What about John?

Category : choice, faith

One of my favorite stories in the Bible happens at the end of John.  Jesus has been resurrected.  The disciples know he’s truly God.  And they are all ecstatic.  When Jesus meets Peter and John (and a few other disciples) while they are fishing, Peter is so excited he jumps out of the boat and runs / swims to get to Jesus.

This is typical Peter – who does pretty much everything with action followed by thought.

Fortunately that’s not something God discourages.  In fact, it’s part of what makes Peter so much like you and me.  We often act and then only later say, “oh yeah, that third slice of cake probably wasn’t a good idea.”

When Peter finally gets to shore, Jesus asks him three times, “do you love me more than all the others.”  Peter says “yes” three times.  This is Jesus’ way of saying to Peter that he has been restored for denying Jesus three times.

Peter’s reward?

Jesus tells him that he’ll be executed as a martyr.  Now that’s probably not exactly what Peter wanted to hear.  Because as soon as Jesus says this, the Bible tells us that Peter looks around, and says, “what about John?”

Jesus’ response is simple, “who are you to question this?”

That’s a response that resonates with all of us.  Although probably painfully.  Frankly I don’t want to suffer.  And I don’t want to suffer alone.  And if I have to suffer alone I sure as heck want to know why!  But with God, we don’t really get all the answers to questions like that.  Our role, the role of the faithful, isn’t to question before we act, it’s to listen and then act.

God doesn’t mind our questions.  He often answers them (only a short time earlier Jesus let Thomas feel his wounds so that he would believe.)  But there are many times when God never fills us in on the details.  He never told Job why he had to suffer.  He never fully explains to Adam and Eve why eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was a bad idea.

Sometimes God wants us to be impulsive.  He wants us to jump out of the boat and walk on water (or swim through water).  But mostly he wants us to trust him enough to not ask, “what about John?”

being defriended by God

Category : God, bible, failure, faith, living a life of faith

Have you ever been betrayed by a friend?  Someone you liked, someone you trusted, maybe even someone you loved.  When we experience that kind of betrayal, it’s one of the worst experiences we can have in life.  Not as bad as your team not winning the Superbowl.  But still pretty painful.

That’s why God’s love of us is so revolutionary.  We’ve all betrayed God before.  Most of us on a daily basis.  We’ve put him through exactly that kind of pain.  Yet God is always there when we need him.  Despite everything, God still stands by us.

This isn’t just one small part of who God is.  It’s one of the major themes that runs through the entire Bible.  We see this in the lives of Moses and David.  Jesus illustrates it with stories like the prodigal son.  It’s even the story of Peter’s life.

There are very few people in the Bible who are more outspoken in support of Jesus than Peter.  Peter was always the guy jumping to show just how much he was willing to sacrifice for God.  He put his life on the line more than once.  Peter wasn’t just talk, he was action too.  (You don’t get to walk on water by sitting on the shore.)

But in the hour of Jesus’ greatest need, Peter failed him.  First because he couldn’t stay awake and keep Jesus company.  Second, by denying Jesus three separate times.

Imagine if one of your closest friends couldn’t visit you in the hospital as you were dying.  Or never called to see how you were after losing your job.  You’d be understandably angry and maybe even a little resentful.  We’d start treating our friend differently.  We might not even call them our friend.

Yet God is the God of redemption.  And Peter’s story doesn’t end with being defriended.  It ends with Jesus restoring Peter as a friend.  In fact, one of the first things God does is send a message to Peter that Jesus is alive, and he shouldn’t worry anymore.

Think about that.  Peter had done nothing.  Yet God sought him out.

This is why God is such a radical God.  This is why the Bible is such a revolutionary book.  Despite our failures and betrayals, God does the unexpected, and keeps on loving us.

photo provided by flickr user saragoldsmith

living a life of ups and downs

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Category : Jesus, Mark, bible, living a life of faith

Peter (one of Jesus’ closest friends) often seems like two different people.  In one moment he’s lopping off an ear.  In the next he’s running away.  At one instance he’s walking on water.  In another he’s terrified of drowning.

It seems as if Peter just isn’t very consistent.

Which means he’s just like you and me.

All of this comes into play just before Jesus is arrested.  Jesus and a few disciples head out to pray.  Jesus knows what’s about to happen.  He knows he’s going to die in a way very few of us can imagine.  All he wants to do is pray, and have his friends stay with him.  But despite Peter’s best efforts, Peter keeps falling asleep.

