I want to share with you a story which at one point in my life, when I heard it, really turned on the lights for me and gave me a deeper understanding for what gospel transformation looks like. It was a story from a woman who had gone to a Christian conference called “Sonship,” (for both genders!) which is one of my favorite studies. It was started by one of my favorite heroes of the faith, Jack Miller (C. John Miller), a Presbyterian pastor, author, missionary, and seminary professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, in Philadelphia.
The story of this lady’s experience, now included in the Sonship materials, reveals that Christianity has to be more than just a “head-knowledge” thing. It has to change us internally and take root deep down or it is possibly not the real article. Until grace starts to deal with things deep down in us, it is possible that we are just being “religious” and do not truly know God, personally, as He truly is.
The following is what she shared at the conference:
“The Holy Spirit really dealt with my husband and me at the Sonship week conference in answer to many prayers. I am seeing that as good as theology and teaching techniques are, it is the Holy spirit alone who changes my heart. He tears down the idols and pride and replants the simplicity of faith in Christ. I realized that my greatest sin was unbelief and so lightly esteeming all God has given me in Christ.
“One day when I was very young, I saw my older sister hanging up my father’s white business shirts on the clothesline to dry. I was suddenly filled with the urge to hang up one of my daddy’s white shirts. He was my daddy too, and I was his daughter; I loved him in my childlike way and wanted to express it. I couldn’t reach the clothesline. It was too high, but I saw a wheel barrow in the yard and its handles were just the right height for me. I didn't notice how rusty it was and I rather joyfully clothes-pinned the wet shirt to the handles.
“When my dad got home and saw the shirt on the wheelbarrow, he became very angry with me and punished me severely for ruining his shirt. I had not realized, the impact that event and others like it had made on me. However, as I was repeatedly convicted during the Sonship conference for not believing God concerning his delight in me and in the gracious nature of my relationship with him, this memory returned to me. Now, you cannot hardly get through 24 hours of a Sonship conference without realizing that your own heart is as murderous as anyone else’s, so I wasn’t primarily focusing on only being the innocent victim of my father’s cruel anger.
“As I remembered these scenes from the past, I saw that through the years I had not been believing that my Father in heaven was any different than my earthly father. I had not been listening when he described himself. In short, I hadn’t been believing the gospel, that by faith in Christ and his perfect atoning sacrifice, he now loves me, and is forever for me and delighted in me. In Christ, he has made me beautiful and pleasing to him forever.
“So the next morning I told our counselor that I thought I was beginning to understand. I told him the memory and said that I guess if the Father saw me standing next to the wheelbarrow with the ruined shirt on it, he would forget the shirt and hug me. “You still don’t understand fully,” Jeff said. “God would not overlook the shirt, but take it, put it on, and wear it to work. And when someone commented on the rust marks, he would say, ‘Let me tell you about my little girl and how much she loves me!’” I was overwhelmed with that realization.
“I am beginning to realize that my Christian life has been a continual effort to earn God’s pleasure by “getting the shirts hung up right.” God would answer if my prayer was right. God would smile upon me if my theology was correct. And since I knew how I had failed day by day in my works, I sort of snuck them up on the line and tried to be away when God got home, so to speak. Someone at the conference said something that seems to apply here. He said, “God will not despise the tainted love-gifts of the sinner who looks to Jesus.” My entire Christian life had been oppressive. I did not know how to live, day by day, without an overwhelming sense of failure to perform up to what I thought God demanded. With that came a sense of God being disappointed and even disgusted with me.
“How overpowering it is now to realize that because of Christ, I can experience a daily freedom to move out into people’s lives. I can love others. I can obey God with my heart because I don’t fear that he will be furious with me if I “get the shirt a bit rusty.” There is a freedom to love that I have not known since the moments before my father got home that day long ago.”
Prayer: Lord, search me. Help me to let your gospel dig deeper into my heart and transform possibly deep patterns that I’m not even aware need to be changed. Amen.
1 One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. 2 He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. 3 Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”
5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn't catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” 6 And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! 7 A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.
8 When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” 9 For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed. Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.
RM: Not all of the twelve Apostles were fishermen by trade before Jesus called them, but many of them were.
