"Nothing here is new except in the sense that it is a discovery which my own heart has made of spiritual realities most delightful and wonderful to me. Others before me have gone much farther into these holy mysteries than I have done, but if my fire is not large it is yet real, and there may be those who can light their candle at its flame." (A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God)

Friday, June 30, 2017

Maybe Peter Wasn't Lying

He’s been described as an impetuous coward, not nearly as brave as he wanted to be.  But then, how many of us are as brave as we want to be?

He’s also been described as a miserable failure who lied under pressure.  But was he?  And did he lie?

After his bold boast to Jesus that he would never deny Jesus in any circumstance, he denied Him three times before the rooster crowed the next morning, even claiming, “I do not know the man!”[1]  But was Peter lying?  Maybe not.

How many times have I thought that I knew someone, only to find out – sometimes in bitter disappointment – that I did not know him or her?

Peter clearly thought that He knew Jesus.  He watched Jesus heal countless numbers of sick people and even raise the dead!  He saw Jesus walk on water and trusted Him enough to accept His invitation to walk on water with Him.[2]  He understood enough about Jesus to recognize that Jesus was indeed “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”[3]

But there were telltale signs that Peter didn’t really know who Jesus was.  Perhaps nothing revealed that fact as much as when Peter actually rebuked Jesus for warning His disciples that He would “suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed.”  Peter’s response: I am never going to let that happen![4]  Peter thought He knew Jesus – but He didn’t.

On the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested, when Judas arrived with a crowd carrying swords and clubs, Peter drew his sword to defend Jesus from arrest.  He was prepared to begin the battle to enthrone Jesus as the Messiah right then and there.  Thankfully, he wasn’t much of a swordsman – he aimed for Malchus’ head but only managed to cut off his ear.[5]  Jesus immediately told Peter to put his sword away, explaining to Peter that if He was going to fight He could have commanded twelve legions of angels to come to His immediate defense.  The shock to Peter – and it was a shock – was that Jesus was not going to fight against His arrest, or His trial, or His flogging, or His crucifixion or His death.

Peter recognized that Jesus was the Christ, the promised, and long-awaited Messiah.  He was so convinced that he had walked away from his livelihood, his reputation, and his “security” and had followed Jesus non-stop for the past three years.  And he had come to love this Man.  And trust Him.  And believe in Him.  But He never understood one ultimately critical component of Jesus’ identity.  Jesus was the Christ – but He came to be the crucified Christ, the suffering Saviour who would give His life for Peter’s sins – and mine.  In spite of repeated warnings, Peter didn’t know that.  So when He exclaimed, “I don’t know the man,” he wasn’t lying.

Jesus knew that Peter didn’t know that.  That’s why He predicted Peter’s denial.  Peter was about to go into confused shock, because it was going to be vividly and violently revealed to him that he had not fully understood who Jesus was.

By the way, I don’t see any cowardice in Peter here.  Of all the disciples who had pledged that they would die for Jesus,[6] only Peter and John are recorded as having followed Jesus through His trials before the scribes, elders and Romans.  Yes, he denied knowing Jesus.  But at that moment, Peter didn’t know Him.  Jesus was not who Peter thought He was.  As Michael Wilkins notes, Peter was not alone:

…throughout his life’s mission, Jesus disappointed many of his own people, because his was a revolution of the heart, not a revolution of swords or chariots.[7]

After the cock crowed for the third time, Peter “went out and wept bitterly.”[8]  His weeping may have been in part from sorrow that he had failed his Friend and failed his promise.  But his bitter weeping could have been in significant part because Jesus was not the Messiah he was expecting. Or the Messiah he had given his life to follow.  The Man he followed, trusted and loved was not who Peter thought He was. This Messiah was going to die!  This Christ was going to be crucified! That kind of shocking disappointment has driven many men and women to bitter weeping.

I have wept frequently – sometimes bitterly – over the past 18 months, and for the same reasons Peter wept.  I have failed to keep some promises I made to Jesus.  I don’t think I have verbally denied Jesus, but I have denied Him practically.  And for the same reason Peter did: because I did not fully recognize (believe) who Jesus is – in spite of repeated explanations (just like Peter had).

