Tag Archives: Sex

Context and Relationships

 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord.
1 Corinthians 7:32 (NIV)

Wendy and I just returned from a trip to Minnesota. I was scheduled to make a client visit early this week, so we left early and enjoyed an evening in the Twin Cities along with a Minnesota Vikings’ game (more about that on a subsequent post). Since Wendy and I work together, we have the privilege of Wendy begin able to travel with me if and when she wants to do so. That being said, she doesn’t always choose do so.

Wendy and I enjoy one another’s company. If we didn’t, our lives would be a mess. Not only do we live together and work together, we home office together. We serve together. We are pretty much around one another 24/7/365. We’re actually pretty darn happy about the arrangement, though we totally understand that not all married couples could do it the way we do it.

I will also admit that when Wendy accompanies me on a business trip, it changes things for me. Instead of being able to manage my own schedule and focus on the client, I also have to think about Wendy. She’s been alone in the hotel all day. She’s probably getting hungry and we need to figure out what we’re going to eat together. What is Wendy likely to want to do with our time together this evening?

These aren’t bad things, it simply adds a layer of things I have to manage. The trip is more simple if Wendy’s not with me. Likewise, Wendy has come to embrace the fact that being alone at home for a couple of days affords her the opportunity to get a lot of tasks on her list accomplished. She’s freed up from worrying about me. The evenings that would be normally spent hanging out together is suddenly open to all sorts of individual possibilities.

In this morning’s chapter, Paul is writing to the believers of Jesus in Corinth with some relationship advice. Along my journey I’ve quite regularly encountered individuals who like to use pieces of this chapter to make all sorts of sweeping legalistic rules about relationships. Personally, I’ve come to believe that it’s important to keep two things in mind; Make that three, no four:

  1. The believers in Corinth were struggling with an acute circumstance in which an incestuous relationship between two believers was wreaking havoc inside their community (5:1). Sexual immorality (especially the socially acceptable practice in Greek and Roman society of having sex with local shrine prostitutes, both heterosexual and homosexual) was quite common.
  2. The tremendous number of adults, from diverse walks of life, becoming believers had created  a situation in which many felt that becoming a follower of Jesus meant that they had to immediately change all manner of things in their personal lives, including their marital status (7:24).
  3. Paul believed that the return of Jesus and the end of all things as they knew it was imminent (v. 29).
  4. The persecution that had broken out against Christians meant that lives, and therefore relationships, could change at a moment’s notice which had far-reaching social implications for individuals and the entire community in that day.

I believe that it’s critical to keep the context in mind when reading Paul’s advice to the believers in Corinth. There are also an entire host of real life circumstances, both personal and cultural, that lie outside the specific situations faced by the Corinthians believers. I don’t believe that Paul’s advice to the Corinthian believers is a “one size fits all” text for every person in every relational circumstance.

Please don’t read what I am not writing. There is tremendous, scriptural wisdom that Paul is providing that is applicable to all. For example, Paul recognizes the very thing that Wendy and I have discovered in our own relationship. When we’re alone and on our own for a few days we’re free from having to worry about the other and can be all sorts of productive. Paul recognizes his singleness was crucial to his ability to accomplish all that God called him to do, and he thinks others would benefit from being single (especially because he knew that the Corinthians believers could be rounded up and killed, and he believed that Jesus could return at any moment). Does this mean that Wendy and I should not be married? Not at all. Wendy and I are ultimately more productive, more balanced, and better together at accomplishing what God has called us to than we would be as individuals. Context is critical to the proper interpretation of what Paul is writing to Jesus’ followers in ancient Corinth.

In the quiet this morning I’m thankful for Wendy, my partner in life, work, leisure, and ministry. She makes me a better man, and her complimentary gifts and personality actually support, equip, and empower me. I’m also thankful for short periods of time that our work affords us to be alone and focus on what we individually need to accomplish. It works well for us, but I also recognize that not every single person or married couple are like us. Nor should they be. We’re each in our own unique circumstances, and God meets each of us in the context of our individual situations.

