47. Abuse

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 47. Abuse

1 Tim 5:1,2 Treat younger … older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

Introduction: Sometimes we naively think the Bible will cover any and every misdemeanour in life. You won’t find a verse that speaks specifically about not abusing your body with nicotine, alcohol or drugs generally (or even with over-eating or over-working or any other excess). The nearest you might get is, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor 6:19) Those who quote this verse imply we should look after our bodies for this reason. But you may guess that in this section where we have been considering areas of sexual confusion or failures, the abuse we are referring to in our title above is that which has sexual connotations (and no we won’t be touching the area of pornography although it is really a problem for many Christian (mostly) men) but of sexual abuse.

The Range of Considerations: At the least difficult end of the spectrum of sexual abuses (but it is still abuse) is that of the husband or partner who ‘demands’ sex. I’ll come to this in a moment. At the other end of the spectrum is rape and in between there is a range of ‘inappropriate’ sexual behaviour where one person (the more dominant) takes advantage of the other by touching, caressing or other physical behaviour that demeans the weaker member of the couple. This can involve masturbation or sodomy. Where this occurs between an adult and children we call the adult a paedophile and such activity, according to Wikipedia is considered a mental disorder which involves persistent sexual thoughts, fantasies, urges, or behaviours.  Now this is the point here: this series is about redemption. If a rapist or paedophile, say, declares repentance, is God’s grace (and ours) big enough to receive him into the church? As unpleasant a subject as this is, it does require us to face what is not an uncommon problem in modern society.

Beware the kneejerk reaction: There have been sufficient number of occasions when there has been public outcry about say a known paedophile moving into the district, that we know this is a subject that produces very strong reactions. As much as I understand this and would be there against such threats against any of my grandchildren, grace asks that we give some calm intelligent thought to the realities. So, yes, there are men (and it is mostly men) who store child pornography pictures from the Internet and because such pictures are illegal (in the UK at least) they are guilty of criminal acts. Because I have been a pastor and have twice had men come to me in respect of child abuse issues, I have had some cause to think through some of the difficulties.  The first difficulty is that sexual infidelity in whatever form seems to create a tendency to tell lies, and therefore it is very difficult to know the truth unless the individual is actually confessing what he did.

In one of my cases the young man confessed touching his teenage step-daughter inappropriately while she was asleep, and in the other one the man denied the accusation that came from his two dysfunctional grand-children, that he had inappropriately touched them on the settee in their front room. Without going into detail, the whole family background was so dysfunctional that the accusations seemed to me to be likely to have been fabricated. Both men served prison sentences, and from what I know of both men and the situations, I was left feeling that justice had been seriously heavy-handed. Please don’t get me wrong, I believe that what are crimes deserve to be punished, but I have been left wondering about the appropriateness of crimes that are not major. Similarly with reports of celebrities in the media being accused of pinching a woman’s bottom or touching her lightly elsewhere inappropriately, I am left wondering why we do not teach such victims to slap the face of the perpetrator loudly and publicly. Perhaps fear is the answer.  In whatever form abuse takes, it is very difficult to get to the truth and to determine what is justice that will change the future.

The Grace of God: I worry sometimes about the whole so-called counselling arena because it seems so often that counselling goes on for months if not years. My wife and I used to pray quite often for the people within our church context and perhaps the greatest expression of the power of God changing a life, came to a particular young woman who was married and had two young children and who came to the Lord. We spent a whole morning listening to her story and then a whole afternoon praying over her. To cut an unpleasant story short, she had been frequently abused by her father throughout her younger years, who forced her to have sex with him. She thus found it incredibly difficult to let any man near her.   Amazingly she had been wooed by a man who became her husband and then had two children by him.  How, we enquired, did you manage that, as you wouldn’t let this man touch you? I got drunk both times, she replied.   We listened to her and prayed extensively for her and she went home. A week later her husband contacted me and said, “Whatever have you done to my wife? She’s become a raving sex-maniac!”  No, just making up for lost time, with the help of the power of God, I answered his exaggeration. But God had delivered her – in just one day!  If the power and wisdom of God is there, we should not need weeks or months or even years. This is redemption.

Who Needs the Counsel and Prayer? Now the situation may have changed but when the young man came and confessed to me his inappropriate behaviour we sought to find specialist counsellors but again and again when we contacted counselling organisations, we found the same response: “No, sorry we only counsel the abused.”  Where the Holy Spirit brings conviction, all of our studies about redemption say there is a need for counselling for the abuser as well as the abused. I do not in any way want to diminish the anguish felt by those who have been abused, but if we are to have a safer society then both abused and abuser need help in changing and becoming whole again.

The overbearing husband: May I just go back to the situation of the overbearing husband who ‘demands sex’. I say again, that is tantamount to abuse. Now before anyone quotes the apostle Paul out of context, “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time,” (1 Cor 7:5) this should not be used to excuse unloving and uncaring for one another in bed, and especially by the husband. Communication is essential, gently and with care, finding out what gives pleasure to each other, and the message to the man is go slow. As one counsellor put it, foreplay begins earlier in the day and by that they meant the way they cared for and spoke to each other throughout the day has a very real impact on what happens at the end of the day. The traditional, “I have a headache,” should not be necessary if the husband carries out the apostle Paul’s injunction, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5:25) Christ sacrificed himself for the church so husbands, put your wife first, show loving tenderness and care, and watch for the changes, but don’t count days, earn your rights in bed.

Redeeming the mess of sexual wrongs: What have been the primary lessons we have learned in the earlier studies about redemption? Redemption starts with honesty, and facing failure, and repenting from the heart.  If we have been a perpetrator, if we want to proceed in God’s redemptive process, we need to come in repentance. If we have been abused, this is not the place to receive ministry; seek out counsel, receive God’s cleansing and healing. If we are the church, dare we be a people who are open and available to both the abused and repentant abusers, with hearts of gentle love, care and compassion, who can create a secure environment in which they can meet God and receive that redemptive work we’ve been speaking about in this series, where God delivers us out of a bad place and into a good place with Him. May that be so.  (PS. There is so much more that could be said on this subject, but I think we have covered the things the Lord wants here. If there are things here that resonate with you and which you wish to progress, may I recommend you speak to your own spiritual leaders).

