You may do nothing with us

Below are three passages recounting a time when someone or a group was excluded from working with God’s people. The first passage is from the days of Zerubbabel and the first return of the Jews from captivity to rebuild the temple. The second verse comes from the time of Nehemiah who brought the third group back from captivity to rebuild the walls. Finally, the passage from Acts 8 are words of Peter to Simon the Sorcerer who wanted to purchase the gift of the Holy Spirit with money.

Read these three passages and meditate upon them today.

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the LORD God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel said to them, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the LORD God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” Then the people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia (Ezra 4:1-5).

So I answered them, and said to them, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 2:20).

“You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.”
(Acts 8:21-24)

In all three examples, there are those who with one heart and one soul put their minds to God’s work building God’s things. But also in all three examples there were those whose hearts were not loyal to God and they were not welcomed to join in to the great work of God. In the first two examples, the men were adversaries to the rebuilding of God’s work, and it appears that they remained that way, continually trying to oppose and frustrate the work of God. Thankfully in the final example above, Simon the Sorcerer was moved with godly sorrow and asked for the prayers of Peter (see Acts 8:22).

If you look throughout the New Testament, you will see it is full of teaching and examples showing the importance of having a group of people unified with God and with each other. It is vital to the health and growth of any organization, but especially the church of God.

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:1-5)

Let us meditate upon this in our hearts and pray that our souls are loyal to God, to His people, and to His work. May we encourage others to do the same as well.

Sermons on Racism

Today’s post is a link to some much-needed sermons on racism by brother Benjamin Lee. Please consider these sermons prayerfully. Racism is real and as Benjamin says in these sermons, we need to have some crucial conversations about it.

Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him (Acts 10:34-35).

Sermons on Racism by Benjamin Lee

And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings (Acts 17:26).

…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:26-29).

Note: We got our power back sooner than expected, enabling me to post today’s article. Many are still without power in Michigan, though. It makes you appreciate having electricity!

You Follow Me

Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.” Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me” (John 21:18-22).

Here is a discussion that Jesus had with Simon Peter after the resurrection. Jesus taught Peter (at least) two very important lessons about following Him. Twice Jesus told Peter in this discussion, “Follow Me.” Let’s take a moment to see what following Jesus involves.

You follow Me

  • Following Jesus was going to cost Peter his life. This death, according to John, would glorify the Father (see also 2 Peter 1:14). Men, that is the same cost we must pay in order to follow Jesus. And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
  • Not everyone who follows Jesus will face the same trials. Peter was very concerned about another disciple (John) and how his life would turn out. What was Jesus’ response? “What is that to you? You follow Me?” We can get caught up in how our life is so much different than others, and that other Christians have it so much “easier.” Let’s keep in mind what Jesus said to Peter…“What is that to you? You follow Me?” Also keep in mind that you are probably wrong; that other person doesn’t have it “easier.” He or she has trials and adversity, too, those trials are just in different forms.

So, what about John?

Consider the apostle John, about whom Peter was so concerned. Did John face trials? He was beaten and imprisoned just like Peter was (Acts 4-5). His brother, James, was beheaded by Herod (Acts 12). John was persecuted and exiled to the isle of Patmos for preaching the Word (Revelation 1). Some members of congregations caused John a lot of grief and pain (3 John 9-10). I write these things down to say that everybody faces adversity and persecution for following Christ, it just may be in a different form that what you face. Regardless of what that other disciple faces or does not face in life, our responsibility is to follow Jesus.

Like Living Stones

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-5).

I was researching the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland this morning. Maybe some reading this article are familiar with it, but I was not. My computer puts these random images of nature on my screen, and one came up today about the Giant’s Causeway. Fascinating! It led me to do some research on it, and I would encourage you to do the same.

These basalt formations are amazing as you can see on any picture of the Giant’s Causeway. The stone columns are mostly hexagonal in shape, some of the interlocking columns are almost 40 feet tall from what I could gather.

