Sex Education in Sexually Confusing Times (Part One)

The task of sex education is to help growing children, at the level of their understanding, to know that their sexuality undergirds and shapes their view of the world.

Their sexuality is not an aspect of being human that can be separated out and experienced independently. It is integral to the whole of their humanness.

Of course, there is a case to be made for the decisions about sex education to be the purview of the family and faith communities — and by a school only with parental consent.

But leaving that question aside to deal with the general matter of children’s education, the issue is not so much what information is taught as what assumptions and belief system underlies the information.

Society no longer universally holds to the Christian belief that human beings are far more than animals who are socially advanced and intricately developed. Biblical teaching is that all humans are unique creatures among God’s creative order bearing his image and accountable to him for their behavior.

Again in the general case, though with exceptions that prove the rule, a family of mother, father and children, provides the best environment. Wholesome sex education begins in the loving, respectful attitude of parents to one another and the children from infancy onward.

That doesn’t mean family relationships are always free from stress but that love and respect govern or “reign”. And it doesn’t mean that sex education is necessarily substandard in homes limited by the deprivation of one parent.

Christian sex education is based on the revelation that God created humankind to be male and female, each bearing fully his image (Genesis 1:26,27). From birth onward this differentiation of humans into male and female has serious implications. Sex education should help us to understand and rejoice in what God has created us to be.

Sex education can be enhanced in the home by the use of Biblically-based literature, videos and whatever other Christian resources are recommended by a denomination’s resources center. It’s best to let growing children acquaint themselves at times privately with whatever is made available to them, and as well at times in conversation with parents.

The intimate aspects of sexuality may thus be taught in a gradual way according to a growing child’s ability to understand. The Christian faith maintains that there is a mystery and metaphysical and spiritual aspect to sex and this must be respected in growing children.

Modelling is the means by which children are best helped to develop a sense of responsibility concerning their sexuality.

Because the sex act gives intense pleasure, some secular minds tend to treat it as nothing more than the satisfaction of a physical appetite. For such persons, the psychological and spiritual aspects may be ignored or devalued.

Those who promote such a view seem concerned primarily that sex be practiced safely, using the best of modern technology to avoid sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy.

Christian wisdom is contrary to such a view. The Scriptures hold that sex within marriage is honorable while sex outside of marriage is labeled adultery or fornication — each regarded as serious sins (Hebrews 13:4). The Bible speaks forthrightly against premarital or extramarital sex as follows:

But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality (promiscuous behavior) or any kind of impurity (the wider range of illicit sexual conduct) or greed (insatiability) because these are improper for God’s holy people (Ephesians 5:3).

In this very personal arena of our humanness the grace of God (His undeserved generosity) must be emphasized. It is His grace that enables sexual purity. And for those who have failed or are failing, he offers the grace of  repentance and forgiveness. In Christ, wholesome attitudes toward sex can be recovered and purity restored.

Photo credit: Márcio Binow da Silva (via flickr.com)

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Re-post: Sunday School Picnic, Anyone?

When I was a boy, the annual Sunday School picnic was a highlight of the summer for our modest sized church in Saskatchewan. From the day its date was announced in June I lived in expectation.

I recall that one year, I prayed in my boyish way that it wouldn’t rain on that day. The day before the event seemed iffy, but it didn’t rain after all. A rained-out picnic would almost have ruined my summer, so I felt.

Sunday School picnics are probably not enthralling to today’s children like they were to me and my friends eighty years ago. Our church was small and our town’s activities were limited after school was out for the summer.

Today there is so much more to create summer excitement — swimming facilities, little league baseball, camping activities, and sports events, for example. This is to say nothing of personal diversions like television, smart phones, Netflix and other streaming services. Who needs picnics?

It’s not that the thirties of the last century were completely without excitement. Still, the Great Depression and the Dustbowl together generated the nickname of “the dirty thirties,” and our parents were in survival mode to “make ends meet.” In summer months we mostly had to generate our own entertainment.

I remember that one summer, the picnic was held at Woodlawn Park in the wide valley two miles straight south of Estevan. It had swings, and teeter-totters, and a place to swim. The Souris River formed its southern bounds.

