(Photo by Joe Johnston)
I fell in love with Santa before Jesus.
I can remember the smell of pine and the glow of the Christmas tree covered with about 80 pounds of tinsel. The smell of cinnamon wassel on Christmas Eve, cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. And presents! It was easy to fall in love with Santa.
I knew who Jesus was all through my Elementary School years, but I didn’t really outwardly love and talk about Jesus until my High School years. There were many times during High School I had to remember …
I did my best to be a good reflection of Jesus in High School, but I am afraid I fell far short. There are still days where I look through my yearbooks from two decades ago and wish I had been more obviously passionate and outspoken about Jesus. He was my constant companion who gave me dexterity and got me through High School. I should have been more outward about my allegiance to Him. Then maybe others would have been curious.
It was in my early 20s that I fell in love with VW buses.
I bought my first VW Westfalia camper bus when I was 26 years old and a youth pastor in Indianapolis, Indiana. I loved that bus. And when it wasn’t running just right, I actually took the motor out of the bus one Thanksgiving, put it in my garage and attempted that winter to rebuild it. I can still remember the smell of gas, grease and propane heaters. I bought a Chiltons VW manual and gave it my best shot. To make a long story medium length – that bus never ran again! The guys who bought it from me had to tow it out of my driveway. Since then I have owned three more camper buses. Including this latest camper I just purchased in June of 2015. Her name is Jetty. She’s a 1962 SO 23. 🙂
These days I don’t talk about Santa much, but I talk about my love for Jesus and VW buses pretty much daily!
You are possibly wondering why this trilogy of stories? And what do they all have in common?
Here is what I have learned …
As we head into 2016 … don’t be afraid to admit what you love and what you are passionate about.
Too many people in this world are sour.
And they suck … … … … the joy out of life and don’t appreciate all the good things God has given us.
Here is my simple challenge to you this Christmas season and this New Year …
Spend more time proclaiming what you are for rather than what you are against.
What you love is far more compelling
than what you hate.
Make people curious.
Make Jesus more famous.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
How do we experience joy in such a crazy, hectic, often lonely and sad season?
On the weekend of December 5/6 I kicked off our “Christmas at the Movies” series at Christ’s Church of the Valley.
The following is a full HD message about the movie ELF and the topic is JOY!
Since its release in 2003, ELF has become an instant classic.
The movie is about Buddy the Elf, who as a toddler in an orphanage crawled into Santa’s bag of toys and got transported back to the North Pole, where he was raised by Papa Elf.
As Elf grows up it becomes more and more obvious that he is not an elf. He is in fact a human, and his real father, who doesn’t know him, lives in New York City. So, Buddy the ELF, played by Will Ferrell, begins a journey of finding his father and ultimately saving Christmas by convincing people Santa is real.
Buddy the Elf tells everyone he sees that the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!
That sounds great – but unfortunately many people don’t experience much joy or cheer this time of the year.
Christmas joy is often buried under busy calendars, wrapping paper, strained relationships and credit card statements.
As David Crabtree wrote, “Christmas Eve will find us lifting up our weary voices to sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” Then we rush from the service to get one last gift, or visit one last party. So soon it is over. We save the bows, burn the wrappings, strip the tree, and labor over our New Year’s resolutions. Too often we have missed the point. We’re like the man who goes to the coast but never sees the ocean. The threat of a holiday hijacking is all too real. Unless we engage our hearts in a true celebration of Christmas joy, we are easily caught up in a pointless and mindless holiday.”
Here is the truth …
Christmas can actually be more stressful than joyful if we are not careful.
Maybe your stressful circumstances are …
Your Christmas season could be void of joy for any number of reasons.
I want to remind you today of two truths about joy from the Bible and the movie ELF.
1. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be joyful.
Buddy the Elf does not have a perfect life.
– He does not fit in at his house – literally.
– He feels lonely.
– He is made fun of.
– He is misunderstood.
Maybe you have been there or you are there … you don’t feel like you fit where you are. You feel lonely, misunderstood or made fun of. You don’t feel “happy” during this time of year.
Even if you don’t “feel” happy, you can still experience joy.
Happiness and joy are two very different things.
Happiness is external
Joy is internal.
Happiness hinges on what happens.
Happiness = “happenstance”
I’m happy because everything seemed to work out. Happiness is a volatile and temporary state because it depends on what happens.
In this world we live in, we will not always be happy.
I believe that’s why God also created us with the capacity to experience joy.
Joy transcends the external circumstances of our lives.
Happiness is dependent on the flesh.
Joy is dependent on the Spirit.
Joy is a gift from the Holy Spirit of God.
Gal. 5:22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
This passage is not a “to do” list … this passage is a “result” list. This passage is a picture of what walking with the Spirit can look like.
These are not the fruit of …
– The person raised in a Christian home.
