As I read Psalm 17 this morning, I was wondering if David’s recorded prayer to the Lord would be one of those moments where as we pray to God for justice from “cruel and evil people” — that God reveals something in ourselves that needs to be corrected in the heart of the prayer by a stirring of the Holy Spirit within us — and an awareness of those things we can control to improve the situation. Many times in my life, prayer does that — it shifts me from a paralyzed, victim mindset where I’m blaming others — into a purpose driven victor where I’m biased towards the action necessary to move forward.
But this Psalm 17 is either not one of those Psalms — or maybe this morning is not one of those mornings. There are healthy, mature, mountaintop moments in our Christian walk where we can say “declare me innocent” and it isn’t just because we are guilty yet again and calling to be washed by the Blood of the Lamb. We aren’t meant to be satisfied to always be walking in defiled garments and be victims who are powerless against things like temptation and pride. So it is encouraging that we can sometimes stand to declare ourselves innocent and not be lying through our teeth in the presence of a Holy God — but truly be saying, “Lord, I have done everything I possibly can myself. I really need you to help me with this.”
Yes, there is a balance and this should not become a narcissistic attitude of “I’m right and they are wrong” every day or every prayer — because that is clearly shallow and wrong hearted. But we also cannot be afraid to acknowledge that God is working in us through the power of the Holy Spirit so that we will walk upright and “Holy as He is Holy”.
The beautiful thing about the Living Word is that one morning, I might read this Psalm 17 and be convicted about how my lips weren’t honest and how I need to repent and make amends. Another morning, I might read this Psalm 17 and realize that someone I’m considering an enemy has simply offended me and I need to truly forgive them to release my heart from “the Bait of Satan”. Another morning, I might actually be at the end of my rope and need God to lay low a mountain that I can’t on my own. Isn’t that wonderful?
No matter where you are this morning, my friend, our goal should be to come to Him in prayer with honest lips. Listen to what we are saying when we are praying — and a humble prayer doesn’t have words lower than the truth in shame — nor higher than the truth in pride. That is worth repeating:
Let’s strive in our prayer life for honest lips, actively listening to ourselves introspectively and for the stirring of the Holy Spirit to reveal whether we are higher or lower in our understanding of the truth of our circumstances. And let’s do everything that we can to be actively upright, honest, kind, loving, and self-controlled — but also rest in peace and patience when our faith has us eagerly waiting for God to move. Amen.
There was a storm yesterday at our farm, and everything was wet with leaves and tree limbs on the ground – but at our house, we just got a sprinkle. Some people hated seeing the rain because it stopped ballgames and spring events, while some farmers were blessed to have it show up in time for their crops. The same front rolled through, but lives were touched differently depending on their own perspective.
Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, And the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, And the fruitful field is counted as a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, And righteousness remain in the fruitful field. The work of righteousness will be peace, And the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, In secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places, Though hail comes down on the forest, And the city is brought low in humiliation. Blessed are you who sow beside all waters, Who send out freely the feet of the ox and the donkey. Isaiah 32:15-20 NKJV
The same Holy Spirit that is poured out on the children of God to produce a fruitful and spiritually abundant life – that will produce peace and righteousness and rest – will seem devastating and dreadful to the enemies of God. People who are enemies of morality and self control do not like being in the presence of someone that lives a peaceful and righteous life.
When we are not yielded to God, it convicts us about the sin in our own lives more than loud preaching ever could. It humiliates us (whether or not we admit it openly) when we witness another person walking in self control and power of spirit when we are prisoners to our own desires, wrapped up in sin that we are not willing to let go of.
I don’t say this to boast in our own self control or to leave us in guilt and shame – but to boast in the Holy Spirit given to us that is not of fear, but of love, power, and self control. We are no longer powerless, and this is something worth celebrating – it is Good News!
