“I am the gate”

(Part 4 of a series – my thoughts on some of the unusual ways that Jesus describes Himself. I have not researched how theologians think about these passages, but their influence may appear implicitly nevertheless since I have attended church for years, heard a lot of preaching, and read a lot. If a citation is needed, I’m happy to insert it and will do so honestly if I am aware one is needed.)

So Jesus said again, “I assure you: I am the gate of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the gate. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.” John 10:7-9

A gate or door (or doorway) serves several purposes. One purpose is to mark the entrance to an establishment – the way in. Some buildings have entrances that are not easily identified, while other buildings have prominent entrances. The appearance and accessibility of the door is often interpreted as an indication of how welcoming the owner of the establishment is toward visitors. But all who enter a building go through a door.

A second purpose for a door is to prevent unwanted entrance. A door can be shut and locked to keep out intruders, or simply closed to keep out prying eyes or allow privacy. Finally, a door is used to retain – to keep in those who might mistakenly wander out. This use is primarily for small children or animals that might otherwise go out through the door and in doing so find themselves lost or in danger. Doors to prisons may keep in those who would otherwise desire to leave, but there is no indication in the context of this passage that this function is what Jesus had in mind. Verse 9 says “He will come in and go out, and find pasture,” which suggests that imprisonment is not implied.

This passage seems to indicate that Jesus Christ is the way into life – that being the spiritual living Jesus spoke of earlier. Verse 10 ends with “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” This is the way to salvation – eternal life. Verse 28 says “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” In the same way that the door is the exclusive way into a building, Jesus is the exclusive way into everlasting life (Acts 4:12). And just as He said in 8:12 that He is the light of the world, a lit doorway in the darkness is inviting and welcoming in appearance. It is a beacon of safety to those who are lost among the dangers of the night. Whoever is lost can seek the illuminated door of Christ and be found again. The door that Christ serves as also serves as protection from Satan. Thieves and robbers come to steal and destroy, and Satan is the ultimate thief and robber. But once we have gone through the Door and into everlasting life, Satan can no longer destroy us. Christ says in 17:12 that “not one of [us] is lost” if we are guarded by Jesus. Let this be encouraging! While we still sin in this life, once Jesus has claimed us we cannot be lost again. By entering through the door, as a welcomed newcomer, we find there our new home in Christ.

There is an interesting miracle recorded in John that seems tied to this statement in a way. In John 5:2-9, Jesus meets a man “near the Sheep Gate” in Jerusalem, at a pool named Bethesda. This was a pool where an angel would stir up the waters, and the first person into the pool would be healed of their malady. The man Jesus met had been handicapped for nearly 40 years and had never been able to find his way into the pool without somebody else getting there first. Jesus cured the man then and there, without using the pool at all. It was not the pool that was needed, but faith in the God behind the cure. The man had faith, and Christ – the Gate to life – healed him.

“I am”

(Part 3 of a series – my thoughts on some of the unusual ways that Jesus describes Himself. I have not researched how theologians think about these passages, but their influence may appear implicitly nevertheless since I have attended church for years, heard a lot of preaching, and read a lot. If a citation is needed, I’m happy to insert it and will do so honestly if I am aware one is needed.)

Jesus said to them, “I assure you: before Abraham was, I am.”  John 8:58

I mentioned this one in my previous thought, but wanted to think about it more specifically. To people familiar with the Old Testament, Jesus’ statement here might sound familiar. In Exodus 3:14, God reveals His name to Moses: “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I Am has sent me to you.” Sometimes the term “I am” is entirely capitalized, depending on the Bible, as “I AM” – indicating that it is a very special term in the original language, to be set apart from otherwise normal text. The way the Old Testament refers to God is “The LORD”, which is rendered from the Hebrew word YHWH that seems to mean “He is” or “He who is”. “I Am” is God referring to Himself by His own name, as one “who is” – that is, one who always has been and will always be.

For Jesus to say “I am” in a way that otherwise would not make grammatical sense (ie. it would make more grammatical sense to say “I was” to match the verb tense), Jesus was professing and revealing His divinity. Unfortunately, unlike in Exodus 4:30-31 where the Israelites believed what Moses told them about God, the Israelites in Jesus’ day did not believe His claim, instead trying to stone him (John 8:59).

John 1 elaborates on the truth to Christ’s statement: that not only was Jesus before Abraham but He was in the beginning (1:1-2), served as an integral part of the creation process (1:3), and acts as the light of life (1:5, 8:12). While we see light shining in the darkness in Genesis 1:3, we should not misunderstand this light to represent the light of Christ, because the light in Gen. 1:3 is a created light – one of God’s creations – whereas Jesus is not a creation of God (John 1:3) but is Himself God (John 1:1). Paul affirms this in his letters to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 8:6) and Colossians (Col. 1:16) – Jesus is God (John 10:30).

For God to say “I am” in both Genesis and John is not simply to say “I exist right now” but to say “I exist then, now, and forever”. The omnipresent, eternal God. This is why Revelations 22:13 has Jesus saying “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” God exists beyond the dimension of time that humans experience, and thus Jesus, being the “I Am,” has always existed – from the point when the timeline of creation began to the point when the timeline of creation ends.

To exist outside of such a timeline means that God is not limited by time – there is never a point when God is too busy doing something else that we can’t run to Him, pray to Him, cry out to Him. How comforting it is to me to know that while the world is full of problems, has always been full of problems, and will always be full of problems until the end, God is never distracted by dealing with other matters. He is never unable to turn His ear to me when I cry out, and is able to be completely, entirely attentive to the ways in which He needs to act in my life. This is not me placing myself at the center of God’s universe, but placing myself in the position of God’s child. Children are needy because they are immature and undeveloped. It’s not their fault – they just haven’t matured yet. Likewise, I am immature and undeveloped – having not yet been fully sanctified or given my heavenly body – and so I need God’s attention. It’s not narcissism; it’s reality: I need God.

