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.
Have you ever watched a film where, right near the end, you find out a new piece of information that turns all you thought you knew about the plot and flips it on its head?
I think here of The Sixth Sense, The Usual Suspects, Fight Club, Shutter Island, or The Prestige.
In each, you get just one additional sliver of information and suddenly scenes that didn’t quite make sense now do and other scenes that did make sense suddenly mean something entirely different. And if the movie’s done well, it was all right in front of your eyes the whole time.
If that can happen watching a movie, is it possible it can happen in our lives?
Is it possible a new piece of information—right in front of you—might introduce a plot twist that changes how you’re viewing the way some story in your life is going?
I think it is.
Over my next few posts, I want to share a few subtle truths that many of us miss, and though I’m no M. Night Shyamalan, maybe one of them will change how you see a story you’ve been living or a battle you’ve been fighting.
So here we go.
Plot 1: You’ve got a struggle you can’t seem to overcome.
- You drank too much again last night and have a splitting headache this morning.
- A porn habit is threatening your marriage but you keep going back to it.
- You feel weak and overweight and haven’t exercised since the beginning of January.
Whatever it is for you, at first glance, stuff like this looks like evidence against you, reason to believe the story is headed for more failure.
The pain you experience from falling reveals you’re not made to do what you’ve been doing.
Think about it: If the Author of your story created you to keep falling, if you’re designed for this, then each fall and failure would work for you, not against you.
- Drinking too much or too often would result in a better functioning body, not a hangover.
- Consuming porn would result in quality, fulfilling relationships, not isolation and fears of commitment.
- Eating gobs of sugar and fat would tone muscle and give you energy, not slow you down and make you weak.
You get the picture.
God gave us the capacity to experience pain (including guilt) as a way to let us know something’s wrong that needs fixing. Without this we’d likely leave our hand on the hot stove, stand in the freezing cold without a coat, or continue to fall into sin without realizing there’s a problem.
Of course, realizing there’s a problem isn’t the same as being saved from the problem. But believing that your habitual sins are just who you are or that you’ll never change will certainly lead to more failure.
The pain you feel when you fall reveals God didn’t create you to. It reveals you were actually made to walk. Or run.
Practice believing this and see if the plot doesn’t turn.
I love a good story. What’s your favorite with a great plot twist?
Too many people have the unfortunate problem of managing quite nicely.
Quite nicely is nice when all things are well, but when there’s a secret moral failure, a destructive pattern, a relational problem, or a long-buried wound, managing quite nicely is a problem.
I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. It’s a silent misery.
As a 19 year old Christian college student, I was harboring secret sexual sins I’d never told anyone about. Outside, I was managing quite nicely—a good guy, known for my faith, my friendships, and my humor. I prayed God would change me, but he didn’t seem to be answering. I didn’t want anyone to know. I’d be utterly humiliated. I thought I’d lose my friends. I’d never outlive the shame.
I asked God to show me another way.
By His mercy, He didn’t.
Do you carry something in secret?
Whether a shameful thing you’ve done or something shameful done to you, a lie you’ve fostered or an addiction that has you, or maybe something you carry from long, long ago, secrecy is not your friend.
Secrecy promises to keep us safe. It whispers of threats outside, of certain shame and ruin that await us in the open.
But secrecy is a dragon itself to be feared.
All that beckons you to darkness is that which thrives in darkness. You, on the other hand, were created for light.
If you’ll ever be free, ever be healed, ever be able to maintain health, you need to be walking fully in the light with at least a few trusted and trustworthy people.
Ask Jesus who.
There is only one way to clear out a dark and dank room, no matter who is responsible for its condition. It is to throw open the windows and swing wide the doors, to let sunshine pour in and the fresh outside air to blow through. Only then can real restoration begin.
If God has not shown you another way, it is a merciful refusal.
Find your way to a trusted pastor or priest. Or begin with a 12-step recovery group or a good counselor.
Or come to Regeneration.
What’s the biggest mistakes you’ve ever made?
I’ve got a long list of mistakes. Here are a few:
- When I dropped a lit match into a gasoline can.
- That time in fourth grade when I agreed to fight a kid twice my size.
- The time I told a girl I was flirting with her head was big.
I’ve made other, worse mistakes, too. Ones that can hardly be called “mistakes.” They were conscious, premeditated decisions I knew were wrong. Warning lights were flashing and I ignored them.
- The times I lied to people just to get a chance to view pornography.
