I keep my elbows off the table, I keep my eye on the ball. I wear sunscreen and check my mirrors. I know how to swim, make my bed, fry an egg, balance a checkbook, and paddle a canoe.
And my mom and dad also talked with me about sex. At least a little.
I’m grateful they tried. Shepherding our kids in the realm of sex and sexuality can be really tough for many reasons.
As I speak to different groups of adults, I often ask for a show of hands how many had parents who talked with them about sex. Usually, only a few hands go up.
This is tragic.
Sex is one of God’s most powerful and wonderful gifts to humanity. And as with every gift, the more powerful and wonderful it is, the greater capacity it has to bring either life or destruction. (Think of the difference between a car and a flashlight and you’ll know what I mean.)
If you didn’t receive godly parental guidance about sex and about yourself as a sexual being made in God’s image, then you went without something incredibly important to healthy development.
God created us as both spiritual and physical, and He cares deeply about our sexual lives. He wants to reclaim sexuality from all that’s distorted it or held it captive.
Will you give Him room in your life for this?
And for you parents: Here are just a few tips to help you care well for your own kids in this area:
- If you can, be the first to talk with your kids about sex. Often, the first word is the most formational.
- Become comfortable talking about sex. If you’re embarrassed, your son or daughter is more likely to feel uncomfortable, too.
- More than having one perfect “sex talk,” make talking about sex a regular part of your ongoing relationship.
- Give your kids a compelling vision. The culture is doing a phenomenal job at this. Give the reasons for the rules, and help them see how their desires ultimately point to what God teaches is good and true.
Get help from others. Guaranteed, God wants to grow you through this process just as much as He wants to help your kids.
I’d value hearing from you: What did you need to hear from your mom and dad regarding sex and sexuality when you were growing up? Leave a comment below.
(I’m presenting to groups of parents wanting to shepherd their kids well in this area, so your feedback will actually be a great help to them!)
Usually when I go on a dinner date with my wife, we make a simple meal for the kids before we go. Chicken nuggets, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, or fish sticks. They love it.
I’m a sucker for the macaroni and cheese: the box you buy at the grocery store for a buck, boil the little noodles, add the butter and milk, and then stir in that signature packet of mysterious cheese powder.
As I dollop the school-bus-yellow creaminess onto my kids’ plates, my hunger kicks into high gear, and I want some for myself.
And I admit I’ve sullied more than one dinner out by filling up on macaroni and cheese before even leaving home.
This may or may not have been sinful, but it describes what I mean when I say your desire is not really the problem.
My truest desire was actually for something good. I wanted to enjoy a delicious meal out with my wife. But I let another, lesser, desire cut in line and distract me from what I really wanted.
My spirit was willing, but my flesh grasped for a counterfeit of the real meal.
Macaroni and cheese aside, this same effect is at work in weightier struggles we face.
- Joe loves Jesus and is a pillar of his church. He’s also been indulging in pornography, unaware that deep down he’s starving for intimacy.
- Janet’s colleagues applaud her drive as she works 80-hour weeks, but underneath, she’s dying for a sense of self-worth beyond her performance.
- Ed’s drinking again. He’s tried to stop, but his nerves haven’t been the same since he watched his son die. He’s thirsty for a peace he can’t seem to find.
Jesus knows the power of desire, and the pain of the soul’s hunger and thirst. It was your pain He shared as he cried out from the cross, “I am thirsty!” (John 19:28).
Have you been enjoying a macaroni-and-cheese version of satisfaction? If you keep filling your stomach, you may never discover what you’re really hungering for. And worse yet, you may never get it.
“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied” (Luke 6:21).
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below.
Two questions: In what area are you currently experiencing fear? And how would your life be different without fear?
From full-blown phobias to low-grade anxieties, fear is something all of us experience. But if Scripture is true, God doesn’t want us to fear.
Wait, wait. The first part I get. But the second, really?
Maybe I’m addicted to fearing. Even while I hate it, it also feels like something can’t live without. And when I consider going without fear, guess what rises up in me? Fear.
What terrible things would happen to me if I stopped worrying, abandoned all anxiety, or let down my guard?
Meanwhile, fear is happy to go along, pretending to be on my side–an ally against all that has or could go wrong.
In what ways does fear pretend to be your ally? Does it promise to . . .
- Keep you alert, so you won’t be surprised by anything?
- Spur you on and help you accomplish your goals?
- Show your family you care about them?
- Protect your kids from harms they don’t seem to fear?
- Convince God to love you?
