Can a Christian Teen Survive the Prom?

Disclaimer: The following secrets are intended for devoted Christians. I would rather not argue about their legitimacy with those who have not chosen a life of consecration unto Christ our Lord.
 
I know. I know. Mentioning the prom is almost taboo for preachers. You can’t win. You either upset the radically committed who choose to avoid the trappings of the prom all together, or you anger the ones who go all out for prom night.
 
Well, those who know me know that I have typically tried to avoid religious legalism and manipulative tactics. At the same time, I have steered clear of using grace as a license to sin and tolerate worldliness. The fact is simply this… Some Christian kids who love Jesus will choose to attend the prom. Other Christian kids will see it as a stumbling block they had rather avoid.
 
Before I list the “secrets to surviving prom night” let me admit a couple of things. First of all, I attended the prom my senior year of high school. And my only excuse for skipping the prom my junior year is that I was representing our local FFA chapter in a national land/soil judging competition in Oklahoma City. Woo Hoo!! Hey, at least I was a state champ at something. So I attended the prom, and I was one of the few that had little regret. 
 
Secondly, I have never met a dedicated Christian adult that said, “I sure am glad I didn’t miss my prom!” I have heard many adults, however, that regretted going. And though I have little to regret, I’m not particularly glad that I went.
 
What do I remember about prom? Lots of time washing the Oldsmobile that was bigger than the house in which I now live. I put on an uncomfortable tux, took my date to the Peddler Steak House in Athens where we met a group of my friends and their dates, and dropped big money on prime rib. After dinner we headed to the prom which was in the not so attractive old gym. We stood in line for pictures, enjoyed a couple of dances, remarked how worldly much of the music was, and left for a Christian prom party at the home of a member of our youth group whose parents were in attendance as chaperones. As I recall, it was not a late night. We were all at church the next day, pretty much awake and attentive.
 
Therefore, knowing that Christian kids who love Jesus are going to choose to attend the prom, and knowing that what I’ve shared above carries little weight in influencing a.) young ladies who look forward to dressing up for the special night, b.) young men who look forward to styling and profiling (is that 80’s vernacular?) with a beautiful young lady on their arm, and c.) young couples who haven’t discerned the difference between love and infatuation, my shepherd’s heart compels me to at least offer some survival tips. Parents, if you read this, please pass them along and help appropriate them as much as possible. Talk about these tips. Please!
 
1. Absolutely no alcohol. This should be a no brainer. Not only is it sinful, it is illegal. Lots of stupid decisions are made on prom night because of alcohol. Some believe it’s enough to “know when to say when”, know when to put the brakes on. But as Pastor Johnny Hunt explains, our brake fluid leaks after the first drink. Avoid it at all cost!
 
2. Have Accountability. Group dates with other devoted believers are great. It’s also a good idea to have that solid Christian student who doesn’t have a date as part of the group to make group make-out sessions awkward and virtually impossible! Perhaps a post-prom party hosted by Christian parents, like the one I attended, could be helpful. And keep in mind # 1, and refuse to attend a party where alcohol is present.
 
3. Know the influence and impact of music on your emotions. Love songs went from saying “I want to hold your hand” in the 1960’s to “I want your sex” by the 1980’s. And it’s much worse today. Don’t expose your heart and mind to that garbage. It will affect your impulses. I jetted from the prom early because there was no way I could stay longer without being disobedient to Philippians 4:8. Sappy love songs have a way of stirring emotions meant for married couples. Keep that in mind. Be mature. Rise above that sappy junk.
 
4. Keep your mind fixed on Christ. If you are a devoted Christ follower, one of those I’ve directed this post to, then you are always on mission for Him. You can’t take a night off and say, “Hey Jesus, I am headed to the prom. You just stay home tonight.” Speak and act with your date and others as you would if Jesus were in the car, at the restaurant, on the dance floor, and at the party. Remember, HE IS THERE. So, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
 
5. Respect your date! 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 reminds us that sexual purity is not only God’s plan for you, but that you must not defraud your brother or sister in Christ in this matter. Defraudrefers not only to how you treat your date, but to how you treat his or her future spouse. So, go with the assumption that your date is someone else’s future spouse. Mine was. And do nothing with your date that you would not want someone else doing with your future spouse. Having trouble knowing what that is? See #4.
 
