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The Secret of Contentment

The secret of contentment

Cars, money, women, men, knowledge, relationships, careers, meaningful jobs, family – all of these things, which are not inherently bad (many of them inherently good, others indifferent) we use and we want so that we can be content, living a life where we feel alive. We look around at those people who have these things in plenty and we get jealous, comparing ourselves with them. This comparing can make us envious or depressed, because we also want to be content.

It may seem random – why is it that they get it all but I don’t? I work just as hard. Why is it that God blesses them but not me? Perhaps he doesn’t care about me. Perhaps he doesn’t love each person the same. Perhaps he doesn’t exist. Perhaps he does exist but couldn’t care less about anybody. Perhaps at the end of the day it’s just luck. Perhaps the best thing to do is tramp on others to get the contentment that I want. These are some of the things we think.

The surprising reality is that people who ‘have it all’ are not usually always happy. At best they are happy at least some of the time. But then the pressures of that career, the pressures of family, the pressures of maintaining wealth, the fears of losing all this stuff that everyone wants so dearly gets to them. Many a rich person has died bitter, angry, and unfulfilled.

If we believe in God at all and think him a tyrant for blessing some but not others, we ought to just take a step back and ask: did God ever promise to fulfill the American Dream? Was that ever in His agenda? Or was that an expectation we put on Him due to our culture and the prevailing philosophy of the world?

We have to be careful we’re not expecting God to do things for us He never promised He would. And we have to step back and think: If God did not promise to fulfill the American Dream, why not? Is it because he doesn’t care for our contentment? Or is it because He knows something we don’t? What if he cares about our contentment and joy so much that He promised something better than the American Dream? What if there is something else we’re supposed to be pursuing in this life? And if so, what is that something else?

In my own struggles with disappointment with God and asking Him these sorts of questions I have stumbled, or rather been led, into what I believe is the secret of contentment: God Himself. That statement might seem absurd or narrow or just plain boring to you. But I assure you it isn’t.

Most of us know that when Jesus died on the cross He took all of His sins upon us so that we would not be judged negatively for those sins; so that if we put our trust in Him then He will take our sins away and cast them into the Sea of Forgetfulness, because justice for those sins has already been carried out on Jesus.

But what does that mean for contentment? What does that mean for my joy? Well, it means two things:

1) I live with a clean conscience. A clean conscience is actually an amazing gift. No longer do I feel guilty about anything. And, best of all, I’m being shaped and formed by His Spirit living in me to stop doing those things that are against my conscience.

2) I now have access to a better gift than cars, women, or even family and relationships – the Presence of God, the source of all joy (Psalm 16:11).

God created joy and pleasure. Where He exists is where joy and pleasure exist to their utmost. Whether I have plenty or don’t, I have joy because I can have His presence. All I’ve got to do is ask for it and wait for Him, and He will come.

This is indeed the greater gift. While many a rich person has died unhappy, many a poor man hasn’t, such as a man like Francis of Assisi or many other such people who cast away the American Dream and sought a better Dream – the ongoing presence of God in their lives, in their heart, in their relationships, and in everything they do. The secret of contentment is this: God. And that is what God came to give us.

Sure, I know there is something called the Prosperity Gospel which has convinced many a Christian that God’s central purpose in everything is to fulfill the American Dream, hand things out to us like a supreme Father Christmas who gives gifts based on our performance and doesn’t know how to make us feel as if we’re truly happy but only knows how to put a temporary smile on our face through so-called blessing after blessing, until one day we die and we can’t take any of that stuff with us.

There is a greater Treasure out there to find, a Pearl of Great Price. That treasure is the secret of contentment and that treasure is the one we are to pursue all our days. (Matt 13: 44-46)

Let’s not look to others in a shade of green. We ought not to compare ourselves with others. We can have our own special relationship with God through Jesus. And I can promise you this: Joy will always come when one seeks God. So finally, we can have joy in our circumstances, which is God’s promise, rather than joy because of our circumstances.

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Original Sin and The Sinful Nature pt. 3 : Sex, sexuality and homosexuality

In pt. 2 of my ‘original sin’ blogs, I said that I would get to pt. 3 the following week.

That certainly didn’t happen! But, I guess I felt that the real jist of what I wanted to say was said, and pt. 3 would serve as a summary.

 

Actually, I’m going to use pt. 3 in a way that represents – more practically – what I am trying to say through my discussion, and see how it would apply to one of the hardest issues of the ‘sinful nature’ that we all seem to experience : sexuality.

 

In particular, I’m going to look at homosexuality at the end, as it’s my opinion that this has become a problem because of the following issues:

 

  1. A real lack of understanding that a sin does not equal an identity (ie. if you struggle with homosexuality, that does not mean your identity is ‘homosexual.’ Your identity is in Christ, if you have believed in Him for salvation.)