To exist outside of time is sort of like sitting behind one of those doll houses with multiple levels that are open in the back for the child to access. You can see all of the spaces in it simultaneously and are not limited by the physical barriers within it. The child can put a hand in two little doll house rooms at once. To exist outside of time is to see all of time simultaneously, and to simultaneously be able to act in all of time. God can be with all people at all moments. He is always with us. He always is. Hence, the “I am.”

Interestingly, I think this might also be why we cannot be saved by works. Doing good works to earn something is a sequence of events – the works come first, then the reward. But if God sees one human’s entire life simultaneously, then the sequence sort of breaks down I’d think – it doesn’t matter that good works were done at a specific time, because they’ll be bookended by sins too. At what point would the salvation “take effect” if there is an oscillation of good and bad works? Where the salvation is requested? Maybe, but usually that moment happens when a person has found themselves at a down point, not a high point.

Furthermore, If those sins weighed against the good works, then we’d have to worry about how we balance the scales – all the while being unable to know what kind of potentially horrible sins we might commit down the road and how much they’ll tip the scales in the opposite direction. How worrisome! Instead, then, the only way salvation can work is if it is independent of the sins and the good works. No bookkeeping is needed then. Only grace! So a person who is saved by grace is always seen by God as saved by grace, at every time in his or her life. God already knows that person is saved – they have been predestined to salvation (to use Paul’s language in Romans and Ephesians), therefore. Even before they were born, they were already known to be saved. From there, it’s just a matter of when the salvation is realized by the person in such a way that it has a lasting impact on the way they live their lives. And for this same reason, then, such salvation cannot be lost either…for it was never earned, and is not a function of what the person does in his or her life.

In what ways do I live life as if God isn’t right here with me? In what ways do I live as if God is? How can I adjust my perspective in the moment, consciously, to be cognizant of the fact that God is right there in the moment with me?

“I am the light of the world”

(Part 2 of a series – my thoughts on some of the unusual ways that Jesus describes Himself. I have not researched how theologians think about these passages, but their influence may appear implicitly nevertheless since I have attended church for years, heard a lot of preaching, and read a lot. If a citation is needed, I’m happy to insert it and will do so honestly if I am aware one is needed.)

Then Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

This section of John is interesting because Jesus’ proclamation here about His nature ultimately leads to one of His boldest and plainest statements about who He is. It seems to me like this was Jesus’ purpose when He opened with this statement, but the Pharisees quickly hijack the conversation and change the subject – calling His credibility into question. Jesus takes this hijacking and uses it as an opportunity to contrast Himself with the Pharisees and contrast the Pharisees with those who will eventually enter the kingdom of God. “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world” (v.23). “I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me…If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me” (vv.37, 39). “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here…You belong to your father, the devil” (vv. 42, 44). “He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (v. 47). “Before Abraham was born, I am” (v. 58). Jesus uses the Pharisees’ challenge as an opportunity to speak plainly about who He is and where He comes from, revealing the truth of His nature as clearly as light illuminates the darkness – yes the Pharisees did not see.

Why is it insightful to know Jesus as the light of the world? One interesting way is that light purifies. One way that developing countries remove pathogens from drinking water is by bottling it and leaving it out in the sun for several hours, where the sun’s ultraviolet light can kill the pathogens in the water. Hospitals, evidently, are even using intense UV to sterilize rooms or equipment. Just as light can be used to destroy the pathogenic organisms in water and on hard surfaces, the light of Christ can destroy the pathogenic sins in our lives by revealing them for what they are…and sometimes even revealing them to others for accountability.

Light provides protection. Parking lots, college campuses, and building entrances nearly all have lights that come on at night, illuminating the corners and alcoves where predators could hide. The goal is to use light to eliminate the darkness as a means of protecting pedestrians from being overtaken and robbed – or worse. The light of Christ protects us from the pitfalls of sin that lay in our paths and the ways that Satan lurks around us, waiting to overtake us with sin.

Light also provides guidance. Walking in the darkness prevents one from seeing where one is going and obscures obstacles that may be present along the way. Darkness allows things to remain hidden from view, including treachery that awaits. Jesus provides guidance in a couple ways.

First, His guidance is practical – many of the “words of wisdom” He taught (which prompt many to call him a wise teacher) have very practical application (eg. the Sermon on the Mount). The instructions He gave can provide us with practical guidance on how to live and relate to one another, along with guidance on how to relate to God.

Second, His guidance is spiritual. It illuminates and fulfills the intent of the Law, so that the entirety of Scripture makes sense in the lives of Christ followers. He guides our spiritual development and growth, and if we meditate on His teachings and allow them to become central to our lives – that is, if we allow Christ Himself to become central to our lives – then His spiritual guidance will help us see the journey ahead and how we can walk it and live it as representatives of the one true God. Along this path are obstacles put in place by Satan, meant to distract us or deviate us from the path. The light of Christ illuminates those obstacles and reveals them for what they are: not simply innocent tests but serious attempts by the “father of lies” (v.44) to convince us that the path we are on is not worth walking.

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also says,

“You are the light of the world…let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).

As followers of Christ, the way we live our lives in the public eye serves as a testimony to the reality of Christ and the work of God in our world. Additionally, Christians act as a mirror, reflecting God’s love and glory for all to see. If we do not let that light shine, then how will anyone see the beauty, majesty, and love of God?

