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.
I love it when my kids tell me they’ve lied to me.
I don’t mean I love it when my kids lie. (I hate that.) But when they do, I want them to tell me they did.
If you watch how my wife and I respond when our kids fess up to something they did wrong, you might think we just watched them hit a home run. Truth gets rewarded big time in my house. Especially when it’s hard to say.
Why are we so serious about celebrating when they confess?
First, we take it as a given they’re going to do wrong from time to time, but it’s not a given at all that they’ll admit it. We want to help train them to love the light.
Given that, we also know the enslaving power of darkness. You only need a handful of ingredients to turn a problem into a life-dominating problem, and darkness is one of them. Sin and shame thrive in the dark. People don’t.
Third, without truth there’s no relationship. When we do something bad, it can feel like: If those who love me find out, they won’t love me anymore (at least not as much). But people who don’t know the truth about you can’t love you fully. At best, they can only love a fraction of you. In the same way, we want to know our kids—not some fiction dressed in our kids’ clothes.
There’s one more reason: We’ve been there. Both my wife and I know the kind of courage it takes to step into the light. It’s a weak legs and quivering voice courage, a feels like I’m not ready courage, a can’t make eye contact courage, a tears already falling courage.
And we know the forgiveness, reconciliation, joy, freedom, and love from people and from God who have heard our confessions and given grace.
It doesn’t matter what they’ve done. Our kids are made for the light. So are we. So are you.
Have you ever heard your heavenly Father respond to you when you come with a contrite, repentant heart and fully confess what you’ve done wrong?
If you have a secret sin, say it.
And if Regeneration can help in any way, let us know.
Question: What’s helped you step into the light and confess secret sins in your life? If you still struggle to, what’s keeping you from doing so now?
“I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).
Love is not love without waiting.
This is why we are moved when a beautiful young woman waits faithfully for her fiancé to return home from a long journey. And why we cringe to hear of a man coming home to his beloved only to learn she’s pregnant with another man’s child.
Most of us don’t think of our love for God in these terms.
He’s God and his power is limitless, after all. Somehow we think this means our love should be exempt from waiting. “If he loves me, why won’t he change my circumstances, heal me, remove this temptation, give me a husband or wife, fix my marriage, do what I want when I want it?”
I remember years ago walking across my college campus late one night filled with regret. I’d viewed pornography again, even after so many years of pleading with God to deliver me. I took my self-loathing and aimed it at him, railing, “Why won’t you just take this from me?!”
It’s so easy to interpret seasons of waiting as evidence God is absent or uncaring.
Jesus reveals a different picture of God.
Think of Jesus weeping outside Jerusalem: “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I’ve longed to gather you as a mother hen gathers her chicks.” Think of Jesus’ question to his disciple: “Have I been so long with you, Philip, and you do not know me?” Think of the question he asked his three closest friends in Gethsemene: “Could you not wait with me for even an hour?”
Do we think he is lounging poolside somewhere? Do we think angels will have to wake him from his reverie and remind him of our need?
No. He is not the one lounging. He’s preparing a place for you (John 14:2, 3). He is not the one indifferent. He is patient for your sake, not wanting you or anyone else to perish (2 Peter 2:9). He is not the one hiding from you. He is waiting desirously for you like a faithful bridegroom waits for his wedding day (Song 4).
Jesus desires us like a waiting lover. As much as we feel we’re waiting for him, he waits more for us.
Every day you wait for him to return, he waits a thousand years for you. (How else are we to understand 1 Peter 3:8?)
It is he, not us, who has opened himself up most to the risk of love, he whose Spirit intercedes within his bride with groaning too deep for words (Romans 8:26), and even so, he who has chosen faithfulness knowing he may return to a bride pregnant with another lover’s child.
When Christ returns for his bride, banqueting table set, new home prepared, will he find faith on the earth (Luke 18:8)?
O Christ, Lover of my soul, have mercy on me.
O Christ, Lover of my soul, I confess the paucity of my waiting.
O Christ, Lover of my soul, teach me to turn my longing into prayer.
O Christ, Lover of my soul, when you return, may you find me chaste and waiting
for you, as you have waited so long
O Christ, Lover of my soul, don’t exempt me from waiting.
Often when a man or woman gives in to the same temptation for years without making much headway, it’s because there’s something under the surface that needs tending.
When wiser men in my life began helping me with this, I was surprised to discover a bustling city of angers, fears and faulty beliefs powering the temptations that plagued me most. Over time, this self-awareness enabled me to better handle temptation by tending to my emotional, physical, and spiritual needs in healthier ways.
