Category Archives: Sex and Gender Issues

Rise Up, My Love (274): True Love is Priceless

Song of Solomon 8:7 “If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.” Why? Because love is priceless! Love is worth more than any and every material treasure, and the lover will accept no substitute for the object of his love…not even money, although the love of money has probably confused and destroyed more people than any other idol (I Timothy 6:10). If a man would try to buy love with “all the substance of his house”—everything he possessed— He would be despised for reducing love and the person from which it comes to an object. If you set the price of love at a billion dollars, you would reduce it to nothing. By its very nature love must be given. Sex can be bought; love must be given.

As you might guess, I read every book I could get my hands on while studying the Song of Solomon, and today I want to share two quotes if you’ll forgive me. Craig Glickman explains things so well in his book, A Song for Lovers: “The attempt to buy a person’s love is an attempt to reduce that person to an object, to deny him that which makes him a person in the image of God—his voluntary choice of the one whom he will love. So if a man offered a girl all the wealth of his house for love, it would be a great insult. It would be an attempt to depersonalize her. For her to accept would be her greatest degradation, and in reality it would almost be legalized prostitution. Person hood precedes love. In depersonalizing, we destroy it. Love is not an object to be bought because it is priceless” (Glickman, 101).

Harry Ironsides, in his classic Addresses on the Song of Solomon, relates the heartbreaking account from many years ago of a seventy-year-old millionaire who negotiated with an ambitious mother for the hand of her eighteen-year-old daughter. After the wedding, the elderly husband lamented, “I am her sorrow” (Ironsides, 120-121). The old man had been unable to buy her love, and all his money had satisfied neither of them. There is no substitute for love! Love cannot be bought. It must be given.

This should be a sublime comfort to us as the objects of God’s love and favor, because that also means that no bribe of Satan can ever tempt God to give us away now! If we have trusted Christ as our Savior, God has taken us into his kingdom and loves us as he loves Christ. Positionally, we are already one in him and with him, although we won’t experience this relationship fully until he brings us to himself in heaven. No accusation against us is great enough to undo the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice and change God’s love. We have been bought and paid for! God will chasten us when we sin and prune us like plants into greater fruitfulness, but even these actions are proof of his love for us: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Revelation 3:19). We are secure. We are loved with everlasting love. Nothing will ever separate us from his love, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).


Rise Up, My Love (271): Poison Apples

Song of Solomon 8:6 “Jealousy is cruel as the grave…” This verse stopped me for months when I was originally studying the Song of Songs (now fifteen years ago). My husband and I had just come and gone on our thirtieth wedding anniversary celebration, and even though we’d  enjoyed a really happy vacation together, from the deepest part of me I felt the heat of this verse. There is nothing, nothing, in our relationship that has come close to causing as much pain and anger as jealousy.  (Again, we’re now just about to celebrate our 45th anniversary, and we have a much better relationship, but I could still experience jealousy in a flash if provoked!)

What does it mean to be jealous? Jealousy is “fearful or wary of being supplanted; apprehensive of losing affection or position…vigilant in guarding something…intolerant of disloyalty or infidelity.”* Are you jealous of your spouse? All of those above definitions fit me painfully well. I didn’t know I had a jealous bone in my body until the night my husband-to-be first kissed me, but from that night to this, I have been amazingly jealous of his affection. I had (erroneously) thought that I would never kiss anyone but my husband, and I hoped he would also save himself completely for me.

My beloved husband-to-be totally disagreed with such a policy and kissed me without permission one night as we were saying goodbye for yet another semester of college where we would be separated for months. He had drifted away from the Lord at the time, and we had a very tenuous, unstable relationship. As soon as he left, I sat down and cried. I wasn’t at all sure this was the guy I wanted to marry! I knew Amos 3:3, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” I’d even composed a song about it. I knew I could never marry anyone unless he was a Christian who not only “believed” but had truly surrendered his life to Christ. I also cried because I felt violated. How dare he rob me of my “purity?” (Note: Kissing is not fornication; the fact that I didn’t want to kiss anybody but my husband was my choice, but it  was going beyond what the Bible teaches.)

Looking back, I realize that I was being “over righteous,” which is what Solomon warns against in Ecclesiastes 7:16, but I didn’t understand the sin of my own pride, which led to great heartache, just as predicted: “Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?” I cried because I felt like he didn’t respect my boundaries and needs, and I felt like he didn’t really love me. And, I cried because something deep inside me said, “This is the guy you’re going to marry.” I don’t know where that came from, but I do know that on the heels of that sense came the thought, “and he doesn’t care one bit about maintaining purity…his or yours.”

