Books I’ve Read Recently

During the month of January we did a series in our student ministry called “Dating, Marriage, and Sex” (you can go here to listen to that entire series online). In preparation for that series I read a few books on the topics of relationships and sex. Below are those books.

sex-dating-relationships_2Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas. This was by far the most interesting book on this topic I have ever read. The authors did a fantastic job of being Biblical accurate and Gospel centered while explaining the practical side of relationships and sex in ways that I have never heard. The authors goal in this book is to move past the “just don’t have sex before marriage” argument by helping the reader see the Biblical foundation for sex and relationships and what God actually calls us to. There is great chapter on sex and how it is a picture of the Gospel. There is also two great chapters that focus on dating and helping the reader understand why the Bible doesn’t address dating (and it’s more than just “dating didn’t exist back in Bible times). In light of this, there is an interesting chapter that calls for dating to be done differently in the form of what the authors call “dating friendships.” They define this concept as “two friends getting to know each other with a view toward marriage” (page 92). They go on to explain that concept in more detail in the book. Overall this was a great book that challenged many of my own thoughts on sex and relationships. I’d highly recommend this book to singles who want a clear understanding of sexual purity, dating, and marriage.

Love-Sex-DatingThe New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating by Andy Stanley. This book deals less with sex and more with love, relationships, and preparing for marriage. Even though the principles and concepts Stanley talks about in this book are Biblical, there isn’t a ton of references to the Bible and an attempt to helping the reader understand God’s Word. However, I wouldn’t say that makes this a “bad book.” In fact, I think it’s a great book that will challenge both the Christian and non-Christian single to understand love, relationships, and marriage better. In this book, Stanley calls singles to drop the “right person myth,” prepare well for marriage, strive to become the right person (“be the kind of person you want to marry”), and a commitment to sex the way God designed it. There are a host of other things Stanley discusses in this book but the overall message is to slow down, prepare, be the right kind of person, and enjoy marriage and sex the way God intended it to be enjoyed. I would highly recommend this book to young adults who desire to marry. I’d love to get this in the hands of upper high school students as well as college students. I wouldn’t recommend this book for anyone under that age group.

41uEQDpG5OL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Sex Matters by Jonathan McKee. This is the best book written to teenagers about sex. There has been plenty that have been written but many simply argue “just wait” rather than explaining God’s beautiful design for sex. McKee doesn’t hold back in this book. He doesn’t tip toe around this topic but answers head on the questions teenagers are asking about sex. He does an excellent job at helping teenagers see why waiting on sex for marriage is actually a very good thing. The next obvious question teenagers ask after they hear about waiting is “how far is too far?” Instead of going the legalistic route and giving a list of things teenagers “can do” and “cannot due” until marriage, McKee explains that sex is a process and that “entire process is only for marriage” (page 49). In light of that, McKee urges teenagers then to do the obvious – don’t start the process. McKee then spends a whole chapter on helping teenagers understand why the Bible says “flee” and how teenagers can do this. The last two chapters of the book deals with porn and masturbation as well as answering some common questions teenagers ask about sex. This is a book I wish every teenager would read. It will help them understand God’s design for sex and answer many of the questions they have. It’s extremely practical as well. If you’re a parent, get this book and encourage your teen to read it. If you’re a youth worker, consider giving this book to your students or at least reading it and having it on your shelve to help you understand how to address teenagers about sex.

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Biblical Principles for Teen Dating

Teen_datingDating is part of the teenage experience. Most teenagers at some point will engage in dating relationships. As someone who works with teenagers I have seen almost everything when it comes to teens and dating. I have seen middle school students “fall in love.” I have seen high school students date for years and continue dating into their college years. I have seen teenagers hit rock bottom as the person they are dating ends the relationship. I have seen teenagers jump from one dating relationship to another just because they need that “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” relationship. I have sat with students who are dating that honestly want to honor God in their relationship so they set boundaries and spiritual goals for their relationship. If you are around teenagers, maybe as a parent or youth worker like me, you have seen some of this stuff. If you care about teenagers, as parents and youth workers do, you want to help them navigate and work through the strange world of dating.

So when it comes to dating many of us want to know what does the Bible says so that we can pass it  on to teenagers. We want them to obey God’s Word in all areas of their lives, especially when it comes to dating relationships. But here is the tricky part – the Bible doesn’t address dating. Yep, dating is never mentioned or even referred to in God’s Word. The simple answer as to why is because dating as we know it today didn’t exist back then.