Meditations on Song of Solomon

In the 11 years I’ve been writing my blog and posting my chapter-a-day meditations, I’ve not spent a ton of time worrying about whether posts are popular. I haven’t actively tried to either please or cater to a particular audience. That’s never really been the point for me. I simply post what’s on my heart and mind each weekday morning and scatter it like seed along my humble little path here in the blogosphere.

I have, however, casually noticed that my daily meditations on the Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs), have seemed to  maintain a certain level of popularity (I use that word very loosely in the context of my subscribers and page views) that is unusual for my typical posts. It totally makes sense to me. Song of Songs is the one poetic book in all of God’s Message that focuses on man, woman, relationship, love, romance, and sex. We are ever trying to understand the mystery, aren’t we?

So, for what it’s worth, here is a compilation of my meditations from Song of Solomon, originally posted in October of 2013. Cheers!

 

 

Song of Solomon Chapter 1
A Hint of Paradise

God, the artist, created us male and female. He created us naked. He told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. Love, intimacy and sex between husband and wife was part of the original ideal….

 

 

 

Song of Solomon Chapter 2
With Nobody Else but Me

Be mindful and wary of misplaced and competing affections and appetites.

 

 

 

Song of Solomon Chapter 3
Meeting the Parents

Today, I am pondering this dance of courtship that men and women have been doing since the beginning of civilization.

 

 

 

 

Song of Solomon Chapter 4
Sensually Good

Jesus said he came to give us abundant life. This includes a healthy appreciation for the breadth of senses God gave us to properly experience the full range of creation in its sensual glory.

Song of Solomon Chapter 5
The Art and Progression of Sexual Intimacy

My experience is that sexual intimacy does not become a breathtaking original work of art unless there are two people learning to create something together over time, learning to work together, make mistakes, erase errors, try something new, explore, play, complement one another’s individual style, and develop their own unique style as a couple over time together.

 

 

 

 

Song of Solomon Chapter 6
Browsing Among the Lilies

God created us male and female. He created us as sexual beings with hormones and sexual desires. He created a natural order in which people grow, develop, desire one another and have sexual relations through which new life is created. He called it “good.”

 

 

 

 

Song of Solomon Chapter 7
A Case for Delayed Gratification

In contrast to where our culture seems to be heading, I hear in Song of Solomon the wisdom, art, and beauty of love that takes time, effort, and creativity to develop. I am reminded that delayed gratification makes the climactic sensual feast deeper, more meaningful and ultimately more pleasurable.

Song of Solomon Chapter 8
Signed, Sealed, Delivered

God’s Message has scant descriptors of marriage. It does not prescribe a particular method or ceremony for marriage, but seems to allow room for cultures and history to develop a veritable plethora of customs around the marriage ceremony. What God’s Message does simply say is that a man and woman leave their respective parents, unite themselves, and become “one flesh.”


Tom Vander Well has been writing his blog, Wayfarer, since 2006. He lives in Pella, Iowa with his wife Wendy.

“L’chaim”

“You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you.”
Leviticus 18:3 (NRSV)

This past weekend we were with friends at the lake. It was a wonderful weekend. We lay in the sun and on the water. We took a boat ride in which the hum of the engine and the rocking of the waves lulled our friends to sleep. We watched a good movie together that resonated with profound lessons about the contrast between life and religiosity. We drank a luscious red wine and ate a rich mixture of crackers, cheese, fruits and veggies. We explored new ideas. We shared both joys and heartaches. We spoke into one another’s lives.

Our friend raised his glass multiple times during the weekend in what is an important ritual for him, and offered the Hebrew toast “L’chaim” which means “to life.”

When you look at the Great Story God is telling from Genesis to Revelation, there are a few simple themes woven throughout. One of them is the theme of life and death:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live….” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

We continue our journey today through the ancient sacrificial system described in the book of Leviticus. If you’ve been following along I’m sure you’ll agree with me that the whole thing gets a bit surreal to our 21st century western sensibilities. In today’s chapter, we encounter a host of rules centered mostly around sex. The key to unlocking the message is in the third verse (pasted at the top of this post).

The Hebrews had just escaped from being slaves in Egypt. They were headed to the land God promised them in Canaan. They have been immersed in Egyptian culture for hundreds of years and they are about to experience Canaanite culture. Neither culture was particularly healthy.

