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Posts Tagged ‘the apostle Peter’

I can still remember a terrifying ride called ‘Space Mountain’ I went on almost forty years ago while visiting Disneyland. Time and again, our carriage would teeter at some high point, then plunge headlong into the darkness below, suddenly veering this way, then that. I remember holding onto my glasses for dear life, in case they flew in one direction as I flew in the other!

I would never want to repeat the experience—yet, this past week, I realised this is exactly what happens in my faith journey at times. One minute, I can be standing firm, full of trust in God—yet the next, I am tossed around, worrying about everything and wondering whether God can indeed help.

This realisation came while reading again the account of how Jesus—and Peter—walked on water (Matthew 14). At first, the disciples are all terrified, not only because of the huge buffeting their boat is experiencing on the lake, but also because they think Jesus is a ghost (25). Straight away, however, Jesus lovingly reassures them:

But Jesus immediately said to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (27)

Peter boldly speaks up then, even though he doesn’t seem completely sure it is indeed Jesus.

Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said. (28-29)

Peter does just that—yet soon fear takes over and he cries out for Jesus to save him, which Jesus immediately does. One minute, Peter is brave and bold, the next so doubtful and afraid, as he flounders around and begins to sink (30-31).

Yet Peter’s whole journey of faith in Jesus was a similarly huge rollercoaster at times too.  Not long after his walking on water effort, we read how he boldly declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God—at which point Jesus commends him for his faith.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church … Matthew 16:18

A few verses later, however, we read how Peter is rebuked for expressing his horror that Jesus will die.

Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me …” Matthew 16:23

On it goes for Peter, up and down. Not long before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter declares he will never fall away from Jesus, even if everyone else does (Matthew 26:33). But, just as Jesus predicts, that very night, he disowns Jesus three times—and is utterly devastated. I always feel so relieved, however, when I read how Jesus appears to Peter and the other disciples after his resurrection and fully reinstates him (John 21). Despite Peter’s denials, Jesus shows complete trust in him and lovingly commissions him to take care of his sheep, which Peter then does with great courage, as we see throughout the early chapters of Acts.

I wonder if you, like me, can relate all too easily to Peter and his rollercoaster ride. Yet I am so encouraged that Jesus persevered with him and continued to show faith in him. And I am so grateful we too can experience that same undeserved love and grace today and feel that firm grip of Jesus’ hand as he reaches out and rescues us time and time again, aren’t you?

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One night recently, I received a phone call from a distraught friend.

‘I’m in a terrible pickle!’ she gasped. ‘We filled in a form on my computer and now I’ve been scammed. Please pray!’

The next morning, I received a text from another friend. She has been quite unwell and was facing a scary doctor’s appointment.

‘Would appreciate prayer,’ she wrote. ‘I don’t want to cough in the middle of my eye injection!’

My heart went out to these friends who both needed God’s protection—and the courage to keep trusting God in their scary situations.

I began to pray for them, yet soon found myself almost overwhelmed with fear and so doubtful God would be able to rescue them. Then I realised I was falling for one of those old traps the enemy loves to set for us. I could almost hear him sniggering at my lack of faith and, at that point, I became determined not to let him win—over me or my friends. So, I prayed again, entrusting them and their situations to our loving, all-powerful Lord.

We all need courage, not only to face life’s challenges but also to stand firm in our faith, resist the enemy and be prayerful at all times. Recently, I started reading Acts again. And again, I marvelled at the change in the disciples, particularly Peter, when the Holy Spirit comes upon them at Pentecost (Acts 2). Immediately after, Peter does not hesitate to address the crowd who have gathered and call them to repentance (2:38). Then, after the lame man at the temple gates is healed, Peter boldly preaches to a huge crowd (3). And when he and John are jailed and hauled before the rulers, elders and teachers of the law, he again does not hold back.

It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 4:10

I find the religious leaders’ baffled response so interesting too:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 4:17

But this is not the end. After Peter and John are commanded not to speak or teach in Jesus’ name again, they boldly declare they simply have to (4:20). They are threatened further but finally released—at which point they head back to the other believers. Then a wonderful time of prayer ensues, during which the Holy Spirit fills everyone present, enabling them to share the word of God with great boldness (4:31). And on it goes, with Peter and the apostles continuing to proclaim the good news of Jesus day after day with amazing courage (5:12-41).

