Sunday, January 28, 2007

Trusting God Is Sometimes Easier Said Than Done

Every once in a while, I like to search the web to get additional information about the Pettigrew family. Today, I found the Pettigrew Family Genealogy Site, containing detailed information which was apparently compiled by one Pat Fincher Pettigrew before she went on to be with the Lord.

The site features a Bible verse of the day. As it so happens, the verse for today was:

"Don't concern yourself about what you will eat or drink, and quit worrying about these things.... Rather, be concerned about his [the Father's] kingdom. Then these things will be provided for you." ... Luke 12:29

I was undoubtedly meant to see that verse. I'm hardly unfamiliar with the verse, of course. I've known the verse for most of my life. (Matthew has a verse which says pretty much the same thing.) But I have to confess, it touches on a personal weakness of mine.

Some folks have major trouble with sexual sin or addiction to drugs or alcohol. But personally, I find that trusting God to provide for my needs on a daily basis is something I still struggle with. It's my own personal version of "Fear Factor". When the money starts to run low (and it frequently does), I start seeing terrifying visions in which I am tossed out on my ear with no place to live but the mean streets of the city of Chicago.

Why does this frighten me? For numerous reasons, but probably the most powerful reason is that I am not content to merely survive. I have a vision of what God wants to do in my life, and I firmly believe that it is achievable, provided that I can manage to avoid events, such as eviction, which would set me back many years!

The scriptures affirm that a man's life does not consist of that man's possessions. Very true. But there are cases in which possessions are crucial if one is to achieve certain things.

For example, if I were to lose my computer and my access to the Internet, it would be significantly more difficult for me to set up the online ministry I'm trying to start at

When it comes to my fears of living on the street, there is a basis for those fears. I have come very close to losing it all, in terms of my material possessions.

I've never actually lived on the street, per se, but I've been in several situations where I would have had to do so if it had not been for the charitable acts of my fellow Christians.

It also helped that I wasn't too proud to beg for help.

Now, a man has to do what a man has to do, and if begging for assistance is what one has to do in order to survive, then one begs for assistance. But begging is no fun, and that's a mild understatement. Begging is humiliating. The reason it's humiliating is, in part, because the people from whom one is forced to ask for help sometimes do their best to make sure that it's a humiliating experience.

Frequently, one finds that the generosity of others comes with strings attached. Usually, those strings are emotional. It seems that some people think that offering charitable assistance entitles them to denigrate the person they are helping in ways which bear little or no relation to the actual facts of the situation. The mere fact that one has been forced to beg for help is taken as de facto evidence that one's character is severely deficient.

One pastor who helped me out in the early nineties accused me of being "lazy". This, despite the fact that he knew that I had only recently lost my job, and despite his knowledge of the fact that I was devoting approximately 16 hours a day to that job at that time.

It was a job in a retail music store. It took me 2 hours to get there on the bus every morning, and another 2 hours to get home on the bus that night. I worked from 10:00 a.m. when the store opened to 10:00 p.m., which was an hour past the time when the store closed.

If that was "lazy", I couldn't help wondering just what I would have had to do in order to prove to this pastor that I was a hard and diligent worker. Devote all 24 hours of every day to my job? Funny, I didn't see him doing that with his own job!

Yes, I lost the music store job, but it had nothing to do with being "lazy". I just wasn't making enough sales, despite my best efforts. Anyone who has ever worked in sales knows that that is always a possibility. If folks are clueless regarding such matters (as this pastor apparently was), I would suggest that they read "Death of A Salesman", by Arthur Miller.

I was and am genuinely grateful for the temporary help that the aforementioned pastor extended to me for a period of time when I needed that help, but that was no excuse for the abusive things that he said to me in order to force me to leave and find housing elsewhere at a time when I still did not have adequate money with which to do so (thanks to the fact that I had recently been robbed while visiting the Oak Park YMCA in order to try to get a room).

That was hardly the only time that sort of thing had happened to me. Memories of incidents like that one still burn in my mind even to this day. Such memories make it hard for me to trust God to provide for me. Yes, I've survived, but I've had to go through some things no human being should ever have to go through in order to do so.

