As we approached the field, I noticed several little boys in baseball caps, pants and cleats. It was my 6-year-old son’s first ever baseball practice. A pace or two behind me, he wore beat up tennis shoes, a pair of jeans, and the glove I’d bought him (which suddenly looked more to me like a toy than an actual mitt).
Like it has for so many years, fear sidled up like a friend beside me. “Dressed like that, he’s going to look and feel foolish.”
I looked back at my boy who was now bent over trying to tie his shoe. Fear goaded, “And he’s going to be late, too.”
Somewhere in just this short walk, insecurities from my past came flooding up, fueling my anxious father’s heart. I yelled, “Come on! Hurry up and tie your shoe or you’ll be late!” My voice was seeping fret and frustration.
He fumbled with his laces. I winced. Little fingers don’t respond well to a parent’s urgency.
Sometime early in my life, fear came knocking like a door-to-door salesman. Seeming to know me well, it promised its protection in exchange for a home with me.
I don’t remember making this bargain. But looking back, I can see the evidence of it smudged all over my life like greasy fingerprints on a mirror: All the things I didn’t do, the relationships I ran from, the thoughts I held inside, the good image of myself I tried to project.
And now, harassed by fear that Saturday morning on the way to baseball, I turned fear loose on my boy.
Graciously, the Father edged closer than fear. He affirmed me and called forth something more in me than I was aware I had.
Like a man waking from sleep, I remembered the truth that all that had my attention isn’t what gives a kid confidence. A father does.
Still tying his shoe, I looked again. What a great boy. What a joy to be his father. Fear didn’t want me to see. God did.
“You know what, buddy? I’m sorry I raised my voice. We’re doing just fine on time. And you’re going to have a great practice today, I’m sure of it.”
I can’t guarantee my son a life free from pain. But I can walk with him. And I can point him to the courageous One who, with the Cross before him, felt greater fear than either of us ever will, and still obeyed.
If you’re in the Baltimore area, I hope you’ll join us this Thursday from 7 – 8:30 in Towson for our final night of our “Growing Digital Natives” seminar. Elise Rittler, LGPC, will be speaking to us about how to handle anxiety in your home. Elise’s insights have been a huge gift to many, myself included. I know they will be for you and your family, too. For more information or to register, click here.
Question: Has fear tried to keep you from seeing and loving others well? How have you responded? Leave a comment below.
I’m a digital immigrant. I remember my family’s first PC. It took up half the desk, the printer was as loud as the dishwasher, and when it was first set up, we crowded around to see the rectangle, green cursor as it blinked against the dark grey screen like a robot dog awaiting a command.
My kids are digital natives. They’re growing up in a home with six computers, some of which can fit in their pockets. For them, it’s more of a phenomenon when something with a screen isn’t connected to the Internet than when it is.
And just like immigrant parents raising their kids in a foreign land, my wife and I have to think carefully and creatively about how we’re raising our kids in this new world. We want them to be able to thrive here, to be fluent in the language, to be employable, and to be able to build relationships.
We’re also the keepers of all that’s good from the land we grew up in. There are good traditions and ideals that our kids can’t remember and won’t get naturally in today’s world without us.
And we’ve got to balance these (sometimes competing) realities all the while we nurture our relationships with kids whose normal is not so normal for us.
Jesus is our model in this. The culture in which he walked the earth was rich with tradition—some good, some neutral, and some bad. Certainly what he experienced was different from the Kingdom that had been his home. Some of the differences he adjusted to (Lk. 20:22-25), others he quietly opted to do differently (Mt. 9:11, Jn. 13:5), some he corrected (Mt. 23:23, Lk. 6:1-5), and some he actively sought to change (Mk. 10:42-45, Lk. 18:15-17).
I heard recently from a parent who said it’s the norm at his kid’s high school for a guy to text a girl when he wants to ask her out. In the world I grew up in, that would have been an act of disrespect and cowardice. Maybe that’s not universally true anymore.