But the impact that Jesus made on them was so radical and profound that it caused them to be willing to leave everything in their lives and follow him. What was it about Jesus that could make them be willing to leave everything and follow him?
I want to answer three questions about the disciples following him. Where? How? & Why?
Where did they follow him? Jesus used their vocation as symbolism for where he was going. He said, “from now on, your mission will not be catching fish, but catching people. The Mission of the church … is to catch people.
What this means is that it’s not unchurched people’s responsibility to come to us. It’s our responsibility to go to them. The disciples were not allowed to stay on the comfortable shore. Jesus made them go out. The fish were not going to jump up onto the shore. The disciples had to go get them. And that is where the church must go.
God is calling us to be a church “not for ourselves.” That is what this passage is about. We call it the Great Commission. Reaching the lost, as Jesus put it, needs to be at the center of our church. If we want to follow Jesus, that is where he’s going. The mission of the church is catching people.
The next question is, How? How do we catch people? First, we catch people by realizing that it’s actually only Jesus that catches people. The disciples realized that they didn’t ultimately catch the fish. Jesus did. They couldn’t have done it without his miracle. And neither can we. We don’t have the power to catch people. God might use our words and efforts in someone’s journey, but it’s only Jesus that makes it work. It’s always literally a miracle when anyone becomes a Christian. Only Jesus can bring a person to believe in him and follow him.
Secondly, Jesus does, however, call us to cast our nets. He calls us both as individuals and as a church.
As individuals, the New Testament teaches so much about the importance of practicing intentional hospitality for those who don’t yet believe, courageously and creatively making safe places in your life for people who don’t yet believe, reaching out to an unchurched acquaintance, not to invite them into your church since that might scare them, but just inviting them into your life, starting a friendship, intentionally, to just serve them and get to know them. What would it look like for us to practice intentional hospitality to a non-churched neighbor?
God also calls us to cast our nets, as a church. At each of our denomination’s (ECO) national gatherings, almost every message they give is encouraging us to adapt every space in our church, every ministry, to make every part of our church be an attractive and safe place for unchurched people to come and feel welcome and make sense of things, for them to be welcome as they consider the message, even though they may not yet believe.
In 1st Corinthians 14:23, St. Paul teaches us that the church as a whole, even in the way that we worship, needs to be adapted intentionally for the “outsider” (it says), so that he or she can relate with it, and make sense of things here.
That’s how we cast nets and catch people! As a Church and as individuals, the Bible is teaching us to adapt ourselves to reach out to unchurched people.
The last question is, Why? Why would we be willing to do this? We are never going to be willing to do something so radical as leave everything and follow Jesus to catch people, until we find our real happiness no longer in our comfortable, suburban lives, living for our routines and our own families. We won’t be willing to follow Jesus into Mission, not authentically, until we find our deepest fundamental happiness in Him.
In verse 8, when Peter realizes that Jesus is God, from his performing a miracle, Peter felt profound shame at first. He said, “Go away from me! for I am a sinful man!” (i.e. “I’ve been living for things other than God. I’ve been living for myself!”) He felt guilty. And what was Jesus’ response? “Don’t be afraid! I’m not going to condemn you. I’m going to forgive you and love you! Not only am I going to cover your shame, I’m even going to make you my partner! ...to do Mission together!”
Peter (and the others) found their happiness, their security, their identity and meaning, in a new relationship with this gracious God who dies to be with us.
When we find our deepest happiness and identity in Jesus, that’s what makes us willing to let go of our lives, and follow him with our whole life and help him catch people! …to cut back on our comfortable lives and routines and scale back, so that we can carve out time for hospitality, and even be willing to readjust our church to be geared for people who don’t yet believe. Jesus’ loving grace is the reason that we would follow Jesus into his Mission…the mission of catching people.
Prayer: Jesus, I want to be totally open and honest before you. You know that I really prefer to live a comfortable life that serves me most. But show me what the disciples saw in you. As John Donne says, “Ravish me!” Let me see your beauty, your acceptance of me, the joy and adventure of knowing you, so that it will motivate me to live for you, from here on. And let me and all of us at Grace Presbyterian Church get courageous in our desire to live a life in mission with you. Let us even get risky in our endeavor to catch people. Amen.