According to legend, this formation was made by the Irish giant Finn McCool as he built a bridge to cross the water and battle a Scottish giant. He apparently left a “boot,” which turned to stone. There is a stone that looks like a boot there.

According to “science,” these formations were made 50-60 million years ago as a result of volcanic activity and erosion. By the way, there was an aggressive and militant push to remove any creationist explanation of these rock formations from the exhibits in Ireland. The creationist view was relegated to a traditional religious belief, not a competing explanation at all.

I look at these stones, and yes, you can call me biased, but I see the glory of God’s handiwork. How can you not see the order and design in the rocks? Various shapes are formed naturally by rocks and minerals depending on which elements make them up. Some may call that random, I call that design from the mind of the most amazing Engineer ever!

Like Living Stones

What’s the point? I saw the Giant’s Causeway as a collection of stones that make a monument to glorify the Creator. When we see the church of Jesus Christ, it is a collection of “living stones” which glorify the Savior.

You are a living stone, and it may seem ironic or weird to ascribe life to a lifeless thing. But we are building, according to Peter, a spiritual house. This house is not made of brick and stone, but of spirit-filled beings. We have been called out of darkness and death into God’s marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). He breathed life into what was lifeless.

Our existence as a church, an assembly of saved people, is a monument testifying daily to the grace and power of our Creator and Savior. If you are a Christian, then you are part of something very special, much more breathtaking than a rock formation in Northern Ireland.

Take time today to thank God for being a living stone in His spiritual house.

Simon, Simon part 4

Jesus said, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent (Revelation 3:19). We sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know,” but are we willing to take what comes with the love of Jesus? If Jesus loves us then there will be times that He has to “reprove and discipline” us. Any relationship that is worth its salt is going to require some difficult discussions at times. Many try to avoid those tough talks, but the relationship suffers and dies as a result. It is absolutely necessary to dive in and get to the heart of the matter and sort things out.

Read John’s account below of the difficult conversation that Jesus had with Peter to help restore him.

This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

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.” (John 21:14-19).

Jesus loved Peter enough to have the tough conversations with him.

First of all, consider the grace of Jesus even to sit down with Peter and talk to him. Friendships and marriages have broken up for less than what Peter did to Jesus. With open arms, Jesus welcomed Peter back. However, that doesn’t mean Jesus was going to ignore what happened.

Secondly, it is no coincidence that Jesus asked Peter three times about his love. Peter denied Jesus three times. His first question to Peter was “Do you love Me more than these?” The “these” I believe is a reference to the other disciples. It was Peter that made the bold claim that even if all of the other disciples fell away, he would “never” do it (Matthew 26:33). Peter had claimed a superior commitment to Jesus. The Lord is right to ask Peter about that, “Do you love Me, really love Me? And if you love Me, what does that mean?”

Am I willing for Jesus to test my commitment to Him? What if your wife begins to wonder if you really love her? How would you handle the challenge? Yes, Peter was grieved the third time being asked, but it needed to happen.

Thirdly, Jesus directed Peter’s attention to the high calling of leadership and the unbreakable tie to love. If Peter really loves Jesus, then Peter will love Jesus’ sheep. You cannot shepherd (feed and tend) His sheep until you truly love the Chief Shepherd. Think about it, would you let someone watch your kids if you doubted their love and commitment to you? What was the purpose of the previous 3 1/2 years with Jesus? It was to prepare Peter (and the rest) to shepherd the flock of God.

Follow Me

Finally, Jesus tied the strength of Peter’s love and commitment to what would be asked of Peter later in life. Peter was going to be brutally persecuted and martyred for Christ. “Do you love Me? Really? You are going to need that love, because hard things are going to be required of you in following Me.”

Love requires difficult conversations, are we willing to accept that?

