Sex Before Marriage

This piece comes by numerous confidential requests. Numerous. You are not alone.

We live in a sexually permissive age.  Your parents grew up in a sexually permissive age.  The gospel was preached throughout the known world in a sexually permissive age.  For all people, of all time, temptations are pretty much the same.  The difficultly in our current, media-driven world, is for Christians to know what is, and is not, acceptable behavior between unmarried people. Let’s start by stating some obvious, if uncomfortable, truths.

It Ain’t About Pregnancy

I have lost count of how many times young people will insist they are virgins because they did not engage in sexual conduct that could result in pregnancy. You can do a lot of sexually pleasurable things without the risk of conception. Meeting the biological definition of virginity does not mean you have never engaged in sexual immorality.  Be honest with yourself and with God.  Then try being honest with your peers.  Insisting you are pure as the driven snow because pregnancy was not possible requires either extraordinary self-deception or a level of naivete that is almost impossible to believe is sincere.

Where’s the Line?

There is a simple question to ask and answer:   “Would we do this in public?”

If the answer is ‘yes’ you can be pretty sure you are staying safe. You can kiss, hug, hold hands, embrace and do many things in public that will not prove an irresistible temptation. If, however, the answer to, “Can we do this in public?”, is ‘no’, then you can be quite certain you’re playing with fire.  No need to pray about whether or not it is sin.  If you can’t do something walking around in the park while families play nearby it is best to save it until after the ring.  If you are not comfortable with your future spouse imagining you in that situation, don’t go there.

Rather than trying to figure out the acceptable parameters in the midst of passionate interaction, determine healthy boundaries before you are in a situation that requires you draw the line.  If you are feeling tempted and tired, go home. Go home alone and send your beloved back to their place, alone, or with an irritatingly present roommate.  Don’t wait until you are exhausted and your judgment is compromised before you decide to call it a night.

What to Do if You Went Too Far

You are defined by the love of God as seen in the face of Jesus Christ, not by your biggest mistakes.  If you went too far, ask forgiveness and start afresh.  Agree with your significant other that you can’t play with fire and expect to be without scars. If your boyfriend or girlfriend is not OK with that, break up.  You might feel you can’t live without them but if the other person loves you and loves the Lord they will respect limits that keep you both safe.

Remember that this is a life-long grace walk.  God’s grace brought you this far. God’s grace will keep you.  Get moving in the right direction and don’t look back.

 

 

Ministering Across Generations

A young pastor recently asked me how to best minister to a congregation where the average attendee was 20-40 years his senior.  My advice: minister with gratitude, grace, and eyes of faith.  Those are attitudes with practical applications.

Gratitude

You inherited a treasure trove.  People who have faithfully attended and given to the church for years have walked the long road and they are still here.  That is far more valuable than one might appreciate in earlier decades of life.  Whether experiences good or bad, these folks have a lifetime of experiences: ministry experience, marriage and child rearing experience, reconciliation experience and more.  A wise person learns from all of life experience and you have inherited a church with hundreds of years of collective experiences and resources.  Thank God for these people and tell them so.  You will likely learn they are very grateful for you, too.

Grace

The fact you are a ‘nice young man’ or ‘nice young woman’ is a plus. Your congregation will love you just for showing up and looking neat and respectful.  They will be gracious about your preaching, which is a a win-win for a new preacher. Older people are smart enough to know if you faithfully preach the Bible, it is relevant and meeting their needs.

You best minister to your church members by reminding them of grace. Remind them of all the great truths that have borne them well thus far.  Remind them that in spite of the life’s disappointments and failures they still have purpose.  Grace got them launched on the journey and regardless of age, they will only continue and bless if they do so relying on God’s grace.

Eyes of Faith

We need a vision at all ages of life. This is harder to maintain as we age because we have so many physical limitations that we can’t do all we can see could happen.  That’s where you, the young person come in.

Last June, I heard a message where the speaker shared about several old New England churches that had under 10 elderly members and were looking to shut down and donate their buildings and resources to God’s kingdom. Rather than close, they were advised to prayerfully consider agreeing to stay open and take on a young pastor. Each church did this and within three years attendance had swelled to 60-80 people of various ages.  The original congregation had eyes of faith but not the physical energy to do what was needed.  Yet through prayer, lending what help they could and having faith to hang on, they helped re-establish an evangelical witness in their communities.

You might be thinking, “Vision?  Folks in my church can’t see past their next surgery”. True, it is easy to get inward focused with more of life’s challenges but this is where you remind people how much they are needed.  In a world of fractured families, many people are looking for mentors, grandparent-models and aunties.  We build based on the resources we have not our limitations.  I have friends who ‘retired’ from the mission field and within six months were teaching ESL to immigrant families.  They did not let age stop them from serving in God’s kingdom.

It is easy as a young pastor to feel you are failing older congregants if you can’t impart some spiritual wisdom on a regular basis. Unless they are newly saved, older people are well served by simply reminding them of things you might be learning for the first time.  The fact is, together, old  and young, we are the Body of Christ and His power to work a miracle of growth depends on the prayerfulness, faith, and vision of your church members.  It will never be limited by age.