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Archive for the ‘Biblical manhood & womanhood’ Category

The following may seem a strange blog for Ezerwoman. However, on this Independence Day of 2017, I think it an appropriate way to express gratitude for a godly man but also to explain what it is that sustains godly men (and women) in times of difficulty and peril. 

Howard Linn was born an Iowa farm boy. Today, at 94, he confesses that he was also born a sinful creature. Indeed, he had inherited the sin of his ancestor, Adam. But, on his Baptismal day, Howard was washed clean by water and the Word. The gift of faith was given to him and his identity was forever changed. He was marked with the sign of the cross and, because of what Jesus Christ did for him, Howard became a son and heir of God.

Did Howard think much about his Baptism and its effect on his identity? Did he fully understand the significance of Jesus’ invitation to pray, “Our Father, Who art in heaven”?

From childhood on, Howard prayed, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Did Howard understand that he was asking God the Father to strengthen and preserve him and, through times of suffering, keep him steadfast? What would this mean?

Howard has vivid memories of going to church with his parents and family. Like most Lutheran boys, he was catechized in the Christian faith. Would he ever appreciate the liturgy, hymns, and Scripture verses committed to memory?

On May 19, 1944, Sergeant Howard A. Linn was forced to evacuate the gun turret of his B-24 Liberator while on a bomb run over Germany. Under attack of a group of German Faulke-Wulf 190s, and with engines engulfed in flames, Sergeant Linn had no choice but to parachute. “Our Father, Who art in heaven.” His prayer was answered when Howard landed safely and undetected by the enemy.

After a brief night of forested sleep, Howard began walking toward a village where he could get his bearings. About noon, two-thirds of the way through town, a boy sighted Howard just as a policeman on a motorcycle came around the corner. The boy flagged the policeman down and pointed to the American soldier. The policeman took Howard into the boy’s house. Calls were made. Then he was placed in a barbed wire enclosure where people from the village came to look at him. “Our Father, Who art in heaven.” Later, Howard learned that if he had been shot down near a town that had suffered a bombing, he might have been beaten and tortured by angry citizens. The people of this village, however, had never experienced a bombing. They were curious about this American flyboy, but not hateful. Around 4:00, Howard was picked up by a German Luft-Waffe officer and delivered in a Volkswagon to a forced labor camp.

The following day, Howard and two other American airmen were transported to an interrogation center in Frankfurt. Every two hours, Howard was taken from his basement cell to be questioned by a stern German officer. Howard knew how to answer: Name. Rank. Serial number. And he knew how to pray. “Our Father, Who art in heaven.”

“Our Father … give us this day our daily bread.” Howard was given a loaf of heavy, dark, sour bread before he was packed into a railroad car with other U.S. Airmen. That bread sustained him for four days as the train carried him to Stalag Luft 4, a prison camp about 100 miles north of Berlin in Stettin, Pomerania.

On June 1, Howard’s parents were notified that their son was “reported missing in action since Nineteenth May over Germany.” On June 30, they were informed that their son was “a Prisoner of War of the German government.”

That young man, known as Prisoner 1525, continued to receive “daily bread” in the form of barley cereal, ersatz coffee, and sour bread in the morning; thin soup at noon; and boiled potatoes at night. The camp was crowded with allied soldiers and heavily guarded. Police dogs were turned loose every night.

There was plenty of time to think in prison. Howard often thought about the day he was shot down. He was acutely aware that many of his fellow crew members were married men. Why was he, an unmarried man, allowed to survive? A buddy in the turret where Howard was usually positioned was killed. Only two other crewmen and Howard lived. He grieved for his buddies and, although he bore them no harm or ill-will, he suffered under the weight of guilt for a long time. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” There was peace for Howard in knowing the merciful forgiveness of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

There wasn’t a German chaplain to pray with Howard or strengthen him through the Sacrament of Holy Communion. But he could draw upon all that he had been taught as a child. The liturgy and hymns that Howard had grown up singing, the Scripture verses that he had been encouraged to memorize, and parts of the Catechism that he had not fully appreciated as a boy served him well.

This was true for many of Howard’s Christian brothers in that POW camp. Men who had been involved in their congregations back home helped lead worship services on Sundays for anyone who wanted to attend. Everything was done from memory. There was opportunity to ponder the things that really matter most and to come to grips with the fact that earthly life is short in comparison to eternity. There was a visible difference between the men with faith and those who didn’t appear to have any. Those men constantly worried about not having any control of their lives. They had little hope of getting out alive. As a result, there was a ward full of guys who were mentally unstable. Perhaps they didn’t know the Lord who invited them to pray, “Our Father, Who art in heaven. Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” One day, Howard watched a man run for the high barbed wire fence. He was given a warning, but persisted in climbing halfway to the top knowing full well what would happen. There was a single shot. The man fell to the ground, dead.