Looking back, I know the last part was a Satanic deception, but I fell for it. I cried, but I became angry and then extremely jealous of his affection. When he casually wrote a few weeks later saying he and his roommate had taken in another roommate who was female, I thought the worst and decided to get revenge. I fell into Satan’s trap and thought, “I’m going to marry this guy, and he’s totally trashing himself.” (Which, by the way, was not true, but you know how Satan loves to deceive us!) I failed to heed Ephesians 4:26, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” I failed to heed Romans 12:19, which teaches clearly, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.” Why? Because only God can mete out vengeance and still retain his righteousness… because only God is perfectly just and holy.

For humans, vengeance is a beautiful, poison apple that—if eaten—will plunge the victim into a sleep of death. In fact, for twenty-five years I felt like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, living a death, awaiting true love’s first kiss to undo the damage. Did Prince Charming ever come to my rescue? Yes, but I learned that the real Prince Charming is Christ. He is the one whose kiss breathes life into our withered souls. He is the jealous God who desires and demands our total allegiance, and he is the only one we can ultimately trust to be unswervingly faithful to us. If we truly fulfill the first command, and love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, it takes the poison out of experiencing the pain of human frailty and imperfect fidelity.

For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24).

*The American Heritage Dictionary, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992), 964.

Longing for Intimacy: Four Promises for Same-Sex-Attracted Christians

The following article is so good that I obtained the author’s permission to reprint it here. (Thank you, Christopher!) More than 2 dozen of my blog followers self identify as homosexuals or experience same sex attraction (SSA), and I have dearly loved friends both my age and in the younger generation who struggle with SSA too. I hope this transparent, uplifting article will be a comfort to you in your own journey and/or if you have loved ones who are grappling with gender issues. Although I’m duplicating the entire article below, there is a link to the original at the end if you’d like to connect with Chris or learn more about his ministry.

Article by Christopher Asmus, Pastor, St. Paul, Minnesota

I am a husband, a father, and a pastor. And for as long as I can remember, I have experienced same-sex attractions (SSA). Although I have always been physically and romantically attracted to women, I also have never been without deep emotional and sexual attractions to men.

Many in our culture would like to label people like me “bisexual,” but I believe Jesus has spoken a better word.

“I Feel, Therefore . . . ”

The overarching sexual ethic of our day is “I feel, therefore I am.” We see this clearly in the ongoing conversations around “gender identity.” Proponents of nonbinary “gender categories” suggest that if someone feels contrary to their biological sex, they belong in the category that correlates best with their feelings. In the same way, many in our culture would have people like me think that if you feel homosexual desires, then you are homosexual.

We commonly hear statements like, “You can’t choose whom you love; just be true to yourself.” Or, “Stop hiding your feelings and embrace who you really are.” Such statements mean your sexual desires actually define you. Your desires determine your definition. Your sexual attractions are who you really are at the core of your being.

The Bible, however, does not teach, “I feel, therefore I am,” but rather, “I feel, therefore I need.” As a result of the fall, our hearts are out of order and dark (Romans 1:21). Instead of loving light and hating darkness, we love darkness and hate light (John 3:19). And as we fall more in love with darkness, we sin and choose the way of death (James 1:14–15; Proverbs 14:12).

In short, being human in a fallen world means being attracted to things that are contrary to human flourishing in God, things that oppose God’s good plan for us and lead to death. I feel these attractions to sin, and therefore I need a Savior.

As I have daily battled against same-sex attraction, four particular promises have been bullets of grace in my fight for joy.

Freedom from the Punishment of SSA

Christians struggling with SSA often feel especially ashamed and embarrassed by these attractions. We sense the perversion of our contorted wants and desires, and as a result, we often feel too dirty to be in community with others, or to be in communion with God.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Christian, God will never use your SSA against you. Because Christ drank the full cup of God’s wrath on your behalf (Romans 5:8–9; 1 Peter 3:18), you will never experience even a moment of judgment from God over your homosexual desires, or over anything else.

Freedom from the Power of SSA

Often Christians experiencing SSA feel hopeless and helpless to its power. As attractions intensify, temptations deepen, and fantasies — like a mirage of cold water in a desert — look more and more appealing, the desire for a same-sex relationship can be so potent that it seems nearly impossible to overcome.

Christian, because of the accomplished work of Christ on the cross, your same-sex attractions do not have any dominion over you (Romans 6:14); Christ has dominion over you (Romans 6:22; Ephesians 6:6). Because you were crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), you are no longer enslaved by your attractions, but fully free to reject them and render them powerless in your life (Romans 6:6–7).