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46. The Unequal Yoke

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 46. The Unequal Yoke

2 Cor 6:14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

1 Pet 3:1,2 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

The Principle: We move on to another of those problems that exist in church, that of being married to an unbeliever.  This will come about in one of two ways. First, one of the partners in the marriage comes to Christ and the other doesn’t. Second, by wilful disobedience. But let’s consider the principle first, that the apostle Paul spells out so clearly: don’t become yoked or tied by marriage to an unbeliever. Some have suggested his words apply to business, but I suggest it is wider than that. See what he says: there will be a conflict between righteousness and wickedness. Oh, I sense your righteous indignation – my boyfriend/girlfriend is not wicked! If they have not surrendered to God through Jesus Christ, the Bible says they are. They think differently to you, their goals are different to you, their absence of desire for spiritual things is different from you.

The Great Challenge: This, for many, is the great challenge of faith. “But there are so few Christian men in our church,” I hear the cry. Listen to a lady in our church, now in her sixties, as she spoke to me a little while ago: “My father warned me not to marry —- because he wasn’t a Christian, but I went ahead and married him anyway and a day hasn’t gone by since that I haven’t regretted it.” She goes to church. He has no interest in church so every Sunday she goes out alone. They have a divided life. She reads her Bible and prays but he has no interest in spiritual things. She attends a house group and he does something else. It just goes to accentuate the division in their lives. So many women, and it does tend to be women, marry a non-Christian in the hope of saving him. It happens only occasionally – but we’ll come on to what to do about that in a few moments.

A Challenging Example: While my wife was at university, she came across a zany girl living in the same college house as her, who she was instrumental in bringing to the Lord. The only problem this girl had was that she had a boyfriend and they were intending getting married sometime. However this girl read Paul and turned to her boyfriend and said, “I’m very sorry, but we can no longer go out because I’ve become a Christian and you’re not, and it just won’t work.” She was devastated but did it. He was shaken and went away to investigate Christianity and was well and truly saved. Sometime later I had the privilege of being their best man. Now many years later, they have a lovely family, have been leaders within whatever church they have been in, he prospered marvellously in his career, and they have a most blessed life, these long-term friends of ours. Why? Because she was obedient to God.

The Challenge of Singleness: I did not marry until my late twenties. I recognise it is a challenge for many: Suppose no Mr. Right Christian comes along? It is possible but consider the positives: first, as you are at the moment you have a freedom to do what you like, go where you like and be what you like; rejoice in that, make the most of it for the moment and get God’s grace to cope like that. I know you may be yearning to have a partner but if it is the wrong one, a non-believer, you are simply storing up anguish for the days ahead. I know a number of those who would testify to the truth of this. (An aside: a word to the wise – sex doesn’t win partners. If you try to win a man this way it simply says you know little about male physiology and psychology.) Do we have to settle for singleness? No, and I’ll come to redeeming this area later, but in the meantime, you do need to have a heart at rest and peace for God’s apparent will for you at the moment. That is the starting place – His will and your being willing to submit to it. Obedience opens the door for blessing to flow.

The Guilt plus Hope: My friend in church who confessed her disobedience feels guilty. Why? Because she is, but that should not be the end of it because this is all about redemption and God delights in redeeming the bad and turning it into good. Good here is nothing less than the salvation of your partner and we’ll come to that shortly. Redemption starts with confession of guilt; it is a good starting place, but it is only the start.  There are, I believe, two areas to consider, to bring change to this situation, and I do not mean divorce.

Before we get there, let’s consider Paul’s teaching again: “If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband.” (1 Cor 7:12-14) He does say they can part if it doesn’t work (not divorce) in the following verses, but in those verses above, there is hope. The paraphrase versions struggle to put meaning to “has been sanctified through..” so the Message says, “The unbelieving husband shares to an extent in the holiness of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is likewise touched by the holiness of her husband,” while the Living Bible says, “perhaps the husband who isn’t a Christian may become a Christian with the help of his Christian wife. And the wife who isn’t a Christian may become a Christian with the help of her Christian husband,” and the JBP version says, “the unbelieving husband is, in a sense, consecrated by being joined to the person of his wife; the unbelieving wife is similarly “consecrated” by the Christian brother she has married.”

What further adds to this is his comment that follows about children of the ‘mixed marriage’: “Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy,” (NIV) and “Otherwise, your children would be left out; as it is, they also are included in the spiritual purposes of God,” and “if the family separates, the children might never come to know the Lord; whereas a united family may, in God’s plan, result in the children’s salvation,” (Living) and “If this were not so then your children would bear the stains of paganism, whereas they are actually consecrated to God.” (JBP) What all these verses hint at is that somehow the Christian in the marriage somehow brings the presence of God into the marriage in such a way that He is able to impact the family. There are also those enigmatic words of the apostles to the Philippian jailor, “They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:31) In jail they were clearly speaking just to him, so there must be a presumption that his salvation would so impact his family that they too would be saved. Whatever the truth of that situation, there is a clear indication that God does want to move in and through Christian spouses to the rest of their family. That must be out starting place for what follows. We said before that there are two areas to consider.

The Actions of a Believing Wife: Our starter verses apply here: “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (1 Pet 3:1,2) I think what Peter says to Christian wives should also apply to Christian husbands in a similar situation. Yes, if you communicate in your marriage, at some point you will have shared your faith with your unbelieving partner, either before you married (if you insist on marrying them) or after you came to Christ after you were married. Whatever we say, we need to recognize that such words are likely to appear threatening to your partner who will need reassuring. You are putting forward a life outlook that is foreign or alien to them. The challenge for you is that you should appear as a ‘new improved partner’ who should be more of a blessing to your partner than you were before.