And our job is to sow the seed of Christ, to love and serve, to walk in the Spirit, and to tell people this Good News – whether they receive it as annointing for their lives or whether they resist it is not our responsibility. We do not have to subtract from the Word to make them comfortable, nor do we have to add to the Word to scare them. We simply need to continue growing and learning and walking and sharing openly – letting the Truth do the work – letting the Holy Spirit have His way.
As you share the Good News, as you share your testimony, worry less about the perceived effectiveness or ineffectiveness of your “winning souls” and focus more on your expressing the peace, joy, and gratitude that is in your heart for what He had done for you. Being a witness is less about you, it is even less about them, and it is most about God. Praise His name today with your life, with your words, with your actions, and sow the seed of Godly love everywhere you can as you walk through this day.
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 NKJV
I love you, friend. But I hate your sin. I hate my sin. I see what it has done in our lives, the tricks that it plays – offering sweet promises while providing sickness and wickedness and death and harm to ourself and others. Most importantly, it dishonors the name of the Lord when we say we are His with our mouths but deny Him in our lives, when we are a stumbling block – hindering others from recognizing the true spirit of Christ alive in His children.
Yes, I believe that everything the Lord calls sin IS SIN. Yes, I am more confident in the truth of His Word than in the lies of my own deceitful heart and opinions. I trust in God’s divine wisdom over my own feelings and justifications about what is right and wrong, because I have proven to myself that my way is foolish and lands me in unexpected consequences for myself and others. I survey my life and it is clear that obeying His guidelines is the best life both now and for eternity.
And I expected it to be heavy and burdensome like before when I found that I was a rebellious law breaker. But the Lord sent me the Helper that He promised, and when I have my eyes set firmly upon demonstrating His way to the world around me – when I am bold enough to walk in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and long suffering – when I walk in the Spirit, I no longer break the law and I’m no longer under the law.
This is because I’m not longing to fulfill my own will, but I’m longing to fulfill His will. Yes, He gives me a new hunger – a hunger for His ways, His righteousness. And when we hunger for righteousness we do not hunger to be involved in sin – we love righteousness and hate sin.
This does not mean that we only love people who act or want to appear righteous – No! There is not a one of you (especially not in you arrogant and religious ones) who is righteous of his own works. And if you stand with the testimony of your own works as righteous, you are both a liar and an abomination before God because of your pride and arrogance.
Such an abomination, such a blaspheming of the work of the Holy Spirit as being their own – I fear that it will bring desolation to many who would not give all the praise and honor to God for the opportunity to walk as a new creation. And the same can be said for those who turn away from such a blessing as grace, and blaspheme it as a license to sin freely and openly, with no love for God or His ways. Lord, save us!
Help us, Lord! Come live in us and guide us so that it will be you living out these days in our vessel – quickening our lives as you take over and abide with us and walk with us. Let them see you more and more and us less and less.
If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me. They would not be guilty if I had not come and spoken to them. But now they have no excuse for their sin. Anyone who hates me also hates my Father. John 15:18-23 NLT
“you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you”
Almost daily, I see a backlash from “carnal Christians” (who know the name of the Savior but who have only themselves as Lord of their lives) towards those who would share truth and warn others about the dangers of sin. I hear things like “you’re being judgemental” when someone speaks about sin, repentance, discipleship or sanctification from the, same people that sing proudly of grace as if it is a license to sin.
Wake up and hear the truth. If you are a slave to sin, see what the Word of God says:
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. John 8:34-36 NLT
If we are currently a slave to sin, but we know that we are called to be a child of God, the solution is simple – repent (turn away from your sin), believe in your heart, confess with your mouth, and He will send the Holy Spirit to convict you against sin, to teach you, to guide you, so that you will walk in the Spirit of Christ, following His example and demonstrating Him to the world.
So we are either a slave to sin, or we are a new creation in Christ – and the two types of desires are so different from one another that the two are at war with each other. One desires sin and the things of this world as treasure and reward and the will of man, while the other desires only Christ and the will of God.
