How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 2

“And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ ” I Kings 19:4b

We are learning from the prophet Elijah how to climb out of the pit of discouragement. After experiencing a tremendous spiritual victory on Mt. Carmel against the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:20-40), Elijah encountered resistance from the vicious Queen Jezebel whose god Baal was defeated and her prophets killed (I Kings 19:1-2). When Jezebel threatens his life, Elijah gets scared and runs into the desert and prays that he might die (I Kings 19:3-4). He has gone from the mountaintop of victory to the bottom of the pit of discouragement.

Last time we saw the first step to take out of the pit of discouragement was to focus on the facts, not your feelings (I Kings 19:1-4). To climb higher out of the pit of discouragement, DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF WITH OTHERS (I Kings 19:4b). “And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ ” (I Kings 19:4b). When Elijah said, “I am no better than my fathers,” he was comparing himself to his ancestors who failed to remove Baal-worship completely from Israel. He was feeling guilty for not being any better than they had been.

When we start comparing ourselves with others, we are going to get discouraged. We may try to motivate ourselves through criticism and condemnation. We do it by “shoulding” ourselves. “I should be more like that person. I should be able to act better and feel better like him or her.” Nagging ourselves like this leads to discouragement.

There is only one person that you can be, and that is you. That is all God expects. When you get to heaven, God is not going to ask you, “Why weren’t you more like him or her?” Most likely He will ask, “Why weren’t you like the person I created you to be?”

The Bible tells us, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10). Before we become Christians, we are defined by our “trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). That is what defined us and drove our lives. But now we are “in Christ” (Ephesians 2:10). We used to be “dead” spiritually (Ephesians 2:1), but now we are God’s “workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10).  

The word “workmanship” comes from the Greek word poiēma which is where we get our English word “poem” from. A poem is a collection of words that are specially chosen and put together so that they make a powerful statement that lasts. God is saying that you are His heavenly poem – you have been specially chosen by God to make a powerful statement about His grace that endures forever.

Another word that describes poiēma is the term “masterpiece.” Like a painting that has been specially created or like a potterer carefully creating something out of clay that is unique and has His personality and stamp put on it. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are God’s Masterpiece – something He has poured Himself into to change your life. You used to be defined by sin and shame, but now you are defined by being in Christ. And God sees in you holiness … beauty… and goodness. Everything He sees in Jesus Christ He now sees in you.

You may see yourself as this person who has failed or who lacks certain abilities, but God sees you as royalty… as His masterpiece. Perhaps the voices from your past have told you that you were a mistake… that you can’t do anything right. But God is now telling you that you are His masterpiece – a beautiful work of heavenly art that He is putting on display for all to see and admire just how great His grace is toward you. 

The last part of Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are … created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” This verse tells us why God created us. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” That is God’s plan for us. Before we were even born, God planned the “good works,” the specific ministry, He wants us to have. We don’t have to make things happen. We can rely on the Lord to show us the good works He wants us to do.

How do we know God’s plan for us after we believe in Jesus? We look at the way God has shaped us. I have borrowed the acrostic S.H.A.P.E. from Rick Warren’s ministry. God has uniquely shaped us for a reason. Let’s look at five things that shape us to serve the Lord:

S – Spiritual gifts (I Peter 4:10). Ask yourself, “What am I gifted to do for the Lord?” God has given believers in Jesus one or more spiritual gifts with which to serve Him in ministry (Romans 12:3-8; I Corinthians 12:7, 11; Ephesians 4:11-13). The best way to discover your spiritual gifts is to start serving the Lord Jesus in a local church. He will manifest your gifts as you begin to serve.

H – your Heart (I Samuel 12:20b; Romans 15:20; Galatians 4:18; Colossians 3:23-24). Ask yourself, “What do I love to do for the Lord?” There are some things we love to do and there are some things we hate to do. The things we love to do reflect our hearts. Where did we get that natural inclination? God put it in us. The Lord wants our ministries to be a blessing, not a burden. So it is a legitimate question to ask yourself, “What do I love to do?” Why would God give you a ministry that He hasn’t given you a heart for? When you look at your gifts and your heart, what do you love to do? What are you passionate about? What motivates you?  What gets you excited?  That is your heart. Some people love to serve or help others. Others love to influence, improve, perform, repair, prevail, follow the rules, or lead and be in charge.