The story in John continues with Jesus meeting a man who was blind from birth and miraculously restoring his vision. The man is called to testify before the Pharisees about his healing and he testified that he did not know who the man was who healed him, but that “one thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” – a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isa. 29:18:

“In that day, the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.”

Christ came as the fulfillment of the Law and fulfillment of the Prophets. As the light of the world, the light of life, Jesus protects us from falling into sin, reveals the paths that lead to sin, and guides us to the path that leads to life.

“I am the bread of life”

(Part 1 of a series – my thoughts on some of the unusual ways that Jesus describes Himself. I have not researched how theologians think about these passages, but their influence may appear implicitly nevertheless since I have attended church for years, heard a lot of preaching, and read a lot. If a citation is needed, I’m happy to insert it and will do so honestly if I am aware one is needed.)

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in me will ever be thirsty again.”   John 6:35

This verse comes on the heels of a major miracle described in John 6, commonly referred to as the feeding of the five thousand (though v.10 indicates there were 5000 men, so there very well may have been even more people in total). Armed with no food of their own and not nearly enough money to purchase enough food to feed everybody, Jesus’ disciples gather a small amount of bread and fish from a boy in the crowd. He thanks God and distributes the food to the crowd. Remarkably, not only is there enough food to feed everybody “as much as they wanted” (v.11), but there is enough left over to fill 12 baskets. The leftovers alone exceeded the original quantity!

To live, one needs sustenance. Bread represents sustenance. Without food as sustenance, life is not possible. What does sustenance do for us? It gives us energy and vitality, it allows us to function, and if we have gone without it for some time it provides renewal and refreshment. The word for “life” used in the Greek is the word used to describe one’s spiritual existence (eg. the same word used when Jesus is speaking of eternal life). So Jesus is the sustenance for our spiritual living. Without Him, we cannot have spiritual life. He gives us energy to function for his kingdom’s purposes, vitality so that our work is efficacious, and spiritual renewal when the burdens of life and oppression of evil bear down on us.

The only way that Jesus can provide this kind of life is if He is God. In v. 38 He says “I have come down from heaven”, a reference to Exodus 16:4 where God says to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you.” The bread mentioned in Exodus is the manna, mysterious food that appeared every morning and sustained the Israelites for 40 years while they wandered in the desert after leaving Egypt. But such bread, even from God, did not give the Israelites life – nor was it intended to. The people needed physical sustenance, and God provided it for them.

In John 6, the crowd again needed physical sustenance, and Jesus provided it for them. The miracles in the Bible are never done frivolously, but are always done with a spiritual purpose. In Exodus, God was proving Himself to His people, a people who had not heard from Him in centuries. God was proving that He would sustain them and that He was what they needed. In John, Jesus builds upon that miracle with another miracle, followed by a message: this bread you have eaten is temporary and you will hunger physically again, but if you come to me (Jesus) for spiritual sustenance then you will never hunger for it again (v.27).

Later, in verse 10:10b Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it in abundance.” While bread (in the modern era) may seem like the bare minimum we need to be satiated, perhaps even boring, bread as a generic term can include all things from loaves of bread for dipping or making sandwiches to cereal, cakes, cookies, muffins, cupcakes, brownies, tortillas and taco shells, crackers, and even pasta. What an exciting and diverse selection! Bread crumbs can even be used to revitalize other types of food, like breading on chicken or fish, or crushed crackers on a casserole. Bread lends itself to an abundance of preparation modes, and keeps our meals interesting and engaging.

Similarly, the spiritual sustenance given by Christ to our spiritual lives is not a one-note “bare minimum” kind of support, just enough to keep us going. The bread of life that Jesus provides is exciting and engaging – exceeding the minimum and filling us to the max (we will “never be hungry [or] thirsty again”). Jesus doesn’t just restore our lives, but renews it. Think ‘rejuvenation’ and ‘replenishment’, exceeding what we barely need and being capable of overflowing into all parts of our lives.

Just as bread can be introduced into any meal of the day in different and interesting ways, wherever in our lives we allow the spiritual sustenance of Christ to enter we will find that part of our lives rejuvenated and replenished and renewed for the work for the kingdom of God. If we have a skill or passion and allow Christ’s heavenly bread to build it up, those skills and passions can be used to build up God’s kingdom on this earth. If we have a sin in our lives that we struggle with, allowing Christ’s heavenly bread into that part of ourselves can give us the strength to overcome that sin which cannot be found in ourselves alone. In any way that we might feel dead inside due to past pains or mistakes, Christ’s heavenly bread brings new life and growth by grace and forgiveness.

Jesus Christ, the bread of living, doesn’t simply sustain – He renews.

Why is that duck so close to me?

My wife and I took our son to feed some ducks today. We packed him up in the stroller and went to a pond with some old bread. We have gone there a couple times now to do this, but even on the first visit (without bread) it was clear that we were not the first people to have come to see these ducks. As we approached, the ducks saw us coming and began to converge upon us.

If this had been just a few ducks, it might not have been noteworthy. But this is a group of some 40 or so ducks and a handful of Canada geese. When we went there today, the entire flock walked up to us as we drew near. Sort of like a scene out of The Walking Dead, where a mass of slow-moving, hungry creatures gradually makes its way toward you. There’s a lot of time to turn and run if need be, but you can’t help but sit and stare at this mass of ducks slowly waddling toward you. We were soon surrounded by ducks and geese, with mouths open, only somewhat patiently waiting to be fed.

