Even a little more on shame

JKB —  October 29, 2014 — Leave a comment

Self-Doubt 2Shame obsesses.  Often, instead of seeing the big picture, shame focuses obsessively on one or two instances of supposed failure.  I say “supposed failure” because the “thing” shame obsesses about might not even be a real failure.  But if our shame-based minds feel even a smidgen of doubt about just one aspect of our performance in a relationship, conversation, work assignment, sermon, parenting role or household project, we tend to lock in on the possibility that we were less than perfect.  And we obsess about what that lack of perfection or supposed failure says about our worth, about our acceptance, about who we really are in the world.  The question that is never asked:  who gets to judge what is success, failure or something in between?  Unconsciously we automatically hand the judgment seat over to shame.  And shame always judges harshly.

Because I am a public speaker, this obsession often occurs for me around some aspect of a talk I have recently given.  Even if the feedback is overwhelmingly positive, sometimes all it takes is a fleeting, doubtful thought in my mind about something I said “not quite right”.  Something I could have said, should have said or might have said if I’d been on my game.  Or what if something in the talk is interpreted differently than I mean it…possibly even unintentionally offending someone?!  Or maybe my mind says, “Not bad but you know the talk was too long or too short…too deep or too shallow…too loud or too soft… too passionate or not passionate enough.”  Twenty people might wait in line to say thanks or for me to pray with them – a sure sign that God somehow used my gift in good and redemptive ways.  But shame always focuses on the one who falls asleep, seems disinterested or walks away apparently unmoved and untouched.In other words, shame is a perfectionist.  Shame says we need to be a 10 in everything we do and are, in every moment of every day of our lives.  A 6 or 7 won’t be enough, especially in those areas of living where we invest most of our heart and passion – certain relationships or our careers or maybe our gifts and talents.  These are areas where we think we “should” be excelling and where our shame won’t tolerate less than stellar performance.

perfect_10But this shame-based obsession with perfectionism is a trap…from hell.  Only one 10 has ever lived amongst us.  And because He was a 10, He was able to atone for the imperfections and failures of the rest of us who are not.  When we obsess about not being a 10 on any particular day or in any particular experience, we are subtly, arrogantly acting as if we expect to be Him.  At best this satanic trap causes us to over-focus on self [we become egomaniacs with an inferiority complex], shuts us down [no way I’m going to risk falling short again!] and overwhelms us with anxiety.  At worst – in our moments of shame-based obsessing about our possible blemishes – we become idol worshippers.  Ironically, in those moments, the idol we worship is us.

How to recover from this obsession with perfectionism?  Many healing thoughts come to mind but two especially stand out.  First, trust – that God has and will continue to gladly use even less than perfect us as we offer ourselves to Him in every moment and situation.  [Rom 12:1]  How else has God gotten anything done for His Kingdom in the last 2,000 years?  Second, acceptance – believe that God accepts us in Jesus Christ [Eph. 1:6] not only when we are a 6 or 7 but even when we grade out at zero.  And if our perfect God accepts imperfect us, maybe it’s time we begin to learn, one less than stellar performance at a time, to more fully accept ourselves.

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A little more on shame

JKB —  October 9, 2014 — 2 Comments

shame 2The overwhelming feeling that we have never been enough and never will be enough – is shame.  Remember, shame isn’t simply “doing a wrong thing” [which can be forgiven] – but the deep sense that we have been “born a wrong thing” – which calls for us to literally cease to exist.

How to heal?  Last blog we talked about getting our eyes on the “face” of our God – “they looked to Him and were radiant and their faces were not ashamed.”  [Psalm 34:5]  When we get our eyes off our shame-producing baggage and even the opinions of others about our baggage – and focus on the loving countenance of our Abba, our shame begins to melt away.

Indeed.  His loving, accepting, nurturing eyes and face will heal our shame – if, that is, we actually believe that He loves us.  But if on any particular day we struggle to believe that He loves us – then we aren’t likely to look at Him.  Instead, we are likely to turn away…in shame.  So, what then?

This is where we desperately need our believing brothers and sisters.  If it really is true that God lives in each one of us then sometimes our God will heal our shame through the words, the touch, and the love that comes from another one of His kids.

