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Reader's Corner: "Understanding Sexual Abuse" by Tim Hein
My first response after reading this book was,“This guy doesn’t waste a word!” In 182 pages, Tim Hein addresses some of the most pressing and complex issues related to childhood sexual abuse, while also sharing from his own journey. Tim's official role is that of minister at Malvern Uniting Church and the director of discipleship at Uniting College in Australia. More importantly, both Tim and his wife, Priscilla, are survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  The focus of this book is to help Christian leaders have a practical understanding of how to minister to sexual abuse survivors. The author doesn’t try to make you an expert but provides a thorough overview of what will equip you to be a compassionate source of healing and advocacy for this often overlooked population. I have read 300-page books that cover the topics of each one of his chapters. Tim does a phenomenal job of selecting and clearly communicating the most essential components of understanding brain trauma, becoming a safe place to disclose, the journey of healing, and the complexity of forgiveness and justice. Through his personal story of anguish and recovery, Tim guides the reader in navigating questions like, “Why would a good God have allowed this suffering?” and “Is it wrong to want revenge?”  What I love the most about this book is the author’s consistent approach toward integration. For a survivor of sexual abuse, integration is a powerful word because healing involves the integration of the abuse experience within a person’s sense of self and life story. It is significant that Tim Hein models different aspects of integration throughout this small, powerful resource.    The integration of theology and psychology. Most Christian books about sexual trauma have a clunky relationship between psychology and the Scriptures. The authors often seem to be working too hard to make one fit the other (or they allow one to dominate at the expense of the other.) Tim’s knowledge of trauma science is evident and seems to seamlessly flow with his intimate knowledge of God as his Healer and Redeemer. Without saying it, Tim models a beautiful integration of God’s power revealed in Scripture, creation, and healing personal relationships.    The integration of his story with teaching. Each chapter begins with a vignette from Tim or Priscilla’s healing journey, without sugar coating the pain and struggle of the personal road of recovery. Then at some point in each chapter, Tim “looks the reader in the eye” and gives wise counsel on how to learn from his experience. Many Christian leaders shy away from telling their stories, particularly their struggles to forgive, their anger, and their depression. They fear that telling the raw and messy truth of their journey may invalidate them as leaders. Others get so lost in their own pain that they miss the opportunity to teach others from what they’ve experienced. Tim strikes a beautiful balance of modeling Henri Nouwen’s “Wounded Healer.”    The integration of theory and practical application. There is a certain amount of science and theology a person must understand to know how to compassionately respond to childhood sexual abuse. For example, it’s critical to know why a person may recall a memory of abuse twenty years after it happened. And understanding a basic theology of suffering will keep you from panicking when asked a question about God’s goodness. But all of that information will not ultimately equip you to know how to respond when someone’s life is falling apart in the wake of sexual abuse. Tim gives you the basics you need to know from respected scientific and theological scholars, but he never gets lost in the weeds of theory. He quickly moves to practical applications like what to do when someone discloses abuse to you and the importance of avoiding simplistic sermons about complex topics like forgiveness.  Understanding Sexual Abuse* is one that I will keep on my bookshelf and gladly recommend to any Christian who wants to be equipped to minister to this vulnerable population.    What to Watch Next: Why Christian Leaders Must Understand Sexual Trauma, Ask Anything: Interview with Tim Hein   *This is an affiliate link. AI may earn referral fees from qualifying purchases.
