Come to think of it, I spend a fair bit of time throughout the year trying to teach my kids to give and receive gifts well.
But then I run across Jesus’ words, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (Mark 10:15).
Jesus wants us to learn from kids about receiving?
- My dad comes for a visit and almost every time a little voice shouts out, “What’d you bring me?”
- On birthdays, my wife and I stand vigilantly by, reminding them to “Read the card first,” and “Say thank you.”
- And I’m pretty certain left to their own, Christmas morning would start with squeals of joy and end with a room of tattered wrapping paper, at least one bloody lip, and the tree lying on the couch.
But before we dismiss Jesus’ words, or paper over them with sanitized images from holiday specials, take another look at how kids receive.
Kids want, they receive, it’s theirs.
What about you? When I look at myself honestly, I can see it’s frequently not so easy. I want, I receive, I . . .
- Feel a subtle embarrassment.
- Want to pay the giver back.
- Wrestle with a bit of shame about having nice things.
Recently, a group of friends gave my wife and me an incredibly thoughtful gift. Our life is very busy and they’d learned it was going to get even busier. So, they brought over a freezer full of pre-made meals. Literally, they brought us a chunk of meals inside a freezer, carried it down to our basement, and plugged it in. All before I even knew they were there.
It was beautiful. We were both moved.
Afterward, I could hardly look them in the eye. I felt the urge to figure out a way to turn their giving into an exchange I could take part in. Who am I to deserve such generosity? Or such friendship?
I would have done better to receive it like my kids.
Christmas is about a gift given. An incredibly thoughtful, generous, undeserved, can never ever (ever) pay it back gift. And the Gift Himself says we can enter His Kingdom only if we will receive it like children do.
So this Advent season, I have a new goal. I’m going to follow my kids’ lead as I walk toward the manger. And I’m going to shout out along the way, “What’d you bring me? What’d you bring me?”
Question: What else gets in the way of receiving from God and others? Leave a comment below.
(Originally posted in March 2012. Enjoy!)
It’s a form of fraud. A store offers a great item at a great price, but when you show up, that product is gone and you’re shown something “just as good” but at a higher price.
If you recognize the scam, you turn on your heels and leave empty handed.
There’s a spiritual version of bait and switch, too. And most people buy it hook, line, and sinker.
Here’s how it works:
You’re trying to change a longstanding habit and realize you need a higher power in order to do it. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection reveal He is more than willing to give Himself to you.
Jesus giving Himself to you? That’s a great deal! There’s the bait. (And in this case, it’s not a scam, He’s really offering.)
And here comes the switch.
Someone replaces the original offer: You bring your old destructive habits, Jesus gives you Himself.
With this one: You bring your old destructive habits, you get a list of godly things to do.
Pray, memorize Scripture, tithe, go to church, fast, serve, attend recovery groups, get accountability, read this book, listen to that sermon series, have more faith.
There is nothing wrong with these. (In fact, I try to practice them all.) But recognize this: They are not God.
If you’re going to find freedom from something you’re habitually doing, it’s not going to come primarily by something you do.
Don’t fall for the scam.
Instead, look Jesus in the face and say “Yes” to the deal He’s offering. As many times as you need to. When you think you deserve Him most and especially when you deserve Him least. He’s here, giving Himself to you.
I’d love to hear from you! What helps you recognize and avoid the bait and switch? What helps you say yes to God? Leave a comment below.
What personal sin has been an ongoing losing battle for you? Is it your temper, impure thoughts about another person, sex outside of God’s design, fear, pride?
Changing any longstanding pattern is usually a challenging process. But freedom is possible.
Take a moment and imagine what your life could be like without it. Imagine how different your relationships could be. Would you like to be free? Would you dare to hope?
If so, there’s no simple recipe, but here are three essential steps that will take you deeper and move you forward toward the freedom you seek:
1. Confession - Say out loud what you’ve done. Say it clearly and simply. To at least one other trusted person.
I had sex with my best friend, I stole $1000 from my company, I lied to my kids, I lusted after a woman on the bus.
