It’s Complicated


Relationships are complicated. My husband and I were friends for a year before we started to date. Before he finally asked, however, we danced around each other for a few weeks in a confused waltz of unclear intentions.

Does he? Does she? Is this happening? Who’s going to go first?

I lost patience before he did. That has not changed in 32 years.

Love Is Complicated

One of the most complicated relationships in the Bible has to be Peter and Jesus.

Peter. oh, dear, crazy, too-much-like-me Peter. He is the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Also, he’s the first one (the only one) Jesus calls Satan.

He’s the first out of the boat when Jesus gives the invitation to walk on water. He’s also the first to say he never knew Jesus. One moment he’ll die for his friend; the next he wants to get on with his life as if Jesus never happened. The Rock of the church starts as a quivering, frightened boy in the upper room.

Peter is a contradictory mess. Like us.

The question Jesus asks him—the last question Jesus asks anyone—matters. It matters perhaps more than any other question Jesus levels at anyone. He levels it at us, all the time.

Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. Several of the disciples were there—Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples.

Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”

“We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night.

At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, “Friends, have you caught any fish?”

“No,” they replied.

Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.

Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread. (John 21.1-9)

399152_3596726630738_1050644340_3148052_2012929475_n (2)

Once again, Peter is the first in the water. His friends will have to pull in the catch, land the ship, and everything else. He’s gone.

Peter is excited to see Jesus. Then, I imagine that sometime in that water, he begins to remember what he’s repressed. It all comes back. He relives every moment of his denial. The smell of the fire. The particular voice of the woman who asked if he knew Jesus. The sound of Jesus’ being hit and the sight of his face looking back at Peter.

He’s remembering as he swims, and I’m guessing he swims slower and slower, wishing he’d stayed in the boat. That long swim in cold water woke the memory of a complicated relationship.

“Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus said. So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn.

“Now come and have some breakfast!” Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead.

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. (John 21.10-15)

My idea of a perfect day is a beautiful morning on the beach with a breakfast that someone else cooks. But there’s a nagging issue. Peter may have avoided being alone with Jesus the first two times he appeared to the disciples. Now, because of his impulsiveness, he can’t.

Jesus takes him aside. Have you ever been in that situation? A boss, teacher, parent, takes you aside? You know it can’t be good?

Peter has disobeyed and disowned Jesus. He definitely expected a different question. A talking to. A pink slip. To be voted off the island.

IMG_7342 (1)

Do you love me?

It’s not what he thinks is coming.

He dodges at first. He plays the bold face he has used before, the unique Peter bravado.

Of course, you know I love you. I’m here, right? Do I love you more than these other guys? Hey, I’m the one standing here soaking wet, aren’t I?

Except Jesus isn’t speaking Peter’s language. Jesus’ word for love is agape—a word that means sacrificial love. It’s the highest form of love—one that will give of itself for someone else. It’s Good Samaritan love. It’s Christ’s love for us. It only gives.

But Peter chooses phileo love, not agape. Brotherly, friendly, approving love. It’s like giving Jesus a fist bump rather than an embrace.

Jesus, you’re just alright with me.

Yeah Jesus, I love you. Like a brother, man. Just not one I’ll take a bullet for.

Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.


The second time, Jesus drops the comparison. That’s an easy dodge.

It’s easy for Peter to compare himself to the rest and feel good.

It’s easy for all of us to find someone who will end up farther down the scale. Someone who gives less, obeys less, messes up more, sins worse.

“Someone else” is an easy place to hide.

Do you love me? I imagine Peter’s assurance came a little slower the second time.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”

Fist Bump Love


The third time, Peter is genuinely hurt. He’s hurt that Jesus comes down to his level of love—he asks only for phileo this time.

Finally, Peter is broken. The third time, he doesn’t give an easy “you know.” He uses words that imply “you have come to know.” Like, you have come to know the real truth about me, Jesus. I’m still the same sinful man you met in a boat once before, catching fish. 

This time, there is no bravado. He simply looks at Jesus, acknowledging what they both know—that his love is weak, and his passions sometimes overtake him.

And that’s where Jesus can begin. Peter thought he was at end—but his admission signals a beginning.

Do you love me? Then follow me. Start over. Grab a new beginning. Take a second chance. Get out of jail free.

Peter loved Jesus in glorious times of walking on water and feeding 5000 and cutting off ears like a hero—but he didn’t love him in the hard, scary, unknown. Agape love is needed there, and it’s much, much harder. It can’t be done alone.