“now they have no excuse for their sin”
Yes, many hate to hear the whole message of Jesus Christ – that He calls us to no longer be a part of the world, to no longer live like the world. Many are satisfied with the idea that their sins might be forgiven, but they have no real interest in giving up their sin. And when He says that we are free indeed, and that He has given us the power to see evil flee from us – it really bothers those who no longer have any excuse for remaining in their sin.
It bothers those who are either:
A) deceived and confused because they can’t reconcile their own opinions about God with what the Word of God actually says
B) aware that their claims about being a Christian are nothing but outward lies
The Good News is that salvation is just a turn away. But it does take deciding to love Christ more than our sin.
And for many, the broad path seems so attractive when we can’t see and touch what is behind that narrow gate. The broad path seems so much easier when we can only see the struggle and strife and trial of those poor, sacrificing Christian missionaries who are willing to give it all up to serve the Lord. The broad path seems so much more friendly and crowded when we can only see those “judgemental Christians” who are isolating themselves by standing firm upon the truth of the Word of God.
The broad path of finding a compromising “church” that will speak what I want to hear and won’t expect me to change or grow as long as I show up, volunteer, and tithe seems so much easier than actually picking up my cross and following Jesus, making disciples, baptizing them, and walking like Christ. People will say, “Isn’t there someone else who will go? Isn’t there someone else who is better qualified? Can’t I just give my money to them and maybe God will leave me alone?”
Do you love your life, or do you love Christ?
If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it. Luke 17:33 NLT
Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, “It has come at last— salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth— the one who accuses them before our God day and night. And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens! And you who live in the heavens, rejoice! But terror will come on the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time.” Revelation 12:10-12 NLT
I will sing of your love and justice, Lord .
I will praise you with songs.
I will be careful to live a blameless life—
when will you come to help me?
I will lead a life of integrity in my own home.
I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar.
I hate all who deal crookedly;
I will have nothing to do with them.
I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil.
I will not tolerate people who slander their neighbors.
I will not endure conceit and pride.
I will search for faithful people to be my companions.
Only those who are above reproach will be allowed to serve me.
I will not allow deceivers to serve in my house,
and liars will not stay in my presence. My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked and free the city of the Lord from their grip.
Psalms 101:1-8 NLT
[Yes, we stand in opposition to sin and wickedness. Not just offering a Savior who offers forgiveness in return for religious sacrifices over and over again, No! We surrender to a Lord who offers deliverance from being a slave to sin to walk in his Spirit and nature instead of in our flesh.]
A good tree produces good fruit,
and a bad tree produces bad fruit.
A good tree can’t produce bad fruit,
and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.
So every tree that does not produce good fruit
is chopped down and thrown into the fire.
Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit,
so you can identify people by their actions.
Matthew 7:17-20 NLT
[Identifying someone for what they really are by evidence of their lives is not judging. If the Bible says “[X] shall not inherit the kingdom of God” but someone confesses with their mouth that they are a Christian bound for heaven while they happily continue participating in [X], we can know that they are deceived. And yes, there is sin that leads to death and sin that hinders our witness – no sin is good or acceptable or comfortable remaining in the life of a believer. So we must not only seek forgiveness, but stand form in Christ against sin, fully surrendered to His will.]
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.
John 15:1-12 NLT
[We do not oppose each other. We are not hungry to examine each other and find fault with each other. But if we have truth and see someone claiming the name of Christ who is deceived in their heart, what is kinder? To let them find out that the Word of God is true after it is too late and there remains no opportunity for them to repent of those things that “shall not inherit the Kingdom of God”? Or to share even the Truth in Love that they would rather not hear – so that they might be freed from the oppression of their sin, so that their chains might be broken, so that they might live?
Jesus shared uncomfortable truth to shine light on the darkness – calling people to completely surrendered lives of discipleship, repentance, and sanctification – not half hearted, empty religious practice remaining slaves to sin.
Are we so afraid of the reaction of people that we have lost our fear of God – who wants us to know and share the truth and love of this gospel of Jesus Christ that is sharper than a two edged sword?
