Thursday, September 21, 2017

Numbering Our Days

“So teach us to number our days, that we may bring to You a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

The spirit of our day and age pretends that death does not exist. It shocks us. It’s so rude. We plaster pictures of the young, the immortal, all around us. Creams, lotions, pills, and syringes full of Botox promise beauty and youth forever. We pack our old and sick into warehouses and care facilities, out of sight, and out of mind. There is no place for the befallen. No quarter for the dying. No airtime for the most natural and sure human experience there is: breathing our last and passing away.

The Lord will sometimes bless us with sight of the end of our lives. Anyone who believed they were about to die, experienced something profound. Some never recover from it; unable to live when they realize they are going to die.

As a young man, I was confronted by this reality. I had graduated from college, and I had joined the Army. It was 2005. America was actively engaged in two theaters of war—Iraq and Afghanistan. After training, I was sent to a unit, and we geared up for deployment. And then, we went to Iraq.

I was fortunate enough to be in a Field Artillery unit, which had been tasked with controlling 100 square kilometers of battle space. It meant that as a young officer, I was leading a platoon on all kinds of missions outside the relative safety of the Forward Operating Base (FOB). We were out in the thick of it, engaging in combat operations.

There were more days than I can count, where I woke up, and I knew. I knew, in the pit of my gut, that my life would be required of me that day. I knew there was a jagged piece of steel with my name written on it, and it would be tearing through my body with explosive force. I knew, with absolute certainty, that my number was up, my life was over, and that day would be my last. I had lots of days like that.

It was hard to come to grips with. I lost lots of sleep. I immersed myself in prayer and petition. I wanted to live, but, I was ready to die. I had made peace with my Maker. I asked that God would help me to be brave, for my life to be worth the spending, and I dutifully carried out my orders without hiding behind my rank or position.

But, I did not die. Eventually, I came back home, and I got out of the Army. It was a hard transition. How do you leave that environment, and get back into frivolous life? There have been more men than should be, who came back with me, and could not make the transition. Some of my fellow veterans are killing themselves in this world we moved back to: this land where death is unthinkable, and meaning is hard to find.

Moses, that Biblical figure, is the voice of Psalm 90. He speaks this incredible line, “Teach us to number our days, that we may bring to You a heart of wisdom.” I’ve been pondering that line. There is a wealth of wisdom that comes from knowing, for certain, that our time on this Earth is not unlimited. We only have so many days to spend, and we don’t know when our lives will be over and done.

Since getting out of the Army, and making the transition back to this foreign home, I poured myself into doing God’s work. I joined the pastorate, and have dedicated my life to God’s cause: the Gospel. Now, I’m the one called when a person is in the hospital, or when a loved one has died. I have the honor, and the responsibility, to hold hands with the flock as they pass through the valley of the shadow of death. Those times are filled with holy silence and tears: reverence for the mystery of death and life.

I can say for certain, there are only two reactions to being reminded of our finite lives. On the one hand, people go crazy. They can’t handle the terrible reality. They don’t want it, they don’t like it, and it is out of their control. They react in anger, in fear, in hatred, or they react in unmitigated grief, sorrow, or self-destruction. The cancer, the car accident, or the gunshot; is a cold slap to the soul’s face. One will either get drunk with the numbering of days, or get sober.

This is the other way; the way of life. When seeing life is short, people can also be inspired to greatness. Not the greatness of achievement and promotion, but the greatness of love and thankfulness. All of a sudden, one will be filled with the wonder of human friendship, the goodness of those cherished relationships, and the importance of truth. The frivolity of pretended youth, of monetary wealth, social standing, and political propaganda become loathsome to the soul. Selflessness, joy and genuine cheer, and recalling wonderful memories become important. Most often, people who have numbered their days speak out all of the unspoken I-love-yous, and communicate how important people are to them. Their lives become a fountain of unmitigated love. Love without worry of social awkwardness.

Today is a good day. We are yet living. We still have today. We should number our days, and so be a people full of wisdom. Let us live today, looking for meaningful ways to be a true friend, and to communicate how much we cherish the people we love.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Creating Teams in War and Church

The most fundamental action in the creation of a team, is forging relationships. The success of a unit is dependent upon the level of trust between individuals on the team. Trust is not a quality one can simply command, or assign. Trust is built over time, through shared experience. The best teams have been forged through the crucible of participation. There are three basic types of experience that create trusting relationships in teams.

Familial Experience:

Familial experience are those interactions where individuals on a team are able to play, talk, and eat. A leader who desires to create a strong team, will create opportunities for individuals to have laid back contact with other members of the team. Do not mistake competition for fun. The goal of these times together is to know one another outside of the context of the mission of the team. If you are building a military team, take them to a go-kart place, go bowling, or a barbeque. Don’t study operational tactics, not for familial experiences. If you are building a church team, don’t take them to a conference on prayer techniques. Invite families to an all-paid weekend at a lake.

People are wired as social animals. Trust cannot be built without understanding the personal side of their peers. Nothing is more personal than eating together; so build experiences where people are meeting and eating, unhurried. Give them time to hear one another, tell stories about their past and present, and have fun. Nothing builds a team like having a running inside joke. A wise leader will insist on having members of their team having familial experiences.

Victory experience:

Victory experiences are those interactions where individuals on a team are rewarded for working together with winning. I’ll spend the least time here, because shared victory is the most obvious of the experiences. When a team is young, starting small is important. Get them lots of little victories to get momentum and confidence. A team should be built on family experience, and grown on victories.

