Each of us is engaged in the battle of our lifetime. Our natural impulses pull at us. Our higher nature, the spiritual one, informs us of better choices. Those two are in perpetual conflict (Galatians 5:16-25), and the outcome of that fight affects everything. There is a long string of evidences that reveal which one has the upper hand, and they are signs of the ultimate destination that awaits our souls.
It is a simple understanding of the exclusionary nature of each. We live according to one or the other at every step. We cannot walk by both any more than we can simultaneously go north and south. Fleshly steps are much easier to take. Do whatever feels best, offers the fewest challenges and has the heaviest traffic. We simply go with the flow.
The higher road is governed by different principles. The spiritual route is rarely the easiest. It challenges us to overcome our feelings and emotions. There is little congestion along the way. There is no traffic backup on the entry ramp. It is tight and narrow. Excess baggage has to be left behind. Bitterness, anger and revenge must be removed. Sin is no longer a viable option.
Role models are rare. As much as leaders are needed, they are few and far between. That is why we search the pages of the gospels to find the footprints of Jesus. The Son of God showed us the way. We will never measure up, but we have high aspirations. He experienced perpetual interruptions and took unexpected turns. He butted heads with His religious contemporaries and embraced the untouchables. He leads. We follow. It is a remarkable journey for those who dare.
It all begins with a decision, “If anyone wishes to come after me… (Luke 9:23).” The choice is ours. He will not force anyone, but He does lay down the conditions that are necessary if we decide to come after Him. We are easily distracted. That old serpent still dangles forbidden fruit before us. It looks tasty and promises much but yields a harvest of life-damaging consequences. It ultimately closes the door to paradise for those who are deceived into taking a bite.
The first hurdle to be cleared for those who want to follow the Lord is self, “…he must deny himself…” We all have our fleshly wants and wishes that we want to indulge. Pleasure lures us into immorality or pain pushes us into violence. Forgiveness feels impossible when we have been terribly wronged. We are battered and bruised. Hopes die. Dreams are crushed. Careers fail. We are angry and want to take our hurt out on someone. Self-denial is tough business. No to self. No to the flesh. It is a nonnegotiable. To follow Jesus and walk by the Spirit we must. The decision is which road we will take. That affects everything and takes us to an eternal destination.
Thanksgiving approaches, and we busy ourselves with preparations for the holiday. Family and friends gather as we count heads, plan and cook. It is a wonderful day as we pause to count our many blessings. Indeed, Christians are the most blessed people on earth, so much so that it is impossible to number them all. As we grab another plateful of turkey and trimmings, let us never forget the extraordinary gift that the Son of God is.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son…(John 3:16).” Consider the giver. He existed eternally before there was ever a you or me, prior to anything and everything. Then, in the pure exertion of His will it all came into being. Imagine nothing. No space, time, earth or sun. Absolutely nothing. Then it was. The all-powerful Creator did all this, and He created you and me.
He loves His creation. It is the motive behind His incredible gift, and He does not discriminate. He loves the world. Amazing! That rebellious pair that got expelled from the garden? Their murdering son? Those who refused to get on the ark? The ungodly hands that nailed His Son to a cross? Me? You? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. His desire is always for our best, so He sent His best. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…”
His unique Son. God has made it possible for anyone to be His child, but there are none like Him. It is a unique relationship that spans eternity. The Son was with God and was equal with God. He was God. They shared an intimacy that exceeds our understanding, and the Father gave Him for you, me and those who couldn’t care less. The love of the Lord is universal, unbounded by time or place. It prompted history’s greatest gift, but not all will receive the extraordinary benefits.
The world saw this great present and wrinkled its collective brow. They did not recognize Him. He was even rejected by His own relatives (John 1:10-11). Even with the foreknowledge of what He would encounter, He surely must have been disappointed when faced with the reality. He confronted hypocritical religion and comforted sinners. He was rewarded with hostility. He loved them anyway. His Father did, too. Still, there were those who believed, and for them there was an exceedingly rich opportunity; a place in the family of God (John 1:12). “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The love that sent the Son offered a door that is opened by believing. With total faith and trust in Him comes eternal life. That choice is ours, but it is always available, and that is something worthy of giving thanks every day of the year. Happy Thanksgiving.
