We live in an age mistrustful of authority.
We’ve seen political leaders fail to live up to their campaign promises, spiritual leaders prey emotionally or sexually on weaker ones, police officers murder, and parents put their own desires ahead of their children.
It’s hard to trust, isn’t it?
But when we respond to our bad experiences by shirking authority or by picking and choosing when we will or won’t submit to authority, we set ourselves in dangerous waters.
Because to do this is to appoint ourselves as the highest authority.
We are guilty of exactly this in our relationship to God.
Consider lust, greed, gossip, pornography, homosexual sex, divorce, gluttony, sloth, cowardice, and worst of all pride. Scripture (not to mention the clear teaching of the church for the majority of the last 2000 years) clearly teaches each of these is contrary to God’s will, but many who claim to follow Jesus today endorse these as acceptable.
To this I have to ask: If we willfully reject Christ’s authority, can we really claim to be His followers?
Within the word authority is author. The authorities we submit to become our authors, writing a tale of their own, crafting their own version of “reality.”
Who are you choosing as your author? In truth, we have only two options:
- To accept our place in God’s unfolding story, trusting His version of reality even when it doesn’t seem to make sense with our experience.
- To take the pen and try to rewrite reality according to what seems right to us, creating our own version of humanity and how we want life to work.
This second option, I believe, is why at the end of time Jesus will say to some, “I never knew you” (Mt. 7:23). It’s not because He doesn’t care, but because these opt to be their own creators and so become someone He can no longer recognize.
As for me, I don’t do this perfectly. I have a lot in me that still grabs for the pen, tries to write my own reality, and makes a mess. This is why I need Jesus. Because I believe Christ is more trustworthy than I am to write our way to a happily-ever-after ending.
Lord Jesus, You are a good Author. You settled that on the cross. You are a trustworthy authority. You proved that through Your resurrection. Have mercy on me where I grab for Your pen and try to rewrite reality according to my own design. This day I choose to trust and follow You. Help me to do so, for my good, the good of the world, and Your glory. Amen.
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It is so difficult to keep climbing up a mountain when you think you should have already reached the summit.
You knew it was a lofty trek when you started, but with each mile, each false summit, each treacherous pass, more and more travellers are turning back, saying it cannot be done. Even some of your guides, men and women stronger and more skilled than you, are turning around.
How true this has been in the areas of marriage, sex, and sexuality as of late.
Even within the Church, many have grown numb to divorce, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, pornography, and lust.
You who struggle personally travel an increasingly lonely path with fewer people cheering you on and crowds beckoning you to accept “reality” that the summit you’re after is out of reach.
Among the arguments beckoning you to give up, perhaps one of the most persuasive is this: If you’ve tried to change your desires and you’re still not free, it’s because you’re working against who you really are.
- If you’re tempted by sex outside marriage, well, you’re only human.
- If you’re tempted homosexually, God made you a gay man or lesbian woman.
- If you’re tempted by porn or lust, it’s only natural for you to indulge.
- If you’re tempted by divorce, you were meant for (God designed you for) a different spouse.
In other words, recurring temptation means something about your identity, that saying no to the desire is saying no to who you really are.
This is not so.
Can we experience freedom from persistent temptations? Yes, absolutely! And I pray you do! But the peak we’re after is not called Freedom from Temptation. The summit we’re climbing toward is Christlikeness.
Our goal is to learn to give ourselves as a loving, self-donation to God and others, just as Christ did and does.
Freedom from temptation is not the same thing as love.
We can feel so badly because we find within ourselves desire for that which God hates. Do these competing desires make devotion to Christ more difficult? Sometimes certainly.
But who demonstrates a purer love, the one who says yes to God because he feels drawn nowhere else, or the one who says yes to God despite feeling drawn somewhere else?
It could be said, in fact, that those who experience recurring temptation and yet obey from the heart, these are demonstrating a greater love.
By all means, hope, pray, and seek freedom from temptations. And be smart to avoid temptations that you can. But do not be discouraged at internal temptations that persist. Remember, the pinnacle of Christ’s ministry, the summit of His love for you was demonstrated not on a cruise but on a cross.