For instance, in Matthew 6:33 Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  What things?  Food, drink, clothing…all these things.  How much of my life and time have I spent trying to provide all these things?  While – all the time – Jesus was saying, “Just focus on seeking Me and My Kingdom and My righteousness and I will add all this stuff to your life.”  My too frequent unwillingness to believe that He would do that and let Him do it – while not a verbal denial – was a denial just the same; a practical, functional denial of who Jesus really is.

I fear that too many of us may have “accepted Jesus as our personal Saviour” as a form of fire insurance, a “guarantee” that when we die, we will not go to hell.  But as Dallas Willard explains,

The appropriate question is, ‘If you don’t die tonight what are you going to do tomorrow?’ and the answer should be, ‘I’m going to trust Jesus with all of my life, with everything, and that will allow you to live in the Kingdom of God.’ Now, if you do die tonight you may go to Heaven, but you see most people are not going to die tonight. They, like the rest of us, have to face life tomorrow and the day after and the day after.

“The big question is, ‘Are you going to live life on your own tomorrow and the day after?’ and if you do then you’re not trusting Jesus.[9]

And “not trusting Jesus” is, in essence, a practical, functional denial of Him and Who He is. Willard affirmed this fact in his remarkable book, The Divine Conspiracy:

The sensed irrelevance of what God is doing to what makes up our lives is the foundational flaw in the existence of multitudes of professing Christians today.  They have been led to believe that God, for some unfathomable reason, just thinks it appropriate to transfer credit from Christ’s merit account to ours, and to wipe out our sin debt, upon inspecting our mind and finding that we believe a particular theory of the atonement to be true – even if we trust everything but God in all other matters that concern us.

It is left unexplained how it is possible that one can rely on Christ for the next life without doing so for this one, trust him for one’s eternal destiny without trusting him for “the things that relate to Christian life.”  Is this really possible?  Surely it is not!  Not within one life (emphasis mine).[10]

In recent days, Jesus has confronted me with my lack of love for Him and for others.  In one of my recent sojourns into solitude and silence, the Lord God asked me if I loved Him.  (Something else I have in common with Peter.[11])  My response was, “Of course I love You!”  His response was, “Why aren’t you being obedient?”  The Holy Spirit spoke loudly and clearly from John 15: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.”

There was more: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

My love for Jesus can be accurately and easily measured by my obedience to Him.  And my obedience (or lack of it) is a perfect reflection of how much I trust Him (or not).  The biggest issue for me was loving other people.  He’s working on that in me.  And He’s gracing me to love some folks I honestly believed only a few months ago I could never love.  But my unwillingness to love them was my practical, functional denial of Jesus.

There is so much more for Him to do in me – so much more of me that needs to be changed and transformed into His likeness.  But I am encouraged because Jesus is doing the same thing for me that He did for Peter: “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”[12]  Jesus prayed for Peter.  And He is praying for me!  As I discover more of Who He really is, He is creating in me an overwhelming hunger for His transformative power to remove from me any trace of denial, especially the silent, invisible kind that just simply doesn’t trust and obey, even in – or especially in – the most mundane issues of everyday life.

[1] Matthew 26
[2] Matthew 14
[3] Matthew 16:16
[4] Matthew 16
[5] Matthew 26; John 18
[6] Matthew 26:35
[7] Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew: The NIV Application Commentary, p. 933.
[8] Matthew 26:75
[9] http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=150
[10] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p. 49.
[11] John 21
[12] Luke 22:32

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Higher Cost of Non-Discipleship

Linked to the group of conspirators whose attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler failed, at the age of only thirty-nine Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged in April 1945, only days before the liberation of Germany by Allied forces.

Like millions of other believers, I found his book, The Cost of Discipleship, overwhelming and compelling.  I fully agree with his premise: “Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”

But I propose there is something more costly than discipleship to Jesus:  the higher cost of non-discipleship.

Pastors preach and seminary professors teach a lot about discipleship.  Hundreds of books about discipleship have been written.  Most significantly, Jesus talked a lot about discipleship.  Even so, a lot of confusion remains about what a disciple of Jesus actually is.

When I was running for political office, I frequently had folks encourage me with, “We’re behind you, Curtis!”  As grateful as I was for their reassurance, I often wanted to ask, “How far behind me?”  Being a disciple of Jesus is more than simply “following Jesus.”  He too might ask the question, “How far behind me are you following?”

