The Thief and the Cross

In light of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I wanted to take some time to write about the thief on the cross. Originally, I was planning on writing this much sooner in the year, but was too busy helping my church run our youth group winter camp that I had to push it off. So I figured that publishing it this weekend would be an ideal and relevant time.

By thief on the cross, I am referring to one of the two thieves that were crucified with Jesus. One became a believer, while the other did not. So for now, any references to the thief on the cross are towards the thief that became a believer.

Why Were People Crucified?

Bart-d-ehrman-2012-wikipedia
Bart D. Ehrman, PhD | James A. Gray Distinguished Professor University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This thief on the cross is an interesting figure in the historical account of the crucifixion of Jesus, but is often overlooked in the grand scheme of things. He most likely would have been a Jewish man due to a number of factors like his belief in one God (1) and his familiarity with the teachings of Jesus about the kingdom of Heaven (2), along with his punishment. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar, points out the uniqueness of the crucifixion and why only a certain group of people would receive this form of punishment when he writes

Crucifixion was reserved for special cases. But there were lots of special cases. Two of the most common were low-life criminals and enemies of the state. These are two very different matters – they are not the same thing… This was especially the case – I reiterate – for enemies of the state. Rare exceptions might be made for low-life criminals – escaped slaves, horse thieves, general riff-raff who did not matter to anyone in power (3).”

In other words, the two thieves were most likely crucified for either stealing something very valuable like horses as their names would suggest or for being insurgents that were sworn enemies of the state. Regardless of why they were hung in the first place, these two men died alongside Jesus and witnessed His final moments before His death. This will be the bedrock with which the rest of this blog-post will rely on as a foundation moving forward.

Artistic Depictions of Christ’s Crucifixion

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

What is also of note is how artists depict where the three are in different works of art. For instance, Peter Paul Rubens and Titian seem to have placed the thief on the cross to the right of Christ, while the proud thief is to His left. This deliberate creative choice of putting the thief on the cross beside the right hand of God is significant.

In both Judaism and Christianity, to be on the right hand of God was a sign of God’s “ruler-ship, authority, sovereignty, blessing, and strength and is significant in Scripture (4).” We can see this in many places in the Bible such as Psalm 110:1b where it says “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” To be fair, there are other works of art like Rembrandt van Rijn’s Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves: The Three Crosses (5) that appears indifferent to where each thief is in the picture and is rightly so focused on Christ Himself.

Likewise, James the brother of Jesus once wrote “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (6).” It would seem that in the spirit of this passage and the current state of the thief on the cross, that Rubens and Titian visually depicted what was spiritually taking place inside this thief’s soul. That as the thief on the cross was up there next to Jesus, his heart and mind were radically changed. A series of events that brought this man to a point of understanding.

Things like Jesus asking for the forgiveness of His executioners (7), soldiers dividing His garments by way of casting lots, and those passing by railing blasphemous statements towards Christ in a taunting way (8) all occurred before the thief on the cross had a change of heart. In the Gospel of Matthew (9), it even records both thieves mocking Jesus until a certain point where only the proud thief is left to mock Jesus. Sometime between both thieves mutually mocking Jesus and the one thief continuing to mock Him, was there a sharp change in attitude from the thief on the cross.

A Change of Heart

What happened so suddenly that a thief dying on a cross would suddenly have a complete change in how he perceived Jesus? I’d argue it is a combination of moments, but for now we will only focus in on one. What Jesus said and how He acted during this whole ordeal.

Gamelin2_t01
Anatomical Crucifixion Sketch | Jacques Gamelin, 1779 (11)

Just for a little more context, their punishment by way of crucifixion was not so nice. In fact, it was one of, if not the most painful form of torture at that time. According to Maslen and Mitchell’s article written in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (10), crucifixion had many cruel ways of ending one’s life.

Some of those causes of death may have been, but are not limited to acidosis, arrhythmia plus asphyxia, cardiac rupture, hypovolemic shock, and so on. Death by crucifixion was a brutal, yet extremely prolonged way to die. For some, they died in a matter of hours. For others, they died in a matter of days.

