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What does fleeing sin look like?

Despite endless attempts to do so, fleeing sin can’t be done halfheartedly – that only sets the stage for failure. A tepid turning away is like a drunk who doesn’t buy beer anymore but still goes to all the same parties and hangs out with the same drunken crew. He’s pushed off his sin, but only a short distance. So what does fleeing sin look like? It’s radical. It involves complete commitment. In Genesis 39 we find an example of this radical commitment. When Potiphar’s wife propositions Joseph first he refuses her, and, when that isn’t enough and she grabs hold of his garment, Joseph takes off running. Now, grown men don’t run away, do they? It’s undignified. And they certainly don’t shed clothes to get away. But that’s what Joseph did. She was holding his cloak, so he let her keep it. We don’t know exactly what state of undress this left Joseph – was he naked, or did he just lose his outer layer? – but we do know this was no calm and cool departure. This was a man desperate to do what God wanted, even if it left him clothed only in righteousness. This is complete commitment. Matthew 5:29 outlines another radical response to sin: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” This passage is most often explained as a figure of speech, not to be taken literally. And that’s true enough – Jesus’ point here is to highlight just how important it is to flee sin but He isn’t prescribing the specific means of doing so. However, we shouldn’t “explain away” the radical nature of what’s being said. God can’t stand sin and we need to do whatever it takes to fight our entrapping, entangling sins. The reason that we don’t go plucking out eyeballs is because there are other means – more effective and less harmful – of fleeing sin. But these other means can be painful too, and we may be tempted to dismiss them as too radical. But if that leaves us trapped in our sin, then we need to hear what Christ says next: better a one-eyed man in Heaven than a two-eyed man in Hell. This is about our salvation! If your smartphone causes you to sin… Computers and smartphones are a part of our daily lives – most jobs involve them, and almost everyone has one. But they are also portals to pornography. If that’s a problem for you, then in Matt. 5:29 Christ prescribes a radical, and vital, solution: “if your computer/smartphone causes you to sin, pluck it out.” But how can we manage without a computer? How can we keep in touch with our friends without a smartphone? Is it even possible today to do without these devices? Well, plucking in this case might not mean doing completely without. They can be managed via various technological and practical means. A person can: install accountability software like Covenant Eyes on their computers that monitors where they go on the Internet and then shares it with an accountability partner get filtering software that will block most (but not all – nothing is 100% effective) of the harmful content on the Internet use software or hardware means to limit the time your computer is hooked up to the Internet place their computer in a public area in the home, where other can see what you are up to when you are online install monitoring software on their smartphone swap their smartphone for a simple cellphone (some still allow you to text friends, but not surf the Internet). What if none of this is sufficient? Then, Christ tells us to remember, better computer-less and on your way to Heaven, than a social media king on your way to Hell. If your friends tempt you to sin... Temptation comes in all sorts of forms, and some of us will find it harder than others to resist peer pressure. If your good buddies are into all the wrong things, and you find yourself pulled in again and again, then you need to give up on this group of friends (Prov. 13:20, 1 Cor. 15:33). It doesn’t matter if you’ve known them since elementary; don’t place your friends above God.  If your job tempts you to sin... Some jobs involve travel, leaving you alone in your hotel room with the porn channels, or maybe it’s simple risqué R-rated films, readily available. Maybe all that time alone on the road causes temptation. Or maybe you work in an office where there is a growing pressure to conform to their politically correct culture (and in doing so deny your Lord). Or you work with coarse colleagues who have nude pics on the walls. Or you have dishonest colleagues who pressure you to fudge figures. There’s any number of ways your job can be a source of temptation. There is also any number of ways of managing this. It could involve creativity, and a willingness to make strange requests. I heard of one man who required that any hotel room he stays at have the TV removed from his room. Maybe it means speaking to colleagues and asking them to take down their girlie pictures. It could be embarrassing. But that’s the level of commitment God calls us to. If a workaround isn’t possible, and temptation at your job is unavoidable and causing you to sin, then don’t think it too radical to quit…even if you don’t have another job lined up (this is what deacons are for). If your “me time” is causing you to sin... We are called to flee from more than just sexual temptation and drunkenness – Matthew 5:29 applies to all of life. So, for example, God also wants us to control our anger…even if you are a parent running on very little sleep. Tiredness can leave anyone short-tempered, and some of us have to watch out for this even more than others. Maybe it’s been a long day, the kids are finally in bed, and now we just want a little “me time” before we head to bed – just an hour of TV, or a couple chapters. We just want to unwind. Except, that we’re exhausted. And that exhaustion has meant that instead of being a loving disciplinarian, we’ve been a ticked off grump every time our kids have been kids. So it might only be nine o-clock, but if your “me time” is causing you to sin, you need to pack it in early. Flee to Now there is more to fleeing than simply fleeing from. Running from can give us only the temporary sort of victory that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 12:43-45. Here He describes a man who has a demon leave him. Success? Well, no, because after the demon leaves, the man doesn't replace it. When the demon comes back he finds his former abode "unoccupied" and so brings seven other demons to come join him, and "the last state of that man becomes worse then the first." This is what comes of fighting sin on our own. Our fleeing can't simply be an aimless fleeing from but must be deliberate fleeing to our Saviour. He can help us not only put off our old sinful ways, but renew us, so we can put on a new self (Ephesians 4:22-24) "which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth." Conclusion When we are entangled in sin it may feel like there is no way out. It can feel like we are caught in such a complicated situation we are unable to get free. It’s important then to understand that fleeing sin isn’t complicated…but it is radical. And while fleeing sin isn’t complicated, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Proverbs 22:6 says that if we train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old “he will not depart from it.” That works both ways, for good or evil. If you’ve been partaking in the same sin again and again, you’ve “trained” yourself – you’ve carved some deep ruts that will be hard to get out of, and easy to fall back into. That means fleeing from sin may be hard to do. But it isn’t hard to figure out what to do. It is a matter of placing God as first and throwing off everything that hinders (Hebrews 12:1). The reason we fall into sin, then, is because we count everything as too high a cost. Now anyone who has been entangled in sin knows they can’t get free on their own; that’s why in setting out the radical nature of what fleeing from sin involves, it’s vital we not forget the radical nature of what has already been done for us. Those entangling sins? Jesus has paid for them, so He can loose us from them. We need to flee from sin, yes, but more importantly, we need to run to the God who loved us so much He died for us to set us free. So what does fleeing sin look like? It means running from temptation and putting off every sin and weight that hinders us. It means turning and sprinting full out – arms flailing, legs churning, spittle flying, maybe even cloak leaving – towards our Father and his secure embrace. For more, see John Piper on Hebrews 12:1 and running....

