Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Little League Lessons

My wife and I have three kids in little league. Jason is 10 and plays on diamond 3. Sydney is 8 and plays softball on diamond 1. Heidi is 5 and plays t-ball softball. In addition, Jason and Sydney play on all-star teams. So far, so good.

There are so many lessons to learn from something as simple as little league. I fear that many don't learn the lessons that are offered: commitment, character, humility, meekness, integrity, perseverance and optimism are a few that come to mind. I'm sure our kids are learning all these things, too. But right now, I'm talking about the lessons that face my wife and I every day!

For instance, it is quite a commitment to put your kids in little league if you plan on actually supporting your children in it. We literally have had games almost every week night for the last couple months. My wife coached Heidi's team. Now with all-stars, we have different tournaments to travel to every weekend. In case you're wondering about the wisdom of committing that much to a game, that's where the character comes in.

Amanda (my wife) and I love sports. Love them. It actually requires discipline on our part to temper the desire to see our kids play well with the reality that sports are not the center of the universe. I've been told most tournaments don't start on Sunday until after noon. I must admit, I will probably be tempted to race out of church after Celebration to be there for the first pitch. I will fight that urge in order to make myself available to our flock, because that is more important. But the fact that I have to fight the urge proves how in love with frivolity I am. It reveals my half-hearted love for things of eternal importance.

In addition, our love for sports causes us to coach from the bench. Or from the car after the game. We are the armchair skippers. This leads us to humility and meekness. Amanda and I have to accept the fact that the coaches run the team, and they're probably not sitting up at night wondering how we like it. I'm sure everyone thinks their kid should be the star. Or at least a cloud. I'm sure everyone desires their kid to stand out. How is that not pride? Pride in thinking we could coach better, and pride in desiring our kid to be the star?

These proud desires lead to the next lesson, integrity. Do Amanda and I allow our children to hear us second-guessing the coaches? Do we contradict the valid things their coaches have told them? Are we thankful that these men give up so much of their summer to freely serve the kids on their team? And do we strive to treat them in a manner worthy of their position? We try to never say negative things about the team or how a game went. We always tell our kids to respect and listen well to their coaches. We have been told numerous times over the year that our kids have some of the best attitudes they've seen. We've even been told that our kids play well. That's cool, too.

That's where perseverance and optimism come in. Amanda and I try to teach our children to play well. Not to be the star. Not to get the applause. Not to play in the bigs. We want our children to play well for the glory of God. And if that's our motive, then our kids must look differently than the kids playing for their own glory, or the glory of their parents. This difference must be real and noticeable over a long season of games or even years of games to have any effect. Jason and Sydney must persevere in hustling when they feel like crying. They must persevere in leading when they feel like hiding. They must persevere in respecting authority when they'd rather question it. And in spite of our desire to see them be little stars, Amanda and I must train them and encourage them often to persevere in these things.

We are thrilled to see the fruit of these lessons in the lives of our children and in us as parents. People do notice. Jason has been complemented so often on his work ethic and optimistic attitude, as well as his awesome grasp of mechanics! Sydney has been called a joy to coach and watch, as she settles in behind home plate to catch. And yesterday as we were leaving, I heard Sydney laughing with the other girls saying, "Remember, it's illegal to leave without smiling." Silly, I know. But priceless as one more little league lesson.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Abraham & Sarah: Part 4

When we last sat in with Abraham and Sarah, they were striving to bring about the blessings of God through their own creativity and labor. They offered up Ishmael to God to be the fulfillment of God's promise of offspring. God wasn't impressed with their efforts and promised that a son from barren Sarah would fulfill the promise. So in the midst of tremendous acts of faith, and striking wavers, the overpowering grace of God was at work. What kind of life was created by God's gracious dealings? That's what I want to consider now.

In Genesis 18, God appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre. He promised Sarah that she would have a son. Sarah laughed at the thought of that. She had to be rebuked by God for her doubting. Abraham laughed at the promise of God in Genesis 17, and Sarah in Genesis 18. This lapse in faith, and the rebuke of God that results may seem like a crippling blow to Abraham's and Sarah's stability. How guilty must one feel after being directly rebuked by God? Let me read between the lines a little.

