Tag Archives: Lust

The First Step… One More TIme

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They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”
2 Peter 2:19 (NIV)

The first step in The Twelve Steps is to admit that you have become powerless over an insatiable appetite, and because of it your life has become unmanageable. The Twelve Steps originated with an alcoholic and Alcoholics Anonymous has helped countless lives, but The Twelve Steps has worked with almost every human appetite that erodes lives when they are relentlessly indulged. Along my life journey I’ve attended meetings of Gamblers Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous. You might not know this, but many people working through The Twelve Steps will go to any local Twelve Step meeting, even if it doesn’t match their particular problem appetite. That’s because the pattern of addiction, or out-of-control appetite indulgence, is the same as is the path of The Twelve Steps.

I recently had a conversation with a veteran pastor who is at the point in his own journey where he reflects on what he would do differently if he had to do it all over again. He told me that if he were a young man shepherding his first church he would spend the first two years of his tenure focused on taking his congregation through The Twelve Steps.

In yesterday’s post, I focused on the opening premise of Peter’s letter in which he explains that corruption springs from lust. While lust is often thought of as sexual, the broader definition is that of any human appetite that we indulge to excess.

In today’s chapter, the reason for Peter bringing this up becomes clear. The early Jesus Movement was messy. There were no churches, no strong central authority, there was no New Testament, and very little organization. Jesus’ followers met in homes for communal meals. They pooled resources and made sure everyone was cared for and had their needs met. They welcomed everyone. When you’re charitably giving out food, money, and other resources you’re going to attract those who are in it for the free stuff motivated not by a spiritual desire to follow Jesus, but out of a desire to feed their appetites for free. Jesus encountered the same thing. After feeding thousands of people a couple of times, He calls out the crowds following Him for having the wrong motives. You can read about it in John chapter 6.

Decades later the Jesus Movement is experiencing the same problem. People have come into their midst with selfish motives Because everything was new and the teachings of Jesus were mostly communicated and passed along orally it was easy for some scrupulous individuals to con the followers of Jesus into thinking they were teachers and preachers with divine authority. Then they’d tell the local gathering things like it being perfectly okay to get drunk on Communion wine and frequenting the temple prostitutes at the local Roman or Greek temple was no big deal.

So, Peter writes a letter intended to be copied and passed around to all the local gatherings of Jesus’ followers. In today’s chapter, Peter calls out these charlatans and con-men. He warns the followers of Jesus to be wary of them. Jesus told Peter and the other disciples that “you know a tree by its fruit.” Peter passes this same principle along. He tells his flock that they’ll know who these bad apples when you see them indulging their out-of-control appetites and teaching that it’s okay.

Along my own spiritual journey, I’ve observed that Jesus is often quoted saying, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Never do I hear anyone quote the sentence Jesus said right before He said those words: “You are truly my followers if you do what I tell you to do. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

What did He tell me to do? Surrender. Die to myself and my own self-centered appetites in order to love and serve others. Following Jesus is a path of emptying in a world that ceaselessly tells me I need to fill my life with more.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me,” right after they first met. Three years later, after Jesus rose from the dead, Jesus and Peter once again find themselves together on the seashore and Jesus once again says to Peter, “Follow me.” I’ve learned along the way that following Jesus is a process that repeatedly leads me back to being called to take that first step.

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 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

Contrasting Rulers

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Matthew 2:16

In recent weeks the world watched on video tape as two females approached the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jon Un in a Malaysian airport and, wiping a nerve agent on his face, assassinated him. This is the dark side of worldly power, and it has been this way since people began ruling over one another. Once you ascend to power you have to figure out a way to stay there, which means eliminating those who might try to take your place.

What a powerful contrast Matthew provides us in today’s chapter. Herod had qualities not unlike the North Korean dictator. A regional monarch put into power by the Roman Senate, Herod “the Great” murdered his own wife, three sons, his mother-in-law, his brother-in-law, his uncle and many others whom he suspected might try to rob him of his position and power.

Contrast this with the infant Jesus, who…

had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Philippians 2:5-8 (MSG)

This morning I’m thinking about my place in this world. It’s easy, even in relatively small ways, to succumb to the desire to gain,  keep, and cling the things this world has to offer. As a follower of Jesus, the example I’m given is to embrace an eternal mystery of kenosis: in order to have anything of eternal value, I must let go of everything and empty myself.

Herod’s slaughter of the boys of Bethlehem, commonly referred to as “the massacre of the innocents,” stands as a horrific testament to the lengths one minor regional ruler will go to maintain his addiction to power, and it stands in stark contrast to the baby who emptied Himself of omnipotence to show us a better way.

I’m continuing to seek after the way of empty.

