Beautiful Daughters and Impure Sons: Who Does the Modesty Debate Really Hurt?

In a few short months, spring will be here and then summer and arguments are going to take place across our homes. Daughters will want to wear things that father’s suggest aren’t appropriate. Youth Pastors will break out slogans like “Modest is Hottest” when going over the rules for trips involving fun in the sun. I wish the church were free from debate on the issue, but it is often the center of every summer youth trip. I can’t think of a single issue that caused more tension in the nearly 20 years I spent as a student pastor.

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I have both a daughter and a son who are perhaps too young to feel the sting of this debate but as they grow older, they will hear many things and so I write mostly for them. You see the debate often stings both our girls and our guys because it reinforces negative perceptions about what it is to be male and female. If I can, I want to wade in and address this issue not by proposing a modesty rule (please read all of the post), but by proposing that Jesus should guard the hearts of both our girls and our guys when it comes to what we wear and how we view others.

First let’s talk about why a simple clothing rule isn’t enough (notice I didn’t say necessary, please read the entire article). For starters lets just imagine that you can put the same bathing suit on two different people and it is completely possible that your heart will be tempted towards lust with one and repulsion with the other. There is a difference between a hairy overweight old man in speedo’s and cowboy boots and a male model wearing the same thing… the same is true for an attractive young girl vs an overweight grandmother wearing the same designer two piece. Neither the outfit, nor the skin it reveals, prompt lust… It is already in the heart of the one lusting! It simply doesn’t help our daughters to tell them to “cover up” because their flesh is like kryptonite to young boys.  May of them struggle with their body image as it is. For the most part, they already compare themselves to other girls, super models in magazines, and have a part of themselves that they think is ugly. I can’t think of a genuine benefit derived for our daughters by treating all girls/ body types the same.  Before you set out to stone me, read the rest of the article.

Let’s also imagine for a moment that lust isn’t a particularly male issue. I know that guys are stimulated visually, etc. but many of our girls experience lust issues that are very similar to how our boys are visually stimulated. If we are honest, it has never been a single gender issue! We do our girls a huge disservice when we imagine that only boys deal with lust and treat it like an exclusively male problem. Our girls can privately feel even more ashamed and never seek help with their temptation to lust. In this generation, more than ever, the conversation about lust is one that must take place with both our daughters and our sons.  That might be news to you, but I challenge you to research it. (I wish I had listened sooner to parents of daughters who said that this was just as much a valid issue for their daughter as their sons).

Now imagine the negative stereotype that we reinforce with both our girls and boys when we make such a big deal about how boys are so easily tempted into sinful lust. When you teach them the solution is not to flee, but for girls to wear more clothes, you treat them as if they have NO control over the situation at all. I choose to teach my son and daughter that they have NO control over what other people wear, but they CAN control where they look and they should start by seeing where there mother and I choose to look (we still go to the beach where other people don’t obey “the one-piece” rule).  I do this because I think the real issue is in their heart and it doubly damages their heart when we place the emphasis on a rule concerning what someone else wears. First they can deny any real responsibility for their own lust and second because now they get to feel superior to someone else who dresses like a “skank.”

Finally, I want to imagine that the best way to address lust in one individual is not to put more clothes on another. This simply doesn’t solve the problem, it masks it. That would be like looking at the mirror, realizing you are naked and need clothes and painting clothes on the mirror… You are still naked! All you have done is cover the law that exposes the real sin that is in your heart and in the process you put a false law on someone else.  I read a book one time by a woman who lived in the middle east and she commented about how a man stared her up and down lustily while she was wearing a burka! His lust, was his lust and it wasn’t her fault. It’s apparent that no matter what you wear some people will choose to lust (this is particularly true in a generation that has been exposed to pornography over and over again). Keep Reading.

So now lets address 3 things that are present in this debate from a biblical perspective because ultimately for the believer, God’s Word should guide our actions and reactions.

1. The bible has a lot to say about authority.  (We won’t cover everything but we will hit a few highlights. ) We are reminded by Paul in Romans 13 that all authority ultimately flows from God. This begins in the home where we are to honor our father and mother (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16, Ephesians 5:2). So if our dad or mom asks us to wear something “less revealing,” while we live under their roof, the moral, right thing to do is to change our clothes. Doesn’t matter if you think they are wrong, or they don’t understand that it’s the style, or what other reason you might have. The real question is, will you obey the authority placed over you?

