More Than These

What character of the Bible do you identify with the most?  For me it is Peter.  I have been told I live my life in CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation marks!!!!  It’s true.  That is my personality.  There are those who find that off-putting at best and annoying at worst.  It’s just that I am so profoundly grateful to be a child of the King, so eager for others to know my Lord, so excited to get to know people and learn from them – I just can’t keep it all inside.  Consequently, I feel a close connection to the bold, loud, brash, impetuous, passionate follower of Christ named Peter.  Often his mouth got him in trouble (oh, have I been in that place – again and again!).  He didn’t always take time to think about what he was saying and the results were interesting to say the least.  Sometimes his loud proclamation led him to experience miracles like the time he impetuously said to Jesus, “If it’s you, Jesus, tell me to walk to you on the water.”  When Jesus responded with, “Come,” Peter was compelled to put those words and his faith into action by taking that step out of the boat and experience a miracle.  Other times he spoke profound words of truth put there by God like the time when Jesus asked the disciples who they thought He was.  Peter boldly proclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  How he must have loved to hear Jesus’ words of affirmation and approval.

But then there was the time when Peter must have wished beyond all hope that he had kept his mouth shut (and I have been there time and time again!).  I’m thinking of the night before Jesus’ crucifixion when Peter confidently and boldly proclaimed that even if everyone else would desert Jesus, he never would.  I can’t begin to imagine the shock of hearing Jesus respond with the prophecy that Peter would deny Him three times.  I also have trouble imagining how Peter felt when for the third time he responded with, “I don’t know this man you are talking about,” only to look up and see the eyes of Jesus looking into his.  Eyes filled with love, compassion and forgiveness.  Maybe it would have been easier on Peter if there had been condemnation and judgment instead of mercy.  I’ve tried to put myself in Peter’s shoes at this point.  I know I would have been riddled with guilt, remorse, self-condemnation and a desire to take it all back.  My heart would have been heavy within me as I doubted my worthiness to be called a disciple of Jesus.  Shame would have been my constant companion.  I wonder if Peter dealt with any of those feelings.  He wanted so much to love and serve his Lord, and all he did was let Him down.

I am fascinated by the story in John 21:15-19 where Peter is out with the other disciples fishing all night, not catching anything.  Was he still processing feelings of remorse in the dark hours of the night?  What was he feeling when he realized the man on the beach was actually Jesus?  Obviously, he had a deep burning desire to be near his Lord for he jumped into the cold morning water and swam to shore.  Ragged and wet he stands before the One he loves so much, longing to be loved and accepted by Him.  After eating the fish and bread Jesus offered him, he hears Jesus speak.  “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”  Three times Peter vehemently answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus was giving Peter an opportunity to redeem himself, to put into words the love he felt for Jesus.

As I contemplated Jesus’ question, I was struck by the phrase “more than these.”  What did Jesus mean?  In his book “Cross Purposes,” author Eddie Askew writes, “These what?  ‘Do you love me more than you love your friends here?’ ‘Do you love me more than they do?’ ‘Do you love me more than you love your past life or your fishing?’”  Whatever Jesus means, it is clear that we must love Him above all else.

He is asking you and me today, “Do you love me more than these?” Do you love me more than you love popularity, power, recognition, acceptance, and appreciation?  Do you love me more than you love yourself or your family and friends?  Do you love me enough to put the needs of others ahead of your own – enough to sacrifice your comfort to serve me sacrificially?  Do you love me enough to forgive those who have wounded you, rejected or abandoned you?  Do you love me enough to trust me with your future and the future of all you hold dear?  Do you love me enough to give me your fears, doubts, shame and guilt so that I can give you my joy, peace and hope?  Do you love me enough to boldly and passionately speak about me to others?  Do you love me enough to stop judging others and show them my mercy instead?  Do you love me more than these?   Do you?

It is a powerful question that demands an answer after a time of introspection.  My prayer for all of us is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:5, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.”  As we grapple with our own weaknesses, misspoken words and actions that lead to guilt and self-condemnation, let us remember that we are unconditionally, unquestionably, unequivocally loved and forgiven by God.  In view of that let’s offer Him our whole-hearted, unreserved, passionate love.  Let’s all strive to love Him “more than these.”

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Do You Understand?

There is so much I don’t understand!  I don’t understand how a few strips of delicious crispy bacon can turn into five pounds of ugly fat.  I don’t understand why the closer you get to the bathroom the more urgent the need becomes.  I don’t understand why some people can’t see in the mirror that a size-sixteen body does not fit into a size-ten shirt.  I don’t understand how some women can walk on three-inch stilettos.  I don’t understand the physics of gravity.  I don’t understand predestination.  And I sure don’t totally understand the whole book of Revelation.  And that’s just the beginning of all I don’t understand.

But what boggles my mind the most the depth and scope of Jesus’ love for us.  I love these words from John 13: 1, “It was just before the Passover Feast.  Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”  The next verses describe Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.  When we get to verse 12 we read, “When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’”  That last question gives me pause and makes me realize that I do not even begin to understand what He has done for us – to comprehend the extent of His love.

