The 13th Apostle?


One of the most profound theological truths can be found in the lyrics of a Rolling Stone song- “You can’t always get what you want.” This has been true so many times in my life, a fact which came to mind in Bible Study this week.

Matthew 10 begins with Jesus calling his 12 disciples to himself. The exact manner of dispensation is not described but Jesus “gave them authority over unclean spirits… to heal every disease and every affliction.” How incredible that must have been, how exhilarating and how exciting for these men. For these twelve men.

What if you were number 13?

There were many more than 12 people following Jesus. I am sure that at least one of them was dedicated, devoted and still over looked. Even worse, one of the 12 chosen was a traitor who betrayed the savior to his enemies! The other eleven were not exactly a Who’s Who in Israel. Fishermen and tax collectors were among their number. And yet these were the ones Jesus picked.

And this is how it works. God picks the people He wants for his own reasons, to accomplish His will in His way and in His timing. Sometimes His plans include us and sometimes they don’t. Either way, He seldom explains himself to us, and often hides his plans.

Either way our job remains the same. To be faithful where we are, regardless of where that is, and without concern for how or who else he has chosen.


Thanks for reading. I post thoughts arising from my Bible Study group midweek, and non religious posts on weekends. If you want to receive all posts in your inbox, click on the button to subscribe to the blog.

The Dangers of Identity


The 58 year-old woman knows something is wrong with her body, has known since the age of 4. The Cambridge graduate believes both of her legs do not belong to her and dreams of being paralysed from the waist down. Her belief is so strong that she has searched for physicians who would be willing to severe her nerves so she can fulfill her dream of becoming her true disabled self.

There are others like her, able bodied people who feel as if they are living a lie. Psychiatrist Michael First has identified dozens of people who feel the same way. One, Michael Comer, says he has “rejected” his left leg since the age of 6. His feeling that his healthy leg should not be there is so intense that he eventually dropped a concrete block on his leg in the hope that he could damage it to the point where amputation was required. To his great disappointment doctors were able to save the leg.

While the number of healthy people who “identify” as disabled is not great, they have gotten attention to the point where there is a push to recognize the disorder as a legitimate medical condition. The term “Body Integrity Identity Disorder” has as a result entered the medical lexicon. Unsurprisingly, there is now debate in the medical community as to how to respond to these people. Should their “identity” be honored? Or should they be treated as mentally ill? How should doctors respond? If it is a valid medical condition, is it medically ethical to remove a perfectly healthy limb because a patient feels it doesn’t belong?

According to one author in the Journal of Medical Ethics, the answer is a resounding “yes.” In the abstract for his article on the issue Anahita Dua states, " a discourse on how the accepted notion of harm does not apply to apotemnophilia (BIID) is developed to justify the position that amputation is indeed medically the ethical choice”

This is the place we have reached in our society. A person’s feelings are now the most important factor in identity, and these feelings must be recognized by society, no matter how absurd, preposterous or harmful they may seem to others.

There is one question that seems to be persistently ignored. “What if someone’s feelings are wrong?”

I have always considered feelings unreliable. When my children were growing up I had conversations with them about the danger of following their feelings. I asked them, “Is it possible to feel something strongly and believe something deeply and be wrong?” In each of these conversations they both answered in the affirmative. I then asked them a follow up question. “When you feel something strongly and believe something deeply, how do you know if you are wrong or right?”

This is the heart of the matter. We have all experienced times when we were certain of something that later turned out to be wrong. Many of us have experienced adverse outcomes because we acted on mistaken beliefs. We all, if we had been able to listen, would have benefited from outside counsel pointing out the error in our thinking.

And yet here we are, living in a society where the problem is not that someone wants to cut off their leg, but that anyone else would question the desire. How did we get here? How did feelings become the ultimate determinant of morality?

It seems to me that it is the rejection of truth that is the root of our current problem. Turning away from the idea of moral constants, and of moral certainty, has led us to where we are.

There was a time in our society, and in western society at large, when there was a common understanding of right and wrong and a common agreement as to Who it was that defined right and wrong. While there was always debate on the nature of God, there was a near universal agreement that there was a God and that it was He who made the rules.

It was understood that there were good actions and bad actions, good people and bad people, and there was a way to measure and identify each. All of the realms of human existence and relationships could be assessed in the context a transcendent moral law.

These concepts and ideals are being rejected today. In their place a new morality has arisen, individual in nature and focus. Right and wrong are no longer determined by God or a universal code, but instead by each person for himself. Each man and each woman is in charge of their lives, their destiny and their morality. We each get to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong.

With the idea that each person gets to decide for themselves comes another concept, the idea that no person gets to judge the decisions of anyone else. Asserting the right or ability to judge the actions of another carries with it an undesired consequence, the right of others to judge me, and no one wants this.

