Married and Unsatisfied

Married and Unsatisfied

You thought you were getting sex tonight. You swear you even caught your wife giving you the look she usually gives when she’s nonverbally letting you know it’s going to happen when you get home, kids go to bed, or whatever the normal context is for you two to get lucky. But once again, you got denied…

Whether you’re the husband or wife – it can be frustrating, lonely, and stressful when you’re in a season of sexless marriage. In marriage, we possess this awesome gift of guilt-free sex through intimacy with our spouse. But despite what you may have thought before “I do”, that doesn’t mean all your sexual problems just magically go away.

A few things to consider before I share some practical advise:

  • The frequency of sex for a couple is often very different for each couple, and through different seasons also. The newly weds in their early 20’s are probably far more frequent in their sex life than the couple 18 years in, with teenagers in the house. And that’s ok!
  • One spouse may have a much higher libido than the other. Generally, we know men tend to want sex more often than their wife, but that’s not always the case. Once a week may be enough for him, but she may long for intimacy multiple times a week.
  • There are often legitimate reasons where intimacy is less possible. Your wife is 9 months pregnant and on bedrest… a little grace and understanding may be in order! Maybe there’s a particularly stressful season at work that’s killing the mood, or sapping your energy when you get home. Maybe there’s stress in your extended family that has you distracted. It’s ok…

But what do you do when things seemed to have just stopped, or significantly dropped in the frequency that you use to have sex? I want to offer some some practical application to help you get past a dry season, and more importantly, deal with the root issues behind the issue.

Sexual health in marriage = healthy intimacy. This is why masturbating alone in the bathroom doesn’t fix the problem. It’s not just hormones needing to be released, it’s harmony being missed. What your marriage really, really needs is deeper intimacy. True intimacy is based on vulnerability and trust. And you can not demand either.
Often husbands are not seen as being the “vulnerable” ones, but it is very emotionally risky to attempt to initiate sex after feeling rejected over and over again, whether you’re the husband or the wife. Trust for the man is often built when his wife sees his longing to be intimate, and reciprocates – if not this time than the next time, on her initiative. Wives may feel like their husbands have withdrawn, so maybe he just doesn’t want sex as much. But often, he feels rejected and is acting out in hurt, unwilling to risk rejection again. And the longer the time it takes for her to initiate, the longer and greater the feeling of rejection may last on his part.

Healthy intimacy requires consistent communication. I’m still amazed at how few couples actually talk to each other about their sex lives. But when an emotional wound exists, it can be very difficult to even try to bring up the subject. Married couples should routinely talk to each other about sex! What do you talk about? Well you’re married! So nothing is really off limits here! There is nothing dirty about talking to your spouse, about sex with your spouse! So here a few ideas: express your needs/desire for sex, ask questions about their desires, what they like, what they don’t like. It could be, that your spouse isn’t enjoying sex – and it’s your job to learn how! More than your job, you should see it as your privilege. So you have to speak up, ask good questions, and always demonstrate care and compassion towards them in the process.

Sex is more of a thermometer than a thermostat. In other words, while a healthy sex life does sometimes improve the overall health of your marriage, it is always an indication of the health of your marriage. Sex definitely helps set the mood for marital happiness, but in my personal and pastoral experience, it is always a reliable indication of the happiness that already exists between husband and wife.
When there is a lack of sexual intimacy and fulfillment in a marriage, it is almost always a sign of deeper issues. Maybe for one spouse, it feels like their partner has more of a desire for sex itself, rather than for actual intimacy with them. In these cases, one spouse often feels like nothing more than a means to an end – a sexual object – rather than a true lover. Perhaps there is an underlying issue that has caused your spouse to not feel very “intimate” toward you. Maybe they are simply going through a personal struggle and need you to reach out to them lovingly. Maybe they just don’t realize it, and need you to say something! Maybe they feel alone in the finances or household responsibilities, and hold some resentment toward you that is manifesting in not feeling very “sexual” towards you.

Sex in marriage, the Christian marriage specifically, is an act of consistent, mutual humbling of one’s self toward their spouse. In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul corrects the church in Corinth for this strange, aberrant view they had on marital sex. They had (incorrectly) come to the conclusion that all things of the “flesh” were evil, including sex – within marriage! Paul gives them a better word; “Stop depriving one another…” He teaches us that a husband’s body doesn’t belong to himself, but to his wife, and conversely that she belongs to him. Either of these two thoughts on their own would sound possessive, sexist, and potentially abusive. But together we learn to see that our body, our desires, our needs – belong to our spouse. It is their job to think of us, as it is our job to think of them.

