When You Have Returned to Me

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And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.” (Luke 22:31-34, NKJV)

Jesus and the disciples were in the upper room celebrating the Passover. The conversation among the disciples turned to a lively dispute about who among them was the greatest of Jesus’ disciples. Amusingly, this was not the first time they argued about this topic. They argued about the same thing shortly after returning from their preaching  and miracle ministry to Israel (see Luke 9, esp. 1-11, 46-50). We shouldn’t be surprised. After all, comparing our works to others’ is a common way to measure success in the eyes of the world. However, God measures success much differently. God isn’t interested in how we “measure up” to others—He’s interested in the condition of our hearts, whether we’re willing to humbly yield to the loving others and serving Him (see Luke 9, esp. 23-26, 46-50).

Regardless, during the Passover dispute, Jesus interrupts and tells Peter, “I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” The implications are clear. Peter will fail the Lord in word and works. And when Peter protests, Jesus very specifically tells Peter when and how He will fail—by denying Christ three times that very night, before the morning rooster finishes crowing. Interestingly, even with such a specific word of prophecy, Peter lives out his failure exactly as Christ prophesied.

But Peter’s failure isn’t the only prophecy Jesus spoke. Notice, Jesus also said, “and when you have returned to Me.” Here we are reminded that Jesus, knowing our thoughts even before we think them, loves us unconditionally. And this great love impels Christ to keep us as members of His flock, in spite of all our failures and weaknesses. He loves us so much that He even invests Himself personally in prayer for us.

Thus, Luke 22:31-34 exemplifies that wonderfully comforting passage in Romans 8:35-39:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So, when you find yourself failing the Lord over and over again, take heart. Jesus already knows every mistake you’ll ever make, yet He loves you still. And no matter how many times you sin—no matter how far you wander or how hard you try to mess things up—when you truly belong to His flock, having received His grace by believing in Him, then, He will always hold you tight, never let you go, and invite you with open arms to return once more to Him.

Make God Your Resolution

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Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and tell him, ‘Thus says the LORD God of the Hebrews: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For if you refuse to let them go, and still hold them, behold, the hand of the LORD will be on your cattle in the field, on the horses, on the donkeys, on the camels, on the oxen, and on the sheep—a very severe pestilence. And the LORD will make a difference between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt. So nothing shall die of all that belongs to the children of Israel.” ’ ” Then the LORD appointed a set time, saying, “Tomorrow the LORD will do this thing in the land.”

So the LORD did this thing on the next day, and all the livestock of Egypt died; but of the livestock of the children of Israel, not one died. Then Pharaoh sent, and indeed, not even one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh became hard, and he did not let the people go. (Exodus 9:1-7, NKJV)

Many of us know the Exodus narrative. How God called Moses from birth to deliver the Hebrew people from their slavery in Egypt. How Pharaoh ordered all the male Hebrew babies killed, but Moses’ mother hid Moses in a basket in the river. How Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses and rescued him. So, Moses grew up in the Pharaoh’s palace, saw the bondage of his people, killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, fled to the wilderness of Midian, and lived as a shepherd. Then, at Moses’ lowest, God spoke to him through the burning bush, and despite all Moses’ protests, God was adamant that He would deliver the Hebrew people through the leadership of Moses. And here, in this passage, we read how Moses, with Aaron’s help, is waging God’s war against Egypt through the plagues until Pharaoh finally lets the Hebrew people leave.

Tomorrow begins a new year. Many of us are thinking about resolutions. Maybe you want to lose weight, manage your money better, be a better mother, father, sister, brother, friend. Find a job. Get a promotion. Whatever it is, there’s probably something on your heart you’d like to see happen in the New Year. I’d like to suggest one additional resolution for each of us to make.

When God started the plagues in Egypt, they were a sign to Pharaoh about God’s power, an attack against Egypt’s God’s that would ultimately provoke Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people leave Egypt. But with some of the plagues, like the flies and the livestock, God adds another element: a difference between His people and Egypt.

