Desire is a funny thing. The standard definition includes the words you would expect: to wish or long for; crave; want. But desire has that added element of passion that makes it seem almost forbidden. What do you desire? Coming off the Christmas season, and seeing much of it through the eyes of children, we experience the sensation of desire. For the last couple of years, my youngest son, Hayes, has desperately wanted a dirt bike. He was as sure and confident as any little boy can be that a dirt bike would fulfill every need and desire he could ever have. The last couple of years have passed, no dirt bike, and yet his determined fervor remained. He’s beginning to write this year so the Santa letter got his full attention. “Dear Santa, I want a dirt bike. Love, Hayes!” Signed. Sealed. Delivered. Neighbors would ask, “What do you want for Christmas, Hayes?” Friends, strangers, The Hamlet Santa. Answer was always immediate: “Dirt bike!” The boy’s parents entered heavy negotiations with the North Pole contingent after having held out for a couple of years. I mean, he’s tiny. A dirt bike? But the persistence. The passion. The desire. The week before Christmas, Hayes and Carrie are at Target grocery shopping. Lo and behold, Hayes spots something that melts his heart. Desire and passion and the agony of thinking he might not obtain this item for his own possession. It was of course a … suitcase. A small, green, Minecraft suitcase on wheels with a pull-out handle. This was it! Had to have it. Sat me down as soon as I got home that night to help him craft a new note to Santa. This was an emergency. “Dear Santa,” he wrote, “I no longer want a dirt bike. I want that green suitcase from Target. Love, Hayes.” His eyes and gritted teeth emoted his concern of what was now at stake. Would this new desire translate into Christmas morning results? Desire.
It’s fun to look at desire through the eyes of a child. It keeps us from admitting we are not all that different. We long. We desire. We want. What of desire is innate – God given if you will? What of desire is learned? Whether innate or acquired, every marketing firm knows our desires can be shaped by their advertisements. They wouldn’t spend billions of dollars on advertising if it didn’t produce results. These ads tell us what we should want, what will fulfill us, and why we should desire to keep up with the neighbors: Everybody has one. Everybody’s doing it. Erma Bombeck writes candidly about how her desires, and what she was expected to desire, shaped the life of her family. “I did as I was told. I was fussy about my peanut butter, fought cavities, became depressed over yellow wax buildup …. I was responsible for my husband’s underarms being protected for 12 hours. I was responsible for making sure my children had a well- balanced breakfast. I alone was carrying the burden for my dog’s shiny coat …. We believed if we converted to all the products that marched before our eyes, we could be the best, the sexiest, the freshest, the cleanest, the thinnest, the smartest and the first in our neighborhood to be regular. Purchasing for the entire family was the most important thing I had to do.” Desire. What guides your desire?
We imagine this quandary of the spirit this morning as we hit week two of our New Year series entitled, The Shape of our Lives. (like sand through an hour glass…). Last week we launched with the idea that formation happens. More than 400 of us drew our ‘star word’ for the year. I’ve loved the wrestling that has already ensued and the stories you’ve already told me about what your word is revealing to you. Would you believe one guy offered me a hundred bucks to give him a card with the word, “GOLF” on it? The guy says, “If the card says, ‘Golf’, then who am I to argue with the Lord?” I think it was more of a “Who is my wife to argue with the Lord.” The sacrifices some will make to do the Lord’s work. (I personally didn’t take the bribe if you were wondering.) Give your word some space, some extra time in prayer. See how it might open your eyes afresh to something God is doing in your life. And… keep telling the stories. It is a rich experience to share those with one another.
Today? Desire. If there is any truth to “We are what we eat,” there may also be some credence to the idea: “We are what we want.” All that we have been, everything we are today, and all we will ever be is connected to our desires. What do you care most deeply about? What are the desires of your heart? A Christian is not called to suppress his or her desires but rather learn to desire that which shapes the heart of God. Can God’s heart become our own? Peter is our companion on the journey to ponder this question about desire today.
Peter’s concise confession – “You are the Messiah, the Christ,” focused the faith of the disciples on Jesus as God among us – in the flesh, carrying out the work of God’s salvation – God’s freedom. Peter was a leader’s leader – personality for days. He was easily the most powerful figure in the early church movement after Jesus ascended to heaven. He was energetic and bold and prayer-focused. He could clean a fisherman for Christ one-on-one while casting a line and could add thousands to the movement by preaching in the public square. What is most impressive to me about Peter’s leadership is that he didn’t wield power as he could have given his charisma. He could have done well with self-promotion given his prominent association with Jesus but he deferred that drama and maintained a scrupulous subordination to Jesus. This isn’t to say that he didn’t make mistakes or was always this way which precisely impacts this conversation about desire and how it can shape us. His desire shifted as he pursued the ways of Christ.
