Time for Testimonies: Celebrating What God is Doing

Joshua Fellowship Logo

We all know what a crazy year this has been. Outpost’s summer program, Strive, was no exception. For the first time ever, a hybrid model of live and online teachings and times for worship was offered. Staff and leaders were not sure how the men would interact once they came to the in-person weekend Confront (some who had only been there virtually all summer). Yet, I (Jonathan M.) was amazed to see the camaraderie and how much God moved. His peace was there—not a peace of submission but a peace of victory—as you’ll read in these brief testimonies below.

“This summer course and this weekend Confront were two of the most challenging but rewarding events. I believe this program is one I will remember and cherish for the rest of my days. In Strive, I learned what true masculinity is, and I had opportunities to live that out in the curriculum and in daily living. The ministry and leadership at Joshua Fellowship, in particular the Strive program, has really helped and encouraged me. My biggest takeaway from this program is the fellowship and bond I’ve created with my brothers.”

“Through Strive, it has been amazing to see how I have grown from being in Joshua Fellowship and doing Strive last summer. I have seen how God has planted in me true strength and authority to walk as a man of God. I have also seen how He has been bringing true freedom from shame so that I may truly live as a good gift to God and to the Body of Christ. I am thankful for how God continues to use Joshua Fellowship to help me encounter Him and truly grow into the healing He has laid out before me.”

“Strive has helped me see that my body, soul, and spirit are far more connected that I ever imagined. I’ve gained a sense of belonging to the world of men, which I’ve long felt disconnected from. I’ve begun to see what it means to truly be a man of God, expressing both His masculine and feminine attributes. I’ve been equipped to better fight passivity. Most importantly, I’ve continued to realize my life is not about me.”

“Strive has impacted me greatly. I have never been pushed or challenged like this before. Through it was painful and difficult, the effect and impact was far and away worth it. I honestly feel a change inside. It’s unusual, I did not anticipate such a deep, real, and powerful internal shift. My mind, heart, soul, and spirit feel a sense of real change. The activities were such a huge part of my transformation. I know there is still much to work on and experience; however, the tools and impartations that I have received gives me great hope, strength, and courage. I don’t know how to fully explain it, but I feel a genuine change inside. I know that some of the wounds of my heart have been healed and ministered to. I feel peace and hope for what can happen.”

“I made real progress in confronting perfectionism, which has been an on/off struggle for me and members of my family for-freaking-ever. I also now know I can get [stuff] done. It’s also been a good start to weeding out lies that have crept back in.”

“Strive has been the one most challenging things I’ve ever willingly done. I used to think that masculinity was just being physically strong and just doing [things]. These many weeks of learning true masculinity, [I see how] passivity is a big destroyer of men today. Finding your true self is a challenge to that passivity.”

“This weekend was really challenging in a lot of ways for me. Friday tested me physically in a way I didn’t expect. As we were going through the exercises, I don’t think I understood the point of them at first. It wasn’t until afterwards that the camaraderie really struck me. The physical exertion helped break down my feelings of self-sufficiency and pride, opening me up to growth and truth the rest of the weekend. Saturday helped me confront unspoken anger and pain that I had pent up for years and buried so deep, I forgot I had buried it. Overall, I learned that I was not created to be weak and passive, bound by fear. God has created me to step forward in His strength as a fearless man of God. My chains are gone, I’ve been set free / My God, My Savior ransomed me. 10/10–Would recommend.”

The “Why” for Every Sexual Question

young man with hands folded looking out the window

Dr. Juli Slattery is a keynote speaker at the Restored Hope Network conference, HOPE2019, hosted by Outpost.  Dr. Slattery’s newest book, Rethinking Sexuality, is one of Outpost’s leading resources to give people a foundation in Biblical Sexuality.  Here’s a taste of what you might expect at HOPE2019.

When children reach the age of two, they begin asking a question they never stop asking. Why? If you are parenting a young child, you are faced with endless why questions. Why do I have to go to bed so early? Why do I have to eat brussel sprouts? Why do you have to go to work? Why does he get more pizza than I do? Why can’t I drive the car?

In their exhaustion, some parents defer to the age old response to every why question. Because I said so! This answer is not very satisfying to a child, no matter their age. In truth, it’s not very satisfying to us as adults either.

In my ministry, I still get asked why questions. Why should I save sex for marriage? Why would God care about two men getting married? Why is it a big deal to look at porn? Why should I stay in an unhappy marriage? Unfortunately, we typically defer to the age-old cop out in response to these questions as well. Because God said so. There are bumper stickers and plaques reinforcing the idea that “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!”