So what are my choices as a parent? I can rant about it, I can insist my kids do it the old-fashioned way, or I can throw my hands up because I just don’t get “kids these days.”
Here’s another option: I can drill down to the essence of what I really want for my kids and go after those things. This involves prayerful discernment to recognize where I resist the digital world because it’s bad and where I resist the digital world because it’s different.
So if the norms in the digital world are different than what I grew up with, my kids can teach me that. My job isn’t to hold them back from knowing and operating within the cultural norms in this new land, my job is to look for teachable moments in this new world (yes, even online) to help instill the ideals my wife and I hold dear.
So looking at the example above, underneath the act of asking a girl out face to face, I’m after seeing certain characteristics instilled in my son:
Yes, secretly, I’m still hoping when my son reaches high school the culture holds to (or revives) the good old custom of a guy asking a girl out face to face. But whether it does or doesn’t, I can be about the business of helping my son grow to become a good godly young man who practices courage, vulnerability, respect, and service.
Hey, if you didn’t join us last week for the first week of our mini-series on Parenting in a Digital Age, I hope you’ll join us this week. Click here for more information or to register.
One more thought: As nostalgic as we may get for the “good old days,” our true Home isn’t there any more than it’s here in the digital age. As disciples of Christ, we were strangers and aliens then no less than we are now.
Share your thoughts below.
Old and crotchety,
To experience significant change in our lives, a great deal is needed. But one of the key ingredients may surprise you:
Self-acceptance is to look honestly at who you are and to treat what you find not with hostility but hospitality, just as you would a weary traveller on a journey.
When I was first exposed to the idea of self-acceptance, I bristled. I was struggling with a longstanding pattern of sexual sin that I seemed to alternate between hating and loving. Like many people, my strategy for change was more adversarial toward this part of my life than self-accepting.
And this is understandable. Why would I be hospitable toward something in me that God hates?
There is a difference between hating that which is evil and hating ourselves or parts of ourselves for doing evil.
Those parts of us that are most lost, most twisted and strange to us, most vile need Christ most. To refuse to accept them as a part of who we are today is to refuse them access to the One who can transform them into something beautiful, strong, helpful, and good.
Self-acceptance is a key to change.
But don’t confuse this with a skewed version of self-acceptance.
The skewed version is to look at who you are and to treat what you find with reverence, as you would the master of a house.
Note the difference: A skewed self-acceptance is about accepting the way things are as settling on a destination. Your experience up to this point becomes master of your fate. You accept the way things are as the way things always will be.
Admittedly, walking out a true self-acceptance without slipping into the skewed version can be difficult. You’ll need wise counsel along the way, particularly because messages affirming the skewed self-acceptance abound in subtle and overt forms.
For me, I must return repeatedly to the cross for help in this. Like nothing other, the cross of Christ reveals the grave nature of my sin and the immense love God has for me all at once. I cannot behold Christ there and shrug at my sin. But I find there a place to come as I am that my sin might find its end. And I might come to know myself free from it, as he intends.
We spend a lot of time looking at screens. One 2014 study revealed that between TVs, computers, smartphones, and tablets, the average American looks at screens over seven hours a day.
And it’s no wonder. With a mere swipe of a finger, screens serve as a gateway to so much: music, books, information, education, news, advice, community, and so much more.
- We can talk with loved ones face-to-face, even though they’re thousands of miles away.
- We can enjoy the creativity of people who would have otherwise never been on our radar (Zach King, Kid Snippets, and Lennon & Maisy, are a few examples for my family).
- We can find out the most up-to-date information on things happening all around the world. Or simply the quickest route to our destination considering current traffic.
It’s incredible, really. The digital revolution has changed and is changing the world around us in big and small ways.
From my perspective, what fuels the digital revolution is not primarily money or efficiency, but two of the deepest needs of the human heart: Identity and relationships.
