A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Six)

I’d strongly suggest starting at Part 1, it’s probably worth it. We’re diving into “The Talk,” in chapter 8. It’s maybe the talk we should have gotten, but most of us didn’t, and even if we did, most of us didn’t listen.

Sex isn’t just physical. Sex in more than just physical. Way more.” (132) Many of us might feel the truth in this statement, but often don’t act that way. Society doesn’t tell us this either: hook-up culture is rampant. If you’re being safe and it’s consensual, enjoy. Satisfy those physical urges, right? But sex is more because you are more. You are way more than a body. Think this isn’t true? “If sex is just physical, then once any physical damage was healed, that would be the end of it. Granted, there may be some residual trust issues to work through. But every pastor, counselor, and victim knows the flood of emotions associated with sexual abuse goes way beyond trust issues.” (133) Andy Stanley walks through several more examples, including rape, to help highlight the fact that sex goes way beyond the physical.

He then looks at the connection between sexual addiction and alienation from fathers. Having talked to dozens of men with these issues, something else was revealed: “The men I’ve talked to would be quick to tell you their sexuality and their sexual struggles are not just physical. Something other than their male appetite for sex was driving their self-destructive behavior. Many of these men had given up on actual sex.” (136) Consider this, if sex is “just sex,” why the sense of betrayal when someone in a marriage has sex with someone outside a marriage? Why is that one of the deepest cuts you can make to the trust in your relationship? Or why do people care about the sexual history of the person you date? It comes down to our desire for intimacy. “You may find this difficult to believe, but you have an appetite for intimacy… knowing fully and being fully known… There’s a significant and mysterious connection between one’s sexual experience and one’s capacity to experience relational intimacy.” (138)

What does this mean? It means the sexual choices you make now will influence your marriage later. It means that what we do now has an impact on what we can experience later. Pretending something isn’t true (like intimacy being important doesn’t help you, it sets you up for disappointment. “The heartbreaking consequence of our sexually liberated culture is that single men and women are undermining their own potential for sexual fulfillment later in life.” (141) The more partners you have, the more your experience of sexual intimacy decreases. This is the outcome of separating sex from the significance it has to us beyond the physical.

“What is touted as safe for the body is dangerous for the soul. While your body is designed with the capacity to successfully accommodate multiple sex partners with no apparent consequences, you are not.” (143) And this isn’t just your history; it’s the history that will impact and influence your future partner for life. While we can certainly alter our path now, it is worth noting the difference between forgiveness and consequences. The past doesn’t necessarily remain the past: you bring into your bedroom memories, guilt, comparison (or the fear of it), etc. This isn’t saying that you shouldn’t be with anyone who has a sexual past. It IS saying that you should understand what that was and what repercussions it may have.

“Over 30 percent of the couples that come to us for premarital counseling are already living together. Of the remaining 70 percent, most are already involved sexually. You might assume couples who are living and sleeping together have worked through the sexual challenges created by their sexual histories. Not so.” (144) Why? This goes back to the earlier chapters that mention that adding sex to a relationship stunts the ability to build healthy relationships. Andy Stanley requires those going through premarital counseling to cease sexual activity before marriage, and they have those living together make separate living arrangements as well. Why? Taking sex out of the equation makes talking about issues easier. “Those who comply thank us later. And only 7 percent call off the wedding.” (145) He gives other examples for why this no sex before marriage is a good idea, but I think that the gist of it is pretty clear. Working to preserve your purity now makes a path for deeper intimacy in the future.

You might think abstaining from sex outside of marriage is only for teens. It’s not meant for newly single adults, right? Or maybe you think that if the damage is done, is it really worth stopping at this point? Ask yourself this: “Has sex as a single… made your life better or more complicated? If God is a heavenly Father who loves you and wants the best for you… and he knows sex apart from marriage will complicate your life… what would you expect him to say about it?” (148) The thing is, each time we sexually engage with a person and then it ends, we end up hardening our heart a little more. Insulating ourselves a little more (the opposite of intimacy). We lie to ourselves, we say it was meaningless, that we’re over it. This is true of all of us, if we really look at ourselves. If we look at our choices and the effects it has. If we look at how we relate to people.

