Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Called, But....

Maybe it didn't bother Andrew, being the left-out brother among the four, with Simon Peter, James, and John always running off with Jesus to do secret, special things that no one else got to do with them, having stories to tell that no one else got to carry, seeing things that no one else got to see. 

If that's the case, then I think we have a lot to learn from Andrew's contentment. 

It's a problem for most of us, really. We want to be privy to all the things. We want to see everything we can possibly see, hear everything we can possibly hear, know everything we can possibly know. Especially when it comes to Jesus. If, after all, He is going to call us to follow Him, then we ought to be as far on the inside of His ministry as we can get. Oughtn't we? 

We just assume that if Jesus really wants us to do something, He'll tell us everything about it. That if He really wants us to know something, He'll shows us everything about it. That if He really wants us to say something, He'll give us cue cards with all the words. That if, as Jesus says, He wants us to be part of what He's doing in the world, He'll make us a big part of it, a full part of it, part of every little thing so that we know with great fullness exactly what it is that we're getting into. 

But if you've been around long enough (which isn't very long at all), you know that this is not the way that Jesus works. It's just not the reality for most of us. Very few of us ever get to know everything. Very few of us ever get to have all the assurance in the world. Very few of us ever come to the place where we feel like we're among the three.

Most of us spend our Christian walk feeling more like Andrew - called, but kind of left behind. Called, but kind of kept in the dark. Called, but....


It's here that I can't help but wonder if being called was enough for Andrew. Really. If he was so confident and content in knowing that when Jesus was putting together His team, he got to be on it, and it didn't matter to him whether he was playing on the A-string or the B-string. If he was just so glad to be a part of any of it that it didn't phase him to think that there were parts of it that didn't include him. If, when Andrew looked around his life, he didn't notice that Simon Peter, James, and John were missing, but knew acutely that Jesus was near. 

Man, how I aspire to live like that. What would it change in our faith if we could all live a little more like that?

Because the truth is that this is our story. We feel like Andrew because we are Andrew. We are persons called by God to be part of this incredible journey He's on, to be near to Him as He lives and loves among us, to be His hands and feet and carry with us the authority He's given us to do exactly as He's called. And there are always around us persons who seem to get to do more, see more, hear more, be more in His Kingdom. 

But if you sit back and really look at it, if you pull yourself back and really think about it, isn't it enough? Isn't it enough that we get to be part of it at all? Isn't it enough that when Jesus was putting together His team, He chose you to be part of it? Maybe you don't think you play on the A-string, but maybe you'd be surprised. After all, even Andrew was sent out among the 72, even Andrew broke bread at the Last Supper, even Andrew was present when the risen Lord appeared. He was there. He was part of it all. He gets to be one who tells the story of this incredible Son of God, this Jesus. 

We get to tell that story, too. We're part of it all. We have our own little missions to go on, our own roles to play, but we're all called right into the thick of it. We're called to be there, to be present, to witness. To go out among the 72, to break bread, to heal, to cast out demons, to tell the world what we know. And what do we know? 

We know Jesus. Because He chose us

Maybe it didn't bother Andrew, not being there for all of the things that his brother got to see. Really. Maybe it was enough for him to see all the things he was there for and to know that he got to be part of something really special, something amazing that God was doing in the the flesh...right before his very eyes. 

Maybe it's enough for us.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018


Jesus called to Himself twelve disciples, most of whom we hear so little from that we couldn't even name. But there is one disciple who is conspicuously absent from much of Jesus's testimony, although he speaks occasionally, and this is Andrew. 

Why would we say that Andrew, who we hear real words from, is conspicuously absent any more than, say, Bartholomew or Simon the Zealot, who we hear not at all? Simple - Andrew is one of four called together, two sets of brothers, and yet, he is the only one of these four to not get any further special invite.

Think about it. Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, James and John right off of their fishing boats, and all four men come. But when it comes down to things, it's Peter, James, and John who get to do all the really cool, limited edition, special stuff with Jesus. It's these three who are present with Him on the mountain of the Transfiguration. It's these three who are called with Him to keep watch while He prays. It's these three who speak most often in the Gospels. 

And I can just picture Andrew saying, "But what about me? My brother and these brothers, but not me?" 

Maybe it's because I'm a youngest child and know acutely what it's like to feel like a tag-along, always trying to make a space for myself that just never seems to be there. But that's the impression I get about Andrew. 

Because look at what happens when he does speak - Andrew is the "Disciple of Useless Information." He's the guy who speaks quickly, impetuously just like his brother, Peter, but in scenarios where it just doesn't seem to do a lot of good. When the disciples are asking how they are supposed to feed the thousands when they have no food and little money, it's Andrew who pipes up and says, "There's a little boy here with about five loaves and a couple of small fish." 

Looking at the thousands, it doesn't seem like much. And you can just see the disciples looking sideways at Andrew like, "So? Shut up." After all, how could such a small lunch feed so many persons? 

But still, I wonder sometimes what it must have been like to be a part of this incredible thing, but not, like, a huge part of it the way your brother is. I wonder what it must have been like for Andrew to be there, but then to be excluded - to be called and left behind with the others. 

It's worth noting, too, that we never see Peter sticking up for him. Not once. We never see Peter gleefully tagging along with James and John and saying, "Wait a minute. Andrew needs to come, too. Can't Andrew come, Jesus?" Never.

And we never see Andrew forcing his way, either, even in the way that a little tag-along brother would. We never see him tailing behind, going anyway, crashing the party. He seems content to be with the other seven in some way that we can't quite understand because we just don't know that much about it. 

Still, it's interesting, isn't it? These two brothers who spent their whole life together spend their ministry apart. They made a living in the cramped quarters of a fishing boat, and now, one sees more than the other could even imagine (although we should also say that Andrew probably knew some things Peter couldn't know, by virtue of his having stayed behind) and is constantly running off with this Jesus as part of a special group of three, excluding one who was called with the four. 

There's not really a point to make here. Not today, anyway (hint?). It's just that sometimes, I wonder about Andrew....

Monday, October 29, 2018

In Defense of Truth

Does it seem to you like all we're doing any more is yelling at one another? Do you get that when we have a disagreement, we tend to try to solve it by volume, rather than discourse? Are you weary of all of the shouting that doesn't seem to be getting us anywhere?

What if I told you that we don't have a choice?

Well, that's not technically true; we do actually have a choice, but the choice doesn't really begin with shouting or not shouting. It begins with accepting that there is such a thing as truth or not accepting it. In a world in which we don't accept such a thing as truth, we've no option but to shout at one another. 

Follow me here:

We are living in a world that says the truth doesn't exist; all that exists is each individual's perception of the truth. Whatever is true to you is true to you and whatever is true to me is true to me. It doesn't matter if it's objectively factual or real or if it can be proven. If it "feels" real to you, then it's real for you, and we all must act according to that truth when we interact with you. 

We are then told that we must acknowledge and respect each individual's perception of the truth, even affirming and confirming it on the basis of his or her unique perspective. For what a man or woman perceives in the world is based on his or her experiences, his or her background, his or her own perception, and because of this, we can never say that something is not true for him or her because he or she may have data that we don't have. 

We are then told that it's our job to understand another person's truth, that we must work diligently to believe what he or she believes, to attempt to gain his or her perspective when it is presented to us. We cannot dismiss it; it is as real as the clouds in the sky or the grass on the ground or the sweet, sweet taste of bacon. It just has a different set of presuppositions than we do, and that doesn't make it illegitimate; it makes it just a little more difficult. 

