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Let me just say upfront, this post is about Christian sexual ethics, so if you’re not a Christian, you’re welcome to read this, but please know that this isn’t about you, and I have no expectation that you should have the same view of sex that I have. You, like everyone, are free to choose to do what you want. But feel free just to read this as an interested (or disinterested) third party.
We Christians have a problem with virginity.
A few weeks ago I spent a few days on a school camp. I was the speaker for year nine and my job was to run six sessions talking about sex and relationships. In preparation, I found myself listening to a bunch of Christian books on sex and relationships. In one book (written in 2017) the author described how he and his wife bought purity rings for each of their young daughters to wear on their ring finger to remind them of what they were being taught about relationships. The author’s plan was to give them the rings and tell them that God was going to bring them each a husband who would care for them as he cared for their mother, and they should not give themselves to anyone until that day.
I don’t know how that makes you feel but I felt pretty uncomfortable. Imagine your father giving you a ring that symbolises your sexual purity (which is code for virginity) and then, when you’re older, you sleep with your boyfriend. What are you supposed to do with your ring? Do you keep wearing it and feel like a fraud who is lying to their father, or do you take it off and face the shame of letting your father down? And imagine having to wear a constant reminder of your parents expectations that you save sex till marriage? You don’t have to wear any jewellery to remind yourself not to lie, or you keep yourself from greed, but for some reason sex is given a special role in your life.
Now I know the whole purity ring thing is much more of a deal in the US than it is here in Australia. But virginity isn’t only valued in American Christianity. One of the things that struck me while on camp was that I was asked a number of questions about virginity. “If I do this, am I still a virgin?”, “Is it ok not to be virgin?”, “Will I be the same after sex?”. These students, growing up in Christian culture, had absorbed the same message many of us who have grown up in Christian culture absorbed: virginity is important.
I believe that God’s intention for sex is that it would be kept within marriage, and therefore I think we should wait till marriage to have sex. But as I dealt with these students’ questions I kept coming back to the idea that virginity is the wrong way to think about sexual fidelity. In the Bible, there is an expectation that sex is to be saved for marriage, but it’s not the be all and end all of sexual ethics. You can be sexually unfaithful and still technically a virgin. And you can sleep with someone before you’re married, and still have spent most of your time pursuing faithfulness.
Virginity is somewhat binary. You either you are or you aren’t. If, as Christians, we emphasise virginity, then we run into trouble. You either are a virgin, and you can be proud that you can present your unsullied sexuality to your spouse, or you aren’t, and you feel shame and must seek forgiveness, feeling bad that you cannot offer your spouse your greatest gift of all. Neither outcome is good.
What’s more, if you’re a rape victim, aside from all the other baggage you have to deal with, our Christian preoccupation with virginity can mean you can feel shame and of diminished worth, because of what someone else has done to you! What an absurd burden to have to carry after an already terrible experience.
As Christians we have made too much of virginity. Actually, we as humans have made too much of virginity. You only had to watch a few episodes of Married at First Sight this year to see Matt’s entire character reduced to the fact that he was a virgin. He was referred to as “Virgin Matt” until he had sex and then he became “ex-Virgin Matt”. I was unsure why everyone on the show wasn’t referred to as “ex-Virgin Bryson”, or “ex-Virgin Cam”.
In the secular world, the virginity narrative goes something like this “Have sex when you feel ready, with someone you love. Preferably between the ages of 16 and 20. If you’re a virgin after that, you start to get weird. The longer you go without sex, the weirder you get.” I remember people finding out that I was still a virgin at 30 and they were astounded.
In the Christian world, the virginity narrative goes something like this “Remain a virgin until you get married. Your virginity is the most precious gift to give to your husband/wife.” But as I mentioned above, this only leads to pride or shame. Plus, once a Christian has lost their virginity, what point is there to pursue sexual faithfulness in their obedience to God? You’re damaged goods anyway, so go and do whatever you want, you’ve squandered your special gift anyway. We sometimes send the message, “God can forgive your sin, but you’ll never get your virginity back.”
Considering all this as I spoke to the young people, instead of talking about virginity, I encouraged them to sexual faithfulness. To be honouring their current boyfriends/girlfriends, their future spouse, and their boyfriend or girlfriend’s future spouse. A life of faithfulness is not binary. Faithfulness means pursuing obedience to God, and love for others. If you fail to be faithful, it’s not the end of the world, it doesn’t mar you forever. You get forgiven, and you recommit yourself to faithfulness in the future.
