unchecked appetite

When I tell people I went to Cuba they assume that I went to a resort town on the coast, rather than an impoverished cattle town that is hours away from the nearest thing resembling a resort. I just spent seven days in Camajuani, Cuba. I can’t get the food out of my head. While we were there we had plenty to eat. Our Missionary to Cuba constantly reminded us, “remember, when you’re not here, they don’t eat like this.”

We heard a story of a Cuban Pastor who visited the US to speak at a church that was supporting him. The Cuban pastor went to a restaurant and a Wal-Mart and then spent two Woman Cubadays locked in his room. The family who was hosting him asked why he didn’t want to come out of his room. The answer was really simple. He was grief stricken. How could he go out and enjoy food when he wasn’t sure if his family had eaten that day? He spent two days fasting and praying for his family because he was so overwhelmed by our availability of food and goods. For anyone who lives in an economy of scarcity, coming to a place of plenty can be shocking.

On the flight home, I had the option to watch free TV. I found myself watching the Food Network for the first time. It was the week before Thanksgiving so I watched a food competition where the contestants prepared fancy renditions of the classic Thanksgiving meal.   It is so strange to come back home where food isn’t just fuel, it’s also entertainment. As each contestant revealed their final product for the judges, they lifted their lids; the judges either lit up or squirmed in disgust. I kept wondering how a Cuban who had never seen this kind of food entertainment would respond. How offensive it might be to their consciousness that we play with food on TV for the entertainment of the country while they starve. While watching this, I couldn’t help but think of the way that C.S Lewis used food to shine a light on society’s warped sense of sexual appetite. He said:

“Now suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theater by simply bringing a covered plate onto the stage and slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country, something had gone wrong with their appetite for food?”

My trip to Cuba made me view our society a bit differently. Our addition to everything and our lust for plenty has had a tainting effect on our sense of appetite. Its no secret that our culture loves sex and has pushing the envelope sexually for years, and now most new TV shows on Netflix have some sort of nudity or graphic sex. I was watching a historical documentary and for seemingly no purpose there was a nude scene; this is simply the new normal. We have so sexualized our entertainment that it seems like any normal show cannot make it without a nude scene. It seems that our communal sexual appetite has grown to ravenous proportions.

Our appetites grow vastly with the availability of cheap goods. I admit that I am an avid Amazon Prime user. I love a good deal and free two day shipping is just amazing. But have we stopped to ask the question of how does this ability to get anything we want whenever we want shape us? Have we become a people who are dependent on instant gratification? Do our appetites grow to proportions that are impossible to feed? Are we a people who are slaves to this newfound hunger for cheap goods?

Being in Cuba revealed that our American culture has a ravenous appetite for anything and everything. Its not just food and cheap goods, but it is every little thing that we do. Its not enough to take a picture, we have to Instagram it and receive the heart shaped affirmation of people we may not even really know. Kids are being shaped and molded by their hunger for virtual affirmation. Vaping has revealed that the air we breathe is no longer good enough it must be flavored. TMZ is so successful because they understand that our cultural appetite for making fun of people can be packaged and sold to us in a way of which we feel like our hands are clean in the process.

All of these examples and many more make me wonder what is the cost of an unchecked appetite to a free society? First, when our appetites grow in all areas, we have to feed them; they will become monsters that demand to be fed. We run the risk of surrendering our free will so that we can fulfill whatever desire is most pressing. We run the risk of our desires dictating our budget and our time, rather that what is good or useful. Some desires are natural and healthy, but I have a sneaking suspicion that my need for a 3pm caffeine boost is neither natural nor healthy. (Cuba ruined me on coffee…but that’s another story)

When our appetites become unchecked, we become adverse to anything that requires a commitment. Commitment requires the endurance of suffering. This is why in one of the most fundamental of commitments we vow to stick with each other in rich and poor, sickness and health, the good times and the bad. I think our regular commitments like church attendance form us in powerful ways, but sometimes you will wake up and not want to attend, the question is are you a slave to your desires and appetites or will you do something even if it is hard?   There is a glaring conclusion to a world where we either wittingly or unwittingly allow our appetites to go unchecked. That is, we will stop doing anything that costs us anything. Our propensity to keep a commitment will dwindle; we will keep the commitment so long as it is beneficial to us. It costs something to love your neighbor; there is an inherent sacrifice in it. Yet in our desire to fulfill all of our appetites for goods and technology, I wonder if we have engineered our way out of need for genuine and authentic community. Lastly, when we are so concerned with fulfilling our own appetites, then the side effect of self-centeredness is hard to ignore.

It seems like in our push away from modernity and into post-modernity we have communicated that our feelings and our desires are the truth. I am a novice in philosophy, but this seems to be the point of many post-modern authors. If this were the case, then I would reject that thought entirely. I would argue, the Apostle Paul’s point, many feelings, desires, and appetites are natural but they are not always beneficial, and they are certainty not the truth. For example, people have natural sexual appetites that are good for a marriage and for procreation in general, but I have seen the unchecked sexual appetite of a person ruin a marriage. I have seen where pornography has absolutely wrecked relationships. I would argue that the viewing of pornography falls into a sexual appetite that has gone amiss. I would suggest a search for truth. Where can it be found? What is it? Are my wants and desires good, are they true?

