Sexual Immorality Is Not Just About You

About two weeks ago I was relaxing at a hotel bar where I often go to chat with friends or write this blog.  I was just about to shut it down when a gentleman showed up who was from out of town.  He sat down and started to share about why he was in town etc. Anyway after a while he asked if I had a family and I said no, but I was about to get married.  He of course congratulated me and shared he had been married for 20 years. Then he said this, “Of course you know, that once you get married, you’ll have less sex.”  I laughed.  I sure as heck hope not, because we are not having sex now.

It was the same when I was in college.  I was literally the only person in my suite of 9, that didn’t have sex my freshmen year.  They used to joke about it.  I was also the person they came to when stuff in their life was hard.  They knew I was different.

You see we don’t just flee from sexual immorality for ourselves.  It’s one of God’s ways of separating us out – as a witness.  It’s not just about you and me and our little moral battle.

One of the big misconceptions that people have is that sexual immorality is worse today than at other points in history.  There is the idea that all of a sudden it’s “crazy” out there and that marriage is being devalued etc.

This leads to a couple of problems.  First, there a lot of people who think what the Bible says about sex is “old school” and not relevant for today.  On the other hand the Church ends up running around shouting that the world is ending, making an idol out of the family and longing for the past (which I think is the 1950’s America).

Now it is true that American culture is changing.  But none of this is new.  Neither is our call to live differently than the culture.

When you look at the sexual practices that God lays out in the old testament it needs to be understood that God was giving them these specifics for a reason.  That reason is that all the other societies in the Near East were not practicing them.  When God says, don’t sleep with an animal, He says it because others were.  He’s not making up random stuff.  The Near Eastern cultures were crazy, even by our standards.  People were having sex in every way, with everybody and everything.  They even worshiped to it.

God was saying to the Israelites, “You will not be like them.  You are my people and this will distinguish you.”

The same is true in Paul’s letter to Corinth.  They had written Paul and they asked him what they should do.  How should they practice sexuality and marriage now that they had Jesus?  Paul starts that whole message by saying, “Now for the questions you asked about – here’s how to apply God’s teaching and live the way He would want in your context.”  Which was a completely pagan and dualistic context.  Sound familiar?

If we are going to flee from sexual immorality we have to define what that is. The good news is that currently most folks are not sleeping with animals or temple prostitutes (at least I’ve never been tempted by either).  So in our day, we can’t just take one liners from the Bible and try to make them mean what we want them to.  Instead, we need to take the overall meaning of sex, marriage, and celibacy in the scriptures (which is pretty dang clear) and apply that to our current context.  In legal terms it’s like law and case law.  How does the law apply to our case today?

But beyond that we need to realize that our call to flee from immorality is not just as a set of rules to keep us out of trouble.  God called Israel out.  He made them His people and commanded them to live in a way that demonstrated Him to the world.  One of the ways they were to do this was by how they behaved sexually.  Paul tells the early church the same thing.  You are set apart.  You were bought at a price.  You are NEW and different.  Live like it – in the light!

One of the reasons we fail is that even in our morality or lack there of, it’s all about us.  That wasn’t really the point.  God has bigger plans.  When we are set apart, people are drawn to us.  Want to be counter cultural?  Want to make a difference?  Want to point towards God.  Live this area of your life differently than the world.  It was true 4000 years ago and it’s true now.

Unmet Desire Is Good

When I was a kid, I really, really loved basketball.  I wanted to be good.  I would pretend to be the Missouri Tigers in the driveway.  You know the drill – down two with time running out, you shoot, and. . . if you missed – well you were fouled.  Haha.

In high school I wanted to win, and I wanted to be the star.  Now the truth is I was good but not a star, but that didn’t keep me from working at it.  I would practice a lot.  I bought the “strength shoes” to improve my vertical. I did endless drills.

I had a good not great career.  But I loved the whole thing.  But what drove me was the chance to win.  I had a desire to win.  It wasn’t always met – but it drove me to be better.

We have a huge problem in our culture and it has a crazy impact on us as singles.  We think that unmet desire is always bad.  If I have a desire, then it should be met – right now!  This is America damn it!  Meet My Desire!

