Tag Archives: appetites

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.

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Heroes and Fatal Flaws

But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, because she pleases me.”
Judges 14:3b (NRSV)

Wendy and I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Saturday. As we were driving to the theater we got into a great conversation about the building blocks of story. Stories and myths from ancient Greece to contemporary cinema have overarching themes that authors, playwrights, and movie makers recycle time and time and time again because they resonate with us and our common human experience.

Our heroes have fatal flaws. From ancient myths we learn of Achilles the mighty warrior who had one fatal weakness – his heel. The force was strong with Anakin Skywalker, but he was angry and the dark side fed his anger until he became Darth Vader. One of my favorite moments in the Force Awakens (don’t worry – no spoiler here) came from the writers introducing an interesting twist. The Dark Side fears for one of the evil characters, because this person appears to have a weakness (a fatal flaw in reverse) for the Light.

In God’s Message there is, perhaps, no greater example of a great hero with a fatal flaw than Samson. A handsome, strong, and rugged warrior of miraculous birth, Samson’s fatal flaw was that he was driven by his appetites. Samson sees a pretty Philistine girl (lust of the eyes) and demands that his father arrange a marriage despite the fact that it goes against all religious and cultural rules of the day. Samson is hungry (lust of the flesh) and his appetite drives him to eat honey out of the dead carcass of a lion, despite the fact that it was against God’s rules. When Samson gets humiliated by his bride’s people (pride), he goes into a homicidal rage and breaks troth with the girl he’d been so driven to marry.

This morning I’m reminded that stories of great heroes with fatal flaws resonate with us because we all have blind spots. No matter how heroic I attempt to be in this life, there is always a chink (or in my case, chinks) in my shining armor. Like Samson, I am driven by my appetites. I know the rules. The right thing to do is perfectly clear, but I so often choose to do the very opposite – the things my appetites crave. It reminds me of Paul’s rumination in his letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome:

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

In the quiet of this Monday morning, this pitiful hero aware of his fatal flaws is reminded that he needs a savior “who will act to set things right in my life of contradictions.”

And that, is what the Christmas story is all about.

Sensually Good

wendy vander wells chocolate truffle cheesecakeSolomon:
You are my private garden, my treasure, my bride,
    a secluded spring, a hidden fountain.

Young Woman:
Awake, north wind!

    Rise up, south wind!
Blow on my garden
    and spread its fragrance all around.
Come into your garden, my love;
    taste its finest fruits.
Song of Solomon 4:12, 16 (NLT)

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a true “foodie.” When I was a kid I drove my folks crazy with my narrow list of acceptable foods. My preferred menu was grilled cheese sandwiches, blueberry pop-tarts, eggo waffles, and Lucky Charms (are you noticing a sugary breakfast theme?) and pretty much nothing else. As I’ve gotten older my palate has expanded, but my preferred menu is still pretty narrowly defined in comparison to most people.

At the same time, I love food and have come to appreciate a good meal (not to be confused with a big meal) as one of life’s true pleasures. As an adult, I’ve also come to realize the sensuality of food and drink. I’ve learned that certain foods stimulate more than just my taste buds. I’ve realized that food and drink in certain combinations have a stronger affect than when they are consumed my themselves. I’ve even come to realize that certain foods create emotional and physical responses within me. Confession: I have found Wendy’s cheesecake to be, for me, such a sensual experience that at times it feels simply erotic.

How interesting to find in the lyrics of Solomon’s song these erotic references to gardens, fruits, food and the imagery of taste. There is a connection between our God given senses. God created our bodies to sense and experience a wide range of feelings and emotions and He called it “good.” To be sure, any sensual appetite can be taken to excess in all sorts of unhealthy ways, but the sensual experience is not in itself wrong of sinful. In fact, sensual experiences are natural, healthy and spiritually good when experienced in the proper context. How sad that the institutional church has, through the years, gotten so confused about this truth. In an effort to stamp out the excess of our sensual appetites the church often tries to deny, outlaw, and shame the senses themselves. I find this reactionary legalistic excess to simply be a mirror image of the excess indulgence they attempt to thwart. In reality, both extremes are equally sinful.

Jesus said he came to give us abundant life. This includes a healthy appreciation for the breadth of senses God gave us to properly experience the full range of creation in its sensual glory.