I believe of the three events that took place before the thief on the cross had a change of heart, the moment of Jesus forgiving His executioners had the most impact on the thief. Christ’s response showed the thief a direct contrast to the way He lived His own life. A seed of regret was planted.

Jesus forgave those that were killing Him. The two thieves probably hated those that were crucifying them. Jesus was known as an exorcist and a teacher who wanted to help the poor and sick. The two thieves were most likely men that spent the majority of their lives only helping themselves.

As if the name was any indication, these thieves were probably selfish. Christ was selfless. The thieves died for crimes they committed. Jesus died for crimes we committed. For the thief on the cross and from his perspective, this man was different in almost every single way from him and the other thief. They deserved this death, but Jesus didn’t.

This strong distinction between a thief and the giver of eternal life is a drastic black-and-white difference. One died for taking that which was someone else’s, while the other died for giving all that He had for others. This I believe is what changed the thief on the cross from mocking Jesus to defending Him in front of everyone.

By everyone, I mean everyone. Gentiles and Jews. Pharisees and Roman soldiers. Family, friends, neighbors, and so on. Everyone there at the crucifixion knew of or had heard of these three crucified men and were probably shocked watching the thief on the cross have a change of heart. A thief for the first time encountering something he had never seen before: unlimited love in response to unbridled hate. The love of God in reaction to the darkest of human deeds. The Gospel happening before his very eyes.

The short story of the thief on the cross ends in a profound way. Luke chronicles the rest of that story when he writes

But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise (12).””

In response to the thief’s change of heart and his humble demeanor, God gives Him grace. A grace that surpasses all understanding. This is the thief and the cross. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Luke 23:40
  2. Luke 23:42
  3. https://ehrmanblog.org/why-romans-crucified-people/
  4. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2015/06/13/what-does-the-right-hand-symbolize-or-mean-in-the-bible/
  5. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/41.1.31/
  6. James 4:6-8b
  7. Luke 23:34
  8. Luke 23:35-37
  9. Matthew 27:44
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1420788/
  11. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/gamelin_home.html
  12. Luke 23:40-43
Advertisements

Don’t Judge Me By The Color Of My Eyes

Photo: John w/ his two sons.

A while ago, my older brother John wrote a really powerful Facebook post about the state of racism in the world. He considered the matter and concluded that racism is nothing more than a categorical error. The idea that because of a sole variable (i.e. the color of one’s skin), those that share that variable are different than those who do not have that variable (i.e. those of a dissimilar skin color).

Even if both groups shared almost every other variable (i.e. culture, DNA, religion, etc), they were and are still identified by a variable that bears little to no significance when compared to more appropriate labels of identification like one’s birthplace or cultural upbringing. With his permission and in light of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Day, I wanted to share his thoughts with you (1). So, let’s see what he said:

“I’ve heard so much talk lately about “black” people and “white” people. Unfortunately, every single post has missed the point entirely. We live in a world where we’ve been taught to categorize by color. A process that if not taught to you since you were born, would make absolutely no sense. In fact, you would find it ridiculous because if you step back and think about it, color does not represent anything.

You would never consider categorizing people by eye color. It would be so stupid to even try. Close your eyes for a second and try to imagine a world where people were categorized by eye color. The whole idea is just stupid, right? Well, open your eyes. This is your reality.

So why don’t you even give it a second thought when someone says “white” or “black” people? The very moment that you define someone by their skin is discriminatory. That is the birth of racism. Allow me to explain.

The deep rooted problem lies in our fundamental thinking process that we all are guilty of being indoctrinated into believing. Somewhere in our messed up ideology we discarded categorizing other people by real connections like culture and heritage. Instead, we have substituted appropriate labels with something more superficial and shallow: the color of our skin.

The way we use the word color itself is ridiculous. Everyone’s a different shade of brown. Have you ever actually seen a person with white or black skin? Me neither.

Also, the word “race” is entirely incorrect in the context that we use it in when talking about people. If there is no biological difference between people of different shades, then there is only one race. I’ll say it again. If there is no biological difference between people of different shades, then there is only one race: the human race.

If you really break it down, there is only one thing that people of the same skin shades have in common: the way society views and treats them. This is the only thing that creates the bond between people who look similar and separates those who look different. But the way society treats you has entirely nothing to do with you.

Now we’re back to agreeing that there is really no difference, except the one that we created in our minds. So I leave you with this: as long as you yourself define people by categories of skin “color,” you are reinforcing racism. If you want to change society, then you must first change the way you think.”

If you change the way you think, then you will naturally change the way you speak. Don’t judge others by the color of their eyes or skin, but instead judge them by the inner condition of their identity. Now before you go, here is some more food for thought from two very important men in history speaking on the same subject:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” – Christ Jesus (NRSV John 7:24)

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. John also gave me permission to make minor edits that help fit the format of a blog-post, as well as fix any grammatical errors present in his original Facebook post.
  2. For more from John Cribari, here’s his personal training business: https://lessons.com/ca/simi-valley/personal-training/cribari-training
  3. Disclaimer

To the Bride and Groom

Photo Cred: www.pexels.com

Recently, my friend David got married and it got me thinking about marriage in general. If someone was to tell me something I needed to know before I ever got married, in order for a successful marriage, what would I need to hear? What is something every couple needs to know and have in mind before their wedding day? Well, I would want realistic expectations and some sort of idea of what will happen regardless of what that marriage turns out to be in the future. Something that needs to be known before “just married” becomes “married.”

As I have observed other marriages in my life, I have noticed five things that every marriage faces. Five obstacles that can repair or ruin this intimate relationship. These obstacles are communication, finances, intimacy, society, and worldview. Every couple will face one, if not, all five of these types of obstacles during the duration of their marriage. So for those of you who are either a) going to be married or b) just got married, then this blog-post is for you.

1) Communication

The obstacle of communication revolves around the issue of who matters more in this conversation: me, you, or us. The answer is us, not you or me. It’s called a team effort for a reason: teams communicate well because they have to, in order to win. Likewise, spouses communicate well, in order to maintain their marriage.

In marriage, everything you and your spouse do in life from now on will be communicated one way or the other. There are always going to be two types of marriages: those that communicate well and those that communicate poorly. Which marriage do you want?

By taking the effort to communicate well with your spouse on little things, you won’t have to worry when big situations come up. You will have all of that discipline to not only speak openly, but also to listen actively. All good marriages have a great sense of communication. Does yours? Will yours? If not, say something to your spouse or spouse-to-be and work on being better before it’s too late.

2) Intimacy

The obstacle of intimacy is a matter of understanding love and then living that out practically. Love at its core is sacrificial. Christ was sacrificed because of God’s love for us, even while we were in sin. The husband is commanded to follow this example and sacrificially love his wife.

Likewise, Christ respects His Father in Heaven. The wife is commanded to follow this example and respectfully love her husband. The answer to the obstacle of intimacy in marriage is sacrificially loving your lover with consistency. Better to have loved too much than to have never loved someone enough.

3) Finances

The obstacle of finances is a problem rooted in a combination of faithfulness, honesty, and wisdom. If you are faithful with little, then you can be faithful with much. Whether that be saving, spending, or investing, your faithfulness in finances will translate into honest use of your money as one couple. This faithfulness and honesty will in turn become wisdom in all of your financial endeavors.

I’ve seen countless couples who have a horrible marriage because of the tensions of bad financial decisions. This can lead them to either go broke or divorce. Don’t be them. Prepare ahead of time for the financial emergencies and general costs of marriage before they happen. Save, spend, and invest wisely while you have the advantage at the beginning of your marriage, not after you have already dug your financial ruin like everybody else. Be wise by making financially wise decisions in marriage.