Let us know if we can help.
I’d value hearing from you. What helps you keep going when you are tempted and tired of the journey?
No one looks at porn just because it feels good. People look at porn because it speaks to their souls.
What’s even more surprising is that porn says what your soul longs to hear.
Let me explain. Because knowing how porn speaks and what it says will help you and others break free from its grip.
God designed the human body to speak. And to speak powerfully. I’m not talking about words. I’m talking about nakedness.
What does nakedness express so compellingly? Think about it. When a man and woman marry, and finally undress before each other on their wedding night, what exactly are they expressing?
In a very real way, they’re expressing, or manifesting, the words they spoke to each other during their wedding ceremony. A husband and wife become ‘one flesh’ as they give themselves to each other in a way that reaches far beyond words, into a core place of intrinsic, God-given human longing.
If mankind’s diagnosis was, “It’s not good for man to be alone,” (Genesis 2:18), then this mutual, vulnerable, self-giving says, “You are not alone.”
You are loved.
You are desired and desirable.
You are wanted.
You are safe with me.
You’re unlike any other.
This is my body, given for you.
In the context of the marriage bed, each spouse’s nakedness does indeed communicate these things, and they should.
Pornography plagiarizes this, hijacking the God-given messages manifested in human nakedness and sex to convey something that, in this case, isn’t actually there.
In the context of porn, it’s all a sham. It steals lines from the marriage bed and throws them around like cheap currency. But the hungry soul hears.
For the man or woman seeking to break free from porn’s grip, we need to practice recognizing what porn is doing. It’s not a person knowing us, affirming us, giving him or herself to us for life. It’s duping us to draw us into a marriage-of-sorts with itself, it’s making us its slaves—a harem to control, use, and dispose at will.
If you’ve been duped, if you’ve been trapped, there is hope. Whether man or woman, married or single, Christ our Bridegroom has come for you. Look afresh at Jesus exposed and naked on the cross. Press all your desire and the images you cannot forget into His wounds. Hear Him: “This is my body, given for you.” Let your body and soul hear.
Regeneration is here to help. Whether pornography or another sexual, emotional, or relational struggle, you don’t have to go it alone.
Leave a comment here.
With great hope for you,
Do you have any bad habits you’ve failed to break? A key for you is found in the blanks below.
- Blood, sweat, and _________.
- Knock, knock. ______________?
- Red means _____, green means _____.
The truth is there are different words that could fill these blanks just as sensibly, but your brain most likely first filled each blank with tears, Who’s there?, and stop/go.
Your brain is cued or prompted by the words that are there to automatically fill in the blanks of the words that aren’t.
Your ability to respond automatically to cues is a great gift from God. Your phone rings, you answer it. A hand is extended to you, you reach to shake it. A rock is flying toward your head, you duck to miss it. A traffic light turns yellow, you lift your foot from the gas (or perhaps press it down further). Each of these is a cue prompting you to take action, even without thinking about it.
And believe it or not, when you find yourself tempted to do again what you’ve sworn a thousand times you’d quit, the temptation comes in response to a cue.
It may be as simple as a sound or a song or an image, but most often, the cue is more hidden than that. Usually, the cue is a felt emotion.
Have you ever noticed you’re tempted to eat more when you’re anxious? Or that you have a harder time putting down social media when you’re feeling lonely? Or that the temptation to watch porn hits when you’re angry?
Maybe the cues are different for you. Maybe the bad habits are, too. But I guarantee you, whatever the repeated behavior is, temptation returns in force cued by an emotion.
It’s a little more complicated than this, but it basically works this way:
- You feel some type of pain or discomfort.
- Your brain wants to alleviate the pain or discomfort.
- You’re tempted to medicate what you’re feeling with the pleasure that comes from the negative behavior. And when you do, it works.
- You repeat steps 1 – 3 and your brain begins to chart a faint path from pain or discomfort to stuffing your face, or crafting the perfect post, or getting lost in porn. All without you having to be conscious of any of it.