Even in your moments of greatest temptation, consider yourself dead to SSA and alive to God through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:11).

Freedom from the Pleasure of SSA

The most foundational lie SSA tells us is that a homosexual experience will be more pleasurable and more satisfying than what you are experiencing here and now. But God promises that Christ himself is infinitely more pleasurable and satisfying than anything this world has to offer (Psalm 16:11; Psalm 107:9), especially the sad counterfeit savior of a same-sex experience.

Christian, don’t believe the lies SSA tells. Our homosexual attractions may stem from good desires for intimacy and love, but sin has contorted them in a deadly direction. As a carnival mirror reshapes reality and convinces the eye that things appear different than they really are, so sin reshapes our wants and desires, and convinces the heart that lies are actually true. Don’t believe the funny mirror of SSA.

Your God-given longings for deep, intimate satisfaction can be fulfilled only in the person of Jesus Christ (John 6:35; Psalm 22:26).

Freedom from the Presence of SSA

Maybe the hardest thing for Christians experiencing SSA is the fact that the feelings don’t go away overnight, or over months, or, for many, even over a lifetime. While God has given us powerful weapons to fight sin with — such as prayer and fasting — we still must live in our fallen bodies with our wicked wants and desires as our ever-present reality. But these wants and desires have an expiration date.

Believer, your body, including its attractions and longings for sin, will one day be finally and fully redeemed (Romans 8:23). When that redemption happens, in a flash, you will never have a misplaced attraction again, because all your desires for intimacy and love will be completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

If you’re a Christian struggling with same-sex attractions, know that you are not defined by your sin. Your identity is not determined by your temptations. “Embrace who you really are” by embracing Jesus Christ and your new life found in him (2 Corinthians 5:17). “Be true to yourself” by clinging to Truth himself (John 14:6) and enjoying the freedoms Christ purchased for you with his blood.

Would You Like to be Able to Avoid the Greener Grass Syndrome?

I don’t believe any marriage between two human beings can be made “affair-proof” any more than any product is 100% waterproof or unbreakable. Do you?

For instance, I have a nephew who heard that his mother’s diamond ring was “unbreakable,” and so he was surprised (and distraught) when he hit it with a hammer and broke it. Humans are frail, fragile creatures capable of great love…and great failure. Only God is perfect and unfailing in his faithfulness. Still, I think this book is an excellent resource for couples, not only those who have failed to keep their marriage vows, but also for those whose love is (at present) strong and steady.

The author, Nancy Anderson, had an affair early in their marriage, although she and her husband walked the painful path through confession, forgiveness, restoration…and have now been married forty years. That makes her more and less qualified to give advice, but before you stop reading based on her character being suspect, let me share what her father had to say when he heard that she was planning to file for a divorce: “No, you’re not!…Happiness has nothing to do with it…You’re acting like a selfish child, and we won’t support you in this separation. The only way we’d ever support you is if you’d exhausted all possible ways to save your marriage.”

Hard words from a girl’s father, but isn’t that exactly what we should all say in such a situation? I thought the book was worthwhile just for the example of how God will intervene when godly parents stand on biblical principles rather than caving in to their kids’ wishes.

The book explains the difference between saying you’re sorry and asking for forgiveness, the importance of earning trust, and the power of “planting hedges” of protection around your marriage that are rooted in Christ. I’m going to share the six “hedges,” but only to inspire you to read the book, not so you think you know everything and therefore don’t need to study further!

Anderson uses the mnemonic device, HEDGES:
*Hearing: listening and speaking with patience and understanding
*Encouraging: helping each other
*Dating: keeping it fresh and fun
*Guarding: agreeing on your boundaries—and enforcing them
*Educating: becoming an expert on your mate
*Satisfying: meeting each other’s needs

Nancy shares a plethora of ideas about how to build safety and health into your marriage…ideas I liked so well that I’ve been implementing some of the ones that were new to me! Also, she includes excellent teaching on “Affair Repair” and how to recover when there’s been a major breach in the relationship.

Whether you’re trying to figure out what went wrong or would like to build a stronger, sweeter, more satisfying marriage, I highly recommend this book. What a great way to start out the new year!

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
(Romans 12:9)

Rise Up, My Love (266): Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

Today as I write this, it is Christmas Eve, 2017 and the perfect time to consider our verse from the Song of Songs, because there is a beautiful old English carol that speaks of “Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree.” Do you know it?