4) Society

When two families join together and become in-laws to one another, this can be both bad and good. The obstacle of society is the social pressures of maintaining the expectations of those closest to you. This could be your in-laws, your family, your friends, or even your “public image” on social media.

First and foremost, live out the expectations for marriage as instructed by God before you ever listen to anyone else. Everyone else’s opinions on your marriage can wait as you listen to the LORD’s instruction. God’s expectations should be your standard for how your marriage should look and be perceived by others.

On the other hand, when two families unite through marriage you will inherit newfound responsibilities that you should certainly prepare for now rather than later. These are natural and should be celebrated new changes in your new life together. Nevertheless, marriage is two people married under God and it doesn’t have any wiggle room for control-freak family members, friends, or nosy neighbors to nitpick your every decision. If you follow God first and then listen to others, you’ll be just fine.

5) Worldview

The obstacle of worldview is a problem that deals with how the home will be run. How does your worldview align with your spouse? Do you share the same worldview or do they differ? Are you both Buddhist or Christian? Atheist or Muslim?

You need to be aware of the fact that if you both have differing worldviews, it will be much harder to run the home as a team because of the disagreements that can arise in different ideologies. It is crucial to keep in mind how each other’s worldview will impact the other as you both grow closer together. Your combined worldviews are the foundation for the way your new life together will turn out. If you have no foundation, how can you even begin to build a home? Start with a firm foundation and work from there. Know your spouse and allow yourself to be known by your spouse. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

 

Thank You, Nabeel Qureshi

Photo Cred: (1)

Dear Dr. Nabeel Qureshi,

Recently, the world has been at a loss for words on your tragic passing from this life into the better life to come for all who follow Christ. You had a long fight with stomach cancer and now you have entered into eternal rest with our LORD. Those that knew you mourn your loss, but also know that you are in a far greater place than we could ever imagine.

With that said, your recent transition from this earthly life into eternal life has caused me to reflect on your impact on my life. How I was first introduced to you through Dr. David Wood and his ministry on YouTube that uses apologetics to reach the Muslim community. A ministry that might just have the greatest bromance in apologetic history as well. The friendship that you and David had in the LORD was unparalleled. You both displayed what it truly means to have a brother in Christ.

It was these moments and more that you showed all of us how to speak the truth in love in a practical way. Like when you had a formal debate with the famous Muslim apologist, Dr. Shabir Ally (2). A highly respectable figure within academia and a great debater, to say the least. Even then, you stayed civil and Christ-like in spite of the challenge of debating such an accomplished public speaker like Ally.

The greatest lesson you showed me was to always have compassion and love for those who do not know Christ. To build a bridge and reach people where they are at was so inspiring. To love people like Christ did was evidence enough of how much Jesus has changed you to be more and more conformed to His image. I have never met you on this side of eternity, but I can’t wait to meet you on the other side.

In short, thank you. Thank you for being a role model to apologists on how to intellectually engage others in love. Thank you for showing us believers what it truly means to live both a life of conviction concerning the great commission and joy in the grace of our LORD. Thank you for showing non-believers what it means to truly love your enemies as you loved those that hated you for leaving Islam. Thank you, Nabeel Qureshi. You may have lost the battle with cancer, but Christ has won your soul. Rest in peace, Dr. Qureshi. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. David Wood (Facebook)
  2. https://youtu.be/FWpqqqZn7Kg
  3. Disclaimer

The Fruits of Forgiveness

It has been a year since my older brother John and I have forgiven each other the wrongs done to one another in the past. Within the past year, a lot of spiritual growth has happened in our lives as we have moved forward beyond that day of restoration and healing. In the span of a year, the harvest that we tended to for a mere 365 days has flourished with an abundance of spiritual fruit as opportunity after opportunity has arisen since we sowed that seed of reconciliation back in November of 2014.

