What if what you experience of yourself isn’t the whole truth about who you are?
Several years ago before we had kids, a single mom and her 7-year old boy were staying in our home for a few days. The first night of their visit, on my way to bed, I went into the bathroom and found my toothpaste open, sitting on the sink. And hanging right next to my toothbrush was this little boy’s dripping wet toothbrush.
“Ugh, God,” I complained, “I’m trying to love this little guy, but this grosses me out. You know I’m a germ-a-phobe.”
To my surprise, God replied immediately. “No, you’re not.”
His words came silently but firmly. For a few seconds, I stood there in my bathroom, considering what He’d said, turning it over in my mind—first like the words of a puzzle, then like the words of a love note.
What if I’m not bothered by germs? What if God really never designed me that way? What if that’s just something I’ve come to believe about myself? What if I’m bigger than that?
I was catching a new vision of myself, and I liked what I saw.
What if your experience doesn’t carry the full story of who you are, but God does? And what if believing what God says about you might over time change your experience?
I know a man with a mercy gifting who has struggled for many years to feel like he fits in with other, “tougher” men. But he’s learning to listen to who God says he is and to trust Him instead of pulling away from other men. One of his more stoic male friends recently told him, “I’ve always needed the kind of friendship you give me, but I never knew it was possible. Actually, before you, I didn’t know I needed it.”
So what about you? Where have you been letting your experience tell you who are over who God says you are? Maybe your experience tells you . . .
Exercise doesn’t come naturally to you.
You can’t imagine life without ever seeing porn.
You’re not yourself until you’ve had a few drinks.
You’re timid and fearful.
You’re gay and can’t be fulfilled without a same-sex partner.
You and your spouse are far too different for this marriage to work.
You’re not the kind of person who hears from God.
What if God is telling you that even though it feels this way, something else is true of you?
Like any kind of longstanding pattern, reorienting your thoughts, actions, and feelings to align with who Christ has made (and redeemed) you to be takes time and usually requires help. (Regeneration would be honored to walk with you!)
A change in my thinking helped me more fully welcome a fatherless boy into my home. My friend has given deep mercy to a once-hardened man.
What other gifts might come forth upon the earth at the “revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19)?
Question: What’s an area in your life where your feelings or experience seem to be telling you something different about yourself than who God says you are? Leave a comment here.
Sometimes temptation feels like it knows me in a deeply personal way, like an old friend come to help, like a lover familiar with all my ways offering comfort in a hard world.
What do you do when temptation feels right? When faithfulness to Christ feels foreign, flat, unfair, or simply too difficult?
There’s actually a lot you can do. But it’s important to know up front that rarely will any of it free you from suffering.
If you’re question is How do I say no to temptation and avoid suffering at the same time?, I don’t have an answer for you.
Reality is, suffering is a part of life in a fallen world, whether you choose to give in to temptation or resist it. As a friend of mine put it to me recently, the options aren’t suffering or freedom from suffering, the options are suffering or redemptive suffering.
This isn’t to say we’re meant to pursue suffering or bring it upon ourselves. Nor are we to walk into temptation. But it is to say, we can choose whether to open ourselves to God’s transformative, sanctifying work in temptation and suffering.
Temptation brings with it a kind of suffering. To say no to sin that seems to fit me so well, this is a form of suffering.
And with temptation come the same options: I can choose to shake my fist at God, insisting he’s being a miserable tyrant for refusing me what “should be mine.” Or I can submit myself and my desires to God, accepting that I am not my own and that he knows my frame better than I do, better than temptation does.
Where is the mercy of God in all of this? Where is the cross?
It is central to all of it. Mercy does not remove all temptation, it meets us in it. The cross of Christ does not remove all temptation or the suffering that comes with it, the cross unites us with him in our temptation and transforms us into his image through it.
Yes, there is reprieve in the battle. Life is not all resisting. God gives rest. But temptation will come. And if we’ll resist, suffering. And with suffering, the opportunity to unite with Christ’s suffering. And in this union, the opportunity to grow in Christlikeness.
