Tweets of the Week 5.25.16

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

 

Gospel Wheel Evaluation: Gospel Hub

The Gospel Wheel is a discipleship tool developed by The Summit Church to help believers identify how balanced their Christian growth is and how rooted their efforts to spiritually mature are.

The Wheel

Click here for the Gospel Hub evaluation.

This evaluation examines six areas:

  1. Your understanding of the core doctrines of the gospel message
  2. Your understanding of the gospel’s application to justification (salvation)
  3. Your understanding of the gospel application to sanctification (spiritual growth)
  4. How the gospel enables us to respond to sin
  5. How the gospel enables us to response to suffering
  6. How the gospel provides us with a new identity

The six evaluations below (each 30 questions and self-scoring) are meant to be tools you can use to assess your Christian walk and understanding in each of the six key areas identified by The Gospel Wheel.

When using The Gospel Wheel as a discipleship tool, it is recommended that you seek to grow in the areas that are currently weakest rather than “maxing out” in your areas of strength. Each spoke should be developed in proportion to the other spokes in order for growth in one area not to compromise growth in other areas.

My Favorite Posts on Sexual Abuse

The “My Favorite Posts” series on my blog is how I catalog posts I’ve written to help my readers find the material that is the best-fit for their interest or need. I hope this series creates a more user-friendly experience for my readers and allows this site to become a trusted resource hub for the church.

Seminar Resource:

Blog Resources:

Book Recommendations:

Tweets of the Week 5.18.16

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

Talking to My Boys after the Transgender Talk at Their Public School

My boys attend a local public elementary school. With the current debates that are occurring in North Carolina regarding legislation around transgenderism and public restrooms, the school’s CNN Kids news program did a story on the debate (May 10th edition). I read the video transcript and found the discussion on the role of public restrooms in modern politics to be interesting and informative.

Knowing that many other families will be having conversations around this subject, it seemed as though it would be beneficial to reflect on the conversation I had with my boys; not as a prototype to follow, but as a sample to vet.

Here are a few preliminary thoughts that I won’t go into in as much detail, but I believe are relevant.

  • My boys are 9 and 11 years old; 3rd and 5th grade. I wanted to keep in mind their social and cognitive development as we talked. My goal was not to be comprehensive on the subject, but to give them what they need in this season of their life.
  • This was not our first conversation about sex and sexuality. If, as parents, we only talk about the subject of sex and ethics reactively, it will distort the message our children hear. Jesus will come across as a defensive guy.
  • The duration of the conversation was about 20 minutes over dinner; a time when often talk about things that happened at school.
  • My boys aren’t old enough to be in gym classes where a transgender student would be showering in the opposite locker room to their biological gender, so I didn’t introduce this to the discussion.

With those things being said, there were five key objectives I had going into the conversation with my boys.

1. I wanted to know what they think as much as teach them what I think.

The most important part of this conversation is what I learned from them, not what they learned from me. That’s not to downplay my influence as a parent, but the most important information transferred is my awareness of how my boys were processing the information they received.

The biggest long-term impact I will have on my boys is shaping how they think; as much as what they think. Conversations like these are times when I get a litmus test for how they respond in awkward-controversial subjects, how perceptive they are about moral dilemmas, the degree of impact authority figures (like teachers) have on them, and what kind of logic they use to support their beliefs.

The answers to those questions lay the foundation for anything I want to tell them. If I miss those answers, there is a really good chance they’ll eventually begin missing (forgetting or dismissing) the perspectives I offer.

In this sense, the most important thing (in terms of setting the conversation up to succeed) I offer to the conversation is comfortable, open-ended questions and silence.

2. I wanted them to be both biblically informed and personally compassionate.

I want my boys to be both thoroughly versed in God’s original design and increasingly equipped to care for others in a broken world.

My boys love biology, so we talked about how gender is ingrained in every cell of our body as either an XX (female) or XY (male) chromosome. They love to ask, “Whose nose do I have? Whose eyes do I have?” Tying the conversation to something they were familiar with and enjoy was an important way of making it less awkward.

We talked about gender being part of God’s design (Genesis 1:27) and that God’s design was good. I wanted them to know they should enjoy being boys and strive to grow into mature men who care for and lead their families well; also that it’s okay if they think girls have cooties right now [attempt at humor], but they should always respect women and treat them with honor.