- Repeated over time, this faint path in your brain becomes a major highway.
- Now when your brain gets a whiff of pain or discomfort, your feet are already running to your drug of choice. And you’re not even sure why.
What can you do to change this?
Fortunately, a lot. The first step is to ask for help. Cues like this are hard to identify, especially if your brain is trained to move quickly away from the cue (the emotional pain or discomfort) and onto the highway leading to that unhealthy habit.
Once you’ve begun identifying the cues, the next step is to begin practicing responding in healthy ways. Temptation says your pain is the enemy. But it’s actually a friend telling you there’s a problem that needs resolving. Instead of running from the pain or medicating it, how can you bring a healthy resolution to it?
Our team at Regeneration would be happy to walk with you on this journey.
That’s your cue,
Monday morning we roused four kids from their beds and scuttled them out the door back to the toil, crowdedness, and humdrum of school life. There was more than just a little whining.
I get it.
The flip of the calendar from December to January always feels like a harsh turn to me. After being carried in the warm womb of the Christmas season—together, hopeful, expectant, and childlike—January comes like a Scrooge and quickly throws us out onto an icy curb to live “real life” again.
It’s hard on the system.
Loss is hard.
In response, I used to turn to pornography, subconsciously trying to feel better. Today I’m more tempted to stuff the sadness with food or media or work. Or simply to slog forward through the cold, dim normalness until the next big thing…a snow day maybe? Easter? The elusive start of spring?
What are the ways you try to turn from the sadness of loss?
Know this: when we turn to the medications of our age, or even when we rush too quickly from the sadness of loss, we miss something important.
From somewhere within the loss and sadness, Jesus is beckoning us. He invites us to journey forward not by turning our back on the good of the season past, and not by graspingly trying to “keep it alive” now.
But He beckons us instead to place our feet on the ancient and good path of longing.
Paul wrote of this path as “groaning” and “waiting eagerly” (Romans 8:23). The writer of Hebrews spoke of those who continued to “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).
See, everything warm, and bright, and joyous, and beautiful is a glimpse of the Kingdom that awaits us. A foretaste. A promise.
Longing means opening ourselves both to all the good we experience now and to the pain that what we experience now lets us down. Families fight. Water heaters break. Bills come due. December ends, January comes.
On this path, we feel our desire for more than even the best we’ve known—for a form of Christmas where families and friendships are healed,where there’s plenty of room and food for all, where each one is known and loved, and where celebration doesn’t end.
So I’m blogging about Christmas instead of New Year’s resolutions. Because I’m trying to let myself experience all the sweetness and sadness of this season. And I’m inviting you to join me. To join Jesus, really.
When I feel the loss, instead of numbing out, I’m trying to pray, “Christ, at the heart of this, I’m longing for the Kingdom You’re preparing. And I’m longing for You,”—the One whose love I caught a glimpse of in friends and family, whose warmth I sensed in moments of togetherness and remembering, whose joy I tasted in flavors and felt in laughter.
I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.
Remembering what’s ahead,
One of the worst schisms that ever occurred was the schism that took place in man.
In the Garden before the fall, we were whole. What we thought in our heads matched what we felt in our gut, the words we said fit with who we were, who we were on the inside matched what was seen on the outside, what we believed was what we lived out day by day.
Can you imagine?
But at the fall, we fractured ourselves, we broke ourselves in pieces. Uprooted from the Garden, we made our dwelling a distant country where wholeness is no longer the norm. A place where…
- A man says he loves his wife but sneaks looks at other women.
- A woman strives to make herself look successful or beautiful, but on the inside she’s plagued by feelings of low self-worth.
- A young man asks a classmate to send him a nude selfie, and he has no idea deep down under his request, he’s searching for validation.
- A young woman in youth ministry shares God’s love with students, but struggles to believe God loves her as she is.
- A pastor preaches about worshiping God but hungrily devours the compliments his sermon receives—in essence, bowing at the altar of the opinions of men.
If anything like these in this list strikes close to home for you, that’s bad news.
