Archive for April, 2014

Sex Requires a Physical, Emotional, & Relational Environment

Contrary to the euphoria of how really good sex makes us feel, we do not make love in mid-air. Sex happens in a location; in an environment. We’ll examine three environments that are important to consider for cultivating a healthy sex life: (1) physical environment, (2) emotional environment, and (3) relational environment.

Physical Environment

First, a couple should consider the physical environment in which they make love. What follows is not a prescription, but a list of things that are important to many people; things you should discuss with your spouse to learn how important they are to him/her and consider as you cultivate your expectations and fantasies about marital sex.

  • Privacy – An important part of energetic sex is being comfortable being naked. The fear of being seen by someone else or walked in upon by children can be a strong inhibitor to playful sex. Knowing and honoring how important this is to your spouse is essential to being a good lover.
  • Cleanliness – Sex is messy; body fluids are involved. Having a washcloth available to account for this is important to be able to not rush the afterglow part of sex. Our bodies are not always “fresh;” we get stale (or worse) throughout the day. Being      clean, smelling good, and non-bristly on the face or legs can be an important part of removing environmental distractions from enjoying each other.
  • Comfort – Sex requires bodies to move on their knees, backs, stomachs, and sides. If the environment is not right this can make the movements of sex painful or difficult. Freedom from thinking about these kinds of things is important for the desired release and euphoria of sex. Make sure your love-making environment sets you up to succeed in this way.
  • Ambiance – This is where you can be creative as you continue to learn and romance your spouse. What is arousing for your spouse? Candles. Scents. Clothing. Location. How many things are you aware of that would make a particular sexual encounter “more special” for your spouse? Most of your answers will probably take five minutes or less.

 Emotional Environment

Second, a couple should consider the emotional environment in which they make love. We do not engage a highly personal and emotional activity like sex in an exclusively physical environment. It is not just our bodies that are uniting as we become “one flesh” but also our souls. Sex that does not consider its emotional environment assumes people are not different from animals and sex is just for reproduction or personal fulfillment.

  • Conflict – Romance and conflict are two sides of the same coin; both reveal what is most important to us. For more on this, visit bradhambrick.com/romanticconflict. A couple that can maturely discuss when their “most important things” are in conflict, is greatly aiding (not just protecting) their sex life. A couple that gives into immaturity in these moments is sabotaging their sex life.

“More often, however, the female counterpart to grabbing is needing control. Making love with clothes on can be hampered by always wanting exactly the right time and place (p. 127).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

“You see, what we expressed towards our wives and how we behave towards our wives in the days and hours before we make love is actually far more important than what we do when the clothes come off (p. 58).” C. J. Mahaney in Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God

  • Areas of Neglect – Unkept promises and unfulfilled responsibilities contribute to the sense that sex is merely recreation instead of a celebration. We celebrate hard work towards an outcome that was mutually invested in (i.e., 10 year anniversary). When this mutual hard work is absent or unreliable, then sex becomes about merely the sensations instead of the relationship. The more committed or dependable spouse begins to feel used.
  • Insecurities – The person who should know you better than anyone else is your spouse; this knowing includes both your strengths and weaknesses. This is what is great and awkward about marital sex – the person loving you, knows you. Whether the two of you openly discuss your insecurities, encourage one another, and put these areas into perspective for each other will go a long ways towards determining the quality of your sex life. These conversations are not always thought of as “romantic” but they are vital to romance.

“Arousal is dependent on feeling safe and inviting vulnerability (p. 71).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

  • Personal Challenges – Couples should be intimate when life is going well and when life is hard. There will be seasons when couples abstain from sex to pray for a hard season (I Corinthians 7:5) or because of physical injury. But a couple needs to learn how to effectively care for another emotionally during hard times. This protects the emotional climate of the marriage during these seasons and allows sex to carry the connotation of comfort and support as much as passion and romance.

 Relational Environment

Third, a couple should consider the relational environment in which they make love. Having sex without considering the relational environment is like doing the standing long jump in the Olympics. You can do it, but you’re not going to get as far as you would if you take a running start. The momentum of how you pursue each other in daily life should be the momentum that launches your sex life.