Today's Gospel passage is Luke 6:13: "At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles. Here are their names..."
RM: It was not until I learned to see the Covenant view of the Old Testament and the Covenant of Grace as the interpretive key to understand how the new is the fulfillment of the old, and with that then how to interpret the book of Revelation. And in the pictures you get in Revelation, if you understand it in the Amillennial way, the Reformed theological, Covenantal way, that's when you can appreciate the meaning of it in this way, and when you see the symmetry involved of having 12 representatives of people before Christ comes and then 12 continuing representatives of God's people after Christ comes. ...24 in all, which represents the totality of the fullness of the 12 before and the fullness of the 12 after which is the one full and complete story of Redemption.
That being the case, you have here in this recording of this setting and point in history, standing around without much awareness of their significance, 12 unsuspecting individuals who have just been chosen by this mysterious character, not realizing that they are indeed the twelve pillars upon which the rest of human history shall be represented, just as you had the 12 sons of Jacob before.
That's exciting because what it means is that Jesus very fully and totally understood the significance of the number of 12, that these 12 chosen by him were the symbolic 12 pillars and 12 representatives, of all of God's people from this point on until the end of time. Surely at this point they would not have understood the total significance of all that they were representing, in being 12 in number. They could not have fully appreciated that they were the fulfillment of the final age of God's people and the continuation of ALL that Israel was in the past and even more. That they were the headway and beginning of the last and greatest manifestation of Israel, the continuing Israel in the New Covenant era.
How exciting it could be if we could time travel back to this point knowing what we know now and could have been there with them, knowing the excitement and honor just bestowed on them, that they were the ones replacing the 12 tribes of Israel to become the new 12 tribes of Israel continuing in a more fulfilled, simpler version but a more final and universal version of Israel. How excited they would have been if only they could have known!
Psalm 97:7 says, “All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods!”
RM: Why does the Psalmist here tell the “gods” to worship God? Isn’t there only one God? Isn’t the Bible a monotheistic religion? What does he mean by gods? The Psalmist seems to be slightly ambiguous, in not clarifying whether he’s referring to angelic beings in whom there shines forth some small portion of divinity and who all rightly worship God even though they are themselves so majestic and powerful, or whether he’s referring to the fictitious false gods which we form in our hearts. It is as if he’s saying, whatever objects and hopes that we adore or hold as a god must quit their place and renounce their claims, that God alone may be exalted.
The author is drawing our minds to imagine the exalted worship which all the powerful angelic beings in heaven are giving directly and exclusively to God, as a way to highlight the point that only God deserves to be worshipped. This point is made right after it gives us a huge challenge, of turning anyway from our idols and not giving in to our tendency which is to find our happiness in things other than God.
After the fall of Adam, humanity’s basic orientation changed from naturally desiring God as preeminent to instead have the tendency to satisfy our deepest longings, not with the personal fellowship, love, and adoration of our Creator, but instead with ANY picture of the good life from this world we tend to think will give us the deep longing and satisfaction for which our souls are longing.
In my experience, both with myself and with others, I have come to realize that for us to “make our boast in worthless idols,” as this verse puts it, is the most natural and constant impulse of the human soul, whether we be believer or nonbeliever. Although as believers, by the aid of the Holy Spirit giving us the eyes to see it, we can now see this tendency of ours in action, it is nevertheless pulling us into it at all times, even in the believer.
Because of the fall, we are now so bent that we would prefer to find happiness from any situation that we believe can give us the blessings of this world, rather than from merely knowing and delighting ourselves in the personal presence of God himself.
This is why we are supposed to fight our souls regularly to keep letting go of these specific desires which we convince ourselves we desperately need, which are different for different people. Each person’s idol is specifically any reigning drive that happens to take hold in each person’s heart at any given moment. And God calls us regularly, daily, to kill these idols, and to replace our idol of the moment with the alternative belief, that to have only God as our possession, right now, would be the most satisfying of all possessions....even practically speaking, right now in this moment.
This is what this verse means and what our God is calling all human creatures to practice and fight in themselves, moment by moment in our lives, that we might keep turning away from the specific things to which our hearts keep wanting to turn, and in which we keep placing our trust.