Both of us have changed dramatically for the better as men of valor and virtue doing what we love. Doing what we dreamed of doing back when we were kids. For instance, the joy I find in storytelling and John’s knack for all things sports related has led us to pursue those passions for nearly a decade bringing us to a point when those childish fantasies are now vivid realities. Funny how some things never change. And who knows because maybe one day each of us will get to marry that special someone and have our own families in the near future. It’s strange to think back on what we wanted then and understand what we have now.

How if our younger versions of ourselves could see who we are today as grown men, I think they would be quite satisfied with the result. Like when I younger, I would wear my blue blanket as a cape and fight waves of imaginative evil forces attempting to crush the King’s castle with the aid of my younger brothers. Fast forward to now where I am in film school actually making those fantasies a reality through the art of visual storytelling. When John was younger, he too would play hours of street ball after school with the kids in our neighborhood, getting smothered in dirt from the pavement to now being the football star he aspired to be in his youth. Life truly is a constant reflection of the past and a redirection into the future.

It’s also interesting to note that now that we hit the reset button on our relationship as brothers and since the past is just the past, how we are really just starting from scratch. We kind of realized that because there was such division between us for so long, that now we don’t really know what the other is interested in or really anything about each other. It’s a bit odd and exciting to embark forward not knowing who we are exactly as we continue through as fellow friends. It’s pretty cool to rediscover who we are after years of friction and division that we built between each other.

Every time we talk we learn something new about each other. It’s strange because I would of figured as his closest brother age-wise, that I would be his closest brother relation-wise. I realize now after a year of sowing and reconstruction, how little I know about him and how little he knows about me. Yet it’s fun because we get to grow together in the next phase of our life, which is extremely exhilarating to enter: adulthood. To think we can now at this point in our lives get married, have kids, buy a home, start a family, and so on. It’s absolutely incredible!

Another aspect that has changed in our relational dynamic as siblings is the mutual respect for each other as men. It’s odd. For example, we both know that if we ever did physically fight now we would jack each other up. Although, I think he would win hands down. Plus, he’s athletic and I like Star Wars, so not much of a debate there. Then there is the way we treat each other as grown men, which I’m still getting used too and I bet he is too. How we don’t settle for the childish disputes that used to divide us, but engage in mature conversations on things that matter like God, manhood, healthy living, and so on. We have gone from constructing things with LEGOS to crushing iron.

Also, I find it interesting on God’s part how He has weaved our lives closely together,whether in times of division or in times of unification. Like how John plays in football games and I vend at football games. Or how we ask each other for nutrition and training advice, but have completely different philosophies when it comes to weightlifting in general. He lifts weights and eats right to improve his athleticism in football, in order to perform better during his football season. While I’ll eat half a dozen donuts before a workout and then proceed to lift Strongman implements like a log press or a farmer’s carry because being stupid strong is awesome.

Anyways, this dynamic of ours reminds me of Proverbs 27:17 (NASB) which says “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Because what happens in the process of sharpening iron with iron? Sparks fly. I believe this analogy perfectly describes our dynamite relationship as brotherly buds because whenever we interact sparks are flying like the clashing of swords. Yes, we clash a lot because we are polar opposites in a lot of ways, yet that’s the very reason we usually come to each other for help.

In short, this year has been quite blessed in the respect that a lot of growth has happened in all aspects of my life. Having Thanksgiving so close right now, it’s nice see to these changes for which I’m very thankful for and reflect on how John has been instrumental in my life. He is a good brother and friend. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. Disclaimer

 

Bitterness and How It Broke Me

Updated: 9/12/2017

I hate John Cribari. Well, I used too. Let me explain in detail what I mean by that statement. You see for the longest time I had a bitter hatred towards my older brother, John Cribari, and it nearly decimated me. But before I explain my personal story of bitterness, let me take you back to the beginning of this whole story.

My brother John and I at one point in our lives were like two peas in a pod who did everything together. We were the best of friends and loved playing with each other in our youth as boys usually play. Some days it would be a race in our grandparents backyard to see who was the fastest and other times we would play pretend at the apartments we lived in at Thousand Oaks, CA imagining that we were protecting Helm’s Deep from thousands of Uruk-Kai. He was usually Boromir or Aragorn, while I was usually Faramir or Gimli fighting off swarms of foes left and right.

