Posts Tagged marriage

Faith in the Bleachers

My father was exceptionally athletic. I remember the first time I saw him ice skating and I was amazed at his speed and dexterity on the ice, especially when I attempted the ice for the first time. Oldest of six boys raised in Newfoundland, Canada, my father cut his teeth on a hockey puck, and was no slouch with a baseball either. At one point, dad was even offered an opportunity to play professional hockey, which he turned down because his life plan to become a Catholic priest left no room for hockey. He hung up his skates and donned the habit, entering the monastery. (Obviously, he did not become a priest.)

As I said, my dad was a great athlete… I am not. I was always the kid who liked playing kickball, but loved shooting my bow or a .22 rifle more. In fact, if given an option, I’d rather hunt rabbits or crows than play baseball any day. For me, a quiet day with my bow was valued much higher than a day in a neighboring pasture playing baseball. Let me clarify, I’m not opposed to sports, and enjoy a live baseball or basketball game, and I love watching hockey, but I’m not a fanatic. I liked the idea of sports, but didn’t possess the desire, drive or ability to pursue sports with passion.

For the 2011 season thus far, I’ve watched a grand total of two UK basketball games, both post season tournament play, and one of which (UK -vs- UNC) I recorded on my DVR and missed the final 2 1/2 minutes due to improper programming. (And my life didn’t end for missing the final moments of the game.) I don’t know all the players, and cannot quote their stats, in fact I didn’t even know their standing going into the tournament. But, I would consider myself a UK fan, or at the least a fan of life in the bluegrass state. I confess my heightened interest with UK now in the Final Four, and I will probably be watching the game with UCONN on Saturday night… probably.

While enjoying the game Sunday night, I couldn’t help but think about my dad. I’ve already mentioned his athletic abilities, which were impressive, however this was not what immediately came to mind during the game. For whatever reason, what came to mind about my dad was his intense passion for the Gospel. My dad was one to jump in with both feet in whatever he did, he wasn’t just committed to something… he became what he was committing to. Nothing has ever made an impression upon me like my father’s conversion to Christianity, specifically (redundantly) his commitment to Jesus. When my dad was converted, it was full sail. In fact, mom & dad made their confession of faith together and that night my father was immersed, and in response he immersed my mother. He understood the call of Christ and for the first time, shedding the traditions he had known all his life and embracing Scripture alone, it made perfect sense to him. What he had earlier committed to (with regard to priesthood) left him empty and confused because he was told to teach tradition and not Bible. He told me of many occasions of discipline for reading to children from Scripture, rather than teaching tradition. This disillusionment caused him to leave Catholicism, but he just couldn’t abandon faith. When a young preacher encouraged him to study the Bible, my dad suddenly had a whole new world open up before him and his focus, priorities and purpose was restored.

From the time of my dad’s conversion forward, I cannot remember a single morning when he wasn’t seated at the kitchen table first thing in the morning reading his Bible. My father was consumed with a passion for the Word. At the time, I was not a Christian, although I considered myself a believer. For a number of months my dad faithfully and patiently led a life of faith and witnessed to me as much as was productive to do so. Our minister frequented our home and became a good friend to me and my family. Eventually I began attending services and listening a little closer as it became apparent my father was not participating in a passing fad, but undergoing a transformation of his life and a renewing of his mind.

The UK -vs- UNC game Sunday night, began at 5PM, and our evening services are at 6:00PM. For some congregations, and some Christians, this would pose a very real dilemma… which shall I choose, to stay home with the HD quality programming of NCAA tournament play or participate in the assembly? Certainly, there is nothing wrong with watching a ballgame per se, so long as it does not impose upon my ability to edify another Christian, or impede my availability to His Word. Some would argue attendance on a Sunday evening as unnecessary, especially if they faithfully attend morning services. Perhaps, but I do tend to believe such thinking reveals something about us. Allow me to illustrate my point.

My wife is my best friend and I enjoy her company, so much so that I am often distracted by thoughts of her through the day and truly long to be with her again. When we have to be apart, it is bearable only in the thought we will be together again and our commitment to one another remains strong in spite of the temporary separation. I cannot imagine “skipping out” on an opportunity to be with her, even if it should only be for a brief while. My wife trusts me and knows me better than any other person alive. Such trust strengthens our relationship through difficulties or challenges. Therefore, should I choose to go out with friends, or some other activity within the bounds of our vows, my wife would be OK and have no doubts or concerns. Concerns could creep in, however, should I choose to neglect her, or avoid her, show less passion or become apathetic toward being with her. Love for my wife constrains me to prioritize my activities and interests in such a manner as to build her up and strengthen our marriage. Again, so long as my priorities remain in cooperation with my vows to my wife, everything is good.

