Tag Archives: Jesus

Shame and ministry of seeing vulnerable people

When Jesus saw her [someone crippled for 18 years], he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” (Luke 13:12)

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6)

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)

When you think of Jesus’ ministry, you may think about the miracles or the sermons or the conflicts with the priests or the conversations with his disciples. But notice how much of his ministry is the work of seeing invisible and burdened people; people with shame. He sees lepers, the blind man Bartimaeus, the bleeding woman, the Samaritan woman, the centurion with a sick child, the rich young ruler and many more.

He had to see them; he had to go through Samaria. Why did he have to go? He had to go in order to meet broken people where they lived (or sat or lay).

Crossing the chasm of shame 

This past weekend I taught at Biblical Seminary on the topic of pornography and sexual addiction. The MDiv course, was designed less to help current and future pastors help addicts and more to help ministry leaders address their own struggles with sexual shame.  The truth is that we all carry around in our being some form of sexual shame. It is something we want to hide and keep from others. We don’t want this shame to be seen, even if our shame is caused by the sins of others.

During the class I asked everyone to consider one of their experiences of shame and to then list on separate post-its what sensations, images, feelings and thoughts that it might evoke (HT to the post-it queen herself–Heather Drew–for this idea!). Then, I had them consider what sensations, images, feelings and thoughts they had when they recalled a time they felt loved and cared for by someone who knew that shame story they carried. Students then placed their post-its on opposite walls of a hall. Silently the class first examined the shame side and then moved to consider the grace side. While it was easy to move from shame to grace in our activity, we considered the chasm shame creates and the impossibility of really being seen AND loved at the same time.

When I asked students how they moved from shame to grace in their own lives, the stories contained a common element. There was someone who pursued them, who stuck out a hand and drew them out of their shame. This someone was someone who saw them and love them just the same.

This is the central ministry of Jesus. He crosses the chasm of shame and sees (and touches) the unloved. Lest you think that God the father is a distant member of the trinity, remember that his first action after Adam and Eve sinned was to go find them. He pursued them. He saw them. He engaged in conversation. He provided a covering for them. Some of the most beautiful images of this ministry of seeing us in our shame and pursuing us just the same is found in the book of Hosea. Depicted as a wayward wife who has returned to prostitution, God’s people are pursued by him, bought back from the pimp and invited back into the marriage bed.

The main ministry of Jesus is pursuit of broken people, to see them and touch them. It is not to put them in a program of change as we are often want to do. Rather, Jesus invites those he loves to remain connected to him, to follow him. Consider the invitations Peter received before and after the crucifixion:

Peter said to him, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “if I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:8)

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17f)

What if the work of the church is to see and serve shamed individuals? How might this change how we evaluate Christian ministry outcomes?



Filed under Biblical Seminary, pornography, sexual addiction, Uncategorized

A Cancer Within Evangelical Christianity

There is a serious problem within protestant evangelical Christianity. We love right preaching and teaching more than we love right living. We love power and authority more than sacrifice and submission. We love honor over humility. We love being led by popular leaders who make us feel good more than following the despised and rejected One—who has no “beauty or majesty to attract us to him.” (Isa 53)

We want King Saul over young David.

Of course I do not accuse all protestant Christians nor all leaders with this charge. And yet, we must all own this problem together. It is not merely the Catholic Church that has covered up abuse or used power to protect itself. While the system of the Catholic Church enables a wider and deeper cover-up, we have all of the same issues on a (slightly) smaller scale.

A picture of a true leader of God’s church…and the opposite

Leaders of the church are to be representatives of Jesus, individuals set apart to be under-shepherds. They are to care for the flock. And what do we need? We need teaching, encouragement, comfort, and rebuke in their proper times and measures. But most of all we need our leaders to be images/examples of our true Shepherd.

Quite simply, the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11) and who feeds, carries, and gently leads (Isa 40:11). Of course this is a picture of a powerful leader. Only one with power who knows right and wrong can choose to sacrifice rights and become smaller for the purpose of care of the most vulnerable.

But we have a pattern of enabling self-promoting leaders of the flock. These want to be listened to, respected and followed for their own sake. Sure, they may speak of the Gospel of grace, but how do they live it? How do they treat the ones who have the least power? How do they handle criticism? Do they even have a Paul (wise older leader with a track record of being willing to encourage and also say hard things) to speak to them as he did to Timothy? Or would they tolerate one who spoke to them as Paul did to Peter when he acted out of accord with the Gospel (Gal 2:11f)?

