As I drove away from dropping my daughter at school this morning, worry came whispering. (My daughter’s doing fine, but worry never seems to mind that.) It reminded me of experiences I had in high school. It reminded me of stories I hear today at Regeneration. I confessed, “Father, I wish she were growing up in a world where the majority of kids around her believed sex is sacred.” I breathed, tried to relax into the present, and added, “I know that’s not the world she’s in, so Lord, help us.”
Parenting is tough. It can be rewarding beyond belief, but it can be just plain hard, too.
I think it’s also uniquely challenging for parents today who are navigating a cultural landscape unknown to parents of previous generations—a landscape marked by smartphones, social media, the porn phenomenon, the obfuscation of gender, and remarkably high rates of anxiety and depression among teens.
The darkness surrounding our kids—and so the road we parents walk—is arduous.
I don’t intend to stir discouragement or worry. A bit of sober fear may spur us to step into the darkness, but anxious hand-wringing (even in the guise of prayer) or fear-based rules (even “Christian” ones) will not be good travel companions to us or our kids on this road.
(I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that good things are happening, too! For one thing, kids of this generation seem to have an uncanny orientation toward authenticity, compassion and justice. One leader in a college ministry recently told me she felt the church would be a radically better place if Christians were as accepting as students on campus are. God is working powerfully in and through all this, and that gives me great hope.)
A few years ago at one of our PG seminars, I remarked to one of the moms on our speaking team that I found it confounding that Scripture doesn’t offer us more clear direction on how to parent. She thought for a moment and then responded, “Maybe that’s not the point.”
She was right.
On the road we travel, we need something better than guidance about parenting. We need something more agile than the most up-to-date information about the apps our kids are using. By all means, seek guidance and keep up-to-speed with your kids’ world, but we need a surer way.
Christ offers us the way.
I don’t mean He offers us a way to produce perfect kids, keep them from harm, and ensure they won’t choose the ways of the world.
Jesus didn’t come to do something that would ensure we (or our kids) never suffered, never struggled, never sinned. He didn’t come to create a path from which we (or our kids) could never stray, never be lured, never defect.
But what He did do is give Himself in sacrificial love for us wherever we are. He invites us parents to become like Him in precisely this way—sacrificially loving with words and deeds (and silence, prayers, walking, and waiting)—not bound by how well or poorly our kids are doing, but bound solely by Christ’s love for us all (2 Corinthians 5:14,15).
Said another way, our parental calling is not to raise perfect kids in a perfect world. Our calling is to love imperfect kids in an imperfect world with a Christ-like love.
Oh may it be that your kids and mine fall deeply in love with Jesus and follow Him closely all the days of their lives. Let’s do all we can toward that hope. But, my friends, should they do so or should they wander far from Him, let us learn to draw deeply from His love and learn to love as He does in our parenting!
If we can help, let us know. (And if you’re in the Westminster area keep an eye out for our next PG conference in March!)
Question: What’s an example of when you experienced Christ-like love from a parent or parent-figure when you deserved it least? Leave a comment below.
How did you do remembering the true meaning of Christmas? Two thousand years ago, a virgin girl gave birth to a baby boy, the Savior of the world, God incarnate.
The word remember has two parts. The prefix re- means again, as in replay, restore, and regenerate. The word member has to do with being a part of a whole, as in staff member, team member, or family member. When we remember, we pull pieces of past events into our present minds.
Remembering Christ’s birth is good and right and helpful. But the point of Christmas, the point of the Incarnation—in fact, the point of Christianity as a whole—isn’t as much us remembering as it is God re-membering.
Sin fractured all of Creation, including people as a whole and the human person individually. Where people were designed to live in loving harmony, sin wrought suspicion, division, and violence. Where man and woman were created with differences that complement one another, sin wrought conflict. And where you and I were created to be whole men or women, sin dis-integrated each one of us into a sum of warring parts.
This is why when Jesus gave the most important commandment, He didn’t just say, “Love God,” but instead, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). He knows what you and I experience daily: We are fractured beings.
Our wills may say yes to God while our emotions say no. Our hearts may love Him while our bodies hunger for other lovers. Our spirits may be willing but our flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41), the good we want to do we do not do, and instead we do the evil things we don’t want to do (Romans 7:17).
Where have you experienced evidence that you are fractured?
- You knew you didn’t really want to, but you watched pornography again.
- You told your girlfriend you felt convicted to stop having sex before marriage, but one thing led to another…
- During puberty at the same time your body became able to procreate heterosexually, you discovered you were attracted to the same sex.