Do you love me? Love is sacrificial. It goes second. Or last.

We are not supposed to ask if we can afford  it or if it fits our calendar or if we like its political  statement before we ask, do I love him?

Love is not comfortable. It’s hard sometimes. Love goes beyond waving palm branches in glory and sometimes has to march to the cross.

Love goes beyond sending cards to crying with others.

Love goes beyond thoughts and prayers to sacrificing for others.

It’s the difference between fist bumping and footwashing.

Do you love me?

Our answer isn’t always an exuberant agape yes. It’s usually “you know, Lord.” I do love you. But you know my weakness. I’ll need your help. I thought I could do this on my own. I thought I had what it takes. But I don’t. You know, Lord. You know.

That, says Jesus to Peter and to us, is where we can finally begin.

Comparing Harvests

IMG_9718 (2)
Photo courtesy of Terri Fullerton

Finally, the soil is warm enough to put tomato plants in the ground and anticipate sunflowers stretching toward warmth. It takes until June for that to be a reliable bet in Chicago. Before that, we’re busy working the midwestern clay soil with all the compost it can hold and culling the thousands of weed seedlings that don’t care as much as tomatoes do if the soil is healthy.

The harvest, though, depends on more than the soil.

What does your harvest look like? What does it look like through God’s eyes? You might be surprised at the answer. Join me over at The Glorious Table to talk more about harvests, hard work, and that devil comparison that steals our joy over the sweet summer growth.

Do You Want To Get Well?


Last December, I got into my husband’s car to go see Christmas lights. It was the last thing I did before pain like I’ve never known invaded my body for the next several months. Back injuries and nerve pain are definitely of the devil. When you lie in bed at night and think, “If I went and cut off my leg right now it would hurt less,” and you believe this is rational thought, you know the pain has gone to your head in a very crazy way.

Almost four months of physical therapy ensued. That is a long time to spend three precious mornings a week being pulled, pressed, and otherwise challenged in ways my body does not approve.

I graduated. Finally. Not, however, without my therapist informing me that, if I want to stay well and avoid back surgery, I have “a lifetime of stretching and strengthening ahead.”

A lifetime is a long time. We can hope.

Staying well

Here’s the thing, We all know what we need to do to stay healthy. We all know that when we leave places like physical therapy, however, that resolve goes south pretty quickly. I can skip today, we think. Of course I’ll pick up tomorrow. I will. It’s only right now I just don’t feel like doing all those exercises.

“Right now” turns into today, tomorrow, the next day, and before we can say “invasive surgery,” we haven’t done any of the things we know we need to do to stay well in a long, long time. Exercise, diet, habits—it’s all the same. Our human tendency to take the path of least resistance makes health hard.

In all areas of life.


There’s a story in the Bible that I come back to when I am tempted to take that path. It’s a man Jesus forces to face a question he has avoided—for 38 years.

Do you want to get well?

Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.” Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! (John 5.1-9)

You can see Jesus’ love for this man. But he doesn’t heal him right away like he does others. He asks him a question first. Why? Wouldn’t anyone in this situation want to get well? Isn’t that a no brainer, Jesus?

Apparently not. When faced with the question, he evades it.

I would, dude. Really, I would get well. But, see, these other people. They always win. I never catch a break. Life is hard. If everything wasn’t against me, I’d get in that pool and be healed right now! But it is. I’ll never do anything except sit here. Poor me.

Sorry, friend, but it’s been 38 years! Surely, in all that time, someone could have helped get you further up in the queue. Someone must be feeding you, keeping you warm, giving you clothes in the last 38 years. You couldn’t have asked for a nudge closer to the edge of the pool? In all this time?

Nope. The inescapable conclusion, I believe, is the he doesn’t really want to get well. He knows what it would mean. Getting a job. Going home. Being a part of life that probably caused him some pain he’s afraid to face. Putting himself out there for rejection, hurt, failure. It’s easier to sit by the pool where he can’t do anything, but at least no one expects anything of him. It’s what he knows. Wellness is frightening.


Wellness is hard

Wellness means working on your stuff, and I don’t mean physical. It means figuring out why you’re part of your own problem, becoming vulnerable by starting to change, and learning to be with other humans in a new, challenging way.

He doesn’t want that, and I understand completely.