“All regret is difficult to live with. Sexual regret may be the most difficult. So we lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves we haven’t done anything wrong. It was his fault. Her fault. You were young. You were drunk. All of which may be true. But you’re still guilty. Nobody wants to feel guilty. So we create narratives we can live with and move on. Or attempt to.” (150) When we acknowledge this (some might call it sin), things shift. When we change our path from sexual encounters to preservation for marriage (let’s call this an act of repentance), things break free. You move towards a healthy understanding of sex and intimacy in relationships. It’s how you engage in that process we’ve been calling becoming.

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Sharing: Were You There When They Crucified my Lord?

Warning: The content below contains graphic images. “Were you There” is a notorious hymn sung throughout Christian churches during Holy Week. The lyrics repeat a series of questions, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Were you there when they laid him in the […]

via Were You There When They Crucified My Lord? — Daily Theology

Prayer for Steadfastness

Abba, Father, Creator of all that has been and will be, how great and holy are You? I praise You that in the midst of all creation, You pursue so faithfully a relationship with us, Lord. You are all good and Your Kingdom is a Kingdom filled to the brim with the fruit of that goodness; our separateness is the fruit of our disobedience, not proof of your faithlessness. I pray you help me and my community to become more of a reflection of You, and that we bear fruit as you would have us do. You answer my prayers over and over again, Abba, and You provide for me in all ways and I give thanks for it. When disbelief in this creeps in, I pray you protect me from it. Remind me of Your steadfastness so that I can be more steadfast in my love to You. Help me to receive, Abba. Amen.

I Am Transforming

Things I did this week that the old me would not have done:

 

  1. I asked my Father to pray daily for my (future) husband
  2. I spoke to my Mother about wanting her wisdom (with a preference towards loving delivery) and that I would not respond the way I used to in the past
  3. I am taking steps of faith that only other people of faith seem to understand; and their support in the courage this requires of me is invaluable
     I could list a lot of the ways I have failed in the past few weeks too. I’ve really been beating myself up internally over it but I’ve moved through that space now. I was reminded, through the Bible, I am transforming. I am being changed. There are people who will not see it, or will not understand it, or will not like it. But this is the work of God.
     While the Spirit is something I received, I also have to choose to hear the Spirit and respond to it again and again. I have to change what was a lifetime of bad habits and sixteen years of denying God and replacing that guidance, that Kingship, with other things. Things like the American Dream, money, vacations, retirement, bitterness, anger, resentment, entitlement, recognition, etc. All these things I have to give up. Sacrifice. But is it a sacrifice when in return for offering all this up, I receive my God as my King? A Father who sacrifices for me?
     In I Corinthians 6:15-18 it says, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take Christ’s members and make them the members of a prostitute? Of course not! [Or] do you not know that anyone who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For “the two,” it says, “will become one flesh.” But whoever is joined with the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Avoid immorality.”
     What does this say to me? Of course I could not fathom doing anything to damage the body of Christ and yet what do I do to myself? How do I treat others? I am a member of the body of Christ, and Christ a member of my body. So I should treat myself as I would treat the body of Christ and aspire to treat all those around me similarly. Which is why I pray a lot.
     I give thanks to God, always. I praise God. I pray for the people in my life. But then I pray for God to transform me even more. To make me over more into the image of my Maker. When I first started praying I wondered if my prayers were selfish but now I understand that the majority of my prayers focus on how I treat others. On how I impact the Kingdom. So I don’t think it a very selfish prayer after all. I want to see people the way God sees people and love them the way God loves them.
     I also repent. A lot. But this isn’t the self-loathing repentance you hear about or anything like that. I’m taking where I know I fell short to God and asking God to work with me in that area. And saying I’m definitely going to work on it too. I have a lifetime of transforming ahead of me.

“The Holy Longing”: Part II (A Few Insights I Loved)

One of the things that I found particularly insightful was “The Essentials of Christian Spirituality-The Four Nonnegotiable Pillars of the Spiritual Life.” Great fulfillment comes from filling all of these functions and it’s because we were designed to do them. “…Jesus prescribed four things as an essential praxis for a healthy spiritual life: a) Private Prayer and private morality; b) social justice; c) mellowness of heart and spirit; and d) community as a constitutive element of true worship.” (Rolheiser, 53) Without the growth and development of all of these elements within my life I would not have the foundation or the relationship with God that I do now. I realize that these four branches were all working together powerfully to both deepen my faith and bear fruit.

