Re-post: Glimpsing the Heart of Peter

Simon Peter is a major figure among the personalities of the New Testament. He was one of the first to be introduced to Jesus, and later one of the original twelve chosen and appointed by Jesus to be his apostles. He is the first named in each of the three lists of apostles given in the Gospels.

Moreover, on the Day of Pentecost Peter preached the first sermon properly called a Christian sermon — centering on Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. And he’s the primary figure in the first 12 chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. It was Peter who carried the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Beyond all this, his two letters written to Christians suffering from persecution are included in the New Testament.

Yet, his performance was on occasion less than stellar. With Our Lord’s crucifixion hours away, at one point Simon Peter declared his never-dying loyalty to his Master and only a short time later, now in a hostile environment, he denied that he knew him. From this lapse, however, he recovered in a burst of penitential tears.

But in that same general period of time there’s another moment in his life when, in spite of his dismal failure, Peter’s responses show the depth of his heart’s commitment to Jesus.

It’s Thursday. The Lord and the twelve have arrived at a borrowed room to celebrate the Passover Feast together. For the customary washing of the feet before the meal, a bowl and towel are there, but no servant appears. Jesus assigns himself the task. However, he comes on his knees to Simon Peter and the big fisherman says in surprise, “YOU wash MY feet? To him that would be unthinkable. Jesus was his leader and leaders don’t do such menial tasks.

Jesus responded: “Unless I wash you, you have no part in me.” The pronouncement must have rung in Peter’s ears, and his reply shows the depth of his heart’s commitment to his Master: “Not just my feet but my hands and my head as well.”

It was as though he cried out, “Being severed from you would be like death. The most important thing in my life is to belong to you.”

That response was not entirely new. Earlier when Jesus asked the twelve if they would leave him as some of his other followers were doing, Peter blurted out with the same depth of feeling, “To whom else can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” His love and connections were real!

Jesus’ words to Peter have two levels of meaning. At the material level they have to do with the washing of the feet as a social propriety. At the spiritual level they have to do with what really connects one with Jesus – called “the washing of regeneration.” It stands for an inner cleansing, the washing away of our sins, the cleansing of the soul by the blood of Christ.

To return to the account of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus adds a word about the ongoing life of true discipleship, saying, “if you’ve had a bath, you need only to wash your feet.” It’s as though he reminds them that that very day they bathed for the day and that need not be repeated. But after walking the dusty, soiled streets their feet may need attention.

Elsewhere the same John writes, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He writes this to believers.

We can never forget Brother Peter. Tradition says that he spent his closing days in the city of Rome where he was crucified under the emperor, Nero. When it came time to die, some believe, he asked that he be placed on his cross upside down because he was unworthy to be crucified in the same position as his Lord.

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Re-post: Change Your Tapes

Photo credit: CoreForce (via flickr.com)Scripture verse: May the foot of the proud never come against me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away (Ps 36:11).

We’ve all done it. We hear a song that touches us so we order the tape. Or we hear a sermon that moves us and we say, I have to hear that again, so we ask for the tape. Then we play these tapes over and over.

Some counselors have put this image to good use. Here’s a believer who is often down on herself, or who sees the world through dark glasses, or repeatedly scolds herself for past bad choices — though forgiven. The counselor may say, “You’ve got to turn those tapes off in your head; start playing some new ones.”

This advice fits Psalm 36. David is vexed by the traits of the wicked person — he’s egotistical, has no reverence for God, his words are evil and deceitful, his sins are intentional — he even plots wrongdoing in the middle of the night. It’s a disheartening picture.

But the Psalmist turns immediately to another set of tapes. He calls to mind who God is — he’s loving, faithful, righteous, just. In fact, His love is “covenant love,” love that just won’t quit. That’s a tape that we should listen to again and again if the evil around us makes us glum.

The Psalmist ends with a simple prayer: “Continue your love to those who know you. . .” This prayer turns him to the right source for help, and he plays new tapes.

Thought: If we have power to choose the physical tapes we play, we have power to choose the mental tapes also.

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Antidote to Anxiety

8786185166_31e2f2f978_mWhen W. H. Auden published his Age of Anxiety in 1948, the title caught wide attention in western society. The Second World War was over but there was a massive cleanup to follow, and many war wounds would never fully heal.

At the same time, the continuing influence of the industrial revolution was making life more and more impersonal and relationships increasingly fragile.

But if those times were marked by an undercurrent of anxiety, what shall we call our prevailing state of mind now?