God created us as rational creatures who long for the answers to our why questions. Certainly, there are some situations in which we simply cling to faith and trust God in spite of never understanding the why. However, God is a wise parent who often gives us a why. There is a reason why sexuality matters and why every sexual issue has spiritual significance.

The why for every sexual question is found in this truth: God intentionally created our sexuality as a powerful metaphor for His covenant love.

Everything God has created for us here on earth has a spiritual purpose, revealing something about God. Our sexuality was intentionally created as a holy symbol or analogy reflecting how God loves us. Throughout the Scripture, the one-flesh union of marital sex, sexual infidelity and sexual immorality are used as pictures to describe Christ’s relationship with the Church and our call to be faithful to our covenant with God.

Practically we experience this connection through our own lives in three ways.

  1. Sexual desire invites us to pursue covenant. Our bodies remind us that we were not meant to be alone. Sexual desire is not a bad thing! Although it may lead us to temptation and sin, God has given us sexual desire to remind us that we were made for love. Our romantic and sexual longings compel us not just to have sex, but to pursue covenant. We were created for more than a hookup; we were created for committed love and intimate knowing. Spiritually, you were not created to be alone. God invites you into a covenant, eternal relationship with Him, promising that we can never be separated from His love when we trust in Christ Jesus.
  2. Sexual intimacy is the celebration of covenant. Having sex within marriage is a physical way of celebrating the vows we made within marriage. Sexual intimacy within marriage is, in some ways, similar to a sacrament. We physically give each other our bodies in such a vulnerable and passionate way, mirroring how we have vowed our entire lives to each other. Sexual intimacy within marriage symbolizes that our intimacy with God is meant to be passionate and vulnerable, and it requires giving of ourselves.
  3. Sexual fidelity is the promise of covenant. The greatest call within marriage is faithfulness. Broken vows are a tragedy and create waves of pain. The despair of broken vows and sexual betrayal is a metaphor of the
    spiritual reality of breaking our covenant with God.

When we think about sexuality or have sexual questions, we need to view these through the filter of remembering the significance of this spiritual metaphor. This is the why… why sexual intimacy is reserved for the covenant of marriage, why male and female matters, why sex is under such spiritual attack in our world and why it’s worth it to pursue sexual integrity and sexual healing.

In Ephesians 5:21-33, Paul makes a direct connection between marriage and the one-flesh intimacy between husband and wife as a reflection of Christ and the church. Paul says this is a “mystery,” which means we can’t grasp the fullness of this metaphor. Yet, Paul’s teaching here and references throughout the Scripture remind us that sexuality and marriage were created by God to teach us about His love, His pursuit, His faithfulness and His passion towards His people.

This article was originally published on Juli’s Blog at authenticintimacy.com and is used by permission. Dr. Slattery will be speaking Friday evening at HOPE2019, and we hope you can join us. 

Rock Bottom, Persistent Love

rock bottomsMy story is not a simple “coming to Jesus” story. It’s been a long, hard journey, full of ups and downs, messy relationships, and many rock bottoms. But Jesus faithfully pursued me and reached out to me in every twist and turn I took, in each rock bottom I hit. His love has been persistent through it all.

My Early Years

I grew up in a Christian home, and we went church every Sunday. At a young age, I contracted bacterial spinal meningitis and was in the hospital for months. The doctors told my parents that if I survived, I would have brain damage and be disabled. By God’s mercy, I lived. I came out with only a hearing loss and a slight learning disability. My illness still had a profound impact on my life, though. Other kids teased me for having hearing aids. I struggled with friendships and connecting with peers.

In the third grade, I went on a Christian camping retreat with my dad. There, I was introduced to Christ and his love and salvation for me. I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior while at that camp.

Around that time, I also got into a lot of fights with my two sisters. Once during a fight, my older sister punched me across the face.  I cried and went to my dad, but I was met with a face of anger and disappointment, not the comfort I was longing for. I was crushed. My relationship with him was already strained, and I felt a deep emptiness inside me. I determined to be the good little boy from then on.

Trapped and Hopeless

In middle school, that emptiness grew. Then I discovered pornography, and eventually gay pornography. I quickly became addicted. The images consumed me. It was torture, and by the ninth grade, I felt hopelessly trapped by it. I was losing sleep and losing friends because I was going home to look at porn rather than hanging out with them. I knew God and had accepted Jesus as my Savior, but I didn’t know how He could help me.  On many nights, I cried myself to sleep, asking God to take away this addiction. He seemed to respond with silence. I would vow to do better the next day but never did, and I was filled with guilt.