In times of suffering, Howard learned that we do one of two things. We either depend on ourselves, or on God. Howard knew God. He had grown up, learning to trust his Heavenly Father; therefore, he had hope outside of himself. Suicide wasn’t an option. A son of God can pray, “Our Father, Who are in heaven … lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil.”

Today, when Howard thinks about the circumstances he endured, the prophet Elijah comes to mind. Elijah was threatened by an intimidating enemy, the evil King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel. In fear and loneliness, Elijah asked the Lord to take his life. The Lord’s answer was a cake of bread and jar of water. Elijah was strengthened for forty days and nights. Howard admits to feeling very much like Elijah, alone and far from home. Countless times, he wondered, “Will I be shot?” “Will I be put through more than I can endure?” But, for Howard, there was always a cake of bread. A jar of water. And then, a Christmas Eve.

On the night before Christmas in 1944, the German Commandant told the prisoners they could stay outside their barracks until midnight with floodlights on if they promised not to try to escape. The singing of Christmas carols filled the night and comforted troubled souls.

Howard was in Stalag Luft 4 for about nine months. Life had been miserable, but it was going to get worse. His stamina and will to live were to be sorely tested. On February 6, 1945, with the Russian army quickly approaching, Howard’s compound was evacuated. The men were told they would be on the road for three to four days. But the forced march across frozen land extended to 87 days.

The guards, among them the hated Gestapo, marched the prisoners as much as 18 miles a day. Destination was unsure. Nights were spent in barns, sleeping on hay atop manure, or outside in the rain and snow. Food consisted of bread, thin soup ladled into a can, and powdered milk from Red Cross parcels. Sometimes, vegetables were stolen from a farmer’s winter stockpile. If possible, prisoners scrounged for wood and built a fire. Latrines were trenches dug by the prisoners. Many of the men had dysentery. Howard was sick with such terrible cramping that he felt he wouldn’t make it, but at the end of three days, the illness was removed and never plagued him again.

The forced march paused to camp in Hanover, but continued advancing when rumors that General Montgomery and the English army were getting close. Passing through cities that had been heavily bombed, Hitler youth spit and shouted at the POWs. In April, some of the guards fled, but others stayed with the POWs because they didn’t want to be captured by the Russians. On May 2, 1945, after marching some 600 miles, Howard learned that the war was over. Two thousand men started the march. Howard was one of the 1500 who survived and was granted freedom.

The men were instructed to continue walking and hitchhiking west. No encouragement was needed. Upon arrival at British command, the clothes Howard had worn for 87 days were burned. There was a trip—no, maybe three or four—through the delouser. A haircut and a shave. Gentle food for his shrunken stomach. A pillow for his head. Slowly, human dignity was restored. With the White Cliffs of Dover in the background, Howard set sail for Boston Harbor. Hearing the song, “Sentimental Journey,” stirs his emotions to this day.

Howard shares this and so much more with family, friends, and groups who invite him to speak. He is held is high regard by members of his Lutheran congregation. Do we listen to Howard, but then say, “I could never endure such things.” Do we hear Howard describe atrocities, but then respond, “I do not know such evil.” Do we applaud Howard, but then walk away, asking, “What is his story to me? He was held captive by the enemy. I have no such bondage.”

Howard would respond: You can endure such things. Evil does exist today. In this earthly life, we are too often held captive. The only Savior from Satan, ourselves, and any false hope to which we cling is Jesus Christ.

We can endure “such things” as indignity and suffering. Jesus knows our suffering because He, too, suffered. During the indignities of war—or cancer, bullying, or false rumors that stain a reputation—we can look to Christ who suffered humiliation, hatred, and death for us. Jesus does not promise ease of life, but says, “If you would be My disciples, pick up your cross daily and follow Me.” Jesus does promise to be with us in every circumstance. He promises to be in His Church. He is in the Word of Divine Service, in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Communion, and in Absolution.

Howard found himself in enemy territory, and so do we. Satan, the world, and our sinful nature assault us every day. Howard endured by remembering his Baptismal identity and praying, “Our Father, Who art in heaven.” We can do the same. The faith given to Howard provided light in the darkness. His childhood catechesis and familiarity with Scripture as sung in liturgy and hymns comforted and renewed him. He was grateful, and we can be, too. Howard could trust that an ascended Jesus had kept His promise to send a Helper, the Holy Spirit, who interceded for him in times of weakness. We have that Helper, too.

Evil does exist today; it comes naturally in a fallen world. We are vulnerable people because we are corrupted by sin. Cain killed Abel. Hitler and his Nazis killed six million Jews and five million Christians, gypsies, “useless eaters,” and so-called “undesirables.” The United States has sanctioned the killing of over 56 million little boys and girls by the hand of abortionists since 1973. Human life is at dreadful risk when we do not believe that God is our Father and we are His children.

