Tag Archives: church

The Christian dissonance of the “pro-life” movement

I opened my previous post stating that I try to avoid political topics on this blog.   This post is going to make a liar of me as I step into it once more.   I promise (I think) this is the last for quite some time.

My last post was about the Christian dissonance in the phrase, “It’s my body.”   That is to say, for those of us who follow Christ, the Lamb of God who laid down his own life to save ours, it makes little sense for any Christian to claim “It’s MY body.”   Our bodies are gifts from God, temples of the Holy Spirit, and exist to bring glory and honor to our Creator.

The push back I received from my pro-choice friends over that post and others is this: They rightfully point out the dissonance (or hypocrisy) in most of us who are pro-life when they insist we care only about the baby in the womb but fall short in our compassion for humanity beyond that.

If we are honest, we have to admit they are right.   When I have these discussions with people I discover that I am often in the minority among pro-life people.   By this I mean I fully support and desire to see universal health care for all people.  I want to see free maternal care for mothers and mandatory maternal (and paternal!) leave granted by employers.   I want to be part of a nation that cares more about showing empathy and compassion towards the strangers and minorities among us  – refugees, immigrants, etc – than they do about it’s flag.  I want to see the death penalty done away with and real rehabilitation programs for convicted criminals and everyone suffering from addiction.    I want to see real gun reform laws passed and a concerted effort to end mass shootings, particularly in our schools where our children are at greater risk than in any other country on earth.

I guess you could say I am truly pro-life from womb to tomb.

Pro-choice people are right to point out the hypocrisy in many of us when we scream as loud to keep children from crossing our borders as we do to ensure children our born within our borders.

When we argue “I have a right to own a gun,” we sound alarmingly like pro-choice people arguing “I have a right to my own body.”

When we support policies or demonstrations which demean or take lightly the plight of black Americans (who proportionally speaking, are most susceptible to feeling they have a need to have an abortion) we demonstrate to a watching world that we are not really pro-life.

When we argue against health care for every person in our country and continuously vote for leaders who strategically position corporations and the wealthy to get ahead while removing safety nets for the most vulnerable among us, we shoot our cause in the foot and appear to a watching world as white-washed tombs.

When we discourage sex education or free birth control for all, we guarantee a rise in the number of those distressed and hopeless and feeling as though abortion is their only option.

Many of the positions taken against these life affirming policies are rooted in the same beast that gives birth to a pro-choice movement:  Fear of losing what’s rightfully mine.   In essence, it’s a lack of faith in God.   Both the woman who fears she cannot adjust her future life to that of a newborn and the person who thinks allowing in more refugees will water down their culture are committing the same sin:  They lack faith in a God who promises to provide for our needs if we will humble ourselves before him and honor him in all that we do.

I wonder what would happen if we who are pro-life would actually be pro-life in every area of our lives?   Maybe, just maybe, it would bear witness to a watching, confused and hurting world that God truly is the God of all nations, all tribes, all tongues – born and unborn – and loves them dearly.   After all, they will know us by our love.

 

 

 

Rachel Held Evans: On Origami and Trust

The news concerning the death of Rachel Held Evans this past weekend has been hard to swallow.   She leaves behind a loving husband, 2 young children, and a family innumerable who have been blessed, encouraged, and loved through her speaking and writing ministry.   She will be greatly missed.

I first met Rachel back in 2010 when were were both actively blogging about faith and the church.  She graciously shared some of my writings on her blog (which was far more popular than mine ) and we met at a few conferences.  When I was moving from seminary back to Tennessee in 2011 we kicked the idea around of starting a church that would minister to the outcasts and misfits – those who had lost faith in the church but hoped God hadn’t lost faith in them.   Sadly, that never transpired.

Over the years we drifted apart but I continued to read her work.   While we didn’t always land in the same place, I always admired her gift with words and her ability to articulate the questions of faith that all of us have or have had and she did so humbly and honestly.   Never did I doubt that she was and is deeply in love with Jesus and her neighbors.   Today, I don’t doubt that that love is only magnified and more truly known.

