Skip to content

Month: March 2015

The disciple who played second fiddle


This post is adapted from my book, Losers Like Us – Redefining Discipleship After Epic Failure. Download the eBook now for only $2.99! For details, see my book page.

Question for ya: Name the three disciples in Jesus’ “inner circle.”

Answer: It’s got to be Peter, James, and John. They were close to Jesus at key moments when the others weren’t – for example, on the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Now, think fast! Who was Peter’s brother?

Did you have to think for a minute? It’s Andrew – the disciple who lived in Peter’s shadow. All of his life, he played second fiddle to his famous brother.

How many sermons or lessons have you seen or heard about Peter? How many about Andrew? In fact, every single mention of Andrew in Scripture is phrased as either “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother,” or worse, simply “Simon Peter’s brother.”

I rest my case.

Unlike Peter, who seems to be on every page, Andrew has only three main “scenes” in Scripture—bringing Peter to Jesus, bringing the boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus, and bringing some Greeks to Jesus—but in each case, he is introducing someone to Jesus.

First, Andrew is a natural evangelist, but without fanfare. He hears John the Baptist point out Jesus as “the Lamb of God”—and Scripture says, “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.” (John 1: 41-42)

Here, Andrew announces the fulfillment of all the hopes and longings of the nation of Israel, down through the centuries, in just five words: “We have found the Messiah.” Compare this delivery to Peter’s long, expressive speeches (such as in Acts 1, 2, 3, and 4) and try to imagine Peter simply stating, “We have found the Messiah.”

Go ahead, try it.

And yet in this passage, it’s because of Andrew, the second fiddle, that Peter meets Jesus.

That blows my mind. Think of Peter—all his stories, all his drama, all his antics. Then consider this: if not for Andrew’s simple introduction, Peter might never have met Jesus.

The next time Andrew appears, he is again acting as a facilitator.

Jesus notes that the crowds following him are getting very hungry (John 6:5),  and Andrew responds: ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish….’” (John 6:8-9)

Think about it—would that little boy have offered his lunch to any other disciple? As I look at the disciples’ reactions to children at other times (Matt. 19:13–14; Mark 10:13–14; Luke 18:15–16), I imagine they might have said something like, “Beat it, kid! Jesus is far too important to bother with silly suggestions from a squirt like you.” Maybe Andrew thought so too but lacked the nerve to say so. Maybe the only reason Andrew brought the boy to Jesus was because he couldn’t think of anything else to do.

What matters is, he did it. And the rest of the Scripture passage reveals the miracle that followed: the feeding of the five thousand.

Andrew’s third scene confirms that, perhaps from his experience of living in Peter’s shadow, he has shifted gracefully to dwelling in the shadow of the Savior. In this scene, a group of Greeks ask to see Jesus, and Philip and Andrew deliver the message: “Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.” (John 12:22)

This passage reports that Andrew and Philip told Jesus about the Greeks, but not what they actually said. If the Greeks had made initial contact with Peter, I’m sure Peter would have been quoted—because in Scripture, Peter is always saying something quotable; his personality is just too big to keep on the sidelines. By contrast, Andrew seems content to turn people over to Jesus and fade into the background.

True, society may celebrate people with big personalities, and the bigger the better; but to many of us, they seem out of reach. Something about their bigness makes us feel smaller.

In Scripture Andrew, the shadow-dweller, does not have that effect on people.

Andrew is not intimidating. He is safe, trustworthy, approachable. People who want to see Jesus are attracted to Andrew.

Wouldn’t it be great if the same could be said about each one of us?

Think about other shadow-dwellers who have sparked great miracles and movements in the church. For instance, who introduced Billy Graham, the best-known evangelist of the twentieth century, to Jesus? Who mentored Martin Luther, John Wesley, Dwight Moody, Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther King Jr., and scores of others in their spiritual journeys? Through research, we could find out—but they certainly aren’t household names. Like Andrew, each of them was a shadow-dweller who paved the way for someone greater.

