accepting limitations

I think Christianity and faith seems to bring with it a tendency toward an idealization in which this and that are to be just so, or at least there’s growth toward the good, what’s best. With that comes an expectation which sets one up for discouragement when it’s not met, or regularly falls short.

I think what ends up being the case is not the idea of having expectations at all, but misplaced expectations. We don’t understand God’s promises in Christ and how they work out in real life. I believe an important aspect of that ends up being our need to accept limitations. Limitations in ourselves, in others. And with that, we need to understand and accept our weaknesses along with that of others.

I want to be careful here. I’m not referring to out and out sin such as people giving into this or that which they know is wrong. Yet at the same time, if we are caught up in any sin, God’s promise in Jesus along with his promises in Scripture are for us as well.

Does this mean we expect less from God? Hopefully not. Actually it can mean that we understand better how God works. Through weakness, brokenness, even failure. Through our ongoing keen realization of our need for him. Through the way of Jesus which is the way of weakness in taking up one’s cross and following (2 Corinthians 13).

But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s anything but easy to accept weakness. And when we do so there’s always the danger of rationalizing sin, excusing ourselves when we do. What I’m referring to here is more of an existential awareness that at times, maybe much of the time for some of us, we will not be in any kind of on top of the world experience. And problems will come and sometimes mount in number and intensity.

We must not simply throw in the towel and give up. Though if we do we need to remember God is present for us then as well. All of this is the opportunity for us to push deeper into God and God’s provision for us in and through Jesus.

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Jesus reinstates Peter

Jesus was surely hurt the third time Peter denied him, their eyes meeting. And Peter was hurt the third time Jesus asked Peter if Peter loved him. It’s amazing the corollary and connections one finds throughout Scripture, yet in ways beyond mere human manipulation and involvement.

Peter had told the Lord that even if everyone else would deny him, that he indeed would not. That he was ready to die with him. Jesus set him straight, but also told him that after he repents, he should strengthen his brothers. Of course Peter does exactly what the Lord told him. He was trying to follow, but just wasn’t ready. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.

After our risen Lord broiled fish for a breakfast with the seven disciples who had been fishing, he asked Peter if he loved him three times, and after each time told him to take care of his lambs and sheep. And then he told him that this time Peter would indeed be ready to follow, and would have his arms spread out, and be taken to where he didn’t want to go, thus indicating the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. A wonderful story.

When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

John 13:31-38

Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

“You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.

He replied, “I am not.”

It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.

John 18:15-18

Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”

He denied it, saying, “I am not.”

One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?”Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

John 18:25-27

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

John 21:1-25

 

more than a persecution complex

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

John 15:18-25

Couched in Jesus’s Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17) the eve of his crucifixion, is some words of warning to his disciples. In our own culture we’re hard pressed to make much sense of them, but in the world at the present time persecution of Christians is as bad as ever. We do well to keep track of it and help by prayers and giving (see Open Doors).

In this present age we live in the realm of the world, the flesh, and the devil. All are directly opposed to Christ, often subtly in my own context. Oftentimes what can happen is a kind of getting along which amounts to compromise and a watering down of the message of the cross. If the ideal of the separation of church and state is maintained, then neither will interfere with the other. The church strictly speaking is a separate entity, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). At the same time the church is a people in exile from the heavenly Jerusalem, and wants to see the nation blessed in which it resides (Jeremiah 29:7).

So like life itself, it’s complicated. But straight up, as followers of Christ, we should expect persecution. In my own context again, more or less subtle. Though we who are blessed to live in a space in which significant religious freedom remains should be aware of other Christians who do not, and are more or less suffering real persecution, perhaps in the loss of property, and even life.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Hebrews 13:3

We dare not carry around a persecution complex, ready to jump at the slightest provocation, always thinking the worst. But as followers of Christ, we need to remember that our lives are to be a small picture pointing to Jesus and his cross. We’re to take up our crosses and follow. In the love of God for the world. In and through Jesus.

to love, regardless

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

We live in difficult, even if not perilous times here in the United States. And all around the world much division is becoming more and more evident, and often threatening to tear what fabric of society is left. And of course the actual conflicts with all the human tragedy.

If we don’t have hearts engaged with strong thinking and feeling, then we’re actually not real. Maybe we just want to avoid the pain, including the strife. To want to avoid such is natural, and to want to avoid strife, good. But probably impossible to avoid controversy if one acts on any convictions at all.

But what Paul was saying in the above passage, that in the midst of everything with a thoroughly Christ-centered conviction, following him with others, we’re to do everything in love. That’s how the short imperatives end. “Do everything in love.”

If we’re to break the impasse of strife and hate, we need to love. And not just any love. Not the “all you need is love” bit, which is only good up to a point. No, we need the love of Christ no less. The love of God in him. A love which goes to the cross and dies for one’s enemies, yes for one’s enemies. If we don’t love our enemies as Jesus taught and exemplified, then we fall short of that love.