I’ve been moved by the many tributes written these past few days.   But I’ve also been appalled by comments and posts from many of her detractors. I won’t reference them here as I don’t want to give them life, but they reveal the dark underbelly of the Church at which Rachel devoted much of her time aiming her prophetic voice, and the remainder of her time creating places of grace and healing for it’s refugees.   She wanted them, and us, to know that the church imperfectly reflects the goodness of our Father and that we can trust Jesus to make all things new.

I fell prey to something these last two days, be it my hero complex or simply boredom, to defend Rachel to some of her detractors.   In the midst of this I realized that this is not something Rachel would have done herself, nor expect any of us to do.  Rather, she would likely pray for them, and instruct me to do the same (or teach me how to turn their hate mail into origami).

But it did get me thinking about trust.  When the judgments of those self-avowed defenders of pure religion are stacked up against the grace-filled, humble words of Rachel and her many friends, a blinding, stark contrast is on full display.  The former is only able to give lip service to trust, whereas the latter embodies it in word and deed.  They do this, I think, because they trust not the frame of their religion but the One who frames them in perfect light to the Father.

This came to me as I was singing this weekend the song, “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less.”   The first stanza goes like this:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name

As in life, Rachel’s death is also inviting me to trust Jesus.   To trust less in my understanding of Jesus, or my doctrinal purity, or who I agree or disagree with on certain matters but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

Yes, no doubt there are important things worth contending over, but may my hope and yours be first and foremost in Jesus – the one who loves us and died for us in the midst of our ignorance and sin.  This trust in the work of this Person, I believe, is what is most important, and making this our business is what I believe will best honor the legacies of both Rachel and our Lord.

Rest in Peace and Power, RHE.

 

Recap of PLM Conference: Fix your eyes on Jesus

I just returned home from the Pure Life Ministries annual conference which was such an amazing experience and encounter with God.    Some 480 men and women gathered in Florence, KY to worship the God who has the power – and the desire – to set each of us free from the chains that ensnare us.    It’s an amazing thing to be in the presence of such testimonies and witnesses to God’s redeeming love.

I wanted to take a moment while it’s fresh on my mind to write down a few of the things I took away from the great speakers who shared over the last few days.   I hope this helps me to better apply what I’ve learned and to edify you.

Steve Gallagher referenced the proclivity within each of us to gravitate towards either law bending or law keeping.   He stressed that when both are right with the Lord and walking in the Spirit both are a blessing to the Church.   We need the law benders to upset our status-quo and breath fresh wind into our sails and we need the law keepers to remind us of God’s holiness and demands upon the Christian to obey him.

Steve then did a beautiful job referencing each of the seven churches in Revelation 2 &3, showing what happens when these natural tendencies of ours (law bending or law keeping) cease being surrendered to God.   One thing in particular that stood out to me was pointed towards law keepers, or those of us who can easily become satisfied with having a form of godliness but none of it’s power.    How easy it is to play church and appear to be doing all the right things while our heart is far from God.     I know all too well how easy it is to do this, and how easy it is to fall into a delusion that all is well in doing it.

Dave Leopold built upon this foundation laid by Steve (unbeknownst to either while preparing their messages).  He spoke of how we toil in our own way rather than God’s way.  Building a ministry isn’t always the same, he said, as building God’s kingdom.

Dave’s longing for himself, and his prayer for us, is that we may all prove that we have been with Jesus.  May our very lives – both inner and outer – be evidence that we have spent much time at Jesus’ feet.   Jesus does not desire us to be mere messengers of his message, but desires each of us to become the message.   When he has conquered us, he will send us out to conquer the world in Jesus’ name.

I loved the illustration he shared of the sun.   When we lay out in the sun, we are changed.  Our face let’s the world know that we have been out in the sun.   Likewise, as we spend intimate time with the Son of God, the world will know it.

