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Month: March 2023

Navigating a national tragedy through kingdom eyes

It is a twisted world we live in when, during the unfolding of a horrible, tragic event, the first response many of us have is not horror at the events unfolding before us, but dread of the asinine rhetoric that is about to erupt.

I followed closely the unfolding events at Covenant School in Nashville when a transgender woman shot and killed six people—three adults and three nine-year-old children. I am a teacher in a Christian school. This tragedy hit close to home. Like most hearing the story, it sucked the air right out of me.

Sadly, and all too frequently, we no longer have time to process the tragedy, to grieve, to be angry at the evil in the world.

The narrative became political almost immediately. Within hours, it was no longer about the victims.

This is nothing new. I have come to expect it even though it continues to break my heart to see how fast the victims get thrown aside.

I braced myself for the typical responses: We don’t want your thoughts and prayers. Your prayers don’t work. Guns are the problem and they must be banned. If you don’t agree, you’re a member of an NRA gun cult who enjoys killing children.

I usually just try to avoid social media for a week or so until the next big thing pulls America’s short attention span to something else.

What I wasn’t expecting, however, was the contortions our leaders and media went through in twisting of the narrative to make the shooter the victim.

This came not from the media, but directly from the highest levels of government.

On Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre actually stated during a press conference, “It is shameful, it is disturbing, and our hearts go out to the trans community as they are under attack right now.”

Wait. What?

She actually said that.

And she said it with a straight face.

Now I got angry.

How can people harbor so much hatred toward a group of people strictly because of their beliefs, that they can’t put their ideologies aside in order to mourn with fellow humans? I don’t think anyone in the White House used the term “Christian” once in regard to the attacks.

I usually chuckle at irony of watching those who think Christians are hateful and judgmental display their own hate to a seething degree.

This time, I wasn’t enjoying the irony.

Does Jean-Pierre know it wasn’t a nine-year-old Christian child shooting trans people, right? I am fairly certain that this was one of dumbest, most inappropriate statements to come out of the White House. Even considering comments from the previous occupant.

In 2016, following the tragedy of the Orlando nightclub shooting, Evangelical theologian Albert Mohler tweeted, “The Bible honors weeping with those who weep. A lot of out LGBT neighbors & their families are weeping now. Christians must weep with them.” Then-Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren released a statement, “Heartbroken by what happened in Orlando. Join me today in praying for the families and victims of this tragedy.”

Yet the White House—the very symbol of a united states—couldn’t release anything close to that without bringing up politics or twisting the narrative?

How have we sunk so low?


…Take a deep breath…

I literally just noticed how much of my anger seeped into the previous paragraphs.

I started to edit out my own animosity in order to emulate a calmer persona.   I realized I likely alienated half the country, convincing no one. Further, I have been likely shoved into the category of right-wing gun nut. Or perhaps transphobic.

I have become used to the endless ad hominem attacks in response to my beliefs. I don’t enjoy them, but I come to expect them.

Nevertheless, I chose to not edit out my rant above. This was deliberate. Why?

As I realized the direction I was going in this essay, I had a little bit of an epiphany.

I realized I am not above the frenzy. I am not a cooler head. I wanted to write a piece about a kingdom response to a tragedy, trying to stand above the idiocy, and I wound up joining it.

My fallen heart took over and the rant began.

I am just as susceptible. I realized how quickly my anger took over.

I struggled deeply with this bizarre response. It only added to the pain.

All week, I have been reacting to news with rage and sarcasm. I couldn’t count the number of times I angrily posted something on social media responding to some perceived idiotic statement only to take it down seconds later.

Even though I believed I was not wrong, the question gnawed at me that this wasn’t the appropriate kingdom response.

The kingdom of God is not about being right. As Jesus stood trial, he could have spoken out. If anyone was in the right, it was him. All he needed to do was say something—correct the frenzied misconceptions and bogus charges against him–drop the mic and walk away.

But he didn’t.


Because there was something greater he was accomplishing than merely being right.

The kingdom is not about guns, gun control, mental illness, untwisting bizarre narratives, transphobia, calls to action, and political mic-drops. None of that will work. At best, it is a tiny band-aid on a severed jugular vein.

So, what is the greater objective than being right?

The kingdom is about proclaiming Jesus has come to correct a millennia-old problem—sin.

The kingdom is about unreciprocated love. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Easy enough. But he takes it a step further: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

Though my anger continues to flare up, those words would not stop ringing in my ears. My head—even my heart—knows they are true.

