By / May 19

Rob was heading off to college, and he planned to room with a high school friend, Jack. But one phone call threatened those plans. As Rob drove home from youth group one Wednesday evening, his phone began to vibrate. He looked down to see that it was Jack, and he immediately thought that was odd. Jack sent regular texts, but he wasn’t much for long conversations. So, as soon as Rob pulled into the driveway, he called his friend back. The voice on the other end of the line shook. Jack had called to confess he’d been hanging with a number of gay friends. He was struggling with same-sex attraction and even same-sex sexual intimacy. He’d called Rob out of respect. Jack wanted Rob to know before they roomed together.

Rob had grown up in a conservative family and community. For that matter, he’d grown up in a conservative part of the country. Jack’s voice shook for a good reason; he knew this was a risk. Frankly, the confession shocked Rob. Repulsed, he took a posture of judgment. Rob was polite on the phone, but he didn’t go room with Jack as they’d planned. And when the two young men got to school, Rob avoided his struggling friend. The sad irony of that reaction was that Rob’s lust and sexual sin was equally disordered. His pattern of desire was different, which somehow made his sin seem more excusable, but his depravity was no less.

The Bible tells us that we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23). Fornication, adultery, homosexual behavior (same-sex sexual and romantic intimacy), and active transgender expressions such as cross-dressing and gender re-assignment are all sinful results of the fall (Matt. 15:19; 1 Cor. 6:9–19). God calls all Christians to repent from such actions by turning away from them in the power of the Holy Spirit. Homosexual lust, sometimes called same-sex attraction, and gender identity confusion are disordered desires, and they are also a result of the fall (James 1:13–15). God calls Christians to repent from evil desires by walking in confession (1 John 1:9) even though such desires may persist throughout a believer’s life.1See the excellent explanation of this reality in statements 4 and 5 of the “Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality to the Forty-Eighth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America,” to-48th-GA-5-28-20-1.pdf.

The short epistle of Jude warns against those who excuse all such immorality. Jude is a loving, spiritual father. He wants what is best for each member of God’s church. He begins his letter with regret, saying that he’d wanted to write and encourage the beloved with good news about their shared salvation. But instead, he felt compelled to warn them to fight against false teaching (Jude 3). As parents, we must be willing to speak to our children in the same way. Even when it’s awkward or difficult, our kids need warnings and encouragement to stand against sinful temptation and the world’s lies.

Jude 4 summarizes the heart of his warning:

For certain individuals, whose condemnation was written about long ago, have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

We must see what Jude is not saying here. He’s not condemning everyone who has disordered desires — or who commits sexual sin — to hell. In fact, Jude’s letter ends with hope for those entangled with lust (Jude 22–23). Instead, Jude rebukes those who excuse sin and justify them- selves (just as Rob did with his potential roommate). False teaching and immorality aren’t just out there in the world. Jude says they’re inside the church. Sin is a disease that’s inside each one of us.

Three types of false voices 

Jude warns against three types of false voices. Let’s look at each one and put ourselves under the microscope. Do we see these tendencies in ourselves or our kids? If so, we must heed Jude’s warnings and fight for our kids’ faith by speaking his words of warning to them as well. 

First, beware of discontentment. When we’re discontent, we fail to believe that what God has given us is enough. Contentment is not circumstantial. It’s theological. Any time we give in to sexual immorality or a desire to define our identity on our own apart from God’s design, we’re demonstrating a lack of happiness and satisfaction in God. Our desires are out of order, that is to say, our strong affections for self, sex, or power are stronger than our affections for God and his ways. It does not matter whether lustful desires are heterosexual or homosexual in nature, choosing to follow strong, competing sinful tendencies demonstrates our failure to delight first in God. 

Allowing a discontented heart to reign within us without confessing this as sin is dangerous. God rescued Israel from slavery and oppression in Egypt. They were given a great salvation, but they grumbled and complained in the desert. As a result, a whole generation died in the wilderness (Jude 5). Whether it’s through his examples of the fallen angels or the perverse people of Sodom (Jude 6–7), Jude shows us a pattern: discontent leads to destruction.

From an early age, kids need to work through the disappointment of not getting what they want. When a child can’t have another piece of chocolate before bed, it’s an opportunity for them to learn that their parent knows best. Help your kids learn to find satisfaction in what they’ve already received. And model for your kids what it looks like to bring your wants and desires to the Lord in prayer (Matt. 7:7–12). Don’t be afraid to pray with them for good desires you know you might not get. Then show them what it looks like to choose satisfaction in God’s answers and obedience to him whatever comes. The secret of contentment lies in depending on Christ for strength even when we are weak (Phil. 4:12–13).

Second, stop making excuses. Jude’s opponents claim they don’t have to obey God’s law, because, according to Jewish custom, it was mediated by angels (Acts 7:53; Heb. 2:2)2See other Jewish sources in Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1983), 58. and not given directly by God himself. Jude sees this argument for what it is: an excuse (Jude 8). God’s Word is clear. They just don’t want to obey it.

We still make excuses today. The Bible is plain. Same-sex sexual lust and intimacy is sinful (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-10). However, some say this is harsh and would openly affirm same-sex sexual relationships even while they claim to follow the Scriptures. When read- ing a clear verse like Leviticus 18:22, “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable,” they make excuses: “Old Testament law doesn’t apply today. It came from Moses, not Jesus.” But that is the same tune Jude’s opponents played.3Kevin DeYoung carefully reviews arguments like these and gives careful biblical responses in his book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).

Help your kids see the world’s excuse-making for what it is. And more importantly, help them see when they are tempted to excuse their own sin. When we make excuses, we attempt to lessen the blame or guilt we’re due for our immoral behavior and desires. Rob, in my story above, may have known from youth group what the Bible taught about homosexuality. The trouble was he’d excused his own lusts.

I can still remember when I first confessed my own struggles with lust to a friend in seminary. He asked me, “Have you practiced regular confession?” And he quoted 1 John 1:7 to me: “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” I thought to myself, “Does God really mean that?” All the excuses rolled through my head. My pathway to repentance was to admit my guilt and submit to God’s authority.

Still, I have regrets. There have been times when my own hypocrisy has crippled efforts to genuinely care for others. One writer describes how this is a common problem in the church:

Many gay people sense a double standard when Christian leaders routinely (and loudly) denounce same-gender sex while quietly ignoring morally lax attitudes toward other areas of sexual ethics. In an era when pornography and serial monogamy are both common occurrences, some gay people . . . feel hurt, mis- understood, and judged when Christian leaders harp instead on the evils of the “gay agenda.”4Nate Collins, All but Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender, and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 9.

We must stop having a different standard for others than we do for ourselves. Only awareness and honesty about our own sin will empower us to speak the truth with credibility to our gay, lesbian, and transgender neighbors.

Finally, beware of sin’s empty promises. Jude says the false teachers came in like a thundercloud but never brought rain; like a dead, hollow tree that never bore fruit; like a wandering star, no use for navigation (Jude 13). Here’s the thing about sin: it talks a good game, and it can be fun in the moment, but the promises are empty.