Dustin Renz shared a powerful message on suffering.   I think he is exactly right that we do not teach or understand suffering within the church.   And yet, the life of Jesus himself as well as all of scripture is full of calls to suffer, even promises that we will.   Dustin shared the following points:

  1. We need to learn to expect suffering.   Jesus promised that we would know trouble in this world.   In fact, the very call to follow Jesus is an invitation to lay down our lives and die.
  2. Suffering shapes us and fits us for service.    James reminds us to consider it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds.   These are preparing us for service.
  3. Learn to endure suffering.   Imagine if Paul had given up after being ship wrecked, stoned, beaten, imprisoned, starved, left to die?   The loss to Christianity would be extraordinary!    We must endure to the end.  Far too often we give up too easily and we have not even come close to experiencing the sort of suffering Paul and countless other Christians have endured.    How many potential testimonies, not to mention our own, are lost because we give up too soon and run back to our sin?

Glen Meldrum shared three snares of the soul which will trip us up time and time again if we are not mindful of them.

  1. We don’t treat sin like sin.   Numbers 33:50-56, God insists that Moses and the people, when they get to the promised land, must drive out the wicked inhabitants and all their idols.    If they do not, they will be “barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides” and trouble you all the days you dwell you there.   Jesus was serious about sin, warning to cut out the eye of the hand that causes you to sin.    Whatever is keeping you from Jesus, get rid of it!   Even if it’s something “good.”
  2. Not being very careful to love the Lord (Joshua 23:11-13).    We must be very careful to love God!   Make it your purposeful pursuit in life to spend time with God and nurture this relationship.  No one follows Jesus by accident.  None of us default towards loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.   Our sinful hearts are easily distracted and get caught up in so many other things that we lose sight of our walk with God.    Be careful!
  3. Idolatry rises up in our hearts.   Things like bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, sexual sin, pleasure, and more become the gods we cling to to.  We become what we worship.   The destruction happening in marriages is from hell.   Satan hates God, and his work is to destroy the image of God in us by replacing it with his own image.  How does he do this?  By causing us to have other gods.

All of these messages, though unplanned to be so, beautifully weaved together this overarching theme for me:  Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.  Pursue Jesus with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.   Submit to the love – and the rule – of God in my life.  And pray.   Pray like my life and the lives of others depends on it, because it does!

I’m so grateful for this time of refreshment and revival.   It has inspired me towards a deeper repentance and desire to be of service to God and others in ways that for quite some time I have felt unworthy to pursue because of my past failings.    God reminded me this weekend that he has not altered his feelings towards me nor his call.   I’m grateful that my wife was able to join me on this trip and for work he is doing in her life and ours as a couple.   We are both excited to see what God has in store for us in the weeks, months and years ahead.

 

“God Friended Me” Theology

I admit I got hooked on the CBS Sunday night series God Friended Me.   Even though I find myself rolling my eyes far too often at some of the cheesy coincidences or the many ways Miles and Cara awkwardly inject themselves into the middle of people’s lives, I still find myself moved by the story line and blaming my watery eyes on allergies.

The show is about Miles Finer (played by Brandon Michael Hall), an atheist who is also the son of an Episcopal priest (played by Joe Morton) who gets a friend request from someone named God.    Each show centers around a friend suggestion made by God which Miles and his band of friends (Cara and Rakesh) strive to help.   The side story happening alongside the drama of helping their new-found friends is their quest to discover who is behind the God account, because, well, the atheist Miles knows it most certainly can’t be God.

While the story line is intriguing, the theology behind it is not surprisingly dreadful.   Miles’ dad, the priest, offers very little in the way of correcting whatever misguided views his atheist son or lesbian daughter have.   More importantly, he presents his role as priest, and that of his church, as nothing more than a place where people discover their purpose in life.  The implication is that faith is simply discovering what your heart wants and going after it.

What’s implied by the father is explicit with his son.  In this week’s episode, Miles and Cara are discussing life and both affirm the necessity for everyone to follow your heart’s desire.   In fact, Miles states, your heart will never lead you astray.

In this way, God Friended Me does a marvelous job at positioning the Self at the center of the universe.   It affirms what all of us are all too easily persuaded to believe:  If I desire it, it must be good.   In this show, God friends me and affirms all that I am and the Church is there to support and nurture that belief.