War machines in the skies, on the ground and in the water have become thunderously destructive. We live in a world where children are no longer safe. There are recurring predictions that the economy will collapse. And worse, even in a land at peace terrorism threatens our well being in every city of the western world? A terrorist may live next door.

The trouble with anxiety is that we often don’t know we have it. Or it has us. Our fears lack a personal focus so we can’t very well fight back. We just carry our anxieties quietly, but at a cost.

Is there an antidote to anxiety for our times?

Here’s Simon Peter’s word to believers scattered from their homes, probably by persecution, and in peril of settling to live under a cloud of anxiety: “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7 RSV).

The most important element in our struggle with the terror of our times is the view we have of God. If he doesn’t exist then we’re on our own through all of life’s perils. If he’s only “the man upstairs” then our situation isn’t much better for he may not know what goes on downstairs. Or if he knows he may not be able to do much about it.

But if he’s the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and everywhere present, then our issues are different. We know from both Jesus’ message and his life during his stay on earth what God is really like. He is as a Father to us.

That doesn’t mean he’ll protect us from every cold blast or sweeping storm. He knows that struggle builds muscle of body and mind. But if we live in faith he’ll never let perils and fears go beyond what we can take, and in our most troubling times he will stand in the shadows “keeping watch above his own.”

When our two boys were teenagers delivering papers I left them to deliver papers on bicycles or on foot because I believed the effort required would make them stronger and more self-reliant.

But one morning very early they came to our room before we were awake to tell us it was pouring down rain outside. I let them take the car for their task. Both decisions were fatherly. Some struggle was good for them. It would make men of them. But there was a time for a father to step in also. Our God knows when to step in.

Whenever our anxieties build up we should ask ourselves: Am I living as though I have to keep the whole universe on its course? Our first need in coping with anxiety is to realize this world is still God’s world and to renew a genuine faith in him. When Jesus said to his immediate followers, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” he was addressing them — and us too.

This brings us to the main verb in Saint Peter’s assurance to the scattered ones. It occurs only one other time in the New Testament.

During his passion, when the disciples brought a colt to Jesus, before he mounted they threw their coats on the animal. Peter tells us that is what we are to do with our anxieties. We are to cast them on God. Then, unburdened we are to live in the confidence of his love.

 

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Re-post: It’s Holy Week — Who Cares?

“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?” (Lamentations 1:12). What a searching question to ask ourselves during Holy Week!

I visualize the Book of Lamentations as written by the weeping prophet, Jeremiah, after Jerusalem had been sacked by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.

I picture him as sitting on Olivet overlooking the ruins – the temple is smashed and burned, the walls of the city lie strewn along the steep embankment of the Kidron Valley, and almost all human life in the city has ceased. It’s the picture of desolation.

At some point he must have noticed that travelers who passed the ruins went about their business as though nothing had happened and he sobs out, “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?”

There’s a place for that lament in our lives too. Sunday, March 28, for Christians is Palm Sunday and the beginning of what we call Holy week ending with Resurrection Sunday on April 4. To us today, Jerusalem is the city where, six centuries after Jeremiah, Our Lord was arrested, falsely accused, flogged unjustly and then put to death on a cross by the Roman authorities.

May we never forget that his death bore a two-fold testimony to the world. First, it bore witness to the exceeding sinfulness of sin. It was the sins of the world that put Jesus there –- greed, lust, selfishness, deception, pride — sins we all know about by shameful personal experience.

But, against all that darkness, the cross bore witness to the immeasurable greatness of God’s love for sinners — “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). John the Baptist dubbed Jesus, “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

It is fitting for us to hear Jeremiah’s question in a personal way: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?” That is, when we see the devastation of sin portrayed in the cross and at the same time the redeeming love of God, how much does it matter?

Here are references to key happenings during the original Holy Week. You may wish to use them for your daily meditations:

SUNDAY. This was the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem cheered on by the mistaken notion of the throngs that he would use his great powers as a national king to drive out the Roman occupation. (Matt. 21:1-11; Lk. 19: 28-44)

MONDAY. Jesus curses the fig tree. It was a shocking “acted parable” of judgment against the nation that had failed its divine assignment. (Matt. 21:18,19)

TUESDAY. The Olivet discourse upon his return from Jerusalem to Bethany (Lk. 21:5-36)

WEDNESDAY. It is thought by some to be a day of silence. But his enemies were not silent. The ruling Sanhedrin plots to kill him. (Matt. 26:3-5; Lk 22:1-2)

THURSDAY. Preparations for his observance of the Passover meal and at the same time his instituting of communion in connection with the Last Supper (Matt. 26:20-35; Lk 22:14-30).

