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!

13. Peace in Relationships (2)

Short Meditations on Peace 13. Peace in relationships (2)

Prov 17:1  Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.

We started to think about how our own insecurity may make coping with people difficult, and also about why people are ‘nasty’ suggesting understanding them may help cope with them.

However we understand them they still say and do unpleasant things which requires grace to handle, and for that we need to seek the Lord. Our starting place is to reject lies and pray for them. After all, Jesus did say love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:44) But they are still obnoxious! So pray, be patient and look for an opportunity to bless them, yes bless them, showing the character of your Father in heaven who loves them.

But then comes the matter of forgiveness. We first have to clear up our own indiscretions and so if you have wronged another or spoken to them in a way your Father would not approve of, go, pray, seek them out at an opportune moment, and ask their forgiveness.

But what about the other way round? They have sinned against you. Popular opinion is just forgive them but forgiveness is a legal action based in heaven. There are three things to be noted here: First, forgive as your father in heaven forgives, was Jesus’ teaching but the truth is that God doesn’t forgive until there has been repentance. It’s true, look throughout the Bible.

Second, the Bible’s teaching does declare that when someone does repent and come seeking our forgiveness we MUST forgive, we cannot hold back forgiveness after repentance, because God always forgives us when we repent. But what about in the meantime? What if they never see their sin and never come to seek you out?

Well, third, the Bible shows God’s example towards us which we are to follow towards others, and that is always to look for the best for every person, desiring the best for them, that hopefully they may come into a good place with God (because at the moment they have an unresolved issue with Him in respect of their sin against you) and eventually come to repentance. Thus we need to have a good heart towards them, even while waiting for them to repent.  That may require more grace than casually saying, “I forgive them.”

Forgiveness, when it is sought but refused, is a main cause for stress and absence of peace. Holding bad attitudes (even when we think they are justified) towards others is another main cause for lack of peace. Working and praying positively for the good of others, even those who have hurt us, lifts us into the realm of heavenly blessing and there, in the presence of God, we said, is peace.

12. Peace in Relationships

Short Meditations on Peace 12. Peace in relationships

Prov 17:1  Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.

I suspect that relationships are the most fertile ground for upsets in our lives and therefore for absence of peace. I believe dealing with issues from the past requires a separate meditation of its own and so will deal with that in the next meditation. So, relationships in the present. How well we get on – or don’t – with other people depends on a number of issues, major ones being how we were brought up, what was expected of us, how successful we were, what we achieved and then, when we became a Christian, the extent of our knowledge of how much we are loved by God and that in itself will depend on how much we read the Bible ourselves, how much we pray, and what teaching we get from church and the experience we have of God’s people.

All of the above things contribute to how we cope with or handle other people. The fact is that people (and that includes us) are not always nice and so there, straight away, is the main cause for lack of peace. If we were able to be utterly indifferent in respect of what we thought about other people and what they say, life would be easy, we could shrug off their criticisms, their negative comments and so on, but we’re not like that. We feel. The old ‘self’ looks to other people for affirmation of identity. We want to be liked, we want to be loved and when we are not (often for reasons beyond our control), if we are not a very strong and secure person, we will find some measure of anguish and anguish means absence of peace.

If people are actively against us and perhaps even threaten us – a brother, a hostile neighbour, a superior at work, a school bully – then that ‘anguish’ I referred to may include fear. The presence of fear is yet another cause for absence of peace.

From what I have said so far, the need to build up personal security, knowing that in Christ I am loved by God and He is all for me, is paramount.  Knowing why people are like they are may also help. The manager at work who is giving you grief perhaps has an unhappy home life. The hostile neighbour may be struggling with children going off the rails and feels everyone is looking at them. The snappy person may have just been told they need to go into hospital for tests. The school ground bully may have only one parent who is never at home for them. If you are a teacher you know that the child who starts acting out of character and starts acting rudely, arriving late, failing to give in homework and so on, is almost certainly one who has just heard that their parents are splitting up. Understanding people helps cope with people. But there is more. Watch this space.