Let us pray sin loses its luster to us, and that God’s will becomes all we desire. But while sin yet shines, as long as any part of our frame still reverberates with its song, let us humbly resist. In Christ’s name, with Christ’s body, in Christ’s power, for love of Christ.
Question: What helps you when you’re weary from the battle against temptation? Share your thoughts here.
Listening to some voices, you’d get the impression Jesus’ primary focus is on getting people to stop sinning. Listening to others, you’d think Jesus cares nothing about sin, that his main concern is making sure everyone feels included.
I think they’re both kind of right, and wrong.
Sin is important to Jesus, but this is misleading unless you understand why it’s important to him: Sin is important to Jesus because you are important to Jesus.
God created us for beauty, strength, freedom, love, community, light, life, flourishing, and so much more. Sin is sin because it does harm, because it destroys these.
Whether we can see it in the moment or not, sin leads us individually and collectively away from all that is good, whether that sin is pride, murder, greed, pornography, stealing, homosexual sex, gossip, sex outside of marriage, bitterness, divorce, lust, or unforgiveness.
Jesus didn’t come as the heavy-handed traffic cop looking for you to mess up. He doesn’t stand outside the strip club taking down license plate numbers or sit in the back pew noting who shows up late to church.
But he does come like a physician telling you the diagnosis is bad news. Why? Not because he loves to give bad news, but because he wants to see you healed. Not because he loves catching you in your sin, but because he wants to save you from it.
“You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:23, 24).
Ouch. Why would he say such things? Not to harm us, but to uncover the harm to us. And this is exactly why he’ll bring up your sin, why he won’t just shrug it off, why he’ll tell you to stop. Why he gives you his righteousness and his Spirit to empower you to leave sin behind.
What’s more, he let himself be burned in the fire we started, so we’d be able to get out safely. He let himself be consumed with the disease we contracted, so we could be healed. He became sin that we might become the righteousness of God in him (1 Corinthians 5:21).
Is your sin important to Jesus? You are important to Jesus.
Question: What makes people think of Jesus more as a “heavy-handed traffic cop” waiting for them to mess up than a good physician telling them the truth in order to save them?
An icon is a piece of art created to point us to a greater reality.
In the digital age, myriad icons are everywhere. Most every computer program or app you use is accessed by clicking an icon. (You likely clicked on at least two or three on your way to being able to read this blog.)
Icons aren’t the real thing, they’re just a representation, a pointer, even a reminder or a prompt. The little envelope on your device isn’t your email, but it is the avenue through which you access your email.
When it comes to knowing God, God created a primary icon for us—a pointer, reminder, and prompt to aid us in our relationship with Him.
Do you know what that icon is?
It’s people. Specifically, men and women.
This is what God was speaking to in the beginning when he said, “Let Us make mankind in our image” (Genesis 1:26). He created us to point all of creation to himself.
What an honor!
What’s even more astounding to me is that according to Paul in Ephesians 5, this iconography extends to the sexual relationship between husband and wife.
A man leaves his father and mother to be joined to his wife. Naked, the husband gives his body to his wife and pours out his “seed” or his life into his bride. And as the bride receives her husband, new life may be formed in her, and this life grows.
And all of this an icon pointing us to God himself: Christ left his father (and earthly mother) to be joined to his Bride, the church. Naked on the cross, Christ poured out his life sacrificially for his bride. As his bride receives the gift of his life, new and eternal life is conceived and grows in his bride, even unto eternal life.
If this is difficult to fathom, there are reasons for that:
First, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 5, “this is a great mystery.” This goes deeper than we usually think, and although we can (and should) seek to plum the depths of this mystery, we will never fully grasp it.
And second, this is difficult to fathom because our view of sex, even in the marriage bed of husband and wife, has been corrupted. We’re so used to sex as an icon of human selfishness and feeling-driven “love,” it’s become nearly impossible to believe a holy God would choose the marriage bed as his icon of choice.
This is so sad. Just as a good icon has power to connect us to the real, a corrupted icon has power to point us away from reality, even to change our perception of it. The God-icon we were created to be has been distorted and in many cases even points us away from the God whose image we are created bear.