King Tut RenderingIn Egypt, the ruling families were known to practice incest in the belief that they were keeping the royal bloodline pure. The Pharaoh and his family were considered deities and the thinking went that if the royal family only bred from among each other that they wouldn’t be tainted by any non-deified humans. Of course, we know today that his is a really bad idea. Consider the famous King Tut. Extensive research on Tut’s mummy reveals that the boy king behind the famous hoard of golden treasure was far from what we would consider god-like. He had a club foot, probably walked with a cane, and he had abnormally wide, feminine hips for a boy. These are likely genetic issues stemming from the fact that his parents were brother and sister.

By the way, before we get too judgmental on the ancient Egyptians, it should be noted that the whole “pure blood” philosophy among royals carried on in Europe for centuries. J.K. Rowling didn’t just make up the “pure blood” notion for the fictional wizarding world. The royal families in Europe are a dizzying mixture of marriages between relatives.

Intermarriage among Europe's royal Hapsburg family.
Intermarriage among Europe’s royal Hapsburg family.
In ancient Canaan, the local tribal cultures had their own mixture of unhealthy sexual practices which spilled into their local religious practices. Ritual worship of pagan gods such as Molech included strange sexual practices and the sacrifice of human children by burning them.

So, as we read through today’s chapter we have to realize that it was a prescription against cultural and religious practices from Egypt and Canaan that were unhealthy for individuals and society as a whole. It’s back to the theme of life and death. These things don’t promote life and its healthy regeneration. These things bring destructive havoc on people, relationships, and society. Underneath the rules lies the same old theme: life and death. God is once again saying, “I want you to choose life by living in such away as to avoid those things you’ve seen in Egypt and will see in Canaan which are really unhealthy and contribute to destruction and death.”

Which brings me back to last weekend with our friends which was so full of life. Our bodies rested, our souls refreshed, and our relationships were strengthened. We tasted and drank in goodness spiritually, emotionally, relationally as well as in the literal food and drink we enjoyed together. Our activity and our conversations were life giving. And that’s always what God wants us to choose.

L’chaim.

“I’m ‘unclean’, if you know what I mean.” [wink, wink]

“If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening.”
Leviticus 15:18 (NRSV)

I am fascinated by words and the ways in which our words and language embody our cultural understanding of things. Today’s chapter is the one which causes little boys to snicker, giggle, and poke each other in the ribs if they happen upon it during Sunday School or Vacation Bible School. It’s the ancient Levitical prescriptions for dealing with bodily fluids. In particular, it focuses on bodily fluids of a sexual and reproductive nature.

From a societal perspective, I’m sure these laws of hygiene served an important purpose for the ancient Hebrews. The prescriptive avoidance of what could be infectious fluids along with ritual cleansing, including bathing and washing with running water, served an obvious purpose from perspective of preventative medicine.

What fascinates me this morning is the spiritual and cultural connotation of the natural consequences of human sexuality and reproduction being called “unclean.” If I have sex with my wife (prescribed by God in the Garden of Eden) then we are both “unclean” until evening. You just know there had to be guys, even in ancient Israel, who utilized this to brag about their sexual prowess with their friends: “Hey Eli. Don’t touch me. My wife and I are ‘unclean’ ’til evening, if you know what I mean.” [wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more]. Boys will be boys.

When I was a boy, it was common for adults to refer to body parts and sexual references as “dirty.” Almost anything of a sexual nature was references as “dirty.” “Dirty” words. “Dirty” magazines. “Dirty” thoughts. “Dirty” stories. “Dirty” jokes. You get the picture. What a fascinating connection of dots. God’s ancient laws deem sexual emissions “unclean” and my parents seemed to deem all things sexual as “dirty.”