As I say, a challenge to get God’s grace. What now follows is an even greater life of grace for it is, I believe, quite natural and thus legitimate, to share the things that bless you in your faith, but it must be in such a way that you are not being seen to be pressurizing your partner. That is the spirit behind Peter’s words – win them by who you are, not by what you say. So often in marriages we try to change our partner (and I believe it fair to say that women do this more than men) by the use of words. We call it nagging. Ladies, your brain is better developed than men on average to communicate using words, but words used on men merely make them defensive and rarely bring about change. Acts of love, care, understanding, and support are the things that change men. When you wake up in the morning, your best prayer in this context at least is, “Lord help me to bless my partner today.”

The Actions of a Believing Church: I have said it in our own church and I would declare it worldwide, if in our church we have men or women who have unbelieving partners, the TOP of God’s agenda is, I believe, how can we win those partners?  Now I have to deal with a phenomena that appears often in well-meaning churches, that of men or women’s groups that appear social and relaxed but then hit the unsuspecting unbeliever with the Gospel. If you are going to have such groups, have some integrity and say what will happen at those groups so people know what they are coming to. Having said that, the starting place is a regular, consistent and persistent prayer meeting that focuses on unsaved partners. We need to name people and partners in love (not superiority) crying out to the Lord for them AND seeking God’s wisdom to know what to DO in terms of building bridges to these partners and making opportunities for them to question, query and get answers in ways that are not threatening.

And So: Not to make any more of a meal of this than I already am, hold on to certain truths: a) God wants unsaved partners to come to know Him. b) He wants us to pray, for it is in prayer that spiritual strongholds are broken. c) He wants to give us wisdom to know how to bless unsaved partners, so their hearts will be opened, their minds informed and their will helped to come to a place where they are open to submit to Him and receive Him. Finally, ask Him to release faith in you to believe these things.

45. The Anguish of Divorce (3)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 45. The Anguish of Divorce (3)

1 Cor 15:9,10  For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect

Can I step into your shoes: No, don’t be confused with the above verses, we are staying with the subject of relational breakdown and divorce; we’ll come to those verses in a moment. For those of us who have not walked in the valley of rejection, it is perhaps hard to understand the depth of hurt that can come and has been experienced by many around us, especially when it is a marriage breakup, yet we are called to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn,” (Rom 12:15) and, “there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” (1 Cor 12:25) We must not sit on the fence of indifference.

A Bad Dream: There have been two occasions in my life when these realities crashed into my awareness. In the first one, many years back, I had a dream, a very real dream (and I believe, God-given dream), and in it my wife just turned to me without any warning and said, “I am leaving you and going to live in America.” I was absolutely devastated and woke up in tears, sobbing my heart out with the anguish I felt, and grabbed hold of her arm and cried, “You won’t leave me will you?” This was in the early years of our life (no it wasn’t my insecurity – listen on!) together. She quickly woke and asked whatever was the matter and reassured me, and I went off to work in my office in the City of London. I had been at my desk only a few minutes when a Christian friend, who worked elsewhere in the building, appeared in my office and said, “Can I talk to you?” I looked at his face and said yes, and we found somewhere quiet and as soon as we sat down, he burst out, “…. has left me,” and poured out how a man in their village had enticed his wife to leave with him. I looked at him, with my dream still very vivid in my mind, and said, “I do know how you feel,” and we wept together and for six months prayed together until his marriage was restored.

An Angry Letter: The second occasion was when one of the ladies in our church, who was in a group I was leading at the time, shared her feelings in the group about her broken marriage. She too had suffered from a husband who had abandoned her and her two children and gone off with another woman. She showed me a letter she had written to him, expressing her feelings, a letter she had not actually sent. To say it was angry and vitriolic would be a massive understatement but it showed me the immense depth of anguish at rejection she had felt. It is one thing to have a ‘one-night stand’ as the media popularly show happening, or even to cohabit for a while and then breakup, but that can in no way compare to the devastation of having years of intimacy thrown in your face as your marriage partner walks out for ever.

Anguish: This one with whom you made plans, this one with whom you stood before an altar and made vows, this one whose bed you shared for years and uttered the deepest intimacies, this one who bore your children or fathered your children, this one who went on holidays with you and helped make them such joyous memorable times, and now this one who says it means nothing, you mean nothing, and your life together means nothing – and walks off for ever with someone else. This is reckless abandonment, this is absolute rejection, and this is, without doubt, the most painful thing that can happen to you. Losing a partner to death is indeed an anguish-filled experience, but marriage breakup carries so much more with it. Yes, as we noted in an earlier study, there are two people in every partnership and no doubt each one of us can think of things we’ve said or done that did not contribute to building our relationship, but that is not an excuse for abandonment and rejection.

Redemption? But this is all about redemption, not just the tragedies of modern marriage breakups, this is about possibilities with God, this is about grace, and grace comes in some strange ways sometimes. In that first story above, I said we prayed for six months, every night on the phone and amazingly, I don’t know how, she came back, but so did the man to the village where they all lived. All I know was we prayed, and she came back. But there was still the threat of this man. As we prayed one night, I suddenly had a word of knowledge and without any thought simply said, “The man will not trouble you again.” Sometime in the next week I think it was, this man had a serious accident and was in hospital for months and never went near her again. With the passing of time I lost track of them but trust the long-term outlook was good. All I know was that in that period of time God was working to redeem their marriage in ways beyond my understanding. In the second case, the lady in question has been enabled to get on with life with her two daughters and has been able to move on.

Grace: I have used that word above, and in this context it simply means the resources of God that may involve comfort, reassurance, courage, strength, perseverance and a lot more that enables us not merely to cope but to change.  Now back to our header verses: “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.”  We have said a number of times in these studies, we are sinners redeemed by God and ‘sinner’ is as much a generic description of us as ‘human’ is. The apostle Paul always had it in the back of his mind that despite all his human qualifications for good, he had been a persecutor of the church of God – he had been working against the will of God in his previous life before encountering Christ on the road to Damascus. Now he had given his heart to the Lord and his goal was to serve God every day of his life. It was a wonderful transformation, yet he was still aware that any good that was coming, was coming by the grace of God and it was that which was having ‘effect’ in him.

