We’re Not Worthy

Daily Devotions

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic: I’m Not Worthy

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 2:10   Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

I must spend one more day on this verse. Something deeply troubles me about the attitude of the “average” Christian in our world today. It troubles me most because it tends to be true of me. There is an epidemic disease from which most of us suffer. I call it deservism. I know that’s not an official word, but it is an official problem.

It’s clear that an inseparable relationship between grace and praise has been established by Peter. After declaring that we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people belonging to God, he tells us that those truths, when properly understood, will produce praise in our lives. Then, so that we might fully comprehend His incredible grace, he reminds us to consider our condition prior to being chosen. We were not a people. We were without mercy. In other words, we were worthless.

Some will cry foul at this point. How dare I state that anyone is worthless? But the truth is, without Christ, we are.

Yesterday I used an illustration of being chosen for a sports team. The illustration falls apart at this point. You see, when a sports coach or captain chooses players for his team, he does so based on a person’s abilities and performance. In contrast, when I stand in line before God, I have nothing to offer. All my past performance is as filthy rags, says the prophet Isaiah. But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. We are not chosen by God based upon our abilities or past performance. We are chosen completely as an act of His sovereign will and by His grace and mercy.

In his mercy God chose not to give us what we deserve – the punishment of our sin. By His grace, He gave us a gift we could never earn – eternal life. But we have decided we are deserving people. Our western civilization has corrupted God’s grace. We have been told that everyone has worth. Materialism has infiltrated our basic belief system so that our salvation, while we claim it is free, is really something God owed us. Our pride, manifested in the disease of deservism, has destroyed our ability to praise.

 Here’s a simple test for you to run on yourself. Think about the last gift you received. Be honest – how truly grateful were you? How long did it take you to send a thank-you note? How enthusiastic were you about the gift? Think now – was there any level of deservism that kept you from being as appreciative as you should have been?

 Even the slightest sense of deservism will destroy a thankful heart. Deservism delivers a death blow to praise. We must go back and discover that we deserve nothing from God, and that it is only by His mercy that He was able to choose those who by their very nature stood opposed to Him.

 I found the words to a song by Curtis Stephan. I encourage you to listen to the song. You can listen to it at http://www.spiritandsong.com/musicondemand/songs/66239. Read the words carefully. Then fall on your face before the Lord and ask for healing from the disease of deservism. When we confess that we are unworthy, we will become the people of praise that God has called us to be when He chose us.

 Though I’m not worthy to see your precious face

I bow before thee pour out your holy grace

For you alone can wash my sin

And cleanse my soul so deep within.

 

Heal me, wash me in your mercy

Mend these broken pieces of my heart

Love me though I am not worthy

Cleanse my soul and make me whole again

Only say the word and I shall be healed.

Though I’m not worthy in your grace I long to stand

And bow before thee, stretch out your healing hand

For you alone can purify

and heal these wounds so deep inside.

Though I’m not worthy to feel your love, oh Lord

I bow before thee, my Savior be adored.

For you alone break hardened hearts

And bid old bitterness depart.

Pastor John

I’ve Been Chosen

Daily Devotions

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

 Today’s Topic: I’ve Been Chosen

 Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 2:9-10   But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 Conjunctions. They are an important part of language. Conjunctions are words that connect thoughts and ideas. Sometimes they are comparative, as in the case of the word “also”. Sometimes they highlight a contrast, like “however” and “but”. Peter starts today’s Scripture with a contrasting conjunction. What he is about to say is to be considered as opposing what he just said. He has just stated that the Living Stone of Jesus Christ is a stumbling block to some, and because they choose not to believe, they will fulfill their destiny which was in them from birth because of their sin nature.

 But – there it is, the contrasting conjunction – those who believe in the Living Stone have a different destiny: one chosen by Christ Himself. He will not stumble because he belongs to God.

 Way back in the early 1800’s, Pastor John Keble, after whom Keble College in Oxford, England is named, wrote this poem –  

            Look in, and see Christ’s chosen saint

            In triumph wear his Christ-like chain;

           No fear lest he should swerve or faint;

           His life is Christ, his death is gain.