Fighting through failures:

Leaders tend to fear allowing their team to suffer failure. This is a classic mistake. Logically, we believe that strength and confidence is the only kind of diet our teams should have. However, real life does not consist of a diet of victory only. Do not insulate your team from failure. A team is created through family experience, it is fed on victory; but it matures by handling defeat.

All military commanders know the truth; requiring your team to face giant obstacles that will end, repeatedly, in defeat will turn them into an efficient machine. Defeat is dangerous to a team, but, with proper leadership—it can be the hardening agent that turns a soft, muscly ball of potential into a tenacious, rock hard fighting machine.

How to negotiate the waters of defeat:

First, don’t get hung up on losing. It happens. You get knocked down. A leader must use their ability to inspire after a defeat. Emotions after a defeat are low. Really low. A leader must get in the emotional muck with the team, but not let it become their identity. A leader will use their emotions, their aura, their words, and their relationships to inspire their team to get back up and fight twice as hard.

Second, a leader will learn from the mistakes of a team. The whole team needs to learn, and it is the leader’s job to help the process. Simple questions like, “What can we learn from this?” or “What did we do wrong that we need to get right?” or “What mistakes did we make?” can go a long way in helping a team learn.

Last, a leader must demonstrate an iron will to getting back into the fight. Heading straight back into the fray is not a good plan. Rest is mandatory. Leaders must insist on down time after a defeat, and use that time to gear up for fighting again. It may seem a time of rest would go against the fighting spirit, but a leader who refuses to rest, or get the team to rest, will put a team’s efficiency into the toilet. Rest is essential.

But you come out of that rest like a hard shot. Hit the mission with fury. You’ll find your team is better than it was before, and ready to get back to work.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Jesus and the Law

God loves to communicate Himself to people. It seems to be His great pleasure. The book of John begins with this assertion: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This Word is the communication, the message, the [Greek language] logos. John is talking about Jesus, actually. Jesus is the communication of God.

Since that’s true, what is it that God is trying to say? Well, we could write a book on it. Who was Jesus, what did He teach us, and what was His ultimate point to us?

I’d say two things here, in the hope of being brief. First, Jesus’ ultimate goal was to achieve, and invite, the redemption of all creation. Second, Jesus was showing us who God is, who He is like, and what He likes. Jesus was God, in the flesh. You could talk to Him, walk with Him, and ask Him questions.

If God really does love to communicate Himself to people, how did He do this before Jesus?

I’d say two things here, in the hope of being brief (rather than exhaustive). First, God put Himself on display through the people of Israel. Second, He put Himself on display in the Law.

This is why Christians should cherish the Old Testament law codes. They are not the dry and irrelevant rules of a bygone era. The law is the heart of God on display. Jesus contends that if a person would get to know the Old Testament law codes really well; they would be able to recognize Him. Moses is the supposed author of those law codes, which he received from God; and Jesus claims, “if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” (John 5)

The following is a small sampling of one of the law codes that Moses wrote, which Jesus claimed is about Him. It is taken from Exodus 23:

"You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit. If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him.”

Crazy, huh? How are these about Jesus?

With that question, you are prepared to enter into the mystery of the Old law codes. They are about Jesus, because they are about the very heart of God. They teach us qualities of God that translate into how we should act. They are about what God wants us to do, and what He doesn’t want us to do: just like Jesus.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Advent Candle Lighting

Hey all! I wanted to post the manuscript for my short Advent sermon. Merry Christmas!


Our hearts are just like these candles. When our hearts are lit on fire, they provide light and heat. The light is the words and actions of our Christian faith. The heat is our love for others, which warms even the coldest heart. A heart aflame, is a heart that is properly waiting for God.

The book of Malachi was the last word in the Old Testament, and those who were waiting for Jesus were holding on to that prophecy. Malachi essentially warns against the temptation to put our relationship with God in a low priority. Mary and Joseph, the wise men, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, were all waiting for the coming of the Christ by closely guarding the flame of their hearts. If we put it in terms of candles, holding a candle in your hand should never be mistaken for having a lit candle in your hand. We too are supposed to wait by closely guarding the flame of our heart, ensuring that it is brightly burning in anticipation of the arrival of Jesus.

Our hearts are just like these candles. They cannot light themselves. They must be lit by another flame.

On that first Christmas, 2017 years ago, a flame entered our world. Jesus was the light that was sent by God. We heard the story tonight, and hear it each year in our celebration of Christmas. But, the Christmas story is not just about Jesus. He was not alone. Did you notice that half the Christmas story in the book of Luke is about John the Baptist? Isn’t that interesting? Most people skip right over the part about John the Baptist, because they don’t want his interruption in the Christmas story.

But, John the Baptist isn’t misplaced. He belongs right in the middle of the Jesus birth story. Let me explain why.

Before God is finished speaking in the book of Malachi, He promises that before Jesus the Christ comes, He would send Elijah. This messenger would have the duty of preparing the way for the Christ. But how would the Elijah character make the waiting people ready for Jesus?

God says, “he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” In other words, the forerunner of the Messiah would have the old flame of love. The people would be challenged to love one another like God the Father loved them. The old flame would point to the new one, because, in the end, they are the same kind of light. They are both shining God’s love.

By seeing John the Baptist as a lit candle, the people would see that they had let their own candles burn out. They would want to be lit, once again. The people would yearn for God’s love once again. They would understand their need for Jesus to rekindle the flame.

The Christmas story found in the fourth Gospel says that Jesus was the Word made flesh, and John the Baptist was the witness. God chose to include the human story with the Divine story. This is why John the Baptist in in the middle of the miraculous Christmas story.

