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Three Things To Remember About Sexual Sin & Grace
In the midst of my guilt and shame, frustration filled my mind. “I can’t believe I sinned… again. Does God hate me for my addiction? Will I ever find freedom?” Countless men and women I’ve talked to have asked similar questions. What are you supposed to do when you keep messing up? If you are struggling with sexual sin today, I’ve been in your shoes. I struggled with promiscuity, pornography, and habitual masturbation for years, promising over and over each time I sinned that it was the “last time.” We often spend a lot of time thinking about the importance of fighting for sexual integrity but often forget to talk about God’s grace. To help you better understand grace, here are a few definitions: Grace is the beauty of following Christ. Grace is unmerited favor. Grace is God loving us when we don’t deserve it. Grace is God’s riches at Christ’s expense. Grace is the divine means by which God makes Himself everything we need. When we mess up, God gives us grace. When we feel shameful and defeated, God gives us grace. When we hide from Him, God gives us grace. Just like Adam and Eve tried to cover their shame with fig leaves after they had sinned, we run, hide, and find our own fig leaves. What fig leaves are you hiding behind, attempting to cover your shame? For some this is turning to pornography. For others, it might look like continuing a “friends with benefits” relationship. Whatever fig leaves you are hiding behind will not provide lasting healing or comfort. After Adam and Eve sinned and hid in the Garden, God, being good and gracious, sought them out and said, “Where are you?” He invites us, too, out of our hiding and into His light. He calls us from the darkness of shame and into His presence. The Lord walked with Adam and Eve after they sinned—and He walks with you today. God can heal you, comfort you, forgive you, and set you free. Instead of running away from Him, let’s run to Him. Through Christ’s death and surrender to the Holy Spirit, we are no longer slaves to our sin. We will still battle sin, but we are not destined to walk in it any longer. Next time you sin, remember God’s gift of grace. Here are three things to consider when you keep messing up:   Focus on your relationship with the Lord, not on perfect behavior. You don’t become more holy because of right behavior, but because of God’s grace. You can’t earn holiness by what you do or don’t do. It’s not about trying more or doing more or being a “good Christian.” It’s about your personal relationship with Jesus. The more you love Jesus, the more you will want to change your behavior to become more like Him. In Matthew, a Pharisee asks Jesus, “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22: 35-38). Purity is birthed from loving God, not obeying laws. Juli Slattery wrote, “God will not magically change your behavior without first transforming your heart." Once God changes your heart, your behavior will follow (not the other way around). Allow Him to change who you are from the inside out.   Jesus died for you, while you were still a sinner. “Sorry I messed up, I won’t do it again, God. I promise!” Have you ever said this to God? I know I’ve said this countless times and have always broken my promise. We need to stop making this promise. When we say, “I promise,” we are saying that in our own strength we will stop looking at porn. Even if we don’t look at porn, we may lust or lie or think a bad thought. We need God! We can’t stop sinning on our own. Instead of promising God that we will change, what if we said, “I’m sorry, God. I can’t do this on my own. I need your help!” Let’s invite Him into our sexual brokenness and ask for His power to begin changing us—inside and out. Believing we have to be sinless to earn God’s love is spiritual bondage. That is salvation by works, not salvation by grace. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). When you mess up over and over again and wonder why God saved you, remember that you did nothing to earn His salvation in the first place. Your salvation is a gift from God, freely given, no matter how long you struggle with sexual sin.   God invites you to come back to Him. This is the gift of grace. No matter how many times you’ve messed up, God invites you back. When you mess up, turn back to God, and live in His grace and freedom instead of in your shame. We are a work in progress. We will mess up. We will battle sin on this earth for the rest of our lives. Instead of running from God or getting down on ourselves, let’s live like the prodigal son and return to our Father.  When the prodigal son goes back home, his father greets him, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). When we turn back to our Father, He will run to us with open arms.  