Maybe it’s because I’ve got a stream of melancholy that runs through my personality. Maybe because marketers are at a loss how to commercialize it. Or maybe because it points with hope to Jesus’ resurrection.
But I think my love for Good Friday comes because, simply, I’m taken with Jesus on the cross.
Let me step back.
You may or may not be able to relate, but I’m usually pretty aware that I’m not the man I want to be. In general, I like myself and enjoy my own company. But if the greatest command is to love God and the second is to love others, then however I look on the outside, from my insider’s vantage point, I’m not doing very well.
I want to love better. I really do. But sometimes it’s like I’m a guy watching a movie of my life even while it’s happening.
Right there in front of me, I watch as I lose my temper with my kids (when they’re actually being hilarious), pick up my iPhone and check email while my wife is talking to me, hold grudges, posture in front of the mirror to see how good (or bad) I look, mentally criticize people I’m jealous of, ignore my baby’s cries, think I’m superior to other Christians who “just don’t get it,” covet my neighbor’s truck, hope some wealthy reader will read this and buy me a truck, slip into worry and despair, strive for people’s approval, and on and on I go.
Pass the popcorn.
I joke, but in reality, it’s all too much for me. I disobey my God and forsake my first Love. I hurt people. I hurt me. I feel like Paul when he wrote, “Woe to me! Who will save me from the body of this death?”
Good Friday reaches this stuff in me like no other holiday.
God knew it would. In my life and in yours. He’s been whispering about it since the beginning.
- When He drew first blood to clothe guilty Adam and Eve in flesh, He was whispering of the cross.
- When Abraham placed wood on Isaac’s back before they climbed the hill where father would sacrifice son, God was whispering of the cross.
- When God stopped Abraham’s sacrifice by showing him the ram in the thicket, it was a whisper of the cross.
- God’s command to slay the Passover lamb and paint its blood on the doorposts as a sign: a whisper of the cross.
And on and on He goes.
Moses staff, the tree at Marah, water from the rock, Aaron’s rod that budded, the bronze serpent on a pole, the scapegoat, the lamb, the dove, the red heifer, the scarlet thread and piece of cedar wood, the ark of the covenant (Did you know the Hebrew word for ark was also used for coffin?), Rahab’s signal, Isaiah’s suffering servant.
Throughout history, across the pages of Scripture, God was pointing, hinting, alluding, whispering, “The cross, the cross, the cross. Jesus.”
He knew all along we could not carry the weight of our wrongs. Knew all along we needed a place for them to go. He has not left us to helplessly watch our sin continue. He has made a way for us to become, actually become, the men and women He made us to be.
I love Good Friday. I love the Passion, the bread, the wine, the cross. (And yes, the Resurrection.)
I mean to write with words that resound. But when they come out, they’re no more than a whisper.
How can I describe the fullness of Christ on the cross? How can I convey it?
Come Friday. Come eat the bread and drink the wine. Come behold the cross and see for yourself.
The post below is adapted from Josh Glaser’s address at Regeneration’s annual fundraiser in Baltimore. To read the entire address, click here: Reclaim (April 3, 2014).
To stake a claim is to announce that something belongs to you. In some times and places, a person would come upon a piece of land, and they’d place rocks or drive stakes in the ground, marking out that plot as their own.
This same thing happens in individual’s lives. In my life, in your life. Something painful or confusing happens, and subtle voices speak, making their claim.
A husband leaves and an unspoken sadness rolls into a home, silently putting down its stakes, toxic claims seeping into the ground: This woman isn’t wanted. These children aren’t worth fighting for.
A bully mocks while other boys look on, stakes go down, claims are heard: You’re different, defective, they all see it. You don’t belong with the boys.
A little girl is sexually abused by a sibling, and then an older male neighbor; more stakes, more claims: You’re dirty, tainted. You caused this. Your voice doesn’t matter. Men aren’t safe.
A young man stumbles upon pornography. He’s curious, he looks, it feels good, he looks some more. Now he’s a man with a family of his own and he can’t stop looking; the stakes have been driven deep and he’s believed the toxic claims. You were made for this. You can’t live without this.
What about you? What claims have been spoken into your life?
- If you’re going to be loved, you’ve got to earn it.
- You’re a mess, a screw-up, a failure.
- No one will really love you if they find out about that.
- They only want you for your money.
- God’s forsaken you.