A – your Ability (Exodus 31:3; I Corinthians 12:6; 2 Corinthians 3:5). Ask yourself, “What natural talent and skills do I have?  What vocational skills have I learned?  What natural talents have I been given by God?“ God wants to use the natural talents and skills you have in ministry. Some of you may have skills in arts and crafts, childbirth, computers, cooking, communication, construction, counseling, decorating, graphics, law, management, mechanics, media, music, safety, security, sewing, singing, song-writing, speaking, and teaching, etc. Be open to God using these natural talents or skills in your ministry.

P – your Personality (I Corinthians 2:11; Galatians 1:13-14). We are all very different.  We have all got different personalities, different blends of temperament.  Ask yourself, Where does my personality best suit me to serve?” If you are an introverted person you would probably not want to get involved in being a greeter at church. That would place a lot of additional stress on your life. When you have an area that you may be gifted to do and a heart to do, but you don’t have the personality to do it, it puts enormous stress on your life. God doesn’t want you to have to do that. 

E – your Experiences. There are four different kinds of experiences you want to look at when you are trying to discover the shape God has given you. First, ask yourself, “What kind of spiritual experiences have I had?” (Galatians 1:12, 15-18; Hebrews 5:12-13). This has to do with the times you have had with the Lord. Maybe you encountered God at a retreat or campground or at home, or as a young person, or during a crisis you went through, and that brought you closer to the Lord. 

Next ask yourself, “What kind of painful experiences have I had?” (2 Corinthians 1:4; 11:23-27; 12:7-10). God often allows us to go through a painful experience and then heals us and comforts us in that experience so that He will give us the ministry of helping other people in that very same thing. Who can relate to somebody who is struggling with alcoholism better than somebody who has been an alcoholic?  Who can better relate to somebody who has lost a child in miscarriage or stillbirth than somebody who has had a miscarriage or stillbirth. God never wastes a painful experience. Even the painful experiences we bring on ourselves through our own decisions, God wants to use in ministry.

Next ask yourself, “What kind of educational experiences have I had?” (Acts 22:3). What have you learned? Maybe you have educational training in computers or dance or debate or auto mechanics or teaching children. God wants to use these experiences in your ministry to others.

Then ask yourself, “What kind of ministry experiences have I had?” (2 Corinthians 9:13). Some of us have already served the Lord in ministry and we have proven ourselves in the body of Christ and can see what God has done in our lives. Others of us may be new to the Christian faith and have not yet served God in a ministry.  

All five of these things shape you and make you, you. When you understand how God has shaped you, then you will know His plan for your life, and how and where He wants you to serve Him.

When we trusted in Christ for salvation, we probably did not realize how much everything changed. We thought we were just forgiven and going to heaven. But God has so much more for us here and now. And He wants us to be encouraged and see ourselves as the new person we are through His eyes. Because when we do, being a Christian is not a matter of living by rules and trying to clean up this and that. It is a matter of living as the royalty that God has made us by the blood of His Son. When we understand this, there will be no need to compare ourselves to others. We will be free to be the unique person God created us in Christ to be.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, when we take our eyes off of You, it is easy to compare ourselves with others and become discouraged. Right now, Lord God, we want to pause and reconnect with You. Please restore our union with You. Help us to see ourselves through Your eyes in Christ. Before Jesus, we used to be defined by our sin and shame, but now we are defined by being in Christ. And You see in us all the holiness … beauty… and goodness that You see in Jesus Christ. Everything You see in Jesus You now see in us. Thank You for the good works You have prepared for us to walk in. Please help each one of us to identify the shape You have given us so we may bring You the most glory by following Your plan for each of our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

How can we follow the risen Lord Jesus without reservation? Part 2

“Jesus said to him, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.’ ” John 21:22

In John 21:20-23, we are looking at the focusing stage of discipleship in the life of Peter. Last time we learned that we can follow Jesus without reservation when we avoid comparing ourselves with other followers of Christ (John 21:20-21). When the risen Lord Jesus informed Peter that following Christ would cost him his life, Peter then asked the Lord what John could expect (John 21:18-21). Would John also lose his life for following Jesus? Peter seems to be comparing his relationship with Jesus to John’s relationship with Jesus.