6. Practice modesty. Ladies, surveys tell us that 90% of males struggle with lust. DO NOT exploit that. You can be cute and beautiful without being revealing. Having seen a few prom dresses last weekend, I will defer to Beth Moore on this one. Click here for her powerful and humorous reminder.
 
7. No sleeping together! Uh, Pastor Robby, you covered that one in #5. No, seriously, I mean NO SLEEPING TOGETHER. The marriage bed is for marriage, sensual moments and literal sleeping together moments included. Don’t lay down and sleep together. Parents, do not allow it. I have hosted lock-ins where I worked feverishly to prevent this. If a young man says he can lay down with, beside, or in the arms of a beautiful girl for an extended period of time (even fully clothed) and not be tempted in mind or body, he is either a god, superman, or no man at all. If a young lady experiences such an attachment, she will be ready for marriage in the very near future and challenged to not be overcome by her vulnerabilities. Beyond that, even those who do not drink alcohol experience some of the same loss of judgement when they are tired. My solution as a dad would be STICK TO A CURFEW. But for youth pastors and/or Christian parents who host all-nighters (NOT A GOOD IDEA IF YOU ARE A DEDICATED WORSHIPER ON THE LORD’S DAY), you have essentially volunteered to stay up all night to protect dedicated Christian kids from vulnerabilities and rumors! 1 Thessalonians 5:22 reminds us to avoid every “appearance” of evil.
 
Well, there you go! To the legalist this was as bad as passing out birth control. I just suggested that someone could survive the prom, therefore endorsing it. Hardly. To the liberal or the one looking for license, I just robbed them of all their “harmless” intentions. But I hope there is a devoted follower of Christ, perhaps a parent or teen, who will say, “I get you. I get IT. I understand and appreciate this. Thanks, Pastor, I intend to apply it.” If it helps one survive the prom with no regrets, it’s worth upsetting the masses.
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Michael Sam and the Moral Superiority of Homosexuality

Are homosexuals made of a higher moral fiber than the average heterosexual? That seems to be the consensus of many Americans in light of the “coming out” party of star University of Missouri football player Michael Sam.
First, let me be clear. I am a conservative, evangelical, Bible-believing Christian that embraces the biblical standard for sex and marriage. I am well aware that there are at least a couple of factions ready to debate me on the subject of whether or not homosexuality is wrong, should be tolerated, or is a lifestyle that should be celebrated.
There is the crowd that rejects Scripture all together and the notion that any system of morality is superior to another. Then there is the neo-orthodox “Christian” existentialist faction that embraces a more liberal interpretation of the Bible, or simply concludes, as one pastor shared with me, “The Apostle Paul was wrong on some matters.”
Ultimately the debate with these two factions (or worldviews) and the plethora of sub-factions that they represent is not a debate over homosexuality. No, instead it is a discussion of the relevance, nature, and authority of Scripture. I love to engage in that debate. Like the Apostle Paul in the Athenian marketplace, I have no desire to draw swords with those who disagree with me. But I do desire, with compassion, to give an apologetic for the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3)
That’s not what I’m doing with this post.
 