We talked about how, because of the Fall (Genesis 3), we live in a broken world where many things don’t work the way they’re supposed to and everything falls apart. One result of this is that some people don’t feel comfortable in their own bodies; some people feel fat even when they’re very skinny (anorexia), some people feel scared when there is no threat (phobias and OCD), and some people feel like they should be a boy when their body is a girl or vice versa (transgenderism, or “gender dysphoria”).

We emphasized that we should never make fun of someone who is suffering. We should never call people names that make them feel embarrassed or shamed. Whenever we hear people doing these kinds of things to others, we step in and help the person who is being picked on.

We don’t have to agree with someone or understand their experience to love them. We believe that everyone is made in the image of God and deserves our honor and respect. If they’re hurting, we try to represent God’s compassion. If they’re sinning, we let them know of God’s forgiveness through the gospel. If we’re not sure, we listen and ask questions.

3. I wanted them to learn how to honor authorities with whom they disagree.

I want my boys to be well-versed in the art of disagreement – the ability to be skeptical or disagree while maintaining honor with the person with whom they disagree. I don’t want them to grow up thinking the more right they are the more rejected and lonely they will be.

I affirmed how they handled themselves in the classroom; listening respectfully and bringing their questions to Sallie and me. I want them to know that even when they were uncertain, they made wise choices about how to respond.

We talked about how there was a great deal of debate on this topic in our country right now, so that is why this was a topic discussed at school. We talked about the good values of those that want open bathrooms are standing for – that no one should be discriminated against for things they did not choose.

We talked about how one of the challenges of government is balancing personal freedom (i.e., choice of restroom) with the collective good (i.e., privacy and safety in public restrooms). That’s why politicians always argue about tax rates and the size of government. I was surprised how much they were interested in and followed this point.

The main point here was that just because someone has a different view from us, doesn’t mean they’re bad. It also doesn’t mean we’re bad if we disagree with them. It is important to know what you believe and why. It is important to be able to articulate and defend what you believe. It is equally important to listen well to those with whom you disagree and honor their leadership when God has placed them in that role.

4. I wanted to take the opportunity to review how they should respond if they were in an abusive situation.

In a previous post, I tried to make very clear that the concern about abuse is not to profile those who experience gender dysphoria as sexual predators.

We talked about how it’s not the person who is confused about their gender that would take advantage of this law. Instead, the concern is that people who want to abuse children would take advantage of these laws.

We reviewed previous discussions about how to respond if someone is abusive. The short points were:

  • If someone is attacking or abusing you, RUN! And run towards people. Abusers want privacy; that is why bathroom access is a concerning subject.
  • If you can’t run, then yell, bite, and kick as hard as you can… then run. You will never be in trouble for defending yourself in an abusive situation.
  • No matter what, tell Mama and Papa. We will believe you and protect you. Abusers often threaten kids to keep silent after abuse. Anything they say to keep you quiet is a lie.
  • Don’t live in fear. There are many things in life where it’s important for you to know what to do “just in case” but are unlikely to occur (i.e., fire drill at school or knowing the 911 number for a robbery). This is one of those.

5. I wanted them to be sympathetic to the reality that even good legislation can have unintended consequences.

Our conversation may have had as much to do with politics as sexuality. It is easy for kids (and adults) to begin to think that good rules would make a good world; that the problem with the world is that we just haven’t figured out what the best rules should be.

We talked about how often laws have unintended consequences. Sometimes governments, for instance, invest in fixing up poor neighborhoods. But this can lead to the unintended consequence that many of the poor people can’t afford to live in that area anymore, so they have to move and lose the community that they relied on for support.

The people who are concerned about this law may have identified some of these unintended consequences that need to be heard and addressed. In a broken world, even good rules don’t run in parallel (never crossing or contradicting each other).

We talked about why we don’t need better rules as much as we need a Redeemer. Jesus wasn’t just a teacher (although he was the best teacher). Jesus came as our Savior. He knew we needed a new heart, not just better thoughts.

At the end of the conversation, when my boys asked me, “So, what should be done about the bathroom thing?” my best answer was, “I don’t know. I know that God’s design of men and women is good. I know there is a lot of pain and brokenness in our world. I know I want to love well anyone God gives me the chance to befriend and that it’s not mean to think about safety in private places like restrooms. But when it comes to this law and its possible unintended consequences, I’m not sure.”