It’s all hogwash, you know. Fear cannot keep its promises. In fact, it actually makes things worse.
So how do we live without fear?
Love seems to help.
When I allow myself to be loved by God and others (which can feel scary), fear dissipates. Picturing myself at the foot of the cross, with Jesus’ love pouring out for me, helps.
Similarly, when I take my eyes off myself (which can also feel scary) to love God and others, fear dissipates.
So, real life examples for me today:
- Regeneration has its annual fundraising desserts in just six weeks and what happens there will impact how much we can (or cannot do) in the coming year.
- Some of my kids are going through difficult things at school.
- I have loved ones who are dealing with problems I don’t know how to fix.
For each of these, fear is doing a hard sell, trying to get me to trust it can help.
Instead, with Jesus’ help, I’m practicing letting love motivate me. I’m asking . . .
Jesus, these fundraisers are for you; what are you dreaming they’ll be?
You’re the author of my kids’ stories; what part do you have for me?
Nothing confounds you; in what way can I step out in faith for the good of my loved ones?
In short, I’m asking him to share with me his love for others.
Love is a much better motivator.
So what about you? In what area(s) of your life have you believed fear is an ally? What evidence do you already have that it’s not? In what practical ways can you begin practicing being loved and giving love instead?
I’d value hearing your thoughts! Leave some here.
God interrupted me.
It wasn’t audible. But he said my name and I heard him. To sense God right there in my car was awesome.
And to be honest, I was a bit unsettled.
I’m not alone. Scripture is full of people who felt the same way when they encountered God. Many live with ambivalence about God’s nearness, perhaps especially those struggling with sins or weaknesses they haven’t been able to change.
Here are three reasons:
1. We’re exposed. He’s solid in a way we’re not. Before God, we’re naked. Nothing hidden. The book of Hebrews says, “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”
2. We’re ashamed. God is holy and in front of him we can feel in our bones we’re not. It’s unbearable. So much so that even the most powerful will cry to the mountains, “Fall on us an hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne” (Rev. 6:16).
3. We doubt. We may know in our heads what’s true, but we have what some call a “head-heart split.” Meaning, while we know God is loving, on a deeper level, we have real questions about whether he loves me.
In light of 1 – 3, we try to protect ourselves with an interior posture that says God is not near, or at least not really paying attention. And we can hold this posture, refusing to look him in the face, even while in church, while praying, while serving him, while working in Christian ministry.
Dallas Willard put it this way: “When God stands before us, we stand before Him. Refusing to worship him is a way of trying to avoid his face and his eyes.”
This situation is not irredeemable. God can save us from this tendency just like he can save us from every other affliction. The real danger is that we’d settle for a God-is-distant Christianity as though it’s Christianity at all.
I’m not suggesting we’ll always feel his presence, always hear his voice, or never experience any doubt. But I am saying that the normal life Jesus intends for each of us is a “with-God” life, one where we’re increasingly turning toward or abiding in his presence, moment by moment.
For me, a first step when I find I’ve been living otherwise is to cry out like the father in Mark 9: “I do believe! Help my unbelief!” Or as some translations express, “Help me to believe more!” In other words, it doesn’t begin with me vowing to try harder to remember he’s there. It begins with him.
And it also means pressing toward him at times even while I feel exposed, ashamed, and doubtful he cares. Even if being near him means I’ll be undone.
As I do, I may find I am indeed exposed and I do indeed have reason to be ashamed.
But I’ll also find that all my doubts about his love are unfounded. That the cross of Christ is indeed for me. That all along he has been wanting to move me from death to life.
Dallas Willard again: “The effect of standing before God by welcoming him before us will, by contrast, be the transformation of our entire life.”
This is why he was in my car on the way to work. This is why he’s with you now. The only question that remains is whether we’ll turn toward him, or push ourselves away.
Compelling arguments abound. One I hear repeatedly is this:
God is big enough and loving enough to embrace all kinds of love, not just heterosexual love.
Almost every time I hear this, I find myself taken aback, stumbling a bit, questioning.
“Wait a second, why wouldn’t God be for all kinds of love?”
I don’t want to be a jerk. And I don’t want to make God into a smaller, less loving God than I know he is.
But here’s the reality: The disagreement isn’t about love. It never has been. God is for love.
He’s just not for all kinds of sex.
Just because God’s love is big and inclusive doesn’t mean God blesses all forms of sex. That’s just bad logic.
We may disagree about whether God should have any say in what we do with our bodies or how love should or should not be expressed.
But let’s agree on this: Love and sex are not the same thing.