As we got the bread out, the ducks and geese began to crowd us, and one of the geese even made a hissing sound as it held its beak open and demanded food. A couple of the ducks hopped up and down not 10 inches from my leg, mouths open. One even scampered under the stroller twice. The presence of humans did not make these birds nervous (though when I made sudden movements toward them to give our son some space, they shied away). I’ve never been surrounded by wild animals like this before, but it occurred to me that this tenuous balance between animals and people was only held in place by the fact that we were feeding them, but which threatened to break down at any moment if the animals got worked up or the food ran out.

I am accustomed to nature fearing humans. Deer in the woods take off almost before we can see them, squirrels run up trees, chipmunks dive into their holes, rabbits run into the bushes. Humans so dominate the world that animals have come to fear us, and rightly so. We don’t have a good track record of showing them much respect.

Sometimes when I’m out for a walk and I see a little chipmunk eyeing me, I think at it, “hey little guy, no need to run – I won’t hurt you.” Of course, it runs when I get too close…and this is expected. It’s actually a weird feeling when that doesn’t happen – when nature doesn’t flee.

We had a squirrel in our back yard who was used to foraging the crumbs and detritus left over after my son’s outdoor snack, so he was not quite as afraid of humans as the other squirrels. There was a period of time when it would approach my son in the grass, and my defensive instinct would kick in. “Why isn’t this squirrel afraid? Is there something wrong with it? Am I gonna have to kick this squirrel?”

Being surrounded by ducks brought back a similar feeling. An unsettling feeling. “Why don’t these birds fear us? Is there something wrong with them? Will I need to defend my son or wife if they suddenly get aggressive?” (Geese can get nasty)

What should the “norm” be here? Is it truly natural for animals to fear humans? Genesis 2:19-20 says, “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.” It seems to me that if God originally paraded animals before Adam for naming, and these animals coexisted with Adam and Eve in the garden, then that fear was not in place. This, of course, requires a literal interpretation of the text and one which I will continue with for the sake of the thought process.

Earlier, verse 16 says that the humans were free to eat of any tree in the garden but one. It wasn’t until after the Flood in Genesis 9 that God specifically told humans they could now eat all living things, a delay that seems to suggest that before this they may not have eaten meat. So if killing animals was not a common practice, it would seem then that animals would have no reason to fear humans. This may have made loading them up into the ark relatively easy (the peace of God upon them to guide them to the ark in the first place notwithstanding). In Gen. 9:2, after the animals were unloaded from the ark, God said, “The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands.” This seems to be the point where animals now fear humans – and the point where God seems to give permission to eat animal meat.

This is all my novice attempt to speculate that perhaps the natural state of coexistence between humans and animals is actually a state of peace. Sin in the world has corrupted it, which led to an animal being killed for skin to clothe Adam and Eve after their sin. Perhaps God’s eventual “allowance” of meat-eating was an accommodation of some sort. At any rate, it seems like the initial plan was for humans and creatures to leave peacefully together.

This is reinforced later in Isaiah 65, where God tells of the new heaven and new earth. Isa. 65:25 states, “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food.” This peace between predator and prey sounds idyllic, and in such an idyllic setting one would also expect a similar relationship between humans and animals. At the end of verse 25 it says, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” which suggests peaceful living among all things. So either humans are absent, or there is peace between humans and animals too. This is a beautiful image.

One day, we will be able to surround ourselves with quacking ducks and feed them without being nervous about there being something wrong with them or nervous about them getting out of control. One day, we will be able to say to the chipmunk, “It’s ok, don’t be afraid” and instead of fleeing it will sit in our hand. One day, the unnatural relationship between humans and animals will be reversed – healed – and we will finally experience what God had intended for His creation: peace among all living things.

It Seduces

(Part 3 of a series)

There are things in this world that call out to us, demanding our attention. Television commercials, until recently, were allowed to use loud volume to catch our attention (though despite legislation that was supposed to eliminate this practice it still seems to be a problem). Huge billboards are placed in conspicuous locations, and ads in magazines use imagery to catch our eyes. Even our phone apps can issue alerts when you aren’t using them as much as they feel you should.

When I watch the trailers that play prior to the start of a movie, it seems that sex appeal is one of the primary ways that producers try to get viewers to pay to see their films. Sex appeal is effective because it relies on the portrayal of something intrinsically beautiful – that is, sex, as an illustration of the love between two people – but in a way that carnally-driven, fallen minds are tempted to pursue. In all of the examples above, sex appeal is used in what might seem “harmless” to the typical person because there is no nudity, but which I still lump into the category of “pornography”. I consider pornography to be anything that attempts to use sex or sex appeal to evoke lustful thoughts in the mind of the viewer. Within this definition, then, the labels on bras (for example) do not count as pornography…but the big 10-foot-long posters of buxom lounging women in the windows of Victoria’s Secret in every major mall do. Some might argue that those posters are intended to help women feel beautiful in VS products by showing them what they “could” look like when wearing the products. While the products themselves can be used to empower or encourage women within their romantic relationships and help them feel beautiful, I would disagree that this is the intended purpose for these posters.

The temptation associated with pornography is strong. I described it earlier as one that plays on many desires and weaknesses within people. It says “I’m worth it” to whatever cost might be associated with succumbing to that temptation. It presents many desirable things to the viewer or listener. It seduces.

Seduction is a deliberate act. This puts it one step above temptation, because temptation in and of itself may not be deliberately established. When I know there are a couple cookies left in the cupboard and it’s almost time to go to bed, I’m tempted to eat them so that I can enjoy their flavor before going to sleep. But the cookies themselves are not designed to tempt me – the baker wasn’t plotting and scheming – nor do the cookies act on their own to tempt me. On the other hand, when pornographic content (including ads or programs using scantily-clad men or women to sell a product or catch a viewer’s eye) is designed it is designed with the purpose of tempting somebody to look and watch. There may be additional goals from there – selling a product, promoting a person, etc. – but the initial intent, the initial goal, is to tempt the viewer to look at it. This is deliberate. This is seduction.