The former slave-trader, John Newton, who had obviously been a source of misery for many before he came to Christ, said, “I’m not what I ought to be, I am not what I would like to be, I am not what I hope to be, but I’m not what I was and by the grace of God I am what I am.” It is not said lightly, but that can be true of each of us, whatever anguish we have been through, whatever nightmares we still suffer, and whatever hopes we wonder about fitfully.

Practical Steps: There are some obvious steps towards redemption here:

  • If you were the one who committed the adultery, admit it as sin; you blew it, you got it wrong, you hurt and damaged others by your self-centred behaviour – but that was not the end. It was sin and sin has consequences. If you have a gracious openhearted spouse who might even countenance reconciliation, understand that it is no easy process; you have to rebuilt trust and that may take a long time. If it is now far past and divorce has occurred, you still have a duty to ask for forgiveness. Time and God’s grace can heal up the damage you caused but He requires your humility and willingness to face what you did. Then the way is open for a new day.
  • If you were the one abandoned and rejected, if you are a Christian, in the midst of your hurt I have a healing word for you: “pray for your enemies”! (Mt 5:44) You are still a child of God and I realise the impossibility of what I ask, but God’s grace will enable you to do it, even if it is legalistically at first without any feeling, and you will be surprised at what might follow. I am not talking about reconciliation here (they might have gone too far away for that) but I am talking about your freedom, your ability to be you and carve out a new God-blessed life, filled with wisdom and grace to see you
  • If you are ‘the church’, let these things touch you and reach out to this couple. It is possible you know the ‘offender’ who has left; keep links open, maintaining friendship does not mean accepting their folly, but it does mean you might be able to speak words of grace and truth in the days to come into their life. If you know the damaged, remaining partner, reach out in love and friendship, listen and don’t try and give advice, just be there for them. Seek to understand what they feel and pray for them regularly. Give support if they have a family that is also struggling with what is happening.

A final word: I think this needs saying: whoever you are in such situations, don’t jump to conclusions, don’t go on your own prejudged assumptions. I have often puzzled over the story of David and Bathsheba and Uriah.  There are some fundamental lessons there that maybe need picking up here:

  • God may be warning us, but He doesn’t overrule our free will and so lets us do stupid things. Sin will happen, we’re human beings. (We can resist that path.)
  • There will be consequences and they will involve God’s discipline and He does look for repentance.
  • When it comes to the practical outworking it almost seems, if I may put it like this, that God seeks to make the best of a bad mess. Uriah was dead, Bathsheba was pregnant, and God does not try to put the situation back as it is was before it started, it was too late for that. He allows Bathsheba to continue as David’s wife; she, after all, is relatively innocent, a simple girl taken by a king. Sometimes we cannot get situations back as they were; in this fallen world we have to opt for situations that are less than perfect, but which can yet be redeemed and have good brought in them. For example, a previously married couple who part under bad circumstances and end up divorced, can yet get remarried by the grace of God and good can yet flow in both of their situations. This is God’s grace so I dare not suggest how much good, how limited that good might be, or anything in between!
  • When Jesus said, ‘God permitted divorce’, it was an acknowledgment that the best could not be followed, but an alternative could yet come about that would not exclude them from the grace of God. Avoid it at all possible, but if that is not possible, look to God’s grace and mercy to see what is yet possible. If there is no adultery, just a lack-luster marriage, receive counsel, receive help, receive grace and try for something better. Let’s aim for that together.

44. The Anguish of Divorce (2)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 44. The Anguish of Divorce (2)

Mt 19:8,9  Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Recap on Divorce: Let’s quickly recap what we said yesterday. Jesus showed that divorce was not God’s wish, even though He permitted it. He permitted it only because it was the second-best option in the light of hardness of heart in one or other of the couple. He declared that the only permissible reason for granting a divorce was the infidelity of one partner and divorcing for anything less, leading to a fresh partnership meant that was adultery. Divorce also means covenant breaking. I also gave an example, fictional admittedly, of a marriage that had lost its love and then asked questions about us, the Church, being the redeeming community that God wanted.

 Divorce or Separation: To reinforce this general teaching we also noted the apostle Paul’s words, “A wife must not separate from her husband…. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” (1 Cor 7:10,11) There can be, therefore, no hiding the New Testament teaching that we should do all we can to avoid divorces in the church. Why are there so many divorces in the Church therefore? The answer has to be because of a threefold failure. Dare we face this I wonder?

1. Personal Failure of the Guilty Party: Now I say these things, not to heap guilt and condemnation but simply because one of the key things we have observed time and time again in the whole subject of redemption, is that it must be started with an honest facing the truth about what we have done. We are all failures and we all need to accept that to receive Jesus’ salvation, but we also need to accept the truth that we remain imperfect this side of heaven, if we are to create a secure community of God’s people. Us failures need to stick together! It isn’t just that we are failures who sit around moping, muttering, “I am a failure, I am a failure,” but it is that we recognize, accept and confess it, so that God can work His redemption in us. Now for some, the acceptance has to be, “I was guilty of lust, I was guilty of forgetting my partner, I foolishly gave way to temptation, and I foolishly had a sexual encounter that was wrong, (and maybe) and which continues as wrong.” We’ll come to that latter part later. It maybe also that “I was too busy with my career so that I neglected my partner and our children and that contributed to our downfall.”

2. Personal Failure of the ‘Innocent’ Party: Being honest, I have to admit as a husband, I don’t always live as a husband in accord with Paul’s teaching which has to be the norm here in the New Testament, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5:25) The New Testament picture for Christian husbands is that they (we) live lives that are sacrificial, laid down for the good of the wife, just like Jesus laid down his life for the church to come into being. This means that I am there for her, often putting her first (and nowhere does this apply more than in bed). If I fail to do this, I make her vulnerable to temptations when other men try to make themselves attractive to her. Now, ladies, this is a two-way street, so there is corresponding teaching for wives: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” (Eph 2:22)

Now I am not going to get into arguments about whether Paul was a misogynist, or whether this was just a cultural edict, but simply ask, if you were doing this in the spirit that is perhaps best encapsulated by the Message version – “Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands,” – don’t you think being with you is going to act as a means of overcoming temptation when other (younger) women appear attractive to him?   I know you will want to exercise that escape clause, “not by domineering but by cherishing”, and you are quite right (men hear it!) but it doesn’t give you excuses to nag him, on one extreme, or simply leave him to his own devices, on the other extreme. He needs encouraging to take responsibility and take leadership in being the grace of God to the world (your world) that God wants.