The work of Jesus at the cross is not about making us feel shame for our sin, but about freeing us from shame. The shame for what we have done, or what others may have done to us. Jesus invites us to receive forgiveness, healing, and wholeness. Your identity in Jesus is found in being a child of God, not in your virginity. If you follow Jesus, to God you aren’t viewed as a virgin or not, a sexual sinner or not, but as his child. Your purity and value comes from Jesus, not from what you have or haven’t done.
As we teach about sex, we need to talk less about virginity and talk more about pursuing sexual faithfulness – in singleness, in relationships, in friendships, in marriage. Sexual faithfulness encompasses not just not having sex before marriage, but how you treat people you’re not even in a romantic relationship with. It encompasses how you navigate sexual tensions, and power dynamics. We are called to sexual faithfulness towards all people, no matter how we feel about them. Faithfulness is not about pride and guilt, but about pursuing love and honour in all our relationships.
In the end, my main message during the camp was this: “You are loved. You are loved. You are loved.” I don’t know how many times I said those words, but I wanted the students to know that no matter what they had or hadn’t done, no matter what had been done to them, no matter who they are attracted to, they are loved. If they can understand that, accepting the love of Jesus, everything else can be sorted out. Understanding Jesus’ transforming love frees you to live a life of faithfulness to others.
We have a problem with virginity, but perhaps we can fix it by calling each other to faithfulness. As we know God’s faithfulness to us, we will know we are loved. As others are faithful towards us, we will receive their love. As we pursue faithfulness towards God and others, we will love. Jesus saves us to freedom. Emphasising concepts like virginity only weighs us down with pride and shame. Faithfulness to Jesus and others sets us free to love the way we were created to.
2019 is kicking off well and this is looking set to be the year where Christians take bold new steps in converting the world to the cause of Jesus! If you want to be on the leading edge of powerful proselytising, check out these new evangelism trends which are absolute fire!
Memes have been around since at least 2017 but Christians are really stepping into the meme space with some great ideas that will be mightily used to win all arguments with winsome and cutting wit. Finally, new memes such as Bad Luck Brian and Scumbag Steve will be used for kingdom gain.
Two: UberPool Bible Studies
This new trend consists of grabbing three friends, booking an UberPool and having a Bible study right there in the Uber. When the Uber picks up a fourth passenger, whether they like it or not, they’re in the middle of a powerful discussion about God’s love and Jesus’ saving work while transformative scripture washes over them. The most effective UberPoolvangelists are booking trips to the beach or large bodies of water so they can invite the fourth passenger, and driver if they want, to get baptised right there at the destination. If you want to leverage Uber for the Gospel, this is the way all the cool kids are doing it.
Three: Soul Auctions
With the downturn of the property market, more and more young people will be starting to look into buying their first property. This year real estate savvy Christians will begin holding false actions ten minutes before the real auction is set to begin. Starting at a ridiculously low price, young hopefuls will bid on the house with the fake auctioneer, who at the end of bidding will shout “Sold… your soul to Satan!” causing all present to question their eternal destiny. While the crowd is facing their existential crises, volunteers from local churches circulate throughout the crowd handing out free gospel tracts and smashed avocado, inviting all present to church that Sunday. Anecdotal evidence suggests that thousands have come to Christ using this technique in the last month alone.
Four: Getting Angry In Public
With a Federal election in Australia coming up, and a US Presidential election just 20 months away, Christians are all set to continue to use this tried and true technique. Christians have found that getting angry on television, in the paper, on social media, or just wandering the street shouting, has been very effective in sharing the love and grace of Christ. Non-Christians report to finding Jesus particularly attractive when they see Christians condemning them for their immoral lifestyle, especially if they belong to an already embattled minority group. Expect to see more fruitful rage between now and Jesus’ return.
Five: Keeping Your Head Down
One of the interesting trends of 2019 seems to be that as the Getting Angry in Public evangelism trend increases, so does the trend of Keeping Your Head Down. This technique involves being embarrassed that you’re a Christian and praying that no-one finds out. This technique along with the trend of getting drunk because “Christians can have fun too”, are thought to be some of the most powerful for convincing people of Jesus’ ability to bring hope and salvation to the world.
