Looking to the Lord in the midst of the storm
Psalm 42: Fix my eyes on God – soon I’ll be praising again.
When Peter walks on the water he does just fine until his attention is drawn away from the Lord and onto the storm. It’s then that he begins to sink. Hundreds of years before that, the sons of Korah write this Psalm dealing with the same issue. As is abundantly clear with the drowning Peter, they don’t suggest that God’s people go about pretending all is well. We’re to admit that we’re down in the dumps and maybe even feeling neglected by God, about to be crushed. The solution they give us is the very same thing we learn from Peter’s unforgettable experience on and then in the water: we’re to fix our eyes on the One who loves us and promises to be with us. Toward the back of our Bibles we find the writer of Hebrews telling us, again, to “fix our eyes on Jesus.” Since we find this truth here in the Psalms, and then see it powerfully illustrated by Peter in the gospels, and then are taught the same truth again in the book of Hebrews you’d think that we’d have such a firm grasp on it that it would be part of our spiritual DNA. However, this lesson has to not only be learned, but then relearned; again and again. I think I forget it because I tend to attempt to be self-sufficient. I want the Lord to be impressed with me, so I try to handle it myself. Or, the problem is that I’m so “now oriented” that I can’t see the bigger picture of God’s faithful provision for me even in the storms of life. Either way, the answer is given here. When I look to the Lord, even in the harshness of life, in the words of Korah’s sons, “soon I’ll be praising again.”
Take Away: If we “fix our eyes” on anyone or anything aside from the Lord we’ll end up being let down and disappointed.
Acts 10: No sooner were these words out of Peter’s mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners.
The story of Cornelius is such a wonderful story. Here’s a good man, a Gentile, who cares for the needy and who makes time to pray. He’s such a good man that he gets the attention of the Lord who wants to do something more in his life. Then, miles away, we see another good man, a Jew, who loves the Lord and is a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus. God’s intention is to bring these two men together. Connecting this Gentile and Jew at the level the Lord wants takes some doing involving an angelic visitation and a vision from God. It works! As Cornelius gathers a house full of expectant friends Peter arrives and soon begins telling them the story of Jesus. The sermon has barely begun before it becomes unnecessary. This gathering of people are already on the verge of faith and all it takes is a gentle nudge from Peter to open the way for the Holy Spirit to take command of the service and their lives. How wonderful it is to experience such a move of God! It’s a blessing that both satisfies and causes hunger for more. Once we have such an experience we’re not likely to be fooled by some counterfeit!
Take Away: Sometimes the Lord has prepared the way for revival and all it takes is one or two acts of obedience to put that revival into full motion.
Minding my own business
John 21: Master, what’s going to happen to him?
John finishes his story of Jesus with the account of an early morning, and private, encounter with the resurrected Savior. Our Lord and his disciples have breakfast together and then Jesus and Peter go for a walk. Peter, who denied the Lord three times, is now asked three times if he loves Jesus. Each time, as a result of his declaration of love, he’s given responsibility in the Kingdom. By the third time, though, Peter is burdened with the repeated question. Jesus responds by explaining to Peter that his love will be his source of strength in difficult days ahead. He’ll be a prisoner and will be led to places he doesn’t want to go. In the midst of such a trial, Peter will find strength in his love for the Lord. Meanwhile, following along is the disciple John. Everyone knows John is Jesus’ favorite and Peter wants to know what’s coming for him. Jesus, though, isn’t going there with Peter. Peter needs to worry about Peter and not about the beloved disciple. I think we tend to concern ourselves with what God is doing in the lives of others too much. We forget that we aren’t called to make Christian clones of ourselves but are to “feed the sheep” and let the Master handle the rest of it. That doesn’t mean I’m not concerned when I see someone struggling or has even lost their way. Of course I’m concerned. Still, I need to be careful to love them and encourage them to follow Jesus and not be too focused on exactly how the Lord might want that to happen in their life.
Take Away: I love others and want to see them allow the Lord to lead their lives, but my main concern is to keep things clear between myself and the Lord.
