “I can’t believe I did that…”  I should be saying “I can’t believe I didn’t do worse…”

The counselee’s final thoughts demonstrate a profound application of the Gospel regarding how to suffer well:

“With a high view of God, there will NEVER be bitterness.”

“A goal is for me to grow in understanding of how a sovereign, good God can/could have me in such a hard place at times.  I do this by understanding, ‘Who is God?’, ‘What is His purpose?’, ‘Who am I?’, ‘What is my purpose?’” 

Kent Kloter     

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Maturity: How to Grow in Christ

 A few weeks ago we had our annual counseling conference at BCC. This year we had a special Youth & Young Adult track titled Pathway to Life. In this track we covered 5 main topics which we are now going over during our during our IMAGE Sunday School class. This week’s topic was “Maturity: How to Grow in Christ” so I wanted to discuss it a bit more for our youth parents and  will do so for each of the coming topics as well.

We each as parents want to see our children growing in the Lord, but how do we help them get there? Here are a few thoughts toward that end…

1. We must recognize that ultimately only God can change their heart, cause them to love Him, and move them toward growth in Himself. As parents we should be the most prayerful of people regularly crying out to the Lord that He might work in the hearts of our children like Job did for his own kids concerned for their well being and stance before the Lord. 

2. We must recognize that God calls us to shepherd our kids and be intentional to encourage and create opportunities for them to grow in Him. One of the mottos we are using in the Youth Ministry for leaders and in my own household is, “God expects faithfulness, not fruitfulness.” It comes from Paul’s statements in 1 Cor 3:6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” If we seek to take over God’s role of bringing about change or fruit in our kid’s lives we (& our kids) will ultimately end up very frustrated. Rather, we are called to create an environment that is conducive to their growth should God choose to work (Eph 6:4). Within Scott’s talk we focused on 3 main areas that help encourage a believer’s growth – Theology, Identity, & Motives. 

·         Theology – This word often has connotations of boredom and academic rigor. However, discussing it as simply a “study of God” seems to bring it back down to our everyday world and life. The main point of this idea was not that we need to know more ABOUT God BUT that we need to KNOW God. We are called & made to deepen our relationship with God. How do we do this? Getting time with Him in His Word & prayer. It’s not rocket science… it’s just hard work. Our discussion focused largely around the idea of meditation where we read God’s Word, think about it, and then talk with the Lord about it in prayer.

·         Identity – Our identity or how we define and think about ourselves greatly affect a number of areas in our life, but especially our relationship with God. If I see myself as an antagonistic sinner loved, saved, & cleansed to be turned into God’s child I can come boldly to God with confidence, not in who I am, but in what He did. My joy, value, & worth come from Him. If, however, my identity is found in other things like the acclaim of peers, stuff I own, accomplishments I’ve done I will not only have a very shaky foundation for life, but will also only not come to God because I value Him and will only feel able to come to Him when life is going my way and I meet the standards I have set.

·         Motives – Ultimately my actions demonstrate my desires. “I do what I do because I want what I want.” The key then is not to be rid of desires, but to instead cultivate good desires. So where do desires come from? I would suggest they come from my thoughts and value judgments. What I spend my time thinking about and pursuing I will grow in a desire for. I believe this is why Paul focuses so much on the believer’s thinking. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2). “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:2). The Psalmists state this thought, “I have set the LORD continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Ps 16:8) “Incline my heart to Your testimonies And not to dishonest gain. Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, And revive me in Your ways” (Ps 119:36-37).

So how do we go about encouraging these things for our kids to create an environment conducive for their spiritual growth? Here a few questions to think through as you process through that for your own family.

·         Growing in relationship with the Lord
o   Does your child see you growing in the Lord? Do they see you pursuing Him as a part of your Christian walk? Does your child see you repenting of sin and asking God’s and his or her forgiveness for areas you have failed in your life and parenting?
o   What sort of times do you have as a family around God’s Word together? What are ways you can make that an even more central part of your home/family life?
o   How might you interact with your child around their own walk with the Lord? Could you take them out to talk and hangout periodically? Could you ask them what God has been teaching them recently going around the table at dinner or breakfast? Could you offer to do a book study with them on a topic of their choosing?