One night, while my mom and I were the only ones home, we got into a huge fight. I got so angry that I threw a large book at her. My actions shocked me. How could I do such a thing? I was the good boy! I finally confessed my addiction to my parents. They took away my computer privileges, and I met with our pastor for a while. It was helpful to talk with someone, but we never got to the root of my problems. Then I went off to college and was given a laptop, and I went right back to my desired source of comfort.

Trapped Again

During my first year of college, I began to be more aware of my intense attraction to guys and to actually question my sexuality. Eventually, I came out as gay to my parents. I began hooking up with other guys I had met online. My sexual addiction began to consume me once again, and I distanced myself from my friends.

Shouts in Our Pain

I still had a relationship with God though, and I didn’t want addiction as a part of my life. Once, after I had been crying all night, something nudged me to look up C.S. Lewis quotes. One in particular jumped out at me: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” I knew then that, through my pain, God had been shouting at me for a while. I knew that I needed to leave college. The next day, while my friends were off at class or at chapel, I left all of my belongings and drove home.

My parents were supportive and helped me find Outpost Ministries. I was involved there for a season, but I was not quite ready to submit my sexuality to God and decided to leave. In the meantime, regardless of my choices, my dad started to rebuild our relationship. We began going out to lunch together. I would talk, and he would just listen. He took an interest in me, and it meant the world to me. It was a small but important change, and my life slowly began to shift course.

Another Rock Bottom

Soon after, I went back to a Christian college closer to home, and I was able to receive counseling there. My heart for God grew, even though I was still leading a double life. On campus, I was the good Christian boy, shy and unsure of himself, doing what he was told. Off campus, I was a sex addict who hooked up with about 30 different guys. The more I tried to find comfort and satisfaction in other men, the bigger the emptiness inside me grew. I hit an all-time low point. Yet there was another rock bottom to hit: I later learned I had contracted a sexually transmitted infection. I was devastated.

One night, I was reading in the book of Jeremiah and came across Jeremiah 30:12-13, 17: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing. There is no one to plead your cause, no remedy for your sore, no healing for you. But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the Lord, ‘because you are called an outcast, Zion for whom no one cares.’” It was me. God saw me in my state and promised restoration and gave me hope. From that day on, I stopped acting out sexually. God gave me a chance to try again.

A Question I Couldn’t Hide From

Two years later, I still desperately longed for a relationship. I thought, this time, maybe a Christian guy would work out better. I met one, and after a party, we sat in his car talking and agreed to start dating. He then asked me a question I couldn’t hide from: “How can we do this and glorify God?” I froze and heard God say, “Yes, Ian, how can you do this and glorify Me?”  I didn’t know what to say.  Eventually, I turned to him and said, “I don’t think I can do this,” and I got out of his car and left.

By the end of college, I had come to the conclusion that I would have to be a “gay Christian.” I had gotten involved in the LGBT community and the gay club scene by this point, but I still had a desire to honor God and be close to him. I determined that I would live a celibate life, but accepted that I would always struggle with my attractions.

Maybe There’s More

I still desired a place to go for spiritual support, and eventually found it again at Outpost. First, I went through Joshua Fellowship’s summer masculinity course. I learned what it means to be a man created in the image of God and how to be the man He created me to be. I also found a new, enjoyable community with the Joshua Fellowship guys. As my masculine strength and my trust in God grew, I noticed that my thoughts began to change. Maybe I wasn’t limited to just live a celibate life and always struggle. Maybe God had more for me.

Inviting Jesus with Me

I was still involved in the LGBT community during this time. It fed a deep desire inside of me for connection with others. In group at Outpost, I continually admitted going to gay clubs.  As I shared, the Outpost leaders advised me to ask Jesus to come to the bars with me.

I started doing just that, and my experience at the bars began to change. It wasn’t as fun anymore. One time at the bar, I saw someone I knew, and my friends continuously made lustful comments about him.  It hurt to hear what they were saying because I knew this person loved God, and he deserved better than those comments or to be in that bar. So I left my friends there. Little did they or I know that this was the last time I would go to the bars with them.

A New Season

A new season in my life came when I attended the One Thing Conference in Kansas City.  It was an amazing experience, and it launched me into a life of prayer and inspired me to get more involved with the ministry. I signed up for TCJHOP’s summer internship. We spent four days a week in the Prayer Room and also listened to different speakers. I experienced how being in prayer healed my heart and my relationship with God. I grieved my many messy, unhealthy relationships but recognized my real need for love. The Father’s love began filling that emptiness inside, and I desired less and less to be in a relationship with a guy.