“People are not born romantic. Romance is a combination of skills and attitudes that are learned (p. 153).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

  • Regular Times of Closeness – The neurotransmitter most closely associated with trust and bonding—oxytocin—is triggered in large part by skin-to-skin contact. Holding hands, cuddling, massaging, and other forms of closeness are not just “nice things to do;” they are intensely bonding. A couple who relies exclusively on service, conversation, and sex for this bonding are practicing bad biology and may, therefore, be disappointed in their chemistry (for more see bradhambrick.com/oxytocin).
  • Date Nights – Season of life and finances will influence how frequently a couple “goes on a date,” but a couple should always date one another regularly—setting aside blocks of time devoted to reconnecting and romancing one another. This is why Appendix A in every Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar has ideas for implementing that seminar’s content on a date. Here are a few key qualities of a healthy date life:
    • Both spouses prioritize and protect these times on their schedule.
    • Frequent enough neither spouse wonders “When will our next date be?”
    • Balanced in who plans the date and whose preferences are the focal point of each date.
    • Not a burden to the family budget; don’t stress yourselves with something intended to be romantic.
    • Focused on each other more than the activity or event; talk more than you eat, watch, or do.
    • Cover your city with pleasant memories of your marriage to encourage as you do anything else.
  • Romantic Surprises – The day is absolutely full of opportunities to romance your spouse. If you do not see these opportunities, it can only be because you’re not looking. Your spouse’s phone should be full of affirming text messages he/she can review whenever encouragement is needed. Written notes, screen saver messages, wearing a favorite outfit, smiling for no reason, getting the paper, or anything else that would be “special” to your spouse can be a romantic surprise. Creating and protecting this kind of culture is another overlooked powerful “technique” to enriching a couple’s sex life.
  • Enrichment Trips – This might be a vacation or an overnight stay at a Bed & Breakfast, but the title “enrichment trip” is selected to help you remember the purpose of getting away. A simple, short trip where a couple connects is better for the      marriage than a long, elaborate trip where a couple is merely entertained. When a couple focuses on connecting it helps them enjoy these trips even when finances are tight, and not get distracted from the main point when/if time and finances are more plentiful.

These resources are excerpts from the following seminar:

CREATING A GOSPEL-CENTERED MARRIAGE: INTIMACY
Part One:  Saturday April 26, 2014
Part Two: Saturday May 3, 2014
Time: 4:00 to 5:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free

Tweets of the Week 4.29.14

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

And one because it was funny enough to make my wife LOL…

Sex Begins with Priorities

Sex begins before any touching or kissing occurs. Sex begins before either spouse raises their eyebrows flirtatiously towards the other. Sex begins before either partner feels “interested” or aroused. Sex begins (and too often ends) when a couple intentionally arranges their life to make sure there is time and energy to enjoy one another.

“Passion begins with priorities, not genitals (p. 222).” Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus in Intimate Issues

Too often this marital reality is viewed negatively; as if it is anti-romantic. “Spontaneous sex” is deemed to be the highest and only true expression of “making love.” But this is a standard to which nothing in the courtship phase (usually the phase of relationship viewed most favorable by those with this romantic ideal) was asked to meet.

“Before a couple marries, they scheduled dates… One woman said, ‘I can only see my fiancée on weekends, and all week long I replayed each hug, the moments his arms embraced me, and dreamed of being there again.’ Wasn’t unromantic for this woman to ‘plan’ time with her beloved? Of course not. They’re crazy schedules demanded it. Why then, when we marry, do we think it is unromantic to schedule sexual encounters (p. 211)?… Planning for lovemaking doesn’t mean forcing sex to happen but creating the opportunity for it to happen (p. 212). ” Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus in Intimate Issues

This is not “settling” for a marital reality that is second-best out of logistical necessity. Consider the level of affection and romance involved in a couple actively engaging the following questions.

  • When do my spouse and I have the most energy and focus to enjoy each other sexually?
  • What stressors do we need to manage most faithfully to protect our sexual interest and vitality?
  • What lifestyle habits are most important to each of us feeling like a sexy, desirable person?

