Monday, October 22, 2012

Sex [For Lack of a Better Title]

I write this with much fear and trepidation. I am fully aware that the topic of this post will bring about interest so I want to be careful with my words, sensitive from my heart, true to scripture and as honest as possible. Above all else I pray that even in some small way this may be used to set captives free. Nothing I write is new. There is nothing new under the sun. This is not a "how to" or a "how not to" - I'm not that smart. Nor is this a lesson in biblical womanhood or biblical manhood - I'll leave that for others to instruct us on. These are just some thoughts on a sensitive subject that seems to be an area of much stress, distress, pain, and guilt.

Flip answers and five step solutions are not very helpful. 
Bible thumping and using God's commands on the subject are crushing. 

Any voice speaking into this situation that shouts law is just that - law. Maybe we can find another voice here - a voice that speaks grace and forgiveness and love...just maybe ~

Some Things Are Very Clear

God created men and women in his image:
So God created man in his own image,in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Gen 1:27

God declared:
everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. Gen 1:31

Man (Adam) and Woman (Eve) enjoyed perfect fellowship with each other and with God in the Garden of Eden:
And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Gen 2:25

While the bible does not detail the marriage ceremony and the honeymoon highlights, we can see by the text that Adam and Eve enjoyed each other. Pointing only to the physical aspect of their enjoyment would be a gross oversight, but we do know that their physical relationship was part of the glorious freedom, liberty, and delight each experienced with the other.

For a moment, let your heart and mind wrap around the idea of a relationship with your spouse that is guilt free and shame free - one that is perfect in every way! 

It's hard I know, but that is the relationship Adam and Eve had - perfect fellowship with God and in perfect relationship with each other.

A Lot Of Things Are Not So Clear

Enter sin. Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and:
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Gen 3:7

They knew their sin and they knew their nakedness. Overwhelmed with shame, guilt, and regret they tried to cover themselves.

Afraid now, they hid themselves from the One who created them:
And he said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself." Gen 3:10

You can read the full account of creation and the fall in Genesis 1-3. From the verses above we now know why life is hard and confusing. Sin has entered the world - it will never be the same. Sin has affected and infected everyone and everything. We live in a fallen broken world with fallen broken people and an enemy who prowls seeking our devastation and ruin. The world, the flesh, and the devil are our constant companions which explains why suffering exists. As my pastor puts it "If you are breathing, you suffer".

Knowing these foundational truths can serve to inform my thoughts and feelings on the subject of sex.

God authored sex. It is a good gift he gave to men and women. 

It is a delight and a pleasure and something to be enjoyed in the context of marriage relationships. Because of sin, delight and pleasure and enjoyment are tainted. Selfishness, perversion, and unbelief have distorted what was once beautiful, pure, and good. 

We now have a lens to understand what's going on in our own lives and in our own relationships.

The Ideal

If you are married think about your wedding day. Mine was filled with excitement, hopes, dreams, and fantasy! If you are not married, maybe you dream of that day and anticipate all that your heart is beating for. Love and acceptance; fulfillment in every way. 

There is so much expectation wrapped up in marriage and sex is just one part of a bigger picture. It's funny how our expectations always center around the good things and never the hard things. 

We enter marriage expecting delight and joy, comfort and fulfillment.

The Reality

We don't enter marriage expecting sadness and loneliness, anxiety and shame.

We enter marriage thinking we are naked and unashamed

The truth is we are naked and ashamed.

We are still trying to cover our sin and hide from ourselves, each other, and God. The truth is we are continually trying to rid ourselves of sin and guilt - all of us, whether we realize it or not.

As a result of every single person struggling with sin and the resulting shame and guilt, we are all affected by the consequences. Every single day we look for ways to cover up and deflect the shame and guilt we feel. Our lives are organized around our constant need to feel better.

Some Of The Fallout

The presence of sin is our battle. Horizontal consequences have had, and continue to wreak havoc in the area of sexual relationships. That won't change until we go to be with Jesus or He returns in glory. Because of life in this fallen world it's safe to assume that all of us have dealt with, are dealing with, or will deal with one of these issues surrounding physical intimacy -

Men and women who enter marriage both having a sexual past
Virgin men married to women with a sexual past
Virgin women married to men with a sexual past
Intimacy issues
Communication issues
Parenting issues
Financial issues
Pornography (men and women)
Same sex attraction
Physical ailments
Prescription medications
Alcohol or drug addictions
Women and men living out of wedlock
Past abuse
Current abuse
Self esteem
Power struggles
Control issues
Effects of aging
False religious beliefs

Did you find yourself in thist list? I did. At least 9 times.

The truth is, consequences of living in a broken and fallen world seriously affect our relationships and only Jesus can heal hearts and make us free. 

I have talked with countless women who suffer daily under guilt, pressure, shame, and regret. Because of any number of the above listed realities, they are all too aware of their failings and their faults when it comes to sex and their relationship with their husbands.

