The Art of Denying Jesus

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Peter weeps

“Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.”

Matthew 26:75, NLT

Three denials are followed by three reaffirmations.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”

John 21:17

The apostle Peter was a fervent disciple. He knew who Jesus was before most. He was always included in special times (e.g. the transfiguration, Gethsemane). He was favored by Jesus throughout times of ministry. I also believe that he was Jesus’ friend. Peter is known for:

  • being called on the shores of Galilee, Matt 4:18-19
  • ‘almost’ walking on water, Matt 14:29-30
  • finding the tax money in a fishes mouth, Matt 17:24-27
  • having his feet washed, John 13:6-7
  • in Gethsemane– cutting off an ear, John 18:10-11
  • his remorse at denying Jesus, Matt 26:75
  • at the empty tomb with John, John 20:3-8

Peter’s own denials were of a serious nature effecting who he was, and who he was to become. Jesus astutely intervenes as they ‘breakfasted’on the seashore. There would be three affirmations; one for each denial. Peter needed to meet the resurrected Jesus, and speak with him about what he had done. Peter needed this.

Out of our own confusion, we realize that we deny Jesus. Perhaps frequently. A denial has different intensities and different situations. And none of us have an immunity as of yet. We deny the Lord when we refuse to speak of him to others. We deny the Lord when we fail to do what is right. Sometimes we deny him flagrantly, other times it is a more subtle attitude. At best, we’re still inconsistent, and at worst, apostate.

We’re not punished or abandoned for this behavior. Human logic would suggest that we should be. But instead we are gently restored. Given the opportunity, Peter the fisherman, would eventually become a wise shepherd to the young Church. I would also suggest that Peter’s personal weakness would serve him well as a gentle, and caring pastor.

Peter, near the end of his life, goes ‘full circle’ and uses a very precise Greek word found in only two places in the New Testament. It is the specific form of the word “shepherd.” It is only used in John 21:16-17 in Peter’s restoration, and in 1 Peter 5:2. Peter encourages the Church with the same words Jesus himself spoke to him on the beach so long ago! Peter wrote:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing.”

1 Peter 5:2, NIV

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The Pruning Knife

“He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”

John 15:2, NLT

In order to become fruitful we must accept the knife. 

It takes a sharp eye and a sharper knife to do the Father’s work of cutting.  He slices to the quick, and all that is not useful falls to the ground.  The vine will produce grapes, and every bit of “grape-energy” will be used productively. Fruitlessness will be cursed, and sterility is condemned.  It takes a decisive heart, as well as a wise hand to prune God’s own vineyard.

Fruitless believers may become fruitful ones.  Understand, the vine dresser does not attack the vine.  He is not malicious or vengeful.  All that He does is for the good of the vine.  He is motivated to produce fruit.  That is what He thinks about; you could say that He is preoccupied with that singular end.

Pruning and fruit are concepts that we vacillate over, some days we understand and other days we blow it off.  After over 30 years, I’ve heard every “John 15 sermon”.  And most of the time I turn down my spiritual hearing aid. That is tragic, and shows my heart has become hardened.

I need to come on board with this particular imagery.  For years I have asked God to “show me His ways”.  I’d like to believe that this understanding of pruning has changed me.  I would like to think that I have attained a clearer view of wisdom.  This pruning business is all well and good.  But being sanctified by the knife is decidedly unattractive and uncomfortable.

You must be pruned; pieces of your life are earmarked to be lopped off.  (I always wonder if the trees that are spray painted are curious over the why and the when they are to be cut?)  In regards to being fruitful we must accept the knife.  If we want to be holy and conform to the image of Christ we will be cut.  There is simply no other way.

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An Eternal Perspective

This too shall pass

The apostle Paul wrote, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17 (NIV).

The troubles we face don’t seem light or momentary. They feel heavy and often permanent. Especially when one struggles with troubles like mental illness, fibromyalgia and other chronic pain syndromes, physical disabilities, and cancer. Surely Paul was mistaken when he described our troubles as light and momentary. Perhaps his life was a different experience.

No, Paul knew what he was talking about; he knew about troubles. He was flogged and beaten, threatened with stoning, and thrown in jail multiple times for proclaiming Christ. He was shipwrecked not once, not twice, but three times. Although the Bible doesn’t tell us how Paul died, other historical documents suggest that he was beheaded.

Once he chose to follow Christ and proclaim His name, Paul’s life was anything but easy, his troubles anything but light and momentary. And yet, compared to the eternal glory his passion for Christ was earning for him, he could truthfully call them light and momentary.

Our burdens become light when we give them to Jesus, who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (NIV). He will carry the load if only we are willing to give it up. Sometimes he brings fellow believers alongside to help with this.