Song of Solomon 8:5 says, “I raised thee up under the apple tree: there thy mother brought thee forth…” The bridegroom carries out the developmental nurturing of his beloved bride in the same protective environment as that which his bride had experienced during her early training. He declares, “I raised thee up under the apple tree.” Where? “Under the apple tree.” What does that mean? Does it mean that the bridegroom lets his wife live in the same community where she grew up so that she never has to move away and can always live close to her mother… “under the same apple tree?”

As pleasant a thought as that might be to some of us, that is obviously not what the bridegroom meant, because we have seen from the preceding chapters that the bride was physically drawn away to many different (and sometimes very challenging) geographical environments. So, symbolically, to what does the “apple tree” refer?

Do you remember our earlier discussion on the imagery of the apple tree from 7:8? “A composite of all the other occurrences used in Scripture depict the apple as symbolic of that which was central to one’s heart, attention, and affection, full of wisdom and discretion, joy and abundance…that which was the greatest of its type, providing delightful protection and sweet sustenance, stabilization and comfort. Could that be anything but a picture of Christ himself?”

Our family has sung in many places at Christmas time the old English carol, “Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree.” The bridegroom is declaring that in all his nurturing he used the same influences and standards as his wife had been taught from birth (and spiritually—from “rebirth!”): The gold standard—Christ and his Word. Husbands, are you raising up—lifting up—nurturing your wife under the apple tree of Christ? Are you teaching her to become more like him by living his life in your relationship with her?

Or, are you pushing her to become more like “you,” trying to force her to see things your way and live with “your liberties” and ideas of right and wrong? Don’t be guilty of expecting your wife to live by your standards, which was the condemnation of the apostate Israelites during the days of the judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

There is a king…our Lord Jesus. He is our standard and our “apple tree.” Here it was that your wife was brought to spiritual birth, and here it is that you should continue her nurturing. As you “bring up” your wife, be sure you are using the same standard as that she was taught from her new birth: Jesus. What would Jesus do? Be as gentle as a nursing mother, providing for your wife all the very best of spiritual meat and drink…not forcing her to eat your meat and drink from your cup, but allowing her to take as she will so that together you imbibe Christ and become “flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone” (Genesis 2:23).

Rise Up, My Love (261): Supernatural Love

Song of Solomon 8:3 “His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me.” Let’s think more about how to develop the type of desire for your mate that the bride expresses here. If your natural first response is to blame your spouse, then join the huge club of people (myself included) who like to deny our own faults.  “Well, if he were more —————(fill in the blank with whatever he’s lacking), I would be more drawn to him.” I’ve used the same excuse.  But, let’s stop ourselves right there. None of us is perfect, and most of us are far from it. As certain as the day is long, King Solomon—like every other person living on the face of the earth—was not a perfect man. This bride didn’t simply love Solomon because he was perfect, and even if we study the story with Solomon as a type of Christ—who was perfect—we see that the wife did not always have such a passion for her husband. Remember? She was the one in chapter 5 who couldn’t be bothered to get up and open the door for him!  No, if we want to grow to really love our spouses with passion, we must come from another perspective. Rather than asking God to change our mates into such attractive people that we can’t help but have a passionate desire for them, we need to ask God to change our hearts so that we truly have a pure and fervent passion for our spouse today and every day, not based on our spouse’s perfection, but based on God’s miraculous love.  How does that occur? Well, first, I’m not suggesting that every woman should (or that it’s even possible to) feel ravenous sexual passion toward her husband every moment of her life. As humans, we have natural rhythms of emotion and sexual desire. But, I am suggesting that passion can be both a natural and a supernatural response. There have been many times in marriage when my passion was a natural response, but there have also been many times when my passion was a supernatural response in order to enable me to meet the needs of my husband.  Where did it come from? It was the direct result of prayer. Have you ever prayed or sung the song, “Give me a passion for souls, dear Lord…” In the same way, we can pray for a passion for our mate. 1 Peter 1:22 says, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.” In Colossians 4:12 we see the example of Epaphras, who was “always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”  If Epaphras could pray fervently for the Colossians to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God,” then certainly we can labor fervently in prayers so that we might love our spouses fervently, which is also the known will of God for us! Isn’t that true? I am not suggesting that husbands use this as a club to hang over their wives’ heads: “If you’d just pray hard enough, God would make you amorous tonight!” The Bible is clear that the husband is to love the wife and live with her “according to knowledge,” (and I presume that means a knowledge of her needs, capacities, and natural desires as well: Ephesians 5:25; Colossians 3:19; I Peter 3:7). But, I am suggesting that the wife, out of a desire to love her husband, can utilize the resource of prayer and may discover (as I have on many an occasion) that God will supernaturally grant her a passion that is not naturally within her.  It is an amazing experience to feel the miraculous filling of the Lord to become a conduit of his love. What is the spiritual application? Know and rejoice in the fact that what you have done for “the least of these my brethren” you have done unto Christ. Do you love Christ? Then you have every reason to love your spouse, regardless of the limitations in your relationship. You can love him as a way of living out your love for Christ and mirroring to the world the love of the church bride for her heavenly husband. (PS—I hope these photos made you smile, but I didn’t intend for them to in any way be demeaning of men!  Most of the images—including the mastodon—are from the Rochester Museum and Science Center in New York, taken during a recent trip to visit our son Stephen, who’s at Eastman School of Music [hence, the bust of Beethoven].  There is also one of our son Michael, who was [at the same time] visiting Martin Luther’s home in Germany and posed behind one of Martin’s robes. The stained glass of Jesus and the Lamb is from Stephen’s church, where he serves as pianist.)

