20. Reaching Potential (2)

Meditations in Meaning & Values  20. Reaching Potential (2)

Jn 1:42    Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter)

In the previous meditation we talked about reaching potential which is all about change for improvement until we apparently achieve the most we are capable of. We observed how people in the world think of success, wealth and fame as the measures of achievement, but that these are poor measures. We looked at the case of Jacob in the Old Testament, a classic example of a schemer who became very ‘successful’ – but still a schemer and how he had a wrestling encounter with God in which God made him weak and made him face the reality of who he was, before he was blessed by God. Weakness and being honest about ourselves are two critical requirements to enable a person to come to the end of themselves so that God is able to work in them to enable them to become the people He has designed them to be, and that is someone much greater than the hollow businessman, politician or rock star or whatever else we see as ‘a success’. Reaching full potential can ONLY come with an encounter with God.

I said previously that there were two men who I felt stood out in this context and the other man, in the New Testament is the apostle Peter. Now Jesus chose Peter and it is obvious that Peter became one of the leading apostles with Jesus over the three years of Jesus’ ministry. Peter was the one who was always opening his mouth and putting his foot in it. The good side of that was that he obviously felt secure in Jesus’ presence and Jesus handled Peter’s brashness with grace.

The classic of Peter’s brashness comes at the Last Supper when Jesus warns Peter about what was soon to happen: Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”  But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mt 26:33-35) This is simply called unknowing self-confidence. Peter does not know himself, but Jesus does.

The story of what followed is well known. Jesus is arrested and taken to the high priest Caiaphas, while Peter followed at a distance and waited in a courtyard of the high priest’s palace. While he was waiting there, in the middle of the night, three times one of the maids there recognized him and challenged him and tree times he denied he knew Jesus. Fear made him a liar and a betrayer. Luke records a poignant part of it: “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.” (Lk 22:61,62) It was like Jesus saw what was going on and gave Peter a knowing look. Peter was devastated and fled in tears, broken.

Now here’s the thing about that episode. Back at the Last Supper, Jesus, knowing what was going to happen and knowing how Peter would be involved, could have spared him that failure; he could have said, “Peter, I have a task for you. After I am taken I want you to come back here and pray for me,” but he didn’t. Peter needed to go through that episode to break him of all his self confidence and to make him realise what he was really like inside, a loud mouthed but weak individual.

Now John allows us an amazing insight into Jesus’ dealing with Peter after his resurrection. We find it in Jn 21 where three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” In comes in slightly different forms and Peter’s replies are, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” (J 21:15), “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” (v.16) and “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” (v.17)  The old Peter would have protested with more words but the new Peter has no fight before Jesus and his final statement is one of utter surrender and abasement: “You know all things,” i.e. you know I let you down, you know what I’m like, you know I’m rubbish. And the work is complete. Three times Jesus recommissions him. This failure is about to become the leader of the new church.

So how do we apply these two stories?  Is your life one characterized by your clever planning and scheming? Are you completely self confident? Or have you come to the point of realizing that in reality, without Jesus you are a spiritual and moral mess? If you haven’t ever come to that reality, even if you’ve been a Christian many years, you’ve still got that ahead of you. ‘Great’ Christians are those who have come to realise that without Jesus they are still weak, hopeless and useless and prone to getting it wrong, and almost certainly they will have come to that realization through a crisis.

‘Wrestling with God’ occurs before you become a Christian and is what the Holy Spirit does with you to bring you to surrender, and it may involve a personal crisis. It happens again, almost invariably, at some later time in our Christian lives when these truths really confront us and we surrender in a new and deeper way, I believe. And then we come to realise that every time our thinking is in conflict with God’s we go through a wrestling process, but so often it is so low key that we hardly realise it, but it will go on and on, until we change.

This is the process for reaching full potential, only when we fully surrender and let Him work in us to bring us to become what He has on His heart for us. Why doesn’t He tell us what it is right now to make it easy? First, we wouldn’t believe Him because it would appear to be too good to be true. Second, because it take a process and a process takes time. It took years to change Abram. It took years to change Joseph. It took years to change Jacob. It took years to change Moses….. and so on. Why is God doing it in you? Because He loves you, because, “the Lord disciplines those he loves,” (Heb 12:6) and the word discipline here means trains, works on to bring good out and to bless. Hallelujah!

23. Humbled

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 23 :  Humbled, Provided For, Disciplined

(Focus: Deut 8:1-5)

Deut 8:2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

A casual reading of parts of these early chapters of Deuteronomy might conclude there is just a lot of repetition, but a closer reading shows that where there is repetition it is for a different specific purpose and it usually has different elements to it. This is what we find here.

So chapter 8 starts out with something that has been said a number of times before.  Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers.” (v.1)  Note again that there is a command and a promise so the promise is conditional on the command. The command is a simple call to obey all the laws being reiterated by Moses, and the promise is blessing on their lives and an enabling to go in and take the Land. Normally, previously, the promise has been to have long life in the land but the promise here is the ability to take the land. So the obedience to the Law needs to start right now for it impacts all that is going to follow.