Deference and “tolerance” become the order of the day. Think you are a Furry beast? Or that your left leg should be removed? Who am I to question it you? Feel like you are a woman born into a man’s body and want your perfectly normal genitalia removed? I must support your belief without question or be damned as an intolerant bigot.

Evidence that we have reached the place where mindless, unquestioning support of the feelings of others is required can be found in the response of the medical community to issues such as transgenderism. Researchers are searching for a medical explanation to the condition, for a biological explanation, for evidence that people are “born this way.”

They forget that being born with something does not make something normal. The vast number of genetic diseases and illnesses speak to this truth. Normal is not defined genetically, but socially. As an extreme example, I doubt that discovering a “Murder gene” would suddenly make homicide acceptable!

So what do we do? How do we respond?

While it is possible that we have reached the point of no return, that society has gone so far over the feelings cliff that reason has been permanently abandoned, I do not believe that absolves me of my personal responsibility. My role remains unchanged. My job is to “speak the truth in love” and accept whatever consequences society decides to hand out.


Wanted: Shepherds and Laborers


Sheep do not have much in the way of defense mechanisms. They can run, they can climb steep hills, and they can gather in a circle (so it is harder for a predator to single them out). That is it. Domesticated sheep require care and attention in order to survive. Unattended they are prone to infections, parasites and predators. They need to be shepherded or they will die.

As Matthew 9 closes, Jesus looks on the crowds that are following him and is reminded of sheep without a shepherd. The were described as “harassed and helpless.” Other translations say the people were “confused and helpless” or “distressed and dispirited.”

When sheep are fearful, threatened or distressed their instinctive response is to gather together for safety. I wonder if it was the sight of the gathered crowds that triggered the analogy in Jesus’ mind. The people who were following Jesus, who formed the mob in His wake, were the common folk. Under worldly oppression from the Roman Empire and its soldiers and spiritually oppressed by religious leaders who told them they were unworthy of God’s blessing because they did not keep the law as they should, they gathered together and followed after Jesus.

They were a needy bunch. A review of the gospel accounts reveals that they were constantly pursuing Jesus, seeking healing, teaching and miracles. So desperate were they that on more than one occasion they did not remember to take food with them when they followed Jesus, forcing Jesus to miraculously feed over 4000 people.

Demanding, needy people can be annoying. It is easy to look at them and think they should be smarter and better. To conclude that they should plan better, prepare better, and take better care of themselves. I have often felt this way when confronted with particularly needy people, sometimes asking myself, “Why are people so ________” (Insert derogatory term here)

Jesus did not do this. When he looked at the needy people He saw them differently than I do. He saw them as sheep without a shepherd, as people in need of guidance, care and direction, people burdened and threatened by the world, gathered together in search of safety, in search of a savior.

Because Jesus saw them in this way his response was different than the one that has characterized me too often. I get annoyed, Jesus was moved with compassion. Deep inside his being, the plight of the people moved Him. It moved Him in a way that led Him to turn to his disciples with a specific request. He asked them to pray that God would raise up workers, workers who would reach out to the crowd and invite them into the kingdom of God. Their downtrodden state, instead of being a cause for dismissal was evidence that God was working in their lives and preparing their hearts to hear the Good News. Jesus saw this.

Jesus, who taught that it was the Poor in Spirit to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs, reminded his disciples that these people, poor and distressed and helpless, had been brought to a place where they could receive that kingdom.

This discussion from my men’s study led me to a simple and clear conclusion. I need to see the world like Jesus does.


A Close Encounter of the Furry Kind


A few weeks back we joined several friends and participated in the ALS Walk to raise funds for research into the crippling fatal disease (one of our friends is currently battling the illness.) Thousands of people showed up in support of friends and loved ones whose lives had been impacted by the condition. As we gathered with our friends in preparation for the walk, garbed in our matching blue T-shirts, we noticed another group gathering in completely different attire, a group of Furries.

There were about 50 of them, and their costumes were extravagant. Most wore full body outfits, coming as dogs, cats, birds, and cartoon dragons. (I would say it looked like a convention of college mascots except for the fact that college mascots don’t tend to be anime in appearance.)

When the walk began they were at the front, selfie sticks in hand, paw, or claw, and they all walked together. I assumed that were walking in remembrance of a Furry friend who had died from the disease. After the completion of the walk they again huddled together, arms around each other, in a large circle, hugging and consoling one another.