So what are we to do? First, we tell them the Bible doesn’t address it. We need to be honest about that. Second, we look into God’s Word and draw principles out of it that can be applied to dating. That’s what we need to pass on to teenagers. We need to show them clear Biblical principles that can and should be applied to dating so they can go about it in a way that honors and glorifies God.

Here are some Biblical principles that can and should be applied to dating relationships. These are the Biblical truths we should pass on to teenagers to help them date in a way that would honor God.

Obey your parents dating rules. When it comes to dating, parents have different views. Some parents encourage it while other strongly discourage it. Some allow their children to date whenever their kid decides to while others set an age when their children can start dating. No matter what the rules are God expects teenagers to obey their parents. Ephesians 6:1 (ESV) says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Parents should set rules and boundaries for their teenagers when it comes to dating and teenagers should obey those rules.

Date other Christians. Christian teenagers should date other Christians. When a Christian teenager decides to date a non-Christian it usually hinders the faith of the Christian teenager. They will usually be pulled away from their relationship with God and be tempted to walk in a way that doesn’t line up with their Christian faith. In 2 Corinthians 6:14 (ESV) says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” Even though this verse is usually applied to marriage, it also can be applied to dating. If we would encourage Christians to marry Christians, doesn’t it make sense to encourage Christians to date other Christians? I think so. In this video, Tim Keller explains how it’s not practical for Christians to date non-Christians. In her book Sex and Dating, Mindy Meier adds a good point to remember. She says, “It’s fine to have friendships with non-Christians, but do not commit to anyone who does not share your same faith. True compatibility grows from a join quest to follow God, to conform your life to the guidelines of the Bible and to draw from the spiritual resources found in Christ.”

Pursue sexual purity. The biggest issue with teenage dating is the door it opens to sexual temptation. I have never met a teenage dating couple who does not struggle in this area. Teenagers need to understand that God created sex to be enjoyed in the context of marriage. When you engage in sex, or any sexual activity for that matter, outside of marriage it is sin. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 (ESV) says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” First Corinthians 6:18 (ESV) says, “Flee from sexual immorality..” Both of these verses use the term “sexual immorality,” which is the Biblical term that covers all forms of sexual activity outside of marriage. Teenagers should know that the Bible considers more than just intercourse outside of marriage a sin. God commands us to abstain and flee from any sexual activity outside of marriage.

Don’t let the person you are dating become the center of your life. Many times when teenagers date they place the person they are dating at the center of their lives. They neglect friends, family, and even God at times because their boyfriend or girlfriend has become the most important person in their life. Teenagers must understand that God should be the most important person in their lives. He doesn’t tolerate or share that spot with anyone. Whenever we put anything before God, it’s becomes idolatry. It’s safe to say many teenagers make the person they are dating an idol. Teenagers who desire to maintain a healthy dating relationship will not put the person they are dating as their first priority.

A few weeks ago I talked to our students about dating in our “Dating, Marriage, and Sex” series. Much of what I posted above was from that talk. However, if you want to hear more about these Biblical principles that can be applied to dating I’d encourage you to listen to that talk online. Click here to listen.

Book Review: Counter Culture by David Platt

41O76wsT0VL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Recently I finished reading David Platt’s new book Counter Culture. I’ve always enjoyed reading Platt’s books and found this one to be my personal favorite. It’s a timely book that speaks about major issues we are facing today as a church and as a culture.

In this book, Platt urges and shows how we as Christians must be counter cultural when it comes to the various issues that are in our world today. The issues Platt hits in this book are poverty, abortion, orphans and widows, sex slavery, marriage, sexual morality, ethnicity, and religious liberty. Platt dedicates a whole chapter to each one of these issues. Within these issues other topics that show up are same-sex marriage, immigration, persecution, and more. Platt bookends these issues with a chapter on how the Gospel is the great offense and calls us to be counter cultural. Then he ends the book with an urgent plea to not loose sight of the unreached world around us. Instead of going into detail about what Platt says about these issues (I’ll let you discover that on your own when you read the book) I want to share five things I really liked about this book. These are just a few of the many reasons I believe this is a “must read” for Christians today.

Boldness and humility. Throughout this book Platt balances boldness and humility well. There isn’t a page in this book that doesn’t have one or more bold statements that calls the reader out of complacency and indifference on these important issues. However, Platt’s boldness is balanced by a deep humility. Throughout the book Platt shares how he hasn’t always responded to these issues in the way God expects. He also shares how he doesn’t have all the answers and is seeking answers alongside the reader. Platt’s boldness for the Gospel and his deep humility is clearly seen throughout this book.