– The person who comes to church every week or leads a small group.
– The person who never drinks, swears or loses his temper.
These are the fruit of the SPIRIT – you don’t earn – pull off – conjure up or produce this fruit on your own!
In order to experience joy in the midst of challenging circumstances you must allow the Holy Spirit to control your life.
If you want to move from happiness to joy –
you must move from your own flesh to being controlled by the Holy Spirit of God.
You can’t do it on your own!
The good news is that God can do it in you … the Joy of God can actually transcend the #SuckyCircumstances of your life.
When we look at the very first Christmas …
Mary the mother of Jesus did not fit in; she was certainly lonely, misunderstood & likely made fun of.
Mary’s circumstances were far from perfect. She was a teenager, somewhere between 12 & 17 years old. She was in love & engaged and pledged to be married – yet before the wedding day came, Mary became pregnant! And it wasn’t her soon to be husband Joseph’s baby. The baby was from the Holy Spirit of God. I can promise you this is not what Mary had dreamed. This was stressful, and she had a lot of explaining to do with Joseph and others. Yet she was in tune with the Holy Spirit of God, so she was able to rejoice even in a difficult and uncertain season of her life.
Luke 1:46-49 – And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.
Your life doesn’t have to be perfect to be joyful!
2. Joy comes from knowing “Him.”
To everyone else at the department store, this Santa looked just like another holiday hired hand. They knew every other department store would have a similar – cookie cutter – red suit – white bearded Santa. However, Buddy the Elf is not talking about just another Santa when he says, “I Know Him!”
He is talking about the REAL Santa …
– Who lives in the north pole
– Who has a real workshop
– Who helped raise him
Buddy actually knows the real – original – famous – Santa!
Which leads me to this HUGE truth today … do you know what will really bring JOY to your life this Christmas season?
Getting to know HIM!
Getting to really know Jesus this season is what will bring JOY to your life. No matter your circumstances.
You can come to know Jesus today!
Romans 10:13 – Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Romans 10:9 – If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
So the question, my curious friends is … Do you know Him?
Watch this short video that presents one of the greatest descriptions of who Jesus is that you will ever see!
And realize you can know Him!!!
This post you are about to read was inspired by a message I heard many years ago by Andy Stanley. Through the years Andy’s unique outlook on common Bible passages has inspired me. I hope this article will inspire you this Thanksgiving and Christmas season.
Have you heard the story of the 10 lepers who come to Jesus for healing? Jesus heals them all, BUT ONLY ONE RETURNS TO GIVE THANKS.
This is their story …
Luke 17:11-13 – Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
I want to pause here because to fully grip this text we need to understand a little bit about leprosy in Jesus day.
- It would begin with pain in the joints, feeling tired all the time, lethargic, move slowly and feelings of numbness.
Some of you are thinking … that’s me!
- A leper would also begin to lose sensation in their nerves. So they would cut their finger, ear or leg and not even feel it. There are stories of rats that would come and gnaw on their fingers and toes when they slept and they couldn’t feel it.
- Their skin would begin to ulcerate.
- They would get these discolored patches of flesh on body and face.
- People with leprosy would have their vocal cords ulcerate leaving their voice hoarse and rasp.
In Jesus’ day leprosy was a death sentence. If you were a leper when you entered town ~ you were required to shout “Unclean, unclean!” Lepers would never be with their family or friends again. You were not allowed to worship at the temple. They would live in a colony outside of town left to rot and die. They were worthless.
This is the condition of the 10 men who encountered Jesus.
Luke 17:13-14 ~ They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” 14When he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
As they were walking ~ something happened …
- Where their faces had been callused and disfigured … suddenly their skin was smooth.
- Where they had no feeling .. suddenly they could feel again!
The nightmare was suddenly over. Hope had returned. They were going to live!
This was indeed the greatest day of their lives!
Luke 17:15-19 ~ One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
This is where I especially love Andy’s insight …
Ever since I was a child I have been taught … “Don’t be like the nine!”
That is the moral and over arching principle of this story.
I mean HOW UNGRATEFUL CAN YOU BE? These guys were just given their lives back! They were cured and cleansed. They were going to be able to embrace their children again. They were going to be able to go back to work and go to the temple to worship.
They have been given their lives back, and they didn’t even go back to Jesus. How ungrateful.
Don’t / be / like / the / nine!
Let’s be realistic, curious friends.
Do you really think these 9 guys were ungrateful?
Again, I love Andy’s insight …
I don’t think so!
I don’t think these guys were ungrateful.
These guys have just been given their lives back.
Where do you think they went after they were cleansed?
I believe they went back to their homes and instead of shouting “unclean, unclean” they shouted “I’m clean, I’m clean!”
They jumped, danced, hugged kids, kissed wives, shook hands and no one ran from them. They were as thankful and grateful as they could be.