Our troubles become momentary when we see them from an eternal perspective.But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” 2 Peter 3:8 (NIV). In our earthly bodies we are bound by time and can be easily fooled by it. In God’s kingdom, time becomes somewhat irrelevant.

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Suffering: Finding Some Reasons

suffering1“Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.”

Hebrews 2:18, (NLT)

“Whenever you meet someone who has really suffered; been limited, gone through things for the Lord, willing to be imprisoned by the Lord, just being satisfied with Him and nothing else, immediately you scent the fragrance. There is a savor of the Lord. Something has been crushed, something has been broken, and there is a resulting odor of sweetness.”

  Watchman Nee

I remember a time many years ago when I felt like I had a ‘charmed’ life. I had no issues, few problems– life was smooth, there was no ‘roughness.’ I felt like I was God’s favorite, His ‘golden boy.’ I should have known it wouldn’t last :-).

Suffering in the scriptures is often linked with the concept of endurance. Often within the selected verse the writer weaves into it this idea. I believe that to endure something transforms it to good. Believers will suffer, but the issues get transformed into something quite beautiful, if, we add the ingredient of patient endurance.

“We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.”

James 5:11

In many ways, suffering is a tutor teaching us the foreign dialect of the Kingdom. If done under the kind direction of the Holy Spirit, it can give us a working knowledge of patience, endurance and joy. We must learn to speak in another language. A suffering believer will find a new vocabulary in pain that allows him to speak with understanding to those who are also in pain.

I spent several years studying Spanish. Even though I wasn’t really fluent, I discovered it opened a whole new world; being bilingual created new opportunities that I’d never even knew existed. I believe that suffering works under this same principle.

light-end-tunnelDo you speak the language? Can you communicate with love to those who hurt? Learning it can transform you to a person that can speak authoritatively to a wide swath of people. Having had to handle your own pain gives you the privilege of interpreting God’s love into pain and hurt.

From our own hurt (through endurance and joy) we can help others. I can always tell a fellow-sufferer. They are typically gentle and loving people, devoid of pride and control. These are the ones who have learned to speak the idiom of the Kingdom of God.

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us… We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.

2 Corinthians 1:4, 8-9

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Depression Metaphors, [Rust]

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Trying to explain depression takes a great deal of effort. The explanations are seldom satisfactory and sadly inaccurate. Complicating the definitions are the two types of depression, which are quite different:

  • Mild (dysthymia)
  • Large (clinical)

Both of these are radically different and present a completely set of symptoms. Psychiatrists have diagnostic criteria they use to help them make a diagnosis that will be helpful to the patient. It is kind of a hit or miss judgement call, but there is some validity to their efforts. One of their main resources is the DSM-5 that standardizes treatment of mental disorders and provides a continuity of care.

Mild depression:

Imagine an abandoned factory. You walk inside and at once crunch over the broken glass. Dust covers everything and the once ‘well maintained’ machinery is now covered with rust. It’s damp and musty. You notice graffiti and an old clock frozen in time to 7:53.

Overall, it seems a bit grim and sad. The factory is in complete disarray, but a crew could come and restore it to a functional state. It might take some serious rehabilitation, nevertheless it could happen.

Large depression:

You enter the abandoned factory and are glad you’re wearing a hard hat they gave you at the office. The floor is pretty much impassable, looking up you see that part of the roof has caved in. The machines stand in place, but are hardly recognizable; the are misshapen blobs of rust. There doesn’t seem much of anything to salvage anymore. Things couldn’t get any worse.

Depression has many facets; but it’s always destructive. I find the idea of rust the most compelling. The rust is just oxidation; not even noticeable at first. A steel girder seems strong, but left to its own the rust slowly eats away at the metal. There are molecular changes happening. The integrity of the steel will soon be compromised. It can happen quickly.

I want to encourage to get your depression treated soon. If you have a loved one who struggles get help soon. There is a fallacy about depression that it is relatively  harmless— that one can deal with the ‘blackness’ without long term consequences.

If you are a Christian, you need to find help. You can’t ignore your depressive symptoms.

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Chasing Down Euphoria

“That’s the difference between me and the rest of the world! Happiness isn’t good enough for me! I demand euphoria!” 

Calvin & Hobbes, comic strip

One of the blessings of turning 55 is I come to a place where I can sit and think about my life. I’m intrigued by how it unfolded the way that it did.  I know I can be a bit of an eccentric. But that’s ok. When the warm ocean current of depression and the cold water current of weird personality meet it will  get very tumultuous.  And being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder brings even more issues. But I do admit– I have lived life hard. (Perhaps harder then it had to be.)