Just as a fish may not notice the water it’s in, you may have never seen our nation through the lens of crazed appetites. I want to invite you to examine your own appetites. Has your lust for food changed the way you live? Has your hunger for electronics made you a slave to credit card payments? Have your sexual cravings benefited you? Maybe you have seen yourself in the midst of reading this. Maybe its time for an appetite re-set. It isn’t hard. I suggest just eating what you need, nothing fancy, just good healthy food. Maybe you don’t buy anything that you don’t absolutely need? Perhaps you’d willingly sacrificed yourself for the sake of others. Maybe there is an elderly neighbor in need of your during the holidays. Perhaps you think of how you can serve your spouse. Get imaginative with your kids to get them off the electronics and out of the real world.

There is much that could be done about our unchecked appetites. But the biggest thing that you can do is to realize that your appetites are shaping you more than you are shaping them.

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counterfeit love

CS Lewis wrote about life so profoundly that you can’t help but testify to the truthfulness of C.S.-Lewis-2what you have just read.  I just got back from a two-week vacation where all I did was read. Out of all the page I’ve read, the one line that has stuck with me most vividly was from Lewis, “Love, in its own nature, demands perfecting of the beloved.”

My dad and I have always had a great relationship, but I remember one time in college when we sharply disagreed on something.  It was nothing that harmed our relationship, we disagreed before but this time just stuck out to me.  Now that I have some distance from the issue, it is overly apparent that he was right.  In fact, I knew he was right at the time I just wanted my way.  Love disagrees, and sometimes sharply, not for the benefit of the lover but for the beloved.  I am thankful for my father, through this disagreement he taught me how to think and reason correctly.  My father cared more about whom I was becoming than I did in those moments.

In friendships, in parenting, in marriage you will find that this old CS Lewis wisdom rings true.  Love indeed demands the perfecting of the beloved.  It is not very loving to watch someone spiral out of control.  What kind of friend would I be if I did not speak out when my friend was going down a dangerous path?  What kind of husband would I be if I didn’t want better than the current reality for my wife?  What kind of father would my kids have if I didn’t discipline them, and then what kind of kids would they be if they thought their impulses were always correct?   What kind of God would God be if He didn’t want the very best, including perfection, for his people.

True love always hopes and wants the best for others.  There is this impulse in the fabric of our society that says when your opinion is offensive; it is not loving to say it.  This seems to me like counterfeit love.  We must reject counterfeit love that allows people to rejoice in their own impulses.  Reject the kind of counterfeit love that allows you watch others drift toward disaster without lifting a finger.  Reject the counterfeit love that cares more for the lover than the beloved. Real love is compelled to want the best for you.  Real true love is compelled to kindly correct and rebuke.  Real love gently draws out perfection, if it is at all possible.

Counterfeit love is all around us, it screams, “do whatever you want!”  Even when what you want is bad.  It is a dangerous delusion when we re-define love in our own words.  As I said in another post, what would happen if a man beat his child but still professed the message of love?  The child would always have a flawed definition of love.

What would this world look like if the lover demanded the perfection of the beloved?  Of course, our love is flawed because we ourselves are not love, only God is Love.

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the message is the messenger

Our actions either affirm the gospel message of Jesus Christ or we fit the gospel message Jesus the conformist into our actions, thus contorting the gospel into a new one entirely.  If I told my children that I love them and then I beat them, then wouldn’t they have a distorted understanding of the message of love?  It takes less than one generation to change the message.

This idea speaks much to my concern with the state of the church in America.  By our actions we affirm the centrality of ourselves.  By our purchasing power we affirm that we can supply all of our own needs.   Our self-indulgences help us to forget there was ever such a thing called temptation. By our travel into the cosmos we can practically touch the heavens.  Through our denial of the existence of evil we nullify the need to overcome such evil.  And the gospel message becomes a tame, easy message of sinning and feeling good about it.

The message of the gospel is most readily preached through our actions, whether they are correct or not.  Our actions are read and interpreted with the ease of a children’s book.  We say common phrases like, “don’t shoot the messenger.”  But so many times, the message is the messenger.

I have been getting into the conversation of Christianity and homosexuality a lot lately.  This is yet one more reason as a Christian I cannot celebrate gay marriage or homosexuality in general.  I know I will sound like an extremist and fundamentalist with this next line, but I think those serious Christians who do affirm such behavior are at risk of changing the gospel message entirely.  The message will be, “Jesus wants you to fulfill all of your desires.”  Professor Niebuhr reminds us that this gospel does not lead to freedom in his famous quote, “man is most free in the realization that he is not free.”  Niebuhr reminds us that life with Jesus is about submitting our entire life, including our desires to him and living in the freedom of being filled with Him.