Andrew reveals a pattern throughout Scripture and church history: somewhere behind every great spiritual leader, there is usually a spiritually sensitive shadow-dweller.

Just look at the ripple effects from Andrew’s introductions of others to Jesus:

  • Peter is presented in Acts as one of the great leaders of the church, standing up to the Jewish leaders who crucified Jesus and preaching to thousands throughout Jerusalem and Palestine (Acts 2:14–41; 4:8–17).
  • The little boy (John 6:8) becomes known throughout history as the one whose lunch miraculously fed five thousand people. We don’t know what became of him, but surely he was changed by this amazing event and went on to tell others.
  • The Greeks must have talked about Jesus to everyone they knew, especially if they were present to hear the voice that came from heaven immediately after they asked to see him (John 12:20–33).

All of these effects took place because Andrew, the shadow-dweller, stepped back and introduced others to Jesus.

LosersLikeUs1Andrew does not have Peter’s power to evangelize huge crowds (Acts 2:14-41), but he has the power to motivate Peter to get up and go meet Jesus in the first place. He has the power to make a little boy feel safe enough to offer one tiny lunch to Jesus. He has the power to welcome a group of Greeks—Gentiles—who might have been rejected by Peter (Peter had trouble with Gentiles, as seen in Acts 10 and Galatians 2).

Composer Leonard Bernstein put it this way: “I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm … now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony” [quoted in Charles R. Swindoll, Improving Your Serve (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984), 24].

This forces me, as a shadow-dweller, to rethink my place in God’s kingdom. I may not be a charismatic shadow-caster like Peter or some of my prominent friends—but maybe I do have a key part to play, after all.

This post is adapted from my book, Losers Like Us – Redefining Discipleship After Epic Failure. For details, see my book page.

Leave a Comment

Four mistakes that keep me from loving my neighbor

It’s no secret that I have felt out of place in the Portland metro area where I live. I’m a Montana boy in a big city, and after living here for 17 years, I still fight the culture shock—and the fact that despite my wish to live elsewhere, I seem to be right where God wants me.


I crave peace, quiet, and elbow room, all of which are virtually nonexistent in my densely packed neighborhood with its traffic-clogged streets. And the neighborhood is visibly deteriorating.

My inner turmoil reached critical mass recently as I walked my dogs. It’s a beautiful time of year, but I couldn’t enjoy the warm sun or budding flowers. I didn’t even notice them.

Instead, I was flooded with an overwhelming sense of disgust. It wasn’t because anyone had wronged me. It was about aesthetics.

My whole neighborhood looks like a junkyard.

I live on a small flag lot, wedged in behind some other houses, and the neighbor in front of me recently parked a decrepit old 24-foot travel trailer with covered windows in his back yard. So this eyesore now fills my view from my front porch. I think he is renting it out. I hope he’s not doing something worse.

As I passed his trailer and walked down my driveway, I noticed the neighbor across the street has followed suit with his own travel trailer—only far bigger, grimier, and uglier than the first. Again, I hope he is just renting it out, but I suspect he is doing more.

Trailer2Another neighbor has started up an auto repair shop in his home garage. And business must be really good because both sides of the street are packed with broken-down vehicles in need of a mechanic. Since my street has no sidewalk, all of the parked cars leave no place to walk except in the street itself.

Finally, I witnessed a drug deal. Unfortunately, our neighborhood is dotted with drug houses (and maybe trailers). People park, run up to a porch, and exchange cash for packets of goods. Then they get back in their cars, drive around the corner, and light up their pipes. My other neighbors have reported seeing this activity too, but it is not easy to document all the evidence required to stop it.

The longer I walked, the angrier I became. I was angry at my neighborhood and everyone in it. I could see that the whole place is going to seed, and I just wanted to get home, shut the curtains, and pretend I live someplace else.

But for now God has me here.