We use screens in our search for an identity that is valued and affirmed by others. Being valued and affirmed is a basic need of us all, and our screens offer us numerous platforms to go after this.
And we use screens in our search for relationship. Not only in direct ways like texting, chatting, or FaceTiming with others, but also in more indirect ways like seeking to accumulate friends or followers, likes or comments.
More than asking if this is good or bad, I think we do well to ask another question: Are we finding what we’re looking for in our screens?
If we are, how can we help others do the same, particularly our kids or others we lead?
And if we’re not, how can we use the various screens in our lives differently to help us find what we’re after? And are there any ways we’re asking screens to do something they can’t?
The digital world isn’t going away. I for one am glad it’s not. I think it is a great servant. And I also know from both personal and professional experience, it makes a horrible master.
Paul’s words to the Corinthians come to mind for me here:
“Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial.”
“Everything is permissible but I will not be mastered by anything.”
“Everything is permissible but not all things edify.”
Beginning next Thursday, Regeneration is holding a 3-part series of 90 minute Parental Guidance Needed conferences on parenting in the digital age. On April 16, we’ll kick off the series by facilitating a conversation on Social Media, Identity, and Relationships.
I hope you’ll join us. (You can learn more about all three evenings and register here.)
Here’s an observation and a question: For 500 years, the word screen denoted something that served as a partition that provided division or protection (from light, heat, drafts, wind, insects, uninvited onlookers, etc.). What do you make of how we use the word today in relation to technology? Leave a comment below.
From my screen to yours,
God created human beings uniquely as both body and a spirit.
But if you listen to the language among many of us, you’ll hear hints that we actually don’t live as though we believe it’s true:
- “Spiritual life” is a separate matter from “daily life.”
- Aesthetics shouldn’t matter in worship.
- Death of the body “frees” the spirit.
- Male and female are superficial (surface) elements of personhood.
- Sex is just two bodies enjoying each other.
Each of these exposes an erroneous belief that humanity is primarily spirit, or perhaps a spirit encased temporarily in a physical body.
Jesus was fully human—both body and spirit. Any question that He may have been primarily spirit is washed away in the gospel texts as we see the passion of the Christ, his three days dead in the tomb, and his resurrection.
Why does this matter for us? What difference does it make for us to believe we are not primarily spirit encased in a body, but rather we are both spirit and body?
Because to love and receive love as a body-spirit creature means the body must be involved.
Christ demonstrated this in his life as he touched, spoke, fed, listened, healed, and raised people from the dead.
Where we view the body as secondary, we will inadvertently downplay the importance of others’ bodies. In other words, we will either be prone to mistreat or neglect their bodies. But when we know them as body-spirit creatures, it encourages us to be more mindful of them as a whole person.
And where we downplay the central role of the body in human experience, we downplay the role of the body in our own relationships with God. Your body is not just a vehicle God has issued you so you can get around down here. Your body is you (as is your spirit) whom God loves.
God loves your body. (And if you’re like me, you may need Christ’s help to purify twisted versions of what that means.) He looks at your body and sees . . . you.
Pause for a moment and pay attention to how that idea feels to you. Where you notice tinges of shame, sadness, fear, discomfort, threat, these are likely indicators you carry some faulty views of your body, your gender, God, or all three. Good Friday and Easter Sunday hold something for you.
God desires to love and be loved by you bodily.
This Friday as you partake in the Eucharist, receive afresh Christ’s body and blood into your own. Let the essence of who He is unite with the essence of who you are. And be transformed.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions. Leave a comment below.
I prefer to say I’m “on a journey.” But sometimes, that sounds a bit too certain, like I know where I started, where I am, and where and when I’ll arrive.
In so many areas of my life, I don’t know any of these things. I’m wandering.
- As a father, there are times I feel like I’m reaching for an internal “dad” map that’s missing long stretches of road. Did I miss a turn back there?