When it comes to the role Christians have played in dealing with my difficulties, it's kind of a "glass half full, glass half empty" kind of situation. On the one hand, I have always received the help I needed, more or less. And as I say, I am grateful for that fact. Christians certainly could have responded with total indifference to my needs. To their credit, they did not.

But helping a person means more than just providing for that person's material needs. It also means being sensitive to the fact that being forced to beg for help or forbearance is inherently stressful for most normal people. It means showing kindness and love to the people you help, knowing that that is how you would want to be treated if you ever found yourself in a similar situation. (It's called the Golden Rule. Look it up in the Bible. Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.) I'm sorry to say that most of the Christians I've dealt with have fallen way short in that department.

Not that any of that excuses my failure to trust God for provision. I know, intellectually, that God can be trusted to provide for my needs. It's just that when the sheriff is banging on one's door at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, with the intent of serving one an eviction notice because one has fallen behind on one's rent, it's still difficult to incorporate that intellectual knowledge into the way one views the world. During such moments, the world seems like a cruel and hostile place, and God seems like he is pretty indifferent to the sufferings of those who have to experience that cruelty and hostility.

That visit from the sheriff that happened to me several years ago. I was already starting to sink into depression in response to my situation, and that visit from the sheriff made things even worse. Not long after that, I spent a miserable weekend at a local mental health hospital after trying to kill myself by swallowing more than an entire bottle of over-the-counter sleeping pills.

At the time when I took the pills, I was just sick and tired of dealing with the stress of life on this earth. I was sick and tired of being told that God loved me by people who demonstrated, through their indifference to the truth regarding my own situation, that they really didn't care whether I lived or died.

Yet, I attribute the fact that I am still alive today to God's miraculous intervention.

That night, I knelt beside my bed, in fear and trembling, not knowing what was coming next. I poured my heart out to God. I told God that I just couldn't deal with living in this world of pain any longer. I longed for genuine relief. I longed with all my heart to be joined with God in heaven.

I told God that I wanted to die, but I added that if God wanted me to live, if God had a higher purpose for me here which I couldn't yet see, I was willing to accept his will and to do my best to do his will.

The next morning, to my great surprise, I awoke to a new day. The effects of the pills could be clearly felt. I could barely move my limbs. For about a day or so, my legs would not even support the weight of my body. But I was alive.

I now realize that that was a test of my faith. I almost completely failed the test. If I had not prayed that prayer of submission, I think I might have failed that test, and I might not be typing these words today. But I had not abandoned my faith. I have not abandoned my faith. I will not abandon my faith!

I know in whom I have believed. When I committed my life to Jesus Christ at age 13, in 1969, I was putting my faith in Jesus Christ, not in that imperfect institution known as the Church. Yes, it's true, the Church is in some respects the Body of Christ. But the Church is comprised of weak and fallible sinners. They have been saved, but in terms of personal virtue, they have not yet arrived at their final destination. And when I say "they", perhaps I should include myself and change the pronoun to "we".

My faith in Christ is real, but it is not what it ought to be.

If my faith was what it ought to be, I would live a fearless life. I would remind myself that Jesus himself suffered greatly while he was here on this earth. The scriptures tell us that "foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head." For at least 3 years of his life, Jesus was a homeless man. I don't know how many of those nights he had to literally sleep under the stars, but it seems to be clear that when he was not doing so, he was staying with other people who chose to offer him lodging for the night. He was not living in any mansion. He was not staying at any 5 star hotel. He was taking whatever he could get.

As for false accusations, Jesus is no stranger to those, either. He did miracles, and how was he thanked? He was accused by some people (often the religious leaders of the day) of performing those miracles through the power of the Devil! Talk about ingratitude.

Jesus knows my grief and my pain, because he's been there.

I write the above words because once again, I am going through a time of trial in relation to my finances. I know that God will provide for me and I will survive, but it's still stressful, because I don't like having to ask for help, and it is likely that I will have to do so again in the very near future.

I pray that I will receive the mercy and help I need so that this time of trial will be as short as possible.

I further pray that such help will be extended to me in a more loving and generous spirit than I have received from some people who have claimed to speak in God's name.

Most of all, I pray that no matter how people respond and no matter what happens to me, I will never abandon my faith, and I will never forget that God loves me with a love so deep that it cannot be measured.