Desire is good.  In fact in Psalm 37:4 God promises to give us desires (not give us what we want, but give us what to want).  Desire drives us to do incredible things.  Desire makes us want to grow, to change, to become better.  Without desire we would be dead.

Desire drives us to act.  Always. The question becomes where do we let us drive us.

We all have a desire for love. Now obviously we need to take our desire for love to Jesus first.  This is critical for everything else in life.  The best part is that God will meet us and He does love us.  In fact he is the only person who can meet that desire.

But what about other desires.  Can God meet our desire for sex?  Can God be our spouse? Can God physically hold our hand or give us physical intimacy?  No.  And yet God created sex.  He created us with the desire for physical and emotional intimacy and partnership with another person.  That’s awesome . . . and frustrating!

So what do we do with unmet sexual/intimacy desire?

We can go out and meet that base desire by having sex with someone.  I mean we have needs and they need to be met.  A lot of us don’t want the work involved with that sin though so we settle for what I call “Lazy Immorality”.  By this I mean, porn, masturbation, romance novels, whatever.  (I’ll define this more soon).

We can also just try to kill the desire so we don’t have to feel it.  Just focus on work, or school, or a hobby.  The more extreme the better.  Whatever works.  Ministry works well here.  Just focus on other stuff.  Shove that desire down deep.

We can get religious.  Just be content where you are.  We can drop in some misused Pauline quotes.  The favorite is in Philippians 4 where Paul says, “I have learned the secret to being content in any and every situation.”  So just don’t want.  “Just Be” is how we take that.  But that isn’t really what Paul is getting at.  The “secret” isn’t to kill desire.  It’s not to be ok with whatever.  Paul gives us the secret in the next verse – through Jesus “who gives me strength”.

Paul had learned that regardless of what he felt, Jesus would meet him and sustain it.  His identity, joy, or overall life was not wrapped up in unmet desire or circumstance. That is the contentment Paul was talking about.  He wasn’t saying, “Don’t feel.  Don’t try to make things different. Stay as you are it’s fine.”  No Paul was saying Jesus was bigger than all of that.  He is saying let whatever your situation is let it drive you to Jesus.  I don’t need to kill my desire or have it met the wrong way.  I need to walk straight into unmet desire – with Jesus.

We can’t just tell people to not worry about it.  We don’t do this in other areas.  The church doesn’t say to the poor – just stay poor and be content.  It doesn’t say to the sick, just stay sick and be content.  No, we step up and step in.  We act.  (Or at least we are supposed to).  All the while pointing out that no matter what the circumstances Jesus has to be desired first.

The truth is that these desires we have are natural and good, and from God.  We need to engage Him and we need to move forward.  It’s hard.  Unmet desire is a part of life to the full.  We need to feel the tension.  It drives us to the things that God has for us – if we let it.

What do you do with your unmet desire?

40 Year Old Virgin

This weekend I turn 40.  I have never had sex.  That’s right.  I will be the 40 year old virgin.  Now that stirs something in you. Some might think I’m some sort of hero.  Some might think I’m a wuss or haven’t really lived, or that I can’t get a date.  Some will wonder how the heck I haven’t exploded.  Still others might feel guilty of their own sin.

The truth is, I’m neither proud or ashamed of it.

On the one hand I’m glad that I haven’t had sex outside of marriage.  I know that’s not what God would want.  On the other hand I’ve given into sexual immorality in other ways. At some point in the last 25 years I’ve struggled with having lustful thoughts,  viewing porn,  fantasizing about women, and masturbation.  I’ve gone “too far” with women here and there.

I’ve also messed up dating.  Part of the reason I’m a virgin is I’m not married. Ha!  What I mean is if I’d dated better or learned what the heck I was doing maybe I would have gotten married sooner.  I could have been less selfish or arrogant at times.  Other times I shouldn’t have been passive or afraid.  I’ve helped make myself single many times.

So I’m not here to say “yeah me”.  I’m not here to beat myself up either.  I’m here to say that just because you are single doesn’t mean you have to give in to sexual immorality.

The last couple of blogs I’ve talked a lot about principles we need to hold.  We need to have the right view of sex, we need to have the right view of desire, and we need to desire Jesus most of all. These are all essential.