There are thousands more. And we’ve all heard them. Every one of us. The enemy of our souls has made sure of it.
But the story doesn’t end there. There’s One who can pull them up. Jesus, who comes to reclaim what belongs to him.
When God wanted to reclaim our hearts, minds, and bodies (including our sexuality) for Himself, He didn’t do so by shouting louder than the other voices. He reclaimed with word made flesh, like us.
Jesus, the living Word, let stakes be driven down through His body, let the sting of death claim His life.
Then He overpowered death and sin. And rose again.
Against every foul power and every evil claim, the Father has driven the cross deep into the ground of humanity.
At the sight, the enemy closes his mouth, his hand opens, and he steps away from the sons and daughters of God, releasing them home.
This Sunday, Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus’ entrance into occupied Jerusalem. Those who lauded his arrival believed he would oust the foreign rulers claiming their land.
But Jesus came to reclaim something else. He came to oust the powers claiming their hearts, minds, bodies, and souls.
What claims need uprooting in your life? Let Him show you. Maybe it’s time to allow him into the parts of your life claimed by another.
Over the past decade and a half, I’ve had the honor of seeing many men and women take journeys against impossible odds— to fight for a marriage that seems hopeless, to give up sexual sins others consider normal (the “normal” list is growing), or to pursue healing from past sexual abuse.
But outside one or two key friendships, many of these people remain largely silent about their stories.
The rationales for silence are many.
- I still struggle from time to time, so my story’s not worth sharing yet.
- People in church see my particular area of struggle as worse than the rest.
- I don’t want people to define me by this. It’s not who I am.
But boiled down, most rationales like these are expressions of shame—of feeling inferior, dirty, or defective because of whatever the problem is or was.
This is important to know for two reasons.
First, misdiagnosing the problem means applying a treatment that won’t work. If shame is the problem, silence cannot heal it. In many cases, it makes it worse.
Second, each of the above rationales is focused on “me.” They’re self-concerned and self-protective. Shame cripples our ability to turn freely toward others without concern for ourselves.
Meanwhile, others with struggles of their own need to know they’re not alone, that someone else isn’t giving in, that change can come.
Whether your story includes pornography, adultery, homosexual sex, alcohol, drugs, debt, depression, abuse, worry, workaholism, materialism, or something else, the same voices that beckon to you in your dark hours are beckoning to others.
If you’ve begun your journey to freedom, you’re further along than all those who haven’t taken their first step. Yes, maybe some will see your weakness as the worst of all. Let Christ deal with them. (Interestingly, people with very different kinds of struggles believe others view theirs as the worst. Someone’s got to be wrong.)
For the sake of others travelling a similar path, will you tell your story to others? Yes, some may look at you funny when they first hear. Truth is confounding to a world bathed in sitcoms, sound bytes, and sexual chaos.
But I guarantee you, even if not at first, someone will hear you and come back to hear more.
Questions: What’s helped you share your story with others? What’s hindered you? Leave a comment below.
Saint, sinner, storyteller,
P.S. Come hear some great stories from some courageous men and women next Thursday (April 3 in Baltimore) and Saturday (April 5 in McLean) at Regeneration’s annual fundraising events. We’d love to have you as our guest!
Lust is a growing problem in our world. If it’s a problem in your life, I have good and bad news:
First, here’s how: Lust requires your imagination to either create or to cooperate with a fiction. Behind every lustful image is a real person with a heart, mind, body, and soul. Lust uses your imagination to hide most of the person, so you only see a fictionalized version of the person—a small part to be used for sexual pleasure.
Or to borrow from a familiar passage, lust creates objects for lust in man’s image, in his (or her) likeness lust creates them.
So here’s the good news: Because lust requires the use of your imagination, you can choose to see more. Or at least, you can choose to begin the journey to be able to see more over time.
The bad news is learning to see a whole person is a difficult process and there are tremendous forces that will work against you as you seek to realign your mind with what is real (and often painful) rather than what is false (but pleasurable).
To succeed, you’ll need a better motivation than what feels good in the moment. You’ll need love. You’ll need Jesus.
Here are five ways to engage your imagination in the process:
- Imagine yourself at the cross, embracing Jesus, receiving his love for you and for those you’re tempted to lust after.
- Picture the person you’re tempted to lust after as the needy little child he or she was.