Seduction is about a thrill associated with desire. It’s about enticement. In seduction, something is used to draw you in, to make you want more. It plays on your desires, your cravings, and your pleasures. When done well, it is so perfectly targeted that your ability to resist gives way and you are enveloped by it. Promises are made that if it continues things will get even better. In that moment, every attempt is made to make you forget your concerns, your other desires, and anything else that might make you hold back.

The angler fish is a fish that lives deep in the ocean, where light cannot reach. In this dark environment, angler fish have evolved a luminous extension that rises up over their mouth, which seems to serve as bait for prey. Other fish see this light in the darkness, swim toward it, and are gobbled up by the angler fish.

(Image courtesy of FactZoo: http://www.factzoo.com/fish/anglerfish-worlds-most-hideous-fish.html)

In an environment that is pitch black, the glow of luminous flesh is so appealing that fish are seduced by and drawn to it like moths to a lightbulb. They never know that below this thing of marvelous beauty lies a gaping mouth filled with sharp teeth – until it has devoured them.

Pornography is like this. It presents something that was originally good and beautiful and it says, “Aren’t I wonderful? Don’t you want more?” It twists and distorts it to target the fallen desires of our minds, and promises gratification. It promises satisfaction. It promises pleasure. But underneath this presentation lies a gaping mouth with razor-sharp teeth, prepared to devour all who venture too closely.


Anxiety in the midst of a thunderstorm

I was cleaning up some dishes in the kitchen the other day while my son took his nap and heard the first roll of thunder outside. A storm was approaching – the NWS had issued a severe weather warning – and while I typically enjoy daytime thunderstorms, the introduction of “nap time” into my life via parenthood has changed that to some extent. I haven’t figured out how to balance my attention when kiddo is awake, so when he sleeps is when I get my errands done. Anything that threatens to cut short that block of time is now the enemy.

I began washing dishes faster and I could feel my pulse quicken. The thunder was getting louder and I was certain that any minute I’d hear the cries of my now-awake kiddo in the baby monitor.

Matthew 6:25 says “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” Jesus tacks on later “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (v.27). This passage comes on the heels of admonitions against hoarding treasures and resources here on this Earth, “where moth and rust destroy, where thieves break in and steal” (v.19), and can be understood plainly as an illustration that storing up treasures on Earth is a symptom of worrying about one’s life. Jesus says that there is no need to store up treasures on Earth because (a) forces of this world only lead to their breakdown and (b) God is the one who takes care of His people and provides all that is needed. Jesus calls God the “heavenly Father” (v.26) and in the same thought describes our heavenly Father as one who gives “good gifts” to those who ask of Him (7:11). God knows our needs, and provides for our needs, because He is a good Father – not a fickle, domineering deity like those that appear in other religions past and present – and therefore we should trust him rather than worry or be anxious.

1 Peter 5:7 reiterates this, saying “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” While Matthew 6:25 might possibly be read to limit itself to matters of urgent necessity – food and protection from the elements (clothing) – this verse in 1 Peter is all-encompassing. “Cast ALL your anxiety on Him” (emphasis added). God sees our day-to-day lives in their entirety and knows the things that make us anxious. These things frequently go beyond the urgent necessity and include other matters of the day like “will I be able to finish my assignment on time?”, “can I pass this test?”, “is my boss satisfied with my work?”, and any number of other things. Some things may not be truly urgent, being seen in hindsight as fleeting or baseless worries, while others may be urgent even if they are not a matter of life and death. 1 Peter says that all things that make us anxious can be lifted up to our Father in heaven, because He hears them and He cares about what gives us distress. This includes the worry I was having about my son being awakened from his nap early by an approaching thunderstorm.

Paul gives us some instruction regarding how to approach God with our worries. In Philippians 4:6-7 he writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Verse 6 is prescriptive: approach God with your petitions along with your gratitude for the ways in which He has already blessed and provided for you. It’s important to have both, it seems, and this makes sense because it helps keep our perspective balanced. Without practicing gratitude, we aren’t acknowledging that God does provide for us. God is infinitely more gracious and loving than any human, but given that human relationships become strained if there is only petition and no thanksgiving it seems logical to reason that one’s relationship with God might become similarly strained in the absence of gratitude. We can feel free to ask God for what we feel we need, and bring to Him our anxieties, all the while thanking Him for the ways that He has provided for our needs and alleviated our anxieties in the past.

And what is God’s response to this prescribed approach? Verse 7 does not say “And God will give you that which you request” because this isn’t the point of this verse. Elsewhere the Bible addresses what God will give in response to requests, but here it says that God will give us His peace “which transcends all understanding”. I love the sound of this because in the midst of my own worries I sometimes wonder how I am going to “snap out of it”, or if I can at all. And the answer is that I cannot, on my own. But the peace of God transcends all that we can wrap our minds around and allows us to feel His peace in the midst of any storm, trial, or anxiety. What relief!

God sees all of our anxieties and hears all of the worry in our heart. And how does He respond? Like a good Father would: patience, provision, and love. 1 John 3:1 says “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” My own “fathering” is flawed by my sinfulness and fallenness, but God’s fathering is perfect and the ways He responds to our distress and anxious cries is perfectly fit into the big picture, which we cannot see but which He can see, residing beyond the limitations of our temporal dimension. The ways in which the Father lavishes His love upon us are done so in the ways that we truly need – not necessarily the ways that we ask for at the time. Romans 8:28 says “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Part of love is trust, and when we trust in God’s workings in our lives we trust that the ways in which He responds to our cries is for our greater good – even if it doesn’t seem to match what we were hoping for in the moment.

