Thursday, October 9, 2008

Mike Queen, Jimmy Carter And Lust

Here is a text version of the broken link in this section:

Ben Currin wrote
at 3:57am on July 19th, 2008,+First+Baptist+Church+Wilmington,+North+Carolina&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=30&gl=us
> of my last post. I'm not sure how it connects with the topic of Bruce Ware.

Michael G. Queen
First Baptist Church
Wilmington, NC
“Jimmy Carter Was Not Alone” #800
Exodus 20:14; Matthew 5:27-32

During the 1976 election campaign, Baptist Sunday School teacher and presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter, confessed in an interview that he had lusted in his heart after women who were not his wife. The media plastered his words on every magazine and newspaper in America. But Jimmy Carter was not alone. For all of his faults and failings, Jimmy Carter remained an honest man. He told the truth. And everyone knew it.

Because the truth is this: Everyone has lusted over another person somewhere along the way. And the Bible has several things to say about it. The Bible makes clear that our sexuality is a part of God’s intentional creation. God made us to be masculine and feminine. It is almost the first thing that defines us when we are born. Is it a boy or a girl, we are asked.

For centuries the problem of lust was pretty much reduced to the avoidance of adultery. And adultery got defined in terms of a man having sex with a married woman. In other words, sex with an unmarried woman was deemed OK. But many leaders in the Old Testament had multiple wives and consorted with prostitutes regularly. Adultery was seen as a violation of property rights. A woman belonged to her husband. She was merely another piece of his property.

But do you remember when the woman caught in adultery who was brought before Jesus? There was no man brought before him. The double standard held firm in the first century. But Jesus changed all that. He told those who had brought the woman before him that indeed she should be stoned, according to the law. Then he noted that the one among them who was without sin should cast the first stone. And they all left. When he was alone with the woman, Jesus offered no condemnation at all. He did encourage her to ‘go, and sin no more.’

Jesus knew that the law of his day hung around the necks of the people and that they had been manipulated to benefit those in power, namely, in this case, the men. So Jesus turned everything upside down when he said ‘even if you look at a woman lustfully, you have committed adultery!’ Jesus’ words are directed towards men since it was the men who were abusing the law. But let us be clear on one thing. No one escapes the lure of lustful thoughts.

The two most interesting conversations I have ever had on this subject have been with a fourteen year old boy and with an eighty year old woman. It is pervasive in all strata of our society. And it happens when we take this gift of our sexuality, and the sexuality of others, and use it wrongly.

My friend, Tom Kirkman, a retired pastor in Florida, once told of a tee-shirt he was given, which asked the question: “How much can I get away with and still get into heaven?” Sadly, I fear that is the rule of life for an awfully lot of folk. They know the difference between right and wrong, but they also understand forgiveness. Thus, sin becomes a game, and some are worse than others. In The Canterbury Tales Chaucer placed lust just above theft and just below manslaughter on a list of sins. How do we define lust?

Jesus did not define it, but indicated that it takes place in the heart. Jesus was not talking about the casual glance at an attractive person. Nor was Jesus condemning the fleeting thought or image that finds its was into every human mind. No, Jesus was talking about that which dwells in our hearts …that which we focus upon and invest our time and energy…that about which we become obsessed. We know when lust takes over, don’t we?

Most of you have read the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament. It made its way into the canon presumably because it celebrates our human sexuality and all that is good and right about it. Sexuality was seen as the handiwork of God. The language of that book is sensual and erotic, but it is couched in terms of fidelity and the reciprocity…the give and take of love. Like all of God’s work, sensuality was seen as a good thing.

But after Jesus spoke his words on lust people began to interpret them quite strictly. The early monastics began to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as they ran from the triple threat of money, sex and power. Such withdrawal misses the point of Jesus’ words. We are not to run from our sexuality. We are to enjoy and celebrate it in proper relationships.

The church struggled with sexuality for centuries. An early church father, Augustine, wrote about his own battles with lust and sexuality. The church bought into much of his concern. Nathaniel Hawthorne exposed the harsh condemnation of the church in The Scarlet Letter. More recently, adultery was actually celebrated in The Bridges of Madison County. What happened in society that launched this change in attitudes and practices from the condemnation of adultery and lust into acceptance of the same?

Sociologists say that America, coming out of World War II, began a sexual revolution that continues even to this day. The limits of what is acceptable behavior gets expanded each day. We are bombarded by sexual images in the checkout line at the supermarket, and on the parade of soap operas, quasi-news shows, and cable offerings on TV. The music and the attendant videos of the 21st century celebrate sex without shame. And now the advent of the internet has opened up a medium that offers the opportunity to watch live sex 24 hours a day with every perversion imaginable available for a price. And perhaps the image of a person bent over a computer living vicariously through the actions of unknown people on a screen best illustrates lust in its purest form. Obsession….

People watch and assume they are watching reality. They think it will satisfy their hearts, but it does the opposite. Says Frederick Beuchner, “Lust is the craving of salt by a person dying of thirst.” In the end, a person gripped by lust is left lonely and alone. Loneliness is the mark of lust. Disappointed in a marriage or relationship, they look elsewhere for intimacy. Trapped by the media’s picture of how life ought to be, they seek more. Unsure of their own self-esteem, they try to bolster their image. All of that produces nothing but bad fruit and the ruin of lives, families and careers.

In Forrest Carter’s The Education of Little Tree, Little Tree’s Granma tries to teach him how to value people and things properly. Listen to her words:

“Little Tree, everybody has two minds. One of the minds has to do with necessaries for body-living. You use it to figure how to get shelter and eating and such for the body…But you also have another mind that has noting’ atall to do with such as that. It’s the spirit mind…If you use only the body-living mind to think greedy or mean…, then you’ll shrink up your spirit mind to a size no bigger’n hickor’nut. And when you die, the body-mind dies with you..only the spirit mind goes on livin’, and if you only think with your body mind all your life, there you’ll be, stuck with a hickor’nut spirit!

You see, Little Tree, that’s how you become dead people, really. You don’t just have to be dead in your body to be dead people; all you have to do is let your spirit mind shrink up to the size of a hickor’nut!

Dead people! They’re easy to spot,” she said. “When people look at a woman and see only dirty; when they look at other people and see nothin’ but bad; when they look at a tree and see nothin’ but lumber and profit, they’re just dead people walkin’ around.” (SW-188, pp. 132-33)

What then are we to do? Jesus says (read vss. 29-30). It was his way of saying STOP! God will help you if only you seek God’s help. Be intentional. Take responsibility. And celebrate your sexuality in a right relationship with God. Remember. It was God who gave the gift of your sexuality in the first place. And that is the awesomely good news for this day. Let us not forget it…OK? In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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