Howard confesses to being born a sinful creature, and so are we all. In war, Howard learned that our corrupted nature is reality. We are capable of terrible evil. Until we recognize our sinful nature, we cannot resist it; instead, we do awful things out of fear, or for power, or to gain control. We raise ourselves above God. We love ourselves more than our neighbor. Freedom to resist evil and do good comes only in Jesus Christ. His mercies are new every morning for the repentant sinner who looks to the Lord for his salvation. Evil has no dominion over a child of God.

In this life, we are too often held captive. It is not barbed wire, but our own sin that binds us. Whenever we cling to human desires, fears, false hope, guilt, and bitterness, we fall into the despair of slavery.

One would think that Howard sees a better world than during WWII, but he does not. We seem to think we are entitled to happiness. We trust our own feelings first and, if God is needed, it is to make our life trouble-free. We make a vow on our wedding day, but the commitment is too quickly dishonored when things become difficult. Human life has value when it pleases us, but not when we are inconvenienced by it. There was nothing convenient about being a POW on an 87-day forced march, but Howard could see even unsightly men covered with lice and bent over with dysentery as children of God for whom Christ died. That made them his brothers.

But could Howard ever accept the German people as his brothers? Yes, but only with the example of Christ before him. In forgiving Wilfried Beerman, the German boy who alerted the police, Howard was free of bitterness. Today, the families of Howard and Wilfried enjoy an abiding friendship.

Howard was physically taken captive by his enemies, but they could not threaten his identity or imprison his spirit. He was always a free man in Christ. Looking back, Howard knows that he was always under the protection of his Heavenly Father. Strength was given when he was weak, bread when he was hungry, a cup of water when he was dry. War raged all around him, but Howard’s spirit was at peace.

Seventy-two years later, Howard still trusts the promise of His Heavenly Father:

Even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save. (Is. 46:4).

 

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One of our grandchildren recently stayed with us for the first time alone without his parents or siblings.  As I was packing his bag for the return to his own home, this three-year-old looked at me and said, “I want to stay.”  Those are words that warm a grandmother’s heart.

But why did he want to stay?  Was it because everything he did was fun?  Was it because he received my complete and undivided attention?

And why, after he left, did I wander through the house in such a melancholy mood?    

I began to question myself as a grandmother.  Had I given my grandson enough of my attention?  Did I play with him enough?  Did I do all the things he wanted to do?

No, I had not.  In struggling with this, my thoughts were turned to my own childhood and memories of overnight stays with my grandparents.  What do I remember most about those visits?  Why were they so special?  Did my grandmothers sit down and read to me every time I asked?  Did they get on the floor with me to play games?  Did they take me to the park or give me ice cream when I asked?  No.  Those things are not etched in my memory. 

When staying a week with my grandfather and grandmother who lived in another town, I often entertained myself.  I created my own “house,” prepared meals in my own “kitchen,” took care of my baby dolls, played dress-up; in other words, I did all the things I watched my grandmother doing.  I wasn’t getting all her attention, but I was in her presence.  I was near enough to hear her, watch her, imitate her.  I remember going with her to the garden where she picked the lettuce for the salad she made for my lunch.  She was working, and I was in her presence… either attempting to pick leaves of lettuce, too, or content that she was caring for my needs while I ran around the yard chasing butterflies.  

I spent even more time with the grandparents who lived only a mile from me.  I do not remember my grandma sitting down to play with me or taking me to the park.  What I remember is how she talked with me while she baked bread or cookies and how she invited me to help by asking me to set the table.  I listened to her speak with kindness as I watched her labor with her hands.  I remember that she was never idle.  When she wasn’t attending to the affairs of her household, she was volunteering at church, singing in the choir, or nurturing relationships by opening her home to family and friends.  At the end of a long day, my grandma settled into her chair and took up her crocheting.  She was making someone a birthday present or perhaps a blanket for a new baby.  Grandma wasn’t ignoring me.  She was mentoring me.  She was welcoming me into her life and teaching me how to do the things she did, most of them for others.

In my grandma’s presence, I felt respected and somehow older than I really was.  I knew she cared enough to have me in her home and help me discern right from wrong.  Whether I was in the same room with her or in another room pretending to be a grown up like her, I was blessed being in her presence.  In this way, my grandma was focused on me.  She was preparing me to be an adult. 

These memories are a great comfort as I think about my grandson’s visit.  I remember him swiffing the floor while I prepared dinner, planting a pretend field of corn with his John Deere tractor while I finished writing a letter to a friend, and building a fort while I organized last minute details for a community “Life Fair.”  I wasn’t on the floor with him, but we shared a companionship in our “work.”  These activities of our day made into good bedtime stories before praying that God would give us restful sleep and the promise of new morning.

Why was I in a melancholy mood after my grandson’s departure?  The house was empty of his presence.

And when my grandson said, “I want to stay,” I think he was telling me that being in my presence mattered to him, too.

