Category: Jesus

“Do You Truly Love Me?”

“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 I had been with for 14 years at that point. As great as the agency was, as gifted and admirable as my co-workers were, I was losing steam.

Over time I had reached a point of disenchantment with the way life was going for me and my family. The glamour of raising support and being on a fairly limited budget was starting to wear thin. I longed to provide better for my family, to be able get a normal job and be a typical suburban American worker/provider. I was a slowly losing a sense of purpose and calling. 

At the same time, Beryl and I were leading a couples small group in our church and one evening listened to a cassette tape message by a local church pastor. He focused on John 21:15-17:

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

As we listened to the tape, the pastor repeated the words, 

“Peter do you love me? Feed my lambs.” 
“Peter do you truly love me? Then take care of my sheep…”

The verses oddly started to sound more like, 

“Craig, do you love me? Then feed my sheep.” 

My first response, “Yeah, well I’m kind of tired of that, Lord. I plan to move on.”

Then the second time, 

“Craig, do you truly love me?’ 
“Well yes, Lord, you know I do.”
“Take care of my sheep. Some are sitting right in front of you, by the way.”

As this increasingly personal and piercing message continued, I looked at Beryl and she at me. The expressions on our faces were asking, “Is this hitting you the way it’s hitting me?!”

One more time the question came, “Craig, I’ll ask you again, do you love me?” Silence on my part, just a lump in my throat. The inaudible but clear response I heard from him was, “If so, then be the shepherd I made you to be.”

By the time the message was over, Beryl and I had tears in our eyes, which we vainly attempted to wipe away. I turned to the group and awkwardly asked, “Well, what did you think of that?”

Their replies were along the lines of, 

“It was pretty good.” 
“I thought it was OK.”
“Yeah, we should take care of others.”

I was hardly able to speak. I finally said, “This message was for me.” God made me to be a shepherd, a pastor, and there are times I get very tired of it. But Jesus wasn’t talking to Peter tonight. And the pastor wasn’t talking to me tonight. Jesus was talking to me.”

That night I committed to remaining at the mission, and accepting God’s call on me to shepherd sheep. That remains one of the most personal messages I’ve heard from a passage of Scripture. 

But what does this have to do with the rest of us, and our new coronavirus reality? 

I believe those words are Jesus’ message for all of us. No, not “If you love me go become a missionary or a pastor.” No, that was just the message for me. The core message for all of us is, “If you love me, then take care of those I love. That’s everyone you see.”

To personalize it, 

“Tom, if you love me, then love other people. Because I do.” 
“Becky, if you truly love me then take care of others; they are like sheep to me.” 
“Paul, if you truly love me, then love the people I love. By the way, that’s everyone.”

What does the world see from the Church right now? What does the world see from me? From you? Is it attention, compassion, patience, love? Or is it impatience, distance, hoarding and disregard?

Jesus says to us, “If in fact you truly love me, take care of my sheep.” We might incorrectly respond, “Wait, he says love his sheep. That’s just Christians. All I need to do is like other Christians; I can ignore the rest.”

No, I don’t really think that was Jesus’ point at all— discriminating against the lost. The greater theme of the whole New Testament, and in fact all of Scripture, is God’s undying love for those who are lost. Jesus went far out of his way to be around and to pursue those who are lost, wandering, dejected or wounded. We should too.

I’m reminded of a parable Jesus told in Matthew 25:34-40. The King says to the righteous ones:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

They, not understanding the King’s perspective at all, respond with admirable honesty, 

“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

They are clearly concluding, “He’s thinking of the wrong people. When did we feed, clothe or visit him? Never.”

The King’s reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

That’s where Jesus’ parable ends, but I can imagine had it really happened, some hearing the King would have thought, 

“Oh. We had no idea that we were serving you then.”
His reply, “You were. So, now you know.”

Who needs our attention and love right now?

  • Our family that’s for sure. They are frightened and need a voice of reassurance
  • Our neighbor. A widow lives across the street from Beryl and me. Does she know we care about her? Have we made that clear?
  • Is there a single man or woman living near you? I wonder if they might feel desperately forgotten, alone and afraid.
  • Is any neighbor elderly or ill? 
  • Is there someone hungry, alone, sick, even a stranger who needs us to love them?

Like the King in the parable Jesus might say to us, “You cared for me when I was afraid, when I was alone, when I was hungry.” And, like those in Jesus’ story, we might ask the Lord, “When did I ever see you afraid, hungry and alone?”