Our culture glamorizes relational happiness. Young girls grow up on Disney love stories, believing marriage is a fairy tale of unending personal intimacy. Young men fantasize about an indulgent honeymoon. As parents, we want relational joy for our kids too. We all want the glory of fulfillment and love. If fulfillment is the goal, it can be tempting for families to accept their child’s gender transition or their desire to pursue a romantic same-sex relationship without any qualification. Some parents feel that if they don’t affirm their child’s desires and support a same-sex partnership or gender transition, they’ll be robbing their child of a life of joy.

But true wholeness isn’t found in temporal relationships. It’s found in Christ. Christ doesn’t guarantee that besetting conditions will be resolved simply because of faith. Rather, living as a Christian in a broken world sometimes means persistently battling with desires that are contrary to God’s plan. But we do not do so without hope of reward or final healing (Luke 18:29–30). 

Jude tells us the way broken people must fight the good fight of faith: “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 21). We remember God’s love and wait on Jesus. On the last day, we’ll see that he is better than what we long for here.

*For a more in-depth treatment on teaching your children about sexuality, grab this e-book, A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Your Children About Gender: Helping Kids Navigate a Confusing Culture.

  • 1
    See the excellent explanation of this reality in statements 4 and 5 of the “Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality to the Forty-Eighth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America,” to-48th-GA-5-28-20-1.pdf.
  • 2
    See other Jewish sources in Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1983), 58.
  • 3
    Kevin DeYoung carefully reviews arguments like these and gives careful biblical responses in his book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).
  • 4
    Nate Collins, All but Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender, and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 9.
By / Aug 27

Amid the cultural upheaval of COVID-19 and what has turned out to be one of the most eventful years in modern history, a dehumanizing and predatory perversion of technology has been spreading in the darkness of our communities: pornography. While the out-of-sight nature of pornography makes it is easier to shrug off its insidiousness, especially given the social unrest of the moment, the rise in predatory marketing plans and expanded pornography use should not be left alone because of the monumental human dignity implications.

As the coronavirus lockdowns went into effect throughout the world in March, Pornhub, the world’s largest online pornography provider, announced that they were providing users in Italy free access and subscriber privileges due to the nation’s outbreak and isolation. The company has also provided similar access to users in other nations such as Spain and France. In light of the free and open access to this pornographic content, Pornhub self-reported on their official blog that daily usage increased by 38-61% throughout these European countries, which led them to also claim that “people all over Europe were happy to have distractions while quarantined at home.” According to the company’s June analytics report, “worldwide traffic to Pornhub continues to be much higher than it was before the Coronavirus pandemic spread worldwide.”

The company also demonstrates how people are also searching for virus-related pornography. According to Pornhub’s report, there have “been more than 18.5 million searches containing Corona, 1.5 million containing Covid and 11.8 million containing Quarantine. More than 1250 coronavirus themed videos have been uploaded to Pornhub, with many being viewed over 1 million times.”

None of this should come as a surprise because the pornography industry is well-suited for a worldwide pandmeic. As the Economist reports, the industry “has already largely moved online; and its consumers often voluntarily self-isolate.” This pandemic has not created a pornography problem in our communities and homes, but it has esacerbated a deep and disturbing trend of separating sexual desire from relational wholeness and marital fidelity.

The problem of porn

Statistics can only take us so far in understanding the deceptive nature of pornography and how it is ruining so many lives throughout our world. At the heart of pornography use is not just young men and women who are unable to control their sexual desires or openly reject God’s good design for our sexuality. The core of the problem is an acceptance of a worldview and morality that isolates our sexuality from our whole person. This deep division of body and mind from flesh and desires contributes to the growing trend of the normalization of pornography and the perversion of human sexuality.

The unbridled mantra of our day is that the real you is your deepest desires and emotions, cut off from the embodied nature of humanity. As Nancy Pearcey states in her book Love Thy Body, “sexual intercourse, the most intimate of bodily experiences, has been disconnected from personal relations” (emphasis original). This bifurcation of humanity has led to countless perversions and abuses of fellow image-bearers, most evidently seen in the rise of the sexual revolution and the corresponding rise of pornography worldwide.

As the culture around us continues to buy into the lie of the sexual revolution, the Church has a call to proclaim the goodness of the created order and the redemption found in Jesus Christ.

When we separate what it means to be an embodied soul, the use of pornography becomes commonplace because it allows for the sexual high outside of any relational context and reduces humanity down to what writer Melinda Selmys describes as a “wet machine,” which could also be understood as a soulless body or organic machine. The real you—the disembodied ghost— controls this machine in order to pursue pleasure in any way you see fit, regardless of the cost to yourself or others.

Alongside this division of body and soul, another dehumanizing effect of pornography is the objectification the person on the other side of the screen (or even headset, in light of the explosive growth of VR porn in the last few years). One of the ways this manifests itself is in the faceless nature of pornography and the obession over the body. God designed the face to play a major role in how we see each other as individuals and subjects, worthy of respect and honor, and made in his image (Gen. 1:26-28). As the late philosopher Roger Scruton describes in The Face of God,

“The underlying tendency of erotic images in our time is to present the body as the focus and meaning of desire, the place where it all occurs, in the momentary spasm of sensual pleasure of which the soul is at best a spectator, and no part of the game. In pornography the face has no role to play, other than to be subjected to the empire of the body. Kisses are of no significance, and eyes look nowhere since they are searching for nothing beyond present pleasure. All of this amounts to a marginalization, indeed a kind of desecration, of the human face.” (107)

Scruton goes on to show that this desecration of the face leads to a “canceling out of the subject,” rendering sex—especially in a pornographic culture—“not as a relation between subjects but a relation between objects.” Through the use of pornography, we naturally objectify the other because we are not concerned with them as a fellow human but rather as an instrument that leads to our sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure becomes the primary goal of the user rather than a deep and intimate connection with another image-bearer as a whole person. 

Predatory porn

The dehumanizing effects of pornography affect those on both sides of the screen. Not only is the viewer dehumanizing themselves by separating the goodness of sexual intercourse from its proper context, but there is also a victim who is portrayed and treated as nothing but a simple object of desire. These victims often see sexual acts as the only way to provide for themselves or even as a way to attain fulfilment or freedom.

During this pandemic, some people are turning to various pornographic websites like IsMyGirl to earn extra income. This particular site offers predatory promises by signing up to become a model. According to a March press release, the company opened up lucrative “opportunities” for furloughed or out-of-work McDonald’s employees. The popular pornography platform stated, “in an effort to help McDonald’s employees, and to make sure they can continue to provide for themselves and their families, we want to help provide them with a legitimate option.”

This “legitimate” option is nothing less than asking others to sell their bodies in order to make ends meet during these extraordinary times. But as the culture around us continues to buy into the lie of the sexual revolution, the Church has a call to proclaim the goodness of the created order and the redemption found in Jesus Christ.