We are then told that although we are required to understand truth from every individual perspective when we encounter it, we can never possibly even do this. We can never, even if they were to tell us about it, understand someone else's unique perspective because we simply don't have his or her experiences in the world.

Thus, we are being asked to do something we are being told we cannot possibly do (understand what you cannot possibly understand, see through eyes you cannot possibly possess). And then we are being condemned because we fail to do it. 

Which brings us back to all the shouting. 

If truth is relative and depends entirely upon my perspective of it, and if you are required to understand that perspective but are wholly incapable of actually understanding it, then the only way that I can get you to understand my truth is to tell you what it is. And when I tell you what it is and you don't get it, or you refute it in some way by your limited perspective, then I raise my voice and tell you again - the way we speak more loudly to persons whose first language is not English, as if our shouting will help them to understand better. 

And if you still don't understand the truth that I am trying to tell you, then I will shout even louder - not in an attempt any longer to make you understand, for it is clear to me that you never will, but in order to drown out your dissent and to create a scene, so that everyone else can look at you with disgust. Clearly, you aren't getting it. Don't you hear the truth being shouted at you? 

If I shout loudly enough and declare that what I am saying is true, even if it cannot be objectively proven to be true, what I do is to draw attention to your limited perspective. The world is not judging me for this truth; after all, it is my truth. The world is judging you for your inability, or worse, to understand it. 

Which makes me right and makes you a bigot. For absolutely no other reason than all of the shouting. Because volume does not legitimize a subjective "truth;" it merely draws out the social pressure for conformity, for falling in line with the times and confessing that truth is whatever we make it to be for ourselves, for buying back into the myth we have that truth is truly subjective and none of us will ever, or can ever, understand it. 

So yes, we are shouting at each other. A lot. We have to. Without an objective, unchanging, external definition of truth to act as an arbiter between us, we don't have a choice. Trying to get one another to understand what we have already confessed no one can ever understand, all we have is volume. 

If we want to get our peace back, if we want to stop shouting, if we want to lower our voices and start having real conversations again, real discourse that enables us to truly live together in real community, it starts with truth. We don't have to agree on what that truth is (that's what discourse helps us to discover, together), but we do have to agree that truth exists at all.

Thankfully, of course, it does. 

Or maybe that's just my perspective. 

Friday, October 26, 2018

A Theology of God

Someone once asked me, as I prepared to embark on a new phase of ministry, what is my theology of God? I looked at him across the small table around which we were seated, and I said, "I don't really have one." 

He cocked his head to the side and stared back at me. 

It's not the answer he expected; it's not the answer anyone expects. Ask a Christian what he or she believes about God, and you expect to hear something rather specific. Something, maybe, that sounds like the Apostle's Creed or some other belief statement of an organized institution of religion (a church). 

"I believe that God is gracious and all-powerful, all-knowing and merciful. I believe that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to bear the burden for our sins, and that He dwells with us even today in the presence of the Holy Spirit. I believe that He came and is coming back and that He will judge the world in His righteousness and every knee will bow, every tongue confess, or burn in Hell forever." 

Or something like that. And if the question were asked by a non-believer, well, the Christian is under even more pressure to give an answer that illuminates the character and heart of God. We should speak there of His compassion and unfailing love, His protection and discipline, His presence and His grace. Should we not? 

And so, when I looked back at this man - a minister himself - and said that I do not really have a theology of God, he was rightfully taken aback. How could I not?

The answer remains as true today as it was then, and for the very same reason. I have found, as I have journeyed down this Christian path for nearly twenty years, that as soon as I think I have a theology of God, He does something wildly outside of it, wildly beyond it, that is still completely consistent with who He is but that my meager theology could never have accommodated, were it not for the one thing that I truly, wholeheartedly, and forever believe about God:

He is eternally greater than my theology could ever hold. 

That doesn't mean that I can't, or don't, know anything at all about Him. That's not true at all. As with any truly loving relationship, I continue to learn little things every day, things that are real and true and vital to the relationship that we have with one another. But I also expect and embrace the fact that I will continue to learn little things every day until my days meet with His in eternity, and even then, I may continue to learn little things. 

See, as in any relationship, there are things that just don't come up until, well, until they do. You couldn't know whether your husband or wife likes seafood until and unless you contemplate going for lobster together. Then, you'll have an opportunity to know. But not until then. It's not like you will ever be folding laundry together and randomly stumble upon this piece of information, and yet, you should also not make the mistake of assuming that whatever you learn while folding the laundry is everything you will ever need to know about one another. 

God and I only have what we have together. We only know what has come up in the context of our ongoing relationship so far. But there is so much we still have to do, so many places we still have to go, so many opportunities we just haven't had yet. Some we may never have. And I can tell you all the things I've learned about Him so far, but the truth is that it's nowhere near the entirety of who He is or what I will ever know about Him, which still won't be everything. But I'm still learning, nonetheless.

So the one truth that I hold as central to whatever theology of God that I have is that my theology of God is ever-changing, ever-developing, ever-growing as the mystery of God becomes the presence of Him while we journey together, living and loving. 

It's not a cop-out, and it's not an empty answer. It's an answer of expectation. I know that whatever I know today will be expanded and magnified and intensified by tomorrow. I have a little sign on my  door, just a few feet from where I now type. It says, in hand-calligraphed letters, "Of course." And this is my theology of God. 

For whenever I think that I know who He is, He reveals something more of Himself to me, and this is all I can say. Of course. Of course He is this, too. Of course He is. And my theology grows again, another little piece added in, another little thing to know. 

And I DO know a lot of little things about Him. 

And a few more every day. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018


The question, then, that the example of Judas and Peter boils down to is not whether you are, in your heart, a good person; we should argue that both of these men were good. The question is whether or not you are teachable, particularly in points where it comes to your faith.

Most of us aren't, in my experience, as teachable as we'd like to think that we are. We're mostly interested in acquiring new information that we can fit into our existing frameworks, new ideas that go smoothly into old paradigms. It's called a confirmation bias - we seek out that which confirms what we're sure that we already know. We call this learning, and we call ourselves teachable, but the truth is that we never truly learn anything at all, except that "we were right all along." 

It makes us arrogant, but that's not even the biggest problem with it. The real problem is that it keeps us from being actually knowledgeable in any real way, and that means that the truth that we're so sure we're attached to still eludes us. 

Judas was not teachable. He had an idea of what this whole Jesus thing was about, and that's what he went after. He pursued it with everything that he had, and when the whole thing turned out to be something different, there was no room in his heart to expand his definition and embrace it. The truth broke him, and he ended up dead in a field. It was really the only possible end for him once his knowledge had been stretched to its breaking point, as he was not a teachable man and could not make room for any different knowledge. 

As Jesus Himself said, you can't put new wine in old wineskins; the skins break and the wine runs out and both are ruined. That's what happens when you're not teachable.

On the other hand, Peter continually learned from his experiences. He watched Jesus intently and listened to Him, and although we see Peter as impetuous and as quick to speak without real understanding, we also see him wrestling - often, out loud - with new ideas. He wants this whole Jesus thing to be what it is, and he will bring himself to understand it as best he can. His knowledge keeps expanding, bringing in new ideas along with old ones and attempting to make a synthesis out of them. He's not a perfect learner - he doesn't always get it right - but he is teachable. He's trying. And when it breaks, he's grieved, but not defeated. 

That's the difference.