A Case for Delayed Gratification

English: King Solomon in Old Age (1Kings 4:29-...I am my lover’s,
    and he claims me as his own.
Come, my love, let us go out to the fields
    and spend the night among the wildflowers.
Let us get up early and go to the vineyards
    to see if the grapevines have budded,
if the blossoms have opened,
    and if the pomegranates have bloomed.
    There I will give you my love.
There the mandrakes give off their fragrance,
    and the finest fruits are at our door,
new delights as well as old,
    which I have saved for you, my lover.
Song of Solomon 7:10-13 (NLT)

In today’s chapter, young King Solomon offers another flattering and erotic shower of compliments on the young woman he is courting. Earlier in the song he complimented her from head to foot. This time he moves from feet to head and you can feel the pent up sexual tension as the images and euphemisms gain a stronger sexual tone. Solomon is hot after this young woman.

The woman picks up the song and we find that she has finally been claimed by Solomon. She will become his wife. Solomon’s words and romantic verses have obviously had the desired effect because no sooner has she been claimed as his bride than she suggests that they proceed to a fertile, outdoor love fest. The chapter ends with the young woman declaring that she has saved herself for him, and for this moment.

There is something beautiful in the build up to this moment. I found it ironic that today is chapter seven. Seven, in biblical numerology, is the number of completion and here in the seventh chapter the completion of the long courtship, the claiming of the bride, and the bride’s invitation to consummate their love. We live in a generation of mobile phones, fast food, ATMs, overnight delivery, video streaming, music streaming, and more information available at your fingertips than has existed in all the libraries in all the world combined. We have been seduced by gratification of our temporal desires 24/7/365. This spills over into our sexual lives in the form of porn, sexting, hooking up, and the death of courtship as we have known it for centuries. My daughter linked this article in a comment to my post last week. I replied that it makes me want to get all the millennial young men in a room and have an intervention.

Do not hear what I am not saying. I do not intend for this to be the rant of an old man against technology and the younger generations. Rather, in contrast to where our culture seems to be heading, I hear in Song of Solomon the wisdom, art, and beauty of love that takes time, effort, and creativity to develop. I am reminded that delayed gratification makes the climactic sensual feast deeper, more meaningful and ultimately more pleasurable.

Burning Down the House

Can a man scoop a flame into his lap
    and not have his clothes catch on fire?
Can he walk on hot coals
    and not blister his feet?
Proverbs 6:27-28 (NLT)

I still have a vivid memory of our daughter Madison reaching for a red hot burner when she was only a few years old. Fortunately, I reached her before her little mits fell on the searing coil. It was the classic scenario of teaching a child to keep away from that which will burn her. She learned the lesson, as most of us do. But, this nearly universal childhood lesson becomes an apt word picture for other life dangers.

Solomon uses the word picture as he asks the poignant questions above in addressing the topic of adultery. Along my journey, however, I’ve found that the same questions can be asked of any illicit behavior that results from indulging the sexual appetite. So I’d like to broaden the topic this morning from simple adultery to things like lustful thoughts, pornography (romance novels and erotica can prove just as spiritually deadly as hard core internet porn, by the way), extramarital flirtations, prostitution, and etc.

Please understand that I am not going on some puritanical, Focus on the Family rant. This is actually a very simple spiritual principle and it’s intensely personal. My life bears the scars from these flames and I write that which I know from personal experience. So listen up, my friend and hear me when I say: If you play games with the dangerous flames of sexual appetites you’ll eventually get burned. It might not happen right away. Like a drug, the aphrodisiac of sexual lust offers a potent high for seemingly little risk. At least, it seems that way at the beginning. But once you start chasing that high and the flames intensify you will not escape without getting burned.

At best your own spiritual life will be slowly reduced to the ashes of a desperate loop of guilt, shame and despair while you struggle to hold together and maintain a spit-polished facade for the rest of the world. At worst, you will burn down your house and scorch your loved ones with you.

Avoid the flames. Learn to control your sexual appetite. If you’re in the midst of the fire and your life is burning down around you then run for help today. It’s not too late. God is a God of grace, forgiveness and redemption who offers springs of living water in exchange for the destructive flames. It may not be easy, but it will be good.

 

Word to Canvas

20130125-151704.jpg

I’ve never had one of my messages translated into a work of art before. Very cool.

This from the artist, my daughter Taylor:

I never showed you this. I did this painting based off your sermon from Westview and used Robert Motherwell’s theory of abstraction. So lust of the flesh became the fruit/female figure shapes. Lust of the eyes and pride of life are tied into the kingdom/building/root-esque black shapes. It’s not my favorite, but the point was to use a well known artists abstraction theory so that’s what I did. I like how they’re all kind of awkwardly connected and in these bright, happy colors because we love to mask how dark those things are.

Chapter-a-Day Mark 7

Official seal of the National Organic Program
Image via Wikipedia

“Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.) And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” Mark 7:18-23 (NLT)

I have watched with interest as the growth of the natural, healthy, and organic food market. Ten or fifteen years ago the health food market was confined to small mom and pop stores in major cities and food co-ops for the granola set. Today, almost every major grocery store carries a plethora of all natural and organic foods. There are now large, national chains of health food stores.