                                             John Keble (1792–1866)

 When I was a little boy, I hated standing in line while a boy much bigger and more athletic than I served as the captain of a team to which He would choose players. I hated it because I knew that my skinny, scrawny body would not appeal to him as a potential team member. I had been the last one chosen too many times, but I kept getting in that line. I wanted to be chosen. I wanted my name to be called.

 Even though it really hurt to be called last, I learned that once I was on the team, I was able to improve my skills by playing the game. I would go wherever the captain said and do my best. Soon, I wasn’t the last one being called.

 I understand and am overwhelmed by the knowledge that God chose me and then called me. He made me somebody when I was nobody. He gave me a place to belong and an identity when I had neither. Oswald Chambers, the great devotional writer, said, “‘I have chosen you.’ Keep that note of greatness in your creed. It is not that you have got God, but that he has got you. Why is God at work in me, bending, breaking, moulding, doing just as he chooses? For one purpose only—that he may be able to say, ‘This is my man, my woman.’” Oswald Chambers (1874–1917)

 I like that – God wants to say about me, “This is my man.” Peter says that my response to being chosen is that I will say, “This is my God.” We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people belonging to God for one primary purpose of God – to declare His praises. Unfortunately, in the church today, most people live as though they’re frozen not chosen. I would suggest that those who act frozen don’t comprehend the magnitude of being chosen.  

 Keith Robinson, in The Encourager, writes: “When God wanted to authenticate Himself to the ancient world, He called His nation Israel as witness. ‘You are my witnesses,’ He said, testimony that ‘I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me. I, even I, am the Lord’ (Isa. 48:10). The people of God served as the undeniable proof of God.

“God’s people still offer the most basic and best proof of God. A changed life is still the best testimony of God’s power. Divine love reflected in a Christian heart which accepts, forgives and loves the unlovable is still the best witness of the nature of God. Hope that will not die is still the best proof of eternal life. Faith which cannot be shaken even in the face of death is still the best demonstration of the immutability of God’s promises.

 “We who have been granted the imponderable privilege of partaking in the divine nature, are the witnesses, the demonstration, the proof of the divine presence in the world. Books and lessons and sermons and reason may have their place, but the real test is in the lives of God’s chosen people. If that proof is not clear and constant, everything else is just hearsay.”

 I close with this poem from John Milton –

Let us, with a gladsome mind,

Praise the Lord, for he is kind:

For his mercies aye endure,

Ever faithful, ever sure.

Let us blaze his name abroad,

For of gods he is the God:

He, with all-commanding might,

Filled the new-made world with light:

All things living he doth feed,

His full hand supplies their need:

He his chosen race did bless

In the wasteful wilderness:

Let us then with gladsome mind

Praise the Lord, for he is kind.

 You have been chosen. Live like a chosen child of God.

 Pastor John

Two Stones In One

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

 Current Study: First Peter

 Today’s Topic: Two Stones In One

 Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 2:6-8   For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”  Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

 Pastor Fred Musser tells an interesting story in The Tabernacle. He writes, A few days before I left home to prepare for the ministry, my gray-haired pastor, Rev. Temple, told me this story.

 When my son was small, we often walked together out through the fields and neighboring pasture behind the parsonage. At first, the little fellow would hold onto my little finger, but he found that when he stepped into a hoof-print or stumbled over something, his grip would fail and down he’d go in the dust or snow. Not giving it much thought, my mind on other matters, I’d stop and he’d get up, brush himself off, and grab my little finger again, gripping a little harder this time.

 Needless to say, this occurred frequently until one day as he was brushing himself off, he looked at me and said, ‘Daddy?’ I replied, ‘Yes, Son, what is it?’ He said, ‘I think if you would hold my hand, I wouldn’t fall.’

 Pastor Temple then turned to me and with a tear in his eye he said, “You know, he still stumbled many times after that, but he never hit the ground. Now, as you walk with God, don’t try to hold on to Him, let Him hold on to you. You may stumble but He’ll never let you fall.”