Similarly, Christian faith requires commitment and priority, it demands cooperation of action and words.

Empty stadium seats with a man alone

James mentions faith and action, a faith which transcends the lip service of shallow “belief only” and bears the grit of substance. Such faith is evidenced by action. Recently, I was referred to as “zealous”, a comment intended to be taken as a punch. In context, it was an argumentum ad hominem employed to silence my disagreement with a prospective change to a city ordinance. Its implication being I am limited in my view and “close minded”. I, however, have an advocate which speaks for me… my actions.

How does this relate to the NCAA tournament? I guess it just got me to thinking of an opportunity to share the Gospel. No doubt, Monday morning was filled with a number of conversations about the game. What a wonderful opportunity Christians have when asked about the game to “open the door” by sharing they didn’t watch the game on live TV because they were occupied by something more exciting… participation in worshiping God. I firmly believe our convictions bear out in our actions, and as a Christian I never want to fail in assembling with the body of Christ if at all possible.

As a preacher, I get teased quite a lot about the length of my sermons. There are always a few jokes about cancelling or shortening services when a big game is on, accompanied by a wink & laughter. Here at Union City, it is understood comments about sermon length which are intended to jibe me a little are not to be taken seriously. Our attendance Sunday night made me very proud of our congregation and my opportunity to serve such a spiritually focused group. Granted, most folks didn’t linger long following the service, however, they were active and present and would never have considered skipping out of the assembly for any reason short of illness or another serious family concern. They chose to participate in the assembly, enjoy opportunity to commune with one another and to increase their faith by studying Scripture. No wonder I thought about my father upon seeing such a strong attendance.

I love assembling with the saints!

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Sons & Daughters #3: “Sexual Connection”

There seems to be much confusion in the world about sex… on one hand, from a secular point of view, sex seems to be only animalistic or mechanical, while from the perspective of the Church there is almost complete silence on the topic. The approach of nearly every secular sex therapist or secular marriage counselor is to use lust based advice. Day time talk shows which have addressed the topic of sex encourage all sorts of lust based advice. The notorious “Dr. Ruth” encourages all sorts of people to “explore their sexuality”, which means “go out & do whatever to whomever so longs as it feels good.”

The modern Church still deals with the impact created by many misguided individuals from early Church history. In a moral knee jerk response to the prevalence of immorality in early cultures, false teachings about sex developed. Seneca, a philosopher from 4BC to AD 65 made the following observation about the culture: “I see silk clothes, if these qualify as ‘clothes,’ which do nothing to hide the body, not even the genitals … Our women have nothing left to show their lovers in the bedroom that they haven’t already revealed on the street.” Upon the introduction of Christian faith the necessity for purity & sexual integrity caused Christians to allow the pendulum to swing a little too far, shown by the teaching of Peter Lombard (AD 1100-1164) when he stated “The Holy Spirit leaves the room when a married couple has sex, even if they do it without passion to make new virgins for the kingdom of heaven.” His opinion was widely embraced by the Church which specified intercourse as a means of procreation only, not intended for pleasure. This is one of the influences upon Catholic restriction of the use of birth control. Others chimed in, ringing similar tones on this issue.

By 1894 a publication entitled “Instruction and Advice for the Young Bride” by Ruth Smythers contained this advice: “At this point, dear reader, let me concede one shocking truth. Some young women actually anticipate the wedding night ordeal with curiosity and pleasure! Beware such an attitude! One cardinal rule of marriage should never be forgotten: give little, give seldom, and above all give grudgingly.”

So, for centuries the Church allowed the false presentation of prudish behavior equating to holiness, while the secular world ran rampant with its involvment in the fun of sexual expression coupled with the danger of no moral boundaries or guidance from the Church. No wonder the world has developed such a false impression of the Church, and believes that the Church is out of touch. Unfortunately, the Church has still remained relatively silent on the issue and has allowed powerhouses of immorality, like Planned Parenthood, to infect the minds of generations of young people. The Church needs to take a stand against such destructive, false teachings, and begin to pull our people out of the Hollywood, HBO & VH1 mentality of human sexual behavior. We can no longer sit idle by while those who advocate & participate in deviant sexual behavior influence the minds of people.

It has been said that the working definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing while expecting different results.