I am so grateful to Dallas Willard for this spot-on definition of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus:
A disciple is an apprentice of Jesus who is learning from Him how to live their life as He would live it if He were they.[1]
But do people – even Christians – want to be a disciple of Jesus?  Or does it scare them?  Consider these (often misunderstood) requirements of discipleship:
·      One must lose his life.  (Most people spend their entire lives trying not to do that!)
·      One must take up his cross. (We’ve heard that is very painful.)
·      One must hate his father and mother.  (Hate?  Really?)
These are all frightening ideas.  It is no wonder many church members – maybe even most church members – are afraid of discipleship.
When I was a teenager, I had a keen fear of the will of God (as I write about in Why Fear Death?). I was convinced that if I fully submitted to God’s will for my life that he would make me marry some hideous looking woman, move to some deserted village in a remote area of Africa and live in a grass hut all of my days.  It seems a lot of people share a fear of the will of God…believing somehow that “God is just out to make us miserable.”  So all-out discipleship scares a lot of people.
But non-discipleship is a lot scarier, a lot harder and much more costly than discipleship.
“Discipleship is too hard,” many say.  But that’s not what Jesus says about it.  He says, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[2]  How can He say that?  Because when we become His disciples, He gets into the yoke with us.  It’s been my experience that when I cooperate fully with Him, He does the “heavy lifting.”  It’s almost like there’s no burden for me to carry. It’s light because He carries the far greater part.  Otherwise, I’m in that yoke of daily living, carrying the heavy burdens of life’s unending issues all by myself.  That is a heavy load.  Non-discipleship is a lot heavier and a lot harder than discipleship.

Jesus' feeding of the five thousand men (plus women and children; Matthew 14) is a perfect example of what being in the yoke with Jesus is like.  Possibly ten thousand or more people had come to listen to Jesus, and they were hungry.  Jesus instructed His disciples to feed this huge crowd, but they could muster only five loaves of bread and two fish.  (I know that feeling.)  Jesus did the hard part!  He turned their meager resources into enough food for all ten thousand people!  All the disciples had to do was distribute the food - and collect the leftovers!  There would have been a lot of very hungry people left on the hillside had the disciples been non-disciples and not "in the yoke" with Jesus.
I’ve been something of a workaholic for most of my life.  There was one period of my life in which I worked 16 hours or more per day, often six days a week.  Looking back now, I can see that when I was working the hardest and the longest, I was usually working mostly by myself – without Jesus in the yoke with me.  And accomplishing much less.  As Dallas Willard also correctly observes,
To depart from righteousness [discipleship] is to choose a life of crushing burdens, failures, and disappointments, a life caught in the toils of endless problems that are never resolved.[3]
In contrast,
Our walk with Christ, well learned, is a burden only as wings are to a bird or the engines are to an airplane.  The mature children of light are like their Master.  They know God and his Word, they think straight, and they live in the truth, because every essential dimension of their being has been transformed to serve God: heart, soul, mind, and strength.[4
But what about the cost of discipleship?  Some might say, “Look at what I have to give up (or what I may have to give up) to follow Jesus!  I’ve got all this really neat stuff, and all these super cool friends and we know how to have a good time!  You’ve heard the saying, ‘He who dies with the most toys wins!’”
Jesus told two profound stories about the issue of the cost of discipleship.  The first one is about a man who sold everything he owned to buy something he found.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.[5]

Before there were banks, folks would often hide their valuables in a field when threatened with the loss of property or life.  Jesus tells the story of a man who serendipitously discovers an abandoned treasure in a field, a treasure of such enormous value that it’s easily worth much more than everything he already owns.  Who of us wouldn’t do what he did?  He sold everything he had and bought the field – with the treasure!  That’s what the “cost” of living as a disciple of Jesus is like!

Jesus’ second story is about a sharp businessman:

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

This pearl merchant was savvy enough to recognize a pearl that was worth more than all the other pearls he had, indeed, worth much more than everything he owned.  He did the smart thing; he sold it all to buy the pearl of much greater value.

Unfortunately, when we think about the cost of discipleship, we often look at only one side of the ledger: the cost.  But we don’t count the “revenue.”  The irrefutable fact is, compared to non-discipleship, discipleship costs nothing!  In fact, it is a phenomenal net gain!