 The one who trusts in the Living Stone, the chosen and precious Cornerstone, will never fall. They will never be embarrassed or ashamed. Our strength may fail, and we may stumble, but we will never fall because His strength cannot fail. It all depends upon whether you’re trying to hold on to Him, or if you’ve trusted Him to hold on to you. Those who trust in their own strength and works to hold on to God will find themselves flat on their faces. Those who by faith allow God to hold on to them will walk and never grow weary.

 The Apostle Paul twice quotes this same Old Testament passage from the prophet Isaiah in his letter to the Romans. It’s the passage in Romans 9 that really helps us to understand how Christ can be both a living stone and a stumbling stone. Paul says, “…the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the ‘stumbling stone.’ 
As it is written: ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’”

 One stone. Different effects on people. Those who by faith alone trust in Christ for their salvation will stand on the Rock and be exalted in eternity. Those who try to earn their way into eternity by their works will trip over the Rock and fall to their doom. It is the grace of God in Christ that becomes the stumbling block for most, while for us it becomes the rock of our salvation.

 People have trouble receiving unconditional gifts. Several years ago, my wife and I stood for 45 minutes in the parking lot of a tourist attraction trying to give away tickets that we couldn’t use. Each ticket was worth $18.00. Dozens of people walked by and would not extend a hand to receive the free gift. Some just ignored us. Others asked, “What’s the catch?”  All of them refused the gift, went inside the attraction, and purchased their own tickets. Finally, one couple decided to take advantage of the offer.

 What a perfect example of how the free gift of salvation is rejected by so many because they will not believe it is truly free. How sad!

 But even after we receive the free gift, we often stumble because we are prone to be prone. We tend to take back into our own control what we claimed to have given to Christ. We trust ourselves rather than trust Him. We choose to grab God’s little finger and hang on with all our strength, when we could just let God grab our hand with all of His strength. The first step is a scary one, because it requires us to let go. But you can trust God. He is your Living Stone.

 Pastor John

Convenience or Commitment?

Daily Devotions

Monday, May 18, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic: Convenience or Commitment?

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 2:4-5   As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

 Right after Easter, I started a series of sermons on Sunday mornings on the topic of Knowing God Through Genesis. The book of Genesis is incredible. In it, we find not only the foundations of the world and of civilization, but also the revelation of the nature and character of God and His work on behalf of mankind. There is nothing more deeply satisfying to any of us than the knowledge of God, and so far, after only four chapters, we are becoming overwhelmed with awe at the splendor of God.

 Each week, as I study, I discover things that have real significance to me. Yesterday we spent time studying the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. One part of the story stood out to me and made a point that has been with me for days now – the sacrifices that were offered by the two brothers. One was acceptable to God, and one wasn’t. Why?

Many have stated that the reason God accepted Abel’s sacrifice was because it was a blood sacrifice of an animal. Cain’s was rejected because it was grain. This belief is based on the need for a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin, which God demonstrated to Adam and Eve when He clothed them with the skins of animals after their sin in the Garden of Eden. I completely see the connection and the significance of the symbolism, but I think that we stretch the meaning when we think this way. Nowhere in the passage does it say that the sacrifice they were bringing was for the forgiveness of sin. They were bringing an offering, not making a sacrifice.

 Interestingly, when God passes on His laws to Moses, grain offerings were fully acceptable. Therefore, it was not the offering that caused the problem for Cain. So what was it? It was the attitude of his heart towards the glory of God. Cain did not truly respect God as the provider and sustainer of his life. He simply came and made an offering of convenience. Abel, on the other hand, gave God the best of the best that he had. Cain brought some of the harvest of his fields. Abel gave of the fat portions of the firstfruits of his flocks. Cain did not honor God as His provider, but kept the best for himself to provide for himself. Abel showed trust in God’s provision by giving up the first born of his flock, thereby limiting his flock’s reproductive potential.