- When my temper flares and I hurt the people I love most, it’s hard to hope, hard even to be patient with the process of sanctification. Aren’t we there yet?
- As a Christian, an adherent to an ancient faith with a set of relational and sexual ethics that sound either absurd or intolerant to many of my neighbors, I struggle to know how to navigate those relationships. Do I go east or west up ahead? Or should I just pull over?
In these and many other parts of my life, I’m wandering.
And I’ll bet the family farm that in some areas of your life, you can relate.
(And just to be clear, my family doesn’t own a farm.)
The paths we’re on all share in common that they happen within time that we do not control, community of which we are only a tiny part, and a universe we cannot come close to fathoming.
So we can strain and strive and grasp. That’s one option. Not a great one, but many of us default to trying to control as much as we can, to minimize variables, to mitigate all risks. I try this too often, and usually no one’s happy that I do.
We can opt to give up. This is especially appealing when we feel we can’t endure another step without knowing how many more steps we still have to go. I’m not talking about resting. To give up is to refuse God in some area of life, to tell Him, “I have gone this far and will go no farther.”
Or we can accept that life’s overall journey includes seasons of wandering. This isn’t the same as giving up, far from it. Accepting our wandering state is to accept we cannot walk, let alone lead, on our own. Accepting our wandering is the starting point of learning to depend on the One who, though He does not always show the way, affirms He is the way.
It is to trust Jesus as a more trustworthy Leader.
Looking through the pages of Scripture, this option does not guarantee us a quick, painless journey. But it places us on a good path and in good company.
I hope you’ll join us this Thursday, March 19 at 7 p.m. for Welcome, Wanderer. Come worship the One who leads us, hear stories of His faithfulness, and partner afresh with His work through Regeneration. RSVP today here.
“[By faith the heroes of faith] went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” (Hebrews 11:37b, 38).
A young woman, cold, wet, and shivering, makes her way through a storm to a well-lit castle. She raises her mud-spattered hand and knocks on the huge, ornate door. Upon entering, she’s greeted by the king and queen and their son, the prince.
She tells them she is a princess. Her horse, frightened by the storm, threw her as she rode home, and she has made her way here through much hardship. The queen, although good enough to provide the girl lodging for the evening, is unconvinced.
“Oh darling,” she snickers scornfully, “You’re no princess. Just look at you.”
The prince, however, is taken immediately with the young woman, and as they talk through the course of the evening, he falls in love with her.
You know the rest of the story.
The impossible test, a pea under the mattresses, princess doesn’t sleep a wink, queen changes her tune, prince marries princess, and happily ever after.
An odd story, but we’re like the princess—soaked to the bone, wandering, beat up by the journey, not quite ourselves, and desperately hoping someone will see and believe we’re more than we appear.
And like the princess with the queen, we are scrutinized and looked upon doubtfully:
- You’re nothing special. Just look at you.
- You can’t say no to temptation.
- You’re only as good as the shape of your body.
- You’re gay, and there’s nothing to do but embrace it.
- Because you won’t affirm gay relationships, you’re hateful.
- You’re a teenager, we don’t expect much of you.
- With what you’ve done (or what’s been done to you), you’re tainted goods.
We long for one who sees, one who stands up to the critics and cynics and accusers. One who bears their blows for us.
One for whom our condition matters not because it defines us, but because it distorts who He knows us to be. And One who can make what He sees true in our lives.
This coming Thursday, I hope you’ll join us for Welcome Wanderer*. You’ll be encouraged and reminded that there is such a One as this.
And we need you to stand with us. While the landscape shifts quickly around us, Regeneration provides an unwavering source of support and restoration just as we have for over 35 years. And we’re building on those foundations for the good of future generations. We are humbled and excited to tell you more about it.
Please RSVP today to join us next Thursday, March 19! Register here.
Hope to see you there!
P.S. We’re excited to announce that several friends of the ministry have already generously pledged to match donations given on the 19th up to $30,000!