Judas wanted to be a part of the whole Jesus thing; Peter wanted the whole Jesus thing to be a part of him. Judas wanted to help form it, based on all that he knew about what it was; Peter wanted it to form him, knowing it was beyond what he already understood. 

Which brings the question back to us - are you teachable?

When was the last time you learned something you didn't already know? Something radically different from what you thought you knew? When was the last time you let a new truth shape you, rather than trying to shape it to fit inside a mold that you already have? 

When was the last time you willfully purchased a new wineskin, knowing that what you had was insufficient for the new wine of faith being poured into it? 

The truth is that for most of us, the answer is either so far in the past that we have forgotten precisely when or it is never at all, for we just assume that we already know everything we need to know about God for the sake of our faith. We already have our ideas, our foundations, and anything else is just bonus on top of that. Anything else just makes deeper the faith holes we've dug for ourselves. 

But what if that wasn't the case? What if we could learn things to make our faith broader, not deeper? What if we could embrace a bigger vision of God, not just a more intense one? What if the mystery of God truly is bigger than our ability to fathom it and we have to keep getting new wineskins, just so that we don't burst with it all? 

I think it is. I mean, I know that it is. Everything my life has taught me about the faith screams that it is. Which leaves but one question to be answered:

Are you teachable?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Lesson from the Teacher

Both Judas and Peter betrayed the Lord with whom they had traveled and ministered for three years. But having done so, Peter wept bitterly and Judas hung himself in a field. Why the difference between the two men? What caused them to react in the ways that they did to the same basic act - betrayal? 

It's easy for us to want to put it on their hearts, to write into the Gospels something devious and troublesome about Judas that just isn't there in Peter. We might even say that Peter is gentler and more meek than Judas, although any honest look at the Gospels would caution us against such a conclusion. Peter, throughout the testimony we have of him, is impetuous. Always has been. After all, it's Peter who decides he, too, can walk on water if Jesus will just give him the word. And climbs out of the boat to prove it. By contrast, we almost never see Judas speak. If we had to predict that one of the two of these men was dramatic and impulsive and extreme to the point that he'd take his own life, we'd have to guess that it would be Peter.

But, of course, it's not. 

Thus, there must be something more to it than merely the heart of the man. There's got to be more to it than who they are at their core or who they believe themselves to be when they look in the mirror. And, in fact, there is. 

A lot of it has to do with who they believe Jesus to be. 

We're not talking here about "Son of God" or "great Teacher," for both men knew that Jesus was these things. What we're really talking about is what kind of God the men thought Jesus to be. What did they pick up on about Him in all that travel and ministry they were doing? How did each man think Jesus would respond to his betrayal?

Both men had seen the same miracles of Jesus. They had both been there when He drew the little child close to Himself. They'd both heard Him refute and rebuke the Pharisees and marvel the crowds with His wisdom. Both had heard the compassionate way that He spoke with the least of these. When Jesus sent the disciples out in twos to cast out demons and heal the sick, both Judas and Peter had been sent - maybe even together - and both had cast out demons and healed the sick. Both were there when He broke bread in the Upper Room, when He fed the five thousand, when He fed the four thousand, when He walked on the water. Both had the full wealth of His ministry to draw on when asked, Who do you say I am?

But come right down to it, and Judas sees only the power of God while Peter sees the grace of Him. And that makes all the difference in the world. 

Judas hears Jesus say that it's better for him to never have been born than to be a betrayer, looks in the mirror and sees a betrayer, and kills himself, for isn't that what Jesus has said? He might as well be dead. He believes in the power of God, and God is incredibly disappointed in him right now. He's just waiting for the hammer to fall, then decides he doesn't really have to wait any more and beats himself to oblivion with the same powerful force he's sure God has reserved for him.

Peter catches Jesus's eye in the courtyard and knows that He knows but believes with all of his heart that if he could just talk to Jesus one more time, He'd have some word of wisdom, some comfort, some grace for him that would enable him to look in the mirror again at all. He catches Jesus's eye, and even though he can't look at himself, he can't stop looking at his Lord. He believes in the grace of God, and there's so much he's not willing to throw away merely because of his own human-ness; there's still something greater here. 

For Judas, Jesus was a movement, a prophecy, an act of God. For Peter, Jesus was a friend, a brother, the very person of God. 

And when it came right down to it, that made all the difference. Peter embraces forgiveness and goes on to become a rock of the church, an apostle's apostle, a living testimony to the grace of God. Judas cowers from God's fury and goes on to become a carcass in a poor man's field, the first body in a graveyard for those who have no one to bury them. 

To some extent, then, yes, it does matter what's in your heart. But it also matters what's in your eyes. Having met Jesus, what do you see in Him? What have you learned from living and loving with Him? What does He make you believe about yourself, about your life, about your God? 

Do you believe in grace?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


Yesterday, we saw how Matthew sets up the betrayal of two disciples in tandem, first with Judas agreeing to the meager price of thirty pieces of silver for his Lord and then with Jesus telling Peter that before the night is over, even he will deny Him three times. All of this takes place near the beginning of Matthew 26; by the end of the chapter, it's finding its resolution. In other words, it doesn't take long.

And here, too, we find the same duo in the same tandem, only reversed. Here, Peter comes first.

At the end of Matthew 26, Peter has indeed denied three times that he even knows Jesus at all, sitting around the fire with the servants near the courtyard. He's caught eyes with Jesus once and knows that the Lord knows His prediction came true - Peter has denied Him. And the cock crows and Peter, filled with shame and discouragement and disappointment in himself, embarrassed, defeated, walks away with his head in his hands. He weeps bitterly, broken, retreating to a place where he can process what he's just done. 

What he's just done is the thing that he said he would never do. It wasn't even in his heart, he doesn't think. At least, he didn't know that it was. He truly loves Jesus, has really and authentically given his life to this Teacher. There's nothing in him that says that Jesus is untrustworthy or untrue; he knows that He's the real deal. He has even declared in his own voice, boldly, that Jesus is the Son of God.

Yet somehow, in this moment, without even thinking, he thought more of himself than of his Teacher, and he denied even knowing the Man. Peter has a lot to thinking about. He has a lot of himself he still has to figure out. He has, as we say in Christian circles, a lot of praying to do. His tears are a sign of his true heart, which is still in there somewhere - he just has to find it again. 

His remorse says that he believes that he can.

Immediately after we see Peter walk away weeping at the end of Matthew 26, Matthew 27 begins with Judas hanging himself in a field, throwing the thirty pieces of silver on the ground beneath his feet. 

Judas, too, feels bad about what he's done, but there's something different about him - see, this was in his heart all along and he knows it. He spent his entire time with Jesus figuring out what he could get out of it for himself, what kind of prestige and honor and riches he could come up with from the whole shebang before it inevitably ended, whether that be by political force or by natural death or something in between where the whole "Jesus" thing just runs its course in Jerusalem and everyone goes back to what they know in the Temple. 

Judas, too, in his betrayal, recognizes clearly his own heart, comes to know something extremely real about himself, but for him, it is exactly what everyone else sees. It is exactly consistent with what he's done. Where Peter realizes he's done something out of character and grieves to recover what he's lost, Judas realizes what he's done is precisely in keeping with his character and finds no way out. 

There's no way back to Jesus for Judas, or so he thinks. There's no way he can show himself again, not even to the other disciples, who know what he's done and are probably whispering about how that's exactly the kind of guy he is. And you can bet, too, that the experts in Moses's Teachings and the Pharisees want nothing to do with him, either, even though they found a purely utilitarian use for him quite briefly. After all, who wants to draw into their circle a guy who just betrayed Jesus? No one. That's who. 

