The video recording of the CCEF Live online workshop – Teaching Kids about Sex and Personal Safety by Julie Lowe.
To comment about something one neither saw nor read, borders on foolishness. So I will try to be careful and brief. I avoided 50 Shades of Grey. That is, I tried to avoid even reading anything about it. But recently I succumbed and read a review because it was in a popular newspaper and its headline made the review sound prudent and critical, which it was. And now the idea of the movie is temporarily lodged in my consciousness.
The movie will create a temporary backlash. When a movie portrays a relationship that is so far outside the boundaries of Scripture and God’s created intent, most human beings will protest. Sadomasochism is, of course, a perversion that reflects a decrepit soul and abets the soul’s destruction. We all know that.
But the movie will do more. When important people commit suicide, there are usually some imitators who follow. When smoking cigarettes appears more frequently on the big screen and is associated with cool people, there will be imitators. And when S&M is portrayed by attractive people, there will be imitators. The movie will infect imaginations and provoke analogous behavior.
Why are such things contagious? Why is something so obviously sinful, so virulent? We could list a number of reasons. The primary reason is that people still have affection for evil. We might hate it, but we also like it. This reminds us that our growth in Christ can be described as a path in which sin, once an affection, becomes an affliction that we yearn to be fully rid of.
One more personal response. The review I read was certainly not prurient in any way. As such, I was surprised that just a few of the words opened a door in my mind. Was it curiosity? Lust? It felt more like I was walking along, someone else opened a door, I saw things that were shocking, though not really engaging, and the scene stayed in my mind longer than I wanted. In other words, scenes that are outside the boundaries of godliness—like sex and violence—are sticky. For example, when someone absorbs pornography, the images stick far longer than most memories.
The half-life of the image was about an hour, and then it faded, though I suspect it could sneak up when I don’t suspect it. What do I do with all this? Though it once would sound prudish to say that I am trying to avoid being exposed to the dark details of the human soul, especially in the media, we are part of a few generations who have let their minds and actions go there, and the consequences have not been good.
Still, maybe prudishness will go mainstream, at least for a few weeks.
It seems obvious, but I have never suggested it: if a man has been with a prostitute, it is right for him to ask her forgiveness. Consider this story.
Sex dominated this man’s life. He paid to get into nightclubs where he could meet women, and he paid to be with prostitutes. When he wasn’t strategizing how to have sex, he paid for pornography.
How God gets our attention is a mystery, but he got this man’s attention. A relationship with a gentle, local pastor was one of the means.
With his eyes now opened, this man genuinely wanted to grow. He pulled away from his old lifestyle, though he was occasionally pulled back. All the while, he was open with his pastor and continued the battle. Then, two years after he was spiritually rescued, he had sex with a prostitute. When he told his pastor, one part of the pastor’s counsel was to ask the prostitute’s forgiveness. The pastor suggested that he write a letter, take someone with him, and deliver it to the woman.
The man was stunned. He never heard of such a thing. He certainly couldn’t imagine doing such a thing. For the first time, he told the pastor that he couldn’t follow his counsel, and that seemed to be his final word.
His final word lasted only about an hour. By then he began to see that this was the way to live in the kingdom of Christ. He quickly wrote a letter to her and was ready to deliver it.
There was one small complication. The prostitute was from another country and the letter, if it were to make any sense to her, had to be in her language. So he solicited the help of a man in the congregation who knew that language. In other words, he was willing to go more public with what he did. Though his shame was screaming to stay hidden, he had the letter translated. The next day, first thing, he sought her out.
When he greeted her, he offered a very simple explanation of why he was there and gave her the letter. In it, he had written that the Spirit of God had convicted him, Jesus had forgiven him, but his actions had hurt her too so he wanted to ask her forgiveness.
She read the letter carefully. By the time she was done, a tear was already falling from her face.
She looked up and said, “I forgive you.”
He thanked her.
And she responded, “No, thank you.”
This scares me.