It is not just the homosexuality conversation that changes the message.  Our ravenous consumerist desires, coupled with our individualistic needs have probably done more damage to the message of Christ than any case of pastoral infidelity.  Our thirst for fulfilling our needs through common consumer practices are even de facto blessed by the institution of the church, which needs to have the newest, latest greatest gadgets as well.  I suppose we accidentally create desire for stuff rather than for transformation.  This is a problem that infects everyone and actually does serious damage to the poorest among us.  It again changes the message to, “I can solve all of my problems and I can have all of my needs met through a simple transaction.”

So what is the message of Christ?  What did he say the Gospel was?  What Jesus actually said was this: “The time has come, The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news,” (Mark 1:14) It could take many pages to explain this phrase fully, but it could be taken as simply as saying that His ways are not our ways, His kind of love is not our kind of love, so we need to change our minds, submit our actions to what God is doing and wants to do all around us.

There are many who will disagree with what I am suggesting here, I would welcome you to straighten me out in the comments below.  But I would also challenge you that before you did that, ask yourself what your actions preach.  How does the way you live amplify, distort or change the gospel of Christ?

May God bless you richly today,

May He shine his face upon you,

And give you peace.

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loneliness

How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”-Exodus 33:16

Every morning in the winter I make a little fire and Emma sits on the ground near it and eats her cereal.  This morning I was in the kitchen eating an orange staring into space when I IMG_0358noticed Emma look back at me.  At first I didn’t acknowledge her because I was still letting my mind wonder and staring off into space.  Then I noticed a little smile, so I waved, and she waved, then I waved both hands and she did the same.  She just wants to know that her dad is near her.  I realized how much security and safety that brought her in the moment.

Maslow says that safety and security needs are formed in the early part of life, even in infancy.  While many people have their needs met, and love their parents, I can’t help but notice the insecurity of many people in the world today.  I wonder if that comes from a sense of loneliness.  Mother Theresa of Calcutta was once quoted calling loneliness the leprosy of the modern world.  It seems to me that many adults, even ones that have had a solid foundation with their parents, suffer from a deep sense of loneliness.

I want to assert that the feeling of being alone in the world is an outright lie.  Many who are recluse and live their lives without the company of other people might disagree with me.  But I’d ask the question, why do you organize your life around loneliness?  Why not be intentional about at least finding company in other people?”

Feeling alone in this world is an outright lie because, in the words of Dallas Willard, we live in a “God bathed world.”  God is present here and everywhere.  As much as my scientific friends will cringe at the next thought we can simply talk to God wherever you are at.

If the church truly is what the Bible says it is, and what Bonheoffer asserts as “Jesus revealed in community,” then loneliness should be a foreign concept in the church.  So if you are a part of the church, you have the promise of the Christmas season of Immanuel, God with us.  If you call yourself a Christian and are part of the church you can experience the presence of God with you.  If you are part of the church then you have a mission to eradicate loneliness wherever it is.

Moses asked God to be with the Israelites because that would make them distinct.  It would give them an identity in which to raise their children and their children’s children.  Ultimately God went further than Moses could have ever envisioned and he took on flesh and dwelt (The Apostle John uses the word: “tabernacle”) among his people.   He dwelt with His people, formed an identity in them so that they know to look to their father in all circumstances.

May loneliness be eradicated in your life by the simple promise that God wants you.  May your turn your head toward Jesus and safely place your confidence in Him.  May loneliness become an old memory that you have been saved from.

“‘“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
 the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
 the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’

Numbers 6:24-26

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productive patient prayer

The Philokalia has become a staple of daily reading for me.  It is what I read alongside the lucy prayingBible. The Philokalia is a collection of writings by the solitary dessert fathers.   The wisdom of the early dessert fathers is immense.  The way that they look at life in God’s presence is truly awe-inspiring.  I have learned so much from them but this morning I was reflecting on what was the best nugget of truth that I have learned that has made an impact on my life.

Evagrios the solitary said: “If you patiently accept what comes, you will always pray with joy.”

Out of all of the nuggets of wisdom I’ve read, this line it swirled around in my head for days.  Why will you always pray with Joy if you are a patient person?  When I read this originally I had just read one of the teachings of Jesus on how often to pray.

Luke 11:5-8

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

What struck me is that patience and persistence go together.  In having an attitude of persistence, you will grow in patience.

Prayer is not about getting what you want.  In spending abundant time with God you become the kind of person that asks for things that He desires for you.  What Evagrios the Solitary taught me is that without patience, your prayer life will not be productive.  Jesus seems to want us to continue to ask of Him with shameless audacity.  If we are not a people of patience how can we ever wait with the kind of shameless audacity that God desires of us?

Imagine of the man in the story was not patient.  He would have asked, and then after immediately not getting what he wanted, he would leave empty-handed.  How many times have you thought that prayer doesn’t work?

Here is what I am learning and only after 10 years of being a pastor and 16 years of becoming a Christian.  Write out what you are praying for, and stick with it.  When you don’t know what to say, silence will do for the one who knows you intimately.

To get to patience, I am learning to ruthlessly eliminate hurry.  Although, this is tough it helps to remind me of what is truly important in life.  Without patience your prayer life will not be productive. But once you learn patience, your prayer life will seem more than incredible, it will be joyful.

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