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They said that Roe v. Wade would shift a nation toward reproductive freedom for women. But Baal demands what the Lord God does not. Nearly 60 million sacrificed babies and wounded mothers later, we ask: What has improved? In what way are women more free or healthier and happier? Are women and children less… or more at risk?

 

Aware of abortion’s piercing blade, thousands of my fellow pro-lifers joined the Annual March for Life on January 27 in our nation’s capital.   On that day, I was reading National Geographic’s Special Issue on “Gender Revolution.”  One contributor asked, “Can science help us navigate the shifting landscape of gender identity?” Again, Baal demands what God does not. Like fearful and navel-gazing societies before ours, we will cry “Freedom!” and burst “the chains that bind us.” We will think ourselves wise. Live as we desire. But when the “landscape” shifts, what kind of people will we be? Who among us will escape sorrow? Where will peace be found?

 

The landscape may shift. Souls will hunger and thirst. The cold, stone god Baal will be silent, but the Lord Jesus Christ will speak as He always has: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden. My burden is light. Repent… and fear not… for My love is steadfast and true.”

 

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joseph-and-his-rib-biblepictures-net

Joseph, a young man from the house of David, was probably like every other soon-to-be husband: nervous, but excited all the same.  That is, until his fiancée came to him with shocking news.  Mary was pregnant, but Joseph was not the father.  The world, as Joseph knew it, had collapsed around him.  He felt betrayed, hurt, angry.  Break the engagement, whispered his pride, and walk away from this woman.

Everything had changed.  Plans were ruined.  Reputation was at stake.  Unchartered territory lay ahead.  At this precarious moment in his life, Joseph had nothing to hang on to… nothing, that is, except the Word of the Lord.

The Word gave Joseph courage.  “Don’t be afraid!”  It was the word that showed Joseph how to be faithful.  “Take Mary as your wife.  She will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus” (Matthew 1:20-21).

Perhaps, in holding on to the Word, Joseph remembered the experience of his ancestor, Adam.  Perhaps, in a moment of truth and with eyes focused, Joseph could picture Adam standing next to his wife, Eve.  Perhaps, with wisdom only from the Holy Spirit, Joseph recognized the significance of Eve’s creation by God from man’s rib.

God made (literally: “built”) woman using part of man.  With this, He established their relationship within the order of creation.  A rib is structural; it supports.  A rib guards and protects the heart and breath of life, yet it is vulnerable.  Under attack, it can easily be fractured or even broken.  Satan despises the order of creation that God uses to protect the man and woman He so loves.  So, that day in the Garden, Satan set his target and went straight to Adam’s rib.  The man was responsible for using God’s Word to cover his wife, yet he did nothing.  Joseph knew the consequences that followed.

Perhaps, with discernment only from God, Joseph understood that he must not repeat the sin of his ancestor and do to his rib what Adam had done to his.

Perhaps, in remembering what Adam had failed to do, Joseph was given the courage to cover his wife, Mary, and lead her to safety.  Let the village talk!  Adjust carefully-made plans!  Trust the Word of the Lord!  Although it meant leaving his zone of comfort, Joseph did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him to do.  He covered his rib by taking Mary as his wife.  And, when Mary’s child was born, Joseph named Him Jesus.

God wanted Joseph to make a difference – a difference that would impact the world.  But, such a difference could be made only by being faithful.  Such faithfulness required that Joseph leave all that was familiar and put his life and the life of Mary into the hands of God.

Today, when a young man pressures his girlfriend to have sex, he is leaving her physically, emotionally, and spiritually vulnerable.  He has placed his “needs” before hers and, in so doing, left her open to attack.  When a man does not promise to love, cherish, and cover a woman with his name, but simply share living quarters and a bed, he is leaving her open to attack.  When a man fathers a child but does not accept the privilege and responsibility of being a daddy, he is leaving both mother and child uncovered and vulnerable to the world.

But, when a man remembers God and His call to leadership, he is able to make a difference.  A young man who guards his girlfriend’s virtue makes a difference.  A husband who remains true to his wife makes a difference.  A dad who understands the privilege, responsibility, and generational influence of fatherhood makes a difference.  Men of faithfulness have a grand opportunity to defend against chaos and leave a legacy of hope.

Convenience told Joseph to walk away from Mary.  Self-defense told Joseph to think of “number one.”  Pride told Joseph that he could do better.  Fear told Joseph to hide.  But, God told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife.

Joseph did what the angel of the Lord commanded.  He covered Mary, his rib, and the unborn Child whose heart beat under her own.  And, after the Baby was born in the most humble of circumstances, Joseph named the Child Jesus.  Through all the frightening days ahead, Joseph remembered the Word of the Lord.  And the Lord did not forget Joseph.  In the midst of danger, the angel of the Lord warned Joseph.  When uncertainty abounded, the angel of the Lord directed Joseph.