FRIDAY. This is the day of our Lord’s crucifixion. He is betrayed and arrested (John 18:2-12); tried before Annas (John 18:13-24); before Caiaphas (John 18:19-24); before the full Sanhedrin (Lk 22:66-71); before Pilate and Herod (Lk 23:1-25) He was on his cross from 9 A.M. To 3 P.M. (Jn 19:16-37); then hastily buried (Matt.26:57-61)

SATURDAY. The Jewish sabbath, a day of silence.

SUNDAY. Resurrection appearances (Matt. 28:1-20). The day of astonishment, joy, and the rebirth of hope. To prepare us properly for the Day of Resurrection we need the whole week for Bible reading, meditation and prayer.

Holy Week is the week in which Our Lord was betrayed into the hands of his enemies, forsaken temporarily by his nearest followers, flogged by the Roman authorities and eventually nailed to a Roman cross on which he felt forsaken by the Father because a holy God cannot countenance sin.

When the Apostle Paul reflected on the event he wanted to fellowship Christ’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10). May we be saved from any nonchalance this Holy Week and rather deepen in our identification with Christ in his life, death, burial and resurrection.

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Who Gets First Credit for Our Successes?

6846446753_7bea8c903a_nDavid, son of Jesse, and later King of Judah spent much of his early life brilliantly evading King Saul, who was determined to capture and kill him. Again and again, David’s courage, bravado, and strategies foiled King Saul in spite of his superior resources.

On one occasion David sought refuge incognito in the Philistine city of Gath. This quickly turned out to be dangerous. Gath was the city ruled by King Achish whose servants said to him with alarm, “We recognize this man; he’s a king himself, and a mighty warrior” (1 Samuel 21:10 – 22:1).

At that point David sensed that his cover was blown. It was a walled city so how would he escape alive? Cleverly, he pretend he was insane, making marks on the doors of the gate, and letting saliva run down his beard.

The ruse worked: David was able to escape to the cave of Adullam, another Philistine site, and King Achish and his retinue were plenty happy to be rid of him.

The inscription that introduces Psalm 34 says this psalm is a reflection on that escape. How does David look back on his success? Does he deny any part in it? Does he exult? It’s hard not to feel some inner pleasure or even jubilation when we have made a move that has sprung us unscathed from a difficult problem or won acclaim for us.

So, when he is free to reflect on this or any of his many skillful escapes, often cheating death by a hair, where do his thoughts first go?  The first verse of Psalm 34 may give the sense of the whole psalm: “I will praise the Lord at all times. / I will constantly speak his praises” (Psalm 34:1 NLT).

In my Bible, I have answered my question by shading every reference to God with a lead pencil. The nouns and pronouns referring to God occur 28 times in 22 verses. That page in my Bible looks like a bad case of measles.

“I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears” (Verse 4). “Come my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (verse 11). “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” (verse 19). And on and on it goes.

In this psalm and many others David teaches us what it means to be a God-fearing man. He is a skilled fighter, a gifted commander of troops, a brilliant strategist, and over all an honorable man. Even if these skills were inborn he himself has polished them till they shone. But when he achieves success, without denying his part in it, he first gives all glory to God.

“A righteous man has many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; / he protects all his bones, / not one of them is broken” (verses 19 and 20). That’s how David sees the escape he himself had managed. God gave him the wisdom he employed. The escape was above all by the grace and mercy of God. So, while being aware of and thankful for his achievement, all glory goes to God.

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A 24/7 Kind of Trust

My Bible reading this morning was Psalm 34.

What first caught my attention was the psalmist’s opening resolution to “extol the Lord” — that is praise him highly — “at all times.” We might call that a 24/7 pledge – in effect during both day and night, through thick and thin, in good times and bad.

Is that kind of devotion possible in our kind of world? Our pace is super-fast and the distractions of life come at us from all directions. Also many would agree that ours is not a particularly devout era. We have our superstitions, our “rabbit feet,” our hidden idols, and these may favor us with a little dash of “spirituality.” But our times are “secular” — meaning “of this age only, wanting no underpinnings of the divine in life’s superstructure.”

Someone once defined secular to mean “if God exists it doesn’t matter.” That’s not the same as atheism, meaning “there is no God.” Or agnosticism, meaning, “He may or may not exist; there isn’t enough evidence to be sure.”