Spiritually, we can look at Egypt as a picture of the world and the Hebrew people as a picture of the church. As believers, we live in this world, working alongside believers and unbelievers, providing for our households and improving our communities. But even though we live in and work among the world, God has called us to come out from the world, to be different—to come and worship Him.

Our worship offends the world because our world doesn’t understand God. But God doesn’t call us to change this world by Christianizing governments, arguing with skeptics, or slaughtering unbelievers. God instructs us to go and make disciples. He commands us to love Him and others with our whole being and to show that love by our actions toward others. And He describes those acts of love as being light in a dark place, salt to preserve the world (Matt 5:13-16).

As we begin this new year, I want to encourage you to let God’s invitation to His people—to come and worship—be your invitation as well. God wants to make a difference between you and the world, bringing His light into this dark world through you. But He makes that difference by changing your heart and renewing your mind (Rom 12:2). How does He do that? By His Spirit, through prayer, through the Word, through fellowship with believers, and through circumstances, day-by-day, moment-by-moment, as you yield your heart to His presence in your life.

Let God change your life. Let Him make a difference between you and the world. Let God bring His light into this world through you. Let God be your resolution this new year.

In Everything Give Thanks

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Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for You. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NJKV)

The ancient city of Thessalonica was the capital of the Roman province Macedonia, making it a hotspot for Roman travel, trade, politics, and religion in the region. And when Paul preached in Thessalonica, he quickly encountered much hostility from local non-believers. After Paul left, the Thessalonians continued to experience similar hostility and persecution in the city. Against this backdrop of hostile daily life, we read Paul’s isntructions to the Thessalonian church.

Confession time. When God lets my life get uncomfortable, I get upset. Personally, my issue is anger. When life starts piling on the difficulties, even the small annoyances that I can usually shake off feel like red-hot iron pokers burning away sanity.

Maybe you’re like me and your issue is anger. Or maybe your struggle is with discouragement, doubt, and despair. Or, perhaps, when life closes in around you, you detach from the world and run away. Whatever your response, all of us at various times experience the pressures of life weighing heavily on us.

But imagine being a Thessalonian believer. You’re living in the center of a pagan world that worships their gods with gluttonous parties, drunkenness, wild orgies, and so forth. As a Thessalonian, you used to do those things, too. But now, as a believer in Jesus, He has set you free from those lifestyles of sin and you don’t do those things anymore. But your old friends aren’t ok with that. They won’t sell you food, clothes, or other necessities. They won’t socialize with you anymore. And if you start telling them about Jesus, they literally drag you and your family out of your house and beat you.

As a Thessalonian, your first pastor, Paul, and his ministry team were forced out of town by such hostility. But he has heard about your struggles and he has written you a letter, encouraging you to give thanks in everything. How absurd!

But Paul doesn’t say, “rise up and slaughter the offenders,” or “take them to court and squeeze every penny from them,” or “run for office and force Christian morals on society.” Those are the methods of men. They’re not our mission from God.

God’s will for us is to let Him transform our hearts and minds into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s mission for us is to go out, into all the unbelieving world, preaching the gospel and making disciples of the nations. Both God’s will and God’s mission require us to remember the single most important fact of every believer’s existence:

Jesus Christ died for our sins, saved us from death, and gives us eternal life.

It is this reality that enables us and impels us to be thankful at all times, in all things. One author explains the situation this way,

[Remember] Rom. 8:28, [how] all of which cooperate for good to God’s children and thus call forth our thanks to God. We need to learn this secret of the happy Christian life—thankfulness. If everything actually conspires to do us good, how can we do otherwise than always rejoice? [1]

Our thankfulness is not based on external circumstances. It flows from our relationship with Jesus Christ. When we begin looking at life through the lens of salvation, we see God working through the hardship in this life to make us holy. That holiness grows in us, making us more like Jesus, focusing our hearts toward heaven, filling us with joy, and turning our frowns upside down.


[1] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon (Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1937), 358.