Which leaves Judas completely alone in the world...with himself. And he discovers rather quickly that he doesn't want to be with him, either. When that's the case, the only way out is to die and free yourself from the miserable disappointment of being you. 

He throws the thirty pieces of silver on the ground under his feet as a message to anyone who may find his body, a message that says that he knows who he is, and he wishes there were a way for him to be anybody else. But his death says he couldn't find a way. So his remorse is known in showing that he recognizes himself, and it is better to be dead than to be Judas. 

It's almost an apology...not just for betrayal, but for existing. 

So what's happening here? Why is it that Peter, who denies he even knows Jesus at all, walks away with his head in his hands, weeping, while Judas, in whose betrayal recognizes exactly who Jesus is, hangs himself in a field all alone? Their hearts give us a clue, but it's not the whole story. 

More tomorrow. 

Monday, October 22, 2018


There is a stark contrast set up in the Gospel of Matthew between two disciples - Peter and Judas - but most of us are too focused on the Jesus story to see it. After all, our Lord and Savior is about to be crucified; who among us, in the shadow of the Cross, is thinking about mere men?

It begins in Matthew 26, which contains the betrayal of Jesus that we are most familiar with, the betrayal by Judas. He approaches the religious leaders of his time and agrees to betray his Teacher for a mere thirty pieces of silver, then sets about to come up with the perfect time to do it. While he is scheming in his heart, he joins Jesus and the other eleven for the Passover meal in the Upper Room, and Jesus calls him out. 

He that dips his hand with me into the dish, he is the one who betrays me. (v. 23)

And then the meal ends and the party leaves, headed out to the mountain to pray at Jesus's request, and we're pretty sure the whole betrayal scene is over. We know what is coming next. 

But actually, what is coming next is another betrayal: Peter's. 

A mere 11 verses after Jesus announces that Judas will betray Him, He also calls out Peter, claiming that Peter will deny Him. In other words, a betrayal. After three years of travel and ministry together, Peter is about to claim he doesn't even know Jesus at all. And what is that but betrayal of the most cutting kind?

You don't even know Me? How could you say after three years that you don't even know Me? But you will say it. Three times.

THREE times. Judas will betray Jesus only once; Peter, three times. 

Most of us don't draw the connection here. Most of us miss what Matthew is trying to set up. We're so focused on Jesus, who has shifted between what's about to happen to Him in the Upper Room to the very nature of who He is on their way to the Garden, and we're trying to follow along on all of the Son of Man talk, all the Jerusalem prophecy. And we simply miss that there are two betrayals in one breath. 

In fact, we so clearly miss this second betrayal that we don't even consider the ugliness of Peter in this moment. Want to talk about fiends? Want to talk about bad guys? Want to talk about complete and total moral failures? Judas is your guy. Peter...he's kind of a side note for most of us. We really don't even notice his betrayal when he does it because we, like everyone else, are looking into the courtyard and not at the fire. We're watching Jesus, not Peter. 

Even though Jesus Himself tries to point us to Peter. 

Because there's a very good reason for us to be looking at him.

The dynamic of these two betrayals is not done here; it has only just begun. Presented here in tandem, just 11 verses apart, they will come back again in the same way in just a few short paragraphs, and it is here where we take our greatest lesson from them....

Stay tuned.

Friday, October 19, 2018


Why are we sinners? The easy answer is to say that we are all sinners, heirs of the original sin, and that we simply cannot help ourselves, but the easy answer is unsatisfying, for we know that we do things that we could help, but don't. 

Paul himself said it, and it remains true in most of us to this day: what I want to do, I do not do, but what I do not want to do, this I do. 

And so, we are sinners. We know it. But why? Why do we do the things we do not want to do?

Although it is not the easy answer, the answer is not so difficult at all. The truth is that most of us, to one degree or another, feel unworthy, although we couldn't quite place our finger on why it is that we feel this way. We are, after all, "good" persons. We do "good" things. We live "good" lives. Most of us are not murderers or thieves or even that significant of liars, although we all bend the truth at one time or another. Yet, there is something nagging in our souls that tells us that we are unworthy, that there is still something missing from who we are, that in spite of our "good" lives, something in us is not quite as "good" as we pretend it to be. 

This is magnified in the Christian, for we hold within us another truth - namely, that God Himself has said that we are worthy. He lived and died for us. He welcomes us with open arms. He forgives us, even when we fail to forgive ourselves or even to believe that we stand in need of forgiveness. Grace is an amazing thing, but it, too, gnaws at our knowing souls, eats at those places where we know that we are unworthy. 

And, of course, for many of us, this unworthiness digs much deeper even unto self-hatred. We hate who we are, although we could never quite say why it is that we hate ourselves. Again, we are decent persons. Good persons, even. We live good, decent lives. We have good, decent things. We do good, decent works. Yet still, we eat away at ourselves because we know we are not purely good, not purely decent. 

It's called cognitive dissonance. It's that irreconcilable feeling we get when we try to hold two contradictory ideas as true at the same time. In this case, that we are unworthy and somehow worthy at the same time. That we are broken, but whole. That we are failures, but treasures. It is pure agony.

In order to ease this tension, this dissonance - in order to reconcile the irreconcilable - we sin. Not a "big" sin; just a little one. Just enough to give us some meaningful reason to hate ourselves, some reason to know for sure we are unworthy. Some satisfactory response to give to the ache and the whisper that tells us that we are not enough. 

What we didn't know yesterday when we felt it, we know today - we are unworthy because we are sinners. Look at that horrible, God-dishonoring thing that I did last night; it is proof enough. It is no wonder that I feel unworthy. There really is something detestable about me. 

It puts some of the uneasiness into our own hands. If I know for certain that I am a sinner and that my uneasiness about myself comes from my sin, then it seems easy enough that I should simply stop sinning and the feeling will go away. It doesn't, of course, and I find myself in the same trap as before - feeling unworthy, but not knowing why, yet holding onto grace and trying to resolve the dissonance in my soul, which leads me to sin all over again so that, at the very least, I can tell you why I am a disgrace. I can put some reason to it. 

I say that we could perhaps cut at least 75% of the sin out of our lives, if not more, if we were not trying to prove our own despicableness to ourselves. 

What I want to do, I do not do, but what I do not want to do, this I do, in order that I might become the person that I do not want to be but believe that I am anyway.

We should say that this doesn't actually solve the problem. It doesn't really resolve the tension, this sinning. For what does it truly matter whether I am a sinner or simply feel like one, at least insofar as it comes to grace? If I am a sinner, it is still true that I am both unworthy and worthy at the same time, and all I have done is to create a bigger chasm between who I believe that I am and who God tells me that I am. 

All it has done is attempt to make one just as true as the other, but it will never be this way. Though I sin, I am never more a sinner than I am a child of God. Never. I am never more broken than I am healed. I am never more a failure than a treasure. I am never more mine than His.

Neither are you.

Why are we sinners? Perhaps that is the wrong question to ask. Maybe what we need to be asking ourselves is not why we feel so unworthy, but why He loves us so. What if we lived into that a little more? To what great things would it inspire us?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A Tale of Two Adams

In the Gospels, we see Jesus boldly calling out the Pharisees as a brood of snakes and as vipers, and we have seen over the past couple of days that there is good reason for Him to have chosen these particular words, for the Pharisees carried the same whisper as the serpent. 

But we must also take a step back and marvel at what's going on here in the grander scheme of things, in the greater story that God has been telling since the very beginning.

