To Burn Or Not To Burn

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When I was a boy, Paul’s use of the word “burn” for sexual desire in 1 Corinthians 7 probably did more to educate me about sex than my parents or anything I learned in school. During the Dog Days of Summer in Alabama, one of my jobs was to help my dad rake and burn leaves in the backyard. The raking part wasn’t fun. But I always liked the fire. My dad made sure I knew everything about it. The whole process would start with him watching the weather forecast that morning. The time had to be right. If it were too wet, nothing would burn. If it were too dry, it would be too dangerous. He would choose a day that was not windy. He would put the fire in a big open space, far away from the house, usually the same spots year after year. He also made sure there was nothing else close by that could catch fire; like overhanging limbs, trees, buildings, plants, fence poles, etc. He said the flames could reach a lot higher than the pile of leaves. He allowed nothing but leaves and limbs on the fire. No rubber, glass, metal, or any kind of plastic. He did include paper bags and cardboard boxes. He said those were exceptions because they were made out of wood too. Oh, and privacy was important to him.  He didn’t want anybody to see the black scars they left on the ground.  So he would build the fires out of view of company. So, we sat off to gather the fallen limbs first. He would drive his tractor around the yard and I would pitch them in the trailer in back. After the limbs were gathered, we would start raking leaves on top of them. When the pile got to be a certain size, my dad would say “that’s enough!” Only he knew when that was. Then he got the kindling, which was usually a few shavings of heart pine or a crumpled newspaper. He put that at the base of it, on the side with the least wind. Then he struck a match and we watched the tiny flame shoot up through the wood and into the leaves. O’er the ramparts we watched! It only took a few minutes and the fire and smoke was rising over the pine trees. My dad also lectured (taught) me how the flames could leap out of the burning brush and onto the surrounding leaves and “get away from you before you know it.” He said a fire left unattended could spread out of control into a bigger fire, and that he would be responsible for anything else it burned – including a house.  He also told me about how burning embers could also be carried by the wind, land in somebody else’s yard, and start a fire – all without you knowing it. That is, until the neighbor called. That was scary. That’s why he always had either me, my sister, or my mom standing guard with a hosepipe and buckets of water. We stayed with the fire until it was extinguished. It had to be completely out with cold ashes before we went to bed. If it wasn’t, he poured water on it, and finished it another day. My dad did everything he could to minimize the risk of a fire getting out of control. It seemed to me that he actually had them contained before he built them. He planned things so meticulously.  My dad wasn’t afraid of fire, though.  He respected it and understood its capabilities. He also spent time telling me how beneficial lightning fires were in the forest, getting rid of dead trees, and making room for the sun to shine on new growth.  In 1963, fire researcher Herbert Stoddard discovered that one of the most harmful things modern man has done to birds has been his attempt to exclude fire from fire-type pine forests.  As he said:  “Within a few years most forests choke up with brush, lose their prairie-like vegetation, and can no longer support birds dependent on periodic burning for their food supply and proper cover.” There are a lot of other things a fire can do too.

A warm fire is wonderful on a cold night in a fireplace under control. But if it gets out of control, that same fire can burn your house down. The fires may look the same, but one keeps you warm and the other kills you. It’s the same way with the fires of our sexual desires. They can keep us warm in the incinerators of our own passions while we wait on a spouse, burn our houses down if we don’t contain them, or they can be transformed into something entirely different than fire. When the flames of desire leap out of control, they can consume all of our lives – and leave scars of regret and heartbreak as permanent reminders. But controlling those flames still comes down to taking away at least one of the three things a fire needs for survival – oxygen, heat, or fuel. Take oxygen, for example. Lust thrives in the right environment. I’m sure you know of places where the flames will meet you at the door. There’s hardly anywhere we can go today that is not saturated with sex. That’s where we have to be vigilant and step away from the gases of superficial pleasures.  Taking lust out of the air will work wonders in controlling your fire. The same thing is true about the heat that ignites our fires.  We can follow the masses and ignite our fires with meetups in a bar, fuel them with pornography, stoke them with our imaginations, and let them burn out of control – destroying ourselves and anyone they come in contact with.   Or we can do it God’s way and wait patiently on marriage before having sex.  If your fire has already jumped over the line, it’s never too late to get it back under control.

