Sex to the Glory of God?


(This post is the first in a series of three addressing specific ideas and principles found in the following passage of Scripture.They will post on three consecutive days.)

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God with your body.
1 Corinthians 6:15-20

People spend hours each week engrossed in television shows whose story lines center around the illicit relationships of the main characters. Teen girls are now intentionally getting pregnant, hoping they’ll be selected as the next “star” of a teen mom reality show. More and more church members are involved in immoral sexual activity or cohabiting, all while the church has historically kept silent on the issue of sex, rarely teaching a godly, biblical theology of sex. Unbiblical sexual activity has become an acceptable sin in the body of Christ. It’s been so normalized in culture that the church has surrendered and thrown up her hands in defeat. The attitude seems to be that we can’t stop people from having sex, so we’ll just hope they use protection and we’ll be here to help them pick up the pieces when their lives explode.

The church ignores the topic of sex as if it has nothing to do with the church or the God we worship. Here’s where the problem comes occurs. Sex was God’s idea, not something he wants to limit, control, or destroy. Here is God’s view of sex. Sex is good. Very good, in fact, according to Genesis 2. But, much like a fine luxury car, sex is best when it functions within the manufacturer’s suggested guidelines.

And, whether we like it or not, God gives very specific guidelines for how sex is best enjoyed and most fully experienced in its original purpose.

God is perfect. He’s the perfect teacher. He not only tells us what not to do, he tells us what to do. He gives us the one right, best way to do things and then gives illustrations of consequences of what will happen when we don’t follow His guidelines.

One of my favorite examples of this type of teaching is the inclusion of polygamy in Scripture. Christians of a more liberal or emerging mindset think along this line of logic: polygamy is in the Bible, so God must be ok with it. Polygamy is oppressive to women, therefore, this must also mean God hates women.

OR maybe he included stories of polygamy in Scripture to show us the consequences of engaging in sexual relationships in ways other than His one, best way. One of my favorite defenses of the Bible and Christianity coming from a Being greater than humanity is that the Bible graphically displays the greatest failures of its “greatest” human characters. Humans tend to cover our faults and deify our leaders. Not the Bible. God ensures we know that it is He who does the miraculous work, not any man.

In my area of counseling, I spend a lot of time pondering relationships and gender and sex, and what God has to say about these issues in the Bible. I also ponder them because I spent so many years struggling with my own understanding of those very issues. Many people go into counseling because they’re trying to figure themselves out, and I guess I’m no exception. But during my time in seminary, I spent more time studying the nature of God than I spent talking about mankind and relationships.

And the more I learned about God, the more I learned about myself and people in general. This is the conclusion that I came to concerning sex and my stance on sex as I learned more and more about God and his purposes for creating humanity and sexuality.

1. God designed sex with a good purpose.
2. God created sex to produce good results– trust, pleasure, intimacy, connection, procreation…
3. God determined sex was so precious and powerful that it was best reserved for only one person.
4. To accurately show God’s image and nature in procreation and diverse unity, sex should be expressed only between a man and a woman.
5. To be a faithful picture of God’s covenant with His people, sex should only only take place within the confines of a covenant relationship, specifically marriage.

These are the guidelines for God’s good gift of sex. Seems pretty simple and straightforward. It gets complicated when we start making exceptions for our own “happiness”. But notice that “it makes me happy” is not included in that short list above.

As believers, we need to remember the statement my mom repeats often: quit expecting people who aren’t Christians to behave like Christians. They aren’t. Our “rules” don’t apply to unbelievers. If unbelievers follow God’s guidelines, their lives will be better, more peaceful, healthier simply because God’s way is best. But it makes sense that unbelievers are concerned foremost with their own happiness; their lives revolve around themselves and their own fulfillment.

I don’t want lost homosexuals to just stop being homosexuals; I want them to meet the only fulfilling Lover of their soul and completer of their heart.

I don’t want heterosexual sinners to just stop having sex outside of marriage, or to break their addictions to porn or self-pleasure; I want them to discover that the pleasure and fulfillment they are seeking in sex or relationships will only be found by fulfilling their souls’ deepest desires in Christ instead hopelessly trying to fulfill their bodies’ most intense urges.