Sexuality

NO SATISFACTION: James’ Epistle on pornography

If I were to do a sample of readers to ask what they think is the driver behind pornography, my guess is that the most common answer would be just one word: lust. As far as it goes, this is true. But we need to get behind that word, so to speak, to find out what we actually mean by it. A good place to start is by studying the words of James in his Epistle: “From whence come wars and fighting among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? You lust and have not. You kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain. You fight and war, yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:1-3). I have bolded out three phrases here, because it seems to me that they are key to understanding lust (and incidentally not just lust, but all sorts of other sins that James alludes to). Now, I don’t always use the King James Version but did here, because it uses the word “lust” where other translations use “passions” or “desires.” “Lust” gives the better flavoring here, because while desires and passions can be both good or bad, lust is what happens when passions and desires go awry, which is what is happening here. Lust, according to James, is at root a desire to have something that we haven’t got and which isn’t rightfully ours, to seek to obtain it but always fall wide of the mark, and consequently to fail to be satisfied. It is a vicious circle in which failure to obtain the satisfaction we desire drives us to seek it again in other places. This, by the way, at least partly explains why pornography, as with drugs, is often a gateway habit, with users going on to seek harder and harder stuff in order to be satisfied. But of course true satisfaction never comes. Sexual desire isn’t bad, until porn twists it Like all other vices, pornography is driven by the twisting of good and noble inclinations in a direction to which they were never meant to go. Pardon the pun, but there are no “original sins.” There is “Original Sin,” but there are no “original sins” in the sense of actions that are entirely thought up by the devil or by man with no reference to God. Rather, all sins are perversions and mockeries of something good that God has given to man. Imagine a father who buys his son a toy drum, only to later find him using the stick to whack his little sister. The stick was meant to be whacked. It was meant to beat something. But it wasn’t meant to beat people. And so, although some of the actions involved are nearly identical to what the stick was meant to be used for, in his mind and in his actions he has twisted it out of all recognition so that it is now actively used for vastly different purposes than the one intended. This is how pornography works. God has given us the good and noble inclination to want to be satisfied. Physiologically, he has given most of us the good and noble need to be sexually satisfied. Why do I call it good and noble? Because it is the consummation of and the most intimate part of the marriage relationship, which the writer to the Hebrews tells us is honorable (Hebrews 13:4). And without it, humanity would die. What pornography does it to take this God-given desire for satisfaction, and the physiological need for fulfillment, and wrench it out of all recognition, fixing the gaze on another object than the one intended. Twisted, it can’t satisfy Yet the irony is that by using the gifts that God has given us for entirely different and incompatible purposes than the ones intended, we find that fulfillment eludes. If the sexual drive was created to lead us towards intimacy, how can pornography, which is entirely non-relational and involves people who have never even met, fulfill? The answer, as hinted at by James, is that it can’t. To the extent that it appears to users to provide some fulfillment, it does so only in the way that scratching an itch does – entirely temporary relief, but with the catch that when the itch returns, it will be even harder to appease than before. Herein lies the pornography trap. We are designed to find fulfillment in a real relationship, but it is partly the fact that pornography is non-relational that makes it so appealing. Relationships are hard. Life is often a monotonous routine. Living with another sinner is often far from easy. But as for the people in the pictures or the video, you don’t need to worry about their sins. You don’t need to live with them and deal with their issues day after day. And so the thrill and excitement of being taken out of normal life into some fantasy world where real satisfaction apparently resides can become intoxicating. No faithfulness is required to obtain satisfaction there. No commitment is required to achieve satisfaction there. No dealing with another person in an ongoing relationship is required to get satisfaction there. And yet the irony is that true, lasting satisfaction is the one thing it can never bring. Lots of reasons to stop, one remedy What then is the remedy? That might seem like an odd question. Surely I’m not about to suggest that there is one remedy for all of this? Actually I am. There are plenty of reasons and inducements for somebody who has a pornography habit to break it, but ultimately there is only one remedy, which I’ll come on to that in a moment. But first here are some reasons and inducements. 1. Come to see how much it dehumanizes, both yourself and others Pornography is by its very nature dehumanizing. Not just for the people who make it, but also for the one viewing it. By its nature it objectifies and commoditizes people, which means that if you are a user of pornography, you are both an objectifier and commoditiser of people. That’s not a good thing to be. 2. Understand that it cannot bring you the satisfaction you desire As mentioned, the use of pornography is rooted in a desire to be satisfied. Yet as any counselor of those with a porn habit will tell you, it has never yet brought anyone true joy or lasting happiness. If you are looking for satisfaction in something which demonstrably cannot bring you what you are looking for, it’s probably a good time to question whether you are seeking satisfaction in the right places. 3. Recognize how ridiculous it looks There’s something to be said for just sometimes stepping out of yourself and your circumstances, so to speak, and looking at what it is you are actually doing. What do you call fantasizing about having some sort of sexual encounter with a person you’ve never met, never will meet, and if you did meet them it would never take place? Isn’t it about as absurd a scenario as it’s possible to conjure up? 4. Stop referring to your habit as an addiction The word addiction has become one of the most abused words of our day, and is often used as an excuse for responsibility avoidance. While I have no doubt that pornography produces certain chemicals in the brain that can take a powerful hold on us, the idea that we become passive victims is not borne out either biblically or practically. Biblically, pornography falls into the category of sexual immorality, and Scripture is plain that this is a sin that we should avoid, can avoid, and must avoid, chemicals notwithstanding. Practically, the fact that many “porn addicts” break their “addiction” shows that, though undoubtedly hard, it can be done. “Porn addiction” is in reality a “porn habit,” and it is there to be broken with willpower and determination. 5. God tells us that those who don’t break with it will be excluded from the Kingdom of God In 1 Cor. 6:9-10, the Apostle Paul says this: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Despite the wonderfully elaborate attempts of many modern Christians to ignore, twist, deny, camouflage or dispute much of this, there it is. Seems pretty clear to me. Make of it what you will. The solution? No half measures Yet finally, as I mentioned above, whilst these are all good reasons and inducements to break the porn habit, they are not the remedy itself. What is that then? Biblically speaking there is only one, which is this: “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). That’s it. All the reasons and inducements in the world will not help the user of porn to break his or her porn habit unless they are prepared to do the one thing necessary. Flee from it. Don’t walk, run. Don’t dabble, don’t skirt along the edges, don’t case furtive looks. Get away from it. Have nothing to do with it. Rob Slane lives with his wife and six children in Salisbury, England, about 90 minutes drive from Wales. He is the author of A Christian and Unbeliever discuss Life, the Universe, and Everything and contributes to the Samaritan Ministries blog where a version of this article first appeared under the title "The pornification of society, part 2."...