Love, love, love. In Christ. That’s what we need for each other. And what the world needs to see from us. Which doesn’t mean we won’t speak out against what is wrong. But we always do so in love. And everything tempered in love. In and through Jesus.

stepping aside for others

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

This passage in its rich context tells us that as those in Christ we’re to value others above ourselves. We’re to take the place of the servant just as the one we follow, Christ did. Of course he did it par excellence, like none other. He not only set the precedent, but only in and through him can it be lived out to its fullest. Not to say we can ever do it to the degree and perfection he did. No. But certainly by the Spirit, we can live it out from the heart.

There’s a time to step aside and let others take over and lead the way. Maybe after we’ve shown them the way by example and word. Then we can continue to be an example by letting them take over.

We do well to take the lower place. We want to do so in fellowship with the one who took the lowest place for us and for the world: Jesus. That’s the fellowship in which we’re to live ourselves, and with others in him. In and through Jesus.

their hearts right, their heads wrong

Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me,  for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

Matthew 26:31-35

Peter’s heart was entirely right, but his head was entirely wrong. And the other disciples with him. Jesus had already made them clean through the word (John 13), I take it meaning regeneration, new birth. But little did they know or understand either Jesus’s words, or what was happening before them right at that time, the momentous event, and the shaking and sifting, along with the tragedy.

Earlier we remember that Peter had roundly rebuked the Lord for saying that he would have to die on a cross, that such a thing would never happen to the Messiah. The Lord summarily dismissed that, and made it plain that not only would he be taking that route, but that all who really follow him would as well.

Peter still had it in his head that there was a place for the sword. He is the one who cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus ends up healing that ear, and makes it plain that all who draw the sword will die by it. And that he had come for this, that the prophecies of scripture were being fulfilled (big in Matthew).

This can be so much like us. Yes, the Spirit in Pentecostal fullness had yet to come. That would make a big difference. But everything had to unfold before them, Jesus’s resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances, and his ascension. Yes, we have the benefit of this now, both in hindsight, and the Spirit’s ministry to us today. But we too can easily not begin to understand what we’ve gotten ourselves into. As Jesus told Peter, along with James and John at the Garden of Gethsemane, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

So our hearts can be right. But are we being changed by the renewing of our minds, so as to know God’s will, and not be conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2)? That’s the question.

 

regaining our focus away from politics or what not

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:27-38

John Dickson’s chapter entitled “Christ” in his helpful book, A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus underscores the fact that Jewish anticipation of God’s promise of the Messiah from scripture, and Jesus’s fulfillment of such did not match. They wanted someone who would bring military victory against their enemies, and through that, implement a peace, meaning, shalom, which would cover the entire earth. Jesus’s fulfillment was completely unanticipated, and in fact, an affront to their understanding. All crucified Messiahs were proven impostors, and after all, didn’t scripture say that all who were hung on a tree were under God’s curse? And yes, that was true of Jesus, but in a remarkably different way than they surmised. Under God’s curse so as to remove that curse through his death to bring salvation and blessing to the world. But it was the way of the cross, never of the power of worldly kingdoms and government. Read the gospels, Matthew through John, to verify this along with the rest of the New Testament.

We are at a fever pitch right now in the United States over politics, quite divided to say the least, and it seems like we’ve fallen into the fray as badly as the rest. We believe in political power. But in so doing, aren’t we doing what Jesus was actually getting at: forfeiting our souls, even as Satan tempted Jesus to do when he showed Jesus all the kingdoms and their splendor, offered to Jesus if he would only worship Satan.  Of course Jesus dispelled that immediately, interestingly on the basis of scripture, quoting the passage where it tells Israel (and us) that we’re to worship the Lord our God, and serve him only. But also implicit in that is the reality that God’s kingdom in Jesus is not of this world, and in fact, though down to earth, is from another place, of a higher, heavenly realm, just as Jesus said elsewhere.

We need to get a grip in realizing that no matter what happens in American politics, or elsewhere, our life and good depends on God’s promise in Jesus and the gospel. Not just for us, but for the world, we bearing witness to that. That can take a tremendous weight off our hearts. We live for Christ and the gospel, and if need be die for that. And we depend on that. Nothing else.

That doesn’t mean that none of us can serve in political places of this world. Daniel did. But like Daniel, they will likely face opposition and trouble as they live for and with God’s kingdom in view. Not an easy road to take, either. Complete commitment to Christ and the gospel must accompany that.

We pray for those in positions of governing authority, and hope for the good of our nation, and all other nations. And living in a democratic republic or nation like the United States, we participate in the political process as we feel led. But we remember that whatever happens anywhere in the world, while it may bear great and even grave consequences, to be sure, we in Jesus live by and for one thing: God’s word, the message of God’s good news in Jesus for us and for the world. Anything else we’re involved in only in light of and in submission to that. In and through Jesus.