If the Word of God cuts them deeply, it isn’t because we are lifting our sword against an enemy, we offer healing. My brothers and sisters are not my enemy while I hold out hope for their deliverance from the sin that enslaved them.
We realize that truth, wrath, and judgement is very much true and expected for those who remain in darkness – they face one side of the Sword (the Word of God) like a weapon against an enemy, like a lion waiting to devour.
And we realize that mercy, love, and sanctification is very true and expected of those who are healed by His touch (like a doctor’s scalpel for a patient).
Will we bring the Word of God to bear today on behalf of our brothers and sisters and against the enemy?]
“keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”
– Jude 1:21 NKJV
“Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, As in the day of trial in the wilderness, When your fathers tested Me; They tried Me, though they saw My work. For forty years I was grieved with that generation, And said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts, And they do not know My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”
Psalms 95:8-11 NKJV
[We were once in the wilderness, a part of the rebellion, an enemy of God – interested in our own ways and desires and not His.]
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
I John 4:7-10 NKJV
[God loves us. In fact, this is our ONLY hope, that God loves us, because we have proven to ourselves and to others many times in our actions and our words that we are imperfect, flawed sinners. It is only through His love, His sacrifice that we find salvation, that we learn love.]
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
– Psalms 95:1-2,6 NKJV
[Our response to His love, to His mercy towards a people undeserving of His love is grattitude, is thanksgiving, is praise. Praise not just in occassional religious ceremonies, but in our daily lives, even moment to moment throughout our day.]
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
I John 4:11-16, 20-21 NKJV
[Yes, He teaches us love through His life, through His Word, and through His Holy Spirit that lives within us believers. And our purpose is to demonstrate this love, to testify to this love, by accepting it and pouring it out onto those around us. We are called – yes, we are even commanded – to Love God, and to Love others. And this isn’t a burden, but a blessing.]
Lord God, plunge me into your love so that I can love you with all that I am. I know that I’m asking you for the very thing I’ll give right back to you, but my heart feels small and shrunken; I struggle to live you well or even love at all. Immerse me in your love so that my heart, soul, strength, and might find their true home, and I will find the room in my heart to love my neighbor. Amen. (WSC 42)
O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongs—
O God, to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth!
Rise up, O Judge of the earth;
Render punishment to the proud.
Lord , how long will the wicked,
How long will the wicked triumph?
Understand, you senseless among the people;
And you fools, when will you be wise?
He who planted the ear, shall He not hear?
He who formed the eye, shall He not see?
He who instructs the nations, shall He not correct,
He who teaches man knowledge?
The Lord knows the thoughts of man,
That they are futile.
Psalms 94:1-3, 8-11 NKJV
[Judgement, wrath, and punishment lies ahead for the proud and the wicked. The Lord is not blind to their heart, their thoughts, and their desires.]
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
John 14:1-6 NKJV
[When we realize our need to no longer walk proud and wicked, we can rely upon Christ – who died on the cross for us, who defeated sin and death, who rose from the dead, and who will come live in us and teach us the way, the truth, and the life.]
Blessed is the man whom You instruct,
O Lord , And teach out of Your law,
That You may give him rest from the days of adversity,
Until the pit is dug for the wicked.
For the Lord will not cast off His people,
Nor will He forsake His inheritance.
But judgment will return to righteousness,
And all the upright in heart will follow it.
Who will rise up for me against the evildoers?
Who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?
Unless the Lord had been my help,
My soul would soon have settled in silence.
If I say, “My foot slips,”
Your mercy, O Lord , will hold me up.
In the multitude of my anxieties within me,
Your comforts delight my soul.
Psalms 94:12-19 NKJV
[In grattitude for our salvation and inheritance of eternal life, a Child of God grows in faith by trusting the Word of God, learning from Christ’s example – from being convicted by the Holy Spirit against sin – and by choosing to seek righteousness, surrendering our will and desires, and walking out His will for our lives.]
