Be of Good Cheer!

Becky Brown

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Season’s Greetings! Feliz Navidad! It is a festive time of year and you better not pout! The holiday season is the frenzied time beginning with Thanksgiving–the time when we completely throw our food plan out the window as we check our list while grabbing a bite at the food court.

Is this really what the season is all about? Of course not, so how about focusing on the Reason for the Season!

When we read the portion of the Bible that tells about Jesus’ birth, we tend to read it with familiarity. Many of us recited it by memory for a childhood program, (I still remember nearly fainting about midway through!); we know what the manger scene looks like, and we have found out that the Wise Men really didn’t arrive for about 2 years. If you never examine the history of the birth of Jesus, you may miss the miracle of it all!

In Luke 1:5 the verse begins ‘In the time of Herod king of Judea,’ it is setting the scene for the miracle of Christ. In these times, Herod was building cities and rebuilt the temple with no detail spared. However, his treatment of the citizens was oppressive and harsh. His loyalty was mainly to himself. When he heard the news of the ‘King of the Jews’ being born, he presented a false admiration (Luke 2:8) only so he could then kill him. (Luke 2:13) And he could have, if not for the intervention of the angel of the Lord.

It is a miracle that Jesus was born of a virgin, survived the king’s attempts to kill him, and it is no small feat that God became Man! We may be frustrated by the lines at the mall or dread the evening at your mother-in-laws.  We may be stressing over the credit cards being so close to their limit that a happy new year is totally unrealistic!

Refuse to be diffused to the miracle of Christ coming to the earth! Make a choice today to draw closer to those you love, love those that are close to you, and celebrate the season of miracles!

“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.”’ (Luke 1:46-47) Let us remember these words as we go through this time of the year. Merry Christmas!

Thoughts for the Holidays

Deborah Tyrell

‘I dread the holiday time of year’ is a statement shared with sadness from many of my clients that trust me enough to be completely honest with their feelings and thoughts. Even though most of us long for the warm feelings evoked by images portrayed on greeting cards of ‘roasted chestnuts and open fires’ shared with loved ones, for many people this happy and loving picture is far from their reality. Instead, they feel overwhelmed by the prospect of obligatory gift buying, feigned merriment at parties they would rather not be at, frantic eating, and nostalgia from memories of times past with people who for various reasons are no longer part of their holidays. If you can relate to a vague sense of bewilderment elicited by this time of year, the following thoughts may help.

Many people have unrealistic expectations about the holidays that are promoted by the media showing extravagant presents underneath the tree being opened by families looking ecstatic about their perfect gifts. What cameras don’t capture are the worried faces of the people wondering how they are going to pay off the debt when they get their credit card bills in the mail.

It is important to remember what really matters. Do not confuse giving love with giving gifts. Although gifts can be an expression of your love, so are your time, your affection, your words of affirmation, and your willingness to forgive an offense. Decide on a budget and invite someone to hold you accountable for keeping it.

Next, you do not have to go to a party just because you were invited to it. Be a good steward of your time and energy. Even Jesus, the Son of God knew He had to retreat from the clamor of the crowds for quiet times with His Father to renew His strength. Pace yourself and find the balance between togetherness and separateness. Also, understand your personality to know if you are the type who is energized by a party or drained by the demands of interacting. Discover and do more activities that nourish rather than deplete your soul. When you take care of yourself you remind yourself that you are worth caring for.

Holidays do not need to be a time to binge on food. Learn how to celebrate Christ’s birthday in other ways. Although you can grant yourself the freedom to eat without guilt when you are hungry, savoring the tastes of your favorite holiday foods with pleasure, you can also make the day special by playing games with your friends, singing, attending church, praying together, or serving the less fortunate together. Remember that it’s creating and sharing positive memories together that are important. Do not confuse receiving love with eating food that you love. When you ‘numb yourself out’ by overeating, it’s difficult to feel the subtle but tender moments of being in the presence of those that you love and you may leave the encounter feeling physically stuffed but emotionally empty.

