Experiments in Honesty

Meditations on Love, Fear and the Honest to God Naked Truth


By Steve Daugherty

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Is there anything left to learn about God’s love?

When Jesus was asked what mattered most to God, his answer was seemingly simple: love God earnestly and love others the way you want to be loved. In his debut book, Steve Daugherty dives deep into this command and what it means for those who follow Jesus.

Throughout Experiments in Honesty, Steve shares stories from the Bible and his own life to explore the ideas of compassion, fear, anger, and faith. This journey will lead all who want to follow Jesus to understand the truth about God’s Love — that it sets us free from fear and allows us to love others more than ourselves. That is, after all, what matters most.


Praise for Experiments in Honesty

“There is a way of putting Jesus on a sacred pedestal so distant from our everyday wheeling and dealing that we can honor him with our lips by calling him ‘Christ’ while mocking the witness of his life with all that we are. Steve Daugherty’s Experiments in Honesty helps turn this ship around by presenting Jesus of Nazareth as one whose divinity can’t be made separate from his status as a pioneer of human seriousness. Do we want to follow Jesus down the path of industrial-strength honesty? For anyone serious about taking up this question, Daugherty’s work could prove immensely helpful.”

—David Dark
Author of Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious

“If Brennan Manning and Mike Yaconelli had a love child … it would be Steve Daugherty. In contrast to much of the pious claptrap out there these days, Steve’s voice in Experiments in Honesty is an heir to grace, quietly and humanly reminding us that we are too. We really are.”

—John Blase
Poet and author of The Jubilee: Poems and Know When to Hold ’Em: The High Stakes Game of Fatherhood

“Steve Daugherty’s inaugural book is a literary treat, a visual pleasure, and—most vitally—a spiritual feast. Meditations on well-worn biblical moments retold through a storyteller’s heart give me pause. If you find yourself starving on fast-food religion, do yourself a favor and pick up Experiments in Honesty. You’ll find yourself at a table set with slow-cooked revelation.”

—Mike Morrell
Collaborating author of The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr

Experiments in Honesty is a fresh take on Christian spirituality and a fantastic read. Unpacking traditional Scripture in a frank, it’s-okay-to-question-everything narrative, Steve Daugherty draws you into his life and faith, quietly daring you to lift the veil and take another look at your own. Each chapter is a little bit like exposure therapy to the truth, pushing you to be more honest with yourself and your faith. If you read nothing else but the title, you have already begun your journey in faith and your own experiment with honesty. This is a must read!”

—Anne Kubitsky
Founder & CEO of The Look for the Good Project and author of What Makes You Grateful?

“Steve Daugherty writes as a practical mystic, inviting readers to discover more in everyday moments and those stories we’ve read numerous times in the Bible. He encourages self-contemplation through his humor and insightful perspective of life. You’ll see with fresh eyes as you continually wonder how you’ve never had these thoughts before. Grab a coffee to drink deeply as you read through Experiments in Honesty. You’ll notice yourself exploring profoundly into your journey with Jesus at the same time.”

—Jeremy Jernigan
Lead pastor of Abundant Life Church and author of Redeeming Pleasure


Copyright © 2018 by Steve Daugherty

Published by Worthy Books, an imprint of Worthy Publishing Group, a division of Worthy Media, Inc.,
One Franklin Park, 6100 Tower Circle, Suite 210, Franklin, TN 37067.

WORTHY is a registered trademark of Worthy Media, Inc.


eBook available wherever digital books are sold.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Daugherty, Steve, author.

Title: Experiments in honesty : meditations on love, fear, and the honest to God naked truth / Steve Daugherty.

Description: Franklin, TN : Worthy Publishing, 2017. | Includes bibliographical references.

Identifiers: LCCN 2017054501 | ISBN 9781683971351 (tradepaper)

Subjects: LCSH: God (Christianity)--Worship and love. | Fear of God--Christianity. | God (Christianity)--Love.

Classification: LCC BV4817 .D38 2017 | DDC 231.7--dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017054501

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, scanning, or other—except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. | Scripture quotations marked NASB are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org) | Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

For foreign and subsidiary rights, contact rights@worthypublishing.com.

Published in association with The Christopher Ferebee Agency, www.christopherferebee.com.

ISBN: 978-1-68397-135-1

Cover Design: Kent Jensen | Knail

Cover Image: Steve Daugherty

Interior Design and Typesetting: Bart Dawson

Printed in the United States of America
18 19 20 21 22 23  DPI  8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Truth and Lie went for a swim. After a while, Lie got out of the water, put on Truth’s clothes, and ran into a nearby town. Unwilling to wear Lie’s clothes, Truth also got out of the water and chased Lie naked. As Truth reached the town limits, he was turned away for being naked. Lie, of course, was let right in, looking enough like Truth to go unchallenged.


Naked or Afraid

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved …

John Newton, “Amazing Grace”

Quintessential Love purges fear.

1 John 4:18, my rendering


Too afraid of God to not be afraid of God

HIP-DEEP IN SEAWATER and dragging their boats ashore with exhausted hands, Peter—who at this point in the story still went by Simon—as well as the other fishermen heard someone speaking.

A group of a dozen or so was huddled together, walking along the beach, listening to a man talk. A predawn prayer group, by the looks of it. The tired anglers pretended not to notice them, but they did. Must be nice to have that kind of time. Peter noticed the group moving in their direction; a rabbi flanked by men and women eating up his words like fish used to gobble bait in these waters before the empire had fished it nearly empty.

The group continued moving until it was on top of Peter and his crew, and then it stopped. The rabbi kept walking, away from the group, sloshing out to Peter’s boat and legging over the side while the crowd watched. The rabbi just got in and sat down.

The fishermen’s lined foreheads said it all: With all due respect, what’s this guy think he’s doing?

The rabbi asked to put out a bit, seemingly oblivious to the crew’s hollow, tired hearts. They’d been out all night with no fish tales to tell. The crowd stared at Peter, pressuring him with their eyes. With a sigh, Peter motioned to a few of the others to push back out in the water. Rabbis deserved honor, yes. But he better not press his luck after a night like we’ve just had.

The teacher spoke from the boat toward the shore, and it took no time at all for Peter and the others to recognize a simple power in his teaching. Not counterfeit power, one pretended with high volume and ultimatums. The markets were full of mouthy two-bit prophets like that, their fists in the air and their tails on fire. This rabbi was different. It was clear this one had gone out on the water for amplification, because it was too easy to confuse shouting for strength.

The man’s words were rich, and yet they weren’t all that exotic. He spoke persuasively, but not as the salesmen and the oracles did. It was an artwork of traditional-sounding speech braided with an awareness of coming realities that seemed ready to break in at any moment. Like a familiar door hinged to the jamb of a great palace. The men wondered among themselves, We’ve heard this before, haven’t we? Or have we?

Then the rabbi asked to go fishing.

“Sir, respectfully, we’re really tired. We’ve fished all night and pulled nothing but water into this boat.” The rabbi nodded but seemed to not understand that Peter was objecting. Someone in the crowd cleared her throat as wives and mothers do to force consent. “All right. Since this is what you want”—Peter directed a mock bow toward the rabbi—“it looks like that’s what we’re doing.”

Peter and his crew pushed their boat out into the waters. It took several minutes to get out far enough to reasonably expect a catch. The four men threw the net out halfheartedly, the weights on the corners splashing into the chop, their aching hands and legs protesting the beginning of a double shift. Each of the men leaned over, watching the net sink. Andrew and John loosely palmed one of the pull ropes as it unwound into the water. James and Peter managed the other. The net disappeared.

After a few moments Peter nodded to the others. That’s enough. They began to lift the net hand over hand while the rabbi peered over the side, naive and expectant.

Then Andrew was shrieking. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” The men’s arms pulled taut and the boat listed. The rabbi stepped back to the high side of the boat, laughing.

Peter looked to the others on shore. “Come throw another net! C’mon!” he yelled, tugging and frantic. “Hurry!” The rope popped and groaned in the men’s hands as they shouted orders at one another. A convulsion of fish broke the surface in a flash of tails and scales gleaming in the sun. Soon the second boat was a few yards away, its net cast close. They immediately found themselves in the same tussle. Those on shore laughed and clapped, more amused than awestruck at the crews’ frenzy of yelps and ropes and tangled legs.

Peter’s boat was full. The second boat was as well. Writhing tilapia, binys, and sardines where only bare floor planks had been before. Both vessels squatted blessedly low in the water. Amazement replaced exhaustion. It was a miracle by anyone’s standard. God had poured out tangible, scaly goodness on Peter and his crew and their families.

No doubt Peter had prayed during that long night. Frankly, it’s impossible to believe there hadn’t been one clenched-jaw petition for at least breakfast to swim into the nets. Whatever Peter said, I’m persuaded the catch of fish was an unambiguous answer to an unrecorded prayer.

Anyone would’ve said God had answered this prayer by way of this mysterious man standing in the boat with Peter, knee-deep in fish. This moment had been pure blessing. A gift. An act of Love.

So how did Simon Peter react when this Rabbi Jesus miraculously filled two boats with fish? Pay attention, because Peter does a lot of reacting in the Bible …

One time Jesus started glowing right in front of Peter. Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus on a mountain. They were maybe also glowing. It’s hard to say how Peter knew this was Moses and Elijah before the advent of photography, but Peter seemed sure enough to start talking of his religious intentions. Religious men have often been the first to speak with certainty of mysterious things. And so Peter was suddenly speaking: “Jesus, I know … I’ll make some tents, one for each of you!” It was a sincere offer. It was the most meaningful gesture Peter could imagine in that moment. However, Peter was told to shut up and listen, more or less, when God’s voice broke through the clouds and commanded everyone to listen to Jesus.

Another time Peter, along with the other disciples, sent children away so they wouldn’t bother Jesus. “Seen and not heard,” as the saying goes. Jesus in turn put a child on his lap and explained to the crowd, and to Peter, that God highly values what society ranks low.

Another time Peter was involved in sending hungry people away so they could go feed themselves. “God helps those who help themselves” goes another adage. Jesus contradicted this as well with a mass feeding of fish and chips, along with a reminder that spiritual and physical needs are two sides of the same coin.

Another time Peter told Jesus that he was wrong concerning his own crucifixion. The biblical text actually says Peter rebuked Jesus for saying he’d soon suffer a criminal’s demise. True messiahs, after all, don’t get crucified. Everyone knew this. Jesus responded by calling his friend Peter “Satan” and telling him to stay out of his way.

Another time, when Jesus was being arrested, Peter lunged forward with a sword. To Peter it seemed reasonable that true messiahs needed to be physically defended by armed apprentices. Peter was going for the officer’s head but only connected with his ear. Jesus told Peter he was perpetuating the wrong movement and the wrong religion and commanded that Peter stow his weapon—to use it for no more than filleting fish—and then he healed Peter’s victim. Remarkable, I think, that Jesus was having to heal the victims of his church so early on.

Another time Peter puffed out his chest and said, “I will never leave your side, Master.” Jesus winced and told Peter that he would not only do exactly that, but would do so three times before the rooster announced breakfast.

Another time Jesus asked Peter who he thought Jesus was. “The Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter answered with zeal. Jesus went on to say he’d answered correctly, but not on his own. God had given Peter the answer.

Peter—Saint Peter—stands in for many of us: devout, sincere, and almost completely mistaken about people and God. Which brings us back to two boatloads of fish from God. In response to this miracle catch, Peter fell down on his knees and cried, “Get away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

When it comes to this fishing story, every sermon and book and article and commentary I have ever come across presents Peter’s fearful response as appropriate, prescriptive, humble, and good. “When in the presence of the mighty Jesus,” they explain, “you should tremble in abject fear.”

Peter, whom we know was always wrong (comically so, if you allow yourself to smile when reading sacred literature), was suddenly so terrified of the presence of the Divine, so jarred by the miracle, he begged the Lord to exit the boat even before Jesus had demonstrated he could walk on water.

But why should I suppose Peter’s impulse had been right this time? Why would I think Peter’s reaction to Christ here had been the right one but the ear-chopping thing was crazy? His actions had always been impulsive, his perspectives narrow, his theology needing constant dismantling and rebuilding. More often than not, when Peter did or said something, it needed to be undone and corrected.

Why do we not shake our heads and sigh at him as he cowers in the boat, “Oh, Peter, ya doofus. Stand up.”

And why would the very next sentence have Jesus saying to him, “Don’t be afraid,” if being afraid was the prescription?

On what basis do we think that being afraid of God is the key to getting goodness from God? Why would we gather to sing to such cosmic psychopathy?

Perhaps even now you’re getting nervous, wondering if it’s okay to stop fearing the one who always opens conversations with, “Don’t be afraid.” Almost as one fears letting his or her guard down around a dangerous man, this business of removing fear from our faith feels like leaving ourselves at risk. Perhaps it has more to do with Bible verses, since we could all pitch in several about fear being part of what faith even means. After all, “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” as the proverb reads. I find most of us don’t realize we’ve made fear the middle and end of wisdom too. Nervous adults still following the rules as toddlers do, for the same reasons toddlers do. We attempt being good for Dad to avoid a spanking, rather than to live well, to grow up. We do this and call this “wisdom” rather than the wrath mitigating it probably is. Some of us gave up on this faith long ago, because we outgrew a mental state that makes choices based on not getting busted. Some of us would leave, but we’re too afraid God might prove to be a cosmic spanker after all. Imagine the minds of those singing in church of love and joy, afraid of the very object of their singing. It’s mentally exhausting and often spiritually gangrenous.

Peter was a Jew. And Jews have always knowingly affirmed that God is aware of everything. As in nothing slips divine notice. One of God’s traditional nicknames is El Roi, “The God Who Sees.” (El Roi is pronounced “El Ro-ee,” in case you thought ancient Israel might’ve looked to the heavens and called for Elroy.) God told the prophet Samuel, “I don’t see things the way people do. People are stuck with appearances. What their eyeballs show them. I can see all the way inside.” This is to say Peter’s tradition taught that no one ever fooled God with their performance or achievements or Sunday best. No one ever tricked God into being kinder than God intended to be. No one ever incurred God’s wrath by becoming less convincing. God’s unlimited seeing is a big part of what makes God God.

And yet Peter, knee-deep in seafood, seemed to have thought the bounty of fish was given to him because God had yet to read his file.

“Get away, Lord, before you figure out who I really am and regret your kindness!”

If there is a mantra of the ashamed, this is probably it: If only you knew.

Peter acted like a terrified child, but because of our conviction that fear is good—holy even—we assume without justification that Peter got this thing right. Be afraid. Be very afraid. And if you don’t walk around genuinely feeling it, you need to learn to conjure fear as a way of proving your devotion. Preach that people must be afraid of God in order to get God to tell them there’s no need for their fear. Get people to fear God’s randomly applied justice, like tornados and cancer, so they can live in fear that they don’t live in enough fear. Because who knows—God may fill the boat with fish, or God may sink it to teach a lesson. Stay anxious. Your daughter may be born healthy. She may not be born at all. Depends on what point God wants to make. Stay nervous. If a good thing happens, you’re owed a bad thing. It will happen when you least expect it, so remain tense. And by the way, God’s judgment about that night back in college when you made a move on your buddy’s sister is still pending. God Loves you, but that encounter did not go unnoticed.

But …

What if being afraid of God is as wrong as telling children to get away from Jesus? As wrong as swinging a sword at an enemy’s head to “protect” the Son of the Almighty? As wrong as telling hungry people to go find food on their own?

What if God doesn’t want us afraid, but we’ve so stubbornly assumed human beings can only do right if kept under threat that we can’t imagine another way?

And what if the reason the divine voice is always heard saying, “Don’t be afraid,” is because there’s ultimately no need for fear, and that it might actually be bad for us?

I know, I know—there doesn’t seem to be much left of our faith if fear of divine disappointment and consequences are extracted. Wouldn’t it be arrogant of us to think we’d become less afraid in the light of the Divine, rather than more? Well, if we’re ready to get on with living the lives given to us, we’ll need to recognize that Love cancels fear just as catches of fish cancel empty boats. And only when that fear is cancelled can genuine, honest life be lived.



ON THE WAY TO THE BEACH a few years back, we saw an enormous billboard overlooking multiple lanes of highway. Pictured along the top of the giant rectangle was a storm cloud, with a huge Caucasian hand protruding from the underside. The hand was pointing at us all, the thumb and forefinger extended like a pretend pistol.

It read, “Jesus has your number. REPENT NOW!”

I felt angry and embarrassed. I began to imagine conversations leading to the decision to rent the billboard. I pictured an evangelism committee in some dank church basement passing around the concept art, which was endorsed with eager nods of approval before they finally segued to a discussion about how much church money they’d be throwing at this “ministry” to beachgoers. I felt angry that thousands of people a day were being told Pistol-Finger Jesus and my Jesus were the same.

I wondered irritably for several dozen miles, Which of us can be wooed to God by threat? And to whom exactly was their Je-Zeus supposedly speaking? All drivers or just liberals? Those who enjoy a good IPA here and there, or strictly those with footed fish on their bumpers?

God Loves you, losers. Accept it or be shot at.

I got over it after half an hour or so. But I’m sure there were other drivers who never did. Because for many of us, this is the god we grew up fearing. And we hide and estrange ourselves from what we fear. The Scriptures explain that Peter did. Adam and Eve did. Most of us still do. We hide from whatever threatens us or disapproves of us or wants to harm us. At the very least, we attempt to anxiously perform ourselves back into good graces. Or we get over it thirty minutes later and do what we want at the beach, having left the gaze of angry PFJ miles behind.

We don’t want to be close to anyone who thinks badly of us, let alone a god whose mood is negatively altered by what we do. There is nothing more frightening and terrible than a god whose disposition we can sour with our humanness. The god who, when presented with the reality of our weaknesses, seems caught off guard by the power of these weaknesses. Like a gasping mother who walks in on her kids trying out some new potty talk despite their being commanded to quietly watch Little House on the Prairie. How dare you! She is powerfully oppressed by the least powerful beings in the house.

Some of us feel compelled to argue for this god. For the goodness of this god. That fearing this god is what makes us take this god seriously. Some of us insist that when we say the word fear, we really mean respect. There’s a world of difference, though. I respect my mailman. But if I am only respectful to my mailman because I think my disrespect might trigger his righteous indignation, then I have simply folded my fears behind a vocabulary word. Respect and fear shouldn’t ultimately look anything alike. Especially in light of God’s command not to fear, how disrespectful it is to continue being afraid!

But this idea that God wants you to be afraid of him isn’t going anywhere because of a few paragraphs trying to convince you to the contrary. Faith seems dysfunctional without it. How else would we sinners be impelled to practice the holiness this god calls us to unless confronted with this god’s terrifying volatility? Isn’t the threat of a wooden spoon to the rear end how my mother kept me and my brother from beating the snot out of each other? Isn’t it fear that holds the house together?

Yet, what fool thinks the bank robber is inspiring the bank teller to generosity by pressing his pistol to her forehead?

When PFJ yells, “STOP IT!” from the roadside, he is not yelling, “Fundamentally change!” Stop it doesn’t mean “change who you are.” It doesn’t mean “become aware of a greater reality than you’re settling for.” It means “quit doing whatever you’re doing because I disapprove of it.” So then all we gotta do is carry on with our unapproved behavior on the other side of the billboard. We’re not growing up. We’re just avoiding PFJ.

I would gladly help fund a billboard that spoke more to the non-anxious, servant Christ’s heart:

Jesus has your number. Pick up the phone; he’s calling. Hello? He already knows your junk and what you really believe. None of it scares or angers God, even if your junk makes churches uncomfortable. Relax. Stop letting God’s calls go to voice mail. Wanna go fishing? Hello?

I suppose the verbiage would need tightening up for those reading at highway speeds.

Here are some words of wisdom from the section of the Bible called Proverbs. I submit that they reasonably apply to God if they apply to the humans that God made.

Make no friendship with a man given to anger,
nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways
and entangle yourself in a snare
—Proverbs 22:24–25


On Sale
Mar 6, 2018
Page Count
304 pages
Worthy Books

Steve Daugherty

About the Author

For fifteen years, Steve Daugherty has been a pastor and counselor. Steve has served as teaching pastor for more than a decade at Crosspointe Church in Cary, North Carolina. Steve’s writing, including devotionals, prayer journals, and group materials, has already been enjoyed by thousands. Steve is also a conference speaker, storyteller, and poet who jumps at the chance to capture imaginations outside the traditional church context. He has been married to Kristi since the 1990s, and together they raise three children, Emma, Anna, and Ian. Learn more at stevedaugherty.net.

Learn more about this author