Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pursuit of Pleasure Marriage Retreat

Tomorrow and Saturday, I will be leading a Pursuit of Pleasure marriage retreat for a church in Anderson, Indiana. Please pray that God would work mightily, not just to give people a different way of thinking about marriage, but maybe even a whole new way of looking at life. Though everyone is a hedonist by nature, not everyone knows they are. When Christians are awakened to the blessed reality that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, and when the Gospel is the defining principle of our lives, then our marriages can't help but be affected. I can't wait to report back on how it goes. I learn more myself with each one I lead. Until then, ponder this mind-blowing statement from John Piper's new book, Spectacular Sins. "Evil is anything and everything opposed to the fullest display of the glory of Christ. That's the meaning of evil." Have you ever read anything so Christ-centered in all your life? Applied to marriage - evil is anything and everything in our marriages that is opposed to the fullest display of the glory of Christ. In other words, to the extent that some aspect of our marriage isn't offering to God the highest regard for the glory of Christ, then that aspect of our marriage is at least partially evil. Thank God for Jesus Christ our Lord!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Be a Light

Have you ever thought about this text?

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

This text is usually thought of as a task for the church. The church is a city on a hill and has to let its light shine. I fear that this way of looking at this text has diminished a lot of good works and left a lot of our culture in darkness. When Jesus taught this, he was speaking to individuals as part of a community. In other words, the church is only the sum total of individuals that are part of it. So the "church" can't really do anything. Only those individuals who make up the church can do good works and let lights shine.

So when Jesus said these things, he was speaking to - YOU. You let YOUR light shine. You let YOUR good works be seen. YOU bring glory to God by your lifestyle. But there's more. Folks aren't going to hear how sweet you speak to your wife if you never have anyone around when you talk. No one's going to hear how firm, yet fair you are with your children if you keep them cloistered away at home. No one's going to see your right living that flows from the gospel if you never leave the Main Street Monastery. Nobody is going to glorify God for works they don't see YOU doing. So this text is incredibly missional. You have a job to do in the world. You can't pass it off to other people or some vague entity called "church." And if people are going to see your light, be amazed by your lifestyle, you're going to have to invite them into it. Period.

There's simply no other way to be a follower of Jesus except for in public. Jesus said this as well. "Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Mat. 10:33). Okay, so you've never technically denied Jesus before men. Someone has never come up to you and asked, "Do you deny Jesus before me?" And you've never said to that person, "No! Of course I don't deny Jesus before you!" But is that what Jesus meant by saying that? Of course not. Because before he warned against denying him, he said this: "Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven" (Mat. 10:32). So it's not enough to not deny. You must acknowledge.

It does little practical good for two Christian spouses to sit at home, staring at each other, acknowledging Christ to one another. Will they be rewarded? "Good job, faithful servant! You sat in your holy huddle and didn't deny me. Enter the joy of your Lord." I'm sure you'll agree that the point Jesus was making was the public acknowledgement of Jesus before those who don't follow him. Read the whole chapter, and you'll see that Jesus was talking about withstanding persecution.

So Christian couples need to open up their homes, their lives, their hearts to people all around them that don't follow Jesus. This is where hospitality is so important. How many missionaries does a church have? The ones they sent to Bora Bora? What about the ones sent to Wal-Mart? The ones sent to Whirlpool? The ones sent to high school? The ones sent to the dentist and the drive in and the deli and the door of neighbors? Be a light by living right in someone's sight.

Too Proud for Sex

I've been thinking about my last post because it's an issue that I think most married folks deal with at some point in their marriage. I tried to show how Jesus Christ can help us see the chore of sex from another perspective. But I wasn't satisfied with leaving it at that. I think we can get right to the root of this issue by looking at one human flaw - the human flaw, really - pride.

Of course, on a superficial level, we can say pride makes me feel like the center of the universe, worthy of my spouse bowing to my every whim. Most people are probably aware of that level of pride. But I think the pride goes deeper. And gets more hideous. Think about this event that happened when Jesus walked the earth.

1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:1-11)

This text is one of the sweetest stories in Scripture. Jesus is in control. The Pharisees are shown to be the self-righteous, evil jerks they were. The evil woman is given a free pass by Jesus, even though she sinned against him and her husband. This is a favorite text of preachers who want to show the amazing grace of God in forgiving unworthy sinners. I want to finish the story in a way the Bible doesn't. We don't know if the woman went right back to the arms of her husband, or her lover. We don't know if they ended up divorced. We don't know if she ran off and joined a convent (probably not). So let's give an uninspired ending to the story for the sake of the point I'm trying to make.