Here are the links for the previous three articles in this series:

1 – Simon, Simon (October 17, 2016)

2 – Simon, Simon part 2 (October 24, 2016)

3 – Simon, Simon part 3 (October 31, 2016)

Simon, Simon part 3

If you were at your lowest point and your best friend stabbed you in the back, would you seek him out later for reconciliation? Picture if you will being abandoned and betrayed at your darkest hour. How willing would you be to go looking for him later? Fat chance, right? Would you even consider putting that person in one of the highest positions of leadership in your organization after that betrayal?

That is precisely what Jesus did for Peter. Jesus knew that Peter was going to come back stronger. Peter would be “converted” through this process (Luke 22:31-32).

Jesus loved Peter enough to create the safe environment for Peter’s return.

“But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you'” (Mark 16:7).

The Lord didn’t write off Simon Peter, saying, “I’m done with him! If that’s the way Peter acted when I needed him the most, then that’s it!” There were no burned bridges on Jesus’ part.

Jesus specifically appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5). That tells us Jesus sought him out. Sheep wander – shepherds seek out the lost sheep. Shepherds don’t sit at home and wait for sheep to get found. Jesus as the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4) went into the wilderness through the thorns and thickets to rescue the sheep from certain peril.

It is fascinating to me that after the resurrection, Jesus used an occasion when Peter was fishing to call upon a past memory. Jesus, as He did early in His ministry, guided Peter and the rest to an unbelievable catch of fish. Compare Luke 5:1-11 (early in Jesus’ ministry) with John 21:1-13 (post-resurrection). Peter responded to this great catch of fish by saying, “It is the Lord!” He jumped into the water and went to Jesus. The Lord sent a very clear message to Peter here. It’s safe to come home to Me, Peter. My love and care has not changed one iota.

Look at the words of the elderly Peter about Jesus.

…and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:24-25).

That same environment exists for you and me. The same loving God wants us to come home, no matter how much we have hurt and betrayed Him (Luke 15).

Next week, we will consider how Jesus loved Peter enough to have the tough conversations with him (John 21:15-22).

Here are the links for the first two articles in this series:

Simon, Simon (October 17, 2016)

Simon, Simon part 2 (October 24, 2016)

Simon, Simon part 2

Last Monday, we looked into how Jesus loved Simon Peter. That love led Jesus to teach Peter everything he needed to know. This love also prompted Jesus to pray for Peter’s strength not to fail. We will look today at another way Jesus loved Simon Peter.

Jesus loved Peter enough to allow him to make his own choices and to feel the sting of those choices.

Jesus could not fight this battle for Peter. Along with this, Jesus loved Peter enough to allow him to face the heat of the consequences of his sins.

Relationships are built upon love, and that is a choice we make of our own free will. It amazes me that when the twelve were with Jesus on the night of His arrest, that “Satan entered Judas” (John 13). Jesus knew that was happening, and He allowed it. Judas, like Peter, had to make his own choices. Yes it hurt Jesus, no doubt, but love is not love if it isn’t a choice.

As parents, we want to keep our children from making the same mistakes we did. We would love to shelter them from what we endured because we rebelled against God and His wisdom. In fact, we may try to live vicariously through them trying to fix our own past by controlling their choices. But that just doesn’t work. Are we trying to shepherd our children to make their own choices based on their convictions, or are we trying to assuage and appease the guilt within that plagues us from our own sinful past?

How can a person’s character develop until it is challenged? The answer is, it really can’t. I heard someone say once that, “Faith that is not difficult is not faith at all.”

The Sting of Sin

Luke’s account tells us that after Peter denied Jesus for the third time that Jesus turned and looked at Peter (Luke 22:61). Peter felt the sting of his own sins and betrayal, and he went out and wept bitterly. In order for Peter to appreciate the grace and mercy that he would soon receive from Jesus, he had to feel the pain of the broken relationship first. This is all part of having free will, there are consequences to our choices. I’m very sure that Peter felt just awful that weekend.

Thankfully that isn’t where it all ends.