When the serpent came to Eve in the Garden, Adam was present. At the very least, he was not far away, and we know that he ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil even though he knew for certain what God had said. In fact, it was to Adam that God had given the command in the first place, and it was Adam who would have told Eve. 

Yet, when the serpent speaks, Adam is silent. He doesn't answer. He doesn't reassure Eve of what God has said. He doesn't call out the serpent for speaking lies. He doesn't say anything; he just...sits there. And then eats the fruit. A lot of preachers over a lot of years have called out Adam for failing to call out the snake, since it is Adam who would have known better than anyone what the answer to the serpent's whisper should be. 

Yes, God really did say. 

End of story. Period. Put the fruit down. Put. It. Down.

But tragically, as all we sinners know, that's not how the story goes. That's not what happened. Adam, who had every chance and every right to speak, stayed silent, so deafeningly silent that the only thing that could be heard in the Garden that day was the echo of the serpent's whisper as it seeped into Eve's heart. Did God really say?

Fast forward to the Gospels, which hold the story of the Son of God, who Paul calls the Second Adam. It was by the first Adam that sin came into the world, and it is by the Second Adam that it is atoned and defeated. It was the first Adam who stayed silent in the face of the serpent, but the Second Adam...the Second Adam calls out the snake wherever He sees it. 

At every turn, there He is. You brood of snakes! You vipers! How dare you!

And when the Pharisees begin their common spiel, "You know that God said...., but...did God really say," it is Jesus who speaks up and says, "You bet He did." 

It is Jesus who, at every opportunity, reminds both the Pharisees and the people that they know full well what God said. And in case they don't, He reminds them what God said. He preaches to them what it really means, without adding a single human interpretation on top of it. Without increasing the burden of what it means. Plain and simple, in Jesus's teaching, there is no room for the whisper, and when He hears it, He calls it out. 

The first Adam stayed silent; the Second Adam cannot. He speaks, boldly, to the ones who strike at the heels of men and He crushes their heads. 

Over and over and over again. And it's really fun to watch, if you catch the contrast between the Gospels and the Garden and notice what's really happening here. 

Did God really say? Yup. And He's saying it again now, right before your very eyes. The Second Adam speaks. 

End of story. Period. Beware the yeast of the Pharisees.

Put. the. fruit. down. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018


In the beginning was the serpent, and the serpent was given the whisper that questioned what God had said to the man and to the woman. And then, we get into the Gospels, and we see the Pharisees called a brood of snakes, and we can understand why, for they seem to have the same whisper. But by far, the more common rebuke of the Pharisees is not merely snakes, but vipers - not just by Jesus, but by John the Baptist, as well. And the difference between the snake and the viper is that the snake may crawl along his belly, but the viper crawls along his belly and is also poisonous. Every time. 

In the beginning, the serpent might have been forgiven, for maybe he didn't know the full implications of his question. Maybe he just had the whisper, and all he intended to do with it was ask it. Let it fall where it may. Put it out there and see what happens with it. Maybe God really did say...then the serpent's whisper could show that. 

It wasn't necessarily toxic; it was just a whisper. Just a question.

But the Pharisees? They knew better. 

They knew better because they come after man has eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They come after man has figured out what is good and what is not good. They come after thousands of years of God proving that He is who He says He is and that He does punish disobedience and that His Word is what He says it is. They come after man has every opportunity to know the answer to the question, the rebuttal to the whisper.

And they whisper anyway.

They not only whisper, but they answer their own whisper. They raise the question, then answer it. Did God really say? Yes, He did, the Pharisees confess. But here's what He really meant when He said it.

They know exactly what God said, but they go on to add to His Word, to make all kinds of human rules to go on top of it, to put their own interpretations and twists to it, to, as Jesus says, increase the burden on their fellow men and women without lifting a single finger about it. 

The serpent said that when you eat of the tree, you will know as God knows the fullness of good and evil. The Pharisees, in their vileness, have claimed to know better than God. 

That's why they are not merely snakes, but vipers. They carry not just the whisper, but a poisonous word. 

They are not only deceiving the people; they are killing them. 

You hypocrites! You speak life, but you bring only death. You brood of snakes! You move through the world by the force of your own will and bite at the heels of the woman who knows you can only but whisper. You vipers! You're killing the faithful of the Lord....

It's fitting that Christ calls them out this way. It's beautiful the way He illuminates what they are doing with a simple rebuke, a simple name, a simple description of how. It's beautiful the way He responds to it....

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Brood of Snakes

At the tail end of yesterday's introduction to the serpent, I teased that he will raise his ugly head again in the Scriptures, and you might be thinking - where? Certainly, the second story of the serpent is not as well-known as the first. Or is it? 

When we reach the Gospels, we actually see quite often the snake, or some version of it. It's one of Jesus's favorite words for the Pharisees, for those who call themselves experts and keepers of the Temple and its faith. He calls them serpents and broods of snakes and much worse. 

And they are.

It's actually a great descriptor for them, based on what Jesus is so upset with them for doing to the people who would believe. They are men who use the sheer force of their wills to move along the terrain, who come along in the same kind of deceit as the original serpent, and who attempt to convince the people to move in the same way. 

There's no reason for the Pharisees to believe what they believe about the Law; they came up with it themselves. God never revealed it to them the way they give it; they just decided that's how it was supposed to be. In other words, these men chose for the Law to mean what they say that it means, and then, they began operating as though that were the case. They neither go with the flow nor exercise dominion over it; they make it into what it serves them to be. 

In doing so, they come with the same whisper that the serpent carried. Did God really say? It's meant to cast doubt on what you think you know about God, on what you think you understand about what He wants and what He requires. The serpent said it first, raising the question in Eve's mind about whether or not God really meant what He said; the Pharisees raise it now, asking whether God's Law really means what the people believe it so obviously means.

It can't mean that, the Pharisees say. It means much, much more. The essence of the law may be true, but what's really important is the practice of it, and the practice of the Law is painstaking and precise. It includes all the little things you'd never think about on your own, so thank the Lord that the Pharisees are here to tell you about them. It includes practices that aren't obvious from the word of the Law themselves, so thank God that the Pharisees have taken their time to write it all out for you. Did God really say?

Sure, He did. But the Pharisees want to take it one step further and tell you what it means when God says that. Because you're just too dumb and naive and foolish to figure it out on your own. 

Sounding like the serpent yet? 

Scarily, when the people buy into the Pharisaical whisper, they become serpents of sorts themselves. They become creatures who move along by the force of their own will, choosing for themselves how to weave through the world. They give up their dominion. They no longer go with the flow. Every move is calculated and has to be, for there is no other way to live but with constant attention and careful movement. They give up the feet by which they walk the path and proceed to crawl along on their bellies, all the while being told by the Pharisees that it's safer this way. At least now, they cannot stumble and fall. 

It's deceptive. It's dangerous. It's plain wrong. And it's something worse even than all of that. For when Jesus takes to calling the Pharisees a brood of snakes, serpents, He has one other word for them that is even more common for Him (and not just for Him; John the Baptist uses it, too): He calls them vipers

What makes a viper worse than a serpent? The venom. 

Tune in tomorrow. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Serpent

Most Christians know that in the beginning, there was a serpent. And it was the serpent who was responsible for deceiving Adam and Eve into eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a sin that cut them off from the God who walked with them in the cool of the day and sent them packing for somewhere east of Eden. 

But seriously, what's the deal with the serpent? 

