Tag Archives: appetites

Of Corruption and Cravings

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Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.
2 Peter 1:4 (NRSVCE)

I ran across a quote yesterday by the Roman stoic, Seneca. He said, “all cruelty springs from weakness.” What fascinates me about this quote is the fact that Seneca was an advisor and tutor to the Roman Emperor, Nero, who was perhaps the most cruel of all Roman Emperors. It was Nero who burned followers of Jesus alive around his garden to provide light for his parties.

Certainly, Seneca had plenty of opportunity to witness cruelties we can scarce imagine in today’s world. It would appear that he failed in his tutoring of Nero. Nero eventually demanded that Seneca commit suicide, a cruel request to which Seneca stoically complied.

I decided to take a quick break from the chapter-a-day journey through Psalms and to finish this week with Peter’s second letter to followers of Jesus. The date of this letter is the subject of much scholarly debate, but in today’s chapter Peter claims to know that his death is soon in coming, and it is generally believed that Peter (and Paul, btw) was executed during Nero’s cruel persecution of Jesus’ followers whom he used as a scapegoat for a massive fire that burned much of Rome in 64 AD. Ironically, Nero’s subsequent scapegoating and persecution of Christians in coincides with Seneca’s ordered suicide in 65 AD. The playwright in me finds an intriguing storyline there.

“All cruelty springs from weakness.”

The quote came to mind once again this morning as I read Peter’s words “the corruption in this world because of lust.” My brain immediately paraphrased it as a parallel to Seneca’s observation:

“All corruption springs from lust.”

Corruption is everywhere. It’s particularly visible at this time as it is during all elections. Politicians and power brokers (on both sides of the aisle and in every arena) obfuscate, deceive, stretch truth, speak in white lies, and hypocritically change positions with the prevailing winds of circumstance and poll numbers. All of those dark ads with ominous tones and carefully chosen photos intended to make their opponents look like criminals as the ad itself bends the truth out of context to make it look as damning as possible. All of the bright ads making themselves look like saviors, and shining examples of goodness and light. It’s corrupt and it springs from lust for power, position, and money.

Along my life journey, my perspective about sin has changed. When I was a child I thought it was simply about rules and obedience. Between parents, school, church, and community I was taught a list of rules to follow and a fairly strict guideline for right and wrong, good and bad. As I got older, I found that I broke some rules religiously no matter how hard I tried not to. I also found that if I keep certain (easy) rules in public where others could see them, then it blinded others to the “ugly” rule breaking I did in private and outside of the public eye. That’s corruption, too. It’s a personal form of the same hypocrisy and corruption found in politics on a much grander scale.

This is what led Paul to write to Jesus’ followers in Rome: “Everyone sins and falls short of God’s glory.” Or, as Bob Dylan sang it in his modern psalm quoting Paul quoting the Sage of Ecclesiastes:

“Ain’t no man righteous. No, not one.”

I began to realize that the problem wasn’t the rules, the problem was my appetites. Some appetites were easy for me to control, but other appetites were seemingly insatiable. An appetite out of control is a craving, a lust. Appetites are natural, but an unchecked lustful craving of that appetite which leads to indulgence will always end in corruption of some form.

It’s easy for me to point to the unbridled lust for worldly power, wealth and prestige found in Nero and present day politicians. But, that only diverts your attention to easy targets and away from me. It is my out-of-control appetites which wreak havoc on my life. My appetite for rest turns into slothful passivity. My appetite for food turns into gluttony. My appetite for sex turns into pornographic proclivity. My appetite for security turns into greed and an insatiable desire for more of everything. My appetite for safety turns into a never ending quest to avoid all pain and suffering.

In the quiet this morning, as I ponder these things, I return to Peter’s letter. My rule-keeping self saw faith and salvation as the end result of obedience. By being obedient to the rules, I thought, I would arrive a place of being good enough to be acceptable to God. But that’s just the opposite of what Jesus, and Peter after Him, taught:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
2 Peter 1:5-9

Faith in Christ, salvation, and the cleansing of sin is at the beginning of the journey. It is the motivation. It is the spiritual catalyst that pushes me forward into increasing measures of goodness, knowledge, and appetite control. Not because I’m trying to earn something with my goodness, but because I’ve received something priceless in the gift of forgiveness, grace, and mercy that Jesus freely offers.