But today I want to talk about some things that have helped me over the last 20 plus years practically speaking.  These are not THE answers necessarily, but as I look back and think about how I ended up not having sex or being completely dominated by the drive to, these are some keys.

I‘ve read the Bible.  Being in the scriptures makes us love God more – which fills us up. It also shaped my view of sex.  As a new believer at 17 we read in a small group about fleeing from immorality and why.  I had never heard it before and it shaped my view at an early age.  What we take into our minds and hearts helps to shape our desires.  We need to take in scripture and worship etc.

I’ve never seriously dated anyone who didn’t know Jesus.  Its not that I never wanted to.  I just knew I couldn’t.  This is so huge. It means both people might at least try to abstain.  I can’t count the people I know who have had their walk shaken by dating someone who isn’t following Jesus.  If you are the only one who is going to say no, you’re in trouble.

Along those lines, I’ve always predetermined that I would say no.  Sometimes this has meant literally avoiding certain situations.  But this is what Paul means when he says flee. Stay the heck out of the scenario to begin with.

To further that thought, for almost as long as I’ve had a computer, I’ve had Covenant Eyes.  This service sends everything I look at online to a friend.  I think this is by far the best approach.  I would say every guy should have this. Why not?

I’ve chosen to have people in my life who know everything I’m doing.  They have permission to ask me anything.  Here is a trustworthy saying.  If it’s secret it’s wrong. Even if it’s not technically wrong.

All of the above have helped me but as I’ve thought about this the number one helpful thing is that long ago I realized that it’s not just about me.

From early on I’ve been doing ministry.  I don’t mean that I’ve been in full time ministry although for much of it I have been.  What I mean is that when you are trying to show others Jesus and leading people, what you do matters more.  Others are looking at me.  I can’t count the times that this has stopped me.

Times when I would have gone to the strip club, or met someone at a bar and had a one night stand.  There were other’s hearts at stake.  I remember early in my career someone said that is not very good accountability.  I would submit that it’s actually damn good accountability.  If it’s just about me or “saving myself for marriage” then I might be willing to compromise. If it’s about God and His kingdom, that’s a whole other thing.

Jesus said the most important thing is to love God and love others. Sexual immorality gets in the way of that.  I truly believe if our focus is ourselves, or even our own little life with Jesus, we are screwed.  But if we are focused on loving Jesus and loving others, we have a chance.

Desiring Jesus More Than Sex

Have you ever tried to fight weeds in your yard?  You go out and spray them or pull them. It’s a constant battle.  But here’s the truth about the process.  The best defense against weeds is more grass.  I can pull weeds every year but if I don’t get grass to grow in those spots, next year (or next week) weeds will grow there.

I share this because I think it is a key principle for dealing with sexual immorality and the desire we have that leads us to it.  As I shared last week, we first have to  have a right view of sex and a right view of desire.  But even then we have to figure out how to grow the right desires.  In other words we have to let our desire for God trump all other desires.  The good news is that we were created for that.  The bad news is, it’s a freaking battle.

We can’t get completely focussed on the sin.  This is especially true with sexual immorality (fulfilling sexual desire outside the context of marriage).  Often we focus on the all of the “don’ts”.  Don’t be naked, don’t look at porn, don’t have lustful thoughts, don’t. . . .  While we do need to fight this stuff we can’t let our focus be here.  Our focus needs to be on Jesus.

I’ve heard it said a lot that, “we as guys will always struggle with lust”.  I think that’s a lie straight from hell.

Now if you want to say that I’m always capable of struggling with it, I wholeheartedly agree. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have victory in this area of my life.  It’s probably going to be a fight and process (as with most of the sanctification process) but to just surrender to it seems like a terrible idea.

Sexual immorality is a strong, strong temptation. God created sex with the power to help bind two people together for life.  God was not playing around here.  It is the only sin that Paul literally says to flee from.  In other words, don’t play around with it or tough it out – just get the heck away from it.  He says all other sin a man commits outside his body, but sexual immorality is against his own body.  Paul is saying it affects us in huge ways.

In my opinion there are two principles we have to keep here in order to let the practical stuff work.