The thing that makes this story so sweet is that this woman is given a fresh start by Jesus. It wasn't as though she crossed the street outside a crosswalk. She was caught in the act of adultery. What condition was she in when she was paraded out for all the world to see? Ashamed and embarrassed are good guesses. Scared to death? How would you feel if you were her? How must her heart have been racing? And how must her fears have been relieved when her accusers began walking away without a word, heads hanging in shame themselves? How must her heart have calmed down, and her palms dried up when Jesus looks up, almost unimpressed by the whole affair, and asks, "Has no one condemned you?" What joy must have rushed upon her as she heard, "Neither do I condemn you."

Now suppose she went home and confessed her sin to her husband, told him of the whole ordeal and asked his forgiveness. He offered it freely, just happy to have his wife back. What would happen if every time she and her husband were about to be intimate, she'd get all weird and cold. When her husband asks what's wrong, she can't put her finger on it. Ultimately, they realize she still feels guilty for her past sin. This is the level of pride that many people have today, and it does affect marriages.

It is pride to think the world should revolve around us. It is greater pride to refuse the Son of God's cleansing blood. Yet we're all guilty of it to some extent. When we refuse to walk in newness of life, we're claiming a power of judgment superior to God's. That's not good. R.C. Sproul made this point before. If couples have a past of sexual sin before they get married, it is important to accept God's forgiveness if they ever want a healthy, guilt-free sex life.

So the first way pride makes sex a chore is by demanding to hold onto past failures, even when Jesus has said, "Neither do I condemn you." We want to condemn ourselves in an attempt to atone for our own sin. But miserable sex with your spouse won't atone for past sexual sin. It will only tick your spouse off. So dwell at the cross. Thank your Savior for his amazing grace. Don't just talk yourself into pleasing your spouse, all the while feeling guilty. Get happy in God by soaking in his saving blood.

Another way pride makes sex a chore is by judging a spouse who feels the guilt over past failures. Your spouse feels guilty and strange and not as free as you'd like. So you try to help out by reminding your spouse of the freedom you now enjoy in Christ. "He doesn't condemn you, so let's just get it on. It's not fair for me to be punished because you used to be a freak sinner." This is the kind of pride that sounds right - like you're just trying to give Christ the glory he deserves in salvation. In reality, it's probably more wicked than the other pride. This is the kind of pride the Pharisees had toward the adulterous woman. It's a strange irony when we boast of our freedom in Christ, and use it as a club to condemn our spouse.

So here's the deal. Pride is at the root of chore-some sex. Either we want our spouse to make much of us by being at our beck and call. Or we want our spouse to make much of us by leaving us alone for awhile. Either way, we're trying to build our own kingdom with ourselves at the center. That is pride. But there can be a deeper pride underlying this garden-variety pride. The only hope for overcoming all this pervasive pride is the gospel. Bask in the light of the cross. Accept his forgiveness and go and sin no more. Be patient with others in their struggle to believe the news that is too good to be true. Thank God that you and your spouse can freely enjoy an undefiled bed no matter how defiled you've been because we live in the age of grace.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

When Sex is a Chore

What do you do when sex becomes a chore? Jon Foreman, the brilliant lead singer of Switchfoot, wrote a song with the line: "Sex is a grand production, but I'm bored with that as well; ahh ahh ahh, Lord save me from myself." There's a lot of truth wrapped up in that line. A lot. First, sex is a very grand production isn't it? One would think that sex is the center of the universe. So much is promised with it, and so much is sought from it. If only we can get the perfect sex, life would be great. People get married for sex, or stay single for sex. So much of our lives is super-charged with sexual overtones. What isn't sold with sex? Another great Jon Foreman line: "Sex is currency, she sells cars, she sells magazines." On the main street of one of the towns in our community, there is a store with lingerie in the large window right next to tuxedos. So I'm thinking wedding, honeymoon... where's the wifebeater t-shirt display for the rest of our lives? Sex is just right out in our faces all over the place. It's commonplace.

Second, what happens when we realize that for all sex promises, it delivers far less? What happens when the grand production of sex doesn't pay off with excitement, but with boredom, or choredom? One of the great challenges in marriage is keeping sex from becoming a chore. And sex can be a chore for both spouses. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:2-5: "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 Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control."