While it may be tempting to overlook those stuck in cycles of pornography use or even the industry itself, Christians have the mandate to speak out against the predatory practices of the entire pornographic industry. Part of this mandate will mean that some believers will need to address and seek help for their own pornography addictions. For others, it will mean speaking out against these dehumanizing atrocities in order to expose the lies and predation of the porngraphic industry. 

The Christan moral witness proclaims that sex is not designed for a temporary high, online exploit, or even a late-night addiction. We are more than just machines. We are people created in God’s image. We are embodied souls who are offered redemption by the God who took on flesh himself in order to save us from ourselves. And our hope in the midst of this porn pandemic is that what is hidden will come to light in the fullness of time. As the church, we must be ready to proclaim the forgiveness found in the light of Jesus Christ while working to welcome, defend, and care for the vulnerable among us. 

By / Nov 21

After a 14-year-old girl was groomed by her youth pastor to trust him, he began sexually abusing her. He continually told her she was the cause of his sin and that it was her fault. He said she would never amount to anything, never graduate from college, never be loved, and never be married. He threatened her to keep her quiet. She reached the point where she couldn’t bear it any longer and spoke with her pastor, someone she thought could help, only to have that pastor pick up where the last perpetrator left off. This was the grievous situation that Susan Codone, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse in a Southern Baptist church, experienced. You can read her written account here.

As the testimonies of survivors and the statistics have demonstrated, many men and women who sit in our  church pews are survivors of sexual abuse. Churches have not always been safe places for the vulnerable. This should not be. As Russell Moore has written,

This is a primary issue, one that Jesus himself warned us about from the very beginning. The church is a flock, he told us, vulnerable to prey. That’s why, he said, the church would need shepherds who would know both how to feed the flock with the Word of God and also to protect the flock from predators who would tear them apart (Jn. 10:10-14) . . . Churches should be the safest places in the world for vulnerable people.

Many pastors and churches have seen the need to do more to protect and care for survivors, but have questions on what needs to be done or how to do that. What do you do when someone discloses abuse to your church leadership? How can you develop policies to better protect your most vulnerable members? How can you screen and train your staff and volunteers to improve the safety and security of your ministries?

What is the purpose of The Introductory Guide to Caring Well?

In a continued effort to help make churches safe for survivors and safe from abuse, the Southern Baptist Convention Sexual Abuse Advisory Group (SAAG) in conjunction with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission created The Introductory Guide to Caring Well. This free guide was written to help churches who desire to faithfully care well for survivors of sexual abuse and to implement policies and procedures to prevent abuse.

This guide is just a starting point to raise questions and direct churches to issues they should be thinking about. It isn’t comprehensive legal advice for every church. The reality is, caring well for those in your care means working through these issues for your church, your context, and your ministries. Copying and pasting information from a guide or from the internet won’t make any church a safer place.

Who is the guide intended for?

This guide was created as a resource for the Caring Well Challenge (CWC). The CWC is a unified call to action on the abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention. The goal is to equip churches to be safe for survivors and safe from abuse. The challenge provides churches with an adaptable and attainable pathway to immediately enhance their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors. This resource will help churches walk through step six of the challenge which is to prepare by reviewing and enhancing prevention practices, policies, and procedures. If your church is not already participating in the challenge, you can register here

We can and must do everything we can to protect the vulnerable and care for the survivors among us.

Whether a church is reviewing existing care policies or creating them for the first time, this guide will provide assistance to church leaders who are working to implement effective policies and procedures in their congregations. This practical guide aims to present a foundation of topics to consider, sample language and policies provided by leading sexual abuse prevention advocates, and links to further resources to help dive deeper into each area of prevention and care.

What does it cover?

Along with several other important aspects to prepare for prevention and care, the guide covers screening, best practices and preventative policies, and preparing for a disclosure.


The report explains how important it is to have a screening process for staff and volunteers:

It is critical that churches have a rigorous process of recruiting and screening employees and volunteers within child- and student-serving ministries for compatibility with the church’s values and child protection policies. A rushed recruitment and search process for volunteers or staff to meet a staffing shortage can place children and youth in danger (7).

While background checks are necessary, they are insufficient on their own. The report covers additional areas of screening including an application process, reference checks, interviews, social media reviews, orientation, and training. It also provides resources such as suggested questions for written applications or reference checks and discusses what to consider when choosing a background check provider.

Best Practices and Preventative Policies

As former prosecutor and attorney, Samantha Kilpatrick, has expressed, “Policy is not something that is created and sits on a shelf. Policy is your guide and what you live by, not what you aspire to, but what you actually do—it is who you are” (12). Our policies matter and should lead to practices that help prevent against abuse. 

When determining the specifics of policies to implement in your church, it is important to understand the increased responsibility when working with children. The report emphasizes this and goes on to say, “When working with children and youth, we recommend that at a minimum, churches meet the national standards promulgated by the Centers for Disease Control for youth-serving organizations” (13). As Victor Vieth, an advocate on this issue, has written, “Indeed true Christian witness would shatter these minimal standards and also implement policies to address not only sexual abuse within the church but also sexual abuse in the home, as well as physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, and witnessing violence.”[1]

The report discusses the following important policies for churches to consider: check in/out procedure, hall monitor, two-deep policy, parents and classroom participation, workers under 18 years of age, “known to your church” rule, open doors, social media and communication, transportation, overnight policy, and respect for a child’s privacy. 

Preparing for Disclosure

It is an incredibly courageous thing for survivors to share their stories, and that is often done with great difficulty and cost to them. When a survivor discloses sexual abuse, are you prepared to meet his or her disclosure with compassion and action? Among other things, the guide speaks to how to develop a team of caregivers to walk along the survivor, knowing local agencies that work with survivors, and being prepared to report to the appropriate authorities in compliance with state law, so that you can care well for those who share their story. 

The guide not only provides practical steps to prepare for a disclosure, such as knowing reporting laws, having the contact information for civil authorities, understanding the reporting process, and making sure your leadership and team know their obligation to report and are prepared to report, but it also gives further understanding of the surrounding issues. “The church should not act as an investigative body in criminal matters. When abuse is disclosed and investigation is needed, local law enforcement should be called” (17). Additionally, in reading the guide, you will learn more about prioritizing the needs and agency of the survivor and protecting the survivor’s confidentiality. These are important things to know as you prepare.

When Susan Codone shared her story, she wrote the following: 

It takes a movement to change the culture, not a mandate, and movements begin with the undeniable burden that things are not right the way they are and must change. In this movement, we are not an autonomous group of 47,000 churches; we are accountable as one body and capable of leveraging our enormous collective power to topple the culture of indifference. Sexual predators won’t stop just because we start paying attention. We will never rid ourselves of their evil, but we can reduce the risk and protect our own  Do you feel the conviction that things are not right the way they are? I have lived it deep in my soul for over 30 years. We have a path forward that is within our collective power. Will we take that path and fight this evil, together as one?