As I re-read Jesus’s commands, I could still feel the anger welling up inside of me: I just wish Christians on the other side of this debate would get off their high horses and do the same thing.

But that’s between them and God. I am not a part of that equation.

I should just focus on Jesus helping me navigate the darkness and chaos.

Next week is the Passion Week culminating in the hateful murder of the Savior of the world.

The love shown on the cross is unconditional and has nothing—nothing—to do with anyone’s definition of who is us and them. That love does not expect anything in return. There isn’t a political stance that could achieve that level of justice.

We must cling to that love, reflect it the best we can—especially in the face of suffering—and rely on God’s grace when we fail.

Your kingdom come, Lord. Your will be done.

My heart is broken over the events at Covenant School in Nashville this last week.

But so is his.

Over those twelve innocent lives lost. Over the trans killer. Over the hatred we all spread against each other while trying to score political points.

Jesus the resurrected Savior is the only answer.

Instead of stating my opinion, I have to understand how I can show the world the answer without engaging in the chaos.

As a member of the Kingdom of God, that needs to be my only objective.

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Do Christians think Easter is still a big deal?

As I strolled down the seasonal aisle during my weekly grocery run, I stopped at the chocolate Easter bunnies, debating within the solid versus hollow bunny controversy.

Then something caught my eye.

Right next to the Easter bunnies, displayed in full glory, stood a chocolate cross.

This gave me pause.

I wasn’t sure what to think.

On one hand, I wanted to appreciate the acknowledgment of the spiritual aspect of Easter. On the other, I was unsettled by the thought of going into a diabetic coma after eating a chocolate molding of an ancient means of slow execution.

I actually don’t fault secular companies for trying to tap into a particular market. They don’t know the meaning of that symbol. They just see it perched on the top of a building or hung around a person’s neck and think: maybe they’ll buy this.

I mention the chocolate cross because it made me think of something else regarding the Christ-follower’s relationship to Easter.

Or more accurately, to Resurrection Sunday.

It seems that a lot—perhaps too many—of us Christians in America have a “been-there, done-that, got the tee-shirt.” At some point in our lives, we went forward, understood Jesus saved them from our sins, prayed the prayer, and moved forward with our lives.

We identify as Christians, often boldly so. We go to church on Sundays, tithe regularly, read the Bible sometimes, pray regularly, and “do for the least of these.”

Please don’t get me wrong: those are extremely important spiritual disciplines.

But often I feel like our passion—our fire—is missing. Do we really get excited about the Gospel did for us?

In a couple of weeks, while the rest of the world is celebrating Spring by mythical bunnies hiding colored eggs (and atheists think Christianity doesn’t make sense?!) and eating large portions of ham and scalloped potatoes, followers of Jesus will recognize the cross and resurrection of the Savior.

We prepare for it:

Invite family—check. Prepare our dinner—check. Don our Easter best—check. Go to church to give Jesus a “Yay, Jesus” for raising from the dead—check. Eat dinner—check.

Go to work on Monday.

But do we really get excited about Easter? Do we truly celebrate it? Does the anticipation light a fire in us—now, not just on Easter Sunday? Do we truly understand what Jesus did for us on that rugged cross? Or the power behind the empty tomb?

Or is it like the chocolate cross, where we acknowledge it, consume it, and move on with our lives?

Think about what those words “it is finished” mean. For the universe, for all the earth, for you and me.

When we read of the death of Jesus, we blow right over an obscure, yet very relevant detail:

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. (Matthew 27:51-52)

Have you ever considered this? Upon the death of Jesus, the curtain in the temple, separating the whole world from God was torn in two.

The curtain mentioned separated the Most Holy Place from the rest on the world. Inside the Most Holy Place was the room that held the Ark of the Covenant. In this room was the presence of God in his holiness. Only one person—the high priest—was allowed into the Most Holy Place only once a year during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to sprinkle blood onto the altar.

The priest’s ritual was extremely rigid. A rope would be tied around the priest’s waist, because if he failed to follow the precise instructions, he would fall dead. If the rope slackened, others would have to pull out the body because no one else could go in to retrieve it.

Keep in mind, this rigidity wasn’t about God waiting for someone to screw up so he could zap them.

Instead, it had to do with unholiness (which humanity has become since Genesis 3) entering into holiness. The two cannot coexist, just like darkness is unable to coexist with light.