  2. A lack of understanding about Grace. God is not here measuring how ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ we get things, but is in the process of growing us into Christ- of being (becoming) conformed to the image of His Son. This thing is a process, and within the Christian life sin may lead to death (Romans 6) but does not lead to eternal destruction (the whole New Testament!) ‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’ is now an issue of growth: we discipline our children to grow them, and to bring them into something better; not to judge and condemn them. God is now the same with us (but, let me say, the Christian life is NOT one that’s all about discipline!)

  3. A lack of understanding about Original Sin. (summarized below.)

  4. A lack of understanding about sexuality and sexual desire (the core of my blog entry.)

 

I’ll try to keep things short!

 

Okay, so the first two posts have really been centering on point 3 above – original sin. So far, I’ve come to the following very real conclusions :

 

  1. Sin is not a natural phenomenon; it’s unnatural.

  2. The sinful nature is a twisting of the human nature. In other words, the human nature (as it was created by God) is not the sinful nature. Rather, the sinful nature is a corruption of the created human nature.

  3. The Christian life is one of healing our nature, not one of killing it. In other words, Jesus ‘untwists’ and ‘uncorrupts’ our nature to line up with the original created form and intention. He is perfect in every way, and we are to be conformed to this perfection as we walk the Christian life. This is another way of seeing point 2 above. The Christian life is one of healing. Biblical reference? The life and person Jesus. He makes us ‘whole.’ Mortification of sin does not mean mortification of humanness. In fact, it’s intention is to lead to the very opposite.

  4. Our desires are all good and natural, created by God, beautiful and wonderful in every way. But since we are born without God, our desires and body begin to control us instead of the other way around. The only way to put things back into the proper order (which is far more beautiful and enjoyable) is to submit them to the creator himself. The only way that happens is through the Holy Spirit. The only way that happens is to trust Jesus Christ for your salvation, which means you place all these matters AND your eternal destiny in the hands of Jesus. How? Simple. You ask Him, and He does it.

  5. Because we are born into death, our natural desire to live goes haywire. We inherit death from our parents, which results in a sinful nature. Why? Because we are born into death, not born into or with God. Since we were created to be in constant fellowship with God, our creator, being born without that fellowship and relationship results in the created being (us) twisting and turning on itself; resulting, I think, in the body becoming the focus/control rather than the body being a servant. As another writer (I can’t remember who) put it : the body is a wonderful servant, but a horrible master.

 

Okay, that summarizes things to the best of my ability without getting too technical and deep. So, it’s easy to see how sexuality now fits in with this.

 

Firstly, the above then says that our sexuality and sexual desires are all GOOD and wonderful; God created them, and he created pleasure, and I think God is delighted when we enjoy his creation (why wouldn’t He be?)

 

This is part of the reason why He is so serious about how we express our sexuality, and how we satisfy our totally normal and good and natural desire for sex or intimacy. Because, he wants us to enjoy his creation. But when our desires control us, instead of us controlling our desires (ie, our desires become our master instead of us being master of our desires) we actually find ourselves enjoying His creation less. Things become a mess : we lose relationships, family; things become tainted with guilt; we struggle to understand ourselves and our identity etc. We basically live lives that are far less enjoyable and delightful than God intended. Although having our sexual desire control us may be pleasurable, it is far less pleasurable than being in control of our sexual desires. Besides, anyone with half a brain knows that having your sexual desires control you becomes an absolute nightmare, and we ALL end up going further than we originally ever intended. A porn addiction always starts with ‘just a peek’ but ends up in a mess of watching violent sex and desiring to be a part of what you watch. From there, it can go a number of ways; all of them horrible in their consequences. I don’t know of any man who has gone down that road who doesn’t wish (now) that he didn’t have control over his sexual desires. Despite what TV or porn may tell us, no one is truly enjoying it, especially in the sense of COMPLETE enjoyment – ie. no one is enjoying their sexual addiction on spiritual or relational levels (amongst others.) Porn stars like Jenna Jameson insist that “they’re enjoying their life” but that’s a real relative statement. Are they enjoying living as much as God, their creator, does? I doubt that. “To each his own, whatever blows your hair back” some say, but I disagree with that and agree with CS Lewis here (taken from The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses) :

 

 

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us; like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

 

 

When it comes to sex and sexual desire, the problem is that many are living in a cave when God wants to take them out of their cave and see, enjoy, smell, experience, taste, feel, hear the big wide world; and enjoy it! In other words, he really wants to satisfy our desire, but he wants to show us how we can be truly satisfied.

