Summary: We can be tempted to blame our failings on other people, but our own lack of self control, our slavery to 'the flesh' can be our worst enemy
Kathy and I have a Siamese cat, named Ling. For the purposes of being a pet, she’s really good. She’s quite affectionate, for a cat. She’ll come and sit in our laps several times a day, and if you scratch her in just the right spots, she really purrs. She plays amazing games with her balls and other toys. Our dog, Annie, is getting a bit old for it, but sometimes Ling can provoke her into a play fight. Ling is an amazing athlete. She’s very entertaining.
But she can also be a pain in the neck. When I’m reading the paper and she feels like some attention, she jumps into my lap and, while she’s pretending to make herself comfortable she just keeps moving around, jealously pushing her way between me and my paper. She wants to be the center of my attention for that moment.
When she feels like scratching she used to head to the nearest furniture, but we have her partly trained to use a scratch pad. And now she wears cute little pink plastic claw covers, glued on to keep her from doing any damage.
It’s fun when she plays with her toys, but when she feels the need for new entertainment, she used to go down into the basement into Kathy’s craft supplies and pull out balls of yarn, carry them upstairs, with the yarn unwinding behind her. We once found half a dozen balls of yarn up in the middle of the living room carpet, with streamers going all the way down the basement stairs.
And if it’s our time to sleep, but she wants to play, she has no scruples about walking on us and rubbing on our faces to wake us up. That’s why she usually spends the night closed in a bathroom. And last night it was time for everyone to go to bed and she didn’t want to be caught and closed in the bathroom, so we gave up and we spent the night closed in our bedroom and she had the run of the house.
Ling is a cat. She behaves the way cat’s do. Those are her instincts. She feels like doing something and she does it. And there’s that strange instinct in humans that many of us really get attached to them for it.
But Ling can’t go beyond her instincts. When it’s time to pick up the balls of yarn in the living room, will she help? No way! When it’s time to put her in the pet carrier for a trip to the vet, will she come when you call? No way! If her needs are met she’s very content to just sit in the window and watch the world goes by, accomplishing nothing at all. She is the perfect hedonist. If it feels good, do it.
In a cat, those behaviors are very endearing. But God has created human beings for so much more, to be useful, to think about the impulses they feel and choose wisely which ones to follow and which ones to deny. God calls us humans to focus our lives, to bring order and goodness and love on this earth. And if we fail to live up to that high calling, it’s a tragedy.
We are working our way through the letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Ephesus. The first chapter is really fun. I called it “You’ve Got a Lot Going for You.” Paul tells us that we have been blessed, in Jesus Christ, with every blessing in the heavenly places. And when he explains that, we learn that all those blessings are in God himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This God is one God, life giving, eternally existing in three persons with perfect love and harmony and servanthood among them. That was fun to preach.
Then we moved on to chapter 2. I call the first few verses “You’ve Got a Lot Going Against You.” Because Paul warns against another threesome, but these are spirit killers, the world, the devil and the flesh. These aren’t as much fun to preach about. But they bring reality into better focus. “So that’s why the world is so messed up.” And it gives us specific places to start in dealing with it. Paul is wise to also give us a diagnosis to explain why life is so often hard. And you don’t have a chance of a cure until you’ve had the right diagnosis.
Two weeks ago we looked at ‘the world,’ the social, or should I say anti-social, environment in which we live, pressing us out of the shape of being in the image of God and into a new form that is very different. And the mark of the world on our lives is substantial because it has been pressing us every moment of our lives. Its pressures have destroyed many people. They influence us all.