Later we will discuss the importance of spontaneity and creativity for a thriving marital sex life, but establishing a lifestyle that can sustain a healthy sex life is the first step. Consider this parallel. It is good to ask, “How can we still allow for freedom to make spontaneous purchases if we have a budget?” But if you do not first create a budget, this question will prevent you from having a life where spontaneous purchases are a blessing instead of a means to financial bondage.

“The truth is that if you don’t plan sex into your schedules and take advantage of optimal times, you will never make love with any frequency (p. 20)!” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

Here are several pointers that are important for couples wanting to make sex a priority:

  • Have realistic expectations for what you can accomplish in your 168 hour week and with your monthly income.
  • Protect time together; not just date nights but at least two evenings a week when you’re “just at home.”
  • Examine the rhythm of your week and month to determine when the “optimal times” for intimacy are.
  • Be willing to say “no” to other people in your life in order to say “yes” to your spouse.
  • If you have children, enforce a bed time that allows you to have marriage time in the evening.

“Sex makes little kids and kids make little sex (p. 69).” Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus in Intimate Issues

These may not sound profound or novel; hopefully they don’t. But they are a vital foundation to a healthy marital sex life. We can and will add icing to the cake later (sprinkles and candles too if you like), but first we need to bake a good cake; otherwise the decorations will collapse and each bite will be less enjoyable because of inferior cake.

“I remember one of my country clients who I could tell was not very impressed with my counseling. After his first session, he looked at me and slowly drawled, ‘Dr. Rosenau, you had told me nothing my mama didn’t tell me.’ And I quickly replied, ‘And if you are doing everything your mama told you, you probably wouldn’t be here.’ (p. 237-238).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

These resources are excerpts from the following seminar:

CREATING A GOSPEL-CENTERED MARRIAGE: INTIMACY
Part One:  Saturday April 26, 2014
Part Two: Saturday May 3, 2014
Time: 4:00 to 5:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free

Initiating and Declining Sex in Marriage Need Not be Awkward or Upsetting

This post is an excerpt from the mentoring manual that accompanies the upcoming “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Intimacy” seminar.

For many married couples initiating sex can be an awkward moment that leads to conflict or hurt feelings. They’re not sure what to say. They fear being rejected. They want sex to be “special” but most of the moments they’re both home together are “normal.” They don’t want to seem demanding. They want their spouse to “just know.” They don’t want to interrupt and their spouse is always doing something else. They’ve tried and been told their attempt was crude or unclear.

This may begin to sound overwhelming, but there are few simple points to keep in mind when initiating sex with your spouse. Taking a few minutes to talk through these with each other can prevent a great deal of awkwardness and hurt feelings over the course of your marriage.

1. Use Mutually Honoring Language or Actions – Do not refer to sex with terminology that is offensive to your spouse. That is a turn-off at the moment you’re striving for a turn-on. Do not grab or grope your spouse in ways that are unappealing to him/her. That makes your touch a threat at a time when you want it to be welcomed.

As a couple, discuss the kind of language that is comfortable and appealing to use when initiating sex. How many ways would the two of you complete the invitation, “Do you want to… have sex… have a date… make a rendezvous… dance… enjoy one another?” If you don’t like these phrases, that’s fine. Their purpose is to break the ice and help you come up with your own (variety is good, as long as it’s mutually agreeable and understood).

2. Be Clear – A lack of clarity in your request is a great way to make initiating sex an uncomfortable experience. Generic questions like, “Are you doing anything right now?” when you’re interested in sex are bad. If you’re spouse says “yes” (which will be most of the time) you’ll hear him/her say “no” to sex and feel rejected. When they finally realize you’re pouting and you finally explain why, an extended time of hurt feelings will have passed; making initiating sex feel like an “emotionally dangerous” thing to do.

One of the benefits of having agreed upon language to initiate sex is that it adds to the clarity of an attempt to initiate. Ambiguous requests are a form of game-playing that expects your spouse to read your mind. They are unfair and are easily avoided with a few minutes of intentional conversation.

3. Invite Don’t Demand – Questions honor; expectations dishonor. “Are you interested in…?” or “Would you like to…?” are much better introductions initiating sex than “Let’s…” or “It’s time to…” Consider the fact that even when God offered you all the pleasures of Heaven, He still invited you to accept it (John 3:16) instead of forcing the invitation upon you (Mark 10:22).

