Married Sex: Beyond a Sanctified Hook-Up

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Sex and the Great Commission
Several years ago, I shared with a friend the vision of Authentic Intimacy. My friend listened patiently and then shared her honest opinion, “Why is it important to help people have better sex lives? Shouldn’t we be spending our time feeding the poor and sharing the gospel instead?” That same friend is now an avid supporter of this ministry. What changed?  Sexuality has historically received very little attention from Christians. In the wake of the sexual revolution, youth pastors and parents crafted purity messages, hoping to incentivize teenagers to save sex for marriage. This generation is now reaping the fallout of silence and simplistic approaches to the complexity of human sexuality.  You may think that sexuality is a peripheral topic, delegated to specialized ministries and counselors. In this blog, I hope to convince you that reclaiming biblical sexuality in western culture is now absolutely essential to accomplishing the Great Commission .  The core of Jesus’ commission to His disciples is two-fold: make disciples, baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (evangelism) and then teach them to obey everything I have commanded (discipleship). Individuals and ministries that are ill-equipped to enter the space of sexuality will be hamstrung in their efforts to both evangelize and disciple.   Sexuality and The Gospel I had just finished speaking at a conference in St. Louis and was exhausted. My coworker, Kristi, and I stopped at a local coffee shop to kill a few hours before our flight home. As we worked on our laptops, we could not help overhearing a very intense conversation in the booth behind us. A young woman was meeting with a mentor, sharing agonizing details about how her marriage was failing apart because of sex. After about thirty minutes, the older woman left and the young woman sat alone, still obviously emotionally hurting.  I looked at Kristi and we both knew this was a “divine appointment.” I approached the young woman and said that I couldn’t help but overhear her conversation. I briefly explained that I run a ministry helping people navigate sexual issues and asked if there was any way I could encourage her. She ended up joining us in our booth, gave us a brief rundown of her situation and finally asked the question that was on her mind. “Will I go to hell if I divorce my husband and marry a woman?”  This woman was not primarily asking a sexual or marriage question. As a lapsed Catholic, her agony was spiritual. How could she navigate her sex life in a way that wouldn’t destroy her relationship with God?  In this generation, sexuality represents one of the most pressing issues standing between people and God. Daily, we see teens and young adults walking away from the faith of their childhood over questions about sex.  Does God love trans people?  Where was God when my uncle sexually abused me?  How can I trust God when the church is filled with hypocrites and predators?  Why would a loving God give me desires that I can’t act on?  Is God a misogynist, telling women to essentially be sexual slaves for their husbands?  History has proven that Christian doctrine is robust enough to entertain every question of the human heart—even our sexual questions. However, the Church is woefully ill equipped, falling back on quoting verses without a compelling explanation of God’s heart for human sexuality. Evangelists and apologists regularly remind me that if we can’t engage sexual questions, seekers want nothing to do with Chrisianity. In his exposition of John 4, John Piper  explained that Jesus knew that “the quickest way to the heart  is through a wound.” To reach the woman at the well, Jesus had to identify the source of her thirst. In the same way, we must be ready and equipped to enter into the sexual wounds and questions as we share the Living Water with a lonely and thirsty world.  To be frank, many have experienced the Christian church as a source of deeper sexual wounding rather than a place of healing. The shame, silence and hypocrisy (not to mention the atrocities of clergy abuse) has pushed people further from the mercy of God. This will only change as God’s people intentionally push past long-held traditions and humbly step into the hurt with the hope of Jesus Christ.    Sexuality and Discipleship Jesus did not call us to make converts, but disciples. Christian discipleship means the whole-hearted pursuit of stewarding our lives under the sovereignty and Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Following Jesus goes way beyond our actions. We are new creations in Christ Jesus, set apart and called to be transformed in our thinking and desires. There is perhaps no arena in which discipleship is more necessary today than sexuality.  God created us as sexual people. He is the One who invented sexual desire, reproductive organs, and the pleasureable brain chemicals involved in sex. Although you may blush reading this sentence, can we agree that God created the orgasm? God is also deeply aware of how painful and destructive our earthly experience of sexuality can become. Yet, most Christians act as if they must manage their sexuality on their own, never thinking to integrate biblical truths in this area of their lives.  As a result,  the majority of committed Christ-followers (including Christian leaders) have no idea how to steward their sexuality. They have real-world complex questions like: Is masturbation a sin?  How do I stop looking at pornography?  Should I get a divorce if my spouse had an affair?  What is the purpose of my sexual desire as a single Christian?  Would God allow me to attend my son’s gay wedding?   How do I deal with the impact of past sexual trauma on my marriage?  If my wife never has sex with me, do I have grounds for divorce?  Do I call my niece by her requested male name and pronouns? Are sex toys OK within a Christian marriage?  I promise you that every one of these questions (and many more) are top of mind for the men and women (young and old) to whom you minister.  The good news is that you can be equipped to engage in sexual conversations! In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul instructed the early church on how to be unified and equipped to do the work of God. He reminded them that God had granted the members of His Body spiritual gifts for the purpose of unity and spiritual maturity. As each part does its work, we will no longer be like spiritual infants, tossed around by the thinking of our culture. This is not the work of a single ministry; it is our work together.  Jesus did not leave us alone to figure out how to accomplish the Great Commission. As with the first disciples, He promises “I will be with you always!” The Father has given us the Holy Spirit who will lead us into all truth, giving us everything we need right here, right now.      If you would like to learn more about sex and the great commission and how to address tough questions like the ones mentioned in this blog, consider becoming a member of Sexual Discipleship today!  