It’s true that life wasn’t ever the same for Joseph.  It certainly wasn’t what he had planned.  But, Joseph remembered the Word of the Lord.  And, in doing so, he received courage to do what was asked of him.  Joseph was faithful to cover Mary, his rib.  He raised her Son Jesus in a godly home and took Him to worship.  Some 2000 years later, the Boy who grew to be a Man in the house of a carpenter is still changing lives.

Joseph made a difference.

by Linda Bartlett
Revised 2010
(image: biblepictures.net)
“Joseph & His Rib” available from LFL

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Nehemiah buildingWhat is a Christian to do?  It’s as if God asks the impossible of us.  He wants us to build with one hand and resist evil with the other.  But with more cultural decay comes more evil.

Mindful of raising up a new generation of Christians but also keenly aware of our own inadequacies and failures, parents, pastors, and all who love children become discouraged and even fearful.  With fear comes the temptation to doubt the sufficiency of God’s Word and more easily accept the help of passionate unbelievers.  “Why do you cling to ancient traditions?” they ask.  “Can’t you see?  We have something new!”

There is a lesson to be learned from God’s people who, in a time before us, were also discouraged, overwhelmed, and taunted by unbelieving neighbors who offered something new.

The remnant of Israel that had survived exile in Persia returned home to find the walls of Jerusalem broken down and city gates destroyed.  To this small number of faithful people was given the arduous task of re-building the temple and walls of Jerusalem.  God also wanted His people to grow faithful families.  He wanted them to be holy and set apart in their worship and practice.  When people in the neighboring land saw that Jerusalem was being restored, they offered their help.  After all, these people explained, they worshipped God, too.  (In reality, they were a people of blended religions.)  Fearing that they would commit themselves to false worship, the Israelite fathers refused the offer of resources and help.  They knew that God had entrusted the job of rebuilding the temple and walls only to them.  So “the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose” (Ezra 4:4-5).

The culture in which God’s people found themselves made the building project very difficult, but the Word of the Lord consistently commanded the people to persevere.  God also reminded His people that they were to be holy and set apart for His good purpose.  But the people of Israel, following the example of some of their leaders, mixed themselves with the Canaanites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and others through marriage (9:1-2).  The people were guilty of breaking faith with God and allowing impurity of worship, teaching, and practice.  There was confession and absolution but, because the potential for continued corruption of worship was so great, illegal marriages were identified and ended (10:18-19).  The rebuilding of the temple, restoration of the walls, and growing of faithful families began anew.

However, when the neighbors in the land saw that the Israelites were again doing the work of God in rebuilding Jerusalem, they were angry.  “[T]hey all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it” (Neh. 4:8).  It was easy to cause confusion and discouragement among the Israelites because fathers, mothers, and grandparents were overwhelmed by the task that lay before them.  “There is too much rubble.  By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall” (4:10).  The enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work” (4:11).  Nehemiah encouraged the people, “Do not be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes” (4:14).  When the walls were rebuilt and the gates restored, the law of God was read to the people who were both joyful and repentant (chapters 8 and 9).

Everything was coming back into order and Israel was prepared to live by the truth of God’s Word.  What could go wrong?  What went wrong is incredibly significant.  Eliashib, the priest appointed over the chambers of God, gave Tobiah the Ammonite a place in the temple (13:4-5).  Under the guise of helping God’s people, Tobiah was given a room formerly used to store the offering for God.  There, within the temple, sat Tobiah and his possessions.  Nehemiah was away when this happened, but when he returned, he “was very angry, and [he] threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber.  Then [he] gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and [he] brought back there the vessels of the house of God” (13:8-9).

God entrusted the rebuilding of His temple and the city walls to His people.  He entrusted the growing of holy families to husbands and wives equipped with His Word.  He does the same today.

God wants His people to keep their worship, teaching, and practices pure and different from that of the dark and unbelieving world.  Certainly, there are resources in the world that can be practical and helpful to the Christian.  But we must take care especially when it comes to instructing Jesus’ little ones.  “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10).  It is a frightening thing indeed to compromise one of the Father’s children.

Compromise happens, however, when God’s people are weary and burdened, or prideful and above reproach.  Compromise happens when we let down our guard and grow comfortable with the world.  At such times it is easier for an opposing foe to gain access by offering some kind of help or resource.  It was for this reason that Nehemiah “stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows … each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built” (Neh. 4:13, 18).  The men were on guard at night and labored by day (22).

We are weary and overwhelmed by a multitude of life issues.   Sometimes we are prideful after doubting God’s Word and trusting something else.   As the culture decays and evil abounds, we may believe that God asks the impossible of us.  But, Martin Luther reminds us that the task of rebuilding the temple and shoring up walls was given to a weak people, few in number; a people against whom stood powerful princes and nations, which lived round about and daily threatened imminent destruction.