We are just like John the Baptist: our own story is written in the middle of the Jesus story, because God is using us to be witnesses of Jesus. Our role as regular human beings is elevated by God, and placed into the very ministry of Jesus Christ. We ought to have hearts that are lit, witnessing to the true Light, just like John the Baptist did. People will then see our hearts on fire as we wait, and will notice that their hearts are not glowing with God’s love; and they will be prepared to meet Jesus, and have their hearts filled with His love too.

In our time, people have grown weary of waiting for Jesus to come again. We have been born at the last of the old waiting period. People are even forgetting what Christmas is for, and do not remember that Jesus came as a little baby, in fulfillment of prophecy, in order to bring His kingdom. They forget that He is at the right hand of God the Father, and is ready to come back at any moment.

We are different. We remember. We celebrate the bright light that Jesus brought into the world. He is why we give gifts to one another, and sing Christmas songs, and have a holiday of loving one another. And, like John the Baptist, we are also the witnesses that come right before Jesus comes again. We have the sacred task of turning the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers. We are witnesses to the coming light, by being lights ourselves.

Only Jesus can light our hearts in a flame of love. Only love can ready people to meet Jesus. Tonight, we finish lighting the Advent candle as a symbol of what God has called us to do: to keep our hearts burning until Jesus comes again. And, He is coming again very soon.

So as we spread the light from one another, ask the question of God, “How do you want me to shine the light of Your love to those around me? How do you want me to be your witness?” In the silence, as our candlelight grows and grows, listen for His answer in your heart, and join us as we sing. Finally, when all our candles are lit, we will light the last candle on the Advent wreath, to symbolize Jesus coming again.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The New Normal

Hey all! An acquaintance of mine was willing to submit this article for publication, after I asked her to. I know that this blog space may not be the right forum, but her story and mine have so many similarities, I just had to publish. I did agree to protect her as a source (which sounds like this blog is a big deal), simply because there really is a lot of people who don't need to know medical information about an individual. So, without any further ado: here is a guest article!


Just went to see my medical specialist. I have a chronic disease, which so far has remained unresponsive to every treatment. It took almost two years of personal dedication and insistence to finally receive a diagnosis. I almost gave up. It took two years of talking with doctor after doctor, running test after test. My goal was to begin some kind of treatment that would give me hope. The disease has been getting worse and worse, all this time, and I am nowhere near healthy (the disease I have does not have a cure). Today’s story is just about what it took to get a diagnosis. Because, a diagnosis is what would allow me to start the medications that might put my disease into a halted state; what they call remission.

From the start, I knew that something was really wrong with me. I was dealing with so much body pain, I could hardly cope with life. That has never been me. I have always been a strong and competent woman, doing things that most people never consider. I’ve always taken pride in my ability to adapt and overcome. I am smart. I’m funny. I’m strong. Before this point in my life, I never had to go to a doctor for more than an out-of-control infection, or the odd broken bone. I used to snowboard.

So up till this point in time, my experience with the medical establishment had been more or less, “Take these pills till they are all gone, and then come back in a few weeks and we’ll take out the stitches.” I don’t go back to get the stitches out. Ever. I can do it with a sanitized pair of nail clippers. A gal’s gotta take care of herself. My husband just rolls his eyes.

I have two points to make in this guest blog. The first is about the terrible nature of care for those who are chronically sick, and stuck in a confusing and combative insurance situation. I don’t mean to make a political statement; though I have my own (rather independent) leanings. I don’t believe in falling in line with any party line. This election, I’m voting my conscience, not with the hope of winning. But yes, I’m on Obamacare—which I thought was a good idea in the past. And, being financially woeful, I am on the $0 copay.

Here's what you didn’t know about the $0 category: Nearly every medication you get prescribed will be prior authorized, substituted, or denied. Sure, your doctor prescribes an easy anti-biotic for that nasty cold; you’re probably fine. But if you have something chronically wrong with you, and your doctor wants to start trying stuff to see what works—good luck.

So, your doctor prescribes something, and your insurance is doing what they always do (being a pain, and giving you ten hoops to jump through before they fill it), but you are in a desperate situation. You are willing to pay out of pocket, just because you are so desperate. The pharmacy will not allow you to pay for it. Seriously. In the good old U.S. of A., because you are in that $0 category, they have made it illegal for you to pay for your medication that your doctor has prescribed to you.

It’s not fiction. That is a fact.

My female intuition: because it looks bad, statistically, when the system is so broken the poor people are doing what the government promised they wouldn’t be doing: shelling out money their insurance company ought to. Been there, done that. Metaphorically, of course, because when I was there, they delayed filling (because a delay isn’t a denial), and wouldn’t let me pay. I went home, sick, without any medicine.

One little bonus tip here, just because I’m nice: Your insurance company publishes a rule book for what they need in prior authorizations. So if you’re a smart girl (or boy, or man, or whatever), you do all the fact checking before you go see your doctor, just like I did. I talked with my doctor about what she could actually prescribe. So, I got a smile on my face for doing all my homework, and the doctor was nice enough to play by the insurance company’s rules. The next day, at the pharmacy window, I discovered the insurance company doesn’t actually abide by their own rules. I was denied a medication, after my doctor responded to the prior authorization request. Why?