This morning I am thinking about how God’s “good” creation of sexual beings and his command to reproduce (e.g. have sex) transitioned into something “unclean.” I’m thinking about how our fallen nature leads society into all sorts of simplistic “black and white” thoughts and judgements just because it’s easier. I’m pondering how God’s prescriptive rules for the ancient Hebrews have led to all sorts of contemporary cultural and societal connotations from both a moral and spiritual perspective. I’m thinking about how hard it is for a boy to be told by authority figures for the first two decades of his life that sex is “dirty” and then those same authority figures expect that same boy to magically enter into a healthy sexual relationship in marriage when he becomes a young man.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

Posts about Sex, Marriage, & Intimacy

On Remember When Wednesdays I typically look back at older posts across my ten years of blogging and re-post them for newer readers of my blog. Of late, I’ve been taking the opportunity to create a few topical lists of my chapter-a-day posts.

They say that “sex sells,” so I’ll be really interested how the stats on this post fare 😉 For today’s Remember When Wednesday, I’ve put together a list of my posts that reference sex (in a very broad, topical sense of the word).

The Art and Progression of Sexual Intimacy (Song of Songs 5)
Sexual Healing
I’m “Unclean.” If You Know What I Mean (wink, wink)
Of Twisties and Pantry Lights
Burning Down the House
A Hint of Paradise (Song of Songs 1)
With Nobody Else But Me (Song of Songs 2)
Meeting the Parents (Song of Songs 3)
Sensually Good (Song of Songs 4)
Browsing Among the Lilies (Song of Songs 6)
A Case for Delayed Gratification (Song of Songs 7)
Signed, Sealed, Delivered (Song of Songs 8)
We’re All Suckers for a Love Story
A Raving Fan of the Fairer Sex
Enjoy the Dance
Five Things That Irritate You About the Opposite Sex
Captivated
Profanity, Obscenity and Swearing
God’s X-Rated Word Pictures
Appetites and Maturity
Delicacies and Darkness
Chapter-a-Day Song of Songs 2
Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 18
Chapter-a-Day Song of Solomon 7
Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 9
Chapter-a-Day Ephesians 5

 

The Art and Progression of Sexual Intimacy

Hard to believe, but I have been blogging for nearly 10 years and have written over 3200 blog posts in that time. On Remember When Wednesdays I repost something I wrote from yesteryear for newer readers. It’s always interesting to me the posts that, as I put it, “get legs” and seem to perpetually drive traffic on my blog.

For today’s Remember When Wednesday, I’m reposting The Art and Progression of Sexual Intimacy. It is one of my chapter-a-day posts from the Song of Solomon which seems to have resonated with readers. It was originally published in September of 2013. Enjoy…

My lover tried to unlatch the door,
    and my heart thrilled within me.
Song of Solomon 5:4 (NLT)

One of the things that I love about the Song of Solomon is the way the relational give and take develops between the young man and the young woman in the duet. Like all relationships, there is a progression of the relationship from the beginning of the song to the end. There is the initial infatuation with one another as they look upon one another and are impressed with what they see. Then there is the growing desire for one another as they seek to be in one another’s presence. In today’s chapter we feel the growing desire and anticipation of sexual intimacy.

The young woman is having another dream, and this time she hears the young man attempting to unlatch the door of her bedroom. Her heart is thrilled (and, I suspect, other parts of her as well). When she gets up to let him in, she finds him gone. Disappointed, she runs through the streets in a frantic search for him. The night watchmen find her and beat her up. You can see in the dream the anticipation of intimacy, the disappointment that it has not happened, and the intense feelings of personal pain and injury that she has not been able to consummate her love.

I have learned over time that sexual intimacy in marriage is best built with anticipation, just like the progression in Solomon’s song. While sex occasionally occurs at the spur of the moment, motivated by a surprisingly sudden surge of hormones, the truth is that there is typically a subtle song and dance that happens between me and Wendy. A glance and casual touch at the breakfast table hints at the possibility that this day may come to a passionate end. Hints are dropped by the wearing of things that the other has commented pleases his or her eye. A dab of cologne on a day that none is typically warranted. There is the casual touch in public that lingers a moment longer than usual. The mind is engaged. The eyes are engaged. The sense of smell is stimulated. The ears hear coded messages: “I shaved my legs today.”

Playful thoughts flitter in and out of each other’s minds during the day. Anticipation builds. A regular evening dinner takes on new layers of sensual meaning as each become aware of what I mentioned in yesterday’s post: There is a connection between senses. The feeding of one appetite will invariably lead to another. The main course tastes so good. The wine seems downright decadent, and savoring the dessert feels almost sinful.

