Speaking of Jesus

Too often I try to win allies to my point of view rather than pointing to Jesus. I remember having lots of arguments with people of different perspectives. I exercised my tongue and my brain a lot in those situations. I fervently and (I hope) intelligently refuted arguments. I showed my mettle. I proved myself.

I proved that it was more important to me to win an argument than to be like Jesus—compassionate and loving. Kind and patient. Twelve years in Lebanon broke the spine of the things I thought were important. You can only bang your head against a concrete wall for so long before it occurs to you, It would hurt a lot less if I’d quit doing this.

I am not sad to say that I was once a proud “missionary.” I am grateful for the lessons I learned from that time of ignorance. Like many others, I learned loads when I tried to pound the square peg of Western politics/freedom/democracy/human rights into the round hole of a society a thousand (or more) years older than the one I came from.

The next time you get into an airport queue for a departure, look at the sign: You can only take one item as a carry-on. The rest goes into the storage of the aircraft.

This was the lesson I learned on the anvil of Beirut. You simply cannot change a person into your own likeness. It doesn’t work. You cannot force-feed another person your perspective and expect it to stay down. As somebody once told me, “You have to realize every person is an I.” Each individual has his/her own makeup. There is no way to download your beliefs into somebody else hoping they will take.

This reality is not exclusive to Muslims in Beirut. It is universal. No person, anywhere in the world, has a brain-port open to receive a personality change. There are only people like you and me. People with full brains and empty hearts. People who need Jesus, not a massive array of doctrine, polemics, and theology lessons. People who need a relationship. People who need to belong before they can believe.

We can only do one of two things: Give them Jesus or give them wasted sewage. We can either point the way to the Way or confuse them with a load of things that will never feed their need for God. There is a place for doctrines and dogma and science and history and apologetics, but these things are not Jesus—they are humanly manufactured attempts to make people think having the right ideas is the same thing as loving and following Jesus.


  1. FOUCHER says:

    Great stuff Carl!!!

    I wish I could say I have learned this…but learning is a process, and I may still be in elementary school. lol. This whole Osama mess has revealed many things in my heart. I could not believe the way so many of my friends were responding…and my reaction to their reaction was anger. I could not believe the hate that people were writing…and that is when I realized how far I was toward love. It was like looking into a mirror…but seeing something even worse. Is there a time to show righteous anger? Who might the pharisees be in my life, and how do I respond to them? Do I get angry that they are not loving their enemies, or do I love them in their weakness and misunderstandings? GOD TEACH ME HOW TO LOVE MORE!!!!

  2. Mitzi B. says:

    I’m three-fourths of the way through “Speaking of Jesus” and loving it although my toes are hurting. I heard you speak about three years ago and have kept my radar up ever since. You’ve spelled out and explained what I have sensed but haven’t quite been able put my finger on.

    I have sweated BULLETS over efforts to “evangelize” when it feels entirely unnatural and goes nowhere. Even before the book I had been “experimenting” with simply sharing my experiences with Jesus and who He is to me. This has been FAR, FAR more effective, joyful, and stressless. When JESUS is lifted up and we both part ways smiling about HIM, I call that effective. THANK YOU for shifting my paradigm, Carl.

    There may be some folks out there who balk at your message, but there are also many of us who have ears to hear. Thanks for your transparency and honesty that makes you so real. JESUS is first with you, and you communicate that really well on the page and in daily life, considering all the invitations you receive into the mosques. It burns hot in my heart for Muslims to move closer to Jesus. I find I just HAVE to pray for them and for the Lord of the harvest to raise up more laborers in the fields. May they be laborers whose hearts beat in sync with HIS!

  3. dougovermyer says:

    I had to fly from Illinois (where I attend the Urbana Vineyard) to Washington state this weekend, and read your book during that trip. (Am glad to have received it through the Vineyard’s book club).

    I’ll be rereading it with my wife… we’ll do a little small group on it… and with the teenage leadership of my campus youth group (a multi-site of Urbana).

    Thank you for writing it.

    It’s odd to me that, although I shared this story with my senior pastor, I am reticent to share it with church members: I enjoy occasionally reading the newspaper at this local bar with a beer. One day, this drunk woman was hitting on me from across the room, and eventually came up to me.

    She told me she had cervical cancer. That wasn’t what I was expecting to hear. She didn’t know why she was telling me this, and no one besides her sister knew, and she had just found out.

    I asked if I could pray for her right then, she started to cry and said yes, and I did. God showed up and reduced her to blubbering mess. I told her Jesus loved her and would be with her… That was the second person in two weeks I had prayed for there at that bar. And somehow I’m embarrassed about it (not to the bar people, but to tell “Christians”).

    About a month ago, I met a tattooed, down-on-their-luck couple, who shared with me their story. I prayed for them right then, and eventually asked if they had found a church. They motioned to their tattoos and said they had tried but people didn’t accept them because of their tattoos and their lack of nice clothes. I simply said, “Jesus doesn’t care about that. He just wants you to get to know him.”

    Later, I was so upset about their plight, God reduced ME to tears. We live in a mission field, and I need to focus more on Jesus and doing what he did, and less on the stuff that I find interesting (theology, good worship music, coffee in church, and my church in general) and more on Him. I need to pursue him every day… and hang out in bars more.

    Maybe I’ll have to start a bar outreach.