However, if you know your spouse is interested in sex, then a more assertive initiation can be a way to show your enthusiasm. This playfulness rooted in an awareness of your spouse’s desire for you reveals a level of sexual maturity; knowing each other and resting in each other’s acceptance should result in occasions for this kind of confident seduction of one another.

4. Have Realistic Expectations – Don’t let your sexual imagination ignore the realities of your spouse’s life and skillset. Initiating when you know your spouse is exhausted is rarely a loving thing to do. Expecting an eloquent initiation from a “spouse of few words” is unrealistic. While both of you should be willing to sacrifice and stretch yourselves to please the other, love does not make untimely or against-another’s-nature requests.

A responsibility that each of you share is to manage your life so that you are regularly available to your spouse. A blessing each of you should want to provide to your spouse is the willingness to grow in areas that are important to your spouse, but unnatural to you. But these things should be a gift you give each other, not a tax you exact from one another.

5. Be Balanced as a Couple – Both husband and wife should regularly initiate sex. The ratio does not have to be precisely 50-50, but it also shouldn’t be 80-20. Both initiating sex and responding affirmatively to the initiation of the other are unique ways to love each other. You each should be able to bless the other with both responses: pursuing and responding. This maintains a balance in confidence and voice for both of you.

Consider this parallel to initiating sex; worship is the balanced experience of love drawing us towards God and the awe-struck suspense of being allowed into His presence. Both experiences are needed for worship to occur. The more both are present the more intense our worship. Initiating sex carries both of these dynamics; we are drawn by love towards our spouse, yet there is the suspense (e.g., anticipation) of requesting an intimate encounter. The more both are present, the more enjoyable our sexual encounter will be.

“Many Christian women believe that sex is a gift from God, but even so, they can’t give themselves permission to revel in the sensual pleasures of married love. Why? Because in their minds, the words godly and sensuous do not go together. Their definition of a godly woman does not include words like sexual or sensuous, and so in their quest to become godly women, they have denied their sensuousness (p. 13).” Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus in Intimate Issues

However, this begs a second question about initiating sex, “How do we respond if our spouse declines our invitation? How would we lovingly decline our spouse’s invitation? How do we protect these moments from becoming part of a negative cycle in our marriage? If my body belongs to my spouse (I Cor. 7:3-5), is it ever permissible for me to decline my spouse’s invitation to sex?”

“Please don’t use God’s loving guidelines as weapons against each other. Some husbands and wives club their mates with this passage and say things like, ‘If you don’t have sex with me tonight, you are sinning.’ The real sin is theirs because they usually have never taken the time, loving kindness, and energy to make changes needed to appeal to their mates romantically… Remember, making love is about giving—not demanding… On the other hand, are you too fatigued or busy or inhibited to have sexual relations regularly? You two are missing God’s plan for marriage and the enjoyment of one of His avenues for increasing intimacy (p. 5).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

Here are some suggested guidelines for these questions. Resist the urge to consider them “rules.” Instead view them as a conversation starter. As you read through them, discuss with your spouse, “What would this principle sound like in conversation for us?” and “How has / would neglecting this principle negatively affected our marriage?”