I was sitting at a Women's Bible study table the other day and through our study of Genesis a discussion regarding sex ensued. A dear friend of mine spoke up and I was grateful for her words. She was helpful to the conversation when she reminded women of the biological differences between men and women - God created men and women uniquely. She went on to encourage women to understand their husbands desire for sex and she explained their needs as well as their intent. Sex for men is an expression of love and a vital way for them to connect with their wives. It was a serious conversation but at the same time it was lighthearted. What I most appreciated was my friend's boldness and willingness to bring it up - not your typical bible study convo!

As I sat and listened to the conversation from some, I detected silence from others. Not the typical shyness about speaking in a group bible study.

It was the averted eyes silence. 

The kind of silence that speaks a thousand words.

 It was the silence that was speaking shed tears and past and present pain. 

I could almost hear their cries and heartbreaking realities:

"I hear what you're saying, but that's not my story"
"I hear what you're saying, but my life is broken and there is no repair in sight"
"I hear what you're saying, but the painful past is haunting and I long for healing but I still struggle - every day."
"I hear what you're saying, but there is so much division and silence in my home I don't see how we can find our way back."
"I hear what you're saying, but the medication I/he is on is clouding everything and sex is the last thing on my/his mind."
"I hear what you're saying but my spouse is a porn addict and we are both too ashamed to ask for help - and honestly I'm too angry and hurt to be sympathetic".
"I hear what you're saying, but every time I close my eyes I hear the shouting and can feel the hitting again."
"I hear what you're saying, but we've gone so long now without physical intimacy I don't know if it can ever change."
"I hear what you're saying, but I feel guilty and I feel pressure. I regret how I feel everyday and want it to be different, I just don't know where to start."
"I hear the truth in what you're saying, but I feel like it's just one more person telling me what I should do without knowing the real pain and confusion I'm in."

The Only Redemption Possible

For all these women the only answer is Jesus. For the women I know (they are all around you) who are struggling in this area right this very moment - the only answer to the pain and suffering is the gospel of Jesus Christ that assures you that you are loved, accepted, welcomed, and approved by God because of what Christ has done for you. You are now clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Hearts longing for wholeness and healing can only come 

as we rest in the healing power of Jesus.

Hearts can only be transformed and melted by the glorious and radical good news that Christ died for sinners like us. Not for those who have it all together and all figured out, but for those who are at the end of themselves and realize they have no power to change their past circumstances, lingering feelings, and selfish motives apart from Jesus Christ.

If you are in Christ, nothing can separate you from the love of God...

He loves you with an eternal, 
everlasting love that will never let you go.

Resting in Christ's unconditional love and forgiveness is the fuel and motivation for relationships that are naked and unashamed. 

Grace is powerful enough to mend hearts, restore relationships, and renew physical intimacy

Monday, October 15, 2012

I Don't Have My Act Together

I seriously needed church yesterday! I was in need of a fresh reorientation to the gospel that assures me I am loved and accepted in spite of my weakness. I needed help from outside of me because left to my own devices I become inward focused and obsessed with my feelings, my discontent, my weariness, and my inability to handle everything.

My pastor shared this question he was asked last week while attending a leadership conference.

"What one word would you use to describe leaders today?"

Without hesitation he responded 


My heart sighed quietly. That's how I felt this week. Tired. As much as I love my job I have felt more burdened than ever before and that burden weighs heavy and takes it's toll. My brain is full of hard and terrifying facts of life shared with me by women in crisis. My heart is broken for children and families ripped apart by abuse, addiction, and anger. My body is exhausted from the emotional involvement and the unrelenting need of those around me.

I would love to say that my theology solves the problem of burden and weariness, although theologically it does. Jesus says "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." I know this is true and I have experienced it for myself. But...I need to experience it again. 

I need the refreshment of the gospel to penetrate my sin sick and weary soul once more. I need a gushing rush of God's grace to overflow my heart and remind me it's not up to me, but up to Him. 

I need help to remember that it's precisely in the midst of my weakness and my burdens that God's grace is at work. You see, God is not waiting for me to finally "get my act together". Honestly though, that's what I'm waiting for! I would be so pleased with myself if I could say I wasn't stressed, tired, or burdened and that I handled everything just so. I wouldn't be contemplating all the ways I screwed up, said wrong things, and forgot to say right things. I'd have no more regret, guilt, or condemnation. Mmmm...come to think of it - I wouldn't need a savior. Well, now I'm getting somewhere! 

Here is the glorious, welcoming, and soul satisfying truth. All my weariness and all my heaviness is meant for one thing. To point me to my need for Jesus. If I could get my act together and deal with all that comes my way, I would. But I can't. That's why I need Jesus. He alone is the answer to every unmet need, every one of my burden stained tears. And so, until that time that God takes me home I will "proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes". 1 Cor 11:26   This is not some trite religious vow that is empty of power. This proclamation reminds me of my great need for a Rescuing Redeemer. I am not proclaiming my own self sufficiency but Christ's sufficiency on my behalf. His body, His blood. Poured out for me. His life, His power for me. His return, His victory for me. His redemption and His re-creation for me. All things will be made right, made new, and redeemed for me.