They couldn’t tell me. And believe me, this woman [my thumbs are pointed at me now] is the definition of determined. I called and called (the automated service is designed, I’m convinced, to be an exercise in futility) and finally talked with someone who was a manager of some sort. I asked her to look at the rule book that I was looking at. After all, it was the rule book that her company put out. Didn’t I fit every requirement for the medication? Well, yes I did. But, someone had already denied the medication, and there was nothing that person could do to reverse the decision. And here is what I could do about it: I could always take it to appeal.

The appeals process is a joke. When they deny a medication out of hand, even against their own rules, the only accountability is an appeals process that takes up to a year to complete. So, if you are sick now, and you are prescribed medication for your sickness, and you go to the pharmacy, and the insurance denies the claim—and you are in the right, and they are wrong—you can get that medicine in a year.

I have become convinced that the $0 state sponsored insurance is about denying care. We the public were sold a promise that was just too good to be true. I’m not looking at statistics here, or scientifically building a case. I’m just talking truthfully about my own experience. I don’t feel like I’m in a position to whine about something that I’m not paying for, but I do think that the American public, who is footing the bill for my medical care, should be aware of what they are paying for. I think we got robbed.

Here is my second thought about chronic illness in the state insurance game. I have one more item that I would like to talk about. I’ve been assured that my identity will be safeguarded, otherwise I wouldn’t write about it. It has become politically favorable to distain the use of opiates in the medical community. There has been a lot of abuse, I’m told, and I’m sure that there has been. But the hammer has come down on the medical establishment, and now any opiate therapy is functionally equated to drug abuse.

Factually, the international medical community, for thousands of years, has been prescribing opiates as effective symptom control for patients with high physical pain. Educate yourself. And if you are a medical professional, please remind yourself of your own science; and don’t get swayed by political faddishness.

This disease is literally eating away my body. With this disease, the only effective pain relief I get is from opiates. And, it’s not a mystery. When it comes to nociceptive pain (the pain you feel because your body is being damaged), there is no medication more effective than opiates. When I first started seeing doctors to try and figure out what was wrong with me, it was absurd how people treated me as soon as I started talking about pain. Every single doctor I talked to went from helpful, to curt, (sometimes even rude) as soon as I told them that I was in agony most of the time. I was shocked. I thought a doctor would look at me, and say, “I don’t think it’s normal to live like that. I think something is medically wrong with you, and I’m going to do my part to find out what it is. And, if I can’t, I am going to refer you to someone who can.” I didn’t think they would say, “We don’t deal with pain here. You have to see a specialist for that. We just look to see if joints are swollen. And if they aren’t, I don’t know what to tell you. I can’t refer you to anyone. (The next is the author’s addition) You are probably faking pain to get drugs.”

Why has it become unreasonable to listen to a patient who knows their body, is listening it, and is talking to a medical professional about it? For the first year that I was seeking treatment, I insisted with every doctor I talked to, that I did not want pain medication. I wanted to be taken seriously. I knew that something was wrong with me, and the primary evidence was how many waking (and sleeping) hours I spent with the sensation of knives and needles being driven into my bones, and then lit on fire. Even though I insisted I was not after pain pills; every single doctor I saw treated me like I was some junky, looking to take advantage of them, and my $0 co-pay, to get free drugs. One even offered to write a prescription right there, with her eyebrows arched, as if I was going to fall to pieces and agree to some pain pills. With a great amount of calmness (and to be honest, a bit of pity for her), I said no, and asked for her to take my complaints seriously.

“I know my blood work has come back saying I don’t have any of the diseases that would explain my symptoms. I know that you are the 3rd doctor I have seen, and there is no diagnosis. But I know that something is wrong with me, and I just want my life back. I want to get better.”

She suggested I start taking an anti-depressant. Have we really gotten that far along the socialized medicine route? Do we now treat every person as if they are faking an illness in order to take advantage of the medical community?

I feel like this is the part of the movie where the viewer sees intense close-ups of the actress’s face, while screeching minor chords are being pounded out in the musical score, and I scream, “What’s going on!? Has everybody gone crazy!?”

I work full time. I am a mother. I run a home. I volunteer at a local food pantry once a month. I even go to church.  Here’s a tidbit that is going to shock you: after I received a diagnosis (I’d prefer not to mention what it is, but it’s a serious auto-immune disease) I had a pain specialist prescribe some heavy opiate therapy. I felt better. [gasp] I was able to go back to work. I was able to get up and be the mom that I am supposed to be. And, I’m responsible with the medication that I’m prescribed. I don’t get high. I don’t sell my medication on the street.

So why all the social angst? Why has it become fashionable to turn up our noses when a patient reveals that they are in physical agony? Why are we treating people like they are making up sickness, and leaving them untreated? How did we get this far?

I’m not an anomaly. Welcome to the new normal.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


It was the first time, as a parent, I was watching one of my kids compete in a sporting event. It was a cross country meet, and my daughter is in kindergarten; so it was more an opportunity to get the kids of the school out there in the park running around for a bit. I assure you that my daughter had no clue she was racing anyone else. For her, it was just fun; that quickly turned into confusion as she was required to run for much longer than she would have preferred while a bunch of people were looking at her. She gave up after the first 50 yards, with a half mile left to go.

The event took place in the park, and there were parents and families milling all over. Winding it’s way through the trees was a white line spray painted into the grass. The course was somewhere around a half mile long. The kids from all sorts of elementary schools were hemmed into a corral on the far end of the park, marked out with colorful ribbon. They released the kids by age, starting first with my daughter’s group.

By the time I saw Emilee, about a quarter of the way through the course, she was walking. She just didn’t want to run. She was dead last. She saw her mom first, who had run over to her, yelling and waving her arms in encouragement.