There are the top five evangelism trends for 2019. Do you think I’ve missed any? Let me know in the comments what you think they are. (Who am I kidding, no-one ever comments on websites these days).
Evangelism trend number six might be giving friends my book, Weird, Crude, Funny, and Nude: The Bible Exposed. Get it right here, or from Amazon, iBooks, and more. Or if you want to listen to me preach, you can subscribe to my podcast, but most of all you should read the Bible for yourself.
I’ve been writing a book about preaching to teenagers lately and I have spent a bit of time wondering if I’m qualified to write this book. I do preach to teenagers, but whether I know how to preach to teenagers is a whole different issue. I have made a few mistakes in my time. There are the obvious ones like preaching too long, being boring, having illustrations that overpower my point, being overly confessional, unnecessarily using Hebrew or Greek words, etc. But then there are a few mistakes that I suspect are unique to me. I’ll tell you three of my biggest preaching mistakes:
(Just before we get started, when it gets finished I am planning on giving the preaching book away for free. So if you want to get your hands on it, subscribe to get my emails – in the popup when you get near the bottom or on the right-hand sidebar – and I’ll make sure you’re one of the first to get it.)
1. Not Preaching
The first time I ever had to preach was in 2001 and I didn’t preach. I was so scared of preaching that I just played a piece of classical music and told people to think about God. It was a nice piece of music but I’m not sure it could really be considered a good sermon. Now maybe my first sermon would have been so bad that listening to a piece of music by Chopin was a better testament to the character of God than I could have dished out. But I’m also pretty sure Tim Keller would have given me zero marks for preaching Jesus. Me too. I give me zero marks for preaching Jesus. But go listen to the piece of music and think about God. It can’t hurt. Then go read the Bible, that can’t hurt less.
2. Getting Drunk While Preaching
Ok. I didn’t actually get drunk. But I did pretend to. In 2004 I was preaching on 1 Kings 18 about Elijah and the Prophets of Baal. In my opening illustration, I asked for suggestions from the congregation about how to make church more exciting while I drank apple juice out of a whiskey bottle and pretended to get drunk. I ended the illustration by standing on a pew and threatening to drop my pants. I think my point was that Israel was acting inappropriately in their worship, just as I was.
I’m actually still in two minds as to the quality of this illustration. I still think it’s pretty funny, but in retrospect, it probably wasn’t just an illustration of inappropriateness, it probably just was inappropriate.
Also, I chipped my tooth on the whiskey bottle. Just another example of me suffering for the gospel.
3. Making Stuff Up About the Bible
This is probably the one I’m most embarrassed about. In 2007 I was preaching on David and Saul’s relationship in 1 Samuel 18. I was talking about how we need to fit in with God’s plans, rather than fight them, and I said: “Better to be like Jonathan who ended up happy, and protected, and looked after, then to be like Saul who fought it and ended up dying by his own sword.” And then I went on to waffle on about God’s plans while it dawned on me that I actually had no idea what happened to Jonathan at the end of his life. You can hear it as I talk, I slowly grind to a halt, then confess my ignorance about the fate of Jonathan. I looked out at the congregation and saw a guy in our congregation who was drawing his thumb across his neck and it became very clear that Jonathan ended up dead, not “happy and protected”. “Oh bugger!” I said, into the mic, “I mean, darn”. I tried to talk my way out if it with this “new” information that had come to light but it was obvious to me and everyone else that I had just said something completely untrue while preaching.
So what did I learn? Read your Bible, research your sermons, make sure you know what the Bible says before you try and make points from it and confess your sins quickly.
If you wanna hear the whole embarrassing debacle, I kept a recording of it. Have a listen if you want some truly inspirational preaching:
Tom tells a Bible Furphy
So I still don’t know if I’m qualified to teach people how to preach, but hopefully, I am at least qualified in knowing how not to preach. If you’re a preacher and you make sure you preach, don’t get drunk, and don’t make up stuff about the Bible you’ll at least be doing a better job than me.
One of the most terrifying things that can happen to a Christian is to be asked about their faith by someone who isn’t a Christian:
“Aren’t all religions basically saying the same thing?”
“Doesn’t the Bible endorse slavery?”
“Hasn’t science disproved the Bible?”
“Don’t you have better things to do on a Sunday?”
We know that we’re meant to pray for these moments so we can dazzle our enquiring friend with our clear explanation of Jesus’ love and then lead them to faith in Christ, but more than likely we’re actually just scared we’re going to stuff it up.