This is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about the work Regeneration does to help men, women, husbands, wives, dads and moms. As people, we’ve been given such an incredible gift, such incredible dignity. We want to see this restored.
There’s only one place I know to begin: By gazing afresh on Jesus, the exact representation of the invisible God. He is both the perfect icon and He to whom we are created to point. He has given his body, poured out his life that we might open ourselves to him to receive his life and conceive new and holy life within us.
Because we’re not just icons. We’re sons, we’re daughters. We are the one he loves.
As we renew and deepen our intimacy with him, we begin to see icons of God all around us—in men and women, in marriage, in longing, in pregnancy and children, even in sexual and romantic desire.
O Jesus, make us your good icon inside and out.
Question: What happens in you as you consider the idea that your manhood/womanhood is meant to reveal the strength and beauty of God?
“Will you hold me a little bit longer?
I love it in your arms.”
Ever whispered these words, prayed them, felt them pounding in your chest?
God, I have.
My 8-year-old daughter spoke them to me two nights ago. I’d picked her up from the floor to put her in her bed. Routine stuff. Right after “Have you brushed your teeth?” and “What’s all this stuff all over your floor?”
But she caught me off guard. “Will you hold me a little longer, Daddy? I love it in your arms.”
As a dad, I teach, read, listen, drive, correct, clean, sign permission slips, check over homework, drive some more, shush, clean some more, enforce table manners, and pray.
I. try. so. hard.
And still, none of this can do what my arms can do.
And so I stayed. Held her in my arms. Close. Felt her little frame against my chest, felt the weight of her head on my shoulder, heard her breathe.
We’re incarnational creatures, my daughter and I. And without doing, just by being with her, close to her, I knew something was happening. Something was shared. Something was given. Something was received. Something good.
Today, I see beneath so much of my effort, my striving, my trying, I remain like a little boy whispering, “Will you hold me? I love it in your arms.”
God knows. He designed us this way. He loves these little spirit-body creatures stamped with his own image. He loves us so much he became enfleshed to come close.
Have you whispered words longing to be held? Prayed them? Felt them pounding in your chest? God knows there is love only His arms can do.
Maybe when it’s all said and done, this is why I follow Jesus—why I’m a Christian. Because Jesus came in the flesh, died and rose in the flesh, ascended in the flesh, and will return for us in the flesh. Because underneath so much of my trying, I’m a little boy whispering, “Will you hold me? I love it in your arms.”
I love movies, read blogs, tune in to my favorite shows, and skim through Facebook on a fairly regular basis. And I’ve noticed for me this can easily be more about viewing than seeing.
Here’s what I mean:
Viewing is passive, seeing is active. Viewing doesn’t require anything of me. Seeing requires me to be engaged, to bring myself more fully to the equation. Propping my feet up and munching on a bowl of popcorn makes sense watching my favorite show but not watching my daughter’s dance recital.
Viewing is more about me, seeing is more about others. When I’m viewing, I’m looking to be entertained, inspired, even moved. When I’m seeing, I’m focused on the other person and his or her well-being.
Viewing feeds fiction even in reality, seeing nourishes reality even through fiction. When the focus is on me, it’s easier to edit or block out anything that I don’t like or that causes me discomfort. But when I’m seeing, there’s truth to be discovered even in fairy tales.
Maybe I can sum all this up this way:
Viewing looks at people either as objects (to make you happy) or obstacles (in the way of your happiness).
Seeing looks at people as people, worthy of love, worthy to be seen (no matter what they can or can’t do for me).
Or another way to sum it up is the way John Paul II talked about pornography: He said that the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much, but that it shows too little.
What happens to a person immersed in a life of viewing? What happens to a culture? I’m not suggesting we stop watching movies or quit using Facebook. I am saying that if we want to be people who can see, we have to be intentional about seeing—through our screens or without them.
(Do stop watching porn, though—the men and women there are being torn apart emotionally, spiritually, and physically, and they desperately need for us to see them. Regeneration can help.)
How do we get intentional about seeing?