I don’t want lost drug addicts to just get clean; I want them to meet the Most High.

I don’t want lost people struggling with depression to just figure out how to be happy and self-fulfilled, and I want them to discover eternal joy in Christ.
And I don’t want saved homosexuals, sex addicts, drug addicts, or those suffering from depression to just stop their behavior, either. I desire the same thing God desires for them. To stop being so easily pleased with mere happiness and and begin seeking true and lasting joy, found only in seeking after His glory.

So what happens, as believers, to our relationship with God when, through sex (or any other thing), we seek our own happiness instead of His glory? We’ll see the answer to that tomorrow in Paul’s graphic illustration in 1 Corinthians 6.

Single Sexuality?


In today’s culture, sexuality is synonymous with sexual activity. The world teaches that we are sexual beings and should therefore act on any sexual desire we have. Scripture teaches that there is a difference between sexuality and sexual activity.

So if, as Christian singles, we choose to obey Christ and abstain from sexual activity, how do we express our God-given sexuality in God-glorifying ways? Some answers to that question can be found in this article by Ellen Dykas, the Women’s Ministry Coordinator for Harvest USA.

Polyamory:The Next Sexual Revolution?


If this is the type of sexual confusion facing people living in Seattle, then Mark Driscoll needs to make his series on the Song of Solomon available to every household in the city. Many people have spent months blasting Mark’s series as being too blatant, too disrespectful, too graphic;I’d like to see some of those pastors counsel someone in a “polyamorous” relationship and see how far they get…

Read the article from Newsweek here.

Is Twilight Emotional Porn?


Much is made today of the devastating effects of pornography in the lives of men. Articles and books have been written by the thousands outlining the emotional, financial, time and relational impact of porn addiction. I work for a ministry that deals everyday with the effects of pornography. We have learned that men are wired to respond sexually to visual stimulation—I have been told by numerous men that, try as we might, women will just never understand the power of lust and the battle they fight against their sexual desires. I believe them.

Sometimes I wonder if the damage done by pornography is felt more by the women in the lives of these men than by the men themselves. Porn gives men an unrealistic expectation of how women should look and behave. Because men tend to be visual creatures, they respond to what they see. When what they have in real life doesn’t match up to what they have trained themselves to respond to on TV or the computer screen, they turn to those images for satisfaction. The problem is that no woman meets those expectations; not even those women themselves. They are airbrushed actresses, playing a part in a fantasy that cannot come true in real life. There are few things more damaging to the self-worth and emotional well-being of a woman than to feel like her husband is more attracted and sexually connected to an image on a screen than he is to her.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with the book series Twilight? Just like men tend to be stimulated visually and crave sexual connection, women tend to be wired emotionally and crave relational connection. In the past couple of years, I have watched middle and high school girls become obsessed with this book series and its characters. Recently, I have begun watching my friends in their twenties and thirties become equally caught up in the lives of the characters on the pages. More than any other character in the series, the obsession really lies in Edward Cullen, the teenage vampire heartthrob that loves the heroine, Bella Swan. Not only is Bella the heroine, but the books are written in first person from her perspective– as you read, you become Bella. You read her thoughts, you feel her emotions, you are drawn into the story in a way that is next to impossible in a book written in the third person. Fantasy becomes your reality, and Edward is set up as the perfect gentleman—he loves Bella at first site, sacrifices himself in an attempt to protect her, gives himself up to make her happy. He becomes a Messiah figure in her life, and because you are so attached to Bella’s character, he becomes your messiah, too. Deep down, we are all wired with a desire to be saved. That’s what makes the “knight in shining armor” story stand the test of time.

There is nothing wrong with desiring a man who will exemplify the standard of sacrificial love; after all, Scripture tells us that our husbands are to love us as Christ loved the church, which means he is willing to lay down his life for his wife (Ephesians 5). But in becoming obsessed with this fictional character, are we placing a standard of fantasy perfection on the fallen, sinful men who God has called to both serve and lead us? Just like pornography sets an unrealistic visual expectation for men, is Edward setting an unrealistic emotional expectation for women, particularly teenage girls?