I want to face life with more of this same courage and boldness, don’t you? Although we cannot be with Jesus in human form, as Peter and John were, we can still talk with him and learn from him each day. And, like those early believers, we also have God’s Spirit within us who will fill and empower us to face whatever comes our way. So … let’s trust God and go for it!

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.1 Corinthians 16:13 NLT

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I have little to complain about in this current Sydney lockdown. I am so much better off than others whose jobs and businesses have been affected or whose plans have been hugely disrupted. I feel for them all—it must be extra hard to take, just when things had become more normal.  

Yet I have felt a little discouraged myself too, especially when two speaking engagements I had been looking forward to had to be cancelled. This of course also happened last year during COVID, taking away those various opportunities to speak to both small and large groups and promote my books. Yes, my books are still available in Koorong and online via my website, Amazon etc, but there is nothing like selling them in person and being able to engage one-on-one with potential readers.

Around the same time, I received some rather discouraging news to do with my writing, which made me wonder if all my effort was in fact worthwhile. Surely it would be easier to forget about writing altogether and do something else?

In the midst of my little pity party, however, I began reading the final chapter of 1 Peter. But as I did, I noticed the heading there in my bible—‘To the Elders and Young Men’. How could these verses apply to me then? Nevertheless, I read on. As Peter addresses the church overseers, he urges them to shepherd God’s flock with willingness and integrity, not lording it over others but being a good example in every way. Then he writes:

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 1 Peter 5:4

Wow, I found myself saying to God, I need to remember that! Whatever happens with my books, whether they are dismal failures or roaring successes, in the end, what really matters is whether I have faithfully served you and others as best I can through my writing and speaking. Any glory or honour I receive or don’t receive here is nothing compared to that crown of glory that will never fade away!

Next, I read Peter’s words to the young men, then to everyone. This part definitely included me.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

Hmm, I said to God, I need to do that. And I know I can because you love and care for me so deeply. So why I am I holding on tightly to all this anxiety then?

I kept reading, hearing God’s warning in every word.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9

Yes, Lord, I responded, I should know after all these years how the enemy loves to try to drag us down. Yet I don’t have to let this happen. Instead, I can resist—I can stand firm. especially when others are suffering so much more elsewhere, yet remaining faithful.

Stuff happens—or doesn’t. Yet God is always there and always will be.

To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:11

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I asked myself many questions, as our grandchildren returned to school and began tertiary study this year. How will they get on in the months ahead? Will they like their teachers or lecturers? Will they overcome their uncertainties, make new friends and be happy and successful?

Yet even as I did, I found myself asking questions about my own year ahead too. When will things return to normal? Will that ever happen? And what about our families’ jobs? On and on the questions rolled, all equally unanswerable.

Recently, I launched my latest novel, Down by the Water. My personal sales so far, both face-to-face and via my website, have been encouraging. And my novel is also available at Koorong Books and on Amazon. Yet I know there will be challenges ahead in reaching my usual audiences and readers. You see, I love speaking at both Christian and secular venues, then offsetting travel costs by selling my books afterwards. But right now, it is hard for those organising groups to plan ahead, given our COVID restrictions. Some have told me they would love me to come and speak, but do not know when, so I wait and pray they will not forget me, as time goes by.

Yet these concerns of mine paled into insignificance recently when I read the story of Peter and Cornelius again in the bible. I remembered how an angel told Cornelius, a non-Jew, to send men to fetch Peter, a Jew, from Joppa (Acts 10). I remembered too how God gave Peter a vision of a large sheet, with all sorts of unclean animals in it, and told him to kill and eat. I was also aware that, when Cornelius’s men arrived, God told Peter to go with them. But I do not remember ever thinking about how many unknowns Peter faced throughout this whole event—or how huge they were.

When Peter asks the men why Cornelius wanted him, they explain:

A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say. Acts 10:22

But Jews would never associate with Gentiles. Surely Peter must have felt great trepidation as he went with the men—and again when he discovered Cornelius’s home filled with relatives and friends? Yet Peter tells Cornelius:

You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me? Acts 10:28-29

Peter went willingly, despite not quite knowing what lay ahead. And, after hearing Cornelius’s story from his own lips, Peter courageously shares God’s message of salvation with everyone. As a result, the Gentiles hear how Jesus died for them too and are filled with God’s Spirit, to the amazement of the Jews present.

I’m so grateful, as a Gentile believer today, that Peter listened to God and did not hesitate to step out into the unknown. May you and I take courage and do the same in 2021. And as we too listen and obey, who knows what God will do through us in this world?