First, we can be honest about the current condition our eyes are in. How are you doing with seeing others, whether people on your screens or people around you day to day?
Second, we can open our eyes to Christ and ask Him to help us see. No matter your current condition, Jesus can heal our eyes to see better.
And third, we can practice. Every one of us every day is training our eyes either to view objects and obstacles or to see people.
Question: How can you practice seeing today? Share your ideas below.
If you believe you’re a bowling ball, today’s going to go very badly.
Which is why I don’t like the phrase, “I’m only human.”
Beliefs have consequences.
I get why people say it. “I’m only human” is meant to keep us from pride, legalism, or both. Pride says we can make something of ourselves by ourselves. Legalism says we can be good enough to earn God’s favor by ourselves. “I’m only human” is meant to ground us in the reality that we actually can’t do life on our own. We’re created, not the Creator. Or to quote Captain America (of all people), “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.”
But in my experience, “only human” creeps—spreads like mold, a disease, or a tyrant. It doesn’t only combat pride and legalism. It goes on to combat humanity itself.
What do I mean?
In the biblical narrative, to be a human being is not an “only” kind of thing. It’s more of a fantastic, incredible, astounding, “oh my gosh, can you believe it!” kind of thing. To be created human is to be given a tremendous gift with the utmost honor.
If in doubt, look at Genesis 1. No other creature in heaven or on earth is created “in God’s image.” We are. Can you even fathom?
But maybe that glory was lost at the fall. Look at the Incarnation. Even after our rebellion, God bestows inestimable esteem upon the human race by becoming a human being—fully human. Humanity is so important to Him that He chose to become one of us. Why? Not to rescue us from being human, but to rescue us to become fully human.
Sin corrodes humanity, degrades it, cripples it, mars it. Christ restores humanity.
In light of this, where do you think “only human” originates? Not from God. It comes from one who hates humans and wants them to believe they’re something far less than they are (this scene from the Matrix is one of the best examples of this I’ve seen) so they actually become something far less than they are.
Remember what I said at the beginning of this post: Beliefs have consequences. Tease out for yourself where these two beliefs lead:
- “I’m only human.” – At best, I’m not made for much. At worst, I’m actually a problem.
- “I am human.” – I’m among the honored ones created in the likeness of the Creator. When I became less than He designed, He became human like me so now, in Him, I can become fully human again.
One of these points us toward something less than human, the other toward humanity regained.
I’d love to hear from you. Do you agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts below.
P.S. If you’re concerned about pride and legalism, don’t try to overcome them with a man-made phrase (that’s kind of prideful, don’t you think?). Instead, confess your pride and legalism, and let them be assumed into the body of Christ on the cross. He became pride and legalism so you might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
There are good reasons not to look at porn:
- Porn is addictive—it literally changes the brain so the brain wants more porn.
- Porn treats women (and men too) like objects to be used and then forgotten.
- And porn hides the truth about the damage it does to its actors and actresses.
None of these sets you up for healthy relationships, let alone a healthy marriage. None of these sets you up for healthy singleness.
But none of these “why not’s” is as powerful as our main “why.” The reason Regeneration’s team does what we do is this: You’re made for Love. Real love. Love that satisfies. Love that lasts. Love that gives. Love that creates.
God put desire in all of us—a restless discontent even—so we’d search for this kind of love. And this kind of Lover.
Porn hijacks this desire and steers it like an out of control car through a museum. As a society, we’ve given porn enough time to prove its value. We’ve given it enough of a shot to see if it could bring us the kind of sexual freedom it touts.
It hasn’t given us freedom. It’s made us its slaves. It hasn’t improved our relationships, it’s isolated us. It hasn’t made us feel better about ourselves, it’s poured on the shame. The way I see it, porn means to take everything from us.
So do whatever it takes to steer clear of porn, help your kids steer clear of porn. And if you’re already struggling with porn, do whatever it takes to gain and maintain freedom (like this or this or this).
Because you, you’re made for honor, for beauty, for joy, for freedom, for laughter, for life, for love.
Question: What else are you made for that porn promises to deliver but doesn’t?