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Reader's Corner: "Embodied" by Dr. Preston Sprinkle
I remember standing in the grocery store checkout line not more than five years ago while listening to a podcast. The host of the podcast suggested that within just a few years, gender would be considered a fluid concept, simply a social construct, by mainstream America.  “No way,” I thought to myself. From my studies and experience as a psychologist, I knew about gender dysphoria, cross-dressing fetishes, and intersex conditions. However, these were widely regarded as rare and agreed upon as “disorders” by the psychological and medical communities. Throughout history, male and female have been a cornerstone of how we understand humanity. I couldn’t imagine a society that would encourage the rejection of such foundational truth.  Here we are in 2021, experiencing that new reality. As parents and Christian leaders, we are now encountering questions we couldn’t even imagine just a few short years ago. Questions about twelve-year-olds taking hormone blockers, plural pronouns to describe an individual, unisex bathrooms, and whether or not sex reassignment surgery is a sin. A few months ago, I met a woman who was married to a biological woman who had transitioned to a male identity. The woman I met had just become a Christian. “Does God see my spouse as a man or woman? Is my marriage biblical? As a follower of Christ, what do I do?” Enter Dr. Preston Sprinkle. A courageous professor with a Ph.D. in New Testament from Scotland and a passion for the LGBT+ community. Preston’s most recent book Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church and What the Bible Has To Say is a labor of love for the body of Christ.  This is not a light read, but a well-researched resource for the Christian who is willing to wrestle with the complexities of the transgender world. Preston does a masterful job of blending together three critical components of understanding the trans community: People, psychology/medicine, and theology. He then applies the conclusions of these three sources of information to the real-life tension of a loving and biblical response.  Not Just an Issue It is tempting for Christian authors, teachers and speakers to get stuck digging for truth in LGBT conversations while neglecting the genuine pain of individuals. As in his most recent book, People to Be Loved, Preston makes it clear from the outset of Embodied that he refuses to allow this to happen. Gender fluidity and dysphoria are not simply issues to debate. They impact real people and can literally represent a life or death struggle. Preston’s empathy and his relationships with a variety of people walking this journey continually remind the reader to remember how Jesus loves people and pursues the marginalized. While not openly chastising the Church for her neglect of the trans community, Preston’s empathy serves to convict and to prompt us to respond with genuine compassion to individuals, not just react to an issue. Science and Research From a psychological perspective, Preston gives a helpful summary of relevant terms and research including discussions on Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, intersex conditions, and less commonly known variations of gender angst. He documents the history of gender dysphoria as it transitioned in psychological and medical communities from a disorder to an accepted preference. Preston emphasizes that the trans community is comprised of a wide variety of people whose experiences can be vastly different. Quoting recognized expert, Mark Yarhouse, he reminds us, “If you’ve met one trans person… you’ve met one trans person.”  Preston cites helpful research about comorbidity with anxiety, depression, suicidality, and other psychological disorders among the trans community. Although longitudinal outcomes research on gender reassignment is minimal, he summarizes what these studies have thus far indicated.  What Does the Bible Say? As a biblical scholar, Preston does a thorough job of examining gender through the lens of Scripture. He doesn’t spend much time in passages specifically about cross dressing (like Leviticus 22:5), but dives more deeply into God’s purposes for male and female as they comprise the image of God. He applies biblical passages about sin, brokenness, redemption, and discipleship to the trans conversation. Preston also addresses common liberal theological arguments that support gender fluidity, such as Paul’s comment in Galatians 3:28 (There is neither male nor female…). I found Preston’s biblical teaching to be both solid in tone and satisfying in depth.  Practical Application The most courageous aspect of this book is not simply the biblical and culturally unpopular stand Preston takes, but his willingness to tackle real-life application. While sincere Christians are unlikely to disagree with Preston’s biblical scholarship, they may take issue with some of his suggested applications. Do you use a person’s requested pronouns? Do you allow a biological girl to identify as a boy in your youth group? Should your church proactively minister to the trans community? Preston says “yes” to all of these questions.  While acknowledging that many leaders he highly respects disagree with him on some of these points, Preston is not shy about his commitment first and foremost to a posture of compassion.  I am grateful that Preston was willing to “put himself out there” by addressing these real-life questions that parents, loved ones, and church leaders are actually asking. Even if you disagree with where he lands on a particular point, Preston’s courage and compassion are challenging and admirable.  If you are in ministry or want to thoughtfully and compassionately engage the transgender conversation, this book is a must-read. Thank you, Preston, for the hard work, diligent scholarship, and Christ-like love reflected in Embodied. (Embodied becomes available on Feb 1st, 2021) Are you a Sexual Discipleship member? Don't forget to check out how some of the respected leaders answer some of the the most challenging questions around sexuality in our Ask Anything videos. Not a member? Learn more here.