Sexuality

Is Porn more like heroin, or driving a car?

Explaining why it's evil to our non-Christians friends ***** In recent weeks, I’ve come across what seems like a multitude of articles on the subject of pornography, especially articles focused on the fact that more and more teenagers and children are now viewing pornography on a regular basis. The latest piece to catch my eye came from Rod Dreher on The American Conservative website. At one point, Mr. Dreher writes a paragraph in which you can almost hear him weep in sorrow as you read it: “This society has a death wish. I wish I had some idea how it could be saved. What concerns me most of all right now is the horrifying complicity of conservative, even conservative Christian, parents in the spiritual, moral, and emotional ruin of their children and of their moral ecology because they, the parents, are too damn afraid to say no, my kids will not have a smartphone, I don’t care what they and society think of me.” I hope that readers will share his sorrow, and that it might induce parents who have perhaps been blasé to take a long, hard look at their situation and take whatever action they can to protect their children’s innocence. The issue of pornography is a difficult one to even talk about, but we must. I want to consider the societal phenomenon, addressing what I believe is one major way we are being deceived, and how we can communicate the nature of that deception to our non-Christian friends and neighbors. It’s not just a problem for children I would assume that all Christians reading this know instinctively that pornography is wrong. At the same time, I am also aware that we can often fall into the world’s way of thinking on issues, and that this can mean that we accept its solutions to problems and fail to see the real issue. One of the ways we are doing this around pornography is increasingly seeing the major problem as being its spread to children, rather than pornography itself. Of course the spread to children is a massive problem, but it is not the problem. Here’s an example: an article by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic quotes one of the world’s biggest “porn stars” expressing concern that we’re not doing enough to stop pornography getting in front of children. Yet the same article states that “accessing hard core porn is (properly) legal.” This now seems to be the default position: pornography is fine for adults, but we just need to keep it from children. Now it is of course true that pornography filtering down to children is a very great evil. Young minds are more susceptible to habit-forming from new stimuli in ways which adult minds are perhaps not. Nevertheless, if we concentrate all our efforts on simply stopping pornography getting into the hands of children, we miss the point completely. For the problem is not primarily that pornography is falling into the hands of children, but rather that as a society we have opened the floodgates to allow porn in and normalized it. It is absurd to think that it is possible to normalize something like this, and for it not to filter down to children. Children, by their very nature, want to grow up to be adults, and they often want to do adult things before their time. So if we have largely normalized pornography amongst adults – and we have – then no amount of paywalls and banning of smartphones or anything else is going to make much difference. We have become a pornographic society, and children, who aspire to do what adults do, will generally find ways of getting their hands on it by hook or by crook (though of course responsible parents will take as much action as they can to prevent their children coming into contact with it). Drugs? Or driving? Look at it like this. There are two types of activity that adults seek to protect children from. First, there are perfectly good activities that we want them to grow up into, but for which they need to come of age before we allow it. For instance, driving a car. Then there are activities which are bad in and of themselves, and which we try to protect them from not just because they aren’t old enough to do them, but because we don’t ever want them to do them. Taking heroin would fall into this category. So which category does porn fit into? Is it like driving? Or is it like heroin? Is it something a child should one day be able to do, only not just now? Or is it like heroin; something that no sane parent would ever want their children to get into, no matter how old? If our culture puts it in the same category as driving a car, something to be avoided as a child, but something that is perfectly normal once you turn a certain age, then it can be safely said that we have lost all moral compass and are quite sick. If, on the other hand, we see it in the same category as heroin, then at least we would be acknowledging it as a problem to be dealt with. But why don’t we want kids seeing it? Sadly, I would say that we have moved in the last ten years from treating it in the heroin category to the driving category. “We don’t want you to touch it now, but of course there will come a time when it becomes your right to consume as much of it as you like,” is essentially the message. And yet the schizophrenic nature of this is obvious when you think about why it is we don’t want children seeing it. Isn’t it because we know it pollutes their minds? Isn’t it because we instinctively know that it demeans and degrades them? Isn’t it because we are well aware that it will give them a terribly unhealthy and warped view of the opposite sex? Of course it is, but are we really naïve enough to think that it doesn’t have the same sorts of effects on adults? But they’re adults, and we can’t stop their rights, can we? And, of course, if we did enact a law that bans it all, such a law at the point we currently find ourselves at would be as effective as King Canute commanding the sea to go back. What I am suggesting is that our culture urgently needs to stop looking at the main problem as being one of trying to prevent pornography falling into the hands of children. That is only byproduct of the much larger problem society needs to acknowledge: the normalization of pornography among adults. Rob Slane is the author of “A Christian and Unbeliever Discuss: Life, the Universe and Everything.” A version of this article first appeared on SamaritanMinistries.org and is reprinted here with the author’s permission....