Surely we all know people who could be mighty servants of God if they could just overcome the constant guilt they have for not measuring up. Maybe we've heard people speak of not being able to forgive themselves. This may sound incredibly noble and martyr-like. "I'm so wicked. I'm not like other Christians. I just can't forgive myself for being this bad. I'm useless." Actually, those thoughts aren't noble; they're incredibly selfish and unhealthy. Love can't flow through such thoughts. And where the modern psychological movement may seek to enhance the self-esteem of such people, the Bible is far simpler.

Trust God. Stop thinking so highly of ourselves. In the words of Martin Luther, "You too are a mighty sinner." Accept that fact as a starting point. We should never be surprised by our sin. We hate it. But we're not surprised by it. There is no manner of depravity that we are not capable of if we un-guard ourselves. Knowing this forces us to look to the only One in the universe who can overcome our sinfulness, namely God. It's amazing. In the midst of our wavering faith, the only place we can go for comfort is to the God we lack faith in. This coming to God for the power to overcome our lack of faith is actually faith! We cannot overcome the guilt that flows from falling short. Guilt that isn't dealt with through the gospel continues to turn in on itself, effectively cutting off the ability to love. So we must turn to God, and accept his forgiveness, even when it is God we want to hide from. When we have faith in God like this, something beautiful happens - it overflows.

That's what happened with Abraham in Genesis 18. One minute Abraham and Sarah were being rebuked for lacking faith. The next minute Abraham is putting his life on the line out of concern for strangers. The Lord decided to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God let Abraham in on this plan since, "Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him" (18:18). Abraham was destined to be a blessing to all people. God knew Abraham's sin. But God also knew his plans for Abraham. So prior to God's judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, he and Abraham had a talk.

"Then Abraham drew near and said, 'Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?' (18:23). Notice that Abraham drew near to God. Abraham was still licking his wounds from God's rebuke. Yet, he drew near to God. Oh, that we would be so dependent. The child got a spanking, and crawled up on Daddy's lap. What's more, he moved on from his spanking to concern for the plight of others. He didn't wallow around in self-pity.

Where are the Abraham's today? Where are the ones who are absolutely realistic about their sinfulness? Where are the ones who don't pretend to have it all together? Where are the ones who just love others while not having it all together? Abraham and Sarah did not have an easy life. They were put in tremendously stressful conditions by God. Sometimes they passed their tests, and sometimes they failed. They never let their failures take their eyes off of God's gracious calling over their lives.

Abraham argued with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah for some time. We can tell by the timid tone of voice and careful choice of words that Abraham knew he was treading on thin ice by being so bold an intercessor. Here was Abraham, blessed by God to be a blessing to strangers. This is where we are as Christians today. We can learn a couple things from Abraham and Sarah in this part of their lives.

First, a relationship with God is always going to be one of debt. John Piper explained it well when he said (I'll paraphrase), "Every day you become more a debtor to grace. Are you content to be that, to live that way?" We won't outgrow grace. God is always our Benefactor. We never grow to the point where we're peers. Knowing that can free us from the guilt of not measuring up. It can free us to stop thinking about ourselves all the time.

Second, a relationship with God is going to lead to loving others. We are blessed by God in order to be a blessing to others. It is a real slap in God's face for Christians to wallow around in self-pity as though the universe revolved around them. I fear we have taken on the self-centeredness of our culture in this way. We think the gospel is a self-help program instead of a world-conquering sword. So we internalize everything. Rather than being a blessing to others, the blessing stops with us. We can't let that happen. Will we put our wellbeing on the line for the sake of strangers? That's what Abraham did. Will we give up comfort or security out of concern for those around us?

If we want our marriage to be missional, we have to accept God's grace - by faith. Then we have to extend that grace to others - through love. And anything that stands in the way of those two things must be violently opposed - if we are, in fact, sons of Abraham and daughters of Sarah.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Anger and Marriage

When I wrote The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another, I considered adding a small chapter on anger. I decided against it, but I believe that anger is an issue that must be dealt with in marriage.

I just preached through James 1:19-21 yesterday and thought through some of the ramifications of that text for marriage. "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls."