Finally, don’t let your fond memories of past holidays sabotage your enjoyment of the present by comparing then with now. Although you may realize that loss is inevitable because there will always be those moments of happiness and special meaning that can never be recreated because certain people are no longer part of your life, your sadness is no less genuine. Give yourself permission to grieve ‘what was’, but be careful not to warp the past into a time so perfect and flawless that it can never be achieved in the moment. Sometimes when we recall past favorite holiday seasons, we see our significant loved ones giving us what we have always dreamed of instead of what actually was. But we can only begin to accept our losses when we honestly evaluate the people we loved who are gone for who they were, both their good and their bad.

It helps to remember that all of us are part of broken humanity in need of God’s redemptive love, and sorrow is part of living even in the midst of the season to be jolly.

My prayer for those who struggle during this holiday season with loneliness or sorrow is that you will find God’s peace, comfort and hope in the midst of your pain. And that as you press into the presence of God, the power of the Most High will overshadow you and the Christ Child will be birthed in your heart revealing to the world His unfailing love and faithfulness.

The Process of Change

Deborah Tyrell

‘But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.’ (Gal. 5:22, The Message)

My clients often ask how change happens. Perhaps you too have wondered how you can move away from unhealthy traits and move towards the ‘fruits of the spirit’ referred to in the above scripture passage. I believe that change is a process that occurs in three stages. Hopefully the following will help by giving you more understanding of what to expect.

First, you must acknowledge what negative traits that you want to let go of. Recognize what self-defeating, relationship-defeating, and choice-limiting strategies you have used to cope with fear and pain. Some of the more common habits you may want to say good-bye to are: rage, blame, false guilt, overspending, overeating, a judgmental and critical attitude, emotional or physical affairs, chemical dependencies, approval seeking, and playing the ‘victim.’ As strange as it may seem, the first stage in the change process is an ending of something familiar. The pain of letting go may trigger overwhelming feelings. It helps to know this is normal and although tempting, is not a time to give up. Instead of quitting, this is the time to press into God through prayer, His Word, and His people for comfort and encouragement.

The second stage of change typically brings with it a period of confusion. This is a disconcerting season where you have said good-bye to the old, but the new is not yet familiar. On the surface, things may appear worse instead of better as others are also unaccustomed to your new ways which may have disrupted the status quo. I imagine that it feels similar to what a trapeze artist experiences when she or he lets go of one bar and has not yet grabbed the next. You may wonder what in the world you are doing here! During this time you may be tempted to go back to old dependencies for comfort, but doing so will ultimately end in destruction. Remind yourself of God’s grace through changes you have already survived. Your hope during this stage is dependent on your being rooted in Christ. He is faithful and you can anticipate that after the ‘shaking’, you will be left standing on a firm foundation found only in Jesus.

The third stage is a time to say ‘hello’ to the new things in your life. You welcome the sense of relief, peace, and energy that are becoming a consistent part of your experience. You begin to enjoy the spiritual enrichment that the fruits of the Holy Spirit bring to your innermost being. Although you still need to be intentional to make your new habits a regular part of your life, as time passes they become a part of you. And as a result of newfound fulfillment and satisfaction, you are motivated to keep cultivating life-enhancing choices.

The three stages of change are similar to what I observed growing up on a farm in Nebraska. In preparing the field for crops, my father first spent long hours preparing the ground. During the good-bye stage you must ask our Heavenly Father to prepare the soil of your heart. Only when the soil is prepared can the seeds be planted. During the hot dry summer, the young plants required tender care and weeds that threatened new life had to be pulled. Similarly during the middle stage, new ways of being need encouragement to grow while the roots of ‘weeds of the heart’ are removed. And without fail, fall was a season of harvest.

My prayer for each of you is that God gives you the grace to say good-bye to those things that limit you; that the roots of your being grow deep into the soil of His love; and that in due time you will reap an abundant harvest produced from abiding in Him. May you rejoice in God Who is faithful to complete the good work that He began in you through Jesus Christ.

Are you ready for change in your life? We’d like to help. Join us at our next New Life Weekend.

Behavior Change And Heart Change

Dave McWilliams

Most of us, at one time or another, have wished that we were a different person. These thoughts may come to us when things are not going well or in times when we are in trouble. We may feel shallow or inadequate in these times. Our behavior may have been offensive or unacceptable to others, and we may be embarrassed or overcome with guilt.