News

Porn and the smartphone: parents should be freaking out

In a May 2 piece in the American Conservative, journalist Rod Dreher said that when he goes to speak at Christian colleges, the professors, staffers and campus ministers he’s talks with tell him that “pornography is a massive problem.” How massive? “A campus minister who works with young undergraduates headed for professional ministry told me that every single one of the men he mentors has a porn addiction. Every. Single. One.” Parents who grew up with the Internet might think they understand the temptation their kids face. But this, the smartphone generation, is facing something new. While their parents could put their desktop computer in a public place, our children now have a portal, in their jeans pockets, that allows them access to porn everywhere and always. Dreher’s solution? It’s not as simple as any one thing. But he doesn’t like smartphones. What concerns me most of all right now is the horrifying complicity of conservative, even conservative Christian, parents in the spiritual, moral, and emotional ruin of their children and of their moral ecology because they, the parents, are too…afraid to say no, my kids will not have a smartphone, I don’t care what they and society think of me. Now Dreher isn’t advocating an anti-technology lifestyle. He knows we can’t just bubble-wrap our kids and ban them from the Internet for the first 18 years of their life. If we did, then, when they move out and get their first smartphone, it won’t be much better for them than if we just handed one to them at age 10. So no bubble-wrap, and no technology bans. But we also shouldn’t hand our children tools without first figuring out if they have the character and knowledge to use them properly. We wouldn’t hand our son or daughter a chainsaw without some lessons and precautions and it isn’t hyperbole to say we should be much more cautious about handing them a smartphone. After all, the chainsaw can only hurt or kill them; pornography can enslave them. To conclude his piece Dreher shared a conversation he had with a two readers who lead a Christian school. He told these men about how, in the article he was writing, he wanted to help parents understand just how “serious this situation is regarding kids, porn and smartphones” but that he didn’t “want to freak them out.” “Freak them out,” he was told, “They need to be freaked out.”...