The Church holds the truth about sexuality and it is time that we break the silence. Our world uses people and reduces them to objects until they are no longer appealing or useful, then discards them with no regard. There are two responses from the Church which are vital to reaching people:

  • Compassionately reach out to those who are hurting & isolated because of their sexual decisions. The only hope for complete healing is the Gospel and the redemption offered by Jesus.
  • Intervene between people and sources of false teaching, like Planned Parenthood. The Church must no longer allow only one side (the destructive side) of sexuality to be taught.

It has been said that the working definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing while expecting different results. Church, we must be bold enough to abandon the passive, silent posture of the Church over the centuries and begin to reach out to the hurting, speak out to those who are listening, and live out the message of Jesus in living color.

The Church holds the truth about sexuality and it is time that we break the silence.

Since we have already covered the intimacy factor of the ‘one flesh’ relationship, as well as the need for creating & maintaining sexual integrity in the relationship, this week i will address how to strengthen the sexual connection of the relationship. We will be addressing the bold Scriptural teachings of sexual fulfillment in the one flesh relationship, and equipping singles to maintain their integrity.

Reading in preparation for the message includes:

  • Genesis 2
  • Song of Solomon 4
  • 1 Corinthians 7

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Sons & Daughters #2: “Sexual Integrity”

In my first message, I shared the three essential components to the “One Flesh” relationship from Genesis 2. Both partners in the relationship must openly & honestly assess where they are in light of these three components, which are the Intimacy component, the Sexual component and the Spiritual component. It must be noted that each of these components are necessary for a healthy, God honoring marriage, and when any component is weak or missing the marriage will suffer.

21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place.
22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and 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,
Because she was taken out of Man.”
24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Genesis 2:21-25, NASB’95

Paul addresses the issue of sexual immorality, which was prevalent throughout the Roman Empire, in a number of places in Scripture. The Pagan, polytheistic religions of the Romans was quite removed from the Christian monotheistic faith. One of the areas which was difficult for new converts to Christianity was the issue of morality as defined by Christ. Adding to this change in lifestyle was the ongoing influence of a sexually saturated culture which considered sex to be simply a recreational activity. The only element of religious influence on sexuality was the temple Aphrodite and the religious ‘services’ offered by the temple prostitutes (male & female) who solicited ‘offerings’ in exchange for their sexual services. One may compare the cultural environment to a live walk-through of the Internet, without the sense of anonymity created on the net. Suffice it to say, there was nothing left to the imagination in this culture.

As one can imagine, it was difficult for any Christian man to maintain sexual integrity in such an ‘in your face’ environment. Further, it would be very difficult for families to counter the influences of such a culture upon their children and young men. Demosthenes, a prominent Greek statesman and Orator, stated of this era: “Men have three women. 1 for bearing children, 1 for sexual pleasure and 1 for pursuit.” The idea of monogamy was almost completely foreign in the Roman culture, yet, Paul remained consistent in the expectation that a man was to be exclusive to one woman in terms of a marriage relationship. One cannot read the New Testament Scripture without coming to this conclusion.

Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
Hebrews 13:4, NASB’95

Our culture is similar to that of the early Christians living in the Roman Empire. There are numerous avenues of temptation, some of which provide a false sense of anonymity in their participation, (like pornographic materials or online Pornography) while others are public (like prostitution or adultery). Single men are encourage to be the “stud” by engaging in numerous sexual encounters under the false understanding that their virility & masculinity is only enhanced by numerous sexual encounters. What is not often discussed is the huge emotional, and often physical, impact impressed upon the lives of those who engage in such activity. (Not to mention the terrible scars which often impede spiritual growth.) Men & women who engage in such sexual activity are opening themselves to terrible influences which can forever impact their relationship and prevent them from experiencing true sexual fulfillment.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’;
28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Matthew 5:27-28, NASB’95

Sexual Integrity must be achieved & maintained in every Christian marriage. How is this possible in today’s society?