Perhaps it would be wise to begin with a definition of anger. In Uprooting Anger, Robert Jones defines anger as: "Our whole-personed active response of negative moral judgment against perceived evil." In other words, anger is what we feel when we think something unjust has happened. Anger is what we feel when we think something should have happened differently. Anger is what we feel when what we think of as rights are violated.

Marriage provides many opportunities for anger to be expressed. How can two sinful, selfish people live together without wronging one another? Anger is often our first instinctive response to those wrongs. If anger is allowed to have free reign in those situations, nothing good is going to happen. Conflict is assumed when anger is present. But conflict doesn't have to lead to anger.

James warns against anger in the text above. Husbands and wives must be quick to hear. When a conflict arises, we should desire to properly understand the perspective of our spouse. In order to do that, we must listen to them. We are often slow to hear our spouse. We'd rather tell our spouse how it is.

James says to be slow to speak. We're often quick to speak. We demand first opportunity to express our thoughts. We might allow our spouse to speak, but we're not listening. In our minds, we've demanded to express ourselves. And if we don't express ourselves vocally, we often express ourselves internally by ignoring what our spouse is saying - "talking over" them in our minds.

When we are slow to hear and quick to speak, anger is probably just around the corner. James says to be slow to anger. Anger seems to come upon us quickly. It is something we can feel welling up inside of us. Our heart-rate increases. Our muscles tense up. We refuse to hear the rational arguments of our spouse. It is up to us to reverse this process when it comes upon us. We don't have to respond with anger. We must talk ourselves down. When we feel our rights have been violated, we know anger is probably coming. We have to block that response with some other response. What response blocks the response of anger?

Faith. When our spouse wrongs us, we have to trust that God and the gospel are bigger than the wrong committed by our spouse. We have to trust our souls to a faithful Savior who's working out everything for our good. We don't have to respond with anger because wrongs can't ultimately hurt us. They're just minor inconveniences.

Of course, wrongs don't feel like minor inconveniences at the time. That's why we have to talk ourselves down with the truth. James says the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. As Christians, our desire is to please God. We want our responses to glorify God. James says that man's anger doesn't bring about God-glorifying results.

Faith brings about God-glorifying results. If we are nurturing a love for God and a delight in his gospel, then we have a vessel to sail over the waves of conflict free from anger. If we are not nurturing a love for God and a delight in his gospel, then we will be prone to anger. The reason for this is evident.

The gospel is constantly drawing our gaze heaven-ward, to where Christ is. Christ is the Founder and Perfecter of our faith. He has set the example of how to patiently endure the wrongs of others for the joy set before him. When he drew the anger and malice of others, he didn't return with anger and malice. He returned love for hatred, service for anger. He did this because he recognized that heaven will compensate for any wrong done to him. The same is true for us today. In short, heaven's promise of never-ending, ever-increasing bliss makes anger superfluous.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Interracial Marriage

Interracial marriage is a subject that can be the source of heated debate. In fact, as a pastor, I was once asked my view on the subject while interviewing with a church. What's more amazing is the lack of racial diversity in the area in which I was interviewing. It was doubtful that situation was one to even be concerned with.

The folks at Desiring God have posted on the subject. It's as well said as anything I could say on the subject, so I figured I'd just refer you there.

I would comment that those who marry outside their own race truly put their money where their mouth is. It is easy to say how non-racially minded we are until our son or daughter puts us to the test.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Abraham & Sarah: Part 3

Sorry it's been a very busy week, and I haven't had time to post in awhile. Today I want to continue our examination of Abraham and Sarah. God promised Abraham that through his descendants all the families of the earth would be blessed. We saw in the last post how they almost blew it. If God wouldn't have intervened, Abraham would have lost Sarah forever to the Pharaoh of Egypt with the "She's my sister," line. But God delivered, and bought back their marriage, greatly blessing Abraham and Sarah in the process.

In Genesis 15 God made a covenant with Abraham. God promised Abraham offspring. In Genesis 16 we see the response of Abraham and Sarah to this promise. When Sarah became frustrated with God's delay of his promise, she devised a way to cooperate with God to bring about the promise. She gave her servant, Hagar, to Abraham as a wife so that "it may be that I shall obtain children by her" (Gen. 16:2). Abraham listened to Sarah, and Hagar did in fact become pregnant. However, rather than proving to be a surrogate mother, Hagar proved to be a condescending peer to Sarah. That would never do, so Sarah dealt harshly with Hagar.

