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!

27. Redeemed From (3)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 27. Redeemed From (3)

Eph 2:1-3    As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.

Following ‘Passion’?  I’m never quite comfortable with our interpretation of Paul’s words in verse 3 above even with, “We all lived like that in the past, and followed the impulses and imaginations of our evil nature,” (JBP version) and even less with, “You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat,” (Message version), or “All of us used to be just as they are, our lives expressing the evil within us, doing every wicked thing that our passions or our evil thoughts might lead us into.” (Living Bible). What these various paraphrase versions show us is that we struggle with the idea that Paul is seeking to convey here. Now when you look up synonyms for ‘passion’ you do come across such words as craving, desire, or appetite. The various paraphrases above also use such words as ‘impulses’ and ‘felt’, both implying responses to feelings.

Going on feelings? Christian preachers or teachers often say ‘don’t go on your feelings’ and that is what this is all about, but when Paul says in the NIV “gratifying the cravings of the flesh” he is implying something more than just feelings; he is directing us towards thinking about desires that stem from physical or bodily expressions so, for example, we get hungry because we haven’t eaten for a while. Sexual drive can also be linked to physical state. Now psychologists often distinguish ‘desire’ from ‘emotions’ for ‘emotions’, they say, arise from a person’s emotional state.

So we have two ideas here which come out of Paul’s writings: motivation by physical gratification and motivation by mental state, and both of these, implies Paul, are things that should be consigned to past history. However our studies in redemption have suggested that so often God’s work in us has to be an ongoing process because, although our identity has changed, and we now also have a new power source, it is so easy to allow these things of the past to still ‘echo’ in the present and hence Paul had to instruct us to Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” (Col 3:5) i.e. you make an effort, an act of will to do this. The teaching is clearly that the old is still there waiting to rear up and we have to positively put it down.   Now when we moved into the fifth Part, I thought of our sub-heading as ‘Practicalities’ but changed it to ‘Nuts & Bolts of Redemption’. These things, the nuts and bolts of our lives, have very practical outworkings in our lives.

Physical Desires: We shy away from such words as ‘greed’ or ‘gluttony’ but they are words that fit when it comes to physical appetites. However, as Christians, perhaps we should call a spade a spade and call these things ‘lack of self-control’. Food: Obesity is the Western pandemic and is clearly (in the vast majority of cases) a consequence of lack of self-control. But that lack of self-control may have two origins. First, it may just be giving way to greed: I like this and I want more and more and more. Second, it may be what we call ‘comfort eating’, it is a way we deal with mental anguishes (I feel rubbish about me) and seek to bring physical pleasure to compensate for the loss of mental peace.  The first needs simple self-control, the second needs a reality check about identity, realizing afresh the truth about ourselves, loved by God and special to Him, people with purpose in life. All of these things need working through and really taking on board.

Drink: So far we have been considering desires that focus on food, but they can equally apply (if not more so) to alcohol. Now I don’t have a problem with drinking alcohol within limits (though I rarely drink) but I am sure there is a common assumption (and it appears in Christian circles) that alcohol creates a social environment that promotes sociability. There may be an element of truth in that but there are at least two difficulties with it. First, it is false that you cannot be sociable without alcohol and if for you it is true, then you have a personal identity problem again. Second, regular drinking (‘to be sociable’) becomes a pattern and a pattern often develops into a bondage and that brings about what we call alcoholism and all the health and social problems that go with that. In passing, may I note that in all these sorts of things there is so often deception here, for the individual strongly denies that there is a problem, and nowhere is this more true than in the case of sex.

Sex: All of these things we consider here, that God is seeking to lead us away from, are excesses of things that He gave us as a gift to be used within confines. Sex, the Bible reveals, is for within a lifetime committed relationship. Now I am aware that when we say that in the Western world it is like calling for light in darkness, it is so alien, but merely because the world casts off God’s design criteria, that should not be true of us Christians. It is almost impossible to watch TV without being bombarded by the philosophy that sex is all right with whoever you like, whenever you like, and however you like, and becomes no more significant than eating a cheese sandwich. The result is to debase sex and create whole rafts of relationship problems and where to speak of love is banned except after the relationship based on sex has existed for a long time (watch long running historical ‘soaps’ such as ‘Friends’ or ‘Big Bang Theory’ to see the truth of this.) Deception reigns! Fortunately voices are gradually (if only occasionally) being raised by newspaper or magazine columnists that this approach is having disastrous effects, and we will have to face some of these things as we progress down the path of redemption. For some, sex comes by computer screen and is called pornography but all that does is stimulate mind and body in ways that are less than God had in mind with His design for couples.