When we ask that question, we're asking a couple of things. We're asking, first, why it is that God created the serpent at all, if its job was only to tempt and to distract and to destroy the pinnacle of His creation in turning man away from Him. We're also asking, why the serpent? Out of all the beings that God created, why is the serpent given this job?

The first question is rather simple. In order for free will and real choice to exist, man had to have access to more than one viable option. There had to be another voice in his ear if he was to meaningfully choose the voice of God, and so God created a whisperer who would ensure that man must always choose God from free will. The serpent became the whisperer. 

This means, by the way, that without the serpent, there could not be real love. So, on behalf of the serpent, you're welcome. 

Now, to the second question, why the serpent? Why, out of all the beings and structures and organisms that God created did He task the serpent with the deceitful whisper?

The serpent moves unlike any other creature on the planet. Of course, we know that it slithers along its belly, but it's more than that. The serpent, in its movement, moves by sheer force of will. No other creature moves this way.

Men, apes, animals that move along the ground the way that we do, even a lot of insects who primarily use their legs, move by force of dominion. We have a certain measure of greatness and freedom that enables us to pick up our feet and put them where we want them, to cut through the air and across the land by sheer desire to do so. We bypass whatever obstacles are in our way by simply going around or over or under them, at our own discretion. Thus, we operate with no resistance.

Fish move through the water and birds move through the air by capitalizing on resistance. They use their bodies to displace the water or the air in one way or another, then use the displacement of the water or the air to the benefit of their bodies, creating a current in which they move. This, too, is a form of dominion; they maximize their freedom by exercising control over their environments. 

The serpent, not so much. The serpent cannot escape anything, and he does not control his environment. In his movement, he doesn't displace anything, and there's nothing he can just "go around." Every act of the serpent's movement is done by sheer force of will. He wills himself to slither forward, wills himself to move. He must push through the resistance offered him by his environment. Even when you see a snake in the water, he is not - like the fish - using the resistance of the water to move himself; he's forcing his way through. 

So every move of the serpent is a deliberate one. It can be no other way. He must decide where he is going and drag himself there. He must choose to move, then put forth the muscle to go about it. He must fight for every inch that he takes. 

Why wouldn't the serpent be the creature who bears the whisper? It is he alone who knows how thoroughly we must choose it. How wholly we must commit ourselves to it.

The deception, it wasn't an accident. Eve didn't mistakenly take the fruit of that tree, and she and Adam didn't accidentally eat some of it. It had to be chosen, an act of will at every turn. Intentional. Purposeful. Because it was what was desired. 

We don't accidentally sin. We don't - oops! - choose against God. It is an act of the will at every turn. Intentional. Purposeful. Like trying to will ourselves across the ground. No force of nature, no law of physics, helps us to do it. It is purely, 100% our decision and our act. We take ourselves to sin. 

Like serpents.

There's a reason we must understand the serpent, and it's not just because of what happens in the beginning. The snake will rear his ugly head again in Scripture, but this time, something is fundamentally different about him.... 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Vision Test

Where, then, do we start in developing God's vision for the world? How do we begin to see with new eyes so that we can love well? 

There's a dominant narrative in our culture that says that if you want to see the world with new eyes, the first thing you have to do is figure out the eyes you're already seeing it with. Thus, the place to start is where you are and to develop a sense of your own blindness, your own perspective, your own vision. 

There is an inherent problem with this perspective, however, and it will always keep us stuck right where we are without any possibility of ever moving beyond here. That problem is this: it keeps your vision forever on only what you see. It makes you strain to see what you see harder, to see it more clearly, to see it through some sort of better lens, but in the end, it's still only about what you see. It's about what your eyes are telling you. 

How can you ever begin to develop new eyes if the process for doing so requires you to see through your own eyes? It doesn't make any sense.

The place really to start is just to do it. It's to begin to ask, at every turn, "What does God see here?" and even, in the best of worlds, "What does God see here that I don't?" 

Then, start talking about it. Start talking to others about what God sees in them. Start telling them all of the beautiful things about themselves, about their world, about their opportunities, about their gifts. Start giving out compliments like the things that you see clearest in the world are the most beautiful ones. Because they ought to be.

And listen, this is extremely different than painting a pretty scene over everything. It's not about whitewashing the world and pretending that things aren't broken and hard and painful sometimes. That's not helpful for anybody, and it's not glorious. It's not God-honoring.

But let's be real about this, too: there's already plenty in this world to tell us what's broken. All you have to do is turn on the television, open a browser, log in to social media and you're bombarded with all the things that are terrible. All the things you're supposed to be afraid of. All the things you're supposed to be insecure about. All the narratives that say that it is about you and you're failing because you suck and this world sucks and this life sucks and that's just the way it is. 

We don't need any more voices like that. We don't need any more eyes that can only see what's terrible. What we need is eyes that see something with even a blossom of beautiful on it, something redeemable, something being redeemed right now. We need voices that speak beauty and truth in the world for real, from eyes that see the way that God sees.

When we start to do this, we do what the world tells us we need to do but doesn't give us any real chance of accomplishing; we start to see how we're seeing. When we see the way that God sees, we recognize, by contrast, the ways that our own eyes have played tricks on us. We see how limited and blind our own vision is when we pray continually and open up our sight to see what God sees. 

Only when we see more can we understand how much less we ever saw. And only then can we set our sights on something higher.

So that's where we start. By praying for God's eyes. By asking, even in one place today, what God sees that we don't. And then by acting on it. Speaking on it. Living on it. Loving on it. 

Do it. This world is in desperate need of those who can. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Heal the World

Yesterday, we said that an attitude of forgiveness sees the world with sober eyes, which enables the heart to see beyond what appears to be and to acquire a vision of hope for what God intended. The world, of course, wants nothing to do with this; it wants you to keep your eyes on yourself and never see past that. 

But I confess that I spend a lot of my time aching for what we could do in the world if we would be willing to see beyond our own broken reflection in it.

These eyes, they change so much. They change everything. When you see the world through eyes of forgiveness and grace, you become aware of more than you could ever possibly know by your own experience. You begin to see the world not just the way that God sees it, but the way that others see it, and this enables you to see them the way they see themselves, to see God the way that they see Him, to move beyond your own limited perspective and develop this grand vision of things as they are, as they could be, as they ought to be, beyond what you could ever even know of it. And that's how we change the world. 

Take, for example, that woman who is always micro-managing all the details and planning all the big schemes. Through your own eyes, maybe you're irritated by her. Maybe you roll your eyes. Maybe you just can't stand all the "drama" she creates by caring so much about the little things or by injecting herself into the finest points. Face it: she's exhausting. Doesn't she see it?

But look through sober eyes, and you see something else. You see that she is a woman for whom performance has always been praised. She is a woman for whom to have any chance at community at all, she has had to build it. You will see that she sees herself as needing to be this way in order to be anything at all, and all of a sudden, she's not exhausting or irritating; you grieve for her. All of a sudden, you see what she truly needs, and you see how you can come alongside her not only to be what she never thought she could have, but to introduce her to a God who is beyond her wildest imagination - in the very way that she needs to see Him. Bonus: you get to see Him that way, too.

You can literally change her life, if only you can see it through eyes not your own. Through your own eyes? She will only ever irritate you. 

Or take, as another example, the man who does the despicable. He bullies his way to the top, knocking down anyone who comes anywhere near him. He stands defiant of his need for anyone or anything; he's going to make it on his own. You find him brash, at best; abusive, at worst. You can't understand why he doesn't see what he's doing to those closest to him, and you can't fathom that he even really cares. 