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Reader's Corner: "Talking Back to Purity Culture" by Rachel Joy Welcher
Purity culture has been a topic of conversation for several years as Christian women who were teenagers in the 1990’s (at the height of the purity movement) are now in their thirties and forties. Many who grew up in the evangelical purity movement are experiencing pain in singleness and marriage—pain they assumed they would avoid with their purity pledges and commitments to abstinence. In response, several have written blogs and books decrying the harm done by well-meaning pastors, parents, and teachers who urged these teens to “save sex until marriage.”  Rachel Joy Welcher's book, "Talking Back to Purity Culture," is a recent example. Rachel grew up in a loving Christian home and saved sex for marriage. She became disillusioned when her husband left the Christian faith and her marriage five years later. This—along with watching her Christian friends walk through the trials of singleness, sexual assault, and sexual pain in marriage—led her to complete her master’s thesis on the topic of purity culture.  What I Liked I found myself underlining, highlighting, and cheering Rachel on as I read her book. With clarity, she points out ways that the evangelical purity culture has perpetuated victim blaming, a double standard for Christian women and men, unhealthy expectations about sex in marriage, neglect for those who have suffered sexual trauma, and devalued singleness. I whole-heartedly agree with this assessment and have devoted much of the past several years to helping Christians have a more complete biblical framework for sexuality.  As I have said and written many times, every sexual issue is also a spiritual issue. Disillusionment with the Church’s teaching on sex will prompt us to reconsider God’s character and the trustworthiness of Scripture. For this reason, I particularly appreciate that Rachel has “deconstructed” from the simplistic message of the purity narrative, but reconstructed on the bedrock of trusting God and leaning into biblical truth. This is a necessary contrast to others like Linda Kay Klein (Pure), Nadia Bolz-Weber (Shameless), Josh Harris and Glennon Doyle who have examined the harm of the purity message and found resolution by stepping away from foundational Christian beliefs.  Rachel spends more ink dedicated toward diagnosing the problem of past approaches than presenting a practical and biblical way of moving forward. While she offers some suggestions for a healthier biblical ethic, she doesn’t dive into the biblical narrative of sex, exploring God’s heart for the “why” sex matters.  What Concerns Me Rachel wrote this book much like an academic literature review, including scores of quotes from books by Christian authors to prove her point. She praises some (Debra Hirsch, Jackie Hill Perry, Scott Sauls, Daniel Darling) as “getting it right.” Others she criticizes (Rebecca St. James, James Dobson, Josh Harris, John Eldredge, Dannah Gresh, Stephen Arterburn and Shannon Ethridge) as promoting great harm. I personally know several of the authors on both her “good” and  “bad” lists. Many of these are courageous men and women who have worked to honor God with faithfulness to His Word. Indeed the Bible does say much about striving for moral and sexual purity. The primary difference distinguishing these two camps of authors is when their books were written. I have a sneaking suspicion that Rachel’s book—and even my own books—would sound a lot more like the purity culture had we written them thirty years ago. I just finished a complete overhaul of my first book, written in 2000, and cringed at some of the nuance of my understanding of sex and marriage back then.  Our conversation about God and sexuality has evolved as our culture pursues “sex positivity” and as we learn more about the physiology of sex, addiction, gender, and trauma. Much has transpired over the past few decades to prompt Christians to examine the traditions passed down to us by our Church fathers. We can no longer be silent or simply recite verses that condemn sexual immorality. Instead, we must press into the character and Word of God, and be willing to wrestle with questions posed about abuse, sexual shame, hypocrisy, legalism, human depravity, and Christian liberty. God’s Word gives us guidance to grasp in our minds and hearts a deep theology and praxis around all sexual issues. Yet, we seek and wrestle with real-life tension. We approach our Christian history of sex (including the simplicity of purity culture and unloving posture toward LGBT individuals) with repentance, humility, and dependence upon God to equip us through His Spirit and the Body of the church.  