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.

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62. He Cares

Meditations in 1 Peter : 62: He cares for you

1 Pet 5:7-9 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

We live in a worrying world. It seems to be endemic to this part of history and easy communications and the media may have much to do with it. Two hundred years ago you would not have heard what was happening a hundred miles away, let alone on the other side of the world. By the time news arrived it was usually months old and you couldn’t do anything about it and, anyway, you were still there so whatever it was couldn’t have been that important!  I have recently been reading the biography of a famous reporter who lived through the years of the Cold War. We tend to forget the worries about ‘the Bomb’ or Cuba or the Russians that abounded then. Today the news often covers the deaths in Afghanistan and there are many worried parents and loved ones back here who wonder whether the one they know will be one of the victims of a sniper’s bullet or a roadside bomb.  Writing in the years following financial meltdowns in the City of London and in America, the threat of loss of pensions and loss of jobs is a very real anxiety for many. No, we live in an age of anxiety!

Now our verse above is one of those that can be taken right out of context and it still holds true, but actually when you look at the verse before and verse after, you see there is a linkage between them: Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” At the beginning is the (possible) anxiety of holding a right balance in your attitude and outlook before God, and in the latter one we’ll come to in a subsequent meditation, there is the concern of having to cope with attacks from the enemy, which are very real. Those two concerns – rightly relating to God and combating the enemy’s tactics – are real concerns in whatever age. Today we may have more concerns and worries (certainly different sorts of worries, real or imaginary) than two hundred years ago, but in whatever age we live, these two things are genuine concerns to be worked through.

Now there are two parts in the verse to be noted. To start with, “Cast all your anxiety on him.” Even within that there are three things to note. First, this general picture of casting something on someone else. Today, bluntly speaking, we might say, “Dump it all on Jesus.” However we see it, it is an action that we have to carry out, something to be done as an act of will. The apostle Paul said it in a slightly different way: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6), i.e. get rid of your anxieties by giving them to Jesus – pray! It is an action, something you have to do.

So to the second thing: actually Peter doesn’t say “anxieties”, he says “anxiety” and that is slightly different. Anxieties are the individual worries – and yes we are to give them to Jesus – but “anxiety” is an attitude or way of thinking, a more general thing. Some of us take worrying to an art form!  We have a general approach to life where anxiety is constantly there in the background. We are unsure of ourselves and we are unsure of God and so we worry. It isn’t over anything specific; it is a general thing.

So, says Peter, put this attitude to rest by taking it all and putting it on Jesus or seeing it all in the light of all you know about Jesus. This is the third thing which will lead us on in a moment to the second part of the verse.  Focus on Jesus and realise that you don’t have to worry about what the Lord thinks or feels about you and your life. Hold to the truth:

  • Jesus died for you (Jn 3:16) and
  • so now you are a child of God (1 Jn 3:1), and
  • Jesus intercedes for you when you get it wrong (1 Jn 2:1) and
  • he is with you and will never leave you (Heb 13:5) and
  • Jesus always remains the same (Heb 13:8) and
  • will provide all you need (Phil 4:19).

Let these truths about Jesus melt away your general anxiety, your worry about not being loved or cared for. Rely on the truth and not your feelings. Bring your feelings in line with these truths, but daily declare these truths as an act of faith.

This takes us on to the second part of the verse: “because he cares for you.” Now that is so obvious that it shouldn’t need commenting upon – but it does! Now if we accept that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) – and the whole series of references we quoted just now suggest that is true, then everything we know about love suggests that it also involves ‘care’. In an earlier meditation I defined love as warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for others or, as the Bible portrays it, selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards all others. Now if that is so, and I believe it is, then that good-will towards others will involve caring for them, looking for their well-being – and God cares for us because He loves us.

Briefly what does it mean to be cared for? It means, first of all, feelings of concern and desire for your well-being. First of all, God feels for you. Second, it means He takes action to secure your well-being. If you are a mother and care for your child, or you are an adult child who cares for your aging parent, you will do things as the expression of your caring for the one who is reliant upon you, to secure their well-being. THIS is why you do not need to be anxious; because God is there, looking after you and working to secure your well-being. Declare it and thank Him for it!  Hallelujah!