True, I may have legitimate concerns about the people who live around me. I could call their landlords or other authorities and report evidence that they are subletting their trailers (which, on these rental properties, I suspect is illegal), starting an auto repair business in a private garage (which, in this residential zone, almost surely is), and making drug deals (which definitely is). And I don’t think it is wrong for Christians to support what is good in our neighborhoods, and push back against the bad.

But this time, I realized after my walk, perhaps I’m called to “love my neighbor” in a different way.

As my anger cooled toward my unneighborly neighbors, I began to identify with the disciples James and John. These two “sons of thunder”— offended by some similarly unneighborly Samaritans—asked: “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Luke 9:54)  – as if they themselves actually had the power to do so. But in response to this grandiose and vengeful suggestion, the Bible says Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:55). We don’t know what he said, but I’m sure it was sharp. In their arrogance and pettiness, they completely missed Jesus’ whole message of love and grace.

Then I thought of Peter—who, when commanded in a vision from God himself to eat “unclean” animals lowered down in a sheet, boldly declared, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean (Acts 9:14).” To Peter’s haughty statement, God replied: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean (v. 15).” Similarly, God seemed to be showing me a vision, too, about how he sees people—not as clean or unclean, but as lost or found.

These scriptures are just another reminder that the big picture, the Story, is not about me and my concerns. It is about God and his.

So, with hat firmly in hand, I took some time to reflect on my response to my neighborhood, and four personal mistakes that keep me from loving my neighbor.

Mistake #1: I fail to remember that there’s no escaping the corporate effects of sin. Sin is collective; each person’s sin affects everyone else—maybe not immediately or directly, but corporately. All sin affects humanity as a whole, and no place on earth is untouched by the fallout. In a cleaner, wealthier community the specific sins might look slightly different, but they are still there. So even if I move to a different neighborhood, a different town, or a different country, I can never escape the “junkyard” created by sin. Our job is not deny or ignore the sin all around us (and inside us), but to join Jesus in healing it.

Mistake #2: I see my neighbors through a “me vs. them” lens. It’s easy for me to look down on my neighbors because what they are doing disgusts me and makes me uncomfortable. But the Lord never tolerates that attitude in his followers. He soundly corrected Peter, James and John for looking down on their neighbors—because his focus is loving one’s neighbor. In a “me vs. them” mentality, love for my neighbor is often the first thing to go.

Mistake #3: I don’t see my neighbors through God’s lens. The houses and apartments around me are filled with people whom God loves just as deeply as he loves me, and many of them are dealing with far greater challenges and far fewer opportunities than I. Am I more concerned about my own comfort than about the souls in those homes? In the entire scheme of things, the universe doesn’t revolve around me and what I judge to be disgusting. My neighbors and their problems are more important than my prim sense of aesthetics. Maybe I’m being called to remember that God seeks not to condemn all of these people, but to save them (John 3:17).

Mistake #4: I forget that even if I try to run away, the common denominator is me. Sometimes I delude myself into thinking that I “have it all together.” But the truth is, in the same way that I have felt disgusted by my neighbors, they could just as easily feel disgusted by me—because like them, I am filled with brokenness and sin which often hurts others. So some of my disgust is caused by my own sinful attitudes and responses—not theirs—because wherever I go, all of that baggage goes with me.

Jesus loved my neighbors enough to die for them. They are neither good nor bad; they are just lost. Maybe one day I will live somewhere else. But if I can’t learn to reflect Jesus right here, right now, in this time and place, it’s a good bet I won’t be able to reflect him in any other.

Leave a Comment

A perspective greater than terror

Last month we learned of a Jordanian pilot being burned alive and twenty-one Egyptian Christians being beheaded. In light of these horrors, I was flooded with anger, disgust, and heartbreak – natural responses to unspeakable acts. On top of this chaos was the painful suggestion that we shouldn’t feel such emotions, because other atrocities were committed in the name of Christ several decades or centuries ago.

christian-martyrs-todayI’m not saying old atrocities don’t matter. What I am saying is that these new atrocities are here and now, and the pain and horror are fresh and real. How is it helpful to debate historical events when we are in the middle of new terrorist slaughters day by day? Such debates will not stop the terror, nor will they help the victims that are being added with each new incident.