Click on the image above for a quick index of all the posts in this series on the letters of Peter!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Of Rules and Appetites

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Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
    And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
    who do not lift up their souls to what is false…

Psalm 24:3-4b (NRSVCE)

The further I get in my life journey, the more I’ve come to understand that the black-and-white behavioral rules of the most strictly religious groups are really about social control in which an institution or group exercise authority over another. The goal and benefit is a sense of order, collective security, and control. Within this type of system, the individual’s role is simple and strict obedience to the group’s behavioral rules (those written, and those insidiously unwritten but understood) under the threat of public shaming and being socially ostracized from the group. This type of system exists as religious fundamentalist sects and denominations, fraternal organizations, gangs, cults, secret societies, and the systemic equivalent can even exist in businesses, corporations, sports teams, and community organizations.

Systems like this have existed throughout history and continue to this day. It is this type of system with which Jesus conflicted in the Temple when he overturned the moneychangers’ tables and railed against the Temple’s religious cabal. It was this conflict that led them to treat Jesus as a threat who was to be ostracized and executed. It is the same system out of which Paul transitioned to becoming a follower of Jesus. Paul also was considered a threat they needed to ostracize and execute.

Please don’t read what I’m not writing. Don’t hear what I’m not saying. It doesn’t really matter which system we’re talking about. They all operate the same way and follow the same basic systemic rules.

The problem with this type of system is that it chains the individual to the group rather than freeing the individual from self. Behavior modification is not about spiritual health but of social order. The individual tries to control behaviors rather than be spiritually transformed. Paul recognized that all the behavioral rules of the system only created more rulebreakers sneaking around in the dark breaking the rules and trying not to get caught.

Scholars believe that today’s psalm was a song David wrote to be sung as the people entered God’s Temple in Jerusalem. If you read it and imagine the Hebrews carrying the Ark of the Covenant (cue: Raiders of the Ark Theme) into the Temple as they sing this song you get the gist. It starts by asking the question: “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord?” (That refers to Zion, on which the Temple was built) and then “Who can stand in his holy place?” (That would refer to the “Holy Place” within the Temple as designed and prescribed through Moses).

The lyric of the song then describes who may do these things. The description is that of a good person, but here’s where translation from the original language (Hebrew) to English can make a huge difference. In verse 4 the English phrase “do not lift up their souls” has an original Hebrew physiological imagery that references the throat. Some scholars argue that the word picture here is more like “nursing an appetite” and the Hebrew word translated “false” is rooted in the idea of “empty” or “vain.” So it’s really about those who don’t nurse their appetites for things that are empty.

In the quiet this morning, that’s what really struck me. What I’ve learned along my journey is that all the religious and systemic rule keeping does not address the real issues of Spirit that lead to transformation. Keeping the rules so as to appease my church leaders, parents, college, pastors, teachers, and peer group in the attempt to avoid being shamed and ostracized did not transform my soul.

What really led to transformation for me was when I realized that all my human appetites were good and created within in me by God. Paul realized it too when he said “Nothing is unlawful for me. It’s just that some things aren’t beneficial.” My appetite for food, for drink, for pleasure, for rest, for sex, for relationship, for security, for peace, for affirmation…all of them are good and part of what God created in me. It’s when I “nurse my appetite,” any one of them, and indulge my good and healthy appetites in empty and unhealthy ways that I hurt myself. And, I bring the unhealthy results to every relationship and system in which I am a part.

It’s not about me behaving for acceptance in a system. It’s about me being the person, the true and healthy self, God created me to be. It’s about what Jesus said when He told His followers to nurse their appetites for the things of God, and not for the things of this earth (including the safety and acceptance of a human system). How can I “love my neighbor as myself” if my unhealthy indulgence of natural appetites is leading to my continual self-injury and disrupting my relationships, my work, my family, and my life?