Monday, January 15, 2007

From One Jerk To Another

Yesterday morning, I attended Willow Chicago (the downtown Chicago branch of Willow Creek Community Church) for the second time.

After the worship service, Willow Chicago held a fellowship reception in the Windsor Room at the nearby Congress Hotel, since their contract with The Auditorium (where their Sunday worship services are held) apparently doesn’t include access to meeting rooms for such events.

As I approached the Congress Hotel, I looked into the window of the hotel’s gift shop. I saw what appeared to be a line of humorous bumper stickers.

However, the captions on some of those bumper stickers would not necessarily strike everyone as amusing. For example, the first bumper sticker I noticed had the following caption:

“Jesus Loves You. Everyone else thinks you’re a jerk.”

Alright, I made part of that up. “Jerk” wasn’t actually the word the bumper sticker used. It actually used a harsher word which rhymes with the phrase “brass pole” and which could be roughly paraphrased as “anal aperture”. But this is a family-friendly Christian blog, so I thought I’d try to keep things “clean” for the sake of the many Christians who think that certain words should be completely off limits.

I thought it was a bit ironic that I saw that message when I was on the way to a church event being held in that same hotel.

Putting aside the issue of the bumper sticker’s mild profanity, and putting aside the fact that it was obviously an attempt at humor on the part of the writer, I thought it was an interesting message which raised equally interesting questions.

In essence, the message on the bumper sticker seemed to imply that Jesus loves jerks because he is too naïve to recognize a jerk when he sees one. It implied that loving a person and recognizing that the person is a jerk are mutually exclusive.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Nobody knows us better than God. If any of us really are jerks, you can be sure that God knows that better than anyone else.

I have been known, from time to time, to characterize some particularly unkind people (including some of my fellow Christians) as jerks. I’ve even used the other word that was actually on that bumper sticker, when people have really made me angry by treating me badly.

However, in my more reflective moments, I suspect that God thinks that we’re all jerks, not just some of us.

Admittedly, some of us are bigger jerks than others, but the Bible makes it clear: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

We have all acted in self-centered ways from time to time. Intentionally or unintentionally, most of us have hurt one another on occasions. And even if some of us as individuals have not ever hurt other people, we have certainly hurt God when we have insulted God by implying by word or deed that we were better qualified than God to know how we ought to live our lives.

The Bible talks about two kinds of righteousness. One kind of righteousness is what might be described as “relative righteousness”. To be relatively righteous is to be more righteous than most other people. Job, for example, met that criterion. That’s why the Bible described Job as a “righteous man”.

Provided that it is tempered by humility, relative righteousness has value. It’s good to strive to be a relatively righteous person. In fact, God expects us to do so.

However, there’s also another kind of righteousness: Perfect or absolute righteousness. We ought to strive for that higher level of righteousness as well, but the Bible makes it clear that no one other than Christ has ever lived a perfectly righteous life here on earth. Compared with the perfect righteousness of Christ, our relative righteousness begins to look pretty sad and pathetic.

A lot of people think that because they’re relatively righteous, in comparison with other people, that means that they are qualified to enter the kingdom of heaven. Not long ago, I spoke with someone I care for deeply. He said that he knew he was going to go to heaven because he’d been a relatively good person who had “never murdered anybody”.

Such a statement is common in our society, but it shows a real lack of understanding, for two reasons. First, it implies that all one has to do in order to qualify for entry into heaven is to abstain from the most grievious sins such as murder. Second, it implies that murderers and others who have committed the worst sins have no hope of entering the kingdom of God. Neither one of those things is true.

God doesn't merely want us to be relatively righteous people. God’s standards are uncompromising. God requires perfection. Anything less than perfection makes a person unqualified to enter the kingdom of heaven. In terms of salvation, the extent to which you miss the mark is irrelevant. If you miss it by even a little bit, you’ve missed it.

It’s like being a deer hunter. You can miss the deer by an inch or a mile. Either way, you go home hungry, and the deer lives to see another day. What good is it that you almost hit the deer you were shooting at? When you're hungry for venison, "almost" doesn't cut it.

When it comes to pleasing God, we’ve all missed the mark. Some by a little, some by a lot, but we’ve all missed it. We all have a spiritual hunger that cannot be satisfied on the basis of our own inadequate efforts.