But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.
Jude 1:20-23 NKJV
[Godly love looks past our own salvation and seeks fellowship with other believers. It is active in both encouragement and accountability – understanding that all situations call for love. Sometimes that love is demonstrated compassionately with soft words and actions – while other situations require swift, decisive, and bold words and actions in order to save some from the flames of destruction.]
John is preaching and teaching people to repent of their sins, and he is baptizing with water. And he is drawing a crowd around himself – partly because he is a spectacle to be seen, a wild man living in the wilderness, preaching about God to a world of people living quite differently than himself. And his message was quite different than what they were used to hearing:
Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Luke 3:7-9 NKJV http://bible.com/114/luk.3.7-9.NKJV
And Paul is telling them about the Messiah who is to come.
Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Luke 3:15-16 NKJV http://bible.com/114/luk.3.15-16.NKJV
Paul has been preaching about Christ, telling them about the coming Messiah, but they do not recognize him on their own. Paul still has to urge them – Behold! Look! Today, I urge you to Look! See Christ who is at the gate, waiting to come into your life and lead you along the narrow path to your eternal destination in the house of your heavenly Father.
How often in the hustle and bustle and distractions of each day do I losevsight of Christ?
How often do I need to be reminded to look to Jesus?
Don’t we have to realize our complete need for Him in order to cling to Him?
Don’t we need to believe in Him and examine our lives to see if we are living fruitful lives – serving, and loving others as the body of Christ?
Don’t we need to believe in Him and examine our lives to see if we are living obedient lives – repenting, resisting temptation and seeing it flee from us?
If we believe, and if we “see” Christ and know Him to be real, shouldn’t we encourage them to “Look!”, shouldn’t we warn them of the dangers of they do not?
The good news is that John wasn’t just some nut, some kook, talking about fantasy and imagination and ritual and superstition. The Good News is that the Christ that I know and love and preach is real. The Good News is that your eyes are being opened to see Him even more clearly as you hear the watchmen crying out, “Look!” And as you seek to find Him, recognize Him, get to know Him intimately as that friend who never leaves you or abandons you.
Heavenly Father, Almighty God, maker of heaven and earth. You are the one true God. You are the righteous and just and merciful and forgiving, You are slow to anger, and you love toy children enough to come in the flesh, to be born of a virgin, to live a blameless life, to teach us by your example the way we should live loving God wholeheartedly, to teach us by your example that we should serve and love others as a good neighbor, to teach us by your example to be faithful even unto death, to die on the cross as a blood payment for sin, to overcome sin and death, and to demonstrate what lies ahead for your followers by being raised from death into eternal glory. Help us to see you, Lord. Help us to see a Savior that brings grace and mercy and forgiveness, and help us to see a Lord that brings repentance and holiness and righteousness. Help us to see a Healer who binds up our wounds and casts out of anxiety and guilt and shame from our lives. Help us to see you as our Redeemer who equips us with the whole armor of God to see victory as the enemy is defeated and overcome in our lives. Help us to see you as the annointing of your Holy Spirit poured out into us, so that we can carry the blessings, the light, the truth, the way out into the darkness to those who need Hope and Love and Salvation and Life abundant and eternal. Amen.
And once we have recognized Jesus, once we have caught a glimpse and realized the truth and power of change that He affects in the lives of those drawn to Him, once we have cried out to Him from our hearts and confessed Him as both Savior and, Lord of our lives, once we have found belief – this is the start of our journey, not the triumphant fulfillment. The celebration as we come into the body of Christ is that the work is started in our lives. We have found the narrow gate – now we get to walk this narrow path, hand in hand with our love, our Christ, our companion, our friend.
This narrow path comes with its trials, with its challenges, even with suffering and persecution for those who will set their eyes fully upon Christ and who will carry the light that we have received into the world. If or eyes are opened to behold the light of Christ’s grace, we are also no longer blind to the blindness of those who do not yet have eyes to see. We are no longer without understanding that in order for others to see, there must be someone willing to cry out about this Good News and tell them, “Look! Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” They must hear so that they might see.
