Over a month ago we asked our communities to submit questions and topics that you would be interested in talking about or addressing at Corner Church. Many of you did, and thank you so much for sharing.
The first two weeks of the series we built some foundation. In week one, we talked about loving people who see differently, the way Jesus loved the Samaritans, the centurion, and the tax collectors. In week two, we talked about why we should listen to Jesus, why we should care what He thinks or wants.
Then last week, we started on the topics and questions, talking about connection with God. We asked how we connect with God, and we looked at three moments in the biblical narrative where there were definitely some clear feelings of disconnection with God: David after his incredible and unimaginable failing; Elijah after his incredible zeal and confidence in his relationship with God was busted and he was left feeling afraid and alone; and Moses after God, in His disappointment in the people’s failing, said you can go to the promised land, but I am not coming with you. We saw that we didn’t invent feeling disconnected from God, and that the disconnection doesn’t have to be the end of the story. The next step is in our hands, is in continued complex relationship with God. God’s presence is the next step.
Now today, we are tackling another question, the most mentioned topic, going right to the deep end of complexity. But first, here’s a question to get us where we are going today. As we walk towards a topic that is exceedingly easy to avoid, I’m not going to ask you about what conversations are often avoided. That is so easy, and the list is long and obvious. Instead, I’m going to ask you why.
Why are certain topics easy and sometimes important to avoid talking about?
What are people actually fearing going into “complicated” conversations?
Before I even bring up the topic of today, here’s one more question:
What are some of the costs of avoiding topics? –as a person, as a family, as a friend group, as a church, as a community, as a culture.
The most-mentioned theme in our submitted questions was tied to sexuality. This can be a topic that makes most of us squeamish because it is private, it is contentious, there are various views, it is (or can be) twisted, it can feel dirty, it is tied to pain and failing, it is embarrassing or mysterious or inappropriate… But in spite of all this, we are walking into it. And as we do, we are going to start with a foundation from Colossians.
Paul writes this letter with a repeated call: Put off your old self and put on the new self. And as we look in Colossians 3, Paul uses a tool in his writing that should be a flashing light pulling us in. That flashing light is an important formula in scripture–an attention tool–when we see a therefore, we should always ask, what is the therefore there for?
The therefores of scripture are everywhere. If you dive into it, it is a great study and a great process.
Paul, in Colossians 3, starts off with a focus on the internal, on how we point our hearts and minds. It’s a call for intentional directionality.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
And then he drops a therefore:
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. (Colossians 3:5-7)
Put to death. Wow, that is heavy. So, internally, directionally, set our hearts and minds on Christ–THEREFORE–put to death… That’s heavy. But that isn’t the final therefore.
But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices (Colossians 3:8-9)
Again, wow. But we haven’t gotten to the final therefore yet.
and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:10-11)
A new self which is being renewed in a growing connection with God and with others–it’s a beautiful picture of togetherness and hope. But we still haven’t gotten to the final therefore. Here it comes:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:12-16)
Set your heart and mind on Christ. Therefore put to death, rid yourself of, put on a new self. And then the therefore: Clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love.
Paul, I think you are onto something here! Let’s process:
What is the ‘therefore’ there for?
Let’s keep processing:
How do people in your world tend to respond to an intense and abrupt call for change?
I love the word ‘clothe.’ Picking out what we are going to wear every day is an intentional and constant and again-and-again process. And as Paul calls us to THEREFORE clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love, these things need to be intentionally and repeatedly set out, worked on, put on. These things are not some inherited characteristic that some get and others don’t. These are choices to be made. These are decisions that affect one another. We can either choose to put on and embody these things, or we choose not to.
What are some of the challenges in repeatedly “clothing” yourself with these things–compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love?
So. Sexuality. Today we are not going to go very far. I hope to open the door to process. (I hope this is not a surprise!) I hope to speak the heart of Christ.
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, brings up sexuality:
“You know the next commandment pretty well, too: ‘Don’t go to bed with another’s spouse.’ But don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those ogling looks you think nobody notices—they also corrupt. Let’s not pretend this is easier than it really is. If you want to live a morally pure life, here’s what you have to do: You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer. You have to choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. And you have to chop off your right hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly. Better a bloody stump than your entire being discarded for good in the dump.” (Matthew 5:27-30 MESSAGE)
Jesus immediately brings the tension or the failing or the struggle from being an external thing to being an internal thing. He goes to the foundation.