God revealed to Abraham again that he would keep his promise of providing offspring. The problem was Sarah's age. She was beyond child-bearing years. Instead of trusting God's promise, Abraham said, "Oh that Ishmael might live before you!" (Gen. 17:18). In other words, "Just let us help you God. We've already provided a child for ourselves. We'll consider Ishmael as the child of promise. It's much easier that way." God, in his amazing grace and patience, didn't strike down Abraham for insolence. Rather, he reaffirmed his promise, knowing that Abraham is but dust.

The account of Abraham and Sarah is so hope-giving. I see Abraham and Sarah as possessing an incredible heavenly-mindedness, not building an empire on earth, but living in tents until they died. On the other hand, I see lapses in their faith that are nothing short of staggering. They wondered that it might be too much for God to provide a child for himself under impossible circumstances. I see in this a direct correlation to the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. God provided for himself Isaac from the dried up womb of Sarah. And God provided for himself a sinless human being from the barren land of fallen humanity.

What does this text offer those of us struggling through the daily drudgery of marriage? Hope. It is not the strength of our faith, but the overpowering grace of God that secures our lives. We are free from any attempt to secure blessing for ourselves. We cannot secure blessings, but every good and perfect gift comes down from God (James 1:17).

How many times in our marriages do we become discontent with where we are. We fret and long for something more. We have some goal we want to achieve, some station in life we fear falling short of. The only station in life we should fear falling short of is eternal life. Fortunately, God has provided us eternal life without any help from us. The rest of our marriage is sucked up under the umbrella of our journey toward heaven. When we feel like things are really working out in our marriage, we must beware of settling for that temporary satisfaction like Abraham was satisfied with Ishmael. On the other hand, when we feel like our marriage is shifting and tossing all around us, we must beware of trying to help God deliver us from the trial by our own schemes. Just trust the God who brought Isaac from doubting Sarah, and Jesus from fallen humanity. He's working out your life for his glory and your eternal joy.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Abraham & Sarah: Part 2

In case you read the last post and fell into a state of hopeless desperation at your lack of single-minded obedience, I will examine a situation in the marriage of Abraham and Sarah that just might give you some hope, and make you feel somewhat normal.

In the first part of Genesis 12 we see the account of God's call on Abraham's life. God commanded Abraham to leave his home and go to some strange land that God would lead him to. We also see that Sarah followed her husband on this journey of faith. God commanded, and Abraham and Sarah obeyed. If we leave the story at that, then the glory may seem to fall on Abraham and Sarah. We may be tempted to glorify their obedience instead of God's grace. Don't fear. God doesn't even let us get out of chapter 12 before he shows us how dependent on God Abraham and Sarah are.

It just so happened that there was a famine in the land to which Abraham was called. Facing hunger, Abraham decided to go down to Egypt in search of better accommodations. That doesn't seem like such a big deal. If one is hungry, he looks for food. There's a catch. As they were entering Egypt, Abraham said, "I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake" (Gen. 12:12-13).

That seems strange. But Sarah, the loving, fearless wife must have seen the twisted logic in it and agreed to it. What happened? The Egyptians saw that Sarah was very beautiful and she was taken into the house of Pharaoh (the king). And Abraham was given "sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. So as predicted, Abraham was taken good care of because Pharaoh thought he was Sarah's brother. What a great idea! No more hunger pains! No more fearing the future! No more wandering. Just hang out in Egypt with all your new possessions. Abraham had it all. Wait, what was he lacking?...

His wife! Abraham wandered down to Egypt and lost his wife - the wife that all the families of the world were supposed to be blessed through. Not good. We see from Genesis 12 a couple that exercised some level of faith in God, yet were absolutely dependent on God for any hope of deliverance. Any glory we were about to give to Abraham and Sarah for being such a smart, righteous, faithful, stand-out couple has faded quickly. Despite their faithful obedience, it didn't take long for Abraham and Sarah to get themselves into an absolute mess.

