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
Do you ever wonder if we live in a country (USA) that is so blessed with "creature comforts" that we have become "flabby" when it comes to our spiritual fitness? We have so much, yet everywhere I turn I see increased dissatisfaction and misery as people clamor for more and more and more. When will it ever be enough? Is there ever an end to the discontent and anxiety of those believing the lies of entitlement thinking? (let's chew on that one for a few seconds...)
I actually believe there is an end to such discontentment and anxiety, but to pursue it requires incredible strength and resolve because it goes against all that our culture promotes and worships. The answer to ungratefulness and dissatisfaction (and addiction!) is found in God's grace.
I realize that many of my writings, whether in a blog, a newsletter, or a book, tend to come off as a rehash of the same old theme: grace! For any of you who have read many of my writings, you might be thinking, "Geesh, here he goes again on the 'grace thing.' Doesn't he know how to write on any other topic?!" I apologize, but only for the fact that the message seems not to be getting through on a larger scale to believers throughout our culture. Grace is the theme of true life for the believer, and until we understand (and embrace) this truth, we too will fall victim to the whining and moaning of the increased throng of the dissatisfied.
So, what is it that makes grace so amazing? Why is it so essential to true life and real contentment? What makes God's grace indispensable, not merely a side issue that we can take or leave on this journey of faith?
What makes God's grace so paramount, so essential in this thing called life is that without it there would be no life at all. It was by God's grace that he even considered creating us to enjoy him. His grace is woven throughout all of creation, offering us breathtaking examples of his beauty and majesty. His grace consistently and persistently pursues mankind, even going so far as to lay down the life of His own Son, Jesus Christ, in order that we wouldn't perish but instead enjoy life forever with him. Grace is fundamentally essential to life, in all its layers!
But is grace really enough? This is the question our culture is so accustomed to asking, isn't it? "What is enough?" And we ask it about everything, don't we?
And the list goes on. We as believers should be the first to notice the fallacy in such thinking, but often we ourselves are swept away in the rush of discontent and we find ourselves believing the subtle lie of the enemy (which hasn't changed from the beginning), "What you've been given by the grace of God -- it isn't enough." As we swallow the hook of that lie, we (just like the unbeliever) become pawns of the devil, twisting and turning in whatever direction he desires.
I'm not saying we shouldn't want to improve and even take risks in following Christ (in fact, to follow the Lord is a great risk Jesus himself told us to weigh carefully). But we need to remember that we are promised discomfort in this life if we follow Jesus. We are promised trouble, hardships, suffering, and even hatred from the world if we take this Christianity message seriously. And this makes sense if you understand that this world is not our home. But in the discomfort, in the trials, in the illnesses, in the losses, is grace really enough?
I believe that until we come to a place where we say with authenticity and conviction, "God, your grace is enough," we will never know true life and never experience real peace and contentment. Believer, God's grace IS enough! If he were to provide nothing else for us in our entire existence, save his grace, it would be enough - MORE THAN ENOUGH! Do you believe this? Then cling to it in all of life's seasons.
God's grace is powerful for transforming lives, for in it we find something of the essence of God, the truth that he really does love us with an everlasting love. His compassion is overflowing, His salvation is permanent, His mercy is great and His faithfulness reaches beyond the heavens. When you come to the place of understanding and appreciating the limitless grace of God, you finally reach a place in your life that transcends circumstance, that is beyond the physical, material world that appeals to the rottenness of our sinful flesh. You enter a place of peace, untouched and unmarred by anything this life can throw at you in hopes that you fall. And even when you do stumble, God's grace is there to pick you up.
I pray you will embrace God's grace today and every day. It really is enough...
Thoughts are at the root of every decision you make. (Think about that.) When you decide anything, thought was the starting point. What you think about shapes everything about your life; decisions, language, attitude, intelligence, and more. This is certainly true when it comes to sexuality and the strongholds that can overcome those whose thoughts are consumed by lust. Therefore, it matters what you think about, right?
In this series we have been exploring the Pathway to Purity and the key markers along this journey that indicate growth toward a life of greater integrity. The first marker was Share Your Story. The second marker was Make Some Friends. In this post we will unpack this crucial marker of transforming your mind; thinking about what you think about and focusing your mind on truth that transforms.
Transform Your Mind
God’s Word tells us in Romans 12:2,
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
God says that this world is not what we are to look like. To be “conformed” means to fashion one’s self to another’s pattern. God didn’t make you or me to “bear the image” of the world. Quite the contrary! You and I were made to bear God’s image; to look like Him. (Gen. 1:26-27)
The primary way we resist this conforming to the world is through our thinking. God wants to transform us, which means to change into another form, or to transfigure. Transformation isn’t just about mirroring or matching a pattern, it is about becoming something totally different. And if you want to become a man or woman of sexual integrity, you must be transformed by the renewal of your mind.