Why I Went to a Marriage Intensive
In November, I took my first sabbatical since starting Authentic Intimacy in 2012. What a gift! The sabbatical was for rest and refreshment but also for personal reflection. For the past year, Mike and I have tossed around the idea of going through a marriage intensive. Sabbatical seemed the ideal time to do this. So, we headed out to Colorado to meet with a counselor for three hours a day for a week. The counseling lived up to the name - it was intense! Perhaps like you, I’ve been discouraged and saddened by the many examples of Christian leaders falling away from faith and leading double lives. It’s natural to assume that what happened to them could never happen to me. That’s simply naive. Mike and I have taken the warning seriously. In this blog, I want to candidly share with you why Mike and I took this step of going for intensive counseling. No, we are not currently in a marriage crisis. But we also recognize that pride (even of a good marriage or sound mental health) often goes before a fall.  Transparency and Accountability The day our intensive began, I joked with a friend that I was ready to “go under the knife.” Any form of counseling requires that you place trust in the person and the process. Since I knew our counselor, I was ready to trust. I wasn’t there to critique him or to out-therapize my husband (which were both real temptations). Had I done so, we would have wasted time and money. I was there to place myself and our marriage before the kind and searching eyes of God through the Holy Spirit. My spirit needed to be humble, ready to receive whatever the Lord might reveal.  Because I teach about marriage, sexuality, and intimacy, sometimes I believe I shouldn’t have the same struggles as other people. This is one of Satan’s greatest weapons. Paul knew this when he warned Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely” and when he wrote to the Corinthians, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed, because he is ready to fall.”  When I personally struggle, the weight can feel enormous because I think I should have it all together. When my kids make mistakes or my husband and I argue, the enemy screams lies about how I’m disappointing God and people. Sometimes, it makes me want to quit. More often, I want to hide behind my computer and the excuse that I’m an introvert.  Mature Christians, including leaders, fall because they are isolated and lonely. They don’t think it’s safe to let anyone in to know their secrets. We went to a marriage intensive partly to demolish this potential barrier.  We need “eyes” on our lives and marriages. There can be no hidden compartments of pain and shame. Through counseling, I was reminded of the pattern I can fall into of being the “therapist” or teacher even in my close friendships. While this can seem altruistic, it actually keeps me from intimate friendship and accountability.  Addressing Unresolvable Conflicts Over the past decade, Mike and I have learned some great conflict resolution skills that have dramatically changed how we address our disagreements. We are far less likely to yell, stonewall, or blame each other. Even so, there have been some underlying conflicts that come up all the time. Whenever we try to address them, we seem to get nowhere. No matter how much we listen, validate, and strain to understand each other, we end up talking in circles. Have you ever felt that way?  Our hope was that through the marriage intensive, we would be able to navigate these specific issues. We wrote them down and shared them with Pete, our counselor, on the first day. Rather than simply play the referee (“Mike is right about this one” or “You should listen to Juli about that”), Pete helped us see why we both dig in on these issues. This gave us more empathy for each other’s “triggers” and a greater awareness of how what happens between us can tap into fears and pride in our own hearts.  Discovering Fault Lines Marriage is made up of two people. Marriage is not a thing you can “fix.” It is a dynamic that flows from the hearts of both individuals. In order to “work” on your marriage or any relationship, you have to be willing to look at the fault lines in your own heart.  Although Mike was with me every minute of our marriage intensive, there were chunks of time in which the Lord did surgery individually on each of our hearts. We were both challenged to see how Satan uses early experiences and pain to keep us from true freedom in Christ. Yes, I “knew” how my childhood has formed my personality, strengths, and weaknesses. I even wrote papers on this in my graduate training. But God led me to a deeper “knowing” and a richer healing.  It's always a challenge to connect my head and my heart. My eyes can be stubborn to let go of tears. The joys and grief my brain acknowledges can show up in a blog without ever being felt deeply in my heart. Through the intensive, I was reminded that God wants me to love Him first and foremost with my heart. Understanding God’s love and walking in it are two different things.  I have no illusion that taking a sabbatical or going to a marriage retreat will inoculate me from failure and future spiritual struggles. The Christian life is not a one-and-done decision to love God. Even though my soul is sealed with the Lord, I still need to “work out” that salvation every day.  What the Lord showed me during my sabbatical can quickly be forgotten in the busyness of jumping back into ministry and routine. I don’t want that to happen! I want my heart to be tender, my relationships to be authentic, and my love for God to be a fire that can’t be extinguished. That can only happen through a daily decision to engage in regular “mini sabbaticals” and intensives. Search my heart, O Lord.  Regardless of whether you are in some form of spiritual leadership, remember that your faith will consistently be under attack. Sometimes, the enemy strikes through crisis, but more often through complacency.  I’m not sure what it looks like for you in 2021 to “work out your faith with fear and trembling.” Maybe you will choose to see a counselor or be able to take a sabbatical. These are wonderful tools, but they only “work” in as much as they bring us back to the feet of Jesus. Regardless of the tools, practices, or rhythms you may choose, your most important choice is to spend time at His feet, worshipping, loving, confessing, and receiving.