What appetite am I going to nurse today? That’s the question as I head into the weekend.

Have a great weekend.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

David’s “Seven Steps”

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When you are disturbed, do not sin;
    ponder it on your beds, and be silent.

Psalm 4:4 (NRSVCE)

Not long ago I happened to be talking to a friend who experienced the tragic death of a child. As we talked, I asked how he was doing in the process of grief. He honestly shared with me some of the havoc that grief had wreaked in everyday life. He then shared about conversations he’d had with others who were walking the same, difficult stretch of life’s road. One, he shared, had been drinking heavily. He then confessed that he had been over-indulging his appetite for sweets every night.

“We all have the same grief. We cope in different ways,” he said. “My friend medicates with one appetite. I medicate with another.”

Along this life journey, I’ve observed and experienced that it is a natural human reaction to want to self-medicate by indulging our appetites whenever we encounter a difficult stretch of the journey. It could be one of the “ugly” social taboos like alcohol, drugs, gambling, smoking, or sex. It could equally be an unhealthy indulgence in what’s considered a normal appetite, like that to which my friend confessed: over-eating, over-sleeping, over-spending, over-exercising, binging on screens, or isolation. I’ve even observed those who have become zealously over-religious in an attempt to feel some kind of control over out-of-control emotions, circumstances, and relationships. Twelve Step groups often teach members to be aware of negative feelings that often trigger appetite indulgences. They use the acronym S.A.L.T. (sad, angry, lonely, tired).

In today’s psalm, King David expresses his frustration with finding himself the object of public ridicule and scorn, especially among the socially elite power brokers in his world. He begins his song imploring God to listen to his prayer, he then lays out his troubles and frustration.

What happens next is a Hebrew word: Selah. Scholars believe that this was a musical notation calling on there to be a “rest” in the song.

David then reminds himself that God has called him to be faithful, and reminds himself that God has repeatedly answered his prayers.

Then comes the verse I pulled out and quoted at the top of the post:

When you are disturbed, do not sin;
    ponder it on your beds, and be silent.

It is followed with another Selah.

I couldn’t help but notice that the pattern of David’s lyric is a really great reminder of how to approach troubles, anxieties, fear, grief, sadness, anger, loneliness, or weariness. Not the Twelve Steps, but the Seven Steps:

  1. Take it to God.
  2. Get it out, express it, be honest about your feelings.
  3. Rest. Take a deep breath.
  4. Remind myself of God’s faithfulness and promises.
  5. Avoid my natural inclination to exit and indulge my favorite appetite as an escape hatch of the negative emotions.
  6. Be silent. Ponder. Feel.
  7. Rest. Breathe.

The final lyrics of the song are a testament to David discovering a “gladness” in his heart that is better than feasting and drinking. Certainly healthier than over-eating and over-drinking.

Just as with yesterday’s psalm, David ends up with a peaceful night’s sleep.

In the quiet this morning I find myself accepting the fact that, despite 54 years on the journey and almost 40 years of following Jesus, I still have very human struggles with responding to negative emotions and circumstances in healthy ways. What I have learned, however, is that I have to allow myself the grace to be human. I also have learned to surround myself with companions who love me unconditionally, are honest with me in my weakness, and never cease to encourage and support me in the process of growing.

It’s a journey, my friend. It’s about progress, not perfection.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The Question That Makes All the Difference

All the Israelite men and women whose hearts made them willing to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.
Exodus 35:29 (NRSVCE)

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When I studied acting back in high school and college I was trained to repeatedly ask the question “Why?”

“Why is my character saying this?”
“Why is my character doing this?”
“Why is my character so fond of that character?”
“Why is my character being such an ass in this scene?”

The most common and classic question that has often been parodied is, “What’s my motivation?”

Here’s what I learned in the process. The question is more important for me in life than it is as an actor on stage.