Do you need to turn back to God today? Do you need to experience His grace? If you have never accepted God’s gift of grace through salvation, I invite you to make this decision today. Here is a prayer you can pray. Saying the right words is not important, rather, the condition of your heart is what matters. God sees your heart and knows your desires. Dear God, Thank you for loving me. Thank you that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins and failures. I admit to you that I am a sinner and that I need You to save me. I ask You to forgive me for my sins. I turn from them now. I invite Jesus into my life as my Savior and Lord. I turn my life over to Him. I will live for Him as long as I live. Thank you for giving me eternal life and making me Your child. In Jesus’ name, Amen. If you are struggling with sexual sin and longing to better understand God’s grace, I invite you to join one of our Online Book Studies. New groups begin every few months. Sign up today!   Image by Anusha A on Unsplash
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When You're Attracted to Someone Who's Not Your Spouse
The stereotype of an adulterous affair in marriage has typically been the picture of a cheating husband. The man has a one-night stand on a business trip or falls in love with his secretary. I guess it never occurred to us that for every cheating man, there must also be a cheating woman. (Presione aquí para leer en español).  Relationship expert Bonnie Eaker Weil reported on ABC’s 20/20 her findings that more than 50 percent of married women are sexually unfaithful. That statistic doesn’t take into consideration the countless others who are entangled in emotional affairs and fantasies. Every married person is at risk for an affair. If you say, “No, I’d never do that!” take to heart what Paul wrote: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Every affair begins with a temptation—an attraction. Unfortunately, most of us have no idea what to do when someone other than your spouse starts to pay attention to you. It feels good to be pursued again, especially if your marriage is in the doldrums. Right after Paul told us to be careful not to fall, he gave some very practical advice about how to handle temptation: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV). While temptation is unavoidable, sin is still inexcusable. Even if you feel overwhelmingly attracted to someone who isn't your spouse, unfaithfulness doesn’t have to be your destiny. God has promised to provide a way out for those who are willing to run to Him. Don’t Be Surprised When It Happens How many affairs would be avoided if we would simply anticipate that it’s normal to be tempted? Yes, there will always be someone more attractive than your spouse, and there will be someone who seems to have all the strengths that your spouse lacks. The day will likely come when you find yourself drawn to someone who appears to be better suited for you than your spouse. The attraction can even be spiritual (for example, a man’s passion for the Lord is so attractive compared to your husband who seems to be spiritually dead). Since you know this day will come, prepare for it now. Remember in elementary school all of the times you had a fire drill or tornado drill? Why do we have drills? To prepare for a real danger during a time that is not a crisis. Using that same wisdom, come up with a plan now of what you will do when temptation comes. How will you respond? Who will you call for help? Do you have an accountability partner in place now? What friend in your life have you told, “You have permission to ask me the hard questions about my marriage. I want you to get in my face if you ever see something in my life that concerns you.” Just like the fire drill, if you have already determined where to “run,” you won’t be paralyzed when a true danger threatens your marriage. Remember What’s Real I had been meeting with Lisa for about two months before she spilled the beans. During our first several counseling sessions, she talked around her disappointment in marriage and other irritations of life. Then the day came when she felt safe enough to tell me about Doug. They had met at the gym several months earlier and been drawn to each other immediately. Low and behold, Doug was a Christian! Lisa and Doug began “coincidentally” showing up at the gym at the same time and got to know each other. Eventually they began meeting over coffee. “Juli, Doug is so kind and sensitive! He loves the Lord and has really helped me grow in my faith. God knows how lonely I’ve been in my marriage. I believe he’s providing Doug as an answer to my prayer for true companionship.” Okay. . . reality check. God will never answer your prayers by inviting you into sin. How could a grounded Christian woman like Lisa have gotten so far off base? Because Satan is the deceiver. He will tempt you to doubt the truth about what is good and what is evil. God has equipped our bodies with very powerful hormones that kick in when we enter a new romantic relationship. Remember when you could go days without thinking about food or