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.
Adam and Eve didn’t know it was a lie, of course. It was spoken as truth. And the one who spoke it seemed to have their best interest in mind, seemed to know about such things.
What’s more, every other tree they’d eaten from was good. Surely you won’t die did seem to resonate with their experience, limited though it was.
In our day, new ideas swirl about us like autumn leaves when the wind blows, and masses grab hold, believing. A few in the swirl that seem to go unquestioned:
- More money means improved quality of life.
- Fame is worth seeking.
- Faster, portable technology means more time to do what we love.
I’m not saying these are all false, but ideas, once agreed with, have power to shape our lives, our relationships, and our world for good or for ill. So we do well to examine the ideas floating through our minds before we agree with them, or to re-examine those that have already found harbor within us.
Because giving your assent to something false binds you to it in subtle but sometimes profoundly destructive ways. It’s known as an unholy agreement, and it can affect (or infect) what you think, how you feel, and what you do or don’t do.
Here are a few more common to people who come to Regeneration:
- I can’t take this marriage any longer.
- I was born gay and I’ll always be gay.
- If anyone really knew me, they’d reject me.
- If given the opportunity, I’ll always fall.
- I can’t stand being alone.
- I’ll never be able to change.
Thoughts like these resonate with people’s experience. But the cross of Christ has power to break these agreements. And to undo their destructive influence in a person’s life.
If we’ll let Him, God will expose the subtle lies we’ve been harboring in our hearts. He’ll do so in order that we would come into agreement with Him once more. He’ll do so that we might live free!
What untrue idea have you harbored in your heart about God, others, or yourself?
Would you be willing to stand before the cross of Christ and renounce that agreement?
If so, try this:
- Find one or two others to pray with you.
- Confess the lie you’ve believed.
- Pray, “In the authority of Jesus Christ, I renounce this agreement and break all ties with it.
- Don’t be surprised if you experience resistance and need to repeat this, especially with lies you’ve lived under for a long time.
I’ve found this incredibly freeing in my own life. I think you will, too.
Question: What are some other common ‘unholy agreements’ floating around in our culture today? 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’ birth, his teachings and miracles, his death and resurrection, and his ascension–these are all about a very real 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 mind and my body were designed for God and made for purity.
- And I worked to remember that every member of my body and my mind were allies (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).
Our Savior King has come to this dark domain to rescue us, to bring us from the kingdom of darkness and back to His domain, His Kingdom. Now, that’s worth fighting for.
“For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20).
Leave a comment below.
There’s no ‘if’ about it. Temptations come.
Wouldn’t we fare better in our responses if we knew when temptations were on the way?
We can know—at least a lot more frequently than most people typically think.
Usually, temptations come when we’re experiencing some kind of pain or discomfort, whether emotional or physical, intense or subtle.
Why? Because temptation offers to medicate pain or help you avoid it.
Tempted to lust?
Tempted to criticize your spouse?
Tempted to eat too much pizza?
Tempted to have an affair?
My guess is somewhere inside you’re hurting in some way.
The difficult part is learning to live attuned enough to your mind, heart, and body that you’re aware when you’re hurting.
It’s difficult because . . .
- Emotions can be disruptive. It seems easier to ignore our feelings and get things done.
- We have a skewed belief that being hurt reveals a lack of strength, togetherness, or faith.
- We don’t realize some common emotions are in fact painful, or at least uncomfortable (a low grade form of pain): anxiety, frustration, and disappointment, to name a few.
- Some pain has been a part of our lives for so long, we no longer notice it’s there. But it is.
- We’ve unconsciously blocked some pain out, fearful it will overwhelm us if we “go there”.
In truth, God created us to feel, and when wounded, to feel pain. Not because God likes it when we’re hurt, but because pain is meant to urge us toward healing.
Or maybe better said, to draw us to the Healer.
So next time you notice pain or discomfort, duck. Temptation’s coming.
And next time you’re tempted, take a deep breath, and then take some time to figure out where you’re feeling pain or discomfort.
You’re in good company. Jesus Himself felt physical, emotional, and relational pain. (A thorough reading through the New Testament will cure us of any ideas to the contrary.) And He is near to you in your pain.
This strategy changes our battle with temptation completely. Without it, we’re more likely to find ourselves stuck in a pattern of getting hit “out of the blue” with strong temptations that threaten to overwhelm us.
Question: What are some healthy ways you deal with pain or discomfort that might help someone else? Leave a comment below.