Change is very difficult for all of us. What about those of us who have gone through devastating situations, such as a hurricane or flooding, where we have lost a lot of what we own. Perhaps we have moved to a new location and changed jobs, and everything is now different. We can feel lost and left out in many ways. Things may never be the same again. Or we may have lost a friend who has been very close to us and supported us in many ways, and the pain is almost unbearable.

When it comes to making personal changes in our lives, it can be just as difficult. Often the focus is on changing our behaviors and our habits, but these are often not long lasting. As an example, many of us have made New Year’s resolutions, only to abandon them within a few weeks, because it was too difficult to maintain the new behaviors and habits. More often than not, our efforts are pointed at negative habits and behaviors and we put a lot of effort into trying to avoid them. It often does not occur to us to ask ourselves what to do to replace these behaviors.

While heart changes are more lasting, they cannot be made all at one time. They are not an event, but a process or a journey. In the mean time, we cannot ignore our behavior that is offensive to others or destructive to ourselves. If we are an alcoholic, or a gambler, or we struggle with pornography, our behaviors should not be excused while working on building our character.

The apostle Paul talked about making changes in our lives in Colossians 2:20-3:17. He pointed out that when we try to make changes in our lives through rules and regulations, or by trying to restrict our poor behaviors, failure is soon to follow. In his day (as in our time) people would say ‘don’t touch’ or ‘ don’t taste’, which really is nothing more than mere human effort to control our poor indulgences. But Paul pointed out that these rules and restrictions ‘lack any value in restraining our sensual indulgences’ (Col.2:23).

The best phase of our life to focus on restricting our poor behaviors is childhood. The duty of good parenting is to help us to recognize what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. The down side to this process is that no parent has it all together as to what is good and bad behavior. When we made poor choices, the way that they were managed had an effect on us, some positive, and others were destructive. The guilt that followed those destructive attempts to change our behavior will remain in our minds for many years until we are finally freed from them. While our minds are filled with the thoughts of guilt, we seldom have the clarity of thought to find direction in our lives. Feelings of loss and confusion block us from finding our way.

Real and lasting change comes from a different place than focusing on our behavior. Lasting change comes from change in our hearts as we take the focus off ourselves and onto the needs and concerns of others as well as our own. Behavior change is external and is often done to deceive others, or to avoid our pain, etc. Heart change does not deny our behaviors, but focuses on internal and character change. Heart change has a purpose in mind that is greater than our own needs and desires. We begin to become aware of how our actions and choices effect others and their well being, as well as our own.

There is another powerful factor that is involved with making changes from the heart, and that is coming to the realization that we cannot do it on our own.

Real heart change comes only through the power of the Spirit of God working in our lives. This is different than behavior change, which is done mostly in our own human efforts. When our human efforts fail, we continue to carry enormous guilt. The opposite result comes as we focus on change from the heart. This change will usually result in freedom within our thoughts, thus giving us the ability to think about life situations much more clearly. We also refer to the results of this type of change as bringing us inner peace.

Paul talked about ways to achieve inner peace as we change from the heart. He sited several concepts of life that will help our hearts grow. Some of these things are compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and bearing with each other. There are many ways to display these principles to others. God did not assign to us only one way to carry out any of these life principles. These principles are found as we seek God’s direction in each and every circumstance in our lives. And as we display them, we let others decide how to use them effectively. For example, if we are going to be compassionate to our spouses, we will let them define the most effective way to show compassion, otherwise it is nothing more than a selfish act.

There is another benefit in changing from the heart. It takes a lot of the pressure out of life. Behavior change usually results in trying to achieve perfection, and usually trying to make it quickly to avoid pain. This is real stress and anxiety and worry over what others will think of us. It often leaves us angry and defensive with others, as they point out our flaws. Heart change accepts our flaws as a part of who we are in the moments that they are revealed. The pain is used to help us change and grow. But the growth process is done without a sense of urgency. Change becomes a journey that is at times slow but consistent. Our flaws and weaknesses are seen as opportunities to work with those flaws so that they become more acceptable to others. Thus, our weaknesses do not totally define us as a person.