The latter will always overpower.

The pure holiness of God cannot coexist with a fallen humanity.

Thus, the separation.

This is the curtain that was torn in two. With the cross, God made a way to allow us into the presence of his holiness.

And to make sure humanity remembers that it is his, not our doing, Matthew noted that the curtain tore in two from the top down.

From heaven to earth.

Isn’t that a big deal? Isn’t that something worth celebrating and getting excited about?

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the very foundation of our faith. The entire Old Testament points to this moment. Forty days after the resurrection, the once-cowering disciples boldly preached Christ in the very city in which Jesus died. The same high priests and the same Roman guards were still present.

After hearing Peter preaching the resurrected Jesus, all they needed to do was go to the tomb and produce the body and Christianity is chopped off at the ankles. Even Paul himself writes: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14)

Shouldn’t we celebrate that magnificent event? Not just with the obligatory Easter Sunday service but more like the recent Asbury University revival—twenty-four hours a day, non-stop.

Like Christmas, Easter should be celebrated leading into the day, on the day itself, and well into the rest of the year.

Be hungry.

Not just for a chocolate cross.

But for one who overcame death.

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Fifteen years later – a new perspective of when my life imploded

It’s been just over fifteen years since my life imploded, sending me into an unexpected and dark trajectory.

Fifteen years.

February 17, 2008, in the British Midlands, I walked out of an academic office after an hour of two examiners thrashing my thesis to a pulp.

My supervisor was confident of success. After all, of his 150 previous postgraduates that he supervised, only one had been rejected.

I was number two.

I so vividly remember the numbness and fog walking off that campus for the last time.

My wife had been planning a big celebration the day after I returned home. I remember the pain of calling my —the middle of the night back home—to tell her it didn’t go well.

So much time wasted—years, money, effort—up in smoke.

I haven’t looked at my thesis since. Honestly, I don’t even know where it currently is. Perhaps it didn’t make it with our move from Oregon to Montana, so it very could be rotting in a dump somewhere.

The ultimate objective of a postgraduate degree is to show the world that you are the expert in your respective field of study.

My dream was to settle into a comfy college setting and travel the world, armed with my expertise, and teach.

That dream couldn’t have suffered a more painful death.

The fall from potential academic to loser is a hard fall.

It sent me into arguably the darkest time in my life, a darkness that would last nearly ten years.

This darkness fluctuated between two grievances: why would God provide everything to lead me to pursue this degree in England only to rip it away? And how could God pull such a cruel bait-and-switch?

Many walk away from God as a result of these questions.

Thankfully, I never did.

I honestly thought I would not receive an answer this side of heaven. I will just have to live with this failure as I coast to the grave.

Now, fast-forward fifteen years.

A decade and a half.

From the perspective of time, can I see why God sent me on such a painful trajectory?
Strangely enough, I think I am beginning to see.

Ironically, I spent seven years right after that fall teaching in a college as an adjunct professor—a fun and wonderful experience.

But that’s not the reason.

Likewise, my book Losers Like Us was published by David C. Cook in 2014. Instead of an academic thesis sitting on a remote shelf in an the dusty basement of an academic library never to be seen again, I wrote a book that has sold thousands of copies, which might not be a big deal against best-selling authors, but to an obscure nobody, I’ll take it.

However, I don’t think that is the reason either.

Instead, I am beginning to see that God might have actually saved me from a life in post-secondary academia.

Over the last ten years, public education has been a dumpster fire.

Colleges have seen a dramatic decline in enrollment in the last several years. And, in an incredible lack of self-awareness, experts insist the decline had to do with Covid or the ridiculously high cost of getting a degree that often has no value.

Perhaps that has something to do with it. However, I am willing to bet the pathological sanitizing of and indoctrination in education is more likely the culprit.

It is more likely that parents and high school grades are seeing a higher education is worthless. Colleges have become bastions of lower standards at a higher costs.

These institutions no longer teach critical thinking, but rather indoctrination and Orwellian language games, such as using preferred pronouns or calling women birthing persons. The DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) administrator seems to have become the most powerful person on campus, requiring diversity seminars and even promoting punishments outcomes that could cost an individual his or her career. In addition, the standards for college admission have falling to the level of the mere detection of a pulse.

More and more, I realized that I would never want to be a part of that. I more than likely wouldn’t last a semester in academia. I would be crushed before my career began. I couldn’t or wouldn’t play the game required of me, where the goal-posts are moved, the rules are changed by the players, and justice is arbitrary and without due process. It’s not in me.