But all the more reason Christmas is good news for you. And me.
When God became en-fleshed, he united Himself for all time with us in our humanity. God who is One, God who is Life, God who is incorruptible, God who is Love, this God joins Himself with us. And through this union, we are healed.
The answer to our corrupted, disintegrated, sinful state is not found in striving to put ourselves together, but in welcoming Jesus (God en-fleshed) into each broken, torn, polluted part of our beings.
Where are you fractured? Where are your insides not matching what others see? What do you believe in your head but not in your gut? Where is your love of God failing to fuel your actions?
Can you imagine being restored to wholeness? Can you imagine Life Himself bringing all of you to life? Can you imagine being fully alive, unified in spirit, body, heart, mind, and will?
Do imagine. Let yourself long for healing, for life, for wholeness, for love.
Christmas asserts that our salvation is and will be manifested through righteous living, our love of God is and will be expressed by loving others, our belief in Christ is and will be revealed through what we think, and say, and feel, and do. Every day.
Bring yourself—in pieces if you have to—to the manger. There, you’re in the right place. And you’re in good company.
P.S. Where you need help on this journey, our team at Regeneration would be honored to walk with you.
Thanks for a great 2015, we look forward to walking alongside you in the upcoming year. Please make a year-end donation to Regen so our new work in 2016 can get off and running right away.
My son turned seven last week, and as is our tradition on each of our kids’ birthdays, my wife and I spent a few moments together remembering his birth: our excitement as we headed to the hospital, the unanticipated length of the labor, his heart rate beginning to drop with each contraction, the nurses’ escalating concern, the minutes we feared we might lose him, the emergency C-section, and the relief when we heard him crying and alive.
Birth is a hopeful, frightening, beautiful, bloody, agonizing, joyful, miraculous thing.
Compared to my wife, I’ve played a trivial role in the pregnancy and birth of our five children.
With each child, I’ve watched her give her body over as a little one grows inside her, seen her suffer the pains of delivery, been humbled as she’s put her life on the line for theirs.
Remembering my son’s birth this year may be why Mary’s caught my attention recently. She did all this with Jesus. And although she’s never been the central figure of Christmas for me, I’m humbled remembering her.
In a very real way, she was the first to invite Christ to live in her, to make a home within for His life to grow, to suffer for His sake, to be transformed because of Him, and to allow Him to be revealed to the world through her.
Even as I write, I wrestle with this. Mary’s story seems so distinctly unique from what any of us will ever experience. Her ‘yes’ to God will never be repeated.
But what if Christianity is more like pregnancy than many of us typically think? What if our ‘yes’ to God leads to the life of Christ growing within us (Colossians 1:27), transforming us (2 Corinthians 3:18, Philippians 3:20-21), making us “pregnant” with God’s very presence, opening our lives to suffering and “inward groaning” (Romans 8:22ff) until Christ is fully formed in us (Galatians 4:19) and His love and life eclipses our own (2 Corinthians 4:5-7)?
Well if this is true, I am grateful to God for Mary. In comparison with this teenage Jewish girl, I live out a rather trivial faith.
This Christmas, may we open ourselves more and more and more to Christ, giving Him our ‘Yes’ even when it stretches us more than we think we can bear, that we too would carry Christ into the world, until the memory of us is eclipsed by the revelation of Him. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below.
Let it be done unto me,
“Who told you that you were naked?”
It’s a bit of an odd question for God to ask Adam, isn’t it? Actually, I think He asks you and me something very similar. We’ll benefit greatly to listen.
When I was about eleven, two of my best friends and I were hanging out alone at a park near our homes. Three older kids, one girl and two boys, arrived and took an interest in us, asking our names. Friendly enough at first, but when I told them mine, the girl looked at me with sudden expression of disdain, “Josh? Josh is a dog’s name.”
For the next several minutes, they singled me out, belittling me for any reason they could find. I still remember the sick, helpless feeling in my stomach. The ordeal may have lasted only ten minutes but it felt much longer. I walked home feeling shaken to my core, ashamed of not only my name but myself.