It is not different if your church has a rule about bathing suits or mixed bathing or whatever it is. If you disagree with the leadership on how they exercise that rule, have a conversation about it. Appeal through the appropriate channels by going to leadership over you, but most importantly abide by the rules and respect the authority over you. In this context you may find that there is very good reason for the rule. When I was a youth pastor, it was simple, I didn’t want the job at looking at all of our daughters and determining if their swim suit is too revealing or not. A simple clothing rule allows female leaders (who may have differing opinions) a consistent standard to coach girls through as a matter of respecting authority on youth trips. (Of course you should also have standards for guys as well, that the male leaders should oversee.) Does this prevent lust? I imagine that it doesn’t. It simply gives us a standard we can appeal to. Just like principles of public schools who don’t want the job of examining everyone’s leggings or saggy pants, sometimes it is better for the organization as a whole to have a dress code for both girls and guys. If you are going to participate in a function of that organization, you should submit yourself to their dress code.  I am very appreciative of parents, girls, and guys who acknowledge the struggle of leading a group this age.

2. Let’s talk about modesty from a biblical perspective. Most often we refer to 1 Timothy 2:9-10 when we talk about modesty in the church: “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works” (1 Timothy 2:9-10). I think a few things are apparent in these verses. First, modesty here has nothing to do with swimsuits. Second, it’s in a list that gives us a clue to what the word modest might mean. It is included with words like self-control, gold, pearls, costly attire. Paul is addressing the “over dressing” of women in church. Modesty in this context is “don’t flaunt your wealth at church so people will look up to you.” The take away would actually be to wear less jewelry, less expensive clothes, do less with your hair, etc. so that your focus is on worshipping God, not seeking the attention of others.

While this passage doesn’t directly relate to modesty in a lust context, it does give us a good guideline to examine what we wear in light of our own hearts. When you pick out clothes or even apply make-up to say, “Hey look at me!” you place too much emphasis on your appearance. It’s good to put in a little time into your hygiene and some thought into your clothes. There are even good reasons for dressing up But when your heart’s desire is overly focused on garnering the attention of others rather than exalting God, you are looking for your esteem in the wrong direction. You will never be truly satisfied with what others think of you. Only when you are satisfied in Christ will you begin to overflow into these works that Paul talks about.

Biblical modesty is found just as much in what you do as what you wear.

Biblical modesty is found just as much in what you do as what you wear. we should want our girls and guys to be modest in this sense. Pay less attention to “dressing to impress” and more attention to “serving God by serving others”

On a very practical side note (because my daughter & son may read this one day).  Physical beauty is fleeting (James 1:11). That is why there are make-up artists for movie stars and many have had plastic surgery. We all age! The character of a life submitted to Christ will always attract the right kind of folks and will maintain a level of beauty that surpasses anything that make-up and clothes can do. It doesn’t matter what’s in your DNA or your body type, good works will always look good on you (1 Peter 3:4).

3. Finally, let’s address lust. This seems to be where this whole debate started. Let’s understand that lust is a problem for girls and guys. If we are honest, it has been this way for a long time. We know of at least one Egyptian woman from antiquity that had the hot’s for a certain guy named Joseph (Genesis 39). Then there was also the woman from Proverbs 7.  So it’s not like the Bible doesn’t mention female lust at all. It is in there and even more grossly represented in passages that I didn’t feel comfortable listing here. Lust is not a male only sin.

So I think first, we should recognize lust as something that we may be tempted too. With that in mind we are told by Paul that believers will always have a way of escape from their temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). We need not use the excuse that, this is just what guys do. Or that we can’t help ourselves. If you are a believer you have control over your body and your thoughts. We can choose to flee this temptation (1 Corinthians 10:14). In fact this is exactly what Joseph did when Potiphar’s wife approached him (Genesis 39:12). Paul says to flee sexual immorality (I Corinthians 6:18). He reminds Timothy to “flee youthful passions and desires” (2 Timothy 2:22). Paul addresses lust in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 and he says that you have control over your body and that to deny this reality is to ignore God! In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus addresses lust he says that we are to fight it to the extent that we would cut out our eye or cut off our hand (notice that he doesn’t say that we should put the burden on someone else). We must flee temptation! We must control our own bodies through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us! We must commit to radical means to root this form of idolatry out of our lives! This is the counsel of scripture on dealing with individuals who are prone to lust.