I don’t want to spend every day doing exercises that strengthen all those muscles around my backbone. My therapist wants abs of steel on me. I’d settle for getting rid of the abs of flab.I will do those things, though, because there are other things I do want to do.

I want to hike the Coastal Trail in Wales. I want to walk the Camino de Santiago with my daughter as promised. I want to ride long distances in cars, trains, and planes. I want to pick up grandchildren someday.

I want to avoid steel rods in my back.

If I want those things, I need to do the things that lead to health, even if I don’t want to take the time. Even if it hurts. Even if it’s boring, and painful, and seems pointless some days. Because I want to get well.

What do we want?

The word here—“want”—has a few meanings in Greek, and some are interesting in this situation. They are: 1) to will, have in mind, 2) intend, to be resolved or determined, to purpose, 3) to desire, to wish.

What if we asked—do you intend to get well? Are you taking the steps, making the plans, determining what you need to do to get well? That puts the initiative back on him. It takes away the excuse that it’s all other peoples’ fault.

I’ve been a pastor long enough to have seen many, many people who want to blame everyone else for their unhealthy choices. Problem is, their lives never get better. They stay by whatever their own personal pool of Bethesda is, hanging onto their problems, telling themselves it’s everyone else and life would be great if it weren’t for what the world has done to them.

They never get well.

“We often abandon our desire for wholeness because we are deeply afraid. While the reality of our life may be far less than what we had expected, over time we make a certain kind of détente with our brokenness. It becomes what we know. It’s a fearful thing to surrender the security of the present (no matter how disappointing or painful it may be) for the uncertainty of the future.” (Winn Collier)


Some of us know the feeling of being deeply afraid.

  • Our marriages are sick, but taking the initiative to get well opens us up to things that have been buried for years. Digging them up, dealing with the stench of dead things, asking Jesus to revive and restore when you’re not sure the other person is invested? Scary. It’s easier to stay sick.


  • Our family relationships are ill, but having those hard conversations? Telling parents or siblings we can’t keep forgiving because we’ve never forgotten? Being rejected because we’ve dared to dig deeper? Scary.


  • Our finances are sick, but sacrifice stinks. Making tough choices is hard. Sticking to a plan has never worked before so why try again? Why not drown our fears  and worries in more spending on things that make us feel better?


  • Our souls are sick. Talking to God about where we are and where we’d like to be frightens us. It might mean change. It certainly will. Uncovering deep behaviors we know need to stop. Trusting our lives to a being we can’t see when those we can see have dealt cruelly with our souls. Learning to walk with hesitant steps as we can’t see the path ahead of us. Believing something enough to center our lives on it. All those things scare us to death, if were honest.

“We all can see ourselves, in a sense, helpless, weak, crippled and lame, lying at the pool of Bethesda this morning. We all need help. We all find ourselves paralyzed at times, unable to do the thing we want or ought to do. We find we are lame: we do not walk very well spiritually.” (Ray Stedman)

Do you want to get well? Such a good, penetrating question. One we cannot always answer honestly.

But I want to.

My favorite part of the story, perhaps, is Jesus’ command that he take up his mat before he walks. Why? To ensure he can’t go back there. His spot by the pool will be gone. Without his mat marking his place, he can’t return to his old fears and failures. He has no choice but to move forward. He has to intend to get well, in all areas of his life, from that point on.

Jesus really knows what he’s doing.

Do you want to join me in steps toward being well? Are there things in your life you know need healing? How would those change if we saw Jesus’ question as “do you intend to get well”? Is there a connection between a whole life and our willingness to get up and walk when Jesus offers us healing?

Here are some steps we can start on, today.

Do you INTEND to get well in your:

  • Health
  • Marriage or another relationship
  • Finances
  • Relationship to God
  • Work/school situation
  • Mental health
  • Addiction to something
  • Other?

Does not being well in any of those things give you something you like? What will you have to give up to get wet? Are you willing?

Do you have hope for healing?
Choose one area you intend to get well in. Map out five concrete steps you are going to take this month to move toward that. Include in your steps:

  • A move that shows your goal to get well
  • A move that keeps you from returning to where you started (take up your mat!)
  • A move that makes you accountable to someone
  • A move that makes you want to dance and laugh for joy at your freedom, as this man might have wanted to do.
  • A move that includes prayer

Jesus asks the man by the pool—Do you want to get well?

He asks us the same question—Do you have hope, purpose, prayer, and a plan to get well? If you take these steps in some area, I’d love to know about it.