Sometimes, the most loving, intimate thing you can do for your spouse is not try to figure out how to get them to “put out” tonight, but to lay aside your desires to see that she’s exhausted, stressed, or scared. So instead of making a sexual advance, you put the kids to bed, read them a book, and rub her feet. And the irony to it all, is that as you show true love for your spouse – not by demanding sex, but by modeling humility and intimacy towards them – your chances just got much better.

Sex is easy. Intimacy is rare, and precious. Marriage requires us to value the intimacy over intercourse. Instead of thinking, “how can I get my spouse to have sex tonight?” a better thought is, “what does my spouse need from me tonight?” Maybe he needs you to communicate your needs. Maybe she needs to talk to her husband about her day. Maybe they need you to risk making the move again. Maybe they need your arms around them, with no sexual outcome intended. Maybe you both need to get out and have a date together – no kids.

May your marriage be filled with deep, meaningful intimacy.
May you put your spouse ahead of yourself, and model sincere love.
May you communicate the real heart issues behind the issues.
And may you have a loving, strong, enviable sex life as a result.

Blessings,
Pastor John

The Premium of Pain

The Premium of Pain

The phrase no pain, no gain has been a mantra for athletes and fitness junkies for years. And what they understand about physical pain needs to be broadened to a much more general use in all of our lives.

Pain hurts. That’s the whole problem. No one enjoys it, and if someone does, we rightfully question their mental health. But I’ve learned from repeated familiarity that there is a premium value for pain that is not achieved otherwise.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

It’s been the battle cry of my ministry – of my life! I even made a wristband saying as much. The difficulty is that I have to remind myself of this when it’s the least convenient. When I’ve gone through a loss, a failure, a disappointment, a setback – that’s when pain is punching the hardest. And that’s when I have to remind myself that there is a resource that only comes through such pain.

This is easily the greatest reason why most people are stuck in life. Stuck in their career because they think they can’t start over. They can start over, but starting over sucks.
Stuck in their marriage because they won’t have uncomfortable conversations about the problems in their relationship, so they settle for “peace” which isn’t true peace it’s just a pause in the fighting. And by pause, I mean nothing is being worked out together.
Stuck in their faith, because you won’t risk anything meaningful in your pursuit of truly knowing Christ, “and the fellowship of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10).
Stuck in your finances, because it’s more convenient to have a little fun now, rather than save for a lot of freedom later.

We are naturally pain averse. But pain comes for us all. It comes by choice through sacrifice, or it comes by consequence through inaction, playing it safe, and maintaining a status quo. But regardless of how it comes, we still have a valuable decision to make…

What do I do with my pain?

  • I can internalize it – become bitter, spiteful, and self-destructive.
  • I can vocalize it – assign blame, make public statements, protest, and pass responsibility.
  • I can mobilize it – realize that I got here at a price, and pain is a tutor – a tough and expensive one – whose lessons are hard-earned, and few are willing to pay the tuition.

Pain comes from many sources. Self inflicted, abuse by others, setbacks from life, and even from God, Himself. It was Him after all, who led His own Son to the cross. But through the price of the pain He endured on the cross, our salvation was purchased.

What might your pain purchase? You’re richer than you think. Your pain is a resource. You can choose anger and resentment, or you can choose humility, grace, perseverance, wisdom, and growth. It’s my prayer that you mobilize the premium price of pain God has allowed in your life for greater things.

Blessings,
Pastor John

Kanye West and celebrity “conversions”

Kanye West and celebrity “conversions”

Recently I came out in support of Kanye West’s conversion to faith in Christ. Read that again. Slowly. I support his conversion, his profession, his faith in Christ…

Not any of his past. Not any of his present antics. Not his political choices. Not even every spiritual sounding thing he says. I support his very vocal, very well-articulated, very public salvation experience through his acknowledgement of his need for Christ, and faith in His work.

Am I skeptical of Kanye? Sure. I’m skeptical of anyone who wants something from me – whether that’s my purchase of their album (which I did), or persuade me to give them my vote (which I never do).