Wandering in the Desert: My feeling about all these things that are rising up in the Western world, is that they are expressions of life in the wilderness or the desert, life that is arid and where people are resorting to things outside the parameters of  God’s design for human beings, to try to make sense of this crazy godless world, and try to find pleasure in it, yet trying by eating more and more, or drinking more and more, or having more and more sex, simply works on what economists call ‘the law of diminishing returns’. As any junkie would tell you, you need more and more to get the same pleasure. But we’re not meant to live in deserts; the truth is that at the edge of every desert is a wonderful world that is lush and green and full of good things. This ‘desert living’ is what God seeks to deliver us from and so perhaps we should move on in the next study and move away from the depressing area (when you have eyes to see it) of the desperate scrabbling for pleasure and meaning that is so prevalent in modern Western society. So let’s move out of the desert and see the world that the Lord seeks to deliver us in to.

And So? But before we do that, let’s go right back to the beginning and remind ourselves what Paul has been saying: don’t base your life on desires or emotions, there is a better way. It is a way that is first and foremost founded on a relationship with the Lord and out of that relationship we live according to His design parameters and know His blessing in all aspect of our lives. His word, His will, His way, His wonder, and all these bring light and life and blessing and goodness, and that is what He is working to lead us towards in this path of redemption. He HAS redeemed us from that old life of self-orientation, of self-pleasures, self-concerns, self-desires, self-based-emotions, and He is now in the process of redeeming us on a daily basis into a new world. We’ll see more on to that in the next study.

9. Be who God has made you to be

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  9. Be who God has made you to be

Rom 12:6    We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.

If churches have problems, one of them is that so often we try and cast everyone in the same mould. Now in one sense that is right for we are all being shaped into the likeness of Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18) and as far as morals or ethics are concerned, that should be true, but the greater reality – and you see this in all of Creation – is that God loves diversity.

The apostle Paul touched on this in his famous chapter on the different parts of the body – and we will consider that more fully in the next meditation – when he speaks of us as different parts of the body: The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.” (1 Cor 12:12) and he goes on in his analogy to speak of the foot, the hand, the eye, the ear and he goes on, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” (1 Cor 12:18,19)

Note, “God has arranged.” The Lord gifts us, He gives us different abilities according to His grace (His Holy Spirit’s enduing with power to act in specific ways). Regular readers will know one of my favourite verses in the New Testament is, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) We are what we are because God (through Jesus reigning at his Father’s right hand) through His Spirit, has brought us into being with different personalities, different gifts, abilities, desires etc.

Writer Gary Chapman in his “The Five Love Languages” suggests our different preferences for the way we show or receive love, or there is Patrick Morley’s, “The Six Worship Languages” that goes right back to Gordon MacDonald’s “Six leading Instincts of the Soul”, which is opened up even more by Gary Thomas’s “Sacred Pathways: Discover your Soul’s Path to God”. All of these writers grasp at the same thing – we are all different. (This has even been taken into ‘Learning Styles’ although this has been questioned by some).

Perhaps a personal application: the Bible thrills me, I come alive with it. Prophecy and preaching bless and thrill me. Worship, I long to go deeper with a greater reality. Prayer, I’m limited. Evangelism, I love sharing with those who want to know and although I have brought a number to the Lord, I grieve that it is so few and long to be gifted, but I am not. So how about you? What thrills you in the Christian life? Build on that. What gives you a buzz? Develop it.

6. The World’s Poverty

Short Meditations on Peace 6. The World’s Poverty

1 Pet 1:2   Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

I have entitled this meditation ‘The World’s Poverty’ not to speak about financial poverty but to consider the poverty (or absence) of peace that is in the world.  Go next door and it is absent in the home of my unbelieving neighbour. This we forget so much of the time, that peace is largely absent in the mind of the unbeliever. We take it for granted for it is our inheritance – but not theirs.

They may not be ‘unhappy’ as long as they keep doing things, as long as they keep busy and keep active, but if they are left in silence, then worry and anxiety rise to the surface. My unbelieving neighbour lacks peace because they are on their own in the world and the people who are around them are fickle and can be so self-centred and turn on them so easily. All around them marriages or simple partnerships are breaking up, hundreds of thousands every year and relational breakup is one of the greatest reasons for absence of peace.

If this appears a somewhat condemnatory assessment of the world it is not meant to be, merely a recognition of the state of life that an unbeliever has, with no strong sense of undergirding security. How we take for granted the knowledge and presence of the Lord in our lives as Christians and the blessings He brings to them. My friend and neighbour has the same worries and concerns that I have (which we’ll consider more fully in a later meditation) but has rarely anyone who is there for them with whom they can share their worries and receive wisdom or counsel.