Don’t think I’m picking on Twilight; it’s just the latest in a long line of things I would consider emotional porn. If you aren’t sure what I mean by emotional porn, have you ever been dumped by a boyfriend or been disappointed or hurt by your husband in some way and comforted yourself on the couch with a night of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan “chick flicks”? Have you ever read a romance novel or watched a movie and thought, “If only he would treat me this way?” Have you watched The Notebook at least a dozen times and still sob like an infant, wondering if you will ever have a Noah Calhoun? The expectation has been set that men should sweep us off our feet—but then never put us back down.

And that is the crux of the issue—we are looking for a fulfillment in the creation that can only be found in the Creator (Romans 1:22-25). When a man seeks a woman who is a “real life porn star,” one who was created in the mind of a man instead of in the image of God, he is ultimately worshiping himself and his desires and he will always be disappointed. When a woman begins seeking a man who will meet her every need, satisfy her every desire, she has set herself up as an idol to be worshiped both by herself and by those around her, and she will always be disappointed. Only One is described in Scripture as “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23).

While fantasy and fiction are fun, when we become so caught up in them that we begin to expect our fantasy in reality, a line has been crossed. So if you’ve read Twilight, has it altered the expectations you have set for the men in your life? Do you think it has created a fair expectation? And, does that expectation line up with the expectation laid out in Scripture of a godly man?

CS Lewis and Sexual Morality


While researching for a paper, I reviewed Lewis’ chapter concerning sexual morality in Mere Christianity. Lewis concludes the chapter with this word of warning:

Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of  power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who regularly goes to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

In his classically biting and convicting style, Lewis forces his reader to consider first the plank in his own eye. As Christians, we claim to subscribe to the ridiculously high standard of Christ, who declared that adultery starts in the heart, not in the sex act. This idea was not unique to the “new” ethic of Jesus; Proverbs 23.7 says, “for as he thinks in his heart, so is he.”

Our thoughts say much more about who we are as people and as disciples of Christ– like a blinding headache or paralysis are external symptoms of an internal brain disease, our actions are just outer symptoms of an inner heart disease called sin. The Pharisees were notorious for judging others by their actions, but Jesus reminded them that “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16.7). So many times we judge those around us by their behaviors– or worse, by their behavior before they surrendered their hearts and their lives to Christ. We would do well to remember that in the eyes of God, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3.23). But even for those of us who have committed supposedly more grievous sins, Paul declares, “such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6.11). In God’s accounting, sin is sin, and even the smallest sin in man’s eyes is an infinite insult requiring infinite separation from an infinitely holy God. Let us not forget that in more than one of Paul’s lists of sins which deny entrance to heaven, disobedience to parents, lying tongues, and envy are listed side by side with the “big sins” of murder and theft and sexual immorality.

Just as Lewis closed his chapter, we will do well to remember that we are not to remain in any sin. Previously in this chapter, Lewis discussed the difficulty of striving against sin and the benefit of fighting through and overcoming our temptations. He wrote:

For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process [of fighting and overcoming temptation] trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.

May we never be content with anything less than perfection! Though we will never reach it this side of our glorification, may we never cease seeing it as our goal! May our single desire be that we would be holy as He is holy.

God and Gay Marriage


Conservative Evangelicals across the blogosphere have posted their responses to this week’s cover story from Newsweek. Their treatment of the article theologically and politically will far outweigh any attempt of mine to do the same. What I would like to respond to is Ms. Miller’s opening statements concerning the Bible’s treatment of marriage.

Let’s try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. “It is better to marry than to burn with passion,” says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?

In her article, Miller asks her readers to consider the marriages of Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon as the basis of biblical marriage. This is the wrong question to consider if you are looking for the Bible’s prescription of marriage. To see God’s one, right intention for marriage, you must go back farther than even Abraham. In Genesis 2, God gives the one, right way for marriage to occur.