- You know your husband loves you, but you tense up in response to abuse from years ago.
- You determined to be more patient but lost your temper again.
- You believe in God but struggle to trust He actually loves you.
My friends, have hope! Christmas isn’t about how much you could keep Jesus in mind. In fact, when you wanted to do a good job remembering the true meaning of Christmas but got swept up in all the holiday busy-ness, when your stomach was full but your hand reached for more, when you sang the carols with your mouth but your heart wasn’t in it, when you knew it wouldn’t help but turned to porn to medicate stress, when you shook your head that no one had room for pregnant Mary but you didn’t open yours to the stranger, orphan, or widow, this is why Jesus came.
Where sin has dismembered humanity, Jesus has come in the flesh to remember us.
Jesus, we are not content to remain as we are. We long to become all You created us to be! As we step into 2019, remember us!
Leave a comment below.
The angel announcing the birth of Jesus could have visited any number of people. However, the angel specifically spoke to a group of shepherds who were tending their sheep. The shepherds were terrified upon seeing the angel. Not only did they see this angel shining with God’s glorious light, but then, many more angels appeared. The shepherd’s uneventful night became an experience which forever changed their lives.
Generically speaking, shepherds were typically single men. Their homespun clothes were soiled due to contact with the sheep and the difficult tasks they performed. They were often isolated and at the lower end of society. Their lives followed a set pattern of daily responsibilities.
Shepherds keep their flocks intact. Sheep tend to wander so sharp eyes are needed to watch for any who stray from the flock. Shepherds are familiar with all of the ways of the sheep under their care. He knows his sheep.
Shepherds lead their flocks to verdant pastures. Shepherds are familiar with the surrounding terrain. They are well acquainted with the dietary necessities of their sheep and seek the best pastures available to provide nourishment. A shepherd is well acquainted with the physical needs of his sheep.
Shepherds provide protection. Besides knowing the environment, shepherds also know what predators wait in ambush. Some of these predators are vicious and strong. The shepherds put their lives on the line to protect their sheep and made many sacrifices.
What an interesting occurrence, the first humans invited to worship the One who would become the Good Shepherd were shepherds. Their routine responsibilities reflected the future ministry of Jesus. These men were invited just as they were to visit the newborn Messiah. After the initial terrifying encounter with the angels, what were they expecting to find? How did these simple men, process the spiritual reality unfolding right before their very eyes?
If you were with these shepherds, how would you have approached the baby Jesus? What thoughts would occupy your mind as you drew near to Him? What would it be like to look upon the face of Jesus in those humble, stark surroundings? As you read the nativity story this Christmas, stop for a moment and place yourself in the sandals of the shepherds. How would you have worshiped Him?
Each week I get plenty of “windshield time” as I commute to the Regeneration Ministries office in Baltimore from my home in south-central Pennsylvania. This affords me time to listen to numerous podcasts, and one I heard recently is helping me to pause and prepare during this season of Advent.
Adam Young, in his podcast, The Place We Find Ourselves, recently interviewed a young woman, KJ Ramsey, who experiences chronic debilitating suffering and pain. Her auto-immune disease started in college, and KJ shared how one day she found herself lying on the floor of the common space she shared with her roommates. One of her roommates walked in, and in a gesture of incredible compassion, joined her on the floor, sharing KJ’s suffering and pain.
An image formed in my mind of two women, sitting on the floor, holding one another, tears flowing from the eyes of both. If anyone had come upon this scene it would have been difficult to know who was the sufferer and who was the comforter.
My thoughts drifted to thinking about Christmas, Jesus, and this Advent season when we wait with expectancy for the celebration of the birth of the Messiah. Jesus left heaven and joined humanity in the flesh.
In doing so, he willingly joined us on the floor of our sin, suffering, and pain.
As you anticipate the celebration of Christ’s birth, do you find yourself on a floor physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually? Are you on one or all of these floors as a result of your unwanted sexual behavior or some other way you have sought to manage or heal your own brokenness and wounds? If so, you can be assured Jesus will meet you on the floor, even when you find this is a floor of your own making.
Maybe you find yourself on a floor as a result of someone else’s choices. You may feel betrayed, duped, or angry, or possibly all three. The emotions you feel translate into physical pain, pain that won’t go away. Jesus also meets you on the floor, placing his arm around your shoulder, entering into your pain.