“Go Emilee! Go! You can do it! Run!”

I saw the look of recognition flash in Emilee’s face, and then a big smile lit across her face. And she started running. Fast.

I was yelling too. “Go Emilee go! You’re doing great! Run fast! Run fast!” And as she passed me, I saw that running had become delightful to her. She wanted to run fast, now that my wife and I were there cheering for her.

After she went by me, I jogged over to the other side of the track, at about the ¾ mark of the course. I was yelling for her, cheering; and I was surprised at how emotional a moment it was for me. Not sure I can describe why, but I was almost moved to tears. I was shouting encouragement to her, and she was just tearing down that white line through the park. She was passing other kids, and her smile was huge! Her face was red by that time, and I was embroiled in seeing her little arms and legs pump with eagerness as she ran.

She got all the way through the race, and I came and congratulated her when she was back in the colorful corral. She loved it.

I think she loved it because there were people cheering for her.

Isn’t life like that? Don’t we need encouragement in order to run our race with flair and passion?

We Christians ought to be encouraging. It is so effective, and it costs so little. All we have to do is take notice of other people, especially those who are struggling in life, and come alongside speaking encouragement. What a profound impact we could make! And, it could be the kind of difference that changes the world.

Let’s get to it. Let us start taking notice of our friends, family, and even strangers, and deciding to speak encouraging words to them; so that they will be strengthened for a life of success and excellence.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Reconciliation and expectations

Our human relationships are fragile things. One wrong word, one wrong assumption, left unchecked, or let to fester, leads to a tearing of that delicate fabric. Fast friends, however diligent in loving; witness the cracked foundation of their kinship riven wide in the course of time and carelessness. Spouses, once dedicated to the care and keeping of the other, find ever growing discontent in the person they married. Relationships are like a tenuous web of spider’s silk, heavy with morning dew: the slightest breeze is ruinous. We are connected to one another, and our relationships are the strings, the wires, the ropes, the cables, that hold us together.
People have their relationships ruined by the course of life. Even relationships with God are ruined by changing circumstances. We who are clothed in these mortal bodies do look forward to a life eternal. In all our busyness, our lives revolve around the attaining of things that cannot possibly follow us into eternity. We carry none of our money with us. Our homes, our toys, our material wealth, do not follow us beyond death. Our relationships do follow us. Our relationships are eternal affairs. How can they be torn apart so easily? We ought to be more diligent in repairing the human connections God has given to us. We should be experts in reconciling. I have learned that reconciling is impossible to do well; if we cannot identify the expectations that caused our relationship to pull tight, fray, and break.
Relationships are delicate when they have hidden expectations. We do this with God all the time. We expect God to do certain things for us, and we are not honest about those assumptions. Relationships with God will fail when we believe He will provide us with what He hasn’t promised. Our own visions of what a friendship with God will yield are often the very death of that friendship. We don’t just do this with God. We do it with our friends, our family, our children, and our spouses. If we are going to be good at reconciling our broken relationships, we must become experts at identifying the expectations we have of others, and let them go.
What are we to do? We, once rich in relationship, and now impoverished-- torn from our grip the greatest loves. Is there any way our friendships, marriages, and sacred family bonds can endure the test of time? Having loved and lost, trusted and betrayed, we look for a way to reclaim those broken threads. Reconciliation is the way, and reconciliation requires the death of certain expectations.
As in all things, we have a lot to learn from Jesus.

There is an example of reconciliation-- a man who lost the most, over his lifetime, and yet was able to reconcile those lost friends-- when they were able to recognize and release their expectations of Him. The mists of time have not been able to expunge the record. He was a blue collar worker, in the time of the Pax Romana, long ago in the region of Judea. Sometime shortly after His 30th birthday, Jesus of Nazareth left his trade to follow a call of itinerant preaching, healing, and messiahship.
Along the coastal roads, and the wilderness byways, He ministered through the land. He preached the good news of the arrival of the long-awaited kingdom of God. As He did so, He called individuals to be a part of his ministry; and a part of His heart. They followed, each a part of the ministry; each a part of the Savior’s heart. Each lost in the fantasy of what a relationship with Jesus meant. And, oh, the crowds.
How they loved to hear Him preach! Finally, there was a prophet who spoke with authority. Any who doubted, the many cacklers and naysayers, had their mouths shut early by the wonders, those supernatural miracles. Deaf people were hearing. Blind people were seeing. An army of poor and desperate souls poured out of the cities, and marched across the wilderness to hear Jesus. The disabled were armed cavalry, no force on earth able to stop them from receiving their healing. And healings there were. Everyone was talking about Jesus of Nazareth.
The religious establishment, whose mouths were full of the same old tired teachings, grew afraid of the power this prophet had. The people were listening to Him, and He was claiming to be the long awaited Messiah.
Jesus was a man of momentum. He was the right person, in the right time, with the right abilities. Everyone knew it, especially those that Jesus called His “Twelve.” They were in. They got in on the ground floor, and the Jesus elevator was going to take them all the way to the top. What a ride they were on.
The Twelve were the only real friends that Jesus had. They had His trust. They were the ones that He relied upon to execute miracles, distribute food to the poor, and manage the treasury. Each of the Twelve had visions of what they were being called into. Each of them saw a different vision of what the future held: and it was tantalizing. Peter saw himself sitting at Jesus’ right hand, when He finally executed the Kingdom. Jesus would be the king, and Peter would be His hatchet man-- overseeing everything there was to oversee. James and John were the famed “Sons of Thunder,” and saw themselves in high places of honor; trusted to make things happen for the great Lord, and trusted with much land and wealth. Judas was in charge of the treasury, and used it whenever he wanted to buy the things that he wanted. He knew the treasury would one day be vast; and there would be more than enough for him to skim whatever he needed, whenever he needed it.
The future was bright for those twelve friends of Jesus.