Whatever it is, say it.
2. Community - Bring your life as-is into a small band of brothers and/or sisters. And be willing to know them as-is, too. No place for posturing or posing.
Confession is a part of this. In fact, when you hold back your as-is life from the light of others, you’ll only experience a fraction of what God has for you in community.
3. Collision - Together in your community, bring these troublesome as-is parts to the cross. This is where the powerful work of Christ on the cross is actualized in your life. This is holy collision.
Jesus, Debi has confessed her sins of lust and idolatry. We now press them into Your body on the cross. Absorb her guilt and shame and release to her now all Your forgiveness, goodness, and love.
Give the Spirit of Christ room here to personalize what He’s done and to take you deeper. Listen together for His good voice.
4. One more part: Repeat - Think of these first three steps not as quick steps to a finish line, but as a cadence to walk to on a much longer journey.
Confess, commune, collide, confess, commune, collide. . .
As you walk with Him and others, trust Jesus to work powerfully through each step.
“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).
What has your experience been with each of these steps? Why do you think they work so powerfully? Which is the most difficult for you? Leave a comment here.
P.S. Regeneration can help your church small group pastors and leaders to shape their small groups into safe communities where those caught in cycles of sin find freedom. To book a small group leader training, or for more information, contact michelle@RegenerationMinistries.org.
He’s older and eats worse than I do.
My marriage is stronger than that.
My kids know not to talk to strangers.
There aren’t volcanoes/sharks/warlords/super villains in my neighborhood.
Whatever the thought (and notice, some may in fact be true), at core, it’s an attempt to barricade myself from the reality that I am vulnerable to being hurt. It’s a defense mechanism.
And it works contrary to love.
You can’t love another human being from behind a barricade. Selfless love and self-protection aren’t compatible.
Sometimes this is obvious, like when I pretend I don’t see the man with the vacant stare and the piece of cardboard that reads, “Homeless. Please help. God bless you.” The rationalizations flow, but in most cases, it’s just self-protection that keeps my window rolled up.
Other times it’s more subtle, like when I want to rush someone through their grief and offer words and prayers where what they need is something more costly: a friend who trusts enough to simply be present with them.
As I read through the gospels, Jesus seems to live and love differently. If the incarnation weren’t enough of a manifestation of this, His crucifixion surely is. Instead of trying to protect himself from others’ pain—from our pain, from my pain—He entered into it.
It might be a hard reality, but if I want to walk with Jesus, if I want to love truly, I have to be willing to experience pain.
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
Today, are we willing to lay down our defenses for love, to walk with the One who lovingly entered into our pain?
If we do, we might begin to find something unexpected: His life at work to bring about resurrection.
I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.
- Where are you avoiding the pain of another human being whom God is calling you to love?
- Who have you been trying to “rescue” because their pain is painful for you? How might you love them better?
- And finally, are you willing to ask Jesus if there’s a painful place in your life where you need Him to enter?
Sunday night when I went to say goodnight to one of my younger kids, I noticed the book The Princess and the Kiss by Jennie Bishop in her bed with her.
“Hey, I love this book!” I said, seizing the opportunity, “Can I read it to you?”
For the next five minutes we read the beautiful parable of a princess who learns the value of her kiss and of saving herself as a gift for the one she’ll marry.
What a great set-up to talk with my precious daughter about how valuable she is and how her “kiss” (her body) is worth saving for the man she’ll one day marry. I shared a brief sentence or two to that effect, father to daughter. It was an easy lay-up and I was sinking this shot for sure.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“Eh, kind of boring,” she replied.
Not the response I was hoping for. I felt my insides tense up. Questions raced through my mind:
Boring? Did I say too much? Did I not say enough? Is she too young for this book? Too old? Is it possible she’s already kissed a boy?