It's Monday. I have no guarantee this week will be easier. But,

I proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 

I rest in His love and acceptance for me in spite of my sheer and utter inability, weakness, and failure. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

If We’ve Left The Country Where Sin Is Sovereign, How Can We Still Live In Our Old House There?

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there?

Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land! That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.

Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.

That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.

So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we’re free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!

I’m using this freedom language because it’s easy to picture. You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing—not caring about others, not caring about God—the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God’s freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?

As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.

But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death.

But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Teaching Children Morals = Moral Children

My son is alive and well, but it's a miracle he made it out with relatively few scars. I was admittedly, one of those homeschool moms. Well meaning for sure, but way off track when it came to teaching my son what really mattered.

I poured over school curriculum and researched local and online resources. I devoured books about homeschooling and how to graduate a high-school student. Teaching the Bible was an important part of our program each year, so I was always on the hunt for books and help regarding raising a Christian young man.

Enter Exhibit A:

Last week I noticed this handy resource from our homeschool days.

I'm not knocking the book. It is a helpful tool for study. However, I clearly used it for another purpose. I saw it as an easy solution to parenting from a Christian perspective. Simply look up the word for whatever issue we're dealing with and find all the verses in the bible that talk about the particular sin. Perfect!
This section could be called "The Top Character Traits I Thought Would Save My Son."

This was tucked inside. I remember writing down these topics and giving the list and the book to my son for his personal devotion and study.

I wrongly believed that an examination of scripture verses related to drinking for example, would be the anecdote to potential failure in that area.

What I didn't realize was that my son was learning conformity, obedience and a right moral appearance.

This instruction and teaching was void of Jesus.

It was Christ-less Christianity.

I can hear what you're thinking.

"Lori, are you saying it's wrong to teach these morals and character traits?"
No, that's not what I'm saying.

"Lori, are you saying all of this had nothing to do with Christianity?"

Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.

Teaching a set of principles (for the purpose of achieving right moral behavior) is in vain apart from Jesus and the grace he died to bring us, regardless of how valuable they may seem. Apart from teaching kids the truth of God's high standard of the Law, our complete and utter inability to achieve that standard, and Christ's standard meeting work on our behalf, it all boils down to getting our kids to achieve an external behavior that makes us as parents look pretty darn good. We love it! Even when we don't actually say it, inside we value the way our kids look to others because it reveals our success as parents. We feel justified when our kids do good or are good. All of our hard work has paid off.

That's why I can say our teaching had nothing to do with Christianity.
Anyone can teach morality and external behavior modification.

Enter Exhibit B:

The second resource from our homeschooling days peered out from under the piles of books I'd boxed up to sell. I was horrified when I flipped through it the other day! I was sickened by the way I had used the curriculum. I believed the lie that I could actually raise a Christian if I could just teach right behaviors!

I thought that good parenting and training produced a godly kid.

I had failed to teach my son the truth about God, the truth about his own sin and the truth about the grace that is ours in Christ and what he has accomplished on our behalf.

That kind of moralistic teaching had no option but to produce a law abiding child on the outside and a rebel on the inside. 

That's what law does to each one of us. We sit down on the outside, but we're standing up on the inside.

Enter Exhibit C:

Look carefully at the scratched out statement below. This little gem of instruction should be entitled "Teaching Your Kids By Law in 20 Easy Steps."

You can tell how my son felt about this particular "step." Of course, he knew long before I did that listening to rock music would not stand in the way of following Jesus. He was also pretty certain that it's possible to follow Jesus even if you are a rock musician.

This kind of moralistic training has no power to save a soul and transform a human heart.

Our assigned reading should have included this insightful comment:

"I remember coming back from a very long tour…. On Christmas Eve I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. …It had dawned on me before, but it really sank in: the Christmas story. The idea that God, if there is a force of Love and Logic in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty… a child, I just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry.

Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was. I was sitting there, and …tears came down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this. Because that’s exactly what we were talking about earlier: love needs to find form, intimacy needs to be whispered. To me, it makes sense. It’s actually logical. It’s pure logic. Essence has to manifest itself. It’s inevitable. Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.” – Bono

God's Grace

If I had the opportunity to do it over, I would do it differently. I wouldn't be a perfect parent, but I pray by God's grace I would be an honest parent. Honest about my sin and honest about my child's sin. I pray God would give me the grace to readily admit failure and run to Jesus in front of my child. I pray that if there was one thing my child would learn from me it would be just that; a readiness to acknowledge sin and a mad dash to the foot of the cross.

Age appropriate child training is good and it is necessary. But,
teaching children morals equals moral children. 

There is zero chance it will transform their heart.
The only power to transform a human heart is the gospel.

God's love for them in the person of Jesus Christ can rescue the hardest of hearts. 

If you are having a hard time believing it just ask yourself this question. What melts your heart? Is it someone telling you to be good and try harder? Or, is it the reassurance that although you mess up and even when you don't or can't try harder, God loves you so much he sent his Son to rescue you in your mess, again and again? While you are warming your heart by that gospel truth don't forget to tell you kids.

They need to hear it again and again because,
they are just like you; sinners in need of grace. Sinners in need of the fresh reminder that in Christ, their sins are forgiven.