I've yet to talk to a married couple with one brain. Most married couples I know consist of a man with one brain and a woman with one brain. Two people, with two different brains, trying to think and want and feel as one brain. That's tough. Eventually, every couple is going to figure out that one spouse is going to want sex more than the other one. This is usually okay for awhile. But eventually, when one spouse is in the middle of buttering toast, and the other is calling from the bedroom, it can be a real chore. Sex can be a chore for the one who wants it less: "Just leave me alone! Is that all you ever think about? Haven't I fulfilled your conjugal rights yet?" But over time, sex can become a chore for the one who wants it more: "I'm so sick of being treated like a perverted selfish maniac, so just keep eating toast, Dear. I'll just handle my temptation to sexual immorality without the aid of a spouse." What do you do when that scenario, in some form, strikes your marriage?

First, for the one with the chore of wanting sex more than your spouse. 1. Do not, I repeat do not, don't do it, don't even try to, don't even want to even if you want to, it will ruin your whole weekend, don't do it, don't fall for the trap of thinking some poor blind depraved couple on a computer or tv screen can scratch that itch. Don't do it. Cut out your eyes. Cut off your hands. Throw yourself on the mercy of your spouse. Call a neighbor. Walk the dog. Cut the grass. Get out of the house. 2. When you get out of the house, do not, I repeat, do not, don't allow yourself to congratulate yourself on getting out of the house only to lust after the next human being that crosses your path. Now with that out of the way - 3. Don't lose heart. Don't think to yourself, "Forget him (or her), I'll show him that I can be just as selfish (or busy, or insensitive, or aloof, or cold) as he is." You'll only tie yourself in knots trying to be your spouse. You're not your spouse, you're you. And your spouse married you. 4. Don't put your spouse on a guilt trip for not wanting it as much as you. That won't lead to good sex when she is in the mood. Guilt sex isn't usually good sex, so you're really shooting yourself in the foot if you go down that road. 5. Don't seek a person you think is more in tune with your appetites.

When you want sex more than your spouse, first and foremost, before all else, remember your God. Remember that Jesus Christ has purchased on your behalf, fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. There are pleasures awaiting us in Heaven that will make sex feel like a toothache. Have you ever thought about that? What are you afraid of missing out on? Here's the best kept secret in the world - we won't die without sex. We are taught from the youngest age by the cultural messages all around us that we will, but it's just not true. So when you want it four times a week, and your spouse isn't up to the task, just be satisfied with Christ and love your spouse. Easy? No. Possible? Absolutely. Likely? Depends on how much you love your spouse.

Now for the one with the chore of wanting sex less. 1. Don't do it, no matter how much you're tempted, no matter how much you think it will get your spouse off your back, don't make your spouse feel like a perverted over-sexed freak just to lighten your workload. You can't make your spouse sin, but you can make it easy. Remember that. 2. Don't walk around in a funk wondering how you ended up such a selfish jerk. You will find it very difficult to please your spouse out of guilt. At least a spouse with half a brain. 3. Don't make rigid rules in your head about how if your spouse really loved you, he (or she) wouldn't be so demanding. It makes no sense to create and nurture animosity with the one we're spending the rest of our lives with. 4. Don't seek another person who will be more in tune with your own appetites.

When your spouse wants sex more than you, first and foremost, before all else, remember your God. Jesus Christ died for you. He left Heaven, took on flesh and blood, lived a life of scorn, died on a cross after public humiliation, and suffered the wrath of God so that you can spend eternity in Heaven experiencing fullness of joy and pleasures forever. For the joy set before him, Christ endured the cross. And for the joy set before you, you can endure fifteen minutes with your demanding over-sexed spouse. You really can. Will it be easy? No. Will it be fulfilling? Maybe not sexually. Will it be worth it in the long run? Absolutely.

Sex is a grand production, and it can be wonderful and special and great. On the other hand, sex can become a chore if both spouses don't work together, as a team instead of adversaries. I read somewhere that sometimes sex is steak. And sometimes sex is maccoroni and cheese. One is better than the other, but both are satisfying. At the end of the day there is no plan B. Spouses are commanded by God to satisfy each other. That requires communication, sacrifice and love. There's no way around it. You have to go through the mess of being two different people. You have to go through the hassle of pursuing. You have to go through the inconvenience of being pursued. You have to go to the trouble of enjoying your spouse, or at least fooling them into thinking your are. Don't try to find another way that doesn't require both spouses to die to themselves and offer themselves - either by lightening the load or by giving in - to each other in love. As long as God continues to leave us two separate brains, we'll likely have two separate agendas as to frequency and quality of sex. Save me from myself, indeed.