- If tempted by porn, imagine what degradation or trauma he or she must have experienced that led them to give away such an intimate part of themselves to strangers.
- Contemplate what life must be like for this person after the cameras are turned off and he or she leaves for home. Do they have a husband or wife? Children? Any friends?
- Picture Jesus with this person. What is the expression on his loving face? How do his eyes look at him or her?
God gave your imagination to you for good. Jesus died and rose again to reclaim it from the grip of lust. Imagine that.
Question: What other ways can you use your imagination to combat lust and embrace love?
Last week, one of my girls told me about another kid at school who was intentionally mispronouncing her name to get under her skin. Despite my daughter’s attempts to stop her, the other girl has continued for several days.
As we talked about it, I felt myself getting angry.
My anger wasn’t just about my daughter. Memories of my own childhood swept across an ocean of 30 years like a storm. For me, it was a couple boys in my school who seemed drawn to insecurity in me like wolves drawn to the scent of blood. I remember the smirks on their faces, their tone, the spit, the fists. I remember their names.
Merriam-Webster says to mock is to laugh at or make fun of, especially by copying an action or a way of behaving or speaking. It’s to attack a person’s identity, to twist who they are into a joke worthy of scorn.
I’ve been surprised to discover that in each of the Synoptic Gospels when Jesus describes what’s going to happen to him in Jerusalem, he includes that he will be mocked.
He was. And then some.
After flogging him to near death, his armed, bored, prejudiced and pitiless captors—backed by those in power—encircled him. Wolves. Maybe 200 of them. They knew what people were saying about him: miracle worker, prophet of God, king. And that’s where they aimed all the mockery and violence that follows.
- They draped a beautiful robe around Jesus’ torn open back, pressed thorns on his head like a crown, and knelt down, taunting, “Give homage to the king of the Jews!”
- They put a reed in his hand like a king’s scepter, then grabbed it back and beat his head with it. They spit on him, blindfolded him, then punched him, jeering, “You’re a prophet, so tell us who hit you!”
- And after nailing him up, they scrawled “King of the Jews” on a placard and posted it over his hanging, naked body.
Mockery derides what’s true, so what’s true doesn’t seem so good anymore. It twists a name so the true name seems small. It strikes close to home to try to get you to step away from home.
“Mockery derides what’s true, so what’s true doesn’t seem so good anymore.”
Those crucified with Jesus, they mocked him too. When you’re vulnerable, it’s tempting to turn on whoever is weaker. As a boy, when the wolves would aim their barbs at someone else (dear God anyone else) I remember my forced shallow laughter, hoping to blend in so they’d forget about me.
Those who mock and bully have no idea, of course. They’ve stumbled upon a ring of power. Its sorcery is alluring. They don’t know there’s another force behind it, one that’s been at work since the start. And it means them harm, too.
So back to the other night with my daughter. I don’t have a sure path out of this for her. I wish I did, but I know she’ll have to face this and much worse as she lives the story that is her own to live.
Sitting next to her, I’m not quite sure what to say. So I pray with her and we listen for Jesus to speak.
I hear something I don’t expect. Just a spark.
I open my eyes and tell her her name. She knows it but I say it anyway.
“This is who you are. God gave us your name and the authority to give it to you. Throughout life, others will try to get you to believe they have the authority to give you a different one, but they don’t.”
I say her name again with the same authority as the day my wife and I gave it at her birth, and add, “If someone calls you by another name, you can even act like they’re talking to someone else.”
She smiles and I see a bit of the fog lift.
For me, too.
Jesus became the weaker kid for us. The wolves smelled his blood and circled while we looked on. Even while we mocked along.
But the authority and power he set aside in those hours, he has picked back up again. And then some.
My daughter’s identity, and mine, and yours are secure because of it.
What wolves are after you today? How are they twisting the name God has given you? What are they claiming about your home and about who you are? What is the Father saying to you instead?
I’d love to hear from you. What other suggestions do you have for dealing with the bullies in your life or in the lives of your kids? Share your thoughts below.
I keep my elbows off the table, I keep my eye on the ball. I wear sunscreen and check my mirrors. I know how to swim, make my bed, fry an egg, balance a checkbook, and paddle a canoe.
And my mom and dad also talked with me about sex. At least a little.
I’m grateful they tried. Shepherding our kids in the realm of sex and sexuality can be really tough for many reasons.
