I often read what most would consider weird books. Perhaps a better description would be boring books. To me there is something thrilling about finding an old bookstore or a little, out of the way, hole in the wall shop and searching for something written years ago that likely hasn't been read by anyone in decades. I've read book on a wide variety of topics that are usually all centered on some obscure and often forgotten point of world history. While I mostly read non-fiction I occasionally pick up something from the world of fiction to give myself a break from the bleakness of our world's history. Recently, while visiting a small bookshop in Canada I came across a re-print of Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Tarzan of the Apes". Having watched the cartoon on multiple occasions with my one time toddlers I was familiar with the overarching theme but since I'd never read the book itself, I figured now was as good a time as any to give myself a mental break.
You're likely familiar with the story so I'll save you time and cut right to the words that jumped off the page to me as I was reading last week. Speaking of Tarzan's heightened ability to see, hear and sense his surroundings Burroughs writes,
"Man's survival does not hinge so greatly upon the perfection of his senses. His power to reason has relieved. them of many of their duties, and they have, to some extent, atrophied, as have the muscles which move the ears and scalp, merely from disuse."
As I read those words I was struck by the similarity between that idea and my own atrophied muscles. After a few weeks of summer camp, I can certainly identify with unused physical muscles but beyond that my mind went to the realm of spiritual muscles. How often do I allow my spiritual muscles to go unused because I choose to rely on my own reasoning in their place? At those times in my life when I have felt as though God were distant and had become non-communicative was it perhaps just my own inability to continue using those spiritual muscles.
Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 13:16-17 (NASB), "But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it."
Jesus tells them this in the midst of a crowd of onlookers who couldn't understand His parables because of their atrophied spiritual muscles. They desired to see and hear but they were unable. Listening to God, seeing His work around us, sensing His presence in our midst are spiritual muscles that must be worked and utilized. With time and practice it's these spiritual muscles that become toned and defined and afford us greater ability of use.
Tonight I'm asking myself the questions: How am I using my spiritual muscles? Have I replaced the muscles of seeing, hearing and sensing God's presence with my own human reasoning? Does my existence depend on the perfection of those spiritual muscles or have I carved out an existence for myself apart from God? Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
"Did you say, Abe Lincoln?"
"No I didn't say Abe Lincoln, I said, 'Hey Blinkin'."
That's about the only line that sticks out to me from the movie, "Robin Hood, Men in Tights". For whatever reason I think of that line often and find myself quoting it out loud, usually to no one in particular. As those goofy lines ran through my head today, I began to think about the idea of being misunderstood.
Two of the most frustrating things are being misunderstood and consistently, not understanding what's going on around you. Regardless of where you find yourself, both ends can leave you feeling like banging your head against the wall. How is it that what seems so clear in your mind can not be manifested into coherent words and sentences that others can comprehend? Why is that everyone else seems to be clicking right along with a particular project or concept and you feel like you are completely in the dark, clueless as to what's happening?
As I've thought about this idea I was reminded of the number of times that Jesus was misunderstood by His disciples, the religious leaders of the day, His own family and really just about everyone He came into contact with while He walked the earth. What was so clear to Christ - His mission, His purpose, His ultimate goal, all were misunderstood by those around Him.
In Mark the 3rd chapter, Jesus' mother and brothers come looking for Him, presumably trying to figure out what He was doing? Of course, the religious leaders had no idea what was going on and even those in His own town of Nazareth demonstrate confusion as to His purposes. The Gospels are full of examples of His own disciples demonstrating complete ignorance as to what Jesus' mission was all about, some of them were looking for an earthly kingdom to be established, others were looking for the power and title that they assumed Jesus would bring them. Confusion all around.
It wasn't until after Jesus' resurrection that the disciples at large finally got what Jesus had been saying all along. Finally something "clicked" inside of them and they figured it out. What was the difference? Why all of the sudden did the disciples finally catch on? Had Jesus started using different words? Did Jesus come up with some new creative strategy to communicate with them? None of the above. The only difference was proof. Jesus was no longer dead. He was alive. The grave was empty. They saw, ate with and talked to Jesus - post resurrection.