All of us can fall into the comparison trap like Peter. We don’t like God’s will for our lives, so we focus on His will for another’s life. If we cannot control God’s will for our own lives, we will try to control His will for another person’s life. How does Jesus respond to this?

John writes, “Jesus said to him, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.’ ” (John 21:22). Jesus is saying,“If I want John to hang around until I return, what is that to you, Peter? Your responsibility is to follow Me regardless of what happens to John.” What does that mean to Peter? “Lord, that’s not fair. You’re telling me that I’m going to die if I follow You, but John gets to hang around until You return?” And what Jesus is saying is, “Peter, that should not matter to you. You simply follow Me.”

Again, we see Jesus telling Peter to follow Him. This is not referring to Peter’s salvation. Nor does it mean that Peter is going to die. This time following Jesus means something different. “You should not be comparing yourself to other people. Instead, you are to remain focused on following Me regardless of what I have in mind for John or the other disciples,” Jesus says. Peter needed to remain focused on what Jesus has told him regarding the purpose for his life, and just focus on that.

“Jesus essentially told Peter that John’s future was none of his business. Rather than concerning himself with God’s will for other people, even those closest to him, Peter should concentrate on following Jesus faithfully himself. The ‘you’ in the Greek text is emphatic. Even if it was Jesus’ will for John to ‘remain’ alive ‘until’ He returned, that was not to be Peter’s concern.” 1  The emphasis here is “You – follow Me, Peter,” Jesus says. “It doesn’t matter what other people do. Don’t worry about other people.”

The main focus of Christian leadership is not making sure that others are following Christ, but that I am following Christ. 2  My example has far more impact on others than hovering over them to make sure they are following Christ.

“The reference to Jesus’ return is probably a reference to the Rapture, rather than the Second Coming, in view of what Jesus had promised these disciples in 14:1-3.” 3

Peter had to learn to trust Jesus to take care of John while he concentrated on what Jesus was saying to him. What does this say to us? This leads to the second way to follow Jesus without reservation. We must FOCUS ON SERVING JESUS IN OUR OWN UNIQUE MINISTRY TO OTHERS (John 21:22). The Lord saves us individually. He gifts and calls us individually. He speaks to us and directs us individually. Peter momentarily forgot this fact and we do, too, at times. How easy it is for us to focus on God’s will for another person’s life to avoid God’s will for our own lives. When it comes to doing God’s will, God has not said that you must answer for anyone else except yourself. We are to quit looking around for equality. We are to put aside the need to have others do what we are doing, or to endure what we are called to endure.

Dr. Tony Evans makes an important observation. God has a general will for all of his people. This is expressed in his biblical commands for all of his followers. But he also has a specific will for each individual Christian. Jesus graciously revealed to Peter his will for him. But he wasn’t about to tell Peter his specific will for John. We are called to follow Jesus corporately as the church and personally as individuals. Each of us is to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus and seek to discern how he wants us to serve and glorify him. You are not to use God’s specific will for you to measure anyone else, nor are you to take his specific will for another and use it to measure your own circumstances. We are not to sit as judges regarding how God chooses to use other believers.” 4

Some believers are uniquely called by God to endure hardships – imprisonment, the loss of a child, a lingering and crippling illness, financial troubles, a series of unexplainable tragedies – while others are hardly touched by these things. It is so easy for the Peter within us to lash out and lobby for an equal wrong’s amendment before the Lord. Jesus’ response remains the same: “My child, just follow Me. Remember, you are not John, you are Peter.”