Ed-UnderwoodYears ago, my dear friend Ed Underwood did a leaders’ retreat for the church I was shepherding at the time.  After the retreat was over and everyone had gone home – Ed and I and our wives Judy and Carla decided to stay at the retreat center and spend time together.  We talked about anything and everything and at some point in the conversation, Ed began to affirm me as a man and brother.  I wasn’t having any of it…because of course, shame can’t receive a compliment.  So I deferred affirmation after affirmation, tried to change the subject multiple times and even made excuses for why I may have accidentally done something right over the weekend.  Finally Ed spontaneously did something that I will never, ever forget because it was one of the most healing moments in my entire life.  He took my head in his hands, brought his face so close to mine it was borderline uncomfortable and then he said, “Kevin, don’t you get it?  I…just…love…you.”

michelangelo-the-hands-of-god-and-manIn that moment I didn’t just hear Ed Underwood’s voice.  I heard the voice of my Abba Father saying to me, “Kevin, don’t you get it?  I…just…love…you.”  It’s hard to explain and I know it sounds mystical but Ed’s words were God’s words, Ed’s touch was God’s touch, Ed’s face was God’s face and Ed’s love was God’s love.  Something healed in me that day.  A huge death-dealing boulder of shame was swept out of the arteries of my spiritual heart.  In a time of my life when I couldn’t look at the face of my God directly, my God came to me in the face of my brother in Christ, Ed Underwood.  And when I went to bed that night, my own face reflected less shadow, was slightly more radiant…and I was less ashamed.

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JKB —  September 26, 2014 — 2 Comments

Shame.  The feeling that we are somehow less than others.  That no matter how hard we try, we will never be enough.  That we don’t just occasionally “do” wrong things…we were born a wrong thing.  When we feel shame we feel hopeless – because there’s no antidote for shame.  Sin and error can be forgiven.  Shame shouts that it would be better if we ceased to exist.

imageThe enemy is constantly speaking shame into our lives.  God is constantly speaking His love to us as His sons and daughters.  We hear Jesus calling us His friends.  We hear the enemy, like Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” telling us “You don’t have any friends.  No one likes you.  Murderrerrrr…”

And sometimes the voice of shame is way, way louder than the voice of love.

For me, when the enemy is shouting shame, it is usually attached to some way that I screwed up, whether past or present.  He reminds me of my failure.  He points out my character flaws, the way I have hurt people that I love, the way I look, the way I speak, the way…I am.

I’m sort of living there right now.  For a lot of different reasons, I’m living there just for a moment.  But I must not stay there – because shame is an insidious killer – destroying our joy, our freedom and even our ability to love.  After all, we can’t love another while hating ourselves.  And if shame destroys our ability to love…it also destroys our ability to really live.

The way out?  “They looked to Him and were radiant…and their faces were not ashamed.”  [Ps 34:5]  I’ve got to see Him.  In my mind’s eye, in my heart – I’ve got to see His face.  Because I know that I know that I know that He loves me so when I see Him I know I will see His love, grace, mercy and acceptance toward me.  And when I see His very heart for me reflected in His face, I will absolutely not be ashamed.

imageFather, help me to have the courage to get my eyes off my baggage…real or imagined…and look up at You.  Help me to see you in Jesus.  Help me to see you in some safe person you send my way.  Lord, I don’t really care how you help me to see you – but when I look up – somehow, someway show me Your face.  Let me see and feel how much You love and accept me.  And let your love and acceptance, reflected in your face, deliver me from shame.

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I just love me some attention…

JKB —  September 11, 2014 — 2 Comments

We love to criticize the Scribes and Pharisees. Until we see ourselves in them.

In Luke 20:45-47 Jesus is in Jerusalem, calling out the Scribes [Bible-scholar partners of the Pharisees] NOT because they weren’t trying hard to follow Torah and keep Israel focused on living for the true God – but because in their flesh and humanness, they had simply lost their way.

In verse 46, Jesus tells His closest followers to “watch out” for the Scribes – and then rips off a passionate list of what they were to “watch out” for. The line that caught my eyes and heart: “…they love greetings in the marketplace…” or as the Message paraphrases, “…they love to preen in the radiance of public flattery.”

imageThe truth is, at times, so do I. Of course, I’m not going to be very obvious about how much I’m preening – in fact, I’m going to work hard at convincing you that I want to deflect all such praise and attention from myself because it wouldn’t be Godly to love it too much and it really isn’t about me and blah, blah, blah. But the fact is, often, I’m just like the Scribes. Especially on the days when I’m not really hearing the voice of my Abba calling me His beloved son – on those days I don’t just like the flattery…“I needs it, I wants it, I must have it because it’s my precious”.