29. Water Bringer

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 29 : Jesus, bringer of Living Water

Jn 4:10-14 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” ….Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

If you were an alien who had just arrived on earth and didn’t know what water was, John’s Gospel would be rather a mystery to you, because water keeps on cropping up.  Jesus was baptized in water (1:33), he turned water into wine (2:6-), he referred to our natural birth as birth of water (3:5), he speaks about water to this Samaritan woman (4:7-), he healed a man by a mystical pool of water (5:1-), he walked on water (6:19), he spoke about streams of water to refer to the coming Holy Spirit (7:38), he washed his disciples feet with water (13:5), water poured out when he was pierced  on the Cross (19:34), and his last miracle was on water (21:7).  What all this says is that water is very common. There is lots of it on the earth and we use it to drink, to wash, to cook with and to manufacture things. Without it we’d be dead.  Water is a vital and essential element of our lives.

The Samaritan woman has come looking for water, ordinary water from the well, but does Jesus sense another yearning in her? It’s a strange thing isn’t it, that we can have different yearnings. When we haven’t drunk for a while we’re thirsty, we yearn for water. In that respect water is symbolic of all the material things we need to stay alive. Yet the truth is that we find yearnings within us that go beyond material yearnings. We have yearnings for love, for beauty, for meaning in life. Without these things ‘life’ is very ‘dry’. The woman was very jaded about life. She’s been through a number of relationships which had all failed or passed. Whether her husbands left her or had died we aren’t told, but she’s had five already. Even for a Hollywood movie star that’s going some. More than that, she’s living with a man now who’s not her husband. For this woman life is unreliable and upsetting. When we form relationships we anguish when they end. This woman yearns for something permanent, something stable, something that will put security into her life, something that will transform it. She comes with at least two needs, therefore.

Jesus senses this and starts talking about ‘living water’.  Living water could first refer to spring water that bubbles up from the ground and she seems to understand it in this way first of all because she says he has nothing to draw up the water.  Jesus’ answer in our verses today indicates that his water is different, because when you drink it, you’ll never thirst again, i.e. if you take Jesus’ provision, all of your non-material yearnings will be for ever satisfied. This provision will remain in you and will act like a spring within you, constantly welling up and providing all you need. This ‘water’ is living, constantly self-perpetuating, never ending in supply.

Even as we mentioned above in John 7:38,39, Jesus referred to this water there and meant the Holy Spirit. There, and in the present passage, are two requirements to receive that ‘living water’: first that you thirst (Jn 7:37), that you have a deep yearning for something more that the material world cannot provide and, second, as seen in the story of the Samaritan woman, you face your state and recognize your need and see that only Jesus can satisfy it. Thus when we surrender to him, he gives us his own Holy Spirit, who lives within us and acts as a constant, never-ending supply of life from within, the ONLY real life satisfying supply.

25. Gathering/Scattering

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 24 :  A Time for Gathering or Scattering

Eccles 3:5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

Probably in life, stones are something you’ve never really thought about. They are a background feature, if you like, that almost get missed. For a gardener, stones can be a blessing or a bane. We can take them and build a rockery, or put them down to form a base on which we build a shed, but in the midst of the flower bed or a lawn they can be a real nuisance and need to be removed. Isaiah spoke of the need to get rid of, or scatter stones: He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines.” (Isa 5:2) This was God clearing the ground so that Israel could grow and flourish. Travelling around the country you may see dry-stone walls, mile after mile of walls made by these stones wedged together. In old towns we may take for granted the buildings that have been put together with stone. Stone and stones are there all around us and most of the time we don’t see them.

In Old Testament times, piles of stones came to have greater significance than we might think. See here with Jacob: So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. He said to his relatives, “Gather some stones.” So they took stones and piled them in a heap, and they ate there by the heap. Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed. Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed. It was also called Mizpah, because he said, “May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” (Gen 31:45-49) This pile of stones became a memorial. The first two names given to it, in Aramaic and Hebrew respectively, mean ‘witness heap’ and the last one, ‘watchtower’.  This pile of stones was to act as a reminder of a family relationship and that they were now under God’s watchful eye. Similarly when Joshua took the people into the land crossing the Jordon, the Lord instructed him, Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.” (Josh 4:2,3) so that, In the future, when your children ask you, `What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (v.6,7) Again this pile of collected stones were to remind people in the days to come of the Lord’s covenant with them and what He had done for them taking them through on dry land. Piles of stones thus came to be monuments or reminders of a relationship.