Paul must have understood the nature of fires very well because the word “burn” so accurately describes what I felt as a teenager. It felt like my body was the pile of leaves, that my sexual desire was the flame, and girls were the sparks. I came to understand what Christ meant when he said it was good for a man not to touch a woman. I was certain one spark would do it.  But I knew there was nothing inherently wrong with fire if it was kept under control, and that God created sexual desire as a good thing. That seemed a little less daunting when I realized God expected everybody to keep their fires under control, whether waiting on marriage or waiting on his return, and that he wasn’t holding me to any higher firefighting standards than he was anybody else.

Burning was one of the most common ways of describing unfulfilled passion throughout Greek and Roman literature, as well as the Bible. Job 31:12 describes sexual immorality as “fire that consumeth to destruction”  I think this is the fire Apostle Paul had in mind in 1 Corinthians 7:9 when he said “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” He was talking about the sexual passion that can consume our time, energy, creativity, trust, and anything else that makes us who we are when we don’t moderate our fires with the outlet of sex in marriage. There’s a difference between the flame of natural sexual desire that is consumed (consummated) in marriage and one that is allowed to burn out of control with the heat of sexual immorality. With marriage, two unstable flames of desire come together to create one stable fire. They use each other’s oxygen, fuel, and heat. It consumes all of their energy and time and reproduces with the embers of children and the rhythm of life. It’s ignited with romance and fueled with committed love. In a marital relationship, the other person becomes the object of our love. In a celibate relationship with God, he becomes the object of our love. It is fueled with a passion to please him; whether that be meeting the needs of forgotten people or endeavors of a supernatural nature. For example, instead of the flames of passion burning your time and energy, the fire of celibacy could be fueled by a desire to end human trafficking, homelessness, or end an epidemic. Instead of being spread with human children and birthrights, it is spread with spiritual children. Of course, a married person can love both God and their spouse. But they can never love him with the same intensity and capacity as a person with the spiritual gift of celibacy can. That’s because the fire of romance is fueled by romantic love, not God’s love. Celibate fires often hidden behind the smoke of marriage, glossy photo packages, wedding ceremonies, diamond rings, and white picket fences.   Some work behind the scenes.  People who live celibate lives remind us that love is never satisfied on this earth, and that the transformation of human nature is possible through union with Christ.  The fire of romance propagates the earth.  The light of celibacy points us to heaven and propagates eternity.  Maybe it’s time to revisit the lessons a simple fire can teach us.

https://books.google.com/books?id=zMiV__25izEC&pg=PA86&lpg=PA86&dq=%22elements+in+the+bible%22+fire+water++-.com&source=bl&ots=NWUp0wDMMX&sig=vn2eH8K67mJkwNVU3XxWRcnNvTY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwii7YeFkrnKAhXIYyYKHVuWDc4Q6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

https://books.google.com/books?id=q7R2NFp8mtwC&pg=PA63&lpg=PA63&dq=keener+unfulfilled+passion&source=bl&ots=c-agjPVLar&sig=FPcNMwb71BcsMsWxXL6_Ssrr3Dg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj2zIfM1bvKAhWEOD4KHcVVAc4Q6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-timaeus/

http://www.rockrohr.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Luther-on-marriage-relations.pdf

https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/12436318/0614%20proofs%2013%20Nasrallah%20FCNT%201%20Cor%20aca.pdf?sequence=1

https://books.google.com/books?id=s8ml0NOoOdQC&pg=PA67&lpg=PA67&dq=%22place+for+sex%22+%22song+of+solomon%22&source=bl&ots=4GVotbrdkF&sig=IhAqsTwA90PgR2Wqx1mJbBs-i1U&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjzjdDUtsDKAhUB5iYKHfkQCGgQ6AEIOjAG#v=onepage&q&f=false

Do You Have the Gift of Singleness?