It seems that when we do see brokenness in our leaders we tend to excuse it, especially when their gifts are attractive and the ones revealing these flaws are expendable.

Consider this warning

What makes Jesus angry? The New Testament records a few instances of expressed anger: Money changers, self-righteous religious leaders, hindering children, and the pain of death (Lazarus). We see it most clearly in his language toward the religious leaders when he calls them “brood of vipers…white washed tombs…hypocrites.”

What are these leaders doing that evoke Jesus’ just anger? Matthew 23 provides some answers.

  • Everything they do is for show to receive the praise and honor of followers
  • They seek power and control. They (try to) decide who can be in the kingdom; they seek converts who will work for their interests
  • They develop special rules that support their apparent position of authority
  • They makes a show of sacrifice yet forget the most important values: justice, mercy, and faith/submission to God
  • Their public and private selves do not match—the outside looks great but inside is abominable

It does not matter if they deliver well-crafted and biblically sound sermons. It does not matter if many flock to their ministries. If their motive, efforts, and tactics (public and private) do not match God’s character of a good shepherd, their good human gifts of are no value. Even worse, they deserve rebuke (Ezekiel 34; Jeremiah 23) and even removal from speaking for God anymore (Ezekiel 44).

The true problem?

There have always been false shepherds. There always will be false shepherds. But, what enables them to stay in positions of power is that we allow it. G. Campbell Morgan minces no words when he highlights the problem of false shepherds.

Now the false in religion stands revealed in Christ’s contemplation of these men [described in Matthew 23], not only in the case of the men themselves, but in the case of the people who are under the influence of such men. The false in religion in the case of the people is due to failure to discriminate between the human and the divine; and consists of submission to unauthorized authority.

Morgan, Gospel According to Matthew, p. 273†

Why do we fail to discriminate between human and divine? We overlook “foibles” because we know our own hidden sins. We fear being ostracized and losing our position in the inner-ring of power. We ignore the words of victims in order to maintain the appearance of health in the system. We love the image of redemption (the happily ever after restoration) more than the long slog of obedience. In short, false shepherds cannot maintain or increase power unless we protect and enable them.

The beginning of a solution

Let us repent of these our sins. Let us study anew what we and our leaders are to be like. Let us listen to the ones we call expendable when they speak about abuse of power. In the words of my former pastor, let us pray to God for better leaders than we deserve and to be the kinds of undershepherds we are called to be in God’s wide kingdom.

Consider these previous posts on related topics:

To avoid spiritual abuse church leaders should do this

Evaluating the Character of a Leader?

Restoring fallen leaders? Possible or Impossible?

Spiritual Abuse: What it is and Why it Hurts

† My thanks to Dr. Diane Langberg for pointing me to this quote in Morgan’s commentary.



Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, Evangelicals, Uncategorized

New Resource for Men with Porn Addiction

A friend of mine, David White, published a book late last year with New Growth Press entitled, Sexual Sanity For Men: Re-creating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture. I commend you this book for several reasons.

  1. The topic is absolutely important. David doesn’t offer a white knuckle approach to dealing with sexual temptations. Nor does he gloss over the difficulties and give the simplistic bible answer as to why porn use is bad for you or that Jesus is a substitute for porn (see week 11, day 2 for how why he rightly says, “Jesus is not going to become like porn for you” and why many addicts imagine that he will.)
  2. The book design is perfect. By saying this I am not talking about its physical attributes. Ever read a book that has decent sized chapters and then a few questions at the end? If you are like me you might glance at those “for further thought” questions and then move on to the next chapter. The result is that you get lots of content quickly but make little to no application. David’s book is written in the format of daily readings (5 per week) for 14 weeks. Each reading is about 2-3 pages with specific reflection  and self-assessment questions with space to write. I suggest a reader complete on own but then meet up with a group of guys and discuss (hold accountable) what your read/wrote.
  3. The focus. The material and questions spend what may feel like an inordinate amount of time on discovering how deceived we are. You could feel like he is beating a dead horse. But I would suggest that David is intentionally helping readers peel back layer and layer of deceptions that allow sin to continue. How else could believers imbibe sin if they weren’t first deadening with deception? For example, he asks the reader to note where they wear the “fig leaf of ministry” as a way to mollify guilt.