There will be days when failure distracts us from the building project.  There will be those like Tobiah who mock our faithfulness to an ancient faith while tempting us with new practices.  In the face of evil, let it be said of us:  Look!  They remember “the Lord who is great and awesome,” and they “fight for [their] brothers…sons…daughters…wives…and homes” (Neh. 4:14).

Excerpted from The Failure of Sex Education in the Church:
Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity
(pp 61-63) by Linda Bartlett;
Amazon.com.  Please also visit Our Identity Matters.
Image: mudpreacher.org

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mother and child holding handsGod entrusts children to parents.

Parents are called by God to guard the innocence of childhood.  This is a serious challenge in today’s society.  From early on, boys and girls are surrounded by the visual images and messages of a highly sexualized culture.  The Christian parent may feel overwhelmed by their role.  But parents today—as always—are equipped for the job.  The Word of God is sufficient.  The Bible provides all that is needed to help boys and girls respect themselves and others, understand why male and female are not the same but complementarily different, resist temptation, and protect human life from the moment of conception.  When sin and failure occur, the Bible points the way to forgiveness and hope in Jesus Christ.

One topic that perhaps most intimidates and even confuses parents is sex and sexuality.  Sex education sounds like a good idea, especially if it is taught in a Christian environment; however, the origin of sex education is not biblical.  It is founded on a humanistic and secular theory.

A zoologist and follower of Charles Darwin by the name of Alfred Kinsey concluded that children are “sexual from birth” and can enjoy and benefit from early sexual activity.  He believed that society should reflect his “science” by altering its moral codes.  Thirty years of study by researchers such as Judith A. Reisman, PhD., prove that Kinsey’s research was built on sexual experiments by known pedophiles on children ages five-months to 14 years.  The research was both fraudulous and criminal; nevertheless, it accomplished what it intended.  By the 1960s, Kinsey and his followers were recognized as the “experts” on matters of “sexuality.”  Kinsey associates and students opened the doors of SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S.) and partnered with Planned Parenthood to aggressively make their way into schools and churches.  Pro-homosexual and pedophilia groups were emboldened.  Over the next fifty years, moral codes based largely on the biblical worldview were dangerously compromised.  Never before had anyone considered a child to be “sexual” in the way that Kinsey meant, but today children are sexualized not only by the media but in sex education, health or “family living” classrooms.  The innocence of children is stripped away in classrooms where boys and girls together learn about their bodies, what their parents do in the bedroom and what it means to live a “sexual” life.

God calls us to holy living.

God does not call His children to be “sexual.”  He calls His children—of all ages— to be holy.  Therefore, the Bible does not educate in sex, but instructs in purity.

Purity is not prudish.  It is prudent.  Purity is not Victorian and antiquated.  It is God’s plan for children and adults whether married or single.

Purity focuses on our identity as redeemed sons and daughters of God in Christ Jesus.  God says, “Be holy for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).  We are “vessel[s] for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:21).  Daily remembering our Baptism, we see ourselves not as “sexual beings” captive to instinct and desires, but as heirs of the promise and clothed with the righteousness of Christ (Galatians 3:27-29).

Purity is about more than abstinence.  Abstinence says, “No, I can’t be sexually intimate right now.”  But purity says, “Yes, I can be the male or female God created me to be right now.”  Instruction in purity begins with an explanation of biblical manhood and womanhood.  It draws attention to the many ways that male and female, of any age and married or single, can work, worship and serve together without a hint of sensuality.

Purity is about God’s design and order for life.  It is also about mystery and modesty.  God’s Word says, “Do not awaken love or arouse love before its proper time” (Song of Songs 3:5b).  This is why purity must be nurtured in a special garden tucked safely behind a protective fence.  That fence is the boundary of home.  God entrusts the training of children to their parents.  Children trust parents.  The Church supports parents by equipping them with God’s Word of Law and Gospel, the catechism, and models for instruction.

Purity is nurtured in an environment where modesty is preserved.  This is not a classroom where boys and girls together learn about sex or sexuality.  It is nearly impossible to train in purity when intimate topics are discussed between boys and girls in a common and casual manner.  Why?  Because holy people and the behavior God expects from them are not common but, rather, uncommon.

Modesty emphasizes the importance of the sexual organs (which God placed out of view and behind hair, 1 Corinthians 12:23) reserved for the special and honorable use within marriage.  Rather than trying to remove embarrassment (a natural protection from God in a sinful world), adults should do everything they can to maintain modesty.  A father can best explain to his daughter that there is mystery in more clothing rather than less, and that a girl’s behavior can raise—or lower—a boy’s standard of thinking and behavior.  A father can encourage his son to guard a woman’s virtue and lead him away from the “temptress” (Proverbs 7).

Purity grows from the truth of Genesis.  The first man and woman were created in a complementary but different way, each with a unique and vital role.  Purity understands that a man is a good steward (Genesis 2:15) and defender of life (Genesis 16-17) who takes a stand against evil.  The man is to lead, not as lord and master, but as one who goes first to make sure the path is safe.  Purity understands that a woman, as a “helper” (Genesis 2:18) and a “rib” or “pillar” (Psalm 144:12b), is strong and supportive, yet vulnerable to abuse.  Purity understands that a woman, as the bearer of life, has the most at stake; therefore, it places her within protective, yet pleasant boundaries.