We thank God for his grace, who relentlessly keeps forgiving us and letting us come back to him, “free of charge,” because of the finished work of Christ on our behalf.
Let’s all take the time, in prayer, to do this today, and every day. Amen.
Pastor Rusty Mosley
RM: As a “good” Presbyterian, I have to admit that I do occasionally enjoy a good beer....to the glory of God. Out of love for my Savior I make sure to never abuse alcohol and I try not to drink insensitively in front of a “weaker brother,” but the truth is I really do enjoy a good, dark, rich tasting beer every now and then....to the glory of God!
I remember when I turned 21 years old and I could first get into a bar. I remember the serious feeling of showing your I.D. to the door guy, and even standing up a little straighter as I confidently presented it!
God must not be too far from this protocol, because if you observe this passage, in Matthew 22:8-14 it says,
“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
A valid driver’s license to get into heaven is surely not what’s in view here, but apparently.....wearing some necessary wedding garment is! It certainly was for this unfortunate and negligent guest! What is this special clothing which is so important? And is this important item still available somewhere, so that I can get one?! The Bible teaches that we need a “robe of righteousness.” This wedding garment is a metaphorical way of illustrating Jesus’ substitutionary performance of his own obedience and death, which “covers” us.
It makes you think of Rev 6:11, a very symbolic picture of the souls of believers in heaven who are given white robes to wear, symbolizing the clean absence of any stain of moral guilt which covers and secures us. It makes you think of Adam and Eve in the garden, so sadly trying to self-justify their own moral guilt and cover their resulting naked shame with sad little fig leaves. And how God responded so mercifully and graciously by providing coverings for their shame, a seedling promise of the Lamb to come, by sacrificing an animal to cover them with skins. Or you can think of Isaiah 61:10 which says, “I am overwhelmed with joy in the LORD my God! For he has dressed me in a robe of righteousness.”
This is the symbolism and meaning behind this garment, which one needs to “wear” in the King’s presence and banquet. The Bible teaches that Jesus came to this earth in order to earn and finish our obligation to obey God and also to pay our debt of not doing so, as a free gift. In doing this he has won us as his celebrated bride, the Church. A gift we receive merely by reaching out and accepting it by faith, before Him and His people.
This is apparently something that we ought to value above other things, with it’s naturally produced effect of having a desire to love and obey God, though not always perfect, and with a joy naturally produced in one’s heart when truly received.
And Jesus’ point with this parable, is that this act of faith, of receiving God’s free gift of covering forgiveness, should not just be a meaningless addition tacked on to some religious compartment of our otherwise busy and contented life. It’s apparently supposed to be each person’s grand celebration. The proof that we’ve freely received this gift of Jesus’ shame covering “wedding garment,” is if we have a deep awareness and recurring joy produced by relishing our admittance and inclusion into this party and gathering.
In fact, there’s a very somber note here. In this parable, Jesus is actually warning us....begging us to take seriously.... that our obligation to accept this gift is no small matter. For those who miss it or over look it, he warns that it will be a matter of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
So then, together, let’s make sure that we answer Jesus’ “last call” and receive this free gift of being covered by him with our very own wedding garment, by faith....with gladness.... entering this banquet confidently and joyfully, where all the drinks are on Jesus....to the glory of God! Amen.
Pastor Rusty Mosley
RM: Do you remember as a kid playing the game, Simon Says? It was always fun but a little frustrating. Remember it? "Simon says,.....'touch your nose!' ...now.....rub your stomach!" It was really fun to try to remember, but it was also a little frustrating. How about Red Light, Green Light? ".....Stop!.........Go..Stop!...." They were fun games where someone randomly led you along.
I think these games might feel a little bit like what God's providence sometimes feels like. It often seems like God is either random in his guiding of our lives or that he's having to work around circumstances outside of his control to which He is having to yield, to some degree.
Recently I was reading the daily lectionary, in the O.T. passage, Numbers 9:15-23. In it the children of Israel are wandering around the desert of Sinai. In this part of the story, God appears to set the duration of how long their camp would stay in a given place in a totally random way. Sometimes it would be for a couple of days, sometimes a couple of months, and sometimes a couple of years. And still sometimes it would be just over night, and without any explanation as to why. Could they possibly have gotten a little frustrated?