This is why my wife and I don’t do a “sex talk” in our house.
For any parent, that big conversation with their kids about their bodies, romance, sex, and sexual desire is notoriously uncomfortable.
And a parent’s anxiety is only heightened by the challenge of having the talk at just the right age and in just the right way so they get it.
So in our family, we don’t have “the talk.” Sex is too important to entrust to one talk.
We don’t think twice about shepherding our kids through school, friendships, money, manners, and sports for crying out loud. Is sex any less important than these? Is it any less challenging for them to navigate well?
Our aim is that talking about sex in age-appropriate ways will be a regular part of our relationships with our kids throughout the years.
A one-time, birds and bees talk just can’t match that.
The Princess and the Kiss is great. But apparently boring this past Sunday. And that’s fine. She, her mom, and I have had other talks about her body and her value. And we’ll have many, many more in the months and years to come.
I’d love to hear from you: How did your parents shepherd you in the area of sex and sexuality? If you have kids, what else do you do to help your kids navigate through our sex-obsessed culture? Leave a comment below.
For princes and princesses,
In 2014, Regeneration is offering seminars for parents who want to better help their kids navigate through this sex-obsessed culture. For more information about bringing a seminar to your church, email michelle@RegenerationMinistries.org.
We’re asked more than we used to be where we (Regeneration) stand. I think it’s because in the past few years a number of Christian leaders have changed their views on sex and sexuality (perhaps especially regarding homosexuality).
So in answer to the question, here’s my reply:
God’s heart is that all men and women would live chastely: this means fidelity in a life-long marriage between a man and woman, abstinence until marriage for those not yet married, and celibacy for those committed to life-long singleness.
We also know how difficult living chastely can be. Many struggle with sexual addictions, others with homosexual attractions they did not choose, still others with wounds from sexual abuse, infidelity, divorce, etc.
Regeneration exists for these men and women.
We create sacred communities where people can grow in intimacy with Jesus, so those caught in cycles of sexual sin can find freedom, and those hurt by sexual sin can experience healing.
Is real change possible?
What that change looks like for each person is different. For some, things that once tempted them cease to tempt them. Others have an improved ability to walk in purity even amidst ongoing temptations. Others—perhaps most—experience some combination of these two.
Central to Regeneration’s ministry are . . .
- The incarnation. When the Word became flesh, God made clear the great value He places on our bodies.
- The cross. Christ assumed our sin into his body and carried it to death for us.
- The resurrection. Christ conquered sin and death so that, united with Him, we too could and would live victoriously over sin and its effects.
- God’s Presence. The Holy Spirit lives with us, knows us, loves us (and wants us to know and love Him) that we would be empowered to live Christ-like lives.
In this light, Regeneration isn’t so much about taking a “stand” as about taking a walk alongside people who desire to journey toward wholeness, health, and purity in their relationships and sexuality. There is one Rescuer; our primary role is to help people grow in their relationship with him.
How have the cultural changes impacted Regeneration?
I feel sad when I hear of Christian leaders waffling. Particularly because of how it impacts those who are struggling with sexual issues and looking for help and hope.
I like the words of Erasmus when he wrote, “Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.”
For our part, we’re more focused on what we’re for rather than what we’re against, more committed to prayer, and more intent on helping those who want and need help.
And we’re honing in on two key groups, parents of teens and church small group leaders, and we’re creating new opportunities to help them shepherd well those in their care who are struggling sexually.
As always, if we can help you or your congregation in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Coming out of the cold and into the warmth of a fire, friendship, and family is the story of our hearts, it’s the Story God has been telling since the beginning. We experience the magic of this most poignantly when we dare to be vulnerable with each other and instead of rejection, we experience acceptance.
When this happens in a fellowship, it can be life-changing for everyone.
But there’s a shadow side of this kind of fellowship, and it arises when we begin believing that acceptance is the most worthy expression of love.