And that’s really the point, isn’t it? The Scribes LOVED the greetings in the marketplace because they had lost touch with THE LOVE of God, their Father…the One who they knew in their minds had “inscribed their names on the very palm of His hands.” But as the old saying goes, the twelve inches between our brains and our hearts is a long road indeed.

So today, I’m not going to shame or beat myself up about the truth that sometimes “I just love me some attention.” I’m going to let that fact remind me that what I really want, what I really love, what is really precious to me and what I truly cannot live without…is hearing my Abba’s voice saying, “I love you, son. I’ve got you. You’re Mine. Stay close to Me and let Me fill you with My love, affirmation and attention this day. I promise you, son… it will be enough.”

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JKB —  August 29, 2014 — 6 Comments

The other morning, this phrase in Luke 14 captivated me:  “…and still there is room.”  Jesus is speaking a parable about the “great banquet” that represents the Kingdom of God.  In the story, the master of the house tells his servant to “go out into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind” and to invite them to come into his house to the banquet.  The servant reports back:  “Master, it is done…and still there is room.”  To which the master immediately replies, “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel MORE to come, that my house may be filled.”

Why are believers in Jesus so often preoccupied with judging who will be at the great banquet – in the Kingdom of God – and who will not?  Because what Jesus seems to focus on is the fact that we have a God who longs for anyone and everyone to come to His banquet – and no matter how many are already seated…still there is room.  Ironically, in Luke 15, Jesus speaks three more parables, reminding us that God will not be content in His spirit if He loses even one of us.  If even one sheep or one coin or one son is lost – He will do anything and everything to go and find and compel that one to come in.

imageWe sit around contemplating who is “out”.  Our God sits around contemplating how He can get everyone “in”.

I’m not a Universalist.  With C.S. Lewis, I believe there must be a place for those who eventually choose “not God” – who finally refuse to come to His banquet.  But I love it – I just love it – that I have a God whose house and banquet hall but especially His heart are so huge that He wants all of us, each of us without exception, to be with Him forever.  And that with Him, no matter how many have already been seated at His great banquet…still there is room.


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JKB —  August 21, 2014 — Leave a comment

When is our racial pain and tragedy going to stop?  Not until our racism gets healed.

Racism despises, marginalizes, belittles, judges, feels superior to and eventually hurts other human beings simply because of skin tone, ethnicity or culture.  How does that kind of heart mess get healed?  Several thousand years of history proves that education and training programs and break-out sessions don’t really work.  Neither do laws or fines, sanctions or prison terms.

So, what to do?  If I say that Jesus Christ is the only One who can “heal the broken hearted and set the captive free” which includes the brokenness and prison walls of racism – you might say, “Yeah, I agree.  But still, what to do?  What needs to happen to bring His healing to the table?”

I can tell you what was supposed to happen.  The community of Jesus followers – the church – was commanded and called to lead the way to healing.  When Jesus left the planet, He said that until He returned, we would “be Him”, stepping into the brokenness and healing in His name.

So, since we are called to “be Him” – what about Jesus’ lavish, indiscriminate love for anyone and everyone do we not understand?  And what do we not understand about his last words in John 17, “Father, I pray that they all may be one…that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

And what do we not understand about Jesus follower Paul’s words in Ephesians – “Christ reconciled us all to God in one body through the cross, putting to death all that divided us…”

Or his words in Galatians – “For you are ALL sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ….”

This isn’t rocket science.  The main reason Ferguson type tragedies are still happening is because the church hasn’t done its job of “being Jesus” to the world – of living out the relational healing He called us to and for which He died.  The REAL Jesus called us to show the world that the hatred and division CAN stop…by displaying in the church that it HAS stopped.  By staying “segregated” in church – we’ve said to Jesus, “Screw you.  We’ll do what we want.”  By staying “separated” in church along racial, economic and even denominational lines – we’ve said to the world, “There’s no hope.”

And so, Ferguson keeps happening.  Because instead of a supernatural community where relationships, differences and wounds can be healed in Jesus, all the church has given our broken world is a plethora of segregated religious clubs hiding behind a false Jesus dressed up in their particular robes and rituals.

In other words, until the church gets off its spiritual behind and obeys Christ and shows the way to deep heart healing in Him, racism will continue and the tragedy of Ferguson will repeat itself.  You can count on it.