 

So, we see that our sexual desire is not wrong: how we satisfy it is the problem. We can see that we are not created with an internal dualism of ‘sinful nature’ and something else, but we are born as corrupted beings whom Jesus wants to uncorrupt. So, in this case, God wants to HEAL our sexual desire and bring it into his original intention. He doesn’t want to kill it, he wants to heal it so that we can truly enjoy it; and truly enjoy who we are.

 

We are sexual beings, but that’s not all we are. How we express our sexuality does not clarify our gender either. Since we are created beings, our creator has already decided how we are to express our sexuality. If this wasn’t the case, then homosexuality would be a gender, not an expression. And, if homosexuality is a gender, then I don’t see how a Christian could argue against it. But it seems evident to me that homosexuality is not a gender, regardless of what any physcologist may say.

 

What about hermaphrodites? Well, most of the world aren’t hermaphrodites and therefore we can’t try and apply our situation into theirs. I can’t say “well, if God creates hermaphrodites, then he creates homosexuality.” I think we do a little bit of a jump in that case.

 

Okay, but if there’s nothing wrong with sexual desire is there anything wrong with the desires of the homosexual? I know that most homosexuals didn’t ask to have a desire for the same sex, but I didn’t ask for the desire to have sex with as many women as possible either. That is an issue of lust, which has come as a result of my true nature and real desires being corrupted and twisted. My struggle with that is also not where I place my identity. My identity is in Christ, the perfect human, not in a twisted and corrupted nature.

 

Is homosexuality an issue of lust? Yes, and no. My desire for intimacy and for a woman isn’t an issue of lust. However, it is most certainly an issue when that desire is expressed in a way that doesn’t line up with God’s created order; when it is expressed in an ‘unnatural’ way. The key here is getting to the core of our sexual desire, which is a desire for intimacy and closeness and pleasure and acceptance and a whole lot of things that aren’t really bodily. Yes, there is a bodily part of sexual desire, but that bodily part needs to be secondary; if it becomes primary, I allow my body to decide for me how I should act and behave, and that’s hardly beneficial to me or anyone. I’m not saying the body is evil (this is my point, it isn’t!) and I’m not saying the body doesn’t count. What I’m saying is that we are whole beings, and therefore our desire for sex is not JUST bodily, but a whole lot of other things too. We need to approach sex holistically, not on separate levels. True, the church has quite often made it all a spiritual issue. Also true, the world and psychology makes it all a bodily issue. All of these things need to be in proper balance in order for my desires to function correctly. So, these other issues are really my true desires within sexual desire, and the same is true for the homosexual.

 

Therefore, my conclusion is that the person with homosexual desires struggles with lust differently to what I do. Both of our sexual desires are the same, but the way in which we struggle to submit them to God, and the way we struggle to express our sexuality in a natural way (ie, the creator’s way) is different. Homosexuals were not created to have homosexual desires; I was not created to have totally overboard and animalistic desires for women. We were both not created to be lustful beings, even though we were created as sexual beings. We were created to express our sexuality within the created order of God, and we were created to truly enjoy our sexuality and enjoy who God created us to be. I was created to enjoy being a man. Homosexuality actually destroys me truly enjoying who I was created to be.

 

Your desires controlling you is not a natural situation; it’s unnatural. We all have to struggle with our unnatural state, and we trust Jesus to heal it and form it back into what he originally intended : so that we can truly just be human, which is what God intended us to be. In Christ we can relax and just be, and just be who he created us to be, and allow him to heal us into true humanity; humanity as he created and intended.

 

I know that many homosexuals may see this as an overly simplistic look, and that it’s easy for me to say this since I don’t desire for the same sex. Well, it’s not easy for me to say. I’ve had to struggle to submit my own haywire sexual desire for women to God; and that aint easy either. It’s wholly unfair to me for a homosexual to say their struggle is worse than mine. I don’t think it is. I think it’s just different. I don’t think the paedophile’s struggle is more difficult either. I think it’s the same : just different. We ALL need Christ to take our sexual desires and heal them into his true, created, human, way. For this reason, any person who passes judgement on someone else’s sexual struggles has missed the point. Justice and righteousness is important; all of us should be treated equally. Therefore, don’t judge the homosexual. Love them as God does.

 

As for justice and righteousness, we ought to be moving our society into a place where God’s original created intention is expressed. But that (in discussing homosexual marriage) is for another post.

 

So, I leave us all (me too) with a challenge that is in love and, I believe, on God’s heart. Submit your sexuality, your sexual desire, and your body to God. Let him restore all of these things to his original, most pleasurable, most delightful, most enjoyable, intention.

 

Allow Him to make you truly man, or truly woman : truly human.

 

To read Pt 2. of Original Sin and The Sinful nature, click here

To read Pt 1. of Original Sin and the Sinful nature, click here

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