- The season I repeatedly bullied a good friend because he was an easy target.
- When I’ve ignored others’ needs because I just want life to be easy for me.
- Or the times I crossed others’ personal boundaries in ways I can’t take back or repay.
But with every mistake (and every volitional, sinful non-mistake), there’s always another, perhaps even bigger, mistake we’re tempted by that comes on its heels:
Ever since our first father and mother took off running after they bit the forbidden fruit, we’ve been doing the same thing.
Isolation, distraction, minimizing our wrong, busy-ness, playing the victim, pretending we’re fine, blaming, dressing ourselves up, medicating, even immersing ourselves in good works—all versions of running.
Like Adam and Eve, we run thinking it’s a matter of self-preservation. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Sin dis-integrates us. It separates us from ourselves, from one another, and from God. And running only insures we’ll remain split apart.
The alternative is better:
Stop. Simply stop.
Let your mistakes and your sins catch up with you. It’s a scary thought until you realize they already have, and they’ve been doing damage. Damage you can’t undo or fix on your own.
Jesus already knows. He comes now not to judge or condemn, but to rescue and to heal.
What wrong comes to mind? You’ve been like a cat with its tail on fire, running madly around the yard, refusing to be still, to turn and face the One who seeks only to put the fire out and heal you.
And remember, you don’t have to do this alone. Let us know if we can help.
I’d love to hear from you: What’s helped you to stop running and begin dealing with the wrongs you’ve done? Leave a comment below.
We’re creatures of habit. We conform to what’s normal around us. God made us that way, and it’s a good thing.
It’s why you can turn on a light switch, walk across the room, read a book, and eat spaghetti without getting it all over your face (well, most of you). It’s how you build muscle, gain wisdom, and grow in character.
We adjust to that which is–or that which we make–our regular experience. What’s normal to us shapes us, trains us, molds us into its image.
But there’s a dark side to normal. Because normal doesn’t always equal good.
Sometimes what’s normal to us is unhealthy and unhelpful, even harmful. And the fact that it’s normal to us can make it difficult for us to recognize, and difficult to perceive the harm it’s doing.
I know a man who, as a boy, was groped by a family friend while on vacation. When he told his father, his dad didn’t do anything about it. So although he knew he didn’t like it, because the man acted like it was no big deal and his father didn’t seem to think it was either, it wasn’t until years later that a counselor helped him see that what he’d experienced was a form of sexual abuse.
A woman grew up with pornography laying about her house. With that as her “normal,” what impact did it have on her view of herself as a woman, of her body and her value, of men, of marriage, and of sex?
Another man expressed how his father rarely ever talked to him. With that as his norm, what did he come to believe about his own worth, about what it means to be a man, or about relating with men?
I’m convinced that when Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free,” He was talking in part about uncovering the distinction between what we’ve known as normal and what He wants us to know.
He wants to give us a new version of normal.
Where are you currently stuck? Where are you repeatedly giving into temptation? Where are you letting others down?
Instead of berating yourself, ask Jesus if there’s a problem deeper down where all your “normals” reside. Invite Him to expose them and to replace them with what’s true.
And let us know if we can help.
Where do you recognize a difference between “normal” and “good” in your past or present? Leave a comment below.
“Please grow up quickly, Jesus.”
I hadn’t meant to say this. The words just came out.
I’d been praying, trying to meditate on Christ’s birth, trying to take in something of the wonder of the incarnation to prepare myself for Christmas. In my mind, I saw myself kneeling next to the manger, leaning in to get close to the baby there. What I pictured was a beautiful scene, quiet, full of light.
But up from my gut, came a desperate cry: “Please grow up quickly. Please.”
My insides yearn for God. I’d like to say it’s because I’m passionately in love with him and eager to see all his Kingdom purposes fulfilled. But as far as I can tell, much of my yearning comes from my need.
I need a God who is stronger than I am, more courageous, more giving and generous, more understanding and wise. My soul reaches out, strains for a God who can rescue me from my immature ways, my weaknesses, and my sinfulness. It’s all too much for me.
I need a God who’s bigger than I am.
The Nativity places me next to a baby—smaller, weaker, and needier than I.
And so there, I feel exposed, unprotected, vulnerable.
My reaching soul pulls back, asking, What am I to do here?
Do I pile my adult-sized longings onto this newborn? Do I press my fearful heart to his for strength?