Next week, we will consider how Jesus loved Peter enough to create the right environment for Peter’s return.

Simon, Simon

And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.” (Luke 22:31-34)

Why would Jesus allow this to happen?

Parents, if you knew a predator was coming after one of your kids, wouldn’t you stop it? If Jesus is all-powerful, can’t he stop Satan from attacking Peter’s faith? If Jesus is all-loving, wouldn’t He want to stop Satan from attacking Peter’s faith?

Please understand that I am purely addressing the emotional aspect here, but this is where a lot of people stumble in their faith. Why does God allow such evil to exist? Why didn’t God just blast Satan into oblivion the moment he rebelled? Better yet, if God is all-knowing, why would God even create beings that He knew would rebel against Him?

We can really get ourselves into a mess trying to pass judgment upon God’s character based on our own emotions and flawed reasoning. I may speak of an “all-loving” God, but what is my definition of “all-loving”? Am I defining that concept from my own emotions and experiences?

Let’s look at how Jesus truly loved Simon Peter.

Jesus loved Peter enough to teach him what he needed to know.

Peter was given an intensive mentoring program with the Creator of the Universe, the Son of God! Think of all that Peter was taught and modeled in 3 ½ years with Jesus. All of the necessary tools were given to Peter to succeed spiritually; he was equipped by the Lord Himself.

On the heels of Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial, He took Peter and disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. It is here that Peter is given another very valuable tool in fighting off temptation. While Jesus prayed, Peter slept – 3 times as a matter of fact. The warning and instruction that Jesus gave to him was, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:36-46). Great advice from the Master Teacher! Jesus Himself was doing these two things that night. Peter slept.

Later in Peter’s life, as an elderly man, he wrote about the importance of watchfulness and prayer (1 Peter 5:7-8). However, he was not going to understand the importance of that teaching until after he fell.

Our Lord may give us the tools we need, but He will not force us to use them. By the way, that is love. Love is a choice.

Jesus loved Peter enough to pray for him.

Jesus talked to the Father about him. Was Jesus praying that Peter would never “fail”? No, he prayed that his faith and his strength would not fail. Jesus knew what would happen that night between the Devil and Peter, but he prayed to the Father that it would not destroy Peter’s faith.

Can you imagine Jesus having a conversation with the Father about you? Do you believe it happens? Please understand that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then your name is discussed in heaven. When you pray, Jesus talks to the Father about you, too!

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Next week, we will continue looking into how Jesus was “all-loving” to Simon Peter. We will look at how Jesus loved Peter enough to allow him to make his own choices and to feel the sting of those choices.

In An Understanding Way

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered (1 Peter 3:7).

So, what does it mean to live in an understanding way? What is God asking me to do when He tells me to live with my wife according to knowledge?

Let’s look at how other versions translate this phrase:
  • “…in an understanding way…” (ESV).
  • “…according to knowledge…” (YLT).
  • “…dwell with them with understanding…” (NKJV).
  • •”…give thought to your way of life with your wives…” (BBE).

The BBE (Bible in Basic English) as you can see above translates this as we are to “give thought to your way of life with your wives.” As husbands, we need to “know” and “understand” who this woman really is. I need to “know” and “understand” the value of this woman to God. My treatment of her will either bring God’s blessing or punishment upon me, so I’d better “give thought” to this woman and this relationship!

I have come to understand that the rest of verse 7 explains what dwelling with her according to knowledge means.

In an understanding way:

Understand and know that she is a weaker vessel. Both males and females are “vessels,” meaning that our bodies are containers of our spirits (1 Thessalonians 4:4; 2 Corinthians 4:7). We are vessels to be used for God’s honor in His house (2 Timothy 2:20-21), whether male or female. She is weaker, “since she is a woman” Peter says. The wife is to be handled with care as something precious and valuable. You do not hear often of a woman beating up on a man or raping a man – it is the man who is doing these things. He is stronger typically, hence the term “manhandle.”