“Why do I repeatedly do the thing I say I don’t want to do?”
“Why am I staying in a job that I hate?”
“Why has my marriage been an interpersonal war for fifteen years?”
“Why do I go to church if I don’t even believe?”
“Why am I always buying stuff I don’t need just to fill my life with things I don’t use?”
“Why do I feel such rage all the time?”

Notice that all of those questions are reflective of negative feelings and behaviors, but the same question of motivation is important for the positive things we think, say, and do as well. Jesus was constantly pointing out that pious, religious people who were doing things with all the wrong-motives weren’t part of the Kingdom of God while humble, sinful outsiders with all sorts of baggage who lovingly sacrificed themselves for others were.

In today’s chapter, we find Moses and the Hebrews still camped at Mount Sinai. Moses has spent a total of 80 days (and we’ve spent a total of 15 chapters) on the mountain with God downloading God’s vision, instructions, and commands. Now it’s time to implement the vision and actually construct this traveling tent temple called the Tabernacle. So Moses calls on the Hebrews to pitch-in, donate the materials needed, and help with the labor of construction.

What struck me was the repeated phrases that spoke of the motivation of those giving of their time and resources:

  • “…let whoever is of a generous heart bring the Lord’s offering…”
  • “And they came, everyone whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing…”
  • “So they came, both men and women; all who were of a willing heart…”
  • “…all the women whose hearts moved them to use their skill…”
  • “All the Israelite men and women whose hearts made them willing to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.”

For me, the message was loud and clear. God wanted those who were motivated to help, not those who were doing it under duress like the slaves they were back in Egypt. For the thing God was doing among them, God wanted those who were genuinely generous of heart, willing spirit, stirred within, motivated and compelled by souls open to God’s Spirit.

If I’m doing it for all the wrong reasons I need to just stop. I need to walk away. Doing the right thing with all the wrong motivations is not what God’s Kingdom is about. First, I must honestly and sincerely deal with the “Why?” Did you know Jesus actually turned away would-be followers? In each case, it was never a matter of sin, but of motivation that He questioned.

So, in the quiet this morning I find myself taking a spiritual step back and asking myself “why” I do the things I do. Why do I follow Jesus? Why have I spent my time and energy writing these posts for almost 15 years with nothing of any worldly value to show for it? What is it that Wendy and I do with our time, energy, and resources on a daily basis, and why the heck are we doing it?

Along this life journey, I’ve observed that it’s quite common for humans to live on auto-pilot. Life is a series of rote words and actions motivated by nothing more than base human appetites and a lifetime of the systemic conditioning of family, education, and local culture. When I decided to follow Jesus (not just be a religious church member, but really follow what Jesus lived and taught) and then when Jesus led me to follow the stirring of my heart to study theatre, I was taught to honestly ask the question that has made all the difference in my life:

“Why am I…[fill in the blank]?”

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The Path to Contentment

But godliness with contentment is great gain.
1 Timothy 6:6 (NIV)

Our friend Tony Harris published a book this past year entitled FADS Marketing. Tony is an expert marketer and his book is a fascinating insider’s view of the world of big marketing. The book opened my eyes to the way I am being sold a bill of goods every day with regard to food, alcohol, drugs, and sex (F.A.D.S. Get it?). If I’m blind to it and if I’m not paying attention, then I will fall for it over and over and over again. What big marketing does is take the field of my basic human appetites and then sows discontent.

Contentment is a recurring theme in Paul’s later writing. I find it interesting that it seems to have become a more important topic the further he got in his own spiritual journey. He takes a rather balanced approach. “I know what it is to have plenty,” he writes, “and I know what it’s like to be in need.” In either circumstance, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves (because it can change rapidly in ways we don’t control), we should seek to be content.

That’s hard to do if I’m blind to the fact that every advertisement and marketing ploy (and they’re all over the place) is trying to stir my appetites’ discontent until I have what they tell me I want and need.