Trust in God, faith in God, therefore, means believing that God sees us, hears us, knows us, and cares for us. He is a good Father and cares about the things we worry about, and provides for those things we need and those things that will help us work within the plan He has laid out for us (His purpose, cf. Rom. 8:28). And given that this plan is “for [our] good”, this means that the way in which something plays out is the way in which God anticipated it playing out. It might be wonderful for us now, or it might not be. Near the end of Jesus’ ministry on this Earth, He told His disciples “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). We worry about things, and God knows our worry and wants us to bring those worries to Him. Things may not turn out all sunshine-and-rainbows, but God gives us peace to reside even within the troubles of this world if we can cling to the knowledge that He is fitting this all together into a plan that will turn out beautifully in the end. If we can cling to that knowledge in faith, then we can let go of our anxiety and know that what happens is what God allows to happen, and what God allows to happen is ultimately good for His people. If what is about to happen is good, then instead of worrying about what might happen it may be possible to actually look forward to what will happen. But clinging to that knowledge in faith takes practice – it doesn’t magically happen, and it doesn’t continually happen. Reminders to oneself about God’s faithfulness are vital.

The thunderstorm ended up bringing very little rain to our neighborhood, and the thunder seemed to remain in the distance. My son slept through his nap time peacefully and woke up at the normal time in a wonderful mood.


My son is a toddler and just beginning to get into mischief. Despite my “advice” (warnings) to him about the risks related to some of the things he might try, he goes ahead and does them anyway. Standing on toys inevitably results in a fall, and this morning he almost fell on the stairs before catching himself (I was there to catch him if he hadn’t caught himself). At that point he looked at me and said “that was close!” – and I agreed with him. He’s a silly boy, learning his limits and pushing those limits outward like any growing boy should.

As I watch him, during those times but also during other times when he is sweet and loving, my mind always comes back to two thoughts:

  1. Every person on this earth who has ever lived has been born to somebody. A human being. A woman with thoughts and feelings, dreams and hopes and goals, fears and concerns. A woman who felt a certain way about her pregnancy and growing baby – feelings which at the very least didn’t lead to abortion but which at the very most may have been what my wife felt: nervousness about being a parent, but love for the child that sprang up like a plant in fertile soil, growing stronger with each passing day and blooming into something beautiful. While the feelings of all mothers fall somewhere on that spectrum, most mothers, I hope, would fall closer to the loving end. Those mothers – and fathers – looked at their child(ren) with love that goes beyond words, an emotion that the English language can’t quite name but which resides deep in the soul of a parent. As I look at my son, I love him so much that I know I’ll do whatever it takes to raise him right. I’ll put all the energy I have into it. Even when there are times that he challenges me, I won’t give up on him. And there’s nothing he can do that will make me stop loving him. Nothing. This is something that every child deserves to have from their parents – unconditional love. But not every child gets this from their parents. It pains me to think about the children that have been born to parents who didn’t want them, or children who were born to parents who have no business being parents. Instead of receiving from their parents what they most desperately need, they receive dismissal, abuse, or neglect. This reality hurts my heart.
  2. A child is undeveloped – immature in many things. Language is simple, wants are many, and frustration/whining comes quickly. As adults, we look at this behavior and are too easily drawn into the misguided belief that we are “better” than that. But let’s consider what we do as adults: use vulgar and/or profane language instead of really digging into our vocabulary; waste money on frivolous things like expensive cars, enormous televisions, and overpriced clothing (to name a few); complain to God when things just don’t go our way or when life isn’t easy. These are the adult parallels to childish behavior. It is God who sees us for who we really are – grown up children whose behaviors really didn’t ever go away so much as change focus. When I see this behavior in my son, I grow irritated and impatient because I’m a fallen person, prone to the same misbehavior. But God, the Almighty Father, sees us from a glorified perspective. He is not characterized by sinfulness but by perfection. Where we hate, He loves. Where we are impatient, He is patient. Where we are angry, He is merciful. This isn’t to say He is a pushover – God fully allows for natural consequences to occur, but the love He offers to us is perfectly unconditional. While I may think that my love for my son is unconditional, I can only think this easily now because he is a toddler and not yet a full-grown adult capable of making poor choices or lashing out at me viciously. I can say that I love him unconditionally with ease because it is easy to do so and the belief has not yet been challenged.

God’s love for humanity is perfectly unconditional, and we can know this because we have a record of the multitude of instances and ways in which it was challenged. The Bible describes centuries of misbehavior by the Israelites, the people to whom God revealed Himself. God allowed for consequences to their actions to occur, but throughout it He continually reminded them that He loves them anyway and that if they would just come back to Him He would once again bless them in abundance. Some of the most powerful verses in the Old Testament are about the love of God toward His people who rejected Him.

It’s easy to read the Old Testament and see the common thread of Israelite misbehavior and God’s anger against them pouring out. I can even understand why this might drive many to reject God because of the descriptions of His wrath. Who would want to give their life to a God of wrath? The important thing to do is ask “why is God so angry?” He is angry because he is jealous. Humans get jealous when somebody has something they want but can’t have (what I’ll call an “unrighteous jealousy” because it stems from covetousness and selfish pride) or when they are not getting the attention they feel they deserve (which may be unrighteous jealousy but is not always so).

There are justified situations of righteous jealousy. For example, if a husband is showing too much attention to a woman who is not his wife, his wife can (and ought to) become jealous. His wife deserves his full attention, and her jealousy stems from the fact that she has devoted herself to her husband – given her life to him – and she expects and deserves the same devotion in return. Similarly, God’s anger stemming from jealousy is a righteous jealousy and thus a righteous anger. God’s love is so completely unconditional – even more so than a spouse’s love or a parent’s love – that He is entirely deserving of our love, affections, and attention back. In any instance where we fail to show Him our love and attention, we deserve the righteous anger of God.