These boundaries are drawn by God to respect the physical and psychological differences between male and female.  Woe to those who attempt to erase these boundaries by pretending that boys and girls are “the same”.  Woe to the adults who remove the protective covering of modesty and desensitize children.  Woe to the adults who dangle the carrot of joyful marital union in front of children but then tell them to “wait” for marriage after graduating college and securing a job.

God Gives a Model to Parents.

God has given all parents and grandparents a model for the instruction of purity in Titus 2:3-8. Older men are to mentor younger men by being examples of sobriety, dignity, self-control, sound faith, agape love, and steadfastness.  In addition, older men are to model the sacrificial love of Jesus (Ephesians 5:25).  This love is shown today by men who defend the honor of women, rescue children from abortion, and guard the door of homes.  For a young man, it means treating all girls as he wants his sister, mother, grandmother, and someday-wife to be treated.

Older women are to mentor younger women by being examples of goodness, self-control, purity, homemaking, kindness, and respectfulness for God’s orderly design in marriage.  In addition, older women can contrast the “temptress” with the holy woman who calls attention not to self but God (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:3-4).

If there is no father present or involved, mothers can point both sons and daughters to their Heavenly Father who is very present and involved in the lives of His children.  Timothy was raised to purity of faith and behavior by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5).

Parents can be confident in raising sons and daughters to a life of purity.  They need not be intimidated by the world—or by their own past.  Sins that have been confessed to God are forgiven and forgotten.  Parents can show children the way to the Cross every time a wrong choice is made.  Parents, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can help sons and daughters resist the temptations of a self-focused and sensual world.

It is an awesome thing to know that the God who calls us to holiness also saves us when we are not.    Even when all seems lost to sinful people, we can reclaim our purity in Jesus.

Jesus Christ came to live among us.  He experienced human emotions and feelings.  He knows our weakness.  But for our own sakes, He calls us to lives of purity.  Purity does not seek its own way.  It models biblical manhood and womanhood.  It raises standards for behavior and encourages self-control.  Purity guards body, mind and soul.  It lays a foundation for friendship, marriage and family.

Purity anticipates a future of hope.

Written by Linda Bartlett for Lutherans For Life.
Available in brochure format (#LFL903T)
from CPH or Lutherans For Life

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man standing reading BibleThe Word is true: “… Male and female He created them.”  But in hastily skipping ahead to “and they shall become one flesh,” we miss God’s description of what it means to be a man or a woman.  This is a costly omission for us all; most certainly for our unmarried sons and daughters.  But there is someone else who has been harmed by withholding God’s word on manhood and womanhood.  That person is our neighbor who struggles in a fallen world with the reality of same-sex attraction.

My neighbor (I shall call him David) is humbled by what he knows is an unnatural attraction.  Although “gay,” he does not want to parade with pride.  David was catechized by Christian parents who offer unconditional love.  He believes God’s Word that places sex within the boundaries of one man, one woman marriage.  But, David wonders, where does a person like me fit?  What does being “gay” mean for my future?  What about marriage and a family?  To me, however, the most heart-piercing of David’s questions is this: What about friendships with other men?

“Sometimes,” David explains, “I look at another man and am attracted to an attribute of his that I wish I had.  I don’t know, perhaps I am jealous.  But here’s the thing.  My self-centeredness and envy of that guy’s admirable qualities tempt me to imagine a sexual bond, but might my feelings actually be those of brotherly love and admiration?”

David is exposing a vulnerability.  He is pointing out how vulnerable any of us can be when we focus exclusively on human sexuality but remain awkwardly silent about biblical manhood and womanhood.

David is one of the compelling reasons why I authored The Failure of Sex Education in the Church: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity.  Too many in the church insist that we talk early and long about the wonders of sexual intimacy between a husband and wife in the faithfulness of marriage.  This, I’ve been told, will help remedy the problems of premarital sex, teen pregnancy, and divorce.  But it has not!  Nor has it made a place at the family table for our brothers like David who struggle with unwanted desires.

If David had his prayer answered the way he’d like, his same-sex attraction would be cured and his burden lifted.  He does not embrace unnatural inclinations.  He knows he cannot act on his feelings and be at peace with God.  But how, then, can David live… with himself, in relationship with the Man Jesus Christ, and in relationship with other men?  How can we help?

First, we welcome David to the table of the human family where the Body of Christ can remind David that he is so much more than a sexual being.  He is created to be a man: steward of all that God has made, bearer of the Word of life, and leader away from death.  How do we know this?