I grew up in a Christian home. We talked a lot about God. My mother gave me the “Birds and the bees” talk when I was very young, perhaps too young to understand what she was eluding too (I am thankful for her attempt at what must have been a very awkward conversation). However, later when my heart was awakened to be attracted to girls I didn’t have any guidance from my father on how to guard my heart from lust, or that it was even possible. I struggled for a very long time in a cycle of lust and guilt. It was easy to judge girls as being “skanks” for what they wore and who knows, maybe they had their own heart issues, but it didn’t do my heart any good to remove the sin label from my heart and place it judgmentally on theirs. I wouldn’t find freedom until I dealt with the lust in my heart on Jesus’ terms. That is what I long for most for our sons and daughters, that they would deal honestly with their sin and temptation before our Savior.

So if I were to wade into this debate for the sake of my son and daughter, I would say, “Submit to whatever authority is over you. Examine what you wear and why you wear it so that you might reflect a godly character more than you seek personal attention. Flee temptation to lust. It may seem like you are powerless, but if you are a believer you have the Holy Spirit of God in you and He is more than enough!

Your comments and thoughts are welcome. Please keep them civil and to the point. Please also read the entire article before you comment. I didn’t cover anything exhaustively so I’m aware that the issue is bigger than a 2500 word essay.

You may also be interested in this blog post:

How do you Respond when your child tells you they have viewed pornography?

A Hill on Which to Die

I still remember it like it was yesterday.  I was at the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans a few years ago.  A good friend of mine (who was more excited about the conservative resurgence than I was) had convinced me to tag along and soak in the atmosphere.  He had a contact with Judge Pressler and several others in the movement and we were invited to sit in and hear about the lives of these men, the battles they had fought, and absorb the atmosphere.

To be honest, I went for the bookstore.  The Alabama Baptist Convention used to have a fantastic bookstore at each of its meetings with great deals on books.  I was hoping for some of the same kind of interaction on national level.  However, I was quickly disappointed to learn it was just a Lifeway store set out on tables.

The Highlight of the trip came however when we had the opportunity to tag along on a trip with Judge Pressler to Cafe Dumonde.  We sat in on the conversation, asked our best questions, bought Cafe Dumonde mugs (to remember the occasion) and consumed beignets and hot chocolate.

We were blessed to be able to interact with Judge Pressler that night and throughout the convention.  I was amazed at the character and grace of a man who was both very loving and very kind to most everyone he encountered.  He talked with grace about the years of the conservative resurgence and I was surprised to later hear all the things he was accused of saying or doing.  Quite simply the accusations didn’t line up with the man I had met.

His book A Hill on Which to Die: One Southern Baptist’s Journey is his side of the story concerning the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.  It is a very straightforward, orderly account of his life, the issues that lead to the resurgence, and the account of how things took place.  It is a great book for anyone looking to hear the conservative side of the resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.  I give it 5 stars.

I picked up my copy several years ago when Pressler came to speak at UM and I got a copy autographed.  Recently I had the opportunity to pick it up again and actually read it.  I wish I had read it much sooner.

Are you a Forward or Backward Thinker?

Have you ever stopped and wondered why you think the way you do on a particular issue?

In my line of work I come across lots of people who have strong opinions.  Many of them are passionate about their opinions.  Sometimes the opinions people are most passionate about are the one’s they have changed their mind on. For instance if you grew up in a republican or democrat household and change sides as an adult.  Maybe you went to church and learned about God, but when you were introduced to a college science class things changed.  Beliefs were challenged and you didn’t have a good answer to whoever was challenging your beliefs so slowly (or suddenly) you changed your opinion and grew passionate about proving people who held your former position as wrong.

Sometimes we are backed into believing something simply because we are confronted with an ideal that conflicts what we were taught growing up.  We don’t know how to answer the conflicting ideal and end up embracing it.  We didn’t search for a solution, we just embraced a competing truth claim that stood in opposition to ours because we could not defend our inherited claim.

