I looked in the mirror today and did not like what I saw
One of my friends on Facebook wrote this morning about an incident in her life as a parent, an incident which she discussed with great pain and personal anguish.
Parenting for most of us (I have two girls aged 11 and 7) has its times where pain and anguish happens and as much as we are trying to avoid it, it is unavoidable.
I was really moved by what this dear sister had to say because she was really in pain and was looking at herself in a very negative way. I think we've all been there. I know I have.
It made me remember a time a few years ago, which was very painful for me and during that time, I have a tendency to seek to feel my way out of the pain through writing. I wrote quite a lot in fact one night and when I finished I had written almost 9,000 words. A very emotional paper to be sure and I still have not gotten up the nerve to publish it yet, but in this post I am going to excerpt something from it which I hope blesses you.
So, I went through some time of personal reflection on my own writing and what I wanted it to achieve and I was not happy with some of the things I was doing and some of the things I was holding back. One day, I remember just looking in the mirror and looking back at myself and not liking the person looking back. I really felt like God has this line where we humans get to stand in which has this sign that says "SINNER" and we all get to line up and find our place in the line and on that day, yours truly was standing at the head of the line. I am sure most of you have probably felt like this at one time or another. I am sure it is a fairly normal part of the human condition.
Paul talks about this "SINNER" line and where he saw himself in that line in his first letter to Timothy saying:
“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (I Timothy 1:12-15 ESV)
When my dad was alive, he also talked about this 'SINNER" line. Dad referred to this line of sinners with quite a lot of pain and anguish as well. I remember well one particularly stressful time in my dad's life and he spoke about this "SINNER" line saying that he occupied the number one position taking his reference from Paul's letter to Timothy:
“Paul here speaks to us in the present tense. He did not say he was formerly the foremost of sinners and now here he was with the big halo around his head. Oh no! That is not what he said at all. He said he was the chiefest of sinners, and he is writing in the present tense. Of course, Paul was walking a Christian walk to the best of his ability, but he knew that sin ruled in his members. That gives me some comfort because I know that I cannot be the chiefest of sinners. The Apostle Paul has that role according to Scripture, but speaking for myself, I realize that if Paul is the chiefest of sinners, I am right behind him a close second. In fact, I’ll take over the role.” (Ernest L. Martin - Private Lecture)
You know dad, I loved hearing that when you gave that message and I love thinking about it today as you sleep in Christ because it is the truth. There is only one problem now dad. Now that you’re gone, sin no longer rules in your members because you (and Paul) sleep in Christ, so the chiefest of sinners slot is open again and dad, I am taking your spot.
This is how I felt that day and this is how my dear sister felt a few days ago. We sometimes feel awful about the things we have done and it hurts.
Shortly after looking in the mirror that morning and not liking what I saw, I remembered St. Peter.
Peter is another one of us sinners just in the chiefest of sinner’s line behind me. When we look at what happened to him and what he did, I think there is some teaching here for us if we have eyes to see it and ears to hear it.
I think it is also quite important to also note the reaction of Jesus throughout the recorded interactions He had with Peter. I think also herein we who are also God's own children have an opportunity to learn something about what true parental love is all about.
Let us remind ourselves of some of the things that Peter said and did and how maybe we can learn something from them. Look at what he did:
Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. (Matthew 26:31-35)
Sounded pretty dedicated to His Master along with all the rest, but what happened? After denying he knew Christ, he went on to add insult to injury and:
“he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:74-75)
Yes, Peter really dropped the ball and that was not the end of it.
Luke 22:55 adds a little information about Peter’s denial of Jesus which is important. It involved the “kindling of a fire.” There was going to be another kindling of a fire involving Peter and Jesus later. Remember the story in John 21?
"Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:4-14 ESV)
Now, this is such an interesting text and it is so full of hope for all of us sinners. Here is Peter, who has now just returned to his trade, back to business as usual and isn't it interesting that the Lord, in a way, catches Peter (one might say with his pants down - thanks to Dr. Stephen Pfann for that observation) just back to his normal life and what does the Lord offer? Abundance! Miracles! Service! Sustenance! He is really fulfilling Psalm 23:5, where it says:
"You prepare a table before me" ... (Psalm 23:5 ESV)
It is so interesting that another conversation is now going to take place around a fire. We all remember what happened at the last conversation that Peter had around a fire. Not too pleasant.
If this was not enough, Peter continues to drop the ball!
"When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I am fond of you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I am fond of you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, are you fond of me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Are you fond of me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I am fond of you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep." (John 21:15-17 ESV with modifications based on the Greek text)
In looking at this text, I have modified the ESV here to reflect what the Greek language indicates, because in most Bible versions, you don't catch the full force of the intent.
The point here is that Jesus asked Peter twice, "Do you love me" using the deep spiritual term for love in Greek (agape), but Peter answered him both times using the Greek word for fondness (phile). Then, the third time, Jesus just asks Peter "are you fond of me" and Peter then gets angry and even after that, Peter could not bring himself to express himself using the deep spiritual word for love.
Isn't this how we all are with our parents and isn't this how our own children are with us? Yet, look at Jesus' words to Peter at the end of the Gospel of John.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”" (John 21:18-19 ESV)
This is the kind of parent Jesus is to us. Even in our imperfections, our stumbling’s, our pride, our lack of humility, He is there ready to parent us and show love.
But, that “bitter weeping” and those verbal missteps do not seem to have lasted too long, because less than a couple of months later, we read the following:
“But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them …” (Acts 2:14)
Peter seems to have done his “bitter weeping,” but when I read Acts 2, there is no misstep in Peter’s action. On the contrary, seems like God can use sinners who even a few short weeks before cursed and denied even knowing Him. Look at the end result of that message that dear brother Peter gave on Pentecost day:
“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41)
What a minute though! Maybe Peter was still not 100%? In fact, that is correct. He was not 100%. He was still the same sinner right in line behind me, but he had no dam in his spiritual river holding him back. He was not going to let one mistake stop him from allowing Jesus Christ to work with him and through him. On the contrary!
“Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.” (Acts 3:1-8)
You know, I guess Peter could have stayed in his misery and continued crying for his denial of Jesus, but that is not what he did. God had something for Peter to do and it was not to remain “crying bitterly.” There was a time for the crying and there was a time for that crying to end.
This is what occurred to me that day several years ago when I was in that moment of pain. The time for crying is over, because God has something waiting for us. Don’t get me wrong: evil is evil. But does not God want us to “overcome evil with good’? (Romans 12:21) I think the answer is "Yes."