But suppose for a moment that we remove the lens of my conservative evangelical presuppositions.Let’s just say, for the sake of discussion, that I agree with one of the more liberal factions that I previously mentioned. Would I not, given these new presuppositions, conclude that homosexuality is no more or no less moral than heterosexuality? But that isn’t the vibe I’m getting from the response of the media, the majority of fans, or even the president of the United States concerning the announcement of Michael Sam.
Let me explain. I shared an apartment with a group of fellow seminarians in Raleigh, North Carolina for a few years. At first we lived in North Raleigh next to another group of heterosexual males who did not share our biblical presuppositions.
These neighbors worked hard in the Research Triangle Park area, seemed sociable, enjoyed throwing back a few beers on occasion, and could be caught checking out the girls from time to time. Like most young men, even Christians, they appeared to struggle with a lust for the OPPOSITE sex.
Eventually my roommates and I moved to a different apartment, across town near Carter-Finley Stadium. Awesome amenities – and for three of us, closer to the young ladies we would eventually marry!
However, at this new location a group of homosexual malesmoved into the same building one floor below our apartment. Obviously, they also did not share our biblical presuppositions. And, like our former neighbors,they also worked hard in the Triangle Park area, seemed sociable, and enjoyed throwing back a few beers on occasion. But instead of catching them checking out the pretty ladies in the apartment complex, they could be overheard making sexually crude comments toward one another. They appeared to struggle with a lust for the SAME sex, even outside their group.
Here’s my point. If I lay aside my evangelical Christian beliefs, I assume I would see no difference between these two groups of neighbors. In fact, I would not even be able to assume that my roommates and I were any better off for holding one another accountable in the pursuit of practicing abstinence until marriage.
So why is it that many who argue that I should lay aside such presuppositions and judgments seem to be, whether intentional or not, arguing that homosexuals are superior moralists?
Why do I make such a claim?
Heterosexual men (regardless of their view of Scripture) acknowledge that they struggle with lust for the opposite sex. The bulk of counseling material that I have read suggests that around 90% of heterosexual men admit that they struggle with lust. (I usually assume that the other 10% struggle with lying.) They will usually admit that they have no business in a locker room or dressing with beautiful females, even if some of those females do not like men. They also admit, if married, that their wives would not want women in a dressing room with them at the local spa. But heterosexual male athletes are being asked to accept homosexuals into the locker room. I guess homosexuals have it all under control.
The assumption that gay men have better control over their lust is not one I could accept even if I were not a Christian. Based on my observations, friendships, and life experiences, I would say the struggle with lust is about the same for homosexuals as it is for heterosexuals. Others would argue that homosexuals are even more promiscuous and prone to sexual addictions.
Therefore, if a woman is not a “heterophobe” for not wanting straight men in her locker room, why is a straight man a homophobe for not wanting gay men in the locker room? Obviously, the assumption is that homosexuals have a better check on their lusts.

 

The intention of this post is not to argue for the conservative Christian worldview. That’s another post for another day. I simply wanted to question the hypocrisy I would observe if I were not a Christian. I would either conclude that it is not homophobic to ask that gay men not share a locker room with straight men, or I would conclude that men and women should all have enough self control to share locker rooms, restrooms, showers, etc. Let’s just all become naturists, right. After all, if homosexuals can keep their lusts under control in a locker room with the same sex, heterosexuals can keep their lusts under control in a locker room with the opposite sex. Unless, of course, homosexuals are morally superior.

Not Reformed, Not Upset

Why I avoid the “Reformed” label, but refuse to be upset with Baptists who embrace it:
Reformed theology has emerged (or reemerged depending on who you ask) as the popular theological paradigm for young pastors in Southern Baptist life. Of course a number of older Baptist pastors have adhered to Calvinism for years. While I do not consider myself to be a 5-point Calvinist, I am not bothered by most of what I see in this current trend. 

I will not pretend to be an expert on reformed theology. But I have studied the Scriptures long enough to arrive at a theological position from which I am very comfortable addressing various aspects of the movement.
First of all, let me say that there are elements of reformed theology that I and most conservative Baptists embrace. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone has always been a statement that I advocate. I don’t need a creed or theological system to remind me of that, just my Bible. The other “solas” the reformed like to constantly recite with which I am comfortable are Sola Deo Gloria and Sola Scriptura. I am to live my life to the glory of God using the Word of God as my final authority for faith and practice. 

Because I believe the Bible I also embrace a strong conviction that God is sovereign. I may disagree with some of my Calvinist friends on the “logical” implications of sovereignty, but I cannot deny the doctrine. While often mentioned as elements of reformed theology, these are truths embraced by most Baptists and many other evangelicals.
I also believe that God is the author of salvation. Grace is God’s unmerited favor. Christ came to seek and save the lost, and mankind was and is hopeless and helpless apart from His incarnation, atoning death, and bodily resurrection.  In our depravity we can’t save ourselves, and even our righteousness is as filthy rags. 

Though I do not use the “TULIP” acrostic to explain my soteriology, I could accept or reject each point depending on how it is interpreted. I will not go into each point here. But, for example, I believe in total depravity in regards to our complete inability to save ourselves, but I do believe that there is enough of the imago dei in sin fallen people who were “fearfully and wonderfully” knit together in their mother’s womb to volitionally respond to God’s grace or even do a good deed (like feed the hungry) in the unregenerate state.  