Before God created Eve and brought her to Adam as his wife, He “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Although the work is made more difficult outside the Garden in a sinful world, man is still called to be the good steward over God’s creation.  The “Lord God also commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (2:16-17). Adam’s failure to remember and obey brought sin into the world.  In this fallen world, God’s perfect design and rhythm of life are distorted; nevertheless, God’s order of creation stands.  Man is still entrusted with the responsibility of bringing order out of chaos by speaking the Word of life and leading away from destruction and death.  This is David’s call from God.  It is his first vocation.

We can help David focus on the identity bestowed upon him at Baptism.  God does not identify him as “gay,” “homosexual,” or even “heterosexual.”  We all struggle with sinful desires, but because of our Baptism, they do not define us nor do they have to enslave us.  We were “far off” from God, but in Baptism, we are “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13).  We are “washed … sanctified …  justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God (1 Co. 6:11).  We can cry “Abba!  Father!” because “you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:6-7; Ti. 3:5-8).

At Baptism, the sign of the cross is made over us to indicate that we are redeemed by Christ the crucified.  We have His mark on us.  We are baptized, not in the water of sexuality, but in the water of pure Word and through the work of the Holy Spirit.  We are called not to ways of weak flesh, but to holy and noble purpose.  We are encouraged not to glorify self, but to glorify Jesus Christ who makes us children of God.

We can remind David that his Baptism is “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21).  Even as Baptism cleans the sinner, it gives strength to be different from the world and restrain our own fickle desires.  Through daily contrition and repentance, the Old Adam in us is drowned and dies with all wrong thoughts and desires.  A new person in Christ rises up to live before God in righteousness and purity (Rm. 6:4).

We can remind David that sons and heirs of God are not promised an easy life.  Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  We are promised the Holy Spirit who helps (Jn. 14:26) and intercedes for us (Rm. 8:26).

We can grieve with David.  The mistaken identity of “sexual being” and exaggerated place of sexuality misleads and often destroys the godly relationships of men with women, men with men, and women with women.  What is to become of us if we find a friend of the same sex—someone who is patient, kind, and selfless—but confuse lust with brotherly affection?  It is a dystopian world when boys and girls are mentored in all things sexual, but actually grow up fearing masculinity and femininity because they are untrained in biblical manhood and womanhood.

We can rejoice with David.   God created us to be relational people but, because He did not make sexuality central to being human, we can relate to one another in non-sexual ways.  Yes, my friend David!  You can admire the attributes of another man without sensual implications.  That’s because mature manhood (and womanhood) is about relating to one another in light of our baptismal identity.  As brothers and sisters, God wants us to be what He created us to be: holy people who live our daily lives as male or female not just in marriage, but in familial and social relationships, in school, at work, and in worship.  We do not need sexual intimacy to be a man or a woman, but men and women do need to be relational.

We can assure David that the Tenth Commandment has something to say to single men and women.  We are not supposed to covet “anything that is your neighbor’s.”  This includes our neighbor’s sexuality.  Marriage is the sacred place for all things sexual, but being a husband or a wife in this fallen world is a vocation for some and not for others.  It is important for the Body of Christ to see each member as fully human as opposed to sexual and, therefore—whether young or old, married or single—“a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim 2:21).

We can encourage David to practice self-control which, evidenced by the Apostle Paul (1 Co. 7:7), is a gift.  With the gift of self-control comes order and strength for life.  Mature manhood and womanhood receive the gift of self-control and are not dependent upon sexual intimacy.  Chaste singleness is not an affliction nor is it lessening of personhood; rather it, too, is a vocation and way to serve God and our neighbor in a way different from marriage.

We can point David to the Man Jesus Christ.  Jesus was fully human.  He was true man.  Yet, only in error would we identify Jesus as a “sexual being.”

We can assure David that Jesus has something to say about human identity being far more than sexual.  Jesus says there is no marriage in heaven (Mt. 22:30).  Therefore being sexual, that is, capable of sexual activity, is not part of what it means to be human after the resurrection.   If it is not part of our divinely created human identity in the resurrection where everything will be made perfect, then it is not the central part of our divinely-created identity here and now.

God tells His beloved human creation to abstain from sensuality.  But He does not tell us to abstain from being male or female.  We don’t do battle with the attributes of manhood or womanhood, but with “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry …” (Gal. 5:16-24). To be lovers, that is, to share sexual intimacy and literally fit together as “one flesh,” is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman. But to be male or female is not bound by marriage.  Each is a vocation or calling for daily use in glorifying God.

In Christ, we can fully engage in our vocations of manhood and womanhood in ways that will not bring shame on the Day of the Lord (1 Jn. 2:28).  We can think, work, create, serve, communicate, encourage, problem-solve, mentor, build relationships, and practice agape love.  This is truth with promise for those who bear the cross of same-sex attraction but don’t want to parade with pride.

The Failure of Sex Education in the Church:
Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity

is available from Amazon.com
(image credit: westminpca)

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