But the New Testament gives one more example of God’s unconditional love: the sacrifice of Jesus, God’s own son and a part of Himself. By taking upon Himself all of God’s righteous anger, He has made it so that we do not receive what we deserve. Instead, we receive grace upon grace. Forgiveness upon forgiveness.

God’s love is so unconditional that He took it upon Himself to be the recipient of His own righteous anger, so that we wouldn’t have to.

That, in my mind, is what being a Father is all about.


Potty training is hard. Really hard. And talking with people who have potty trained children before is also hard. Really hard. So many people have stories of “oh, my little boy/girl took right to it and figured it out in a weekend.” When I first heard stories like this, they were the only stories I heard, which set some expectations in my mind that I now know are unrealistic. It turns out that most of the people who take the initiative to offer up their account unsolicited are those who did see some quick success. But it’s difficult to discern what they mean by ‘success.’ After all, for a child to be completely potty trained they need to be to the point of recognizing that they need to go potty, head to the potty themselves, do their business in there with no assistance (including handling pants and wiping), and never have an accident. They need to hold it through the night, and they need to be able to communicate to an adult their need to go potty consistently. Finally, they need to do this of their own choice – that is, free of external rewards.

So, for those stories of children who “just picked it right up,” I ask whether or not the above criteria were met right off the bat. My inclination is to presume the answer to this question is ‘no.’ I say this because the criteria I defined are hard to accomplish. Holding it requires muscle development and body awareness – two things that are developmental and not automatic. Distinguishing whether one has to pee or poop is not automatic when a child has lived for a couple years (at least) NOT having to think about that. The same goes for the development of muscles involved in holding it. Muscles that are not accustomed to an action need to be trained to perform that action. Manipulating one’s pants to get them out of the way is also tough when a child has never had to do that before. All of these tasks are not simply something that a child “picks up” in a weekend.

My conversations with people bear out my presumption as well. While there are many who proffer their experience of having a child (or being that child) who nailed it immediately, there are many more who don’t have that story but don’t share it until they are asked. Unfortunately, the best words of advice on potty training don’t come from people who willingly share it.

My expectations were unreasonable, and it showed. My son is going through potty training and I expected it to be quick because I didn’t think about it. Over the past few weeks, he has learned to hold it or tell us he needs to pee/poop, and the number of accidents went way down. But…it took several weeks to make this progress and he still doesn’t reliably push his pants down or poop in the potty (he prefers to poop on the ground outside if he can get away with it). However, he was making good progress until…we broke him.

Recently my son spent the majority of a weekend in pull-ups. While we still took him to the potty every 30-45 minutes initially, it didn’t take long for us to begin forgetting and those intervals became longer. He began peeing in his pull-up. By Monday, he was peeing in every pull-up even when the intervals returned to 30 minutes. So now we are back to square one – trying to avoid him peeing his pants by having a couple naked days. It’s disappointing.

Regression is bound to occur with any skill that is not constantly nurtured or practiced until it becomes second nature. For example, I used to know how to solve some pretty devious differential equations. However, after many years not doing so I’ve lost that skill and can now only handle the easy separable ones without guidance. It’s disappointing.

In this process of potty training, I’ve learned that I’m not nearly as patient as I thought I was. It seems like a toddler was designed to push my buttons, and this toddler of mine really knows which buttons to work. But I need to distinguish between those times when he pushes my buttons intentionally and those times when he does so unintentionally. Having pee accidents fall in that second category, I believe. It’s not misbehavior – it’s just a failure on my part to properly train him in a skill. I need to get a hold of my patience before I lose it, because it’s important for me to remember that he is just having a hard time with a skill that is still under construction. It’s not his fault.

I lose my patience pretty regularly now, it seems. Several times a day. I hate that part of me. But that’s a subject for another day.

It Tempts

(Part 2 of a series)

Note: much of this is written from a heterosexual male perspective because this represents the majority of pornography users as well as the perspective of the author. However, women do represent an increasing fraction of those who use pornography so the pronouns used in this post could easily be swapped or rearranged as the reader deems appropriate.

All around us in modern culture we are surrounded by lurid images. While network television pushes the envelope with scenes showing people in underwear or the view from behind of a topless woman, cable television and satellite dish programming use their less-restricted status as license to portray people naked and/or appearing to have sex. Advertisements use sexual allure to sell products on television, in magazines, and even on billboards. Movies and books almost always have some sort of sex scene in them. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is considered too bland anymore if it doesn’t contain images of women wearing nothing but body paint “swimsuits.” And, of course, sexual pop-up and sidebar ads appear everywhere online.

These media influences impact how sex appeal manifests itself in other aspects of culture. Artists toe the line, and even cross it, with graphic renditions of sexual subjects on public display. Fashion lines produce clothing for teenagers that puts on display what is only just beginning to develop physically. Smartphone apps become tools for teens to share sexualized images with romantic partners and means by which sexual predators gain access to children who are not aware of their advances. These are just a few examples.

Intrinsically, sex is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing. Humans have been designed to enjoy sex, more so than most other animals. And like all good things, people desire it. Sweet treats and shopping at the mall are also good things that people desire. So wherein lies the problem?