What does renewal of your mind look like?
Time in God’s Word
When Jesus prayed for those who would follow him He made this request of God the Father: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17) There it is. Truth is God’s Word. And God’s Word is given to us primarily in two forms: the Bible and the Holy Spirit. While these will never contradict each other, it is important to understand some distinctions in how the Bible and the Holy Spirit work in the renewal of our minds.
The Bible is God’s written Word to us. It contains His law that reveals His character. It also shows us His redemptive plan for our salvation through Jesus Christ. We need the clarity that the written word gives us so that we have an anchor to truth. We must spend time in the Bible to learn who God is and how our relationship to Him is meant to be.
Jesus told his disciples that when he was going to ascend to heaven that he would send the Holy Spirit to them. Why?
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)
The Holy Spirit is our guide into all the truth. The written word is contained within the pages of the Bible, while the Living Word is written on our hearts through the Holy Spirit. In combination, the written words of Scripture come to life in our mind, heart, and actions through the personal power of the Holy Spirit.
You must spend time communing with both the written Word and God’s Holy Spirit in order to be transformed. God’s Word must be the anchor to the thoughts we think. Only then can we discern God’s good and perfect will. Only then will we be transformed.
Trust in God’s Promises
Renewal of the mind starts with simply knowing where to go for truth: God’s Word. But we must then take the next step: trusting God’s promises. It’s one thing to learn about God’s truth. It’s another thing entirely to trust God’s Word for our lives today. But God has made some wonderful promises for us on this journey toward greater integrity:
Meditate on God’s promises. Feed on them like food. Recall them when the world is seeking to “fashion you according to its pattern.” Be persistent. Over time you will gain greater confidence in God’s faithfulness and goodness. And with such thoughts filling your mind, you will be unshaken and undeterred by temptation and trials.
Training in Spiritual Battle
The Pathway to Purity is not a journey of sitting cross-legged and humming while levitating. It is a battle! And the battle is fought first in the mind. Therefore, you must train yourself in spiritual battle.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:11-12)
The enemy of your soul, the devil, wants to lead you astray from all that is true and good. Therefore, he is relentless in his attacks on your mind because he knows that thoughts are at the root of every decision you make. His tactic has been the same from the beginning: plant seeds of doubt about God’s Word and His promises.
The good news is that God has given weapons to fight the enemy’s attacks. But you must use them! Storing God’s weapons in your closet do you no good when attacked in the marketplace. Spend time in Ephesians chapter 6 so you know what God’s armor is and how you can daily put it on. The battle is real, but the victory is yours in Christ Jesus!
Also, I recommend you read The Bondage Breaker by Neil Anderson for additional help in combatting Satan’s lies with God’s truth.
As you march along the Pathway to Purity remember that these markers are simply guideposts for moving you forward. All of them are reminders that movement is essential to growth. Never stop engaging any of them. Keep pressing on!
For helpful purity resources, visit PureCommunity.org.
The Bondage Breaker
by Neil T. Anderson
Order on Amazon.com
So far in this 5-part series on the Benefits of Recovery I have shared that:
These benefits are great news to the addict who is drowning in self-loathing and despair. And there are still two more benefits to share!
Recovery Benefit #4:
Recovery leads to freedom and joy.
I have never met an addict who hasn't immediately answered 'Yes' when asked the question, "Do you want to be free?" All addicts know they are in prison (even if they won't verbally admit it, they know it in their soul). But not all are ready to be free. Not all are broken and weary enough to give up their way for a different way. This is why patience is so important when trying to help someone break free from an addiction. Freedom only comes to those desperate enough to die for it.
Jesus once said regarding life in His kingdom, "Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it." (Luke 17:33) Some addicts keep clinging to their life of addiction, all the while losing it more and more. But when an addict chooses to give up control, to submit their life and future to their Creator, they finally discover the life of their dreams.
Freedom is a beautiful thing; to no longer be controlled by impulses and temptations and false ideas of happiness. This freedom, however, is not found in recovery, but rather along the way. You see, freedom isn't a place, it is a Person, Jesus Christ, and the freedom He offers is more than simply cleaned up behaviors and properly firing synapses. Jesus offers freedom for eternity. He said, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
The freedom that God offers leads to joy, something an addict has rarely known. Addiction and joy do not mix. But recovery can lead to freedom, and freedom brings joy. I believe that the goal of recovery is to lead an addict to a place of true love and joyful community. This is the way God made us to live, and recovery is a pathway for addicts to discover this.
In my next post we will look at the final Benefit of Recovery: Recovery leads to purpose and service. Let's finish strong!
by Russell Willingham
Order on Amazon.com