I usually have one of two reactions. The first is to try to work harder and go faster. Forget asking for help, forget prayer, just put your head down and run forward until the job is done.
The second is to back away from whatever it is that’s producing the stress. I shut down, check out, procrastinate, make excuses. Again, forget asking for help, just busy yourself with other, less important but more urgent work until there’s no room to tackle the important but stressful work I really should do.
Chances are the first reaction sounds better to you. It’s in line with our good ol’ American work ethic. And honestly, it is much more likely to get the job done and produce a good result than the second.
But would you believe that, in and of themselves, both reactions actually start with the same faulty belief: It’s all up to me.
And so whether speeding up or shutting down, in both cases it’s like trying to plug an electrical cord into itself.
Jesus lived differently. He lived in a posture of humble receptivity. And he invites us to do the same.
Humble receptivity means accepting you can only live successfully when you’re connected to God (humility) and accepting that he’s always giving what you need to accomplish what he’s asking of you (receptivity).
Humility means living like there’s one God and you’re not him, accepting this is all about him, not about you. Receptivity means having an expectancy that he’s here, speaking, giving, loving.
Humility means living for him and his purposes, rather than your own. Receptivity means living from God–that moment by moment, who you were made to be and what you were made to do flows from him.
How do you typically handle stress? Is it working for you? How might you practice today walking in humble receptivity instead?
The place is right here, right now.
Wherever that may be.
I’ve begun to notice that I spend an incredible amount of time “elsewhere”—that space so many of our hearts and minds go that’s not where we are.
I go elsewhere when I focus on what I’d like to have and miss what I do have.
- Like when at 6 p.m. around the dinner table, I think how nice it will be when my kids are in bed.
- Or when I’m alone in my car, stressed about something undone at my home or office.
- Or when I get lost in a book or a movie and forget the person sitting next to me.
- Or even in my favorite moments, when I try to capture here and now so I can send/share/post it for others (who are elsewhere) to see later.
I’m pretty certain that if I’m not careful, I may just forget how to live here and now.
But to live here and now, I need to face the reality about why I’m so drawn to elsewhere.
For me, elsewhere is attractive because it holds out promises of success, relationships, peace, a better me—all without risk, or work, or disappointment, or hardship.
Here and now makes no immediate promises.
Except for one: The life God is giving here in this moment.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that God only gives human beings his grace in the present. Not because he’s stingy, but because we’re not in the past and we’re not in the future.
Likewise, we’re not way over there or there. We’re each here, now.
God gives to us only where we are because that’s the only place we can receive it.
(This is good news because I’m going to need all the grace I can get to steer clear of living elsewhere.)
So this year, whether I find myself on the ocean or in my office, stomping through the winter snow or losing to my kids on our Wii, alone in a prayer closet or surrounded by others, I’m going to live here and now.
Better yet, I’ll start here . . . right . . . Now.
Question: What’s your favorite “elsewhere”? What helps you to live here and now instead? Leave a comment below.
Your domain is any ground over which you have God-given authority. It can be property, possessions, resources, or even a family, business, or church you lead.
Whatever else is in your domain, your first and primary domain is your body.
And so, you’re meant to be at peace with your body, able to rule what you do with your hands, brain, eyes, etc. And this is true whether talking about sex, words, food, money, or relationships.
When the serpent came to tempt Adam and Eve, he wasn’t after a piece of fruit. He was after their domain. Including their bodies.
Likewise, the story of Jesus’ nativity isn’t really about an inhospitable town with no room, it’s a very real skirmish in a cosmic war between God and that same enemy. A war over a domain.
For many years of my life, when temptation would come, I’d do the same things I swore a thousand times I’d never do again. One moment I’d decide ‘no,’ the next minute I’d choose ‘yes.’
I was in a battle for my domain. I wanted Jesus to have dominion in my body again.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion . . .” (1 Thes. 4:3 – 5a).
Thinking about what I was going through as an issue of domain was a shift in perspective.
- I stopped fighting against my body, and started fighting for my body.
- Though sexual sin felt natural, I practiced believing my body was designed for God and made for purity.
- And I worked to remember that every member of my body was an ally (some parts like POW’s needing rescue, but allies nonetheless) to me, to purity, and to God.
“[Your] body is not for immorality, but for the Lord” (1 Cor. 6:13).
This Advent, consider the tiny baby wrapped in cloths, laid in a feed trough. He is the Savior King come to this dark domain to rescue us, to bring us back to His domain.
“For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20).
Leave a comment below.
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.