If you are both Christians (and if that is not so I will deal with that in a later study), are we in need of a fresh look at what that means, and especially as what it could be for us as a couple. We go to church together (I hope – if not, consider the instructions above), we worship together at the very least. Praying together, at least occasionally, helps bond and focus us together.

Picking up on the paragraph above, where I said he needs encouraging, you both need encouraging and that will only come about when you spend time together, sharing in what you each like, and when you talk together, sharing the things on each of your hearts and minds. Taking interest in what your partner likes and does – and maybe sharing in it with them – is the mortar that bonds together and strengthens and builds relationships. I have a problem with anything that divides couples and so a ‘gender-mentality’ (e.g. hen nights, men’s nights) is all very well if it is not something that cultivates a sexist attitude. I hear comments made by women about men and vice-versa that are frankly demeaning. It is supposed to generate a ‘club’ or ‘group’ atmosphere, but it happens at the expense of the relationship. Couples need to be together (not all the time) but purposefully making memories and opportunities for closeness. Very often ‘work’ or ‘career’ is something that detracts from relationship building and we have to ask ourselves, in the long run, what do we want, to be lonely and successful or content and fulfilled with your partner? Be warned, the statistics say that once there has been a divorce there is more likely to be a second breakup, (and as a counsellor I would add,) unless positive steps are taken to deal with the personal causes of the previous breakup.

3. Failure of the Church: Obviously if we have people who come to Christ and are added to the church after they have had a divorce, there is little you can do, but I wonder how many churches there are that offer counselling for those who have been through a divorce? I wonder how many churches there are that provide counselling for children involved in family breakups. If being a deserted and abandoned partner in a divorce situation is bad enough, being children of divorces is worse. Many a school will testify to dozens of examples of children who were fine in school but then started playing up, dropping out, or failing classes, and when checked out, it was found the parents are just going through a bad breakup and the children are witnesses.

There is a danger that parents going through a breakup try to be ‘very civilized’ about it and the breakup is seen as a ‘good divorce’. The lie is seen by reading Elizabeth Marquardt’s book, “Between Two World – the inner lives of children of divorce”. Acknowledging that a ‘good amicable divorce’ is better than a bitter one, she tells of the problem of almost losing your identity, as you get passed backwards and forwards between the worlds of the two separated parents and their differing or contrasting lives, and you never can become one or the other, and thus become like ‘lost souls’. Divorce, however you look at it, is not good for children, with challenging and conflicting loyalties, loss of self-esteem, feelings of guilt and shame, hurt, feelings of rejection, and much more. My son-in-law counsels such children but his is a lonely ministry and I cannot help wondering why we, the church, are not training people regularly to minister into this tragic, damaged and shell-shocked area.

Help Questions: To sum up this part, there are obviously two main questions from which all others follow: First, what can we as the Church do to head off divorces, being ‘failing-marriage spotters’, helpers and wise friends and, second, how can we heal up those who are suffering from the pain of rejection when they have been abandoned by a partner, either to another person or to a career, or when their marriage just went sour for a variety of reasons and they have been left feeling failures putting on a brave face? I come to the end of this second ‘study’ on divorce, feeling very unsatisfactory. It is like we have just touched on the tip of the iceberg above water while nine-tenths of it remains out of sight.  We will have to continue this in a third study.

To conclude: Acknowledging that this is not the end of this subject, in the light of our starting point – about facing failure and guilt – we must conclude by emphasizing that such a start is just that, a start, and that the conclusion must be that given time, love, and grace, we come out of such devastating passages of life, no longer desiring vengeance, no longer feeling guilt-burdened, and freed to start to rebuild a life that is at peace, feels fulfilled and is going somewhere without fear, hurt and pain. That is the goal of the next study.

43. The Anguish of Divorce (1)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 43. The Anguish of Divorce (1)

Mt 19:8,9  Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Starting with Jesus: As we move on to consider another area that causes anguish in modern life – and in the Church – that needs redeeming, I think the simplest thing is to note very basic things about redemption and about divorce. Now I also think we would be wise to consider the theory or the theology and then consider separately the pastoral issues that are involved, which are especially pertinent when we are considering redemption.  In this study, therefore, we will consider the basic things the Bible says, and then in the next one we will look at causes and the pastoral issues that arise. Let’s start with Jesus’ words above. First Jesus gives us the reason divorces happen, second, he makes clear that that was not God’s intention “from the beginning” and then, third, he gives a warning. Let’s take those points in the order of 2-1-3.

Not God’s Wish:  God’s famous words through Malachi, “I hate divorce” (Mal 2:16 RSV), which used to be bandied about so much, really apply to breaking the covenant between God and Israel, but one cannot help feeling that when, at the beginning of the Bible we find, “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh,” (Gen 2:24) there is an element of God’s design here that was not intended to be repeated again and again. The ‘leaving-cleaving’ formula that is here, suggests that marriage in God’s original design, was to be a one-off thing (except when one party died and remarriage was possible).  Although we will go on to see Jesus saying Moses permitted it, the feeling that comes through from him is that divorce should be avoided at all cost if at all possible. And there are reasons for that.

Divorce or Separation: We should also note, as an aside to build a fuller picture, the apostle Paul, speaking to the church at Corinth, declared, “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” (1 Cor 7:10,11) Perhaps he is repeating Jesus’ bland teaching, Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery,” (Mk 10:11,12) which should be tempered by Jesus other similar words, but which add, “anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality….” (Mt 5:32) also as seen in our starter verses above. We will come back to these words in the next study.