Has God called you to a difficult or demanding mission field… or type of ministry … or home situation… or relationship? Has He led you to live sacrificially… to pass up some pleasures? If He has, then follow Him. Forget about the Johns and learn to focus on following Christ. Don’t compare, focus on serving Jesus in your own unique way. 

The Bible tells us, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (I Peter 4:10). We should concentrate on following Christ and using the spiritual gifts He has given us as we do that. Disciples are to be taught to focus on their own unique ministry according to their gifting and calling.

Part of discipleship is discovering what our unique ministry is and helping others discover their unique ministries. That unique ministry will almost always be in harmony with how God has gifted us. That is what makes us unique as Christians. So first you need to know what your gift is and then you need to use it.

How do you discover your spiritual gift? Get busy serving the Lord. God can steer a moving car better than a parked car, so get involved in a ministry. If you have a church family, find out from your church leaders how you can serve Christ in your church. Ask yourself, “What do I enjoy doing?”  God is not likely to give you a gift that makes you miserable. So, what is it that you enjoy doing when serving the Lord?

Ask yourself, “What is God blessing?” If you are a teacher, people are being built up through your teaching. If you are an administrator, people and things are being organized. If you have the gift of helps or service, the needs of others are being met in practical ways. If you are an evangelist, people are getting saved. If you have the gift of mercy, people are comforted when they share their problems with you.

Ask yourself, “What do others think?” Ask those who know you well what gifts they see in you. For example, some churches have disciples do a service project outside of the church. Then they have them identify their gifts that were manifested during the project. “Who stepped up to help the group get organized?” This could be someone with the gift of administration or organization. “Who was concerned about reaching lost people?” Those with the gift of evangelism. “Who stepped up to serve behind the scenes?” Those with the gift of service. “Who was concerned about those who were hurting and had a way of helping them talk about their feelings?” Those with the gift of mercy and so on.

It is also important to take training. We offer online discipleship training for men and women. 5 In the Philippines, we trained Christians to multiply disciples of Jesus until all hear His gospel message. The training sharpens a believer’s spiritual gifts and skills.

You could also take a free spiritual gift inventory online. 6 But with that said, I firmly believe it is easier to discover your gift through ministry than to discover your ministry through your gift.

God doesn’t want us comparing ourselves with one another. Like Jesus said to Peter, “What is that to you? You just follow Me. Don’t worry about the other guy. Serve me in the unique way I have gifted you to serve. Let others take responsibility for their commitment to serve Me in the unique way I have gifted and called them.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all of us struggle when Your will for our lives seems to involve more pain and suffering than what we perceive others to have. We may be threatened or even jealous when other followers of Christ seem to have more success and less suffering than what we are experiencing. Thank You for calling us back to focusing on You and the unique way You have gifted us and called us to serve You. How silly of us to think that other believers should resemble our gifting and calling when they are also uniquely gifted and called by You. Help us to stay focused on You, Lord Jesus, no matter what the cost. It is in You that we find overflowing joy, peace, and life, not in people or in the things we do. You love us far more than what we do. Please massage this truth into the depths of our hearts and souls. In Your powerful name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 400.

2. Ibid., cites Alexander Balmain Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, 8th ed. (N. c.: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1894; reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1971), pg. 528.

3. Constable, pg. 401.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1833.

5. You can download our digital Pressing On discipleship training at www.seeyouinheaven.life.

6. https://gifts.churchgrowth.org/spiritual-gifts-survey/ .

How does the risen Lord Jesus use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail? Part 2

“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.’ ” John 21:17

Twelve-year-old Kurt never missed a game of his Little League team, but he didn’t get to play much because of his small size and lack of coordination. The coach never let him play more than the two innings a game required by league rules. Even with Kurt’s participation, the team won many games and qualified for the playoffs. After the last practice before the playoff game, the coach drew Kurt aside and said, “Kurt, just don’t show up on Saturday for the game. It will be better for the team if you are not there.” A dejected twelve-year-old left the field that day.