 

Celibacy And Visual Ethics

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I’ve always wondered what people mean when they say men are more visual than women. Do they mean men can read an eye chart better than women, that men can see the figure of women from a greater distance, that men can’t control their sexual desires? I think it’s the latter. Our society says sexual immorality is not a self-control problem, but a visual problem. It says that men are just not able to tame their sexual desires and that their eyes focus at the mercy of a “fallen” world, a world that has “evolved” with its own innate wisdom. This reasoning falls in line with what most churches are practicing today – visual ethics. Not the ethics associated with visual arts, but a theology of ethics based on things that can be seen while ignoring things that cannot be seen. Kate Hurley has an excellent example of this on Single Matters:

“When my dad died, I lost something tangible. People called me. They held me when I cried and asked me to talk about what I was going through. They came to his memorial service. It meant the world to me. I needed family around me during that grieving process. People bound up the wounds, told me it was going to be okay, and walked with me through the healing process. They rose to the occasion and helped me recover. When it comes to being in my 30s and facing the prospect of not having a traditional family, though, people don’t know what to do with my frustration. “There’s nothing there. How could you be in pain?”

The only way to see the invisible pain of barrenness is to get to know a person on a level that is deeper than what we know as “friends.” In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), consider how the concept of neighbor changed for a lawyer who was concerned with his own eternal life. At first, he was worried about definitions – like any good lawyer would be – and asked Jesus “who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus told the story of the man who was stripped and beaten and left for dead on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. When Jesus asked the lawyer which three men was his neighbor, it would have made more sense for him to answer it was the priest or Levite. They would have been expected to show compassion to the sick and injured. But instead of answering with the only choice left, the Samaritan, he said it was “The one who had mercy on him.” Luke 10:37. Jesus forced the lawyer to see the invisible virtue of mercy. The kind of neighborliness Jesus had in mind required him to see beyond the taken for granted stereotypes of a priest, Levite, and a Samaritan. The same principles apply to us today. Meeting people’s needs should not depend on the visual of a situation. In this parable, mercy happened to be found in the least expected Samaritan, an enemy of mixed race, the very man who would be expected to walk on by. For the Samaritan to show mercy and stop and render aid, the visible stereotypes of a priest and Levite had to give way to the invisible thing called hope. Jesus did this by reframing the lawyer’s question from “who is my neighbor?” to “who is the neighbor?” He might have expected Jesus to give him the names of people he should and should not consider neighbors. Instead, Jesus expanded the question to “what does it take to be a neighbor?” In this case, it took mercy.

Likewise, meeting people’s needs should not depend on the presence or absence of wedding rings. Without the visuals of a family, soccer mom bumper stickers, and membership in the local PTA, single adults tend to disappear beneath the pews of American churches. They too have been beaten up and left for dead. Real faith does not wait on something to be seen or someone to cry for help. Just like life itself and the invisible human embryo, it puts other people first and us last. Just as we don’t need proof of God’s existence, we don’t need proof of a need before we can act on it. Consider Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

For many in the religious community though, faith goes no deeper than what they see. Their moral compass is guided by the rightness of their sex lives, the visual of a pregnant abdomen, and sanctified by the love for children. It looks good. It feels warm and fuzzy. It brings money into the church. But it’s not biblical. Family values are not Christian values. Maternal love is not the pinnacle of love in this universe. And there is absolutely nothing eternal about marriage. If churches base their faith on the superficial and tangible, they will only respond to the superficial and tangible. The assurance about what they don’t see will be replaced by evidence of things they do see. That’s a shallow faith, one just as legalistic as the lawyer in the parable of the Good Samaritan. As Abraham Lincoln said: “To believe in the things you can see and touch is no belief at all; but to believe in the unseen is a triumph and a blessing.”