·         Remembering who they are in Christ
o   Are their ways you can demonstrate the gospel to them taking them to the cross when they sin instead of just doling out consequences? Do you take opportunities to let them walk with you through you going to the cross when you’ve sinned?
o   What are some questions you might ask them to see more of their thoughts on their identity? Could you ask something like, “Do you think people are valuable, why or why not?” Do you think some people are more valuable than others?” “What do you think gives a person value?” “How do people demonstrate if they do or don’t value something or someone?”
o   Do you notice how your child responds when they sin toward you and others? Do they belittle it, hide it, glamorize it, etc. or do they bring it out and repent of it?
o   Are there some verses your family could memorize together to remember better what God says about you? 

·         Helping grow their desires for the Lord
o   Do you show a value for accountability and encouragement by getting to church and fellowshipping with other believers as a regular part of your weekly routine? Do you spend time with the Lord showing He is worth it? Could you find creative ways and incentives to encourage them in getting time with the Lord or getting to church?
o   Are there ways you could put the Lord more in front of their eyes as you do things together as a family? Would it be possible to schedule a monthly family event tailored around a specific Scripture to grow their understanding?
o   Are there questions you could be asking to draw them out and ways you could practice listening more to hear what they’re thinking? Might a question like, “what is the most valuable thing you own?” or “if you could only take 3 things on a long trip what would they be?” help give you some insight into their values? Are there ways you could ask them leading questions rather than giving them your thoughts or answers that might drive them to having to think though their questions on their own and dig into the Bible more for themselves?

Processing through this has certainly been good for me in my own life as well as in my thoughts on parenting and shepherding my own family. Hopefully they’ve been a blessing or at least sparked some thoughts for you as well.

Here is a link for the audio of this session with Scott O’Malley:

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Pet 3:18)

 - Phil

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Monday, March 4, 2019

Learning to Suffer Well

As my turn rolls around again to post on the church blog, I again share some of the emotions and thoughts from my diagnosis of an eye disease. My hope is that this encourages anyone going through hardship or suffering. When we are struggling in this way, we tend to want things to be more “fair”.

Do I want life to be fair? This question can have a thread of legalism to it. Is it fair for a pastor to get a disease? Is it fair for a mass murderer to get a disease? We tend to think it’s more “fair” for a “good” person to be spared from hardship and the “bad” person allowed to suffer. This isn’t grace. This is legalism. The pastor and the mass murderer bring nothing to the table. All our good works are like “filthy rags” compared to the righteousness of Christ. We bring a smorgasbord of wrong motives into our good deeds. On top of this, all the believer does is to be done by the Spirit’s power and turned over to Him as a fruit of His work in us—not to get a pat on the back or earn points so the believer doesn't have to suffer. 

I’m glad life isn’t fair. Fairness means I should pay for my sin, but God…

Ephesians 2:4–5
[4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (ESV) 

Learning to suffer well,
Pastor Ben

PS-I have gotten good news on my eyes. So far, the doctor thinks they will only get a little worse over my lifetime, so I get to keep driving, etc. possibly for the rest of my life! The worst part to my vision is trying to see in low contrast conditions, which thankfully isn't much of my day. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Interacting with your Jehovah’s Witness Friends

About 2 months ago two ladies showed up at our front door. Jennie greeted them and they explained they were talking with people about life and then asked her why she thought bad things happened. Jennie answered because of sin and they agreed and showed her a verse in their “Bible” app to support it. They then asked why God would allow sin and thus bad to remain and said they’d be back in around a week to get her thoughts. They were very cordial and not invasive. About a week later sure enough they came back with an answer and another question and repeated that process a few more times. One week later, I was home and got jumpstarted to the 4th or 5th question. The next time they came to visit us we actually got to invite them inside and sit and talk for a brief time getting to know each of them a bit as well share a bit about ourselves. At the end of that conversation they said they’d drop a booklet off for us to read through and, true to their word, they did. We’ve starting reading it over and discussing it as a family which has been excellent for us to process through our own faith more. Along with that we’ve been taking a good deal of notes in it to ask at our next meeting. Two weeks ago they dropped by, but due to house work we weren’t able to meet. They told us that was fine and they’d come again some other time. We’re hoping for this week and excited to see what the next steps hold.