When we completed the walk my wife and I went over to a nearby food truck to get a drink and some breakfast. While we were in a line one of the Furries got in line behind us. He/she/it had apparently broken off from the herd in search of sustenance. We did a very poor job of trying not to stare at the Furry as we bought our food, after receiving it we stood to the side as the Furry approached the counter. Its full body costume was adorned in white fur, topped with the head of a bird. Its beak was yellow-gold, with black fur around the eyes. On its back were two small wings. A tail went out from behind, arching back and up into the air. I think it was supposed to be a cartoon dragon.

“May I take your order?” said the man in the food truck. “Caw, Caw,” the Furry replied. The obviously confused food truck man repeated his question, and the furry cawed back the same reply. It then turned and walked away. Lisa and I looked at each other, and said in unison, “What the heck?” It was an unforgettable encounter with weirdness.

I went home that night and did what any red-blooded internet connected American would do. I googled “Furries.” In the Wikipedia entry on the subject I found a lot of information including this remarkable sentence-

Some furries identify as partly non-human: 35% say they do not feel 100% human (compared with 7% of non-furries), and 39% say they would be 0% human if they could (compared with 10% of non-furries).

What struck me was the word identify. The word has come to be very important in our culture, and has had a profound impact on our politics and our social interactions. We live in a world where increasing emphasis is being placed on how people see themselves, with less emphasis on what they actually are. 

The Furry phenomenon allows us to step back and consider the ramifications of this societal change. As is often the case, taking a thought or process to its extreme can provide important context. Furry identification as part-animal represents such an extreme of self-identification. One can rightly ask, “How much deference and respect am I required to give to someone who identifies as a dog?”

I have first-hand experience with this scenario. When my son was two he went through a dog stage. He was obsessed with the movie 101 Dalmatians. My wife made him a spotted costume for Halloween and he wore it all of the time. When he wore it he went into full dog mode he would often answer our questions with “woof.” It was cute, but after a while it became annoying.

While we tolerated the behavior in our cute little son, I don’t think anyone would expect us to tolerate the same behavior in an adult. It would be rather difficult to care for a patient who responded to my interview questions with barks or chirps!

As absurd as this extreme is, it is informative. It raises the question, “How far must we go to accommodate identity?” A question I will answer in an upcoming post.


There are no Steps to Success or Happiness


As with most people, I like clear directions. Tell me the steps to take and the boxes to check in order to achieve success and happiness and I will follow them. Unfortunately for me (and everyone else) life does not work that way.

This has not stopped people from trying. A quick search on Amazon for “steps to a happy marriage” results in books declaring marital bliss can be achieved in 4,5,7,8,9,10,12 or 50 steps. (Why would anyone would pick the 50 step process over the 4 step process?). Christian pastors have apparently imbibed the same Kool-Aid, as a Google search for “Sermon steps to a happy marriage” yielded links to sermons declaring 4,5,7,8,10,12, and 17 steps to happiness.

The tendency to search for a secret formula, the hidden recipe, or the magic steps seems to be deeply ingrained into human nature. Which is what made our study of Matthew 9 this last week so surprising. As we reviewed the actions of Jesus described in the passage it became clear to us- Jesus did not follow a process, He did not check boxes. He had a clear mission, but he did not have a set process for carrying it out.

Several healings are described in the passage. A paralyzed man, a dead girl, a hemorrhaging woman, two blind men and a demon oppressed mute boy. For two of them, Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well”, for the other three, no reference is made to their faith at all. Three of them are healed with a touch, the other two are not. Two of the healings occurred because the sick ones personally sought Jesus out, the other two the seeking was done by someone else on their behalf.

This seems to be characteristic of Jesus. There are several instances in which Jesus is described as healing blindness. In Matthew 9, the blind men called out to Jesus, and followed him, calling out to Him and asking for mercy. It seems that Jesus just kept walking, and that the men ultimately followed Jesus into the house where he was staying. It was only then and there that the men were healed. On another occasion, a blind man called out in the same fashion as Jesus passed by. That time Jesus stopped, acknowledged the man, spoke to him and healed him on the spot.

Similar examples abound in the New Testament. As we discussed the lack of pattern in Jesus’ actions we came to the conclusion that it seemed Jesus was intentionally varying his approach. In so doing he made it impossible for people to put their faith in a process. There is no set behavior that resulted in Jesus responding. The gospel accounts make it clear, it is the person, Jesus, who matters, not a process.

This is a lesson we all need to learn. We need to focus on Jesus, not on process. As my friend John joked Tuesday morning. “If we took away of the books in the Christian bookstore that offered check boxes and processes, the only book left would be the Bible!”


This is the third post in a series based on insights from my weekly Men’s Bible Study group. Faith based posts are typically shared midweek (this one was a little late), non-religious posts on the weekend. If you want to receive these posts in your email, click on the subscribe link on the page. Comments are always welcomed.