Currently, I am finishing my fifth year as a high school teacher at a Christian school in Montana’s capital city. I am surrounded by a wonderful community of faculty and administrators. I absolutely love the people I work with. Further, I live in a peaceful, rural neighborhood on a dirt road. People aren’t as stressed as they are in the big city.

Even during the most stressful times typical of education and life, I feel content.

I truly don’t think I would have what I currently have were it not for God tearing a Ph. D away from me.

This realization doesn’t answer all the questions about the events fifteen years ago, such as why he sent me to England to pursue the degree in the first place.

But I feel God has given me the best of both worlds: I get to teach which I was created to do, yet he also saved me from working in higher education which would have led me to burnout.

Of course, I am completely aware that there are Christ-followers who are called to and can navigate the academic clown show and be quite successful. God bless them. I pray for them always.

I, however, realized I am not one of them.

God knew that in 2008.

It was I who had to come to that conclusion in 2023.


Betraying Jesus

An excerpt from the chapter “The Betrayer” from my book Losers Like Us

Was Judas Iscariot predetermined to betray Jesus? Was he placed on this earth solely for the purpose of selling Jesus out? After all, as the syllogism goes: Jesus is God; God is omniscient; therefore Jesus is omniscient. At some point, Jesus had to know that Judas would betray him, so it appears safe to assume that Judas lived only to betray the Messiah and, if so, that he also stood beyond redemption.

But that doesn’t ring true either. It seems to fly in the face of God’s character and of Jesus’s mission. Although I have no qualifications to judge such things, this smacks of injustice to me.

Another difficult question is, why did Judas do what he did? Was it his inescapable fate? Scripture says he did it because “Satan entered into him” (John 13:27). Similarly, Jesus at one point said directly to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matt. 16:23). If both Judas and Peter experienced being taken over by Satan, then why did Peter go on to become a powerful follower of Christ, while Judas went on (as is traditionally assumed) to eternal damnation?

Why did Judas betray Jesus? Was it jealousy? Judas was not part of Jesus’s inner circle, made up of Peter, James, and John. Perhaps he thought he should be.

Did he just not connect with the others? Judas was from Kerioth in Judah; he was the only disciple who was not a Galilean. Perhaps he felt subtly excluded or persecuted. Perhaps three years of feeling like an outsider was enough to provoke him.

Did he betray Jesus because of his own guilt? Scripture says that Judas, as treasurer, was stealing from the ministry (John 12:4–6). Guilty people often act defensively and heap blame on innocent bystanders to deflect attention away from their own wrongdoing.

Or maybe, like the other disciples, he truly believed Jesus was the Messiah and just couldn’t understand why Jesus wasn’t setting up his earthly kingdom. Maybe he called in the authorities to force Jesus to “make his move,” either in the garden (perhaps with some supernatural display of power) or in open court.

Scripture says:

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matt. 27:3–5)

The strong implication is that Judas was truly shocked by Jesus’s sentencing. I think Judas expected that Jesus would somehow rise up and vanquish his accusers, rather than receive a death sentence that, for reasons unknown, he chose not to fight.

This possibility is not so far-fetched. Simon the Zealot probably had similar hopes of revolution in following Jesus, and even Peter used swordplay to fight Jesus’s enemies (John 18:10). Maybe, like virtually all Jews at that time, Judas fully expected that the Messiah would lead a revolution and was just trying to help it along.

Judas’s true motivation for betraying Jesus is a mystery known only to Judas and to God. At any rate, when Jesus is condemned, Judas is “seized with remorse” and kills himself. And with remorse like that, surely there is hope for repentance.

Isn’t there?

For some, it’s a very tricky issue.

Maybe this is why we prefer the simplistic, one-dimensional interpretation of Judas: it’s just easier. Digging deeper opens a tangle of theological questions that can polarize the body of Christ. And while this chapter might seem to be doing just that, it is not my intention. Instead, my purpose is to reflect on the life of Judas Iscariot, chosen personally by Jesus to be his disciple.

It is strange to think of Judas as a disciple when he is seen solely as Jesus’s betrayer. The gospel writers seldom mention Judas outside of his betrayal and never mention anything positive that Judas might have done.

In a way, this makes sense: the gospel story centers on Jesus. The gospel writers couldn’t possibly include everything that happened in those three years, so they focused on what mattered concerning Jesus. And what mattered concerning him with Judas was that Judas betrayed him.