And then, Jesus started to talk about being crucified. The grand arrival of the Kingdom would be the most humiliating and disastrous end there could possibly be. The cross was reserved for the terrible mutineers and political coup artists who failed. For miles, as one walked toward any city of importance, the streets were lined with crucified degenerates. Like streetlights and highline poles, the conscience of the Roman people was ever illuminated by those damned souls, nailed to a crucifix; moaning their final regrets. Until, finally, they died; and the crows pecked off their flesh. Rome stomped her opposition, and the cross was the heel of her iron boot.
The Twelve could not believe Jesus. His friends rolled their eyes at his distant chantings of death. Peter even publicly rebuked the Lord for His insistence on crucifixion. Jesus would have none of it. He knew he was going to die. Jesus’ insistence on His own death caused those thin relationship strings to pull tight. The breeze was blowing. His will did not mesh with His disciples’ ambitions. Their expectations of what Jesus would do for them made their relationships with Him very weak. As soon as they would discover His unwillingness to be what they wanted; those relationships would break.

The night before He was crucified, they all ate one last meal together. The scene of the glorious mundane. The meal. Jesus eating with those twelve friends, washing their feet, reminding them of the importance of serving, not lording over people. It was at that meal Christ’s fate was sealed by the betrayer, Judas Iscariot. He knew he was going to betray Jesus. The Christ had stopped feeding the emotional need Judas had, to become somebody great. Judas was the first of the disciples to figure out that Jesus could not be co opted. They were riding His coattails, but it wasn’t the direction they had hoped. Judas discovered the dream, the vision of greatness, the unending money, his expectation, was all but over.
We can guess as to the motive. Perhaps Judas knew that there was going to be a time when there would be a reckoning for his skimming off the treasury. They would have made an example out of him for the treachery. Judas knew the ride was over, and was looking to turn a profit, turning over this rising star.
For certain, Judas had talked himself into the betrayal of Jesus. He found some fault in his friend, perceived some dissatisfaction, some prideful arrogance, and then focused on it. Given enough time, that once strong filament of relationship brittled. At the meal, as Jesus looked into his eyes, and gave him bread dipped in vinegar; the very devil entered his heart. He knew he was going to betray Jesus, for 30 pieces of silver. The string broke.

After Judas left. Peter was convinced that Jesus might get in trouble, and promised to die protecting his Lord. He was a little denser than Judas. He was convinced the Jesus Twelve could win a back alley brawl with the thugs of the religious establishment. The relationship thread tightened. Jesus shook his head, predicting that Peter would deny him three times before the first rooster crowed. The Lord knew something that Peter didn’t; Peter was more interested in what fidelity to Jesus would do for him; than he was in being faithful to Jesus.
Peter’s relationship thread didn’t brittle until the mob took Jesus. Peter had to watch his expectations, his dreams of grandeur, shatter into a million pieces. He realized friendship with Jesus was no longer an asset, taking him to the highest echelons of power and prestige-- that friendship was a liability, and loyalty to Jesus wasn’t going to get Peter anywhere; but crushed under the iron boot of Rome.
Peter followed Jesus at a distance. Something was wrong. That momentum, those miracles and sermons; were nowhere to be found. Peter was confused. The power of Jesus was hobbled. Where was his ability to shut the mouths of his opposition? Where were the miracles and the favor of God? Peter stood in the courtyard, as Jesus was being humiliated. Throughout the night, the voices of the accusers boomed out across the paving stones. Jesus provided no response.
A high pitched voice of challenge barked out of the darkness, from a lowly servant girl. “Aren’t you one of his disciples? Didn’t I see you with him?” Oh, the irony. The notoriety that Peter craved, being one of Jesus’ friends, would be his undoing. Unless he acted quickly.
“No.” A simple answer. Perhaps, if he kept his response low key, this would just blow over. A few seconds of silence followed. The sky was beginning to brighten with the impending arrival of a new day.
“I saw you with him? Didn’t I?” She insisted. People were starting to turn their attention toward him. Peter’s soul was frantic. He was about to be drug down by his association to Jesus. He needed time to think; a luxury he didn’t have. Loyalty was important to Peter, but what good is loyalty in the grave?
“No.” Peter cleared his throat, as casually as possible. “You are mistaken.”
The girl was looking at him hard now. So were the others gathered around the fire. They were searching his face. He kept it straight, but his insides were screaming. They would find him out. They would find him out. They would kill him. His family would starve. Friendship with Jesus was costing way too much. Jesus lied to him. Jesus wasn’t going to save anybody, he was a fraud. They, they were going to crucify him and everyone who was associated with him. What an irresponsible bastard.
That’s what he was. An illegitimate child with visions of grandeur, preying upon the desperate and the foolish, of which Peter certainly proved himself to be. Damn him. Peter made a decision, to hang Jesus out to dry and protect himself. Which he should have done from the beginning. Somebody had to look out for Peter.
“No. I’m sure of it. Your accent betrays you. You’re from Galilee, and that’s where Jesus is from.”
“Goddam snotnose! Shut your hole! I said I don’t know the man, and I mean what I say!” Peter didn’t have to fake the rage. It was bubbling up from deep inside, and once freed, it gushed. “In my world, a person keeps on insisting you’re not talking truth, they mean you’re a liar. And then, we fight to the death. Is that what you want? So shut up! I swear it by God Almighty, I don’t know the man!” He growled a little at the end. The firelight cast flickers and shadows on Peter’s face, and the now present dawn pushed away the last of the darkness behind him.
The girl opened her mouth, as if to speak; and a rooster crowed. Since the dawn of mankind, no rooster crow had pierced a heart so deep. It was a dagger, driven straight and true into Peter’s soul. Jesus said that he would do this: betray him. And, he had. Lost in the moment. Lost in the sea of broken dreams. Scared, and teeth on edge; Peter denied Jesus three times before the rooster had crowed once.
The rooster kept crowing, but it could not muffle the sound of the relationship thread popping apart. His face recoiled in surprise, and Peter looked over his shoulder at the figure of Jesus before a tribunal.
Jesus was staring at Peter. Their eyes met. Jesus knew. Peter knew. Peter turned away from Jesus. Bodily. Spiritually. Emotionally. And he ran.