Gospel-Centered. If you have ever read anything about or by Platt you know he is a very Gospel-centered leader, writer, and person. It would be easy for anyone to write a book about social issues like these and do so in a way that isn’t Gospel-centered. However, Platt realizes and shares how the only real answer to these issues is the Gospel. That doesn’t mean he ignores the practical and gives us a pass to not take action, in fact, Platt shows us how the Gospel fuels action and demands we live counter culturally as well as doing something about these vital issues. Platt shows how the Gospel is the foundation and key to addressing and fixing these social issues. He also shows how the Gospel itself transforms Christians and how they see and act towards these issues.

Practical. Platt not only tackles these issues with a large dose of Bible and theology, but also shares a lot of practical things the reader can do in response to these issues. At the end of each chapter, Platt shares a list of things the reader can do in response to that particular issue. There is also a helpful website for this book that has more resources on each issue and more.

Focuses on the local church. The call to live counter culturally and respond to these issues is something that is not just given to the individual Christian, but to the church as a whole. The entire body of Christ has been called to counter culture and to respond in a way that God expects when it comes to these social issues. Platt keeps the local church at the center of how we should respond to these issues. He calls the Christian to partner with their local church in doing something about these issues. I believe that’s the way God wants it. God doesn’t want “lone ranger” Christians working their tails off alone against these issues. He wants Christians to work together as a church to counter culture and through the Gospel make a difference in the world around them.

Timely chapters for the American Christian on racism, homosexuality, and religious freedom. I’m not suggesting these issues don’t exists elsewhere in the world or that they are not timely for other countries, but I do believe these are very timely chapters for Christians in America. Our country is facing racial issues, a redefinition of marriage, and freedom of religion becoming less of a reality. Platt takes these issues head on and shows how the Gospel ascends race and breaks down the racial walls. He shows how homosexuality is wrong and against God’s design for marriage. He shows how religious freedom should be given but how we much approach such an issue. These chapters are needed for American Christians today.

As you can probably tell I really liked this book and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand more about these issues as well as how to respond in a God-honoring way. It’s a powerful book that packs a much needed punch.

What Parents Need to Know About Their Teen and Sexting

teen-using-cell-phoneOne of the popular trends among teenagers today that parents need to be aware of is sexting. In this post I want to share a few thoughts on sexting that I believe will both inform and help parents have conversations with their teen about sexting.

What is sexting? The first thing we need to do is establish what sexting is. Sexting is sending sexually explicit messages, photos, or videos via text messaging or some other form of social media messaging. In the past the idea of sexting has been referred to as phone sex or cybersex. Research from Pew Research found that last year 78% of teenagers had their own cell phone. They also found that half of them not only had a cell phone, but had a smartphone. We can assume the percent of teens with cell phones has risen above 78% since last year and with the popularity of smartphones more teens are not just getting a cell phone but a smartphone. The majority of sexting happens via text messaging. However, sexting, as we see in the definition above, can be done also through social media networks. So sexting can happen via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram since these networks all have private messaging features. Other apps like Snapchat are extremely popular for sexting.

Why is sexting popular with teens? There are a few reasons why I think sexting is popular with teens that I think are important for parents to know about. First, sexting seems to be popular with teens because “everyone is doing it.” Many teens who may not feel comfortable sexting will eventually do it because their friends are. Which leads to the second reason I think sexting popular with teens, which is peer pressure. Teens feel pressured to sext because “everyone is doing it” or maybe their boyfriend or girlfriend is pressuring them into it. For example, one girl said she was pressured into sexting when she was only 12 years old by the boy she was “going out with.” Usually it’s the guy that pressures the girl into sexting. One article says that 51% of girls said they felt pressured by guys to sext while only 18% of guys said they felt pressured from a girl. The third reason sexting seems to be popular with teens is the false sense of safety that comes with. Many teens that will not engage sexual activity in person will sext because they feel “safe” or “comfortable” behind the screen on their phone. Also, the app Snapchat has a feature that allows you to set a time limit on how long someone can view your picture. However, all this is a false sense of safety and comfort. An article I already linked to mentions two great points on this – photos and videos sent privately can be easily shared publicly and once digital images or videos are out there they leave a digital footprint cannot be “taken back.” When a teen sends a semi-nude or fully nude photo to someone within a private message the person that receives that message can easily save the image to their phone and share it however they want. Even though apps like Snapchat give the user the ability to set a time limit, the person receiving the picture can easily take a screenshot before the time limit expires. There are many more reasons why sexting is popular with teens, but these are a few important ones for parents to know about.