*P.P.S. If you’re one of our Northern Virginia friends, please join us on Saturday, March 28, for Let Your Light Shine! RSVP here.
You would think me bitter if I told you I would gladly trade places with him, the man. Although they’d stormed in on both of us, it was me
But I am not bitter. I pray for him, and his wife, his children, and now his grandchildren, too. He has all and yet, I’m afraid, nothing. I would trade him places that he could have the life I have because of that day.
When the religious leaders took me, they grabbed me by my wrists and hair and pulled me into the alleyway and out into the sunlight. They bent to pick up stones along the way as we wound through the streets. Through dust and tears, I could see mothers covering the eyes of their children, men rushing toward me to yell and spit, and others standing aside, looking away.
When the leaders threw me down at last, I was not outside the city as I’d expected. I was in the temple courtyard. A rabbi sat just a few feet in front of me. I was the guilty one, but the way they questioned him, I couldn’t help feel we were both on trial.
This rabbi looked at them, then at me, and then he leaned over and wrote in the dust. The next few moments seemed to last a lifetime, as the men around me murmured and he continued to write. When he straightened back up, he looked to and fro through the crowd of men. “The one here without sin is to be the one who begins the stoning.”
And without a word, he leaned back over and continued to write. I winced, bracing myself for the first rock to pierce my back or crack my skull.
A few seconds later, I jumped at the sound of a strong thud in the dirt a few yards to my right. But I was unharmed. Did someone miss or was that stone dropped? Then another thud, this time at the back of the crowd. And then another. and another. Men began to shuffle away.
My body remained tense. But whole. I didn’t dare move.
Finally, I lifted my head just enough to be able to look at the rabbi. He was still writing. A word in the dirt immediately in front of him caught my attention. It was right side up to me, which means he’d written it upside down.
I won’t tell you what it said. But it was for me. I know it was.
When he looked up at last, I remembered I had only a small blanket to cover my shame. It was just he and I now.
For just a second, it seemed he would look at me as most men did. I’m almost certain he was tempted to. But then, his face and eyes brightened. The only way I can describe it is . . . he saw me.
Men had disrobed me with their hands and eyes a thousand times. But in that courtyard, exposed in shame, when he saw me, my nakedness was changed. It was as though, somehow . . . he clothed me with himself.
And there, looking back at him, I saw myself. No longer the shameful adulteress, no longer a shape like honey for men’s eyes. I saw me: Daughter of God, Priceless Gift, Sacred Treasure, Laughing One, His own.
“Has no one condemned you?” He asked.
“No one, sir,” I said, unable to take my eyes off his.
“Then neither do I condemn you. Go, and don’t sin any more.”
I nodded yes.
That was many years ago. Now I am old. And it has been a long time since men looked at me as they once did. I care not. I do not see them as I once did either. They are my brothers.
And I, I am beautiful.
And I am waiting. Waiting for the One without sin to return or bring me home. Waiting for him to look at me again. He wrote in the dirt, he wrote my name on his hands. He has not forgotten. Come, my sweet Jesus. Come.
A good plot twist reveals something new that changes everything. It causes you to flip backwards through the story, re-reading it with new eyes.
Suddenly things that didn’t quite make sense now do, other things that made sense now make sense in an entirely different way, and some things that seemed inconsequential now become profoundly meaningful.
This works in life just as it does in stories.
In chapter 1 of the human story, Man was drawn in love when he saw Woman. So much so in fact that he would leave everything he knew—mom, dad, home, everything—and give himself fully and forever just to be with her. Woman desired Man too, and in response to his gift, she’d give herself back to him. (Yep, I’m talking about marriage.)
Receiving her, Man would move beyond knowing about her to knowing her—all of her (her whole heart, mind, and body.) And she’d know all of him as well. In an incredible way, she would open herself to him, he’d enter her, she’d receive him, and with a sense of shared ecstasy, he’d pour out his life into her, she’d receive his life, and new life would be conceived. (Yep, I’m talking about sex.)
