Thank you so much! And again, from all of us,
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Yours in Christ,
Josh, Bob, Ann, Kit, Bob, Jamie, Michelle, Anne, Kyle, and Carol
This time of year can have an inebriating effect on me.
I don’t at all mean inebriating in the good sense of the word. Not the exhilarating, coming back alive sense that so many seem to experience as Christmas approaches.
For me, it’s like my senses start to dull and the season turns into more of a slumber than a celebration.
It’s not because I dislike Christmas. (Heck, I see Christmas decorations going up and can’t help crooning to anyone within ear shot, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”)
But one moment I’m a man walking in the woods, enjoying the pleasantness of the day, and the next I find myself in a fog, unsure where the trail is or how far I’ve wandered from it.
Too many times in the past when this happens, I’ve simply plodded along, ridden the season through till I emerge again sometime after the New Year.
Cookies and carols and gifts and Dickens and lights and Santa and mangers and stockings and reading the Christmas story, these aren’t the fog. But they can leave me so full I have no room left to feel that I’m longing for something more.
Sometimes I get the impression from others that if I could just “get into the Christmas spirit” or keep in mind the “true meaning of Christmas,” the longing would go away.
But I don’t think this is true.
Christmas as we know it isn’t supposed to remove the ache of longing. I think it’s supposed to arouse it.
Christmas points to something, but it’s not the thing itself. The signpost points to the destination, but it’s not the place itself. The telling of the story is not the actual story.
And the ache alerts me to the difference.
The ache exposes the truth that I need more than a reminder. I need the miracle.
Jesus. God saves. God with us. God made flesh.
Even these words, they’re not the same as Word become body—voice of God pulsating in trembling, naked newborn.
This Christmas season, as I feel the ache of longing, I don’t want to try to shove Christmas at it in an effort to get myself to feel the “joy of the season.”
Instead, when the ache arises, I want to face it square. And follow it like a star piercing through the fog.
I eat too fast. Drive too fast. Work too much. And expect too much of movies. I partly think it’s because deep inside I struggle to trust there will be enough for me. And so I grasp to make sure there is.
This was also why I ran so hard for so many years after pornography and other illicit sexual connections.
So it is with all of us every time we say ‘no’ to God and His Word and ‘yes’ to sinful cravings.
Why would we do this?
Some doubt whether He can give enough. My craving feels so deep, so physical, so infinite. Can He really satisfy me so?
For me, my struggle has always been a question of whether He wants to. God, I know you can, but will you, for me?
We, all of us, inherited some version of these doubts from our first forefathers. Add to this that we each have personal accounts of needs not being met, vulnerabilities being taken advantage of, and cravings that won’t go away.
So much of Christian life boils down to a choice between grasping and receiving.
The grasping heart mistrusts God cares about what you need and so seeks to supply for itself. Because if God does not care, there is really no motivating reason not to embrace a kind of nihilistic posture of, as Ecclesiastes puts it, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”
The receptive heart settles itself not so much on man’s present experience as on God’s character revealed both in good gifts big and small (and many times illusive to the grasping heart), and in the life (and especially in the cross) of Christ.
The grasping heart wrestles with pain and grief as with hostile rulers threatening man’s own kingdom.
The receptive heart sees pain and grief as messengers expressing man’s need to both himself and to the One who is building a Kingdom and preparing there a place for you.
The grasping heart cannot rest, cannot be still, cannot be silent. Driven by the immediacy of cravings, it runs for the image, the distraction, the drug, the artificial. None satisfy. Eldredge points out that as we pursue our deepest, truest desire, we stop far too short and instead settle for that which numbs our desire.
The receptive heart chooses to wait. Even through the tumult of desire unmet, it chooses stillness, all that it might not miss the quiet Word, the Bread come from heaven, that which rains down on the evil and the good, that which is true Love and Fulfillment of all desire.
I am such a novice at this. Maybe you are, too, and it shows in how you eat, or drink, or work, or control, or lust, or . . .
This Advent, let’s begin by choosing again to wait.
Holy Spirit, wait with us, will You?
Waiting for more,
But half the challenge around the holidays has less to do with our circumstances and more to do with our expectations.
Expectations are TNT to holiday peace and joy.
And they come at us from every direction:
Advertisers prop up idealized images of food, friendships, family.