Why lead them this way? Was God being random? Was God being controlled by outside circumstances? In many verses of the Bible it assures us that this is not the case. In Matthew 10:29, Jesus said not a single sparrow falls to the ground outside of your Father's will. Proverbs 16:33 assures us that "we may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall." (NLT) So then, why this seemingly random divine game of stop and go in the desert? Is God really just playing Simon Says?! It seems like it.
One thing you realize as you read the passage and imagine this divine training operation, practically speaking, is that it definitely would help to train a group of people to loosen the natural tendency, which all of us have, which innately resists following another person's lead (which the Bible teaches is at the root of our fallen, corrupted nature). Imagine if you had been there in this random exercise of unpredictable stop and go. Surely it would have at least helped you to get into more of a life habit and routine of letting God lead, knowing you could pick up and go at any time.
Perhaps that's the point. ...to let God lead and to realize that the Sovereign God really is in control of all things, even though He has chosen to set up the world in a way that looks like things run either randomly or on their own.
The Bible acknowledges that God has clearly set up the world to run by cause and effect (which the Protestant Reformers called "second causes"). And yet, He also asks us to trust that He, at the same time, is the "First Cause" behind all things at all times. So then, we're supposed to believe that there is a first cause....and there are second causes...and that there is no difficulty in this, from God's point of view. God is free to work with or above or even against his second causes. And, not only does this not harm the reality of second causes, it actually establishes them. As Colossians 1:17 says, Christ "holds all creation together."
This is what God is asking us to believe. And this community exercise here in Numbers 9, of seemingly random stop and go, was training them and preparing them to live out the life habit of following, yielding, and submitting to God....in total, willing, and loving trust.
And God has not changed. He still wants us to practice a life of surrender to him, though indeed in a world that looks like it's out of his control. He wants us to trustingly follow him.....even in circumstances which look like they are being guided either by bad luck, or bad people, or both. God is asking us to trust that He is always the First Cause behind all circumstances.
And if He is, which the resurrected Christ assured us that he is, then it means that choosing to follow him and trust him, no matter what, ....is the wisest of all moves.
Pastor Rusty Mosley
RM: This past month, in the daily lectionary readings, it took me through the Old Testament prophet, Micah. And as I read and reflected on it, I got a few reflections that I wanted to share with you. I think it's important for people today who are studying this and other Old Testament books to consider that God intends for us to hear these truths and consider their applicability, even for today, though they were written so long ago, 800 B.C. Paul tells us in the New Testament that the Old was “written for us.” And, I’m suggesting that Micah is perfectly relevant for you and me, right now.
I feel like a lot of Christians today read an Old Testament book like this and feel honestly that it was written in such a different time and maybe even that this God speaking was some primitive view of the much nicer, more modernized God of the New Testament, or that maybe his responses to them were appropriate for that time because they were dealing with such different matters and had different dynamics relevant to their circumstances and lives.
However, I want to suggest that our circumstances and dynamics today for the individual Christian, and how we are to live our lives, couldn't be more similar, and therefore that what we hear (the same) God saying, even in his tone and emphasis, is exactly what our New Testament, modernized ears need to hear today, through this book of Micah.
God gives two main messages through this prophet: Judgment and Forgiveness. But we need to understand that even His judgment for his people, the true believers that would have been first hearing this prophet (like good king Hezekiah), is actually loving discipline, a "severe mercy" some call it, which always serves to make us even more faithful and beautiful in the strength we gain through his fatherly discipline of us. And I submit to you that believers of our modern day need the same courageous love of our God, fearlessly pursuing us, gently but occasionally painfully, in order to make us more aware of our blind spots, our true hearts and pursuits, to keep working into us that which is so vital and yet can be so underdeveloped, which is a deeper trust and love and abandonment for God.
And what scares me, in our day of severe political correctness, is that we have attained a low threshold of tolerance toward a more robust spirituality like this and toward a stronger Fatherly view of God like this. We can be tempted to feel now like the only credible version of God that we should listen to is a wimpy expression of Christianity, which is then less effective in really causing lasting, needed change, digging deeper inside of us, calling us to more honesty, and instead results in less transformation. ...as Micah is calling us to in his letter.