I would encourage readers to add one question to each day/week: “What is one thing I am going to endeavor to do today, with God’s help, in light of what I just read?” If we only stay with the assessment, we can become defeated and discouraged by the amount of mess we find. But, God gives us a way of escape. Where is it today? Don’t promise yourself the world. You’ll break that promise. Endeavor to make one small, incremental change today. Tomorrow, you’ll do it again. And, don’t try to do it alone.

You can find David at www.harvestusa.org.

*received complimentary book from NGP but review is my own and not the result of free books. I get plenty others that never make my recommended list.

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Filed under book reviews, Christianity, pornography, Sex, sexual addiction

A king like no human king

Listening to a sermon yesterday by David Goneau led me to write these words. I’m not a writer, as you will see, but John 12-13 led me to write the following imagined conversation between two nameless disciples of Jesus.

The din deafening, the palm fronds waving, the sunlight blinding in the late morning light, the children’s voices ringing with laughter while two fishermen slowed their pace from the crowd in order to whisper to each other

“Can you believe this?,” says the older one to the younger.” Think about it, not long ago we left nets and boats in Galilee…and now…” his voice faltered even more.

“Yes and NOW,” says the younger, “now we are the council for the promised messiah! The King of Israel. Think what Eema would say now…one of her sons not a lowly fisherman but a prince!”

The older, and more learned of the two, thought of his readings in the prophets. “This is what Zechariah foresaw: palms, hosannas, and a donkey!”

“I know, a donkey. Couldn’t he have ridden on a warhorse? Now that would have made a statement!”

“Peace, son. He brings peace, not a sword.”

The younger still had stars in his eyes. “Do you think we will get a seat next to him when he sits on the throne? Maybe you can be on his right and I can sit on his left. Hey, let’s catch up! I think they are going to up to the Temple Mount. We don’t want to miss it.

As the two made their way down from the temple and walked along a city street, the younger spoke again, “Did you see how those marketers reacted when HE went nuts on them? You gotta believe those Pharisees are going crazy. There is no denying it, there is a new political power in town.

The older remained quiet in thought.

The younger, not recognizing the silence, continued, “we should hurry up. Some of the others have gone on ahead to make plans for the feast tonight. If we get there we might be able to pick our seats and sit close. I wonder if he’ll tell us what he is up to and what jobs he’ll give us. You know, we didn’t abandon him in Galilee as some did. That ought to count for something.”

Finally, the older broke his silence. “Something isn’t right. What do you make of all his statements that he is going to suffer and die? It just doesn’t make sense. We’re on the brink of victory and he’s talking about death. I don’t get it.”

As the disciples gathered around Jesus, all eyes were focused on Jesus. He, saying nothing, got up and went behind a small wooden screen. When he emerged, Peter’s gasp was the loudest. There Jesus stood in a towel, like a nameless servant.  

The younger leaned over to the older. “WHAT is he doing? He’s the king! Why is he doing this horrible thing?

“No! May it never be that YOU wash my feet!”

“If I do not wash your feet, you can have no part in me.”

“Then wash my feet and my whole body!”

“My friends, do you now understand? Do likewise. For my kingdom is not designed by human minds. Rather, dying leads to life, service leads to freedom, being the least leads to greatness.

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Trafficking and abuse Conference: Theology of Justice and violence to women

Over the next few posts I plan to highlight some good points from the trafficking and abuse conference. For those who didn’t make it, you can order the DVDs for only $9.95 total! Here is the form and here is the website where they are described. The website also advertises our next event in this lecture series (Dec 1-3, 2011).

Bethany Hoang of IJM opened the conference on Thursday night by reminding us that justice is at the heart of worship. It is not merely a social matter. Proverbs 14:31 pairs justice with worship and honor of God:

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

And Jesus tells us in Matt 23:23b that the “weightier matters” of the Christian life have to do with justice and mercy:

But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy, and faithfulness

(Later in the conference, Diane Langberg reminded us that complacency is complicity with those who are committing these crimes.)