when you wrote your boyfriend or girlfriend’s name all over your geometry notebook? Your mind still has the capacity to experience “puppy love” even as a grown man or woman. The “tingles” of a new relationship can and will blind you from reality. If you do not fight to find “true north” according to God’s Word, you will make a disastrous decision that has far-reaching consequences. No matter how much you believe that this person will make your life better, no amount of money, great sex, or adoration can compensate for walking away from fellowship with God and representing Jesus Christ to your spouse, children, and community. Run Fast There is a time to walk, and then there is a time to run. No one casually strolls out of a burning building. They run for their lives. Paul says sexual temptation represents a time to run. “Flee sexual temptation!” Joseph demonstrated what “fleeing” looks like. He literally ran away from Potiphar’s wife when she tried to seduce him. He didn’t stop to deliberate the consequences or figure out how he could keep the woman happy while not going “all the way.” He simply ran. There’s no harm in a little flirting, you might think. Yes, there is great harm! The longer you linger in temptation, the more opportunity the Enemy has to deceive you. What does “running” look like? It means not giving the relationship any chance of developing. If you have to, change jobs, move to another neighborhood, and absolutely refuse to be alone with the person who represents the temptation. Ask for Help One of the most dangerous things to do when you are attracted to another person is to keep it a secret. You may be embarrassed to admit to a friend your secret crush, or you may be afraid that being honest will mean you have to give it up. In some cases, I think it’s appropriate to tell your spouse. “Honey, I just need you to know that there is a woman at work who I’ve committed to never being alone with. Nothing has happened, but I just sense it’s a danger zone.” It would be very difficult for an attraction to take root after this type of honest conversation. If you do not believe it is wise to talk to your spouse, please share the situation with a trusted friend or mentor. This person can pray with you, give you solid advice, and ask you the tough questions about whether or not you are taking the way of escape or continuing to play with fire. Invest in Your Marriage If you’ve ever had a serious health concern, it probably changed the way you approached your health. A near-fatal heart attack will cause most of us to swear off cheeseburgers and cigarettes. The same should be true of how we respond to the possibility of a broken marriage. It should cause us to reexamine what we’ve started to take for granted. I know you’ve heard this statement, but it’s worth repeating: “The grass is greener wherever you water it.” Being attracted to another man or woman is not only a temptation, but also an indication that perhaps your marriage needs some watering. It’s a wake-up call that your marriage is vulnerable to infidelity. Can you pinpoint what desires you have that are not being met in your marriage? Maybe it’s time to invest in marriage counseling, get away for some time alone with your spouse, or work on romance and sexual satisfaction in your marriage. Even if you are married to an unresponsive spouse who doesn’t have a strong desire to improve your marriage, how are you investing in the relationship? Do you pray daily for God to give you love and patience? Are you intentional about learning how to build intimacy, as far as it depends upon you? Although investing in your marriage is an important way to respond to a temptation, investing in your relationship with God is even more important. There are some who believe that the greatest weapon against an affair is a strong marriage. I disagree. The greatest weapon against a spiritual threat (and temptation is always a spiritual threat) is a spiritual weapon. Paul told us specifically how to arm ourselves against the schemes of the devil. He told us to be clothed with the armor of God—armor like the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the shield of faith, and the sword of the spirit. My friend, never try to fight a spiritual temptation solely with emotional or psychological weapons. You will lose. God’s way of escape is to cling to Him and to run to Him. He is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory blameless with great joy (Jude 24). If I remain faithful throughout the duration of my marriage, it won’t simply be because I love my husband, but it will be because of how much I love the Lord. Clinging to Mike might keep me from wandering, but only clinging to Jesus can make my heart pure. "The name of the LORD is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe" (Proverbs 18:10).   Excerpted from 25 Questions You’re Afraid to Ask About Love, Sex, and Intimacy by Dr. Juli Slattery. © 2015 by Moody Publishers. Used with Permission. 
