The stories are the same. Only the names change. It's Christmastime and little Danny (or Joe, or Bill) is bursting with anticipation at what might await him under the tree. A new bike? The action hero coloring book? Or, to hope against all hope, could it be a gaming system to top all gaming systems? Danny's heart could hardly take the waiting.
But in between Danny's hopeful dreams were other questions he didn't want to face, but knew they were more likely to happen. Would dad be drunk and angry again this Christmas? Would mom retreat into her "safe" shell and pretend everything was fine? Would older brother and sister bail as soon as possible to hang out with their friends? Would Danny feel as alone this Christmas as he did all the ones before?
Christmas is a message of hope and joy, but for many like Danny, it has been overshadowed by memories of disappointment, loneliness, and deep, deep sadness.
Do your memories of Christmas carry some of this kind of weight? If so, I want to offer you a message of hope that might help you fight what has become the seemingly inevitable holiday blues.
Here are three keys to fighting off (or enduring through) the holiday blues:
1. Connect with Healthy People
Alone is not good. God said so from the beginning. (Gen. 2:18)
When we get hurt, the natural response is either retreat or retaliation. In both instances, though, we begin to close ourselves off from others in order to prevent further pain. We isolate. We hide our true selves. This is normal. But it is not helpful or healthy in the long run.
You and I need connection. It's how God made us. While "alone" might help in the short term to prevent unhealthy people from hurting us further, it doesn't work for how God made us to thrive.
This Christmas, what if you took a bold step to connect with one or two healthy people? These are people who are humble and loving; they consider others more important than themselves. You need such connections if you are to fight off (or endure through) the holiday blues.
Take a moment to pray and ask God to lead you to such healthy connections this holiday. And trust that God is with you and loves you; He is the faithful connection your heart needs most.
2. Focus on Jesus
Jesus was called a "man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." (Isa. 53:3) He knows what it feels like to be misunderstood, rejected, and abused. He was the greatest Christmas gift ever (the Original!), and yet He was ultimately discarded on a cross outside the city of His own people.
But Jesus didn't stay on that cross. He overcame sin and death. He rose from the grave in victory. God's Word says of His attitude:
"...for the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb. 12:2)
Did you catch it? For the JOY! Jesus endured the greatest suffering of any man. He carried the weight of sin that was not His own. He died a brutal death that He didn't deserve. And He rose from the grave to offer eternal life to you and me -- for FREE! He went through it all for the joy that it would produce.
Will you spend some time this holiday focusing on Jesus and celebrating His voluntary sacrifice for you? Will you ponder what it was like for Jesus to hold on to joy in the midst of so much pain? Could you ask God to give you a sense of the hope and joy that is yours through Jesus?
"Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." (Heb. 12:3)
3. Give till it Heals
I bet you thought I was going to say, "Give till it hurts." But there is deep healing that comes when we understand the gift we have received in Jesus Christ, and then begin to give as He gave to us. True generosity is not a burden, it is a delight and joy.
At first, learning to give when you have a history of pain connected to this season of Christmas can be very difficult. It can feel like a burden to give to others when others have been anything but worthy of such grace. But this is what makes Christmas come to life, for you and I were anything but worthy of God's amazing grace, and He chose to give --> all the way to death on the cross -- for our ultimate healing.
As you give, you will experience a connection with God that is rich and beautiful. You will understand the heart of God more fully and appreciate His love more deeply. And you might just uncover what you have always really wanted on Christmas: a place to belong. You belong with Jesus. And when you give, you look like Jesus.
May THIS Christmas be like none you have ever had before. May THIS Christmas you experience new hope and joy as you connect with healthy people, focus on Jesus, and give until it heals.
It seems like everyone these days wants to be part of a "cause"; something that moves people to reach beyond themselves and see good multiplied. Yet, at the same time, we have a huge problem. It's called addiction and it isn't going away. Compulsions of every kind can be found throughout our society. But there is hope.
I'm thankful for the many group leaders, counselors, pastors, and others who are passionate and committed to helping addicted people enter recovery. But sometimes when an issue (like addiction) saturates a community it can be easy to lose zeal and effectiveness in addressing it.