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‘You are one of the most loyal people I know,’ someone told me years ago. At the time, this comment puzzled me because I was sure I had never consciously chosen to live that way. Instead, I had always thought that, if anyone truly believed in someone or in what a particular group or organisation stood for, then of course he or she would remain loyal to them.

Since then, I have become a little less naïve and have realised this is not always the case. Sometimes, we become bored or perhaps disenchanted, for some reason, and want to try something different. Sometimes, we get a better offer. Sometimes, we are less than honest and trustworthy in our relationships. Yet we all need and long for those faithful, loyal friends who will stick by us, don’t we?

Recently, I have been busy promoting my latest novel, Down by the Water¸ an historical novel set in Queensland in the early 1900s. In order to let family, friends and acquaintances know the book is available, I sent out emails and also held a Facebook Live book launch. I did not know what sort of response to expect from all this, especially since I have never held a Facebook Live launch before. And I was also aware that many of my family and friends do not want more books lying around at this stage of their lives. Nevertheless, over this past week or two, I have received emails from a good number of them, ordering a copy or arranging to drop in and pick up one—or more—from me.

As well, some have even bothered to email me after finishing the book to tell me how it impacted them. When such emails arrive, I feel relieved, but also so thankful. You see, many of these people have stuck with me throughout my whole writing journey of around fifteen years now, buying a copy of each book I produce and encouraging me along the way. They have truly been such loyal, faithful supporters—and I am so grateful for each one of them.

But experiencing their generosity of heart has caused me to think about myself too and how faithful and loyal I am each day towards others—and towards God. Sometimes, I say one thing, yet do another. Sometimes, I want to be faithful and loyal, yet I lack the courage to do so. Sometimes, I choose an easier way. Sometimes am I more like the Apostle Peter than I care to admit, telling Jesus I will never disown him, then doing exactly that (Matthew 26).

Yet I love how, despite Peter’s downfall, Jesus reinstates him and commissions him to care for his sheep (John 21:15-19). And it’s such a relief to know Jesus will always welcome me back too with that same love and forgiveness, when I am less than loyal to him. But that doesn’t mean I can take such kindness and mercy for granted. Instead, I need to be as faithful as I can be, loving Jesus with my whole heart and serving him with joy—forever.  

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Proverbs 3:3

May God enable me—and you—each day to do just that.

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At the moment, I am making my way yet again through my current novel, checking for errors and tweaking this and that to make it the best I can. It is painstaking work—and it seems to have gone on forever. But each morning, as I open my laptop and go to the relevant document, I am cheered by the polite, little greeting that awaits me there. On the right of my screen, I always see a little box that says happily:

Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.

How encouraging is that? But recently, that little message did more than cheer me up and inspire me to pick up where I left off with even more determination. It also alerted me to open my ears to hear what God might want to say to me. It was as if God highlighted that little box on my screen so that I could not miss a much more important message it contained.

Then it hit me. In an instant, I sensed God saying: ‘That’s exactly what I’ve said to you so many times over the years, Jo-Anne. Whenever you have pulled back from following me for a while and gone your own way, but then turned around and repented, I have always been there waiting for you with open arms. Time and time again, like your laptop does each day, I have said to you, “Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.” What a joy it has been to offer you forgiveness each time—and how good it is to pick you up and help you stand firm again!’

Then my mind went to the Apostle Peter’s story in the bible. I love Peter. He seems such a full-on person—always the leader, opening his mouth on behalf of the other disciples and stepping out when others might well have feared to. I love how he was brave enough to get out of that boat and walk towards Jesus on the water (Matthew 14). I love how he realised early on that Jesus was the only one worth following and the only one who could offer eternal life.

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God. John 6:68-69

I love too how he declared he would never deny Jesus, fully thinking that was true—and I always feel sad when I read how he did deny him, then wept bitterly over it (Matthew 26:75). But later, when the resurrected Jesus appears on the shore as Peter is fishing with the other disciples and proceeds to provide them with breakfast, I hold my breath at what unfolds. Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loves him. And three times, Peter replies, Lord, you know that I love you (John 21).

Can you imagine how Peter must have felt, as Jesus treated him in such a loving way and reinstated him to be the strong shepherd and leader he had called him to be? What grace Jesus showed him that day! And what grace Jesus shows each of us today, whenever we turn back to him, as he says with such love: ‘Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.’

