Publication: Pastoral Letter, January 2009
Dear Friend in Christ:
Happy New Year!
In our upcoming issue of One-to-One Magazine, I’ve written an article about the humble Christ_the many ways that the Son of God exercised humility in order to reach the humble. In this letter, I want to focus on Peter and how he too became humble. But for Peter, humility did not come until he went through a deep soul-searching process.
Humility is a subject that the Lord has impressed upon me in recent weeks and the subject that I pass on to you because humility is where God’s work begins in us.
I have sometimes wondered why God chose me, and some others that I have seen doing His work. Then I have thought about Peter, the apostle, who must have often pondered the same question. I imagine Peter as a strong, hardworking impetuous man. He had a habit of speaking his mind and a tendency to be violent if provoked. In our culture, he would be politically incorrect and offensive to the more genteel folk.
Peter was from Galilee, the less cultured area of Israel, born in Bethsaida and living in Capernaum. Both villages were located in the northern reaches of the Sea of Galilee. That is where Jesus found him as Jesus was looking for disciples_a rather unusual place for the Lord to look for future apostles.
Peter had been fishing all night with no results when a large crowd gathered to hear Jesus. Due to the crowds, Jesus got into Peter’s boat and moved out into the shallows to speak. After speaking, He told Peter to launch out into the deeper waters and drop the net. Peter protested that they had caught nothing, but nevertheless obeyed (typical of Peter).
Peter and the others were stunned when they drew in a very large catch. At that point he fell at Jesus’ feet and declared, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (see Luke 5:8).
Jesus replied, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will catch men.” One might assume that Peter’s bow before Jesus was his conversion and that his process of humility was accomplished. Not so; it was just the beginning. The Lord often chooses strong-willed people then processes them until they become weak. Then and only then is His strength revealed.
ON THE ROAD WITH JESUS
Peter’s journey with Jesus was a great and colorful adventure from fishing to fishing for men. Along the way He would help with feeding thousands, try to walk on water, watch Jesus heal the sick, cast out evil spirits, be commended and rebuked by the Lord, see Jesus transfigured, go to sleep in Gethsemane, cut off a soldier’s ear with a sword, deny that he knew Jesus, leave the scene of crucifixion, go through deep grief, be forgiven, hear prophecies regarding the future, and finally watch Jesus ascend in the heavens.
Peter’s journey was unspeakably privileged, but a roller coaster ride of faith and doubt, fame and infamy, peace and violence, power and impotence, revelations and blindness. One minute, he received the revelation that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The next, he was told he would be sifted like wheat. What a trip!
Being on the road with Jesus is an unspeakable privilege still, but a walk of highs and lows until we come to the end of ourselves and know that our deliverance is solely in his hands. As my dear wife said as she departed this life, “I am in the hands of Jesus.”As Jesus said to Peter, “When you are old…another will gird you and take you where you do not wish to go”(see John 21:18).
The apostle Paul learned this lesson as well, and declared, “For when I am weak, then I am strong”(see 2 Corinthians 12:10).
Peter was never weaker than when he slept in the same hour Jesus sweated blood, or denied that he even knew Jesus and fled the crucifixion. But in that night and subsequent day, he finally freed himself, and that is when God’s strength began to flood into him.
Peter’s path took an upward turn when Jesus told Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of James, who witnessed His empty tomb and his transformed body, “Go tell my disciples_and Peter…”(see Mark 16:7). It further progressed when Jesus met the disciples at Galilee, forgave Peter, and re-commissioned him.
Peter’s path was greatly enhanced when Jesus told him and the others to go back to Jerusalem and tarry until the Holy Spirit came upon them. Peter was include(see Luke 24). Peter, along with 120 believers, gathered, and after days of waiting, were baptized in the Holy Spirit. They were literally intoxicated with the power of God. It was just 50 days from the night that Peter denied even knowing Jesus that he experienced this life-changing and world-changing event. In Peter’s weakness, God revealed His great power!