The problem these nine men had is not that they didn’t FEEL gratitude … their problem is that they never returned to express their gratitude!
Ten guys are grateful in their hearts and only one returned to outwardly express his gratitude.
This leads us to the HUGE relational principle that we must understand today.
actually communicates ingratitude.
If you are not careful you can spend your whole life believing you are a grateful person when actually others around you view you as ungrateful.
How could this be?
It’s simple … most of us tell people how grateful we are for so and so and so and so and so and so …
But we never actually take the time to go back to tell “so and so”!
This happens all the time.
If I were to ask you who you’re grateful for in your life … you would say …
You could make a list.
You would exude gratitude!
But my question is … do those people know you’re grateful?
Have you expressed your gratitude to them?
Do we return our gratitude to the ones who deserve it?
Are you like the 9, or are you like the 1?
The other nine lepers no doubt expressed their gratitude to their family and friends over and over and over and over. And that is great, but Jesus was the person these men needed to go back and express gratitude towards.
Our unexpressed gratitude
actually communicates ingratitude.
I want us to realize this Thanksgiving and Christmas season that we actually have a lot in common with the 9 who did not return. It’s not that we are ungrateful. We just don’t take time to slow down and go back and express it!
May I suggest during this season that you …
- FEEL gratitude for you husband or wife … you just need to take the time to express it to him or her.
- FEEL gratitude for you job … you just need to take the time to express it to your boss.
- FEEL gratitude for your friends … you just need to take the time express it to your friends.
- FEEL gratitude for your church … you just need to express it to your church.
Send someone you are thankful for a text, email, snapchat or better yet a phone call or letter today.
Don’t be like the nine.
Live curious friends.
I am currently in the Dominican Republic with a cohort of pastors on a “Next Level Leaders Retreat” sponsored by GO Ministries.
It has been an amazing week experiencing multiple expressions
of culture shaping local ministry.
God is at work through the church plants, seminary, nutrition centers, sports teams, kingdom businesses, medical centers and local leaders that GO Ministries has raised up and empowered over the past several decades.
Part of our time together has been spent discussing this curious thing called leadership. I have been privileged to give several talks about how next level leaders live curious lives.
Here are 9 of the 15-20 ingredients we have talked about that are often mixed into the life of a next level leader.
1. They lead themselves first.
One of the most curious axioms I have learned and been forced to embrace in the past 3-4 years is …
I am the most important person I lead every week.
That could sound so self centered and egotistical but it is not meant to be. It’s just true.
If I can’t lead myself well … I won’t be leading others for long. I am the most important person I lead every week!
2. They say NO.
“The enemy for leaders is not lack of opportunity; it’s the overabundance of opportunity.” I love this quote from my friend Carey Nieuwhof. Isn’t it true that next level leaders usually have an abundance of opportunities.
There is always someone saying, “You should be here, you should be there, you should do this, you should do that.”
It’s easy to let others SHOULD ON YOU!
Worse yet … next level leaders often SHOULD ON THEMSELVES!
And I “should” add …
Opportunity does not equal obligation.
Leaders listen, if you never say “NO” and you try to care for everything you will soon realize you do not have the capacity or bandwidth to care for anything!
You will flourish yourself to death.
What I have learned is that ministry is so comprehensive you must actually steward your energy and compassion. Jesus didn’t have unlimited energy and capacity to care – neither do you.
3. They visit the future but live in the now.
It is so easy for leaders to live in the future. After all, it is our job to lay track so the train never has to stop. Right?!?!
The problem for leaders living in the future is that they inevitably neglect the now. It’s not possible to be present in both places. And when we live largely in the future we skim life.
Thus my challenge to next level leaders is …
– Make plans.
– Lay track.
– Cast vision.
– Dream ahead.
Visit the future, but live in the now!
4. They understand their culture is their currency.
It’s a somewhat curious and count-intuitive thing but when it comes to recruiting and retaining next level leaders …
– A pay-check won’t keep them … someone will always pay them more.
– The perfect job description won’t keep them … there will always be a better job description.
– A big house won’t keep them … there will always be a bigger and better house.
So what keeps them? An infectious culture keeps them. Your culture is your currency.
5. They have a long list of “obeyed” Holy Spirit promptings.
In my estimation there is no better way to be balanced, healthy and refreshed than to have a constant string of “obeyed” Holy Spirit promptings in your life.
The Bible is also clear, throughout scripture, that the Holy Spirit gives promptings and whispers to the hearts of His people. I know that promptings are rather mystical and mysterious and I’m not sure how they fit into your theology.
Yet, doesn’t it seem true that if God lives in us by the power and presence of his Holy Spirit. He will give us promptings?
The truth is there are only two kingdoms you can build – yours and His.