My primary concern about "Talking Back to Purity Culture" is the neglect for this nuance and respect for our fellow brothers and sisters who have boldly addressed sexual issues in decades past. I have a deep appreciation for the forerunners of this conversation, even if we now have eyes to see how things should have been communicated differently. It is entirely possible to critically dissect the teaching and traditions of the Church without aiming that criticism directly, and perhaps unfairly, at our sincere brothers and sisters.  The purity message got some things wrong but also has done great good. No Christian author is “all good” nor “all bad” in what they write. In hindsight, we can pick out sentences and phrases that we now see have the potential of misunderstanding and harm. Even so, we can just as readily point to the many who were helped and shielded from the world’s abuse of sex because of the men and women who courageously wrote and taught in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It humbles me to know that when we pass the baton to the next generation of Christ followers, they will see that Juli Slattery got some things wrong! I pray this in no way detracts from the work God wills to do in me and through me today.  In summary, Rachel’s work in "Talking Back to Purity Culture" is an important “voice” in the chorus of God’s people who strive to understand and articulate His heart for sexual redemption. I would only encourage Rachel to join arms with those around her who have labored to sing the same song, even when they have gotten a little off key. May we pursue not only a complete theology of sex, but do so while honoring one another in the love and grace of Jesus Christ.   
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Reader's Corner: "Pure" by Linda Kay Klein
I recently read a very sad book, Pure by Linda Kay Klein. This book keeps popping up in my newsfeed, which tells me that people want to talk about it. The subtitle of the book hits precisely why this book caused my heart to ache: “Inside the evangelical movement that shamed a generation of young women and how I broke free.” Within the book, the author shares her journey of shame, confusion and turmoil around sexual issues resulting from the way she learned about sex from a conservative evangelical church. Her upbringing was much like mine. She describes moments in her teen years of passionately committing her life to the Lord and His work around the world. She would have been one of my good friends had we gone to the same church or youth group. But Linda’s faith journey was radically derailed because of harmful messages she heard about sexuality, sexual sin, sexual abuse and femininity. As I’ve said before, every sexual issue is ultimately a spiritual issue. When sex becomes confusing, God becomes confusing. Throughout the book Pure Linda shares the stories of dozens of women who experienced deep rooted shame and trauma related to their sexual choices and experiences and not fitting the evangelical stereotypes of a “pure woman.” The problem, as well as the solution, are summed up in the book's subtitle. The Church has mishandled sexuality and femininity. Freedom is found apart from the evangelical church. Both statements are heart-wrenching.   The Problem My heart literally ached as I read the words of women who have been damaged by insensitivity and harmful teaching. Women who were  blamed for a pastor’s sexual advances and those who felt shame not for having sex but simply for being sexual creatures with beautiful bodies. I read about women struggling with gender and same sex attraction who were shunned, sexual abuse victims who were minimized rather than offered help, and women with strong personalities and opinions who were told to conform or leave. Others told stories of extreme anxiety in the marriage bed because of consistently pairing sex with shame. What Linda Kay Klein has documented is real, pervasive and must not be ignored.  