I'll ruin the surprise ending and just let you know that God delivered Abraham and Sarah from Egypt without any harm coming to either. Pharaoh didn't want God on his back. In fact, when it was revealed to Pharaoh that Sarah was Abraham's wife, he sent them out of Egypt, but allowed them to keep all the riches that Abraham had acquired. So Abraham and Sarah entered Egypt starving, got themselves into serious, hopeless trouble, and left Egypt with extraordinary wealth. That is the power of God to save.

What's the moral of the story for us today? How many couples are there who think they've really blown it? They've made a serious mess of their life. Maybe it's foolish debt and the stress that comes as a result. It is amazing how heavy a little stack of papers can be. Maybe it's an affair, and the question of whether life can be put back together. Maybe it's the constant little bickering that seems insurmountable. Maybe it's the sense that no matter how hard they try, they can't seem to figure out what they're supposed to be doing.

Whatever problems you may be going through in your marriage, know this: God delivers. You can't make a mess that is hopeless if you are a child of God. Hopeless has no place in the Christian realm. Hopeless is the word Christians use to describe those outside of Christ. You may be burdened, but don't fret. God is on your side. You may make messes, but don't worry. God is willing and able to deliver. Won't you humbly trust your life, with all its triumphs and trials, attainments and afflictions to the God who's working it all out for your good?

Friday, June 8, 2007

Abraham & Sarah

In the book of Genesis we read of Abraham and Sarah. I'll take a couple of posts to break down their marriage because there is so much recorded. Abraham is introduced to us as Abram in Gen. 12 where God called Abram to "go forth from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you" (12:1). God promised Abraham that he would bless him, and all the families of the earth through him.

We don't read the inner workings of Abraham's mind. We don't know how he deliberated about what God had required of him. We just see his response. God told Abraham to go. "So Abraham went, as the Lord had told him..." (12:4). Do you see that? God said go. So Abraham went. I think we read over that without letting it sink in. How many people do you know (maybe it's you) who long to hear "a word from the Lord" concerning their life when they won't do what God has already clearly said?

Today the conversation might look more like this: "God said go forth from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you." "So modern American Christian stayed where he was and watched television and bought new electronic toys and ate steak and potatoes in the comfort of his own house and pretended to seek God's will on any number of petty gray areas, along with all the other people in his church." I hate to be so blunt, but this is clearly what we see all around us.

As a pastor, people come to me often asking for counsel about their lives. The questions I receive are often gray areas created by a refusal to follow God's clear word about some earlier issue. For instance, Bob and Samantha (fictional) come to me and ask about some struggle they're having. As I help them walk through their situation and their hearts about the situation, I inevitably see how simple obedience at an earlier point would have cut off Bob's and Sam's dilemma before it ever came up. So the idea that Bob and Sam are struggling to learn and follow God is really just a smoke screen for earlier blatant disobedience.

We do not see that with Abraham. When God spoke to Abraham, he obeyed. We'll see that this is the pattern of Abraham's life. Whenever God would speak to him, he would follow - quickly and completely. Now Abraham wasn't perfect. Far from it. He struggled with fear and doubt at times, particularly when God seemed silent. But one thing we see about Abraham up front is this: when God gave Abraham a direct command, Abraham obeyed. Where are the Abraham's today? Surely there are some left in America today who haven't bowed the knee to false gods.

What about Abraham's wife, Sarah? Where was she when God was commanding Abraham to leave his home? She was at his side. "And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan..." (12:5). Sarah, known as "Sarai" back then, went with Abraham.

Again, we don't read the inner workings of Sarah's mind. We don't know how she felt about leaving the security, comfort and stability of her home. What we do know is that when Abraham obeyed God, Sarah obeyed God with him. She didn't fight him. She didn't question him. She didn't divorce him. She followed God and Abraham. Where are the Sarah's today? Where are the women who aren't afraid to follow their husbands? Surely there are some left in America who have not bowed the knee to false gods.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Examining Presuppositions

Today I will begin to sort out some of the issues I raised in the previous two posts. In The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another: A Christian Hedonist Guide to a Happy Marriage I showed the goodness of intimacy. I pointed out 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 as a primary text.
"But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control"
This text is so straight-forward that it seems unnecessary to struggle with it. However, the premises set forth in this text are radically contrary to those our culture has been indoctrinated with. How so? For starters, the ground of Paul's argument doesn't lie in our therapeutic, psychologized views of person-hood. Paul's overarching concern in writing this text is redemptive. He begins the text with the temptation to sexual immorality. He ends with temptation to sexual immorality. Why is this important? Because Paul just said in 1 Corinthians 6:20 that "you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." He said in 6:9 that sexually immoral people will not enter heaven. When Christians fall into sexual sin, they steal glory from the One who bought them with his own blood. So sex is to be brought to bear in the battle against Satan. Intimacy isn't just about the needs of the individual. It's about the glory of Christ, and the race of faith.

