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Rejoice with Singing

Last night I had the opportunity to sit around with my family sharing memories. We’d had a fun day wakeboarding and inner tubing at the lake so we were very comfortable with one another. It didn’t take long before the conversation turned to telling stories. We talked about how one of our sons used to throw things up on the roof of the church just so he could get permission to climb up to get it down. He had figured out a pretty smooth and safe way to get up on top of the building and he loved to climb so he came up with as many imaginative ways as possible to “help out” his friends by retrieving their stuff. As he recounted his best monkey moments, we all laughed. We then told stories about another son who decided to run hurdles during his freshman year in high school. As he told the story of his first race where he looked like a bunny rabbit hopping over hurdles, we laughed again. It was definitely one of the highlights of my week.
I wonder if this is partly what Jesus was referring to in John 15:11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” The thought has been on mind for a little while because I came across a verse about four weeks ago that I don’t remember seeing before. It is in Zephaniah 3:17. It is part of the description of what it will be like during the Millennial Kingdom (The 1000 year reign of Christ that will follow the 7 year tribulation period where Jesus will be running the government and we will serve with Him). We know this is a great time of joy for us because we have perfected bodies that no longer suffer the effects of death. The government is perfectly run and there are no evil influences on earth. It is a good time for us and those who are still living on earth building careers and raising families. There is a lot of joy among the people because life is how it ought to be.
It doesn’t stop there, however. The joy is multiplied because the Messiah joins in the celebration. Zephaniah states, “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Not only do we celebrate over all that He has done for us but He sings over us! The work is accomplished. We have reached our potential. We no longer need to be rebuked, corrected, disciplined or trained. The work is truly finished and we are now operating at full capacity. He apparently is so glad to have us with Him and to see us in our completed state that He rejoices with us. Like a parent celebrates his child or a grandparent delights in his grandchild, His joy will be in us!
Now that is a thought I can carry with me all day.

Questions that Change our Lives

He never saw it coming. It appeared without fanfare and it was the last thing he ever expected to hear from the one he had committed to support wholeheartedly and had disappointed so deeply. It was agonizing to hear but it ended up being the question that changed his life.
Simon Peter was ashamed of himself because he couldn’t live out the commitment he had spoken with complete sincerity, “I will lay down my life for you.” (John 13:37) He meant the words but he didn’t grasp the scope of his statement or the personal power it would take to actually live it out. When it came time to prove his resolve, he failed miserably. Three times during the arrest of Jesus, Peter was given an opportunity to identify himself as one of the Savior’s followers. Three times he denied he even knew his master. (John 18:17; 25-26)
We have all been there. We have made commitments only to discover we lacked the personal resources to follow through. We have made sincere statements of devotion but have fallen short on the execution of the plan. We have made wholehearted pronouncements of our intentions and then agonized over our failure to live them out. It is hard to describe the humiliation that arises in the human heart at times like these. We are embarrassed by our own inadequacies and wonder if we would want to be friends with ourselves. We are stunned by our weakness and speculate whether we have what it takes to succeed in life. We are deeply humbled and hesitate when we are presented with new opportunities for fear we will have a repeat performance. At the same time, we long to get back in the game and do something significant with our years on earth.
This is the experience of Peter in John 21. He is thrilled that Jesus invited him to breakfast and cautiously optimistic that Jesus will still accept him. “When they had finished eating,” Jesus unexpectedly asked, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’”  (v. 15) There was no introduction or explanation of why Jesus presented this question to Peter. Things were very casual right up to the moment when Jesus pierced Peter’s heart with His verbal probe.
Peter quickly answered, “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” (v. 15)
Jesus simply said, “Feed my lambs.”
Peter probably would have been comfortable if Jesus left it at that but again Jesus asked, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” (v. 16)
Not letting the issue drop, Jesus asked him a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” (v. 17)
At this point Peter is realizing this is not a casual question. The Savior is prying into his heart to set Peter free from his self-conscious hesitation. He is counteracting the effects of the darkest moment of Peter’s life and leading him to the point of restoration that will equip him to contribute to the growth of other people. He is transforming Peter’s biggest mistake into a platform of grace. Peter can feel he is being probed because he “was hurt.” Peter was hoping to ignore the shame while Jesus was bringing it to the surface so it could be dealt with and healed.
In desperation, Peter pleaded with Jesus, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus simply replied, “Feed my sheep.” (v. 17) Three times Peter denied Jesus. Three times Jesus commissioned him to shepherd God’s own people. And it all started with a question.
Sometime soon we will each be presented with a question in the midst of a casual setting that begins the process of change in our lives. I am not sure what your question will be but I do know that Jesus wants to transform the painful experiences of your life into a platform of grace that will help other people.

Simple Miracles

We often miss the good things God is doing in our lives because they are so normal we fail to see them. I drove home last night from a meeting without incident. It took about 40 minutes and I usually take it for granted that I am going to get from point A to point B, even though I know there are other people driving who probably shouldn’t. Some of them have been drinking. Some of them are drowsy. Some of them are just bad drivers who have reckless habits and don’t pay attention well. I easily forget that it is a divine gift to travel on the road safely.
On Easter Sunday this year, I was visiting my son’s church in Phoenix, Arizona. There were approximately 1500 people in the service and from what I could tell I didn’t know any of them, except for the members of my family and my daughter-in-law’s family. As we were walking out, I needed to use the restroom but I couldn’t tell where the men’s room was. I decided to stop a young man who was walking in front of me and ask. “Excuse me,” I said, “Do you attend church here regularly?”
He turned to face me and said, “No,” but then he froze and just stared at me. In astonishment he asked, “Aren’t you that Promise Keepers guy? Didn’t you speak at a conference in Lethbridge this past spring? My dad is a pastor up there and I attended that conference!”
I was now stunned because Lethbridge is way up north in Canada and I was way down south in Arizona. We had a great little conversation about how faithful God is and how connected the body of Christ really is. I was also profoundly reminded that every day of my life counts because I never know who I am going to meet next. It was a fun, but very normal, display of God’s ability.
The disciples were energized by a simple miracle in John 21. It was after the resurrection and they didn’t really know what to do with themselves. There was no manual on how to live after your rabbi had been crucified and then raised from the dead. In the absence of clear directions, a number of them decided to go back to what they knew–fishing. As they were returning from an ineffective night, they encountered Jesus in a succession of ordinary activities that could only be described as miraculous. Notice all the “normal” things Jesus did:

  • He called out to them from the shore, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you
    will find some.” (v. 6)
  • When the disciples reached the shore, they found Jesus cooking fish on an open fire. (v. 9)
  • Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” (v. 10)
  • Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” (v. 11)
  • After preparing breakfast, “Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.” (v. 13)

There is nothing uncommon about any one of these behaviors. They are all things we might say or do with our friends. But the context and the collection of events had an astonishing effect on Peter and the other disciples. So much so that “none of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.” (v. 12)
As I travel on the journey of my life this week, I am going to keep my eyes open for the simple, ordinary miracles.