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Compassion and Mercy

JKB —  August 14, 2014 — Leave a comment

Sometimes we make our faith so complicated.  In Luke 10 Jesus is going from village to village preaching the good news of the Kingdom.  In response to a teacher of Torah who asks about what is really, really important to God, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.  A man gets mugged and left for dead, the religious people walk around him and right by him and a Samaritan – rejected and marginalized himself simply because his forefathers intermarried with the Assyrians – has compassion on the wounded man and shows him mercy.


The Good Samaritan, Vincent Van Gogh

Jesus tells his audience:  “Go and do likewise.”

So, I’m not sure what theological or philosophical or personal problems you might be wrestling with today.  The enemy is a bastard and never sleeps and wants to kill us so I’ll bet you’ve got something tearing at your body and spirit.  I know I do.  But if you want to follow Jesus even in the midst of your questions and problems, circumstances and issues – go find someone who is wounded and show them some kind of compassion and mercy – a word, a touch, a phone call, a listening ear, a gift card, a prayer, a tear.  If you keep your eyes open, you probably won’t have to go very far.

That’s about it.

And if you find yourself making up all kinds of excuses as to why you can’t do that and why you are exempt and how you’ve got more important things to tend to or to think about – well, at least be honest enough to admit that you aren’t really interested in following the real Jesus.  Because the man said, “See that Samaritan?  See the compassion and mercy he gave to that wounded, suffering brother?  Go and do likewise.”

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“…they had nothing…”

JKB —  August 6, 2014 — 2 Comments

I was reading Luke 7 today about the hooker who blew past Simon the Pharisee – in his own house – to get to Jesus.  I’m not sure how she knew Jesus but I suspect she had heard him teach on some hillside and simply by listening to his words and the tone of his voice, she knew this man loved her and wouldn’t hurther like so many men had hurt her before.

So when she heard he was in town, she ran like a mad woman to get close to him – to be near him, to touch him, to hear more from his heart.  And when she got to him she sobbed and wept and washed his feet with her tears and wiped them over and over with the perfume she would have previously used to get herself ready for the abusive johns who constantly appeared at her door.

Of course, in contrast, Simon the Pharisee stood smugly and proudly in the corner judging the woman because she didn’t know enough Torah, keep enough Torah, attend enough synagogue and for sure he was judging her because of her “profession”.

So Jesus speaks a parable to Simon about two debtors who owed a certain creditor some money – one owed a lot and one not so much – and here’s the line that got me:  “…they had nothing with which to repay so he freely forgave them both.”  That’s when the tears came, not from Simon, but from me.

That’s the moment when the Holy Spirit reminded me, “Son, don’t ever forget.  You’ve got nothing.  And I know you’ve got nothing.  The problem is when YOU forget you’ve got nothing and start to believe you’ve got something.  Then it isn’t about my grace freely forgiving you anymore but it’s about your performance and measuring up and the never-ending spiritual treadmill of laws, works, spiritual practices and accomplishments.  And then son, the shame comes and you start to compare yourself with others.  Your gut clenches and you can’t see me anymore and you can’t hear me whispering your name telling you how much I love you.  So, right now, son…let go.  Embrace your reality – you’ve got nothing.  And open your heart to my everything that I freely give you by my grace.”

And so I do.  And then like the woman in Luke 7, I go in peace.


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Yesterday was the day in America when we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and what he taught us through his life, what he preached and lived and fought and died for.  He taught us about justice for all, about the equality of every human being with every other human being, about showing mercy to the oppressed and abused.  He lived out the ideal of loving those who hate us.  He showed us how to forgive those who persecute us and to respond non-violently to those who try to hurt us.  He modeled how beautiful and enriching it can be when we get to know, appreciate, bond with and love someone who is different from us – at least on the outside – but has the same human, tender, “love-needing” heart on the inside.  And he demonstrated how powerful it can be when we come together across all lines previously dividing us to live in solidarity and true community against the forces of darkness and evil.

MLK day is a good day.  A day to contemplate and remember and pray for enough healing and strength in our own hearts to live this path of peace taught to us by Dr. King…and of course, taught to us first by Jesus of Nazareth Himself.

All of that, I love.  But let me tell you what I hate and what drives me nuts and in fact, the older I get what makes me sick to my stomach.  Going on Facebook and seeing everyone and his brother post a picture of Dr. King and a quote from Dr. King and then some pious drivel about how they think this wonderful thought about Dr. King and that wonderful thought about what he taught us and blah, blah, blah, blah.  I want to puke.  I’m getting too old for the talk.  I want to see some action.