But there’s a danger that comes with self-awareness.
Sometimes, paying too much attention to what’s going on inside can unintentionally make it worse.
- Discovering that you’re angry with your spouse is better than letting it seep out through sarcasm, but ruminating on that anger can also add fuel to the fire.
- Recognizing you feel lonely is better than pretending you’re fine, but focusing on your loneliness can lead to a self-pity that is both anti-social and unpleasant to be around.
- Facing the shame you’ve been living under is better than numbing it with porn, but giving it too much attention can mean listening to shame’s messages more than before.
So how can we reap the benefits of self-awareness without making our inner landscape more difficult?
- Talk to yourself. My wife teaches many of her clients, “Don’t just listen to yourself, talk to yourself.” As Paul wrote, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
- Practice God-awareness. My colleague Bob Ragan regularly teaches the importance of becoming more God-aware than we are self-aware. This means seeking what God is doing, saying, and asking in the moments of your day and in the inner-workings of your heart.
- Bring your fish and loaves (see Matthew 6:33ff). Bring to Jesus not just what you don’t have (This place is desolate and it is already quite late.), but also the little you do have (We have only five loaves and two fish.). If you’re “stuck” with a husband who keeps relapsing with porn, can you bring to Jesus the good you see in him? If you’re lonely with no prospects for marriage, can you bring to Jesus the friendships you have? If you distrust God, can you bring to Jesus the sliver of trust you do have?
In each of these, I’m not suggesting distracting yourself by “focusing on the positive” so much as simply this: Jesus is aware of the magnitude of your need. The disciples’ idea was to “send the people away” from Jesus. His idea was to keep them close, and to make a feast out of the little they had. If God doesn’t seem to be feeding you as you wish he would, maybe he’s preparing a table for you in another way.
Self-awareness is essential in your battle against life-dominating temptations. But it alone can’t save you. It’s meant primarily to enable you to bring yourself, as you are, more fully into relationship with the God who is here.
Question: How has self-awareness helped you? In what ways have you learned to keep it in check? Leave a comment below.
Christians who want to do right can be far too quick to self-criticize and self-correct.
- A single man in his forties has the impulse to leave halfway through the church service because the affectionate couple in front of him reminds him how lonely he is. “You’re here to worship God,” he reprimands himself, “Not to think about yourself!”
- A young woman feels a familiar tug to indulge in pornography. She thinks, “Something’s seriously wrong with you! Porn is something men struggle with.”
- A guy driving home from work sees another man jogging without a shirt on and feels drawn to him. “Why am I so gay? Other men don’t feel this way.”
- A married pastor is only half-listening to the person talking to him because a beautiful woman from the congregation is headed for the exit. “You’re a terrible pastor,” he thinks to himself as he realizes how often during his sermon preparation he’d imagined her thanking him for such an “amazing message.”
When thoughts or desires like these (and soooo many others) come to us, we can be so quick to criticize ourselves, believing self-criticism will help bring about the change we need in order to become who God wants us to be.
But self-criticism and self-correction can be our ways of keeping from God the parts of ourselves we think God won’t like. And when we do this we compartmentalize sacred from secular, sexual from spiritual, good from bad.
Said another way, it means the parts of our lives that need Him most see Him least.
This is akin to hiding a festering wound from the doctor because we know we should have come to the hospital weeks earlier. Or shoving a dangerous convict into the closet when the police arrive because we know we’re not supposed to be harboring criminals.
There’s a more effective way to respond when you experience feelings, desires, or temptations that seem wrong to you:
Practice opening what you’re experiencing, whether good or bad, to God.
This isn’t about passively doing nothing, sinking into a self-pitying entitlement that demands God needs to change you or you’ll indulge in sin and blame him for it. It’s about instead of striving to align yourself with God, bringing your unaligned self to Him for realignment. As much and as often as needed.
This can be difficult because it means being honest with God (and others, too) about the good, bad, and ugly in your life. It means bringing yourself to God and others as you are rather than as you think you should be. It’s about entrusting yourself to his care more than to your own.
And it’s also about getting to know Jesus better by allowing him to actually relate with you, rather than just pre-empting his movements toward you with self-corrections of your own.
(In my experience, one of the most life-changing things that happens as we practice this is discovering the ways he responds very differently than we’d always imagined.)