Holiday movies and TV specials do too. (Heck, they paint a pretty unrealistic picture of even the first Thanksgiving and the first Christmas.)
Loved ones can foist their expectations onto you, too: what time you’ll arrive, how long you’ll stay, even how you “should” think and feel. Not to mention their thoughts (and comments) about your spouse and children (or lack thereof).
And then there are your own explicit or subtle expectations as to what the holidays should hold for you. Despite years of evidence to the contrary, somehow it’s so easy to slip into thinking that this year will be different.
Without taking time to recognize the expectations you’re living under, you’ll find yourself experiencing a cocktail of stress, disappointment, resentment, and increased temptations in the days and weeks leading up to the end of the year.
Sometimes, just taking time to make a verbal or written list of expectations (coming from others and yourself) will reveal how impossibly unrealistic they are, and hopefully free you up a bit to accept, work with, pray through, and enjoy life as it comes to you.
Where your holidays disappoint and discourage, let them remind you that you’re not Home yet. Thanksgiving and Christmas aren’t a respite from life on earth, not a fast-forward to Heaven. They are, in many ways, actually more of a petri dish of life on earth, where we experience (as C.S. Lewis put it) “all the pains and perturbations of love” in a fallen world.
And where your holidays do bring you joy and love (and I sincerely hope they do), receive that joy and love as just a foretaste of what God has in store. And remember to share some with others around you, too.
Hey, click on the image in this post and it will take you to a tremendous commercial depicting a real historical event when the goodness of Heaven invaded the most unlikely of places.
Good conversations can be like tennis. You hit the ball from your side of the net to mine, and I hit the ball back from my side to yours. (Tennis is no good when someone catches the ball and won’t send it back.)
But sometimes, a good conversation needs to be more like digging a well.
When we begin sharing about our lives and ourselves, we begin close to the surface and work our way down. Consciously or unconsciously, our hearts are asking questions like:
- Is it safe to say more?
- Will I be loved and accepted if go further?
- Can I tell them about ________?
- Do I want to find out what’s down here?
Tennis (even a friendly game) can unwittingly answer, “Don’t go deeper; hit the ball back.”
The heart behind these questions begs not so much for more words but for silence, for listening. For the kind of conversation that digs a well.
In this kind of conversation, we both dig. You dig by what you say; I help dig by how I listen. Instead of offering wisdom, advice, Scripture verses, or prayers, my major role becomes to sit in the presence of Christ in silent attentiveness to what you have to say.
For all of us, we practice listening because so long as a well remains undug, waters of the soul will go untapped and thirst will go unquenched.
We practice listening because silence loves in ways words cannot.
When we fight our reflex to speak (which kicks in strong especially when we sense the one speaking is feeling fear or shame), and instead leave room for another person to say more, it can be like watching a miracle unfold:
Hard, crusty ground is removed layer by layer until you can almost hear the deep water running below. It longs for light and air. And when it finally breaks through, it rises like a spring bringing life to places long forgotten.
Incidentally, I wonder if sometimes we experience God’s silence and think Him uncaring, when actually He so loves and longs for the deepest places of our soul, that when we think we’ve said it all, His ear remains to the ground listening for more.
Certainly, He listens longer than we’re used to.
When was the last time someone listened well to you? Leave a comment below.
As much as I’m sometimes tempted to believe otherwise, if I want to become increasingly whole and free, I have to let others know me fully, including confessing my sins.
A half-veiled life—a life where I hold all the cards, orchestrate who knows what, decide what will make me better and what won’t—doesn’t work.
For a long time I believed that stepping into the light with my sins—especially the ones I was most ashamed of—was too risky. So I hid my sin, determining to put it behind me before uttering a word about it to anyone.
But life needs light. Sin and death thrive in darkness. It’s their natural habitat.
When Adam and Eve sinned for the first time, they scrambled to hide themselves from each other. Today, we race for updated versions of the fig leaf: career, social circles, makeup, fitness, knowledge, independence, religious-looking activities. Insubstantial to cover us, they demand we step carefully, hold ourselves just so, and for goodness sake, never let down our guard lest we be exposed.
Confession invites us to lay our fig leaves down.
God comes toward fig leaf covered sinners, just like He did in Genesis.
He didn’t come to scare them. And when He questioned them, it wasn’t to shame them.