As I speak to different groups of adults, I often ask for a show of hands how many had parents who talked with them about sex. Usually, only a few hands go up.
This is tragic.
Sex is one of God’s most powerful and wonderful gifts to humanity. And as with every gift, the more powerful and wonderful it is, the greater capacity it has to bring either life or destruction. (Think of the difference between a car and a flashlight and you’ll know what I mean.)
If you didn’t receive godly parental guidance about sex and about yourself as a sexual being made in God’s image, then you went without something incredibly important to healthy development.
God created us as both spiritual and physical, and He cares deeply about our sexual lives. He wants to reclaim sexuality from all that’s distorted it or held it captive.
Will you give Him room in your life for this?
And for you parents: Here are just a few tips to help you care well for your own kids in this area:
- If you can, be the first to talk with your kids about sex. Often, the first word is the most formational.
- Become comfortable talking about sex. If you’re embarrassed, your son or daughter is more likely to feel uncomfortable, too.
- More than having one perfect “sex talk,” make talking about sex a regular part of your ongoing relationship.
- Give your kids a compelling vision. The culture is doing a phenomenal job at this. Give the reasons for the rules, and help them see how their desires ultimately point to what God teaches is good and true.
Get help from others. Guaranteed, God wants to grow you through this process just as much as He wants to help your kids.
I’d value hearing from you: What did you need to hear from your mom and dad regarding sex and sexuality when you were growing up? Leave a comment below.
(I’m presenting to groups of parents wanting to shepherd their kids well in this area, so your feedback will actually be a great help to them!)
Usually when I go on a dinner date with my wife, we make a simple meal for the kids before we go. Chicken nuggets, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, or fish sticks. They love it.
I’m a sucker for the macaroni and cheese: the box you buy at the grocery store for a buck, boil the little noodles, add the butter and milk, and then stir in that signature packet of mysterious cheese powder.
As I dollop the school-bus-yellow creaminess onto my kids’ plates, my hunger kicks into high gear, and I want some for myself.
And I admit I’ve sullied more than one dinner out by filling up on macaroni and cheese before even leaving home.
This may or may not have been sinful, but it describes what I mean when I say your desire is not really the problem.
My truest desire was actually for something good. I wanted to enjoy a delicious meal out with my wife. But I let another, lesser, desire cut in line and distract me from what I really wanted.
My spirit was willing, but my flesh grasped for a counterfeit of the real meal.
Macaroni and cheese aside, this same effect is at work in weightier struggles we face.
- Joe loves Jesus and is a pillar of his church. He’s also been indulging in pornography, unaware that deep down he’s starving for intimacy.
- Janet’s colleagues applaud her drive as she works 80-hour weeks, but underneath, she’s dying for a sense of self-worth beyond her performance.
- Ed’s drinking again. He’s tried to stop, but his nerves haven’t been the same since he watched his son die. He’s thirsty for a peace he can’t seem to find.
Jesus knows the power of desire, and the pain of the soul’s hunger and thirst. It was your pain He shared as he cried out from the cross, “I am thirsty!” (John 19:28).
Have you been enjoying a macaroni-and-cheese version of satisfaction? If you keep filling your stomach, you may never discover what you’re really hungering for. And worse yet, you may never get it.
“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied” (Luke 6:21).
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below.
Two questions: In what area are you currently experiencing fear? And how would your life be different without fear?
From full-blown phobias to low-grade anxieties, fear is something all of us experience. But if Scripture is true, God doesn’t want us to fear.
Wait, wait. The first part I get. But the second, really?
Maybe I’m addicted to fearing. Even while I hate it, it also feels like something can’t live without. And when I consider going without fear, guess what rises up in me? Fear.
What terrible things would happen to me if I stopped worrying, abandoned all anxiety, or let down my guard?
Meanwhile, fear is happy to go along, pretending to be on my side–an ally against all that has or could go wrong.
In what ways does fear pretend to be your ally? Does it promise to . . .
- Keep you alert, so you won’t be surprised by anything?
- Spur you on and help you accomplish your goals?
- Show your family you care about them?
- Protect your kids from harms they don’t seem to fear?
- Convince God to love you?
It’s all hogwash, you know. Fear cannot keep its promises. In fact, it actually makes things worse.
So how do we live without fear?
Love seems to help.