My boys need to hear me say that sometimes the best answer is “I don’t know” because they need to have the freedom / courage to say “I don’t know” when they’re uncertain. It also makes the things we are sure about seem more solid, if we are willing to admit our uncertainty on things that are less clear.

This was the gist of our conversation and the intentions for the various points of emphasis. I hope it’s helpful for other families as you consider how / whether to have similar conversations.

My Favorite Posts on Personality

The “My Favorite Posts” series on my blog is how I catalog posts I’ve written to help my readers find the material that is the best-fit for their interest or need. I hope this series creates a more user-friendly experience for my readers and allows this site to become a trusted resource hub for the church.

 

Tweets of the Week 5.11.16

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

An Open Letter to Someone Having an Affair

Friend,

I appreciate you taking the time to read this letter. I can only imagine that it is hard for you to believe that anyone can understand what you’re going through. You are making some of the hardest decisions of your life in the name of love and, no matter what you do, people you love are going to be hurt deeply. That would leave most people feeling both trapped and highly defensive.

To make matters worse, those who knew you and your spouse as mutual friends or have a Christian background overwhelmingly take the position that you should end your affair and pursue your marriage. They make it sound “easy” and “obvious;” which only supports your belief that no one understands.

Furthermore, it leaves you feeling very alone and as if your adultery partner is the only one who can sympathetically understand. Who do you talk to in order to get unbiased advice? Is there unbiased advice? After all, you’re going to choose one path and radically alter the lives of many people you love dearly. That’s likely why you’ve tried to live in two worlds until now.

Let’s start with this reality: you are going to choose. You are going to choose to pursue a life with your spouse (and children, if you have them) or your adultery partner (with your children passing between homes in a blended family, if you have them). Unless you delay until your spouse and/or adultery partner abandons you, you will make a choice between these two options.

More than mere choosing, you are going to choose not knowing the outcome. You do not know if your current marriage will get better (supposing you had grievances about how it was before). You do not know if your spouse will be able to forgive you or will be willing to work on restoring the marriage (regardless of what your spouse says in the time after your disclosure or their discovery of the affair).

But, your potential future with your adultery partner is equally uncertain, although it likely doesn’t feel that way now. To this point the affair has been a fantasy. In reality, you know less about what this relationship will be like than you knew about what your current marriage would be like when you were dating and engaged. An affair is a relationship built on deceit and artificially fueled by the passion-allegiance of a shared secret and not having to bear the weight of day-to-day life. The story line of “forbidden love” evaporates as soon as there are “shared responsibilities” and no “them” to keep “us” apart.

This begins to get at why you haven’t already chosen. If you are like most people in your situation, you are looking for the route by which no one gets hurt, or those who get hurt, hurt the least. This is another fantasy. Sex forms a bond (I Cor. 6:16). When you sever either relationship, there will be pain. One or both relationships will die and your choices will be the largest deciding factor in which one. This is not meant to be a guilt-statement, but a reality-statement to sober you to the situation you have created.

Please keep reading. I recognize these words are painful. But if they are true, which I doubt you can deny, they merit your attention. This is not a choice you want to make by accident. It is too important to too many people you care about to allow that to happen. If you love anyone in this scenario besides yourself, you will quit stringing everyone along.

Chances are you’ve come to this point many times in your own internal dialogue since your affair began. The dead end has likely been, “But what do I do? There doesn’t seem to be any good options.” Then life goes on, so you continued living a double life.

In this letter, I want to offer you a path forward. I do not pretend it to be easy. But, be honest, neither path is going to be easy, so that shouldn’t be a criteria.

