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,
But half the challenge around the holidays has less to do with our circumstances and more to do with our expectations.
Expectations are TNT to holiday peace and joy.
And they come at us from every direction:
Advertisers prop up idealized images of food, friendships, family.
Holiday movies and TV specials do too. (Heck, they paint a pretty unrealistic picture of even the first Thanksgiving and the first Christmas.)
Loved ones can foist their expectations onto you, too: what time you’ll arrive, how long you’ll stay, even how you “should” think and feel. Not to mention their thoughts (and comments) about your spouse and children (or lack thereof).
And then there are your own explicit or subtle expectations as to what the holidays should hold for you. Despite years of evidence to the contrary, somehow it’s so easy to slip into thinking that this year will be different.
Without taking time to recognize the expectations you’re living under, you’ll find yourself experiencing a cocktail of stress, disappointment, resentment, and increased temptations in the days and weeks leading up to the end of the year.
Sometimes, just taking time to make a verbal or written list of expectations (coming from others and yourself) will reveal how impossibly unrealistic they are, and hopefully free you up a bit to accept, work with, pray through, and enjoy life as it comes to you.
Where your holidays disappoint and discourage, let them remind you that you’re not Home yet. Thanksgiving and Christmas aren’t a respite from life on earth, not a fast-forward to Heaven. They are, in many ways, actually more of a petri dish of life on earth, where we experience (as C.S. Lewis put it) “all the pains and perturbations of love” in a fallen world.
And where your holidays do bring you joy and love (and I sincerely hope they do), receive that joy and love as just a foretaste of what God has in store. And remember to share some with others around you, too.
Hey, click on the image in this post and it will take you to a tremendous commercial depicting a real historical event when the goodness of Heaven invaded the most unlikely of places.
Good conversations can be like tennis. You hit the ball from your side of the net to mine, and I hit the ball back from my side to yours. (Tennis is no good when someone catches the ball and won’t send it back.)
But sometimes, a good conversation needs to be more like digging a well.
When we begin sharing about our lives and ourselves, we begin close to the surface and work our way down. Consciously or unconsciously, our hearts are asking questions like:
- Is it safe to say more?
- Will I be loved and accepted if go further?
- Can I tell them about ________?
- Do I want to find out what’s down here?
Tennis (even a friendly game) can unwittingly answer, “Don’t go deeper; hit the ball back.”
The heart behind these questions begs not so much for more words but for silence, for listening. For the kind of conversation that digs a well.
In this kind of conversation, we both dig. You dig by what you say; I help dig by how I listen. Instead of offering wisdom, advice, Scripture verses, or prayers, my major role becomes to sit in the presence of Christ in silent attentiveness to what you have to say.
For all of us, we practice listening because so long as a well remains undug, waters of the soul will go untapped and thirst will go unquenched.
We practice listening because silence loves in ways words cannot.
When we fight our reflex to speak (which kicks in strong especially when we sense the one speaking is feeling fear or shame), and instead leave room for another person to say more, it can be like watching a miracle unfold:
Hard, crusty ground is removed layer by layer until you can almost hear the deep water running below. It longs for light and air. And when it finally breaks through, it rises like a spring bringing life to places long forgotten.
Incidentally, I wonder if sometimes we experience God’s silence and think Him uncaring, when actually He so loves and longs for the deepest places of our soul, that when we think we’ve said it all, His ear remains to the ground listening for more.
Certainly, He listens longer than we’re used to.
When was the last time someone listened well to you? Leave a comment below.
As much as I’m sometimes tempted to believe otherwise, if I want to become increasingly whole and free, I have to let others know me fully, including confessing my sins.
A half-veiled life—a life where I hold all the cards, orchestrate who knows what, decide what will make me better and what won’t—doesn’t work.
For a long time I believed that stepping into the light with my sins—especially the ones I was most ashamed of—was too risky. So I hid my sin, determining to put it behind me before uttering a word about it to anyone.
But life needs light. Sin and death thrive in darkness. It’s their natural habitat.
When Adam and Eve sinned for the first time, they scrambled to hide themselves from each other. Today, we race for updated versions of the fig leaf: career, social circles, makeup, fitness, knowledge, independence, religious-looking activities. Insubstantial to cover us, they demand we step carefully, hold ourselves just so, and for goodness sake, never let down our guard lest we be exposed.
Confession invites us to lay our fig leaves down.
God comes toward fig leaf covered sinners, just like He did in Genesis.
He didn’t come to scare them. And when He questioned them, it wasn’t to shame them.
When Adam and Eve confessed (and they offered a phenomenally pathetic confession, we might note), He exchanged their fig leaves for clothing made of flesh. He drew first blood, a sacrificial death to remove their shame and cover them.
Likewise, God doesn’t invite us to confess our sins to one another to shame us. He wants restored relationship with us and between us.
I know, the step from darkness to light can feel impossible, the risks too great. But as we take that risk, and then as we begin to make a habit of telling the whole truth about ourselves, sin and shame lose their grip. (If you’re not sure where to begin, you can call us.)
I have come to believe there is little more important to life, health, freedom, and relationships than regular, truthful confession.
There, in the presence of Christ and my brothers and sisters, we lay down our fig leaves and say plainly the wrongs we have done. Shame rises momentarily, threateningly, the last flicker of a flame before it dies away. And we arise clean and clothed in Christ.
Question: What helps you tell the truth to others about sins in your life? Or if you don’t, what would help you? Leave a comment below.
It’s been over a decade since porn was a regular part of my visual and mental diet. I’m one of many who have found that life is simply better without porn.
Here are three reasons why:
1. A free conscience. Those who indulge in porn know the stress of looking over their shoulder to make sure no one will see what they’re watching, deleting internet history, and shading the truth to hide how they’ve spent time. This all takes a heck of a lot of time and energy.
When porn’s gone, our conscience can rest. Rather than eliciting fear, the words, “Daddy, can I use your laptop?” or “Honey, what are you watching in there?” become opportunities for connection.
2. A free brain. Watching police dramas a couple nights a week will change the way you feel about the older man at the park who stops to watch your kids playing on the playground. Similarly, a regular intake of pornography changes the way you interpret a smile from a person at the gym or where your thoughts go when an attractive stranger joins you on the elevator.
When porn is gone, people become people again instead of “sex objects” or “temptations.” Moments that were once hijacked into pornified storylines become opportunities to enjoy the simple pleasures of interacting with fellow human beings.
3. A free heart. I used to love porn (even while I hated it). But porn never loves anyone back. Porn wants to own you in the darkest way. It purports to enhance love, but it knows nothing of love. Porn is all about me and my pleasure – what I want, when I want it, how I want it. That ain’t love. And it isn’t good food for a heart.
When porn is gone, a heart is freed up to learn to love. Men and women who do the hard work to break free and stay free from the clutches of porn can begin to grow in the virtue of love on a whole new level. Their hearts can breathe enough to ask (and mean), “How can I serve?”
Please don’t misunderstand: The absence of porn doesn’t automatically create a free conscience, a free mind, or a free heart. But if you want to be free in any of these areas, porn has got to go.
If you are struggling with porn, call us. You don’t have to live like this. Life is better without porn.
Question: What are some other reasons life is better without porn? Leave a comment below.