This shadow side is a vagabond fellowship.
If you’ve seen an alleyway lined with blankets and cardboard boxes or an underpass flickering with the light of empty oil drum fires, you’ve had a glimpse of a vagabond fellowship.
It’s a place where the beat down and broken find an accepting community, but one where they remain broken, addicted, homeless.
We can create something similar when we refuse to face sin for what it is or when we brush it aside with a trite “we all fall short of the glory of God.”
It’s comforting. But it’s not good.
I want everyone to feel accepted. When I first started sharing vulnerably about the sins that brought me the most shame, a cadre of friends gave me more acceptance than I deserved in ways contrary to what I expected. They listened long to me, invited me into their homes, even cried with me at the pain I was bringing on myself because of my sin.
So I’ve been wrestling with what the difference is between vagabond fellowship and the kind that brings us home. Here’s what I’ve come to: the difference is our view of the cross.
The vagabond view sees the cross as the place Jesus joined with our sadness and suffering—the ultimate expression of his compassion.
The cross is that, for sure. But it’s more.
The cross is where Jesus not only entered into sin and suffering, it’s also where he became their remedy.
Jesus had “nowhere to lay his head” not because he didn’t have a home, but because he left his home to seek vagabonds and bring us home. We find him around the oil drum fire, clothed in rags and smelling of alcohol, so you and I would find ourselves dressed, in our right minds, and holding a bus ticket home in our hands.
So let’s risk vulnerability. Let’s be more accepting than ever before. And let’s go with each other to the cross of compassion and healing for all our tenacious sins, deeply embedded false identities, and unhealed wounds.
Let’s head home.
I’d love to hear from you! Practically speaking, how can we “go with each other to the cross”? What have you done and how has it made a difference?
We’re not too comfortable, it seems, with being real—particularly about the most painful, or sinful, or out-of-control parts of our lives.
I was talking with a young man the other day who was violated by another person in a life-altering way. As he shared his story with me, his body visibly tensed and his voice grew louder as he expressed the rage he felt toward the other person. A moment later, he apologetically explained how he knew his anger wasn’t how God wanted him to feel. This happened three separate times in our conversation, each time ending with some kind of apology for what he was experiencing.
As though his reality and truth couldn’t co-exist.
Many of us are comfortable enough talking about what’s true. We try to keep our minds focused on what’s true, remind each other of the truth, and listen to sermons and study Scripture to know what’s true. This is all good.
But why is it such a common experience that the darkest, hardest parts of our lives (the parts that look the least Christian) have to be kept outside our fellowship? I’m not suggesting we revel in our sin together, but I am asking if we can’t bring our worst parts into the light of Christ’s body, then where will we bring them?
And so we keep our sanctuaries sanitized and keep what’s real somewhere else outside, afraid of what happens when they collide.
One Sunday several years ago, I’d stayed up until 3 a.m. looking at pornography. Six hours later, I stood alongside Christian brothers and sisters at the Sunday worship service. To me, they all seemed bright-eyed, happy, and free. I was groggy, guilty, and ashamed.
And fighting an impulse to leave.
But Jesus met me in a powerful way that morning. It’s difficult to explain except to say as we worshiped, I knew he was there, forgiving me, cleansing me, loving me still. And I had a faint glimmer of hope rekindled that I wouldn’t keep sinning like this forever.
When the truth of God and our real experience run into each other, it’s scary. Our carefully maintained images fall to the floor and leave us exposed to ourselves, others, and God. It breaks us open.
But only ground that is broken open can receive seed, water, and sun.
It’s comical, really, our attempts to avoid the collision. We drive around like kids in bumper cars, thinking the goal is to steer clear of the inevitable, when the best course really is to spin ourselves round and charge into the fray, bringing our real into the presence of Christ and His church.
For crying out loud, our favorite stories in the gospels are when the worst of the worst run into the best of the best—when real and true collide. So why do we expend so much energy trying to convince ourselves, each other, and God that we’re fine?