If this loss of zeal and effectiveness in recovery ministry is occurring, how can we bring about a "recovery revival" throughout a society that is increasingly growing numb to the effects of addiction. Here are 3 keys to launching and sustaining such a revival.
3 Keys to Recovery Revival
The foundation of true recovery is God's Word. We were made by God to reflect His image -- His character of holiness, truth, and love. But sin in us disfigures this image and draws us to the very things that enslave us in addiction (lust, greed, power, fame, etc.). We need rescue from our sin. Enter Jesus Christ.
Jesus is God's Son and entered humanity to live the life we couldn't, died the death we should've, and rose from the grave to give us what we don't deserve: reconciliation with our heavenly Father. Jesus is the source of true recovery.
Jesus was said to be "full of grace and truth." (John 1:14b) He was God in human form. He had no sin, no imperfections, no addictions. His "cause" in life was to set captives free:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound...
Jesus declared the above verse was fulfilled in Him. (Luke 4:16-21) He was the hope for the poor, the brokenhearted, and the captive prisoner. He was our "recovery"; the One who could break the chains of sin that separated us from God.
If we are to see a recovery revival it must be grace-based and truth-directed. We must extend compassion to the addicted as we lead them to the truth of God's Word. In other words, we must introduce them to Jesus.
The longer I live and the more years I am in ministry to sexually broken people I am convinced that every movement (for good or bad) boils down to leadership. Therefore, it is essential that recovery leaders are transparent and "real."
When I first started in ministry as a vocation I remember thinking, "Man, no one is going to listen to me. I don't have a Master's degree or any kind of formal education in addiction recovery or therapy." And every time I tried to go after such degrees, God closed all the doors. And I didn't know why until years later.
I'm not anti-education. I'm very much for learning and growing. But what I discovered along the journey of ministering to addicted people is that the most powerful thing leaders have to offer to others in recovery is themselves. It is your story, not your knowledge, that will inspire others to join you on this wonderful adventure of recovery.
So, if you want to see a recovery revival sweep through your community, be courageous and share your story with those who need the courage to share theirs. When leaders get real, it opens the door for true recovery.
Everybody is broken. Sin has infected us all and affected us all. No one can claim they have been unharmed by sin. Some might claim they haven't crossed the line into addiction, but I don't think that is necessarily relevant when it comes to birthing a recovery revival. See, if everyone is broken, then everyone can benefit from recovery.
Sometimes we complicate the "intake" process for people coming into recovery. We want to explore their history, their frequency of acting out, their specific compulsions, and much more. And this can have value to a person's recovery, but not for their entrance into recovery. Everybody must be welcome to enter a grace-based recovery environment. The only qualifier is a desire to get better.
Imagine if we didn't prejudge people entering into recovery. If we drew no lines around gender or race or religion or behaviors. Instead, we smiled, put our arms around their shoulder, and said the best words any broken sinner could hear, "Welcome. We're glad you're here. What's your name?"
True recovery is an invitation to everybody. We cannot control how people will respond to the invitation, but we can choose to treat all who enter with respect and love and truth.
Is God stirring you to bring a recovery revival to your community? Then get busy doing whatever He is calling you to do. May many more captives be set free!
Click here to learn more about Grace-Based Recovery
by Jonathan Daugherty
If I'm honest, I don't really want to write this article. Not because I don't believe the title has merit, but because the issue of sexuality is such a hot button between the two communities mentioned. Orthodox Christians are often viewed by those in the LGBTQ community as archaic and anti-love, whereas those who identify as LGBTQ+ are often viewed by those in the Christian community as "sinners in the hands of an angry God." What can be done to resolve this "battle" of sexual ideologies?
For the sake of full disclosure I must state that I am a Bible-believing evangelical Christian. So, automatically there will be assumptions made about my worldview. I believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, and I affirm such confessions of Christian beliefs as The Apostle's Creed and the Westminster Confession of Faith. I am, as some might say, a conservative Christian.
But I don't hate anyone in the LGBTQ community. And I invite my Christian brothers and sisters to do the same. However, we must do so without abandoning the foundation of our faith. We must love as Christ loved -- in grace and truth.
There are three key things that I think Christians can (and should) learn from the LGBTQ community. And by learning these we might establish a bridge for conversation and relationship. We might even discover that at our core we are more alike than we are different.