Secularists do not deny that there is a God; he’s just not important enough to pay serious attention to. He’s like the big red engines at the fire station. If our house is on fire we are glad to have them come screaming to our aid, but we wouldn’t want one parked in front of our house day and night. They, like God, are only for emergencies.

Psalm 34 was apparently written after King David had had a narrow escape from death. The heading to the psalm refers to an incident when he was running hard from King Saul who wanted to kill him (1 Sam. 21:10-15). He sought refuge by offering himself in the service of Achish, king of Gath, only to learn that his life was in danger there, too. So, he feigned insanity in order to be driven off and thus escape.

All of this engaged my interest and with my pencil I began to shade every reference to God, both nouns and pronouns. That page now looks as if it has the measles. The psalm is obviously a God-centered declaration of 24/7 trust.

Listen to his testimony: “I sought the Lord and he answered me;/ and delivered me from all my fears.” Or this: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted/ and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

The psalmist even indulges in a burst of instruction: “Come, my children, listen to me;/ I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” And, “Keep your tongue from evil/ and your lips from speaking lies./ Turn from evil and do good;/ seek peace and pursue it.”

A 24/7 trust in God means not only that we call on him in desperate moments but that we seek to live in accordance with his righteous standards at all times.

This psalm is richly nourishing to the spirit, but it is no match for the promises of our Lord himself. To his distraught disciples Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” And, “Whosoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (John 14: 18,21).

In order to know the assurance of King David’s psalm, or embrace the promises of his regal descendant, our Messiah, we must follow the right sequence.

The sequence is not: experience his goodness in all sorts of ways and then eventually trust him; it is rather trust yourself to him first and then experience his goodness and care in all sorts of ways.

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Glimpsing the Heart of Peter

Simon Peter is a major figure among the personalities of the New Testament. He was one of the first to be introduced to Jesus, and later one of the original twelve chosen and appointed by Jesus to be his apostles. He is the first named in each of the three lists of apostles given in the Gospels.

Moreover, on the Day of Pentecost Peter preached the first sermon properly called a Christian sermon — centering on Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. And he’s the primary figure in the first 12 chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. It was Peter who carried the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Beyond all this, his two letters written to Christians suffering from persecution are included in the New Testament.

Yet, his performance was on occasion less than stellar. With Our Lord’s crucifixion hours away, at one point Simon Peter declared his never-dying loyalty to his Master and only a short time later, now in a hostile environment, he denied that he knew him. From this lapse, however, he recovered in a burst of penitential tears.

But in that same general period of time there’s another moment in his life when, in spite of his dismal failure, Peter’s responses show the depth of his heart’s commitment to Jesus.

It’s Thursday. The Lord and the twelve have arrived at a borrowed room to celebrate the Passover Feast together. For the customary washing of the feet before the meal, a bowl and towel are there, but no servant appears. Jesus assigns himself the task. However, he comes on his knees to Simon Peter and the big fisherman says in surprise, “YOU wash MY feet? To him that would be unthinkable. Jesus was his leader and leaders don’t do such menial tasks.

Jesus responded: “Unless I wash you, you have no part in me.” The pronouncement must have rung in Peter’s ears, and his reply shows the depth of his heart’s commitment to his Master: “Not just my feet but my hands and my head as well.”

It was as though he cried out, “Being severed from you would be like death. The most important thing in my life is to belong to you.”

That response was not entirely new. Earlier when Jesus asked the twelve if they would leave him as some of his other followers were doing, Peter blurted out with the same depth of feeling, “To whom else can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” His love and connections were real!

Jesus’ words to Peter have two levels of meaning. At the material level they have to do with the washing of the feet as a social propriety. At the spiritual level they have to do with what really connects one with Jesus – called “the washing of regeneration.” It stands for an inner cleansing, the washing away of our sins, the cleansing of the soul by the blood of Christ.

To return to the account of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus adds a word about the ongoing life of true discipleship, saying, “if you’ve had a bath, you need only to wash your feet.” It’s as though he reminds them that that very day they bathed for the day and that need not be repeated. But after walking the dusty, soiled streets their feet may need attention.

Elsewhere the same John writes, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He writes this to believers.

We can never forget Brother Peter. Tradition says that he spent his closing days in the city of Rome where he was crucified under the emperor, Nero. When it came time to die, some believe, he asked that he be placed on his cross upside down because he was unworthy to be crucified in the same position as his Lord.

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