“But,” someone complains, “Jesus said I have to lose my life to follow Him.”  That’s right.  He did say that.[6]  But which life do you “lose?”  We give up, or lose the ruined life.  Paul describes that life in Colossians 3: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” and “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”  That’s the life we “lose.”  But Jesus replaces it with a new life: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”[7]  Seriously, why would anyone not want to lose his or her old, ruined life if it meant they got that new one?

“But didn’t Jesus also say that ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’”  Yes, indeed He did.  If I’m going to be a disciple of Jesus, it’s important for me to clearly and fully understand that Jesus didn’t die on the cross just so I wouldn’t have to.  He died on the cross so I could join Him there.  And indeed I have joined Him there.  Gloriously so!

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:2-3, ESV, emphasis added).

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20, ESV).

Because, when I was born with the new life of Jesus, at that moment God placed me into Him (my “life is hidden with Christ”), including His death on the cross.  I have already died on the cross with Jesus.  It’s done!  The cross I carry is an effortless carry because “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  It’s all done by and in His power! The thing that's left for me to do is in Romans 6:11: "So you also must reckon [consider] yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." D. Martin Lloyd-Jones explained that concept this way:
We are told to realize, and to hold before ourselves and in our consciousness constantly, something that is already true of our position or status.  It is not an exhortation to us to do anything with regard to sin, but to realize what has already been done for us with respect to our relationship to sin.  It is an exhortation to us to remember what is already true of us; it urges us to realize what has already happened to us as Christians, those of us who are joined to the Lord Jesus Christ.[8]
For some of us, here’s the real bottom line problem: “If I whole-heartedly follow Jesus, I will lose control.”  Yes, you will.  That’s true.  But know this:  Keeping control is a whole lot harder!

Non-discipleship costs incomparably more than discipleship. Discipleship is cooperating with God…participating with Jesus in His life on earth now.  It is the most incredible, exciting life imaginable.  Being a disciple of Jesus is the greatest opportunity you will ever have in your life! 

[1] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p. 284-291.
[2] Matthew 11:30
[3] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 2.
[4] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 228.
[5] Matthew 13:44
[6] Matthew 16:25
[7] Galatians 5:22-23
[8] D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Romans: The New Man, p. 120.

Monday, June 5, 2017


"The answer was so simple..."

As the Holy Spirit continued His work of transformation in my heart and life, I sensed His leadership to renew a “spiritual discipline” in my life (actually into my daily routine), a practice that had been an extraordinary blessing in years past: memorization of the Word.  Honestly, I have noticed that I don’t remember the names of people quite as quickly and easily as I used to (not in any way attributable to my age, I’m certain), so I was a little concerned about my ability to return to memorization.

Well, He was there to help me (as He always is).

I first refreshed my mind with the awesome promises of Psalm 1 and Joshua 9.  I had memorized these passages years ago in the King James Version:

Psalm 1:1-3
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Joshua 1:8
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

These are awesome promises, especially for anyone who commits himself or herself to being an apprentice of Jesus.  And, of course, there’s Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

How does one even get past the unfathomable and immeasurable premise of verse 1? The Lord is my shepherd!  I shall not want!  I will have everything I ever need!  Ever!  Everything!

Psalm 23 and the “Lord’s Prayer” (better titled “The Disciple’s Prayer” in Matthew 6:9-13) are how I start my heart and head every day.

Colossians 3:1-17 so perfectly describes being an apprentice of Jesus, it became my first “new” memory project:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.  In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

There is so much in these verses I feel like I could write a book just about the fantastic realities exposed in them.  But for now, I’ll briefly note just two particular parts which, paired with verses I memorized from Romans 8, produced some dramatic changes in my life.

First, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”  Note the words I’ve italicized.  As I thought about those words, I realized they pretty much sum up just about everything that’s on TV these days.  There are some exceptions on TV, but constantly putting sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness in front of my mind would unquestionably make them harder to “put to death.”

Second, “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”  The words I’ve italicized in this verse reminded me so much of what politics is like these days, I wanted to put that away too.  Let me be clear, there are some wonderful, Godly men and women who follow Jesus in politics for whom I am enormously thankful and who are desperately needed, but “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk” pretty much describe the political culture.