Adult non-fiction, Internet, Parenting

Parenting the Internet Generation

Parenting has always been intimidating – it wasn't so long ago we were kids, and now we're raising them? – but one thing parents of the past could count on was that they knew more than their kids. For today's parents there is one very big part of life where that isn't true – when it comes to the Internet, and Apps, and smartphones, and social media, then even our youngest children can quickly outpace us. They can know how to use these tools better than we do, and yet they aren't mature enough to deal with all the dangers that also come with them. So what's a parent to do? Our children live in a "pornified" culture and it seems that no matter how protective we are, it's only a matter of time before our children run across something on the Internet that we wish they'd never seen. So how can we do all we can to push that eventual exposure to as far out as we can? And how can we prepare them for what they need to do when it does happen? To answer those questions and more I can't think of a better resource to turn to than Luke Gilkerson's Parenting the Internet Generation. It is not only fantastic, it's even free. Parenting is foundational 144 pages / 2016 What makes Parenting so much better than other books on this topic is that it digs much deeper. This isn't simply a pornography problem; what it really comes down to is Christian parenting. If we want our kids to resist temptation, and come to us when they do mess up, then we need to know how to discipline them rightly, as God instructs us. The best way to show just how good this book really is might be to share some excerpts. So I'll begin with one of Gilkerson's biblical-based thoughts on discipling rightly. Paul reminds fathers, “Do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21, NIV), and again in another letter, “Do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NIV). Training and instruction happens as parents create an environment of authority, structure, correction, and consequences, but Paul knows how easily parents can become frustrated and resentful in the process of parenting. This, in turn, leads us to embitter and exasperate our children by breaking their spirits. One of the most common ways parents do this is by using shame-based strategies to get their kids to behave. What exactly is “shame-based” parenting? It is a family dynamic where shame – the looming threat or presence of disapproval and disfavor – is the primary motivator used for good behavior. This can show up in a thousand ways. •  Expecting perfection by overestimating what their sinful hearts can do •  Failing to really listen to them as we correct them •  Speaking bitter or harsh words (“What is wrong with you?” “When will you ever…?” “You always…” “You never…” “You idiot”) •  Showing little compassion •  Giving the cold shoulder or being dismissive •  Pushing kids to excel in peripheral tasks •  Showing favoritism to other siblings It is a rigid environment that leaves children discouraged and exasperated. This kind of environment often trains children to be obsessive over “doing the right things” in order to be approved – or else totally rebellious. This kind of environment has unwittingly made so many children ripe for sexually sinful habits. See where Gilkerson is going here? How we parent can either help our children resist temptation...or push them towards it. Most of us have indulged in this shame-based parenting at one point or another, and if we are going to help our kids, then we need to stop. We need to repent. The alternative is too horrible to consider. As Douglas Wilson puts it (in a quotation Gilkerson includes): Gracious fathers lead their sons through the minefield of sin. Indulgent fathers watch their sons wander off into the minefield. Legal fathers chase them there. I read this and found it daunting. It seemed simply too much for me, or me and my wife, to pull off. We know we're going to mess up, fall short, and just generally fail our kids. But it’s just that understanding that’s key. We are going to sin, but our gracious God is ready to forgive a repentant sinner. When we fall on God's grace then even our failures can be instructive to our children, showing them the graciousness of God that they can depend on. So we don't need to be perfect. But, our parenting goals should be clear: Make this your goal every day: In each phase of the day when I interact with my children, I will either be an example to them in my obedience to and love for God, or I will be an example in my repentance. Contents In nine chapters Gilkerson lays out: 1. How porn harms our children (Introduction and Chapter 1) 2. What parents need to teach our children and model to them (Chapters 2-6, 8) 3. Tools parents can make use of (Chapter 7 and the Appendices) 4. What the gospel is, and how it applies to the matters or parenting and pornography (Chapter 9) Each chapter ends with a half dozen or so reflection questions and some of these are so very pointed they may draw blood. A few examples: "If our sin is small, then our Savior must be small. But, if our sin is outright rebellion, then our Savior must be a true rescuer.” In what ways have you made Jesus small in how you’ve parented? If you have a tween or teen, have you ever directly asked him/her, “Have you ever seen pornography?” What would you say if he/she said, “yes”? Are you ready for that conversation? At some point, it will happen — maybe not in your home, but maybe at school, on the bus, or at a friend’s house. Does your child know what to do if he/she ever sees porn? Each chapter also includes a link to a short (4 minutes or less) video summarizing what the chapter just went over. These questions and video are great study aids, probably best suited for a couple to go through together, but they would work great for a weekly parents' study group too. Whether you're going through it alone, or with a group each chapter has a lot to chew on so the best pace is probably just one chapter per week. The material is simply too thought-provoking to run through any quicker. Conclusion This isn't a perfect book - I could list some minor quibbles (I think the distinction Gilkerson makes between guilt and shame is a bit confusing) – but I've not run across any better. It is the best guide available on a subject