At church today, the Pastor started a new series on the book of John. Being a big fan of the Gospels, I appreciate that book. However, I can honestly say that I have never done an in depth study on John. I know that it is the "weirdest" of the Gospel books. The first three are very straightforward narratives; John is more of a poetic emotional journey. Pastor James pointed out some of the curious differences between John and the other Gospels: John has no exorcism stories, John has no parables, John never mentions the Apostle John by name. This last point is one of the more interesting elements of the book. Whenever it comes to a point in the story where John should appear, the author instead mentions "the Disciple who Jesus loved."
I have always found that strange. Not strange like inappropriate or anything. Just strange. We know from the other Gospels that John was one of the closest circle of Jesus' Disciples. There were several instances where Jesus took just Peter, James, and John with Him. Jesus entrusted His mother to John at the crucifixion. So John was closer to Jesus than most people, even more than the average Disciple. But, still, it seemed like a weird way to identify yourself. If John didn't want to call himself John, why didn't he say "me" or "I" instead. (I doubt it was because he wasn't sure which pronoun case to use. He did, after all, get the tricky who/whom thing figured out.) Why go with a phrase like "the Disciple who Jesus loved?" And wasn't that insulting to the other Disciples? I mean, if I was Bartholomew, wouldn't it get tiresome to be constantly reminded that John was more special than me? And don't give me that whole line of reasoning that these guys were the Disciples and they didn't have immature thoughts like that. I think there are more than enough stories in the Gospels that refute that. They get busted for arguing over who will be the greatest in Heaven. James and John had their mom go and ask Jesus to put them in a special place in Heaven. They chase kids away from spending time with Jesus. They don't believe Jesus rose again. They make a ton of boneheaded decisions.
So Pastor James addressed that very issue today. And his explanation (cobbled together from his own thoughts and other sources I don't remember) follows thusly. When we look in the other Gospels, we see John identified with a different nickname. He and his brother, James, were tagged with "Sons of Thunder." Now, if you were a wrestling tag team, that may not be so bad. But if you are supposed to be a follower of a rabbi who is claiming to be the Messiah, that probably isn't the cred you hoped to attain. What do you think of if someone is called a "Son of Thunder?" What comes to my mind first of all is Thor, naturally. At least in his early incarnations, Thor is brash and loud and impetuous and arrogant. In the movie, he gets thrown down to Earth because of his hardheadedness. He can be fun and he certainly is loyal. But he doesn't think before he acts. We see this even in the new line of comic books by Marvel where Thor gets stripped of his title and is basically left as some big dude wandering the Earth, trying to figure out what to do now.
So that's John. Loud, temperamental, arrogant. Is that an uncomfortable picture to paint of good ole St. John? I mean, he's the guy lounging next to Jesus in The Last Supper. He is all sissified and emasculated. Hardly the kind of guy who would be labelled a troublemaker. Again, how quickly we forget. This is the same guy who wanted to rain down fire on an unbelieving community. He wanted to get the choicest spot in Heaven so badly he had his mom ask Jesus for it. And, later on in church history, he gets imprisoned, beaten up, and exiled to a deserted island. (If you want to believe extra-biblical history, he may also have been burned with boiling oil.) He may not have always been a boisterous talker. Maybe he was quiet a lot, but when he got pushed to the limits he exploded like thunder. Either way, his reputation was that he was not someone to be trifled with.
So, how did this person become the same guy who wrote John and the beautiful passages about love in 1 John? That's exactly the reason that John chooses to identify himself the way he does in his book. It is like he is constantly amazed at the transformation he underwent. Instead of being known as a "son of thunder," he was now known as "the Disciple who Jesus loved." He retired the former name and took on the new one. He wanted everyone to understand that he was no longer the man he used to be. That brash, explosive, angry young man was now completely changed by the love of Jesus. When you look at it that way, it is not nearly so weird. It isn't bragging. It isn't boasting. John was relating a similar opinion to that of Paul. "If someone like this can change, then anyone can change."
All of this hit me in a profound way this morning because of a conversation I was having with my wife last night. Heather had two days off back to back. This rarely happens, mind you. Rather than lounging around all day and taking a break, she spent most of the day organizing and purging our kitchen pantry. When 10:30pm rolled around, she didn't feel like doing anything else and was sitting on the couch. But she was still feeling a bit guilty about being lazy. I disagreed with her assessment. I said to her, "As a lazy person, I can definitely tell you that you are not lazy." But then I took a pause.