It's hard to argue with that kind of proof. I think sometimes we forget about that same proof that is available to us as believers. I've interacted with Jesus on a daily basis for years. I've experienced Him in a very real way on countless occasions. He changed my life in a very real way. My experience with Christ has been more than theory, it's been more than just something I've heard about or read about, I've experienced it for myself. The same could probably be said for you as well. You've been a believer for 5 or 10 or even 20 years or longer and have had dozens or even hundreds of powerful experiences with Christ and yet you still find yourself confused and misunderstanding what God has planned for you. Don't get me wrong, seldom does anyone, including the seasoned saints among us, hit the nail on the head every time with God. The Bible makes clear in Isaiah 55:8-9 that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts.
Perhaps we need to entertain the possibility that our lack of understanding and confusion about God's mission, plan and goals for our lives is less about us understanding and more about us wanting to understand. I mean, with all of the interactions that you've had with Christ over the years, with all of the proof that you have experienced first hand, can you still be using the excuse that you're just not sure what He wants? Maybe we know exactly what He wants and we're just not sure that we want the same thing? Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
You've heard the phrase, "Time heals all wounds" right? It's the idea that that feelings of sadness, disappointment, etc., gradually go away as time passes. We often use this phrase while attempting to console someone who has just lost a loved one or in an effort to bring encouragement to a friend who was recently rejected, fired, stabbed in the back, etc.
I think we're comforted by this phrase on a few levels. First, we're comforted as the giver of this type of encouragement because it's easy to say. This phrase has become commonplace and flows from our tongues without much thought as to its helpfulness or even accuracy. It's like when we don't know what to say to be truly helpful we simply default to "Time heals all wounds". For many we've become uncomfortable with silence so we feel the need to fill the dead space and naturally we resort to our most comfortable saying.
I think we're also comforted by these words as we receive them. Let's be honest, it's easier to wait than it is to work. Staying in my seat and suffering through my pain is far easier than persistently pushing myself towards healing and wholeness. When we hear the phrase, "Time heals all wounds" we're comforted because our only role becomes passive. We buy into the idea that as we passively wait healing will naturally manifest itself.
Here's the problem with this phrase, it's simply not accurate. Time doesn't heal all wounds. Time only serves to aid us in forgetfulness and numbness. Imagine with me that I'm in my backyard attempting to trim my "badly needing to be trimmed" trees (not imaginary). Let's imagine that as I reach for one of the furthest limbs that my chainsaw slips from my grasp and gashes into my leg leaving a massive cut. We would all readily agree that my wound is in desperate need of a trip to the hospital, some stitching, antibiotics and a long time of recuperation. What if instead I made the decision to just wait it out, I could head into the house, flip on the tv, crack open a cold ginger ale and just wait it out. This of course would be ridiculous but as crazy as it sounds, this is often how we choose to handle our own need for healing, we simply attempt to wait it out.
If you study Scripture you'll discover that many who needed and received healing were those who didn't just passively wait but rather were those who pushed and persistently sought healing. In fact, many of those found in Scripture had waited for years on end without receiving healing.
Mark 5 paints a pretty clear picture of this very idea. Mark 5:25-29 in the NIV says, "And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering."
It's safe to say that this woman had done her fair share of waiting for healing and yet she never got better, in fact she got worse. It wasn't until she pressed in with intentionality, boldness and faith that she was healed.
Luke 18 maps out the account of a blind beggar who, upon hearing that Jesus was nearby, began crying out for healing. We can assume that this bling beggar wasn't recently blind or recently poor. He had likely been blind for sometime and as a result lived his life in poverty. Upon hearing that Jesus was close the Scripture says in Luke 18:38-39, "He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Both of these are powerful examples of people who actively sought healing. Healing doesn't come from waiting. Healing doesn't come with the passing of time. Healing comes as a result of our persistent effort to allow God into our hurtful situations, into our scars and into our heartache.
Perhaps today you could start crying out for yourself, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Rest assured that He will hear your cries and He will bring healing, in His time and in His way. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
I'm grateful for the opportunities that I have each week to share from God's Word with those who have entrusted me with such an honor. It's humbling to think that people invite you into their hearts and minds in such a way. If I'm honest, at times I'm fearful, not in a stage fright kind of way, I've been doing this long enough to have gotten past that. When I say fearful, I mean more in the sense of, "God don't let me say anything that would cause someone to think incorrectly about your Word or Your plan for their life." In fact I often pray the prayer, "God don't let me screw this up." Perhaps that seems flippant to some but I assure you that it's heart-felt. God is moving in each of our lives even when we don't recognize it or even care to recognize it and I want to be sure that I don't get in the way of what God is doing in someone's life with an ill spoken word or worst yet, an incorrect interpretation of God's Word.