I think the crux of my overwhelming emotions was that I just don’t know what to do. How do I, as a follower of Jesus, respond to these terrible crises so far away—yet somehow so close? There seems to be no human solution to the violence, because violence tends to bring on more violence in our world’s economy of revenge. But on the other hand, doing nothing also seems to bring on more violence, because there is no pushback to check it.

Right after the beheadings, my daily scripture reading resonated amazingly with my feelings of frustration:

Your foes roared in the place where you met with us;
they set up their standards as signs.
They behaved like men wielding axes
to cut through a thicket of trees.
They smashed all the carved paneling
with their axes and hatchets.
They burned your sanctuary to the ground;
they defiled the dwelling place of your Name.
They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!”
They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land.
We are given no miraculous signs;
no prophets are left,
and none of us knows how long this will be.
How long will the enemy mock you, O God?
Will the foe revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!
(Psalm 74:4-11)

This psalm was likely written in the context of the destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar around 586 B.C. The author’s horror and confusion echo my own. Mass murder and brutality rage all around him, and God seems to be doing nothing about it.

TOPSHOTS-EGYPT-LIBYA-UNREST-CHRISTIANS-ISThe psalmist and I agree: Surely God sees the senseless violence; surely he could fix the problem. Together, we beg for divine intervention: Why doesn’t God stop the evil? Why doesn’t he unleash hellfire and brimstone in swift, sure judgment on this wicked world? (As I wish for this, I forget of course that if he did so, I myself would also be included in the judgment.)

Quite frankly, that was the direction my heart wanted to go. As in Revelation 19, I wanted to see Jesus, the Lord of Lords, galloping in with eyes of fire to confront the killers. I wanted justice—fast and brutal—poured down on the murderers of those twenty-one brothers in Christ, the Jordanian pilot, and the scores of other men, women, and children slaughtered in the name of a hijacked religion.

However, the psalmist’s next thought was so striking that it set me back on my heels:

But you, O God, are my king from of old;
you bring salvation upon the earth. (v. 12)

In the next verses (13-17), the writer goes on to praise God for his absolute sovereignty over the seas, the beasts, the rivers, the heavens, and the seasons.

In this psalm, there is no transition at all between challenging the inaction of God and praising that very same God. It seems an odd juxtaposition. On top of the old question of why God holds back judgment, I now have new questions: Why doesn’t the psalmist continue to hold God’s feet to the fire, so to speak? Why change direction and start praising God instead?

As verse 12 so eloquently reveals, for all of these questions the answer is the same: although God is a God of judgment, he is also a God of salvation. His highest purpose is to bring salvation to every corner of the whole earth.

In my anger and helplessness, I am forced to widen my scope.

Once again, I think of those twenty-one brothers in Jesus, kneeling on the beach, preparing to have their throats slit and their blood flow into the water. They are not victims; they are martyrs—a word which means “witnesses”—bearing witness to the Savior of this dark world. In the video of their executions, their last words were declarations that Jesus is Lord.

blood of martyrsJesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). There was far more courage in those Christ-followers facing death with Jesus’ name on their lips, than in those who stood over them holding the knives. Is it naïve—or even offensive—to think that this scene, horrific as it was, may be less about Allah’s vengeance than about God’s salvation?

Like the psalmist’s, my focus is taking a sharp, unexpected turn. Though the questions and confusion are real, we must lift up Jesus—like those twenty-one witnesses now in his arms—and pray for the Middle East to be flooded with something new: not horror and heartbreak, but salvation.

[amazon asin=B00CEJLKCW&template=thumbnail]


Leave a Comment