For much of my life, I have been saddled with the label "lazy." Sometimes other people would say it. Many times I would say it. I can honestly say that I have battled a lazy streak for much of my life. I saw it manifest itself in my academics, where I did the least amount of work possible to get the grade I wanted. It surfaced in my piano playing, where I played as long as it was easy and quit when it got hard. I've seen it in jobs, in house upkeep, in tasks, in relationships, in diet. Laziness has been a major struggle for me. In much the same way, I have been labelled an "angry" person for much of my life. Again, others would say this of me. And I would say it of myself. Another label I got tagged with was negative. I was a human Eeyore. I had several people (including a youth pastor) tell me I was the most negative person they had ever known. All of those things were so accurate, I felt, that I pretty much saw myself that way. I was an angry, lazy, negative person. Those were not the only words I attributed to my life, but they certainly were ones that stood out the most.
I have spent a lot of time working on these things. I know for a fact that for two years now, I have been making a concentrated effort on all of those struggles. When we still lived in Orlando, I went to counseling with a wonderful man named Cary who helped me a great deal with those issues. I remember talking to him one day and sharing a story. In the middle of the story I said something like, "I'm an angry guy." He stopped me right there and said, "Wait. I want to dealt with what you just said." He went on to say that he had counseled a lot of angry men. And he never once thought of me as an angry man. He said I was a guy that when I was pushed to my limits or was backed into a corner, I would explode to try to gain control of the situation. (Sounds like the Sons of Thunder.) But I was hardly an "angry man." He pointed out that in all of our sessions, I had never raised my voice to him - even when I was upset with him. He said that he actually thought of me as kind of quiet. I had never heard anyone say that to me.
So, last night, I caught myself calling myself lazy. Then I thought about it for a minute. Let me share a series of numbers with you. 36.25, 36, 74.75, 71.50, 21, 50, 45. Those are the hours I have worked over the last seven weeks at my "part time" job with Kaplan. That doesn't count all of the hours I have to drive to get to tutoring clients. It averages out to 47.7 hours a week. That isn't lazy. I am doing that while also trying to be the at-home parent, keep up with laundry, clean the house, cook dinner for my family and any other people who wander into our house. I am training through three different curricula for Kaplan. I have six tutoring clients. At one point I had 46 classroom students between two classes. That isn't lazy. I barely watch television any more. I have video games that haven't been touched in months. I read books, but mostly while I am proctoring tests or waiting to pick up the kids. That isn't lazy.
Lazy had become such a familiar label that I didn't even think about the fact it didn't even apply any more. Then I looked at "angry." Cary already had put a giant crack in that belief. But assessing myself now, I know that I have largely shook that label. I may still get upset or heated up at things. But I don't explode anymore. I don't yell. In fact, today my daughter actually accused me of whispering to her during a disciplinary moment. She was getting louder and louder. I told her to stop yelling and she said, "I'm not going to whisper like you're doing." Are you kidding me? As this argument revved up, my kid actually thought I was being TOO QUIET. That's not angry.
How about negative? I am a melancholy personality. I'm never going to be a super-outgoing guy. But I know for a fact that I have a pretty positive outlook on life. I don't look for the worst. I don't expect the other shoe to drop all the time. In fact, I try to encourage others as best I can. My students have pointed this out time and again. They are worried about their eventual test score and I keep on trying to lift them up. My evaluations reflect this. The classes think I'm funny and fun. That's not negative. My wife gave me a super cool anniversary present. She had fourteen individually wrapped presents (one for each year). They each had a card saying why I got that item. Several of them talked about how hard I worked (not lazy), how I made everyone laugh (not negative), how I encouraged her (not negative), and how I kept everyone's stress low (not angry, not negative).
Basically, between all of that stuff and the sermon today, I realized that I needed to retire some things. Like the Apostle John, I need to hang up those terms that used to define me. Through the transforming restorative power of Jesus Christ, I am not those things any more. I am no longer Lazy. I am no longer Angry. I am no longer Negative. I will not refer to myself that way. And I will not accept it if anyone chooses to lay those charges on me. I am a different man now. I work hard, serve my family, love the people around me, and try each day to do better than the day before. Those names are no longer accurate. I am now "the man who Jesus loves." And that is a name I will forever cherish.