Covenant Breaking: The fact is that divorce involves the breaking of a covenant that was made in the marriage service. Is this why so many more couples cohabit and don’t get married, because subconsciously they realise that if they commit themselves in a covenant, a solemn binding agreement, if they want to separate, it will involve breaking the promises they made? The breaking of a covenant is just one of the things God dislikes in respect of a divorce. One suspects that the words uttered at many modern marriage services are just words with little meaning behind them and so, it seems from experience with a number of young couples, if it doesn’t work out and tensions build, then let’s just part and try again with someone else. Theoretically – because the words are uttered – there is a covenant which is shortly to be broken, but in reality, one wonders how real that was?

Schools of Thought: In Moses’ day, in the earliest days of that embryonic nation, the Law declared, “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her…. he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,” (Deut 24:1) the burden of honesty before God was put upon the man, but this meant that the woman had little say in the matter. The onus was on the honesty and integrity of the men leaders of the community to uphold this righteously. However, the key words translated “something indecent” were unclear in meaning and so different rabbinic schools arose with different interpretations. Thus the school of Shammai said it meant ‘marital unfaithfulness’ which was the only reason allowed for the divorce, while the school of Hillel was more liberal and looked at the preceding words “displeasing to him” and said it meant he could dissolve the marriage for anything about her that he now disliked. Jesus appeared to go along with the first school, but only after referring back to the Genesis design.

Hardness? Almost certainly Jesus was eye-balling the key feature within the circumstances leading to divorce when he says, “because your hearts were hard.” This was key then and so often is today. Consider. Marital infidelity is one thing, but for a man to callously put away his wife for anything less than her leaving him for another man, actually meant the man had to be hard-hearted in respect of her and should the elders of the community remonstrate with him, he would have had to disregard their pleas. Today an over-simplistic (possible) parallel might be to say, “If you are so hard-hearted that you cannot receive counsel and help to restore your relationship, then you might as well go ahead and get divorced, for there is little hope for you as you are now.”  Now I will come back to this in the next study because there are obvious questions that will arise.

The Warning: This takes us to the last part of Jesus’ words in our header verses: “anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”  Now consider this carefully. I have heard great scholars take entirely opposite views of what this means. If she (and remember he was speaking into the Jewish context) has committed adultery, that is grounds for divorce. If she hasn’t, then you have no grounds for divorce and therefore if you force the divorce you are doing it for your own immoral reasons – to have a relationship with another, and that then makes you the adulterer.  Today we could say (outside the Jewish context) this could apply either way with the roles reversed. In God’s eyes, divorce for any other reason is thus wrong. But is it that simple? We need to go on to look at causes and the pastoral concerns that arise and so we will shorten this study to go on to that in the next study.

A Challenging Example: However, perhaps to save space in the next study, can I give you an example of a marriage deterioration that comes in a novel I have come across – yes, fictional but so often true. The chief character of the story recounts, “Between Sarah and me there was no joy left, no springing love. Eight years of marriage and nothing to feel but a growing boredom.” Later he explains that they had been unable to have children so that “Where once there had been passion there was now politeness; where plans and laughter, now a grinding hopelessness; where tears and heartbreak, silence.” Further on he says, “I daresay it was a marriage like many another. We never quarrelled. Seldom argued. Neither of us any longer cared enough for that; and as a total, prolonged way of life it was infinitely dispiriting.”  Fictional but telling, story but real. But it didn’t lead to a divorce, at least not in the story, but they just existed.  Some people say, “We just fell out of love,” and so now they just tolerate each other. Sometimes such people do end up divorcing, what is there to keep them together?

Alternative Possibilities: Now of course this novel was not about Christians and so we might hope that if it had been, there would be a different long-term outcome, but often it isn’t. My subtitle in the paragraph above has the word ‘challenging’ in it. Why? Because I believe such a scenario, set against our background of redemption, should raise challenging questions in us, such as:

  • If we see our own relationship moving into something like the above story, is there someone we can turn to, apart from God (because we want God-incarnate, in the flesh, in front of us, talking to us, listening to us) who might be able to help us redeem our situation?
  • Do we as church, work to create a community of people who truly know one another in such a way that we can spot the signs and draw alongside and take action before it is too late?
  • Do we as church talk about these things, put on days where these things are put out front to help us face them and steer away from them?
  • When we see these signs in the marriages of our leaders, do we have the courage and boldness to eyeball them and say, “Can we help?”

Redemption, we said, is all about God delivering us from bad situations into good ones. The area of relational breakdowns has got to be something we address and no longer allow to continue as it has done in recent decades, so that no longer can the comment be made, “There are as many divorces in the church as outside it.”  That comment and the truth behind it is a scandal and shows that what we have as ‘church life’ must be way off target if this sort of thing happens with the people of God. Tomorrow we will look at this more fully.

42. Enough of Sex

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 42. Enough of Sex

1 Tim 3:15  you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Our Purpose: This is an area where so much more could be written but I have written what I have – and this will be the end of it – because we live in a world where confusion reigns and no more so than in the realm of sexual attitudes and behaviour. The Bible does not make a meal of it because, frankly, life in Israel was such that things such as sexual identity or sexual failures were the exception rather than the growing rule as today. Some people say that it was Paul and not Jesus who spoke about homosexuality and so it is not an issue, but the point is that it was not an issue in Israel, so Jesus did not need to speak of it, whereas Paul was addressing a much wider audience, where it was more likely to have been an issue that needed addressing. It needs addressing in our world because it is something that has been forced into the open in our world and even made the subject of law.

My concern in these four studies (No.39 – ‘Gender Issues’ on) has been to ask questions that challenge some of the things that are apparently accepted uncritically as the norm, while at the same time, for Christians (onlookers and participators, if I may put it like that) face the realities here, as well as the Biblical challenges, but in a pastorally gracious and uncondemning way.