But what else do we know of their relationship during the rest of Jesus’s ministry on earth? Was it a purely professional relationship, with Jesus needing Judas strictly for his leadership abilities and accounting skills as treasurer for the disciples, or for some other assets not named in Scripture?

I don’t think so. I can’t imagine Jesus limiting his interaction with Judas to financial reports given during occasional business meetings.

Remember that Judas—and I can’t repeat this enough—received a personal call from Jesus to join the disciples. When Judas first answered that call, he was not a traitor. He traveled with Jesus and observed Jesus’s ministry. He watched Jesus heal cripples, cure lepers, subdue demons, and even overcome death. He saw Jesus calm a violent storm. He saw thousands flock to Jesus, and he helped distribute a miraculous meal to them from one small boy’s lunch. He walked with Jesus for three years, talked and laughed with him, prayed with him, and listened to him teach. Even after Judas conspired with the religious leaders to betray Jesus, he sat with the disciples at the Last Supper as Jesus washed their feet in a silent act of service. He was just as much a recipient of grace as Peter, James, and the rest.

And I believe he was just as much a friend to Jesus as they. I believe that Judas and Jesus loved each other. After all, the Gospels say that Judas betrayed Christ—not sabotaged or tricked him, but betrayed him. Betrayal is unexpected treachery from a trusted friend. That is what makes it so painful: it is committed by someone close to you, someone into whom you have poured your heart, your life, your love.

In the movie Braveheart, the story of Scottish hero William Wallace, Wallace finds his army being slaughtered by the English. Frantically, he signals his reinforcements to come help him, but instead they desert the battlefield before his eyes. In desperation, he breaks away, commandeers a horse, and gives chase to the king of England.

But a knight cuts him off.

Wallace, knife in hand, overpowers the knight and rips off his helmet.

It is Robert the Bruce, Wallace’s close associate and fellow freedom fighter. He has turned against Wallace to support the English.

At the moment Wallace realizes that he has been betrayed, the light drains from his eyes.

He rolls back on his haunches and lies down as if to die.

The king’s guards quickly surround and arrest Wallace, who offers no resistance. The fight, the passion is gone.

This is betrayal. This is what Jesus experienced. Unlike Wallace, he never gave up, because he knew how the story would end; but even knowing that could not lessen the pain of betrayal.

Did Jesus know in advance that Judas would betray him? He certainly knew at the Last Supper because in Scripture, when the disciples ask who will betray him, Jesus says it is the one to whom he gives the bread and then gives it to Judas (John 13:21–26).

Yet at the same time, several factors here indicate that Jesus is reaching out, encouraging Judas to turn from his treacherous plan and be restored.

First, tradition says that during the Last Supper, Jesus, acting as host, seated Judas at his right—a place reserved for the guest of honor. It may be only tradition, but tradition often is based on ancient knowledge that has since been lost to us.

Second, during the Last Supper, Jesus performs an extremely intimate act of love and service by washing the feet of his disciples (vv. 3–5). Scripture says that all of the disciples were together at this time, so Jesus must have washed Judas’s feet too.

Third, though Jesus announces openly to all the disciples that he will be betrayed, the subsequent dialogue between Peter, John, and Jesus appears to be more private:

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. (vv. 21–30)

Scripture does not reveal whether the other disciples heard Jesus say that he would give the bread to his betrayer. However, I believe they did not. The reason I believe this is that John, reclining against Jesus, asked his question in an intimate way, and I believe Jesus answered it intimately as well. It is possible that only the disciples nearest Jesus, such as Peter and John, heard Jesus’s remark. I believe Jesus kept this conversation semiprivate, so as not to alienate Judas from the group. Remember, Peter betrayed Jesus not once, but three times—yet he was restored. If Judas were to turn back to Jesus later, as Peter did, then Judas would need the other disciples for healing, forgiveness, and accountability.

Fourth, in the midst of Judas’s betrayal in the garden, right after the fatal kiss that told the Romans whom to arrest, Jesus says to Judas, “Do what you came for, friend” (Matt. 26:50). Jesus calls Judas “friend.” I am certain this was not a sarcastic dig to exacerbate Judas’s guilt, but rather a tiny glimpse into Jesus’s immense love and grace for Judas, even in mid-betrayal.