Recently, I was talking with an older, single man who keeps drifting back into sexual sin. It’s as if the tide of sexuality is going to win in the end—like he is destined to postpone sexual sin—but not to beat it. That way of thinking is scary enough, but there is more.
While we talked, I quietly reflected on how my battle with sexual sin is easier because I am married. I did not mean it is easier because I have opportunities to have a sexual relationship with my wife, though, of course, I do. Rather, I meant that sexual drifting for me would hurt an actual person, whereas for him, sexual drifting would not directly hurt another human being because he is single.
My reasoning makes some sense, but it is worse than it appears. Here is what I was really saying: I live within sexual boundaries for the sake of my wife. And though almost any reason for sexual boundaries is a good one, mine is not a Christian reason in that it has nothing to do with Jesus. That scares me. Jeopardizing my relationship with my wife is more motivating to me than jeopardizing my relationship with the Lord. My power to resist temptation comes from my relationship with her, not from Jesus. I love my wife—or my relationship with her—more than I love him. The truth is that any motive that replaces Christ is less than Christian.
Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Josh. 22:5)
For the love of Christ controls us. (2 Cor. 5:14)
So I am thankful that the Spirit reveals matters of the heart that scare me, and I set off again to know Christ and aim for nothing short of a full-bodied, full-hearted love that surpasses all others.
When the wealthy young man could not quite give all his money away and follow Jesus, we are given a hard story (Matt. 19:16-22). Many of us have wondered what we would have done if Jesus asked us the same question. The story is always challenging. But the wealthy young man has recently been hijacked by someone new: the young man who is hoping to have sex…soon.
He is twenty-ish and a capable apologist with his friends. If you spoke with him for five minutes you would be impressed with his spiritual depth and think there is hope for the next generation. But, if you spoke with him for a little longer, you would discover that he has decided not to follow Jesus.
He wants to keep his options open—his sexual options that is.
He has not had a sexual relationship yet, but he hopes to date soon and he does not want to be encumbered by God’s restrictions. So, rather than possibly feeling guilty or being a hypocrite, he has renounced his faith—at least until he gets married and sex is legit.
The Word of God has come to him, asked him to hold off on sex and follow Jesus, and he has chosen instead to keep the possibility of sex available and follow his own desires.
I am impressed with his spiritual understanding. Most young men—and older men—think they can have it both ways.
In “Teach Your Children About Sex,” Julie Lowe and Lauren Whitman get down to earth on a topic that can make parents squirm. Their thesis is that someone will teach your children about sex, whether or not that person is you. What children pick up will be either very helpful or very harmful. The best person for giving children a positive, godly understanding of sex is a parent willing and able to talk candidly and constructively.
I saw a billboard on the way to the airport that read: Thou shalt not commit adultery. It advertised a website that specialized in extra-marital sexual connections for those interested in a little cheating.
I am speechless.
Perhaps I am a prudish, self-righteous Bible thumper mired in some version of an old Christian America that is fading away. So I will let someone else speak.
Wendy Plump wrote “A Roomful of Yearning and Regret,” published December 9, 2010. It appears on-line at the New York Times and I recommend you read it. She has been on both ends of adultery—perpetrator and victim—and reminds us that both bring agony. She writes:
I know this for two reasons: No. 1, I have had an affair; No. 2, I have been the victim of one. When you unfurl these two experiences in the sunlight for comparison, and measure their worth and pain, the former is only marginally better than the latter. And both, frankly, are awful.
Wendy goes on to say that though both are awful, the adulterous sex is great—in the raw hormonal sense. It is forbidden, new, urgent, and you can take on a new exciting persona. And, yes, of course you were bored, your needs were not met by your spouse, and your new lover really understood you. Every adulterer, she says, has said words like these.
As Christians we might wince when we read this, but there is hard-earned wisdom in what she is saying. There is pleasure in sin for a season. To gloss over that observation is to leave us unprepared for temptations. Sin can feel good. It kills us, but it feels good. And since it has its appeal, we must start our defense long before the temptation gets close.
