Ten Years

On social media, people have been sharing photos of themselves in 2009 and 2019. On Twitter, Rachel Joy Welcher shared her pictures and a capsule of significant events. I felt compelled to write mine down.

We began the process to adopt
an Ethiopian girl
with Down’s syndrome.
It turns out she didn’t have it.

My wife was diagnosed with
and treated for breast cancer
in the midst of the adoption.
She had chemo the day Tessa came home.

We began the process to adopt
two beautiful Haitian children.
Eight years and ten thousand tears later,
it officially became a failed adoption.

I betrayed my friends,
more than once
and so betrayed myself
more than once.

I nearly lost my oldest daughter,
and so nearly lost myself.

I became a pastor.
I tried to be who I am not.
I had a nervous breakdown.
I became an ex-pastor.

I wrote.
I painted.
I published.
I began to create.

I got a tattoo, then another and
another and another and another.
Peace and freedom.
Goodness, truth, beauty, and strength.
Identity and love.  

I have been experiencing
a radical shift in my understanding of God
and of myself.
And I began again,
the process of coming back to God,
and to myself.

John 13:30

So after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.–John 13:30

Every time I read the phrase, “and it was night,” my skin tingles.  It is ominous.  It conveys the sense that there is no turning back. It is no mere proclamation of the setting sun, but it heralded the eve of the darkest day in history. Good Friday.

This band of brothers, so closely tied together, was fracturing. Judas had left. Jesus was troubled. The others were confused and fearful, trying to recall their interactions with Judas, hunting for clues. They were trying to remember everything Jesus had said, again hoping for hints.

Night is confusion. Night is darkness. Night is fear. In the opening paragraphs of this epistle, John identified Jesus as the light of the world. Light is hope; darkness is hopeless.

You may know the night too. When the doctor calls you personally and says, “It’s cancer,” it’s night. When your child, whom you have poured your heart and soul and guts into, whom you have prayed for and protected, has decided that Jesus isn’t really her thing, it’s night. When you’ve saved your money, little by little, trying to be a good steward, and you get a call from the IRS saying that they want to go over your most recent tax returns, it’s night.

Darkness comes to everyone. Life is not always how we want it to be. But even in our darkest nights, Jesus is still light.

Jesus, I cannot imagine what you were feeling that night. Were you afraid? Were you angry? Regardless, you did not leave your friends. Help me to remember that even in the darkest times, you are light. Amen.

John 13:28-29

Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the money bag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor.-John 13:28-29

There was still an air of mystery around the table. When Jesus had spoken of betrayal, Peter and John asked for clarification, yet none of them seemed to realize the treason Judas was committing. Judas was betraying Jesus to his death and some of them thought he was instructing him to go grocery shopping.

We so often fail to see what is truly happening. We miss the cosmic significance of actions, instead focusing on the mundane and trivial. People may be in places of intense sorrow, but we tell them to just “cheer up” because Jesus loves them. They may be suffering the ravages of abuse, but we tell them to put on a happy face.

Jesus, open our eyes to see the gravity of what takes place around us, not so that we become weighed down with guilt or sorrow, but so that we can rightly cling to the hope of your redemption. Amen.

John 13:27b

Jesus said to him, “what you are going to do, do quickly.”-John 13:27b

Jesus was troubled, tormented, by what was to come. In his humanity, he absolutely did not want to go through with the crucifixion. Who of us would? Yet in his divinity, he understood that there was no other way. To save people meant the cross.

These eight words—“what you are going to do, do quickly”—were the only recorded verbal interaction between Jesus and Judas in the upper room. We are given one other glimpse of Judas a chapter earlier. In John 12:3, Judas criticized the woman who anointed Jesus. The gospel writers recorded no other verbal engagement between them.

Even though Jesus was “troubled in spirit,” he did not bargain with Judas, plead with him to reconsider, nor heap shame upon him. He spoke directly and without hesitation: “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Jesus knew his purpose and plan and he saw no need to put it off.

We typically fail to live with the same level of conviction. We bargain. We avoid others and delay difficult conversations. We use shame as a motivator. Rather than facing conflict head on, we dance around it. But Jesus taught us the value of directness.

Jesus, when I ponder your interaction with Judas, I am amazed at your directness. I tend to bargain, justify, or avoid difficult circumstances. Teach me to lean into my discomfort, having hard conversations when they are necessary, and to put my trust always in you. Amen.

John 13:27a

Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him.-John 13:27a

As I read this verse, I was reminded of the character Weston from Perelandra (1944/2003) by C.S. Lewis. When Lewis first introduced Weston in the first book in his Space Trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet (1938/2003), he was already self-centered, manipulative, and controlling, governed by evil. In Perelandra, Weston was embodied by the evil one and became a sort of half-man.

I wonder what it meant that Satan entered Judas. He had already made the deal to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Luke 22:3-6 tells of the transaction, but it also says that Satan entered him there. These two texts would suggest that Satan entered him twice. Was Judas dealing with a conflicted spirit, a staccato torment? Regardless, the implication seemed to be that in these times of betrayal, Satan had overtaken Judas’s thoughts.

How about for believers today? When we give space to sinful thinking and evil intention, does Satan enter us or is it shorthand for communicating that evil has its way?

Jesus, you came to crush the head of Satan and destroy evil’s reign, yet so often tendrils of self-centered sin continue to grow in our lives. Teach us to recognize the evils of sin and to step into the light, remembering your finished work. Amen. 