I believe that God sovereignly made us free and responsible beings. I don’t have to figure out the extent to which sovereignty trumps free will or worry that the reverse could happen, but embrace the wonderful paradoxical truths of Scripture. I could make similar observations on each of the points of Calvinism.
Let me discuss a few other areas descriptive of the reformed movement that do not cause me to lose sleep. I would not consider myself “creedal” or “confessional” on the one hand, but I have no problem with using creeds and confessions to articulate one’s faith. Every sermon outline I preach is a summary or restatement of the truths discovered through careful exposition of the biblical text. Just as a “sinner’s prayer” doesn’t actually save anyone but helps articulate an understanding of faith and repentance (the Gospel is in words), the creeds and confessions can also help us understand and articulate the faith once delivered to the saints

While I prefer to teach those principles from the Bible, I have to admit that our children’s and student ministries and various discipleship programs do provide an informal catechism, if you will. We have a way of summarizing our biblical convictions and evaluating those of others. So as long as the creeds and confessions are not seen as inerrant Scripture and do not become the proverbial tail that wags the dog, I can see their benefits. Like a sermon, their authority rests in how closely they restate biblical principle

However, my wife grew up in a liberal church that recites the creeds ritualistically, even though they did not embrace the theology behind them (virgin birth, literal resurrection, second coming, etc.). This became vain ritual for her. But I have no problem with a church being creedal if they rightly understand the nature of the creeds and confessions and use them as servants, not masters. Even the Baptist preacher who says, “No creed but the Bible,” has just embraced a five word creed. Those five words help him articulate a conviction. And that’s cool with me.
I have also rejected the “reformed” label because of its close association with covenant theology. While I am not a strict dispensationalist, I still believe that God has a plan and a purpose for Israel. I see a strong argument in scripture for a premillennial, pretribulation rapture. I also know the arguments for historical premillenialism and refuse to allow this differing hermeneutic to be a divisive issue with me. 

I see the redemptive hope of Scripture as Jesus Christ who is prophesied in the Old Testament, incarnate in the Gospels, and the foundation of the church in Acts and the Epistles. While salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone, I believe baptism is an act of obedience for the believer following spiritual rebirth. I reject the idea that the Abrahamic covenant’s sign of circumcision provides grounds for the baptism of infants and children who can’t understand and articulate the gospel under the New Covenant. 

Someone might think that these convictions should cause me to be more upset with the current reformed movement in Baptist life. I have discovered, however, through conversations with those who embrace the “Reformed Baptist” label that most of them reject or do not even understand covenant theology and have opted for more of a modified Baptist version or “New Covenant Theology” that isn’t so far from my semi-dispensational approach. Again, when I lay those labels aside and discuss the Bible with the Baptist reformed I do not find that our differences concern me as long as they believe in believer’s baptism by immersion following salvation. 
Perhaps I should be most concerned about the impact of reformed theology on missions and evangelism. However, the reformed Baptists that I have met are some of the most zealous people for the gospel. Again, I may reject what they perceive to be some of the implications of sovereign grace, predestination, and election in relation to man being free and responsible (response-able). 

By the way, I DO use these words because they are in Scripture. I point out to my Calvinist friends that these words often refer to sanctification as much as they do salvation. This implies that a lost person has as much of a choice to respond to the gospel as a saved person has a choice to live holy. From the other side of that coin, to assume that anyone is predestined for hell, and that nothing can be done about it, would be to assume that the saved who commit immoral acts were predestined to that adultery, dishonesty, or whatever sin they committed. Why? Because we were not just predestined for salvation, but to be conformed to the image of Christ, positionally at salvation and practically through spiritual growth. 

But, to get back on topic, most of the Baptists I have met who embrace the reformed label are so committed to the obedience of Scripture that they are characterized by a passionate commitment to consecrated living and obedience to the Great Commission.
Let me also say that while I refuse to be upset with Baptists who embrace the reformed label, I always try to warn people of steps in a direction that could place people on a slippery slope to a form of extremism. We see that with theological liberalism. We caution the embrace of many forms of biblical criticism knowing that with the right presuppositions various critical methodologies can give us a better understanding of the Bible. But many have followed forms of higher criticism into a destructive redaction of the Bible. 