If you obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit of God you are building HIS kingdom.
If you do not obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit of God you are building YOUR kingdom.
SO … WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU OBEYED A PROMPTING?
If you cannot honestly remember the last time you obeyed a Holy Spirit prompting you had better take a really good look at whose kingdom you’re building.
If we are not daily obeying promptings we are in danger of building our kingdom not His!
6. They understand the pit falls being omni-aware.
Our world is becoming increasingly “omni-aware.” We are now aware of all the good and all the bad in the world the moment it occurs.
Think about that …
– We see every heroic act immediately.
– We see every violent act immediately.
Thus creating unintended hero’s and villains almost daily.
When I think about our current culture – it feels like we are living in a comic book. Because we are globally aware of super hero’s and villains like never before.
Often what happens to Christians when we get a real-time look at the world we get depressed. Because frankly it often looks like the Church is losing.
I love the documentary on CNN a few years ago that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the allied invasion of Normandy. During this special documentary CNN interviewed two elderly men who had been young soldiers and participated in the Normandy invasion.
An infantry soldier was interviewed and said, “We landed on the beach and I made my way thru dead body after dead body … I saw my whole unit killed! I fought hand-to-hand combat paying a high price for every foot of territory. I looked all around me at all the dead bodies and I fell to my knees in defeat. And I said to myself … there is no way we can win.”
A reconnaissance pilot was also interviewed and said, “It was my job to fly over the entire area of the battle and then report back to the allied command everything I could see from my aerial perspective. And as I flew over the battle field with every hour I became more and more confident with what I saw. And I said to myself … there is no way we can lose!”
Two people viewing the same set of circumstances only from a different perspective.
I believe it’s our job as next level leaders of God’s Church
to remind God’s people about God’s view.
If we could just this world from heavens perspective we would see that the message of Christ is advancing every single day. And there is no way we can lose!
7. They leverage technology.
Technology is amoral.
It can be used for either good or bad – just like money.
We should be curios and committed to leveraging all platforms, old and new, for good.
8. They have next level friends who they can be 100% honest with.
Ministry is hard. Isolation makes it even harder.
I read a study recently that claimed 70% of pastors do not have close personal friends, and no one in whom to confide.
This just seems crazy to me but also awkwardly true as I encounter lonely leader after lonely leader. We don’t share life very well together is seems. Maybe we are too busy, jealous, preoccupied or focused on our “own thing” to care about another persons thing.
This is tragic and I’d say to all wanna be next level leaders…
Let’s be others centered not self centered.
Let’s do our very best to live and model for others what Paul says in Romans, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
9. They have a killer commitment to a private devotional time.
What is it that separates you from a very charismatic, gifted, energetic, determined person who works for a Boys And Girls Club or a Chick fil A franchise or Google or some benevolent brand or non profit?
Your connectedness to God.
The greatest and most compelling thing next level leaders have to offer this world is our connectedness to God.
For many years I had a small sign in my office that said …
When you are faced with a busy day …
save precious time by skipping your daily devotions.
Don’t let satan make you so busy with “good things” that you miss the “best thing” your daily time with God.
Next level leaders have the ability to lead people closer to God because they have been close to God themselves!
There you go … a short excerpt from several of my Dominican Republic talks.
Live curious friends.
On the seventh day God rested from all His work.
Why did He do this?
Did God need to rest?
Was He tired, exhausted or burned out?
The Sabbath is something designed for every human being. Here are the R & R & R & R’s of the Sabbath!
God calls us to “abound” in work that is true. (Ephesians 2:10)
But God also calls us to “abide” in Him. (John 15)
If you just “abound, abound, abound” and do not take time to “abide” you will fizzle and fade.
Sabbaths don’t just happen in our culture today. You must prepare in advance for Sabbath rest. A day of rest requires work!
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a
Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work.
~ Exodus 20:9-10
My Sabbath day off is only a day of rest if I have disciplined myself during the week to prepare for it!
Todd, are you saying that I can actually get out and “do” things on the Sabbath? Yes, I believe you can. What qualifies as recreation on the Sabbath?
Authentic recreation should “re-create” you!
What re-creates you? Possibly …
- Reading a book
- Watching a movie with your family
- BBQ with friends
- Mowing the yard
- Cleaning the pool
- Washing the car
It could be any number of activities. But the key is that it “re-creates” you and adds energy to your day and honors Gods presence in your life.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. ~ Ex. 20:8
The Sabbath day is certainly designed to be a important discipline that is woven into the fabric of our lives. But don’t wait for the Sabbath “day” to arrive to practice the principles of the Sabbath. You may actually experience Sabbath moments each day.
When I get home on a typical evening, before I go into the house I just sit in the car for a little bit. I reflect and speak to God about …
- My position at my church
- My home
- My incredible wife
- My friendships
- That I get to be a dad
My mini-Sabbath time of reflection in my car sets me up to
succeed when I walk into our house.