Married people may be tempted to say, “but I don’t do anything to make singles feel unloved or not part of our church family.” That’s precisely my point. Silence can be louder than anything you say or do, especially in the absence of action. This is especially true when it comes to lifestyle affirmations because we have only two choices, marriage and celibacy. Affirming one often discourages the other. When married life is affirmed without a concomitant affirmation of celibate life, it results in a discrimination that cuts just as deep as any racial discrimination. It throws salt into the open wounds of barrenness. It leads to a grief more profound than the loss of a family member. Think of all the things your church does to visibly affirm marriage and family life – requiring married preachers, marriage sermons, marriage conferences, wedding announcements, wedding ceremonies, baby showers, receptions, birthday parties, wedding anniversaries, graduation celebrations, age and marital status based groups, etc. Everything a church does sends signals to the community. Singles are free to draw their own conclusions. That’s part of human preservation. For instance, if a Protestant man walked into Jewish synagogue where he was the only person not wearing a yarmulke, would you expect him to feel out of place? Would it be reasonable for him to assume that wearing one was a requirement for that group of people? I would think so. A single adult can feel the same way in a church where everyone is wearing wedding rings and all activities are centered on nuclear families. Just like the man who was beaten could rightly assume the priest and Levite did not care about his situation, he can rightly assume that marriage is a requirement for that church. He could be waiting for someone to stop and just say hello, for someone to listen to him, for a neighbor who can see beyond the absence of a wedding ring on a finger.

Why It Stinks To Be Unintentionally Overlooked

https://books.google.com/books?id=ifG7Mmp6RXUC&pg=PA139&lpg=PA139&dq=%22good+samaritan%22+%22least+expect%22+enemy+-.com&source=bl&ots=u3nu4CSf5x&sig=kLBUvmhH7HqY0cDs527afBYwjRY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjbjvLE-KnKAhXIQyYKHa46CrgQ6AEIIjAB#v=onepage&q=%22good%20samaritan%22%20%22least%20expect%22%20enemy%20-.com&f=false

Paul’s Present Distress

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” I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.” 1 Corinthians 7:26.

Paul’s “present distress” has been used to discount this section of his letter to the Corinthians. Some think that since there a calamity of some type being inflected on the people – whether famine, disease, earthquake, etc. – that Paul was writing for people who were undergoing circumstances that we can’t relate to. This distress is often interpreted to be no more than a disclaimer that reads, “This is all my opinion. So don’t take anything too serious.” But how should we take it? I don’t think we should take one inch off of it that we don’t give the rest of the Bible. All of Paul’s words are the inspired word of God. Yes, we are living in a time when the Bible strikes a sharp contrast to surrounding culture. And I’m sure many people who are reading it for the first time are looking for “outs” and disclaimers and reasons why it doesn’t apply to their lives. But this is not one of them. Paul could have considered the present distress to be the period of time he was living in and waiting for the second advent of Christ. We are in the same distress, living in a time between ages. The distress is spreading the good news around the world and making as many children of God as possible, with the knowledge of what happens to people who perish without accepting Christ. Do you think Paul’s distress could have been any worse that Christians are experiencing in 21st century America? Paul spent time in prison for expressing his religious beliefs. People in America have too, like Kim Davis. Christians are being targeted and executed all over the world by terrorists and other extremists. The gunman in a recent shooting at a campus in Oregon shot only those students who said they were Christians. If we exhumed Paul from the grave and took him on a guided tour through our big cities and halls of government, what would be his assessment? Would he think it was a walk in the park? I tend to think he would consider our circumstances quite a distress.

Apostle Paul wrote the majority of the New Testament. By our standards today, he was beyond a genius. God could have chosen anyone to write the epistles. He could have created anyone to play the role of Paul. He did. He made Paul. He could have transported Shakespeare back in time. He didn’t. Paul was a humble man who didn’t want to appear superior or authoritative. He was not writing his letters on an iPad from the comfort of a beach side condo. He was in prison. I don’t think we should use his humility as an excuse to bypass sections of the Bible that do not fit our times or make us uncomfortable. We should use it as a reason to take him more seriously.