The further I get in my life journey the more I find myself pursuing contentment. I’m not perfect at it by a long shot. I confess that. Like most paths to growth and maturity, the road to contentment often finds me repeatedly taking one step forward before falling two steps back. Looking back, however, I can see the progress. More and more the things of real value to me are relationships, conversations, laughter, time, quiet, a shared meal, life together.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself once again honestly taking inventory of my wants and also taking inventory of my haves. Along the path to contentment, I’ve discovered that if I focus myself on gratitude for, and enjoyment of, the latter then the former takes up less room in my heart and mind.

And so, I contentedly enter another day of the journey.

90 M.P.H. Down a Dead End Street

Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.
Romans 6:19 (NIV)

It is one of those moments in life that is indelibly etched in my memory. Madison was about six years old or so and was sitting next to me as I shuffled through some new photographs that I’d just picked up from being developed (before digital cameras, we had to take rolls of film to get developed and wait for them). There was a photograph of me in the stack and Madison picked it up and held it up with a loud giggle. “Look,” she said. “It’s FAT DADDY!”

Ugh.

Throughout this life journey I have warred with my natural human appetites like every other human being on the face of the planet. I have lost many battles along the way. As a child I was exposed to pornography, and it secretly fed the seemingly insatiable cravings of a young man’s sexual appetite for many years. As a young husband and father trying hard to suppress and control my sexual appetites, I began feeding a different appetite. This time it was my craving for food and for sweets in particular. The result was Fat Daddy.

Through my battles with personal appetites I’ve experienced the reality that the pleasure from indulging my appetites is subject to the law of diminishing returns. I’ve observed this to be true no matter which appetite I indulge: my taste buds, my sex glands, my adrenaline glands, my need for security, my desire to control, my need to be loved, or any other appetite known to humanity.

I start with a craving. I indulge that craving and I feel a burst of pleasure. My craving is satiated for a moment. Slowly and subtly, the law of diminishing returns set in. What was such a blissfully guilty pleasure for a moment now feels, well, normal. My natural craving ups the ante. My brain and spirit collude to agree that if a little guilty pleasure didn’t do that much harm, then just a little more can’t be that bad for me. This cycle slowly repeats itself until I find myself way down the road in a place I never expected, nor wanted, to be experiencing really negative consequences for myself and the ones I most love in the world.

This is the very thing that Paul is addressing in today’s chapter of his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome. He uses language and an analogy that all of his readers could understand. Slavery was a common, everyday reality in the world at that time. It was an essential part of the economy in the Roman Empire. There were even “white collar” slaves as former soldiers, physicians, and accountants were often slaves. One could even offer oneself to any number of slave positions in order to have work and the security of basic needs met. All you had to do is give up your freedom and subject yourself to being the controlled property of another. Of course this included your master’s legal right to punish you, torture you, sexually exploit you and summarily execute you at will. A person offering themselves into slavery would end up in very different circumstances depending on the master to whom they offered themselves.

Now Paul tells his readers “you’ve offered yourselves as slaves to sin and to ever increasing wickedness.” There’s the feeding of natural appetites and it’s law of diminishing returns that I have experienced multiple times with very different appetites. Every person I’ve ever known who has followed the path of indulgence and addiction will also tell you that they ended up enslaved to their appetite(s). One of my favorite lyrics is from Bob Dylan describing a person following their amorous appetites into a marital affair:

I took you home from a party and we kissed in fun
A few stolen kisses and no harm was done
Instead of stopping when we could we went right on
Till suddenly we found that the brakes were gone.

You belong to someone else, and I do too
It’s just crazy bein’ here with you
As a bad motorcycle with the devil in the seat
Going ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street.

There is “the cycle” speeding me down the road to a place I never expected, nor wanted, where I will experience really painful consequences for myself and the ones I most love in the world.

Paul now urges me to make a different choice. He urges me to offer myself to God to be controlled by righteousness which leads to increasing measures of Life.