Even Wendy offers help here. She confronts the common excuses for giving in to this temptation. “So what?” she says. “Does the argument that adultery makes you temporarily feel alive legitimize the foolish act? Absolutely not.” To which we might add, “unless you are an animal,” which is how sin debases us.
After Ms. Plump’s insightful words, we could listen to an endless line of victims and perpetrators, and we would hear many regrets and “awfuls.” Some remain married, though the marriage has days where there is a noticeable limp. Others have divorced and have not spoken to their children in years.
Sadly, these “awful” stories will not turn the foolish away from adultery and the billboard I saw may turn them towards it. When we are foolish, we look for a co-conspirator to authorize our foolishness, and are easily baited by anything that calls bad desires good.
But God warns us against those who would call evil good (Isaiah 5:20), and fidelity to your marriage vow is good. Thou shalt not commit adultery, God says. These are not the words of a conservative prig but they are the words of a generous God whose commandments are not burdensome but wise and good, and even those who do not follow Jesus understand this wisdom by way of their own irrevocable experiences.
Pornography is a defining problem of our age, so it is also a defining problem for counselors. The Bible often addresses people enmeshed in wayward sexuality, and Alasdair Groves digs deeply into one significant aspect in the sanctification of pornographied souls.
Excuse me for barging in, but it might be time for more people to intrude into the marital bedroom. Though there are some good Christian books on marital sex, most of them repeat two basic mantras: (1) Christians are not sexually reserved. Behind closed doors we are incredibly frisky and uninhibited, and (2) let your conscience be your guide. If a particular form of sexual expression is acceptable to both spouses, it is okay with God. Let’s not get legalistic in matters where we have freedom of conscience.
I’m not so sure about either of these.
On point number one, maybe we are really frisky, maybe not. It is more likely that we are similar to most married people—sometimes we are sexually motivated, sometimes we would rather take a nap.
On point number two, a conscience, when it comes to sex, can get seared very quickly, so maybe conscience alone cannot be your guide. Better to take the Apostle Paul’s admonition. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).
Years ago I became aware of a pastoral situation involving a married couple. While another elder and I were trying to understand what was happening, someone quietly informed us that the husband and wife occasionally indulged in bondage scenarios. Our response? Nothing. We might have asked a follow-up question, but, if we did, the couple made it clear that the bedroom was their domain, and we had no right intruding. So we didn’t. We obeyed law number two and it was probably a mistake. Two years later the husband was outed for extramarital sexuality.
God cares about our sexual imaginations, even married ones. The limits of what is okay to imagine (or do) is not up to our discretion. Yes, a godly sexual imagination can drift off to a tryst in an edenic secret garden, but it should never drift off to a person other than your spouse or to anything that approaches bondage, power or pain scenarios.
The godly sexual imagination is fundamentally animated by the most sensual principle of all: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Solomon 6:3).
Exclusivity. Sex is something we share with each other and no one else. I belong to you alone. You belong to me alone. This should be enough to fuel the most anemic imagination.
Christian bedrooms, I suspect, are doing less well than we think. Friskiness, when it exists, too often relies on illicit imaginations. Our consciences can be sexually reckless. So we aim for a sanctified sexual imagination, which means we are not aiming for the sexuality that we see in our culture. Instead, we find pleasure in exclusivity and openness.
Men are wretched at dealing with rejection.
Women are not good at it either. But at least they are more prone to talking about it, or they are vulnerable enough to be sad. Men tend to go silent or get angry.
I want to get to sexual rejection—wives who seem to reject their husband’s sexual advances—but first, a warm-up illustration.
For the first five to ten years of our marriage, Sheri and I would have our most intense conflict when we went to visit her parents. The conflict always circled around my sense of being rejected. Sheri has five siblings, and when we visited her parents there were always a few siblings and their families there too. Having not seen them in a year, she (and I) were eager to spend time with them. But at some point I would feel like she wanted to spend more time with them than with me. This might have been true given how infrequently she saw her brothers and sisters, but, all the same, I took it personally.