  1. Choose. The longer you delay, the more angst you create for everyone and the more pain that will result when a choice is finally made. You do not honor or care for anyone well by delaying. It is the epitome of selfishness to make people you allegedly care about to wait. The fact that you’ve allowed things to go this long should cause you to humbly question how wise and loving your intentions have been about this affair.
  2. To honor God, choose your marriage. Your spouse is not the primary person you’ve offended with your unfaithfulness. To make this decision as if your happiness and pleasure is the primary concern reveals a decision making process that will undermine either relationship. It is not hyper-spiritual to say that self-centeredness will destroy any relationship. It is common sense. I would encourage you to reflect intently on Luke 9:23-24 as you consider this decision and the overall direction of your life. If you are a Christian, this is the life you chose. It is a good life with a faithful God, if you will return to him and trust him with your life and marriage.
  3. Be honest. Often, in a crisis, we believe a “step in the right direction” is a monumental step of faith. We want full credit for partial honesty. This is why too many marriages die the death of a thousand confessions. It’s not the infidelity that kills them, but the pattern of incremental-partial honesty. Don’t say “yes” to “Have you told me everything?” unless the answer is actually “yes.” More damaging than your infidelity is your post-infidelity dishonesty. You might ask, “How much detail is needed to be honest?” That is a fair question and here is guidance on the subject.
  4. End the affair definitively. The longer you vacillate, the more pain and turmoil you will create for everyone. There is nothing pleasant about this step. Rarely does it provide the emotional affirmation that often comes with making a right choice. But it is essential to restoring any emotional or relational sanity to your life. “Closure” in an adulterous relationship is a fiction that inevitably leads to relapse.
  5. Don’t do this alone. Chances are, as your affair grew, you began to separate yourself from the people you previously considered to be trusted voices and examples of character. It is hard to be around people you respect when you are knowingly doing something dishonorable. Reconnect with these relationships. This will require a comparable level of honesty as you’ve given your spouse in point #3. But, unless you let these people in, then the only voice advocating for your walk with God, the restoration of your marriage, or providing you emotional support will be your hurt spouse.
  6. Have a process to guide you and your spouse in the recovery process. “What will we do after I open the Pandora’s Box of being honest about my affair?” Realize this box will be opened either voluntarily or involuntarily. This is the question that keep many people in your situation silent. The False Love (for you) and True Betrayal (for your spouse) materials are meant to be complementing studies to guide couples in situations like yours. They can be studied with a pastor, trusted mentor couple, or counselor (see point #5).
  7. Don’t confuse marital restoration with marital enrichment. This is the most common mistake after a marital crisis and will result in comparing dating-phase-affair with recovery-phase-marriage. Doing the things you should have been doing all along (dating, listening, flowers, sex, etc…) will not resolve infidelity. Marriage restoration is taking a relationship that is broken and making it functional. That is the focus of the False Love and True Betrayal seminars. Marriage enrichment is taking a marriage that is functional and making it excellent. That is the focus of the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series; which would be a quality series to study when you complete the False Love and True Betrayal materials.

These steps may seem daunting, and they are challenging. But I believe they represent what it means to honor God in your situation. As you’ve wrestled with the question of, “What do I do now?” I believe you will come to see that they do represent God’s best for you and your family; as such, they are for your good and not just your moral obligation.

As you come to the end of this letter, I would ask you to do two things. First, sincerely pray. Don’t just reflect in your mind and see what feels best, but have a conversation with God about what he would have you do. Ask God, “What would honor You most in my situation?” Second, call a friend. Quit waiting and talk with someone who has the best interest of you and your marriage at heart. Isolation will result in continued procrastination. Don’t leave yourself the option of waiting.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I pray you will follow its counsel and walk in integrity and faith. Yes, the road ahead is hard, but any alternative road without the blessing and favor of God is harder.

Conservative Christians and Debates Over Public Restrooms

If you are wondering if I am going to try to provide the “final answer” on this controversial subject in a 1100 word blog, I am not. I am not familiar enough with the legislation (in North Carolina or other states) that is being debated or the experience of gender dysphoria, to speak with that level of conviction.

My goal is to offer an observation about one area where I see the conversation breaking down and a few thoughts on how those, on either side of the issue, who desire to do so, can have more productive conversations. One of the best examples of productively engaging this conversation I’ve come across is this post from Benjamin Watson.

A concern that I hear Christians and cultural conservatives raise (and one which I share) is the probability that sexual predators, child pornographers, peeping Toms, exhibitionists, and other sexual deviants would abuse the opportunity to access their opposite-gendered restrooms.

Laws that remove the requirement that individuals use the restroom of their biological gender make it easier for these crimes to be committed and, thereby, make the most vulnerable in our society less safe. The rise in prevalence of these offenses indicates we should be creating obstacles, not opportunities, for these offenses.

However, the manner in which Christians and cultural conservatives have misunderstood the experience of same sex attraction (SSA) makes it harder for our voice to be heard making this (I believe valid) point. In many conservative circles we have held a view of SSA that was akin to an addiction model; describe in this abbreviated excerpt from my book Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends.