  • First, by guarding the heart. Proverbs 4:23 says to guard or watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Jesus has identified that the things we say are an expression from our heart. Reserve your emotion & attention for your spouse. Emotional infidelity and infatuation can lead to destruction of your relationship.
  • Second, by guarding the eyes. Everything that a person takes in, whether it be images or sounds, influences our thoughts and actions. Jesus placed high priority on the actions of our mind, and even stated openly that a man can commit adultery in his mind. Jesus did not say that this was like adultery, He said a man commits adultery. Participation in anything which visually or mentally stimulates lustful actions or thoughts is not acceptable for Christians.
  • Third, understand that God is not a prude. So many people are under the false impression that the world is the one who understands & creates sexual fulfillment, and that the Church (God) is a prude. Nothing can be further from the truth. every ‘restriction’ created by God is for our benefit, to prevent us from enduring sufferings and lack of fulfillment. Sexual integrity is the only means of protecting & strengthening your marriage relationship. It is not possible, even by accident, to prevent your eyes from seeing such tempting images, however, we must learn not to allow our eyes to linger upon such imagery, under risk of producing lustful thoughts, which lead to lustful actions and behaviors.
  • Finally, marriage partners must learn to be open & accountable to one another. Open, honest communication is absolutely necessary to achieve harmony, security and sexual fulfillment in a marriage. Do not operate under the false assumption that your partner knows (or should know) what you need without you expressing your needs to them. Also, do not be defensive when your spouse poses questions to you regarding your sexual integrity. This is not an assault upon you, rather, it is an opportunity for you to strengthen your integrity with them. Allow questions to be asked so that you can establish a higher degree of accountability, thus building confidence in your spouse.
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Intimacy Sermon Answers

“How often should a husband & wife have time for each other?”

One of the most challenging aspects of modern relationships is that of demanding schedules. Caring for children, work demands, commute times back & forth to work, children’s activities, Church, aging parents and so many other areas can pull couples in different directions. Upon arriving home, couples still have to help with homework, clothes, food, pay bills, do laundry & dishes, and sometimes even catch up on work brought home from the office. There can be no doubt… we are busy people.

Certainly, there are some of these external demands which can be removed, or at least reduced through proper management. Often, removing many of the demands is not a possibility, which means that we must learn to employ responsible management of time, as well as establishing & maintaining proper priorities in a relationship. Since it appears to me that this question poses two dimensions: Connection and a sense of intimacy in the relationship, and the sexual aspect of the relationship, I will address both dimensions. We can all agree that a strong marriage relationships helps to create harmony in the home, so, let’s consider a few things as we approach discovering the answer to this question.

Let’s first address the connection or intimacy dimension of the relationship by considering the order of priorities in a relationship. A proper order of relationship would be God, family (spouse & children), Church, others, and then self. When this order of priority is mixed up, or missing components, harmony cannot be maintained in the relationship or home. Many couples suffer from a lack of connection time due to the complicated schedules they attempt to maintain. There are some important points to keep in mind when it comes to maintaining connection in a marriage.

First, boundaries must be clearly established & consistently maintained. (This is especially important with children in the home.) Such boundaries would include preserving the bedroom by not having children sleeping in the parent’s bed, or even in the parent’s bedroom. For newborns, it is OK to allow a cradle until the parents have determined normal patterns for the child, however, the crib should be removed as soon as possible. When parents begin to allow children to sleep in their bed, or remain in their bedroom, it can often create long term issues for the couple. Both parents must be on the same page here because children need consistency and can quickly learn to play one parent against another. Understand that this is necessary to preserve your privacy & prevent a loss of intimacy or even sexual connection in the relationship.

Second, find a time that the two of you can read Scripture together. I’m not talking about a long time here, just a chapter a day & time to pray with one another. This is a must! It will not cost anything for you to do this, however, it may cost everything if you do not. I can testify personally to the difficulties of schedules & making time for Bible reading & prayer together… let’s face it, our enemy loves to create a sense of separation. If he can separate your from the Scripture, he has removed the only source for strengthening your faith. As a couple, when you spend time together reading & praying, you are sharing an intimate moment of connection which also helps you to grow spiritually. By doing this, you not only share time together, affirming that you share faith & values, but you also grow closer to the Lord. This is a win-win. Rita & I share our Scripture reading time first thing in the morning and I can say that it truly helps us to share a sense of connection, even though we are apart from one another throughout the day.

Third, do your best to create a dating interaction with your spouse. If possible, establish a date night for you & your spouse to have exclusively for the two of you. For the purpose of clarification, a date night would not include taking your children with you to Applebees or McDonalds. This date night should be consistent each week if at all possible, and it should be communicated to the children that Dad & Mom are on a date… big people only. Obviously, budgetary constraints and schedules don’t always allow for weekly date nights, so what do you do when you can’t afford such a night out? Carve out moments that are exclusive to you & your spouse… get creative, this does not require a great deal of money. My wife & I love to drive through DQ & get an ice cream, then drive to the lake & sit together watching the ducks. You’ll be surprised what even a few moments can do to energize & refresh your relationship.

Fourth, learn to flirt. Do you remember writing the name of your boyfriend or girlfriend on your notebook? Take the time to write a small note & leave it in their car, or in their shoes. Hide little notes in places only they will find that will make them smile. Give them reason to think of you during the day, when you are apart from one another. What a wonderful thing to leave a little love note, text message, email or voicemail for something other than the utility bill needing paid. Small efforts in this area will pay large dividends in maintaining connection because they show that you are thinking about your spouse throughout your hectic day. Show them that they make you smile, and tell them that you still appreciate them as your ‘steady’.