parents would love to have help with. I should mention that the author works for Covenant Eyes (CE), which sells accountability software – this is software parents can use to monitor all the websites their children visit. This isn't spying - the CE logo pops up every time the computer loads up, so children will know they are being monitored. This is, instead, a parent coming alongside their child, helping them resist temptation, and being aware of when they don't. The book is made available for free on their website (you do have to give your name and email address to get the e-book but they won't spam you). While companies generally give away books for promotional reasons, and I'm sure that CE will gain a few clients because of this book, CE's motivations for giving away this book are of the very best kind. It's clear they want to help parents. And with this excellent resource, they most certainly are. You can get a free pdf copy of Parenting the Internet Generation here...

Sexuality

FIGHT! A message from the most porn-riddled country in the world

In 2016, Google pronounced the country where I pastor, Papua New Guinea (PNG), the most porn-riddled country in the world. This “fact” was established by the number of times the word "porn" or "pornography" had been typed into their search engine. However, I know the Western world is not any better off; they merely search under more perverse words, which cover the full orb of sexual perversions known to mankind. What saddens me more is that those who claim allegiance to Christ are not free from this perversion. A recent study from Barna Group revealed that in America: 77% of self-attested Christian 18-30 year-old men (with a growing number of women) view porn at least monthly. And 77% of men 31-49 view it at least every three months, while over 20% are addicted. This is huge. If you view porn weekly, monthly or bi-monthly or whatever the interval of time between viewings might be, there are serious signs of addiction prevalent in your life. And you will feel the impact: viewing porn throws one's faith into question, one’s life into a constant cycle of guilt and shame, and can throw the sacred institution of marriage into jeopardy. Do your deeds match what you profess? We can talk about being justified by faith. We can boldly proclaim that, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). We can say, "I am a sinner saved by grace”, and say it a thousand times a day, but if we are living to gratify the flesh then the fact is we are not pleasing God! Further, it may evidence that we may not even belong to Christ. As we read Romans 8:7-8: “…the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” The word hostile here in Romans 8:8 may be better translated as enmity.  That means you cannot look at porn websites, or read trashy, porn-riddled novels like Fifty Shades of Grey, or watch nudity in films or in online games or on apps (and etc. and etc.), and have peace with God. You are creating enmity between you and God. But not only is there enmity between you and God, this also moves on a horizontal level.  Hostility grows, especially between spouses and family members, at the cost of this perversity.  The fact is, you cannot look at porn and be at peace with or be a blessing to your spouse – present or future – or your family, your friends, or anyone else. One cannot do both. You cannot feed the flesh and feed the vertical or horizontal relationships with love and truth. To feed the one is to starve the other. And if we feed the flesh, satisfying its insatiable hunger for more, we leave those we love with all the pain of a relationship starved of the attributes that sustain its healthy growth.  Hope Is there hope?  Yes. The Gospel still rings with the clarion call of reconciliation between us and God, in Christ. And through that restored relationship, we can also find hope for reconciliation between us and those around us. There is hope because it is still true that "…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Amen.  There is grace for the wretched man or woman, like you and me, who daily confesses their sins and addiction and seeks God’s grace!  Grace upon grace. However, this is the point of our salvation:  the new birth in Christ by God’s Spirit creates a radically new lifestyle! As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.” And if you are found in Christ you do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who living according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5). There is another clarion call in this Gospel of grace and that is that we need to fight! Fight the flesh.  Make it our slave.  Make it obedient to Christ (cf 1 Corinthians 9:27).  In short, we need to take up spiritual arms. Make war! “No more murmuring about our imperfections,” as Pastor John Piper has said, rather: "make war.” Make war with all the artillery and armament of heaven: the sword of the Spirit; the belt of truth; the shield of faith; the helmet of salvation; the feet fitted with the Gospel of peace; the breastplate of righteousness and prayer. (Ephesians 6:13ff). Fight with all the resources at your disposal: accountability with spiritual friends or mentors transparency with those close to you seek counsel from your pastor or elder filters on everything (eg. use Safe Eyes, or Covenant Eyes, or others) if your smartphone enslaves you, throw it out pray and meditate upon the Gospel promises daily as you trust in Christ’s righteousness And do not surrender.  The cost of surrendering to the flesh is too high. I live in a country where fights are sparked at the drop of a hat. But I assure you that the fight worth fighting is this one. And know that the blessed value of winning this fight daily, in the grace given us from above, is indescribable peace and a clear conscience! That is a precious gift! May this Gospel of grace and truth flow through this porn riddled land we call PNG, and no less every country in this world lost in deep sexual perversion. Pastor Ian Wildeboer is a missionary from the Free Reformed Churches of Australia serving in Papua New Guinea. A version of this article first appeared in the June 2016 issue of Tulait Magazine and is reprinted here with permission. In that publication the article was paired with a very good article by John Piper on 6 strategies for fighting lust....