  • Only decline for important reasons. The perfect moment doesn’t occur very often; at least not often enough for a satisfying sex life in most marriages. There will be times when you are too tired or have an intense headache, but most often the disruption of declining your spouse’s initiation (e.g., hurt feeling, second guessing yourself, conflict) will be greater than the effort required to engage an enjoyable sexual encounter with your spouse.
  • Resist interpreting a decline as rejection. For some reason we are prone to think “no” means “never” when it comes to sex; we hear “I don’t like you” in “Not tonight.” Part of this is understandable; whenever we are disappointed about an anticipated pleasure it is hard to be objective. But when we do this, we are unfair with our spouse’s intent. We also undermine the future enjoyment of sex by creating conflict over an activity (i.e., sex) that is dependent upon closeness and vulnerability for its enjoyment.
  • Pair a decline with an affirmation. “Honey, I love you and want to be with you, but I wouldn’t be able to participate as fully as we both would like if we tried right now.” This kind of reply has both a direct affirmation (e.g., “I love you and want to be with you”) and an indirect affirmation (e.g., “I want to fully participate”). Even though we are not at our physical or mental best when we would decline, we do not want to be lazy in these conversations by neglecting to pair an affirmation with our words.
  • Pair a decline with another time. “That sounds wonderful, but if you give me 30 minutes I will be much more engaged.” Or, “I would really like to, but what if we got up 30 minutes early in the morning so we’re both rested.” Or, “I like the idea, but the kids are at a friend’s house tomorrow and we could be a bit more expressive with our love in an empty house.” Offering an affirmation and alternative time helps your spouse resist the temptation to interpret your decline as rejection.
  • If you are declining frequently, initiate frequently. If you find that you are frequently declining sex because of how you feel (fatigue or health), become the spouse who initiates sex more often. Find the times that are optimal for you and pursue your spouse. This shows your spouse that you are interested in sex and helps to create a rhythm for intimacy that is more conducive to the rhythm of your shared live.

“The only sexual life a Christian spouse can legitimately enjoy is the romantic life a spouse chooses to provide. This makes manipulation and rejection ever-present spectators in the marital bed. Anything denied physically becomes an absolute denial, because there is no other legitimate outlet (p. 194).” Gary Thomas in Sacred Marriage

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Sex and Sexuality” post which address other facets of this subject.

What Are the Three Most Sensual Organs of the Human Body? Surprising Answers and Practical Implications

How do you feel as we get ready to talk about sex? Nervous, excited, guilty, awkward, self-conscious, aroused, or tired of me asking question and ready to get the conversation started? Surprising to many people, the first step towards a great sex life is the ability to talk about sex. Sex is a “team sport” and communication is essential to anything involving the synchronization of two people’s bodily movements (not to mention schedules and emotions).

For many couples the most beneficial thing they will gain from this chapter and the next will be a conversation guide. Hopefully, the content will be informative and stimulating, but what they really need most-first is a series of positively-framed prompts to have some awkward but exciting conversations they may only try to have when one of them thinks “the moment is right” and the other is not so sure.

But even when there is agreement on the frequency and initiation of sex, communication is paramount to a healthy and thriving sex life. Talking about sex should not just be educational (i.e., learning what your spouse does and does not enjoy), but also arousing (i.e., part of the foreplay and building of a healthy sexual tension between husband and wife which adds to the climax of intercourse).

“Many couples find it uncomfortable to initiate sexual conversations and openly discuss individual needs and desires (p. 16)… Great sex is based on mature lovers who can be honest with themselves and with their mates. They are self-aware and assertively communicate (p. 17).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

Pause for a moment. Do not read the next paragraph before writing your answer to the following question. What are the three sexiest, most stimulating organs of the human body?

  1. ____________________       2. _____________________  3. ____________________

If you grasp the significance of the answers to this question, it will revolutionize how you understand sex. The quality and, probably, the quantity of your sex life will increase dramatically. Your ability to be creative during love making, avoid the ruts of ho-hum routine sex, and ability to build a wholesome anticipation for your spouse will grow.

  1. Your Brain. Without imagination sex becomes one more thrill ride that progressively loses its impact the more you do it. If we wait until the first kiss to think about sex, it probably won’t be that fulfilling. Positive anticipation of sex may be the best “technique” for keeping life in your marital sex life.
  2. Your Skin. When the “touching” and attention in sex is reduced to breasts, butt, penis, and vagina those four notes don’t make a rockin’ sex life; especially for women, whose biological arousal system is not as immediate as men’s. But for both genders the positive sexual tension that is built through taking the time to stimulate through touch is important for a maximally and mutually satisfying climax.
  3. Your Ears. Sex is the celebration of a shared life; not merely a few minutes of cardiovascular recreation. Listening to each other is a huge part of knowing what you’re celebrating through sex. Sex without listening is like throwing a birthday party for a deceased relative. There may be cake and balloons, but you leave with a feeling that something was missing.