 This has deeply impacted my heart. I want it to touch you as well. Open your heart to think about this principle in light of your current commitment level to Christ. Are you offering Him only what is convenient? Do you give Him only the time that doesn’t interfere with your plans? Do you give Him offerings of resources that don’t restrict your buying power?

 We live in a modern world of convenience. Everything is about making life easier. Unfortunately, easy living comes at a huge price. It costs us our sacrificial spirit. Easy living becomes the passion of our pursuits, and the motivation of our decisions. If we carefully and honestly evaluate it, easy living is the product of our own invention and is accomplished in the strength of our own will. As a result, we make very few if any true sacrifices, because all choices are based on return value.

 Peter tells us today that together we are to grow as a spiritual house to be holy priests that offer spiritual sacrifices to God. I cannot justify convenience with spiritual sacrifices. Cain’s sacrifice of convenience didn’t represent commitment. Abel’s sacrifice of income potential did. We must each decide if our relationship with Christ is one of convenience or commitment. We may call our service in the church a commitment, while it may be nothing more than a convenient way to continue to appear spiritual.

 Sacrifices of convenience grow out of a spirit of self-fulfillment. Sacrifices of commitment come from a heart that is already fulfilled in Christ and needs nothing more. Convenience is all about gain for self. Commitment is all about gain for God. Convenience demonstrates trust in self. Commitment models trust in Christ.

 My friends, this is an urgent word for the day in which we live. We cannot any longer live as materialistic-minded people. Giving God what’s left of our time, our energy, and our finances is nothing more than convenient Christianity that benefits self. We must…I repeat, we MUST understand that God requires compliance when it comes to commitment. Anything less is an unacceptable offering. Give God your best – the best of your best. As the Apostle Paul said, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

 Pastor John

All You Can Eat Buffet

Daily Devotions

Thursday, May 14, 2009

 Current Study: First Peter

 Today’s Topic: Eat Well

 Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 2:1-3   Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

 Today is one of my favorite days of the year. I’m up early so I can start the day right by spending time with my Savior and Lord. I’ll grab some breakfast around 7, and then I’ll head to Hillcrest Country Club for a day of fellowship with men and women who are committed to sharing the Good News of Jesus with the youth of the Chippewa Valley. We have made calls and sent out letters to raise money for Young Life, a youth ministry that reaches students through small group Bible studies. I love what they do, and I love the team of people who support it.

 When I get to the course around 7:30, I’ll head to the driving range to review the fundamentals of my swing. I’ll spend lots of time on the putting green to review the basics of putting and chipping. I deeply understand the necessity of review. There are certain fundamentals that serve as foundations that have to be in place for everything else about the game of golf to work right. I’ll spend time in review this morning.

 Peter reminds us to review in today’s Scripture passage. He starts with a word that demands review – therefore. Someone once said that whenever you see the word therefore, go back and look at what was just said so you know what is about to be said is there for. Let’s review what Peter has just said prior to chapter two. His emphasis was on two things – sincere love for others and the Word of God, which he described as living and enduring. If you want to review those subjects more deeply, read the devotionals from Monday and Tuesday.

 With the foundation laid in our lives of God’s Word and our obedience to its truth, Peter says that we are to get rid of anything that contradicts those fundamentals.

  • Malice – the desire to do harm to another person because of our anger – contradicts the fundamental of love for others.
  • Deceit – a term used to describe a decoy intended to ensnare in a trap – contradicts the fundamental of sincerity.
  • Hypocrisy – to be two faced – contradicts integrity and transparency in love.
  • Envy – to desire what someone else has so one’s value is increased – contradicts the fundamental that by God’s Word we are made alive and complete in Christ.
  • Slander – to defame another person – contradicts the fundamental of love others and building them up by putting their needs ahead of our own.

All of these things are contradictory to the very nature of God as revealed in His living Word. When they’re gone, there’s room for us to grow in what accompanies our salvation.