However, heaven would be a mighty empty place if God had not made any provisions for sinners to enter heaven. That’s why Jesus died on the cross for us. He knew that on some level, we were all rebellious jerks who didn’t deserve to go to heaven. Yet, Jesus inexplicably loved us anyway. That’s why it’s called “amazing grace”!

Jesus wants to spend eternity with us, despite our obvious and not so obvious flaws. Because Jesus was the only perfect person to ever live, Jesus was the only one qualified to pay the penalty for our sins on our behalf. He had no obligation to do so, but he did so anyway.

None of this ought to be used, as some immature Christians do, as an excuse to act like jerks. God’s grace and mercy can cover and forgive a multitude of sins, but we still have a moral obligation to make a conscientious effort to avoid sin. We still have an obligation to hold one another accountable for sins we may commit.

As much as possible, I try not to act like a jerk. Relative to a lot of other people, I think that I’ve done a pretty good job of living a morally admirable life.

Nevertheless, nobody but God is more aware of my shortcomings than I am. Consequently, I’m indescribably glad and grateful that Jesus has loved and forgiven me even when I have miserably failed to meet God’s standards.

Regarding what other people think of me or don’t think of me, I do want others to think well of me, but there is a sense in which it really doesn’t matter what other people think about me, just as there is a sense in which it doesn’t really matter what I think about others or about you.

Your judgments are impure. My judgments are impure. God’s judgments are perfect and unimpeachable.

In the final analysis (which is coming sooner than you may think), what God thinks about me and you is the only thing that really matters.

Don’t be caught unprepared for Judgment Day. Instead, I would suggest that you pray the following prayer, or something similar to it:

Dear God,

I’ve known a lot of jerks in my life. Sadly, I have to admit that I have sometimes been one of them. I have chosen my own way and not yours. I have rejected your wisdom and counsel. I have hurt you, and it's quite likely that I have hurt others. I have strayed from the path that leads to eternal life.

Please forgive me. Please set my feet back onto the righteous path once again. Please help me to help others so that they, too, can receive the glorious forgiveness you have generously offered to all who will humbly ask for forgiveness.

I thank you that you sent your son Jesus to die on my behalf. I thank you that you can be trusted to honor this request for forgiveness. I praise and glorify your holy name, for you alone are worthy of such praise.

In Jesus’ Blessed Name,


If you’ve just prayed the above prayer for the first time, or if you’ve just prayed something similar (possibly because the above prayer was not tailored perfectly to your own situation), please write to me and let me know that you’ve decided to follow Christ.

It would really make my day to know that I helped to play a role in leading you to make the most important decision that you will ever make.


Mark Pettigrew

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

My Joke Of The Day

What do you get when you cross a godly liberator with a Native American from the frozen north?


Feel free to use the above joke in any and all comedy routines, if you're performing for a classroom of six year olds and you want to tell a joke with a slightly Biblical flavor.

Corny jokes, unfortunately, aren't considered to be "cool" or "hip" or whatever the latest term is for people who have tragically outgrown the simple joys of childhood. Consequently, I wouldn't advise using the above joke in your routine if you're appearing at a typical comedy nightclub in any major city.

In fact, if you're a committed Christian, you might want to avoid doing any comedy routines at such places at all. Most of the "comedians" at such clubs seem to think that the quintessential act of cleverness is to use as much profanity as possible, along with a lot of "jokes" that ridicule conservative Christians and/or Republicans.

Whatever happened to people like Jonathan Winters? Jonathan Winters was hilarious, and he managed to make people laugh without ever doing much of anything which would have made him unwelcome at a church picnic.

Steven Wright is another comedian I like. His dry sense of humor revolves heavily around playing with the English language in clever and unexpected ways. If he has any animus towards Christians or political conservatives, I haven't yet heard him tell a joke which revealed those feelings.

Carrot Top is pretty funny, too, and his use of special humorous props is generally very clever.

In troubled times, humor is sometimes one of the few things we can rely on to help us to grin and bear it. Comedy can be a ministry of sorts, whether it has an overtly religious flavor or not.

But comedy also has a dark side. The idea that nothing should be sacred seems to be all too prevalent among professional jokesters.

God will have the last laugh. I pray that more and more comedians will learn to temper their humor with a recognition of that fact.