The iron boot stepped down on Jesus. Alone. He breathed his last, naked and alone; hung on a crucifix with the crowds gawking. They buried him in a cave.

Three days later, the grave was empty. Some believed again, somewhere in their hearts. Like Peter, who believed, the belief of a living Jesus was not a relationship. He believed, but he could not see past his own betrayal; his own worthlessness. There could be no reconciliation.

The Twelve were gathered. They were already down to ten, but they kept going by the moniker Jesus gave them. Judas had hung himself. Thomas was out getting some food to stockpile, so they could lay low for a while. The door was locked. The Twelve were stone faced. Each man found himself repeating the events of the last few days over and over, switching partners every few hours; but unable to reach any kind of resolution. There were murmurs and low whispers. Each man looking for a way forward with his life.
There was a lot of confusion. Nobody was sure what to do, and their leader was probably dead. Risen maybe. Definitely gone. No spider’s web of relationships now, just a pile of strings.
Jesus walked right into their midst. No knock. He just appeared. His message was incredible.
“Peace be with you.” They looked in shocked silence. He was quiet, powerful, and present. Jesus was with them. He was looking each one in the eye, man by man; as he slowly lifted his hands. They saw the scabbed over holes. He showed them his side, still red and healing. Bartholomew stood, hugged Jesus, with a low hearty chuckle. The tone in the room changed. Gladness crept into the stony faces. Whispers grew to laughs.
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Then Jesus breathed on them, a long full breath. “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
In the relational dimension, those strings lying on the ground were lifted. One by one, they reattached to Jesus. All but three: Judas, Thomas, and Peter. Jesus was giving His disciples forgiveness. He was giving them the opportunity to let go of their expectations. Jesus was sending them out to work for Him, full of His Spirit.
As he had come, he left. Jesus walked out. Peter had enough. It was torture. Trust had been broken. Broken! Jesus would never trust him, and Peter could not trust Jesus. Why did he have to deny Him? Why did he follow so closely? Why? It would have been far better to fail, to deny, out of His sight.
He really was the Son of God. It still blew Peter’s mind circuitry. Jesus was there in Eden, calling into being the entire created order. The breath breathed on the Twelve, was the same breath he breathed into the first man, some eons ago. He had the authority of the Messiah. Peter shuddered. There was coming a day when Jesus would judge Peter’s soul. Peter knew what Jesus knew. He would be found guilty.
Peter was glad he left.

Then Jesus came again to the Twelve, eight days later. Thomas was in this time. Jesus let Thomas feel the healed-over holes in his hands, and the stab wound on his side. Thomas believed, and reconciled with Jesus. The Twelve believed again. Their expectations, those wild visions of power, wealth, and grandeur, were the only things that finally died the night of the crucifixion. Those relational expectations of Jesus were gone, and for the better. The truth, that Jesus was the Son of God, was not shaken by a physical death. He had been right all along: he had the authority to lay down his life, and the authority to take it up again. To his greatest sorrow, Peter could not reattach that string.