There is ample evidence that the way the church has addressed (or flat out ignored) sexual issues has caused harm for men, women and marriages. We must also note that while this problem is widespread, it certainly does not represent every Christian woman’s experience. Many within the evangelical churches have lovingly and truthfully guided young women through the challenges of adolescence, dating, romance and sexuality. However, by-in-large, Christians have not been beacons of hope offering truth and love within an area that is intrinsically tied to human worth and dignity. By distorting God’s truth on sexuality, we have unwittingly distorted the larger message of God’s love. Linda writes: My friends and I were told in one breath we were loved unconditionally, accepted just as we were, and headed for Heaven, and in the next we were warned of the evils of feminists, homosexuals, women who had sex outside of marriage, and other Hell-bound individuals. It didn’t even occur to me that some people in youth group might already see themselves as fitting into some of these categories that I wouldn’t see myself in for years, and how that must have felt to them then, but what did occur to me was this: The unconditional love that I had fallen for in my early days in the church? It was conditional.     The Solution  The second reason why the book Pure is so sad is the author’s conclusion that freedom from shame comes from walking away from God, or at least from the version of God that limits our sexual expression. Practically every woman interviewed for the book has resolved her conflict by distancing herself from the biblical teaching that sexual intimacy was created for the covenant of marriage between a man and woman. The tension of sexuality and God, according to Linda, disappears as we choose for ourselves a sexual ethic that feels right. If you also choose to hang onto God in the process, He is perfectly fine with your own personal sexual morality. We must make a distinction between God’s design for sexuality and the ways in which we have failed to appropriately teach it. Biblical teaching about sexuality is not a random form of morality but reflects how we were designed to thrive and function. Throwing off moral restraint does not bring freedom but ultimately leads to yet another form of bondage. Linda’s book, while compelling, is also very one-sided. I could compile an equally compelling book of women who wish that someone would have taught them to value themselves enough to say “no” to a dozen guys in high school. Women who wish they could turn back the clock to undo the abortions or reverse the effect of herpes. There are many more women who carry shame not because of what they learned in church but because they have gone from man to man to man, only to be discarded yet again.   Freedom will never be found in walking away from God but rather in running toward Him. The message that sexuality is shameful is not found within the pages of Scripture. God created us as sexual people. Our sexuality is a wonderful gift that teaches us about the nature of God’s passionate and faithful love. (Listen to our "Why God Created You to Be Sexual" podcast and read our "Why Does Sex Matter?" blog to learn more.) Because sexuality is so powerful and sacred, the Bible clearly teaches how our sexual passions are to be directed. The Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, emphatically tells us to avoid sexual immorality (this includes things like sex outside of marriage, pornography and same-sex activity). But here’s the key: Our “purity” has never been based on our sexual choices but upon our reliance on the finished work of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. We will not “go to Hell” because we had sex before marriage or slept with another woman. We go to Hell because we reject Jesus as Lord and Savior who has given His life to pay for our sin. This is the heart of the Gospel and must not be lost in the midst of our efforts to teach people about biblical sexuality. After all, God is not after our “sex lives,” He’s after our hearts.   As I interact with more and more women, I recognize that we must go beyond talking only about sexual morality, but we must also address sexual maturity. Following God’s design for our sexuality isn’t just about our behavior conforming to a certain moral code. Maturity means surrendering our wounds, our questions and our confusion to an unchanging, all-wise God who is able to bring healing and redemption. As our hearts change, so eventually will our behavior. We are all on this journey with a long way to go. That’s called discipleship.   Although I am grieved by her conclusion, I am grateful that Linda Kay Klein has sounded the alarm. We must do better in representing the heart of Jesus as we present God’s design for sexuality.  