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Predictability and Passion Can Improve a Boring Sex Life
If you are married, there is a very good chance that you and your spouse have different sexual appetites. This not only applies to how often you want to have sex, but also to how adventurous you would each like to be in the bedroom.  A healthy sex life has aspects of both routine and adventure: If a couple builds sexual excitement by always searching for that next new experience, sex becomes less about intimacy and more about pursuing the physical high of sexual novelty. On the other hand, if a couple settles into a routine that never varies, sex will become mundane and lose the element of fun and passion that make the sexual relationship a special retreat from everyday life.  In the Song of Solomon, the bride tells her husband: The mandrakes send forth a fragrance, and at our door is every delicacy, new as well as old, that I have treasured up for you, my beloved.  Through this veiled language, we see that this woman was able to delight in both new sexual experiences as well as appreciating the old.  Science tells us that our bodies respond differently to new sexual experiences than they do to having sex in a routine fashion. Novel sexual experiences are likely to be powerful and memorable as they cause our bodies to release the neurotransmitter PEA (a natural opioid) and adrenaline. Think about God’s plan for a new bride and groom, seeing each other naked for the first time. They were meant to be intoxicated with love as these powerful chemicals washed over their brains.  When a couple has sex over the years, they may undervalue the beauty of the patterns of foreplay they’ve developed and how they routinely touch each other. While our bodies respond with a less potent cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters during  these “normal” sexual experiences, they also have a great benefit for a married couple. Notably couples experience a surge of oxytocin, a powerful bonding hormone. Their brains also release natural endorphins which promote relaxation, boost immunity, aid sleep, and give a general sense of well being. (Who doesn’t need that??) How do you as a couple build a sex life that enjoys the benefits of both “new” and “old” sexual treasures? Here are a few thoughts that may help:   Mix routine with spontaneity. Practically every couple will admit that sex isn’t likely to happen if they are not intentional about establishing a routine. The best of intentions are likely to be extinguished with the realities of children, job stress, and entertaining distractions. Even if the morning began with flirting, by the end of the day, one of you is likely to simply be too tired.  Like any other healthy practice in our lives, routine sets the stage for consistency. Sunday signals a time for rest and worship. Morning and evening remind us to brush our teeth. Couples who want to build intimacy in their marriages need to establish routines that make sexual intimacy a normal part of their lives together. They may agree on certain mornings or evenings during the week or even put time for sex on the calendar as they prepare for the week.  Remember: Routine doesn’t have to mean inflexibility! Taking a weekend away from the kids, meeting for a special rendevous during your lunch break, and waking up in the middle of the night to have sex are not practical routines, but can ignite your sex life with excitement and adventure.    Recognize ruts. Mike and I had been married for about 10 years and had three young sons. Sex had become only a necessary routine for us—and not an enjoyable one for me as an exhausted mother. I was so frustrated by my lack of passion that one day, my thoughts went like this, “Mike and I have been married about ten years. We have sex an average of twice a week. That means about 1,000 times … my bedroom ceiling just isn’t that fascinating!” I knew we were in a rut and needed help to get out.  For three months, I asked the Lord in my own private prayer time to help me learn to enjoy sex. I looked for Christian books and studies that would help get us out of our rut. Even though money was tight, we committed to a date night every other week and challenged each other to take turns being creative.  There are times when you need to make sexual intimacy a focus of your marriage, and not just when there is an obvious problem. Too often couples play “defense” against sexual temptation without realizing that we also need to play “offense.”     Understand the difference between pushing comfort vs. conscience. When sex becomes adventurous, you and your spouse try new things. You venture outside of the bedroom, try new positions, and look for ways to “spice things up.” Invariably, you will end up with questions like, “Is God okay with us doing THAT???” Here is a blog that will help you sort through how to answer those questions. Your sexual relationship can have a lot of grey areas, not just in whether or not something is ok, but also in whether or not something is enjoyable. In some cases, one spouse is comfortable doing something that his or her partner is not.  In these situations, it’s important to distinguish between comfort and conscience. To grow in any area of life, we need to push past what feels comfortable and be willing to try new things. This is also true of sexual intimacy. If a man or a woman says, “I’m only willing to have sex in this position and in this room,” that couple will be limited in experiencing the joy of the gift of sex in their marriage. Learning to love each other sexually requires getting out of your comfort zone. You might even find that you like something that you originally thought you wouldn’t! Having said that, there are some sexual acts or choices that violate your conscience. Before God, you just don’t feel that you have the freedom to engage in that act. For example, a wife might not feel free to use a sex toy during lovemaking because she views it as triggering for memories of sexual abuse. In that situation, her husband should respect her conscience. Paul taught that we never want to use our freedom in a way that would cause someone to stumble or to violate their conscience. As a couple works on their sex life together, it’s healthy to lovingly challenge comfort, but to always respect conscience.    God has designed sexual intimacy in marriage to be a journey, filled with many different facets of love throughout the years. There are seasons of explosive passion, seasons of desperately fighting for intimacy, and also seasons of resting in the comfort of familiar love. Like much of life, the secret to joy is to appreciate the beauty of every phase of marriage.  Would you like to continue learning how to build sexual intimacy in your marriage? Join us in person at our Reclaim 2022 conference on Oct. 14-15! You may also find the following resources helpful: Java with Juli #262: Experiencing Sexual Pleasure, Part 1 Java with Juli #406: Every Couple Has a Sexual Dance. What Does Yours Say About You? Why I Care About Your Sex Life (blog)