Earlier this week our student ministry director, Runnin’ Adam Walters, (I just made up that nickname, by the way) asked if I would be interested in talking to the high school students about sex on Sunday night. For those of you in ministry, you understand that talking to high school students about sex is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult thing you’ll be asked to do. It’s easy because you don’t have to worry about keeping their attention. It’s difficult because 1) their culture is always talking about sex; 2) they’re always talking about sex; 3) they’re always thinking about sex; 4) they’re having sex (sorry parents); 5) they’re horribly insecure about sex; and 6) almost nothing they hear about sex is true. So, naturally, I agreed. At the very least I’ll get a few blog posts out of it.

My text is 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, which reads quite nicely in the updated NIV. By the way, did you know that the NIV has been updated? True story.

Anyway, I’ll skip the introduction of my sermon and all my ridiculous jokes, and post the bit about the first cultural myth about sex.


Our culture tells a lot of myths about sex, and we find two of them in this passage in 1 Corinthians. The first myth is right at the top, in verse 12. “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

Do you see how “I have the right to do anything” is in quotes? That means that this was a common expression among the people that Paul was writing this letter to. It was part of their theology. He’s quoting them. “I have the right to do anything.” In other words, “I can do whatever I want with my body.” It’s my body, who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do with it. This is the first myth about sex: I can do whatever I want with my body.

It’s funny, because if you think about, when it comes to sex, we humans haven’t really changed much in the past 2,000 years. We’re still saying the same thing the ancient Corinthians were saying about sex. “I have the right to do anything. I can do whatever I want with my body.”

Let’s think about this for a second. Can you really do whatever you want with your body? I’d like to be able to fly. Can you fly? No? Me neither. So I can’t do whatever I want with my body.

But, you might say, we’re talking about sexually. Oh, okay. So you can have sex with whoever you want? Oh, only if they’re willing. Otherwise it’s a horrible crime, right? And there are other things you can’t do that we won’t even mention, but needless to say, you can’t do whatever you want with your body. You don’t have the right to do anything. There are limitations.

Paul’s response to this quote is interesting. He basically says, “Oh really? Well let’s assume for a moment that you’re right. You can do whatever you want with your body, but not everything is good for you. Not everything is beneficial to you. Not everything moves you forward as a person. You may think you want that, but then after you do it, you will immediately regret that decision.”

He goes on to say, “I will not be mastered by anything.” This means that the more you do whatever you want with your body, the more you will be unable to stop doing it. The more you have sex with whomever and however and whenever and wherever you want, the more you become a slave to sex. Your sexual desires will rule over you, and even when you want to do something else you won’t be able to.

This will be the last post of my journey through Dick Staub’s book, The Culturally Savvy Christian. This book has been very formative for me (we even got a kind comment from the author on one of the posts!), and I hope that you go out and buy yourself a copy of it–or you can join our life group and go through it with us for free, because one couple generously offered to buy everyone a copy! The last two posts have been about God’s deep and transforming presence, and this one is about God’s loving presence.

I’ve blogged and preached extensively (for me, anyway) about agape love–a love that lays down its life. This is God’s kind of love, and by this love we are transformed. We cannot be made like Christ simply by accumulating knowledge and experience; we become like Christ because we experience the depth of God’s transforming love in our souls. “Soul wellness is ours only when the indwelling God, whose love is eternally available and utterly reliable, sustains us.” (121)

“Only those who experience God’s loving presence in the deepest places of their soul can be a loving presence in the souls of others. When touched by God, our deepest wounds can become our deepest well of compassion for the sorrows of others.” (124) If we allow him, God can transform our pain and weakness into sources of compassion, empathy, and wisdom for our brothers and sisters. It is not a question of can God, but will you let God. His presence is liquid, seeking its own level in the deepest, darkest caverns of our hearts where the ground is both parched and fallow from the lack of water and light. His presence brings refreshment, healing, and eventually a harvest to the deep wounds of our souls. In this way we are transformed, not in manners of behavior, but in modes of being. “Our transformation is the result of God’s presence in our life, and the evidence of God’s presence is our embodiment of God’s love.” (125)

If you want to transform the culture, you yourself must be transformed by the rich, loving presence of God. “Today’s Christians are often a mirror image of popular culture, wanting to transform the world without being transformed, wanting to prove Christianity intellectually without displaying the love that is the proof we are Jesus’ disciples. The only way to enrich our culture is to be enriched personally, which comes when we experience God deeply and then embody God’s loving presence. …The culturally savvy Christian’s goal is to embody God’s loving, transforming presence in the world.” (125)

I don’t know about you, but I want to be that kind of Christian. I’ve only got one shot at this, and the greatest terror that haunts me is to think that I might go to my grave having lived a mediocre life characterized by the capitulation to popular culture rather than the embodiment of God’s agape presence, by the stale shallowness of mindless distraction rather than the healing, soul-level transformation that comes from experiencing God deeply. True transformation–not just behavior modification–begins by experiencing God in the deep recesses of your inner being, and slowly but steadily grows upward and outward. The same is true, I suppose, of popular culture.