Something that was said over and over again in our preparation for this conversation: I think the devil loves our cultural fight about human sexuality. Not just because it divides and alianiates, but because it distracts us.
What is the cost of being distracted?
One thing we can be distracted from is that God hates the marginalization of people and is calling us into action. I love the Psalm of Asaph:
How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:2-4)
And the powerful words of Isaiah are a calling to us:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3)
What is impressive religion to God?
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)
In our world, people are being marginalized, objectified, abused, manipulated, trafficked, oppressed. And we, as followers of Christ, need to take responsibility in the fight for the marginalized. We cannot be distracted from our call to help the oppressed.
I am not saying that God doesn’t have a desire for us in how to live sexually. But I am also saying that the devil loves to distract. So here is a foundation: We are called to help the marginalized.
A second thing it is so easy to get distracted from is that pornography is a silent killer that is impacting our culture, both inside and outside of Christianity.
There are some agreed upon impacts of pornography. First, porn builds an expectation of immediate self-gratification. But delayed gratification is a crucial skill to learn if one is to maintain control and direction in their life. Basically, the healthiest of individuals have mastered the art of discipline and delayed gratification.
Second, pornography augments perception of reality. It can program consumers to alter their standards sexually. It can encourage consumers to seek sex and, in some cases, build intimate and unhealthy relationships with people who are willing to have sex without any boundaries.
Third, pornography causes social isloation. It stunts the ability to have meaningful and satisfying real-life relationships. Watching porn, in most cases, demands isolation. Anything that consumers do in secrecy usually leads to shame. One of the first effects of frequently watching porn for men and women, especially those who are young, can be social awkwardness in public, which ironically leads to more shame and hiding.
Porn also teaches men and women that they are sexual objects. Usually, women are portrayed as a collection of orifices, ready at any time for anything sexual the man may want, and with no human or sexual needs of her own. She is neither given nor worthy of basic human dignity and respect; rather, she is objectified and used for men’s gratification. This is not just isolated to women.
Pornography builds insecurity. Porn usage can very easily and very quickly spiral out of control and hijack a person’s self-image and self-esteem. The incongruity between a person’s values and beliefs, and a person’s actions, can cause intense stress. A person can simultaneously believe that what he or she is doing is wrong and feel trapped in a never-ending cycle of addiction. Even when caught using porn, he or she can be torn between justifying it or minimizing its significance, and feeling powerless over it. A person can question what kind of person he or she is that he or she is able to view and get excited by the scenes and images he or she sees. A person can feel hypocritical and demoralized
Finally, pornography is unavoidable. The average age of first exposure is dropping like a brick. Currently the most common age stated as the first exposure is 11, but some estimate it to be much younger.
There are many verses about purity, about fleeing sin, about repentance. But here’s a great proverb:
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)
Guard your heart. Guard your heart.
There are so many things to say about sexuality. But here is a foundation: We can’t be distracted from helping the marginalized. We can’t be distracted from the impact of pornography. And we can’t be distracted from how these two things come together. There are many being marginalized in the making of pornography.
Again, there are so many things to say about sexuality. But I think the enemy loves that in the many there is distraction. And now it’s time for dialogue. It is not going to be a softball, but it’s not going to be an atomic bomb either:
What is the cost of being distracted from helping the marginalized and seeing the impact of pornography?
So today, we have talked about why some topics are easy to avoid. We have talked about the cost of habitually avoiding those topics. We have seen Paul’s call for putting off old self and putting on new self but in that process there is a THEREFORE–compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love. And I have brought to the surface two things that I think it is so important to not be distracted from: fighting for the marginalized and the impacts of pornography.
But now here’s a final thought and a final dialogue question. I’ll read again some verses of Paul that we have brought up a few times in this series:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)
This is a complicated question and not a question of your view, but a question of our practice. It is a hard one but we need to lean into it:
What does it take for us to live at peace with people that have different views on sexuality?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Colossians 3:1-17.
- What famous person do people think you look like?
- What does it mean to be Christlike?
- What are some things that seem to be easier for you in being Christlike?
- What are some things that seem to be more challenging for you in being Christlike?
- How do Paul’s words in Colossians 3 challenge, focus, confuse, and/or encourage you in being more Christlike?
Bible Reading Plan
- 2 Kings 16
- 2 Kings 17
- 2 Kings 18
- 2 Kings 19
- 2 Kings 20