Jesus’ message is: “I tell you the truth, whatever you do for the least of these you do for me…Do you truly love me? Take care of my sheep.”

Do you love the Lord? Then love others. Now more than ever. Whatever we do for them, we do for him.

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 […]

Children of Light
Shame Returns, The Sequel

Shame Returns, The Sequel

shameMan, am I vulnerable to Shame!

Those who know me, have heard me speak, or have read some of my blog posts, know I have a passion to see men (and women) freed from Shame. (I even capitalize the dang word because of its significance.)

I’m often reminded that the root of my passion about this subject is my own vulnerability to the message of self-condemnation, and disappointment in self, that rears its head on a regular basis.

Shame is the message that, not only did I do something wrong, but there is something wrong with who I am. Guilt is conviction about our behavior; Shame is condemnation about our identity. Conviction comes from the voice of the Holy Spirit. Shame is the condemning lie from the Enemy.

I know all of this. Yet I am still vulnerable. My guess is I’m not the only one. Because Shame returns.

  • I really should have gotten that group email out sooner
  • I left out a crucial individual that that email really should have gone to
  • I backed out of an engagement I looked forward to; I should have managed my schedule better
  • I responded defensively when a colleague implied I should have done more
  • I hurt a loved-one (OK, it was my wife) with my impatient response to a completely reasonable request. I should have been more loving

The condemnation of the word Should is a common thread. As a friend often reminds me, “We need to stop ‘shoulding’ on ourselves.” I know this. Yet Shame returns.

Types of Shame are legion. But, since a man most longs for respect, his greatest fear is failure—loss of respect from others. For men anything in the realm of failure has the potential to bring up the most Shame:

  • Divorce or separation
  • Bankruptcy
  • Failing college
  • Smudged reputation
  • Not measuring up in some physical effort
  • Getting fired
  • Getting kicked out of the military
  • Spending time in prison
  • Embarrassment about body image

But nothing casts more Shame than failure of sexual morals, (probably even for non-Christians): promiscuity, emotional affairs, porn, prostitutes, strip clubs, abortion. Scripture reminds us that sexual sin has the unique distinctive that it is the one sin that reverses direction and attacks ourselves the most. I Cor. 6:18

You may have heard me say this before, but today I’m reminding myself, and you, of the steps that bring about inner and outer reconciliation and freedom from Shame:

1. We embrace grace.

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Rom. 3:23, 24

When we forget the power of Grace, we diminish the infinite power of the work of Jesus.

2.We believe what God says about forgiveness and acceptance.

“Their sinful and unlawful acts I will remember no more. And where these have been forgiven there is no longer any sacrifice for sin”!! Heb. 10: 17, 18

Though we continue to fall short of even our own standards, we remind ourselves that, unbelievably, God chooses to forget. Because the work of the cross is enough.

3. We believe what God’s word says about Shame.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Rom. 8:1

Or as The Message puts it, we “no longer have to live under a continuous low-lying black cloud.”

“No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame…” Psalm 25:3

“I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” Psalm 34: 4, 5

4. We bring trusted friends into our journey.

We cannot experience freedom from shame in solitude. It requires open acknowledgement of our broken story with a few trusted friends.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” I John 1:7

When through God’s guidance we walk openly and honestly with others, in the light, we not only experience forgiveness, we have brotherhood, a deep bond, with those we entrust with our humanity.

5. We renounce Shame. Repeatedly. Verbally. That means out loud so Satan hears it.

There is no reason the Enemy shouldn’t continue his attacks on us. In the same way, there is no reason for us to hesitate to pray against them. Because Shame returns.

You and I may be vulnerable to the Should messages that whisper in our ears, but the truth is those are lies. The truth is:

“We are accepted by the Grace of the One whose acceptance of us matters most.” Lewis Smedes

Name Above All Names

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” -Juliet trying to convince Romeo that names don’t really have much significance. While it’s true, a rose would still have its attractive qualities even if it were called “dandelion,” most of us hold special significance to some names. My middle name is Morgan, the same […]

Keeping Score

Keeping Score

I know a lot of men who get wrapped up in performance—work, sports, even community service or church attendance; competitiveness in any arena. This hard work can reveal an admirable sense of drive, responsibility and commitment. It can also reveal an underlying belief that our performance defines our significance. Or earns us points.

For some of us Christians we are vulnerable to no “arena” more than spiritual performance. I am historically vulnerable to that one. Like the older brother of the prodigal son, I can do the right things for the wrong reasons.