God’s Power to Restore

Over time, God has not only restored my relationship with Himself and provided me with healthy same-sex friendships. He has also brought healing in my relationships with my parents, especially with my dad. My sisters and I have built amazing new friendships. God really does have the power to restore the family. God has also restored my desire to be married and have a family of my own. In fact, I have found a very special woman, and we are engaged to be married later this year. I have a new a passion to stand for the image of God in men and women. I also love to share my story with young people who find themselves trapped in similar addictions and situations as I did.

Through all the ups and downs, twist and turns and rock bottom experiences of my journey, God has been patient to reach out to me in my darkest moments. He has graciously shown me His persistent love and the truth of His Word. “He brought me out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm” (Psalm 40:2). God’s healing, restoration and firm foundation have brought unexpected joy and peace in my life that I never thought possible.

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Linda’s Story: Tranformation of a Transgender

Linda SeilerFrom my earliest memory I wanted to be a boy instead of a girl.

Somehow I just knew that if I had male genitalia, my life would be complete. As a child, I prayed repeatedly for God to make me into a boy and became obsessed with my pursuit. However, I never told my family. Though I was a tomboy growing up, no one ever knew the depth of my struggles. It was my little secret that I kept for decades.

Around fourth grade, I heard about sex reassignment surgeries and vowed I would have the operation as soon as I was old enough and had the money. About the same time, some playmates introduced me to pornography, which developed into sexual addictions that would span the next 20+ years. Unbeknownst to my parents, I would spend hours alone in my room feeding my sexual fantasies, always envisioning myself as the male counterpart rather than the female.

JUNIOR HIGH

In junior high, when all the other girls were interested in makeup and boys, to my horror, I found myself attracted to women—especially older teachers who were strong yet nurturing.

I desperately wanted to be held and comforted by a woman, which then progressed into sexual fantasies. I was distressed by my attractions, but I dared not tell anyone.

Around seventh grade, I started to consider the logistical difficulties of having sex reassignment surgery. Where would I get the money? How would I tell my family? You can’t just be Linda one day and David the next. I considered running away as soon as I reached adulthood to have the surgery without ever telling my family, but I loved my family, and I didn’t want to live without them. I made a conscious decision at that point to try and conform to society’s expectation of me to look more like a girl in order to fit in. But inside, I still longed deeply to be a man, and the attractions to women became increasingly difficult to resist.

GOING THROUGH CHANGES

When my body began menstruation, I could have sworn my life was over. I envied the boys around me whose voices were beginning to change, and I mourned the fact that mine would never change like that. Instead, I had to submit to wearing training bras and being inconvenienced by monthly periods. Being female was a curse, not a blessing.

I committed my life to Jesus during my junior year in high school, but within days, I began doubting my salvation experience because my struggles didn’t go away like I thought they would. Yet, I knew Jesus had done something in my heart, and I wanted to follow Him. I got involved with my church youth group and, for the first time in my life, felt like I had friends who loved me. But the closer I got to females, the more I struggled with my attractions and sexual addictions. I was miserable but couldn’t tell anyone. I tried growing my hair out and even dating guys—thinking that being physical with a boy would “cure” me—but it just made me want to be male all the more. I tried to conform and even wore dresses on special occasions, but inside it always felt like I was wearing a costume, like dressing in drag.

COLLEGE

In college, I got involved with a campus ministry and developed a deeper relationship with God, praying and reading my Bible regularly, even sharing Christ with the lost. I eventually became a student leader despite the fact that I was deeply attracted to women who mentored me and was enslaved to sexual addictions behind closed doors. I hated the double life I was living. At one point, I knelt down on my dorm floor and prayed earnestly for God to please take my transgender desires away, hoping no one would ever know.

My senior year in college, I attended a campus ministry talk on overcoming habitual sin. The speaker quoted James 5:16, “Confess your sins one to another and pray for each other so that you may be healed,” stressing how important it is to get your sin in the light in order to be free. I was deeply convicted and knew I had to confess my secret to my campus pastor if I was ever to experience freedom.

It took all the courage in the world to finally tell my campus pastor my lifelong secret I had kept for 21 years. In fact, I seriously considered suicide as a way out, but I knew that would devastate my family, and I couldn’t do that to them. When I finally confided in my campus pastor, I expected him to react with shock, horror, or condemnation because I was a leader in the ministry living a double life. But instead, he responded to me in love, assuring me that he was committed to finding me the help I needed. I couldn’t believe it. I walked away from that conversation with a fresh revelation of God’s grace. I had always felt God hated me and condemned me for my sin. My campus pastor’s reaction was a living illustration of the Father’s heart towards me. For the first time, I discovered that being completely transparent with another person was very healing. I didn’t have to hide anymore.