Jesus is understandably upset with Peter, and says something profound: “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  That line sums up our existence pretty nicely.  We have all experienced moments where we want to do the right thing.  But when that moment comes, something happens.  We end up not following through.  We become afraid.  Pride takes over.  Greed overwhelms us.  Whatever it is, we end up caving.

Peter, despite his best intent, ended up running away.

But as I said, you and I aren’t that different from Peter.  What sets Peter apart is the fact Peter said the things you and I think.  If Jesus told us, “you will deny me.”  We might think “yeah right!  No way Jesus!”  But Peter didn’t seem to have much of a filter between thought and talking – so he actually said it.

It’s a shame that Peter is sometimes portrayed as a coward.  In many ways he never stood a chance.  He always wanted to do the right thing, but his flesh was weak.

I don’t know what the takeaway from this is, other than maybe we need to give ourselves some more slack when we screw up.  And I think be a little more like Peter.  Because no matter how publicly he messed up, he always came back to give it another try.

photo provided by flickr user pittsinger

Peter’s redemption

Category : God, Mark, faith, hope

 

Peter’s world had just come crashing down around him.  The man he thought was God had just been arrested.  The man he thought was going to free Israel from the oppressive Roman rule had given up without a fight.  Now this same man was being beaten and disgraced.  And because things weren’t bad enough, Peter had just denied even knowing him.

All of this came only hours after swearing that he would be willing to die for Jesus.  Now Peter had to confront the fact that he had failed.  Spectacularly.  The thing is, Jesus had even told Peter all of this would happen.  But Peter was too proud to listen.  He was too sure of himself.

Up to this point Peter had a history of acting boldly.  Perhaps even impulsively.  He had never run away from God before.  So this was new territory. 

It must have been lonely.

I don’t think it’s a surprise that after all this Peter “broke down and wept.” (Mark 14:72)

If this is where the story ended it would be pretty depressing.  But fortunately this is just the beginning.

All too often we live with the belief that if we fail, even a little bit, God will become angry with us.  That somehow making a mistake is the worst thing we could do.  And therefore we don’t try at all. 

But this is clearly not the case.

Peter failed spectacularly.  His mistake is recorded in the Bible, which means people will read about it for thousands of years.  Talk about embarrassing!  And yet God used him to do amazing things. 

That’s one of the most remarkable things about God – no matter what we’ve done, he gives us another chance.  He says, “don’t worry about the mistakes in the past, trust in the promises I make for your future.  And act on them now.”

I guess that really takes all of my excuses away for not acting.  If God can use Peter after denying God, then I think he can use me too.

i don’t need to listen to God

2

Category : God, Jesus, Mark, bible, shame

  

“Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’” (Mark 14: 29)

That’s a bold statement.  You’d have to be pretty confident in yourself to say that no matter what happened, the only person to stay faithful is you. 

Peter was determined though. 

When Jesus responded saying that all of the disciples, including Peter, would turn away from him, Peter reaffirms his statement.  Telling Jesus emphatically “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mark 14: 31)

Cue ominous music.

We all know what happened: Jesus was right and Peter denied him.  But I have to wonder – what would have happened if Peter had listened to Jesus?  If Peter had been more interested in listening to what Jesus was saying than proving his loyalty, would Peter have remained loyal?  Would being aware of his weakness allow him to overcome it? 

There’s no way to know, obviously.  But reading about this incident forces me think about the role pride plays in my own life.  When I feel pride I don’t want to admit I’m wrong.  I become invested in protecting my definition of reality.  And often that means I’m not prepared to handle dramatic change. 

I bet Peter wasn’t much different. 

And lets face it, Jesus’ arrest was something Peter didn’t expect.  He never dreamed that Jesus would be lead away without a fight.  He never dreamed Jesus wouldn’t use his powers to protect himself.  It must have been crushing to Peter to see Jesus give up “so easily.”

If he was filled with pride before, his emotions must have been raging.  He must have felt the fear that comes when we believe our world is being destroyed.  But more than that, he must have felt shame.  Shame at believing in someone who wouldn’t (or perhaps it crossed his mind – couldn’t – save himself.) 

It’s no wonder Peter denied Jesus.

Peter was so intent on following his pride that he couldn’t hear Jesus’ warning.  Even though Jesus told all the disciples that he was about to die for them, they simply refused to believe it.  Their pride kept them from the truth.   

Sometimes we think God takes pleasure in hiding the truth from us.  But I have to wonder, how often does he tell us what’s going to happen, and we respond saying, “that’s nice God, but let me tell you what’s really going on.”

How many things would be different in my life if I simply listened when God spoke, instead of trying to explain to God why he was wrong?