One more note: If you try to open yourself to God as I’m describing but find you’re mistrustful, resistant, or not ready to give up a pet sin, then can you find in yourself a willingness to open that part of yourself to him? He is not unfamiliar with the mistrust, resistance, and love of sin found in within us, nor is he offended when we need his help even with these.
Emmanuel means “God with us.” And if the gospel is true, than God with us is good news. The only question that remains then is whether we’ll let him be with us or only the fictional versions of us we wish we were.
Question: Can you relate with the urge to self-criticize and/or self-correct? What do you think makes it difficult to open ourselves to God “as is” instead?
Opening as is,
Desire is also what enticed me to indulge in porn, haunts me when I yell at my kids (when all they’re really doing is being kids), and drives me to perfectionism and people-pleasing.
Desire sets me on the path and entices me from it.
Christopher West has said that just as a man and woman’s bodies don’t make sense without the other, so it is with the incredible depth of our desire: It doesn’t make sense apart from God. And Pascal wrote long ago of an “infinite abyss” within every man that can only be filled by God.
And there’s the pinch. Facing an infinite abyss is frightening.
Why would He want us to face the depths of our cavernous desire?
Here’s what I’m learning:
First, allowing myself to experience the depth of my desire brings me face to face with my doubts that Christ really is enough for me. And that’s scary. What if my desires remain unmet in a visible way-can He satisfy me? Will He? I want to face my doubts with Him instead of running from them.
Second, plunging the depths of our desire connects us with every human being on the planet. The older brother could not relate with his younger brother, could not fathom how he could travel to a distant country and squander all he had on loose living. As we face the depths of our own desire, we find common ground with even those whose lives we disagree with most. This allows us to see human beings Christ died for, rather than monsters or aliens we can’t understand.
And most importantly, facing the depths of my desire leads me out to a place where I become acutely aware I cannot satisfy my longings myself, where I realize my utter dependence on God’s mercy and love rather than my ability to control. Again, this can be frightening, but this is ground where we learn to open our hearts even wider to Christ Himself, choosing in faith to let Him fill us.
In this light, it is not an overabundance of desire that leads us astray, but our lack of it.
Leave a comment below.
Where in your life do you find yourself getting angry that others have something you want?
- Maybe a co-worker got the promotion you felt you deserved.
- Or your ex is happily remarried, leaving you a single parent trying to raise your kids.
- Or maybe you’re angry at the overly affectionate couple in front of you at church, while you long for a same-sex romance that God forbids.
- Maybe for you it’s anger toward those who pushed for gay marriage and won.
- Or maybe you have a friend or loved one who seems to live a charmed life while you face trouble after trouble.
We see something similar in the parable I wrote about last week: The younger brother wants his inheritance. Without commentary, the father sells half the family property and writes him a check. And the son is on his way. When he comes back penniless and looking for a job, the father throws a party.
During the same time, the older brother works dutifully at his father’s side, takes care of his father’s business, does what his father wants him to do. One evening, he returns from his father’s fields, sweaty and covered in dust and dung, and gets what must have felt like a slap in the face: His brother is back and Dad’s killed the fattened calf to celebrate.
I said last week that in this parable, Jesus reveals the Father as a Lover brimming over with desire. This is why the father had to let the younger son go. And why he couldn’t just pay the older son what he deserved.
Because every lover wants to be loved.
And this is also why the father’s gift to the younger son was a gift to the older brother, too.
Because of the father’s over-the-top generosity to the younger son, something unusual happens for the older brother. In a moment of passion and anger, he sheds his compliance, shouting accusingly at his father: “I’ve slaved for you, been the faithful one, never complained! But this other son, the one who trampled all over you, you throw him a party!?”
What’s changed? He’s no longer happy being the dutiful son, the hard worker, the loyal one. A deeper desire in his heart is rising to the surface.
He’s coming face to face with the reality that doing what the father wants is not the same thing as being whom the father wants.
He could never earn what his younger brother was receiving. And that’s what he wanted.
What I want.
Is it what you want, too?
Would you dare to face this?
Because believing that what you want is within your grasp actually means you don’t know how deep your desire really goes.
Do others get more than they deserve? Sure they do. Do wicked men prosper? Yes. Does God allow people to misuse His gifts? He does.
Wherever you find yourself angry at what others have, how others are winning, what others are getting away with, let it incite desire in you. And turn your desire toward Him, daring to believe He is what you want, and He does indeed desire you.
Question: What are you typically more in touch with: your desire for what others seem to have or your desire for God? In what practical ways can you “turn your desire toward Him?” Leave a comment below.