Here are some observations I make about people who sincerely receive Christ into their lives:

  • They can’t shut up about Him! Whether we’re talking about Biblical characters like Zacchaeus (Luke 19), or the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) – people who get saved by Jesus, are consistently compelled to share Jesus. Kanye – in true Kanye fashion – has not stopped talking about what Jesus did for him. That rings true to me.
  • They are reckless in their abandonment of their old life. Peter got called by Jesus to follow Him (Matthew 4), and Peter literally quit his job on the spot! Walked out on his fishing business with his dad to follow Jesus. Kanye is an artist, but he’s an artist who made millions promoting godless, moral-less anthems. Since his faith experience, he’s put all of that reputation in jeopardy. Maybe more accurately, you could say he’s crucified that life with this new faith.
  • They have to do something! I mentioned Zacchaeus earlier. Zacchaeus was a legal thief, a.k.a. tax collector for the Roman government. When he encountered the love of Christ, he made a decision to pay back what he took unjustly from others, with heavy interest. Kanye writes music. He’s using what he has. In his words, from God Is, “I can’t sit here and be still, everybody I will tell, ’til the whole world is healed!”
  • They are messy. Almost every new Christian is messy. Some more “mature” Christians are messy! Basically we’re all a just a forgiven mess. But my point is, that new believers are still figuring everything out, and how to die to themselves everyday. And that’s not easy! Kanye, and those who celebrated his faith, came under fire when a quote he made about himself being the “greatest artist God ever created” came out. Yeah, that’s arrogant! But I also know that with all the publicity he’s gotten lately he was bound to say something stupid eventually. Wasn’t that everyone’s point? Isn’t that why he keeps getting attention, because people are more interested in seeing him fall, rather than succeed in his faith profession? Shame on us.

I would never feel any compulsion to support everything someone does or says – a celebrity whom I’ve never met, least of all. And Kanye is no different. But what I will defend – literally to my last breath – is that Jesus died for everyone. And absolutely anyone who turns from themselves to Christ’ work on the cross, His death and resurrection, is fully and utterly redeemed by God. Whether that person is a politician, rapper, college student, “cradle Christian”, or LGBT+. That is what I’m supporting. That is where I’m coming from.

What Kanye needs right now is grace and discipleship, which I hear he is receiving. I hope that’s true. What we need, fellow Christians, is to actually stand on the gospel – and it’s power to save absolutely anyone. Heaven will be filled with people with sketchy pasts. You and I included. We just might not have to figure our new faith out on a worldwide stage.

Blessings,
Pastor John

Date Night Ideas

Date Night Ideas

Here’s a quick run through of date night ideas. My wife and I actually use these. And with it being close to Christmas, maybe there’s a few good ideas you can turn into a gift…

Cheap/Basically Free:

  • Netflix and Chill. Come on it had to be here! My wife and I like to watch a favorite series and eat ice cream in bed.
  • Interview Questions. This is fun, and can be done in combination with almost any other date ideas. We ask each other questions, specifically intended to find out more about each other – and we still do this after 15+ years of marriage! We’re still discovering more and more about each other, and loving very step along the way. Some of our responses have changed over the years also. Don’t know what to ask? Start here.
  • 2-player video games. We’ve been playing Overcooked on Nintendo Switch lately and it’s a blast!
  • Nice Dinner at home. I love to cook, so I’ll occasionally grab a couple steaks, or scallops, or mussels, and cook up a simple, quick, elegant meal for just the two of us. There’s something intimate about cooking together.
  • Cleaning Party. Ok, no lie, this is nowhere near my first choice. I’d much rather “Netflix and Chill”! But we get some needed things done around the house, and that makes both of us feel more romantic.
  • Run errands together. We hear couples complain about never having enough time together. So turn ordinary things into a date! Buying groceries? Get a coffee together and make it a date!
  • Coffee and Prayer. I’m trying to do better at this. With 4 kids and a constantly busy house, there’s plenty to interrupt us. But we try to consistently have some regular morning time to pray for each other… over a cup of home made coffee.
  • Board/Card Games. These are so fun together, but also a great idea for family nights. We like Sushi Go, Game of Life, Ultimate Werewolf, and, yes… Exploding Kittens.
  • Overnight date at Home. This one’s for all the married with kids folks! We have a few other trusted families who we swap off watching our children overnight with about once a month to every other month. Our kids get to have sleepovers, and so do we with each other.

Moderate Cost:

