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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Peter

I love Simon Peter.  For those of you unfamiliar, he is one of the twelve apostles, the twelve guys who hung out with Christ on a regular basis, also known as the disciples.  He is far and away my favorite of the twelve (Judas Iscariot running a far 12th) but beyond that he is one of my top five favorite Bible characters.  If they had posters and trading cards for apostles, I would have the Peter collection.  I'm a big fan.

I'm a fan because he is so enthusiastic and yet so imperfect.  He is the "ready, fire, aim" member of the group.  He pops his mouth off inappropriately all the time but it stems from an overwhelming enthusiasm for what he is doing, for who he is following.  He is impulsive and passionate and he makes huge honking mistakes.  I identify with Peter.

He is one of the first called by Christ.  He is fishing with his brother, Andrew, and drops everything, his nets, his livelihood, his plans, everything, in a split second and follows Jesus.  He is the one who, when he sees Jesus walking on the water, has enough faith to step out of the boat and begin walking to Him on the waves.  He is the one who, boldly and without hedging any bets, answers the question, "Who do you say that I am?" with "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."   The the one who, when Christ has risen and appears on the shore, loves him so much that he jumps out of the boat and swims to Him.  He is vehement about his love for Christ.  He asks questions, sometimes stupid questions, but he always is wanting to know more, always seeking.  And he is greatly rewarded.  Jesus says to him, "...you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom..."  Peter gets to go up on the mountain and see Jesus transfigured, see Him glow in His glory, meet with Elijah and Moses, and hear the voice of God.  Jesus asks him questions and confides truths to him.  The honor and privilege Peter must have felt at these moments is unimaginable!

But, still, he suffers massive failures.  The Lord who he loves with such abandon and who blesses him so richly, also rebukes him when he speaks foolishly.  Although he does step out of the boat and walk toward Christ on the water, eventually his fear overtakes his faith and he has to cry out, sinking, for Christ to lift him up.  He accompanies Jesus to the garden of Gethsemane, right before Jesus is arrested and sacrificed.  Jesus, being both fully human and fully God, asks for steadfast friends to keep watch for Him while He prays.  It is a simple request, but despite any good intentions, Peter falls asleep not once but three times rather than being vigilant and steadfast for the Lord.  Finally, against his violent protestations and insistence that he would die rather than deny Jesus, Peter denies Him three times after His arrest, just as Jesus predicts.  I don't know about you, but after all of that, I think I would be questioning Jesus about the whole "rock" thing.  I would feel shaky as sand and completely inadequate to act as the cornerstone of anything, much less the entire Christian faith.

God isn't looking for perfection.  He is perfection.  He doesn't require us to be.  What is he looking for?  I think the answer is found in His conversation with Simon Peter after the resurrection.  He makes the apostles breakfast (seriously, he does; isn't that cool?) and, after they are done eating, He talks to Peter.  This is the first one-on-one conversation they have had since Peter denied any knowledge of Jesus, much less that he believed He was the Christ or that the was one of His followers.  After Peter, who had loved Him, followed Him faithfully, and promised that he would die for Him had looked at Jesus, arrested and disgraced, and said, "I don't know that guy."  Peter knew Jesus knew about that.  He must have felt so ashamed.

But Jesus doesn't look at him and say, "So, have anything to say for yourself?"  He doesn't say, "I told you so."  He doesn't say, "You remember all that stuff about the keys to the kingdom?  Yeah, you can forget about that."  He doesn't call him out.  Instead, he asks Peter, not once but three times, if he loves Him.  The repetition hurts Peter's feelings; he keeps saying, "You know that I love you!"  And Jesus does know it.  He isn't repeating himself out of disbelief, but for emphasis.  Because this account is going to be read for some two thousand years and counting and He wants us all to know:  this is the question that counts.  A three time repetition is the Biblical equivalent of a double exclamation point!!  See what I mean?

Jesus doesn't keep score.  He doesn't care how far you've fallen short or how many times you have failed.  He doesn't care if you have denied His very existence either by word or by practice.  What He cares about is,  now, in this moment, do you love Him?  I know I may be beating this topic to death right now, but it is on my heart:  It's about relationship.  Not rules, not dogma, not good works.  It is DO YOU LOVE GOD with all your heart, your soul and mind?  He wants nothing more and nothing less from you.

I think that is why He chose Simon Peter be the rock, the foundation, of His church.  Because Peter wasn't the wisest man in the world.  He didn't have Paul's gift for words.  As discussed, he was far from perfect.  But he loved Jesus, passionately.  He loved Him so much he flung himself into the water, on two occasions, while everyone else stayed on the boat.  It was because of this love that he had the boldness to say what the rest of them knew:  that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  He stumbled and fell, he failed and he sank.  But he loved.

I love Jesus.  I mess up all the time.  I say stupid stuff; I have too much pride.  I want things He doesn't want for me and sometimes, when things get uncomfortable, I "tone down" a little and thereby deny Him.  I fail.  But I love Him.  I love Him so much it makes me weep to type it.  I love Him because He doesn't care that I'm not perfect.  He sees my heart and smiles.  I love Him so much that I just want to fling myself into His loving arms.  I don't care if everyone else in the boat thinks I'm crazy.  I just want Him, more of Him, everyday, all the time.  If you don't love Him this much, get to know Him.  Because you know that crazy feeling you get when you first fall in love with someone?  Yeah, it's like that and it never has to stop.  He is the same, yesterday, today and forever.  I invite you to get to know my Jesus, Peter's Jesus, and fall in love all over again.

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