 I love Peter’s analogy of food. Let’s face it – I love food. Once I taste it, and if I like it, and I want more of it. Much more. It makes me grow…in all the wrong places, and that’s not good. But feeding on the living Word of God brings growth that’s good. God never intended us to stop growing. There are no spiritual diets. We can have all we want of God’s food. It’s our choice how much we want to grow. Little food brings little growth. Much food brings much growth.

 Some people claim to not have much of an appetite. What a sad predicament of their own making. Somewhere along the line, they forgot how good God tasted. They chose to not savor His flavor. They chose to seek out other sources of nutrition, none of which ever satisfies. It’s not that they don’t have an appetite; it’s just that they’ve chosen to feed their hunger with something other than God. They need to go back and discover the taste of the Lord again.

 Every once in a while I get the urge to have a mango. It truly is the world’s best fruit. I will try to satisfy my hunger for one by buying one locally. It was picked from the tree well before it was ripe, and when I did into the first bite, I am totally disappointed. Nothing beats tree-ripened fruit. Unfortunately, there’s no way to grow mangoes around here.

 I first tasted a tree-ripened one in the Philippines. The people of the mission I worked with on three different occasions understood my love for them, and provided them for me at every meal. If I want that satisfying taste again, I’ll just have to go back there. It will be costly, and take a huge commitment of time and resources, but it would be worth it.

 It may cost us to get back our spiritual appetite. It will take sacrifice, and a huge commitment of time and resources to go back to the place where we once fed on the fruit of the Tree of Life – but it will be worth it, for nothing else will ever satisfy. Let us search our memories and rediscover the place where we first tasted that the Lord was good, and let’s go back there to find all the food we could ever want. It’s time to start growing again.

 By the way – please pass the mangoes.

 Pastor John

It’s Alive

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

 Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic: It’s Alive

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 1:23-25   For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.

 In the “library” at my house is a cupboard that has a variety of things in it. One shelf of that cupboard is primarily for magazines. The selection includes In Fisherman, Golf Magazine, and a few Cabela’s hunting and fishing catalogues. I’ve been reading the golf magazines a lot lately because Thursday is the annual Young Life golf outing and I want to be ready to play my best. (By the way, if anyone has not yet had the opportunity to contribute to this important and life-changing youth ministry in the Chippewa Valley, you can contact me before Thursday.)

 One thing I’ve discovered while reading magazines about fishing and golf is that everyone has their own tested and proven technique for success. Month after month, the tips keep coming to catch more fish, add more yards to your drive, or make more putts. The problem is that in any given month there will be at least three articles that contradict what last month’s “experts” said. Where does a person go to get solid information that never fails?

 There is only one source of truth – God’s Word, the Bible. Here’s a quick synopsis of what Peter says about it in the verses printed above.

It’s alive. In Thayer’s Greek Definitions, the word living, when applied to something other than a person or animal, means, having vital power in itself and exerting the same upon the soul. Later in this same letter, Peter calls Jesus a Living Stone, and then says we are living stones also. Hebrews 4:12 says, For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Here’s the point – when something is called living, it carries the very essence of its Creator. It has the same power. It represents the same nature and character. So when God speaks, His words carry the very essence of His being. They are the exact representation of who He is. They are alive. That’s why John calls Jesus the Word in his gospel. In Hebrews 1, we read that God has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
God’s Word is alive, and will bring life to you!

  • It’s enduring.  Twice in this passage, the Word of God is said to be enduring. In the NIV version above, the second time the word is used it is translated as stands forever. The Greek word has three meanings that are significant to our understanding:
    • The first application is in reference to place. When something endures, it remains in place. When you read, study, and apply His Word to your life, it will never leave you. It becomes a part of your living soul. Actually, it is what gives you life. God’s Word will never lose its place in you.
    • The second application is in reference to time. When something endures, it never gets old. I wish I was enduring. Because God’s Word is the exact expression of His being, which is eternal, the God’s Word is eternal. It is not subject to time. It remains forever. Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.(Psalm 119:89)
    • The third application is in reference to condition. When something endures, it never changes. The Word of God never changes. It cannot, because it is the living expression of an unchangeable God. It is constant truth. James, the brother of Jesus, says, Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

 Every day we get to choose what light to let shine on our life. It may be the light of a golf or fishing expert. It may be the light of a spouse. It may be the light of a pastor. It may be the light of a boss. Every day we choose to walk in someone’s shadow. The trouble is, those lights are not consistent, and the shadows are always shifting.  But God’s Word is the one true Light. Jesus came as the Light of the world, because He is the Living Word of God.