The culture at large uses sex as a means to personal fulfillment, whether it's just the sensation they're looking for, or they're using the sensation to achieve something else (money, power, fame, approval). Children are raised to believe that sexuality is determined by the autonomy of the individual. They are encouraged to explore their own autonomous sexuality and come up with a sexual identity. They may be heterosexual, homosexual or trans-gendered. They have to figure this out in order to be fulfilled. In other words, whatever each individual does with his own body is right. Each person is a law unto himself. Anything goes in the arena of intimacy as long as one places no demands on anyone else.

Any demand placed on the individual concerning sexuality is considered an assault on his person-hood. So if a man believes he is best fulfilled through relations with another man, then it is an assault on his person to constrain him to heterosexuality. Who can tell a man how he should use his own body? He's not hurting anyone. By the same token, if a woman thinks her person-hood would be better expressed as a man, she can go through any number of artificial means to bring that about - and judgment of her would be cruel. These are examples of sexual autonomy taken to the extreme in our culture. I bring them up only to set the stage for my real point.

When we enter into marriage, we take our world-views into the marriage with us. If we've been raised with the belief that personal, sexual autonomy is a virtue, then we will find Paul's words in 1 Corinthians foreign, if not downright offensive. "Who are you, Paul, to tell me that I don't have authority over my own body? Am I just a piece of meat for someone else's consumption? My sexuality it mine, to use however I want, whenever I want, and with whomever I want. You can't assault my person-hood with sexual demands. No wonder our culture has finally exposed you as the male chauvinist bigot you really are. Everyone knows your words are going to set women's rights back to the stone age!"

That is the mindset that Christians must overcome in order to think Christ-centered thoughts. Perhaps you (rightly) have a problem with homosexuality and the rampant sexual freedom championed by our culture. Maybe you've never come out and said all that extreme stuff about Paul. But have you, somewhere in the back of your mind entertained such notions on a gentler scale? Do you hold the same presuppositions about sexuality that lead to more extreme views? Have you ever faulted your spouse for claiming his or her right to your sexuality? Do you have trouble thinking of intimacy as a right? It is very difficult to read a text like 1 Corinthians 7 and not filter it through the prevailing cultural wisdom. Have you fallen prey to a view of intimacy that shifts the focus from Christ-centered purposes to personal autonomy?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Let's Talk About Sex Some More

"Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous" (Hebrews 13:4).

Obviously this verse implies that there is a way to experience undefiled intimacy. Within the confines of marriage, sex is an honorable and worthwhile way to spend one's time. It's not just to be tolerated, it's to be enjoyed. With that said, it is important to consider marital intimacy further. Perhaps an illustration concerning food will show why.

When Jesus came to earth he declared all foods clean (see Mark 7:19). In the book of Acts we read of a dream that Peter had. There was all manner of animals falling from the sky and Peter was expected to eat them. Peter refused God's command, explaining that he'd never eaten anything "unclean." God rebuked Peter saying, "What God has made clean, do not call common" (Acts 10:15). So Peter learned that what once was defiled and unfit to eat had become undefiled and clean - good for food. However, just because God declared all foods clean and fit to eat, God didn't say gluttony was now an acceptable way of life.

Is sex similar to food in that sense? God has clearly stated in the Bible that all foods are undefiled, yet food can still be an idol. God has clearly stated in the Bible that intimacy within marriage is undefiled. But does being undefiled mean that it can never lead to idolatry? Just because God gives something doesn't mean one can't misuse the gift. God gives money, and that is misused all the time. Why is it important to make these distinctions? Many have perhaps never thought about these things, and can't see the use in it. The answer is simple.