Thus be can see now how the parallelism works – and a time to embrace”. Embracing is a sign of unity, of harmony, of relationship. In other words, there are times when it is right to build relationships and create signs of relationship. The smallest precious stone on the finger of a young woman is a sign that a young man has covenanted to join himself to her. Many churches have ‘membership’, a formal sign of wanting to join together and be a committed part of this local body of God’s people. When we join a team to work together, there is this same sense of committing to something. If we’d lived in Jacob’s day we’d have each gathered a stone and made a pile as a reminder of the point in time when we came together to work together in relationship.

But then there is a time to scatter stones. If the gathering together of stones was a sign of a relationship being built, the scattering of the stones is a sign that the relationship has come to an end. If it is a marriage that is a tragic thing for God’s intent was that it should be a lifelong commitment. At other times there are unhappy disagreements and a parting of the ways. That happened to Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-39) and, sadly, it sometimes happens with us. But there are other times when it is just right to move on and although the relationship may continue in the hearts of the two parties, for practical purposes it is ended. This is life. There are times for such relationships to come together, blossom and flourish, and then there are times with the circumstances of life, when it is time to part. There may be a final embracing, but thereafter it is a time to refrain. This is life, this is what happens.

I have referred in previous meditations to life being a kaleidoscope where you tap it and the colours and shapes change. Edith Schaeffer in her book, What is a Family?, uses the picture of a changing mobile – the sort of thing you see in a child’s nursery that hangs there, moving, perhaps catching the light, held by the various strings but otherwise constantly moving. That is a good picture. We knit to our partner and a relationship is established. Children come along and new tiny, fragile relationships are created – and there is lots of ‘embracing’. They grow up and become teenagers and often there is a refraining from embracing as they learn to be an individual, and once they are through that, they too start forming a new relationship and we embrace them again in celebration and one day as grandparents we will embrace their new generation as well. It’s a constantly changing mobile, a changing kaleidoscope, this life. Sometimes joyous, sometimes sad, but never the same. 

39. Sexual Relations

Meditations in the Law : No.39 : Sexual Relations

Lev 18:5,6 Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD. `No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD.

The Law now moves on to regularise relationships. We may see the injunctions in the early part of this chapter as all about sex, but in the word of God sex and ongoing relationship are inextricably linked. Sex is about relationship, we find, in God’s word. We, in this modern world, have separated sex from relationship so that sex is purely a single physical act which may appear to have no other ongoing consequences (although it does!). The instructions here come with very strong preliminary authority.  In the first six verses, taking us into the laws about relationship – indeed linking strongly the preliminary warnings with the following laws – we find “I am the Lord” four times. It is the Lord imprinting His authority on these laws. He emphasises Himself because He declares, “You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.” (v.3) The implication is that there is chaos in relationships in Egypt and in Canaan and the Lord is creating a people where there is order, honour and respect (as we’ll soon see).

Verse 6 above summarises all that follows in verses 7 to 16. We will not consider them separately but simply note that the word ‘dishonour’ appears five times in those verses. Honour is all about respecting and esteeming others, about recognising their role, status or position. For instance in God’s order of things a husband and wife have a unique relationship and they become one (Gen 2:24). For a person to have sex with his mother abuses the uniqueness of that relationship. In each case there is assumed a special relationship which is held in high esteem before the Lord and to step into that relationship sexually is to abuse it and to disregard God and His design for mankind.

In verse 17 the disregard for different and unique relationships is spoken of as ‘wickedness’. Verse 18 extends that in a way that suggests to us that all of these rules have the thought behind them of care and concern for various parties concerned. Where there is abuse of these unique (as they are supposed to be) relationships, people are going to be hurt and upset. Dishonouring means disrespecting and disrespecting means demeaning and demeaning means causing hurt. It is probably this thinking that is behind the exhortation not to have sex during a woman’s period (v.19). Most women are highly sensitive about their state and the demands for sex by an insensitive husband disregards her feelings. Verse 20 is a simple exhortation to avoid adultery and verse 21 a simple prohibition against child sacrifice. It is this law that reminds us again that these laws are legislating against the anarchistic practices of the pagan nations which involve fear and abuse in a large measure. Verse 22 is a straight prohibition of homosexual sex which God declares here is ‘detestable’. Likewise sex with animals (v.23) is straight forward perversion. Remember these descriptions in the light of modern trends.