Our culture has increasingly embraced more healthy and organic foods in contrast to the highly processed mass market foods available in every grocery aisle. I’m not adverse to this. I think it is a good thing. God advocates taking care of our bodies and treating them like a temple.

Nevertheless, I remember Jesus’ words: “What does it profit you to gain the whole world and lose your soul.” Reading Jesus’ words about food in today’s chapter, I hear Him making a corresponding point. What does it profit you to eat all natural and organic food, and work to keep your body in optimum health, if on the inside your spirit is withering in anger, depression, malice, greed, lust, or shame?

Our bodies are good for, at best, eighty to just over a hundred years. Our spirit is eternal. Where should I make the greatest investment?

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Chapter-a-Day Matthew 5

The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things...
Image via Wikipedia

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.” Matthew 5:6 (MSG)

I have never heard a message delivered about appetites. Someday, when God gives the opportunity, I’m going to do so. Over the last several years of my own journey I’ve come to understand that my life reveals my appetites, and my appetites reveal the condition of my heart.

I can draw a dotted line between those things with which I struggle and appetites out of control. The first bite of forbidden fruit was rooted in Adam and Eve’s appetites. The fruit was pleasing to the eye and they wanted to possess it. It was so juicy, looked so scrumptious that they wanted to taste it. It would make them like God and they wanted to experience it. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are appetites without a governor. Every one of the seven deadly sins (greed, lust, sloth, envy, pride, gluttony, and wrath) are unbridled appetites.

Today, I’m asking myself: For what do I truly hunger? For what do I truly thirst?

The fruit of my life will reveal my appetites.

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Capter-a-Day Romans 7

Cheetos are commonly considered a junk food.
Image via Wikipedia

 The very command that was supposed to guide me into life was cleverly used to trip me up, throwing me headlong. Romans 7:10-11 (MSG)

There was a drawer in the kitchen when I was a kid. It was a big drawer. The bottom drawer of the pennensuila to the left of the stove. It was the drawer. In that drawer were potato chips, Oreo cookies, Little Debbie snack cakes, and the occasional gold mine of cream-filled Hostess treats. To a young kid, it was junk food Nirvana.

When I got home from school, it was snack time. A Coke and a snack. One snack. Only one snack. That was the law. Thus speaketh almighty mom. “You don’t want to ruin supper,” she said.

So, I would wolf down my coke and cookies before heading downstairs to turn on after-school television: The Brady Bunch followed by Hogan’s Heroes. It always happened somewhere half-way through the Brady Bunch, right when Peter or Jan found themselves in the midst of a polyester, bell-bottomed predicament.

I really wanted another snack.

But mom said, “It would ruin my supper.”

“So what,” I said to myself. “It’s chicken and noodles. I hate chicken and noodles.”

Listen for the footsteps upstairs. Mom’s in the living room. Quietly make your way up stairs. Watch that third step; It creaks. Tip-toe down the hallway. Peek around the corner. Where’s mom sitting? Good! She’s on the couch facing the other way. Just a few more quiet steps to the drawer of forbidden fruit pies! You gotta love that dad made these drawers so quiet. Grab the stash, then quietly dash back downstairs.

I don’t know how many times I successfully made a sneaky snack run.  Sure, I got caught a few times, just like the Brady kids. But I was successful more often than not, which prompted me to do it again and again.

I thought about the snack drawer when I read today’s chapter. It perfectly illustrates for me the sin nature that Romans explains. That sinful nature in me takes the command that was meant for my good, and turns it into a lustful desire to disobediently appease my out-of-control appetites.

Unfortunately, the older you get, the commands are more important and the disobedience yields more disastrous consequences.

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Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 14

Picking a fight. Amaziah wouldn't take No for an answer. So Jehoash king of Israel gave in and agreed to a battle between him and Amaziah king of Judah. They met at Beth Shemesh, a town of Judah.

 Judah was thoroughly beaten by Israel—all their soldiers ran home in defeat. 2 Kings 14:11-12 (MSG)

As the youngest of four children, I learned a certain life lesson early: don't be gettin' the big head and don't be pickin' fights, especially with people (or siblings) bigger than you. It's simply not a good idea.

Another life lesson I picked up regrettably late in life: if you are feeling so driven to do something that you won't take no for an answer, then stop. Take a deep breath. Think about it. Ask yourself why. Get help. Obsession is generally a sign that, as Shakespeare put it, "something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

Amaziah's two victories had him feeling all manly and over confident. Driven by pride, or greed, or lust he picked one fight too many. He ended in captivity, the walls of his city in ruins, his treasures looted. What a great word picture of what happens when we allow ourselves to be driven and obsessed by our pride and flesh. We become captive to sin, our lives reduced to ruin.

God, grant me the wisdom to learn from Amaziah's example. May darkness and hatred be my only conquest. Be, O God, the only treasure my heart truly desires. Set me free from captivity to my self-centered obsessions that I might be captivated only by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and richteabiscuit