We want to approach this chapter like a healthy married sex life; not rushing to the conclusion, allowing time for exploration, but with a few “quickie” points interspersed throughout. That means in these two chapters “getting to the end” is not your objective, but instead your goal is conversation about what you’re reading.

“Many loving couples never talk about sex together. This is sad, because effective communication is at the heart of falling deeper in love in creating a truly passionate marriage. It isn’t easy to create a comfortable sexual vocabulary or develop the ability to dialogue about lovemaking… Lack of sexual communication can be disabling, though… It robs them of the great aphrodisiac because talking is very sexy (p. 86).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

This chapter will flow into the next chapter. In this chapter we will discuss sex from anticipation to non-erogenous touching. In the final chapter we’ll discuss sex from erogenous touching through afterglow. No couple will follow every recommendation in every sexual encounter, but if one of these recommendation is consistently neglected it would negatively impact a couple’s sex life.

These resources are excerpts from the following seminar:

CREATING A GOSPEL-CENTERED MARRIAGE: INTIMACY
Part One:  Saturday April 26, 2014
Part Two: Saturday May 3, 2014
Time: 4:00 to 5:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free

Tweets of the Week 4.22.14

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

Video: 10 Keys to Ensure Caring Is Helping

10 Keys to Ensure Caring is Helping from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

A PDF of the one-page notes for this presentation is available here: 10 Keys to Ensure Caring Is Helping

When we care for one another wisely three things should happen: (a) the person being cared for should be blessed, (b) the love of Christ should become more tangible, and (c) our faith should grow.

Sometimes our attempts of caring can be done unwisely, resulting in unintended consequences: (a) the person being cared for is enabled, (b) the love of Christ is misrepresented, and (c) the care-giver becomes exhausted.

On this page we want to provide principles of wise care-giving to ensure that our small groups are places of wise, Christ-honoring care that mutually bless the recipient and giver of care.

1. Avoid the rescuer mentality. When you begin to bear the weight of responsibility for someone else’s life unwise decisions always follow. Your role is to come alongside an individual or family to do what is within your power to assist them; not rescue them from things outside your control.

2. Do not replace the legal system. If something illegal happens, either to or by the person you are helping, your first responsibility is to report that to the appropriate legal authority. The church is called to submit to and assist with the implementation of the laws of the government over us (Rom. 13:1-7).

3. Know your role within the church. The call to be “all things to all people” (I Cor. 9:22) is given to the church at large and not any one individual or group within a church. Trying to “be the church” rather than effectively play your role within the church will result in personal burnout and people getting hurt.

4. Never do what someone can/should do for themselves. This is the tell-tale sign that assistance is becoming enablement. If a task is hard or confusing, then find a way that helps (i.e., explain, go with, research, encourage, remove obstacles, etc…) without replacing the effort of your friend.

5. Create “halfway” steps. When helping does require doing something for or giving money to your friend, then it is wise to create a clear halfway step to ensure your friend is willing to be a good steward of your kindness. A question to help you find a halfway step is, “What would my friend have to begin to do in order for my kindness not to evaporate in life’s stress?” This principle ensures that your kindness leads your friend to freedom instead of a new, unhealthy dependence upon you or your group.

6. Model a healthy life and relationship. Making exceptions to “healthy” is what gets most people into a crisis. Modeling how to deal with difficult situations without violating the basic principles of “healthy” is often as important as any of the logistical or financial assistance you provide.

7. Know your physical, emotional, and financial limits. Creating a second crisis does not help the first one. Scripture calls us to be generous “as we are able” (Deut. 16:17). When we go beyond this, we model a reactive approach to crises that fails to disciple those we are helping in how to make wise decisions in hard times.

8. Never allow “team splitting” to occur. Talking negatively of one person in order to affirm and get more from another should be directly and immediately confronted as wrong. It is a form of manipulation disguised as a compliment and tries to get one party to do more because another is doing less.

9. Do not allow yourself to be motivated-manipulated by guilt. Guilt is motivational junk food; it gives short boosts of energy followed by long periods of fatigue. When you feel yourself being motivated by guilt (internally or externally) talk with your ministry support person in order to prevent burnout.