On the bank of the river — which I remember as less than two hundred feet wide — there was a diving board and in the middle of the river there was an anchored raft, easily reached by swimmers. On a hot afternoon they splashed and bobbed like corks around this raft, and shouts of excitement filled the air.

The park was set in a large grove of trees, which was not usual for the Prairies, and they made an appealing setting for our picnic. The gathering there was like a large family. Some people who were only slightly connected to the congregation attended and increased the numbers.

There were games (like three-legged, and gunny sack races) and other contests for all ages. And there was pick-up softball for the older kids and young adults.

There were things to laugh at too — like the grunting, sweating, red-faced adult contestants who gave their all in an attempt to win the tug-of-war. Or the girls who fell in a heap while attempting to hop to the goal line with legs confined in a gunny sack. Even sedentary onlookers cheered as racers, each balancing an egg delicately on the bowl of a tablespoon, headed past them for the finish line.

The minister was always called upon to bless the food. During those hard times in the 1930s the food was simple but satisfying and special when served at picnic tables out of doors. Open air and brisk activity awakened hearty appetites.

At the end of the afternoon we had ice cream which almost by itself made the event outstanding. Ice cream back then was not an everyday treat.

It still seems to me that such a picnic can do something for a modest sized church community that more spiritual activities can’t. Bible studies, prayer meetings, and picnics each have their place.

They contribute to bonding between churchgoers. Many quiet people become involved. Children possibly benefit the most, as they make brief connections up and down the age scale, with parents, the middle-aged, and even grandparents of their chums. Everyone mingles under a Summer sky.

Maybe a picnic wouldn’t work today. But plan one like I’ve described here, and I’ll be there! Just don’t ask me at this point in my life to take part in the tug-of-war!

Photo credit: cwwycoff1 (via flickr.com)

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Do We Need the Old Testament to Practice the Christian Faith?

This week I heard a sermon on YouTube from one of America’s most popular megachurch pastors. He contended that today’s church needs to “unhitch” from the Old Testament and live by the simpler ways of the New Testament. The Old Testament is too old, bloody, and complex for believers, he said.

One can appreciate the passion to bring the Gospel more simply to today’s public, but is completely disconnecting the Old Testament from church life the way to achieve the goal?

The sermon claimed that New Testament writers — Peter, James, Paul and others — had themselves disconnected from the Old Testament in the early days of the Christian church. He said they too wanted to make the faith simpler for those who sought after God.

But did Jesus not say the following? Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matthew 5:17,18).

Jesus came not to annul or even simplify the Old Testament but to embody its positive truths in living form. He came to save sinners, and the moral law as lodged in the Old Testament had a specific function in this saving ministry.

It was to awaken them to their sinful condition and bring them to the Savior. As Paul wrote to the Galatians: the law was like a strict guardian in charge of us until we went to the school of Christ and learned to be justified by faith in him (Galatians 3:24).

Contrary to the megachurch pastor’s sermon, New Testament writers did not  abandon Old Testament Scriptures. For example, Paul’s letter to the Romans spells out clearly the way to salvation by faith in Christ and is clear about the Old Testament’s function in that process.

He wrote: … I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law (Romans 7:7). The searchings of the law awaken us to our sin and our need for the Gospel.

It is true that the Old Testament is ancient and has content that can shock modern sensibilities. And many of its ceremonial rituals are no longer relevant. But the moral law revealed in these writings and contended for by the prophets is timeless.

Without the Old Testament what would we substitute for the hymn to creation in Genesis chapter 1? Or the story of God’s miraculous deliverance of his chosen people out of slavery in Egypt?

What would we substitute for the warnings and promises of prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah? And how would we replace the treasures of the Psalms as aids to worship?

To abandon the Old Testament would also require major editing of the New Testament. Paul wrote to Timothy: All Scripture is God-breathed and is suitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16).

We dare not forget that the Old Testament was the only inspired text at hand when Paul said this. The New Testament had not yet been gathered as a sacred document. If we were we to decouple Old from New Testament, would we not be declaring that the Old Testament is no longer God-breathed?