My reactions were juvenile. It was as if I was looking for her to pat me on the head and say, “Oh, Eddie, don’t be silly. I love you more than anyone. I will cancel all of my family plans for tomorrow and spend it only with you.” Or, better yet, “Are you kidding?! I am married to the world’s supreme stud-muffin. I adore you . . .”
I am thankful that the Spirit is very powerful and now my responses rarely look that pitiful. Being able to say: “I miss not being able to speak to you during the day. Let’s try to take a walk this afternoon,” is the fruit of massive sanctification.
Now to a more difficult experience of rejection.
I have spoken to a number of men who have a sense that sexual interest in marriage should be roughly equivalent—that both husband and wife should have similar sexual desire for the other person. Men are usually willing to accept that they might have a little more sexual desire than their wives, but when those differences get extreme, watch out. Men will feel rejected.
“Why can’t you ever take the initiative and ask if I want to have sex?” I know many husbands have said this to their wives and I suspect many more think it.
Women can certainly feel like sexual objects, and that is an important matter, but, for a moment, consider the rejected man.
A husband is in a very vulnerable spot every time he asks his wife if they can be sexually intimate. Perceived resistance will be taken as rejection. Maybe the wife really does have a headache, or perhaps she is just bone tired, but it will be hard for the husband to resist the urge to take it personally.
“No” to a husband’s advances is a big deal in a marriage. A godly wife can certainly say “no” but she will also be alert to the way her response might be taken by her husband. Understanding and compassion can go a long way at these moments.
Men, if you react with silence or anger, it means you have a problem. Any time you think, “I have a God-given right to sex from my wife” expect to crash and burn. Aim, instead, for massive sanctification that might say, “Could we talk about when I ask you if we could be intimate [and I am not asking right now]? I am surprised that those are really difficult moments for me. I know that sometimes the timing is bad, but I tend to take “no” or even “later” as rejection, and I don’t want to do that.”
Those conversations can be hazardous, especially if a wife uses it as an opportunity to talk about how she feels like a body more than a person to her husband. But when a desire to love the other person and pursue unity in the relationship outweighs a sense of personal rights, couples can usually come to creative solutions.
This October at the CCEF Annual Conference I’ll share some reflections on a vexing question: What should you share with your spouse about sexual sin in your life? If you’ve ever confessed sexual sin to your spouse—and probably even if you haven’t—you understand how loaded this issue can be.
The good news is the answer is simple—or at least the basic principle is simple. You confess your sins and bring them “into the light” (1 John 1 will be our guiding passage). This forges and deepens fellowship. However, you confess in a way that “builds up” the hearer (Eph. 4:29), so that you are not dragging your spouse back through every detail of the sin. Taken together though, there can be significant tension. How do you drag something dark and ugly into the light without harming your spouse?
If October sounds far away, listen to David Powlison and Cecelia Bernhardt’s podcast about this topic from last year, titled How Specific Should I Be in Confessing Sin? A lot of our work at the conference will build on and flesh out the core ideas they discuss (and which I briefly summarize in the paragraph above).
Here’s the basic outline of what we will cover:
a) Confess in a way that “builds up” the one you have harmed.
b) Receive a confession, even a painful one, in a way that gives grace (rather than sweeping the sin under the rug or retaliating).
c) Rebuild trust together after sexual sin has been brought into the light.
I’ll be talking primarily to married couples and couples who are thinking about getting married. But whether you are dating, have been married for 30 years, or do pre-marital or marital counseling, you’ll be sharpened by thinking through this issue. I know I have been.
My hope is that everyone will leave challenged by the call of our Lord to fully repent of and confess our sins (sexual and otherwise). But I want more than that. I want us to leave with hope that the secrets, shame and guilt we instinctively protect with darkness and silence are not the final word in the kingdom of light and freedom.