A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Matthew 26:69-75 "When We Fail"

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.”  But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.”  When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”  And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.”  A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.”  Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed.  And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. 

 I like Peter.  If there is an ordinary guy in the Bible, it's him.  He was a complicated jumble of right and wrong and good and bad and profound and foolish.  We see him draw his sword, preparing to defend Jesus with his life, and then a few hours later he is skulking around pretending not to know Jesus at all.

What we don't see here in this passage is that Jesus restored and forgave him; but He did.  In fact, what seems clear is that Jesus was not surprised and not angry.  He already knew what was going to happen.  He had already warned Peter that he was going to fail.  And what we know from later Scripture is that after Peter was restored, he went on to become the catalyst at Pentecost, a mighty preacher, a foundational teacher in the early church, and ultimately a martyr for the Kingdom of Christ.  Jesus already knew that was going to happen as well.  At this point in the story, Peter is struggling, but the story isn't finished yet.  Peter finishes strong.

This brings me to us.  Because Peter was such an ordinary guy, we ordinary people are a lot like him.  We are, in fact, just like Peter.  One minute we are praying and worshiping and serving God with all of our hearts, and the next we are saying or doing or thinking something completely wrong and contrary to everything Christ has done in us.  We too are a complicated jumble of right and wrong and good and bad and profound and foolish.  And we too are forgiven.  Jesus already knew our junk when He called us.

Don't misunderstand.  I'm not saying that our sinful garbage is ok.  It is harmful to us and hurtful to the Kingdom and not at all ok with God.  But whatever we are struggling with today, God already knew -it didn't take Him by surprise.  And we are already forgiven.  So, when we fall down, we get back up and set our hearts on Jesus and get back to Kingdom work.  Just like Peter.  Whatever the struggles of the past and even the present, by God's grace we can finish strong.  Just like Peter.

Dear Father, I ask that you allow our failures and struggles of today to become our testimonies tomorrow.  Thank You that even knowing our weaknesses and failures, You chose us to be Your own.  But we don't want to stay in the harmful, hurtful cycle of failure.  Help us, Lord, to finish strong.  Amen.

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Matthew 26:57-68" The Problem With Heresy Hunters

     Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome....
     The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
    “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 
     Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.  What do you think?”
   “He is worthy of death,” they answered.
     Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him  and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?” 

 It is very likely that the high priest and elders and religious authorities sincerely thought that they were doing the right thing, protecting the people from a blasphemous heretic.  But they were wrong.  They were so wrong that, in essence, they were accusing God of evil -a serious charge.

I have to wonder, how did these men get to this point?  How did religious men -men who actually affirm and serve the One True God -end up charging The Messiah with blasphemy, mocking Him, and deciding to kill Him?  How did religious teachers and spiritual leaders end up watching the greatest movement of God on this earth and come to the conclusion that it was evil and had to be stopped?

This concerns me because I am a spiritual leader and teacher.  It would be easy to assume that these leaders that accused Jesus were simply evil people and that their inherent evilness caused them to do evil things.  But this event is historical; this really happened.  And in real life, people are complicated and there are reasons that otherwise decent people make horribly wrong decisions and choices.

I think it is probable that these leaders missed the fact that Jesus was the Messiah because Jesus didn't act like the Messiah they were expecting.  There is a sense in which the actual Truth when it finally was revealed did not exactly match the doctrines and theology they had been formulating and teaching for years.  And if Jesus was not actually the Messiah, they felt it was their duty to protect the people and defend the glory of God.  That is what spiritual leaders do, right? 

But what if that's not what we are supposed to be doing?  What if my job as a spiritual leader is not so much to protect those under my care from wolves and heretics as it is to teach them how to spot and avoid wolves and heretics?  What if my job is to teach people how to love God and hear His voice and follow His leading?  That, of course, would be a much more difficult job -I mean, anyone can become adept at spotting heretics.  Spotting heretics is easy -they think differently than us.  Learning to love God?  That is more difficult.  That is a heart thing, not just a mind thing.

So, teaching people to actually love God and authentically pursue truth by listening and obeying is difficult.  But the rewards are great; those under our care end up loving God, hearing His voice, and following His leading.

Father God, help me not to get so caught up in defending my doctrinal positions and theological understandings that I miss the bigger point.  Teach me, instead, to love You and in loving You, to love others as You love them.  Amen.