In brief form, the logic of this “progressive sexual depravity” model [for SSA] goes something like this.

1. All sexual sin starts out as heterosexual. It is assumed the general effects of the Fall cannot distort our drive for “natural relations” into those “contrary to nature” without our escalating, willful participation in heterosexual sin over a period of time.

2. Milder heterosexual sin increases in intensity, frequency, and duration in order to have the same satisfying effect.

3. With time, ever more egregious sexual sins are needed to get the same “high.”

4. Eventually, homosexual sins are experimented with as a new, more stimulating experience.

5. What began as homosexual or bisexual experimentation becomes an orientation as God gives them over to their lusts. The belief is that apart from this pattern—this addiction model—there can be no such thing as SSA.

There are three key components of this theology that, not surprisingly, undermine the willingness and ability of Christians to form friendships with those who experience SSA:

  • SSA is viewed as a form of out-of-control sexual addiction.
  • The individual who experiences SSA is seen as being on the brink of sins such as bestiality or pedophilia.
  • Therefore, those who experience SSA are responded to as “unsafe” for casual relationships.

Besides being an inaccurate view of the majority experience of SSA, what does this have to do with the current political debates on transgenderism and public restrooms?

Think about is this way: What was the implication of this addiction-model view of homosexuality? That gay people were dangerous because they were sexually out of control individuals who pose a threat to others.

With that in mind, reread the third paragraph of this post – the one about the dangers that emerge from a choose-your-own-restroom legislation. If I put myself on the other side of this conversation, I would think, “There you Christians go again with your scare tactics. Anyone who doesn’t obey your sexual ethics is called a pedophile! Why do you call everyone who won’t adhere to your standards a sexual predator or sex addict?”

To be clear, my concern with this legislation is not that the person who genuinely experiences gender dysphoria would use this law to commit a predatory act. My concern is that this law would create a context where it is easier for sexual predators (the vast majority of whom are heterosexual; hence the concern for cross-gendered restroom access) to have more and easier access to their victims.

So what would I suggest for Christians who are talking about this issue (whether those are private conversations, sermons, or political debates)? Here would be a few suggestions:

  • Be clear that the concern for who would take advantage of this law is not the person who genuinely experiences gender dysphoria.
  • Seek to learn more about the experience of gender dysphoria (this link is to a book by Christian psychologist Mark Yarhouse). The more we understand the less we will give the impression that Christ is ignorant or heartless towards those who experience gender confusion.
  • Be willing to admit that the addiction model of SSA has distorted the beliefs of many Christians and cultural conservatives about homosexuality. This does not have to result in compromising a conservative sexual ethic. But it does mean we should seek to be more informed about the personal experience, not just the moral weight, of a subject if we are going to be good ambassadors of Christ in that area.
  • Be open to the reasonable accommodation of private, unisex bathrooms whenever that is feasible. I don’t claim to understand the cost to business owners or tax payers (i.e., renovating public facilities), but when possible, we should want to minimize the emotional pain of others as we would want them to do for us (Matthew 7:12).
  • Strive to listen better to the person with whom you’re having a conversation than they listen to you. When one party in a conversation stops listening fairly communications breaks down. We should seek to ensure that person is not us. This is what it means to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10) in a context where a conversation has degenerated into a debate.
  • Don’t apologize for the desire to protect the most vulnerable in our society in one of the most vulnerable settings.
  • Don’t say or do anything that needs to be apologized for (i.e., rudeness, simplistic logic, slander, etc…) in defense of what you’re not apologizing for (i.e., advocating wise legislation; I am not familiar enough with current bills being debated and their potential unintended consequences to deem them “wise” or “unwise”).

Do I think this clarification and suggestions will bring peace to this debate? No. Do I believe everyone, but most of all Christians, should seek to honor others in the midst of our disagreements? Yes, and I hope this post can be part of modeling that kind of more civil discourse.

My Favorite Posts on PTSD

The “My Favorite Posts” series on my blog is how I catalog posts I’ve written to help my readers find the material that is the best-fit for their interest or need. I hope this series creates a more user-friendly experience for my readers and allows this site to become a trusted resource hub for the church.

Seminar Resource:

On-Line Evaluation:

Blog Posts: