From Fickle to Fearless

How would you describe your faith? Peter, the well-known disciple of Christ, was convinced he was a man of great faith. Though the Lord foretold of his denial, Peter assured Christ he would not fall away but that he would follow Jesus to imprisonment or even death (Matt 26:35). Talk about committment! Could you say the same? Though Peter portrayed great confidence in his faith, there was just one problem.

Peter was deceived by his own heart. He thought his faith was stronger than it was. In reality, when he was confronted by those who associated him with Christ, he was not at a place of even acknowledging that he knew Jesus. Perhaps he was fearful. After all, he had watched from a distance as Jesus went before Caiaphas, the high priest, and was beaten and mocked. Likely he was fearful of experiencing the same harsh treatment that Jesus had experienced. Furthermore, maybe he was not prepared for his faith to cause him any inconvenience or disturb the peace.

  If we’re honest, most of us can probably identify with Peter. I mean, let’s not forget, he did get out of the boat, and he did proclaim his love for the Lord, both of which showed his faith; but when his faith was really stretched, he became crippled by fear. Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you were convinced your faith was strong but when really tested, fear crept in. Perhaps you began to doubt God’s promises or even question whether his plans for you were really good. You may have even wondered if He truly is who He claims to be.

I think Peter would be able to relate to all those feelings. Having spent much time with Christ, witnessing His miracles, hearing His teachings, watching His interactions, Peter was well acquainted with Jesus. Scripture tells us that upon denying Jesus a third time, Peter went out and wept bitterly. Perhaps in that moment Peter is frustrated by his lack of faith, by his refusal to identify with Jesus in His most difficult moments, and realized how deceived he was by his own heart. Maybe he felt like a failure. Jesus was on His way to the cross and after all Christ had invested in him, Peter may have felt like he had blown it. At this point, although Jesus had previously spoken about His resurrection, maybe Peter grew discouraged thinking this was the end.

While Peter may have felt like a disappointment or a failure, God had other plans for him. Peter was on his way to becoming one of the most bold followers of Christ to date and this was just the beginning. In order for that to happen, Christ not only revealed Peter’s heart, he revealed Himself. In Peter’s discouragement, Christ showed up, quite literally. While Peter had professed Jesus as Lord on multiple occasions, Jesus appeared to Peter after his resurrection and confirmed that He is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do. With that hope and that confidence, Peter’s faith was strengthened.

Given the charge by God to make disciples of all nations, Peter seized every opportunity to make Christ known. While at one time he watched from a distance as Jesus stood before the high priest, accused of blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God, now he stood before those same men proclaiming this same truth—proclaiming the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and exclaiming “there is salvation in no one else, for these is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The entire Jewish council recognized the boldness of Peter (Acts 4:13) and wondered how they could stop him from preaching. After being threatened and charged not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus, Peter explained that he could not help but “speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

Peter had become a changed man. Not only did Peter proclaim Christ despite being opposed by the very ones responsible for Christ’s death, but he, together with the other apostles and believers, prayed earnestly. They prayed not for deliverance, not for God to remove the opposition, but rather for boldness to continue speaking the Word of God in the face of opposition (Acts 4:23-31). What a profound and convicting prayer! 

What is our prayer like when we face hardship and opposition? Do we pray that God will remove the trial? Do we ask him for safety? Do we ask him to make things easier or more comfortable for us? Or do we grab hold of His promises and ask Him for the strength and the boldness to confidently persevere despite the trial we’re facing?

Peter’s faith was no longer hindered by fear. In his moments of doubt, in his moments of failure, God was at work. He was in the process of refining Peter—of showing him his weakness while helping him come to a greater understanding of his calling in Christ. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, God took him from being a man of fickle faith to a man of fearless faith. He was not Peter, the disappointment; he was not Peter, the failure; he was not Peter, the denier, though he may have been tempted to allow those experiences to define him. He was who Christ said he was: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

  God’s purposes for us are so much bigger than our failures or disappointments. When Peter realized the weakness of his faith and relied on the Spirit of God to strengthen his weakness with boldness, he not only underwent a heart transformation, but a faith transformation. He went from being scared to suffer for Christ’s sake to having courage to share in the sufferings of Christ and encouraging others to do the same (I Peter 4:12-19). When our prayers become those for perseverance, those for boldness, those which proclaim the hope and confidence we have in Christ, then, by the power of God, may we become not just a follower of Christ, but a force to be reckoned with. 

Paving the Way

As I recall my first—and only—mountain biking experience, a vivid picture is engraved in my mind. A group of high school students mounted our bikes and the guide provided a few safety tips to prepare us for the experience ahead. While I could appreciate his efforts, no safety tip could have prepared us for the foundation we were about to tread. Rocks and loose gravel disguised in a bed of covered leaves, pockets full of mud, and unexpected tree stumps protruding from the ground caused me to quickly realize I much prefer paved trails as opposed to rugged terrain that could potentially send me flying over the side of a mountain. As we completed the trail, some with bruised and bloodied knees, I questioned the logic of this whole experience knowing a little pavement would have made for a much smoother, more enjoyable ride. I remembered this lesson when I purchased a bike not long ago. Excited to ride on the surrounding trails, I quickly made note of only the ones described as paved! Based on my previous experience, I learned it was important to ride on a foundation I could trust.