 

I have tried to imagine what it would be like to have Jesus, the Holy God of the Universe, bend down before me like the lowliest of servants, gently lift my sin-encrusted foot, and wash it with the water of grace.  I am breathless as His gentle nail-scarred hands touch me.  Part of me wants to draw back because I feel so unworthy.  Another part of me is like Peter, wanting to be fully immersed in His cleansing love.  Do I understand?  No.  No, I don’t.  I try, but it’s too much for this finite mind to comprehend.  The full extent of His love compelled Him:

  • To empty Himself and take on human form and come to earth as a baby
  • To live a sinless life is a world contaminated with sin surrounded by people who “didn’t get it”
  • To go the garden of Gethsemane where He was betrayed, abandoned and arrested
  • To endure the mocking voices of the Sanhedrin, the lies of the people, the condemnation, the blows of angry fists, and people spitting on Him
  • To stand before an angry crowd that demanded He be crucified
  • To suffer a flogging that left Him raw and bleeding
  • To tolerate the mocking derision of the Roman soldiers and the pain of thorns pressed into His skull, as other soldiers struck him in the head with a staff and spit on Him
  • To persevere as He carried the heavy cross through a jeering crowd that days before had sung His praises
  • To travel the road to Golgotha where He hung on a cross like a common thief and suffered a most excruciating death
  • His love compelled Him to accept in His person all the sins of humanity and provide atonement, forgiveness, redemption, restoration, and freedom.
  • His love for us enabled Him to endure the profound loneliness and desolation of having His loving Father turn His back on him so that we would be assured that God will NEVER turn His back on us.

There is no way I can understand what He has done for me.  His love is too deep.  It fills me with awe, wonder and worship.  It makes me want to fall on my knees saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts!  Heaven and Earth are filled with your glory!”  It makes me want to live my life with deep-felt gratitude and passion!

There is so much I don’t understand, but as long as I have breath, I will continue to strive to grasp “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge (so that I) may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18b-19)

 

The Presence of the King

This past weekend I had the privilege and blessing of watching the high school students from Northminster Presbyterian Church in Peoria, IL perform the most spiritually moving, powerful musical I have EVER seen. The musical was “Pilgrim” based on John Bunyan’s book “Pilgrim’s Progress.”  What made it so amazing wasn’t just the fact that my two granddaughters were in it (although they did a beautiful job) or that my daughter-in-law designed the costumes (which were so creative and illustrative of each character) or that my son helped build the sets (which added beautifully to the visual interest of the play) or that the rest of the cast did an equally wonderful job (I was extremely impressed with each one).  What made it so powerful was the story itself.  For those of you who never read “Pilgrim’s Progress” it is an allegory in which the main character, Christian, meets Evangelist who gives him a Book.  This Book convicts Christian of his meaningless life and sets him on a path to the Celestial City by way of the cross.  Along the way he meets people who help him: Faithful, Hopeful, Goodwill, Watchful, the Interpreter, etc.  He also encounters others who try to discourage him and lure him from the path like Worldly Wise Man, the Giant of Despair, the Flatterer, the Shadows and others.  He encounters obstacles that tempt him and distract him, especially at Vanity Fair.  Every single scene has a powerful spiritual truth that resonates with all of us who are trying to follow Jesus.

But what affected me the most and continues to bless my spirit is the character of the King.  He rarely spoke, but He was always present.  Christian couldn’t see Him, but He never left Christian’s side.  Every step of the way He was there.  Now you and I both know God is always with us, but that visual image of the King walking with Christian through both the good and bad times – loving him, caring for him, suffering with him, guiding him – has opened up my heart to a whole new awareness of this profound blessing: the constant companionship of the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings.  I’ve been considering how different my life would be if I lived each moment of my life in the reality of the King’s presence.  There would be no more fear, no more despair, no more hopelessness, no more loneliness, no more uncertainty, no more worry.  My King is always with me and He will NOT let anything happen to me that is not for my ultimate good.  He has the power to take even those things the evil one tries to throw at me and use them for my good and His glory.  These last few days I have been more aware of that blessed Presence and my days have been more peaceful, filled with more joy and assurance.  Thank you, Holy King, for never leaving or forsaking us pilgrims as we journey toward the Celestial City.

Another part of the musical that continues to fill my mind is the scene where Christian actually gets to the cross.  He has been carrying a huge burden of guilt, shame, and sin that he cannot remove, but the King gently helps him climb the hill to the cross.  As Christian falls on his knees in true submission and repentance, the King gently lifts the burden and throws it into the abyss.  It is gone…completely gone…..forever!  That visual of the King throwing the burden into the abyss brings tears of gratitude to my eyes (even as I type this).  Of course, I know my sins have been forgiven and totally paid for by the blood of Jesus, but too often I begin to take that blessed gift for granted.  Forgive me, O King!  I will never be able to comprehend the cost you paid for my forgiveness.  My daughter-in-law brought up an interesting point that too often we try to take those burdens back.   How foolish!!  We have been set free.  Jesus has paid the price.  We have been declared righteous by the King and we are now holy in His eyes.  We “have been crucified with Christ and we no longer live, but Christ lives in us.  The life we live in the body, we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us.” (Galatians 2:20)  Thanks be to God!

The final scene, however, is the scene that will forever stick in my mind.  It blessed my heart in a way I cannot put into words.  It gave me great hope and assurance.  As Christian was crossing the River of Death before he entered the Celestial City he said, “I see Him.  I see the King!”  Those words were almost identical to the words my dear David said before he entered the Celestial City when he said, “He’s really here!”  Again, tears are streaming down my face as I type this, but they are tears of thanksgiving, hope and even joy:  thanksgiving that the King has chosen us to be His children; hope that we will one day get to see the King face to face, and joy of knowing David is with the King experiencing pure love and rejoicing with all the angels in heaven.  Praise God for His inexpressible goodness!

If you ever get an opportunity to see the musical “Pilgrim,” I strongly encourage you to do so.  Or if you are someone who is involved in theater and would like to see a DVD of this performance, let me know.  Until that day when we all reach the Celestial City, let’s covenant with each other to walk the path together, helping each other over the rough spots and celebrating the good times.