The second insightful section I liked was about The Word being made flesh. “God takes on the flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink becomes a sacrament.” (Rolheiser, 78) I recently began reading the Old Testament and within it you see God sometimes speak in plural. Since the Word became flesh which was Jesus and it says that the Word was with God in the beginning, did Jesus from the start know of His sacrifice? Within the Old Testament I also see the foreshadowing of Christ and his death, even as Abraham tells his son that God will provide the lamb. This section definitely gave me a lot to consider.

The third insight I felt really resonated with me was the reconciliation and forgiveness of sins. “We have our sins forgiven by being in community with each other, at table with each other… we will never go to hell as long as we are touching the community-touching it with sincerity and modicum of contrition.” (Rolheiser, 87-88) I feel like there is greater effectiveness in communal repentance than perhaps going to an individual at a church, although he does speak to the value of that later. My community knows me. They know how to love me, encourage me, challenge me and chastise me. I must make myself be vulnerable and confess, but wanting to change my ways for my community is a big motivation. Their ability to see what is and isn’t effective in modifying my behavior also helps. I see a lot of value in this.

When I consider his book and how we can apply it to leadership, one excerpt I particularly like is from a man who thought his issues weren’t that bad. “As best as I can put it, now that I go regularly to Alcoholics and Sexual Anonymous meetings, is that I see in colors again. Before that, I wasn’t a bad person, but I was always so taken up with my own needs and yearnings that… I wasn’t really seeing what was in front of me.” (Rolheiser, 230) There is value to what God asks us. Of course in this example it is some of the more obvious cases like avoiding drunkenness and sexual immorality. But the guidelines Jesus gives us to follow are fruitful not just for others; they bear fruit for us as well. Additionally, I learn that we might be better leaders if we were more like the Father in Rembrandt’s Father of the Prodigal Son. In that painting, Rembrandt portrayed the Father as blind. “The implication is obvious, God sees with the heart.” (Rolheiser, 240). When I consider the best leaders I know, this is what I see: people with a compassionate heart who teach others instead of mock, who forgive quickly, love fully and give generously. The greatest leaders are the ones who are vulnerable, make themselves accessible and are humble even as they come in to save us. Those are Christ-like qualities and those are also things this book describes excellently.

God Asks for Obedience

1 John 2:3 “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”

God expects obedience in His followers. In fact we see in the Bible that to show our love to God is to obey Him and keep His commandments. This is not how we “earn” our way to heaven. We cannot do that because we all fall short and any sin is too much sin in the presence of a perfect God. The sin of gossip is just as heavy as cheating or any other biblical sin; we in America like to try to rate sin and say these are okay and these aren’t. The truth is we are all guilty and they are all bad and cause us all to fall short. Jesus and repentance closed that gap for us.

Mark 1:15  “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

We repent, believe, obey, and continue in this cycle to try to keep his commandments because it is our way of showing God we love Him and want to abide in Him. It is showing we acknowledge His place and ours.

Romans 6:4 “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Baptism is the action being born again (which I’ll write about at some other point but John 3 is a great resource); of dying to ourselves. We commit ourselves to our belief, receive the Spirit and begin to be transformed. The more we “die” to ourselves and dedicate ourselves to God, the more joy and freedom we discover.

Proverbs 3:6 “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

My path has been clearer, my heart lighter, my life more joyful and my struggle less the more I submit to God. Is it easy? NO. I feel constantly challenged but I also have a faith that provides this indescribable buoyancy in moments that would have once sunk me. Times like friends being diagnosed with serious diseases, deaths in the family, my imminent job loss in the next couple years when I realized God didn’t want me to move for money, or even ending an almost eight year relationship knowing I’d never get to see his kids again. My heart broke and I pray often for him and his children. But we all had to make hard choices.

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

No, of course it isn’t easy. But this journey was definitely worth it. I lost some close relationships in the beginning (drinking buddies, anti-Christians, etc.) because I stopped doing what made me “feel good” in the moment and started trying to act in obedience to God and the Scripture while continuing to try to be authentic about who I was and what I was struggling with at the time. Later I realized that as a Christian I needed to spread what I was so grateful to have received, the Gospel, to others with grace and love to my community through compassionate ministry. I’ve downsized, I’ve pursued educational opportunities not just in books but in service (words and action).

I fail over and over again every day but I am not disheartened or ashamed or saddened.  I know where I come from and I know in what ways I have been and continue to be restored. I see where my growth in obedience is and I know that this, along with my prayers, is how I let God know I am moving towards Him.