Peter also felt the sting of despair. He had denied the Lord three times and swore that he was not one of His followers while in the courtyard in front of Annas’ house (John 18:17, 25, 27). After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter may have thought Christ no longer wanted him on His team, so he returned to fishing. Because of his failure, Peter may have felt unworthy to serve as a leader any longer. Perhaps he thought his public denials of Jesus disqualified him as a follower of Christ.

All of us can probably relate to this. We, too, have failed Christ and we feel unworthy to be on His team. We might think our sin is unforgivable or unredeemable. We fear that Jesus would not want us on His team. But please understand that Jesus never says to a repentant child of God, “Don’t show up.” Christ always gives a second chance to those who seek His forgiveness.

We are learning from John 21:15-19 how the risen Lord Jesus can use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail. Last time we discovered He can do this when we make loving Him our first priority (John 21:15). Three times Peter had said he did not even know the Lord Jesus, now three times after breakfast, he would say he loved the Lord. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love [agapaō] Me more than these?” (John 21:15a). When Peter replied, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love [phileō] You,” Jesus said to him, “Feed My lambs.” (John 21:15b).

The word Jesus used for “love” is agapaō and is often used of God’s unconditional sacrificial love. But the word Peter used for “love” is phileō and refers to a brotherly and affectionate love that is between close friends. But Christ does not stop with this one question.

“He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’” (John 21:16). Again, Jesus begins with “Simon, son of Jonah,” to emphasize the importance of what He was about to say to Peter. Jesus uses the same word for “love” (agapaō) to ask Peter a second time, only He drops off the “more than these” to encourage a more positive response. 1  “In His first question the Lord challenged the superiority of Peter’s love. In His second question the Lord challenged whether Peter had any love at all.” 2

Peter replied using the same words as the first time, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Again,Peter appeals to Jesus’ knowledge as proof of his love for Jesus, not his own former behavior. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter had proudly claimed that his love for and commitment to Jesus was superior to that of the other disciples (Matthew 26:33, 35; Luke 22:33; John 13:37). But after his failure and denials, Peter now exhibits more humility.

Seeing Peter’s humility, Jesus says, “Tend My sheep.” The word for “tend” (poimaínō) in the original Greek language means to watch out for other people, to shepherd, of activity that protects, rules, governs, fosters … in the sense of lead, guide, or rule.” 3  This word means “to be a shepherd” or “take care of” flocks. Both Paul and Peter use this word to speak of the spiritual responsibilities of church leaders (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:2). 4 The word for “sheep” (probata) is a diminutive form of the more common word for sheep, probaton, and means “little sheep.” 5  It is quite possible Jesus is referring to believers who are not yet fully mature in their faith.

John then tells us, “He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.’ ” (John 21:17). For a third time, Jesus says, “Simon, son of Jonah,” to emphasize the extreme importance of what He was about to say. When Jesus asks, “Do you love Me?” He uses the same word for “love” (phileō) that Peter used.

John notes that “Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ ” The word for “grieved” is lupeō which means “to become sad, sorrowful, distressed.” Was Peter hurt because Jesus used the same word for love (phileō) that Peter had used or was he hurt because Jesus asked him a third time if he loved Him? I believe Peter was hurt because when Jesus asked him a third time, it reminded Peter of his three denials. Peter had denied knowing Jesus early in the morning when standing around “coals of fire” (John 18:15-18, 25-27), and now Jesus was asking him three times if he loved Him early in the morning while being around “coals of fire” (John 21:1-17).