Luke 15 tells the well-known story of the rebellious younger son who returned home filled with shame, assuming his behavior negated his right to be called “son.” We sometimes miss the reverse assumption made by the older son. Indignant that everyone is celebrating his brother’s return, the older brother says to his father:

“Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” (v. 28-20 NIV)

In his mind, the poor performance of his younger brother negated his standing with his father. The older son’s own righteous (though probably resentful) performance should have elevated him to the level of “favored son.” He was wrong on both accounts. The point of Jesus’ story is applicable to both sons: the father’s love for you is not dependent on behavior alone. Neither outright rebellion nor hidden resentful performance will sway the father’s love.

When he was in Antioch, the apostle Paul was asked to if he had “a message of encouragement for the people.” The core piece of his message is this:

“I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38, 39 NIV)

Jesus is the source of our justification. He brings forgiveness. He brings life. He brings freedom from every distorted compulsion of the law of Moses —rule-keeping, legalism, judging, comparison, point-keeping, spiritual performance. Those “laws” birthed Pharisees in Paul’s day. They still do today.

Are you personally vulnerable to spiritual rule-keeping or legalism? Paul reminds us that “…the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” (Gal. 3:24, 25 NIV) Faith justifies us, the law doesn’t.

Are you personally vulnerable to spiritual judgment or comparing yourself with others? Paul urges us, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:3-5 NIV)

The following verses reveal Jesus’ remarkable spirit of humble servanthood and self-sacrifice:

“…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (vv. 6-7)

Yet, one day every knee will bow before him.

Are you personally vulnerable to spiritual point-keeping and outward performance? In Matthew 23 we read the account of Jesus’ encounter with self-exalting, other-condemning, point-keeping Pharisees. “Woe to you teachers of the Law!…Woe to you hypocrites!…Woe to you blind guides!…You snakes!…You brood of vipers!” Piercing, stark, unmistakable words of conviction against point-keeping and performance. Jesus hated it.

By contrast he told the multitudes who followed him not to be like the hypocrites who, for example, pray on the street corners so they will be seen by men. Rather, says Jesus, When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt. 6:6 NIV)

Jesus’ harshest criticism is against spiritual performance; his deepest message, indeed the message of the cross, is that we are free from the law that condemns us. Our justification, and our significance, is ALL because of Jesus. Without his sacrifice we are entirely without hope; with it, we are fully, completely, eternally justified. There is no room left for works-based performance.

Act, serve, speak, teach, lead, defend, give comfort, not because you must, but because your heart is so filled with joy, hope and gratitude for what Jesus has done for you. Do these things because “…the love of Christ compels us.” (2 Cor. 5:14 NIV) Do them because we can’t not act.

There is no more keeping-score. Just liberated freedom to be exactly who he created and gifted us to be. All because of Jesus. Thank God!

Knocking on the Door of a Brothel

Knocking on the Door of a Brothel

Have you noticed how frequently men will risk complete compromise of their values, their marriage and their reputation to pursue a short-term enticement?

Perhaps you saw the former TV show To Catch a Predator, where a guy in a computer chat room thinks he’s talking to a young teen. He and the girl arrange a meeting at her home, which he eventually enters, thinking he’s fulfilling a sad fantasy.

What he doesn’t realize is that the girl is actually a young-looking vice cop, and the home is wired and filled with hidden cameras. The girl excuses herself momentarily, when out from behind a wall pops the condescending host who interviews the horrified victim. The cameras roll. (“It makes for great TV.” What a sad commentary on our culture that is.)

The look of horrified shock and pending disaster on the face of the “perp” is awful! Most of them, after submitting to an interview, eventually run out of the house, thinking they’ve been released, only to be captured and arrested by waiting cops outside.

Unbelievably, many of the perpetrators have seen the show! Some even say, “I knew it was going to be you guys.” Still, they show up. Like sheep stumbling dumbly toward slaughter, they move toward the irresistible answer to their fantasies.

Many are the creeps we’d expect. But some are teachers or respectable businessmen; one is a youth pastor, another a rabbi. They are you and me. I want to weep for them!

We could go further and list the politicians and church leaders who have made the same stunning career-ending choices, but we won’t. They are easy targets. Low-hanging fruit. The point is, this pattern is everywhere.

If we men are going to guard ourselves against falling to a similar temptation, we need to understand what the draw is. G.K. Chesterton tells us the answer in one of the most arresting quotes I’ve ever heard:

“Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” What?!!