And if we hope that they might hear our warning, it must be our love that demonstrates this truth to them. We do not love just in words, but we love in action and in truth. If we speak, but we do not have love, then we are nothing more than an annoying noise that they will refuse to hear. Because they listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd, and they know Him because they recognize the fruit of His Holy Spirit. There are many that know the Scriptures, that can quote Truth, that can “provide you with an example in their words”, but there are so few that will “be an example with their lives”.
Christ calls us to the latter. Christ calls us to speak louder with our life example than with our carefully practiced and examined words. We must examine our hearts much closer than we examine what others might think of us. There is so much at stake. Serving the Lord is such a joy and blessing, and there are so many that are trading in the opportunity of a day spent with Christ for a day distracted by the enticements of the world.
I’m not telling you to act more religious – No, quite the contrary, I’m pleading with you to see Christ who is closer to you than your breath, who is saying, “Walk with me, child. Let’s spend the day together.”
Loving and merciful Father God, help us to walk in your ways, if for no other reason than for people to no longer see us but to catch a glimpse of you, alive and at work in your children. Help us to praise you not just with our lips, but with our lives. Help us to serve you not just with religious traditions and dogma, but with love for one another, with sacrifice, with renewed hearts and minds. Our works are worthless when we walk under our own strength. But your works are undeniable when your love is poured out through us. Teach us to love you with abandon. As we are sanctified by the Blood of the Lamb, and justified by our faith, and proved by the testing of our faith – use us for the work that you have appointed for us. Lead us in the path and purpose that you have designed for us. Establish and maintain our steps upon the narrow path as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. We trust that you will see to completion the work that you have begun in us. Amen.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Matthew 16:21-23 ESV http://bible.com/59/mat.16.21-23.ESV
Peter had a heartfelt response to the fearful, impending circumstances that lay ahead of him. He didn’t want to believe that it was true. His reaction was fed by emotion, and he cries out to the Lord with his concern, his fear, his complaint, and even with his own suggestions. He was focused on “my way” and “right now” – on the things and circumstances of this world. He was not yet fully trusting in “God’s will and purpose” for our “eternity“.
How often do we find ourselves questioning, “There is no way this can be God’s will. How is this even possible? ” When a parent loses a child, when disease takes hold of loving and godly people, when people overseas are being brutally tortured and murdered because they will not deny the name of Christ – how often do we find ourselves foolishly bold enough to question, to take the Lord aside and tell Him how it should be?
Or how often are my prayers more about telling God what I want Him to do for me, telling God my will and trying to convince Him of it so that I can get my wayright now – as opposed to seeking understanding and strength in order to follow His way?
How prideful is it for me to stand, telling God my way, and expecting Him to react like a genie to my wishes as opposed to kneeling humbly before Him, asking Him to make His way evident to me, seeking revelation for how I can best follow His will and purpose.
Where are we setting our minds, on His way, or on our own?
I’m so glad that the Bible teaches us about a great number of imperfect people in need and a perfect God who is sufficient to meet that need. I’m glad that it demonstrates to us a perfect, blameless God come in the flesh as Jesus Christ to walk amongst all of the blame worthy and broken people in need of hope.
Praise the Lord, His grace and mercy and forgiveness is sufficient. The Blood of the Lamb completely covers the sin of His children. I’m so glad that he brings hope to us in our imperfection and doesn’t leave us there. I’m so glad that the work didn’t stop at the cross, that it didn’t stop at the tomb, that it didn’t stop when He ascended to heaven. I’m so glad that His work doesn’t stop at our recognizing our need for our repentance, that it doesn’t stop at us confessing Him as Savior and Lord, that it doesn’t leave us where we are.
