Loving Bravely

Loving Bravely

Loving bravely is risking great personal cost to do good for someone, even when you know that others may ridicule you for doing so. That’s the kind of love I want to give this Valentine’s Day.

This Valentine’s Day, I’m gonna try something different. Something brave.

Brave, as in, “this-year-I-will-forgo-typical-expressions-of-love-and-instead-donate-to-her-favorite-cause” bravery.

No, that’s not what I’m planning. I’m just offering that as an example. Eschewing a gift for a donation is the kind of thing that you only do when you really know somebody well, because if you’re wrong, you will pay for it. (All the married men should be nodding their heads right now.)

That’s what I mean by brave. Something unexpected that shows how much you care, something that might seem reckless, but is, in fact, very meaningful.

I have some work to do in the bravery department. Holly and I have been married for five years now, and unfortunately, I set the bar pretty high when we got engaged.

A friend of mine was the worship director at a megachurch in the area, and his band was planning on covering Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love,” for their worship service, since they were doing a series on relationships. So he asked me in advance to write another rap for it and bust it out during the service. So I upped the ante, and with their permission ahead of time, I wrote the rap verse as my will-you-marry-me speech, and during the middle of the song, I jumped off the stage and came down to where Holly was sitting, got down on one knee, and asked her to marry me.

It was so romantic.

Afterwards, I got mad cool points for going to such a length to surprise her. Afterwards, everyone kept echoing the same sentiment: Man, that was so brave.

Far be it from me to revise, as my grandmother used to say, even a jot or a tittle from the Bible. However, if I were to bring any editorial changes to an iconic biblical passage, I would choose 1 Corinthians 13, and right after “love is patient, love is kind,” I would add a third clause: “Love is brave.”

‘Cause seriously … ladies dig bravery. And for good reason.

Think of great leading men in popular films:

• Cary Elwes throwing himself down the hill in The Princess Bride.
• Bruce Willis fighting the terrorists in Die Hard.
• Will Smith trying to express his feelings in Hitch.

These are characters who found themselves in unfamiliar territory, and against all odds, they chose to do something good to help someone else, and found themselves being stretched (or in Smith’s case, swollen and contorted) beyond capacity in the process.

These are universal themes, for sure, but the common element here is bravery: the massive chutzpah required to stare down adversity and do the right thing anyway. It’s the stuff heroes are made from.

It’s important, though, that we not get confused about what bravery is, and more importantly, what it isn’t. Being brave, for example, is not the same thing as simply going against the flow.

Awhile back, I avoided seeing the last huge James Cameron blockbuster, mostly because I figured I already had a pretty good handle on how it ended (the boat sank), but also because I got tired of the hype. I just decided at some point that I’m going to be The Guy Who Never Saw Titanic, just to show up everyone else who thought it was so great.

The sad part is, I’m tempted to do the same with Avatar, even though I’ve read countless reviews and articles (including this one by UF’s Todd Burkes) that suggest that it’s a film experience worth having. It’s like I’d rather be the guy who didn’t see it, even if it means I miss out on seeing a great film.

Being contrarian is quite a marketable skill these days, because if you want to be a celebrity in today’s celebrity-saturated media marketplace, you have to do something to stand out from the rest of the pack. The quickest, easiest way to do that is to find a stance that is accepted as conventional wisdom, and then oppose it as vociferously as possible. This is why the Internet is full of people who oppose relatively normal things, like certain type faces, or even lowercase i’s next to capital letters.

(If you didn’t get that last reference, it’s ’cause you didn’t follow the link to the word “tittle” earlier. Go ahead, it’s not naughty or anything.)

This desire to stand out, in my opinion, is why former-NBA-journeyman-turned-culture-critic Paul Shirley recently penned a crude diatribe suggesting that Haitian citizens are culpable for their deplorable living conditions. Even though there are points he made that I agree with, I don’t think it was a particularly brave thing to say. He was looking to get a reaction, and he got one. People will accuse Shirley of many things, but loving too much is not one of them.

Loving bravely is not just taking an unpopular stance; it’s risking great personal cost to do good for someone, even when you know that others may, in fact, ridicule you for doing so. Obviously I’m not privy to all the details, but it seems to me that, by choosing to stand by her husband, Gayle Haggard chose to love bravely. It’s possible that Elin Nordegren Woods may be choosing similarly.