Scripture, of course, has something very different to say about the nature of our hearts and the innate goodness of our desires.   The prophet Jeremiah warns us that our heart’s are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9).   Who can know it? he asks.   It can be known, but to do such requires wisdom, and wisdom requires a fear of God (Prov. 9:10).   Without a holy fear of God, without surrendering our hearts, our wills, our lives over to God,  we cannot rightly trust any desire we have.

I know in myself that I have desires which are not of God.   And I am not speaking of just the obvious ones, or the addictive ones.   I am not speaking merely of those desires which if acted upon might cause harm to myself or others.  I am speaking also of those secret and not so secret desires which can parade themselves as virtue in our culture today.    Desires like ambition, greed, fame, pride.   A desire to be liked by others.   A desire to be known for my good deeds or pitied for my bad.   These desires, and many like them, are not from a pure heart but from one that is rooted in the things of this world.   To advise me to trust my heart and follow after it would be foolish indeed.

CBS is not the only platform telling us to trust our heart’s desires.   This message comes at us from all angles, including the Church.   I’ve written here in the past about the impasse the United Methodist Church is experiencing over homosexuality.    At the root of this struggle is a God Friended Me theology, one that suggests that if a person loves something and is not harming anyone, it must be good.   It’s an easy, and appealing theology to embrace.    It certainly tickles the ears.

One of my daily practices is to read a portion of Psalm 119.   There is one theme in this longest chapter of the Bible which is abundantly clear:   The writer desires nothing more than to be molded according to the word of God.    If the desire does not spring from God’s law, the psalmist wants nothing to do with it.     I have written in the past about how praying this to be true of me has changed my life.    It’s a prayer I continue to pray today, and have begun praying for our Church.

James couldn’t be more clear when he wrote that temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away (James 1:14).    Having a healthy skepticism of our heart and it’s desires is wise, and praying continually that our heart and it’s desires be conformed to the word of God is prudent.   Doing so gives us assurance that indeed, God has befriended us, and we are his friends if we obey his commands (John 15:14).

 

 

 

Will Jesus do many miracles among us?

A few years back I met a missionary from Africa who was here in Tennessee sharing the gospel with Americans.  I was fascinated (and convicted) as he shared the heart he and his church back home has for the lost here in my own backyard.  One thing he said to me I’ll never forget:

In Africa, we witness miracles all the time because we depend on them.  Without God meeting our daily needs, we would die.   The reason you see so few miracles here in America is because you’ve learned to depend on technology and modern medicine to meet your needs.   God is not so necessary.

I don’t know about you, but I want to live a life where God is absolutely necessary, where I am increasingly dependent upon him to meet all my needs.   This is true of me less than I care to admit.

March Madness is right around the corner and you’ll no doubt hear many players and coaches reciting a line I remember hearing often during my brief time playing ball in high school:

Leave it all on the court.

After this game, don’t be the one who looks back with regret that you didn’t give it your all.   I wonder at times whether I will one day look back on my life and be satisfied that I left all behind for the sake of Christ, who left all to give me life.   I wonder if I will one day know all that could have been accomplished by God’s power working through me had I believed the impossible.

Or will it be said of me that Jesus could not do many miracles with Chad because of his unbelief (Matt. 13:58)?   I’m sure he’s done and will do some.  But many?   How much is many?

When I moved into Church of God country I witnessed for the first time in my life the gift of tongues and interpretation in full display.  Growing up a Nazarene I had never seen this gift.  I didn’t believe it was still in operation.  But churches in Cleveland, Tennessee proved otherwise.  Why is the gift of tongues a dominant gift in the Church of God but rarely if ever heard in the Church of the Nazarene?  Maybe because people growing up in the CoG have faith that this is a gift for them.

Why do so many preacher’s kids grow up to become pastors themselves?  Maybe because they saw their imperfect parent rising to the call and had faith that maybe they could, too?

Maybe miracles happen where people come to expect and believe that they will.

This may seem like I’m stating the obvious, but what we believe about ourselves comes to pass.   If you and I believe we can do something, than we will, or at the very least, we will die trying.   And if you and I believe we can’t do something, we won’t, nor will we try.