When I allow myself to be loved by God and others (which can feel scary), fear dissipates. Picturing myself at the foot of the cross, with Jesus’ love pouring out for me, helps.
Similarly, when I take my eyes off myself (which can also feel scary) to love God and others, fear dissipates.
So, real life examples for me today:
- Regeneration has its annual fundraising desserts in just six weeks and what happens there will impact how much we can (or cannot do) in the coming year.
- Some of my kids are going through difficult things at school.
- I have loved ones who are dealing with problems I don’t know how to fix.
For each of these, fear is doing a hard sell, trying to get me to trust it can help.
Instead, with Jesus’ help, I’m practicing letting love motivate me. I’m asking . . .
Jesus, these fundraisers are for you; what are you dreaming they’ll be?
You’re the author of my kids’ stories; what part do you have for me?
Nothing confounds you; in what way can I step out in faith for the good of my loved ones?
In short, I’m asking him to share with me his love for others.
Love is a much better motivator.
So what about you? In what area(s) of your life have you believed fear is an ally? What evidence do you already have that it’s not? In what practical ways can you begin practicing being loved and giving love instead?
I’d value hearing your thoughts! Leave some here.
God interrupted me.
It wasn’t audible. But he said my name and I heard him. To sense God right there in my car was awesome.
And to be honest, I was a bit unsettled.
I’m not alone. Scripture is full of people who felt the same way when they encountered God. Many live with ambivalence about God’s nearness, perhaps especially those struggling with sins or weaknesses they haven’t been able to change.
Here are three reasons:
1. We’re exposed. He’s solid in a way we’re not. Before God, we’re naked. Nothing hidden. The book of Hebrews says, “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”
2. We’re ashamed. God is holy and in front of him we can feel in our bones we’re not. It’s unbearable. So much so that even the most powerful will cry to the mountains, “Fall on us an hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne” (Rev. 6:16).
3. We doubt. We may know in our heads what’s true, but we have what some call a “head-heart split.” Meaning, while we know God is loving, on a deeper level, we have real questions about whether he loves me.
In light of 1 – 3, we try to protect ourselves with an interior posture that says God is not near, or at least not really paying attention. And we can hold this posture, refusing to look him in the face, even while in church, while praying, while serving him, while working in Christian ministry.
Dallas Willard put it this way: “When God stands before us, we stand before Him. Refusing to worship him is a way of trying to avoid his face and his eyes.”
This situation is not irredeemable. God can save us from this tendency just like he can save us from every other affliction. The real danger is that we’d settle for a God-is-distant Christianity as though it’s Christianity at all.
I’m not suggesting we’ll always feel his presence, always hear his voice, or never experience any doubt. But I am saying that the normal life Jesus intends for each of us is a “with-God” life, one where we’re increasingly turning toward or abiding in his presence, moment by moment.
For me, a first step when I find I’ve been living otherwise is to cry out like the father in Mark 9: “I do believe! Help my unbelief!” Or as some translations express, “Help me to believe more!” In other words, it doesn’t begin with me vowing to try harder to remember he’s there. It begins with him.
And it also means pressing toward him at times even while I feel exposed, ashamed, and doubtful he cares. Even if being near him means I’ll be undone.
As I do, I may find I am indeed exposed and I do indeed have reason to be ashamed.
But I’ll also find that all my doubts about his love are unfounded. That the cross of Christ is indeed for me. That all along he has been wanting to move me from death to life.
Dallas Willard again: “The effect of standing before God by welcoming him before us will, by contrast, be the transformation of our entire life.”
This is why he was in my car on the way to work. This is why he’s with you now. The only question that remains is whether we’ll turn toward him, or push ourselves away.
Compelling arguments abound. One I hear repeatedly is this:
God is big enough and loving enough to embrace all kinds of love, not just heterosexual love.
Almost every time I hear this, I find myself taken aback, stumbling a bit, questioning.
“Wait a second, why wouldn’t God be for all kinds of love?”
I don’t want to be a jerk. And I don’t want to make God into a smaller, less loving God than I know he is.
But here’s the reality: The disagreement isn’t about love. It never has been. God is for love.
He’s just not for all kinds of sex.
Just because God’s love is big and inclusive doesn’t mean God blesses all forms of sex. That’s just bad logic.
We may disagree about whether God should have any say in what we do with our bodies or how love should or should not be expressed.
But let’s agree on this: Love and sex are not the same thing.