Romans 8:1-17 was the next passage to be “hidden” in my heart, and the Holy Spirit magnificently paired it with Colossians 3.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

There’s another book here (and many have been written on this awesome passage).  I’ll mention just this verse: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”

I wanted to understand what the phrase “set their minds on” means.  It’s the same phrase as in Colossians 3: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”  The answer was so simple (and the Holy Spirit is an awesome teacher)!  I “set my mind” on whatever I put in front of my mind.  If I put TV in front of my mind, then I’m setting my mind “on the things of the flesh.”  The result: I will live according to the flesh.  But when I put the Word of God (and those who teach it faithfully) before my mind, then I’m setting my mind on the things of the Spirit and I’m living according to the Spirit – just like Jesus lived!
(Please see my footnote.[1])

I am aware that – by the amazing grace (power) of God – I am being changed – transformed.  As the Holy Spirit teaches me the Word and empowers me to hide it in my heart, my mind is being renewed with the result that Jesus is being formed in me.  I cannot imagine anything more fulfilling or exciting!

[1] The Holy Spirit is also doing the work of removing my appetite for TV.  This is only what the Holy Spirit is doing in me.  I am not suggesting that only “unspiritual” people watch TV.  That’s where the Pharisees and legalists live, and not where grace works.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Do You Love Me?

I wasn’t sitting on the seashore warming my hands by a charcoal fire like Peter.  But I was confronted with the same issue, and just like Peter, three times.

Actually I was at the duck club.  A company with which I have a close relationship owns a duck club on property it leases in Northeast Arkansas.  When the old farmhouse that is there is not being used, I can go there to spend some time in prayer and solitude.  (I am re-discovering the “spiritual disciplines” which include fasting, prayer, solitude and silence.  I’ll write more about that later.)  The duck club is a perfect place to pray, and perhaps more importantly, to hear God’s quiet and gentle voice.  I go there alone; there’s no TV or radio – just the wind and several thousand birds enjoying the rice fields that surround the farmhouse.

You’ll remember that about a week after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His closest disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21).  This was the time when Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?”  It is interesting to note that just a few days earlier, while warming his hands at another charcoal fire, Peter had denied Jesus three times.

On one particular trip to the duck club, I was studying John 14, and the Holy Spirit (Jesus-in-Spirit living in me) was confronting me with the same issue.  Do you love me?  My immediate response was, “Yes!  Of course I love you!”  But then He challenged my answer...three times:

First, it was verse 15: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”  “Okay,” I said, “I understand that.  I will do that.”

Then it was verse 21: “He that hath my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”  This changed the whole issue.  In verse 15, the condition was “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Now the “If” was different:  If you keep my commandments, you are someone who loves me.”  At that moment I could think of some places where I wasn’t living in total obedience.

Finally (and the third time), the Holy Spirit drove it home in verse 23: “If a man love me, he will keep my words.”  There it was.  My love for Jesus is clearly and unmistakably defined and revealed by my obedience.

At that moment, God’s quiet and gentle voice was loud and clear. 

At first my mind was flooded by memories of the many, many times I had been disobedient.  But those memories were quickly laid aside as sins that God had forgiven and remembered no more.  So I wasn’t going to remember them anymore either.

But I was confronted with my repeated failures, the recurring disobedience.  I’m not fighting new battles, just the same old ones over and over.  Those instances brought my love for Jesus into clear question.

My mind went to the Apostle Paul’s classic description of the battles he fought and lost. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15, ESV).  And I thought about the many times I had laughed when repeating what I had heard someone else say, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh has it surrounded.”

How could my love for Jesus be challenged when my spirit is willing, but my flesh is so weak?  But, without question, the Holy Spirit was challenging my love for Jesus.

This happened months ago, and it was been a matter of frequent prayer and study for me since.  Here’s what the Holy Spirit has been teaching me.

First, it was true that my spirit was willing and my flesh was weak.  And I was doing the things I hated.  That was the state of my condition, but it was not where God wanted me to stay.  And it wasn’t where I had to stay.  “The spirit is willing, but the flesh has it surrounded” was just a sorry excuse for my recurring disobedience.  (The best definition I’ve ever heard for an excuse is “the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie,” and that applied here.)

