Category: Blog

He Is For You

He Is For You

Right now I think it’s easy to wonder, Is God paying attention? What’s on his mind?

The words, music and facial expressions in this powerful collaboration by dozens of churches in the UK provide and answer: He is for you. It’s the same message wherever we live.

I encourage you to take a few minutes and allow this message, The Blessing, to wash over you.

“Do You Truly Love Me?”

Years ago I had a personal encounter with a passage from Scripture unlike any I’d had before. I realize that sounds dramatic. All I can say is, it’s the truth. In addition, it has a message for us in our current socially-isolated, safely-distanced world. In 1990 I was working at a terrific mission agency which […]

“Do You Truly Love Me?”
Lessons From Kobe

Lessons From Kobe

One week ago we were stunned by the news that NBA star Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash in California. Since then we have seen an outpouring of grief and accolades on a scale rarely seen:

  • Kobe’s death has been mourned by millions around the globe
  • Superstars in all sports have been reduced to tears as they’ve described their loss
  • Some, like Shaquille O’Neal who had years-long tension in his relationship with Kobe, have committed themselves to changing their lives
  • Perhaps all of us have felt some level of stunned grief

Perhaps we’ve also felt a sense of mixed emotions at the adulation Kobe has received. Yes, we know he was a talented basketball player; but we can’t forget the incident in Colorado when he was accused of assaulting a young woman.

As I’ve read blogs and articles, listened to broadcasts and paid attention to my own reactions, I wonder, Why the overwhelming grief, and why mixed emotions? Here are my thoughts:

1. He was a living legend.

For those under age 35, there’s a very strong likelihood that he was the embodiment of a living basketball legend.

  • For those a little older it’s Magic and Larry.
  • For those a little older, it’s MJ and Dr. J.
  • For those a little older still, it was Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson.
  • And for some who can’t remember…it was Jerry West or Bob Cousy.

For a whole current generation, full of energy and dreams, Kobe was a hero in the flesh. (And of course, LeBron James is a part of that conversation, too). That’s one reason the grief has been so enormous. Living legends are supposed to be living.

2. His accomplishments are simply astounding. Kobe was:

  • One of the first to sign a pro contract right out of high school
  • 5 time NBA champ
  • 2 time NBA finals MVP
  • 18 time All-star
  • 4 time All-star game MVP
  • 2 time Olympic gold medalist

The list goes on. Most agree Kobe was absolutely one of the Top 10 most accomplished basketball players ever. It’s quite likely many would agree he’s in the Top 5. The world is grieving the loss of a stunningly accomplished athlete.

3. For many he became a villain. For them Kobe represented all that is wrong with prima-donna athletes who force themselves on others and expect special privileges of exoneration. An honest appraisal of his life requires us to acknowledge that:

  • He was accused of rape by a 19 year-old hotel worker in Eagle, CO
  • She eventually refused to testify and the case was dropped
  • He did however agree to a plea deal in a civil suit, and publicly apologized
  • Many NBA fans, and certainly almost all Denver Nuggets fans, never forgave him. For the remainder of his career, the Denver Pepsi Center was filled with boos and jeers every time Kobe touched the ball.

As a result, for many he remained a permanent, infamous, unforgivable villain.

4. His focus after basketball has without any question been his family, especially his four girls. Whatever one’s opinion of Kobe the opponent, or the abuser, there is no denying he restored his marriage, and along with a supremely forgiving wife, turned much of his attention to his daughters:

  • He started and ran the Mamba Sports Academy to teach girls basketball. He and Gianna had hopes that she might play for U. of Conn some day.
  • He was on a flight to oversee an event at that academy when the helicopter crashed into a hill in the fog.
  • Fathers across the globe have posted on #girldad over 175,000 time to express their respect for Kobe and their commitment to their daughters. The most repeated word: Love
  • As the proud father and father-in-law of two wonderful women and the grandfather of 5 girls I can relate.