That day in 1994 was my first step in what would be an eleven-year journey towards freedom.

My campus pastor met with me a few times and eventually connected me with a professional counselor. The next decade was full of ups and downs as I sought healing. I read every book I could find on homosexuality, listened to tapes, attended conferences, and met with multiple counselors from both ex-gay ministries and general Christian counseling. It was a slow process, as there were not a multitude of resources at that time to help women struggling with transgender issues. In fact, well-meaning Christian counselors told me they had seen homosexuals and lesbians set free but never anyone transgender, so I should do my best to cope this side of heaven and know that I will be totally free when I die. Despite their discouragement, the Lord gave me supernatural assurance that He would completely heal me and that the transgender issues would be a thing of the past. Nevertheless, I thirsted so deeply for nurture, I seemed to get worse before I got better, falling into sexual immorality with another woman from my church. I eventually repented and broke off that relationship, realizing my fantasy of being a man who slept with women would never fill the deep void in my soul. By God’s grace, I resolved to tug at the hem of His garment and not let go until I experienced the freedom Jesus died to give me.

As I continued to pursue healing, the Lord put a spiritual mother in my life who was only a few years older than I but spiritually much more mature. I was deeply attracted to her, yet she wasn’t phased by my struggles and began to invest in me relationally in a wholesome way. I found myself wanting to be just like her (much like a daughter might want to emulate her mother), so she helped me buy more feminine clothes and gave me advice concerning makeup and mannerisms. My outward appearance began to change, but inwardly, I still believed the lie that it was better to be a man, and I was still battling attractions to women.

In the fall of 2005, the Lord led me to meet with Mark Sandford, an inner healing prayer counselor at Elijah House. Over the course of a week, we spent hours praying through a lifetime of deep emotional wounds that were at the root of my issues. I forgave those who hurt me, let go of bitterness, renounced inner vows, and repented for my wrong responses towards those who had wounded me. I embraced the cross, and we closed every door I had opened to give the enemy legal ground to influence my life. I cried and cried as the Lord spoke graciously to me, and for the first time in my life, I saw a tender, compassionate side to the Father that I wasn’t aware existed. It’s as if I could literally feel His hands holding my heart. My lifelong yearning to be held and comforted by a woman was met in the tender arms of my heavenly Father.

THE NEW ME

After that powerful encounter with God, I had a newfound contentment in being a woman and was set free from my sexual addictions, which were essentially a counterfeit to the comfort I could only find in my Father’s arms. As I continued to walk out my healing, I eventually started experiencing genuine attractions towards men. It was as if I was going through delayed puberty in my mid-thirties, which was both awkward and thrilling to finally experience the mystery of sexuality according to God’s design. God had transformed me from the inside out and accomplished the impossible. I still feel like I’m living a dream!

Linda Seiler

Though I wanted to share my testimony immediately after everything happened in 2005, the Lord had me wait. I see His sovereignty in that now, as I needed time for my healing to be tested and to prepare me for the warfare that lay ahead. I stayed silent for eight years until the Lord gave me the green light to go public upon my eighth-year anniversary of freedom, a “new beginning” of sorts. I am finally coming out of the closet in a redemptive way, sharing my story with others to bring hope and restoration. I’m grateful for all the pastors, counselors, faithful friends, and especially my supportive parents who walked with me during the healing process. The eleven-year journey towards transformation was totally worth it. The length of the journey itself has given me empathy for those who are currently struggling to break free from similar issues and sometimes feel hopeless. Healing from sexual brokenness is rarely instantaneous—it’s more like peeling back layers of an onion one at a time—but if we will hold fast to the truth of God’s Word and determine never to give up, we will experience transformation to the point that the sin which once characterized our lives ceases to dominate us. God promised: such were some of you (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Outpost Ministries is grateful for Linda as a co-laborer in God’s Kingdom and for sharing her story. Check out more of Linda’s resources and pictures of her transformation at www.lindaseiler.com

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Gender, Confusion, and Conversation, Part 2

confusionYOU are an image-bearer. Have you ever paused to consider this weighty theological truth?  Men and women have been given the most profound honor in all of creation: we are created to bear the image of God. We bear God’s image—who He is and how He interacts with the world—in our spirits, souls, and in our bodies as male and female. The enemy is working hard to remove God’s image from the earth by bringing about much confusion regarding gender and sexuality. As image-bearers, we have the privilege of speaking truth into this confusion. We can also take life-giving steps to bless and affirm the God-given gender identity of the children and teenagers in our spheres of influence.