“Seeing Peter humbled, Jesus came down to Peter’s level and met him where he was. Peter was grieved. His three denials of his Lord had now been matched by a question from his Lord repeated three times: ‘Do you love me?’ It broke Peter’s heart.” 8  

All Peter could do is say, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” This time Peter appeals to Jesus’ omniscience (“You know all things”). “When Peter was proudly self-assured about his ability to stand fast at a critical moment, Jesus knew that he would actually crack under pressure (see 13:37-38). He knew Peter’s heart better than Peter did. The grieving disciple understood that now. And since Jesus knew all things, Peter was convinced that Jesus also knew that Peter loved him in spite of his prior failure.” 9  

It may have also grieved Peter that Jesus was asking him questions that He already knew the answers to. 10  But these questions from Jesus were for Peter’s benefit, not the Lord’s benefit.

After Peter told Jesus a third time that he loved Him, Jesus said, “Feed My sheep.” Here Jesus uses the word boskō (“feed”) from verse 15, and the word probaton (“sheep”) from verse 16. Three times Peter had denied knowing Jesus. And now three times Peter affirms his love for Jesus and three times Jesus commissioned Peter to feed His lambs or sheep. This whole scene was intended to show Peter that he is completely forgiven and restored to his position of leadership! Imagine Peter’s joy when for each of his three denials, Christ commissioned him to feed or shepherd His sheep. Peter knew he was forgiven, and he would serve Christ until his dying day!

Peter reminds us, that no matter how great a Christian is, he or she may fall away from the Lord. And when they do, they need to know that Christ always gives a second chance to His humble followers.

Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to say “I love you” to erase the three-fold denial that had happened in the courtyard the night before Christ’s crucifixion. The truth is Simon Peter failed Jesus miserably. But Jesus Christ forgave him magnificently! 

Jesus wants to do the same for you and for me. Failure is overcome by forgiveness. There is no other way. If we want to make a difference in peoples’ lives, we must learn this important lesson. Sometimes we try to overcome our failures by trying harder or being “better” Christians. But trying harder or trying to be “better” Christians only makes things worse. Our failures are always overcome by the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ.  

Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to declare his love for Him because He wanted him to take His forgiveness into his heart where it really mattered. It is one thing to know about the forgiveness of Christ. But it is another thing to take it to heart. 

There may be many of us, if the truth were known, who know about the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. We know in our heads that He died on the cross for all our sins, and on this basis, He is willing to forgive all our sins. We even know that when we trusted Christ for His gift of eternal life, Jesus promised to forgive all our sins (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14).

But when it comes to the worst sin in our lives that we can look back on, the truth is many of us have not taken Jesus’ forgiveness to heart yet. Oh, we know we have eternal life by virtue of believing in Jesus (I John 5:13). But we have not heard Jesus say, “I forgive you” yet in that area of our greatest sin. Maybe that is the reason God brought you to this page, to hear Him say, “I forgive you,” so you can take it into the depths of your heart and soul.   

Keep in mind that Peter had believed in Jesus three years before Christ’s crucifixion (John 1:35-2:11; 6:69). And when Peter came to faith in Christ, Jesus changed his name from Simon to Cephas, which means a stone or rock (John 1:42). Why did Jesus change his name? Because Jesus knew the leadership role that Peter would play when He saw Peter in rough form. Peter would become a rock-solid leader among leaders.

Prior to Peter’s denial of Jesus, he had been walking with the Lord over three years. But Peter failed the Lord miserably when He denied knowing Jesus three times. He was probably uncertain about having a future ministry for his Lord and Savior after his great failure. He probably felt unworthy to be Jesus’ disciple. Therefore Jesus took special time with Peter to make sure he took Christ’s forgiveness into his heart so he would not carry that burden of guilt or shame into the future.

If the risen Lord Jesus is going to be able to use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail, WE MUST RECEIVE HIS FORGIVING GRACE INTO OUR HEARTS FOR OUR GREATEST SINS (JOHN 21:16-17). If we want to take to heart the forgiveness of Christ, we need to do it the same way Peter did. We look at Jesus’ word and we let His word come into our hearts and give us the assurance that His forgiveness has restored our fellowship or closeness with God.  