But look through sober eyes, and you see something else. You see a man who has been recognized only by comparison, for better or for worse. He's been better than so-and-so in this realm, but never measured up against you-know-who here. His entire life has been defined by how he stacks up, so of course, he spends his life stacking the deck. He only exists, in his own heart, by being measured against others, and it's a cycle he can't escape. All of a sudden, you're not disgusted by him; you find yourself filled with compassion for him. You see what he truly needs, which is to be recognized for his own qualities, and you are able to introduce him to a God who made him just the way that he is...and for a purpose. Bonus: you get to see that God through new eyes, too.

You can literally change his life, if only you can see it through eyes not your own. Through your own eyes? He will only ever be a boar. 

Are you getting this? This is how we change our world. This is how we heal the world. The world doesn't want you to know that you can do this. It doesn't want you to think it's possible. But when you see the world through eyes that go beyond your own experience of it, when you see the world through God's eyes, you have the opportunity to do something amazing. You have the opportunity to change it

You can heal persons. You can change their lives. You can set their hearts free. You can set their sights on God and give them a new set of eyes for the world until we're all seeing things through a new heart. And then...and then, just feel the heartbeat of God through all of Creation. Yearn for it. Strain for it. 

Can you hear it?

This is what Jesus wants from us. This is what He came to show us is possible. This is what He calls us to follow Him and do. It's to love people, to truly love people. And it starts with an attitude of forgiveness and grace, eyes to see the world through more than our own mere experience of it. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Sober Eyes

We return now to the question we started with: is it possible for a man to see the world with sober eyes when he believes himself to have been wronged by it? In other words, is it possible for a man to live with an attitude of forgiveness?

Not only is it possible, it is necessary. And it is glorious.

It is glorious because it is only possible when we tap into the holy eyes that God has given us to see His world as it truly is, and to see beyond what appears to be in order to set our sights on what ought to be. Forgiveness is glorious precisely because it reminds us of all of those things that we are so prone to easily forget. It keeps our eyes sober in a world drunk on its own esteem.

The world tells us that everything that happens to us here is somehow about us. If someone betrays you, it's because, well, you're just betray-able. Something is fundamentally wrong with you. If someone doesn't like you, it's because you're unlikable. If someone rejects you, you're just not worthy of them. And so the world tries to program us to always be questioning ourselves; if we are questioning ourselves, we cannot question our world.

So our eyes are turned inward, and our fragile hearts are set upon them. But an attitude of forgiveness decides ahead of time that this narrative of the world is not true. An attitude of forgiveness recognizes that not everything that happens to us is about us. In fact, quite a bit of it isn't. Most of the things that happen in the world are a reflection of our collective fallenness, not our personal insufficiencies. In forgiveness, we reject the idea that we must obsess over our "failures" and constantly be evaluating ourselves, and we turn our energies instead toward the world. 

Which means that in forgiveness, we are able truly to engage what is happening here. We are able to encounter it and embrace it and step in and do something about it.

The world tells us we ought to be angry, we ought to be bitter, we ought to be hurt by the things that happen to us. It wants us to spend our lives indignant, as though we deserve better. It's a quiet little deception, but an important one, because when we see through the world's distorted eyes, what we see in this image is a bigger version of ourselves. A more perfect one. One that is more worthy than it's being treated. 

But eyes of forgiveness keep our vision on what God intended all of creation to be. It helps us to constantly be seeing a better world, not a bigger self. We do deserve better, but eyes of forgiveness see that the better we deserve is in the restoration of creation, in the setting of the whole world right, not in getting vengeance or recognition or whatever for ourselves. 

Forgiveness develops in us a posture of humility, for we see ourselves not as victims of a cruel and injust world, but as moving pieces in its brokenness, on the same path toward redemption as the rest of it. We see ourselves as fellow journeymen, with all the same proclivities as those it is easy to spite because they have hurt us. We see in ourselves the brokenness that we grieve in the world, and it doesn't set us above it, but puts our feet right down in the muck and the mud where we can truly engage with it and bring something holy, something God-pleasing, something glorious into it. 

Something above the fray that hits below the belt, a gut punch right into the world's narratives that just aren't working for us. 

Is it possible? It is. But we have to commit ourselves to this posture. We have to commit ourselves to developing an attitude of forgiveness that permeates everything that we do. We have to decide, ahead of time, not to buy the world's narratives, not to let ourselves get tangled in its weeds. 

We have to know that no matter how we "feel," no matter what the world tries to tell us, no matter what it tries to sell us, we're all broken here together. And if we see brokenness first - before betrayal, before spite, before indignation - we can also see hope. And that's where we get the chance to do something glorious. 

As human beings in the image of God with sober eyes to see the world. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

An Attitude Problem

When we talk about forgiveness, we first have to determine what it is that we're even talking about. Most of us define forgiveness as an act, a one-for-one give-and-take where when one party is definitively wronged, he or she chooses deliberately to extend forgiveness to the offender solely for the offense identified and agreed-upon. For example, I just gave an entirely-too-wordy-and-contrived definition of forgiveness, and you, in turn, forgive me for it.

That is one definition of forgiveness, and it is an important one, but it also sets up a very difficult situation. It requires that the parties confess there is a wrong between them. We know from our own experience that this is not always the case, that both parties do not always agree that something wrong has been done to one or the other. They may even, in fact, believe that wrong has been done to both, but agree on neither wrong, and then forgiveness becomes an insult and a point of greater contention than the wrong ever was. You forgive me? What did I do? 

There is, however, another kind of forgiveness that does not require this agreement on wrongs but is extremely valuable, God-honoring, and holy just the same. It is not an act, but an attitude of forgiveness. 

And it is with this kind of attitude that we ought to strive to live. 

This is what we're asking about when we talk about whether it is possible for a man to continue to see the world with sober eyes when he believes he's been wronged by it. This is what we're talking about when we want to know if someone can see beyond his or her own pain and hurt and betrayal and anger to be reasonable and fair and wise and just and loving. This is what we're wondering about when we want to know whether we are our basest human selves or if there is something nobler about us, something more in the image of God than maybe we even imagined. 

Can we live with an attitude of forgiveness?
An attitude of forgiveness decides ahead of time that forgiveness is the plan. It determines to embrace and encounter the world with forgiveness on its fingertips. It lets things roll off of it because it doesn't need to take them to heart; it's already taken them to the Lord, and if necessary, it will take them to Him again. 

An attitude of forgiveness sees what's really going on with eyes that see beyond what the human flesh can feel. It sees, above all, the broken human condition, the fallen world, the very real reality that things are not as they are meant to be, but they are this way instead. It sees with eyes that grieve before they hurt, then hurt for the grief and long for the restoration and ache for the redemption of all that is not as it was ever intended to be. 

An attitude of forgiveness is willing to put itself aside and to say, no, this is not how I wanted this to go and it's not how it should have gone, but it is how it is and it is now up to me to figure out what to do with that. And an attitude of forgiveness determines, ahead of time, that what we're going to do with that is not let it change who we are. Not let it determine our response. Not let it define who we are, but that we have already defined who we are by knowing how we will respond. 

We are a people created in the image of God, and we are defined by forgiveness.

So when we talk about forgiveness, there are a couple of things we could be talking about. We could be talking about the act of forgiveness, but this requires us to acknowledge from all sides that there is a wrong between us, and that's not always easy or even possible. But we could also be talking about an attitude of forgiveness, which requires only that we acknowledge that this world is not as it was meant to be but that there is something more. 