Why is sexting is a bad idea? For starters, sexting is a bad idea because it can lead to teens being publicly humiliated if their private photo or video goes public. Not only that, but in many states sexting is actually illegal and is considered a major crime (click here to sexting-related laws based on your state). What I am about to say next may not sit well with you if you do not believe in the Bible and view it as God’s standard of absolute truth. However, since I am a Christian and believe in the Bible I want to point out what God has revealed about sexual activity, which is what sexting is. 1 Corinthians 6:18, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, and Ephesians 5:3 tells us to flee, abstain, and to not even have a hint of sexual immorality. What does sexually immorality mean? Sexual immorality, when used in the Bible (Greek word – porneia), refers to any form of sexual activity outside of the context of marriage between one man and one woman. God’s design is for a man and a woman to enjoy sexual activity within the context of their marriage. Any form of sexual activity outside of that, like sexting, is considered sin and is wrong.

What can parents do about their teen and sexting? The best thing parents can do is to have an open conversation with their teen about sexting. Talk to them about the pressures and dangers that come with sexting. Talk to them about how they should use text messaging and social media. Also, do some research and learn about the sexting trend among teens so you be informed and be intentional about helping your teen in this area. Lastly, don’t be afraid to set boundaries for your teen when it comes to their phone. Keep an eye on their social media accounts (get their username and password so you can check them from time to time) and other things they may be doing on their phone.

There is much more we could say on this topic, but this should inform you as a parent and help you understand your teen and sexting.

Book Review: Parent’s Guide to Understanding Sex & Dating

parents-guide-sex-and-datingLast year I did a parent seminar called “Social Media 101” and in preparation for that seminar I read Mark Oestreicher and Adam Mclane’s book A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media. I really enjoyed that book and would highly recommend it to parents. A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Sex & Dating by Mark Oestreicher and Joel Mayward is another book in this series that I really enjoyed and would also recommend to parents.

Packed in this little book is a ton of helpful information for parents (and youth workers) about teen sex and dating. Oestreicher and Mayward start the book with laying a theological foundation for sex. Whenever we talk about things regarding sex it’s always important to go back to the theological foundation God put in place for sex, marriage, and relationships. I love how they started the book with this and even explained how the fact humans have been created in the “image of God” (imago dei) impacts how our sexuality. On that Biblical foundation the writers deal with myths from culture and the church about sex (chapter 2), gender-specific sexual issues (chapter 3), how to talk to your teenager about sex and creating boundaries for dating (chapter 4-5), and covering specific issues in regards to sex and dating such as masturbation, homosexuality, oral sex, and modesty (chapter 6).

As much as I liked this book, I did however disagree with some of the writers conclusions on a few of the sexual issues they covered in the last chapter, namely masturbation and homosexuality.

In regards to masturbation, they say, “Masturbation is one of those subjects that Christians have done a horrible job of addressing” (page 59). I totally agree with that. Masturbation is a subject many times in the church we overlook and don’t address while teenagers, especially guys, are struggling with this addictive habit. However, the writers seem to simply dismiss masturbation is an issue that is normal for teens (being part of their development) and we shouldn’t worry too much about it. I have a hard time being ok with that conclusion. I do not believe the act of masturbation is a sin. There is no verse in the Bible that says it is. However, masturbation and lust are linked. One cannot masturbate without lusting (well maybe 1 in 1 billion people can). Also, I would argue that God’s plan if for a man and a woman to come together in sex and when one masturbates that receive sexual gratification in a way different from what God has planned. Because of that, I think masturbation is an issue we need to address with teens and help them see it’s closely linked to lust, which is clearly a sin, and goes against God’s plan for sex.

Not only did the writers conclusion on masturbation not sit well with me, their conclusion on homosexuality was a little fuzzy and not clear. They seemed to skip around the issue of homosexuality being a sin and just addressed how we should respond to teens struggling with this issue. I agree we need to respond better than the church has in the past towards homosexuality and we need to love and help those grapple with their sexuality, but at the end of the day homosexuality is a sin and we must call it a sin.

Overall I really enjoyed this book and it gave me a better understanding of teen sex and dating. It also helped me understand how important parents are in this area and how I can encourage them to shepherd their child in the area of their sexuality. I would recommend parents of teenagers to grab a copy of this little book and read it. It will help you understand you minister and shepherd your teen immensely.