Some try to edit this story because it sounds too physical, too sexual for heavenly people. Others try to edit it because it sounds too unrealistic for physical, sexual people. In our own ways we’ve all taken our turns scribbling in the margins, crossing out words, writing new ones in.
But we’ve never completely left this story. We can’t shake that we’re connected to it somehow.
And into this enters Jesus, the heavenly One who is fully Man. He is the author. And He is the plot twist.
He leaves all he knows for the bride He loves. He loves her, defends her, woos her. She in turn rejects, curses, and kills Him. Naked and shamed, He forgives her, gives Himself fully for her, even to the point of death.
Now risen, He pursues her still, waits for her to receive Him, to give herself back to him that she may know Him as He knows her. He longs for her to trust and open herself to Him that she could receive His Life and live with Him now and forever.
Man, woman, romance, marriage, sex, family—the story we can’t shake. Jesus reveals they’re so powerful not because they are the story, but because they point to the Story.
Flipping back through the pages (the narrative of Scripture, the narratives of our most enduring art, and our own personal narratives), the Story of His love for us has been there all along.
And you, you’re meant not just to re-read with fresh eyes, but if you’ll dare, you’re meant to lift your eyes from the pages and find Him looking at you. You are the one He loves.
Whatever your relational and sexual landscape—your struggles, your losses, your failures, your longings—look back into the eyes of Christ. See there not a lesser passion, not a smaller love story, but the Passion and Love all other stories only echo. He is writing a better love story. And He intends you to join Him in it.
In His Story,
One of my favorite films of all time is the 1999 blockbuster The Matrix. If you’ve never seen it, it’s got one of the greatest plot twists of all time. The good guys seem completely out of sync with reality. Until reality itself turns upside down.
Last week I posed the idea that, just like a well-done plot twist in a movie, sometimes one sliver of light breaking into the story of your life can turn all you think you know on its head. In the best way.
I gave you one common plot and its twist last time. Here’s another:
Plot 2: You’re body’s working against you.
A lot of people tend to view their bodies with a solid amount of suspicion. And on one level this makes sense. After all, many of the temptations we experience (toward excess food or drink, laziness, worry, etc.), we feel in our bodies.
This is especially true when it comes to sex.
- Your eyes feel glued to the naked image on your computer screen.
- Your skin aches to be touched.
- You’re drawn romantically to someone of the same gender.
- Your heart races involuntarily at the memory of an old flame.
- Your body runs for the momentary ecstasy of something that may cost you all you hold dear.
Your body’s not the enemy. Not your enemy, and not God’s.
I know this isn’t how it feels sometimes. It can seem like your body is doing what comes most natural when you give in to temptation, when you just “let go” and indulge in sin (sexual or otherwise).
But your body has been forced to work against you. This doesn’t mean you don’t have a choice, but it does mean your body is something like a hostage who has forgotten how freedom tastes, and so it doesn’t know any better than to long for, ache for, indulge in, and enjoy the stale food offered by its captors.
Like the rest of you, your body needs to be rescued. Your body’s not the enemy. Sin is the really enemy that seeks to hold your body captive.
And despite how it feels, sin isn’t the life of the party. It doesn’t grant you permission to do what you want. It gives you no option but to do what it wants. And worse yet, to believe the want has come from you.
Read these stark words of Paul:
“I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:19, 20).
Or again, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13b).
And there’s more good news, incredibly good news: Only that which is worth something is stolen and held captive.
And only that worth a great deal would ever be ransomed.
The incarnation (en-flesh-ment) of Christ is simultaneously God’s declaration of the inestimable worth of your body to Him and His Ransom paid to sin and death for your body.
He means for your body to be filled with his life that you would be free again to say no to sin, and so your body would become again the ally—the priceless treasure—it was always meant by God to be.
Begin thinking of and treating your body this way, and see if it doesn’t change your story for the better.