Eunuchs For The Kingdom Define Marriage For The World

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Feast Of The Tabernacle by Yvette Co

After the Pharisees had asked Jesus about divorce and remarriage and after he reinforced the permanency of marriage in Matthew 19, note who was the most dismayed. It was the disciples. “If we can’t get rid of our wives when we want to, then it would be better for us not to marry! We will stay single for the rest of our lives!” The very men who knew Jesus best and were on the front lines of the new Christianity were now joining the Pharisees in defense of divorce. Why? The reason is because it allowed them to continue to have sex without commitment. It allowed them to continue to make a mockery of marriage. This should tell us something about what marriage had become in 1st century society. And really, if they had such a shallow view of marriage, their lifestyles between marriages probably weren’t much better. They could pretend to be married for a while and then pretend to be single for a while, and on and on. If their wives got old and cranky, they could divorce them. If their wives burned the biscuits, they could divorce them. If their wives got sick, they could divorce them. They could divorce them and find a hot young babe to meet their sexual needs. Does that sound familiar? It should, because we’re in the same boat today. And we’re still asking the same questions. Consider what Tim Rymel, a man who identified himself as an “Exodus Casualty,” wrote in The Baptist Standard in August of 2014:

“How would heterosexuals feel about being told celibacy is their only option? They could never marry, never have families and never experience the love, joy and intimacy of being with the loves of their lives?”

How would Christ respond to those questions? The same way he responded to the disciples: “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.” Who does that leave to be married? It leaves only those who were not chosen to be single. Christ didn’t say, “all men can’t be married, only those I have chosen. Instead, he bases his definition of marriage on the third type of eunuch he described, eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. That does not include homosexuals. It can’t because the definition of a eunuch has nothing to do with sexual orientation, only reproduction. Actually, there’s no such thing as sexual orientation. That’s a figment of modern man’s imagination. On top of that, homosexuals can’t reproduce – biologically or spiritually. I think the reason Christ may have chosen the metaphor of the eunuch is because reproduction could be confirmed visually through pregnancy and children. And the visual of pregnancy serves as a direct link to the sexual relationship that is needed for reproduction. Hence, the eunuch for the kingdom points to the gift aspect of celibacy and self control. If becoming a eunuch for the kingdom of God cut off sexual desire, then what did Christ mean in verse 12 when he said “made themselves eunuchs?” He’s certainly not talking about a man taking a knife to himself. Made themselves eunuchs here is the equivalent of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:37: ” Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.” A eunuch for the kingdom can still have sexual desire and intercourse. That’s the will he has power over. Otherwise, why would the disciples have bitterly complained about marriage and its permanency? Only the third type of eunuch addresses a man’s will.

There are several instances of a series of three in the Bible with the emphasis on the third, such as Peter denying Christ three times and then the rooster crowing. In the same manner, Christ uses the first and second eunuch to build up to the third type, the main focus of verse 12. This is so because the disciples have a choice, and this is the only option that has a choice. They were not born with genetic abnormalities and they were not castrated, or at least we have no record of that. But they did have a choice about remaining celibate for the kingdom of heaven. It’s also interesting that during the Feast of Tabernacles, which was the third and last feast commanded by the Lord, the Israelite men lived in small huts outside their houses. Living in these small huts reminded them that mortality is not the final resting place for mankind. Likewise, choosing to be a eunuch today for the kingdom of heaven, the third eunuch described, reminds us that our mortality is not the final resting place for mankind.

So Christ actually used the eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven to connect sex back to marriage and to reinforce the permanency of the commitment. At the same time, he gave a new definition and identity to those who choose not to marry or have sexual relations and reinforced the permanency of that commitment.

https://www.baptiststandard.com/opinion/texas-baptist-forum/16827-letters-celibacy-a-personal-decision

http://emp.byui.edu/SATTERFIELDB/Papers/John7-9.5.html