Countless athletes, bloggers, broadcasters and journalists have vouched for the visible impact Kobe made on them as they watched his undeniable dedication and love toward his girls.

It makes me wonder, could there be a connection between his shameful disrespect of a young woman in 2003 and his admirable respect for his daughters in 2020? What do you think?

5. Lastly, perhaps the most subtle, but deepest reason for the outpouring of grief and admiration is, his story is like all of ours…just vastly more pronounced and evident. It looks like redemption to me:

  • Like Kobe, we all have God-given, innate talents that we can hardly take credit for. We should gratefully acknowledge, embrace and deploy them.
  • Like him, we have accomplishments for which we are known. Just vastly more unnoticed.
  • Like him, we are engaged in a career, vastly less profitable, that results in provision and impact. Whatever the scale of ours, there is dignity in our work.
  • Like him, every one of us has committed self-serving, other-harming acts of outright sin. Ours have just been vastly less publicized.

Jesus said to pious men who would stone a sinful woman, “Whichever of you is without sin, cast the first stone.” (John 8) They had enough sense to turn around and slink away, or just run. We should have the same reaction whenever we get in a pious, judgmental mood toward others.

Jesus was explicitly clear about how he felt about those who would point out a speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye, while ignoring the plank in their own. The word he used was “hypocrite.” (Matt. 7)

In the clarifying light of God’s righteousness none of us has the slightest excuse for standing in judgment of others. Especially when it seems evident that the other has experienced a transformative change in their priorities and behavior.

As I watch and read I think these are the reasons behind the almost unparalleled grief we have seen over Kobe’s death:

1. For a whole generation he was a living legend.

2. His accomplishments are simply astounding.

3. For many he became an infamous villain.

4. He directed exceptional love toward the women of his family.

5. His story is wounded just like ours. God redeems broken stories.

One of the most magnificent attributes of God’s nature, as illustrated by Jesus in his description of The Prodigal’s father, is his unlimited capacity to forgive and redeem the worst acts of our lives.

I thank God that he has done that for me. Perhaps he’s done that for you. I just wonder if he did the same for Kobe.

To me, his story looks like redemption.

Hope for 2011

Post from the Past: 9 years ago I wrote a post entitled Hope for 2011. As Beryl and I entered a new year once again I realized that the core message of this post still fits. On one level, I’m surprised that my hopes for 2020 remain much the same as 2011. But on a […]

Hope for 2011
Children of Light

Children of Light

We are entering the Season of Light, the Light Festival, the Christmas season when so much of the world decorates trees, wreathes, streetlamps, and even homes, with spectacular displays of light. Even those parts of the world that may not traditionally be Christian do so. There is an evident way in which the world loves light.

Yet truthfully, there is an equally evident way in which the world loves darkness. The apostle John made that clear when he wrote: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

It’s a sad irony: Jesus, whose birth is the center of this season, declared himself to be “the light of the world.” (John 8:12) But, though much of the world might willingly accept him as a man born two millenia ago, so much of the world rejects him as the divine light. 

I love the biblical theme of “Light.” One of my favorite verses about it is Eph. 5:8. I’m stirred by the author Paul’s language, yet doubt that I fully understand it’s theological depth. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” 

When I teach on this verse with men, I use contemporary language to make its startling impact clear: “If there was one word that accurately describes who we were at one time, it’s the word ‘darkness.’ We were filled with, defined by and controlled by darkness. Darkness is who we were.”

Strong words. But the rest of that verse is even more startling! Again, in my words to men, “But now, because of our relationship with Jesus, if there is one word that accurately defines who we are it’s…light! Can you believe it?! Light! Light is who we are now!” 

Yes, of course, we are still extremely aware of our shortcomings, our struggles with temper, our vulnerability to temptation, our tendency toward selfishness, but the condition of our souls is now…light. How can this be? Three crucial words, “in the Lord.” This fundamental, eternal transformation in the nature of our souls is due to Jesus.