Or do I stay aloof, observe the crèche as a distant story, choosing instead only to meet Jesus “all grown up,” crucified, risen, and ascended, now sitting at the right hand of the Father in all His divine authority and power?
Or do I linger at the manger? Instead of running away because I’m vulnerable there, do I remain, and allow my vulnerability to meet his own?
If I know Jesus, I’m guessing he intends something for me—something for us—with him there.
Wishing you all he has for you this Christmas,
Thank you so much! And again, from all of us,
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Yours in Christ,
Josh, Bob, Ann, Kit, Bob, Jamie, Michelle, Anne, Kyle, and Carol
This time of year can have an inebriating effect on me.
I don’t at all mean inebriating in the good sense of the word. Not the exhilarating, coming back alive sense that so many seem to experience as Christmas approaches.
For me, it’s like my senses start to dull and the season turns into more of a slumber than a celebration.
It’s not because I dislike Christmas. (Heck, I see Christmas decorations going up and can’t help crooning to anyone within ear shot, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”)
But one moment I’m a man walking in the woods, enjoying the pleasantness of the day, and the next I find myself in a fog, unsure where the trail is or how far I’ve wandered from it.
Too many times in the past when this happens, I’ve simply plodded along, ridden the season through till I emerge again sometime after the New Year.
Cookies and carols and gifts and Dickens and lights and Santa and mangers and stockings and reading the Christmas story, these aren’t the fog. But they can leave me so full I have no room left to feel that I’m longing for something more.
Sometimes I get the impression from others that if I could just “get into the Christmas spirit” or keep in mind the “true meaning of Christmas,” the longing would go away.
But I don’t think this is true.
Christmas as we know it isn’t supposed to remove the ache of longing. I think it’s supposed to arouse it.
Christmas points to something, but it’s not the thing itself. The signpost points to the destination, but it’s not the place itself. The telling of the story is not the actual story.
And the ache alerts me to the difference.
The ache exposes the truth that I need more than a reminder. I need the miracle.
Jesus. God saves. God with us. God made flesh.
Even these words, they’re not the same as Word become body—voice of God pulsating in trembling, naked newborn.
This Christmas season, as I feel the ache of longing, I don’t want to try to shove Christmas at it in an effort to get myself to feel the “joy of the season.”
Instead, when the ache arises, I want to face it square. And follow it like a star piercing through the fog.
I eat too fast. Drive too fast. Work too much. And expect too much of movies. I partly think it’s because deep inside I struggle to trust there will be enough for me. And so I grasp to make sure there is.
This was also why I ran so hard for so many years after pornography and other illicit sexual connections.
So it is with all of us every time we say ‘no’ to God and His Word and ‘yes’ to sinful cravings.
Why would we do this?
Some doubt whether He can give enough. My craving feels so deep, so physical, so infinite. Can He really satisfy me so?
For me, my struggle has always been a question of whether He wants to. God, I know you can, but will you, for me?
We, all of us, inherited some version of these doubts from our first forefathers. Add to this that we each have personal accounts of needs not being met, vulnerabilities being taken advantage of, and cravings that won’t go away.
So much of Christian life boils down to a choice between grasping and receiving.
The grasping heart mistrusts God cares about what you need and so seeks to supply for itself. Because if God does not care, there is really no motivating reason not to embrace a kind of nihilistic posture of, as Ecclesiastes puts it, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”
The receptive heart settles itself not so much on man’s present experience as on God’s character revealed both in good gifts big and small (and many times illusive to the grasping heart), and in the life (and especially in the cross) of Christ.
The grasping heart wrestles with pain and grief as with hostile rulers threatening man’s own kingdom.
The receptive heart sees pain and grief as messengers expressing man’s need to both himself and to the One who is building a Kingdom and preparing there a place for you.
The grasping heart cannot rest, cannot be still, cannot be silent. Driven by the immediacy of cravings, it runs for the image, the distraction, the drug, the artificial. None satisfy. Eldredge points out that as we pursue our deepest, truest desire, we stop far too short and instead settle for that which numbs our desire.
The receptive heart chooses to wait. Even through the tumult of desire unmet, it chooses stillness, all that it might not miss the quiet Word, the Bread come from heaven, that which rains down on the evil and the good, that which is true Love and Fulfillment of all desire.
I am such a novice at this. Maybe you are, too, and it shows in how you eat, or drink, or work, or control, or lust, or . . .
This Advent, let’s begin by choosing again to wait.
Holy Spirit, wait with us, will You?
Waiting for more,