One of the things that Solomon’s song subtly conveys to me is that the climactic, sexually intimate event of the day does not typically just happen. It happens when husband and wife learn and know one another’s subtle, sensory dance. It is me learning how to slowly feed multiple senses of my wife during the day in the ways she best responds. It is my wife learning just how to tease the deliberate build up of anticipation that will lead to a successful, intimate feast after dinner that night. There is an art to the intimacy between husband and wife that takes on the unique characteristics of the two artists involved in creating the intimate moment.

In contrast, I find that popular media (especially pornography) likes to portray sex like it’s most awesome when easily cranked out like one of those ultra high-speed photocopiers at Kinko’s (yes, pun intended): Get it fast. Get it often. Get it easy. Everyone gets a copy. Sure, you get the picture – but it’s monochrome, impersonal, and unoriginal. Each one is just like the one before. It quickly becomes meaningless and lifeless. You crank out more copies hoping for something different in the output picture, but it will never be an original work of art.

My experience is that sexual intimacy does not become a breathtaking original work of art unless there are two people learning to create something together over time, learning to work together, make mistakes, erase errors, try something new, explore, play, complement one another’s individual style, and develop their own unique style as a couple over time together. As Solomon’s Song suggests, there is a progression. It gets better, deeper, more refined, and even more powerful in ways neither husband nor wife could scarcely imagine, even in the intoxicating infatuation of the early relationship.

Sexual intimacy between husband and wife is a work of art.

God’s X-Rated Word Pictures

Egyptian Phallic StatueThere she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. Ezekiel 23:20 (NIV)

You’re likely not going to hear a sermon at your neighborhood church on today’s chapter. The MPAA would rate a movie of Ezekiel’s word pictures NC-17 in the blink of an eye, and depending on the Director of the film, it would likely end up X rated. Today’s chapter reminds me that there are those sections of God’s Message commonly chosen for public consumption on Sunday morning, and there are those that are commonly avoided.

However, as I’ve read and studied the entirety of God’s Message over the years, I find that it does not shy away from base human realities. Sex and violence are a very real part of the human experience. Even the “heroes” of the faith are revealed to have core character flaws and to be guilty of all sorts of wrongdoing.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The pornographic imagery that fueled ancient fertility cults are akin to graphic porn on our computer screens to which many are addictively drawn. I look around my local gathering of Jesus followers and know those who have been physical, verbal, and sexual abusers as well as victims of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. These are core realities of the fallen state from which we all need to experience repentance, healing, forgiveness, redemption, and salvation.

The ancient prophets like Ezekiel were not given to social propriety and white washing the truth in idyllic terms. They were given to speaking in honest, base terms about the human condition. Today’s chapter is a prime example in which God gives Zeke a word picture that many starched, religious church goers I know would prefer to simply skip over. The metaphors center on two female prostitutes who have given themselves over to their insatiable sexual lusts. The sisters represent the divided kingdoms of Israel (Samaria in the north and Judah in the south) who, in God’s graphic word picture, whored themselves out in political and religious alliances with their neighbors rather than being faithful and trusting of God.

This is not subtle, read between the lines, imagery. The things a person experienced in Ezekiel’s day is almost unfathomable to our relatively puritanical, politically correct world. There were sex cults and child sacrifices. Graphic, giant phallic (penis) imagery in sculptures and graphic depiction were a normal part of pagan societies, and God through Ezekiel’s message addresses these things in equally graphic terms. Desperate times call for desperate messages, and God does not shy away from speaking directly, graphically, and emphatically to his people.

Today, I am reminded that prophets are not only fore-tellers but forth-tellers who are not afraid to shock people out of their comfortable, proper religiosity to say what needs to be said. I am reminded that socially or religiously cloistering ourselves from the realities of fallen humanity does not insulate us from those realities or their consequences. Blissfully ignoring and piously avoiding any public evidence of our sin doesn’t immunize us from sin and its disastrous effects, rather it keeps us from honestly addressing sin in healthy ways that will promote positive change, healing and redemption.

I believe that messages like Ezekiel’s are God’s way of shocking us out of our religious duplicity to address this base reality.