Jesus’ life and his death changed everything for us and about us. Everything. Even though we may be discouraged by our continuing tendency to act “darkly,” the truth about us is we are light. This is shockingly wonderful news, but there’s more.

In the last phrase of verse 8, Paul makes his final point, “Live as children of light.” In today’s language he might say, “So for goodness sake, since this is true about you, live like it!” The redemption of our souls is taken care of, now we should live in such a way that reflects that truth. Not just for our benefit, but so others see light in our lives. Paul makes this clear in the verses that follow 8.

But Paul wasn’t the first to give believers this same charge. Jesus, who in John 8 referred to himself as being the light of the world, says to his followers, “You are the light of the world…In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14, 16) We, who were once defined by darkness are now defined by light. Further, Jesus who is the light of the world, uses the exact same words about us who follow him! Remarkable.

This Christmas, the Season of Light, we celebrate the miracle of Jesus’ birth as a vulnerable child. Let us also celebrate the stunning truth that his life and death are so transformational for us that we are now light-bearers for him. We are children of light. A world in darkness desperately needs to see the light we bring this Christmas season.

Heroic Men; Genuine Masculinity

A term we hear these days, which we never heard until just a few years ago, is Toxic Masculinity.  I think I understand the intent of those who use it; and I agree with their intent. It’s used in reference to alcohol-fueled frat boys who force their will on alcohol-incapacitated women; to sports thugs caught […]

Heroic Men; Genuine Masculinity
“Just One More Shooting Star”

“Just One More Shooting Star”

​The STEM school shooting in Highlands Ranch, CO is disturbing to all of us. We may differ in our convictions of what the main solutions to this scourge in our nation are, but I think we agree on at least three things:

​1. These kinds of repeated trauma ​leave an enormous heart and soul wound on our nation whether they have touched our families directly or not.

​2. We must find solutions. This must end.

​3. The solutions will ​​include reaching angry, isolated, broken men and helping them to be connected, healed and transformed.

​One of the men in a weekly teaching/discussion group I lead, called The Journey, wrote about his feelings on the shooting. One of his best friends has two kids who attend the school. Carl’s words are artistic, honest and emotional and include some implied profanity in quoting the shooter. If you prefer not to see that you can just skip it. But if you’d like to see a heart-level expression of an honestly searching man you can read it by clicking here: “Just One More Shooting Star.”

Another man in the same group agonized over the shootings 20 years ago at Columbine High School, also in the Denver suburbs. In the days after that horror he gave voice to the jarring perspective behind the distorted lies isolated young men believe when they choose to bring random violence into the lives of others. “So My Pain Can Be Heard.”

Most of us are unfamiliar with this kind of despair. Many men and women around us live with it every day. Some of them choose to end their own lives. Others choose to end as many other lives as possible along with their own. Those in the latter category are almost always males. (The STEM shootings brought an exception to this pattern in that one of the suspected shooters was a transgender woman who self-identified as a male. I wonder, did she see this kind of violent act as distorted proof of her “masculinity”?)

I believe most of us who view these horrific outbursts with some degree of honest objectivity can agree that the solutions must acknowledge a critical need to provide better care for those who struggle with emotional and mental health issues. The solutions must include the establishment and enforcement of limitations on the accessibility of weapons of mass violence for those who have no qualifications to own them.

And the solutions must direct specific, convincing, healing, and empowering messages to young men that they matter, and have a crucial place in the world. Without that, they will continue to unleash their pain on the rest of us and sadly choose to be just another shooting star.

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” Ps. 40:2, 3

Honesty and Hope

Perhaps you’ve seen the recent Gillette commercial about men being the best they can be. The phrase “the best a man can get” took me back to hazy “wonder years” when I wondered when I might need to shave anything at all.

As I watched the clip, it evoked similar beneath-the-surface feelings: recognition, conviction, inspiration and commitment. So I was surprised to hear and read that not everyone had the same positive impression of the clip as I did. In fact, I saw through one source that reactions against the commercial were 4:1 versus those that saw it as positive.