Be Anxious for Nothing

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Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NKJV)

Pardon my bluntness, but sometimes life just sucks, doesn’t it? You make these plans and they seem so important, but as the time approaches one thing after another just starts tearing them down. You have these people in your life, people you care about so deeply, that you’re ready to do almost anything for them, but when you need them, they seem to let you down. Maybe it’s your job, or you just can’t seem to find or keep a job. Maybe it’s a loved one who has fallen on hard times, illness, or death. Or maybe your own health burdens you on a daily basis. Whatever your situation, I am confident that each of us, whether presently or in times past, has experienced these kinds of discouraging situations.

I believe these kinds of situations can, depending on the circumstances, qualify as what the Bible calls “anxieties,” or “cares.” The Greek word has a long history and it has a double-meaning, very similar to our English word “cares.” In the positive sense, it can refer to any kind of heart-felt motivation to help someone else, “caring” for someone else when they are sick, weak, or in some kind of need. In the negative sense, it can also refer to any kind of heart-felt need that goes unsatisfied, like if you are sick, weak, or in need, but you feel as though you’re alone and no one is helping you. Both kinds of “cares” are strong enough to demand our full attention. And therein lies the problem—for when we fix our eyes on the situation, we take our eyes off Christ.

But there is a remedy for that feeling of discouragement and despair. You see, that feeling comes from a false perspective. You may feel alone, but you aren’t alone. God is with you. So, Paul says, the remedy isn’t to focus more on the situation, but to fix your eyes of the Lord. And prayer is the single most effective strategy for doing just that. And if you are willing to go to God in prayer, Paul gives a promise—the Peace of God will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Paul doesn’t say might or probably. He says will. That’s not just a style of translation—that’s the literal rendering of the Greek. When we fix our eyes on the Lord, we can be absolutely sure that His peace will guard our hearts and minds from the efforts of the Enemy and the world to discourage us.

During the Last Supper, I think the disciples were feeling some anxieties. For at least a few days, Jesus had been telling them about how he would be betrayed and killed. He was going to leave them. In my mind I can imagine reclining at the table among the disciples, thinking, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Aren’t you supposed to be the King of Israel? But you say you’re going to die. And what’s this business about rising in three days?”

While Jesus and the disciples were talking after the meal, Jesus instructed them about many things, including peace. As John 14:27 says,

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

The peace of God is a gift given to us by Jesus. It was made possible by the death of Jesus, which paid the debt for our sins and reconciled us to the Father. In this way, Jesus made peace for us with the Father (see Rom 5:10-11). And now, the peace of God can rule our hearts. But God does not force his peace on us. As Colossians 3:15 says, we have to let his peace rule our hearts. How? By fixing our eyes on the Lord through prayer. And how is this possible? Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Do Not Fear, Little Flock

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Then He [Jesus] said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?

“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.

“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:22-34, NKJV)

Psalm 23:2 begins, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” Sheep are timid, fearful creatures. They aren’t strong or smart, they’re always looking for food and water, and they’re easy pray for predators. So, sheep are typically restless animals, rarely feeling sufficiently provided for and secure enough to lie down and rest. Instead, they wander about on edge, easily spooked and rarely satisfied with where they are.

A responsible shepherd meets the needs of their flock to address these issues. Such a shepherd ensures that the pasture land is well cared for, providing nourishing food and having ample water for the flock. They also protect the sheep from predators, fighting them off in defense of the sheep. And sometimes shepherds use music to sooth the sheep, drowning out strange noises and helping the sheep relax so they can lie down and rest. But, of course, the sheep have to recognize the shepherd’s protections and provisions and then choose to rest in the shepherd’s presence.

In Luke 12, Jesus instructs his disciples not to fear because the Father is such a good shepherd. He promises His Kingdom to every sheep in His sheepfold. God protects us from our Adversary—Satan and his servants—as well as the forces of the world that threaten to overtake us. The Father also provides for our every need. He created us, after all, and He knows that we need food, water, clothing, and so forth. So, Jesus tells us, we can rest in the protection and provision of the Father.