Message #1: Gender is a Social Construct

In order to have life-giving conversations, it is helpful to understand a little of the world’s thinking. We interact with it every day. Overall, the world is communicating three messages. First, gender is a social construct. In other words, gender is a concept created and constructed by people. This philosophy is nothing new. It has been taught in women’s studies courses for decades, but it is now emphasized among mainstream educators and taught as early as kindergarten.

Message #2: Gender is Based on Feelings

Second, the world says that gender is based on feelings, interests, and passions and is defined by each individual. Thus, we have people who identify as “transgender.” Their thoughts, feelings, and interests are classified according to what has historically been assigned to the “other” gender, not the one associated with their physical bodies.  It’s also a perfect confluence of self-determination and post-modern thinking. There is no objective truth—my truth is my truth, and your truth is your truth. Each of us creates that truth on our own, including the truth about our own gender. As a result, there are now 57 genders to choose from on Facebook in the United States.

Disconnected

Much of our culture is working with the misguided idea that gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual attraction are all independent parts of a person’s makeup. These different areas of a person’s life are all considered to be completely separate from one another. They are based on feelings and completely changeable from day to day. This means that every day, people are choosing whether they feel feminine or masculine. They are deciding how much cultural femininity or masculinity they want to express through clothes, hairstyle, etc. They are selecting how much of their physical female-ness or male-ness they want to exhibit, and whether they sense attraction to men or women.

Message #3: Gender Doesn’t Matter

Third, the world says gender ultimately doesn’t matter. In the end, men and women are interchangeable. There is no difference between the two. The ultimate goal of this line of thinking is androgyny, a world where humans are indistinguishable from one another. Distinction is removed, and the two meld into one. Thus, we have people identifying as “gender fluid” or “queer,” believing that they don’t belong to either gender.

The Truth of God’s Design

The truth, in contrast, is that gender is created by God, gender is defined by God, and distinction between men and women-and unity within marriage-are an intentional act of God.  We believe that God reveals and imparts our complete identity to us at the moment of creation through our embodiment as man or woman. The creation and definition of our identity rests in God’s design, not ours. When a man and woman are united in marriage, the ultimate goal of unity with distinction is shown to the world: two become one, while still remaining two.

Navigating the Chaos

Bottom line, the world’s thinking is rooted in contradiction and chaos. The world is trying to make sense of feelings and experiences while rejecting the truth of God’s design and revelation. Our children and teenagers are encountering this contradiction and chaos daily. Now as a parent of teenagers myself, the topic of gender comes up nearly every day. I am often corrected on the particular pronouns of choice by my daughter’s friends. “Mom, that person is a ‘they’.” Another friend chooses the pronoun “he” when “his” body is definitely a she. While God imparts our gender identity at creation, we also must embrace and grow into that given identity. As parents and mature adults, we can help children and teenagers in our sphere of influence do the same.

Connect Children with Their Bodies

The following tools can help build a solid foundation of blessing and affirming their God-given gender identity. First, within the context of family, we can connect children with their bodies. We can connect children with their male-ness or female-ness. Intentionally call them “son” or “daughter” and “boy” or “girl.” Teach children about their bodies and help them see how their bodies are called good by God. Teach the correct names for body parts and how to protect their bodies from misuse and abuse. This first may require overcoming our own shame about our bodies.

Encourage children to understand how their particular body works, what it does well, what it needs more help doing. Remind boys that their body is distinctive and different from a girl’s and how to take care of all the parts of their body. Remind girls that their body is distinctive and different from a boy’s and how to care for their unique body. Most of all, make your family the place children learn about their bodies. Then when they have questions, they know they can come to moms and dads to ask those questions.

Connect Children with Biblical Gender

Second, we connect children with biblical gender, with special focus on the gender that gives them identity. That is, we help all children do masculine things and express feminine traits. We also make sure boys find connection and identity in the true masculine while helping girls find connection and identity in the true feminine. Families are the first place this type of connection is formed. However, the church family and friends also participate in this connection-building.

Affirming Boys

Help boys find connection to the true masculine. Encourage and affirm them in their strength of character, their willingness to stand up for the truth of God’s Word, and their reaching out to others in relationship. Remind them they are “men of God” and name them as “sons of God.”  Make sure to build up this connection without diminishing their capacity to express the true feminine.