Recap & Clarification: Perhaps it would be helpful to itemize some of the things we have considered along the way, by way of recap, and maybe even seek to clarify some of them more:

  • The context is of a fallen world where much is no longer ‘normal’ i.e. no longer like it was before the Fall and after God will remake it at the end.
  • We established some basic sexual definitions to do with identity and orientation.
  • We acknowledged that physically there can be diversions from the norm (fairly rare) that raise extremely difficult questions of identity.
  • Moreover, whether it is genetically caused, relationally or psychologically caused, some people do struggle with gender identity, that veers away from the norm (Never forget that the vast majority of the world’s population is heterosexual, that is ‘the norm’, especially in the light of the Bible’s declaration that God made ‘male and female’, and that clearly was His standard design.)
  • We suggested that a person’s ‘spiritual orientation’ is in fact a bigger issue to be considered before any subsequent gender issue.
  • Self-control or the absence of it leading to promiscuous behaviour, whether in the heterosexual or homosexual realms is an issue when we consider God’s design for the world, and behaviour within a community generally.
  • We wondered exactly what the truth is when a young person ‘comes out’. Is this an unwise misunderstanding of a phase of social, physical and psychological development, or is it genuinely an expression of something that has been there all along as we said above, genetically caused, relationally or psychologically caused? Whatever the cause, that young person now sees their self as different from the norm and is looking for understanding and acceptance.
  • Part of that understanding requires consideration of the difference between friendship and a developing deeper relationship and a commitment context is needed to make sense of that, otherwise it simply becomes just a plea to have sexual experiences that vary from the norm.
  • Finally we considered the subject of ‘desires’ noting good ones that promote life, and not so good ones that cause upset and harm.
  • We recognized a distinction between committed relationships and uncontrolled and uninhibited promiscuous sex. Although the latter may be what the media portray as a potential norm for western society, we see there are dangers, that are only slowly being recognized and acknowledged, that sex separated from a loving relationship creates a struggle to ever know what true love is. Trivializing relationships and making them based upon sex, and not other aspects of being human together, weakens the possibilities of long-term relationships, for when the sex ceases to be ‘good’ the relationship starts to fracture.

A Lost & Confused World: While I believe our statements about how the media portrays sex and relationships, are absolutely true, I feel increasingly like the boy in Hans Anderson’s story of ‘the Emperors New Clothes’ who has not been let in on the belief that the con-men have produced invisible clothes that only clever people can see, and who, when he sees the naked emperor, has the temerity to shout out, “The emperor has no clothes,” and only then does everyone else acknowledge it. The unquestioning cult of promiscuity that seems to lurk in the background of modern life, whether heterosexual or homosexual, accepted and even promoted by TV script writers, largely exists without challenge in high places or newspaper columns. At the same time we have gone through several years of revelations about sexual abuse by ‘celebs’ and are shocked. How can we take the brake off sex generally and then be surprised when it had bad spinoffs in so many directions?

Church, an Alternative Community: In case you have lost the thread, this series is all about redemption and perhaps we dare think about redeeming society by example. The example is to be different, and our norm is to have lasting, lifelong committed relationships of members of the opposite sex. Yet, where there is a breakdown, or breakaway from that, we should be a place of compassionate security where people struggling with their identity can be loved, and people struggling with breakup of relationship can be helped back to a good place, and we will go on to consider this latter problem n the next study.

Accepting the Different: The church I led before I retired was largely middle-class, middle-of-the-road evangelical-charismatic, with very ordinary people, and one day a middle-aged man wearing a Mohican haircut and a coat of many very bright colours, turned up. We welcomed him without reserve. It turned out that he had just been released from a mental institution following years of prison for having committed arson and murder. One of our men had visited him for some time while incarcerated and he had made a profession of faith while in prison – but he was still (and remained) a seriously distinct character who stood out among the ‘ordinary people’.

So can we ‘ordinary people’ extend the mantra that we so often use – “God loves you exactly as you are, but loves you so much that He has got something better for you than what you have at present” – to include anyone who is different from us, here with gender identity issues, people who are struggling with sexual self-control, people who are abused, people who are suffering relationship breakup, and can we truly be a healing redemptive community?  That is the challenge, to seek the wisdom of God to face these issues with integrity while remaining full of compassion, to be a real healing redemptive community through whom God can move to change lives.

End Goals: I don’t know what the latter part of what I have called my mantra may mean for an individual – “but loves you so much that He has got something better for you than what you have at present” – but God does. In studies 28-30 we considered “Redeemed to”, the things the Lord seeks to bring into our lives and in study 33 “God’s End Goals” we sought to focus on this challenge that God is seeking to move each of us on to be something better than we are today. For those of us struggling with life – in identity crises, or who are struggling with ‘being different’, or who are struggling with the nightmares that still occur from past abuse, or those who are struggling with the aftershock of breakup of relationship, or maybe are struggling to prevent that breakup – we all need the wisdom, love, care, compassion and grace of God that should come through others who can stand alongside us, weep with us,  anguish with us, and be there for us – and that is what the Church is supposed to be. That is how this ongoing redemption is worked out, or at least, should be worked out. May we rise to that.  We would do well to end with the apostle Paul as the Message version puts it:

“There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modelled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.” (1 Cor 6:19-20 Msg)

41. About Desires

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 41. About Desires

Rom 1:26,27  Because of this God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.  Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversions.

Desires? I said in the previous study that we would consider the fruit or outworkings of the lifestyles that appear so prevalent in modern Western society (although one wonders if it is only prevalent in large cities – see later) but as I prayed about this I felt we needed to do things logically and in order, and so should confront the whole idea of ‘desires’, very often the starting point for behaviour.  The dictionary defines desire as “a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen.” Why consider this subject because there was nothing revelatory or revolutionary there? Simple answer: because it is at the heart of all that we are thinking about.

Good Desires: Within God’s design of humanity it is clear there are good and bad desires. Hunger when needing food, thirst when needing liquid, are good and natural desires. Sexual desire that continues the population must be a ‘good’ desire. Good desires help maintain life.  The desire to be married and have children would be considered a good desire.