The mere act of walking into church really should be akin to walking into a recovery meeting, standing up in front of everybody and saying, “Hi, my name is _________, and I’m powerless over [fill in the worst you’ve got].
May church become again the most frequent place for collision.
It will be messy. It will be good. Miracles will happen.
Won’t you join me in bringing your real life to church?
“Once you’ve been outed as a conservative Christian, [people] assume you’re a right-wing, self-satisfied fundamentalist with all the mental acuity of a houseplant.”
I’ve felt this way sometimes. It tempts me to hide.
1. To hide in the culture. To try not to look or sound churchy in any way, try to be relevant, to use the name Jesus sparingly, and get behind only those causes that are culture-friendly.
2. To hide from the culture. To retreat inside the church, find all the community I need there, say Jesus’ name without shame, listen/read/open up to only those who think like I do, and take a clear stand against things “of the world.”
I know I’m not alone. A lot of Christians hide in one or both of these ways.
I’m comforted to remember that Jesus was tempted by these, too. But reading through the gospels, it’s clear he didn’t ever hide himself out of fear. He didn’t seem afraid. Of anyone.
One moment, he’d walk into a gathering of religious leaders and talk Torah with the best of them. An hour later, he’d join the party down the street and have dinner and drinks with the greedy, sexually loose, and those who liked to beer too much.
I love this man. He was so comfortable in his own skin. He knew who he was, whose he was, and how loved he was. And he gave so sacrificially to others. Not because he needed them to like him, but because he loved them.
I want to live like that.
I only know one way: with the one who gave himself for me, for you, and for every person I have the privilege of coming into contact with today.
So whether we’re prone to hiding in or hiding from the world around us, let’s practice keeping our ears, eyes, and hearts open to where Jesus is, and go with him.
No doubt, we’ll experience discomfort, and also friendship, mistakes, miracles, ridicule, laughter, sorrow, and joy along the way. But let’s do it.
He isn’t hiding.
Question: Are you more prone toward hiding in the culture or toward hiding from the culture? What’s one thing you can do to let Jesus’ love move you from your comfort zone?
*Chasing Francis is about much more than this. I think you’ll like it.
I’ve been noticing a crazy idea floating around in my head and heart. It’s one of those ideas that’s gone on undetected and unchallenged, like background noise that’s so familiar you don’t notice it until someone points it out to you.
It goes something like this:
The better you are, the less you need others.
- Once you’ve earned your diploma, you stop going to classes.
- The stronger you are, the fewer people you need to lift something heavy.
- If you know how to speak the language, you don’t need an interpreter.
- If you make enough money, you can buy your own instead of borrowing someone else’s.
It’s an attractive idea. Grow, improve, strengthen, accumulate, and you won’t have to navigate all the pains and challenges that needing others brings. After all, when you need others, you’re vulnerable to disappointment, rejection, and failures that you don’t have to worry about when you can handle it alone.
But it’s a trap.
Follow its reasoning to its end and it means the goal of life is to become more and more alone. It means the best, brightest, and godliest among us are on a trajectory to isolation.
But maybe the end isn’t isolation, maybe it’s celebrity—that state where others adore you in your glory while you help, inspire, entertain, or heal them.
But isn’t this just a different kind of isolation? I’d wager that many celebrities, politicians, professional athletes, and pastors whose lives we’ve seen crumbling have been drinking deep of this kind of isolation.
You cannot be loved without being known. You cannot be known unless you risk vulnerability. And you cannot be truly vulnerable unless it’s true you need others.
I’m coming back to the truth that I do.
So I’m pursuing a different kind of “better.” I hope you’ll join me. It goes like this:
Better living isn’t when others become obsolete. Better living is life with others.
Question: What’s one thing you can do today to embrace this revised idea of “better”? Do it. You’ll make someone else’s life better in the process. Leave a comment below.