Talking with those who come through to Christ, one is reminded of the realities of the godless life. When the apostle Paul was reminding the Ephesians of what their lives used to be like before coming to Christ he spoke of “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” (Eph 2:3) That description suggests a self-centred life, one of self-satisfying, self-centred thoughts and desires but one that is never satisfied, never content. In reality, as we look around, it is one that seeks personal gratification by food, drink, pleasure of many kinds and new experiences. It desires love but rarely finds it, substituting it with temporary sexual experience that leads nowhere except frustration and loneliness.  It lacks grace to cope, refuses to grant forgiveness and holds on to hurts and grudges and so easily takes offence. It worries about out of control finances fuelled by ongoing desire to keep up with everyone else and has a Pandora’s Box of worries that are so extensive it dare not be opened. In this sort of environment, it is no wonder that peace is absent. This is what your unsaved friend lives with. Don’t forget it. Pray for them.

36. Battling Desires

Meditations in James: 36 : Battling Desires

Jas 4:1,2     What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.

Honesty about oneself is quite difficult. The trouble is that it’s us living this life and we find it difficult to be objective about ourselves. To know yourself is difficult, but of great value when you do. If you know yourself you know how far you can be pushed and you step back before your grace runs out. If you know yourself you know the gifts and talents you have and rejoice over them and give thanks to God for His provision of them. Yes, if you know yourself, you know that any goodness you have is from God. If you know yourself you know that deep down there are harbouring things that belong to darkness which should never see the light of day and which only God can deal with. Being honest with yourself, we have already said, brings humility. Being honest with yourself brings a greater reliance upon the Lord. Being honest with yourself is about knowing what you are like on the inside, for it is what goes on in the mind, in the heart, in the soul, that makes us what we are, and it is sometimes  very difficult to be honest with what we are really like.

Our problem is that we like others to think that we’re nice and we like to think ourselves that we are nice. This is a problem because when something comes to the surface which runs contrary to that belief, we panic or make excuses and justify ourselves instead of facing it and dealing with it. In other words we allow it to continue instead of putting it to death with God’s help.

Every time you struggle to cope with some other person, it is because something in you is not right. If you get angry, hostile, resentful, envious or generally upset over some other person, it is because something is not right in you. This is what James is referring to when he says, What causes fights and quarrels among you? A fight or quarrel is something that starts inside you. We’ve already talked at length about the tongue which expresses that hostility and brings it into the open and establishes it, but the hostility itself is within you. Whenever we feel resentful about another person, it is because we have something wrong on the inside. James goes on to give us an answer why this happens: Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? Everything, he says, in this context happens because you have desires that are struggling within you. Now this isn’t the sort of desire that wants a new car, this is desire that simply wants or needs things for self. This is about desires to be accepted, desires to feel good about yourself, desires to feel in control. Consider each of those.

We have a desire to be accepted. If we have poor understanding of God’s love we will not realize that we are utterly accepted by Him, and therefore our life is based on gaining acceptance. We want to feel good about ourselves, but that good feeling will only come when we feel that others take us as we are or, even more, look up to us. If we really don’t know who we are in Christ, we will struggle and struggle to become someone, and that includes being in control. When you are insecure about yourself you try to feel in control because then you can feel safe. If we have never some to the place where we know that God is in total control and that He is for us and with us, then we will feel insecure and will be constantly battling to create a sense of control to create this feeling of security.

All of these struggling inner desires are linked as part of our old sinful self which is warring in the world for achievement. What makes it worse, as James says, You want something but don’t get it. There is a sense of frustration that drives us on. We want to achieve, we want to be well thought of, we want to be someone, but it never seems to be happening and so we struggle and battle, struggle and battle and, in the world, that is what we see when people move into criminal activity. It’s as James says, You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. That killing for many is character assassination. We put down others in our desire to climb higher to achieve prominence, to achieve success, to be someone. These things are all part of the same package. For a few who allow Satan to totally dominate them, they literally kill and we hear of such things daily on our TV screens, but it’s all part of the same thing.

This is very real, and is the practical working out of our lives. James will go on to give answers but, again, he first wants us to face the malaise before we see answers. Many Christians shy away from this and pretend everything is all right, but deep down they know it’s not. You know you haven’t come to a place of wholeness in Christ, a place of security, if you feel uncomfortable with other people, if you find them impossible to be nice to, if everything in you goes tense in certain situations involving people. Don’t run away, this is simply an area to expose to the Lord’s love and let Him deal with. If you feel uneasy or worse with certain people, it may possibly be because you don’t know the social etiquette and don’t know how to respond in the circumstances, but mostly it is because you haven’t yet come to peace with God over who you are. Can we face that? Can we be honest about it? Can we bring it out in the open and confess it to the Lord so He can come and fill us with His love and acceptance? Let it be.