This morning in the quiet I can’t help but find myself looking back with regret at the foolish ways I have repeatedly “offered myself’ to my appetites along my life journey, and the dead end streets where I crashed. But, it doesn’t end there. I am also looking back at the crash sites where there stands one of those little wooden crosses to mark the spot. This cross marks the place where I followed Paul’s words from today’s chapter: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

To what, or to whom, am I offering myself?

Featured photo courtesy of Bob Dass via Flickr

Well…Sh!t

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.
Romans 5:12 (NIV)

I had a friend hit rock bottom. I’d suspected it for some time. In fact I had just mentioned my fears to Wendy a few days before. I could hear it in the voice and in the things that were said, and left unsaid, in our conversations. I sensed the spiritual tremors before the big one hit. I got the desperation call while I was standing on the jet bridge getting on a plane. My friend’s life was spiraling out of control.

Millions of people have reclaimed various forms of sanity, sobriety, and life through working what’s known as the Twelve Steps. It’s famous for people who are dealing with addictions in various forms, although I’ve known several people who have walked the Twelve Steps journey simply to experience it for themselves, and have found it profoundly profitable in their lives and relationships.

The first step of the Twelve Steps is simply this: “We admitted we were powerless against [insert your own tragic weakness here] – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

“Sin” is such a hard word to wrestle with in today’s culture of perpetual positive reinforcement. We like to gloss over, excuse, diminish, contextualize, ignore, and deny. Perhaps it’s the sense of judgment and the fact that it’s quite often been weaponized and used by the minions of legalism [see yesterday’s post] to assert power and control. Ironic, isn’t it? “Sin” can be leveraged for purposes that are, well, sinful. (I think there’s a good script waiting to be written on that theme!)

If it’s possible, I’d like to lay aside our preconceived notions of sin, for a moment. In fact, for the rest of this post I’m simply going to substitute the word shit for sin. Along my life journey I’ve found that the path of following Jesus and the journey of the Twelve Steps both ask of followers to begin by owning our shit:

  • I know the right thing to do, but I don’t do it.
  • I know I should quit, but I can’t.
  • As hard as I try to love him/her, I end up hurting him/her instead.
  • I’ve been hanging on to a secret that’s eating away at me from the inside.
  • I keep making the same mistake and ending up in the same shitty place.
  • I repeatedly use [choose from list below] like a drug to give me a moment of feeling good (or feeling nothing); Anything but the shit I don’t want to feel, face, or deal with:
    • Food
    • Alcohol
    • Drugs
    • Sex/Porn
    • Nothing: passivity, sleep, zoning out
    • Ceaseless entertainment
    • Acquisition of money and wealth
    • Acquisition of things
    • Acquisition of attention, popularity, and/or “Likes”
    • Success, career
    • Power and control
    • Anger
    • Relationships
    • Adrenaline and thrill-seeking
    • Vacations or travel
    • Hobbies
    • Sports
    • Religion
    • Appearance
    • Physical fitness, health

I could go on. Most of things on this list can be good, healthy, and Life-giving in proper doses and in a healthy context. I’ve observed along my life journey that most of the shit in our lives comes from taking a natural appetite and indulging it to unhealthy proportions.

So what do we do with the shit in our lives? Because we all have our shit. I can, perhaps, manage perceptions and appearances for a period of time, but the shit starts piling up and, at some point, life gets unmanageable. Which is when we have to honestly own our own shit, and admit that it’s not working.

Now we’re at the first step.

In today’s chapter Paul begins to help us understand how our shit fits into the Great Story and exactly why Jesus came and sacrificed Himself.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded of Jesus’ first encounter with Simon Peter on the shores of Galilee. Having experienced a miraculous catch, Peter falls to his knees in front of Jesus and says, “Stay away from me. You have no idea the shit in my life.”

And I imagine Jesus smiling as he whispers to Himself, “Oh yeah. I can work with this. He’s one of mine.”