La importancia del discipulado sexual™
Durante los últimos años, he estado usando este término "discipulado sexual ™" para describir algo que verdaderamente nos apasiona en el ministerio de Intimidad Auténtica. Me he dado cuenta de que cuando las personas me escuchan unir esas dos palabras, se sienten intrigadas. Aunque es posible que hayas sido discipulado en tu caminar con Cristo en algún momento, es probable que el discipulado nunca se ocupara a profundidad de las preguntas sobre tu sexualidad. Crecí en la iglesia con padres amorosos y cariñosos. Hicieron su trabajo y tuvieron la famosa “charla” conmigo y esporádicamente me ofrecieron consejos sobre citas. Mi grupo de jóvenes y mi escuela cristiana tenían días e incluso semanas enfocadas en la pureza, las citas y la sexualidad, pero abordaban estos temas de manera superficial. Los profesores parecían nerviosos, medían sus palabras y los niños se sentían incómodos. A medida que me adentré a la edad adulta, veo que se ha implementado la misma estrategia con respecto a la sexualidad: una clase o un libro que ocasionalmente se ofrece para enseñar sobre el sexo en el matrimonio; el enfoque general de la iglesia hacia la sexualidad es ofrecer pequeños y reducidos espacios de educación sexual. Ahora comparemos ese enfoque con la forma en la que la cultura aborda el tema de la sexualidad. ¡Está en todas partes! En todos los medios de comunicación imaginables nos enfrentamos a un mensaje agresivo acerca de cómo pensar sobre el matrimonio, la actividad sexual, las citas y la identidad sexual. Incluso los cristianos entregados y comprometidos tienen muchas más probabilidades de pensar al igual que el mundo en temas sexuales, porque así han sido entrenados para hacerlo. La iglesia ha ofrecido educación sexual mientras que la cultura nos está discipulando sexualmente, formando nuestras opiniones y cosmovisión sobre todo lo sexual. ¿Qué es el discipulado? A menudo usamos palabras como discipulado sin tomarnos el tiempo para considerar lo que realmente significan. Un enfoque de discipulado es muy diferente al de un modelo educativo. La esencia del discipulado se expresa a través del encargo de Moisés a los israelitas mientras se preparaban para entrar a la decadente cultura de la Tierra Prometida: Escucha, Israel: El Señor nuestro Dios es el único Señor. Ama al Señor tu Dios con todo tu corazón y con toda tu alma y con todas tus fuerzas. Grábate en el corazón estas palabras que hoy te mando. Incúlcaselas continuamente a tus hijos. Háblales de ellas cuando estés en tu casa y cuando vayas por el camino, cuando te acuestes y cuando te levantes. Átalas a tus manos como un signo; llévalas en tu frente como una marca; escríbelas en los postes de tu casa y en los portones de tus ciudades. (Deuteronomio 6:4–9, NVI) Hay tres elementos críticos en la enseñanza de Moisés a los padres que todavía aplican hoy en día; miles de años después: Una comprensión clara de lo que está bien, lo que está mal y el señorío de Dios en nuestras vidas. El integrar a diario esa enseñanza en la vida cotidiana. Un modelo de lo que es vivir de acuerdo con los mandamientos de Dios. Si queremos saber cómo tiene lugar el discipulado sexual ™, podemos simplemente echarle un vistazo al mundo. Honestamente, ¡lo están modelando de maravilla! El sistema mundial tiene su propia gran comisión. Están haciendo un trabajo fantástico al convertirnos en discípulos de su cosmovisión y agenda sexual. Gran parte de los medios de comunicación, las noticias y los líderes educativos son agresivos en cuanto a transmitir sus valores sexuales a niños y adultos. Eres rechazado y ridiculizado si expresas una opinión que difiere de estos valores. Al ver a los medios que representan el sistema mundial, ¿ves una doctrina o visión clara de lo que creen sobre la sexualidad? Por lo que observas a través de los medios de entretenimiento, los medios de comunicación, el gobierno y el sistema educativo, ¿son consistentes los mensajes sobre la sexualidad del mundo? ¡Por supuesto que sí! Desde niños en edad preescolar hasta personas mayores, el mantra sexual del mundo trasmitido claramente y a todo volumen. Enciende las noticias. Mira algunas revistas. Pasa los diferentes canales de televisión satelital, navega por Internet, camina por un campus universitario y verás mensajes muy consistentes. De hecho, nuestros niños son bombardeados por la doctrina sexual del mundo dondequiera que vayan. Es posible que tus hijos nunca vean lo que es vivir con virtudes sexuales y pureza. Sin embargo, inevitablemente