You can do that, too. When your day is coming to a close, you can do the same thing God did in the first chapter of Genesis … reflect and remember the goodness of the day!
“Re-member” is to literally put back together broken pieces of time, events, conversations that happened during the day.
To “RE” member things means that life has been
“DIS” membered and you “RE” member it!
What I have discovered is that I live so much of my life at such a warp speed that it often becomes very difficult for me to make sense of things in “real time.” It is only by going back and “re” membering that a whole and meaningful picture can be created out the fragments of time.
SO … I sit around a lot on my “Sabbath Day,” and I think back. I “re” construct and “re” member things.
There is a great ancient liturgy called a “Prayer of Examen.” And it asks the questions …
- When did I feel most alive / refreshed in the past week?
- When did I feel most dead / depleted in the past week?
This prayer has been valuable to me as I RE-member my day.
I have no problem admitting to you today that though I have been a Christian for over 20 years, I still tend to wander. I am amazed at how easily I can lose my Christian calibration.
When we spend time together on the Sabbath with God’s people and God’s Word it recalibrates us.
It reminds us of …
- What’s true.
- What’s right.
- What matters.
There is no way I could live week after week after week
without a time of Sabbath recalibration.
A picture of Sabbath recalibration might be seen in a family that is traveling on a plane during the Holiday season. They have a child who is sitting at the window enjoying her very first flight. As the plane takes off and soars over the ground the child becomes glued to the window. Gazing out the window the child soon exclaims, “Look mommy and daddy…
- Widdle people
- Widdle houses
- Widdle cars
You see for the child soaring in the plane everything on the ground looks “widdle!” We know as adults that everything on the ground is still the same size. The only thing that has changed is her perspective.
Do you know what happens when we honor God and celebrate the Sabbath?
Our perspective changes!
By the time the Sabbath celebration is over we often have been recalibrated to God, and we find ourselves saying …
- Widdle worries
- Widdle fears
- Widdle problems
The closer we get to a BIG God, the smaller our BIG problems appear.
Curious friends, may you decide today to submit yourself to the Sabbath and experience the rest and refreshment it brings.
This article is an excerpt of a talk about our "Remarkable Culture." This talk was given six times in Fort Lauderdale, Florida several months ago to a gathering of pastors who lead Willow Creek Global Summit partner churches.
Some of my very earliest memories have to do with carrots. I can remember clearly coming home from elementary school and my mom would be peeling carrots for my snack or to put in a pot pie that night for dinner. I can remember how pungent they smelled when she pealed them and the sound of the garbage disposal working hard to chop up the peels as they went down the sink.
I grew up with these carrots as a huge part of my life.
My kids have not.
In fact, the increasing majority of people that we work with and lead in our churches have never seen one of these full size carrots. Yet they eat more of these carrots than any generation before them! How did that happen?
About 25 years ago there was a farmer in central California, and he was upset that he had to toss out tons of carrots because of imperfections. They were too thick or twisted to be sold as full size carrots. So he took some of these hideous full size carrots and put them in a potato cutter and shaved then down to about 2 inches. And BAM – the baby carrot was born.
In the 1980’s farmers would sell about $150 million carrots. Today farmers will sell nearly a half billion dollars in baby carrots.
Today you could be offered baby carrots on airplanes, movie theaters, Disneyland or McDonalds kids meals.
The realization is that people still love carrots, but the way they consume carrots has changed.
In the same way, I would suggest that people still love the Bible, but the way they consume the Bible has changed.
Our culture is also changing how they consume and metabolize religion and the Pope!
Take a look at this photo of people waiting to see the Pope at St. Peter’s Square during the announcement of Pope Benedict in 2005. And then look at the same location with people waiting for Pope Francis in 2013.
It speaks volumes about the changes our culture and its people are experiencing today.
Our world and culture are changing dramatically how they consume almost every experience.
Here is what author Peter Drucker says …
“Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation. Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself – its worldview; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts, its key institutions. Fifty years later, there is a new world. And the people born then cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born. We are currently living through just such a transformation.”
So, here are three takeaways for today’s churches and leaders.
1. The message of Jesus does not change, but our methods concerning how we deliver the message must be re-freshed, re-imagined and re-packaged to reach this generation. This is not easy to do. It requires energy, insight and great skill to re-package the message of Jesus without losing or diluting the message of Jesus in the process.
2. Technology and social media are a-moral. They can be used for good or bad. We are living at a very curious hinge point in history. It is up to leaders today to successfully navigate the journey from print to pixels without villanizing either medium.
