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Archive for June, 2011

“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Crucifixion of Peter

There are some passages in the bible that make me more nervous than others. Here’s a few examples:

– Gen 22:2:  God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

– 1Ch 17:4:  “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: It is not you who will build me a house to dwell in.

– Luk 18:22:  When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

– Act 9:15:  (speaking of Paul)… the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles…  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

– Joh 21:18-19:  (speaking to Peter) Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”  (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

God asks Abraham to sacrifice the child of promise, tells King David he can’t fulfill his dream, tells the rich man to sell all he has, sends Paul (the Hebrew of Hebrews) to suffer for the gentiles, and lets Peter know that what he fears most will surely come to pass.

There is one thing abundantly clear in the bible. When Jesus asks us to give up everything, he really means everything. Think of that thing you fear will come to pass, or that you’ll have to give up, if you really give yourself fully to Jesus. Well, that is the very thing he will eventually put his finger on and say “I want that”. There’s just no way around it.

The interaction Jesus has with Peter is really striking in this regard. Peter vehemently denied he knew Jesus because he feared that they would put him on trial and nail him up on two by fours right there next to Jesus. Now, we know Peter believed Jesus was the Son of God, and with that in mind, I’m not sure we really appreciate what level of controlling fear one must have in their life  in order to literally and physically turn their back on God in the flesh.  And yet, a mere few days later when they’re having their reconciliation session, Jesus goes right at that fear. He says “that thing that you’re so afraid of, Peter? Well, that’s exactly what is going to happen to you. You too will be crucified.” Wow, ease up Jesus…

As far as I can tell, the problems we have in embracing this truth about life in Christ are three-fold.

First, it’s downright un-American. The path to the American dream is upward mobility. The path into the kingdom of heaven is downward mobility. The American mantra is “give me liberty or give me death”. The Mantra of the kingdom of heaven is “embrace death, and experience liberty”. The American way of life is marked by self-preservation, democracy, and defending your rights. The life of Jesus is marked by laying down your life, submission to the will of the Father, and giving up your rights.

Second, and somewhat related to the first, is that we don’t trust God. Our democratic sensibilities and experiences with power hungry men have trained us to fear anyone who asks for obedience or submission. Our paradigm of leadership has no room for a God who would only direct us to do what is in our own best interest, and who above all else loves us completely and sacrificially; willing to give up all His power and glory to meet our deepest need.

Third, our culture of instant-everything has no appreciation of process. We think that when God says “you must overcome that fear”, “you must give up that other love”, or “you must lay down your life”, He means “right now“! In reality, all that God requires of us is a “yes” in our spirit, nothing more. No great abilities, or fearlessness, just a willingness to let Him work. It starts with being honest before Him and saying, “I’m terrified, but I’m willing to follow”. He will lead us on the journey and do the work in our hearts that gets us to the place where there is great joy and love in sacrifice. I love what Russell Moore says:

“God does not measure our cranium for cognitive ability. He measures our frame for crucifiability”.

But don’t get me wrong, there will definitely be fear and pain along the way. Many of us have misinterpreted  1 Cor 10:13 to mean God will never “give us more than we can handle”. Of course, it doesn’t say that at all. It says we will not be “tempted” beyond what we can handle. It certainly isn’t saying we will not be stressed or pushed beyond our limitations. In fact, if God is not routinely challenging me beyond what I think I can handle, then I question what relationship I have with Him at all. For it would mean he’s abandoned me to my fears, weaknesses, and failures.

As I think about my life in recent years, one thing I can testify to is that God is a kind and loving Father who leads us patiently where He wants us to go. It all starts with one simple “yes”, followed by another, and then another. Simple steps, that while difficult, are doable with Jesus as our strength. As long as we remain willing, He will take us farther and deeper than we thought we could go. Before you know it, you look down and realize you’ve halfway conquered the mountains of fear, bondage, and unfulfilled dreams of faith that once seemed indomitable.

This was true for Peter. While Jesus may have laid all the cards on the table right at the outset, there were many years yet to come in which Jesus worked in and through Peter until he was ready to finally be asked to lay down his own life in a way that once paralyzed him with fear.

Likewise, when we say “yes” to Jesus, we can know with certainty that we are saying “yes” to our own eventual death. That is His “end game”. He wants it all. But oh the glory and the joy of entering into that journey where we will be liberated from all fear, doubt, bondage, and even death itself!

To say “no” to this journey with Jesus is to embrace a life that is very much a subhuman existence in light of the intentions of God for us and the great reward that awaits the willing.

Luke 17:33 – “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.”

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