What does God say a Christian is to do after he or she sins? John tells us in his first epistle, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). To “confess” (homologeō), means “to agree, admit, acknowledge.” 11  When we confess our sins to God we are agreeing with what God says about our sin. It is not merely a mistake or weakness. It is an offense against our holy God.

And the moment we confess our sin to God, He is “faithful and just” to forgive the sin we confessed and cleanse us of all our unknown sins (“all unrighteousness”) as well. God restores us to a harmonious relationship with Himself. The word “just” (dikaios) means “righteous.“Because of the shed blood of Christ (v 7), there is no compromise of God’s righteousness when He forgives.” 12 Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross satisfied God’s “just” demand to punish all our sin. When we confess our sins, God’s cleansing is total.

It is possible that even when God forgives us after we confess our sins, we stubbornly refuse to forgive ourselves. How long does it take us to forgive ourselves? Since God is ready and willing to forgive us when we seek His forgiveness (Psalm 86:5), what gives us the right not to forgive ourselves? If you are struggling to forgive yourself after God has forgiven you, take some time to write I John 1:9 down on a piece of paper. Then insert your greatest sins for the word “sins” in that verse. Draw a picture representing this truth so it can be installed into your right (limbic) brain. Review this verse and drawing every night before you go to sleep so God the Holy Spirit can massage it down into the depths of your heart and soul as you sleep. Choose to forget what God has already forgiven.

As stated earlier, Jesus used the word phileō the third time to meet Peter where he was at. Jesus was saying to Peter (and to us), “I want to meet you where you are at and walk with you on this journey called discipleship. I want to help you grow in your love for Me. I want to give you a vision of what you can become as My grace works in and through you to feed others spiritually.”

We are not on this journey alone. We have a great and sympathetic high priest who understands our struggles and longs to come alongside us to give us the grace and mercy we need (Hebrews 4:15-16). There is probably not one of us reading this article that feels like we love Jesus Christ the way He deserves. We love Him the best we know how, yet we know there is a lot of room for growth. I hope that all of us want to grow in our love for Jesus.

Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love Me with everything you have every moment of your life?” If we are honest with ourselves, we would say to the Lord, “Jesus, I want to love You more in the way You deserve, but I fall way short of that. I need Your help.” That is sort of what Peter was saying to Jesus. So, Jesus came the third time and said, “Peter, I know you are trying to grow in Your love for Me. I want to come alongside you and help you do that.” This is what Jesus wants to do for you and me. He takes us where we are and helps us grow in the love we have for Him. 

Interestingly, each time Jesus commands Peter to “tend” or “feed” His sheep, He uses present tense verbs (boske… poimaine… boske). This indicates that the feeding process is to be repeated and regular. A meal or two now and then will not develop strong sheep. Nor will a sermon now and then build strong disciples of Jesus. We need to be fed repeatedly, regularly, and often.

Though Peter had previously thought highly of himself, he had come to adopt Jesus’s view of leadership in ministry. Peter understood that being a leader of God’s people is not about arrogantly exercising power. Therefore, he could later write to other church leaders, ‘Shepherd God’s flock among you . . . not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock’ (1 Pet 5:2-3). Peter had taken to heart Jesus’s command, ‘Shepherd my sheep.’ Sometimes God lets his people fail in order to develop them spiritually and prepare them for greater usefulness (see Luke 22:31-32).” 13

Although Peter failed the risen Lord Jesus greatly, Jesus did not take Him off His team. To the risen Lord Jesus, winning men and women, and boys and girls is more important than winning games. Imagine Peter’s joy when for each of his three denials, Christ commissioned Peter to feed His sheep. Peter knew he was forgiven and restored. And he served Christ until his dying day. Jesus wants us to know and experience that we are forgiven so we can serve Him until He says it is time to come home to Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, many of us needed to hear this message from You. We have felt disqualified from serving You because of our past failures. We know in our heads that we are completely forgiven the moment we believed in You for eternal salvation, but our feelings keep lying to us. We have let them convince us that we are unworthy to be on Your team. Thank You so much for reminding us that our failures are not final because of Your forgiving grace. And when You forgive, You choose to forget. Teach us O Lord God to forget our past failures and to embrace Your amazing grace so we may forgive ourselves and help others to grow in their love for You. In Your precious name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 381.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 396 cites Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John Vol. 3 (Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 324.