As a result of my desire to get out of God's way I often find myself cutting out, re-vamping or editing for time parts of a teaching that just don't fit into the overall theme or more often than not, can't be fully unpacked. To bring something up or as some say, "open that can of worms" would be foolish if time prohibits a comprehensive look and anything less would only serve to cause confusion. Thus, there is often much that goes unsaid.
Just this past week I shared a teaching based on the idea that God calls each of us to make an impact on those around us. You can listen to the full message here. Over the last few days I've felt prompted to revisit some of the areas of this talk and to further unpack a few of the ideas that were presented. The one that jumps out to me the most centers around the revelation of God. I said,
"God’s Word maps out for me His general revelation. My time in prayer allows me to discover His specific revelation for my life. The saints of the church, those who have gone before me allow me to walk in their wisdom."
This process of revelation is so often overlooked as we strive to become the people God has called us to become. Too often we spend all of our energy asking God to reveal to us His specific revelation for our lives. We want specifics from God on:
We long for God's specific revelation in these areas. We want details and a road map for what's to come and yet we don't give adequate time or even worse, we completely ignore God's general revelation as mapped out in His Word. When we don't hear from God in the way we imagined it would happen we throw our hands in the air in frustration and ask ourselves, "Why does God not care enough to reveal Himself to me?"
God's Word is packed full of lessons, direction, guidance and insight for us to pull from and apply to our lives. When we skip over God's general revelation as we're waiting for His specific revelation we miss out on so much of what He wants to reveal to us.
It's the Matthew 6:33 principle, "Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need." Of course this verse is written in the context of Jesus' teaching on money and possessions but the same principle applies.
It's Micah 6:8, "No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Again, not written in the context of general revelation versus specific revelation but the principle of first following God before getting caught up in the details of the sacrifice makes it applicable to this idea.
We get far too caught up in the details of following Jesus before we've first developed our ability to simply follow Him according to His Word.
2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right."
Let's make the commitment today and in the days to come to first and foremost look for God's general revelation before we get frustrated or feel slighted at His (in our faulty opinion) lack of specific revelation. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
In the last 40 days I’ve hosted an overnighter for 100+ teenagers, took my sons on 2 college visits, met with 5 engaged couples for pre-marital counseling, played volleyball 4 times, preached 5 times, led 2 baccalaureate meetings, attended 6 staff meetings, led 4 summer camp planning meetings, led 2 small groups, taught 4 Bible studies, became CPR and First Aid certified, hosted a simulcast leadership conference and led 12 after school program days. Not factored in are my meals, (which are countless), my hours of sleep, trips to the bathroom (which are increasing in frequency) and my seemingly limitless conversations with friends, co-workers, students and family members.
A lot can happen in 40 days. I want to challenge you to consider an upcoming 40 day block in a new light. The season of Lent is right around the corner. Outside of Catholicism it seems as though Lent has largely been forgotten about. Allow me to do my small part in bringing this important season back to the forefront for those looking to push themselves spiritually.
The Lenten season runs from Ash Wednesday (that’s March 6th this year) to the day before Easter (that’s April 20th this year) and is 40 days in all (minus Sundays). The 40 days of Lent are meant to parallel the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. See Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13
& Luke 4:1-13.
Lent provides the spiritually hungry with an opportunity for prayer, repentance and self-denial. Often it’s during Lent that many Christians will commit to fasting (food or some other luxury) in order to replicate this 40 day season of sacrifice that Jesus experienced. With fasting comes “extra” or “recently freed up” time that can be spent in prayer, Scripture reading, listening to God, etc.
Often Lent is painted as a “religious duty” or an “outmoded liturgical practice”. Let’s reframe this Lenten season away from that and towards an opportunity to increase our connection with God. As a Jesus follower we should always be looking for ways to connect at a deeper level. Not participating in Lent and “not giving something up” isn’t wrong but the question is “why”?
Why wouldn’t we actively seek ways to increase our intimacy with God? Why wouldn’t we search for greater ways to connect? A lot can happen in 40 days. What would it look like for you to make the most out of the 40 days of Lent. I invite you to join me and others in the “40 Days Towards Jesus” devotional journey that kicks off on Wednesday March 6th.
Imagine what could change in your life after spending 40 days in prayer, repentance and self-denial. Imagine for a moment what 40 days of exposure to God’s Word and His voice could do for you. Join me.
Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
I love reading, but more than that I love reading non-fiction. Real life stories, history of all sorts, weird true pieces of human history that most people would find pointless and boring. I read a book once about the founder of the "Akron Tire and Rubber Company" and I did it in less than a week. I read the biography of Monty Roberts, a real life "Horse Whisperer". called "The Man Who Talks to Horses". And then there are the bizarre reads, "Queen City Notorious: Cincinnati's Most Sensational Murder Cases" and "Queen City Gothic: Cincinnati's Most Infamous Murder Cases". These were the ones I may have needed to stop reading after dark...super creepy. The weird, the boring, the unknown, these are generally the titles that I gravitate towards at the old bookstore or the library.
Mark Twain said, "Truth is stranger than fiction..." While I don't disagree I would say, "Truth is stranger than fiction but fiction is a much quicker read."
It's rare but every great once in a while I'll swing by the library and find something that is clearly far-fetched and blatantly fiction. Sometimes it feels as though I just need a break from real-life, I need to get lost in something ridiculous. I'm currently in the midst of one of those seasons right now. As I was reading my latest library grab "The 49th Mystic" I was surprised by how quickly I was progressing through the book. Before I knew it, I was almost halfway through and it felt like I had just arrived home from the library. I wondered, "Why is it that I can read fiction at a quicker pace than I can read non-fiction?" As I read my mind lingered around that question and I was reminded of words from the Bible.
Proverbs 18:8 says, "Rumors are dainty morsels that sink deep into one’s heart." We love a good story don't we? I've always joked that the best stories start out with the story teller looking over their shoulder to see if anyone else is listening. We love those "dainty morsels" and rumors that get passed around. Unfortunately the truth or appropriateness behind the morsels often becomes irrelevant. There's something about hearing bits of rumors that gets our blood pumping right? Much like my fictional reading these "dainty morsels" can be full of real-life plot twists, back stabbing and gotcha moments. What we often forget in our hunt for those morsels is the end result. The Scripture makes clear that those "dainty morsels" find their way into our hearts and when they do we run the risk of damaging what isn't ours to damage.
As a Christ follower you gave your heart to God and invited His Son Jesus to rule and reign in your heart. There's no room for "dainty morsels" of gossip and inappropriate tidbits of information in there. There's one throne of your heart and Jesus refuses to share it with anyone or anything else. We often attempt to excuse away our "dainty morsel" addiction as simple curiosity or genuine concern over a particular situation and never bother to stop and ask if what we're hearing is even true. Beyond that we never stop to ask if any of these "dainty morsel" are even any of our business. We thrive on those "dainty morsels". It feels good to get "the scoop" on the latest news in the office, the neighborhood or even at the church but let's call it what it is, "GOSSIP". When we partake we damage the hearts of others and ourselves. Steer clear. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
As I was shoveling out my driveway this afternoon I was reminded a piece I had written in 2014. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
I'm a people watcher. I'd much rather go to the mall to sit and watch people than fight my way through store sales racks. Today, during lunch I decided to swing through the drive through and find a spot where I could sit in my car, enjoy my lunch and just watch people.
While wrapping up my chicken sandwich and preparing to tackle my chili with hot sauce, I noticed these huge piles of snow that were deposited all across the parking lot. With all of the snow that we've had in the area, snow plows have no where to go with the snow other than to mound it up in huge piles all across the parking lots. It's like someone deposited little white mountains all over the city.
What's interesting to me about these piles of snow is that they seem to last forever. Even with the slow onset of warmer weather, these piles of snow seem to be unaffected. They take absolutely forever to melt largely because they keep themselves cold. There is so much snow piled on top of other snow that the inner core of that pile remains below freezing long after the surrounding temperature has risen.
Those piles of snow reminded me of the risk that you and I run. We have a way of surrounding ourselves with people that keep us "below freezing" for as long as possible.
If we tend to be pessimistic, we surround ourselves with others who are also pessimistic.
If we tend to be a gossip, we surround ourselves with other gossips.
If we are negative and whiny people, then that's who we gravitate towards.
The Bible gives us some pretty clear instruction on this idea in Proverbs 13:20 when it says, "Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble." and 1 Corinthians 15:33 where it says, "Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.”
What if, in an effort to really honor God with our lives we "unpiled" ourselves from those that were keeping us wrapped up in sin. If we find ourselves in a pile of negativity, gossip or whatever, let's choose to spread ourselves out and let the Son melt us down.
