Don’t go to church to get fed.

Go to church to get hungry.

Don’t go to church to get fed? People say this sounds unbiblical. Didn’t Jesus tell Peter, “Feed my sheep”?

That’s the point.

We first hear this idea in Ezekiel 34 where God was speaking “against the shepherds of Israel” who failed to feed the sheep and instead fed themselves: “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought … My sheep were scattered with none to search or seek for them …” (Ezekiel 34:4,6)

Imagine the scene. Peter swims up to a beach where the Messiah he denied is cooking him breakfast over a charcoal fire. Just a few days earlier he was warming himself around another charcoal fire when a girl gave him a chance to stand up for a suffering Jesus. He fails miserably, the cock crows, and he flees in shame, lacking faith to believe in a Redeemer who could beat death, much less his sin.

But Jesus thoroughly defeated sin and absolutely conquered death.

Peter now finds himself looking into the same eyes of the Man he betrayed, with the smell of his failure in his nostrils. He then hears the question he never saw coming, with a command that would change his life:

Do you love Me?

Feed my sheep.

When most Christians hear the words feed my sheep they tend to think of reaching in. Going deep. Finding a church that meets my family’s needs. They call it discipleship. For most people feed my sheep means improving existing believers.

But I don’t think that’s what Peter heard.

There’s no doubt that improving and caring for found sheep is part of what Ezekiel 34 had in mind. Strengthen the weak, heal the sick, have meaty Bible studies. One hundred percent necessary. But when you read the story of Peter, you do not find him staying in; he goes out. Central to God’s rebuke to shepherds was their characteristic neglect of lost sheep.

After 2000 years Christians still miss it. We still think feed my sheep means preaching good sermons. (And listen, I’m a sermon guy. I’m sold on well-prepared, expository, Christocentric, Redemptive-historical, gospel preaching) We still act like feed my sheep means helping already-found sheep shine a little brighter. (And just to be clear, I’m all in with with laboring for Christ-like sanctification by faith, a la Galatians 4:19.)

But what if feed my sheep is something more like the great commission.

You know, Go make disciples.

What if making disciples is like making a cake. It certainly includes the icing and the decorating, but it absolutely demands the cooking. Starting with nothing but ingredients and turning this nothingness into somethingness. Sounds a lot like God: “Let there be light.” What if making disciples is exactly what Jesus said it is: teaching and baptizing. (Matthew 28:19-20) What if feed my sheep says loving Jesus means I’ll care about what he cares about. And he feels deeply about lost things.

What if feed my sheep is a lot more like an urgent search for your lost keys when you’re running late for work? Funny how I never hear people passively sit down and rationalize theology with their lost keys. Well, maybe I was predestined to never find these keys. If God wants me to have them, he’ll find a way. Let’s be honest, if we treated looking for lost keys the way we treat looking for lost sheep we’d be unemployed.

Feed My sheep.

I have eight children. That means every now and then I lose one. Can you imagine if I went home to my wife with seven out of eight? As my wife explodes in maternal concern do you think she’d be okay with me saying, “Ruth, calm down. We still have seven. Let’s not be all about numbers. Besides that, the more kids, the less the rest of us get our needs met. The less food for the rest of us. I don’t want us to be a mega-family, I like small-family. All these extra people make it harder to go deep.” My wife would go off.

Because that’s her sheep.

What if your wife-swapping coworker is His sheep, but he doesn’t know it yet? What if your annoying neighbor is His sheep, but she’s never been told? What if feed My sheep means we’re rubbing shoulders with lost sheep all the time, and God wants people with a heart like his?

Which is why He’s asking, “Do you love Me?”

And that’s why I don’t want to go to a church that “feeds” me, in the way a predictable American Christian hears the word feeds. I want to be a part of one that makes me hungry. Hungry enough to go all the way with this gospel I say I believe. And nothing makes me hungry like the uncompromised proclamation and demonstration of the substitutionary death and explosive resurrection of Jesus, among people who burn in white hot passion for their first love, and for the sake of the people He adores. In creed and deed.

Feed My sheep.Feed sheep

Get the Story Right

Some time ago I was speaking with a young couple on the verge of getting married and the subject of my marriage came up. The more I talked about the marriage I have experienced – and the wife I enjoy – the more grateful I became. My final assessment was, I’m so blessed it’s crazy.

As I walked away from the conversation I began to think about how rose-colored my glasses seemed to be in that moment. Was I really being honest? Was I setting this couple up for disillusionment when they don’t feel the reality I described? God knows how many difficult season these 20 years of marriage have endured. Some of that has been basic life tribulation. Much of it has been my sin. During many seasons of difficulty I have not been so positive.