Understand and know that she is a fellow heir of the grace of life. She is not a sub-citizen of the kingdom of heaven. There is no second-class Christian. In business and the military folks rank and classify every person. Everybody in the world has a class and a level it seems, but not when it comes to salvation in Jesus Christ. A woman receives the same salvation and blessings of the kingdom as a man does.

A husband must know and understand these things in his heart. If a man does not value his wife, how can he honor her? Why would I seek to appreciate her thoughts, her dreams, and her input if I look at her as a second-class citizen? When a man looks at a woman as a slave, as subservient to him, as a piece of meat, as an object to be used, then it is abundantly clear that he does not value women. Simply put, if a man treats a woman this way, God will not hear his prayers.

Husbands, give thought to your way of life with your wives!

The spiritual realm and Simon Peter

In studying the life of Simon Peter, I began to notice a strong connection between the spiritual realm and Simon Peter. From Deity to demons to departed saints, Peter was involved in some way with all of them.

Jesus

On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus told Peter beforehand of his denial. More than that, Jesus told him that Satan had requested permission to “sift” Peter like wheat. Jesus also shared with Peter that He had been praying for him that his strength would not fail (Luke 22:32). That means Jesus was talking to His Father about Peter. Don’t let that slip by in your mind. Both the Father and Jesus were deeply concerned about Simon Peter.

The Father

God the Father spoke to Peter, James and John from the cloud when they were on the mountain with Jesus (Luke 9:33-36). He confirmed for them clearly who Jesus was and their obligation to listen to Him.

Satan

Satan, as I mentioned earlier, requested to sift Peter like wheat (Luke 22:31). The New American Standard Bible translates requested as “demanded.” Was the Devil aware of Simon Peter?  Yes! This is similar to what happened to Job (Job 1-2), Joshua the high priest (Zechariah 3:1), and all Christians for that matter (Revelation 12:10).

Demons

This one is not as direct, but we can conclude that the demons also knew his name. They certainly knew Jesus. In Acts 19:15 in Ephesus, the evil spirit knew the name of Paul. Luke recorded in his gospel account that the seventy who were sent out by Jesus came back saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name” (Luke 10:17). That would include Peter, because 12 were given power by Jesus over demons (Luke 9:1). Peter had power over demons because of Jesus!

The Holy Spirit

Peter heard the voice of the Holy Spirit as He directly spoke to Peter. The Spirit told Peter to go with the men to Cornelius’ home (Acts 10:19-20; 11:12).

Departed saints

Peter was able to see the great prophets, Moses and Elijah, appear “in glory” and speak with Jesus (Luke 9:31). He was given a rare glimpse that few were privileged to see.

Angels

At the empty tomb of Jesus, the angels spoke to the women telling them specifically to announce the good news to Peter of Jesus’ resurrection (Mark 16:7). An angel told Cornelius to go find Peter because he would tell Cornelius what he and his household must do to be saved (Acts 10:3-6; 11:13-14). Peter was released from prison more than once by an angel, and was ordered by the angel to go back out and preach (Acts 5:19-20; 12:6-11). As an older man, Peter certainly knew that angels were greatly interested in the things pertaining to God’s plan of salvation (1 Peter 1:12).

What about the spiritual realm and you?

So, is the spiritual realm interested and involved in your life as it was with Peter’s? Yes. Even though you may not hear God’s voice from a cloud, you can know with certainty God greatly cares about you and is fully vested in your well-being. The angels are ministering spirits sent to serve God’s people, and that is just as true in 2016 (Hebrews 1:14). When one sinner repents, the angels of heaven rejoice (Luke 15:10). Satan is our adversary, just as much as he was for Peter (Revelation 12). Jesus did not care more about Peter than He does for you, does He?

This helps to remind us all that what we are doing is far bigger than what we can see in the flesh. Our purpose is far greater than some earthly, physical pursuit, isn’t it?

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).