10. If you’re not sure, ask your ministry support person. Helping never means having all the answers, or even always knowing the next question to ask. When you feel stuck or trapped in a helping situation, ask for help. This is allowing the church to be the Body of Christ to you as you strive to be part of the Body of Christ for someone else.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on the Church and Counseling” post which address other facets of this subject.

Marital Conversation Starters about Sex

Here are several quotes utilized in the lecture portion of the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Intimacy seminar. Use these and the evaluation tool that follows to cultivate healthy conversations about sex.

“The task you face is not getting rid of all of your expectations, but basing them realistically on biblical principles…. It may seem like strange advice, but the quality of your sex life may depend on turning off the television, picking a good fight, becoming independent of your parents, setting up a budget, or taking regular vacations (p. xi).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

“In the busyness of life, lovers forget to make eye contact when they’re talking—or for that matter, when they are making love. The eyes express so much: acceptance, excitement, a longing to understand, and sexual desire (p. 122)… Every mate who wants to be a passionate lover must practice the discipline of growing up and becoming a confident person (p. 180)… There is nothing sexier than men or women who are comfortable in their own skin and can confidently launch into new adventures in wild and unique ways (p. 181).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

“In order for romance to deepen, you must touch the heart and mind of your wife before you touch her body (p. 28).” C. J. Mahaney in Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God

“To be sexy is to be aware of your body as an instrument of playfulness and delight, to be able to communicate this awareness to your husband and give him the gift of your body for pleasure, delight, variety, and playfulness. We’re going to tell you a secret. It’s better to be sensuous than to have a perfect ‘10’ body. (p. 59)… One of the quickest and best ways to feel good about your body is to have a rewarding sexual relationship with your husband. Good sexual experiences breed high levels of body satisfaction (p. 64).” Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus in Intimate Issues

“Making love needs to be based on an intimate marital partnership. Without the playful, loving companionship, sex becomes another buzz or rush that loses its perspective and has increasingly diminishing returns (p. 8)… You cannot work at creating better lovemaking; you and your mate have to play at it (p. 13)… Sexy lovers take the time to develop the sensual, romantic part of their minds and personalities (p. 18)… Sex is perhaps 80 percent fantasy (imagination in mind) and about 20 percent friction. Granted, pleasuring erogenous zones (friction) is fun, but what truly creates the excitement is your mind (p. 74).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex

Find the “Sexual Intimacy in Marriage” evaluation here

These resources are excerpts from the following seminar:

CREATING A GOSPEL-CENTERED MARRIAGE: INTIMACY
Part One:  Saturday April 26, 2014
Part Two: Saturday May 3, 2014
Time: 4:00 to 5:30 pm or 6:00 to 7:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free

 

The Gospel in Uncomfortable Marital Moments

During neutral or good times it should now be clear how to reinforce the gospel narrative through our words and thoughts. We give God the credit for the good things in our lives and we train ourselves to notice and give weight to His blessings even in the midst of mundane events.

What remains to be done is to demonstrate how the gospel narrative is able to allow us to be honest about each other’s disappointments and failures while not detracting from an ever increasing closeness within a marriage. Let’s examine each of the four major themes of the gospel in order to see how they can still generate an encouraging story when the topic to be addressed is unpleasant.

1. Creation

We realize we only have the standard and expectation of “good” because God is good and He made our world (including marriage and our spouse) to be good. If life were random or built purely on a “survival of the fittest” evolution, then the expectation that life would be “good” would be irrational.

Allow your points of failure or disappointment to be a reminder that it is a blessing that we have a good God who created us to be good people and live in a good world. The fact that our hearts are calibrated to want and pursue good is a blessing that is easy to take for granted. Praise God the compass of our conscience is set to desire to the true North of God’s goodness.

This is part of God’s grace which should shape the story of the disappointments and failures we face and perpetrate in our marriage. Even when we disagree on how love could/should be expressed in our marriage, we are blessed to want love more than power, unity more than dominance, and relationship more than isolation.

2. Fall

But the preceding paragraphs are not always true. They may represent what we know to be right and what we want to want, but we do not have to look outside ourselves to see that life does not match the ideals of our own conscience. This is where many of us get appalled and draw back from relationships because of the fear of being hurt or insecurity of being found out.