This is the truest essence of love, and as Christians we see it all over the Scriptures.

Consider this passage from 1 John 4:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This idea of sacrificial love, of doing for others what they cannot do for themselves, is one of the foundational principles that underscore all the worldwide efforts at Christian evangelism. And evangelism, as we all know, takes on many form — some subtle, and some not so subtle. The best strategies are ones that require truth and vulnerability, but still are basic and doable.

I’m reminded of “The Best Stuff In the World Today Café,” a cool little ditty by Take 6 with a nifty analogy of evangelism imagined as a downtown restaurant:

Time for lunch, my stomach said
I left the office to get fed
I had dined at every place on Main
My appetite was ripe for change.
And there stood this old restaurant
I had never seen before
And a stranger in an apron
Came bursting through the door and said

‘Welcome to The Best Stuff In the World Today Cafe
We are all believers in a better way
We were served as customers not so long ago
Now we are all waiters, we thought you oughta know’

It’s a clever song, and given the abundance of vocal talent in Take 6, I could probably listen to them sing pages of HTML source code and still love it.

Still, I wonder … what would happen if we really tried this? What would happen if I really grabbed someone off the street on an average Sunday morning and told them, “I don’t care what you planned to do, you gotta try this Jesus thing?”

I don’t know what would happen.

And that’s why it’s such a scary proposition in real life. Maybe that person would undergo a dramatic, Paul-on-his-way-to-Damascus conversion to Christianity. Or, maybe that person would give me the stink eye and say, “Dude, get your hands off me.” That’s why it’s such an act of bravery to put yourself out there like that.

And whether we recognize it or not, this holiday that we celebrate every February 14th, the one that was seemingly invented by purveyors of greeting cards, flowers, stuffed animals, and expensive chocolates … you know, Valentine’s Day?

Its origin is rooted not in empty sentiment, but in bravery.

Consider the following, courtesy of Wikipedia:

• The name “Valentine” is derived from the Latin valens which means “worthy,” and which bears etymological resemblance to our English words “valor” and “valiant.”

• The holiday itself has roots in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, where it was known for centuries as the feast day of Saint Valentine

• All the romantic sentiment related to love and courtship that has been traditionally associated with this feast originated with works of art like Jacobus de Voragine’s thirteenth century Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend) and Chaucer’s fourteenth century poem “Parliament of Foules”

• The name St. Valentine is actually an umbrella name for a number of martyred figures throughout church history, many of whom were known for various acts of kindness and bravery

• These acts include marrying and otherwise providing aid to Christians persecuted under the reign of emporer Claudius, and restoring the sight and hearing to the daughter of the jailer who subsequently imprisoned him

You put all that together, and it becomes evident that all of the sentimentality on display every year is just our society’s misguided yearning for a purer, less self-centered version of love than what we see in the movies, on television, and in gossip magazines.

It’s misguided because, sadly, we as a society keep returning to those same movies, TV shows, and gossip mags to inform our ideas of what true love looks like.

That’s why it’s incumbent on us as Christians to show, as Paul said, a more excellent way.

So this Valentine’s Day, I say be brave.

I can’t tell you what that act of bravery should be, because it’ll be different for all of us. Maybe it’ll mean being honest and really sharing feelings and issues that you would rather keep buried. Maybe it’s going out of your way to show your spouse that you love them, and doing so in the way that they really appreciate, rather than the way you happen to be good at.

Maybe it’s just stopping, out of the blue, just to say, “I love you.”

But whatever you decide, step on out there and do it.

And if it involves rapping a marriage proposal in the middle of a Sunday-morning worship service, don’t tell them I sent you.

Ask Dr. Minnie: Is Jesus My Husband?

Ask Dr. Minnie: Is Jesus My Husband?

Licensed Counselor and Life Coach Dr. Minnie Claiborn is back with her latest, monthly column. Feel free to submit any questions on a topic of your choice to [email protected], and your question may be answered in a future column!

Hello Dr. Minnie,

My name is Lynn. I am in my mid- thirties. I really want to get married and have children. My friend said that I should be content because Jesus is my husband. Dr. Minnie, am I missing something? Is Jesus really my husband?