Fifth, begin each day with an affirmation of your love & commitment to one another. Many couples suffer for lack of verbally communicating their love for one another. The result of a lack of verbal affirmation is the potential of feeling taken for granted. Ladies don’t need a poet, but they appreciate being recognized and affirmed. In turn, it become easier for them to show affirmation to their husbands, which is interpreted as respect by men. Think about it… five little words can change the dynamic of your home… “Thank you” and “I love you”. in addition, upon seeing each other again for the first time later in the evening or day, employ the 4 minute rule. Don’t discuss negative events or how busy your day has been… for the first 4 minutes together, simply affirm your love. Now, affirmation is not just in a verbal form… back up your words with action.

Sixth, show your love in a tangible manner. Ephesians refers to the husband loving his wife as his own body… an aspect of the ‘one flesh’ relationship. What task can you do for your spouse which would make things easier on them, or prevent them from doing a task that they truly detest? What special expression can be used to convey to your spouse that you are thinking of them? Household management is an effort which requires both partners, and there are few household tasks singularly assigned.

Lastly, do not be afraid to be affectionate. Some couples do not require, or even particularly enjoy physical touch, however, this is typically a small number. Holding hands, hugs and even kisses are appropriate expressions of affection and I submit that they are healthy components to any marriage. Children need to see that daddy loves mommy, and this will create a sense of security for them. When my son was a little guy, he would try to squeeze in between Rita & I when I hugged her and would always say ‘my mommy’, but I not only continued to hug his mommy, but I also reaffirmed him as well. Maybe a hug or hand holding is not essential, but there is nothing wrong with opening a door, holding a chair or other ways of physically expressing love.

Now, to the sexual dimension of the question. It should be noted that the physical appetite of couples vary, so, I’ll be speaking in general terms, since situations vary from couple to couple.

The best way to answer this question is to simply encourage you & your spouse to engage in an open conversation about your sexual needs. Each couple needs to become comfortable enough (intimate enough) in their relationship to approach the topic maturely and openly. Building such open communication will strengthen your marriage relationship, and will create greater confidence in your partner. Let’s be honest here… the first few conversations may be awkward, and you may have a sense of vulnerability, however, not communicating about this significant area in your relationship will only cause distance and a lack of security in your marriage. You may find that there are few differences in your needs, and open communication will allow you to recognize those areas of common ground, and the areas which differ. You shouldn’t be embarrassed about the conversation, because you & your partner have the common goal of pleasing one another.

When approaching this topic with your spouse, it is best to keep the following communications skills or techniques in mind:
1. Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements in your conversation. This allows you to focus on your feelings, thoughts and desires, rather than appearing to be condemning your partner. For example, “I feel taken for granted when this occurs.” is much better than “You take me for granted.” These statements must be specific, rather than general, and non-condemning.

2. Employ reflective listening. As we have already discovered, men & women approach topics differently. Thus, the potential for confusion or misunderstanding is great. To avoid, or reduce misunderstanding, you can use reflective listening skills. An example would be “If I understand what you’re saying, you like it when I do this ______________. Am I correct in understanding you this way?” By using this skill, your partner can confirm, clarify or restate their point which will increase understanding between you.

3. Create an environment which is private and conducive to having this conversation. Talking about it over the phone, via email, with children in the room or in a public environment would not be a good idea. Keep in mind, especially for ladies, privacy is essential in creating a sense of security in your relationship. Talking about this area with others outside of the marriage may only further complicate things… privacy creates a sense of trust & security.

4. Be honest. Nothing good can be achieved if one or both of you is not honest in their expectations.

5. Set goals. Just because you communicate openly on the topic, and understand one another’s needs, does not mean that everything will automatically be just perfect. Sometimes these conversations can seem a little overwhelming, and it helps to set small goals which can be tracked for achievement, then create a new goal to work toward.

6. Set aside a specific time for you & your spouse. Again, the frequency of sexual activity will vary from couple to couple and is influenced by numerous factors. My point here is to talk about this openly & prioritize a time for physical intimacy.

The area of physical intimacy in your relationship is very significant and should not be ignored, nor should it be inhibited by other areas of your life. If you are experiencing difficulty in talking about this with your spouse, or in finding common ground as a couple, I would welcome meeting with you to counsel you in strengthening your relationship. Please know that any such counseling is confidential and designed to help build your marriage up.

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