The two letters that Peter wrote which found their way into our scriptural cannon – the New Testament – exhibit the qualities of Jesus that the Holy Spirit shaped in him which is what? – a readiness to embrace suffering rather than prestige, a wisdom developed from experience and not imposed from a book, and a humility that lacked nothing in vigor or imagination. Eugene Peterson adds this about Peter: “From what we know of the early stories of Peter, he had in him all the makings of a bully. That he didn’t become a bully (and religious bullies are the worst kind) but rather the boldly confident and humbly self-effacing servant of Jesus Christ that we discern in these letters, is a compelling witness to what he himself describes as ‘a brand-new life, with everything to life for.’”
So, Peter writes this first letter, “on assignment by Jesus the Messiah” he says, to the scattered exiles of the faith. He writes to encourage them in hard times of frustration and aggravation and persecution. Before our brief passage of focus this morning, he encourages them to “Hang in there. Keep trusting.” He says, “How fortunate we are – the prophets and angels would have given anything to be on this side of what we have come to recognize in Jesus.” Knowing it’s not going to be easy – and our desires can pull us by the whim of the moment if we’re not focused – Peter says, “Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourself, set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.”
The King James Version says, “Gird up the loins of your mind.” I love the varied translations of scripture out there. Each one offers a bit of their own slant that can open us in new ways. The Babylonian Bee, a Christian satirical magazine headlined a story this week entitled, “KJV-Only Pastor Tests Positive for NIV.” At the end of the article it said, “At publishing time, medical records obtained by investigators confirmed that Pastor Wallace also tested positive for NASB, RSV, and even the deadly virus known only as “The Message.” It is no secret that I’m a fan of The Message which is not everyone’s favorite. It speaks so clearly that I enjoy having it as a companion to the New Revised Standard Version that we use here as our primary translation of choice. But King James sticks with the “Gird up the loins of your mind.” “Roll up the sleeves of your mind,” we might translate. Dig into this effort of Christ. It’s going to be hard. You’re going to sweat so take your coat off and stay for a while. Put in the work. “Don’t be conformed,” Peter writes, “to the desires of your childhood,” but… essentially, “learn to desire what is holy.” Can we learn to desire holy things? Is the faith an acquired taste?
Blaise Pascal, a 17th century philosopher, mathematician, and inventor offers this famous wager. His thought is simple. “If there is a God, believing in him ensures an eternity of happiness, while denying him secures a pit of misery. If there is no God and you believe in him, the downside is relatively minimal. Even if the chance he exists is tiny, believing is the right bet.” Essentially: “Go with God. Safe bet. Dilly, dilly!” But – a simple assertion of belief doesn’t really cut it right? Pascal knew it was more deeply intricate than that. He knew that we can’t “muscle our mind into believing something we take to be false, not even when the upside is an eternity of happiness.” Pascal’s solution? Start pretending to believe: attend church, speak the prayers, adopt religious habits. Fake it ‘til you make it. We understand this approach. We know doing something over and over again – after about 21 days – will create a new habit. And habits can be disciplines that ultimately shape our desires. “Dress for the job you want,” we say. This all has some productive merit but it can also seem inauthentic to us and nothing feels worse than being a fake. This is what leads to labels like hypocrites when it comes to faith. We promote a lifestyle, condemn another and yet live the very way we say we never would. When someone says, “The church is full of hypocrites,” it is hard to disagree. Hypocrite comes from the Greek which simply means actor. And such an accusation doesn’t have to be as negative as we’ve always perceived it to be. We are a group of people trying to act like Christ. We don’t always do it right but we’re trying. It helps for us to be honest and vulnerable about our shortcomings. We don’t have it all figured out. We don’t always get it right. We are creating grace space for ourselves and each other as we continue to strive toward the heart of God.
This is what New York Times writer, Agnes Callard calls aspirational faith. We aspire to believe. Like the centurion confesses to Jesus: “I believe. Help my unbelief.” I desire to believe but I’m not all the way there. And so what do we do? We work at desire. What is the alternative? Caving to every whim of our nature? No. We nurture along the desires of God that are indeed planted within us. We just have to cultivate it. This is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, God. Your will be done.” It is a prayer for God’s desires to become our own. What does God desire more than anything else? Us. God has an unquenchable desire for us. So God pursues us. God shows up where we are. God longs to know us at the core – to bring out our unique gifts, to celebrate us as we truly are because he created us that way in the first place. Part of desiring what God desires is to show up for each other in the same way – celebrating each other as we are designed knowing God created each one of us and stood back with pride afterward proclaiming, “She is so very good. He is so very good.”