God refuses to condone idolatry. His name is Jealous (Ex. 34:14), and he accepts no rivals of his glory. When one chooses to consume food in a way that God forbids (either by gluttony or abstention), food has become a functional god for that person. In a similar manner, when one chooses to engage in sex in a way that God forbids (either by gluttony or abstention), sex has become a functional god for that person. We easily accept this line of thought in matters of clear sexual immorality. Most people accept that marriage is the only proper outlet for sexual appetites.

What I'm concerned with in these last two posts is helping those who are not being sexually immoral. In the post yesterday I used the example of Morgan and Clarisse. They weren't immoral. Marriage confined their sexual appetites. However, there was an underlying low-level tension in their marriage concerning intimacy.

Morgan and Clarisse want their marriage to be happy. They don't care for conflict. And they long to be Christ-centered. Morgan wants to honor God with his desire for Clarisse - not replace God with Clarisse. And Clarisse wants to honor God by serving her husband - not replace God by serving herself. Morgan and Clarisse are concerned with being Christ-centered at a level that many don't even contemplate. And they know that the low-level tension concerning intimacy can be a sign of subtle idolatry.

In my experience in living and counseling, married couples struggle with intimacy. In addition, they are reluctant to talk about it. Often, the source of conflict is a disagreement over the frequency and level of intimacy. In the last two posts, I've tried to lay the groundwork to explore these issues. Tomorrow, we'll begin sorting through how to deal with these issues.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Let's Talk About Sex

Is it alright to have sex because we feel guilty? Is sexual desire in marriage ever idolatrous and sinful? Is it alright to have sex as a form of release or escape? I think that these questions address a situation that married Christians may struggle with. Let me lay out a scenario and try to sort through the issues.

Morgan loves his wife, Clarisse, very deeply. He is a good, supportive, loving husband. He strives to provide well for Clarisse and leads his family in devotion to godliness. Clarisse is a respectful, loving servant to her husband and children. She strives to please her family, whatever the cost to her temporary agendas. Morgan and Clarisse are Christian Hedonists - they long to be happy in Jesus Christ for his glory. Therefore, their first priority is to guard their hearts against all forms of idolatry. They are very active in their church, and seek to make their marriage a lighthouse of hope to those around them.

There's one other thing. Morgan loves to be intimate with Clarisse. Morgan has a desire for intimacy that some would think is excessive. It seems as though he could have sex every day - maybe even several times every day. He truly believes that his desire is for Clarisse alone. He has no desire for other outlets for his sexual appetite. Morgan realizes the demand that this desire puts on his dear wife. He loves Clarisse, and doesn't want to put her under pressure to be available at a moment's notice. He tries to keep his desire for intimacy in some sort of check, so that he's not a burden to Clarisse. Nevertheless, Morgan can't seem to tone back his desire for his wife, no matter how hard he tries. He senses that this attitude can't be healthy, and has searched the Bible for some clue that his desire for sex is wrong-headed. He wants to repent, but can't figure out what for. Nothing from Scripture has convicted him thus far, other than the necessity to serve his wife by not being demanding.

In fact, 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 and Proverbs 5:16-23 seem to take his strong desire into account. To Morgan's thinking, Solomon is telling him to be drunk on his wife's love - even delighted in her physical body. It's hard to be drunk on something one doesn't partake of. And Paul seems to say that the spouse who wants sex more sets the agenda of frequency. Fortunately for Morgan, Clarisse is a very accommodating wife who makes herself available throughout the week.

But there are those times when Clarisse finds it difficult to desire sex. She enjoys it, and even anticipates it at different times. But she can't honestly say that she's excited every time Morgan is frisky. There are times when his desires just seem on the edge of unreasonable. Clarisse can't put her finger on any sinful attitude that Morgan needs to repent of. After all, she's read the same Bible verses that Morgan has. His interpretation seems reasonable, and she's inclined to agree with it. However, that doesn't necessarily make it easier to want sex. Is sexual desire on a switch? There are times that Clarisse wishes it were. She would love it if every time Morgan touched her in a certain way, she would immediately long for intimacy. But that is just not reality. So Morgan and Clarisse have tried to settle into a sort of rhythm that appeases Morgan and doesn't overtax Clarisse. Still they wonder if this is how it's supposed to be. What do you think?