But, as Jesus explains, our ability to find spiritual rest depends on our intentional seeking for God. Jesus gently rebukes his disciples with the phrase, “O you of little faith.” God made the universe in such a way that our spiritual rest depends on us focusing our hearts on Him. If we focus our hearts on the physical challenges of this life, we are restless, wandering on edge, searching for safer, greener pastures. But when we focus our hearts on seeking our loving Father, He promises that we will find spiritual rest in Him as He provides for our earthly needs.

May we seek God and His Kingdom with our whole hearts, that we may find He will not only supply our earthly needs, but He will also give us rest.

Whose Hope Is the LORD

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Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the LORD.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
And whose hope is the LORD.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit. (Jer 17:5-8, NKJV)

Jeremiah was a prophet in Judah before the Babylonian exile. His ministry began when he was a young man, from around 626 BC during the reign of king Josiah, to around 587 BC when Judah fell to Babylon. Jeremiah 17 is part of God’s prophecy about the destruction of Judah. The people of Judah were living in sin, worshipping the gods of other nations, a direct violation of the commandments God gave Israel. So, God prophesied against Judah, that they would be invaded and taken into exile, for their refusal to repent and turn back to God.

In Jeremiah 17:5, God describes one of the major issues that has plagued humanity since Adam and Eve: willful rejection of God’s ways and our selfish ambition to live by our own rules. God says, “cursed is the man who trusts in man.” When God says the person is cursed, God is not revealing some kind of new wrath against humanity. God is repeating the same message He has been warning us about since Adam and Eve: whoever chooses to go their own way and live apart from God lives under the condition of a spiritual curse.

What does this cursed lifestyle look like? God explains, “he makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD.” Very clear, very simple. If you trust in human strength, wisdom, or power—your own, other people, the government, academia, or whatever—instead of God, you are choosing to live under the spiritual curse.What does the curse look like? In verse 6, God explains, “he shall be like a shrub in the desert.” I lived in Yuma, Arizona for three years. Desert shrubs are dry, brittle, and prickly. They have almost no fruit, they give almost no shade, they’re constantly struggling to survive and their growth is stunted. If you turn your back on God, that’s what your spiritual life looks like. Everything may look and feel great on the outside, but your soul is spiritually parched, barely surviving in our dry, cruel world.

In Jeremiah 17:7, God describes how He created us to live in relationship with Him. God says, “blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD.” When God made Adam and Eve, He gave them one rule: do not eat from a specific tree. Why did he give them that rule? To test them, yes. But in that test, they had to trust God and not rely on their own understanding. That’s where the serpent got them to doubt God. That’s where the Enemy attacks us. And that’s how humanity broke the world through sin.

What does trusting God look like? God explains, “whose hope is the LORD.” Now, biblical hope is not like our modern idea of hope. When we say we hope for something, it’s a wish, “oh, I hope I get that new job or that new car.” There’s no confidence, no security. The biblical idea of hope is different. The person whose hope is God is actively trusting in God, relying on God daily, confident that God will stay true to His promises and secure in God as a refuge from life’s troubles. Biblical hope is confident expectation based on the character of our always loving, never failing, all-powerful God.

In verse 8, God explains what the blessing looks like, “he shall be like a tree planted by the waters.” In the desert, trees grow by the water. If you see trees, you know there’s some kind of water source nearby. A fork of the Colorado River runs through one side of Yuma. And by the river there’s a beautiful park with all kinds of beautiful wooded areas. When the summer heat comes, these trees survive because they have the water source. The trees are fruitful, providing shade, and thriving. When you trust in God, that’s what your spiritual life looks like. Even though the whole world is falling apart around you, The river of life—the Holy Spirit—is flowing through you, nourishing and growing you in the midst of our dry, cruel world.