In ancient times, the idea of paving the way was a common one. A king’s delegates would go before him to prepare the people of the land to welcome the king. Sometimes this required the forerunners to quite literally clear the roads on which the king would travel to ensure a smooth journey. Throughout the gospels, John the Baptist is described as a forerunner, the one who would, “…make ready for the Lord a people prepared (Luke 1:17).” But John didn’t start by pouring concrete and creating smooth trails. He started by preaching a baptism of repentance. At this point, Jesus’ earthly ministry had not yet begun, but soon enough people would see and hear of his miraculous power and would ultimately know this King was not coming to rule and reign a nation, but to rule and reign in the hearts of repentant sinners. Jesus came not to rescue the people from the brutality of the Roman government but to rescue them from a much deeper issue—the cruelty and depravity of the human heart. John knew if the people were going to welcome the Messiah, they first had to acknowledge their sin and turn from their ways. John baptized those whose conduct was reflective of a transformed heart and a changed mind (Luke 1:7-8). This outward act was an external sign of an inward change, a heart acknowledging the need for forgiveness.

A week from today, churches across the country will fill their seats and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Some will, for the first time, hear of Christ—the Messiah—the One who came to deliver them from their sins and rule and reign in their hearts. They will hear of a King who came to die and be raised to life. The question is, will they be ready? Will they be ready to receive the ministry of Christ Jesus in their lives? To know the freedom of the cross, the eternal hope, the abundant grace, and the overwhelming joy of belonging to the King. And how have our lives prepared others to welcome Christ into theirs? Have they seen a genuine repentance? Have they seen a transformed heart? Is the ministry of Christ evident in our own lives?

Jesus laid for us a firm foundation, a foundation that can be trusted, one on which we can set our hope. His death on the cross paved the way, bridging the gap between the perfect King and sinful humanity. May our relationship with Christ reflect His greatness and prepare the way for others who are still searching and waiting to receive the King.

A Different Kind of Love

Within the human heart lies a familiar love, a love that naturally extends to those who value us, who hold us in high regard, those who treat us with dignity and respect and whose affections envelop us in such a way that we tangibly feel some form of significance. It is with great comfort and ease that we return the same kind of treatment because more often than not, the love we receive determines the love we give.

As part of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives His listeners a seemingly simple command…to love. But the words that follow are what distinguish a familiar love from a love that feels almost foreign; a love that is natural versus a love that is unnatural; a love that is easily extended compared to a love that is downright difficult.

Jesus does not finish the statement by urging His listeners to love those who treat them kindly or those who can benefit them in some way; He does not encourage them to love those with position, wealth, status, or power. The words Jesus spoke were as counter-cultural then as they are today. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-45).’” Two statements that stand at odds with one another. In other words, He reminds His audience that what is familiar love from a worldy perspective, stands in stark contrast to the kind of love Christ desires His followers to show. Anyone can easily love those who love them. But Jesus commands His disciples to love those who oppose them, those who mistreat them, and those who are actively hostile towards them. This is hard love. This is a love that keeps no record of wrongs, a love that demands sacrifice, a love that comes with a cost. This is the kind of love perfectly exemplified in the person and work of Christ.

There was Jesus…falsely accused, beaten, spit upon, mocked and betrayed. And as He hung on that torturous cross, out of his mouth He pleads with the Father, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:24).” The heart of God’s grace and forgiveness was reflected in prayer while He demonstrated the greatest sacrifice and act of love the world has ever known. The very ones who plotted evil against Him, the ones who placed the crown of thorns upon His head, the ones who drove the nails into His hands, these were the very ones for whom He died.

But these men were not the only enemies of Jesus. Romans 3 points to the fact that each one of us carries the same unrighteousness in our own heart. To be an enemy means to be an opponent of or to stand against. Apart from Christ, we were once enemies of the cross, opposed to the laws of God and living for ourselves. But even in our hostility to the things of God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Jesus’ sacrificial love was not based on how it would be received. It was not contingent on how many times we would sin against Him. His love was in no way conditional. It was based on the fact that even when we were enemies of Christ, He valued us and desired to pursue us in such a way that we would not longer be called His enemies, but His friends (John 15:12-15).

So why would Jesus instruct His followers to love their enemies? Christ desires to produce in us a love that is mature and complete, a love that lacks nothing and is void of deficiencies, a love that reflects the very character and nature of God. But this is not something we can accomplish by simply gritting our teeth and mustering up as much will power as we can find. As well-intentioned as that may be, the truth is we cannot accomplish what is unnatural without that which is supernatural. We are in desperate need of an inward transformation if we hope to express Christ-like love as an outward demonstration. We need the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us, if His love is going to flow out of us.