 So the answer to our initial question is this – The Bible is where you will always find solid and trustworthy information that will never fail. Maybe it’s time you started spending more time reading it. My words are not alive. The books you are reading right now are not alive. But God’s Word is alive, and it will make you alive!

 Pastor John

Free to Fly

Daily Devotions

Monday, May 11, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

 Today’s Topic: Love Liberates

 Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 1:22b   …love one another deeply, from the heart.

 Have you ever wondered how birds teach their young to fly? Well, using various forms of the same basic method, they generally push them off their perch. Eugene Peterson tells how he saw a family of birds doing just that.

 Three young swallows were perched on a dead branch that stretched out over a lake. One adult swallow got alongside the chicks and started shoving them out toward the end of the branch—pushing, pushing, pushing. The end one fell off. Somewhere between the branch and the water four feet below, the wings started working, and the fledgling was off on his own. Then the second one.

 The third was not to be bullied. At the last possible moment his grip on the branch loosened just enough so that he swung downward, then tightened again with bulldog tenacity. The parent was without sentiment. He pecked at the desperately clinging talons until it was more painful for the poor chick to hang on than risk the insecurities of flying. The grip was released, and the inexperienced wings began pumping. The mature swallow knew what the chick did not—that it would fly—that there was no danger in making it do what it was perfectly designed to do.

 Birds have feet and can walk. Birds have talons and can grasp a branch securely. They can walk; they can cling. But flying is their characteristic action, and not until they fly are they living at their best, gracefully and beautifully.

 We have been designed to do lots of things well, but loving is what we do best. It is the air into which we were born. It is the action that was designed into us before our birth. Some of us try desperately to hold on to ourselves, to live for ourselves. We look so pathetic doing it, hanging on to the dead branch of self-worth, turning life upside down. We’re afraid to risk ourselves on the untried wings of loving others. We don’t think we can truly give ourselves away because we have never tried. But the sooner we start the better. Some day we are going to have to give up our lives, and the longer we wait, the less time we have for the soaring and swooping life of grace.

 When we love, we are most free. When we live for self, we become prisoners in our own bodies. When we seek to protect who we are and what we have, we become bitter and cynical. We hang on to for dear life to what is no life at all. If we would just let go, the nature of God in us would set us free to fly in love.

 That requires us to stretch ourselves a little – or a lot. But that’s exactly what Peter said in today’s Scripture verse. You see, the Greek word for “deeply” in this verse means, in its root form, “to be stretched out.” Peter is telling us to love each other in ways that stretch us, and to stretch out our lives to love as God loved us. Just think of how far Jesus stretched out His arms in love when He died for us. That’s how deeply we are to love others.

 I love this story which makes the point most clearly for me. Years after her concentration camp experiences in Nazi Germany, Corrie ten Boom met face to face one of the most cruel and heartless German guards that she had ever contacted. He had humiliated and degraded her and her sister. He had jeered and visually raped them as they stood in the delousing shower. Now he stood before her with hand outstretched and said, “Will you forgive me?”

She writes: “I stood there with coldness clutching at my heart, but I know that the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. I prayed, Jesus, help me! Woodenly, mechanically I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me and I experienced an incredible thing. The current started in my shoulder, raced down into my arms and sprang into our clutched hands. Then this warm reconciliation seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother,’ I cried with my whole heart. For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard, the former prisoner. I have never known the love of God so intensely as I did in that moment!”

 To forgive is to set a prisoner free

             and discover the prisoner was you.

                            To love that deeply is to be free to fly.

                                           It’s what God designed you to do.

Pastor John