Freedom, Indulgence, Hard Knocks, and Wisdom

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:13-14 (NIV)

Among most of Wendy’s and my circle of close friends we happen to be the furthest down the path of life experience. As we enjoy being grandparents for the first time and watch our adult children embarking on their own adult journeys, most of our friends are somewhere between the stages of young children taxi service and sending children off to college for the first time. Just yesterday I was speaking with my friend who is experiencing the latter.

For young people who have lived in a secure home with engaged parents, going off to college is the first opportunity to experience real freedom. No one is looking over your shoulder. No one is reminding you of what you need to do. Plus, opportunities to experience the appetites of life in all their excesses tend to present themselves in abundance.

For many of us, the years of college and young adulthood are when we learn some crucial lessons on life’s road. Chief among them is answering the simple question: “What am I going to do with my freedom?” 

I don’t know a single individual who didn’t, at some point, use freedom to engage and indulge unhealthy appetites in one way or another during these years. Perhaps there are a few true saints out there. Most parents I know, however, like to conveniently white-wash their own young adult excesses as they place all sorts of appetite controls and lofty expectations on their children.

Along the journey I’ve come to the conclusion that each one of us must learn the hard lessons of how we’re going to use our freedom. It’s part of the journey. We all need to have our own wake-up moments like the Prodigal Son finding himself up to his knees in pig slop. We all need our personally induced wake-up calls when we find ourselves saying: “My own choices led me to this awful place. I think I need to make some changes.”

In today’s chapter of his letter to the believers of Galatia, Paul is addressing this same principle. Legalism is great for creating compulsory obedience to a defined set of rules, but it does nothing for helping us learn the crucial, spiritual maturity lessons of appetite control. It’s no coincidence that Paul’s list of behaviors that mark spiritual maturity include “self-control.”

This morning I find myself praying for our own adult children and our grandchild. The truth I’ve discovered is that the lessons of managing our appetites and developing mature self-control are ongoing throughout our life journeys. So, I’m praying for them in their own respective waypoints on this life journey.

I’m also saying prayers for our friends who are in the stages of raising willful children, teenagers testing their boundaries, and young adults experiencing freedom for the first time. I’m praying wisdom for all those parental decisions about rules, consequences, clamping down, and letting go. I’m also praying for the grace and wisdom of the Prodigal’s father, who knew that his Prodigal had to learn his own crucial lessons and experience the awful places we find ourselves when we use our freedom to indulge our appetites. The father didn’t track his son down. He didn’t send a rescue party. He didn’t deny his son life’s required coursework from the school of hard-knocks. The father sat patiently on the front-porch, said his prayers, kept his eye on the road out front, and waited for a much wiser son to come home.

The Easy Way Out

If we have found favor in your eyes,” they said, “let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.”
Numbers 32:5 (NIV)

When I was a kid I was terrible at waiting for things. My sister, Jody, and I would always tell each other what we were getting for Christmas. I just had to know, even though it pretty much ruined Christmas morning as a time of pleasant surprises.

Driven by my appetites I was terribly impatient as a young person and typically wanted things now. Perhaps this developed from being the youngest sibling and watching others get to do things first while I had to wait until I was big enough or old enough. Perhaps it’s just part of my personality. Whatever the case, I can tell you that throughout my life journey when I was given a choice between the instant, easy gratification of a known quantity or the long, slow, patient wait for a promised, better pay-off down the line, I have typically always chosen the former. I’ve been very good at taking the easy-way out.

This trait has generally not served me well.

So it was with great interest that I read the story of the Hebrew tribes of Reuben, Gad in today’s chapter. If you’ve been following the larger story we know that many years before today’s chapter Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land God had promised them in the land of Canaan.

Back in those ancient days the land was largely made up of small city-states that controlled a small territory. Sometimes these towns would band together to form a larger, regional power in the area, but often each city-state would build a wall around their village and go it on their own.  In those days it was a dog-eat-dog world in which people groups were constantly invading and conquering one another. You were always at risk of a larger, stronger people showing up out of nowhere, conquering you, killing your entire population, and taking all of your possessions as plunder. If the Israelites wanted the Promised Land they would have to take it by conquest. It seems bloody and barbaric in our politically correct, modern Western world, but the ancient world of the near east was a bloody, barbaric place. It’s just the way it was.