estarán expuestos a cientos, quizás miles, de ejemplos de cómo es la inmoralidad sexual. El discipulado sexual ™ es mucho más que una “charla” o un retiro que enseña sobre la pureza sexual. Significa acompañar a las personas a lo largo del  camino de la sexualidad a través de todas las etapas de la vida y abordar las preguntas que surgen de la experiencia de la vida y las presiones culturales. El discipulado sexual ™ va más allá de la educación sexual. El discipulado sexual bíblico presenta una imagen completa de la sexualidad, no simplemente como algo que se debe evitar, sino como un gran regalo que debe ser atesorado, celebrado y recuperado. Qué debe cambiar Los padres a menudo me preguntan acerca de cómo y cuándo deberían hablar con sus hijos sobre el sexo. Antes de hablar con nuestros hijos sobre el sexo, debemos estar seguros de que nuestra propia cosmovisión sexual se basa en la verdad. La gran mayoría de los cristianos tienen muy poca idea de cómo integrar su sexualidad con quienes ellos son como hijos de Dios. Aquellos que son solteros no entienden por qué Dios les da deseos sexuales sin tener una salida para la expresión sexual. Aquellos que están casados no saben cómo abordar problemas como la falta de deseo sexual o un cónyuge que mira pornografía. No sabemos qué hacer con las experiencias traumáticas de abuso sexual o cómo salir de la vergüenza del pecado sexual pasado. ¿Por qué los temas relacionados con la sexualidad nos hacen sentir nerviosos e incómodos? La expresión del sexo es sagrada y privada. Debe ser honrado y manejado con sabiduría. Sin embargo, esto no significa que la pureza sea algo equivalente al al silencio. Después de todo, la Biblia no muestra vergüenza ni evita abordar temas sexuales en el Antiguo y Nuevo Testamento. Algunas enseñanzas bíblicas son tan específicas (particularmente en Cantar de los Cantares) que los traductores modernos han "atenuado" la interpretación para hacerla más aceptable para los lectores de hoy. En Intimidad Auténtica, queremos invitar a hombres y mujeres a una conversación que promueva el discipulado sexual ™. ¿Qué pasaría si los padres cristianos y la comunidad cristiana se comprometieran a definir, enseñar y modelar una cosmovisión sexual de acuerdo a la voluntad de Dios? ¿Qué pasaría si varias veces al día recibiéramos mensajes positivos y ejemplos del hermoso diseño de Dios? A través de nuestras publicaciones de blog, podcasts, conferencias, redes sociales, libros y nuestro sitio web, esperamos ser parte de un movimiento que nos permita ver estos cambios.
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Why I Went to a Marriage Intensive
In November, I took my first sabbatical since starting Authentic Intimacy in 2012. What a gift! The sabbatical was for rest and refreshment but also for personal reflection. For the past year, Mike and I have tossed around the idea of going through a marriage intensive. Sabbatical seemed the ideal time to do this. So, we headed out to Colorado to meet with a counselor for three hours a day for a week. The counseling lived up to the name - it was intense! Perhaps like you, I’ve been discouraged and saddened by the many examples of Christian leaders falling away from faith and leading double lives. It’s natural to assume that what happened to them could never happen to me. That’s simply naive. Mike and I have taken the warning seriously. In this blog, I want to candidly share with you why Mike and I took this step of going for intensive counseling. No, we are not currently in a marriage crisis. But we also recognize that pride (even of a good marriage or sound mental health) often goes before a fall.  Transparency and Accountability The day our intensive began, I joked with a friend that I was ready to “go under the knife.” Any form of counseling requires that you place trust in the person and the process. Since I knew our counselor, I was ready to trust. I wasn’t there to critique him or to out-therapize my husband (which were both real temptations). Had I done so, we would have wasted time and money. I was there to place myself and our marriage before the kind and searching eyes of God through the Holy Spirit. My spirit needed to be humble, ready to receive whatever the Lord might reveal.  Because I teach about marriage, sexuality, and intimacy, sometimes I believe I shouldn’t have the same struggles as other people. This is one of Satan’s greatest weapons. Paul knew this when he warned Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely” and when he wrote to the Corinthians, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed, because he is ready to fall.”  