When I was floundering in my sexual addiction there were numerous things I believed wrongly, but two are pertinent to this post:

  1. What I’m experiencing isn’t sin, but addiction.
  2.  I’ll always be an addict

The turning point for me in my life was when I came to my senses and saw how my behavior was not due to me being an addict but due to me being a sinner.   I was a slave to sin.

The distinction is an important one, I believe.    My experience has been such that when I saw myself primarily as an addict, I did so to my detriment.   My identity as an addict put a veil between myself and a miracle working God, causing me to place my trust in a program to provide at best a daily reprieve from my addictive behavior.

But when I saw myself as a sinner, a person who has become addicted to sinning in a particular way, there was a seismic shift in my spirit.   Naming my condition rightly opened up the door for the Holy Spirit to minister to that condition.  It tore the veil separating myself from God and helped me to see that there is indeed a remedy for sin – the blood of Christ – and that in his grace and mercy he has provided wonderful tools (such as the steps, a group of brothers, a sponsor, and most importantly, his Word) to enable me to walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh, one day at a time.

There is so much brokenness in our world today.  So much that is outside of God’s intended design for us.  I see it in my own heart.  I see it in my family. I see it in our churches.   And the world cannot be healed or saved when the church is sick.  I believe God is aching to heal us of our brokenness, that this has always been the case, yet we are so often unaware or unwilling.   Jesus is calling out to us still, like a mother hen, longing to bring us under his wings.  But so often we reject the message, and the messenger (Luke 13:34).

Whether the issue be pornography, divorce, homosexuality, greed, lust, anger, racism, etc., it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the church and the world.   And this is to be expected.  For when the body of Christ ceases to name these things (and more) as sin, it ceases to avail herself to the One who died to destroy the work of sin (1 John 3:8).    We see so little victory over these sins because we do not believe victory is possible. 

It is imperative that we get our thinking – our hearts – right and aligned with the Spirit of Truth if we are to experience the joy and freedom Christ purchased for us with his blood.   It is imperative we do this for the sake of our mission to the world which has not seen, nor has it heard, nor has it entered into their hearts what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9).

May it be said of all of us one day that we left it all on the court, and within our midst, Jesus did many miracles.

A Response to #UMC Bishop Karen Oliveto urging #LGBT to stay

Early on in my theological education I was in an awkward place.   I knew I was called to pastor, but because I had been running from God for so many years, I didn’t have a church home and therefore did not know where I might one day land.    So I began investigating different denominations, what they believed, how they did church, who could and could not be ordained within them, what the qualifications were for their pastors, etc.    I quickly discovered that there were several denominations that were not options for me due to my divorce.  After crossing those off my list I began pursuing those churches where those sins of which I repented (like my divorce) would not preclude me from being a pastor.

Hello, United Methodist Church.

I have much respect for those churches who have a stated covenant – a standard by which they as a church, particularly its leaders, will order their lives.   There is an integrity about them which I find compelling, even if and when I don’t agree with their standard.    I have an equal if not greater amount of respect for people I have met along the way who feel they have been called by God into pastoral ministry, but for one reason or another, they cannot do so in the church they have long called home.   Throughout seminary I met many women who found a home in the United Methodist Church because they could not be ordained in the church of their youth.    They could have stayed, I suppose, and tried to change their church.   Many of them even tried, so they said.   But after being rebuffed a number of times they remembered Jesus’ command,

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet (Matt. 10:14).

They determined to practice biblical obedience by moving on rather than casting their pearls before swine, so to speak.

I have much respect for them.   Rather than lobby year after year after year, for 40 years or more, stirring up dissension among their peers and rivalry among the ranks, they chose instead to find a new home.    They brought their charge before others, and when those others would not repent and change their ways, they found a place more amicable to their convictions.

It never occurred to me to chastise these women for leaving women behind in the churches they left.   Nor do I recall the women who did leave worrying about the spiritual well-being, or physical safety, of the women they left behind.    I did hear, however, much respect all around for those who stayed and those who left.   I heard things like, “Many of them seem to flourish in that environment, and they are following their convictions, as I am.  I wish them well,” and other such sentiments.