For Christians the presence of sin should be expected, not a surprise. We do not believe that people are good, and there must be a reason people do selfish things. It is when we are surprised at sin that increases our sense of being threatened. You can see an unknown man in a mask with a knife in a haunted house and the experience is much different than if he’s in your home. The first you expect and are merely startled. The second you don’t expect and are traumatized.

The absence of shock gives you the opportunity to respond to sin differently. Whereas the “rose colored glasses of love” would mean your ideal marriage story is crumbling; the gospel allows us to grieve the presence and be hurt by the impact of sin without feeling like the narrative has turned tragic. It also reminds us that the presence of sin is not the final scene in our story; it’s only the second of four.

3. Redemption

We see a greater goodness of God in His redemptive work than we do in any other aspect of creation or history. We can take good things and make lesser good things; turning trees into paper or used paper into recycled paper. Only God can take bad things and make them good. For this reason, Christians believe that broken things restored by God can have a greater glory than something that has never been broken.

That begs the question of Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” and is met with the answer of Romans 6:2, “By no means!” That would revel in the brokenness instead of celebrating redemption.

Relationships, especially marriage, afford us the opportunity to do more than witness God’s work of redemption; we also get to participate in it. We are not fans in the stands of God’s grace, merely cheering on what is going on “over there.” We are in the huddle participating in the play being drawn up by our great Player/Coach who graciously involves us in the restoration of those we love; and them in our restoration.

4. Glorification

If the story stopped with perpetual redemption it would eventually become dissatisfying. Being forgiven is wonderful; the thought of inevitably needing to be forgiven is discouraging. Forgiveness can be powerfully romantic (hence the adage “fight hard and make up hard”), but the expectation you’ll unescapably be hurt in a way that requires forgiveness becomes a turn-off.

The gospel does not leave us in the hamster wheel of redemption. We will enter eternal rest (Hebrews 4:3-9). God will not exhaust us with a good thing we cannot sustain; He is the Good Father who does not provoke His children until they become discouraged (Col. 3:21).

As we maintain encouragement during times of disappointment and failure by contextualizing these experiences in the larger narrative of the gospel, we can rest knowing these are momentary struggles – the short chapters before the gloriously eternal concluding chapter (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Do these four points tell you how to respond when sin or disappointment affect your marriage? No. Not if you want a script to read to yourself or your spouse for every potential unpleasant circumstance the two of you will face. We can begin to see the question is not realistic.

Do these four points alert you to when your thought life is going off-script with the gospel narrative for your marriage? Yes. When you can discern when you are leaving the gospel narrative you can reach out for help before the new-false narrative becomes entrenched. The earlier you can root out a false-narrative the easier it is to resist.

  • Which of the four themes of the gospel tend to get distorted most when you face hard times?
  • What are the areas of your life, that when negatively impacted, most tempt you to leave the gospel narrative?

Part of what we see in the gospel narrative is that it begins and ends in paradise – the Garden of Eden and Heaven. These are two pictures we see of life and relationships as God intended. The goal of every narrative is to lead people somewhere. Let’s look at Genesis 1 to learn one more thing about where the gospel narrative intends to lead us.

Read Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 25, and 31. Notice the restraint of God’s language. He was content to say His creation was “good,” even for the pinnacle of His creation He only said “very good.” There is no use of words like better, best, or other superlatives. God was not competing with other creators. God was not even competing with Himself. We often get lost wondering, “Is our marriage better than [name]? Are we doing better than [name]? Does [name] do conflict better than we do?” We lose the basic question – is what we’re doing good? When this happens we invariably leave the gospel narrative for either pride or insecurity.

These resources are excerpts from the following seminar:

CREATING A GOSPEL-CENTERED MARRIAGE: INTIMACY
Part One:  Saturday April 26, 2014
Part Two: Saturday May 3, 2014
Time: 4:00 to 5:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free

Tweets of the Week 4.15.14

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

https://twitter.com/TheLoveStories/status/455125740573696000

And one because its funny…

https://twitter.com/GrumpyCatsMind/status/455450392827265024