When I personally struggle, the weight can feel enormous because I think I should have it all together. When my kids make mistakes or my husband and I argue, the enemy screams lies about how I’m disappointing God and people. Sometimes, it makes me want to quit. More often, I want to hide behind my computer and the excuse that I’m an introvert.  Mature Christians, including leaders, fall because they are isolated and lonely. They don’t think it’s safe to let anyone in to know their secrets. We went to a marriage intensive partly to demolish this potential barrier.  We need “eyes” on our lives and marriages. There can be no hidden compartments of pain and shame. Through counseling, I was reminded of the pattern I can fall into of being the “therapist” or teacher even in my close friendships. While this can seem altruistic, it actually keeps me from intimate friendship and accountability.  Addressing Unresolvable Conflicts Over the past decade, Mike and I have learned some great conflict resolution skills that have dramatically changed how we address our disagreements. We are far less likely to yell, stonewall, or blame each other. Even so, there have been some underlying conflicts that come up all the time. Whenever we try to address them, we seem to get nowhere. No matter how much we listen, validate, and strain to understand each other, we end up talking in circles. Have you ever felt that way?  Our hope was that through the marriage intensive, we would be able to navigate these specific issues. We wrote them down and shared them with Pete, our counselor, on the first day. Rather than simply play the referee (“Mike is right about this one” or “You should listen to Juli about that”), Pete helped us see why we both dig in on these issues. This gave us more empathy for each other’s “triggers” and a greater awareness of how what happens between us can tap into fears and pride in our own hearts.  Discovering Fault Lines Marriage is made up of two people. Marriage is not a thing you can “fix.” It is a dynamic that flows from the hearts of both individuals. In order to “work” on your marriage or any relationship, you have to be willing to look at the fault lines in your own heart.  Although Mike was with me every minute of our marriage intensive, there were chunks of time in which the Lord did surgery individually on each of our hearts. We were both challenged to see how Satan uses early experiences and pain to keep us from true freedom in Christ. Yes, I “knew” how my childhood has formed my personality, strengths, and weaknesses. I even wrote papers on this in my graduate training. But God led me to a deeper “knowing” and a richer healing.  It's always a challenge to connect my head and my heart. My eyes can be stubborn to let go of tears. The joys and grief my brain acknowledges can show up in a blog without ever being felt deeply in my heart. Through the intensive, I was reminded that God wants me to love Him first and foremost with my heart. Understanding God’s love and walking in it are two different things.  I have no illusion that taking a sabbatical or going to a marriage retreat will inoculate me from failure and future spiritual struggles. The Christian life is not a one-and-done decision to love God. Even though my soul is sealed with the Lord, I still need to “work out” that salvation every day.  What the Lord showed me during my sabbatical can quickly be forgotten in the busyness of jumping back into ministry and routine. I don’t want that to happen! I want my heart to be tender, my relationships to be authentic, and my love for God to be a fire that can’t be extinguished. That can only happen through a daily decision to engage in regular “mini sabbaticals” and intensives. Search my heart, O Lord.  Regardless of whether you are in some form of spiritual leadership, remember that your faith will consistently be under attack. Sometimes, the enemy strikes through crisis, but more often through complacency.  I’m not sure what it looks like for you in 2021 to “work out your faith with fear and trembling.” Maybe you will choose to see a counselor or be able to take a sabbatical. These are wonderful tools, but they only “work” in as much as they bring us back to the feet of Jesus. Regardless of the tools, practices, or rhythms you may choose, your most important choice is to spend time at His feet, worshipping, loving, confessing, and receiving.