Sometimes we move forward into a new position.  This takes place when we evaluate competing truth claims and examine the arguments that someone brings against our ideals and we scrutinize their competing claims with the same scrutiny they have shown ours.

For instance: Imagine growing up hearing and believing that all smurfs are blue.  You have never seen a smurf, but you know that they are blue.  Then someone shows you a purple smurf.  Your view of smurfs is forever changed.  However, you don’t examine the purple smurf (or asking questions like, How did the smurf become purple or are there smurfs of other colors as well?).  Instead, you reject the assumption that “all smurfs are blue” as a complete lie, you demonize the people who told you smurfs were blue, and you join a group that promotes the awareness of the purple smurf.  You have reacted to the assumed falsehood of “all smurfs are blue” and embraced a competing claim “all smurfs are purple.”  You have in effect backed into your position.  You didn’t go looking to see why you would have been told about blue smurfs, how this smurf became purple, or seek to know if there was a broader category.

Moving forward into your thinking requires examining competing truth claims and evaluating the validity of both claims. You may be actually viewing a blue smurf through rose-colored glasses. (The smurf is blue, but the red tint of your glasses causes the smurf to appear purple.)  Maybe when smurfs are sick they turn purple.  Maybe there are purple smurfs, but there are also blue smurfs.  This is searching for the truth.  This is moving forward into a position.

Now what about your thoughts on God?  Are you reacting to competing claims or are you intentionally looking for truth?

The Bible in Magazine Form for Teen Girls?


Revolve 2010 (Biblezines) Published by Thomas Nelson is a Bible ( the NCV New Testament) geared to look like a teen girls magazine.  To be honest, I had a difficult time even embracing the idea that a publisher would take what many consider to be sacred writings and reduce them to the lowest level of print publication to display them in magazine form.  The literary genres seem to contradict one another.  How do you take the timeless Word of God that has stood the test of centuries of debate and cover it with the trappings of a magazine that emulates popular teen girls magazine?  Thomas Nelson in conjunction with Revolve did it.

I did my best to put my presuppositions out of the way and really examine this book.  There were a few aspects of this “biblezine” that I really liked.  One was that each book of the bible seems to have at least one section designed challenge the reader to go deeper with God’s Word.  Some challenges call for reflection, bible memorization, etc.  Each section also had a little background info to introduce that part of the New Testament.  However, these appear as just token helps amidst a flood of other insights that thought they are harmless are out of place.  There are adds for books, music downloads, quizes, etc. that one would expect in a teen magazine and maybe that is where I struggle most with this.  Even though it’s “the Bible,” I have a hard time seeing where Jesus fits between the “Guy 411: Chad Eastham dishes the dirt on dudes” and “Celeb drama-trauma: Stellar Kart’s most cringe-worthy moments.”  The gospel just seems trivialized as the filler between gossip and advice columns.

I work with students, many of whom are teenage girls who this biblezine is marketed toward.  My real concern is that through the packaging this book is more teen magazine than actual bible.  I want as many people to follow Jesus as possible and for that to happen we must be culturally relevant.  However, there are parts of our culture that need to be confronted not imitated.  I pray for and challenge my students to be culture changers not imitators.

The real scoop is this, teens don’t come into a right relationship with Jesus Christ through bible magazines… they come through the blood of Jesus Christ.  Most often that happens when other teens step out of their comfort zones to share the “411 on Jesus” with their friends.  My impression of Revolve 2010 (Biblezines) is that it is more of a hinderance to the gospel than a help.  I hope I’m wrong.

Revolve 2010 (Biblezines) is a teen magazine with the Bible in it, I really don’t recommend it. You may disagree.  The retail price is $16.99 (paperback), and is available at places like Amazon.com for $11.55.  I gave it two stars.

Disclaimer: As a blogger I received a complimentary review copy from the Thomas Nelson’s Book Review Blogger program  (http://brb.thomasnelson.com/ ).  There was no requirement to give it a positive review, just for the reviewer to call it like they see it.

Review: “Smart Faith” by J.P. Moreland & Mark Matlock

Smart Faith: Loving God With All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland and Mark Matlock is a great book geared towards students.  I really wish the book had been around when I was a teenager.  The aim of the book is to challenge young men and women to think about the Christian Faith and not just live off their parents faith or emotion.  The book is full of keen insights and practical challenges to help teens grow deeper in their capacity to think about the things of God.