The neighbors were never really fans of our imaginative adventures, so we would sometimes include them in the action and just pretend they too were Uruk-hai. That didn’t end too well most of the time, but then again how do you stomp the minds of children whose whole childhood was woven by the influences of mighty men of fiction and history? Men like Maximus Decimus Meridius, William Wallace, Joshua of the Bible, David’s Mighty Men, and so many more that inspired my brother and I to be men of valor who stood for something. Men that stood for the oppressed and fought against the oppressors of this world that meant nothing but harm to others. This is the way that our parents raised us during our childhood and into adulthood.

Yet, at a very early age our times in boyhood were not so squeaky clean like I wished they could have been. At the ages of 7 and 8, sometime in May of 2005, our old friend David from Thousand Oaks introduced us to pornography among other things that would forever leave a mark on us. For about a year, summer to summer, we would watch pornography at his house for hours and then return home all while under our parents noses. We quickly realized two things at the end of that year: we were not being the men of valor our parents raised us to be and that we needed to stop.

So at the end of the summer of 2006, we made an oath to each other and to God that we would stop swearing, watching pornography, and all the other junk that we did behind our parents backs. The way we sealed this oath was ironically by cursing as much as possible and as loud as possible for 60 seconds. No seriously. That’s how we sealed our oath with the one true God about changing our old ways by getting it all out of our system. So we thought at the time was the most logical decision. We were 8 and 9 at this time with our birthdays shortly coming up in June.

Shortly after our birthdays, I got saved at Calvary Chapel Oxnard’s VBS at the end of June in 2006 and to be honest I do not know when my brother got saved in his life, so you’ll have to ask him yourself if you ever have the pleasure of meeting him someday. But I can say that our lives did change from that point onward. We would study the Bible every night before bed for hours as we read of our favorite heroes like David, Gideon, and other Biblical men who were men of valor. It was in this great season of our lives that we went through 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles during a time of getting right with God. These studies were usually led by John who has always been the extrovert and initiator among the two of us when it comes down to it.

It was not until we moved to Colorado in July of 2007 that things began to change for the worse between us and inside of ourselves as we were entering middle school. We began to go back to our old ways even after having sworn to God to never return to those truly foolish ways. For me, it was during the second half of 5th grade that I slipped back into pornography and it was not until the second half of 8th grade that I truly stopped that godless habit. While this happened to me, John was badly influenced by the world in middle school and he even told my Dad not to let me go to public middle school due to how bad it was for him there. To put it bluntly, he got hurt and permanently marked by the world. For our family, it was really hard to watch him enter this prodigal son type of season where he dabbled in both the things of God and the things of the world.

Now as we both were slipping down the slope of sin during this time, everyone thought it was just John who was struggling with the influences of the world, but I too was struggling as well. The thing is that people only thought John was prodigal because they saw with their physical eyes, but if one were to look with spiritual eyes at this time, then they would have seen that we were both being prodigal sons. We were both sinning heavily, yet only one of us had outward symptoms that others could physically see. As my parents were scrambling to fix their eldest child, they never truly realized that they had another prodigal son: me.

So over that period of time I grew very bitter towards everyone, especially my brother John. I grew bitter towards my parents because they were trying to help John, but didn’t bat an eye to help me from my perspective. Being diagnosed with Autism at 1½ , asking for help from others has always been extremely hard. I have always felt like the “special needs” child who never could keep up with others my age and that I was always dependent on others for help. 

The way I countered this emotionally painful aspect of my life was to never seek the help of others by being a “lone-wolf” of sorts because I thought that people were unreliable and were holding me back from being like all the other kids. So I taught myself a lot of things like how to ride a bike in 6th grade and how to write legibly. This is something that I still struggle with as a grown man who is still not like everyone else. I grew bitter towards others because it seemed like they had it all together which just reminded me that I didn’t have everything together.