Grace is the subject of one of our most popular songs, and is surely one of God’s most appreciated attributes. It makes forgiveness possible for the vilest of sinners as it reaches across the chasm that spans from here to eternity. The Son of God embodied it to bring salvation to every person. It saves, educates and commissions. It casts a much wider shadow than most of us understand.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith…(Ephesians 2:8).” It is one of the most reassuring verses in the word of God. When we consider the horror of our pre-Christian condition, it becomes even more impressive. Sinners are dead, and that is a totally hopeless state. A corpse is powerless until faith embraces the hand of the omnipotent God. He raises us, gives us life and seats us with Christ. It is complete transformation which also brings responsibilities.
“…we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain…(2 Corinthians 6:1)” There is the dangerous potential. Initially, it means everything to us as we recognize the extraordinary gift of salvation, but does it begin to dull in significance as time goes by? Have we really allowed the grace of God to change our hearts? Sin is repulsive. Do we see it that way? Forgiveness is costly. Will we extend it to others through our own experience of grace, or does the grace of God stop with us?
The young man was demanding. He wanted his stuff right then and there. He did not want to wait. He had done nothing to deserve it except be born into the right family and even then, he should have waited in line for his part but he wouldn’t. His dad gave in to his wishes. He took his undeserved riches, left home and wasted it all on rowdy parties. Home and dad looked pretty good from his mess, so he headed back to take his medicine. He was greeted with a celebration by the same father who gave him things he didn’t deserve. It is a celebratory picture of grace (Luke 15:11-32), joyful for everyone except…
God’s grace is a challenge for those who have been wronged. The prodigal’s big brother did not appreciate his father’s gracious reception one bit. He wanted discipline and punishment of some sort. After all, his kid brother had taken something he had not earned and wasted it. It should have been his. Anger boiled over. He wanted humiliation, not music and a buffet. So, he pouted. Jesus brought grace to an ungrateful nation. He lived among them and died His sacrificial death at their hands. Pentecost came and those same bloodthirsty instigators were met with grace. Repentance and baptism in the name of the crucified one will clean the slate. Even them? Yes, even them. Hard to take? Perhaps, but the grace of God truly is amazing.
It is the single question that will change our lives. It was a punch to Peter’s raw emotions. He stood before the Lord having denied Him in triplicate. The life of Jesus hung in the balance. Every conceivable force had joined together in opposition to the Son of God. Hope for the little band of disciples was on the brink of apparent extinction when the self-confidence of the fisherman faltered. Now, he had a face-to-face confrontation with the One whom he had denied.
“Do you love Me (John 21:15-17)?” Step into Peter’s skin for a minute. Jesus had warned him that his failure was imminent (John 13:38). He was certain that it wasn’t. No amount of pressure could win out against him. Then it did, and not just once but three times. Evil won that round, and a once-cocky apostle had a head-on collision with his own frailty. He stood at a distance as the Son of Man took that and all the failures of humanity to the old rugged cross. Now, he looked the risen One in the eye. Or did he look away, too humiliated to meet His gaze? “Do you love Me?”
Peter was one of the first to hear the “follow Me” invitation and accept it. He was among a dozen disciples that Jesus chose to be apostles. Judas was, too. A fast start does not assure a victorious finish. They all received the same instructions from the Lord before they ventured out into a hostile world (Matthew 10). It would be tough sledding. Included was a somber cautioning about denying Him (Verse 33). All twelve heard it and had wilted in the heat of persecution. “Do you love Me?”
That would probably provide the perfect definition of discomfort. Jesus asked the question three times, matching the number of denials. Yes. Yes. Yes. The repeated response from Peter led the Lord to give him a task: Watch out for the welfare of my people. The Lord did not reject him. He did not chastise him. But He did quiz him. One concern and one job. Relationships, both vertical and horizontal, are the focus. “Do you love Me?”
Peter went on to preach one of the most famous sermons ever on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). We still read those words and derive much of our understanding of the church from them. Jesus had promised that he would receive the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:19), and the kingdom was opened to all. The Lord communicated two inspired letters through him to Christians, and he served as an elder (1 Peter 5:1). Not a bad resume for a “failure.”
Failure did not define Peter, nor does it define us. It refines us. We realize our weakness, and in that we find strength as we recognize our deep need for Him. “Do you love Me?” Our answer changes everything.
“Our God is Good”