First we need to focus on the Lord and his mission.  To be honest, when I struggle the least in this area is when I’m focussed on God and mission.  When I’m outward focussed, I’m typically not desiring the wrong stuff.  When I’m focussed on me and what I feel that day, that’s when I’m in trouble.  This by the way is part of (emphasis on part of) what Paul is saying about the call to singleness.  It’s not a call to not get married, it’s a call to be so focussed on mission that you are not focussed on sex (which is NOT to say that you won’t ever desire sex).

The second thing we have to do is flee – which means do whatever it takes to not fall into sexual immorality.  I’m going to talk about some things that have helped me later this week.

Here’s another way to look at it.  In the Odyssey, Odysseus is warned about the dangers of the sirens.  These were beautiful creatures (think hot models with wings) that sang incredibly powerful and beautiful songs.  So much so that sailors followed them to their death on the rocks.

Odysseus comes up with a plan.  He gives all his oarsmen wax to put in their ears so that they can’t hear the sirens.  He wants to hear it, so he doesn’t use wax, but he has them tie him to the mast.  When the boat passes the sirens do their thing.  Odysseus goes crazy, demanding that the men cut him free.  Following his original orders they don’t and they pass through unharmed.

Now this is great but contrast that with the story of Orpheus and the Argonauts.  The Argonauts faced the same danger from the sirens.  But Orpheus was a powerful musician who played the most beautiful music possible.  When the Argonauts passed by the sirens Orpheus played his music.  It was so strong and powerful that it drowned out the songs of the sirens.  The Argonauts were able to pass through without the aid of the wax.

Ultimately our desire for God has to trump all other desires.  

It is better to tie ourselves to the mast than die on the rocks, but the goal should be to grow so close to Jesus that we are not swayed by the siren’s music.

Submitting Sexual Desire To The Lord

Last week I wrote about our view of sex.  The main two points were that sex was created by God and therefore desire for sex isn’t bad in and of itself.  Secondly was that this desire was to be fulfilled so to speak, only in the context of marriage.  In the Bible sex is always talked about either in marriage or in sin.   A pretty fair definition of sexual immorality is the fulfillment of sexual desire outside the context of marriage.

But this leaves singles in a very tough spot.  We have a desire that is good but no “good” way to fulfill it.

Now some married friends have wisely pointed out that you can be married and still struggle with sexual immorality.  There is no doubt that this is true. There are all sorts of ways that married people can struggle with this.  Single people need to get a clue that marriage doesn’t instantly solve all of this.  But at the same time, married people need to think about what it would be like to have no fulfillment of that desire . . . ever.

So, what are we as single people supposed to do with this?

Well all of this raises a bunch of questions actually.  What is the point of desires that God gives us?  What are we supposed to do with unfulfilled desires?  What should we do with sexual desire?  When does desire become sin?  What do we do practically to deal with sexual desire in a culture that says, “Just Do It”.  We need more than “Just Say No”.

Let’s tackle a couple of these today and then we’ll tackle some more next week.

At the end of the day I believe the number one thing we desire is to know that we are loved.  Now this desire can get messed up quickly.  It can become the desire for approval from people. It is also one of the main emotional drives for sex.  Sex was created to bond us to the other person so it feels like a lot like love.  But at the truth is our desire to be loved can only be totally fulfilled by God.

What our desires show us is that something is going on in our heart.  They are the voice of our heart.  When I have a strong desire I need to ask what is going on inside.  Where is that coming from?

I don’t believe that desire itself is sin.  Paul is clear that even temptation (which plays on desire) is not sin.  Giving in to it is.  Now we can have desires that come from our sin.  In other words the more I live in (abide in) disobedience, the more I will desire the wrong stuff. This is then compounded when I fulfill that desire in a sinful way.

Psalms 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  This scripture is misapplied all the time.  Often people assume it means that if I delight or abide in the Lord that I will get what I want, as if to say, first I want something, I go delight in God, and He gives it to me.  That would be wrong.

What it means is that first I delight in the Lord.  When I do that He gives me my core value and love and then my desires (remember they are the voice of my heart) start coming from Him.  He literally gives me my desires – my desires become His desires.  The point is that depending on where my heart is at, my desires will follow.