We can and must do everything we can to protect the vulnerable and care for the survivors among us. The Introductory Guide to Caring Well is a resource to help churches who know things are not right the way they are and who are eager to do everything they can to care for survivors and to prevent abuse. Take a step on the path of fighting the evil of sexual abuse, and prepare your church by reading the full guide here.


  1. ^  Victor I. Vieth, On This Rock: A Call to Center the Christian Response to Child Abuse on The Life and Words of Jesus (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2018), 51.
By / Oct 14

It was a drizzly autumn morning. I was marching my 7-year-old daughter through the rain trying to get her to school on time. While I was trying to hurry her along, she was gazing curiously at billboards along the street. "Dad," I heard her call, "is that poster supposed to be selling shower gel?" I looked up, having been oblivious to the view. "Yes, I answered." "Then why daddy is the bottle of the shower gel so small compared with the naked woman in the shower!" 

Quite innocently, she had observed for the first time, what familiarity can blind the rest of us to. Using our desire for sex is generally deemed a better sales tactic than desire for the actual product. There are few things in our culture that are more discussed, deliberated, sung about, or the basis for stand-up comedy than sex. As my daughter had spotted, it's used to sell everything from toothbrushes to TVs. But among all that talk there are many competing viewpoints. What has God got to say about it?

1. It doesn't make us fully human

You might say that this is obvious. After all, birds and bees do it! But our culture often seems to suggest that to not have sex is to somehow be less than human. Recently a group of Christians approached me and a friend in the street and asked if we would like to be prayed for. For some reason, we must have looked particularly in need of it that day. In any case, we were happy to accept their offer. Half way through their prayer, they began to pray for my wife. About a minute later they asked if I actually had one. When they discovered that the friend who was with me didn't, their prayers focused on asking God to provide the right wife for him and preparing him for that day. Of course they meant well, but the whole assumption behind their prayer was that life would not be complete until this happened.

The thing is, if a sexual relationship makes us complete people, then Jesus was subhuman. And Paul was temporarily insane to say to the unmarried in 1 Corinthians 7, "It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do." But Christians believe that Jesus was in fact, the most perfect human that ever lived. If he, Paul, and other key figures in the Bible didn't need to have sex, it can't be central to what it means to be fully human. To put it another way, you can be a complete bona fide human being—without sex.

2. It's a gift from God

The casual observer might think of Christianity as the religion that says no to sex. In fact, the opposite is true. The Bible teaches that God is not ashamed of sex. He invented it (Gen. 2:24)! In fact, 1 Timothy 4:4 tells us that "everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving." Enjoying what God invented, his way, and giving thanks for it, is how to do religion right. Forbidding people from enjoying sex in that context is not described as holy, but demonic.

Enjoying what God invented, his way, and giving thanks for it, is how to do religion right.

It's worth saying that it’s an explosive gift—like fireworks. I live near a big London park and get to enjoy huge firework displays synced up to Stormzy George Ezra and the Jackson 5. They are precious and powerful. But we treat them with respect so that we don't get hurt. It's the same with God's gift of sex. The fun is enjoyed best with the right framework.  

3. It's not the only way to experience intimacy

Intimacy is about being known well by another. It can happen in family relationships, friendships, and sexual relationships. A few years ago Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins were interviewed by Vanity Fair about the movie The Shawshank Redemption. Both of them have been stunned by its success. Even Nelson Mandela wanted to talk about it when they met. One of them said that perhaps most surprising is the fact that “it’s about the friendship of two men without a car chase in it . . . two men who really loved each other.” Closeness, affection, even love, without sex. In other words, intimacy is not the sole privilege of those in a sexual relationship.

Despite the fact that intimacy can be found in different kinds of relationships, as a culture we seem to increasingly neglect nonsexual forms of intimacy. We have fewer friends than ever, so much so that some have spoken of a "friendemic." The technological power to connect with more people seems to have left us more alone. Perhaps it’s time to nurture friendship a little more than we have.

4. It points to something better

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Psalm 84:10. It says "better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere." To be near to the living God blows any other relationship clean out of the water. It is a mind blowing privilege to know the warmth, love, and care of God from now into eternity. I may never travel to all the places on my bucket list. My relationships may not live up to my hopes and expectations. And yet there is a Kingdom waiting for God's people that shines like the sun from the brilliance of its King.  A touch from his powerful hand and a word from his marvelous mouth will make any sacrifice worth it.

This is an excerpt from Swipe Up: A better way to do love, sex and relationships. Check it out here. 

By / Jul 17

Abuse has, tragically, been a part of the story of more people than we dared imagine. And the devastating truth is that much of this abuse has happened within the church, by those who proclaim God’s name.

Jenn Greenberg is one of those stories. She was abused by her church-going father. Yet she has retained her faith. She has recently written a courageous, compelling book that reflects on how God brought life and hope in the darkest of situations. Greenberg shows how the gospel enables survivors to navigate issues of guilt, forgiveness, love, and value. And she challenges church leaders to protect the vulnerable among their congregations.

In light of the Caring Well Challenge, our partner, The Good Book Company, is offering an exclusive free chapter download from Not Forsaken, Greenberg’s story of life after abuse, with a foreward by Russell Moore. Download chapter two of Not Forsaken, which includes some of the telltale signs of an abuser, their character traits and behaviors, and how to spot them in your church.

Download here.

Questions for an abuse survivor

Greenberg answers a few questions below about the challenges she’s faced, the hope she has in the gospel, and the desire she has for those who are abuse survivors.

Jenn, your upcoming book tells your story of life after abuse. Could you share briefly about how you came to write the book?

I’d been wanting to write a book for a very long time. My mom encouraged me to write off and on for probably a decade. But really, I think I was still processing so much of what I’d been through, and there were a number of relationships I was working to salvage that I feared would be made more tenuous if I went public with my story. For that matter, I was still trying to figure out exactly what had happened to me.

Having grown up with abuse, abuse was my normal. So sorting out what events were inappropriate or even criminal, and which were more common issues every family dealt with, took a lot of time, maturity, and growth for me. Getting married to a godly man was a major factor in that. I slowly acclimated to being treated in a loving, honorable, and thoughtful manner, and as that became my new normal, I was able to look back at my old normal and realize how abnormal and wrong it had been. But until some distance and objectivity was achieved, I found it very difficult to communicate, let alone write about my experiences.

What has been most instrumental in your healing? 

I’d have to say my husband has been the most instrumental person. He’s helped me figure out how to cope with and manage PTSD and the fallout of trauma, including depression, anxiety, distrustfulness, and panic attacks. He never made me feel foolish or damaged. In fact, one of the things he always told me was, “You’re depressed because you’ve had a depressing life,” or “You’re anxious because you’re used to expecting betrayal and stressful behavior from others.” So, he always made me feel acknowledged and reasonable, where my tendency was to feel stupid and crazy, because that’s how my abuser had always made me feel whenever I complained or cried.