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Jo 12I well remember how, as a child, I was at times particularly averse to being told what to do. If my poor mother wanted me to do something I did not want to do, my response would often be ‘But why?’ I would keep asking this until my mother, in exasperation, would eventually snap, ‘Because I said so!’

Perhaps that’s why a certain phrase jumped out at me recently when I read Luke’s account of the calling of Jesus’ first disciples. After Jesus sits in Simon’s fishing boat and teaches the crowd on the shore of the lake, he tells Simon to head for deep water and let down the nets. Then Simon replies:

Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Luke 5:5

No wonder Simon respected Jesus enough even then to do whatever Jesus told him to do. After all, Jesus had just healed many people while in Simon’s home, including Simon’s own mother-in-law. But Simon soon becomes much more astonished when his fishing nets start to break and both his and his partners’ boats begin to sink from their enormous catch. In fact, in fear, he falls at Jesus’ knees and says “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (8) It’s almost as if he is saying, ‘What have I got myself into? I can’t handle this!’ But Jesus reaches out and reassures him, so much so that he and his partners James and John end up leaving their boats and following him:

Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” (10)

Recently, I learnt how a newcomer to our country heard this story for the first time while fishing in the Parramatta River. He laughed loudly at the idea of catching men—yet now he has begun a journey just like Simon’s and we hope his mind will also soon be boggled by Jesus’ awesome power and authority. But what about my own response to Jesus’ authority? What is Jesus calling me to do in 2020? Am I going to say like Simon, ‘Because you say so, I will do this or that?’ Or will I instead curl up in fear and decide not to let down my own ‘nets’ in the coming year?

I have always felt Jesus’ gentleness and love, as well as his quiet authority, whenever he has challenged me to step out and do something. And this was particularly strong when I began my current novel. Back then, I sensed Jesus saying, ‘I’ll be so delighted if you write this book, Jo-Anne. But I’ll be just as delighted with you if you don’t!’ What wonderful freedom that gave me—simply to write as time permitted and enjoy the process, irrespective of the outcome! Yet surely this is Jesus’ heart for us all in whatever he calls us to do. Jesus has the power and authority to call us to act—and we need to listen and be obedient. Yet it seems to me he also surrounds us with such love and grace and mercy, however we respond.

‘But because you say so …’. May that be my honest response—and yours—as we embrace all God has for us in the coming year.

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I am something of a fan of lifelong learning. When I first went to university eons ago, I majored in German and Japanese. In my second year, I added Classical Greek to the mix. Then in my forties, I studied New Testament Greek. And about a decade later, I set about learning some basic Turkish so I could find my own way around Turkey when visiting a friend there. I loved the challenge of learning a new language and remember telling my friend I would rather work out how Turkish fits together than spend my time doing puzzles like crosswords or sudoku. At least I was learning something strategic that could mean the difference between getting lost in Turkey and not getting lost!

IMG_20190525_121805677But times change—and sometimes these days those brain cells of mine do not function as efficiently they used to. So, while I still love recalling the various foreign words and phrases I spent so long learning, I also enjoy a good crossword puzzle. Earlier in my life, I would have regarded them as a waste of time, but now I can see much more value in them. Firstly, they are fun! Secondly, they force my brain to work harder as I try to recall those unusual or not so unusual words I must have read somewhere or unravel the slightly cryptic clue that is all I have to go by. And thirdly, I learn so many new words or reacquaint myself with old ones, all of which adds to the vocabulary available to me as I write.

I must admit, however, that it is a cause for celebration when I manage to solve a whole crossword puzzle in my Times Big Book of Quick Crosswords! Yes, I could find an easier crossword book, but then where would the real challenge be in that? Instead, if I find myself stumped, I look up the correct answer, learn the word or get the connection, then mark that particular puzzle with a cross—I did not solve it myself. But if I manage to do so, then I jubilantly put a big tick and a ‘Yay!’ above it! And to my surprise, in recent months, my strike rate has slowly improved from around one in five puzzles solved to one in four. Maybe one day, I will be able to solve every puzzle—who knows?

But there is another area in which I dearly desire to grow so much more. I want to know God better and keep growing in the things of God. I want to be able to sense the Spirit’s presence in me and around me even more each day. I want to learn to be more obedient to those promptings deep in my own spirit to pray or to act. I want to write more of the things God wants me to write—and to do it even better, as God leads. In short, I want to do what the Apostle Peter urges us all to do:

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. 2 Peter 3:18

Is that your desire too? Let’s all keep growing in the Lord, until that day when we meet him face to face!