Entertainment

Here’s the problem with just closing your eyes during the sex scenes

Several years ago, Kate Beckinsale was conned into signing a movie contract that required nudity—something she didn’t want to do. With her acting career in jeopardy, she found herself browbeaten by the director. At long last, she gave in to intimidation and performed the nude scene, which made her feel, as she put it, “violated and horrible.” Afterwards, she secretly urinated in the director’s thermos in revenge. In more recent history, Jennifer Lawrence wrestled with inner turmoil while filming her first sex scene (for the sci-fi movie Passengers). During an actress roundtable” for The Hollywood Reporter, Lawrence described the experience: I got really, really drunk. But then that led to more anxiety when I got home because I was like, “What have I done? I don't know.” And he was married. And it was going to be my first time kissing a married man, and guilt is the worst feeling in your stomach. And I knew it was my job, but I couldn’t tell my stomach that. So I called my mom, and I was like, “Will you just tell me it’s OK?” Notice three sobering facts about Lawrence’s experience. First, she battled anxiety before and after filming the scene. Second, she felt intense guilt for sexually acting out with a married man. Third, she tried several coping mechanisms to eliminate her distress: alcohol (which only made things worse), telling herself everything was okay, and asking for consolation. 1 Would you believe me if I told you that stories like these are numerous? Sadly, it’s true. The amount of pressure and intimidation Hollywood places on actors – especially women – to undress and sexually act out for the camera is commonplace. When asked about sex scenes, celebrities often reply with something like, “We’re actors; it’s a part of the job.” Indeed, those who want to make it as an actor won’t be taken seriously if they have qualms about nudity and bed scenes. The movers and shakers in Hollywood have acquired what seems to be an almost limitless amount of power to enforce the sexualization of actors. To cite one more example (this time from the world of television): director Neil Marshall once commented on how he was pressured by an HBO executive to put more sex and nudity in an episode of Game of Thrones: …one of the exec producers…took me to one side and said, “Look, I represent the pervert side of the audience, okay? Everybody else is the serious drama side – I represent the perv side of the audience, and I’m saying I want full frontal nudity in this scene. So you go ahead and do it.” Notice the implicit acknowledgement that the nudity had nothing to do with art – that it was designed solely for the satisfaction of a perverted audience base. The producer pushed his weight around, and the director (and everyone else) acquiesced. All of this to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Follow the money What gives entertainment executives the authority to force others into such compromising situations? What gives a producer the power to manipulate a director into catering to perverse fantasies? What gives a director the right to coerce an actress into agreeing to do more than she meant to? If this page was a mirror, you would be looking at the answer. You see, when average folks like you and me support films and TV shows like these, we are perpetuating the sexualized culture we say we deplore. My guess is that, because it’s often hard to see how “A” eventually leads to “X,” we think little of doing “A,” even if we abhor “X.” We may complain about the objectification of women (and men) in our culture. We may complain about how movies are ruined by sex scenes and gratuitous nudity. But if we then turn around and financially support that culture, something is askew. It doesn’t matter if you avert your eyes during sex scenes – at the end of the day, studios care about profit margins. That being the case, prudes and perverts give equal support for a film when they buy a movie ticket or purchase a DVD. The truth is, if people stopped financially supporting the abuse of actors, the industry would change. But producers follow the money, and there’s money to be made through the objectification of entertainers. As one acquaintance of mine with ties to Hollywood once put it in a Facebook discussion: I know how many of the women in these scenes (and probably men too, you just don’t hear from them) have talked about throwing up in the bathroom between scenes, crying, stressing out constantly, etc. So basically, I’m paying for that person to do that for me? .... There are perhaps no handcuffs involved with these performers, but social constraints/expectations/demands/culture can be equally, if not more, powerful. And that’s the problem. I’ve lived in Hollywood. I’ve worked with prostitutes one on one. The line between the two worlds is thin. I know no other culture more willing to use people and throw them away. Consider also that plenty of actors in the entertainment industry are not professing believers. They do not subscribe to a Christian sexual ethic. Still, their consciences bother them when it comes to nudity and sex scenes. Yet most moviegoers, including many professing believers, say their consciences are clear when they watch the consciences of others be violated – for entertainment, no less. They pay for actors to be abused or debased and experience no qualms about it. In contrast, Paul calls Christians to give up their rights if it means hurting the conscience of others (see 1 Corinthians 9 and Romans 14). We have it backwards: we participate in the violation of others’ dignity so we can benefit from their moral and emotional compromises. Granted, the context of Paul’s teaching on this matter is the relationship between members of the church, but I don’t think that gives us an excuse to disregard the wellbeing of unbelievers. As patrons of Hollywood, our pursuit of personal freedom has hijacked our ability to consider the needs of others. We have adopted a consumeristic mindset that disregards most every other factor in favor of us having a positive, cathartic experience. If the story is interesting enough, and if it “demands” the objectification and dehumanization of actors, then the needs of the story win out. Brothers and sisters, this should not be! What about actors who undress willingly? Now, it is true that some actors do sex and/or nude scenes willingly, with little or no manipulation involved. Even so, that shouldn’t be of supreme importance to people of faith. Not if we take seriously God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves. With this command in mind, whether or not actors agree with the nudity and sex acts required of them is actually beside the point. Why? Because it doesn’t negate the fact that they are being objectified and degraded as human beings in what is essentially a pornographic act.2 It is unloving of us as Christians to support such actions, even when they are free from coercion. We see this principle at work in Romans 13, which says loving your neighbor includes avoiding adultery. The point is not that all adultery is rape. Some adultery – much of it, in fact– takes place by mutual consent. Does that suddenly make the adultery excusable? Not according to Scripture. By its nature, sexual perversion is sin, even if it takes place between consenting adults. All forms of immorality are inherently unloving. That’s the Bible’s stance. That should be the Christian’s stance. In contrast to this, the film industry has created a socially acceptable ménage à trois: two actors commit sexually intimate acts, and audiences sit in on the proceedings with complete approval. The law of love What finally opened my eyes to this culture of sexual abuse was Wayne A. Wilson’s book Worldly Amusements. Wilson himself became aware of the issue after watching a movie in which the director had his own daughter perform sex acts on screen. The fact that a director would sacrifice his child’s dignity for the sake of a movie changed Wilson’s perspective. He now implements what he calls the “law of love” in his movie watching habits: he refuses to support films that sexually objectify or degrade actors. He now asks himself, “Would I approve if my sister were asked to behave or expose herself in any way that undermined her purity?” It is a question we would do well to ask ourselves. This law of love exhorts us to consider the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of men and women in front of the camera. Is that restricting for a movie-going audience? I suppose so. It has definitely kept me from visiting the theater on several occasions where I otherwise would have willingly and excitedly done so. Not a restriction But this law of love is not “restricting” in a lastingly negative sense any more than monogamy is a negative restriction for married couples. It’s a law that protects, not harms. It’s a law that governs for good, not evil. It’s a law that helps one cultivate the greatest motive known to humankind. In the end, what is truly more freeing: living a self-centered or an others-centered life? The Bible’s answer is the latter. Think about the implications here. How would it affect you if you put the law of love into practice? What if you refused to financially support movies that objectified actors because you wanted to treat them with the humanity they deserve? Would you not start viewing the actors you encounter in the movies as real people and not just potential sources of eye candy or gratification? Would the law of love not help you fight sexual lust even more effectively with gospel power? Would it not help you keep from focusing on yourself (which is what lust does) and instead focus on the needs of others (which is what a healthy, Biblically-informed sexuality is all about)? Would that not be a gloriously countercultural way to demonstrate God’s love to your fellow human beings? I think it would. In fact, my personal experience has been that it does. I dare you (in the most positive sense possible) to prove me wrong. Endnotes 1 For a more in-depth treatment, see “A Tale of Two Sexual Assaults on Jennifer Lawrence” at CapStewart.com 2 This argument is fleshed out in my article “Promoting Porn for the Glory of God?” at CovenantEyes.com, and in the “Sex Scenes = Porn” blog series at CapStewart.com Cap Stewart blogs about movies and the arts at CapStewart.com...