Without a constant presence, the Twelve were unsure of how to move forward, practically speaking. Peter filled a natural void. Though he was not the relational center of the Twelve, he was the central leader. After a couple weeks of lying low, the world started to move on. The upstart spiritual rebellion had been crushed. Status quo had won a great victory, now content to sit down and gloat. In the evening, just as the light was fading, Peter unlocked the door. The Twelve looked at him, curious.
“I’m going fishing.” He said, still facing the door. There was a murmur of consent behind him.
“We’re going with you.” James said, rising from the floor. To a man, they all followed Peter out to the docks, and out into the Sea of Tiberius. They were back to their old way of life, and the Jesus experience was behind them.
Though they labored all night, they caught nothing. Peter threw himself into the work, his calloused hands grasping at netting-- his calloused heart grasping the unattached Jesus string. There was no way back. There was no way forward. Jesus had come to them twice, talking about forgiveness. But forgiveness was not a way forward, it was just a thing. Forgiveness was a wiping clean the slate of chalked up wrongs. It was not a script of the future. Peter stood in the metaphor, line in hand, bewildered, culpable, and ashamed. Unable to let go the string, and unable to follow Jesus. He hadn’t just left Jesus in an hour of need, he had betrayed Him, three times.
Peter wished he would have died that night. He was ready to, so he mused. Jesus had put a stop to the fighting before it could really get going. Jesus rebuked Peter for defending Him. It was all wrong. It wasn’t supposed to go that way. It wasn’t what Peter expected.
He paused from thought and cast the net, hurling it with a grunt. The tiny weights spread the net into a beautiful blossom, just before kissing the sea and disappearing into the depth. The others were busy about the small boat, tending to the various sailing factors which kept the nets tossing and retrieving; productively scouring the sea for a school of fish.
Peter replayed the events of that night, the night he betrayed Jesus three times. Guilt and shame stabbed at his heart as the memory noir rolled again. In his stomach, a knife pierced-- that knife of irony and sorrow. He drew the net back in. Empty. Again. The morning light was just breaking from the eastern horizon. If there were roosters out on the sea of Tiberius, they would have started taunting Peter with that crowing sound. A common sound which would cause him to wretch a little every time it met his ear.
A familiar voice called him out of the reverie.
“Children, do you have any fish?” Before Peter could place the voice, while he was still scanning the shore for the figure poised in conversation, Thomas yelled back.
“NO!” A few seconds of silence, and then Peter saw the figure on the shore, hands cupped around his mouth to amplify his speech.
“Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” Peter rolled his eyes. He hurled the net off the starboard edge, with the customary grunt. Another perfect throw. The net made that wet slapping sound as it vanished into the sea. Peter waited, and then began hauling the tail lines. The net was full. Seeing the struggle, others joined in on the haul. The nets were so full, they could not bring it up.
John grabbed Peter’s shoulder, one hand pointing at the figure on the beach. “It is the Lord!” Peter looked now with ferocity. He let go of the net. The Lord was standing on the beach. Without much thinking, but much passion, Peter threw on his cloak and dove into the sea, flailing about in a panicked swim towards Jesus.
The other disciples hung on to the nets, and sailed towards the shore. They beached, the palpitating nets now ready to be man-handled in without finesse.
Jesus was there, standing by a fire burned down to the coals. Bread and fish were laid out in strips over the red coals, just waiting for hungry men. How long had he been there, sitting by a fire and watching his Twelve, cooking breakfast?
“Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Jesus said. Peter waded in and began to haul the net up. The others helped, and the nets did not tear out. They were strong enough to handle the stress. Jesus stood up, spreading his arms wide, hands open, “Come, and have breakfast.”
It was good food, and well deserved. The disciples were famished. Conversation was sparse, it was clear Jesus had some business planned. There was an indescribable tension. Finally, as they were just finished eating, Jesus looked hard at Peter. Silence stole over the group.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Peter met and held Jesus’ gaze. “Yes, Lord, you know that I have affection for you.” Jesus nodded slowly, a look of understanding in his eyes. The two kept eye contact. The other disciples looked uncomfortable.
“Feed my lambs.” Jesus said. Peter nodded. This was it. Jesus was making a deal with him. He had a way forward. Jesus was offering a relationship. Peter smiled. In the metaphor, Peter was reaching out, string in hand; to attach it back to Jesus.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Jesus asked. Peter paused in the reattachment. Why the question a second time, without asking about how much he loved?
“Yes, Lord, you know that I have affection for you.” He repeated.
“Feed my sheep.” Jesus commanded. Peter was about to nod, but the look in Jesus’ eyes was so fierce, so tender. It gave him pause.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” There, as the morning light was breaking into full brilliance; Peter understood. Jesus had to ask a third time. He had to respond a third time. The depth of betrayal was met with a depth of love. Jesus was going to the place that Peter wanted to avoid, and he was forgiving it. No, no, Jesus wasn’t just forgiving, he was asking for Peter to replace his betrayal with commitment. Peter’s love would be walked out by shepherding Christ’s own. No expectation of greatness, of power; but an opportunity to yield to the will of Jesus, and to care for Jesus’ people.
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
“Feed my sheep.” Jesus said. “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go. Follow me.”
Jesus stood up and walked away from the coals, the boat, the sea. Peter stood up and followed Jesus, jogging a little bit to catch up. There it was, Peter was following Jesus again. If Jesus would slow down a little bit, he could catch up, and reattach that relational string where it belonged.
As Peter was closing the gap, he became aware of John dogging along, too. “Lord, what about this man?” Peter said, pointing to John.
Jesus stopped, turned around to face Peter. He looked at Peter, and pointed at John, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
There the relationship connection was reestablished. The spider’s web remade, this time of thick steel cable. Reconciliation won. The will of Jesus, His true offer of Lordship, became the foremost driver of the relationship. The expectations of the disciple had been put to death, and reconciliation had finally overcome the betrayal.
We can learn from Peter, and the other disciples. Our own relationship lines must be made of thick woven material; not thin spider’s silk. The thin stuff is always present when we have expectations of the other, usually hidden and not talked about. You cannot be a true friend, not truly, if you expect that your friendship will yield results that are self-gratifying. We must do the hard work of rooting out these assumptions in our human relationships. In our relationship with Christ, we must be able to identify what it is that we want God to do for us. Maybe it’s like Peter, and John-- we want our friendship with God to yield honor, money, fame, or popularity. Perhaps it is something more sincere, like our children being successful, or our career being rewarding. No matter the relational assumption, it must go, before we break the relationship.
The lasting bonds, whether human or divine, are the ones where we are focused on the good of the other. Our connection must be made of love, and not self serving. When our bonds are made of love, we do not judge the other by how we hoped things would turn out. Instead, we look to sacrifice for the other person.
The work is difficult because we must admit to ourselves that our relationships can be self serving. We are loathe to admit that we care more about what someone is going to do for us than we care about them. When those relationships inevitably break, we have the opportunity to right the wrong expectations, and win a reconciliation.