With friends like us….
John 18: Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?
When they come to arrest Jesus Peter takes matters in his own hands, attempting to defend Jesus with a sword. However, being a fisherman and not a swordsman, Peter takes a swing at the wrong person (a mere servant) and tries to take his head off (but misses). He ends up cutting off his ear instead. Luke tells us that Jesus performs a miracle, reattaching the ear. He also tells Peter that in his Kingdom sword play isn’t allowed. Now, as Jesus is being tried Peter warms himself by the fire in the courtyard but people keep suggesting that he might be one of the disciples of Jesus. Peter denies it, but one man is quite sure. In fact, he’s a relative of poor Malchus who, just a short time earlier, was on the receiving end of Peter’s sword. Obviously, it’s in Peter’s best interest for this man to not know he’s the “ear-cutter-off-er”! I don’t know whether or not this man knows the rest of the story, what Jesus did for Malchus and what he told Peter, but I can’t help but think his opinion of Jesus and his followers isn’t all that high right now. “Oh yeah, I know about followers of Jesus, they pretend to be all spiritual and holy but I had one try to cut off my head one time.” Sad to say there are a lot of Christian sword swingers out there. They go about saying and doing mean things, hurting feelings, and acting downright hateful; all in the “Name of Jesus.” They think they’re doing something good for the Lord but all they’re doing is alienating people and slandering the Name of the One they think they’re serving.
Take Away: Sword play isn’t allowed in the Kingdom of God.
Keeping a safe distance
Luke 22: Peter followed, but at a safe distance.
It’s the awful night before the crucifixion of Christ. Not long ago Peter and the other disciples promised their loyalty to Jesus. Now, though, he stands before the Chief Priest, alone. The disciples have fled in fear but Luke tells us Peter, under cover of darkness has followed. He’s close enough to see what’s going on but far enough back as to not be identified as a follower of Jesus. I fear that this describes many Christians and at certain times, maybe most of us. We’re following, but not “that” close. After all, sometimes being a follower of Jesus is just plain unhandy, not to mention possibly dangerous for some. For instance, someone who doesn’t smell very good needs some personal, up close attention. If I’m not careful, my revulsion will win out over my discipleship and I won’t even offer a cup of water in Jesus’ Name. Or, say someone at work isn’t a very nice person. People tend to give them a wide berth. Will I get close enough to show them Jesus? Because of the danger Peter follows, but at a safe distance. The thing is, before long he isn’t following at all.
Take Away: I want to follow Jesus closely enough that there’s no doubt that I’m with him.
A lesson from the bakery
Matthew 16: Keep a sharp eye out for Pharisee-Sadducee yeast.
I wonder what Jesus is talking about when he tells his disciples to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. There’s a clue just a few lines earlier. These people want Jesus to prove himself to them, probably by performing some miracle. Jesus dismisses them by saying that they’re going to get proof alright, the powerful proof of life out of death when, as Jonah returned from the deep, he, himself, will return from the grave. At that point Jesus turns his back on them and walks away. Later he warns his disciples to beware of their “yeast.” Those who bake bread know about yeast. A little is worked into the dough so it will rise, becoming soft and tasty. Jesus says that there’s “yeast” that can work its way into every part of our lives, bringing not good results, but bad. It’s the insistence on God doing things our way, having to prove himself to us before we’ll believe. In the encounters of the Pharisees and Sadducees with Jesus there’s always a tug of war concerning who’s in charge and what Jesus has to do to satisfy them. Jesus warns his disciples to not fall into that trap. Before we know it this approach will work its way into our lives. When God doesn’t do things our way and in our time, we’ll begin to doubt him and his goodness. Later in this same passage, Peter first declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Later on though, we see the yeast of the Pharisees when he argues against Jesus proceeding God’s way, thinking he knows better. If Peter, in basically the same conversation can go from a great statement of faith to one of “my way is better” I’d better take warning. This yeast can work its way into my life before I even know it.
Take Away: The idea that I always know just what God should do and how he should do it can sneak into my thinking and take root there.