Rise Up, My Love (255): Holy Fire

Song of Solomon 8:1 “O that thou wert as my brother…” Although Solomon has used the term of intimate endearment, “my sister my spouse” four times in the Song, this is the first and only time that his wife uses the word “brother,” and then…she doesn’t really call him brother, she simply expresses the desire to be as affectionate with him in public as one can be with a true biological brother.

The  complete phrase (which I’m going to ask you to look up lest it sound inappropriate for anyone who reads on Face Book) implies a full, rather than only a half brother, since multiple wives but not multiple husbands sometimes occurred during that period. This is a significant differentiation since we know from the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Amnon and Tamar, etc. that half brothers and sisters could and sometimes did marry in ancient times, and therefore—apparently—public affection was socially uncensured only between true biological offspring of the same couple.

I was surprised to find that there is precious little commentary from anyone on this verse. Is it because we—as products of modern western culture—find it hard to understand what she’s feeling? From the remainder of the section (verses 1-4), it seems clear that her desire is not simply to be able to give him a sisterly greeting in public places, it is the desire to be able to draw him away from the public concourses into the privacy of home and initiate intimate communion without incurring public ridicule.

A biological sister could greet her brother affectionately in the market place and take him home to their mother’s house without arousing any suspicion or derision because it would be assumed that she had come on a legitimate business errand. But, this bride was on a romantic errand instead!

Why did she experience such a passion for intimacy during the day, and was the fear of being despised good or bad? As a wife, I can think of times when I’ve daydreamed about “kidnapping” my husband to carry him off for a romantic interlude. There are two common motivations, one selfish and one unselfish.

On the selfish side, such fantasies are often the result of feeling overwhelmed by present responsibilities or burdened by present griefs and trials. There is something almost irresistibly appealing about the thought of escaping to “somewhere” away from the fray with “someone” who loves you and will make you forget your worries. Haven’t you felt that sometimes too?

Although there are proper places and times for coming apart for refreshment (as modeled by our Lord Jesus, who would go apart with his Father and pray), I suspect the Lord doesn’t intend them nearly as often as we imagine! On the unselfish side, the ardent desire to be in communion with the one who is the object of our affection is ever a good thing, and although the pressures and responsibilities of the day often keep us apart for long periods of time, the eagerness of our hearts for reunion is simply an indication of the depths of our love.

Since the text gives no indication that outside pressures are distressing the bride, it seems reasonable to assume that her passion for union is driven simply by the intensity of her love. I wonder, do we share a similar unselfish passion for communion with our Savior…just to be with him not because we need something but because we want him? What about in our marriages? Do we long to be with our mates—not to get something from him or her such as help, reassurance, or sexual release, but “just because”…just because we love being together?

Dear God, please give us a passion for communion with our mate and with our Savior! Please grant us a passion for Christ like the passion we feel for physical union! Please develop in us a hunger and thirst for Christ that’s even greater than our drive for food and water! May we burn brightly with your holy fire.   PS—It didn’t occur to me 15+ years ago when I first studied this verse, but I think a very high percentage of adulterous relationships develop when people feel overwhelmed by life and work stresses but fail to go to God and their mate for help. As mates, we really need to be available to listen and soothe one another. If we’re always busy complaining and adding to our mate’s stress level, then pretty soon our mate will be tempted to go somewhere where they can feel less pressured, not more. However, that’s absolutely WRONG! If spending time with your mate makes you feel more stressed, tell your mate! Work together to find times when you can declare a “no stress zone,” and have times when you concentrate on bonding and having fun together instead of always grinding through issues and problems. The problems ye have with you always!