Bethany went on to describe the historical rift between social action and conservative views of Scripture. The fundamentalism/liberalism debate of the early 20th century caused many to equate justice ministries with liberalism and is only now becoming more prominent in evangelical circles. Justice, said Bethany, must be grounded in Christ or else we will burn out.

So, we look to Christ. Where does he call us to join him? In dying to self. Bethany quoted Karl Barth here: Jesus calls us to live in the neighborhood of Golgotha, the neighborhood of death. Let us remember that our tangible efforts toward justice are to point to Christ and ought to reveal the character of God.

Diane Langberg spoke to the audience about violence to women. There are some very consistent facts:

  • 1:3 women experience sexual violence in their lifetime (1:6 men); 1:5 women experience rape
  • 5 million women suffer domestic violence every year in the US. It is the number one cause of injury in women 15-44.

The definition of genocide (from Rwanda) actually fits the data on how women are treated. When you consider gender-based violence (from abortion to murder, to rape, etc. ), more women have been killed in the last fifty years than people died in all of the battles of the 20th century put together. Approximately 100 million women are missing from the planet (per the Economist). In addition, the crime of genocide can be levied on those who are complicit, who do not act to stop this violence. Thus, are we complicit in the church for failing to adequately protect our girls and women. When we fail to identify and name evil for what it is, we are accomplices to a crime.

One of the most powerful parts of her talk was her review of how Jesus exhibited counter-cultural care for women. For example he,

  • had a woman traveling with him
  • allowed a woman of ill-repute to touch him
  • engaged in conversation with the woman at the well, another woman of sketchy background
  • completed his first miracle to bless the marriage of a woman
  • Did not condemn the woman caught in adultery
  • Had compassion on a gentile woman wanting some “crumbs” of healing
  • Provided for his mother with his final breaths
  • Had a woman be the first reporter of his resurrection

We fight in church about the role of women in ministry and about headship/submission. Maybe it is time to start addressing the matter of the dignity of all women and how men honor their head, Jesus Christ, when they act in ways that acknowledge this inherent dignity.


Filed under Abuse, Biblical Seminary, Christianity, Diane Langberg, Uncategorized

Uncomfortable with a conversation? Change the subject

What is your usual response to someone who brings up your “stuff”? You know, that stuff you’d rather not talk about because it is embarrassing or painful or causes you to have to confront some issue in your life? And yes, I know it matters WHO is doing the bringing up and HOW.

But if we are honest we probably recognize the tendency to blame-shift by bringing up their stuff or change the subject to some intellectual debate in order to get off of the topic of us.

At the end of yesterday’s post I mentioned the passage in John 4 that tells about Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well. Notice a few of her responses as a result of her discomfort:

1. Jesus asks for something………she’s suspicious and defensive and brings up Jewish arrogance against her kind of people

2. Jesus offers something………she’s wondering how he thinks he’s better than their forefather Jacob

3. Jesus tells her to get her husband (she is living with someone not her husband)……..she tells a partial truth

4. Jesus tells the woman her own private story–5 husbands and the one you are with isn’t your husband (notice he doesn’t call her a liar but actually validates her half-truth)………she brings up a doctrinal debate between Jews and Samaritans.

5. Jesus avoids the debate and gives a bigger picture…….the woman THEN drops her defensiveness and gets her village-mates to come see Jesus

We’re probably a lot like this unnamed woman of ill-repute. We blame-shift, focus on possible problems of the other, tell half-truths when cornered and then finally resort to rabbit trail debates all so we can avoid facing certain things about ourselves.

The good thing is that God rarely lets up in his gentle but persistent pursuit.


Filed under Biblical Reflection, Christianity, conflicts, counseling skills, Doctrine/Theology

Divorce & Remarriage V: Divorce on Demand?

In chapter 5 of Instone-Brewer’s (I-B) Divorce and Remarriage in the Church we come to Jesus’ reactions to the “any cause” debate raised by the religious leaders. I-B suggests that prior to the time of Jesus, divorce was only allowed for failure to provide clothing, sex, and food–and could be initiated by either a male or female (I am suspicious as to whether women really could initiate divorce…). But by the time of Jesus’ ministry, Hillel, a popularized the “any cause” divorce by his mis-reading of Deutronomy24:1. Hillel and his followers proposed two grounds for divorce: sexual immorality and “any cause” based on some fault other than immorality. I-B reports that women were in favor of the “any cause” clause. If a woman was divorced for immorality (or allegations thereof) she could be killed or at minimum lose her rights to her marriage inheritance. But the “any cause” divorce was quietly done and mean she would probably get some of her inheritance. I-B suggests that Joseph’s plan to divorce Mary quietly followed the “any cause” clause,

