Death, the Path to Life

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

Picture this: You and a couple of your closest friends are on a journey together. I mean these are close friends. In fact you’ve pretty much spent all of the last three years with them in one long adventure. One of these friends, the leader and mentor to all, opens up and tells you he’s about to be captured, that he will endure tremendous suffering and eventually be killed.

What would your reaction be? I’d imagine you would object and assure your leader that as long as you have something to say about it, this wouldn’t happen. Maybe you resolve to fight for your friend. After all, having the man you look up to suffer and be taken away from you is not acceptable. It’s not the way life’s supposed to work. Right?

Bringing this story home, see yourself as Peter in the following scene:

First Jesus asks you, “But who do you say that I am?”  And you say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

At your response, Jesus blesses you and tells you that God has revealed this to you. He tells you that upon the truth of your saying his church will be built and that the gates of Hades will not overpower it. On top of that, he gives you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the ability to handcuff or bind the activities of Satan and release or loose those held captive.

About now you’re feeling pretty good. But then Jesus begins to talk to you all about  his  pending suffering and death.

This rocks your world and you argue, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall not happen to you.”[1]

Jesus’ response is stark and jolting,  “Get behind Me Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”[2]

Jesus was talking to Peter, but he spoke to Satan, exposing his desire to keep us thinking about our own welfare.

So evidently Satan’s strategy is deeper than just getting us to do evil deeds. All he really has to do is keep us thinking about what’s best for us. What he doesn’t want is for us to think about God.

If we focus only on our desires for comfort, smooth circumstances, and a life free of pain, we’re not free to seek God’s desire for our lives.

Days later, it would happen to Peter again. Mindful of his own safety, he would deny even knowing his Lord on the day of his crucifixion.

But Peter would eventually get it.  See what he wrote decades later concerning our life in Christ,  In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;  and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” I Peter 1:6-9

What changed Peter?

Only a few verses after Jesus let Peter know he was speaking the words of Satan, he said  “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses His life for my sake will find it.”[3]

After Peter’s encounter with the Risen Lord, the above words would guide his life. History tells us he was crucified upside down for his faith, not considering himself worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.

“Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”[4]

 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.[5]

The path of following Jesus is the path of dying to what we want and embracing what Jesus wants for us.

Challenge: In what ways are you embracing the ‘things of man’? It could be an obvious besetting sin, or more subtle sins of living only for comfort and ease of circumstances.

Bring these things to the cross of Christ where Jesus died for you and all that needs to die in you. Out of each death to self, you will experience his life.

Lord, may we respond as Peter with great rejoicing and joy inexpressible and full of glory to your work in our lives, knowing your purposes are for our ultimate good. Teach us to die to what we want and live our lives fully mindful of what you want. Amen

[1] Matthew 16:15-22 (NASB unless otherwise noted)

[2] Matthew 16:23 NKJV

[3] Matthew 16:24-25

[4] Romans 6:11

[5] Galatians 2:20

Stay Present my Friends

And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?  My hope is in you. Psalm  39:7

“What do you think?” a voice interrupts your thoughts.

Suddenly you’re brought back to the present. Your spouse, your child, your friend has been sharing something important, but you were thinking about what was next on your never ending to-do list. You have no idea what they just said.  Busted!

On another occasion you miss a magical moment on your family vacation because you’re dwelling on a regret from your past.

God has given us five sense to bring awareness of His creation around us.  These senses are available now, not yesterday, not tomorrow,  but now.

What are some of your favorites when it comes to your senses?

For me:

Sight:  Sunset or sunrise over water or mountains

Sound:  Water rushing past rocks in a mountain stream

Smell:  Tea olive, gardenias

Touch:  Sea breeze, fall wind in my face, soft sheets

Taste:  Chocolate pie, dark coffee

When we savor now, we’re enjoying  a gift from God. A lady on a plane once told me that’s why now is called the present.

There’s an old movie entitled “Our Town” which drives this point home.

One of the characters named, Emily, dies while giving birth to a child. However, she is permitted by the stage manager to revisit the past and to step back into the morning of her twentieth birthday as an observer.

From her vantage point, she has a profoundly nostalgic appreciation of the transient beauty of life’s little moments. However, she is struck by how the people, including her younger self, don’t have a clue how precious the moments of life really are. She is stunned that nobody savors and fully appreciates “now”. They all seem so disengaged. Later she would say of the living, “They don’t understand.”

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,”[1] Paul

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”[2] Jesus

God doesn’t want us to be imprisoned by the regrets of our past nor fears of our future. He wants us to be present with Him moment by moment.

Jesus tells us in John 15 to “abide” in Him. Other meanings of this word are to “tarry” or “stay present with.” Jesus goes on to say in the same chapter that there is complete joy found in “staying present” in His love and loving others as He has loved us.

Staying present with Jesus is essential to our Spiritual lives and it leads to experiencing and savoring life’s moments. Otherwise, life quickly passes us by.

Challenge:  Take notice of what you see and hear right this moment. Do you smell anything? Perhaps you’re drinking a cup of coffee and feel a gentle breeze upon your face like I’m experiencing as I write.

What tends to call you away from being fully present? Is it a looming duty, a past regret, a worry about the future? Whatever it is robs you of fully embracing the gift of now. Give these things to God and don’t take them back.

The people in our lives are loved and cared for during life’s “nows”. In an instant our present moments become memories. When we savor our times with the people God places in our path there’s a richness which touches our hearts and slows the swirl of life.

But what’s most important is being present with God. We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of Jesus and we are never alone. God is in us and around us. We are in Him and He is in us.

Tarry, remain, abide in Jesus. His presence is experienced now.

In your presence is fullness of joy. Psalm 16:11 b

 

[1] Philippians 3:13

[2] Matthew 6:34