For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Physical Intimacy. What Does God Say? Introduction

A Starting Point

We live in an information age. The amount of information at our fingertips is amazing and overwhelming. When we want to know something, a simple Google search yields thousands of results and we scan through the hit list looking for what we want. It can be a real blessing! At the same time, it can be confusing, because there are so many different opinions and voices giving advice that it can be difficult to know what is true. In addition, we have a tendency to listen to "experts" that confirm our ideas and tune out those that contradict our thinking. With thousands of opinions to choose from, it is easy to find people who agree with what we think or find rationalisations for what we want to do. It is a sometimes dangerous mix.

When it comes to sex and relationships, there is no shortage of messages and experts giving advice. In general, our movies and entertainment glorify sex and see it as a wonderful thing for consenting adults. Our grandparents and great-grandparents probably thought that sex was reserved for marriage.  We, filled with desire, seek release and wisdom. Where do we turn? Who is speaking the truth? Are we looking for truth or a rationale to do what we want?

These are important questions and I hope to provide point in a direction that you will follow to sort through them.

There is Wisdom to be Found if We Look

God has spoken and he has given us everything we need to live a happy and fulfilled life in relationship with him. It is my contention that the Bible is God's inerrant Word and it will give us all of the wisdom we need in this area of our lives. This wisdom goes deeper than a list of commands or rules. Instead, it deals with our desires and the depths of our longings and provides loving guidelines regarding sexuality. Because He is the all-knowing God, his wisdom is perfect and right and good. Because he is loving, his guidance always has our best interests in mind.To ignore what he says is to claim to be wiser or smarter than God!

God's wisdom is found in the Bible. We owe it to ourselves to carefully study what the Bible says. As we study, we need to be constantly aware of what we are dealing with: God's Word. It is deigned to renew our thinking. It will challenge us and sometimes seem contrary to the culture around us. So as we approach our study, we must be certain that we realise that God is all-knowing and loving. Obedience to what he says is always the best path regardless of how difficult it may seem.

Over the next several weeks I am going to write about sex and relationships with the intent of spelling out what the Bible teaches. Consider me to be a helpful guide, but the real important work should be done by you. That's why I have included a list of the primary passages that deal with sex and relationships along with a list of definitions of the common biblical words. It is important for you to become familiar with them. Do your own study!

Why do I say this?
Our minds learn things from our environment. Our opinions
and values are shaped by the things that we focus on. We need
to consciously decide to listen to God and allow him to transform
our thinking. That's what it means to not be conformed to the
pattern of this world. See Romans 12:1-2.

Because there are many voices that are clamouring for your attention. You need to discover for yourself what God says. He is the wisest and most loving counsellor you will ever have!

I will warn you that much of what the Bible says goes against our culture and currently fashionable thinking. It is important for you to realise that this has almost always been the case. The dismissal of what it teaches has been going on for centuries because people would rather do what they think is best. This usually involves rejecting the wisdom of God. In effect, they claim to be wiser than God. Frequently this is placed in terms like, "society has evolved" and "God wants you to be happy". Sound familiar? This desire to jettison or adapt what the Bible says to make it more agreeable to our way of thinking has been around a long, long time.

This thinking has also influenced many churches. Wanting to make God "acceptable" to a "modern and sophisticated" audience, they cast off any part of the Bible that doesn't fit with current cultural trends. It is popular. "God is love" becomes the mantra and the rationale behind rejecting his wisdom. It is a human-centered way of thinking rather than God-focused. In other words, it is a way of thinking says that our human ideas are smarter than God's ideas.

Because this thinking has infected some churches, it important to study the Bible for yourself. You may find it to be odd at first because it is different than what world around you has taught you. It may be different than what you heard a religious leader say. Keep at the study. There were come a "eureka!" moment when the beauty of God's design and purposes take your breath away.

The Bible has always been counter-cultural. It is powerful. It's wisdom will inform and transform our lives and as a result our culture. So carefully study the Bible for yourself. Listen to what God has to say.

I'll share with you the fruit of my study, but I encourage you to look up each passage I mention. Look at the study page and dig into the Bible for yourself!

God Has a Plan

Let's begin by debunking a myth: God is not against pleasure. Often people think that God "doesn't want us to have any fun". Nothing could be farther from the truth. He thought up tastebuds and strawberries. Our world could be black and white, but God invented the colours of the rainbow. He invented sex. It was his idea!

In the opening chapter of the book of Genesis, we read that God created mankind male and female. Created in the image of God, Adam and Eve were made for each other. He blessed them and he told them to have children. Lots of them. "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." That's a lot of kids! Now, if you don't know where babies come from, stop reading this and ask your parents! My point is that holiness and sex are not opposites. Sin was not yet part of the picture and still sex was good. In fact, at the end of the day that created man and woman and told them to be fruitful and multiply God declared that what he had done was not only good, it was very good (Genesis 1:26-31)!