Thus, in these examples—inviting Judas to the place of honor at the table, washing Judas’s feet, keeping the revelation of Judas’s betrayal semiprivate, and addressing Judas as “friend”—Jesus is showing grace to the one who has already sold him out.

I wonder what kind of eye contact might have occurred between Jesus and Judas that night, as Jesus washed Judas’s feet, handed him the Passover bread, and received his treacherous kiss. Did Jesus extend a look of grace, communicating that the Son of Man had come to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10)? Did Judas look away in shame?

I hope so. He handed over my Savior to be tortured and killed, so I hope he suffered crushing regret. And according to Scripture, he did. That’s why he went out to an empty field and committed suicide.

Sometimes I feel a macabre pleasure in imagining Judas’s worthless carcass rotting in a lonely place. But then I think, how many times have I, like Judas, greeted Jesus with a symbolic kiss of betrayal? How many times have I betrayed my Savior?

Well, that’s just silly: of course I’ve never betrayed Jesus.

Then again, I’ve never been in a position where I was tempted to do so. I think once in grade school I got cold feet and denied being a Christian. Except for that, I have lived pretty openly about my relationship with Jesus. Acknowledging Christ in public has never been a matter that could possibly end my life, as it was for the disciples that night.

And yet …

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds his listeners that the law of Moses says don’t murder. Now most people, throughout history, have had little trouble obeying that law. I can honestly proclaim (rather proudly, too) that I have never killed anyone. Ever.

But then Jesus closes the trap: If anyone is angry with another in his heart, he is guilty of murder. And if anyone thinks lustful thoughts, he is guilty of adultery (Matt. 5:22, 28).

This teaching blurs the line between murder and not-murder, or adultery and not-adultery.

Or betrayal and not-betrayal.

So, if you do x in your heart, you have betrayed Christ. But what is x?

It might be different things to different people. Though I am totally open about my Christian faith, I realize that there are times when I still betray Jesus.

If I keep others from seeing Jesus in me by not being Jesus to them, isn’t that a form of betrayal? Yes. I betray Jesus when I refuse to show him to others, when I avoid loving the “least of these” (Matt. 25:44–45), when I fail to pick up my cross and follow him (Luke 14:27). Therefore I am just as treacherous as Judas Iscariot.

I think we all are.

Judas did not commit the unpardonable sin, and he was not the only betrayer. Peter openly denied Christ three times, and the remaining disciples—all but John—abandoned Christ during his trial and hid while the brutal sentence was carried out. They all deserted him when he needed them most.

This too is betrayal.

So why single Judas out as the villain? Is it because his actions, unlike theirs, led to Jesus’s death? Or is it because Judas killed himself before the resurrection—before Jesus could physically say, “I forgive you” and restore him to fellowship?

Does Judas’s suicide disqualify him from redemption?

Does this mean there are limits to God’s grace?

Asking such questions, instead of merely accepting the one-dimensional view of Judas, may stir up controversies, disrupt doctrines, and tear dogma to shreds.

It’s easier to accept the “passion play” Judas and make Judas the unequivocal bad guy. Problem solved.

But the standard passion play scenarios, in replacing Jesus’s true archenemy (Satan) with a human substitute, inadvertently create an impassible chasm between the sin of betrayal, which we all commit to some degree, and the saving grace of Jesus. And if Scripture truly shows Judas as an irredeemable villain, lost beyond hope, then I am beyond hope as well. I desperately need to know that God’s grace is greater than all my sin—even if I, like Judas, die at the wrong time, before God has a chance to extend it properly.

I guess I am tipping my hand here by giving Judas the benefit of the doubt. I would like to think that I will see him in heaven, restored by Jesus and reconciled to the other disciples.

Perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part, and I can already hear the theological debaters spooling up to launch their standard arguments.

However, such debate misses my point.

The ugliness and severity of Judas’s act only forces us to ask: Do we truly believe that God’s grace is deeper even than this? Do we truly believe that forgiveness is available to all sinners who earnestly desire it? Do we truly believe the gospel?

The other disciples, betrayers all, apparently regretted their sins, found forgiveness, and were restored.

Judging from his suicide, Judas apparently regretted his sin as well. Was he forgiven and restored also?

We don’t know that he was.

But we don’t know that he wasn’t, either.

I can’t reflect on Judas without also reflecting on the power of grace. Grace and Judas are inseparably intertwined in my mind.

Strange as it sounds, only after writing about Judas did I realize just how much I needed him.

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