Today marks 5 years since the passing of my father. My family and I gathered at his graveside this afternoon to leave some flowers and to reflect for a few minutes on our time with him. Our family has continued to change and grow and I'm thankful for each of those new faces but for a few short moments today we had the original 5 back together, mom, dad and the three boys. I voiced a prayer and thanked God for the time He granted us to spend with such a man. I prayed that his legacy would continue to live on through each of us and I prayed for strength and courage to continue on without him by our sides. I am thankful for my father's life and I find myself becoming more thankful for how he lives on in those who knew him. As I have every January 6th since his passing, I'll share the words that I shared at his funeral in hopes that you too would pick up his legacy and run with it. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
"As I reflected on the words that I would say in this moment, my mind was filled with the memories of a father who left me no shortage of stories to tell and examples to recall and to pattern my life after. I suppose I could tell some of those stories to you this afternoon and you would walk away with a better picture of who my dad was, but ultimately, the best way to understand who someone really is, is to observe the impact that he or she made on the lives of those around them and my dad impacted the people around him.
My dad was a big believer in discipline. Growing up in my house there were no timeouts or counting to three or questions like, “Was that a wise choice?”. You knew instantly when you did something wrong because you got whipped. And if the offense occurred while dad was at work mom simply said the words, “You just wait until your father gets home”. The day before dad passed away I saw one of those little cartoon blurbs on Facebook that said, “My parents spanked me as a child and I now suffer from a psychological condition known as ‘Respect for Others”. That summed up my dad’s philosophy on parenting. But respect for others wasn’t just something that he told us about, it was something he modeled for us. Dad treated everyone with respect and love.
Although my dad was a man of few words he modeled for his sons what a husband and a father looked like. He modeled for me a life of servanthood as he pampered and catered to my mom. He demonstrated what it meant to be a patient husband. Mom seldom did the dishes, she never shoveled or scraped snow from the sidewalks or car windshields. He always volunteered to clean the bathroom, take out the trash, sweep the carpet, dust the furniture, etc. My dad took care of my mom in every way possible. It’s that example that my wife will attest that I’m still working on but I believe that if I could treat my wife with even a fraction of the respect and love that my dad treated my mom with, I would be an amazing husband.
My dad modeled for me how to be a father. The attention that he paid to us as his sons, the countless school projects that he helped us squeeze out at the last minute, the time he spent showing us how to fix everything from A to Z. He modeled what it meant to not only pay attention to his kids but really focus on them and to pass along his knowledge to us.
The way that my dad treated his mother-in-law, my grandmother, was one of extreme patience. He demonstrated not only patience, but love and respect and dignity to the mother of his wife. Over the last week since dad’s passing, grandma has said on more than one occasion, “I loved him, he loved me and we loved each other.” That certainly summed up their relationship.
I want you to understand this afternoon that my father’s legacy will live on, it will live on in my life and in the lives of my brothers and our sons and daughters. But you also have an opportunity to carry on his legacy because ultimately my dad was patterning his life after the person and teachings of Jesus Christ.
His love and patience and faithfulness that have been highlighted here today are straight out of God’s Word, Paul says in Galatians,“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” That is my father’s legacy.
During the last few moments of my dad’s earthly life as mom, my brothers and I and are wives were gathered around his bedside he modeled one final act of faithfulness for us. He demonstrated for us how we’re to finish the race. He had been motionless for an hour or so and just moments before he took his last breath he simply raised his left hand straight into the air towards Heaven, lowered it back down and then fell asleep.
Church I believe with all my heart that at that moment he was beginning to see the face of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It was at that moment that he heard the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
It's the first day of the New Year, you're probably busy starting a bunch of new goals so I'll be brief. Allow me to remind you of a few things as you kick off the first day of the year.
1. Regardless of your practice of setting New Year’s resolutions, as Christ followers we should be progressing in our commitment to and development towards all that God maps out for us in His Word.
2. God's action in our lives isn't dependent on our attributes. God doesn't need you and your attributes to accomplish what He wants to accomplish. He uses you and I in spite of ourselves. Let go of your past, look to His future and set goals that are only possible with His intervention.
3. What God creates, God completes. It's true of creation (see Genesis 2:1) and it's true of you and I as well (see Psalm 139:13 and Philippians 1:6) God doesn’t start something and not finish it. He doesn’t walk away from a job. He doesn’t throw in the towel on our development.