Hi Lynne,

Many well-meaning people have said that to other people. It sometimes causes confusion and some people feel guilty because they don’t want to be unfaithful to Jesus. Let me just start out by saying,  “No, Jesus is not your husband.” If you are born again, Jesus is your Lord and Savior.

Scripture refers to the “Church”, the collective Body of Christ, as the “Bride of Christ.” However, this is not for an individual adaptation. God instituted marriage as an earthly covenant between man and woman. Ephesians 5:25-33  presents a distinction between that which is natural and that which is spiritual.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is our provider, protector, and healer. He loves us, comforts us, and will never leave nor forsake us. Certainly, these are traits that we desire in a mate, and only Jesus can meet those deep longings of our souls—but not in the romantic sense. He does this for both men and women who seek him for true love and comfort.

Dr. Minnie

 

 

Sex, Singles, and the Spirit-filled Life

Sex, Singles, and the Spirit-filled Life

For a single Christian, what to do about sexual intimacy can be tough and confusing. You harbor physical urges that God gave to you, but to have sex outside of marriage is a sin. The church’s response has generally been pithy and poor – “Just say no”. Meanwhile, the enemy has seized the void by providing a counterfeit of the sexual love God intended. Through R-rated movies, explicit music and advertising, we are inundated with it. What in the world is a single person supposed to do?

As a follow up to a previous column on sex within a marital context, Minister Pamela Bell of Serenity Pastoral Counseling & Consulting, offers advice for singles.

Minister Pamela Bell, founder of Serenity Pastoral Counseling and Consulting

Minister Bell recently hosted a Valentines Day engagement ceremony for her single clients in the Baltimore area. They celebrated their love affair with the Lord. The ceremony offered the participants an opportunity to renew their vows to God and to increase passion in their relationship with him throughout the year. “Being physically alone does not necessarily equal loneliness”, Bell said. The church needs to reclaim the truth that we are never alone when we are in relationship with God. Being single is actually an opportunity to turn your full attention to your relationship with God. Being married, in fact, can bring complications and opportunities to worship your mate instead of the Lord.

Bell, who has been married 26 years to the same man, says “God allows us to have mates to be able to show our love for him onto a living breathing human being. That mate presents a physical way for us to express our love for God. Whether you’re single or married, what we all have in common is an inseparable relationship with God.”

Humans are spirit first. We are made in the image of a triune God, who is spirit. Our physical bodies are vessels for us to journey on earth until it’s time to return to God. Certainly, we want to express ourselves physically with another human being, but the object of that expression is still God, Bell said. If you understand this, your single status is not a negative, it just means less distractions to God. “It might sound like a cop out to a single person, but a mate is not your source to fulfillment. God is our source,” Bell said.

Ok, that sounds good, but let’s keep this real. What do we tell the single person who is struggling with their sexuality? Bell said she counsels her clients based on what they reveal they are struggling with and yes, many people are struggling with issues such as pornography and sex. “God gave us the ability to imagine and create,” Bell continued. “What we entertain in our minds is important because we are creators. Fantasizing about sexual acts that are against God’s will, creates sin in our lives and sin, whether it is physical or mental, causes us to turn away from God.”

Bell teaches her clients that they can master their bodies through physical exercise, eating healthy and getting proper rest. She also suggests, professional massage, meditation and relaxation techniques to release pent up tension in the body and of course there is prayer. “I often suggest that my clients start a private prayer journal in which they’re writing letters to God about their intimate thoughts and feelings,” Bell said. “David demonstrated the power of prayer journaling. He wrote about his struggles, desires and his victories in what has become the Psalms. He gives us a good example about being in a relationship with the Lord and God referred to David as a man after God’s own heart. We tend to keep our sexual frustrations separate from our relationship with the Lord but He made us and is not uncomfortable talking about sex. By keeping a journal, people can learn from their own experiences and in the future they can go back to that prayer journal and remind themselves that ‘this too shall pass.’”

Bedroom Hallelujahs

Bedroom Hallelujahs

My wife, Rita, has begun reading the first volume of the bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy with her book club. Fifty Shades has been wildly popular because it features scenes of an unmarried couple’s explicit erotic sex that also includes elements of bondage. Published reports say the book has gotten a lot of wives excited about sex and their husbands are reaping the benefits. So, of course, that’s what grabbed my interest.

As my wife cuddled in bed reading her iPad, I asked her about the book. She was tight-lipped, as she shifted her body so that I couldn’t see the screen.