While my bitterness grew for those people in my life, it never truly reached the amount of filthy bitterness I had towards John. I blamed him for leading me astray and alienating me from the world by being home schooled for all of middle school. I blamed him for breaking his oath to God, for hurting our family with his actions of outward rebellion, and in a sense for leaving me behind as I once followed his example when we were right with God.

I felt so isolated during those long 3 years and wanted to get back at him for all he did to me. So I ignored his existence, I brought up strife in our family in order to isolate him like I was isolated, and in a way made him the black sheep of our family. Sadly as I reflect on this period of time, it worked and he became the black sheep that our family was ashamed to be affiliated with for a long time.

It was not really until the summer after 8th grade that I rededicated my life to God and my sinful habits became past habits, but the one thing I did not let go of was the bitterness towards John. During the summer, I grew a lot as a Christian in my faith and went all in as far as learning the truth went, but the bitterness stunted my growth like an anchor to a sinking ship. I could have been so much stronger in my faith as I was entering public high school, yet like Jacob when he wrestled with God (1), I would not let go of this bitterness and instead clung to it even more than before. 

As I attended Eaglecrest High School for 2 years, John was already going there and was very well known there. Every teacher I had would ask “Are you John’s brother?” or mistake me for John all the time because of our facial similarities. I wanted to deny it a lot of the time, but I always accepted my family relations with him. It was humiliating because I didn’t want anything to do with him during this season.

I find it ironic that as all of this was going on, I as a freshman in high school was anointed by God to lead the Christian club at our school called “First Priority” for those 2 years. Funny how God can use someone as flawed as me to reach people flawed like me. And use me He did as I became known as “Bible-Man” by my peers at school, relentlessly defending the faith and even had several debates at school in the courtyard. A courtyard  I would later nickname “The King’s Court” because the Holy Spirit would do some crazy stuff through me during those debates. 

Anyways, as freshman year was ending my bitterness was at its peaking point. Myself being clouded with my false assumptions, hatred, bitterness, and all out rage towards John led me to the decision that I had to stop him from hurting our family anymore. So I plotted to kill him and and had every intention to do so. That intention and desire grew and grew as the summer of 2013 came by when my bitterness had hit its absolute peak.

But God had other plans and on July 10th, 2013 God did something I never saw coming: He protected John from me and the intentions of my selfish heart. Similar to how God did the same for Israel (2) when He stood against the Egyptian armies as they hunted Israel down. 

Before that day though, God had given me a series of 4 dreams that were exactly the same each time in May, June, and July of 2013. In the dream, I heard a voice say something of a warning and that I shouldn’t do something. It’s hard to remember the exact wording, but the message was quite clear: don’t hurt John. 

Next in the dream, I was looking from a first person perspective and saw that I was lying in a hospital bed. Then I looked around and my entire family was in the room surrounding the bed I was laying on. After that I would wake up, but the message was clear and despite it I clearly disobeyed God because my heart still had the intention to kill John.

It was a late Wednesday night and the family was coming home from church, except John and my younger brother Nathan were home that night and didn’t go to church. As my family was pulling onto our street, we abruptly stopped because there was a large tree branch across the road in front of our house and our neighbors house. So we all jumped out of our truck to pitch in and move the branch from the road onto the sidewalk with our neighbors helping too. 

After moving that branch, we helped move other branches that were scattered across the road because there was a windy storm that was brewing during church and was ending by the time we came to help that had nearly destroyed the cotton-wood tree right across the street from our house. Once the debris had been removed from the road there was one problem: there was a large, loose branch hanging in the cotton-wood and hovering over our neighbor’s car.

So our neighbor moved their car and my Dad pulled out his ladder to shake the branch down while everyone was clearing the area. It was at this moment that everything became complete chaos as the small branch was being shaken down by my Dad. The entire tree shook, the wind came back which caused it to shake more than before, and then one of the main branches, reportedly 20 to 25 feet in length, fell. 