We should not be offended by the God who tries to speak to us today through Micah. We should listen, trusting in his tenderness and in his willingness to go to the Cross for us. ...and trusting that God's correction is wonderfully going to lead to more growth, liberation, and joy. It's just so easy to be blind and unaware of how desperately we might still need a much deeper and much stronger trust and love for Him. Our God is a strong and tender Dad, not imperfect like our earthly versions, but perfectly loving, always sacrificing himself in his fatherly pursuit of our growth and ministry. He intends to find a way to get maturity and joy into his true children. Father help us. We trust you!
So, if you haven’t read Micah in a while, I recommend it and beg you to trust as you read, that this is the true God, speaking to you, his true child of today. And that he says it, in his perfect and beautiful love for you.
Your servant and friend,
Today's Old Testament daily lectionary reading is Numbers 13:27-31:
This was their report to Moses: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak!
. . . But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!” But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!”
See also. . .
Matthew 19:11 - “Not everyone can accept this statement,” Jesus said. “Only those whom God helps."
RM: This Old Testament verse is interestingly coupled with Matthew 19:11 on the Daily Lectionary, where Jesus points out that Spiritual realities (such as this crazy idea of simply embracing a confident certainty and trust which would say something like, .... "of course God will supernaturally take care of all of our impossible obstacles and dangers for us! Of course!! ...easily!" ) simply can't be understood, nor lived out, by people who don't have the holy Spirit giving them the ability to come awake to and see and think like people whom God makes spiritually awake, which would then naturally give them the eyes to see and therefore have the motivation and courage to live a God trusting kind of life.
That's why natural humans do not have the ability to accept God's things and ideas (as the people in this passage couldn't fathom going into a land with giants). Unless God helps us by supernaturally opening the heart and eyes, we CANNOT accept it because we haven't yet seen God's revealed reality for ourselves. That's why Caleb, Joshua, and Moses we're voting, yes, to going into the land, and everybody else was voting, no.
Whoever you are, today, right now, stop what you're doing and talk to God. Humble your heart, even if you've been a Christian for years, and ask God to give you "eyes to see him" and ears to hear and a heart to understand. Only then can we have the supernatural motivation to do the impossible, to walk on water, to see his reality so certainly that it would motivate us to live what others would call radical, but God calls normal. I believe he wants to give us his Holy Spirit like this, but we must ask. Let's all ask today. Amen.
Image courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Art
Psalm 42:1 - "As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him?"
RM: I think this passage really brings out how continually and deeply desperate our hearts naturally are, for being filled with meaning, and beauty, and companionship, and comfort, and adventure. In fact, it's excruciatingly painful when our hearts have nothing inside them to feed on. Just like a stomach that feels pangs when it has nothing in it.
And I think it's actually the person who is really seeking and working hard everyday to not find our satisfaction in the things of this world as his or her first level pursuit of life, though they are so beautiful and glorious and promising as secondary level pursuits, but it's that person who truly is seeking to be satisfied on a first level from only having Jesus, who feels the most schizophrenic and depressed, on a regular basis.
I remember hearing stories about how Luther (and other church history heros) was depressed to the point of being bedridden, which he would feel regularly. Well I now think that this was not some psychosis or physical malady. I now think it is a natural result of a heart that seeks to be satisfied on Christ, and yet is fallen and naturally keeps needing a fresh portion and supply of manna everyday, every hour, and the reality is that we're just not that good yet at maintaining this, because, of course, we're not yet at our final condition, when we will have the capabilities that come with having resurrected and holy hearts and bodies on a new Earth.
Therefore, the Christian life for the moment, as St. Paul says, is not easy. (2nd Tim.4:7 - life is a "fight"; Rom.8:23 - and a "groaning") It's a matter of fighting our souls each morning to let go of the temporal things that are so promising, things we long to latch on to, that seem to be the answer honestly, which we so desperately want from this world. The Christian life is a fight to let go of our trust in these things and to instead fight ourselves to go to what might honestly feel like an empty endeavor, of having to resort to and make due with the person of Jesus, whom we only connect with through these old means of prayer and Scripture and connecting with other believers in sharing, all in order to, like this poor deer in verse 1, get our hearts satisfied with the only thing that can truly satisfy our hearts, which is the power, the beauty, the embrace and the tenderness, and the adventure of the person of Christ, who is with us and living in us through his Spirit.