John 13:25-26

So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.-John 13:25-26

Tensions were growing. Their celebratory dinner had taken an unexpectedly dark turn. Someone in their group was a traitor, but they still didn’t know who or what the betrayal would be.

At Peter’s prompting, John asked Jesus for the betrayer’s identity. Jesus’s response was clear. He wanted them to see how the betrayal fulfilled prophecy. Psalm 41:9 predicted “He who ate my bread, lifted his heel against me.” At dinner, Jesus had called the broken bread his body. I wonder, when Jesus shared the bread with Judas, was he communicating, “This is my body broken because of you” or “This is my body broken for you”? Perhaps both.

Jesus, before you came in the flesh, you knew that you would be betrayed. Jesus, if I am honest, I also have betrayed you; I have lifted my heel against you. Thank you for forgiving my betrayal by offering your body for me. Amen.

John 13:24

So Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking.-John 13:24

How often do we live in uncertainty, unwilling to ask questions or seek clarification?  If you are like me, you may fret alone or speculate with others when you are confused.  Uncertainty is a breeding ground for unhelpful assumptions.  In verse 22, the disciples were looking around, uncertain of who was the betrayer.  They could have kept their wondering to themselves, but Peter was willing to ask.  He routinely showed boldness in the presence of Jesus, seemingly unafraid of looking stupid. His confidence in Jesus made him freely ask questions when the others might not.  Peter motioned to John, who must have been sitting right next to Jesus to ask the question.

Peter teaches us that there is wisdom in vulnerably seeking clarity.  There is no righteousness in pretending to know the answer.  It takes courage to ask questions because most of us are afraid of looking stupid.  Sometimes, we don’t want to know the answer, but when we know the truth, we can deal with it head on rather than persisting in fear and uncertainty.

Jesus, we often fail to speak up because we do not want to look dumb.  Sometimes we are afraid of the answer.  Empower us to ask hard questions, listen for answers, and follow through with courage.  Amen.

John 13:23

One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side.-John 13:23

In the midst of Jesus’s discussion of betrayal and the confusion of the disciples, John wrote this short line.  Sit with these few words for a moment.

First, John wrote “One of the disciples, whom Jesus loved.”  Although that disciple is never named, commentators universally believe John was referring to himself.  Of all of the New Testament writers, John shines the brightest light on the love of God through Christ.  Love saturates his gospels, epistles, and Revelation. John’s primary identity is not disciple, apostle, or ambassador for Christ; it was “one whom Jesus loved.”  His identity was his belovedness.

Second, notice that John was reclining at Jesus’s side.  They were not sitting in chairs around a formal dining table like we might imagine.  They probably would have been lying next to a low table or sitting comfortably on the ground.  John was likely leaning against Jesus during this intimate gathering of friends. 

Jesus, help us to know and remember our belovedness and understand that we are not merely numbers in your kingdom, that we are not disappointments to you.  Help us to know that you are pleased with us and to live out of the reality that intimacy. Amen.

John 13:22

The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.-John 13:22

Jesus had just told the twelve that one of them would betray him.  There does not seem to be any indication from the text that any of them suspected Judas. They were twelve friends who had lived life together for a few years. They had no reason to be suspicious.  When Jesus announced the betrayal, they were incredulous, filled with confusion, anxiety, and anger.  They looked at one another, hoping to see the answer in the eyes of their friends.

Like the disciples, we have a hard time envisioning our friends betraying us.  We assume the best of our friends, which is a good thing.  Yet in reality, sometimes those closest to us—those we imagine to be the godliest—engage in unimaginable sins.  A beloved pastor is accused of sexual misconduct and we think “That could never be true; I know him.”  A child is accused of bullying a smaller child, and we say “My child would never do that.  He is a good kid.”  A woman whom you know to honest and good is arrested for embezzlement and you think “The police must have received false information. She’s the most honest person I know.” In reality, every one of us is capable of shocking sin and betrayal.  Wise people trust, but not uncritically.  We must be shrewd to the remaining vestiges of sin, even in those whom we hold in high esteem.

Jesus, you are our trust and hope.  We humans are fallible, broken, and sinful.  Help us to never minimize our sin, nor believe that we are somehow incapable of treason against you or others.  Help us to see others honestly yet grant us supernatural grace in the midst of trials, just as you have done with us so many times. Amen.

John 13:21

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”-John 13:21

What does it mean that Jesus was “troubled in his spirit”? I think it means that Jesus was stirred up, upset, wrestling, or visibly bothered. When we think about the characteristics of Jesus, most of us would never think to describe him as “troubled.” We imagine him as serene, peaceful, or even disengaged.  When we base our understanding of Jesus on those assumptions, we come to believe that in order to be like him, we need to be emotionless–or only allow the positive emotions–happiness, joy, contentment, or humor.  We view “negative” emotions, such as anger, fear, or sadness, as less godly.  But Jesus was troubled because he was human.

He was facing death. His friend had betrayed him to the Sanhedrin and soon, they would come to arrest him, try him, and deliver him to a brutal crucifixion.  If he wasn’t “troubled in spirit,” he would be inhuman.

It is profoundly human to feel deep sadness over loss, anger about injustice, anxiety in the face of threat, or mirth when you hear a dumb joke. If you want to learn from Jesus, do not whitewash his emotional life because if you do, you erase his humanity.

Jesus, help us to know that to be created in your image is to be emotional.  Thank you for revealing your emotional life, so that we might know that our emotions make us more like you.  Help us to be honest with our emotions so that we will become fully alive. Amen.