3. Christians have always been the early adopters of new forms of media. The first “book” or codex was quickly adopted by Christians because it made the scriptures easier to carry around and search. We are now seeing leather bound bibles traded in for cell phones and tablets because, in the same way, they are easier to carry around and search. If I ask my kids to go get their Bible – they go get their phone. That is where they read and digest the Bible. The leather bound Bible I have in my bag, and the smartphone with the Bible APP I have in my pocket carry the very same scriptures.
The main thing for the future of the church is not how a person locates a verse –
it’s what they do with that verse once they locate it!
Live curious friends.
*** I understand that putting these thoughts in print could be dangerous as it does not allow for much interaction or perception of my tone. Please understand this is simply what I understand at this point in my life about Jesus, the Bible and the LGBT community.
It has now been over 13 years ago that I moved my family from Louisville, Kentucky to Los Angeles, California.
Kentucky and California are different!
We arrived in Simi Valley, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, to plant a new church just like the first church in the book of Acts in the Bible.
We knew we were not the only Christians, but we wanted to be Christians only.
There are all kinds of crazy church planting stories … such as landing in the same valley as Francis Chan, which turned out to be an amazing partnership and friendship, but I about killed myself with comparisons. (I will write about that sometime.)
In the midwest, I had never really come into direct contact with the LGBT community. I am rather ashamed to say this, but to me, the gay lifestyle was something “way out there” and removed from my daily life and conversation.
Then we moved to LA.
And the LGBT community went from something “way out there” to real people who were very close to me. My world changed as I got to know and eventually employ people who struggled with same sex attraction.
Here are three things I learned while living in LA about the LGBT community.
This “5 MESSY MYTHS ABOUT PORNOGRAPHY” message was presented at Christ’s Church of the Valley on September 5/6 as we started a new series called “Messy Grace.” The title of the series is inspired by the soon to be released book by Caleb Kaltenbach, you can read more about the book and order it here.
Do you remember the first time you were exposed to explicit or questionable content?
I do … it was my first day of first grade. I was 6 or 7 years old, and I was walking home from school with two friends; I can still remember their first and last names, but I won’t mention them. They asked me if I wanted to see something cool, and of course I said yes. They led me to a big oak tree that was rooted virtually in my own back yard, and they pointed to a hole about 8ft. up the trunk. They told me to climb up there and look inside. I was nervous, but I did it. And I can still remember, to this day, what I saw.
It was a front cover to a magazine that said “Playboy.”
I can still remember exactly what that front cover looked like, and that was close to 40 years ago!
I will be honest with you, I rushed home from school for the next several weeks more quickly than usual. I climbed that tree many more times to sneak a peak at that cover. Then one day when I climbed the tree, the magazine was gone, & it never appeared again.
My exposure to explicit images was then dramatically altered and reduced to the times I could find a thick JC Penny catalog laying around the house and quickly look at the lingerie section! Or once a year when the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit issue came out, and my buddies and I could go to the local convenient store, distract the store clerk and look at those girls in bikinis.
Fast-forward to today, several decades later, access to pornography is easy and everywhere. Anyone with a smartphone in his or her pocket can view pornography at a moment’s notice, really whether you want to or not!
Today, pornographic images are practically unavoidable. Whether you are seeking it or simply stumble onto it – it’s pervasive in our digital society.
Did you know …
- 12% – 18% of all websites are pornographic.
- 30% of all data transferred across the internet is pornography.
- 25% (1 of 4) of all search engine requests are pornography related.
– Last year, porn sites got more visitors per month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined.
- 47% of families say pornography is a problem in their home.
- 8 – 11 years old is the average age of a child’s first exposure to pornography.
- 90% of high school males will view pornography before they turn 18.
- 64% of Christian Men / 15% of Christian Women say they watch pornography at least once a month.
We can ignore all of this and pretend these statistics don’t apply to our lives, our marriages and our children.
Or we can be honest, brave and bold and address this subject.
This weekend at Christ’s Church of the Valley I shared a message where I unpacked and debunked these “5 Messy Myths About Pornography.”
My goal in this message is not to make you feel bad about your past – it is to make you feel optimistic toward your future.
My goal is to convince you that a porn-free life is actually possible.
MESSY MYTH #1 – Pornography is a private thing and not really hurting anyone.
Anyone who has battled or become addicted to porn has at some point adopted this erroneous mindset in order to justify their actions. To a clear mind this sounds crazy, but to a mind that is trying to rationalize out of bounds behavior, this notion makes perfect sense.
Friends, this is naïve and foolish. We live in a world where everything is interconnected, and it’s virtually impossible to assume that your private behavior has no public impact.
There is story after story of men and women where pornography became a gateway to sexual escalation. Eventually their private pornographic sessions led them to publicly crossing boundaries they swore they would never cross.
Consider the fact that pornography is a gateway to sexual escalation. Eventually private activity leads to public interactions and giving yourself permission to cross boundaries you swore you’d never cross. You don’t do anything with your body that you don’t first conceive of in your mind.