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” 19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. 25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Verse 24 is the most quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament; it is recorded in Matthew 19.5 and Mark 10.8 that Jesus quoted this verse when discussing marriage and divorce. Paul quoted this verse in his treatments of marriage in his letters to the churches in Corinth and Ephesus (1 Corinthians 6.16 and Ephesians 5.31). It is clearly stated in the Bible that God’s plan for marriage is to be between one man and one woman for life.

While that is the prescribed treatment of marriage, the Bible is not a record of perfect people doing exactly what they are to do. The Bible is the record of a loving and merciful God and His dealings with a sinful and rebellious people. We cannot necessarily look to the lives of the “heroes” in the Bible as the “how-to” manual for life. What we can see is a collection of imperfect people who chose to break the law and heart of God. So let’s consider the lives of Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon—not as examples of biblical marriage, but as tragic examples of what happens when we stray from the ideals of God.

Abraham (you can read his story in Genesis 12-25) had been promised by God that he would become the father of a great nation. But when as he grew older and he and Sarah still had no children, Abraham decided to take matters into his own hands and he slept with Sarah’s servant Hagar. Hagar got pregnant and she had a son, Ishamael. This story does not prescribe polygamy as a biblically mandated form of marriage. This story instead describes the tragic consequences of what happens when we quit trusting God and begin trusting ourselves and our plans. By brining another woman into his bed, Abraham created an environment of jealousy and mistrust within his household. He created a division in the unity of his marriage, and he spawned an unhealthy competition between both women and their sons. The effects of this decision are still felt today—Ishmael is the father of the Arab nations, Jacob is the father of the Jewish nation. If you’ve read the news any time in the last 4,000 years, you know there’s still tension in that relationship.

Jacob (Genesis 25:19-50:26) repeated the mistake of his grandfather and there were similar results. His choices led to tension, jealousy, hatred, family infighting, and competition between the children of his various wives. Again, his life and choices concerning his relationships are an example of what happens when we choose to abandon God’s way and then do things our own way.

David (1 and 2 Samuel) was described as a man after God’s own heart, yet he made choices concerning women with tragic results. David took more than one wife, and the results were fighting and bloodshed. He actually lost four sons as a direct result of his extra-marital affairs. Again, this is not God’s prescribed state of marriage.

Same thing with Solomon (1 Kings 1-11) occurred when he chose to go against the will of God and take many wives. Those wives became his undoing as they led him away from God and toward their foreign gods. They took his attention away from ruling and worshiping and placed it square on themselves. Solomon was the last ruler of a unified Israel.

God told His chosen people Israel in Deuteronomy 10 that He commanded them to follow His statutes “for your own good.” The laws that God prescribes are from a loving Father who desires what is best for His children. The stories recorded in Scripture are those of a rebellious people who choose to stray from their loving Father. God’s prescription for living is the best way to live. The descriptions of the lives of people lead do not always follow the prescription given for right living.

So in one way, Lisa Miller was right. Her description of marriage as she sees the Bible is certainly not one that anyone would prescribe. But the Bible’s prescription of marriage is one of mutual love, trust, respect and submission between one man and one woman, under the headship of Christ. Any other arrangement is against the prescription of God, mandated for our own good.

What most people fail to see is that any straying from God’s perfect design goes against the ways of God. Evangelicals do not support serial heterosexual marriages, or adultery or premarital sex. In the eyes of God, sin is sin and they all separate us from Him. The problem is not that God has changed His mind concerning His perfect plan for sex and marriage. The problem is that the church has refused to define and then defend marriage and its purpose as a picture of the relationship between Christ and His church. When the church begins to equally take a stand against all relationships that violate the mandates of God, supporters of gay marriage may no longer feel as though we are picking on them.

Freedom in Christ or Boredom in Christ?