So why was I walking away from that conversation with such hope and joy?

Was it because life is much easier now compared to other seasons of life? Not a chance. Was I so positive because I happened to get lucky enough to land the perfect marriage? Absolutely not. It has been a rude awakening to discover that there is no such thing as a perfectly compatible couple. Marriage is not about compatibility; it’s about commitment. And communication. And ultimately communion. You either connect with Jesus and become whole in Him, or you will be a black hole that sucks your spouse dry with expectations that only God Himself can fulfill. Marriage does not work because two people are compatible; it works because two people do the gospel on each other.

So why was I so hot on my marriage – and my life – as I left that conversation?

Because of the story I chose to tell myself.

The reality of my life (and yours) is that I have had some very high highs and some very low lows. There has been sin and grace, hardship and redemption. But God is the Author, and He does not write bad stories. When I start to tell my story with God, with grace, with redemption in mind – the whole thing sounds different. I get to choose the story I tell myself. And so do you.

Get the genre right. It’s not a horror flick; it’s not a tragedy. It’s a love story. With action and adventure. And drama. But this thing is absolutely not chaotic and pointless. He’s writing a masterpiece, so don’t give up on the plot. Don’t lose hope in the Director. You may be in the middle of a really difficult chapter, but it’s an amazing story. Read it all the way to the end.

Don’t underestimate the Author.

This is beyond positive thinking. You have to tell the right story, because your heart will follow the story you tell yourself. Your life moves with your meditation. Paul got it right: “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Go tell the right story.Blog - open books

Some things are worth fighting for.

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Some things are worth fighting for.

And some things are not.

So distinguish between levels of certainty.

This will help you differentiate between what is essential and what is controversial. Some things are worth dying for. Some are worth dividing for. Some things are worth debating for. Some are only worthy of deciding for.

Be as clear as the Bible is clear and be humble enough to stay as unclear as it is unclear. This will save you so many foolish disputes and arguments and help you to keep the main thing the main thing. The unity of the Spirit is based on the absolutes and essentials, not questionable deductions and interpretations of the kingdom. Pray for wisdom to discern the difference.

This man eats with sinners

“This man eats with sinners.”

That was the accusation against Jesus.

Because meals have a way of communicating. There’s something about a dinner that puts a person in their place.

How fascinating that one of the tools the Pharisees used to put people in their place was to refuse table fellowship. Sharing a meal meant an open hand and a heart of acceptance. To refuse a meal meant censure and a heart of rejection. The Pharisees knew what they were doing.

And so did Jesus. He ate with outcasts. He sat with sinners. No strings attached.

No wonder they saw the light.

What if we recaptured the lost art of a good meal and great conversation? Cell phones on silent and hearts open wide. I bet you know someone that could use a real meal this week. The Bible calls it hospitality.

You are welcome.

For previous thoughts on hospitality click here

You are welcome

“You are welcome.”

Those precious words communicated perfectly my experience in the West African country of Ghana. As an American I am accustomed to traveling to places where it’s clear that I’m not exactly welcome. But not in Ghana. With smiles on their faces and invitations in their hearts, it was a wonderful feeling and an unforgettable time. I was welcome.

I come from a culture where these words mean very little. “You’re welcome” is the obligatory response to the words “thank you.” Good form. Good manners. It has less to do with the heart, and more to do with maintaining an image of politeness. But in Ghana, the words didn’t feel like a vain repetition; it was real. I really was welcome.

The Scriptures call this hospitality.

We live in an increasingly fragmented world. Mother Teresa described loneliness as the leprosy of the masses, and she’s right. People are wandering, alone, and more isolated than ever.

It’s a perfect time to rediscover the ancient Christian practice of hospitality. Hands on, reaching out, arms wide, homes open – especially on the lookout for the vulnerable, the weak, the foreigner, the stranger. My culture has not taught me such a practice.

Technically hospitality is defined by a kind and generous reception toward guests, but I love how it comes out in Greek: “love of strangers.” Love. The early disciples embraced this full-throttle. It meant to welcome people into your life, your schedule, and space, offering food, shelter, provisions, and protection. For a follower of Jesus hospitality went well beyond the superficial; it was holistic. We care for people and share with people in spirit, soul, and body. We give ourselves for the sake of those who could never pay us back.

Ironically, hospitality morphed over the centuries. It went from being a ministry of mercy to becoming the sometimes twisted practice of entertaining the powerful who had the means to make it worth your while. The hospitality industry would become the collection of the well-connected and the wealthy, because this is who could pay the bill. You are welcome.