Porn is always progressive.
What happens “online” will eventually happen “offline” in our real lives – there is always an escalation.
Then, after desire has conceived,
it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown,
gives birth to death.
~ James 1:15
Pornography is something that always escalates and will eventually destroy you emotionally, relationally and spiritually.
MESSY MYTH #2 – My desire to read or look at pornography will go away when I get married.
No, it won’t. There is no research or indication anywhere that saying, “I DO” magically eradicates a person’s pornographic tendencies or desires. In fact, the most devastating manifestations of pornography are often only exposed after you get married.
One of the most detrimental consequences of pornography in marriage is unfair and unhealthy comparisons. I know an increasing number of men who have a real problem comparing their real-life wife to a fake woman on a computer, smartphone, tablet, TV, Xbox or PS3! And equally there are women who after years of reading erotic romance novels cannot be captivated or romanced by a real-life man.
They have been Nicholas Sparki-fied!
Did you know the use of the drug Viagra has skyrocketed in recent years some 312% between 18-45 year old males? One of the theories, that is never shared in commercials, is young married men have been so repeatedly stimulated by fake pornographic fantasies, they can no longer be aroused by their real-life wife!
Listen, young men and women … your unattended lustful thoughts or desire to look at porn or read explicit material will not go away when you get married. I want to challenge you today, if you are single, to fight for your purity.
Singles, every time you guard your mind and heart and soul and say NO to explicit content – you are saying YES to your future spouse and marriage!
Singles and students, don’t buy into the lie that your out of bounds habits before marriage will all of the sudden disappear when you say, “I do!”
MESSY MYTH #3 – Pornography can spice up a stale marriage.
This is a lie. I have talked to enough men and women over the past few years who have told me that when their marriage really went off the tracks is when they decided to believe this lie.
They decided to bring porn into their marriage. They thought it might help. They thought it might bring them closer to each other.
And the truth is … every single time … it does the opposite.
I was reading this week about the typical narrative of pornographic sex. It is pretty simple: strangers meet, have sex, and never see each other again.
This scenario doesn’t work for married people because, for starters …
YOU HAVE TO SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN!!!
Married people, take a look at this verse from the Bible …
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true,
whatever is noble, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable—
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—
think about such things.
~ Phil. 4:8
- Would you say that verse describes a husband & wife watching porn together?
- Would you say that verse describes a man looking up explicit hashtags on Instagram?
- Would you say that verse describes a woman reading 50 Shades of Grey?
Friends, listen, pornography does not spice up a stale marriage – in fact, it does the opposite and destroys marriages.
MESSY MYTH #4 – Kids don’t start struggling with pornography until puberty.
As mentioned in the statistics at the beginning of this article, the average age of a child’s first exposure to pornography is between 8-11 years old. It’s not just boys. Girls are also struggling to live pure in this sexually explicit world.
Parents, our kids find porn two ways.
Some of them are seeking it out, & some of them are stumbling onto it, and there is a big difference.
Here is a graphic that explains the progression of pornography in our lives.
I explained this graphic in detail in the blog post “Porn Again & Again Christians” a few days ago.
Parents, you need to understand this progression of pornography.
And you need to fight this like it’s your job … because it is.
Parents, do not let another week go by with an unrestricted stream of pornographic images & explicit content flowing into your home!
MESSY MYTH #5 – I can’t defeat this addiction to pornography.
That is also a lie from the evil one himself! You CAN defeat this addiction because …
Greater is He who is in you
than he who is in the world.
~ I John 4:4
Through Jesus, you can defeat this desire, but it’s not easy, and it likely won’t happen in a day.
Listen to what Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, says about our human nature and sin in Romans 7:17-27. (Message Bible)
But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel,
and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me?
Isn’t that the real question?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
Curious friends, you can find freedom in your life from any temptation, sin or addiction but it will only happen through Jesus Christ.
So here is the challenge … make a decision today to get accountable.
Accountability is the greatest enemy of pornography.
Here is a path to accountability.
1. Admit it.
Admit to yourself that what started as a temptation has become an addiction. What you were simply “stumbling” onto at first, you are now “seeking” out. Be honest with yourself, you owe that to yourself.
Admitting this to others such as your friend, family member, fiancé, spouse or parents could be the toughest thing you feel like you have had to do in decades. But don’t forget that accountability is the greatest enemy of pornography.
Admit it to God. And realize when you do, He is not going to say, “What, are you kidding me? I had no idea!!!” No, He already knows. So why not go ahead and admit to God what He already knows to be true about you?
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just
and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
~ I john 1:9
2. Engage it.
Nothing will change in your life until you make some changes in your life!
I know the mindset when it comes to pornography can easily become, “I’m never going to solve or defeat this problem, so why even try?”
