New Course

It’s possible to change,

Re-think and re-arrange.

Many say that it is not,

But I think they’re a rotten lot,

Scared to finally admit

That no excuses can permit

Our bland refusal to make new

Our Souls, our Selves; So just a few

Brave persons risk the glance within,

Acknowledging whatever sin

Has led them to this place of thought,

And all the baggage they have brought.

One by one, the steps increase,

Few by few, their errors cease.

Repentance is a spiraled track,

With some steps forward, others back.

As long as one is on the move,

I think that Christ indeed approves.

So do not listen when they say,

“You’ll never outrun yesterday.”

Leave others to their judgments cold,

And strike a new course, scared but bold.

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Finding Hope In Judas

The Gospel of Matthew has long been my favorite. Mostly, I love the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7. I also dig the promise of God’s presence with us that bookends the entire narrative (1:23, 28:20).

Another plus for me, though, is the fact that Judas gets a fair shake. I know, I shouldn’t care because this is the guy that betrayed Jesus. Hang with me, though. It’s worth it.

In Matthew 27, Jesus has been betrayed and is about to be condemned by Pilate and the people (acting as puppets on behalf of the religious authorities). Before all of this, though, Judas makes one last appearance.

We are told that “he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders” (27:3, NRSV). Further, he openly admits that he “sinned by betraying innocent blood” (27:4). The response by those who were supposed to be his religious leaders, his pastors in a way, is cold and unconcerned.

What is that to us? See to it yourself.”

That is the actual, screwed up quote from 27:4. After this, with no hope in sight, Judas flees the temple and hangs himself. In the words of the chorus in Jesus Christ Superstar, “So long Judas. Poor, old Judas” (PLEASE watch this somewhat corny scene. It is disturbingly moving).

Judas repents. Do we really get that? The man REPENTS. He realizes his sin and tries to fix it, only to be partnered with Christ as a victim of the authorities.

It’s true that Luke and John (especially John) smear Judas pretty badly. He doesn’t repent in any other Gospel. That doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t take this seriously.

Have you ever royally screwed up? Yes, you have. I have, too. We all have.

I am also willing to bet that all of us have tried to make up for our failings, only to be disappointed by the results. Like Judas, we know what it is to feel trapped by seemingly hopeless and irreparable circumstances. Often we fall deeper into our destructive spirals, fulfilling what appears to be the end of his story.

I want to propose we try something different, though. Remember how Jesus and Judas are both victims of corrupt authority? Well Jesus doesn’t stay that way. In fact, He defeats the deathly powers wielded by the Empire. He rises again, assuring those who repent of their sin and believe in Him that they will share in eternal life.

So if Judas repented and recognized Jesus as innocent, meaning He was who He said He was, perhaps the story of the traitor ends differently. I believe there is a chance Judas is at peace, reconciled to God. I also believe our stories can end this way.

Instead of continuing down the path of destruction, acting as though we are unworthy of anything good until we meet a miserable end, how about we repent? Why not turn around and realize that just as there is hope for the one who betrayed God in the Flesh, there is also hope for you and I! Our story is not over until we are gone from here, and even then, we need to remember Jesus’ resurrection promise.

As long as breath remains in our lungs, we can make a different choice and take a different path. I don’t know where you are in life or what spiral you feel trapped in, but I do know this: there is hope for you, just as I now know there is hope for me.

In Christ, even the darkest and most dismal circumstamces can be turned into occasions for repentance and positive transformation. A betrayer can become an advocate, a sinner can become a saint, and the lost can be found. No matter where you are in your life’s journey, I hope you will join me in learning from poor Judas. After all, the story may not end how we think.

Peace be with you!

When “Cool Off” is the Worst Advice

And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. — Matthew 24:11-13, NRSV

There are times when we need to “cool off.” Maybe there is an ongoing argument on Facebook, and we are one comment away from hurling our laptop across the room. Sometimes family gatherings get a little too heated, especially when groups of people try to talk politics or religion at each other rather than with one another. Often times our closest relationships have moments wherein we need to walk away, and that’s okay. In many instances, it’s wise to follow Nadeen’s advice and “Simma Down Na!”

Boy, I bet I just dated myself. Follow the link so you can at least get caught up… You back? Alright, good.

Now, believe it or not, cooling down isn’t always the answer. Take a look at Jesus’ words above, taken from Matthew 24. In a conversation about the end times and the impending conquest of Jerusalem, Jesus warns the disciples of upcoming persecutions because of which “many will fall away” (24:10). Obviously, when the alternative is being drawn and quartered, apostasy can (and did) become an enticing option. Jesus warns that though “the love of many will grow cold… the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Discipleship is not an area in which we should be losing steam.

While Jesus aims this exhortation at disciples facing the choice to embrace or abandon their faith, I would like to both emphasize and expand upon that specific teaching. Of course, as Christians it is vital that our faith not “cool off.” When we first embrace the faith, we are full of fire and emotional fuel that pushes us to get involved and pursue the life of a follower of Christ. The problem is that discipleship isn’t always convenient, and it can even be “at odds” with our preferences and prejudices. As time passes, we lose the fire for God that initially moved us, abandoning the love we had at first (see Revelation 2:1-7).

Beyond our belief and religious zeal, I believe there are other disastrous implications for “cooling off” in particular situations. Jesus says our love will grow cold “because of the increase of lawlessness,” and He was certainly right. As we keep up with world events, engage is public discourse, and experience all the world has to offer, it’s clear that the lawlessness and negativity that is so prominent is taking a major toll on our ability to act with compassion and love toward one another.

It makes sense that in the face of overwhelming evil our impulse is to turn inward. In short, we simply stop caring about particular things or people. This is a way of protecting the self, and is totally understandable. It is also the worst thing we could possibly do. When we turn away from the needs and suffering of others in pursuit of our own highly restricted reality, we depart from the path of discipleship and humanity. In short, we contribute to the fallen nature of the world around us.

The solution presented to us by Jesus and the prophets is to repent and endure. We should remember that the evils of the world do not have the final word with God. With that understood, those same evils should not be allowed to ice-down the passion and love we are expected to bring to the world. While it is certainly difficult to endure the many inevitable wounds being dealt to our hearts, the end result will be worth it when we look back at our lives and see what God is able to do with our perseverance.

It is clear to me that Jesus’ advice is more fitting than ever. Love is what keeps the Gospel in circulation. Love provides substantive hope, which is what we most need in these uncertain times. We cannot allow the darkness of the world to overshadow us, and we cannot allow our hearts to grow cold in the face of adversity. Instead, we should repent, recover our sense of compassion, and stay that course at all costs. Let’s love even our enemies as we want to be loved. Let’s share with the poor and the outcast as we would want others to share with us. In short, let’s live as though Heaven were already here. If we do these things, doors will open, light will pierce the darkness, and bit by bit we will make our way toward a better future.

Peace be with you!