For example, when a young man plays a beautiful piano piece for the offering at church, thank him afterward for the strength of his playing. When a sensitive young man in youth group expresses grief over injustice at his school, commend him for calling out the truth of the situation and his desire to protect those who are vulnerable.

Affirming Girls

Help girls find connection to the true feminine. Encourage and affirm their ability to be at peace in the midst of tough times, their willingness to receive the truth of God’s Word into their hearts, and their capacity to live without anxiety about relationships. Name them “daughters of God” and remind them they are “women of God.” Build the connection without diminishing their ability to express the true masculine.

For example, when a young woman comes to church dressed in an androgynous style, compliment the beauty of her spirit and the tenderness of her dealings with others. When you notice a young woman speaking up regularly in Bible Study, commend her for her willingness to receive the truth of God’s Word in her heart. In all these situations, we build up people’s connection to their gender identity, while still allowing them to express characteristics of the other as they grow into full image-bearers.

Connect Children with Distinctions

Third, we encourage and affirm distinctions that arise from the differences between men and women. Take notice and talk about the different ways men and women think, feel, and behave because of their embodiments as male and female. Be aware of our cultural biases here, however. It can be helpful for children to find connection to things that fall into a cultural norm to encourage a sense of belonging, but we must avoid extremism. Toys, activities, clothes, hairstyles, and interests don’t inherently have gender, even though our culture often associates these things with a particular gender. Girls can like sports, and boys can like music without it meaning anything about their gender or sexual identity. Still, girls will do sports differently than boys; boys will do music differently than girls.

Continuing the Conversation

These tools can provide an environment that affirms children in identity and reduces the risk of confusion. They are, unfortunately, not a guarantee. As parents, we strive to fill our children’s hearts with the truth of God. We help them learn to nurture that truth, protecting it from interference from the world until it can bear fruit. We connect to a church body that helps continue this process, helping us teach and train our children in the truth of God’s Word. However, at some point, we all have to let our children move out from under our protection to protect and nurture the truth themselves. As our children mature, they are ultimately responsible for their own relationship with God and their own understanding of God’s Word. We continue to have ongoing, life-giving conversations with our children even after this point. We encourage a biblical understanding of gender and identity, directing them always to God’s design for their lives.

Our world is slipping further and further into gender and sexual confusion. It is now even more important that we have a grasp on what the world is thinking and understand God’s design for us as men and women. Within our families and churches, we must bless and affirm biblical gender and have ongoing, life-giving conversations about gender and sexuality. We need to have discussions about what it means to be God’s image-bearers in the world. These conversations will equip us and our children to have life-giving conversations with those in our communities. Our children are image-bearers of God. Let us as parents and the Body of Christ strive to impart this understanding into their hearts. May fully live as God has designed them, each one.

This article is the second in a three-part series. Part 1 covers biblical gender; Part 2 addresses gender confusion and ways to have life-giving conversations within families and churches. Part 3 covers how to have life-giving conversations with friends and individuals in your communities.

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Gender, Confusion, and Conversation, Part 1

biblical genderMy first memories of being taught about gender and gender roles are from early elementary school. It was the 1970’s, and Marlo Thomas and friends had released a record album and TV special, Free to Be You and Me. The messages of the songs and skits were designed intentionally to teach children to reach beyond the gender stereotypes of earlier decades and pursue whatever interests we felt would fit our particular personalities.

While some of the individual messages of the songs and skits contained some important truths, the overall message of the work was to encourage an unbiblical, post-modern gender neutrality. We were to understand that men and women are basically the same, and any differences we may see or experience are not to be turned into generalizations about either sex. What I learned was that a woman can do anything a man can do, and a man should be able to do anything a woman can do as well.

Defining My Womanhood

As I grew and became a teenager, this message seemed to be confirmed by my life experience. I was a girl who loved Star Wars, enjoyed math, excelled at school, preferred my Industrial Arts class over Home Economics, and generally got along with boys more than girls. There were more boys who shared my interests, and I struggled with the drama of junior high and high school girl relationships.

Even with all these traditionally male interests, however, I never questioned my own sexuality or gender identity. I was a girl who had a specific set of interests, but I was definitely a girl. (The teachings of the world had not yet reached the fevered pitch of today, where feelings and interests are taken to imply a specific gender identity.) I knew that my passions, interests, and giftings ultimately did not define my womanhood. And yet, I didn’t fully understand what did define my womanhood.