And of course, the other thing my husband did for me was to tell my dad to stay away from me and never talk to me again. Our marriage is probably a very extreme example of what it means to “leave and cleave.” I left my dad’s house, and Jason cut off that poisonous relationship for me. He’s also managed a lot of difficult communications and served as a mediator in relationships that—maybe weren’t abusive per se—but were very high-stress because of the damage my dad’s abuse had done in our lives.

How might abuse that is in the church affect a survivor differently than abuse outside the church?

Abuse in the church, or really any kind of spiritual abuse, specifically affects our relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s why it’s so dangerous. Its consequences can span out of this world and into the next. For example, I may have a completely shattered home life, yet still find comfort in corporate worship or personal prayer time, because God is my shelter in the storm. The church should be a sanctuary—a safe haven—from this broken, sin-riddled world. But when that haven is infiltrated by an abuser, or our understanding of the Bible and God is warped and corrupted by heresy and bad theology, the church may no longer be a safe place, and God may no longer feel like a refuge even though he really is.

If we’re being taught dangerous doctrines, such as, “Women aren’t created in the image of God,” or, “Jesus won’t forgive you if you don’t forgive and forget,” and, “Turn the other cheek to the person who won’t stop beating you up,” those lies and twistings of Scripture can drive a wedge between us and Christ. They can have eternal, spiritual consequences, both for the victim and for the abuser. This is a classic millstone-around-your-neck situation. We do not want to be the person who causes “one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:2). I firmly believe that no human being, and not even Satan himself, can stop God from saving someone. But being the person or church who impedes that process should really be a terrifying prospect to us, and one we’re eager to avoid.

How can churches cultivate an environment that is safe for survivors to seek help?

A solid, biblical teaching of repentance is a good place to start. That may seem counterintuitive, but we need to understand what genuine repentance looks like, as opposed to the false repentance, lies, or excuses abusers so often spout. A genuinely repentant person will be willing to get counseling. They’ll be willing to make drastic changes in their lives and will fight hard against their sinful inclinations. They’ll talk to a pastor. They’ll want the church, their friends, and yes, even the law, to hold them accountable. They will humbly and eagerly make whatever amends they can. They will never demand forgiveness or shift blame onto someone or something else. In fact, like the thief on the cross, they will accept the consequences of their sins in this life.

Unrepentant abusers are not like that. They want to cover up, hide, break you down, shut you up, shame you into silence, and shift the blame off themselves. It’s the old, “If you hadn’t spent so much money at the grocery store, I wouldn’t have hit you,” or, “If traffic hadn’t been so bad on the way home from work, I wouldn’t have gotten drunk.” Those are not apologies, those are excuses, and lies.

When pastors, congregations, and victims have a healthy understanding of what repentance looks like, they’ll be better able to identify an abuser and react accordingly. If victims understand that their church leadership has a high view of authentic repentance, they will feel more confident seeking help. They’ll be assured that their pastor will understand the ongoing pattern of sin oppressing them as dysfunctional, unbiblical, and concerning. So, whenever and however you preach about repentance, you’re telling victims what you will expect of their abuser.

What are some things Christians have done or said that have been hurtful? 

Well, the worst thing anyone ever said to me was when this person compared me to Potiphar’s wife. She was the woman who tried to seduce Joseph in Genesis 39, and when he resisted her, she assaulted him and falsely accused him of rape. So, that was an incredibly hurtful thing for someone to imply, particularly because my abuse happened during childhood. I never tried to seduce anyone, and my dad was far from a godly man like Joseph.

That’s an extreme example, but any kind of questioning of the victim’s integrity, modesty, or intelligence is really hurtful. We want to avoid responses like, “What were you wearing?” “How much did you drink?” “Why were you even at that party?” Questions like this are just not helpful. And of course, the other hurtful thing people did was to try to hush me, advise me to “get over it,” say things like, “the past is the past,” and basically show a lack of concern or understanding for how grief works. Thankfully, I don’t think that will be an issue for many of your readers, as they probably wouldn’t be reading this interview if they didn’t care.

On the other hand, what are the things they have done and said that have been helpful?

I told a woman at our church about how I’d been compared to Potiphar’s wife and how I was really upset about it, and her response was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. She said, “Jennifer, you’re not like Potiphar’s wife, you’re like Paul.” That response just left me speechless with gratitude, and I was humbled anyone could think so highly of me.

We know from his letters that Paul was beaten, falsely accused, held captive, berated, bullied; the list goes on and on. He was treated heinously, yet God maintained his faith through it all, and in gratitude, Paul boasted in the glory and grace of Jesus Christ for sustaining him through his suffering. So, having that reassurance from friends and loved ones—that our victimization is not our fault, and no sign of a weak faith or of God’s disfavor—is monumental to the recovery process. It shifts our perspective from works and legalism to grace and love. We need to be very clear that our abuser’s sin is not our fault, that we are not defined by our pain or our past, and we have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of because Jesus Christ has made us pure.

How might the church care for a male survivor differently than a female survivor?

You know, I’d honestly encourage them not to. I’ve spoken to many male survivors, and one of the reasons they stay quiet is because they feel like they won’t be believed or sympathized with as much as a woman would. So, I think we need to make a special effort to treat male survivors with the same love and mercy we’d extend to a female. After all, Abel, David, Jonathan, Joseph, Paul, and even Jesus, were males who suffered abuse. So, male survivors, from a biblical perspective, are not oddities, or weak, or dishonorable at all. In fact, I hope that’s an encouragement to any males survivors reading this; you will find relatable stories written all over the pages of Scripture, and God himself can relate with your suffering.

One thing I do try to do, anytime a survivor confides in me, is thank them for their trust. It’s a really difficult thing to put your pain into words. But to share those words with another—that confidence is pretty much the biggest compliment anyone can ever give you. So, appreciate it. Be grateful for it. Express that you understand that talking to you wasn’t an easy or pleasant decision.

I guess I could add, particularly for male survivors, but also for females, is don’t pressure them to seek counseling right off the bat. Sometimes that first hurdle of telling someone, anyone, is emotionally exhausting, and insisting on counseling or therapy right away may overwhelm him or her. You can suggest it or ask if they want it, of course, but if they’re not ready, don’t push it. Unless someone is in danger, there’s no rush. In fact, being patient and not rushing things can help them progress to that next step faster.

What are a few resources you’d recommend to a friend or a spouse of a survivor that wants to grow in awareness and understanding to better care for their loved one?

Well, at the risk of sounding self-promoting, this is exactly why I wrote Not Forsaken. I began writing my book as a series of personal letters to my husband to help him understand what I was going through, what happened to me, and why I am the way that I am. Those letters sort of evolved into chapters. I started excavating my memories and emotions and undergoing a lot of self-discovery, and that’s when I realized I was writing a book that other people might read and find helpful. Jason was never abused, so, while he’s always been incredibly supportive, sympathetic, and protective, I had a deep need to communicate my pain to my husband and help him know the grieving I was experiencing.