The multitudes that had come to celebrate the Jewish Feast of Pentecost witnessed an event that they had not come to see: disciples filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. And it was Peter who spoke. His message is recorded in Acts 2:14-40. It was, to say the least, powerful! His boldness had been replaced by Holy Spirit boldness; his foolishness with God’s wisdom. Peter preached the Gospel: Jesus the Son of God, crucified for our sins and raised from the dead. He preached that the promise of the Holy Spirit was for all and their children’s children. He preached that Jesus was now at the right hand of the Father, and would be until the Father made Jesus’ enemies His footstool.
That day,3000 people received Christ and were taught the message of Jesus by the apostles. Soon, thousands more would be added ,and numerous miracles would be recorded. To this day, hundreds of millions more have been dramatically affected by those events and continue to be. All of this has been the result of a process that Peter and the others endured. They stuck it out when others left.
Peter left us both with a historical record and two letters. In those letters, we see the inspired wisdom of God in a man with whom many can identify. For instance, he says, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). He continues and reminds us that all flesh is grass and all the glory of men withers, but that the Word of the Lord endures forever(see 1 Peter 1:24-25).
I cannot teach the epistles here but I will point to 1 Peter 5:5-6 where he tells the young to be submissive to those who are older, and for everyone to clothe themselves with humility toward one another and adds, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”
I am reminded of Psalm 34:1,which says, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear and be glad.” The humble shall hear.
Peter’s letters do not reflect the impetuous words of a raw fisherman, they reflect the wisdom of a man processed along the path of Jesus. They are the words of a man emptied of himself and filled with the grace of God. And they are words addressed to us.
BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING
We would all like to begin at Pentecost or have a dramatic manifestation of God’s power. I have heard some lament the lack of miracles we would all desire. But we do not begin there. The real ministry begins where our salvation begins – in humility. There is a great promise found in 2 Chronicles 7:14,where we read: if we humble ourselves, pray and seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways, then will He hear from heaven, forgive, and heal.
As sure as He forgave Peter, He will forgive us. But it all begins in humility. It is easy to point fingers. There is sin in Hollywood, the media, the government, the ministry, and elsewhere. But we cannot humble someone else. We can only humble ourselves.
In 1964,my pastor, Ken Sumrall, and I were praying. Ken quotes promises when he prays. On that particular day, he quoted Proverbs 16:7,“When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” It struck me forcefully. God help my ways to please you!
If I could live my life again, I would give more attention to humility.“God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” I have needed that grace. Admitting that is to take a small step toward God’s pleasure.
THE BEST IS AHEAD
Like you, I desire to see God’s power again through the Church. We have accomplished some things, but the best remains ahead if we humble ourselves. Like you, I desire to see our nation blessed; it is still a good place to live. But our enemies are not at peace with us.The best is yet ahead, if we humble ourselves.
How can we do that_humble ourselves? It is much more than outward appearance. One of the best ways to demonstrate true humility is to forgive others who sin against us, realizing our own sin. If Jesus could forgive Peter, then we should have little problem forgiving others.
I pray that 2009 will be a year of promotion and not further processing. But if God deems it necessary – so be it. Whatever it takes, we have a new opportunity to humble ourselves before God, in the face of economies and enemies. I pray that the humble shall hear and be glad.
Since teaching on humility, I have had opportunity to practice it. I have learned to be careful about what I teach!
Have a blessed month, and please let us know how we can stand with you.
As the Lord leads, would you consider a special gift this month to support the work of this ministry? We have been diligently sowing the seed of the Gospel in more than 70 nations worldwide for many decades, and we are dependent upon God’s faithfulness and your support in order to continue. See the enclosed card for more information about how to give to CSM. Thank you!
Scripture Reference: Luke, John, 2 Corinthians, Mark, Luke, Acts, 1 Peter, Psalms, 2 Chronicles, Proverbs