Churches that do not ordain women on biblical grounds are still thriving, with many women within their ranks who are flourishing.  Beth Moore doesn’t seem to be hurting too terribly from complementarianism, and this is true for thousands if not millions more.   No one is forcing them to stay in a church which abides by certain rules.  They are free to leave and find a new home just like the many women I met in seminary and have been blessed to serve alongside.   While I may not agree with their interpretation of scripture and how women may or may not serve the church, I can respect it.

That respect for their institutional rules, coupled with how I think it best to love my neighbor, conditions how I would counsel a young woman in, let’s say a Baptist church, on what to do with her perceived call into ordained ministry.   It would be very unloving of me, I think, to encourage her to stay and fight the system, or “kick against the goads.”  Rather, I’d probably encourage her to become a Methodist.

Which is why I find the current advice of one of our bishops so out of place, if not harmful.  Karen Oliveto, the UMC’s openly defiant, lesbian bishop, wrote that she will not leave the United Methodist Church, and urges others not to do so either.  Rather, they should stay and continue to fight so that the church she loves will not “derail their ministries or commitments to love all people.”   Aside from the fact that the bishop should know better – that loving someone and exercising church discipline are not mutually exclusive (amen, parents?) – why does someone who believes that the Church’s teaching is harmful to LGBT people encourage said people to stay and kick against the goads?

 

Having said that, I am mostly in agreement with the bishop at least on one point.  I don’t want to see gay people leave the church, either.   I want to see them, along with everyone else, being redeemed through the body of Christ.   I want to witness waves of people laying their disordered loves at the altar and being transformed from the inside-out.  I want to see people humbled and broken before God, willing to die to an identity rooted in sexual brokenness (this is for both gay and straight people) and rise again in Christ alone.

And none of us should expect anyone to show up at the doors of any church ready to embrace this cruciform life.  I know I’m not most of the time and I have been in church all my life!   But I do expect, and I think it’s fair to expect, that as a Church we are speaking with one voice when it comes to the things we believe Christ desires to redeem, and chief among them in our present day (as is true of all days) is how deeply fractured we are when it it comes to understanding sex and our bodies.    If we as a Church cannot be united around this, than we render ourselves double-minded and thus unstable in all our ways (James 1:8).

May we as a Church love our neighbors well by offering them gracious counsel should their conscience not allow them to abide by their Church’s teaching, and may we love those who stay well by being united in how we speak about these things which have so thoroughly divided us as of late.

Dear Heterosexual: You are not forgotten

It’s been just over a week since the United Methodist General Conference voted on whether or not same sex marriage and LGBT clergy will be allowed in the UMC.

The fact that this issue has so captivated mainstream thought and life, and has been the key issue of debate every quadrennium in the UMC is quite impressive. Why?  Because according to a Gallup poll in 2018, only 4.5% of Americans self-identify as gay, lesbian or bi-sexual.   In this study, 95.5% of Americans identified themselves as straight.   What is so impressive is how the sex lives of 4 out of every 100 people has so captivated our consciousness, both within and without the Christian community.

It got me thinking:  What about the other 95% of us?  It can feel as though we have been forgotten.   It can feel as though our struggles and our sins are of little consequence.  With the spotlight so intensely focused on what 5% of the population is doing behind closed doors it’s easy to minimize or even justify our own struggles.

With 95% of Americans uninterested in marrying someone of the same sex it seems strange that nearly 100% of our conversations about sex have little to do with what all of us, gay or straight, are struggling with, such as….

Pornography

I wish we discussed this in the church more than we discuss homosexuality.   I wish this were seen for what it is – the epidemic destroying our lives – and our church leadership took it every bit as seriously if not more than homosexuality.   While we obsess over the 5%, consider these statistics regarding pornography

The porn industry generates 13 billion dollars in revenue in the US alone.
1 in 5 mobile searches are for pornography
69% of the internet pay-per-view market is pornography
51% of pastors say pornography is a real temptation
64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month
71% of teens hide online behavior from their parents
9 out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls are exposed to pornography before age 18
Average age of first exposure: 12
68% of young adult men and 18% of young adult women use porn weekly.
This sin, legal to view and purchase everywhere, affects every one of us.  The struggle is real, and it is destroying more families and lives than gay marriage ever will.  Our nation’s legalization of gay marriage pales in comparison to the overwhelming acceptance of pornography in our culture and our failure to address it.