3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 842.

4. Laney, pg. 381.

5. Ibid.; See also Archibald Thomas (A. T.) Robertson, Robertson’s Word Pictures in Six Volumes, (The Ephesians Four Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 78494-78496.

6. Bauer, pg. 604.

7. A. T. Roberston, Kindle Locations 78509-78510.

8. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1832.

9. Ibid.

10. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 569.

11. Ibid., pg. 1430.

12. Ibid.

13. Evans, pg. 1832.

Connecting in a Disconnected World of Covid (Video)

Although this video was prepared for a church anniversary in the Philippines, its biblical principles can apply to any culture. We will not only look at the challenges of connecting with other people during this age of COVID-19, we will also turn to the Bible to discover how we can connect with one another in more effective ways. If you are feeling all alone and without hope, this video is for you.

In Christ I live according to God’s plan

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10b

Before believing in Christ for salvation, the Bible tells us, “we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Ephes. 2:3). Before we were saved by grace through faith in Jesus (Ephes. 2:8-9), we lived according to our own sinful desires. We did what pleased us.

But when we came to Christ in faith, we began to live according to God’s plan. How can we discover His plan for our lives? The Bible says, “We are … created in Christ Jesus for good works.” We were not saved to simply sit on a couch to watch TV or play video games. We were saved to do “good works.” Notice that good works follow our salvation, they are not necessary for our salvation.

How do I know what good works God wants me to do? This verse tells us that “God prepared beforehand” our good works “so that we should walk in them” (2:10b). Pastor Rick Warren has produced a very helpful tool to help Christians discern the “good works” or ministry God has prepared them to do using the acrostic S.H.A.P.E.

S – Spiritual gifts. Ask yourself, “How has God gifted me spiritually?” You may have a speaking gift such as teaching or evangelism. You may have a serving gift such as helps or leading. The good works God has designed you to do should include the use of your spiritual gifts. For years I served in pastoral ministry which made it difficult to use my primary spiritual gift of evangelism. But when I began to serve in an evangelistic ministry, I became more fruitful and fulfilled because I was doing what God shaped me to do.

H – Heart. Ask yourself, “What am I passionate about?” My wife is excited about making jewelry for others out of beads. She can do that all day without getting bored or tired. I, on the other hand, am passionate about sharing the gospel with others. I get recharged doing this. If we serve in a ministry for which we have no passion, we will lack motivation and fulfillment.

A – Ability. Ask yourself, “What natural talents has God given me?” May be you are a gifted musician, singer, or writer. Perhaps you are gifted in working with computers, cars, or machinery. You may be very gifted in relating to children, teenagers, or the elderly. Pay attention to your natural talents when participating in a ministry.

P – Personality. Ask yourself, “What kind of personality has God given me?” Are you an introvert or extrovert? A free online tool to help identify your personality is found at www.truity.com/test/enneagram-personality-test. Ignoring the personality God has given us when considering a ministry, can lead to much frustration and stress.

E – Experiences. Ask yourself, “What kind of experiences have I had?” God will use good and bad experiences to equip us for ministry. For example, if you were abused as a child, God can use that experience to comfort others who have been through something similar. On the other hand, if you have experienced success in the business world, God can use that to minister to others in a business. God does not waste our experiences.

When we identify our God-given S.H.A.P.E., God can use that to place us in a ministry where we will be more fulfilled and fruitful, and God will receive more glory. God wants us to walk in the good works that He has shaped us to do. When we do, our lives will never be the same.

Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, I no longer want to live according to my sinful desires, but according to Your plan for my life. Thank You for helping me identify my God-given S.H.A.P.E. so that I can find a ministry that You have designed for me that brings You the most glory and enables me to be fruitful and fulfilled. In Jesus’ name. Amen.