I get asked questions like this from time to time and in my post-answer analysis I’m generally pretty unimpressed with my form. I feel like I give bumbling, apologetic answers that are totally unclear. I generally suspect that my friend went away less impressed with Christianity than they were before.
So what can you do?
One option is to run away. Or pretend they have the wrong person. (“Oh I’m not a Christian, you got me confused with my brother, Tim French.”) Or pretend you don’t speak English. These are all options available to you.
But, the Bible does say “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15) So perhaps better than running away is to be prepared. Like a scout.
How does one actually get prepared? Here are some ideas.
1. Figure out possible questions
The first thing to do is to figure out what questions you might get asked. The easiest way to do this is if a friend has already asked you a question! If you don’t know the answer when they ask you’re allowed to say “Good question. I don’t know, let me get back to you.” Then make sure you get back to them.
However, if you haven’t been asked a question, but live in fear of it, ask your friends what questions they get asked. Ask your pastors too. Find a person who you know who is known by all their friends as a Christian and ask them what they get asked. And if you still can’t find any questions, go read the comments section of any article online that hints at religion. That’ll give you plenty.
2. Figure out possible answers
Now that you have some questions, you need answers. So spend some time researching how you could address some of the questions. Ask your friends, ask your pastor, read some books, go search YouTube. Not every answer is going to be good, but they’ll help you figure out what you think. Most importantly, see what the Bible has to say on the topic. If you want to answer the questions from a Christian perspective, it’s pretty important that you include the Bible in your answer. You may not always like what it has to say, but, you know, it’s the Bible.
Finally, see if you can figure out how Jesus fits into your answer. In the end, you’d love your friend to see how great Jesus is, so if your answer can show them him, that’s a win.
Now that you have an answer to your question run it by some people you know and trust. If you’re really brave, find a friend who isn’t a Christian and see what they think of your answer. Then, after some honing, when you’re happy with what you’ve got, write it down. Now ask your friends if you can practice your answer on them. You’ll feel dumb but better to feel dumb while you practice than feel dumb when you get asked a question and don’t know how to answer.
4. Live a good life
The verse from 1 Peter comes in the context of Peter writing that followers of Jesus should live such good lives in the world that even if people dislike us because of our faith, they won’t be able to fault our behaviour. So live a life of love, kindness, generosity and all those other good things. It’ll be the best preparation for your answer no matter when people ask you.
5. Trust Jesus
When someone actually does ask you a question, say a quick silent prayer, (“Help me!” works great) then do your best at answering with gentleness and respect. Even if your answer is rubbish, Jesus can use it. He’s more interested in your friend knowing him than even you are, so trust that he’ll work it all out. Jesus has got this, you can relax.
And that’s it, five tips on question preparedness. I wrote this post because I got an email from someone asking me what my answer would be to the question “Why are you a Christian?” They were getting prepared, and they hadn’t even read my five tips. Amazing! I probably should have got them to write this post. Anyway, I hope the tips help. Don’t stress, you’ll be fine. And if you have any questions you want me to answer, feel free to ask, email firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll try to give you a response, or at very least, I’ll be honest and tell you I don’t know. I learned that from a blog post.
I recently shared about my new role as a Youth Minister for youth in Melbourne’s inner north. We’re currently looking to meet our fundraising goal. If you’d like to help support my ministry to young people, please go here find out more.
On the last day of 2018 I made perhaps the greatest discovery of the year. Cinema Nova, less than 3km from my house, offers $7 movie tickets on Mondays! $7! That’s almost ’90s cheap Tuesday prices! In the ’90s on Tuesdays, I would go to the cinema after school and watch up to three movies for less than the price of one movie today. Those were the glory days! And now I’ve discovered I could do that again! So one of my (definitely not dumb) New Year resolutions is to watch a movie there every Monday I possibly can. I may even review a few of them here on the blog.
I started the year with Eighth Grade. It’s a film about Kayla Day (played excellently by Elise Fisher), an eighth-grade girl enduring her last week of Middle School before she heads off to High School at the end of the summer. In terms of plot it is mostly very, very dull. Girl goes to school, girl goes to a party, girl goes to the mall, girl talks to Dad, girl graduates. But this movie is not dull at all. Because the whole film is told from Kayla’s perspective, it’s full of angst and anxiety. The small things become huge, and big things are monumental because when you’re 14 years-old sometimes whatever issues you have will fill any and all available space, whether they deserve the space or not.