And you’re absolutely right.  I don’t really know what’s going on inside the hearts and lives of those who are posting.  God is their judge just as He is mine.  But this is my suspicion.  If half of us who are posting were living out what we say we believe about what Dr. King taught – we would see a different world.  We would see more folks intentionally working hard to heal from the inner prejudices we all carry around in our hearts.  We would see more folks intentionally working to reach out in true relationship to those not like them.  We would see more folks intentionally working to forgive those who have hurt them.  And we would especially see the church of Jesus Christ intentionally working to be less homogenized, less insular, less judgmental…passionately doing whatever the heck it takes to make the body of Jesus a place for all people.  Because Jesus, Dr. King’s Jesus, loved and died for all…the…people.

Seriously, how can we claim to be all about our brother Martin Luther King – let alone our Savior Jesus – and go week after week to our all white, all black, all Hispanic, all Asian, all rich, all poor, all middle-class, all anything churches without ever once thinking – “it’s not supposed to be this way and it’s got to stop”.  Jesus was crucified to break down the walls and end the madness so that the way we live in peace with one another shouts to the world “you don’t have to be afraid and hate anymore – you can come home to one another because our God has healed our wounds and your wounds through His Christ.”

Facebook posts, pious words and wishful thinking won’t heal the relational bleeding the enemy has foisted upon the human race for thousands and thousands of years.  It takes intentionality.  It takes work.  It will take a whole lot of folks who are willing to go to their own Birmingham jail or to be sprayed with our generation’s version of a wounding fire hose.  I believe it is going to take a whole lot more of us who are willing to die.

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Doing Nothing.

JKB —  January 9, 2014 — 3 Comments

In the mid-1980’s, Henri Nouwen left Harvard and went to live at L’Arche in Toronto, a community for the profoundly disabled.  His first assignment was to provide primary care for a young man named Adam who could literally do…nothing.  He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t read, he couldn’t toilet himself, he couldn’t reach out, he couldn’t debate or counsel or instruct, he couldn’t do much with his hands except wave them aimlessly when he was agitated or excited and feed himself just a little at dinner time.  He spent most of his time in his wheelchair because he couldn’t walk more than a few steps without being supported and even at the day activity center of L’Arche, he spent most of his time doing what he could do…which was nothing.  Adam just was.  Wherever he was all he could do was be.

And yet Nouwen describes Adam as being the person who more than anyone else in his entire life drew him closer to his true self…and to the unconditional love of Jesus.  In his book, “Adam”, Nouwen writes:

“While I, the so-called ‘normal’ person, kept wondering how much Adam was like me, he had no ability or need to make any comparisons.  He simply lived and by his life invited me to receive his unique gift, wrapped in weakness, but given for my transformation.  While I tended to worry about what I did and how much I could produce, Adam was announcing to me that ‘being is more important than doing.’  While I was preoccupied with the way I was talked about or written about, Adam was quietly telling me that ‘God’s love is more important than the praise of people.’  While I was concerned about my individual accomplishments, Adam was reminding me that ‘doing things together is more important than doing things alone.’  Adam couldn’t produce anything, had no fame to be proud of, couldn’t brag of any award or trophy.  But by his very life, he was the most radical witness to the truth of our lives that I have ever encountered.”

And then Nouwen notes that in many ways, Adam’s life mirrors the life of Jesus in that Jesus’ impact, like Adam’s, was far more about his “being” than his “doing”.  That felt ridiculous to me until I read these words from Nouwen:

“The great mystery of Jesus’ life is that he fulfilled his mission not in action…not by what he did but by what was done to him, not by his own decision but by other people’s decisions concerning him.  It was when he was dying on the cross that he cried out, ‘It is fulfilled.’”


My days tend to be filled with so many lists, so many demands and expectations, so much competition [in my mind, at least] with myself and others, so many feelings of inadequacy and failure if I don’t produce, if I don’t “get ‘er done”, if I don’t “just do it”.  It’s exhausting.  It’s depressing.  It’s never ending.  And if Nouwen is right, it might also be ineffective.  And it just might be…sin.

What if by his life, Jesus is really trying to say to us, “Follow Me – by first doing nothing.  Be with Me.  Then be with those around you.  Be your true self.  Be fully present.  Yeah, there’s much to do.  But first, do nothing.  Just be.  Because in My Kingdom, that’s the most important thing you do.”

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