Joseph did not want to put Mary through the disgrace of a public trial, so he decided to use the quiet “any cause” divorce that did not require any proof of wrongdoing. Matthew considered that this would be the action of a “just man,” because Joseph could have ensured that he didn’t have to pay Mary’s marriage inheritance if he had decided to prove her guilty of adultery in court. (p. 57)

Countering Hillel was Shammai and his followers, who only saw sexual immorality as a reason for divorce. I-B reports that this controversy “was a matter of huge public debate” (ibid). So, we come to Matt. 19:3 where the rabbis ask Jesus his opinion on the matter. Is it lawful to divorce for any cause, they ask. I-B does not think that our commentators and translations get it right. The rabbis are not asking Jesus if divorce is okay but if “any cause” divorce is okay–based on his reading of this contemporary debate among the rabbis. But what of Mark 10 where the text doesn’t include the “any cause” type language? Here I-B suggests the analogy of someone asking if it is okay for a minor to drink. Here we all understand the question is about alcohol and not drinking liquid. I-B suggests the audience would never consider that what Moses enacted as law would be unlawful. Divorce is allowed, but is “any cause” divorce allowed?

Jesus ignores the debate and tells both groups their mistake per I-B. But when he directly answers, Jesus supports Shimmai’s position and rejects the “any cause” divorce.

I-B points out that most biblical scholars get hung up on the meaning of porneia and miss the context of the rabbinical debates of the day. Jesus, says I-B is only answering the specific question of how to interpret Deut 24:1 and NOT nullifying the other legitimate reasons for divorce that we looked at in previous posts (abandonment, failure to provide food, clothing, and conjugal love). Jesus answers the question at hand but focuses on marriage rather than divorce. I-B again uses the illustration of telling his wife to “just wear the dress” and having her think he means she shouldn’t wear shoes.

The rest of the chapter considers some other parts of Jesus’ teaching. He supports monogamy and when the rabbis try to suggest Moses commands divorce, Jesus retorts and says that Moses allowed it but did not command it (verse 8). I-B suggests that the rabbis heard the “because of your hardheartedness” like this: They heard him quoting Jeremiah 4:4 where divorce and stubbornness are mentioned together.

Jesus thought that people were being too quick to divorce, so he reminds them that Moses meant divorce to occur only when there was “hardheartedness”–that is, a stubborn refusal to repent and stop breaking marriage vows. (p. 63)

I-B reports that the disciples’ response reveals the bombshell of Jesus’ teaching (verse 10). If its like this, maybe it’s better not to marry.” Jesus is radical by suggesting that marriage was optional. Apparently, Jews always saw it as compulsory due to the command to be fruitful.

So, Jesus denies the “any cause” divorce and even suggests that attempts to divorce are not valid and therefore remarriage is an act of adultery. If you are following along in the book, be sure to re-read I-B’s summary of what he thinks is going on in Matt 19 on pp 65-66. He also reminds readers that the Gospel accounts cannot possibly contain all that was said but are shortened to get to the main point.

Mark wrote first and abbreviated the debate as much as possible, but Matthew wrote later, when the debate was more or less over and was less well known. He knew his readers might get confused, so he helped them out by putting a few details back in. (p. 67)

So, what do you do with these proposed ideas about the context in which Jesus is speaking? Are you suspicious that the church could have missed this context for so long? Even I-B raises this question and promises to answer it in a later chapter. If you do use this lens (that Jesus rejects the any cause divorce but supports the sexual immorality cause) then I think it begs the question whether Jesus would agree with hardheartedness as a cause for divorce as well (which I-B wants to have at the bottom of all appropriate divorces; we should forgive even adultery, but divorce only when stubborn refusal to repent is the issue). If that was his point, why was this not clearer in the text. On the other hand, contumacy has long been seen as the cause for divorce (excommunication) from the church. One is not cut off from the church because of any type of sin, but because of a pattern of stubborn refusal to repent and turn.

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, book reviews, christian counseling, divorce, Doctrine/Theology, marriage, Sex, sin