Premarital Sex

Even before pornography began to flourish with the advent of the Internet, virtually everyone was having sex outside of marriage.  A study published by the USA Today in 2006 showed that 9 in 10 women born in the 1940’s had premarital sex.  The median age in 2003 of those having sex for the first time was 17.  Of those interviewed in 2002, 95% said they had sex before marriage.

According to one study, 61 percent of Christians said they would have sex before marriage. Fifty-six percent said that it’s appropriate to move in with someone after dating for a time between six months and two years.

While everyone is talking about who 5% of our population is now allowed to marry, the church has often failed to offer to the struggling rest of us a healthy, positive view of sex and why God intends it to be reserved for marriage. We have failed to offer a positive, affirming, theologically rooted understanding of singleness and celibacy.  We do not teach well what it means to have a body created in God’s image to be used for God’s purposes in unique ways as a single person or as a married couple.   (Read my review of the excellent book, Faithful: A Theology of Sex. Better yet, get the book!).

Sexting

While our Church directs her focus on who can and cannot get married or be ordained, our youth are floundering as we turn blind eyes and hearts to their struggle.   Sexting, which is sending sexually explicit material through mobile devices, is a growing phenomenon among both youth and adults.  40% of all teenagers have sent and received sexual material through their phones.  You can read more stats here, and this CNN article suggests that over 60% of youth are using apps on their phones to send sexually suggestive material.  It’s worth checking out, parents, to learn ways to safeguard your kid’s online behavior.

I know firsthand the reality of these struggles, and know all too well the pain they bring to bear on all of one’s relationships.  Even more, I know the guilt and shame surrounding these behaviors and I know how easy it is to minimize and justify these things because they are done in secret.  Because so few will admit they struggle in these areas, and because the church spends so much time talking about the 5% rather than the other 95%, it’s no wonder there is so much confusion in our churches regarding sex ( and given our negligence here, it’s no wonder we struggle to speak the truth in love when it comes to the important matter of homosexuality, gender confusion, and more).

The church, when operating as she ought, is a hospital for the broken.  She is to be the place where sinners like you and I, the 100% of us, can be real about our struggles without fear of being shamed or judged so that we might discover the transforming power of grace at work in each of our lives, healing our brokenness and restoring our communion with God and each other.  And yes, that includes our sexual brokenness.

This is not to say the church has nothing to say about marriage, or shouldn’t address the 5% of our population, but it is to say that as we look at the landscape of sexuality around us, we must admit we are deeply broken and in desperate need of healing.   As I read Scripture, it says that judgment begins in the church, not upon those outside (1 Cor. 5:12).  Perhaps the most faithful and God-honoring thing we can do at such a time as this is to look within ourselves and bring to the cross our own struggles and sexual brokenness.   Perhaps the best thing we can do as a church, particularly this day as we enter into the penitent season of Lent, is to beat our chests and cry out, “Have mercy on me, Oh Lord, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

My hope and prayer for the church is that we are offering places of healing for all people, no matter what their struggle.  I don’t want to see us become so fixated on one sin that we forget that we are all sexually broken.  We all need healing.  We all need to have our minds renewed.  We all need to lay our sexual selves down at the altar and offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2).   We all must remember that our bodies our not our own, but have been bought with a price, and we are to therefore honor God with how we use them.

The one way in which “all means all,” (a refrain often used by those fighting for affirmation and acceptance), is truly accurate is in the sense that we are all broken and are all in need of a Savior who not only can forgive us, but can transform our desires into holy affections, pleasing to God and for the glory of His name.

So, to the 95% of us out there who are struggling, please know you are not forgotten amid the cacophony of voices, both gleeful and despairing, over the results of General Conference.  And you are far from being alone.  I hope you’ll seek out a church this Lent to offer up your own struggle to the lover of your soul, and find a brother or sister to walk alongside you as you both recommit to surrendering your bodies, and what you do with them, to the God who made you.