1. We all want a place to belong.
I have listened to many stories of those who identify as LGBTQ+ and there is often a common refrain when it comes to a person finally "tipping the scales" to fully embracing their sexual orientation: "I was welcomed with open arms by the (fill in the blank with LGBTQ+) community." The longing to belong is strong in us as human beings. When we find a place that accepts us, we tend to move in that direction.
So, Christian friends, what can we learn from this? Might it be that we don't hold out open arms to those who are different from us? Maybe we need to learn a lesson here about the kinds of environments we are creating in our churches. Are we inviting people just as they are to come explore Jesus and our Christian faith, or are we creating a moral obstacle course for people to pass before they can gain access?
Hear me clearly on this point: It is not our job as Christians to change people's behavior (or their heart); we are called by God to introduce people to Jesus, and walk with them as they grow in Him. And how can we do that if we construct so many obstacles before they hit the front door?
Jesus sought out the most broken people to show He loved them. Religious people didn’t like that, including the Pharisees who murmured about Jesus letting the woman anoint his feet, “If He knew what kind of woman she was He would not let her touch Him.” (Luke 7:39)
Broken people responded so well to Jesus because He essentially showed them, “You belong here with Me.” Their behavior changed after being with Jesus, not before. Christians need to understand the power of our belonging together with Christ, and should extend that fellowship to others as Jesus did.
2. We all want an identity that is unique and celebrated.
One of the hardest questions to answer is "Who are you?" This is a question of identity. And it's easy to construct our answers based on external factors, such as job, family, hobbies, and reputation. One element that is central to being human is sexuality. So, it makes sense that this would be an area in which we want to "stand out" as unique in our identity. But at what cost?
I remember the "old days" when there were only two distinctions between sexual orientations and gender identities: heterosexual and homosexual; male and female. But today, by some reports, there are dozens of distinctions of sexual orientation and gender identity! Why so many variations?
Everybody wants to be somebody. In other words, we all want a sense that we are unique in the world. And the truth is, we are. Fingerprints, DNA, and even body odor are distinct to every human being on planet earth. You and I are born unique. But sometimes we want to plant a flag (no pun intended) that declares this to the world. Sexual/Gender identity can be an easy (and obvious) way to do this.
Christian friends, the LGBTQ community does an excellent job of defining and celebrating a person's uniqueness based on their sexual/gender identity. Could the same claim be made of you and me based on our identity in Christ? Do you know who you are in Him and how you are uniquely gifted for His purpose? And do you celebrate this gift of God's grace in a way that is attractive and life-giving to those who are far from God?
When Christ is at the center of our identity there is nothing that can destroy or diminish our value and significance.
3. We all want our lives to matter and our voices to be heard.
I have a Google Alert set for LGBTQ. This means that every day I get a report from Google on all the news and articles related to anything with LGBTQ connections. Every day lots of news comes up! One thing I notice over and over again is the relative consistency and persistency of the messaging for LGBTQ rights and the predictible attacks against those who oppose such rights. But what's the real message here?
A group of people (LGBTQ) with a shared worldview and common goal are crying out to be heard and to make a difference in the society.
What can Christians learn here? What is our primary message? It is that "God so loved the world" that He sent Jesus Christ to die for sinners like you and me. (John 3:16) But when our message simply becomes a reaction to the latest shock news we find ourselves being grinded into dust by the political and media machines, rather than offering hope and life and freedom to "those who have ears to hear."
Let's also remember that all of us come to God with our own baggage and sin. A lot of our baggage and sin we don’t realize is harmful or even that it exists until we have spent time with God. Often, in His wisdom, He waits (sometimes years!) until the time is right to point it out to us and invite us to unpack it. We must offer the same grace to the LGBTQ community by focusing on welcoming them and introducing them to God, then allowing God to work with them as He sees fit in His timing.
My Christian friends, what then should the church's response and role be to the LGBTQ community? Might we stand together and declare:
Love is actually the common language Christians share with the LGBTQ community, even though our worldviews for how to present and practice love are very different. But might we have the courage to demonstrate the same love that Jesus Christ demonstrated to us, that "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Would you die for the sake of a LGBTQ person?