For help with sexual integrity, see Every Man\’s Battle.
If you need help in other areas, please join us at our next New Life Weekend.

Simple Acts of Moving Forward

Excerpted from “Simple Acts of Moving Forward” by Vinita Hampton Wright

Most of us work hard and we mean well. But we get stuck. And we get hung up, not on the big things or the months and years, but on the small things that make up our single days and hours.

You may have larger dreams for your life, but your most common struggles have to do with what you’re doing today, during this small collection of moments.

You’ve probably been forward-thinking enough to make plans, and you’re doing your best to make them happen. But even the best efforts don’t always satisfy you and, too often, you beat yourself up for that. Sometimes you feel that you will never get ahead or even get beyond the spot you’re in right now.

The only way to get unstuck is to take a step. It can be a big or little step, and you usually have a choice of directions. But it’s an action with purpose behind it, and no one else can do it for you.

Moment by moment you and I are making decisions and taking actions that help us move through time. Sometimes we move ahead in survival mode, ‘making it,’ but just barely, and not in a way that feels positive or successful. Occasionally, we slip backward or make choices that undo some of our progress. And sometimes we move in a way that is meaningful and gives us a feeling of forward motion.

Consider some of these simple acts of moving forward to make the most of each moment and each day. Sometimes the most important step is the first one:

  • Take a walk
  • Tell someone your troubles
  • Take breathing lessons
  • Make a list
  • Jump ahead ten years
  • Think again
  • Write your story
  • Look to God
  • Say a prayer
  • Say no/yes
  • Build on hope

Delight in your Thanksgiving Holiday

Becky Brown

Perhaps the most defining aspect of the month of November is the Thanksgiving holiday. Though a day spent with family or friends, it is also a day where feasting is plentiful. A few suggestions come to mind.

Your traditional dinner probably offers a number of foods that are rarely seen throughout the year. Items such as candied yams or pumpkin pie are real favorites. So, enjoy them, just remember the importance of portion control. A little of this, a little of that, will satisfy your pallet.

What’s more, take only the foods you truly want; you are not obligated to fill your plate with foods you don’t really like.

And along those lines, try to keep in mind the difference between appetite and hunger. Whereas hunger is a true physiological state in which your body needs food, appetite is more external. It can be triggered by the fragrance of food, or the sight of it. Basically, it’s need vs. want.

Another positive step is, when the meal is over, put the food away. Not only is it wise to do so, in order to avoid spoilage, but it will keep everyone from picking at food that they really don’t want or need. Again, as an extension of appetite, we often consume food, simply because it is there.

Above all, delight in your Thanksgiving holiday. If clothes feel a touch snug at the conclusion of the day, don’t stress about it. It’s just one day and it is meant to be enjoyed.

Starting Over as a Child

Deborah Tyrell

“Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, ‘I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in’ ” (Matthew 18:3 The Message).

What is your internal response to Jesus’ statement of starting over like children? Your response probably depends upon your evaluation of the qualities of being child-like. Children are many different things, but they share three characteristics. God created all children to be needy, vulnerable, and dependent.

Now what is your response? If you are like me, you were taught how to be self-sufficient, invincible, and independent. Therefore, our child-like qualities have been rejected rather than accepted.

Our challenge is to learn how to value what God values. If we continue to embrace what ‘popular culture’ esteems instead of following the dictates of the Spirit of God, we incur the consequences.

Ask God to show you how coming into His presence as a child would impact the quality of your relationship with Him. Are you willing to learn how to celebrate with Him the nature of the child in you?

I encourage you to not let pride that spits at the throne of God say ‘ I will not.’

God, forgive us where we have deified self-suffiency, invincibility, and independence. What we have called strengths, you call pride. Give us the grace we need to come humbly before you where Your Spirit can claim us for Your kingdom. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Celebrate Your Victories!

Jonathan Daugherty

There is one thing I wish we as Christians were much better at doing, and that is celebrating. We tend to struggle on the whole at really cheering one another on in the faith and throwing parties in honor of those demonstrating the character of Christ. In this article I want to challenge you to cultivate an attitude of celebration in your ongoing pursuit of purity.