It is an attitude of forgiveness that is most telling about who we are. And it is an attitude of forgiveness that is most valuable in helping us to live and love truly from the heart of God in our world. 

Monday, October 8, 2018


A question arose in the national American conscience last week, a question that is, at its core, a Christian one, though we would not so boldly label it as such or even immediately recognize it for what it is. But it is a cry that we, as the church, must hear and answer, for we alone know the answer that is in the Truth.

The question was this: can a man remain impartial, believing himself to have been wronged by someone or something? Can he have a vision that sees with sober eyes what is before him, without running it through the lens of his own wounded heart? 

In other words, is forgiveness real?

That's the question, no matter how many politics we wrap around it. And it's a question, too, of more than just politics. It's a question of the human spirit, of human nature, to its very core. Are we, as human beings, more than our emotional reactions? More than our personal experiences? More than our most self-centered selves? 

The argument essentially arose like this: in a he-said, she-said on full public display, both sides came out in passionate defense of their own position. When what he said denied what she said and he revealed some measure of passionate anger and defense, the cry came that he would never be able to justly and fairly evaluate anyone or anything that arose from any camp seemingly related to hers - to women, to certain political persuasions, to certain social issues, etc. He would always and forever be stamped by this experience, and therefore, he was unfit. 

He, of course, never said this about himself or about his perspective; it was merely assumed. It was assumed because it is the basest of all human interactions with one another, and we know that the old adage is somewhat true: hurt people hurt people. If this man was hurt, it's only natural to assume he would be vindictive about it and, in turn, hurt others. On purpose. For spite. 

Never mind, of course, that no one ever asked if the same was true of the woman. This is the politics at play. No one asked if she, believing what she believes and believing herself to have been wronged by him, could ever fairly evaluate anyone of his sex, political persuasion, social conscience, etc. That's really neither here nor there in the conversation about forgiveness, but it's important to point out to anyone willing to keep their eyes open to what politics really does in our world. 

But back to this - the question remains. Is it true? Are we our basest selves? Are we nothing more than wounded human beings out to wound others? Is it impossible that we could be wounded and not do some wounding of our own? Should we expect that everyone among us is carrying around some baggage that inhibits the way that he or she encounters the world? 

Or is there, perhaps, something else that we ought to take into consideration?

As Christians, we talk a great deal about forgiveness, although I think it's also true that we practice it far less than we preach. True forgiveness, anyway. It's considered foolish in the eyes of the world, and for the very same reason as outlined above: it's just naturally expected and assumed that we would seek vengeance, not peace; that we would be vindictive, not gracious. After all, is not forgiveness just a fear of confrontation? Is not forgiveness just backing down from a fight? Is not forgiveness just rolling over and refusing to fight for yourself? 

It is not. Forgiveness is far more dynamic than any of these would suggest and it is a true measure of a man's heart. Not only that, but forgiveness runs far deeper in the human fabric than vengeance, for we are beings created in the image of God, and God Himself is a forgiving God. So despite what our fallen human nature would have us think, the question should not be, "Is it possible?" The question should be, "Are we willing?"

Because forgiveness is possible. It's incredibly difficult. Challenging. Hard. But it's possible. 

So let's go back to the question. Is it possible for a man to have sober eyes for the world before him when he believes himself to have been wronged by that world? Can he see the world for what it is without his own baggage in it, for the chance to bring something beautiful and wise and fair into it? It is not only possible; it is glorious. 

And it is much, much needed in this world. 

Though this story begins with a political scenario, the discussion we're getting into isn't really about politics. Please don't let yourself blur the lines as we continue down this path for the next few days. This is about the human heart, about what God has created in us and gifted in us, about how we can live together with one another out of our most beautiful selves, not our basest ones. 

Forgiveness is important. It is real. And it is beautiful. Let's talk about it for a few days. Shall we?

Friday, October 5, 2018

God Will Be God

We don't see much of what actually happens when Jonah comes to Nineveh, what the prophet says or does in the midst of the people, except to know that he proclaimed to them the word that God had sent him with in the first place. And then, when Nineveh repents and turns from their wicked ways and experiences the grace of God, Jonah gets angry. 

But not at Nineveh.

He gets angry with God.

It's an interesting rant, one that should leave most of us scratching our heads. When Jonah sees what happens in Nineveh as a result of God's powerful word to them, he really loses it. He goes off. See, God? I knew that You would be God. I knew that You would act according to Your good nature and do something completely Lord-like. I knew that if You sent me and I came, You would show up and be God and be good.

How could You?

It's extremely bizarre. Most of us, if not all of us, would love the opportunity to see God show up and be God. Most of us would relish a moment in which we got to know for sure that the God that we believe in is the God that He says He is. After all, isn't that what we want? We want a God that we can know, a God whose character is fully revealed, a God who is, particularly when we worship a God who claims that He Is. 

Most of us, if you told us that we could go to Nineveh and speak one word of truth about God and then see Him in the fullness of His glory and grace, at His very best in redemption, would not hesitate to go. We'd run to Nineveh, if for nothing more than the chance to see God be God. 

And yet, this is exactly the reason that Jonah has run away from Nineveh. It's what he's so angry about when he finally does get there. He knew all along that God was going to be God, and it absolutely infuriates him. He wanted no part of it. 

It's extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible, to say why Jonah felt the way that he did about this. There are a couple of possibilities that are perhaps not so foreign to our fallen human hearts, however.

First, it's possible that Jonah found the people of Nineveh undeserving of God. Maybe even by comparison - to, say, himself. Maybe Jonah knew that these people would experience God in a way that he never had, a way that maybe he longed to, and he found them unworthy. He didn't want to give them the gift of God, particularly not if it was a gift that he had never experienced himself. (Never mind that he had, by this point, actually experienced it, as God had done something completely God-like for him in the raging sea with that whole giant fish thing.) 

It's easy for us to do the same. Sure, we could offer the gift of God to someone else, tell them about mercy and grace and all that. But do they really deserve it? Just look at what they've done. Why would we give it to them when we, who are more deserving in our own eyes, have yet to fully experience it in the way that we want? If this is Jonah's perspective, it's not laudable, but it's at least relate-able.

Second, maybe Jonah thought that if he went to Nineveh and preached the judgment that God had given him, knowing that if the wicked people repented, God would forgive them, he thought that it would make him look wrong or foolish in their eyes. If he comes preaching judgment and convicts them, but then God turns His wrath when they turn their hearts, this judgment never comes to pass, and Jonah is laughed right out of town. A prophet of the Lord? Ha. He couldn't even get one simple thing right. 

None of us wants to be "wrong" about God. But I think what Jonah might have missed if this was his perspective was that he would not have been wrong; he would have been exactly right. The people would not have said that God being God was not directly connected to their own repentance and change of hearts; they would have known that it required something of them, just as Jonah would have preached that it would. In other words, Jonah may not have recognized that if God did, indeed, save a wicked people who turned from their wicked ways, then Jonah was not wrong; he was exactly right. The people would not laugh at him; they would love him. 

If only we knew who would love us if we dared to speak truth to them who need most to hear it. 

So it's bizarre, indeed, and there are a lot of questions we just can't answer about what was running through Jonah's heart and mind at this point. God will be God and he knew it, and it was just too much for him. Maybe it's too much for us. I don't know. 

But I hope that it's true that if we knew there was a chance to see the glory and goodness of God on display, we'd go running there. Even toward a place like Nineveh.