Yesterday, while blogging through Dick Staub’s book The Culturally Savvy Christian, I wrote about the deep presence of God, and how we will only become deeply well when we experience the depth of God’s presence. Many of us seek to transform our culture, but we ourselves have not been transformed by God. In the next chapter of his book, Staub writes powerfully about the transforming presence of God.

Staub talks about his own journey with God, beginning, as many of us do, at a place of youthful zeal to transform the world. However, he eventually realized, “God wasn’t interested in transforming me so that I could transform the world; God wanted to transform me so that I could become fully human.” (92-3) The goal of transformation is to become fully human—that is, to be restored to the creature that God originally intended us to be, before we chose to rebel against him and exchanged our full humanity for a false divinity. The only one of us who has been fully human since Eden is, of course, Jesus.

“God’s transforming presence will change us, not so we can transform the world, but so we can experience God’s presence more deeply and be restored to God’s image more completely.” (93) The first thing that was ever true of you is that you were created in God’s image. Your being created in the image of God predates, and runs deeper, than your sin. This is why God is committed to your restoration, not your destruction. He wants to make you again what he made you before; and we know what that looks like because he sent his son into the world to show us not simply himself, but also ourselves. “Jesus did not come to make us better; he came to make us new.” (94)

“God’s original purpose is not our salvation or the evangelization of others; it is that we glorify God by reflecting God’s image through expression of the spiritual, intelligent, creative, moral, and relational capacities uniquely imprinted on humans.” (95) You are an image bearer of the one true God. Broken? Yes. Cracked? Yes. Beyond repair? No. God’s will for your life is not simply that you tell others about Jesus. (Though that is a part of it.) God’s will for your life is that you become fully human, that is, that you fully reflect his image in you by expressing those qualities that are unique to God’s image bearers: spirituality, intelligence, creativity, morality, relationship, and art. That we can sing and dance and pray to God and understand his ways and choose to lay down our lives for one another is truly remarkable! This is the image of God in you. These are the things that will become more evident in you as you are transformed by God’s deep presence.

Using Romans 12:1-3 as his guide, Staub lays out a process for the transformation to full humanity in three steps:

  1. “Restore God to the central place in your life by presenting your body as a living sacrifice.” (96)
  • “It is impossible to nurture God’s presence or to experience a personal transformation to our full humanity without acknowledging God’s centrality in each moment of each hour of each day.” (97)
  • “Stop conforming to the world.” (97)
    • “Our minds have been squeezed into the mold of the thought patterns, beliefs, values, and behaviors of our fallen culture. …As we resist conformity, we will become highly sensitized to culture, recognizing the superficial, mindless diversions and seeing through the shallowness of celebrity.” (99)
  • “Renew your mind.” (100)
    • “Most of us cannot recognize the contrast between the ideas and values that dominate our culture and those consistent with our faith, because our primary education has been in the ideas and values of our age and we remain illiterate about Jesus’ expectations for our life. …All the excitement about new paradigms, enthusiasm for relevance, and the sincere desire to transform church and culture will amount to nothing unless they are accompanied by the deep faith that produces transformed people.” (101-2)

    Transformation is not about minding your manners or managing your sin or keeping all the mandates. God’s deep, loving presence transforms us into the image of Jesus, the one who was fully human, who perfectly reflected the image of his father.

    In order to transform church and culture, you must be (and be being) transformed in God’s presence. He is with you every moment, and in every moment you can offer your body to him as a sacrifice that remains alive; in this way you will become fully alive! The world has a pattern, a mold, that it has squeezed you into. Break free from that mold by living in the presence of God, talking with him, hearing from him, obeying him. And, lastly, your mind must become new again. You must learn to discern the truth, because this culture is full of appealing and delicious lies.

    So far, I’ve blogged through the first section of Dick Staub’s book, The Culturally Savvy Christian, in which he encourages Christians to be savvy (that is, to get it) about popular culture and the uniquely American brand of Christianity that has been influenced by popular culture, and which may be a part of our own Christian communities. He has harsh words for both popular culture and what he calls “Christianity-Lite”; they are not, however, the rebuke of a self-righteous Luddite, but rather a call to both to rise out of the mire in which they are stuck.