Kayla is one of the most awkward kids ever put on the screen. Her difficulty in making conversation with anyone, her terrible attempts at flirting, her stilted relationship with her dad – she doesn’t seem to quite get how to do any of it. This is not a disaster movie, but much it feels like a disaster. In one scene Kayla vlogs about feeling nervous all the time, feeling those butterflies like you’re about to get on a rollercoaster without ever having the thrill of the rollercoaster or the joy and relief of having achieved something scary. Hearing that, I was reminded of how I felt nervous every day that I arrived at High School right up to year 12 for no reason other than I was arriving at school. School wasn’t particularly bad, it’s just that I was a teenager.
There is one scene where Kayla arrives at a pool party and has to go into the bathroom to get changed. Her private meltdown will resonate with anyone who hates pool parties. Another scene, that takes place in the backseat of the car, the film’s #metoo moment, is definitely not what you expect, it’s both tame, terrifying, and sickening all at the same time.
This is not your average teen comedy, it’s a whole lot better and more real than your average teen comedy. It doesn’t promise that the average girl can become hot if she just takes off her glasses and lets down her hair, or that if you’re persistent you can get the boy or girl of your dreams. It’s not full of good-looking 20-somethings playing 16 year-olds. It’s about growing up and learning to navigate the world and relationships. It doesn’t pretend everything will be fun or easy in the end. It could all be horrible, but you can make it through. You’ll be ok.
From what I can tell the film is a pretty accurate portrayal of what life is like as an eighth-grade girl today. However seeing as I am not one, and have never been one, I’d love to know what kids that age think of the film. Perhaps I’ll have a screening at youth group (though content-wise I probably couldn’t). But I would encourage anyone who works or volunteers in youth ministry to watch this film. It’ll remind you what it’s like to be a teenager. And it might also help you figure out what teenagers do on their screens all day.
Ok so January is mostly done (well, a third done at least) and by now you’ve probably not managed to keep your resolutions. But don’t worry, they were dumb anyway.
I half-heartedly made one resolution this year. I thought “I might try and do one of those one second everyday videos”. By 3rd January, I remembered I hadn’t filmed a second on the 2nd. But then I realised, those videos are so passé. And too long, like seven minutes. Who has seven minutes to watch my life? So I’m actually glad I didn’t waste a second every day filming my life, it was a dumb idea. Think how much free time I’ll have now that I’m not committed to that?
Were you the person who decided to run every day, and you’ve only done two runs this year? Did you know that running is terrible for your knees? Yeah, it is. What were you thinking? Making a New Year’s resolution to destroy your knees is absurd. Good thing you figured it out so early on. Future You thanks you.
Remember the diet you stuck to till last Thursday? Yeah, lucky you didn’t keep up with that. Food is important for community building, you would have spent the year saying “Sorry, I’m on a diet.” Dieting is just saying “I hate community. I hate people.” But now you’ve sobered up, it’s great to know that you’re gonna keep eating cake for the sake of friendships, new and old.
Remember how you were going to make a budget, and start saving more? But now you’ve already spent more than you planned to spend for all of January, and raided those savings you put away. That, in fact, was a wise move. Money is there to be spent. Do a survey in your mind of people you know with budgets and savings, now think about people you know who just spend money as it comes in. You know what you just noticed? People with savings are boring, people who spend money are fun. You’re a fun person, that’s why you can’t save. Obviously, you made a mistake trying to tame your true self. You spend your money – you be you.
I don’t know what other resolutions you’ve made and broken. But don’t worry, it was for the best. I promise. Resolutions are about fighting the inertia of your life, inertia is physics. Do you really want to be the person fighting the laws of physics? I don’t think so. See, your resolutions were dumb, as dumb as destroying gravity, disproving light, or silencing sound. When you break your resolutions you’re not giving up, you’re embracing truth. You’re choosing not to live the lie that January 1 is any different from December 31.
Good on you for choosing to no longer pursue the arrogance of change, the folly of improvement, and the stupidity of hope. As the great saying goes, “Shoot for the moon, if you miss you’ll get stuck circling the earth, before burning up in earth’s atmosphere due to orbital decay.” Your resolutions were dumb anyway.