As the largest branch began to crack in the darkness of the night, everyone scrambled left and right. The scariest part was that no one could see it, so we all just fled in every direction from the tree hoping it would not hit us. As I looked up, I barely saw the top of the tree, so I sprinted from where I was standing in the street going full speed. Little did I know that the branch was falling directly my way. 

Then everything went black, but I was fully conscious. It was just pure darkness for about a minute, yet it felt like forever. For a second, I thought to myself “Crap, the atheists were right. I’m dead and there’s nothing.” Soon my state of nothingness ended and I was awoken by the excruciating pain of the neighbors moving my broken body from the street and onto my driveway, but they soon just put me back onto the ground because there was not much they could do.

The emergency responders soon came and took me to the hospital where I stayed for several days. The morning after the accident I woke up and it played out just like the 4 dreams I had beforehand. I woke up in a hospital bed with my family surrounding me wanting to see how I was doing. It was absolutely mind-bending to know the dream and have it unfold before my very eyes because of the evil intentions of my heart. It was after this humiliating moment in time where my bitterness began to fade as I was deeply humbled by God. For about a month, I wore a neck brace and even for the first two days of school as a Sophomore in high school which only added to the embarrassment of it all. God had broken me along with my bitterness.

It took a long time for my bitterness to go away completely though and it would take almost 1½ years before my bitterness finally left completely. Although it was in that time that my bitterness for John was slowly, but surely being replaced with love for John. It was not until November 15th, 2014 after John and I got into an argument that I broke down. I couldn’t handle hating him anymore. 

My only option was to love him at this point in my life because I was so hurt by my own bitterness that I grew weary after having had it for so long. It was this night where I told him everything and asked him for forgiveness for all that I had done. He did the same for his own mistakes and we after years of conflict were finally reconciled as brothers no longer at odds with one another. It truly was one of the greatest days of my life because the burden of bitterness that had been upon my shoulders was replaced by the security of forgiveness.

For the past 10 months our lives have both been on a resurgence since there is nothing holding us back now. John is currently in California playing college football at Moorpark college, pursuing a degree in Kinesiology, and working on receiving a certificate for Personal Training. I am currently pursuing my AAS in Directing/Writing at the Colorado Film School, preparing for my next Strongman competition, and hoping to become the Lecrae of Hollywood so to speak by making quality films that reflect the Creator. We even have a friendly competition between us to see who is the strongest whenever we workout. Now that it is love that binds us and not bitterness, we have the God-given opportunity to seek our passions as men of God, men of valor.

You see bitterness is a lot like raising your fist up in the air at someone you hate and then repeatedly punching yourself in the face. For one it looks really stupid and it accomplishes absolutely nothing. James, the brother of Jesus, once spoke about bitterness in his letter to Christians dispersed throughout the known world and said the following about the matter:

“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (NASB James 3:13-18).

If there is bitterness in your heart then hear from me and let go of your bitterness. Don’t do what I did and try to solve problems in the feebleness of your mind. God is love and therefore I now strive to reflect that love as a “Little-Christ” in every relationship because it is God who abides in me. Molding me into the man of valor I have always desired to be in my life as I grow older and older.

To John I say this: thank you and I love you more than ever before as my big brother always watching out for me. You were never close to the perfect example, but neither was I or ever have been for that matter. But it is the very fact that you tried to be a man of valor like the ones we read of and pretended to be that matters. 

Your boldness has helped me breakthrough my own shyness and introverted habits as I have grown older. You taught me many things in my life that I am truly grateful for like that one time we stood in a parking lot all day as you showed me how to catch a football. Always caring for others and not afraid to give it your all in whatever you do. Thank you for the wrestling smack downs, the brotherly pep talks, and especially for the consistency in your life as you strive to be as real as possible in every aspect of your life. I love John Cribari. Well, now I do. Until next time, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. Genesis 32:24-32
  2. Exodus 14:19
  3. Disclaimer