Almighty God, Heavenly Father, your ways are higher than ours, and we understand so little of your eternal purpose and plan. But you reveal Yourself to us when we seek you humbly, Lord. We know that you are our only hope, and that when we rely on our own emotional reactions, when we fall into fear and anxiety, that we can quickly make a mess of things on our own. Help us to trust in you Lord. Remind us that you are the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father but through you. Remind us that you are the narrow gate through which we must enter to begin our walk. You are our companion and guide as we race along this narrow path, with you as both Savior and Lord of our lives, with you as both the driving power and the instructing navigator. You are our advocate and our deliverer when we find ourselves in the ditches of life, you repair us and set us back on the path, so that we might learn from our mistakes, grow, and stay ever closer and closer to toy path, your way, your purpose for our life. Thank you for bringing hope, for bringing love, for bringing life and redemption to us, and for correcting us when we prove ourselves to be like foolish little children. Come, live in us and through us Christ Jesus – come bring revival to our lives. Breathe your Holy Spirit into our lives, awaken us, quicken us, prepare us, and equip us for your holy use. Amen.
This was not the end of Peter’s story. In fact, much challenge and testing lay ahead for Peter to see God’s will played out in front of Him. And God’s way was beyond anything he ever could have imagined. It led him into a place where God proved to him that Peter’s confidence in his own abilities and strength would fail him. A test was coming that Peter could not pass on His own.
A test was coming when Peter would again stand boldly and say, no Lord, I will not deny you. Still with his mind set upon the things of this world. And the result of this test was that he denied Christ three times, and the result was just as the roster crowed upon his third denial his eyes met the eyes of his Savior and he knew the weight of the guilt that his own strength had not been sufficient.
Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.
Matthew 26:31-35 ESV http://bible.com/59/mat.26.31-35.ESV
Like Peter, we want to stand proudly and boldly so that we can take credit, so that we can boast about what we have done. Some of us don’t even want to stand proudly and boldly in front of others, we’re so prideful that we’re content with our own praise – commending ourselves for being “humble enough to not care about boasting to others”. We lift ourselves up on the throne of our own fake humility, practiced religion, thinking that we’ve done something – thinking to ourselves “I’ll never forsake you, Lord!”
Liars, every one of us. We all fall short. Even though we try, even though we strive, even though we deceive ourselves so many times, again and again until He has proven to us that it is only through Him that we will find Stent and victory and redemption – only in our humble and genuine love for Him, for His way. It is only when we have been tested to the point that we have set our hearts and minds on the things eternal, and truly realized that He is our Hope and Strength, that we are humbled before Him, ready to be used.
These trials, they are not to break us – but to change us, to refine us, to remodel us to be more and more like Him. These temporary trials are actually the vehicles by which He delivers our eternal blessings.
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Luke 22:54-62 ESV http://bible.com/59/luk.22.54-62.ESV
How many times have we denied the truth of Jesus’ words – by our actions, by our words, by our lack of faith, by our pride, by the many and varied ways that we fall short of the glory of God.
However, I have Good News – this denial was not the end of Peter’s story. Your shortcomings are not the end of your story, child of God. He knows the plans that He has for you, for good and for eternity and for life abundantly bearing the fruit of His Holy Spirit, bringing light into this world of darkness. Your blessings are just up ahead, dear child, through the trials.
Peter’s love for Jesus up to this point was strong, was bold, but it is lacking in the humility of accepting Jesus’ word as undeniable truth. Up to this point, it had still been an imperfect love because of that fact. But Jesus want finished with Peter yet.
Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
John 21:2-19 ESV http://bible.com/59/jhn.21.2-19.ESV
Lord, you know everything. You know that we love you. Search our hearts, Lord. Search our thoughts, Lord. And if there is anything getting in the way of us following in your footsteps, Lord, lead us in your way. Set our minds on those things eternal and true and righteous and holy. Set our minds on loving and serving our fellow man. Teach us to feed your sheep. Teach us to love with your perfect love. Here we are, Lord. Send us and we will go. Amen.