Honesty and Hope
On Thin Ice

On Thin Ice

The daily drama related to the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court appointment process is thankfully over. But anger on both political sides lingers. Some are furious at his appointment; others at his interview ordeal.

I confess I share my thoughts here as if I’m standing on some very thin ice…but I’m skating ahead. Whichever side we took, or switched to, throughout the process, I wonder if we can agree on these observations:

Christine Blasey Ford was convincingly believable in her testimony. Over time and throughout the high pressure of the situation she went through, I was increasingly impressed by her calm, sincere demeanor; her patience with the invasive nature of the questioning; her honesty about details she couldn’t recall; and her emotional vulnerability at what she did remember.

Only a very few people know who it was who assaulted her at a high school party gone very wrong. But to me there is no        denying: that woman was mistreated, demeaned and probably assaulted by some man. It broke my heart for her.

Kavanaugh, too, was entirely believable, especially in his prepared statements. Like you and I would have been, he was clearly offended and hurt by the characterizations made against him by those who hardly know him—or those who only knew him 36 years ago.

I thought he had every right to express his pain and anger at the process. I wondered how I would feel if I was accused of behavior that I was convinced was not only unfair, but untrue. I got a lump in my throat when Kavanaugh spoke of the request his daughter made to “pray for the woman.”

The process is an indictment against the crude, myopic, disrespectful state of American politics we now live in. I wonder who in their right mind would want to be the next candidate, proposed by either political party, for a Supreme Court appointment. That used to be the honor of a lifetime. Now this is the kind of treatment and abuse he or she can expect from those who will reflexively oppose the appointment.

Seriously? This is how we want it to work? The current state of our politics should be an embarrassment to all of us.

The accusations against Kavanaugh, regardless of their accuracy, are actually an indictment against the morals of our own society. He’s a man who grew up in a male-permissive culture which—through countless voices from TV, movies, strutting “jocks”, fraternities, and the whispers and goading of his own peers—communicated the message, “C’mon be a man, get what you can. Take whatever you want. Your manliness, your value as a guy, is determined by how many women you get.” I know; I was there, too.

It saddens, bewilders and even angers me that a boy of 17 can be exposed to countless broken messages of entitlement by his society, then held to completely opposite expectations by the same society four decades later.

Then that man is publicly condemned, regardless of the transformation and lessons-learned that might have taken place in those decades of potential growth and change. What unbelievable hypocrisy!

I’m convinced Ford was abused by a man.

I’m convinced Kavanaugh is an imperfect, but talented man who is genuinely respected by scores of men and women who have worked alongside him throughout his career.

I’m also convinced it’s about time American culture learns how to encourage and respect real masculinity while countering the still-present voices that promote random sexual promiscuity from men.

Further, it’s stunningly hypocritical that our society urges women to assert that same random promiscuity in their own sexual lives. It’s if they are being told, “Don’t be women. Be more like broken men.” It boggles the mind.

I feel compassion toward Ford. I feel sympathy toward Kavanaugh. I feel anger toward our cultural hypocrisy and our gutter-level politics. When will we learn? What can we do in response?

How about if each of us commits to being a voice for respectful political dialogue? What if each of us commits to consistently demonstrating respect toward the opposite gender?

Given our current climate I know that may feel like walking on thin ice. I’ll go first.

“It’s shocking. It’s awful. It’s tragic. There’s hope.”

Those were my words when the first accusations against Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor of Willow Creek, came out in the Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today last spring. My words were in response to a group of men who asked how it felt for me, knowing I had served on staff at the church for four years in the 1990’s.

Those words still hold true for me today; they are just stronger. As weeks have gone by more women have courageously stepped forward to reveal shocking stories of harassment, intimidation and inappropriate behavior they say they experienced from Hybels. He still denies the accusations and the elders are now re-investigating the claims, after months of their own denials and unkind characterizations against the women.

“It’s shocking. It’s awful. It’s tragic. There’s hope.”