I was reminded of this truth as I was coaching my six-year-old’s soccer team last fall. Coaching six-year-old soccer is literally like herding cats. While I’d admit that I’ve never attempted to herd cats, it sounds like an awful practice and terribly difficult. I’m sure it’s part of Navy Seals training. Nonetheless, I had a blast with those kids. I loved being a part of that experience with my son and his teammates. Do you know what amazed me most? The size of the crowds for their games. Tons of people would come to watch – parents and grandparents and friends and neighbors – and I believe this to be 100% true – not a one of them came for the soccer. Not a one of them came expecting to see precision dribbling skills, artfully executed defense, exceptional goalie play, or my amazing coaching skills. On a cold and windy Saturday, the only thing that brought those fans to the field was love. They desired their child or grandchild or neighbor kid or friend to know they were loved, treasured, valued. A kid can see that presence and appreciate it but it must be reinforced time and time again. God feels that very same way about each of us. God desires us to be found, known, and loved in this way. Peter quotes the prophet speaking on God’s behalf: “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” Sounds like, “Your desires should be my desires.” And so we practice God’s desires as we see them lived most faithfully in Jesus and those following closely in his ways. We trust that the Holy Spirit will support us in this effort. We trust the Spirit as that innate part of us… the part made in God’s image… that surely longs naturally for the desires of the very heart of God. We sharpen one another along the way as we move as a band of brothers and sisters into the future. That’s the nurture component. We know we can influence one another, encouraging each other in the way of Christ.
I think of a young Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At fifteen years of age he passed the entrance exams and enrolled at Morehouse College – fifteen years old! He sat under the tutelage of professor and ultimate president of Morehouse College,
Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mays who would later pray the benediction at King’s funeral. Do you know one of the lines that shaped King in his movement toward racial equality? It was in one of Mays’ classes. Dr. Mays said to his class with a young teenaged Martin sitting wide-eyed, open eared, not even of age to drive, smoke or vote. Mays said, “It is a calamity not to dream.” It is a calamity not to dream. We are all well versed in the dream of Martin’s soul. Racial justice –an innate desire of God who has an equal love for all of his children and a nurtured desire by voices of those who rose to speak. What you feed your mind and heart and soul does feed what you ultimately desire. Let us take this seriously, mindful of what our daily thoughts, words, and behaviors may be reinforcing in our own spirits and what they are teaching our kids, our colleagues, even the strangers around us.
Does God want us to have the desires of our hearts? When they are pure and honorable I think God does indeed. God longs for us to know deep joy – a joy grounded in the love of Christ – one exhibited and extended to all people. And while there may be nothing more serious than that – there is also a giddiness that can come when some desires are fulfilled. A wedding long-awaited. A baby welcomed to the family. A dissertation successfully defended. A tassel moved to the other side of the cap. A Christmas wish made reality?
Do you want to know what happened for Hayes? His wavering dirt bike desire flooded back on Christmas Eve hoping somehow Santa just knows these sorts of things. Come Christmas morning? Would you know? A little bike to share with his big brother. I sent this pic to some family who responded: “Somebody’s dream just came true.” To which I sent a follow up picture saying, “Yes indeed. Someone’s dream did come true.” Yes… that is my beautiful wife on a tiny dirt bike on Christmas morning in her pajamas (from whom I gained permission to show this picture today). And later that day, Hayes excitedly packed his little green suitcase for a trip to see our families after the big day. It was quite a Christmas indeed.
Desire. Material desire beyond our daily bread is not of greatest interest to God, of course. But desire is a part of our soul – God given to be cultivated in beautiful ways. It is a calamity not to experience desire – especially the very desires of God. We are designed to know the joy of the Lord. Let’s show up to God and one another. We’ll practice our way into God’s desire together.
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 As cited in Tom Sine, Live It Up! (Herald Press, 1993), 24.
 The Shape of our Lives. Kenneson, Murphy, Williams, Fowl, and Lewis. (WIPF & STOCK. 2008.) This sermon series is shaped by this study. Its influence is evident in the selection of scripture passages and other support for the message.
 As shared in the Introduction to First Peter in Peterson’s The Message. (Colorado Springs. 2002.)