God does not call the Christian to hard love out of spite. Hard love gives us an opportunity to, in a small way, identify with Christ. When hard love costs us our pride, when hard love demands we tear down the wall we thought kept us safe from the enemy’s attack, when hard love causes us to sacrifice our place of comfortably and trade it for vulnerability, let us consider the sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus, and the price He paid in order that we may no longer live as enemies of the cross, but as friends of God.

Inspiring Faith

It is not often I have found myself teary-eyed when reading through a book. In fact, I’m not sure I can even recount a specific time when this happened. Until this last week. I cracked open the book I had previously judged by the cover. Kisses From Katie? I assumed it was one of those books designed to place guilt on all of the American believers still living in America, a book designed to question why we had not sold our possessions and moved half-way across the world to help the poor and needy. But what I found filling those pages was much different, much more attractive, and much more inspiring than the guilt trip I expected to receive.

I would never consider myself a reader, though the older I get, the more value I find in it. As a child, I can remember my mom encouraging us to spend some quiet time reading before beginning our day. In my mind, reading was academic and reading was most certainly not an option during the summer! For this reason, I ashamedly admit that I was always the girl who could not understand why a middle school kid would walk around the store reading a book, following his mom as she shopped for groceries…I thought, “Wow! That poor kid has no idea how many of his favorite snacks he could be sneaking into the cart right now because he’s too busy with that book.”

Yesterday, I became that kid. I agreed to walk into Office Max as my mom insisted this was a great opportunity to assist the computer illiterate. I considered this a great sacrifice since I desperately wanted to stay in the car to finish my book. Realizing I had no option but to bring the book in with me, I chuckled. For the first time in 27 years I was walking around in public and reading at the same time. I didn’t know whether to feel scared or accomplished! Perhaps it was the heart of humility that drew me in, or maybe the profound wisdom wrapped in expressions of love, but it was most assuredly the demonstration of big, bold faith.

In James chapter two, the writer urged the Jewish community of believers to consider how their actions were a ultimately a representation of their faith. Verses 14-26 are filled with examples as James seeks to communicate this important truth. He points to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. In Genesis 15:22, God makes a promise to Abraham saying, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them…so shall your offspring be.” Fast forward to Genesis 22:2 where God tells Abraham, “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 which I shall tell you.”

Pause for a moment.

Can you imagine the thoughts that likely went through Abraham’s mind? “My only son…God? Don’t you remember that promise you made me? You said that I was going to be a father of a nation. What will my son think of you, what will he think of me, when he realizes he is to be the sacrifice?”

Who knows what Abraham’s thoughts really were in that moment. Scripture does not tell us. What it does tell us, is that Abraham responded with action. His faith was demonstrated by obedience to God as he arose early the next morning to gather wood for the sacrifice, continuing to worship despite the thoughts that likely ran through his mind, despite his questions, despite the fact that it simply did not make sense.

As he prepared to sacrifice his son, he heard the angel of the Lord say, “Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son from me (v.11-12).”

What do we learn about Abraham from this account? He loved his son, but his love for God was greater. He valued that relationship, but he valued his relationship with Christ more. His faith was so great that he was willing not to keep what he loved from God, but to give what he loved to God. Through this act of faith, Abraham learned even more about the character of our Lord. He learned that God provides in the most unexpected times, he learned that He can be trusted even when circumstances don’t make sense, and he learned that he is faithful to fulfill His promises.

God desires to bless his children, but sometimes in order to receive that blessing we must take a courageous step. A step indicating our answer is “yes,” a step indicating we believe God is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do. When our faith becomes more important than people’s doubts or opinions, when our faith becomes greater than our fears, when our faith makes a fool of what makes sense, it is then I believe God takes what is ordinary to prove that He alone is extraordinary.

In her book, Kisses From Katie, Katie puts it this way:

“I realize that since I have chosen an unusual path it is easier for outsiders to look at my life and come to the conclusion that it is something extraordinary. That I am courageous. That I am strong. That I am special. But I am just a plain girl from Tennessee. Broken in many ways, sinful, and inadequate. Common and simple with nothing special about me. Nothing special except I choose to say, ‘yes.’ ‘Yes’ to the things God asks of me and ‘yes’ to the people He places in front of me. You can too. I am just an ordinary person. An ordinary person serving an extraordinary God…I want to give everything, no matter the cost. No matter the cost. Because I believe that nothing is a sacrifice in light of eternity with Christ (Davis, 118, 232).

No, my sister in Christ is not trying to convince people to move to Uganda and care for the poor, but rather to inspire her fellow believers to perhaps the greatest act of faith…saying “yes”  to God by walking with Him daily and serving Him faithfully right where you are. So may our faith be action that makes a difference in the lives of people, for one life changed is worth it all.