I do have a ‘dark side.’ One of the most disturbing areas I had was an almost insatiable thirst for ‘euphoria.’  Both drugs and alcohol, I discovered would put me in the place of exhilaration and elation.  And I longed for anything that would put me in this mental state.  If you had come to me with two hits of ‘acid,’ I would definitely take them both, and not even blink. That has changed since I accepted Christ. The impulses are tamed by God’s Spirit and Word. (Thank God!)

My quest for euphoria has taken me down some strange paths.  I learned to buy those drugs that would work that special bliss into my being.  But I couldn’t maintain euphoria.  I chased after that idea, without ever achieving it.  LSD, PCP, marijuana, whiskey, cocaine, and  even ‘needles’— all those old standbys have brought me to a false sense of inner freedom.  I tried to stay ‘stoned’ as long as I could. I drank enough vodka to float a battleship.  I was a maniac. Completely out-of-control.

“You will be bruised all over, without even remembering how it all happened. And you will lie awake asking,  “When will morning come, so I can drink some more?” 

Proverbs 23:35, CEV

depressedcomputerThe man who penned this must have knew the back side of getting hammered.  There is a lot of pain in this lifestyle, and not just hangovers and depression. Yet we can’t wait until we can start it all over again.  This love for the high is the precursor to addiction.  Crossing this line is a moment of strange logic for the user, but in reality,  it is a form of mental illness and insanity.

My addictions (which imprinted an ‘addictive personality’) are seldom reasonable.  As I pursue the euphoria (I love to get “high!”) my own ravenous appetite begins to feed off my own personality.  When a dam breaks, it starts at a tiny leak. This can take several years.  But the pressure will slowly continue and then it begins to escalate.  Soon the water pushes through until the dam breaks.  Floods ensue as the lake flows through.  Disaster is just that close.

“You say to each other,  “Let’s drink till we’re drunk!  Tomorrow we’ll do it again.  We’ll really enjoy ourselves.” 

Isa. 56:12, CEV

When we pursue, and then try to purchase our euphoria, we will inevitably end up as drunks and as addicts.  When fixed on the pursuit of carnal pleasure, we end up destroying ourselves, and the lives of those closest to us. When I start hurting others by my actions, I must consider I may have a big problem. Maturity is in part, understanding our desperateness, and then moving beyond it.  But the reality is that we are scarred, and that we continue to escape by “the skin of our teeth” until we die or get sober. Only Christ can save the euphoria-chaser.

Sometimes I’m a piece of work, it’s alright though because I’m His piece of work.

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Losers, You Now Have a Home

“The Lord says, “At that time, I will gather the crippled; I will bring together those who were sent away, those whom I caused to have trouble.  I will keep alive those who were crippled, and I will make a strong nation of those who were sent away. The Lord will be their king in Mount Zion from now on and forever.” 

Micah 4:6-7, NCV

Thinking about the  Thorton Wilder play, “The Angel that Troubled the Waters”. The play is based on the biblical verses of John 5:1-4. In this play the angel meets a physician waiting for a miracle by the pool.

After a protracted conversation, the angel makes a challenge to the desperate doctor;

Without your wound where would your power be? It is your very sadness that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service only the wounded soldiers can serve.”

The Prophet Micah’s simple, thoughtful prophecy reveals a point that is singularly significant.  For those of us who have been abused, and marginalized, now we have become accepted.  Being an outcast, from ‘decent society’, has now at this moment become the ticket to a life in the very center of God’s will.

Our past is no longer a significant problem. 

His Holy Spirit moves us out of our gross ugliness.  He then places us out where we now become visible witnesses. This spotlight focuses on us, and we stand confused and exposed.  We may protest over being ‘outed’ like this, but this is what He wants. “He desires truth in the inmost parts.”  He has redeemed us, and we’ll never be the same.  Never!

God loves losers.  He steps in and with His special agenda, starts looking for all of us who are failures.  In His heart, He pulls us together into His army of misfits.  If you are wonderful and complete in your self, and oh so confident in your spiritual life– I am sorry, you haven’t been invited.  Micah, hits the nail on its head.  Sinners enter where “righteous saints” are left standing outside.

Those of us, who have stumbled so frequently and so often, we are escorted into the incredible deepness of His presence.  We have failed, and we have been defeated.  We don’t belong here, holiness is not our element.  But we will stand, for we know our place.  He intends on transforming us into His gallant army.

“It’s not about perfection; it’s about our intimacy with God, or our connection, our relationship with God. Once we get through that, once we realize that we can be imperfect, and flawed, and broken; It is these kinds of things are the ingredients of true spirituality.”

Mike Yaconelli

There are so many who are waiting to understand all of this.  Being consummate losers should make us people with a deep grace.  Because we are tender, we can call out to others to come and join the “spiritual loser club.”

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Check out the BB post–“Without a Wound?” http://wp.me/PCyDN-bB