Now godless, unrighteous, modern man may decry these rules and call for total freedom of sex, but in so doing such a person is putting themselves totally at odds with God. The warnings at the beginning of the chapter were serious; the ones at the end are even more serious! Listen to the strong language: Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled.” (v.24) Defiled means made dirty, polluted, spoiled. He goes on: “Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.” (v.25) That’s why He had the Canaanites put out of that land, because of their appalling behaviour.  So He continues, “But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things.” (v.26) That is the strength of the Lord’s feeling about those who live so contrary to the way He has designed them to live. So He concludes: “for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.” (v.27,28). It is a clear warning: if you live like them you will end up in the same way. We seem to speak about free sex as if it is something that grown up and mature people accept, but in fact God indicates that it is exactly the opposite. Such people disdain relationships and go for cheap physical gratification but such will be the cause of the downfall of a nation.

The chapter concludes with a final warning and exhortation: “Everyone who does any of these detestable things–such persons must be cut off from their people. Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the LORD your God.” (v.29,30) If you had any casual thoughts about these things, think again. God is deeply serious about these things because they undermine the very fabric of society. These laws are not to ‘spoil people’s fun’ but are to protect individuals and hold society together. We ignore them at our peril.

9. Relationships

Lessons from the Law: No.9 : Respect Relationships

Ex 20:14 You shall not commit adultery.

These commands are all about relationships. The first four were about relationship with the Lord. The fifth one was about relationship with parents – the most fundamental of all relationships, a relationship we all have whether we like it or not – and then the sixth one was about respecting life and not taking it except under very specific circumstances that only occur in a fallen world. This seventh command now goes to the heart of marriage relationships.

Genesis 2:24 speaks of a man being “united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” Now most commentators maintain that that refers to far more than just physical oneness. This seems to be affirmed in the sense of Paul’s words about not being united with a prostitute (1 Cor 6:16). Uniting with your partner in this way is also a joining of spirit and therefore anything that breaks that unity is to be condemned. Marriage is supposed to be the commitment of two people to each other and indeed in a wedding service those two people make vows in respect of each other. It is a sign of the insecurity that many people feel in the twenty first century that so many people simply cohabit and do not go through any ceremony where they commit themselves to one another. Possibly it is for this reason that cohabiting couples are more likely to split up than married couples, even though divorce is so common.

Adultery is sexual intercourse outside of marriage involving at least one married person. What is supposed to be probably the most intimate of encounters is, in God’s design, purely for within marriage. Adultery is unfaithfulness by one marriage partner whereby they abandon their love and commitment to their partner to give themselves to another. Yes, adultery is first and foremost an abandoning of the marriage vows, the promises made to one’s partner. It is a giving to another person what should only be given to your partner. It is also a discontentment with the present relationship. It may be called ‘an affair’ or given some other term but it is basically disloyalty to one’s partner.

The consequences of such ‘affairs’ are always painful. In secret it breeds guilt, and when it becomes known it creates pain, shame, anger, and mistrust. It has the potential to utterly destroy the marriage relationship. When it becomes casual, as in our society today, it brings upheaval and insecurity to society and our world is littered with individuals who are the hurt cast-offs of another’s casual sexual encounter outside of the marriage relationship. In early Israel so important was it that the death penalty was the punishment for adultery (e.g. Deut 22:22-24).

Possibly one of the greatest impacts of such adultery – even if it was a one-off fling that didn’t mean anything more than a ‘one night stand’ – is loss of trust. Even if the guilty party wishes to maintain their marriage relationship, whether it comes out through others telling the other partner, or the guilty partner confesses to it, then loss of trust is a guaranteed outcome. Where it is more than a one night fling, it completely undermines the present marriage and many children today are the painful recipients of all of the outworkings of a marriage break up. You only have to be a teacher to know that children don’t weather these things casually. The break up of a marriage is the most devastating and undermining thing that can happen to a child. We apparently have no idea of the hurt the practices of our modern societies are causing to our children. The casual approach that many modern Western societies have towards marriage may be causing more hurt than we can possibly comprehend, with outcomes that are yet to be seen in society in the decades to come.

Jesus, as always, went behind the outward act and confronted the mind. He expanded the basic commandment and said simply looking at a woman lustfully was already committing adultery with her (Mt 5:27,28). His warning was don’t even start moving in that direction. In a world where the media is full of sexual pictures, it is difficult to keep a pure heart but that is Jesus’ call to us who call ourselves Christians. No excuses, it is quite clear!