One of my hopes and prayers for Not Forsaken is that it will help spouses, friends, pastors, and counsellors, understand on a deeper more personal level what survivors go through. As far as other resources, I’m at a bit of a disadvantage. For the past few years I’ve actually avoided reading other people’s books about abuse recovery because I didn’t want them to color my own story or influence the memories of how I felt back then.

Sarah Walton and Kristen Wetherell have a book, also put out by my publisher called Hope When It Hurts. It’s not specifically about abuse recovery, but it’s about maintaining faith and hope in God through difficult circumstances. David Murray also has a lot of helpful resources, including the book Christians Get Depressed Too, and of course his blog, HeadHeartHand, which frequently covers issues such as forgiveness, anxiety, and sin in ways that I think are very helpful and edifying for abuse survivors.

Many survivors struggle with church, and some even struggle with faith as a result of the abuse they endured. What has helped you remain in the church after abuse?

God. Really, it’s all God. I wrote a song, during the early stages of my recovery, and the lyrics begin, “I have been whittled down to a spider’s thread.” And I really felt that. I felt like just one more disappointment, one more broken trust, one more ignorant comment, would destroy me on a spiritual level. However, God is faithful, and he faithfully did CPR on my soul a multitude of times.

One thing I would encourage any survivor to do is to view the church of God as a body beyond their individual congregation or denomination. If you’ve experienced abuse or negligence in your individual church, and the memories and grief from that are inhibiting your ability to relax and worship, it’s OK to seek out another congregation where maybe you aren’t suffocated by past hurts. Sometimes it’s very hard to trust the sermons of a pastor who’s given you unbiblical or harmful counsel. It can be hard to sit next to someone in the pew who previously disbelieved you or disregarded you. You know, people are people everywhere, and no matter what church you attend, you’ll be a sinner surrounded by sinners. However, creating some space between the people who have hurt us in the past—whether intentionally or accidentally—can give us room to emotionally exhale and worship Jesus again with other believers. I think that’s very important. We can’t allow sinful people to get between us and God.

What hope and encouragement might you give a fellow survivor reading this interview?

I’d say, this world is not our home. You know, so often I longed desperately for a dad who loved me and a family that was whole. I yearned for a pastor and a church who understood me and accepted me as Jesus Christ did. The truth is, our home is Heaven. Our Father is God Almighty. Our brother is Jesus. Our family is the true, real, genuine, spiritual Church. Our disappointment in our abusers is justified, as is our anger, grief, and distress. But in time, when we’re able to anchor our hopes entirely on something better, Someone higher, that’s when we start feeling joy again. We’ve got to get away from sin and wicked people who Psalm 1 says are dust on the wind.

No matter how bad things get, no matter what situation we’ve come out of, no matter what dark evils cast shadows from our past, Jesus Christ is faithful to us. He is our Wonderful Counselor who always understands, our Mighty God who is powerful to save, our Everlasting Father who will never abandon or betray us, and our Prince of Peace who is preparing a home for us in Heaven (Isa. 9:6; John 14:3). Do not let this passing evil age trick you into thinking it’s all that there is. The fact that you’ve made it this far, and survived so much, is proof that God loves you, and is actively sustaining you despite the wickedness of others.

By / Oct 16

How do young adults find romantic partners?  What are their patterns of behavior in romantic relationships?  Why is there a decrease in the number of young adults who are marrying? How does technology affect romance? These are some of the questions that Mark Regnerus’s new book, Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage and Monogamy, seeks to describe.  

An associate professor of sociology at University of Texas-Austin, Regnerus analyzes the transformed landscape of romantic relationships and sexual ethics in which all young adults (believers and non-believers) find themselves. This work builds on his two previous related titles: Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers (2007) and Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying (2011).  What follows are his responses to questions posed about his current research and this shifting environment for young adults.

1. The subtitle of your book is "The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy." However, the Daily Wire asserts that you position women as the "gatekeepers of sex." So do you see this as a transformation of men because of changes in women? Or is there a simultaneous transformation occurring in this marketplace of relationships?

I don’t “position” women as the gatekeepers of sex. They simply are, in consensual relationships. Except in tragic cases where sexual assault occurs, without her “yes,” sexual activity does not happen. While the title talks of a transformation in men, there is no less of a transformation going on among women. But it’s fair to say that the mating market shifts first affected women, and in turn the same among men. And now it’s a self-sustaining cycle for both.

2. What are the rising perceived barriers you have in mind in the Washington Post opinion piece to marriage? Further, how is this phenomenon the result of factors that may be beyond the control of these 20–30 year olds?

Many of the same dynamics that affect the wider population of young Americans is affecting Christians, too, since Christians do not inhabit a distinctive “mating pool.” Most of the factors I describe are beyond the control of individuals—yes. We may control what we do, but we can’t control what’s going on around us, such as the rising median age at marriage and the declining share of Americans that are marrying. And those certainly affect Christians, whose patterns aren’t quite the “national average,” but they’re not radically different, either.

3. What effect do you see this transformation of marriage and sex having on society in the long term? Especially in regard to sexual norms but also in terms of education, economic levels, etc.

Minimally, the flight from marriage—especially among the poor and working class—will only exacerbate inequality in the country. And we’ll see it across domains, including education and the labor market. The poor will get poorer, by being alone, while the wealthier marry at higher rates and combine assets. At a more personal level, we’ll see a growing distance between men and women, increasing coarseness in their (shorter) relationships, less trust, more loneliness. It’s not that there won’t be marriages, but they’ll be less common. And those who want to marry won’t understand what it takes to accomplish it.   

4. You talk about the easy availability of pornography and other tech based sexual behaviors as a way that sex has been transformed. Does this mean that these tech-based approaches to relationships are inherently flawed or is there a use for them romantically (I'm thinking here about online dating or dating apps)?  Also, how do you see the new advances in AI and sexual robots being a factor in the future?

Online dating can be used for good ends, but its underlying logic—which objectifies persons, reduces them to a handful of key traits, and makes sifting through them an efficient process—cannot really be reformed. So yes, they are inherently flawed, but that doesn’t mean people of good will and intentions can’t “override” that. They can, but it’s not as ideal as meeting someone naturally in the social environment. I think most people would agree with that. As for “sex robots,” I see very little standing in the way of their becoming more common. Mass production will make them less expensive, and—like with pornography—it will further cheapen “real” sexual intercourse between persons, undermining women’s “gatekeeping” power. In a very real sense, this is what happens when free-market capitalism turns its attention on the home and on our most intimate relationships. Nothing is sacred to the unscrupulous today.

5. In the face of this shift away from cultural incentives to marry, does the uncertainty around issues pose the possibility that young adults might be convinced of the benefit of traditional practices/timeline? You seem skeptical of this in the Washington Post article. Why? 

