Tag Archives: Peter

The Forgiveness Challenge

Earlier this spring I wrote on the difficulty one can face in forgiving others. In the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to forgive us as we forgive the sins of others. Jesus’ parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18: 23-35 sharply contrast the forgiving heart of a king (God) and the unforgiving servant (us?).

forgiveness log 2Prior to the parable Peter asked Jesus, “If my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Peter probably thought he was being generous with offering seven times. Jesus blows Peter’s generosity out of the water when he responds, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” Forgiveness is not a transaction that one tracks but a lifestyle to embrace.

Still there is much misunderstanding around the concept of forgiveness. I want to highlight three of them.

First, forgiveness does not condone a wrong action as being “okay” or good. If a co-worker steals your idea and takes credit for it, that action is wrong. Forgiving the person does not mean that what the person did is now okay. In fact, it may be necessary to confront the person and tell him or her that you were hurt by the behavior and that your trust is broken. To forgive such an act means that you will not continue to hold a grudge or resentment towards them.

Second, forgiveness does not mean that you will automatically trust the person again. If a coworker has a history of stealing ideas means that you will probably not be sharing new creative ideas with them, even if you forgive them. This is particularly true in family settings where a spouse has been abusive (emotionally, verbally or physically). You may forgive your spouse, but you may also need to separate from your spouse if the behavior has not changed.

Third, forgiveness often requires the spirit of courageous love. I live in Minnesota where we promote a culture of “being nice.” “Minnesota Nice” has many advantages ( who wants to be cooped up over a long winter with argumentative, disrespectful coworkers or family members). However Minnesota Nice can often lead to situations where people are smiling on the outside, but holding all kinds of grudges and resentments on the inside. They often discuss these resentments with everyone but the offending party. Healthy Christians will not let the resentment build and build, but rather acknowledge their internal conflict and confront the issue and/or person as needed.

Such confrontations can be done in love and mercy. The resurrected Jesus confronted Peter after his three denials when they met on the beach in John 21. I remember when a good friend confronted me over some selfish behavior that I once exhibited on a road trip. He made sure to do it in private and to give me space and time to respond.

In my next post I will explore the blessings of forgiveness.

How has forgiveness challenged or changed your life?

Lord Jesus, teach me to forgive as you forgive.

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The Cup of Choice

This is the Kidron Valley looking to the North. To the left is the Temple Mount. To the right is the Mount of Olives.

On Maundy Thursday, as they ate the Passover meal, Jesus confronted the disciples with the harsh reality that one of the disciples would betray him. Jesus was not surprised or stunned that one of his twelve companions, Judas, would turn against him. Jesus seemed to be reading off a script, part of an unfolding story. It seemed as if Jesus had no choice, no freedom, all the options are closing in upon him.

As if to seal his intention, he picked up the cup and said to his disciple, “This cup is that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).  He was ready to go to the cross, to pour out his blood, to be the lamb of God.

Jesus and the disciples then went off to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. As they walked towards the garden, Jesus told them that they would all desert him that night. Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Jesus responded to Peter with the fateful warning, “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times” (Luke 22:34).

Again it seems as if everything is fixed. The relentless march, a constant drum beat, continued towards Jesus’ suffering and death.

He asked the disciples to stay awake and pray, because he was deeply grieved, even unto death.  Jesus went a little farther and threw himself on the ground. “Abba, Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Here for a moment the relentless drum beats stops. Jesus is not some mere actor, reciting the lines of a play.

He is a flesh-and-blood human being who sees the horrendous suffering he is about to undergo. He is not some robot who is oblivious to human pain and suffering. No, he is a human being who relishes life, the joys and blessings of life.

Jesus does not want to die. Here he is like you and me. Here his humanity is on full display.

Jesus now comes back to the disciples to discover they are all asleep. Are they worth Jesus’ effort? Can’t they stay awake an hour with him? Are they worth the pain and suffering?

Jesus goes to the cross NOT to die for the worthy, for the great, for the valued disciples.

He dies for the weak and vulnerable.

He goes to the cross precisely because we are too weak, too sleepy, too self-absorbed, too sinful to go ourselves.  He pours out his life because we are weak and sinful and need to be rescued.

His love for the disciples, for you and me, overcomes any fear or temptation he faced.

Jesus, thank you for drinking the cup for us.

Acting Out

Yesterday I was excited as I taught the children to “leap” with praise.  In worship we read Acts 3, the story in which Peter and John healed a crippled beggar outside the temple gate and the man entered the temple with them, “walking and leaping and praising God.” The children and I enjoyed leaping up to give God’s praise. Their energy got me ready to preach.

The original healing and leaping gave Peter the opportunity to preach as well. The miracle caused such a commotion that Peter had to address the crowd to direct the crowd’s attention away from John and himself and back to Jesus Christ. He called the crowd to repent and turn to God (Acts 3:19).