It used to be the prerogative of men to look at women lustfully, but modern trends indicate that it is also a woman thing. We need to reinforce our marriages, often telling one another we love our partner – it needs to be said! We need to be spending time with one another to reinforce and strengthen the relationship. When we work alongside members of the opposite sex, we need to avoid compromising situations and when we return to our partner we need to rejoice afresh at that unique relationship. Failure to do this may mean we join that band of unfaithful men and women who are answerable to God. Modern society may be casual about it, but God isn’t. Unlike a mere bout of anger, adultery has many long-term consequences that mean lives will never be the same again. Unfaithfulness in this area often has the undermining effect of meaning unfaithfulness in all areas of life. Commitment is something that has to be worked at. Do it!

4. God of Partnership

Lessons from Israel: No.4 : God of Partnership
Ex 3:9,10 9And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.    11But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12And God said, “I will be with you.

We are in this series, we said, looking at the lessons to be learnt from God’s dealings with Israel, going right back to Moses, and we have been seeing the initiating of contact by God, the Lord revealing Himself as the God of history who had had dealings with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob previously, and who was here now for Israel who were suffering in captivity in Egypt.

Now the previous meditation and this one are very closely linked. We saw in the previous one that the Lord sees all that happens on the earth and is moved to come to bring deliverance. Now we see HOW he will bring that deliverance. I think so far, Moses would be feeling first amazed at this experience, then in awe at the recognition of who it is who is speaking to him and then possibly very glad that God intended to come and deliver his people, the people he left forty years ago, out of the slavery in Egypt.  So far, so good! Indeed when the Lord reiterates what has happened, it’s still all right: “And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.” (v.9). Yes, the Lord sees and knows, so it’s going to be all right now!

But then the bomb falls: “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (v.10) What? Hold on! Hang about! I didn’t see that coming! Where did that come from?  Those are the various responses we might give today. Moses is not excited by this thought; in fact he thinks it’s definitely not a good idea: “But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (v.11) Moses is a smart guy. He’s been doing the maths on this in his head. Pharaoh, big powerful world leader, me, small insignificant shepherd. Power plus insignificance doesn’t work.  Well no, it doesn’t, but God’s going to balance up the equation: “And God said, “I will be with you.” (v.12). Pharaoh versus an insignificant shepherd = disaster (for Moses!). Pharaoh versus the insignificant shepherd + God = disaster (for Pharaoh!).

Now that is a completely different ball game – except Moses isn’t convinced yet, as we’ll see in the next mediation, because he really doesn’t yet know this One who is speaking to him out of a burning bush. He really doesn’t know if he can trust this voice and it’s all very well for that power to have been there centuries before to enable old Abraham to have a baby, but is that power big enough to deal with a seriously nasty ruler? It’s probable that those were the sort of things going round in Moses’ mind, because they are the sort of things that go round in ours, and Moses was no different from us.

So now we come to the crucial question that must be lurking in the back of any thinking mind: why does God want to bother to involve Moses? Why doesn’t God just get on and judge Pharaoh and just take Israel without asking? He’s got the power, so why not do it the easy way? Why involve an insignificant shepherd?

I suspect the answer is to do with communication and visibility. Communication is the fuel for relationships and the Lord is always looking to build relationships with the human beings that He has created. Love always wants to express itself and God wants to express Himself to whoever will listen, come near and get involved. He’s got Moses’ ear but perhaps Pharaoh would not be able to hear God, because he was so self-centred. By visibility, I mean God making Himself known. By the end of this whole episode in history we are going to have learnt a lot about God. The Bible is all about God communicating with people and revealing Himself to people by the way He acts. By the end of all this there is going to be a story to be told – a long story and a story that will get passed on and on, and every time it does, someone else is going to learn some significant stuff about God. So God is going to use an insignificant shepherd to bring the most powerful ruler around to his knees. oh yes, this is going to be a story worth telling – apart from what it is going it achieve, this is going to be important. Do you remember what Paul said? “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor 1:27)

In the New Testament, Paul refers to us as “God’s fellow workers.” (2 Cor 6:1) Today God continues to work alongside us, using US to bring about His purposes on the earth. Yes, He could do it all on His own but He chooses to reveal Himself through His people. Remember though, whenever He calls you to do anything, He doesn’t ask you to do it alone. The message is still the same: “I will be with you.” His power and presence is always with us. Indeed He’s said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:5) which evokes the response, “So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” (Heb 13:6) Let’s remember that.