Feelings Versus God’s Design

Looking back, I can see God’s hand protecting and guiding my understanding. A biblical understanding of sex and gender does allow for each of us, man or woman, to have interests and passions in any arena. But those interests and passions, those feelings, are not what gives us our identity as a man or woman. Our identity is found only in God’s design for our lives, how God has created us to bear His image in the world.

Biblical Gender

In order to continue this conversation, we must first agree on some definitions. We use the term sex to describe the physical distinctions between our male and female bodies. We use the term gender to describe the categories of behavior and being—masculine and feminine . God is spirit and does not have a body; therefore, God is not male or female.  However, we do see God exhibit gender; we see God exhibit both masculine and feminine qualities.

Based on what we have seen in Scripture, we define what is truly masculine as the power to act. God demonstrates the true masculine in many ways, including the ordering of chaos in creation (Genesis 1:1-10) and the initiating of relationship with us through Jesus (Romans 5:6-8). Furthermore, we define what is truly feminine as the capacity to be. God reveals to us the true feminine in multiple ways, including resting in peace after creating all things (Genesis 2:1-3) and comparing himself to a mother who nurtures her children (Isaiah 49:15).

Image-Bearers

Genesis recounts for us that God created all humans in His image, both male and female. Each man is a full image-bearer of God, and each woman is also a full image-bearer of God. We each bear God’s image in the deepest part of our being—our spirits. Because we each bear God’s image in our spirits, all humans—male and female—will exhibit both masculine and feminine characteristics.   In fact, in relation to God, we all behave in feminine ways, receiving the Word of truth in our hearts and minds, responding to the relationship that God initiates with us. Additionally, each of us must protect and guard the truth in our hearts so we may stand firm against deception, exercising true masculine strength.

Distinction on Purpose

Still, God’s intention for distinction within creation and especially humanity is clear.  He could have chosen to create just one type of body —an androgynous human that would be like any other human in every way. But that’s not what God did. God created two distinct and different types of persons: male and female. God created us male and female in order to reveal even more fully who God is and how God acts in relationship.

Since we believe God’s creative act is intentional, it follows that our physical bodies reflect a deeper truth about our spirits and souls. That is, knowing God’s character, the decision to make two different types of bodies implies that the male-female distinction extends into our spirits; it is not only a distinction in body. It also encompasses our souls–the connection between body and spirit; home to our emotions, thoughts and decision-making abilities.  Thus, a person with a male body—genetically XY—is fashioned with  a male spirit and soul, and a person with a female body—genetically XX—is created with  a female spirit and soul.

Body, Soul, Spirit

A male body encounters the world differently than a female body, due to physical differences. Likewise, a male soul will think, experience emotions, and make decisions differently than a female soul. Finally, a male spirit needs to be connected to masculine traits to find identity as a man, and a female spirit needs to be connected to feminine traits to find identity as a woman. We encourage males to connect to their ability to initiate relationship, move in strength, and stand for truth in order to be fully connected in body, soul, and spirit. Likewise, we encourage females to nurture beauty and be receptive and nurturing in relationship with others in order to be fully connected in body, soul, and spirit.

Fully Bearing God’s Image

In order to fully reflect the image of God, however, we make sure that these connections are not to the exclusion of the other; that is, a male is also created  to exhibit feminine traits, and a female to also exhibit masculine ones. For example, a male can and should initiate relationship and stand for truth (the true masculine) while also being receptive and nurturing to others and being able to rest (the true feminine). Likewise, a female can and should be receptive and nurturing while also showing strength, standing for truth, and protecting others.  The encouragement of one type of trait does not mean we overlook or dismiss the other.

True Woman’s Lib

For me, this understanding means that I can acknowledge the differences between men and women while also acknowledging that we each can do whatever it is God has gifted us to do. I am a woman because God has created me with a female body, soul, and spirit, and it is good to be a woman. I act in both feminine and masculine ways, but I do those things as a female. To be a woman of God is to bear God’s image into the world through my femaleness.

This is true woman’s liberation! To know that I am perfectly and fully loved as a daughter of the Most High King; to know that I can fully bear God’s image in the world; to know that God has gifted me specifically to do the work designed for me and my gifts; and to do all this through my femaleness, as a woman. May God grant us each the strength and wisdom to stand firm in the truth and lovingly share it with those around us. May we truly and fully bear God’s image in our manhood or womanhood, as God has created each one. May we truly be free to be you and me.

This article is the first in a three-part series. Part 1 covers biblical gender; Part 2 addresses gender confusion and ways to have life-giving conversations within families and churchesPart 3 covers how to have life-giving conversations with friends and individuals in your communities.

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