In the same way, reformed theology can be a step into the direction of hyper-Calvinism by those who struggle with understanding the paradoxical truths of sovereignty and free will. Indeed, many Calvinists attempt to teach these doctrines with balance, but the balance is often lost somewhere between the preacher and the hearer. And so the hearers begin to question whether they should pray, witness, or give to missions. They may even question their own salvation in the midst of the confusion.  

Some attempt to relay the message but only trend further down the slope into fatalism. They are frustrated, not because their preacher was hyper-Calvinist, but because a form of hyper-Calvinism was all they could process when the preacher or teacher failed to clearly articulate the deep paradoxical concepts they sought to tackle. 

The preacher perhaps embraced something short of hyper-Calvinist, but was weak in articulation and confused the doggie dung out of the congregation. This may be the biggest reason I believe pastors more Calvinist than me should consider rejecting the “reformed” label as well, simply to avoid division and confusion. I will continue to teach the Bible from the Bible. This means I will proclaim the truths of grace, election, sovereignty, depravity, free will, and responsibility with the same balance and frequency that the Scriptures bring to the table.
Finally, I realize that some have perceived a certain arrogance in the Baptist reformed movement. This isn’t true of all Calvinists, but stereotypes exist because there is usually at least some truth behind them. Does that bother me? Not really. Why not? Well, it’s probably because I struggle with the same arrogance. 

Articulating reformed theology takes a lot of study, and can involve a lot of hard work defending. Most evangelical church members are relatively lazy in their study of theology and apologetics. So the well-studied Calvinist can come across as a bit of a “know it all” to the non-Calvinists who have not delved so deeply. Indeed they may sometimes assume that everyone would be reformed if they would dig a little deeper. 

What comes across in their tone is kind of a “if you were as smart as me and able to grasp the deep things of God, you would get this” attitude. That’s why I joke that more of my reformed friends want to be professors in the college and seminary instead of pastors (Actually, as I think about it, that is a true statement). Calvinism seems to work better for them in the classroom than in the pulpit. 

Well, I grew up Southern Baptist. I attended a Pentecostal Holiness college and dug deep into Wesleyan and Charismatic theology. I have attended a couple of Southern Baptist seminaries where I’ve had Calvinist and non-Calvinist professors. By the Way, the non-Calvinist Baptist professors could have been considered hyper-Calvinist at the Pentecostal college I attended. Maybe that’s why I realize we are not that far apart

My experience forced me to dig deeper and know why I believe what I believe. Honestly, I’m convinced that I am right. When I drive, everyone who passes me is a maniac, and everyone who drives slower than me is an idiot. Really, I often feel that way. 

And on this subject, I personally struggle with the arrogance of thinking that I must be more intelligent than those who can’t escape the full embrace of reformed theology. And that same arrogance says, “But I’m intelligent enough and secure enough in my beliefs to not feel threatened, bothered, worried, or intimidated because the latest theological fad is to embrace the ‘reformed’ label.” 

I know. I know. It is more than a fad. But like I said, I struggle with arrogance, too. I often use passive-aggressive, sarcastic remarks when debating with those predestined to be reformed. Oops, see? If both sides of the argument were as spiritual and intelligent as me, they would quit being so angry with each other. Oops, again! See what I mean? ARROGANT! The fact that I find few who stand with me in this “not exactly Calvinist, but not mad at Calvinists, position” makes me feel intellectually superior or more spiritually mature sometimes. Okay, that’s a little tongue-in-cheek and over the top. But, just ask my wife, I struggle with the “I know I’m right” attitude enough to be forgiving of a little of that showing up in my Calvinist friends. I bet most of you do, too.
To all my Southern Baptist friends: I was present to vote for the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. I am humbly grateful that we stand on the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. If you join me in embracing those solid biblical statements supporting and flowing from the authority of Scripture, and you have a passion to win the lost of this world to Christ, then we have enough in common to lay aside our labels, or fears of those who wear a few, and work together for the Great Commission. Let’s get on with it! And along the way, let’s have a sense of humor, not anger, as we debate the other issues.

 

Note: Forgive me for using “reformed theology” and “Calvinism” synonymously. I realize that one is just a significant element of the other.