When Adam and Eve confessed (and they offered a phenomenally pathetic confession, we might note), He exchanged their fig leaves for clothing made of flesh. He drew first blood, a sacrificial death to remove their shame and cover them.
Likewise, God doesn’t invite us to confess our sins to one another to shame us. He wants restored relationship with us and between us.
I know, the step from darkness to light can feel impossible, the risks too great. But as we take that risk, and then as we begin to make a habit of telling the whole truth about ourselves, sin and shame lose their grip. (If you’re not sure where to begin, you can call us.)
I have come to believe there is little more important to life, health, freedom, and relationships than regular, truthful confession.
There, in the presence of Christ and my brothers and sisters, we lay down our fig leaves and say plainly the wrongs we have done. Shame rises momentarily, threateningly, the last flicker of a flame before it dies away. And we arise clean and clothed in Christ.
Question: What helps you tell the truth to others about sins in your life? Or if you don’t, what would help you? Leave a comment below.
It’s been over a decade since porn was a regular part of my visual and mental diet. I’m one of many who have found that life is simply better without porn.
Here are three reasons why:
1. A free conscience. Those who indulge in porn know the stress of looking over their shoulder to make sure no one will see what they’re watching, deleting internet history, and shading the truth to hide how they’ve spent time. This all takes a heck of a lot of time and energy.
When porn’s gone, our conscience can rest. Rather than eliciting fear, the words, “Daddy, can I use your laptop?” or “Honey, what are you watching in there?” become opportunities for connection.
2. A free brain. Watching police dramas a couple nights a week will change the way you feel about the older man at the park who stops to watch your kids playing on the playground. Similarly, a regular intake of pornography changes the way you interpret a smile from a person at the gym or where your thoughts go when an attractive stranger joins you on the elevator.
When porn is gone, people become people again instead of “sex objects” or “temptations.” Moments that were once hijacked into pornified storylines become opportunities to enjoy the simple pleasures of interacting with fellow human beings.
3. A free heart. I used to love porn (even while I hated it). But porn never loves anyone back. Porn wants to own you in the darkest way. It purports to enhance love, but it knows nothing of love. Porn is all about me and my pleasure – what I want, when I want it, how I want it. That ain’t love. And it isn’t good food for a heart.
When porn is gone, a heart is freed up to learn to love. Men and women who do the hard work to break free and stay free from the clutches of porn can begin to grow in the virtue of love on a whole new level. Their hearts can breathe enough to ask (and mean), “How can I serve?”
Please don’t misunderstand: The absence of porn doesn’t automatically create a free conscience, a free mind, or a free heart. But if you want to be free in any of these areas, porn has got to go.
If you are struggling with porn, call us. You don’t have to live like this. Life is better without porn.
Question: What are some other reasons life is better without porn? Leave a comment below.
I love eggs.
When my kids first started showing signs of enjoying eggs too, I thought that was swell. (Hey, they’re growing up to be like their dear old dad!) But more recently, their enjoyment of those sold-by-the-dozen little orbs has felt more threatening to me.
Take Monday, for instance. I was headed for the fridge just as kid #3 peered into the egg carton. Two eggs left.
If you’re thinking, “Perfect, one for her and one for you,” then please simply accept that you and I feel differently about breakfast. In my world, one egg is what you eat just before you eat the other three or four on you plate.
Before all things, God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) existed in perfect love, joy, and plenty. He existed fully satisfied and without need.
So why didn’t the Trinity just enjoy the happiness He had forever and ever? Why did He create us?
Because God loves to share.
From the first chapter of the first book of the Bible to the last page of the last book, God is generously, creatively, and faithfully sharing Himself and all that’s good with us.
Yet from early on we’ve been grabbing and grasping at His creation like beggars.
We stuff our faces till we’re sick. We spend our lives making sacrifices at the altars of newer, faster, bigger, and better. We devour people’s flesh with our lust. We glance endlessly at the lives we’re not living as though what we’re hungry for is over there instead of right here. We scribble out God’s ancient commands and rewrite morality so it doesn’t cost us anything and never has to hurt.
We do so because we don’t believe God loves to share.
Dallas Willard once wrote that behind all temptation is the lie that God is holding out on us. We’ve bought this lie and shout it at Him with raised, grasping fists.