Luke tells us that when Jesus was a 12-year-old boy, he lingered in the temple courts with the teachers of the law listening and asking questions. Onlookers were astonished at what he grasped and the questions he asked. What more powerful affirmation of that ancient text could we ask for?

With this memorable moment on record, we dare not unhitch law and prophets from their place in the whole sweep of both Testaments. God has given both to the historic church to direct us.

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Re-post: Diet and Exercise for the Soul

Every day, it seems to me, I get messages from the media about what I must do to keep in the best of health. The advice has now been reduced to two points. I must (1) feed my body a proper diet — which means a  diverse selection of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, along with limited sugar and other simple carbohydrates — and (2) exercise vigorously from 30 to 60 minutes each day.

Our whole culture seems to have arrived at consensus on this. The words, “diet and exercise” have become a mantra. So, at our house we have tried to take the recommendation seriously.

But what about that aspect of our beings we call the soul? Mankind is formed by our Creator from the dust of the earth, the Scriptures tell us, but so are the lions and hippos. However, for us the Scriptures add, God breathed into that physical formation the breath of life and “man became a living soul.”

Consequently, we do not accurately say: “I am a body and I have a soul,” as though the body is the more significant aspect of our beings and our soul a  sort of attachment.  Instead, it is better to say: “I am a soul, and that soul inhabits my body.”  In saying this, we acknowledge that, as precious as our bodies are to God and to us, it is our indestructible spiritual natures that deserve our more careful attention if we must make a distinction.

How, then, is that soul to be kept in health? Just as I do for my body, I must (1) nourish it and (2) exercise it daily. With regard to nourishing my soul, here are helpful words written by J. I. Packer in his book, Knowing God: “There can be no spiritual health without doctrine,” he writes. Doctrine means organized Christian teaching. So we must seek to grow continually in Christian understanding.

After speaking to the nourishment side of things, Dr. Packer calls us to the “exercise” side of care of the soul by means of meditation. “Meditation,” he writes, “is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God.”

Meditation, like gracious dining, takes time. It is often suggested that 30 minutes first thing in the morning is ideal. Just as the orchestra tunes its instruments before the concert, it is better to take time for meditation at the outset of the day, rather than after the day’s “concert”  has been played.

If we can’t make the early morning work, then we must choose another time. A college student I counseled with years ago complained that she couldn’t make the early morning hour work because she still felt too drugged from sleep. I asked her how long she took for lunches. She was a very sociable person and replied that she usually took an hour-and-a-half. I suggested she cut that time in half and slip away for a daily quiet time of Christian meditation. As the saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there are twenty ways.”

Meditation usually works best when it is a time for focusing on God, not our problems, and this can be done helpfully when we set our reflections on his attributes — that is, those characteristics or features of God’s being revealed in Scripture. We seek to see Him ever more clearly across our lifetimes.

For today, consider just one of them and take time to meditate on it. Consider the attribute, omnipresence, meaning our God is present everywhere — even where you are at this moment.

What scripture better than Psalm 139 will take us into the wonder of God’s omnipresence? Here, we learn that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is familiar with all my activities (verse 3). He knows what I am about to say before I say it (verse 4). I was not hidden from his all-seeing eye even during my pre-birth existence (Verse 15). All of this moves us to pray to be kept from any hidden wickedness, while at the same time being led in the ancient ways.

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Judas Iscariot — Why Did He Fall?

There were many ill-advised characters in the life and ministry of Jesus — corrupt priests, pride-blinded Pharisees, scornful siblings, weak Roman officials, conscienceless soldiers.

But although one person in the passion story had every advantage by his proximity to Jesus, he proved the darkest and most sinister of them all. It was Jesus’ own disciple, Judas Iscariot.

How did Judas become one of Jesus’ apostles? Luke tells us that Jesus spent a whole night in prayer before choosing from among his many followers the twelve whom he would call Apostles (Luke 6:12-16). He then invested three years in their training, and Judas was there the entire time.

Judas had heard Jesus teach the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount. He witnessed the healings. He was present when the Master called Lazarus from the tomb. He had heard and seen it all.

Why then was his end so grim?