4. There is no part of your life that God is incapable of using for His glory and your development. Because of the omnipotence of God, He can use the goals you haven’t achieved as well as He can use the goals you have achieved. Stop allowing your past to control you.
5. God's not looking for "Goals completed", He's looking for obedience.
6. What God plants, He harvests...in His time and in His way. Be patient. (see Habakkuk 2:3).
My hope and prayer for you that 2019 is a watershed moment for your faith. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Yesterday we looked at the first of several ingredients to a successful New Year plan. Our realization that God inspired fresh starts begin with something greater than our own motivation is crucial to our success. We need to lean into God for success and follow through. I'm as guilty as the next person but it's baffling that we strive and toil for so long before coming to God for help. As mentioned earlier, there are bunches of examples in Scripture of the fresh starts that you and I desire around the New Year. Joseph, Peter, Paul, a case could be made for the "sort of" fresh start that Jonah makes.
Let's take a look today at the account of Peter. Peter serves as a classic "fresh start" case. All four gospels record Peter's denial for us in varying degrees. The most concise of the accounts is found in John 18:25-27. This passage basically says, "Peter denied Jesus and the rooster crowed". Luke 22:54-62, Mark 14:66-72 and Matthew 26:69-75 each give more detail and even use significant phrases like, "Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind..." and " Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying..." Regardless of which passage you study, it's clear that Peter was on a rollercoaster. I mean it was Peter who declared in Matthew 16 that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Fast forward a few chapters and it's Peter who was flatly denying that he even knew who Jesus was. Fast forward a few more days and we find Acts 2:22-24 where Peter is boldly proclaiming the truth of who Jesus was and God's plan for humanity through the sacrifice of Jesus. Buckle up, because if that's not a roller coaster of emotion, belief, unbelief, action, inaction, confidence and terror I don't know what is. Sound familiar?
If we're honest, Peter's journey mirrors our New Year goals and all of our other grand plans throughout the year that come and go with the wind. One minute we're on fire, the next we've fizzled out. One minute we're going to change the world and the next we've settled for another episode of the latest Netflix series. What can we learn from Peter to overcome this, "Up one minute, down the next" journey that we so easily find ourselves on?
Allow me to suggest that Peter's rollercoaster ride was due to in part to the company he kept. Think about Peter's declaration of Jesus as the Messiah. The context of Peter's declaration was a conversation that Jesus was having with Peter and the other disciples. Peter was among friends. While the other disciples missed the boat on who Jesus really was, their suggestions were at least in the right ball park. "Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, some say Jeremiah, some say one of the other prophets". They may not have pinpointed Jesus as the Messiah but they were in the neighborhood. It was in this context that Peter, through the revelation of God, honed in on as Jesus as the Messiah. In other words, Peter had positioned himself in the right soil to experience a little growth. Click, click, click, up the hill we go.
Fast forward to Peter's denial of Jesus and examine his surroundings. According to each the accounts Peter found himself in the courtyard, outside, with the guards, with the servants, warming himself around the fire, at a distance, rubbing shoulders with people who made no claim to know or care anything about Jesus. Is it any wonder that Peter so quickly denied his knowledge of Jesus? Buckle up, over the hill we go.
Fast forward with me one more time to Peter's declaration of Jesus at the Christ and of God's plan for humanity found in Acts 2. Take a look at his surroundings. It's the day of Pentecost and Peter is surrounded by Jews from all over the known world. The Holy Spirit had descended as Jesus had promised and everyone was hearing the truth of the Gospel in their own language. The setting must have been electric. Imagine the "Passion Worship Band" or for you old timers, "Bill Gaither" singing your favorite song while Rick Warren or Billy Graham preaches. You'd be through the roof. You're surrounded by believers, engaged in worship and passionately pursuing the things of God. You couldn't help but cry out and declare the wonders of God right? Click, click, click, up we go again.
Perhaps the lesson we learn from Peter is that the company we keep contributes, at least in part to the success we experience. God inspired fresh starts are certainly sourced in God Himself. We need His wisdom to get a clear picture of where we should be going and we need his strength to keep making progress. But we would do well to learn from Peter on the company we keep. Surround yourself with people who share your values. Surround yourself with people that care about your relationship with Jesus.
Take a moment to honestly evaluate your ups and downs. Your ups and downs of goal setting or perhaps the ups and downs of your spiritual journey. Can you trace your ups and downs back, at least in part to the company you kept? Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that bad company corrupts good character. These are the lessons we teach our kids but often forget to apply to our own lives. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.