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One morning recently, I decided to take a particular route through our village to the main road. Just before I entered an area bordering on bushland, I noticed a nearby sign. I read what it said—it was very clear:

IMG_20171013_120522229 (2)Even as one part of my brain took these words in, however, another part thought: ‘This will never happen to me! Those magpies won’t bother me! They’re probably not close by at all—it may not even be the right season for them.’

How wrong I was! I had taken only a few steps before—whoosh! Something came at me from behind and off to my right, swooping down at breakneck speed and narrowly missing my head.  Needless to say, I scuttled off, no doubt looking more than a little undignified in the process! Why I thought I was immune to those attacking magpies, I have no idea. Put it down to ignorance or arrogance—or both.

Later, I told my husband about my perilous adventure. Yet the next day, he too chose to walk through that same area and did not even notice the sign. This time, that pesky magpie dive-bombed a little more accurately and, while no damage was done, my husband did get quite a fright. Was he forewarned? Yep. Did he remember what I had said? Nope!

What silly creatures we can be! I know in other areas of my life as well, I have not heeded warnings on occasions from those much wiser than I—gentle suggestions to take time off, to be kinder to myself, to rest and relax. Instead, I have kept going and become exhausted in the process. I did not think it would happen to me. I thought I was invincible.

Years ago, I remember singing a particular song in church in which we all passionately declared we would follow Jesus forever and never fall away. I have forgotten the exact words, but I remember holding my breath at how fervently we all sang them. I hoped and prayed we would be able to stand firm, whatever happened in our lives, but I sensed even then how desperately I would need God’s help to do so. And sadly, as time went by, many who sang those words did cease following the Lord.

I think too of the Apostle Peter’s fervent declaration of faithfulness just prior to Jesus’ death and of Jesus’ heartrending response, predicting what would actually happen:

Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” Matthew 26:33-34

How easy it is to make promises to God, yet not keep them!  How tempting it can be to forget how much we need God and to think, ‘It couldn’t happen to me’! How quickly we can become just that little bit too complacent and cease to care about living in a way that honours God!

May we all continue to walk humbly each day in the strength and power that God gives. And may we always be ready to listen with all our hearts to that Voice behind us, saying , “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21b)

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Jo 17I love Easter. Apart from anything else, I enjoy this time of the year, as autumn leaves begin to appear everywhere and there is a promise of cooler days to come. I love witnessing the pleasure on the faces of children as they receive Easter eggs. I love seeing relatives or friends who take the time to visit. But, above all, I love the opportunity it brings to stop and reflect once again on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This year, I read the account of the last weeks of Jesus’ life on earth in Matthew’s Gospel and, as often happens, it was as if I had never read some parts before. Yet I have—many times. And maybe these particular verses have even impacted me deeply before. But I am good at forgetting—and no, it has nothing to do with age! We all need this constant reminding, I believe, of what it cost God to send Jesus to die for us. We all need to allow those words written so long ago and the words Jesus himself spoke to pierce our hearts again and to spur us on to be and to do all God has for us to be and do.

I came to Matthew 26:34-35 and began to read how Jesus predicted Peter’s denial.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

Now I know I have read these verses before—there is a big pen mark in my old Bible beside the last sentence there which shows me it impacted me on at least one other occasion. Yet this time, the sadness of those final, few words almost overwhelmed me. I had remembered Peter’s assertion that he would never disown Jesus. But I had forgotten how all the other disciples had joined in as well. How difficult it must have been for Jesus to listen to their promises, knowing they would not be kept—at least not immediately anyway.

I read on and came to the scene in Gethsemane where Jesus asks Peter, James and John to keep watch with him while he prays.

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Mt 26:38

The disciples knew exactly how Jesus was feeling—yet three times when he returns from praying, he finds them asleep. Surely he felt utterly forsaken and devastated enough, without being so let down by those closest to him? Again, I felt deep sadness on his behalf—yet also compassion for those three disciples. After all, I may not have been faithful enough to be anywhere near the Garden of Gethsemane that night.

Yes, these verses might have made for sad reading–but what a privilege to enter fully into Easter with Jesus and to realise once again his incredible love for you and me. Easter 2015 has left me feeling so grateful, as well as strengthened and somehow enriched.

May you too have experienced something of that same strengthening and enriching as you identified with our Saviour in your own way this Easter.

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