Tag Archives: example

Jesus left you an example: Take the way of love for Lent

But if you endure when you do good and suffer for it,
this is a commendable thing before God.
For to this you have been called,
because Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example,
so that you should follow in his steps.
1 Peter 2:20-21

Sarah Chapman organizing resistance

What is Lent for? If Peter has anything to do with it, we will use it to meditate on the passion of Jesus and turn our lives to model his, including the dying that leads to rising. Christ suffered for each of us, leaving us an example, beckoning us to follow in his steps. Lent is the opportunity to renew the journey and deepen the turning.

Little deaths

I felt surrounded by small opportunities to turn in the past two days. There were small ways to do what Paul calls “dying daily.”

For instance, in the Enola Holmes movie on Netflix, the plot swirls around a person from 1888 named Sarah Chapman. The whole cast suffers for doing good as they uncover the corruption of the Bryant and May Match Factory. The nonfictional Sarah Chapman is rightly remembered as the first woman who organized a strike by women. Activist Annie Besant encouraged her work by writing an article called “White Slavery in London.”

If you look up 1 Peter 2, you’ll see Peter was talking to slaves when he spoke about following in the steps of Jesus. And if you look around the U.S. and the world, you’ll see that slavery still exists; prisoners are designated slaves in the Constitution! When the movie was over, I went to throw away my Cheezits box and was choked with tears. If you can’t see people suffering for good during Lent, it will be hard to experience the crucifixion and resurrection during the first week of April.

The next day, I woke up early to take my wife for a medical procedure. I interrupted a meeting I was enjoying to pick her up earlier than expected. I would not characterize loving my devoted and wonderful wife as suffering. But, as I often tell couples, if you want to live for yourself, there is nothing worse than a mate. They call out the selfless love in you; they demand a lack of self-protection; they incite turning and growing.

As I was rushing to the doctor’s office, I rode in the elevator with two women who seemed dressed for work. I commented on that. They told me they were going to Harlem for a funeral. I knew the church they were talking about. I sympathized. I blessed them on their way. Just talking to someone on the elevator can feel like a passion. When we’re relating across racial lines which seem more radioactive than ever, that’s a passion. It takes a little death, some suffering, to love.

You see how this goes. We don’t just die daily, we die all day daily. The point of Lent made in 1 Peter is to turn into the suffering of love and truth because it is our destiny to be fully human and united with eternity, just as Jesus demonstrates.

Clement c. 1000 portrayed at Saint Sophia’s Cathedral, Kyiv

The atonement as an example

Looking at the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as an example was common among the Apostolic Fathers (ca. 100-200). Later, it was further developed by Peter Abelard (1079-1142). People who compare theories named it the “exemplar” or “moral influence” view.
Clement of Rome (ca. 96) wrote:

For [Christ] came down, for this he assumed human nature, for this he willingly endured the sufferings of humanity, that being reduced to the measure of our weakness he might raise us to the measure of his power. And just before he poured out his offering, when he gave himself as a ransom, he left us a new testament: “I give you my love.” What is the nature and extent of this love? For each of us he laid down his life, the life which was worth the whole universe, and he requires in return that we should do the same for each other.

Saint Clement was probably taught by Peter and Paul in Rome. After those apostles were killed, he became the leader of the church. I have been to his namesake church in Rome (San Clemente), which was supposedly built on the site of his house. And I have spent many days on his namesake beach in California (San Clemente).

A key work of Lent is to follow in Jesus’ steps, to “willingly endure the suffering of humanity” like he did. Our relationship with Jesus, calls out the love in us. It is a daily challenge to work out the truth Clement relays to his generation: “For each of us he laid down his life, the life which was worth the whole universe, and he requires in return that we should do the same for each other.” Some people think this is just a moral argument and we should all be good people. That’s true. But it is really a promise of newness. Transformed people love like Jesus, not people who try real hard to be good.

For me, the call means caring about someone in the elevator, caring for my wife, and very likely risking my life and reputation to do what I can do to love the world, like Jesus, knowing I will suffer. I have many examples who help me stick with it. For instance, now that Jimmy Carter is in hospice care, the media is eulogizing him, he is such a good example! They keep quoting him with a good quote to apply during Lent.

I have one life and one chance to make it count for something… My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.

Yes, but…

You may argue with Peter, Clement and Jimmy Carter because they just seem impractical. There are many critics who have gone before you. They ask, “Where is the power? Where is the miracle? How do we rule the world if all we do is love? How can you make a living being this way? If Jesus is merely an example of suffering love, why have a crucifixion?”