“It’s just what the club is reading now. I’m not really into this sort of thing,” she said. Then she cited some “confidentiality agreement” among her book club sisters, effectively ending our conversation.

Hmmm, more on that later …

The exchange reminded me of a talk I recently had with a Baltimore-based licensed pastoral counselor (who also happens to be my sister). Minister Pamela Bell of Serenity Pastoral Counseling & Consulting recently hosted “Teach Me How to Love You,” a conference to teach Christians how to develop healthy relationships. One of the topics included God in your sex life.

God and sexual intercourse?

Bell’s point is that God clearly created us to have and enjoy sex. One of the reasons why so many Christian marriages are in trouble, singles are fornicating, and pedophilia, adultery and homosexuality are common in churches, is because leaders aren’t teaching forthrightly about godly sex. Natural urges are suppressed and hypocritical and deviant behaviors are covered up. The church has allowed the world to turn into “the nasty” what God intended to be beautiful.

“According to most Christian teachings, sex is referred to in the context of procreation or as a marital duty,” Bell said. “I talk to people about making love and bringing God into the experience, instead of having some gymnastic event where orgasm is the finale.”

WELCOMING GOD INTO YOUR SEX LIFE: “While having sex, thank God for the beauty of the body of your mate,” says Christian counselor Pamela Bell to married couples. “Making love is an expression of gratitude.”

At the conference, Bell, who has been married for more than 25 years to the same man (they have three children), said attendees seemed surprised when she asked how long they thought the average orgasm lasted?

“Oh, they got real quiet,” Bell said.

The answer is about 18 seconds for the average woman and 20 seconds for a man. Once intercourse begins it takes the average women about 12 to 14 minutes to reach an orgasm and about 2 to 3 minutes for a man.

“So we spend so much time and often make bad decisions about our sex partners over a few seconds of pleasure. When we talked about sexuality within the confines of marriage, that’s when people got comfortable and we got a lot of questions.”

Like, what do you do when your husband or wife wants to have more sex than you do? Singles asked question like, what do you do when your urge for sex is high?

“Particularly when you look in the King James Version, the word ‘know’ is used to refer to sexual intercourse,” Bell said. “God intended sex to be about intimacy.”

But for many people it’s hard (no pun intended) to think about a holy God, while having sex. Intellectually you know that God created and commanded us to be fruitful and multiply. But is a man supposed to be thinking about Jesus while he “knows” his wife?

Bell said it’s about a paradigm shift, adding that she often refers couples to passages such as 1 Corinthians 7:4.

“While having sex, thank God for the beauty of the body of your mate,” she said. “Explore how your mate’s body is made. Each aspect complements the next. Making love is an expression of gratitude. You’re thanking God for the person He gave to you. Take your time, be present in the moment, and enjoy your spouse. Remember, love is patient according to 1 Corinthians 13:4.”

For singles, there are ways to feel God’s love without a physical partner, she said.

“It’s a better experience than conjuring up some dude or woman in your mind that you were with back in the day, or that you want to be with and having some counterfeit experience,” she said. “You can have an ongoing spiritual orgasm rather than a five-second deal, followed by feeling unfulfilled afterwards because you’re relying on a fantasy to give you pleasure.”

Bell said she felt led to host the conference because she sees too many Christians who are having major sex-related problems tied to church. As the church fails to deal honestly with sexuality, it is effectively leaving lambs to be slaughtered.

“It’s heartbreaking what is happening,” she said. “Many pastors simply don’t teach this.”

Not all pastors are afraid to “go there,” Bell said. There are Christian books on the topic. There’s even a biblical response to Fifty Shades called 50 Shades of Black and White. But in general, churchgoers seek information elsewhere, such as on cable TV, the Internet, or in erotic literature.

As for my wife’s reading of Fifty Shades, she’d rather not fantasize in that way — but she won’t judge others who like it.

And if I reap some added benefits from this month’s book club selection, I won’t complain.

*********************

 

Holy Intimacy

A few more passages from Scripture related to godly sexual love:

♥ Genesis 2:18

♥ Genesis 2:24

♥ Genesis 2:25

♥ Genesis 3:16

♥ Psalm 139:14

♥ Proverbs 5:18

♥ Ephesians 5:31-32