In reply, Jesus walked silently to the Cross and, as though He’d not already given enough, poured out everything—all His love, His lordship, His mercy, His life—for us.
And I struggle to share an egg.
To become a man who shares generously, who willingly gives what I love most, I come to the Cross. There, I gaze in wonder. There, I receive what I do not find in myself. There, I practice believing in His generosity by giving generously.
And when I do, I find no matter what I give and no matter how much I give up, God has given, is giving, and will always give more.
In what area of your life have you been living like God is stingy, and that obeying Him will leave you wanting? What actions can you take to live as though you believe He is actually generous toward you in this area of your life? Leave a comment below.
Not all of us carry a business card in a wallet or wear a nametag on our shirt. But every one of us carries one or more titles that shape our lives.
Some are clearly negative: Failure, Ugly, Coward, Fag, Unwanted, Unloved.
Others may sound pretty good: College Grad, Pastor, Leader, Successful, Sexy.
Whatever the titles you carry, they have power.
Just like other agreements we make, a title impacts your feelings, behavior, relationships, and ultimately your life. And this is true whether the titles you carry are displayed on your chest or hidden in your gut. When they’re from God, this is a good thing; when they’re not, it can be a problem.
This is why Scripture’s full of examples of God going after names and titles. (Think Abraham, Gideon, Peter, James and John, and Mary.) God knows titles have power.
I can’t stress how huge this is. Men and women arrive at Regeneration’s door wearing all manner of invisible titles: Pervert, Victim, Unloved, Abused, Gay, Gay Christian, Gay Celibate Christian, Sex Addict, Damaged Goods, Adulterer, Adulteress, and more.
We invite those who are willing to come as they are to Jesus, to give His Spirit room to reveal the titles He wants them to lay down, and to reveal to them who they really are.
At times, the Holy Spirit reveals that a seemingly benign or even honorable title is actually holding a person back from a better identity Jesus has for them (e.g. Philippians 3:4 – 11).
Take some time with Jesus and ask Him this question:
Do I carry any faulty title on my chest or in my gut?
Whatever arises in reply, let it come. Jesus exposes not to bind but to free us from all that hinders us.
Then in prayer see yourself taking whatever faulty title He’s exposed and nailing it to His Cross.
Then wait, and ask, and wait some more if you must. He has a new title for you. A new name.
Let Him tell it to you. When you hear it, do something daring: receive it.
I’d love to hear from you: There are several titles I’ve listed in this post (e.g. Sexy, Gay Christian, Gay Celibate Christian, Sex Addict) that many Christians in our culture accept and use. Over the years, our ministry team has found titles like these can hinder people. What do you think? I’d especially love to hear from any of you who have or do use any of these to describe yourself.
Think back over your life in the past three months. What were your most meaningful moments?
With the possible exception of a Skype or Face Time call with a far-away loved one, I’m guessing those moments weren’t in front of a screen.
And yet, as Americans we’re spending more and more time plugged into electronic media. So are our kids.
What are we looking for? Our eyes peer intently at screens as though looking through a window to another world where whatever it is can be found.
- Pictures of smiling loved ones.
- Articles that make us think or point us to Jesus.
- A message from a friend.
- Something that makes us laugh.
- Likes, shares, and comments.
- Answers to any question.
- And endless scenes that thrill or titillate.
These are just glimpses. What we’re really looking for, I’m convinced, is something to satisfy our deepest longings. And if we’re bringing our search to our screens, we’re searching in the wrong place.
Because we’re not digital. We’re real. Our kids are real.
A virtual world cannot satisfy the hunger of a real soul.
This Saturday, Regeneration presents our third [PG] Parental Guidance Needed conference for parents who want to get out in front of the challenges their kids are or will be facing in this digital age. [PG] isn’t about unplugging. It’s about giving our kids a bigger Story to plug into. And it’s about learning to live that story well in the world we live in.
If you resonate with what I’ve written, I want to challenge you to take a simple step: Sometime in the next week, take a Sabbath from all things digital. For a day or half a day or even an hour. Notice how you feel as you do. And notice how you feel when you’re through.
And if you’re a parent or if you have a heart for kids, I hope you’ll join us in Hunt Valley on Saturday. Click here for more information or to register.
Question: What do you think? Can our real needs and desires be satisfied in a digital landscape? Why or why not? Leave a comment below.