The assumption is this: One of the main reasons that the world and the church are awash in lust and pornography (by men and women—30% of internet pornography is now viewed by women), fornication, adultery, masturbation, exhibitionism, homosexuality, bestiality, rape, and endless sexual innuendo in all media—one of the reasons we are awash in all this is that our lives are intellectually and emotionally disconnected from infinite, soul-staggering grandeur. Inside and outside the church we are drowning in a sea of triviality, pettiness, banality, and silliness. Television is trivial. Radio is trivial. Conversation is trivial. Education is trivial. Christian books are trivial. Worship styles are trivial. It is inevitable that the human heart, which was made to be staggered with terrifyingly joyous dread and peace by an infinitely untouchable, embracing God—it is inevitable that such a heart, drowning in the all-pervasive, blurry boredom of banal entertainment, will reach for the best buzz that life can give: sex.

The deepest cure to our pitiful addictions is not any mental strategies—and I believe in them and have my own. The deepest cure is to be intellectually and emotionally staggered by the infinite, everlasting, unchanging sovereignty, holiness, wrath, justice, wisdom, truth, and mercy of God. And sex is just one of the hundreds of day-to-day issues you face that will overwhelm you and debase your life without this kind of encounter with the living God.

http://www.desiringgod.org/resourcelibrary/sermons/bydate/2004/166_Gods_Design_for_History_The_Glory_of_His_Mercy/

The above quote is from John Piper, and is along the same line as Beth Moore’s teachings in “When Godly People do Ungodly Things,” which I know several of us have read and greatly appreciated.

So often we fall into sin simply out of boredom—we have forgotten the amazing adventure to which we are called when we become children of the King! Instead of searching for ways to “make it through the day,” let’s find new ways to forsake the trivial and dig into the unsearchable riches of Christ. Reading this short quote challenged and reminded me that our walk with the Lord is not a journey set on auto-pilot or even cruise control—it takes work on our part to not be bored. When I read Piper’s take on boredom, I was reminded of one my kids in my After School Program. One afternoon Sarah and I were blessed to witness a living illustration of the culture in which we live: As this young girl spun in circles in the middle of the room, she declared, “I’m bored! Someone entertain me!”

How many times do we make similar declarations to the God of the Universe? I know I am guilty of desiring to be cosmically entertained on a regular basis. Our culture has become one of passive entertainment; and this notion is sneaking into our spiritual lives. The emphasis on emotion and experience in worship has led to a generation of God worshipers who think they are not getting from God all that is theirs if they are not “feelin’ it.” Many more have given up completely on a life of freedom through Christ because they are in such bondage to the sins of this world. So many have bought into Satan’s lie that sex is the ultimate pleasure and fulfillment. When they indulge in any of the above mentioned sexual sins and experience nothing but shame and heartache, they think, “if this is the best there is, what hope do I have for happiness in this life?” What we do not understand is that the Creator of the experience is so much more fulfilling than the experience itself! This applies to anything, not just sex. As much as I love hiking and enjoying creation, that experience is not to be worshiped in and of itself. Rather, any experience we enjoy should direct our attention to the Creator of that experience and draw us into a deeper amazement and appreciation of Him.

Just like I sat down with my little friend at After School and explained that it’s more valuable to learn how to entertain yourself instead of waiting to be passively entertained by another, God desires that we learn to grow and be amazed by Him through our own work and not just through the spoon feeding of others. Maturity means moving past passivity and taking an active role in your growth and “entertainment.”

I have learned the last couple of years that the cure for the common bore is not more television or music or internet. In fact, I have become culturally illiterate (I failed my friend Salida last week in a moment of urgent need when I couldn’t tell her who was voted off of American Idol the previous night!). But while I couldn’t tell you the winners of American Idol or Survivor or Dancing with the Stars, I am certainly far from bored. And my lack of boredom comes mainly from ridding myself of the trivial entertainment of this world and devoting my time to the infinitely endless task of growing in the knowledge of my infinitely endless Saviour. In fact, boredom usually occurs when I am in a rut spiritually and I find myself watching more TV or spending more time surfing the internet. We are bored when we turn our brains off and demand that someone entertain us. This quote reminded me that I am accountable for my own boredom—and my own enjoyment of the Saviour. It challenged me to find ways this week to be staggered and overwhelmed by a new understanding of our heavenly Father.