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Growing Each Day in Grace

February 28th, 2013

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 21:18-19

According to most scholars, John’s gospel was written last among the gospels, well into John’s old age. John, the youngest of the disciples, had developed from the firebrand he was in his youth (Jesus had called him and his brother James the “Sons of Thunder”) to the fatherly, gracious, and gentle “Apostle of Love.”

The other gospels were written by younger men, men who stood at the precipice of life, at those times in their lives when years of potential service stretched before them. They could, as Christ said of Peter, dress themselves and walk wherever they wanted - euphemistic language for the potential of self-determination. But by the time that John wrote his gospel, his youth had long since faded.

The Spirit brought to mind this conversation between Jesus, Peter, and, somewhat, himself. He seemed to be listening in, but in his old age it all came flooding back. His physical condition was weakened. The young man had become an old man, possibly by this time the last survivor of those original Twelve. He had seen others fade, had seen their lives of dedication, and saw the indignities of age descend upon their bodies. He had also witnessed the increase of their spiritual confidence, and as their body aged, for many, their spirits seemed to gain strength.

Peter’s earthly life had been snuffed out too soon by his martyrdom. The day came when he knew it was time for this prophecy to be fulfilled and he willingly submitted himself to his own martyrdom. Other took him to where he did not want to go and stretched his hand forth upon a different cross and crucified him. According to tradition, Peter refused to be crucified right side up, as his Lord was, and requested to be placed upside down, which his persecutors were willing to do.

But then John’s life had a different ending. He served for many years longer than the others, was imprisoned for several of those on the Isle of Patmos, but did not die until he was an old, old man. He saw the things that all older people will see - the rise of younger people, the loss of freedom of movement, and the waning influence in the affairs of his day. I am sure that he rejoiced in the spread of the faith, in the rising to prominence young and dedicated Christ-followers.

Yet this conversation between Jesus and Peter seems to be placed in the gospel to remind us all of our role, if God allows us to live so long. Self-determination will fade for us all. The time will come when we will be unable to even dress ourselves or go where we want to go. Others will need to care for us. Perhaps it was in reflection of such realities that John changed, that the firebrand in him died. It is probable that Paul was in heaven for a full generation before the Spirit inspired John to write anything we have in our Bibles, and in that time John learned more about trust and love and gentleness.

The goal of all of life, of every stage and season, can be summed up in the words of Christ, “Come, follow Me.” Jesus of Nazareth never lived to be very old, but He is still the Lord to follow all of our days. A gentleness of spirit should grow in us as we age. Kindness and forgiveness should flow from our hearts. Left to nature’s course alone, we will become more grumpy, impatient, and perhaps angry. But if through the Spirit we may put to death the misdeeds of the body we will find, I believe, a continual growth in grace.

Our task as followers of Christ is to greet each day surrendered to Him, to let His love dwell within us and to shine through us, and to follow His leading to where He wants us to go. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer man is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).

Lenten Devotionals (Fastenzeit) , , , , , ,

The Way Back to Him

February 27th, 2013

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!

Psalm 80:7

The name “God of Hosts” is found just nine times in the Bible. However, its corollary, “LORD of Hosts” is found over 240 times. In the Hebrew it is “Lord Sabaoth” and it emphasizes the truth that God is the commander of a vast spiritual army. Whenever the people of God have drifted into compromised lifestyles, it was important for them to remember who their God is.

In this heart felt petition found in Psalm 80, the writer Asaph prays for the revival of faith among the people of Israel. They had been saved from Egyptian slavery, brought into the land of Israel and planted there, like a vine. God had prospered them, but then in their prosperity they had forgotten Him. Their hearts filled with pride, which led to their demise and destruction. They had forgotten their God, but their God had not forgotten them.

Whenever God’s people take His blessings for granted, whenever His kindness and mercy are abused, their hearts are hard to be turned back to Him. We may always return to God, provided we know the way, but the abuse of grace seems to erase the trail for us. We have thoughts of returning, but then an evil thought is inserted into our thinking, that we can just say, “Sorry, Lord,” and then go right back to living with compromised lives again.

The Lord of Hosts is powerful and great angels bow before Him in utter submission. We humans are made lower than the angels yet we are less wise and in our pride try to sneak into the tent of meeting for just a taste of spiritual food, but then we use the strength it provides for our own selfish wills. We need to remember who God is. He is the Lord of Hosts, and “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29).

This name “LORD of Hosts” was used by Hannah as she cried out to God for a son, whom she could dedicate to Him (1 Sam 1:11). Her faith stood in sharp contrast to the compromised living of Eli’s sons who also “served” in the temple. (A pastor is well-warned that this can happen in church also, that the devotion of some people may excel his own!) “Familiarity breeds contempt” (”Allzu grosse Vertrautheit erzeugt Verachtung”) and we do well to remember Who Christ is. He is the Lord of a vast spiritual army!

He does not wage war like the world does. His weapons are of light, not of darkness, they are of grace and kindness, not of cruelty and meanness. He may, of course, use all unpleasant things in our lives to turn us back to Himself (Rom 8:28-29), but He promises the day will come when He will wipe away all tears from our eyes. He delights to bless His children.

If you have forgotten who the Lord is, if you have taken His salvation and His blessings for granted, if you cannot seem to find the way back to Him, then bow before Him now as best as you can in your heart as the Lord of Hosts, as the Consuming Fire, as the Lord of Lords, and in humility you will hear the loving and kind voice of God calling you back, cleansing you from sin, restoring you to faith, and calling you to know His heart and His love afresh.

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