Humanity has a problem – all things have been corrupted by the Fall. This means that when we seek out good things, we have a predisposition toward using those good things badly. It may not be in ways that are obviously bad – buying a gun is not an intrinsically malicious action unless it is done with the intent to harm someone – but it is usually in ways that are more subtly bad. For example, a person may find himself having a rather unpleasant day and buy some ice cream as a treat to lift his or her spirits. Buoyed by the rush of sugar, he feels much better. The next time he has a bad day, he may buy more ice cream for that sense of comfort again. After this repeats some number of times, the ice cream has become more than simply an innocent treat – it has become the cushion on which he falls when he is in anything but a good mood. Taken too far, the ice cream becomes what puts him in a good mood. Alcohol could be substituted into this example with the same outcome – something amoral becomes immoral when it is abused. The desire for something that is intrinsically innocent becomes a dependency. This is what our fallen human condition does, and other obvious examples exist, such as drugs and video games.

Sex has been so corrupted, distorted into something it was not intended to be. This is evident immediately in the Bible after Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and realized they were naked. The exposure of their nude bodies produced a sense of shame and withdrawal, where they hid from God and covered themselves up. The exposure of their nude bodies became taboo, and has been ever since.

When something that was designed to be good is used in a way that is no longer good, or when something good becomes corrupted into something bad, there exists in association with it a degree of taboo. Nudity, then, has become taboo. We wear clothing to cover ourselves, but some individuals may wear less clothing as a means of drawing attention to themselves. The more revealing the clothing, the more taboo it is, and thus the more attention it draws. We have sex in darkened bedrooms as a means of visually covering our nakedness while still engaging in something pleasurable because nakedness is so taboo that even revealing our body to our spouse is psychologically difficult (though not impossible, as there are assuredly many instances of couples who leave the lights on).

Where taboo exists, temptation to violate that taboo exists as well. Just as it is typically considered taboo (by many) to wear revealing clothing in public, it is also taboo to stare at people who wear revealing clothing. The beach is a prime example, where revealing bathing suits are commonplace and where staring is considered lecherous. The temptation to stare at women in scanty bikinis exists, strongly, and many men surrender to the temptation without even thinking about it. Other men succumb to the temptation by attempting to be more discreet about it – using mirrored sunglasses or lengthy sidelong glances. The temptation is so prevalent that it is often not even considered a temptation in the negative sense, but instead may be thought of as an entitlement: “The beach is where I go to stare at women, and the women there want me to stare or else they wouldn’t dress like that.” (Note that I say nothing here about justifying that thought, though it may very well be true that some number of people do want to be noticed.)

Sex is likewise taboo. It is generally not culturally acceptable to talk about sex in public. When it does occur, such conversation attracts glances from nearby listeners or headshakes from the older generation who would never have spoken of such things beyond closed doors. And although it is frequently depicted in television shows and movies, it is not uncommon for viewers to avert their eyes during such scenes and for parents to skip over the scene or tell their children to look away. Movies with a high amount of sexual conduct (eg. Fifty Shades of Grey) are viewed with suspicion by some and disgust by others, while the media fawns with amazement that something so classically “forbidden” is now available on screen.

Like any type of taboo, it has an associated temptation with it. People perk up their ears when they overhear sex being discussed because they want to hear about it. Movies and television depict sex acts because the viewers want to see it – if they didn’t, there would be no market for it. Although experiencing it is better, seeing or hearing about it is enticing enough that the temptation is there to pay attention. Indeed, the temptation is even there to seek it out. And those that seek it out need not look far.

Pornography calls out to those who seek it. “Come find me.” It may occur in bookstores, where the adult magazines are placed on top racks behind rows of other magazines but where the titles peek out at the customer. The temptation arises to try to peek around those other magazines, to see what the cover holds. Advertisements on television geared at men bring with them a temptation: if you wear our product, you could have sexual experiences with women like these. The online advertisements that pop up or appear at the bottom of web pages offer the temptation: click here to watch something you otherwise might not get to see.

Whether or not one succumbs to temptation is the result of a cost-benefit analysis. Violating taboos carries a social cost – if you click on that link and somebody sees you do it, then they will view you differently from then on. You become “that kind of guy.” This could be a prohibitively high cost, especially if a man is married. On the other hand, the benefit he might perceive in clicking the link could be so high that it is worth the risk. Just a little peek, just a little release of pleasure hormones in the brain, and then back to life as usual. If the benefit outweighs the cost, then he clicks the link. If the cost is too high, he refrains. But the temptation is there.

The temptation that pornography offers is strong because it offers a view of something that seems exciting. The chance to see something that isn’t often seen or isn’t easy to come by during the course of a typical day. The opportunity for a man or woman to lay his or her eyes on the body of a man or woman without the social cost associated with getting caught staring, in a context that gets past the covering of clothing, and in a way that doesn’t require them to be in a relationship first. If it is sexual pornography, then he can even envision himself as the male role and “experience” the excitement of sex with somebody new every night without the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy, commitments, or broken relationships. With those things as benefits, and no or little perceived cost if done in the privacy of one’s own home, it is no wonder that so many respond to the temptation by clicking on the link.

However, temptation has the connotation of going against what one “ought” to do. We know we shouldn’t have another bowl of ice cream, but if we do just this once what’s the harm? We will feel awful if we have one more alcoholic drink, but the night has been fun up to now, or I’m feeling better than I did before, and one more drink will keep the good feelings going. We know that if we stare at that woman she may feel uncomfortable, but if we do it without her noticing then it’s OK right?

Pornography resides at the apex of social taboos. It carries with it a high cost if a man is perceived as a pornography connoisseur. He may experience broken relationships or be viewed as unsavory or untrustworthy. And yet, because it is the distortion of something good it carries with it a high degree of perceived benefit and can be used by a man to experience physical reward. Its call is strong, and its temptation is powerful: come find me; I’m worth it.