There are a few passages in the Gospels that shed light on the question. During a time when Jesus’ popularity with the crowds began to fade, John tells us, Jesus addressed a crowd of complainants and made a grave statement: Yet there are some of you who do not believe (John 6:64a).

John becomes even more explicit. He writes: For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him (6:64b). The whole of John’s Gospel is about believing in Jesus.

Only a short time before this crisis moment, some in the crowd had participated in the miraculous feeding of five thousand. They wanted more. They reminded Jesus of the manna in the wilderness; he countered by speaking about the bread of life.

Then he used a metaphor to declare what he meant when he called them to believe in him: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (6:53). Believing involved soul communion, identifying with Jesus in a very personal way, trusting oneself to his Messiahship and his cause.

Judas must have heard Jesus’ words. Judas still traveled with Jesus but obviously did not believe in him for who he really was.

We recall that John was writing his Gospel account many years after the events. Time on occasion sharpens perspective and deepens insight. He recalled the special dinner in Jesus’ honor and the outburst of Judas when Mary poured the expensive ointment on Jesus’ feet.

John knew what was at issue. Judas was a thief. He was the treasurer for the Apostles and he helped himself to the bag at will. His failure to believe with heart and soul had left him open to the devil’s corrupting power.

For those who hear his call there is a cost to believing in this wholehearted way, but there is a greater cost to refusing to believe.

At the end, Judas led a crowd of officials to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he identified Jesus with a traitorous kiss, and addressed him as “Rabbi” — not Master.

How unsettling to realize even today that one can know Jesus through Holy Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s ministrations and yet not fully believe. In reading about Judas, one feels the tragedy again and asks with each of the disciples: Lord, is it I?

Easter is a great season to examine the depth of our faith in our Living Lord and the degree of our commitment to his cause.

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Image info: The Conscience – Judas, Nikolaj Nikolajewitsch Ge (Public Domain)

A Dinner Party Like None Before or Since

Jesus and his twelve disciples were guests in the home of sisters Martha and Mary and their brother, Lazarus. Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised to life from his tomb, was at the table.

The home was in Bethany, a village on the far side of the Mount of Olives about two miles from Jerusalem. The meal was being served six days before Passover, the main Jewish observance of the year. Crowds of worshipers would flood Jerusalem, and the city was already stirring in expectation.

The posture of the guests at table would not fit our style today — they “reclined” on low-lying couches, resting on their left elbows and receiving and eating with their right hands.

Into this picture came Mary, sister to Lazarus. She carried a pint of very special ointment imported from India, and worth nearly a year’s wages. Before the guests realized what was happening, she had broken its seal and poured its contents lavishly on Jesus’ feet.

She then used her hair to wipe up the excess, unintentionally perfuming herself in the process and filling the room with a pleasing fragrance.

One person at the table erupted in indignation. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” It was Judas. On the surface this sounded like compassion, but John, the apostle who preserved the story for us, knew at the moment of his explosion what the real issue with Judas was.

Judas, one of the twelve, was a thief. He had been the treasurer for Jesus and his twelve companions and on occasion had filched money from that bag. Greed was eating into his soul.

Jesus came to Mary’s defense. “Leave her alone,” he said. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”
What an unexpected twist!

They must all have wondered, “My burial?” After all, he was a young man, about 33, and in full health. Though he had tried to forewarn his disciples, dropping the hint more than once, none of them at table with him was thinking in terms of funerals and burials.

But that’s what makes this dinner memorable. Jesus knew what was ahead for him and although he must have entered fully into the social exchanges at the table, his mind at the same time must have been playing on what was in his immediate future.

He knew that he was marked for a cruel death, and an ordeal of unspeakable forsakenness. He knew also that this death would make him the world’s sin-bearer.

It appears that Mary’s perceptions were deeper than those of all others at the table, however vague even hers may have been. Perhaps sensing that the time for such displays of love and respect was coming to an end, her womanly intuition and her deep love for the teacher prompted her to seize the moment to pour out her devotion in this extravagant way.

Jesus halted the clamor by saying, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” This seemed to be an acknowledgment that her insight was accurate. She had perceived correctly the trouble ahead.
When Matthew and Mark tell a similar story they add these words of Jesus: “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

To Jesus, Mary made a gesture of extravagant devotion at a time when the world was set to reject their redeemer, and his own followers were likely to forsake him. Her devotion must have spoken light assurance to his lonely soul.