Desire is for the pure of heart.
I’ve found that when a lot of people think about desire, especially sexual desire, they think it belongs in the realm of those who are impure. And they think those who are “spiritual” or “pursuing purity” are relatively unfazed by desire, or at least trying to be.
Not so. Christianity is a religion of desire.
Purity is not just the absence of impurity. Purity is the unpolluted, undiluted whole presence of something. To have a pure heart means your heart is fully healthy, fully alive, functioning fully as God intended it to.
This means that in reality the pure of heart desire not less, but more than the impure do. Why? The pure of heart are not satisfied with small, fleshy enticements that last only briefly. They’re not satisfied with pixels on a screen or a marriage that doesn’t last or shallow relationships that are all about sex.
The pure of heart want ecstasy that lasts forever, they want to know and be known fully, they want love that is absolute and rich and deep.
Isn’t that the message of Christianity? That in Christ we will have joy that lasts forever, peace that goes on and on and on, love that never ends?
Why would God hold out promise of eternal life, eternal love, eternal bliss, and so much more if He didn’t create us to desire these?
We’re meant to be more in touch with our desire, not less. To be satisfied with what one earthly frame can contain or to believe one lifetime is enough for human thriving is to be cut off from your heart’s deepest cry.
All that God forbids shuts down our deepest desires, numbs us to the longing for eternity he’s placed in our hearts. Think of your own journey. Isn’t this true?
- Gluttony says eat what you can because there is no banquet to hope for.
- Lust says indulge in pleasure now because your body will come to an end.
- Greed says what you can accumulate is all you’ll ever have.
- Pride says who you can puff yourself up to be is the best you’ll ever become.
Come on! Is that all you want?
Dare to desire more. Dare to pursue purity of heart.
And let your desire propel you toward ever-increasing purity and devotion to the One who awaits you—the One who put desire in you that you’d find your way Home.
One word of caution: Desire can be like rocket fuel (as Christopher West points out, it’s meant to propel us toward the stars after all). Don’t go it alone. Find others to journey the journey of true desire and purity of heart with you. You’ll face incredible obstacles and plenty of temptations. But it will be worth it.
Leave a comment below.
Headed further up,
We’re so glad when a man or woman walks into one of Regeneration’s offices and opens up about something they’ve never told anyone. Ever.
We’re glad because it’s not good for a person to be alone with a secret burden. We’re all made for the light, and that’s where healing and growth take place.
If you want to be a person people feel safe enough to open up with, here’s something simple you can begin doing:
When a friend, co-worker, neighbor, or loved one shares something personal with you, particularly something painful or shameful, look them in the eye and say, “Thank you for telling me.”
It might sound overly simplistic, but I guarantee you it will do the other person good to hear some sort of thank you.
“Thank you for trusting me with that.”
“Thanks for letting me into what’s going on for you.”
“I’m honored you’d tell me.”
Here’s why this is so helpful:
- It shows them you know they just took a risk. A lot of people remain silent because they’ve imagined (or previously experienced) others responding with disgust or rejection. It’s a scary thing to open up when you feel ashamed about something you’ve done or that’s been done to you.
- It affirms you’re willing to listen. Often a part of why people keep quiet about struggles is because they don’t want to be a burden to others. “Thank you” let’s them know they’re not a burden. And even if what they share is a burden, it communicates they’re worth it to you.
- It treats them with honor. People keep silent out of fear that if others know, they’ll always be looked down upon. “Thank you” acknowledges you respect them even knowing what you now know.
- It reveals you know what they’ve told you is important. People keep silent because they’re afraid they’ll be given trite answers or inadequate advice. Even if you don’t know how to help, “thank you” affirms you don’t think lightly of what they’ve shared. Sometimes this followed by, “How can I help?” and a listening ear can be more helpful than you might imagine.
Of course there’s much you can do after this initial response, but this is a great place to begin. Try it next time someone shares something personal, even if what they share seems minor to you.
You might find this changes your relationships with people in your church, your small group, your accountability group, even your spouse or kids.
Someone might even thank you for it.