The needy and the stranger, of course, were then further marginalized. It’s part of the curse of the impoverished. On the outside they seem to have so little to offer. You are not welcome.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the past couple weeks. While eating at a Japanese steakhouse (where you sit at a table with other people) I struck up a conversation with a foreign student in the country for a two-week training session at a hospital. With a strong language barrier, but wanting to keep the conversation going, I did what any normal person would do: I invited him to come experience a hot donut at Krispy Kreme for dessert. Much to my surprise he accepted the offer and jumped in our minivan. After eating the best donuts of his life, I wrote my phone number on a glazed-soiled napkin and explained that my Puerto Rican wife would be delighted to cook some authentic Spanish cuisine for him. “You are welcome in our home.”

This was his fifth trip to the United States, and he explained that he has never been invited to a donut shop or a meal or a home, outside of his professional obligations. He wasn’t quite sure what to do with us. But two days later I received a call from my friend, “Can I still come to your house?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Who would have known that my Japanese friend loved children? (And we have plenty of them to go around.) Who would have guessed how much my children would enjoy playing with my Japanese friend? Who would have imagined how enjoyable it would be to share meals, watch a movie, speak prayers, play games, and talk family with a new friend.

The key word here is with. It’s a delicious word. It’s a potent word. Some things have no cure but being with. Some problems have no answer but presence. Churches lose their way when they drift into the streams of institutionalization where they confuse doing things for people and doing things with people. What would happen if we reclaimed this ancient habit of loving strangers again?

It’s amazing to watch how hospitality turns the ordinary into the sacred. Why? Because it’s a sign. A reenactment of something deeper.

Who is the stranger? Anyone who finds themself disconnected. Out of place. Disoriented in time and space. You’ll find them on playgrounds. Or walking between classes. At the English language institute. Sitting in cubicles. Passing the time at a library. Maybe even looking out the window in the apartment next door.

I’m thinking about what we’re doing in our little community this week. We call it a Bring Weekend, because it’s all about presence, with-ness. I wonder how many people would jump at the chance to spend the morning or afternoon with a person that invited them into their world and into their life and into their faith family. Come to church. Join me for a meal. No, I’m serious. You are welcome.

I’m thinking about how Jesus taught us to throw parties for the people nobody else invites. To invite the people who could never pay us back. To notice the people nobody else acknowledges. Recognizing that the response is in their hands, but the invitation is in ours. Perhaps most people will turn down the invitation, but that’s not the point.

You are welcome.

Disciples are people who open their hearts. And their homes. And their vehicles. You are welcome.

They shares meals. They make time. The create connection space. You are welcome.

They look around a room and notice. They find the disconnected and connect. They show up for church early and they leave church late. Because they wash people’s feet with their presence. They are fully there. They speak like citizens of Ghana.

You are welcome.

Can you imagine what would happen if we reintroduced our culture to this other-worldy practice of heart-birthed hospitality? I wonder who God has placed in your life? I wonder what “strangers” are living in your neighborhood. I wonder what kind of divine appointments Father has arranged to walk into your path this week. If you’ll have eyes to see. And a mouth to speak.

You are welcome.

We’re all strangers. Ever since the Garden we’ve been wandering, longing for the place where we finally belong. We know something’s off. We know we don’t quite fit. The Scriptures explain the problem: it’s our sin. Sin always separates. Sin always isolates. Then comes Jesus, the ultimate lover of the ultimate strangers. He reaches the unreached and touches the untouched, and ultimately sacrifices the unthinkable to open a way for the undeserving to have a place. With him. Emmanuel. God with us. Do you hear his voice?

You are welcome.

Now go and do likewise.

 

Want to read more? Click here for more thoughts from Mike Patz on hospitality. Or click here for thoughts on hospitality and evangelism from Desiring God.

It takes a village to connect the dots.

Christians have to get better at communication.

We are sense-making creatures, and in the absence of good communication we connect the dots for ourselves. The problem is, ever since the Fall we humans have been pitiful dot-connectors.

So communicate.

It saddens me to think about relationships that never start because Christian guys don’t choose to communicate their intentions.   Or marriages that stagnate because couples stop talking.   Or friendships that dissolve because relational misdemeanors become felonies in the absence of communication.  Or spiritual orphans who remain Fatherless because no one has enough guts to communicate the gospel.

If you’re not going to tell them, people are going to connect the dots for themselves.  And that could get ugly.

Because dot-connecting is meant to be done in community.

So communicate. In Proverbs 27:5 Solomon said, “open rebuke is better than love concealed.”  At least we know where we stand.

I’ll try to put a few handles on this communication challenge in the message this weekend.