Second, God can grow me to where both my spirit and my body can be brought into submission to Him…not perfectly in this life, but a lot doggone closer to it than I was!  This growth is known as “spiritual transformation.”

Spiritual transformation into Christlikeness…is the process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it takes on the character of the inner being of Jesus himself.  The result is that the “outer” life of the individual increasingly becomes a natural expression of the inner reality of Jesus and of his teachings.  Doing what he said and did increasingly becomes a part of who we are (italics added).[1]

In other words, as Jesus is formed in me (which I so desperately desire) then how He would act in my circumstances and situations becomes the natural expression of how I will act in those circumstances and situations.

For instance, in His Sermon on the Mount in phrases such as “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,” or “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you,” these are not as much commands that we must obey as much as they are descriptions of how we will act automatically when Jesus has been formed in us.

This is why I have become an apprentice of Jesus, which is another way to say I am a disciple of Jesus.  I am learning how to live my life as He would live it if He were I.  And that means I must be transformed – and I am being transformed.

This is exactly what Paul meant when he wrote, “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20).  As Dr. Willard precisely explained it,

We take action to accomplish the will of God in his power.  Our tiny “willpower” is not the source of our strength.  We hardly notice any exercise of it, though it is fully dedicated to carrying out God’s purposes in every respect.  But we are carried along by the power of the divine drama within which we live actively engaged.  So far from struggling to resist sin, we are devoted to realization of righteousness all around us.[2]

This is where those “spiritual disciplines” are becoming such an essential part of my life. Jesus spent 40 days after His baptism in the desert in solitude, fasting and prayer, and He frequently withdrew from everyone to pray, sometimes all night.  After his conversion, Paul spent three years in the desert of Arabia in solitude, silence, fasting and prayer (Gal. 1).  How can I possibly expect to live in obedience and submission to the will of the Father without doing the same things?

This is about “putting off the old man” and “putting on the new man” (Colossians 3).  It is about the transformation that comes by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2).  Here is the exciting fact!  I can put off the old man and put on the new!  My mind can be renewed!  My mind is being renewed!  I am being transformed!  All, entirely, by the grace of God as I cooperate with Him.

How I long for the day when I can bless those who curse me without having to think about it.  I so want to get there before I transition into heaven.

[1] p. 159
[2] p. 152

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


My heart was crushed this morning as my studies took me through the Gospel of John’s 18th and 19th chapters.

When Jesus is “handed over” for crucifixion, he is placed in the custody of the Roman garrison that ordinarily handled such matters.  Here Mark’s Gospel (15.15) introduces Jesus’ full preparation for crucifixion.  While Jesus had already been given a “remedial” flogging by Pilate’s men, now the soldiers inflict the verberatio (the most severe and brutal of three levels of flogging).[1]

"The delinquent was stripped, bound to a post or a pillar, or sometimes simply thrown on the ground, and beaten by a number of torturers until the latter grew tired and the flesh of the delinquent hung in bleeding shreds.  In the provinces this was the task of the soldiers.  Three kinds of implements were customary.  Rods were used on freemen; military punishments were inflicted with sticks, but for slaves scourges or whips were used, the leather thongs of these being often fitted with a spike or with several pieces of bone or lead joined to form a chain.  The scourging of Jesus was carried out with these last-named instruments.  It is not surprising to hear that delinquents frequently collapsed and died under this procedure which only in exceptional cases was prescribed as a death sentence.  Josephus records that he himself had some of his opponents in the Galilean Tarichae scourged until their entrails were visible.  The case of Jesus bar Hanan, the prophet of woe, whom the procurator Albinus had scourged until his bones lay bare . . . also makes one realize what the little word phragellosas [to scourge] in Mark 15:15 means."[2]

God knew in advance that Jesus would endure this incomprehensible pain and suffering, yet He gave His Son for me.  My friend Jesus knew in advance that He would suffer this excruciating beating, yet He still willingly gave himself for me.  What can I give Him?  Only this paltry, sin-disfigured gift: me.  Me - made incredibly valuable, priceless – by the sheer magnitude of the price He paid.

Oh, how He loves!  Oh, how He loves you and me!

[1] Dr. Gary M. Burge, The NIV Application Commentary – John, p. 508.
[2] J. Blinzler, Der Prozess Jesu, quoted by Dr. Gary Burge, pp. 508-509.