  • Dance Lessons. Contrary to my Baptist roots, dancing is fun, romantic, and not inherently evil. There’s a great little affordable class you can do together in-home here!
  • New restaurant. We love to eat out, and we’re very adventurous with trying new foods/cuisines. We’ve got a favorite ramen joint, Ethiopian spots, plenty of Indian, Korean, phò, and of course Mexican options all around us. More importantly, we love experiencing them together.
  • Night at a nearby hotel. Occasionally, we’ll take a night out – in or near our own town! It’s like getting away but with far less travel time. And for the cost of a single hotel night, it’s pretty fun.
  • Art Gallery. We’ve only gone to a few art galleries, but have had a lot of fun each time! These are reasonably affordable trips, and this is another good family “date” for kids in many cases.
  • Comedy Show. These can be tough to find decently clean shows, but we recently went to Gabriel Iglesias and LOVED him. Hilarious, and decent.
  • Nearby travels. We have the good fortune of living in the SF Bay Area, and we’re surrounded by lots of great date day options that amount to a day trip. We’ve toured San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Paso Robles, Downtown San Jose, Willow Glen, Fremont, and several other parts of our greater Bay Area just to discover people and places together.
  • Fire pit. We have a enough yard space to enjoy a fire pit. It’s perfect for cuddling, talking, and enjoy a drink or meal, and just unplugging from all the other distractions for a bit. This is the one we use. We paid less, and we’ve had it for years.

Special Occasions/Pricey:

  • Michelin Star Chef. As a big food nerd, I found out there was a 3-star chef nearby that I was dying to visit. We saved a considerable amount of money for this trip, but enjoyed what is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime meal. We’ll share the memories of that meal for the rest of our lives. WORTH IT.
  • Hawaii. We went here for our 13th Anniversary a few years ago. As an Army brat growing up, I lived on Oahu for 3 years, and already knew several “must do” stops. But we spent half the trip on Kauai and just relaxed. Maui and the “Big Island” are also great. Lanai is tiny!
  • Missions Trip. We recently went to Kenya together and got to serve some missionaries and Kenyan pastors. It was a joy to serve together, and reminded both of us of what our marriage is centered around.
  • Family Reunion. My extended family is literally spread coast-to-coast. We had a big family reunion a year ago and reconvened with most of them in Oklahoma where my parents live. The trip there and back was as rewarding as the time with our relatives.
  • Conference/Retreat. We’ve both spoke at different conferences, and have attended dozens more. Some were focused on ministry, our marriage, or just a getaway with other couples. They are all rewarding and great to experience together.
  • Special Experience. We have loved some of the wine tours around us. We’ve gone fishing together on charter boats,
  • Visit another part of the world. We’ve got more travel plans. I promised my wife when I married her that I’d take her to Ireland. So Ive got plan that out soon! We’ve been to Germany, and hope to also go to A few tropical places sooner rather than later.

This is just a simple kick-starter list – the point obviously is to spend time together, enjoying each other’s company and building intimacy. What are some other favorite married date ideas you’ve enjoyed with your spouse? Anything I should have added?

Blessings,
Pastor John

How to Know You’ve Forgiven Someone

How to Know You’ve Forgiven Someone

I’ve often spoke and written on forgiveness, and it occurs to me that there is a lot of different understandings on what it is. Some say “forgive and forget” – a near psychological impossibility – while some have attempted to leverage the pain others caused them to prove the haters wrong; using their unforgiveness as a sort of fuel to drive them forward.

But I find that we all know instinctively that forgiveness is important and necessary for our own well being. I’ve often taught that withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison, but expecting it to hurt the other person. Others have said that forgiving is like setting a prisoner free, only to realize the prisoner was actually you.

We know we should forgive. Often, we want to forgive. But how do we forgive someone who has wronged us, and how do we know we’ve truly granted forgiveness to the other person?

  • Forgiveness is a choice. That means it starts with your will, and the good news about that, is you have direct control over it. The feeling of forgiveness follows the decision to forgive.
  • Forgiveness is a process. It’s not as simple as snapping your fingers, deciding you’ve forgiven someone, and it’s over. This is why it’s harder to forgive some things more than others. The greater the hurt, the harder the process. So once you’ve decided you should forgive someone, you’ll often have to “re-forgive” their offense, as the feelings of hurt, anger, and bitterness try to creep back in.
  • Forgiveness is self-care. It’s not simple a matter of whether the person who hurt you deserves to be forgiven. Truth is NO ONE deserves to be forgiven! But love requires forgiveness. Love for the other person, but also love for yourself. Forgiving someone doesn’t just mean that they get to move on, it means you get to move on.
  • Forgiveness is not forgetfulness. As mentioned earlier, you can’t! We lie to ourselves when we say “forgive and forget”. Sometimes, forgiveness means I’m not going to trust you again. Sometimes it means, I’m not putting myself in a position where I have to forgive you again.
  • Forgiveness has a calling card. You know you’ve truly forgiven when you get to the point where you want what’s best for them, not what they “deserve.” If they get hurt back, and you think “Ha! Karma! Finally!” You definitely have not forgiven them. If instead you hurt for them, that’s a sign you’ve truly let something go, and given them what you would want – what you need – when the role is reversed.

Blessings,
Pastor John