I didn’t know it then, but the problem wasn’t my name. It was what somebody else was doing with it.
Such is the way of the enemy.
Back in the Garden, Adam and Eve were naked. It was no secret. These were the king and queen of creation, the image-bearers of God. Their nakedness was a blessing, a gift, and they felt no shame. Until they gave themselves over to the words of the serpent.
On his lips, even the truth becomes toxic. This is why Jesus called him a “murderer from the beginning” and “the father of lies” (John 8:44).
“Who told you that you were naked?”
You can almost hear the grief in God’s voice. When they listened and followed the voice of he enemy, their nakedness became a source of shame, gave reason to fear and hide from each other and from the God who loved them so.
Where has the enemy spoken to you? Where in childhood did something innocent become a liability? And since then, what lies have you been embracing as though they were true?
Christ comes to restore what the enemy has destroyed.
A few years ago, a good friend of mine who understands the power of lies and the healing available through listening prayer, spent time with me inviting Jesus to expose lies from my past. In one such time of prayer, God took me back to the incident on the playground. In so many words, it was as if He was asking, “Who told you that you were Joshua? Now let Me tell you.” And in an intimate and powerful way, He did.
Today, I love my name. I was named after Joshua, Moses’ successor, the holy warrior who led God’s children into the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the desert. In Hebrew, Joshua (Yeshua) means “God [or Yahweh] saves.”
In Greek, the same name is translated “Jesus.”
Is it any wonder the enemy would go after that name? As God uncovers the lies we’ve believed, He does so to recover the treasure the enemy was really going after. He does so to restore us as His image bearers.
This is why Jesus came as a baby, naked and needy. And this is why the enemy sought to destroy Him even then.
Jesus, come reveal the lies we’ve heard and especially the lies we’ve believed. Bear them into Your body on the cross, and tell us who we truly are.
Leave a comment below.
Consciously or unconsciously, there are a gazillion metrics we use every day to evaluate success:
- Athletic ability
- Musical ability
- Physical appearance
- Leadership skills
- Marital status
You might have several more you’d add to this list.
I’d add things like how many people are attending Regeneration groups, what kind of changes they’re experiencing in their lives, and what our annual revenue vs. expenses are.
As a father, I’d add something about how my kids are doing in their various activities, whether they’re making strides to follow Christ, and even how they look. (And I’m still talking about metrics used to evaluate my success.)
Whatever you and I think of these metrics, none of them can truly get after what’s most important.
Jesus taught his followers to do two things above all: First, love God. Second, love other people.
Talk about mission clarity.
In one sentence, Jesus challenges even our most virtuous-sounding metrics of success. Because however well or poorly you’re achieving your goals; however many items are checked off your To Do list; no matter how many awards, degrees, dollars, congregants, followers, likes, or subscribers you have, Jesus’ call remains the same: Love God and love others.
If you make millions, love with what you have.
If have only a little, love with what you have.
If you’re strong, spend your strength loving.
If you’re feeble, spend your strength loving.
If you’re free to travel the world, love those you meet.
If you’re imprisoned, love those you meet.
If you’re married with children, love those around you sacrificially.
If you’re single, love those around you sacrificially.
If your kids are failing, love them through it.
If they’re excelling, love them through it.
If you’re happy, remember to love.
If you’re sorrowful, remember to love.
Because there’s a flip side to all this: Every person on the planet is made by God for love. Everyone you come across becomes healthier with love and sicker without it.
And no matter how much they look like they will or won’t appreciate it, receive it, comprehend it, or reciprocate it, you have an opportunity to love.
As we prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth and the reality of His second coming, let’s examine ourselves in the light of His self-giving love.
Let’s ask, “Am I spending my life on what Christ told us was most important to Him?”
Where the answer is no (and it is for me in far too many places), humbly confess and receive afresh his mercy and love for you right where you are. As we receive His love, we better love Him and others in return.
Question: What’s one way you can tangibly love God and/or another person today? Leave a comment below.
Wanting to be a success story,