Jesus said to those at table with him, “She has done what she could.” And, “She has done a beautiful thing.” The beauty was in a follower’s devoted and open-handed love.

This account is one to treasure and ponder. It gives us occasion to measure our own love for the Lord Christ at Easter time.

(If you wish to meditate further on this story during this pre-Easter season, here are the references: John 12:1-8; Mark 14:1-9; Matthew 26:6-13.)

Image info: *Kicki* (via flickr.com)

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Belief That Will Get Us into Heaven

Point to a saucer of milk you have put down for your kitten and the kitten may simply play with your pointing finger. The kitty doesn’t understand your sign. But point a six-year-old child in the direction of his lost ball and he will run immediately to retrieve it. He takes the pointing finger as a sign.

That’s how John uses the word, sign, when he refers to Jesus’ miracles. They point to something beyond themselves. When, for example, Jesus feeds the 5000 men miraculously from a lad’s five barley loaves and two sardine-sized fish he is pointing to something more.

The crowd experienced the wonder of the miracle but didn’t understand what it pointed to. Their scheme in response to the free meal was to capture and make Jesus their king. They must have thought: free meals for life!

They were so serious about their scheme that his life was in danger. Jesus slipped away to a nearby mountain, and when night came he walked on water and the next morning was with the disciples in Capernaum.

When the crowds discovered that both Jesus and his disciples had disappeared from the northeastern shore of Galilee they took boats to Capernaum on the western shore. They hoped to see more miraculous deeds and perhaps experience another miracle meal.

When they found him, Jesus challenged their motives: I tell you truly, you are looking for me not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill (John 6:26). Then he led the discussion in the direction of a food that  will endure to eternal life.

When the men asked, What must we do to do the works God requires? Jesus answered, The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent (John 6:28,29). The rest of the chapter deals with the sign and the conflict his words awakened. They were in no mood to believe.

In this chapter John used the word “to believe” nine times. At the outset, Jesus said to them: The work of God is this: “to believe” in the one he has sent (John 6:29). The word, believe, used in this way was to be taken seriously.

The men suggested that Jesus repeat the miracle of manna given miraculously to their forefathers in the wilderness. Jesus’ corrected them and in doing so moved them one step closer to understanding the sign he intended the feeding of 5000 to be: For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives light to the world (John 6:33)

He was referring to himself, an immeasurably better gift than manna. Their obtuseness in the presence of our Lord was remarkable. They argued back. They asked questions filled with doubt.

He even put his finger directly on their unbelief when he said: But as I have told you, you have seen me and still do not believe (John 6:36).

The picture is enlarged. God the Father was deeply engaged in this gift of eternal life for his creatures. Jesus said: all those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away (John 6:37). But he added, For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day (John 6:40). The two promises belong together.

Jesus’ strongest and most arresting statement during this exchange was this: Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you, whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day (John 6:54).

This was Jesus metaphoric way of saying that believing in him involved more than a surface confession — the tipping of a hat or the signing of a pledge. He was the bread of life. Believing in Jesus involved their receiving him, the taking of him into their very beings by faith to live there.

When the gospel is simply given and a small child is asked: Would you like to invite Jesus into your heart, they usually have an instinct for answering. Believing in Jesus at any age involves bidding him to enter and live within us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

On this occasion his teaching proved to be too exacting for the timid and shrunken souls of some of them. They grumbled at his imagery. Even a goodly number of his disciples said his teaching was too hard to accept. The crowds thinned out.

Then Jesus put this question to his twelve disciples: You do not want to leave me too, do you? Peter responded: Lord, to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68). It was a golden moment for Peter. He momentarily understood what was behind Jesus’ miracles and words. He understood the sign — Jesus, the bread of life for time and eternity.

O for a faith that will not shrink
though pressed by many a foe,
That will not tremble on the brink
of poverty or woe.

Lord give me such a faith as this,
and then whate’er may come
I’ll taste e’en here the hallowed bliss
of an eternal home.

William Bathurst, 1831.

 

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