Not-so-good desires! Desires running contrary to God’s design for humanity must be bad. The desire to take someone else’s wife – as we saw in the case of David in our earlier studies – is clearly a wrong desire, according to the Bible – and according to the wounded party of such actions. In Paul’s famous verses from Rom 1 above, he uses the expression ‘inflamed with lust’.  Lust = strong sexual desire. The message version puts it devastatingly clearly: “Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either—women didn’t know how to be women, men didn’t know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches.” Now whatever else this passage says (and it is difficult to know when Paul was referring to, a specific time or generally in history), it is clear that such desires as are being spoken of there are ‘shameful …. unnatural… indecent …. perversions’. The gay Christian community says this speaks not about committed relationships but of wanton, uncontrolled and uninhibited sex, and there is certainly truth in that.  The classic and terrible example of that is seen in the incident in Gen 19:4,5.

Biblical Limits: The Law was quite specific that having sex, male to male, was ‘detestable’ and required the death penalty to act as a deterrent to prevent gradual breakdown in Israel’s society (Lev 18:22, 20:13). In the New Testament ‘homosexual offenders’ are categorized with ‘the wicked’ (1 Cor 6:9,10) and again, the gay Christian community would argue that this applies not to committed relationships but to wanton, uncontrolled and uninhibited sex. (The problem with ‘committed relationships’ is that so often they don’t last and don’t prove to be ‘committed’ – but that can apply to poorly founded heterosexual relationships as well.)

Sexual Gratification: Without doubt lust is something that can be inflamed – or controlled! Andrew Marr in his ‘A History of Modern Britain’, speaking of the 1960’s to 80’s and the AIDS ‘plague’ as he calls it, refers to the clearly “promiscuous, wild and unprotected sex” in parts of the USA as “gay men migrated across America during the sixties and seventies to find the most liberal and liberated culture available”. Speaking of a similar drift in the UK in the major cities, he refers to “Gay clubs, gay discos and gay saunas, the latter really places for as much promiscuous sex as possible.” So is this claim to “I am a homosexual”, or “I am a lesbian” tantamount to being a declaration, “I just want to have sex with those of like gender to me?” That may appear an unkind assessment, but the wider social experience often suggests that.

More Questions: So here is another legitimate question: “Why do you want to ‘come out’ and declare your sexuality?” I have no sense of specifically ‘being male’ except that I an incredibly aware that I am different from my female wife, physically, biologically, socially and psychologically. But I don’t have to proclaim it, so why do you? Another legitimate question I believe sometimes needs asking in pursuit of truth: “You are a gay male, OK no problem, but why do you have to adopt this false persona of the limp wrist, the affected speech etc. – that you never exhibited before you ‘came out’ and which I certainly never see in women (so it is not a sign of being more feminine)? Is it therefore, simply a badge, a sign, an outward profession for the sake of other gays, to attract them and say, “I am gay, I am available” which goes back to the promiscuous-sex angle?

Distinctions: Something we haven’t done so far is make some important distinctions, such as between i) Homosexual orientation, having homosexual inclinations and ii) Homosexual Practice, living a lifestyle of a member of the opposite sex, or having sexual relations with a member of the same sex, and iii) Homosexual Promiscuity, regular homosexual sex outside established single relationships. Another useful distinction is between i) “inverts” (those who claim to always have been homosexually orientated) who have found it easier to express their orientation, and encourage others to do so as well, and ii) “perverts” (heterosexuals who just get involved in homosexual activities for kicks) and who have also justified the homosexual lifestyle as acceptable. The water is not as clear as we might have thought originally.

Christian standpoint: In the light of these various considerations, we may suggest that we might question a declaration of ‘coming out’ and so respond graciously, “So what, what has that got to do with your faith?” Why are you wanting recognition? What is there in you lacking, that needs this affirmation?”   Now if that is you, you may feel it is confrontational to ask such questions but isn’t it confrontational to make the declaration in my face to start with? Do I go around the church asking couples living in the same house or apartment together, to make declarations about their sexual lives? No, of course not. Many of them are married. Do I ask them, do they have ‘good sex’? Of course not (Sadly surveys often suggest that large percentages of women do not have a satisfactory sexual relationship within their relationship with their partner (married or cohabiting)). Do I ask those who share apartments (and before I was married I shared my apartment with two other guys – no sex!), do they have sex together? Of course not, what an impertinence! So why does my lesbian or homosexual friend need to make a declaration that says, ‘I want something more than good old-fashioned friendship and I need you to know about it’?

Church failure: I have two (now) elderly ladies who live together in my street. Years ago there was gossiping, and I want to shout to the gossips, “Mind your own business! If there is something not quite right about their relationship, leave it up to God. Whoever you are in your marriage relationship, if you can say it is absolutely perfect, you can cast the first stone.”  This couple opted out of church life because of the gossip and so we, the community of God, were impoverished and we failed to love and accept and perhaps help the ongoing redemption process of those two ladies. I don’t know the truth about them, what they did or do behind closed doors, and neither do you! We are not called to be sexual ‘classroom monitors’ for the community, making sure everyone’s life conforms to our standards. That’s what the Pharisees of Jesus day did, so let’s not be like them.

Summary: So what have we looked at in this study and perhaps could consider further?

  • We all have desires and some of those are good, and some are not good, and the latter need us to exercise self-control. In the fallen world, that we have considered previously, desires unchecked can cause hurt, harm, anguish and so much more.
  • The gay movement has often been associated with promiscuous sex and that, before God, is the same whether it is homosexual or heterosexual. Rather than be indignant, we might feel sad for anyone who has opted to get meaning in life purely from physical sexual expression, and not knowing or experiencing the many other life-fulfilling facets of relational life.
  • Self-centred, godless, rampant promiscuous sex (of both varieties) is clearly condemned by the Bible as being far from the wonder of sex within a lifelong committed that is God’s original design for us.
  • Proclamations or declaration of ‘coming out’ are often questionable and self-focusing and possibly do more harm than good. As a statement of sharing experience and feelings, say within a family context, such a thing is an appeal for understanding, not of condemnation. Unfortunately they often appear as a challenge, which questions motivation.
  • As Christians we are not called to be ‘behaviour police’ but to introduce others to the love and acceptance of Jesus, so that he may change them in whatever way he and they together, wish, in his redemptive process. Enough said!