Jesus is not merely an example. He’s not merely anything. He is the Son of God, demonstrating what God does and what humankind should reflect. God is not coercive. God does not demand. Instead, Jesus invites and beckons, “Follow me.” The cross is the ultimate invitation to each human being to live the life they are given by God. “Lay down your life for your friends. Love your enemies.” Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

It is not what Jesus says that saves us or having correct thoughts about what he says that makes us good. What saves us is receiving the love of God which transforms us, then following the entire pattern of the Lord’s life, death, and resurrection. Jesus’ example does not give us a list of instructions, it provides us a way, a paradigm, a narrative to live into. He is a revelation. The Lord’s example reframes our entire existence: incarnation, mission, crucifixion, resurrection – these become the sea in which we swim, the fount of our feelings, the grammar that structures our thought, and the inspiration for our behavior.

My own embarrassment of riches

Both of Gwen’s parents died in 2012. The loss changed our lives in significant ways. One of the greatest changes was financial. After surviving since we were eighteen by our own ingenuity and living most of our marriage in something of a voluntary poverty, we got slammed with a significant boatload of money to manage. Now, among the things my spiritual director and friends hear about, are the new experiences Gwen and I are having, now that her inheritance from her parents has arrived. My director convinced me to embrace it and see where God is taking me now rather than avoid or resent the new reality.


The embarrassment of riches is upon me. For a year I have been keeping our new circumstances mostly to myself, just like you keep your finances to yourself. But, I recently rediscovered that I live in a pastor fish bowl and most people who were interested were peering right into my decisions. So I might as well talk about what other people have been talking about. While I am not sure you need to know everything about me; I’d also hate for my loved ones to get the wrong idea because I just left them alone to make things up for themselves.


Even before we received this windfall, I felt unspeakably rich. The $90K house we bought when we moved to Philly got Penntrified. When we bought it, our boys were all teenagers living with us, plus a single guy moved to Philly with us, and a family of four moved in to help with our church planting effort. Later on we invested most of our savings in a building for Circle Counseling and it got gentrified, too. Then we used equity from our house to buy a home for Shalom House and even that building went up in value. Most of our investment has been in our mission. We were major donors to Broad and Washington’s rehab, too. As a boy who grew up with parents who were straight off hard-scrabble farms, I felt wealthy beyond my expectations. As a Jesus follower who had taken constant financial risks to fulfill my calling, I felt like the Lord had taken care of me very well.


Now we have even more wealth to consider — and I find that others are considering it, too. I am a little uncomfortable dealing with it in public, but God called me to have my faith in public, just like you, and I ended up a pastor to boot. So I hope what I do doesn’t make Jesus look too bad. It’s not that I think everything I do can be or should be an example someone should follow — but what I do gets noticed. As one of your leaders, you can discern whether what I do is imitating Christ and then imitate me.  As far as how I handle our inheritance, I don’t think we have all the answers yet for you to imitate. But I am sure you will help us figure them out.

General investment principles

We have a couple of general principles we’ve been working with so far. We don’t trust the stock market and most retirement funds because we think they are run by the one percent for their own profit. I like to buy property and to see how debt free I can get it so that when the system collapses on its bloated self, at least we will all have some place to live. So we decided to put most of what we inherited in useful pieces of property. The properties also seemed like good places to store up some of the inheritance for the uncertain future of our grandchildren. Some of them might be in need later on. We have already decided on two properties. They are what I discovered many of you have been talking about


The first piece we bought with the new inheritance money was a retreat in the Poconos. It is on a gigantic swimming-pool of a lake on a little, wooded road called Hallowood Drive: the holy wood drive. We see it as a great place to contemplate, and we already laid out the outline for a labyrinth in a little meadow. It is also the clan’s vacation home and has a bed for everyone, if we can get them all together.


The second building we are working on buying has been condemned to rezoning and is expected to be redeemed on June 17. We decided to invest in another site for Circle Counseling, which has grown to full capacity in West Philly. It is at 1226 South Broad, just a block away from Broad and Washington’s meeting place. Not only will this allow us to engage new counselors (some we may have in our own network!), we may be able to incorporate some Christians who are doing a good work on their own and would like to join in with us. It also gives room for Gwen to create an institute to explore how Christians use psychotherapy and for us to provide a more professional level of spiritual direction.


When I was digging in to this story with my spiritual director, at one point his face kind of wrinkled up in puzzlement. I think I was expressing my fears about what spending money looked like to others. How I talked about it concerned him, and how he talked to me sort of calmed me down. Basically, I liked the righteousness of relative poverty more than I like this embarrassment of riches. But talking about where I find myself now made me remember Romans 14:8: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” That goes for being rich or poor, too. Whether we are rich or poor, we belong to the Lord.