But now it is followed by yet another call to remember the past, but this time it is a call not only to remember it, but understand it, understand what was going on and why! Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (v.2) The basic facts of their recent history were that God had led them while they wandered for forty years in the desert having originally failed to enter the Promised Land. But what was going on while that was happened? God was humbling them and testing them.

When you look back on the records of that time they are limited mostly to different crises that occurred – lacking water, lacking food etc.   Now, says Moses, that wasn’t coincidental, that was God testing you to see how you would react. The crucial issue at every crisis was would they turn to the Lord, would they stick to what they had been told about Him, would they adhere to the Law?  Rather than just waste that forty year period, the Lord used it to teach and train Israel.  The most important thing was that they had to learn to trust the Lord and stick to Him.  Often they hadn’t done very well, but a learning process is like that, you don’t do very well initially but you get better as you learn.

But there was a specific aspect to this teaching: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (v.3) When they had eventually decided to enter the land on the previous occasion it was a pure example of self-confidence, not confidence in God.  They had to lose that self-confidence because it was not the thing that would see them through in the centuries to come, it was a confidence in the Lord, which is what the Sinai covenant of love was all about – about coming into a relationship of trust in God. So a number of times they had a crisis of provision and the Lord looked to see if they would turn to Him for provision – they didn’t, they grumbled instead, but nevertheless the Lord DID provide for them – manna.  They had to learn that their future lives did not simply depend on material provision, but also provision of the wisdom of God, every word that comes from Him!

He reminds them of what happened: “Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.” (v.4)    Not only did the Lord provide manna, quails and water.   He also ensured that their clothes did not wear out.  One pair of sandal for forty years!!!  Then comes the key principle behind all this: “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.” (v.5) There it is! What had been going on throughout those years had been God’s disciplining. Now don’t misunderstand this.  So often we equate discipline with punishment but in the Bible, discipline is God training His people. Yes it does involve correction and yes sometimes it is painful, but the purpose is always good. It is that the people of God learn to trust God.

When crises happen today, how do we view them?  Panic?   Or do we turn to the Lord to hear from Him to see what provision He wants to bring us to cope with the present?  These are profound questions and they deserve some careful thought so that we may trust Him more and more.


34. God be True

Meditations in Romans : 34 :  Let God be True

Rom 3:1-4 What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”

Paul has just been saying things that almost appear to undermine being Jewish but he has done it as a means of undermining self-confidence to show them their need of salvation is just the same as anyone else’s. But he doesn’t want them to be driven away. He doesn’t want them totally discouraged; he still wants them to listen to what he writes and so he temporarily steps back as he foresees them asking so what advantage then, is there from being a Jew? Indeed one might go on, what value is there in circumcision? Oh, it’s not pointless he tries to say – Much in every way. First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God – that is important! Oh yes, let’s not completely demolish being a Jew. They need salvation as much as anyone else but let’s recognise that they are in a privileged position having had all those years of relationship with the Lord! He doesn’t expand on it here for that is not his goal, but later on in the letter he does: Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ” (Rom 9:4,5) Oh yes, they have much to be thankful for, but that doesn’t make them any the less sinners who need to be saved by the blood of Christ.

But the moment we start thinking about their history it raises a problem for it is clear that at a number of times in their history many of them did not have faith and that creates a problem. God had promised to bless them and make them a special nation so that He could bless the rest of the world through them. Does the fact that they had been unfaithful now mean that God will be unfaithful to His original intention to bless the world?  No, certainly not!

Here it comes – even if everyone else lies, God won’t, He will always remain true and so (implied) if He has said He will bless the world, He will!  The lack of faithfulness of the Jews will not detract from that. The fact is that He still brought His Son, Jesus, into this world through that nation and brought the means of salvation about through this nation, through their sinfulness in fact. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, speaking about Jesus to the Jews said, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) and preaching a few days later, again to Jews, “You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life.” (Acts 3:13-15) Yes, they had the dubious privilege of being used by God to bring about His purposes of redemption.

To drive home this point about God never lying but being revealed at truthful, even through our sin, Paul adds a quotation from the Old Testament which in its fuller version reads, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” (Psa 51:4) That had been David in confession mode, saying that even though he did wrong, God would be seen to be right. That would have happened when God held him accountable for his sin and stood as Judge, speaking against David’s sin and bringing corrective action against it. Yes, God’s righteousness is revealed whenever He has to confront our sinful behaviour. His words of judgment and His corrective action reveals that He is true to His nature and to His word and so He always remains righteous and always remains faithful to His declared will.

There is a danger, when either we do wrong or others around us do wrong, and everything feels bad, to think and feel that God will not remain true to the loving, forgiving character that He reveals to us, but the truth is that His character does not change one bit when we sin, however bad it is. Yes, He will hold us accountable, but He still remains a loving, caring God who wants the best for us and wants us to come to repentance and back into a relationship with Him. Some of us really need to hear this: He does NOT change when we blow it. He remains faithful and still works to draw us back to Himself. That IS His objective, and He will always remain true to it; that is why He sent Jesus. He wants you back!