I very much believe that young adults desire traditional practices—like marriage—and on sensible timelines. But our attitudes toward these things do not drive our behavior like one might rationally expect. I tell a story in Chapter 5 about Nina, a 25-year-old from Denver. She wants something good—to begin a relationship with a close friend, to marry him, and raise a family with him. But she just does not know how to get there. Her past experiences with men have drained her emotionally, as well as taught men that sex is cheap. As I said in the book, “When she looks around her, she knows something is wrong while perceiving normative (but problematic) behavior patterns in others and in herself.” Young people long for the good, the true, and the beautiful, but they have lost sight of what it takes to get there: discipline, restraint, patience, boundaries, and sacrifice. And they’ve forgotten that we’re in this together—not to compete with each other—but to help each other get to where so many still want to go, that is, to stability, love, and marriage.

6. Do you see any implications for this on an individual level in terms of how people, specifically Christians, are interacting with one another and should navigate this shifting cultural landscape with regard to dating, romance, and relationships?

I do. I think many Christians know what it takes to marry, and they know what behaviors promote marriageability. In other words, they get how this works. And yet Christians can be prone to “poaching” on both sides. By that I mean they can rush things—committing too early to the first decent person who agrees to a date, for fear that it’s their only chance. And on the other side, Christians can readily succumb to the sexual dynamics of the modern dating scene, hopping into bed too quickly. We’re often not as strong as we think we are. There tends to be wisdom in navigating the relationship “market” with the help and advice of friends and parents. They can often see things we cannot.

7. How do you see your research being useful for a local pastor or church leadership seeking to offer guidance to a congregation considering this transformation in these areas of romance and relationships?  

The primary reason I wrote the book is to explain our situation, not to map the way out of it. I don’t have good advice about what can solve this. However, I think the book enables us to “see” the situation, which can be extraordinarily helpful, because what is ailing young adults here is often invisible to them. They know there’s something wrong. They tend to blame themselves, or “the men,” or “the women,” or to criticize “the culture.” But we didn’t get to this point without the technology—the Pill, porn, and online dating—that has made sex easier and hence “cheaper.” Seeing how it happened is a good first step toward helping each other navigate the relationship scene more prudently and chastely.

By / Oct 9

There is another scandal in the news. This time it involves allegations that a longtime Hollywood movie mogul used his power and influence to sexually harass numerous women across several decades. And this is but the latest example. Similar scandals have recently brought considerable upheaval to the conservative cable network, Fox News, which witnessed the departure of both executives and on-air talent in the wake of multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

There is a lesson here: The failure to appropriately harness our God-given sexual desire is not a partisan issue; it happens indiscriminately on the Left and the Right. But an issue of even greater consequence lies beyond the problems of Hollywood and the media. For far too long, sexual harassment and other forms of sexual misconduct have plagued the church and harmed her witness.

Sexual harassment and human dignity

Sexual harassment is an issue of human dignity. If we affirm that every person bears the image of God, then we also affirm that every person possesses an intrinsic and inviolable dignity (Gen. 1:27). Making aggressive and unwanted sexual advances violates a person’s dignity and personhood. But to speak plainly, recognizing this principle isn’t usually the problem. There is almost universal agreement among Christians that sexual harassment is bad. Instead, our problem is that we often fail to recognize subtle breaches of this principle, or worse, fail to take the appropriate action when we do.

Sexual misconduct should scandalize us. God hates it. And we must not tolerate it.

Sexual harassment is more than physical abuse. It can manifest in a number of different forms—including verbal and non-verbal communication—all of which can devastate and ruin lives. For this reason, Christians need to be attentive, not only to our actions, but to all of the ways we interact with others to ensure that we are treating those around us with dignity and respect. We must not assume that our behavior is permissible simply because it doesn’t cause any physical harm. Sexually-charged words and actions that stop short of physical contact can be just as threatening and just as wicked.

Dealing with sexual misconduct

No one should feel safe to be an abuser. There is no position of authority that should insulate or excuse a person for inappropriate sexual behavior, and certainly not in the church. Authority requires accountability.

For victims, there should be no shame in speaking up. If someone comes forward with accusations of sexual harassment, those allegations must be handled with the utmost seriousness. Anyone subjected to sexual harassment or abuse should be met by the church with grace and compassion. Further, those possessing knowledge of such abuse should make every effort to be sure the matter is thoroughly investigated, and that the appropriate actions are taken. And it must be said, in the case of abuse involving a minor, call the police. When warranted by the circumstances, Christians should immediately contact the appropriate authorities without guilt or hesitation.

A word to Christian leaders

As Christian leaders, we should go out of our way to be sure that everyone around us feels valued and safe. Sexual harassment should be an issue of zero tolerance. The church is not a “Boys Club.” It’s a family. We should repudiate displays of misogyny and bravado and champion a culture of unity and mutual respect.

Authority is a stewardship. Anytime a Christian finds themselves in a place of elevated authority, they must remember that they are no longer standing on equal footing with those they are called to lead or serve. In such cases, there is an increased risk of manipulation and abuse, and extra measures of caution should be taken This is why Peter exhorts pastors to be attentive to their conduct as they shepherd God’s flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4).

Christian leaders should aim to live as examples. Our heralding the gospel’s message of redemption would be of little value if the message is undermined by our misconduct toward the men and women Christ died to redeem. The last thing we should do is allow our actions to present a stumbling block other than the gospel. There is simply no place for sexually-charged language or innuendo among those entrusted to lead the people of Christ.

Ending sexual harassment

Sexual misconduct should scandalize us. God hates it. And we must not tolerate it.

Jesus said those who love him will keep his commandments (John 14:15). To obey Jesus is to esteem the imago dei. And Jesus said the world would recognize his people by their love (John 13:35). Ending sexual harassment gives the church a chance to do both. God help us. The world is watching.

By / Sep 11

Men, there are two charred craters in the Old Testament that remain as a warning to us: Ai and Gibeah. Both cities fell by the same military tactics, and although the weapons of war have changed and technology has advanced, the same strategy is being employed in Christian homes day after day. Let us take heed lest we suffer the same fate.

Both Ai and Gibeah experienced initial victory. The towns were undersized underdogs, but at first strike they came away victorious. However, the opposing general used their over-inflated egos against them. He commanded his troops to retreat as before in order to draw these men away from their cities and into the open field. Meanwhile, soldiers who lay in ambush crept over the walls of the town, slaughtered every man, woman, and child, and burned the city to the ground. When the men realized they had been fooled it was too late. As they turned to look back, all that was left was a column of smoke rising to the heavens.

Our Enemy is using this same strategy in each of our homes. He allows us minor victories. He gives little resistance. He allows us to become confident in our own strength. He draws us out of our homes and into the open field. And while we are off waging war in our own strength, he burns our homes to the ground.

We are soldiers. We want to go off and fight the battles of the Kingdom. But we must be careful that we are not leaving our homes vulnerable to Satan’s attack. He will let you succeed in a 70-hour a week job while also leading a small group and teaching a Sunday School class. While you are off waging war, fooled into thinking you are strong enough to handle it, he is destroying everything you hold dear. When you take the time to look over your shoulder from the battlefield, there may not be anything but ashes left.