The book is a great blend of Philosophy, Theology, and application.  The later chapters in the book are especially relevent as the authors move the reader from the realm of deliberate thought to the realm of living a fully integrated life.  This book is a great read for any teenager with a desire to grow or for adults with teenagers in their life.  I just wish it had been around when I was fifteen.

This is a very well written book that challenges the reader to dig deeper every step of the way. The retail price is $12.99 (Paperback). It is also available at places like Amazon.com for $10.39. I give it 5 stars.

Disclaimer: This book was provided for review by NavPress. There was no requirement to give it a positive review, just for me to call it like I see it.

When Church Hurts: Forgiving the People Who Have Hurt Me the Most

Earlier I shared a post in a series about how I became a follower of Jesus Christ.  One of those posts dealt briefly with a series of events that have marked my life beyond all others.  I shared about how my father had a stroke and was subsequently asked for his resignation as pastor.  This series of events occurred when I was 14 years old and still impact me to this day.

My initial response was rebellion and hatred.  For years I was bitter and clung to a hatred of the church in general and this church in particular.  It was a poison in my soul.  It wasn’t until years later that I would look back at this series of events and say with Joseph, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). And with the Apostle Paul, “For we Know that He (God) works all things together for our good” (Romans 8:28).

The transition took place when I found a way to forgive this church and trust God to remove the bitterness from my heart.  In theological circles they debate this matter of forgiveness like its optional.  Some say that we have a right to hold on to unforgiveness until someone repents of their sin against us.  This is a position that I used to justify my greedy and unforgiving heart.

Then it happened.  I was confronted with the simple text of scripture.  Matthew 6:14-15 tell us that if we don’t forgive others as God has forgiven us, we won’t be forgiven. Some debate that God doesn’t forgive us until we repent of sin, but they miss the bigger picture.  My repentance doesn’t merit God’s forgiveness.  God’s forgiveness was purchased for me through Jesus Christ who died on the cross for my sin. God the offended, made the peace-offering.  As the offender all I had to do was receive the terms of forgiveness. I needed to agree with God that I was a sinner, turn from my sin and follow Jesus (repentance).

So now, if I was to forgive others as I have been forgiven I needed to be the one who would make the peace-offering.  That is what God did for me.  That is what the king did for the servant at the beginning of the parable in Matthew 18:23-35 when he realized the servant couldn’t pay.  He assumed the debt.  That is what the servant is guilty of not doing with his fellow servant.

So one day I made my way back to the church where it all happened. I sat in the back wondering how one goes about forgiving a church and wrestling with what to do. Then they did something peculiar.  They opened the door for the people in the congregation to share what the church had meant to them. I was resistant.  I had a burning inside that I had to get up and share.  Finally it seemed like they were closing the door for people to share and I awkwardly sprang to my feet and began the slow walk to the front.

By now the eyes of the congregation were on me.  They knew who I was.  I imagine they were all wondering at what I was about to say.  Some gave me an ice-cold glare.  Others had a sympathetic smile.  Still others looked on with a puzzled look on their face.  And I shared, “This church hurt me.  Several years ago, you hurt my father and you hurt my family.  You have left wounds on me that cut deep.  I carry scars and nightmares to this day because of what happened here.  But today I have come not to curse you, but to bless you.  I forgive you! I forgive you all for everything!

At this point tears were gushing from my eyes and knowing we were at the end of the service, I asked to close in prayer.  I put my hands on their pastor and began to offer a prayer for blessing upon him, his family, and the ministry of the church.

Later that night I found out from the pastor and other that the church had begun a process of repenting of their past sins.  I was blessed to have the pastor pray and offer a blessing over me.  Today I pray for that church on a regular basis asking God to move in them.

Given my past it is somewhat ironic that God would call me into the ministry.  Since then I have been blessed to serve with two really great congregations (one for over ten years) and alongside two great pastors.

  • When Church People do Bad Things
  • 3 Things you should know before you Judge your Friends
  • Forgiveness
  • My Story: A Trial that Proves a Faulty Faith (part 2)
  • 7 Steps of a Unified Group