Wednesday, April 17, 2013

No More Walking on the Water

Emily Bowen, a friend of mine from seminary recently made this comment on Facebook:

“Does anyone else find this sentence in scripture humorous? – ‘When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.’”

Now that I visualize it, it does seem funny. The disciples are in the boat when they see the newly risen Jesus on the shore.  Peter stands up in the boat, puts his clothes on, then steps out of the boat and into the water.

That’s not how I go swimming.

Regardless of various theological interpretations, this would have gotten a laugh if it had been in front of an audience. 

Earlier in the Gospel, Peter had dared to step out of the boat and walk on top of the water to meet Jesus, but not this time. From then on there was no more walking on the water.  Everything would be harder. 

But better, too.

Later, by the fire, he stood before Jesus and was given the opportunity to state his love for the Rabbi, but it was painful rather than the boastful declarations he had made in the upper room before the crucifixion. Showing this love would require commitment and action. Furthermore, Jesus told him that he would face times when he would be powerless rather than impressive. 

There would be no more walking on the water.

And yet, as hard as everything would become, Peter was about to do his greatest work.  He would become the preacher, healer, and leader he had been destined to be, a true hero of the faith. 

Our greatest achievements come in the wake of humility, when we become willing to do the hard, unglamorous work.   

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Are You Thirsty?

One hot afternoon when I was a teenager, a man saw me mowing the lawn and he recognized that I was dehydrated. He gave me his jug of ice water and insisted that I drink as much of it as I wanted. I didn’t realize I was thirsty until I took that first swallow and then I couldn’t stop. I was embarrassed to be drinking all of his water, but he assured me he could get some more and I could drink it all, so I plopped myself under a tree and did just that.

I’ve never tasted anything so good as the water that restored my body that afternoon. However, I have had similar moments when someone offered me other things I couldn’t refuse. 

Like right now. I found some music online that is so wonderful! I went ahead and spent money to download the whole album. I should be working on other things… my sermon, article…, something. I should be calling on some of my people….

But I just can’t right now. I have to take in this music. I can’t help it. I need it.  

At other times, I have had friends that I needed desperately and I took too much from them—time and attention they could have spent on other things, but they gave it to me because I needed it so much. 


Sometimes I see the signs in people that they are desperate for… something.  They come to church thirsting for the Spirit. I watch them cry softly and soak in the music and the prayers and even the sermon because they need it so much.

In the Bible I see people's thirst when they tried to get near Jesus, like Zaccheaus, who struggled to get through a crowd that didn’t like him. He finally climbed a tree so he could at least see Jesus.  Jesus saw him, too, understood his need and went home with him. 

I see it in the young woman, Mary, who stayed at Jesus feet, even though others were calling her to her duties.  Jesus understood her need and assured her she could stay where she was.
And I see it in Jesus himself, who went without sleep so he could pray. One night he stayed away so long that the people were clamoring for him the next morning when he got back.  

What are you thirsting for? Sometimes it takes a long time to realize what we need, ask for it, even to neglect other things in order to reach for it. 

The rest of us need to be patient with others and let them stop to get what they need. And I think sometimes we are the ones designated to share with them what we have (time, attention, energy) so they can get what they need.    

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water….” (W)hoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (taken from John 4).

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Confusion and Clarity

Sometimes confusion is reality colliding with our convictions 

“Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” (Luke 24:12) 

Peter could be wrong but he was rarely confused. However, when he looked into an empty tomb where only the burial clothes remained, he reached a pinnacle of confusion. 

I think it began in Gethsemane when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, and Peter was ready for the revolution to begin. He was sure this would be the climactic moment when the glory of Jesus would shine, the corrupt religious hierarchy would be abolished and Roman oppression would be overthrown.  This was the moment where he had no hesitation in taking up his sword to lash into the crowd. 

But Jesus stopped him and healed the one man Peter managed to wound, then went willingly to his persecutors. The confusion continued as he followed Jesus and the soldiers to the temple. When he warmed himself at the fire in the temple courtyard and someone asked if he followed Jesus, he said truthfully, forcefully, with an oath, that he did not know the man. 

He was right. He didn’t know the scope and majesty of Jesus’ Lordship.  He could only imagine Jesus being king over a small patch of the world, when Jesus was destined for the Kingdom of heaven. 

If Peter were to ever clearly understand Jesus, he had to be jarred from his earlier assumptions. To let go of our convictions in order to perceive greater truth is always disorienting.  Of course he was confused.  He had to reach this moment in order to gain further enlightenment. 

Which leads me to an interesting Easter message. Perhaps things are very confusing for you right now. Sometimes we reach a point where we just don’t know what to believe anymore. 

This is good news. It means you are on your way to greater understanding.

For Peter, the confusion meant he was about to see Jesus more clearly. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Case for Judas

Did Judas go to heaven?

If he did, he wouldn't quite fit any of our clever little “Steps to Salvation” formulas.  However, I read where he confessed his sin and he showed remorse when he threw his blood money onto the floor of the temple (Matthew 27:3-5). And I see the mercy of Jesus on the cross when he said, “Father, forgive them….” Wasn't he including Judas?

Before the argument begins, consider this:

Why would you argue for Judas’s condemnation when Jesus argues for his salvation?

1 John 2:1-2 gives us the image of Jesus as the lawyer defending us before a judge, arguing for our redemption and release.   Do you want to be on the opposing side of Jesus?  Do you want to side with the prosecutor who is Satan, the accuser of our brethren?

Or did you want to replace the Judge?

I like to imagine a scene in heaven, where we are creatures of light. As we see each other in our true states, it might be hard to recognize everyone at first. One person especially shines with the glow of redemption, where all of his wounds have been healed and he is in his perfect state. Then we recognize him and rejoice that even Judas made it. 

The same grace that saves us saves him.

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2 NIV).