In John 7, Jesus was in Jerusalem for Passover. Verse 37 begins,

On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Jesus is not the Living Water. He is the Rock, stricken for our sins. But when Jesus ascended to heaven, he sent the Living Water, the Holy Spirit, to live in us in a special way according to the New Covenant, comforting us, nourishing us, and making us more like Jesus. Let’s remember and embrace these truths, looking to our Lord Jesus, that we might actively receive the spiritual blessings that the Spirit works in our lives.

Trust in the LORD

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Trust in the LORD, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
Delight yourself also in the LORD,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.

Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret—it only causes harm. (Psalm 37:3–8, NKJV)

Psalm 37 is another Psalm of David. We don’t know the particular circumstances around the writing of the Poison, but the  theme of Psalm 37 is a comparison between the Righteous person, who trusts in the LORD, and the Wicked person, who despises God’s ways.

In verses 3–4, David explains that trusting in the LORD begins with delighting in Him. The idea here is for us to take great pleasure in the LORD. His value is beyond measure. So just as we might cherish a precious jewel, we cherish our fellowship with Him above all else. He is our source of joy and self-worth. He names us and calls us His own. So when David writes, “He shall give you the desires of your heart,” there’s two things going on. First, when we delight in the LORD, fellowship with the LORD is our greatest desire and as we draw near to Him, He draws near to us. Second, as we delight in Him and draw near to Him, His ways and His goals become our own. By humbling our hearts and entering His presence, we allow Him to fill us with joy, renew our hearts and minds making us more like Jesus, and guide our way according to His plans instead of our own.

In verses 5–6, David explains trusting the LORD in terms of a commitment to His ways. We know that the world systems are under the sway of the Enemy and all of creation is under the curse of sin. We also know, from the Word and from our own experience that in our hearts we want to live for Jesus, but these bodies of flesh carry our baggage of sin, always enticing us to turn against God’s ways. In our day-to-day lives, the only thing standing between a believer and sin is a commitment to the ways of the LORD. But we have to surrender to two truths. Trusting the LORD doesn’t start with commitment, it starts with delighting in Him, as David mentioned in verses 3–4. Second, commitment is an act of our will, but we are powerless to carry it out on our own strength. As David writes, “He shall bring forth our righteousness.” Indeed, the light in us is not our own, it is Jesus Christ, the light of all men, who covers us with His righteousness and who leads and strengthens us according to His ways.

In verses 7–8, David depicts our trusting in the LORD as resting in Him. Our English word “rest” has different meanings. David isn’t talking about taking a nap or taking a day off to watch Netflix. Now there’s nothing wrong with those things, per se. But the idea here isn’t physical rest, it’s spiritual. “Be still and know that I am God” says the LORD (Ps 46:10). And as David explains here, “Do not fret, … cease from anger, … forsake wrath.” It’s easy to look around us and see the hypocrisy of the world and the flaws in our brothers and sisters in Christ. But God doesn’t want you to change them. That’s His job and we partner with Him in that work primarily through prayer and gracious encouragement. No, God wants each of us to surrender our own hearts to Him so He can change each of us Himself. And He does this by filling us with His Holy Spirit who dwells within us and ministers to our hearts. When we’re sad, He’s with us, comforting us, if we’ll let Him. And when we’re angry, He’s with us, cooling our tempers and speaking His truth to us, if we’ll let Him.

In John 15, Jesus, at His last Passover meal with the Twelve, said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me, you can do nothing.” Jesus was talking in spiritual terms. In this world, without Christ, we can walk around and do this or that, helping people or taking advantage of them or whatever. But it all amounts to nothing apart from Christ. Eternity is real and the LORD wants us to enjoy it with Him. But at the same time, Hell is a very real place of torment created for Satan, the demons, and the fallen angels. If you don’t want to be with Jesus, He won’t make you be with Him. But the only other option is Hell. The beauty of the Cross is that enjoying Christ for Eternity is a gift that Jesus purchased for us and offers to us freely. Salvation cost Jesus an agonizing death by means of crucifixion. But salvation costs us nothing except to trust in Him. And that’s why we celebrate communion, to remember the price He paid at Calvary so that anyone and everyone who trusts in Him can enjoy His presence for Eternity.