Sometimes Satan himself whistles the tune, “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war…” When the Christian soldiers are busy fighting battles of lesser consequence, he creeps into the home front left undefended. On the battlefield we are valiantly victorious–so we think. But when we return home, our marriages are in shambles, our children abandoned, and our personal lives destroyed. In pride, we were so excited about going off to win battles for Christ’s Kingdom that we forgot to defend what was most important.

Brothers, may we protect our first priorities. If you are leading hundreds to Christ, but your marriage is a wreck, your kids have no dad, and your computer is full of cookies from porn sites, Satan has drawn you into the open field and your home is burning. I have no doubt that many of the pastors and Christian leaders whose names appeared on the Ashley Madison list were experiencing great victories in their ministries. Satan was content to bide his time–retreat, retreat, retreat–until the city was left unguarded. Then with a quiet flash of light and a smoldering flame, he burned down the home front–and no one was there to put out the fire.

The battle belongs to the Lord. He will have victory. We have to make sure that our personal and private lives at home with our families are guarded, well-defended, and bolstered. This may mean stepping away from ministry duties. This may mean fighting less battles. Men, this is not a sign of defeat. It is a sign that we know our true weakness. We know how easily we are lured away from the city and into the field. Protect your private life from ambush. Love your wife and your children well. Protect your devotional life and your relationship with the Lord. Keep your life pure. Build up your defenses.

Our Lord said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36). That’s the story of Ai. That’s the story of Gibeah. Will that be your story? Too busy fighting to win the whole world for Christ, forfeiting your own home and your own soul. Consider yourself warned.

This was originally published here.

By / Dec 19

About a month ago, I put a pot of water to boil on the stove and, while waiting, opened Facebook. As I scrolled, I saw the same article posted by friend after friend, and the headline screamed out below each one: “A Rape on Campus” and then, to my shock, “at UVA”. Trembling, I clicked through and read the article about my community, Charlottesville, Va., with incredulity.

We are all now familiar with the fallout. Outrage. Details in doubt. Editorial notes. Journalists in question. As a whole, the story and its aftermath have become convoluted and confused.

But here in Charlottesville, the foundational issue at the heart of the article—sexual assault—lives on. There have been hushed conversations, confessions of long-held trauma, and confusion regarding the university administration. All of it has been enveloped in a heavy air of sadness. The fraternity house brought to focus in the article has been vandalized and picketed. Professors have staged protests. At my hair appointment, my stylist said the allegations are all anyone wants to talk about.

Church on the Sunday following the publication of the article was somber, just as it was the day the state law enforcement used the school we meet in as the staging area to search for a missing UVA student named Hannah. We have many students who attend our church, and they sat muted and somewhat dejected at the thought of another nationally-seen and nationally-commented-on situation involving their own. What is happening in our city? First Hannah Graham. Now this. The university and Charlottesville and—let us not forget—individual lives have been traumatized this year.

How do believers think about sexual assault?

I wondered that morning what I've wondered each day since: how do I think about all of this as a believer? Not only that, but as the wife of a church planter trying to reach this city, when do I speak instead of listen, and how do I speak into the issues facing our community?

Regarding the rape allegations on Grounds–what UVA calls its campus–and how suddenly the darkness seemed to rip open before the world's eyes, I heard someone say to believers, “This is God's grace to us in this city. It is not God's grace that evil would be perpetrated against women on Grounds, but it is God's grace to us that it is coming to light, because light drives out darkness, and because we can speak to it, and we can point to a God who offers healing, redemption, and an unmarred identity through Jesus.”

There is so much more to sexual assault than one story and one woman and one journalist and one magazine. Responding to sexual assault is about justice for those who thumb their nose at a God they think doesn't see what is done in secret. It is about systemic, cultural sin issues and the far-reaching effects of that sin. But mostly, sexual assault is an affront to the Imago Dei, the “Image of God.” As believers, we must not only respond with Imago Dei in mind but live with Imago Dei in mind.

What does this mean exactly?

Men and the Imago Dei

It means that the men among us must recognize all women as image-bearers of God. If image-bearers, and they are, they cannot also be merely bodies to lust for, overpower, abuse, or degrade. They cannot be merely images to use for self-gratification. They can't be considered inferior or valuable for only some things. For a man to recognize a woman as an image-bearer, he will never attempt to empty her of mind, personality, heart or soul. Instead, he sees each one as created by God to bring him glory. This has a thousand different implications for the Christian man. Can he both see a woman as an image-bearer of God and as a visual object in pornography? Can he see God has created woman for his glory and never consider how her spiritual gifts can be used in the church? Can he value biblical womanhood and not protect and defend women in harm's way? Christian men, fight in your own hearts and lives to recognize the Imago Dei in women!

Women and the Imago Dei

Imago Dei has a thousand implications for Christian women as well. When stories appear about sexual brutality, men often are lumped into a stereotyped mass of lustful, unfeeling beasts who only care about fulfilling their physical desires. If image-bearers, and they are, they cannot also be merely lusting bodies or domineering personalities. For a woman to recognize a man as an image-bearer, she will never attempt to empty him of mind, personality, heart, or soul. Instead, she sees each one as created by God to bring him glory. Can she see a man as both an image-bearer of God and respond condescendingly to him? Can she see a man as created for God's glory and then speak of him with bitterness? Can she value biblical manhood and not value the specific men in her life? Christian women, fight in your own hearts and lives to recognize the Imago Dei in men!

I am not saying that women can affect or prevent sexual assault by how they treat men, as if victims are somehow responsible. I am simply saying that this is how we think about the root issues when things like sexual assault are brought to light. And this is how we respond: living as if we and others are made in the image of God.

Bringing light into the darkness

If there is one thing the Rolling Stone article got right, it's that Charlottesville cultivates a genteel image. It is a beautiful place, and it's full of fascinating, bright, well-educated, ambitious people. From a spiritual perspective, however, there is a darkness difficult to describe that lurks beneath its external beauty. There is a culture at work, one that seems to speak loudly on Grounds, that is wholly contrary to a biblical framework. It's why my family is here, why we're preaching and teaching the gospel, and why many biblically minded believers in the churches scattered across this region are working to bring Light into the darkness.

This fall has been traumatic, but it is God's grace to us that we can now respond to the sin that's come to the surface. This is the very reason we're here in this city. The university, we trust, will do everything in their power to address the situation properly, but it is the Church who must hold out the truth of Imago Dei, who must live Imago Dei. Please pray for us in this.

Though it may not be playing out on the national stage, every community hides its darkness. The Church can play games and congratulate itself on being among the saved and pretend that the wounded, the victim, and the victimizers do not sit among us, or the Church can go to the darkness with the Light. Let us be a people who are willing to enter in the hardest situations, and let us be a people who fight for and live the Imago Dei.