God designed us for joy! He didn’t design our minds, bodies, or spirits for anxiety, depression, or gloom. Yet, how often do you find yourself stressed to the max and feeling as if you can’t breathe under the weight of your life? The pace of life, the onslaught of temptation, and uncontrollable circumstances beat you down. But is that reality from God’s perspective or just the excuse often used?

The truth is that it is simply easier to point out faults than to celebrate victories. One reason for this may be that we are spending more time giving into temptation than we are living in purity. But does that mean we must wallow in our sin and shame while our moments of faith and resolve go completely unrecognized? I think not.

One thing I have found to be true in pursuing purity is that the “domino effect” works in both directions, whether following our lusts or following Christ. The more we give into temptation the easier it becomes to fail more quickly the next time we are faced with a similar situation. Conversely, the more we discipline ourselves to obey Christ, taking every thought captive, and connecting with our band of brothers, the stronger we become in resisting attacks. Because of this principle I believe it is all the more important that we develop an ongoing attitude of celebration, not only for our own benefit but for the benefit of other brothers striving for purity.

I have numerous people contacting me every week, wanting to know how to break free from sexually destructive habits. I try to respond to every person based on the core values of ministry (hope, integrity, humility, honesty, compassion, perseverance, accountability, faith, and love). The values that amaze people most about how I interact with them are hope and love. Many times people will attempt to argue that their situation is unique and they really can’t be free. But I never back down from the hope of freedom available to everyone through Christ. What many of these individuals have missed much of their life is someone sharing the truth with them and cheering them on when the journey is hard. They have never been celebrated for doing what is right, only chastised and shamed for their sin and addiction.

Jesus Christ was the incarnation of joy. Many times, because of the very serious nature of his mission (salvation of all mankind) we tend to picture him sullen and, well, miserable. Last time I checked, I didn’t see throngs of people dashing to see a sullen, miserable person. People were drawn to Jesus because He exuded life, true life. As his followers we are to do the same. And one way we do this is by celebrating the successes we, and others, have on our journey to purity.

Here are a few ideas on how you can celebrate your victories:

When you meet a purity goal

- Give yourself a gift of some sort to remind you of meeting that goal.

- Share a meal with your band of brothers in honor of accomplishing your goal.

- Celebrate with a favorite hobby or activity (i.e. golf, hunting, professional sporting event, etc.)

When you resist temptation

- Call a buddy to share the success with them.

- Say, “Thank you Jesus for this victory!”

- Write down what happened to remind you later of the victory.

Here’s the real key to celebrating victories: don’t celebrate alone! God wants us connected, to Him and to others around us. We can certainly have personal moments of celebration just between us and the Lord, but the ongoing impact of celebration is most often realized in the context of others. Surround yourself with people of celebration who understand how to balance getting excited about doing the right thing and holding you accountable when you stray.

So, how’s your “celebrateability?” I challenge you to watch for the moments and situations worthy of celebration. Then, don’t be afraid to cut loose and enjoy the freedom God has given!

For help in the battle for purity see Every Man\’s Battle.

Apologies

Deborah Tyrell

‘So if you remember that a friend has something against you, leave your sacrifice there beside the altar and go and apologize and be reconciled to him, and then come and offer your sacrifice to God.’ (Matthew 5: 23-24)

My marriage has provided me with many opportunities to apologize. In fact, I’ve had so much practice that now when I realize that I have acted ‘less than loving’ towards my husband, I usually am aware of my behavior at least as soon as he is. There are still those times when he has to point out my offensive behavior.

However, now instead of defending myself, I apologize that he had to show it to me before I saw it. I ‘own’ it and apologize that he had to deal with it.

I have not always had so much grace in this area. There were times in the past that I used an apology to manipulate. If I recognized that my behavior was about to reap an unpleasant consequence, I would rush to apologize. My message was, ‘Please don’t get angry. I have apologized so now you should not hold me accountable.’ My apology was an attempt to control his mood.