Just because I have a desire doesn’t mean I should fulfill it. I mean I have good and bad desires all the time.  But I can’t be mastered by my desires.  Instead I need to submit them to the Lord.  I need to let my desires (most of which at some level come back to the desire to be loved) drive me to the Lord.  Sexual desire is no different.

Now all this sounds really nice.  But let’s put it in context.  If I’m going to have any chance of handling my sexual desire as a single (or married for that matter) I’m going to have to be walking closely with the Lord.  This is true of every desire but I do think sexual desire is a little different.  Sex is one of the most powerful forces in our world and we shouldn’t discount that fact.  It was made that way on purpose.

Monday I will dive into what we can do practically to deal with it.  But none of that will matter if I’m not going to allow it to drive me towards Jesus.  Without Him it will be like putting bandaids on gaping wounds.

Getting Married For Sex

One time in college I was meeting with this older gentleman who I looked up to and as we were talking the subject of relationships and marriage came up.  We were talking about a couple of relationships of people we knew as well as one I had just gotten out of.  Now this guy had gotten married really young and had been married for a long time.

The conversation turned toward the decision to get married.  He said, “I always tell people this – don’t get married for sex.”  Now I was young and arrogant so I nodded knowingly but I really had no idea what he meant.  Ha.  He went on to explain it basically saying that desire to have sex was not a good reason to marry.  I think he was wrong.

I would maybe say that sex shouldn’t be the only reason you get married.

But actually, sex is part of the reason.  God created us with a sex drive.  Again this is pre-sin.  Adam and Eve have sex – heck they are commanded to – before the fall.  God did not create our sex drive so that we could sit around and not use it.  And, as is fairly obvious in the whole of scripture (more on this soon) sex is to be enjoyed (key word) in the context of marriage.  In fact one of the functions of sex is to bond the two together in marriage (hence the whole becoming one flesh thing).

One of the reasons that we have more single people than ever in history (49% of adults in the U.S.) is that we have separated sex and marriage.  

Sex is an industry in our country.  It is readily available in one form or another every day. This really screws up single people.  For one thing, almost everyone has had sex before marriage.  If you haven’t that is great but it’s not the norm at this point.  So if you are having or have had sex, it makes marriage less urgent.  If I can have sex, oral sex, and/or meet my own sexual needs through a constant stream of porn and masturbation without marriage – then there is less of a pull to get married.  This is not rocket science.

Even worse, once you have sinned sexually you can allow the guilt and shame of that to drive you.  It can drive you to continue doing it, or only date people that also have, among other things. It can make you feel like you’ve messed it up so you now can’t have it the right way.

On the flip side, and this isn’t talked about much, delaying marriage is one of the big reasons that people end up seeking sexual fulfillment outside of marriage.  Even just 50 years ago in 1960 (not exactly ancient times) 59% of those aged 18-29 were married.  That number is now 20%.  So basically 60 years ago you started thinking about sex in your early teenage years and you waited 4-10 years.  Now you wait 10-20.  That is no joke.  It’s hard to do.

Add to this the fact that a lot of religious people have turned sex itself into the bad guy, which leads to all sorts of problems, not the least of which is married people still feeling bad about sex. This is why it is so important to do more than tell single people to not have sex – it can mess up both singleness and marriage.

Here’s the point.  Sex should be part of the reason you get married.  

This is one of things Paul talks about this in 1st Corinthians 7. He is speaking to a group of people trying to navigate marriage and sex in a completely crazy society (sound familiar?).  He says it straight up – if you are going to have sex – get married. In a way, Paul is saying, part of the way to avoid sexual immorality is to enjoy sex in the context of marriage. Paul says some have the calling to be single, but if you don’t, get married and have some sex.

This is so important.  There are no easy fixes here in our context, but one of the things we have to do is get two things clearly in our heads.  The first is we need a solid biblical view of sex (that it is good, from God, and part of marriage).  The second is that it is indeed a part of the reason we get married – God intended it that way.

I’ve joked with friends before that if it weren’t for sex, would anyone get married?  Look, there is way, way more to marriage obviously.  And, obviously just wanting sex with someone is not a stand alone reason to get married.  However, it is a part of the driving force – and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.