Thursday, June 28, 2018

He Wants to Take Us Higher

Have you ever wondered why golf balls have all those little dimples?  It's simple physics, if there is such a thing.  Legend suggests that a poor young golfer couldn't afford new golf balls.  So, he scavenged the woods and roughs along courses to pick up old, scarred balls.  Playing partners soon noticed that his scarred ball traveled farther off the tee than their smooth ones.  Research followed and revealed that the scars or dimples did indeed help the ball travel higher and farther.  Now, hold that thought while we take a brief look at everyone's favorite quick-tongued disciple, Simon Peter.

Luke 22:31-34 offers a glimpse at how calculating the devil can be in seeking the downfall of those who long to follow the Lord Jesus.  He is pictured in that text as the accuser of humanity (Revelation 12:10), the one who uses his resources to erode faith and destroy the faithful.  In verse 31, the Lord Jesus told Peter, "Satan has desired to sift you like wheat."  The Greek word translated "has desired" implies a challenge like that in the Old Testament story of Job.  It's as if Satan appeared before God again and said, 'All those followers of Jesus are like chaff in the wind.  A little pressure and they will al forsake Him.'  The TEV translation says it this way:  "Simon, listen!  Satan has received permission to test all of you, as a farmer separates the wheat from the chaff."  At this point, the Lord Jesus calls him Simon rather than Peter.  Here, the Lord Jesus does not refer to him as a stone, a rock, or anything of substantial weight or strength.  Instead, He calls him by his old name, a reminder that Peter is still a mere human.  He is weak, frail, flawed, and unable to withstand Satanic pressure ALONE.  

The Lord Jesus warned them all of the impending danger and assured them all of His prayer for their strength.  But, in His foreknowledge, He also knew that failure was imminent.  He also knew that no one would be tougher on Peter than Peter himself.  Jesus, in His infinite love and mercy, looked beyond Peter's downfall and saw his potential as a leader of the fledgling church.  He show that faith in Peter when He commissioned him to the task of strengthening his Christian brothers and sisters.  

Peter launched a stern defense, assuring Jesus of his loyalty even if everyone else might forsake Him.  The Lord Jesus knew Peter better than he knew himself.  "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times."  Those words must have echoed in Peter's ears hours later when he heard the rooster.  With guilt and grief that was more punishing than death, he left the high priest's house weeping bitterly.  No longer considering himself a part of the apostolic group, I imagine Peter wallowed in self-pity until that third day when Mary came with a special message.  It echoes across the centuries.  "He sent me to tell you all that He is risen.  But Peter, He mentioned you by name.  he wants to see you!"

That's what Easter, the Resurrection, and the Hope of the living Lord Jesus is all about.  Second chances!!  Human nature hasn't changed.  I'm sure Peter heard whispers, endured murderous stares, and felt the vicious gossip of people who only saw his failure.  But all that really mattered was that he had been forgiven, vindicated, and commissioned by the Lord Jesus.  Fifty days later, this "flawed, scarred, failure" would be the one whom the Holy Spirit would use to preach the sermon of Pentecost and usher in the birth of the Church.  

Let me offer you some growth principles from Peter's experience.  The first is that failure is sometimes necessary to prepare us for God's use.  He will use failure to strip away pride and self-sufficiency.  Peter's upper room conversation with Jesus revealed an arrogant self-confidence.  His failure opened the way for God's mercy and grace to reshape him.  Failure humbles us and restores our focus on the Lord Jesus.  
The second principle is that failure can be the soil from which greater opportunities for service grow.  The Holy Spirit used Peter as the preacher at Pentecost because his penitent spirit, in the wake of his failure, prepared him for that task.  

Like golf balls, God's people are usually more effective when they bear the scars and marks of real life experience.  Through Peter, God has shown us that He will use our failures to make us stronger and more effective Kingdom-builders.  When we understand the tsunami of mercy and grace that God pours on us, it makes it easier to impart that mercy and grace to others.  

After all, Jesus is all about grace, transformation, and another chance.  

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Waiting Is Becoming

Do you ever feel like the person in the picture??  

The Israelite king, David, writes of Yahweh as his stronghold in Psalm 27.  When we truly trust God and obey Him, we have no reason to fear anyone or anything at any time (vv. 1-3).   BUT, to have that confidence requires a deep, abiding intimacy with Him (v. 4).  That's why he has placed within every person a natural yearning to know Him (v. 8).  It's there!!  It's always been there.  We might try to subdue it or to fill it with things other than God; but nothing will ever truly satisfy that yearning until we know Him personally and intimately. 

When we yield to Him and begin to strive after Him daily to build that intimacy, we will develop a confidence, not in ourselves, but in His power, protection, and provision.  We can recklessly abandon our lives into His hands knowing that HE will never abandon us (v. 10).  

We will grow stronger and bolder as we learn to wait on God in every situation (v. 14).  That's not something that 21st century Americans are comfortable doing.  Our culture likes the instant.  With the introduction of the microwave and thirty minute television shows, we started down a slippery slope of wanting everything NOW.  The Internet and a 24 hour news cycle have only exacerbated impatience.  The result is that far too many view waiting as inactivity.  But, it is not inactivity for the follower of Jesus.  It is submission.  It is actively listening for the voice of God.  It is praying, listening, submitting to the will and direction of God.  It is trusting Him enough that when He is silent, we are still (Psalm 46:10).  Did you know that one way to translate that verse is "Stop struggling and know that I am God."  Stop worrying, stop fighting, stop wondering.  Just stop and wait because you know that I am God.  

Rather than taking situations into our own hands, we should always seek God's counsel.  The Bible is filled with well-meaning folks who rushed ahead of God. None of them turned out well.  Abraham rushed ahead of God and the result was Ishmael.  Jacob rushed ahead of God and it cost him exile from his family and seven additional years of servitude to Laban.  Moses rushed ahead of God and it resulted in 40 years of exile.  David rushed ahead of God and it resulted in three days of deadly pestilence for his people.  

Now someone is going to say, 'God had a plan and worked it to perfection.'  There's no denying that!  But that doesn't mean that Abraham dalliance with Hagar or Jacob misleading Isaac, or Moses killing of the Egyptian was a part of God's plan.  David's decision to do a census of his military  The wonderful thing about God is that He can take what we mess up and make something good come from it.  But His desire is that we seek Him first to save ourselves some pain, disappointment, and even punishment.  

So, let's get more comfortable with waiting.  In the doctor's office or the DMV line, in the grocery line or a traffic standstill, let's seize such things as opportunities to say as Samuel did, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." (I Samuel 3:10)  Always be ready to submit to God's counsel quickly and faithfully.  And remember!!  Waiting is not inactivity.  It's submission to His will, His way, in His time.  "Biblically, waiting is not just something we have to do until we get what we want. Waiting is part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be."  -- John Ortberg