Beauty, relationship, adventure, intimacy, significance, transcendence. They are all part of the hunger that God put in our hearts. His plan was for those godly longings to be fully satisfied through an eternally transcendent relationship with him. Horrifically, the first man and woman doubted him, and chose the curse mankind lives with: a core longing that will never be fully satisfied on earth.

So we, too, often choose false ways of satisfying this deep longing. Jer. 2:12-14 confirms this:

“Be appalled at this, O heavens,
and shudder with great horror,”
declares the LORD.

“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

When men (or women) pursue lust, pornography, sex chat rooms, or promiscuous relationships, all of them figuratively or literally the “door of a brothel”, we make two mistakes:

  1. We forsake God himself. We essentially say, “God, you are not really enough for me.”
  2. We dig broken cisterns. We pretend that our own solutions will truly satisfy. They can’t. They don’t hold water; so they don’t quench spiritual thirst. They leak.

Men, we must see the bigger story that is taking place in our hearts. We thirst for something God-given, which is only God-quenched. When we doubt that He is truly enough, we look for our own shallow sources of satisfaction. We dig our own cisterns. We stagger into the girl’s home, we click on the next link, we pursue the enticing flirtation at work or across the street. None of them will ever satisfy. They will only bring great horror.

Oswald Chambers tells us, “There is only One Being who can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.”  C.S. Lewis echoes the same refrain: “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself. It is not there. There is no such thing.”

“Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” To that I would add, Every man who digs his own broken cisterns is looking for God…in himself.

Men, we already know the broken cisterns we dig don’t quench the thirst. That’s why we keep returning, looking for a bigger well. There is only one “spring of living water”: deep relationship with God, through his son, Jesus Christ, who made it clear, “If a man is thirsty let him come to me and drink…I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through me…Seek and you will find.” (John 7: 37; 14:6; Matt. 7:7)

Knock and the door will be opened to you.

Truth or Love?

Do we see ourselves as being men primarily committed to telling the truth, or men primarily committed to building relationships? Often it feels like the two are mutually exclusive: telling to whole truth might permanently harm a friendship. In Ephesians 4:15 we are urged to speak the truth in love. Apparently it IS possible. Experience […]

Disappointed For You, Not In You

Disappointed For You, Not In You

Ask just about any Christian man what God thinks of him and he’ll reply, “He loves me.” We learned this a long time ago; and it’s true.

But with most men, if you were to probe a little further to explore if there are any other feelings God has toward them, they would add…”He’s disappointed in me.” The truth is many of us feel this way. After all, we fail so often that we don’t even measure up to our own standards, let alone God’s. Of course He’s disappointed in us.

No, I don’t think He is.

When we fell short of our dads’ expectations we knew they were disappointed in us. They even said so; sometimes in extremely harsh language. We in turn learn to communicate the same message to own children. When we feel disappointment in them, we have a particular picture in mind of how we want them to behave, dress, speak, or perform. Usually that picture includes at least a glimmer of reflected glory for ourselves.

“Disappointed in” communicates a standard that hasn’t been met. Its focus is toward self. The unspoken message is: do this and I will be proud; fall short and I will be disappointed. Sadly, it’s the language of many fathers.

God, more than anyone, has a “right” to expect a certain standard of behavior from his children. After all, He’s perfect. And, indeed, Scripture is filled with verses that speak of mankind falling short:
Is. 53:6– “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way…”
Ro. 3:23– “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”
Ro. 6:23– “For the wages of sin is death…”

The truth is, on our own, we are hopelessly disappointing; the very best of our behavior is like filthy rags. Fall short? Are you kidding? We don’t even come close to measuring up.

Yet, those same verses reveal the rest of the story:
Is. 53:6 “…but the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Ro. 3:24 “…and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came through Christ Jesus.”
Ro. 6:23 “…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Men, the “falling short” part of our lives, the “disappointed in” part, has been paid for. It’s gone, forgiven, forgotten. That’s how powerful the blood of the Lord is.

Yet, I think God still feels disappointment. His disappointment is not directed at us; it is directed for us. He sees the pain, the suffering, the awful consequences of the sinful turn his creation has taken. He knows this is not the world our hearts were built for. It is all of creation that falls short. Scripture says it groans.

Our Heavenly Father is not disappointed in us, He is disappointed for us. Some day, even that will be made right. I can’t wait.

3 Kinds of Men

In his excellent book, From Wild Man to Wise Man, Richard Rohr reveals a good lesson for men from Luke 6:6-11. In this familiar story, Jesus heals a man whose right hand is withered only to encounter the condemnation of the Pharisees. He points out that there are three kinds of men in this story: […]