    In the second section of the book, Staub urges believers to get serious about pursuing God’s presence in their lives, identifying three characteristics specifically: God’s loving presence, his transforming presence, and his deep presence.

    In the chapter on the deep presence of God, Staub calls out today’s evangelical pastors, who, he sees, are more concerned about building their empires than knowing God deeply. “We need fewer entrepreneurial pastors and more pastors who actually know God deeply.” (71) Have we, as pastors, been seduced into pragmatism, defining success by results—numbers of attendees, numbers of salvations, numbers of baptisms—rather than on how deeply and intimately we, and our congregations, know God? Has the siren call of success caused us to run aground? Have we been deceived into believing that celebrity is an effective tool for building God’s kingdom?

    God is the point. He has always been the point—the goal. But we evangelicals have substituted heaven for its maker. When doing evangelism, I was trained to ask, “If you were to die tonight, how certain are you that you would go to heaven?” We have made heaven the goal—or worse, escape from hell. But heaven is not our destination. “Popular culture believes that the destination is personal fulfillment, and the church generally teaches that the destination is heaven. In fact, our destination is God, and what we seek is not our inner self, nor do we seek some future bliss; what we seek is reunion with God now.” (72) What our hearts need most is not the promise of a future paradise or the actualization of our unique self, but rather the deep presence of the one who made us from scratch, knows us from Adam, and loves us from the cross.

    Our culture and our churches will not be transformed until we are transformed. We must become well, and only people who dig deep wells will become deeply well. “Only God’s deep spiritual, intelligent, creative presence in us will draw people to him. Only the presence of deeply well people will transform popular culture, and only by going deep in God can we be restored to deep wellness.” (79)

    God wants you to know him deeply. He wants to rescue you from the triviality and shallowness of popular culture. He wants to take you out of the kiddie pool and show you the ocean. “In God, we find springs of living water, the sustenance of daily bread, light in darkness, truth, the guidance of a shepherd leading his sheep, abundant life beginning now, and, after death, a resurrection that extends this new life into eternity.” (81) You are invited to become, not merely God’s fan or his follower, but his friend. You are invited, not simply to heaven when you die, but to the depths of God’s presence today—which is, in fact, heaven in the here and now. But you must pursue God. You must chase him. You must run after him with all your heart. “The well soul is available to the pursuer of God’s presence, but not to the halfhearted, superficial seeker.” (90)

    The reason Dick Staub is so hard on Popular Culture in his book The Culturally Savvy Christian is because he sees in it the possibility of incredible power for good. These wonderful storytellers could be writing the tales that would guide future generations into lives of wisdom and excellence, but instead they’re merely hawking merchandise. The content of Popular Culture could be life-giving and soul-enriching, but instead it is mostly shallow, self-indulgent, hedonistic tripe. It could be a force for spiritual guidance and conversation, but instead it dumbs everything down to the lowest common denominator and invites us to write our own Scriptures and become our own gods.

    Popular Culture must be redeemed. Fortunately, it is redeemable. While much of what we find in Popular Culture is the 21st Century version of Baal worship, there are elements which still seek to tell the truth rather than simply get ratings or sell records and merchandise. One piece that comes immediately to mind is one of my favorite TV shows of all time–LOST. I’ve blogged extensively about LOST, and even taught a Sunday School class using it as a paradigm for how Christians should engage with Popular Culture.

    In one of those posts I wrote about my own understanding of how Christians ought to engage with Popular Culture:

    My hope is that we can find a middle ground where Jesus is redeeming Culture, where we can find spiritual value in the art, film, music, etc. of the unbelieving world. This is a place where we are not afraid of the media of Hollywood and the entertainment industry, but where we can view it critically and redemptively–where we come to a show like LOST not expecting a full gospel presentation, but rather an artful glimpse of the image of the gospel. If we can manage this perspective, not only will we no longer be so exasperating to a cynical and unbelieving world, but we’ll find doors of connection and evangelism opening for us that never would have opened before. Who knows but that God would want to use a silly TV show like LOST to bring some people into his kingdom.

    There are a host of redemptive elements within Popular Culture–doors not only for the Gospel, but also for the cultural transformation that comes from telling the truth, pursuing the good, and creating the beautiful. This cultural transformation will not happen, however, unless individuals are transformed. As Staub says, “Any hope of restoring culture starts with restoring the individuals who make culture, and any hope of restoring individuals starts with rediscovering the origin of our capacities in the one who made us.” (60) We cannot transform culture unless we ourselves are transformed. We must become well; and the only way to become well is to get serious about God’s deep, transforming, and loving presence. More on this to come…