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.
God invented sex and marriage. Christians know this, but often don't understand why such inventions are important, or how to live in them well. There is much confusion surrounding God, sex, and marriage.
Here are just a few recent headlines that indicate the confused state of our culture (and even the Church) on matters of sexuality:
Shameless: A Sexual Reformation, by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Pastors Grapple with Methodist Church's LGBTQ Stance
Human Sexuality Tops List of Subjects US Clergy Struggle to Address
Is there any clear picture of what sex and marriage are all about? Or are we doomed to continue fumbling around in the dark halls of moral relativism and pass the buck to the next generation to try and figure it out?
I believe God has spoken on this subject. And he is not ambiguous.
God is pro-sex
Because God invented sex, he is for it. In fact, the first command God gave to the first man and woman was "have sex." (Gen. 1:28) God is not some cosmic killjoy against pleasure. He made sex. He made it pleasurable. But he also made it to symbolize something far more than it has come to mean in much of our culture.
Sex is the most intimate, powerful, pleasurable union that a man and woman can experience. It creates a bond like nothing else. Chemicals are released in the brain that magnify pleasure and fortify the "imprint" of the other person. The two truly do "become one" in this intimate act.
God created this powerful connection of sex to give us a picture of the kind of powerful connection he desires with us; a oneness with our Creator. But because sex is so powerful, God made it to be a protected activity within the boundary of covenant. In other words, sex isn't casual from God's perspective. It is covenantal. That's why God also created marriage. (Gen. 2:18-24, Matt. 19:3-9)
God is pro-marriage
Marriage is the lifelong covenant between one man and one woman. God instituted this to be the context in which two become one. And sex is the consummation of this oneness. But why is marriage the exclusive relationship for sex?
The simple answer is "because God said so." (Exodus 20:14, Deut. 5:18; and God's Word is more than a sufficient answer -- it is the final authority on all matters.) But we can also see in God's design some good reasons why sexual activity is reserved only for marriage.
Health -- A single sexual partner over a lifetime virtually eliminates the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases. The exclusivity of sex in marriage protects from potential disease.
Intimacy -- Marriage is designed for a man and woman to grow together: sexually, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Infidelity (including porn) hinders intimacy.
Oneness -- "The two shall become one." God's design for marriage is for two to become one, not three or four or twenty. Exclusive 1-man-with-1-woman sex in marriage strengthens and deepens the bond of oneness.
Faithfulness -- Sex outside of marriage (in any form, including pornography) erodes trust. The exclusive nature of sex in marriage helps build faithfulness by each spouse "forsaking all others" in favor of unity with each other.
God is pro-love
The design of sex in marriage is deeply rooted in love. This is the heart of the metaphor God gives us in the picture of marriage: covenant love. Thus, sex is meant to be the physical expression of covenant love. And it's beautiful. It's giving. It's sacrificial. It's sacred.
But we must not mistake all sexual feelings as being love, nor think that "love" is always to be expressed in sex. We can love without being sexual. And we can certainly be sexual without loving (although, this is not God's design!). God calls his followers to love all people, but not to have sex with all people. Sex is exclusively reserved for marriage.
Love is doing good for another at your own expense. God is love. He did the ultimate good for us at the expense of his own Son dying on the cross for our sins. Through faith in Christ we are called to live in the same way toward all our neighbors; to love them sacrificially. But just because I love my neighbor, maybe even have strong, deep affection for them, does not mean I am to be sexual with them.
Because God is love, and God is also holy, love adheres to a standard. It is not subjective.
God is pro-truth
Sex and marriage and love, oh my! These are big topics with big ramifications. This is why they must be rooted in truth. And all truth finds its source in the Creator. God is the standard. Therefore, when examining sex and marriage and love, we must look to God and His Word as the final authority. This is where we all get uncomfortable.
Truth, by definition, is exclusive. If A is true, then non-A cannot also be true. For example, if Sally is pregnant, she cannot also not be pregnant. Pregnancy is either true or false. Truth is exclusive.
When God makes declarations about sex, marriage, and love, we do not have the luxury of claiming opposite views as simultaneously true. Either God's Word is true or it is false. If it is true, it cuts us all to the bone: "Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins." (Ecc. 7:20) Truth is the great equalizer. We have all sinned. (Rom. 3:23)
Therefore, the question we must all answer is, "Do I believe God's Word?"
Is God's Word true regarding sex? Is God's Word true regarding marriage? Is God's Word true regarding love and truth? The answer to these questions determines the consequences we must face. Not that our belief determines what is true (remember, truth is exclusive), but that the consequences we face are determined by what we believe about the truth. If our lives do not line up with the truth, it is not the truth that suffers.
Where do you take your confusion or frustration about sex and marriage and love? Might you spend some time searching God's Word, engaging other Christians, or fervently praying? God is the Creator of sex and marriage, and he is the source of love and truth. And he promises to respond to those who humbly seek him will all their heart.
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." --Matthew 7:7-8
If you're in the San Antonio area, please register for the God, Sex, and Your Marriage conference on March 23, 2019 at Community Bible Church.
Click here to register
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...
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?