Let us keep being honest, like this Psalmist, about our deep longing. We deeply long for satisfaction....and comfort.....and beauty....and adventure. ...just like a deer dehydrating to death.
Go to prayer. Go to his Word. Drink. Eat. And be satisfied.
So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."
RM: What does the word ‘fear’ mean in this verse? The Bible often uses this word to mean wanting someone’s approval. Like when the Bible challenges us not to give in to the “fear of man”(Proverbs 29:25). This doesn’t mean being afraid of people. It means being “awe inspired” by their approval. It means wanting someone’s approval and the Bible is challenging us not to care too much about our reputation and appearance. That's what the phrase “fear of man” means in the Bible. So then, for us to have a “fear” of God, would mean, instead, to have the feeling of wanting to be approved by God and wanting his affection and his love, his fatherly delight in us. This is what Galatians 4:4-7 and Romans 8:15 means when the Holy Spirit brings us to spiritual life and causes us to cry out, “Abba!” This is what the “fear of God” is referring to.
In this passage, Luke records Peter, as Peter is reflecting on all of the implications of God bringing salvation to this Gentile named, Cornelius. Peter is thinking of all the potential future, non-Jewish believers in far away places who will eventually come to salvation. And Peter is realizing in this moment, that anyone, in any non-Jewish country or foreign culture, no matter where or when, can still be just as close to God as any Old Testament Jew ever was, as long as he or she simply LOVES God. That’s what Peter is saying in these words. But he uses the word ‘fears’ God. Why does he use ‘fear’ when he essentially means ‘love’? How does ‘fear’ mean ‘love' and yet something slightly more specific? He uses it because the word ‘Love,’ by itself, can mean something possibly too casual or light for Peter’s meaning; while ‘fear’ clarifies that he means something far deeper, more deeply needed, and more life giving for a person.
So the word ‘fear’, in a sense, means love, but it also carries all of this other meaning of deep dependency as well. So Peter is saying to us in this verse that anyone who wants God’s affection, as your ultimate desire of life, can know that you are in a right and legitimate relationship with God. However, we also know, because of the supporting teaching of the rest of the Bible, that Grace is the only way to truly have this.
The Bible teaches us that without an understanding of Grace, our naturally sinful, “orphan” spirits will always operate in a self-reliant way, to secure happiness in this life. And the human soul has no ability to escape this self-reliant tendency. That is, it doesn’t until God, from the outside, breaks in with this concept of Grace. Every human conscience innately has no way for the human soul to securely trust in God’s approval and affection. We all have a conscience. And, deep down, that conscience knows what our true standing is before a holy God. We simply can’t, naturally, achieve a security strong enough to trust that we have God’s approval. That is, not until we come to see the nuts and bolts of Grace, meaning the basis of God’s free gift of all that Jesus did which now counts for us, without any achievement or deserving on our part, and we see this from the authority of the Bible itself.
Naturally speaking, the human soul has no way to be secure enough to be certain of God’s love. The only basis than can achieve this, is on the basis of this free Grace from God’s own initiative. This he achieved by becoming one of us in order to die the death we should have and live the life we should have. When this basis of Grace finally becomes clear and dawns on us, it resolves this natural, human fear (in the bad sense) of God and sets us free in our psyche to finally relax, securely, and know with certainty that God delights in us and cherishes us. This...and this alone...is what enables us to enjoy God’s affection, without any fear, at the deepest level, which finally satisfies the soul as it was intended. Until Grace brakes in to our psyche and secures us, no true ‘fear’ (in the good sense) of God, in the sense that Peter is referring to, is possible. Hence, the desperate need for humble, local, ordinary people to act as missionaries and share these concepts with the rest of us, so that we can come to know God's love, which produces such a great love FOR God inside of us.
The world needs quiet, normal, humble people to share and explain this hard-to-believe grace from God, with those who have not yet found it. This is what Peter had in view as he reassured these Gentile believers of God’s acceptance and his hope that others would come to know God’s fatherly approval, a beautiful desire the Bible calls 'fear', in the good sense of this word. Amen.