It’s true … you likely will not solve or defeat this problem in a day or a week.
But don’t let that keep you from engaging this issue.
Make a decision that this will be the last week that this MESSY SECRET remains a secret in your life, family or home! And realize that getting past porn is a spiritual partnership with God in your life.
To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy,
which so powerfully works in me.
~ Col. 1:29
The key to getting past pornography is not your own power, but it is the power of Jesus & the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life.
Friends, live curious and counter to the culture of this world and make a decision that this will be the last week that this messy secret remains a secret.
*** I am indebted to many websites and articles for this message. But I want to specifically give thanks and point you toward XXX Church that has incredible content and a power-packed software called X3 Watch. And also Covenant Eyes, a website full of great information for families when it comes to living pure in this sexually explicit world.
I am deeply saddened at how porn has become so pervasive even in the lives of Christians. Most would no longer label pornography an epidemic in our world but a pandemic, admitting that everyone is exposed to and adversely affected by pornography.
- 47% of families say pornography is a problem in their home.
- 8 – 11 years old is the average age of a child’s first exposure to porn.
- 90% of high school males will view pornography before they turn 18.
- 64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month.
This past week I was flying home,
and on the back of an America Airlines napkin
I wrote out the graphic shown above
concerning how pornography progresses and prospers in our lives.
I gave my little “napkin” sketch to our creative team at CCV, and this is the result.
Let me explain the graphic and how porn prospers in our lives.
Smartphone – The first step is often when a person gets a smartphone, or any other digital device such as a tablet, computer, TV, Xbox or PS3. These devices are amoral; they can be used for good or bad. But they are often private portals into the world of pornography.
APPs – Once you acquire one of these portals you begin to add APPs to it. APPs such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat of course are not porn APPs. But these APPs and many others like them carry a stream of questionable content.
Stumble Onto Pornography – Here is the tough truth … once you have access to these APPs, you WILL stumble onto explicit and pornographic images and links.
And when this happens you can move in one of two directions …
Confess – When people “stumble” onto explicit images and links they can choose to confess this and have a conversation about it. This conversation with a student might go something like this:
- Son – “Mom, this is hard to say, but yesterday on my phone I clicked on a link that took me to some pretty bad stuff.”
- Mom – “What was the name of the link? Can you show me? What did you see?”
A conversation as simple as this moves people toward confession and healthy conversation. There is then the ability to set up guardrails to block certain websites and questionable content. These conversations and guardrails do not solve everything, but they move the issue into the light instead of letting it remain in the dark.
Cover Up – If people decide not to confess and have a conversation about what they have seen, then covering things up is the only other option. Things stay in the dark. And things that stay in the dark today have the potential to destroy a person tomorrow. When people decide to cover up their explicit discoveries, eventually what happens is they no longer “stumble” onto the content – they begin to “seek” it out.
And when this happens you move into a very vicious cycle …
MORE – Our appetites only know one word and that is the word “more.” And nowhere is this more true than in the world of explicit images, literature and lust. If a person covers up and begins privately seeking pornographic content it will become …
- MORE regular.
- MORE explicit.
- MORE secretive.
Porn is always progressive.
Here is the BAD NEWS … if people have a smartphone or access to any other digital device, they have stumbled onto and been exposed to explicit content. If there has not been a conversation and some level of confession then they have secretively moved in the other direction and are likely currently covering up their exposure to this content. They might not be “seeking” it out yet, but they will repeatedly stumble onto it again and again as long as they are online.
Here is the GOOD NEWS … a simple conversation can change this whole equation. A student, parent, trusted friend, teacher, pastor or grandparent who has the wisdom and guts to ask something like …
- “So, have you seen any images or links online that were out of bounds?”
- “Hey, I read the other day that 80% of people online are regularly exposed to explicit content – do you think that’s true?”
- “I have read a lot lately about how much porn is easily available online – can we talk about that as a family this Saturday morning?”
- “Son, I noticed some questionable hashtags on your Instagram account – can we talk about those?”
- “Daughter, I looked through your text messages last night on your phone – we need to talk about some of the things you and your friends are saying to each other.”
And a couple last thoughts for parents …
- Porn is always progressive. Your kids will not figure this out and become free of this devastating potential addiction on their own.
- Accountability is the greatest enemy of pornography. Talk to your family today.
- We must fight this like it’s our job – because it is!
* On Sunday afternoon, September 6th, I will post the notes to my message concerning “The 5 Myths (Lies) About Pornography”.
** On Monday afternoon, September 7th, I will post the video of the full 35 minute message.
*** This message about pornography will be presented at Christ’s Church of the Valley on September 5/6, as we begin a new series called “Messy Grace.” The title of the series is inspired by the soon to be released book by Caleb Kaltenbach; you can read more about the book and order it here.