This is Peter’s second sermon in the book of Acts. After the first, on the day of Pentecost, the crowd asked what they needed to do. Peter respond, “Repent and be baptized;” three thousand were baptized that day (Acts 2:38,41). Marvelous fruit for one sermon.

Peter’s second sermon had a different effect: the priest and officials of the temple arrestted them because they were proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead (Acts 4:1-2). Peter and John were “acting out” against the norms of their temple religion and had to be quieted in some way. So the leaders questioned Peter and John by whose authority they were teaching and healing. Peter, by the Holy Spirit declared to these religious officials,

Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead (Acts 2:10).

Nothing is keeping Peter from proclaiming Jesus with all boldness, even to the gang that had Jesus executed.

May we each have such boldness to proclaim Jesus Christ.

Lord Jesus, give me courage to speak your name, even to act out when needed.

Impulsive Trust

Even after preaching yesterday on Peter’s slippery stroll across the Sea of Galilee, I am still contemplating whether the story paints Peter as a model disciple or a counter-example to avoid.  Certainly Peter’s character of being impulsive is frequently mentioned in the Bible.  For example, when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, Peter at first refused to have his feet washed, then asked to have his entire body (John 13:6-10).  Pete seemed to speak first and think later.

In the boat, I think Simon Peter blurted out his request without really taking time to think about it.  His mouth was engaged before his brain.  Jesus had given him his nickname of Cephas, which is Aramaic for Petra or Peter, which is the Greek word for “Rock.”  Rocks can be fairly dense and do not usually float.  Peter discovered this when he walked towards Jesus.  His mind caught up with his impulses and he sank.  Still he knew the author of his life, so as he sank like a rock, he called out to the Jesus, “Lord, save me.”   That impulsive cry was the right one, for Jesus lifted him out of the chaos of the sea and into the lifeboat of faith.

Peter’s impulsive behavior is something with which I can identify.  Yesterday, after outdoor worship was finished and people were greeting one another, I impulsively raised my voice and asked all to sing, “Happy Birthday” to my future daughter-in-law, Maggie Thomas, who was visiting.   Only afterwards did I stop to think whether this was something she might appreciate.   I have been known to shout, “Amen!” during a colleague’s sermon or to impulsively drag a confirmation student to help with a lesson.  Sometimes the impulses are great; other times an embarrassment.  

Shortly after his walk on the water, Jesus quizzed the disciples as to his identity.  He asked them first what the word on the street was.  The disciples responded, “Some people think you are John the Baptist returned from the dead, others think you are one of the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah or Elijah.”  Then Jesus asked, “Who do you think I am?”  Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matt 17:13-16)  There is the model of impulsive trust that I want to follow.

Have you ever experienced an impulsive expression of faith?

Lord Jesus, rule the impulses of our hearts as well as the reflections of our minds.

Organizational Care

Seth Godin, wrote an intriguing post recently about caring and organizations:

No organization cares about you. Organizations aren’t capable of this.

Your bank, certainly, doesn’t care. Neither does your HMO or even your car dealer. It’s amazing to me that people are surprised to discover this fact.

People, on the other hand, are perfectly capable of caring. It’s part of being a human. It’s only when organizational demands and regulations get in the way that the caring fades.

If you want to build a caring organization, you need to fill it with caring people and then get out of their way. When your organization punishes people for caring, don’t be surprised when people stop caring.

I began to wonder if that is true of a congregation.  Certainly one of the confessed values of a Christian congregation is to care, to love, to be like Jesus. But what does care look like?  Here leadership is essential. Leadership within the congregation can promote a culture of care, can model what caring looks like, and how collectively and individually we care.

Pentecost by artist Jean Sader

This Sunday is Pentecost, the church holiday in which we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to ignite the birth of the church. Fifty days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the first disciples remained huddled in a room in Jerusalem.  As described in Acts 2, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was dramatic: a mighty rush of wind, tongues of fire on people’s heads, and multiple languages suddenly heard.  A huge crowd gathered outside the room, amazed, perplexed, confused.  What was this?

Here is where caring leadership stepped up.

 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd. Act 2:14

Peter took the leadership role and modeled how this new community would express itself.  He cared for the assembled crowd by telling them the story of Jesus Christ and how his life, death and resurrection had changed the world.  His words were tough at time, reminding the people of their participation in Jesus’ crucifixion.  Yet Peter, with the support of the eleven, did the most loving thing possible: he called people to trust in Jesus.  At Resurrection, we would say Peter “called all people to a vibrant life of faith in Christ.”

How does the church promote or restrict caring?

Lord Jesus, teach me to care as you cared for others.