Popular but problematic

Fifty Shades of Grey - the phenomenon

I have to begin this piece with a couple of confessions. The first is that I have not yet read Fifty Shades of Grey, the bestseller that “everybody” is talking about. The second is that I have no intention whatsoever of doing so. The downright tawdriness of it all just doesn’t appeal. Now, as everyone knows, it is bad form to review a book that one has not read so rather than fail miserably in the attempt, my aim is simply to look at the Fifty Shades phenomenon through a Christian worldview lens. If you are wondering why we even have to consider this sort of thing, the answer is simply this: the walls of the church and of families are probably more porous than they have ever been, and rather than light pouring out from them into the surrounding culture, the traffic is largely the other way. Stuff is getting in, much of which is not good. Pretending it doesn’t exist is not an answer. Even Christians are reading books like this, which is obviously not good, but even if they weren’t touching it, the influence of such stuff would still manage to find its way into Christian families and churches as once cultural taboos become cultural norms. The only way to stop its pernicious effects is to know what it is we are dealing with and to be fully persuaded that we have the antidote. What is it? Just in case you have managed to remain blissfully unaware of its existence, E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey is the biggest selling book in the world right now, having sold somewhere in the region of 40 million copies. It is also reputed to be the fastest selling paperback of all time, knocking J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series off the top spot. The plot centers on the “relationship” between a naïve 22-year-old woman, Ana Steele, and Christian Grey, a successful 27-year-old businessman whom she meets when interviewing him for a college paper. She is attracted to him and hopes for a romance, but it soon becomes clear that he is not the “flowers and chocolates sort” and the only kind of relationship he is interested in is a purely sexual one involving BDSM (bondage, dominance, sado-masochism). I won’t bore you with any more of the tacky details, suffice it to say that the rest of the book is littered with scenes that would find a comfortable home in any “hardcore” pornographic magazine. Why feminists love/hate it The most interesting thing about the Fifty Shades phenomenon is that the overwhelming majority of its readers are women. Why interesting? Well here we are half-a-century after the apparent emancipation of women, and millions of women are eagerly lapping up a pornographic book about a girl who submits to an overbearing, domineering deviant and lets him do pretty much whatever he wants to her. How empowering! How emancipating! Feminism can be mighty confusing to those of us outside the loop. Do feminists approve of pornography or do they condemn it? Is it a liberating and empowering force in the hands of women, or is it a demeaning and oppressive tool in the hands of men? Well that all depends on which feminists you happen to be speaking with. During the late 70s and early 80s a schism opened up amongst what were known as the Second-Wave Feminists, and in the ensuing Feminist Sex Wars two groups emerged, both using the term “feminists” to describe themselves, yet managing to come up with diametrically opposite views on issues such as pornography. A quick search of the web reveals precisely this divide over Fifty Shades of Grey. For instance, over on Feministing.com are the “Fifty Shades is liberation” sisters who speak in gushing terms about how refreshing it is for women to be able to read such apparently enlightened literature without feeling ashamed. One commentator says, “To me, the popularity of Fifty Shades is evidence that, at the very least, women like reading about many kinds of sex – and people should probably try doing all of them, because they all seem really great.” Meanwhile over on Hercirclezine.com, the “Fifty Shades is oppression” sisters stand aghast wondering how on earth their fellow feminists could possibly endorse such a book. As one commentator says, “These books tell women that they want not only to be objectified … but also that they want to be dominated – in the bedroom and outside of it. It’s pornography in its purest form, and pornography thrives because men demand it.” I must admit that if I have to stand with one group, I come down fairly and squarely on the “Fifty Shades is oppression” side. Of course pornography turns women into objects – that is the entire point of it. It is specifically and intentionally anti-relational. Fifty Shades of Grey is no different, and if the “Fifty Shades is liberation” sisters really believe that books such as these will not do their bit to further chip away at what is left of honor and kindness between the sexes then they need to do three things: Get with the real world; Study the statistics on the increase in sexual and violent crimes over the last 50 years and set them next to some figures charting the explosion in pornography; Go figure. What biblical submission isn't But much as I am with the “Fifty Shades is oppression” sisters in their criticisms of the book, this is as far as any alliance can go. They are right in-spite of their worldview not because of it. This is seen in the following comment posted on Hercirclezine.com, reacting to the news that the Anglican diocese of Sydney is about to include a pledge by the bride to “love and submit” to her husband: What I find especially disturbing is this new trend happening in Sydney in which women have adopted a trend from Fifty Shades of Grey. Their wedding vows includes a submission contract. This is degrading and is a giant leap backwards. All of these women who revel in being submissive are pathetic sheep stuck in a different time era (or possibly need psychological help). Somehow this lady and many others like her, seem to believe that the kind of submissiveness being vowed in the Sydney marriage service – lifted from Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians – is the same as the kind of submissiveness being portrayed in Fifty Shades of Grey. For such folks, there are only two possible types of submissiveness in male/female relations: Islamist-style, where the woman is nothing but a drudge, emptied of any thoughts of her own and made to walk behind her husband dressed in something resembling a bat costume, or sexual-chattel submissiveness, where the woman is a mere slave to the demands of some overbearing deviant. And so when Paul writes that women must submit to their husbands, he must be urging either Islamist-style submission, or sexual deviance submission. Or both. Right? Well, not quite. This is what Winnie-the-Pooh might have called A Very Big Misunderstanding. Let me put it like this: Fifty Shades of Grey did not come out of a Christian culture. Nor could it have come out of a Christian culture. The culture it came out of is a secular humanist one which puts sex and the right to an orgasm on a par with the liberties granted in the Bill of Rights. So to the feminists who confuse the Apostle Paul with E.L. James: much as you might loathe Fifty Shades of Grey, you didn’t get it from my worldview, you got it from yours – a worldview that specifically rejects Christianity and all it has to say on male/female relations. What it is For the record, the type of submissiveness envisaged by Paul does not resemble the relationship of shoe to doormat, nor the relationship of pimp to prostitute (see Hebrews 13:4), but rather a wife submitting herself to a husband who “loves his wife as Christ loves the church and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:22,25). Of course it will be objected that many women aren’t married to such selfless men and so how can they be expected to submit. True enough, but Paul is writing to Christians within the context of the New Covenant, and so if any husband behaves in such a way as to make it just about impossible for her to submit to his headship, then as a last resort she has every right to go to the elders of the church, and they have every obligation to deal with it. At the same time, such an objection is a red-herring. For the feminist rejection of Paul’s teaching is not that a woman might have to submit to a lousy skunk, but that she has to submit to anyone – even to a self-sacrificing, loving husband. What they simply don’t get is this: the Christian woman’s submission is not a sign of inferiority. It does not mean that she is in any way beneath her husband in dignity or honor, or that her opinions and desires are of any less worth than his. On the contrary, she is his equal in every respect – the glory of her husband as Paul makes clear elsewhere – but with one exception: in the hierarchy established by God it is the husband that is the “family CEO.” He is the one who bears responsibility for its direction and he is the one who will have to give an account for what went on in it. Fifty Shades of Grey will no doubt continue to draw in its millions, and in so doing will give the hordes of women reading it a false sense that what they are reading is female emancipation. It is not. Neither is female emancipation to be found in first rejecting a Fifty Shades type of submission and then rejecting an Ephesians kind of submission because you can’t tell the difference. The truly emancipated woman is one who first trusts in Jesus Christ and then seeks a man who strives to resemble Him. Submitting to that kind of man will be her glory and her delight. This article first appeared in an edited form for Samaritan Ministries International....