The Bible goes on to say that Eve was made from Adam. She was to be a "helper fit for him." And when Adam saw her he delightedly cried out, "At last! This is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone!" The Lord then tells us "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh." The creation of Adam and Eve serves as the model for God's intention for all of us. Just as Adam and Eve were united by God and became one, so we are to be united to another and become one with them (Genesis 2:18-24). Sexual intercourse is a part of this oneness. More than a biological act, there is a spiritual component to it as well (1 Corinthians 6:16). Adam and Eve enjoyed this relationship. They were "naked and unashamed" (Genesis 2:25). This is the pattern for us: A man and woman united together for life celebrating and experiencing union through their sexual relationship with one another. Sex is not inherently sinful. In the Garden of Eden it was completely without sin.

The Genesis story continues and Adam and Eve disobey God. They break the only command and eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree had been placed there out of love, for the Lord knew that true relationship must be based on choice. For Adam and Eve to have real love  for God, the possibility of rejecting him needed to exist. Unfortunately, they chose rebellion, thus destroying the relationship they had with God and having incredible consequences on their relationship with one another.

Genesis 3:7 tells us that after they ate of the tree "the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths." Their sin impacted their marriage. Where once there was innocence and joy, now guilt and shame dominated the day. The married couple hid themselves from one another. Sin made their relationship complicated and difficult. The Lord tells them that there will be consequences for their sin. Increased pain in childbirth and thorns and thistles will be the result of labor. Just as significant, the relationship between men and women will be difficult. Adam will seek to rule and dominate Eve. Eve will seek to devour Adam. Adam's initial "pre-Eve" desire for companionship remains, but now their relationship...including sex...has been become complicated by sin.

I left out another character in Genesis 3: Satan. Satan sought to destroy the relationships in the Garden of Eden. He hates God. And he hates those who are made in God's image. So he spun web of lies that appeared to make sense to Eve and to Adam. But they didn't get what he promised them. The fruit of listening to Satan rather than God was destruction. It did not make their lives better. Sure, they now knew what the fruit tasted like, but the cost of the that knowledge was devastating to them. Satan's character has not changed: he still seeks to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Neither has God's character: he still seeks that we would have a full and abundant life. Satan still whispers in our ears. Listening to him rather than God still has devastating results.

One of the most common lies that Satan uses is that listening to God regarding our sexuality will result in our "missing out" of something wonderful. Satan will tell us that God does not know best. That God does not what us to enjoy ourselves. That his plan is out-of-date and incompatible with life today. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. God wants us to fully enjoy who he created us to be. When it comes to sex, he knows the best path toward that fulfilment: using and expressing our sexuality the way he intended.

Think God doesn't understand the pleasure to be found in sex? Consider that there is anentire book of the Bible, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that is a celebration of wonder of the physical union of a husband and wife. It is beautiful. It is pure. It is bliss.

Just listen:

You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace. 
How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!
How much better is your love than wine,
and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! 
Your lips drip nectar, my bride; 
honey and milk are under your tongue;
the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon. 
A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
a spring locked, a fountain sealed.
Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates
with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, 
 nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon,
with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes,with all choice spices—
 a garden fountain, a well of living water,
and flowing streams from Lebanon.  
- (Song of Solomon 4:9-15)

How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O noble daughter!
Your rounded thighs are like jewels,
the work of a master hand.
Your navel is a rounded bowl
that never lacks mixed wine.
Your belly is a heap of wheat,
encircled with lilies.
Your two breasts are like two fawns
twins of a gazelle... 
- (Song of Solomon 7:1-3)

So Why Did God Do This?

So is there a reason beyond procreation, union of husband and wife, and pleasure that God created us as sexual beings? Amazingly, the answer to that question is "yes".

Throughout the New Testament we read about what theologians call the "mystical union." Don't be afraid of the word "mystical" here. They use it to refer to something true and experienced, but ultimately indescribable. Perhaps the related word "mysterious" would feel safer to some than the word mystical. We read that Jesus is in us and we are in him (John 17:22-23; 1 Cor 1:30, etc.).

The pure overwhelming love that God designed to experience in marriage is a foretaste and a picture of something greater: our relationship with Him. Paul writes in Ephesians 5 that when he describes the marriage relationship he is also describing the relationship that the Lord has with us. We are the bride of Christ. He designed marriage to be a reflection of the depth of love, devotion and intimacy he desires to have with us. Charles and Joyce Penner, in their wonderful book The Gift of Sex write, "It would seem that the total way in which two people get involved with each other in a sexual experience is a symbol of the way in which we can be intensely involved with God. We are totally open and vulnerable with each other. God would have us give ourselves to him with the same abandonment."

Of course, it is important to underline the word "symbolic" in that quotation because our minds go astray if we view the physical relationship of marriage as a literal representation of our relationship with the Triune God. It does, however, point to the intensity of devotion and the incredible delight and joy that is possible in our relationship with God.

So you can see that the God-designed purpose for our sexuality is glorious. It is to be expressed and delighted in the marriage relationship. It is pleasurable. It produces children. It unites a husband and wife physically, emotionally and spiritually. And it is a reflection of God's intended love-relationship with us. With all of these incredibly good intentions for us, is it no wonder that the Lord tells us what to do and what to avoid in order to experience all that he has for us? Is it any wonder that the enemy would seek to destroy the beauty of God's intention?

We will look at some of things that God says in the coming weeks. But we must always have God's vision for us in mind as we do.

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