At other times, I would demand an apology from my husband. I came to realize that an apology extracted in this way is worth little. His apology to get me off ‘his back’ did not indicate sorrow for his behavior. I learned it only meant he was afraid of my disapproval and criticism if he refused my demand. A false apology has no redemptive meaning or value.

An apology is very personal. By it, your loved one knows that you are distressed by your harmful behavior. It demonstrates genuine sorrow and accepts responsibility for your actions.

One of the steps to maintaining a healthy lifestyle that is promoted in many recovery groups is to ‘continue to take daily inventories and when wrong, promptly admit it.’ Consider making this a daily practice. If you do, you will create an opportunity for closeness as well as a commitment to avoiding further harm. But no matter how the one you have apologized to responds, God honors a contrite heart and He will accept your sacrifice.

God, give me the courage to apologize and ask for forgiveness. Remind me that it is through the door of humility that I have a chance to reconcile with those whom I have offended. And through Jesus Christ, I have a guarantee to reconcile with you! For ‘the Holy One says this: I live in that high and holy place where those with contrite, humble spirits dwell; and I refresh the humble and give new courage to those with repentant hearts—I will lead them and comfort them, helping them to mourn and to confess their sins’ (Isaiah 57:15). Amen.

The Loophole of Denial

Fred Feliciano

I love a good story. Good stories catch us off guard. A good story has the power to show us what we believe about the world and how we think things ought to be. They stretch our minds, challenge our beliefs, and move us towards change. That is why I love Jesus’ stories. His stories move me, jolt me and propel me towards facing and embracing the reality of who he is and who I am. In short, his stories catch me by exposing me. That is why I also struggle with his stories. They expose me and my thoughts. His stories bring me back to facing my self whether I want to or not. So, I find ways around his stories in order to avoid stepping into his light. I just focus my attention on something else, anything. I use denial as a loophole. A loophole is a term used to describe a way around a particular obstacle with little to no negative effect to oneself. We find ways out of situations where we anticipate feeling shame.

The loophole of denial assists us in avoiding the light of God in two ways. First, denial provides us a way of alleviating the stress of our shame by refusing to face it. Shame can be defined as an intense fear of being exposed based on a corrosive belief that one is fatally flawed, unlovable and deserving of rejection from others who are deemed worthy and perceived as merciless all at once. As long as we do not have to face what we do that’s wrong, we don’t have to confess or own up to others in honesty and we find relief from the burden of our shame momentarily. Good shame allows us to focus attention on the welfare of God and others above our own.

Confessions made in the light of good shame lead us to restore relationships with loving dignity and help to develop true self perceptions in light of God’s true view of us which does something better than provide relief from the shame we feel. It provides us a deep sense of rest in our minds and hearts. The cost of not facing our shame is too high a price to pay.

Secondly, the loophole of denial provides us a way of avoiding painful truth by creating an alternative to the truth. Alternatives to the truth are simply lies. Lies help us to maintain the illusion that we can avoid rejection and increase the chances of acceptance by presenting ourselves as someone we are not. The problem with creating alternatives is that acceptance is never fully experienced and we are never fully known because the truth of who we really are remains hidden underneath the lies;  we remain distanced from others. Those who are closest to us never experience us as we are. They experience a false self. The alternative at first seems like it will increase acceptance and decrease rejection but in the end it isolates us further by taking us farther away from the truth of who we are, others are, and who God is. We wind up never trusting or being intimate with anyone.

Christ provides us a way out of our shame-based loopholes of denial by reversing the path our loopholes have taken us. Traveling in reverse back into the loophole of denial transforms it into a doorway. A doorway that leads to a redemptive path of trust for prodigal sons. Prodigals who, in repentance, come home, face the truth of their guilt in relation to their legitimate failures and face their longings for acceptance never received. But most of all are able to trust, face, and receive the Father’s healing embrace. His embrace declaring to us, ‘Not only are you forgiven but you are my son. You were dead but are now alive!’

I want to encourage you to read in Luke 15 about the transforming power of the Father’s deep love for his ragamuffin sons. Let that story catch you, expose you and shake you loose from your denial and fear.

For help facing your denial and experiencing God’s transforming power, see Every Man\’s Battle.