Wherever you find yourself; whatever your experience; Jesus meets you and joins you. You are known. You are loved. Receive his love. Receive hope, hope that does not disappoint and never leaves you alone. He joins you on the floor.
Leave a comment below.
Men’s Ministry Leader
I have a question for you, and how you answer reveals something about your view of Christmas.
Where do you nourish and care for your body?
For most of us we think about places like the gym, a doctor’s office, or maybe a health food store. Makes sense. That’s where my mind immediately goes. But why don’t our minds quickly think of a worship service, a Christian small group, a prayer ministry, our daily personal devotional times, or other spiritual disciplines?
Would it surprise you to know that these are intended to nourish and care for your body?
If your impulse is to think these are where you deal with your spiritual life and those other places are where you deal with your physical life, then without realizing it, you’ve probably been influenced by the heretical teachings of Gnosticism or Manichaeism, which suggest some version of the idea that “the spirit is good but the physical body is bad.”
In stark contrast, Christianity teaches that God is the Creator of everything (including all that’s physical), and that everything God creates is good.
“The body is not for immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 6:13b-15a).
Furthermore, God’s wonderful design for human beings includes the unique union of spirit and body. Take away one or the other and a person becomes a corpse or a ghost. Take away your spirit or your body and you cease to be human, you cease to be you.
This is why sin is so devastating. When Adam and Eve sinned, they scooped death into humanity, severing the union of spirit and body, and so your body (like everybody’s body) became mortal, daily experiencing sin’s reign in your body (see Romans 6:12), and headed toward death.
This is why the incarnation is such good news! In Christ Jesus, God has come to restore humanity, and to raise our bodies up to holiness, life, and immortality.
Christmas is a celebration of God becoming flesh to save you, spirit and body!
Where do you go to nourish and care for your body? Certainly, go to the gym, to the doctor, and to the health food store. But this Christmas, as you practice the “spiritual” rituals of the season, don’t neglect letting your body be nourished by the good news of the incarnation. As you do, lift your hands in worship, raise your voice in song to Him a little louder, dance with your feet, embrace with your arms, laugh from your belly, clap with your hands, look with your eyes, listen with your ears, fall to your knees. Or perhaps simply place your hand on your chest and whisper, “Jesus, thank you for coming to save my body.”
This Christmas season, hear the glad tidings you’ve heard so many times before, but now hear them anew as glad tidings for your body:
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).
I believe nothing mentioned in the Scriptures is by chance. Each example or story contains meaningful or hidden truths. The story of the three wise men: Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, as written in Matthew 2:1-12, I feel is one worthy of deeper contemplation.
To make this journey, these three men were deeply motivated and inspired. Each of them made incredible sacrifices to search for an unknown baby! Each also carried sacrificial gifts of great value for their time. Gaspar is attributed for the gift of gold, Melchior for the gift of myrrh, and Balthasar the gift of frankincense.
The gift of gold. Gold is a symbol associated with kingship but also with virtue. What an extremely valued possession, to give to a lowly, Jewish baby. The gold was a sacrificial offering of direct financial worth. Of the three gifts, gold had the most immediate value. The recipient of this gold was an unknown Jewish family in an impoverished setting.
The gift of myrrh. Myrrh is a fragrant resin used for medicines, rare perfumes, and incense. Myrrh was also a component of oil used to anoint the tabernacle, high priests and kings. Cyril of Jerusalem, a theologian of the early Church, indicated anointing oil containing myrrh was a physical representation of having the Holy Spirit. Today, myrrh is often a component of oil for the purpose of anointing and healing.
The gift of frankincense. Frankincense is an aromatic resin used in perfumes and incense and is a symbol of deity. The word frankincense is from an Old French word which identifies an incense of distinguished quality which is noble or pure. The use of frankincense is important use during temple ceremonies. The use of incense symbolizes prayers lifted to heaven.
These three wise men made many sacrifices. Were they possibly ridiculed for making this journey to search for a baby based on studying the stars? Did they question the financial and physical cost needed? Was there a concern for their safety, carrying such valuable gifts? There was something deeper within each of them, allowing them to rise above these concerns.
Would you make such a journey? Would the many costs of this journey weaken your inspiration? The gifts of the Magi were of significant value. What gift would you bring if you could have joined the Magi? Many other gifts could have been brought to Jesus. What significance does each gift carry as it applies to Jesus? I pray the Holy Spirit inspires you in this reflection. I pray when you see a crèche noting the Magi, it will be a new experience.