Why write about all this? Well, it’s given me a few takeaways and areas to grow in as I think about evangelism…
1. Relational evangelism can be super helpful and goes both ways. Hopefully through the multiple meetings they’ve done, desiring to break down our barriers, theirs have come down a bit as well. So often we can see those who hold different views than us as enemies where there might actually be a neat opportunity for friendships that might advance the gospel further. We are blessed to have them seeking us out and willing to spend time with us.
2. We need to have a good understanding of the gospel ourselves. Reading through that packet there were a number of things that were so close, but just not quite right about the gospel and what Scripture says. On the outside it looks very Christian, but digging in you start to realize, though they’re quoting Bible verses, it’s not really what the Bible is saying. That being said, it all can sound very appealing and almost Christian and could be quite persuasive if one’s understanding of the gospel was not clear. Ultimately, as Christ’s ambassadors we are to represent Him and His thinking, not be drawn into the thinking of those He’s sent us to (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).
3. We need to see lost people through God’s eyes. It is easy to drive one’s car into the ditch on either side of this road. Either we can see people we disagree with as the enemy and put up our guard instead of letting them into our life OR we can lose sight of their deep need and only focus on befriending them. Reading through the packet there were a number of repeated statements about God destroying sin and all evil & only letting the good and righteous be with Him in Heaven.  I found myself thinking, “but that’s the problem… I am the sin and evil that must be destroyed and cannot stand in God’s presence and no amount of good I do can remove who I am.” Outside of the gospel with another standing in our place, that is true for each of us and these two young women as well. They are doomed and have no real hope in the beliefs they currently hold.
4. We need to trust in the sufficiency & ability of God’s Word. It can be a bit intimidating to interact with people we disagree with. This can be even more so when they claim to use the same source of truth we do (the Bible). Almost every part of the pamphlet we’re reading has scripture verses to back it up. Some of it is correct (as all good lies are best presented), some is wrongly interpreted, and some is completely remade based on their bad “Bible translation.” A strong tendency can be to then jettison the Bible for our truth and instead rely on logic. However, logic never saved anyone and the Bible can hold its own. To this, Charles Spurgeon has a great quote, “The Word of God can take care of itself, and will do so if we preach it, and cease defending it. See you that lion. They have caged him for his preservation; shut him up behind iron bars to secure him from his foes! See how a band of armed men have gathered together to protect the lion. …. O fools, and slow of heart! Open that door! Let the lord of the forest come forth free. Who will dare to encounter him? What does he want with your guardian care? Let the pure gospel go forth in all its lion-like majesty, and it will soon clear its own way and ease itself of its adversaries.” We may not have all the answers when we go to the Bible with our friends. We may have to tell them such and ask to table the question or topic till we’ve had time to further research. But why we should never do is shy away from it. The Bible can hold its own even (as especially) when we cannot.
5. Prayer is essential as God is the only hope for making dead hearts & deceived minds alive and comprehending (Titus 3:3-7, Ephesians 2:1-10). Nothing we say or do, no amount of love and care we show, no depth of time or relationship with them, or anything else will ultimately be able to bring them to life outside of the work of God in them. We are praying for them. Asking God to reveal their need and give them His hope. In the meantime we will seek to simply be faithful in loving them, inviting them into our lives, and having conversations with them for as long as He allows.

A few thoughts for us to think through:
- Is there someone in your life God has placed there for you to be His ambassador? If not, how might you go about finding someone?
Are you willing to spend your time reaching out to them though you have no guarantee of fruit? 
Are you treating them as a true friend remembering the balance of not being apathetic or antagonistic in your presentation of truth?
Do you bring them to the Lord in prayer seeking to act faithfully, but relying on Him for true change?

May the Lord use us for His glory and good of all those He would call to Himself!