A generation earlier, on their first visit to the Promised Land, Moses sent spies into the land to check things out. All but two of the spies were fearful and advised not starting a military campaign to take the land. Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, advised that the Israelites have faith in God and go for it. Because of the tribes’ lack of faith God said they’d continue to be a nomadic, wandering people for an entire generation before giving their children another chance.

As today’s chapter opens we’re setting up for the second chance. The Hebrew Tribes have approached the Jordan River and are once more looking out over the Promised Land. It’s right there for the taking, but it will require a hard campaign of conquest an no guarantee of victory. Now, the Reubenites and Gadites come to Moses and say, “We like this land we’re standing on. Perfect for our flocks. We’ll settle for this. Have fun with the conquest.

It’s just like me as a little kid. “I’ll take the thing I can have right now. This land I can see and we already possess and I don’t have to worry about conquering? It will be way more easy. I’ll take the easy way out, thank you.”

Moses immediately thinks, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

When confronted with what they were doing, the Reubenites and Gadites strike a pledge that they will settle the land they were on, but would send their men on the military campaign to support their fellow tribes in the conquest. Moses agrees, but I can feel an eery foreshadowing of problems to come…

  • Will the Reubenites and Gadites really be committed to supporting the conquest when their wives and children are back on the other side of the Jordan?
  • Will the Reubenites and Gadites leave their best fighters to protect their families and possessions and send their worst fighters on conquest? How’s that going to go over with the other tribes?
  • Once the Promise Land is secured will the Reubenites and Gadites be pissed off when they realize that they settled for less when they could have had much better land if they’d just been patient and held-out like the other tribes?

[Cue: red flags waving, alarm bells going off, and a loud buzzer]

All of the hard lessons this impatient person has learned along my life journey tells me this is not going to end well.

This morning I’m reminded of some of my own mistakes when I chose immediate, easy gratification over a much better, promised pay-off that required patience, fortitude and/or hard work. Some of these mistakes were silly and insignificant, but others were tragically life changing.

I’ve learned over time to recognize the pattern in myself. I’ve developed more patience. Having experienced some really good “promised land” rewards and delayed gratification has given me positive reinforcement on which to draw upon. I’m more likely to make wise choices today than I was in my younger years. Nevertheless, I’ve learned that some natural inclinations never go away. I just have to learn to recognize and manage the moment when I’m tempted to take the easy way out.

Getting to the Root of Things

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?
James 4:1 (NRSV)

The further I get in my life journey, the more I have come to understand that I, as a human, am led by my appetites and cravings. The institutional churches I have attended my entire life do not talk much about this. There are the behavioral prohibitions (e.g. “don’t do [fill in the blank]”) but we don’t talk much about understanding and addressing our underlying appetites, and I find it both tragic and fascinating.

Appetites and cravings are actually Theology 101. They were there in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden when the whole thing fell apart:

So when the Eve saw that the tree was good for food (appetite to fill our basic physical desires), and that it was a delight to the eyes (appetite to covet & acquire what delights our eye), and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise (appetite for power and elevation of status) , she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to Adam, who was with her, and he ate.

Looking back, I can see the parallel to my own journey. When I sit down and give consideration to the rotten behaviors which have continually tripped me up in my pursuit of Jesus, when I trace those behaviors back to the branches of wayward thoughts, to the trunk of ill begotten desires, I will eventually dig down to find them all rooted in rotten appetites:

  • The appetite to indulge natural human appetites to excess.
  • The appetite to crave what others have and acquire what I do not
  • The appetite for god-like power and control over others

This morning I’m thinking about the ways I need to make positive changes in my own life. If I’m going to address the rotten fruit that plagues my life, then I have to dig to the appetites in which they were rooted. If I don’t allow God access to dig out the root appetites in my soul, then I can’t expect to see a change to the fruit that is evident in my day-to-day behaviors.

chapter a day banner 2015