Choosing your defining moment

I was asked to share something before communion at the recent Elim100 Leaders’ conference. Some people asked me for notes at the end of the service. Unfortunately I didn’t have any notes, so I will try to reproduce here the spirit, if not the letter,  of what I said. You might also find some explanatory comments which were not in the original talk. It is not a complete exposition, as there is a dimension of spiritual warfare that I didn’t emphasise. And there is also a difference between the “you” plural of v.31 and the “you” singular of v.32: Simon Peter was clearly at the sharp end of this Satanic attack.

Text: 31 ‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ 33 But he replied, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.’ 34 Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.’ Luke 22.31-34

Communion is a defining mark of the church. As believers have celebrated the Lord’s Supper over the centuries, this defining mark has resulted in many defining moments.

On the night Jesus was betrayed there were a number of events that could be classed as defining moments.

Simon Peter is one of the disciples whom we might think had the most obvious defining moments during that evening of betrayal. In Luke’s gospel chapter 22.31-34, Jesus warns Simon Peter that Satan is seeking to sift him as wheat, but assures him that He, Jesus, has prayed for him that his faith will not fail. Simon Peter protests that he is ready to pay the ultimate price for his faith. In reply, Jesus declares that Peter will not die for Him, he will rather deny that he knows Him at all.

On the surface, it would seem that Peter had three very obvious defining moments: the three occasions on which He denied the Lord.

There is no doubt that Peter failed. Yet Jesus had said that He was praying for him that his faith would not fail.

Peter’s flesh failed, but in the overall scheme of God’s purpose for Peter, his faith did not fail. Why? Because Jesus was praying for him.

Peter’s defining moment was not the first, second, or third time that he denied the Lord. His defining moment was when Jesus said to him “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail”.

A failure of flesh is not necessarily a failure of faith. If Peter’s denial constituted a failure of faith, then Jesus’ prayer that Peter’s faith would not fail was not answered positively.

The “failures of flesh” could have become Peter’s defining moments. But in the eyes of Jesus they never were nor would be his defining moments. Our “failures of flesh” do not need to become our defining moments, if we default to the grace of Christ.

The words Jesus spoke to Peter in Luke 22 are words for the whole of the church. in those few words of encouragement, Jesus reveals Himself as our Great High Priestly intercessor the one who “ever liveth to make intercession for [us]” (Hebrews 7.25 KJV).

Jesus is praying for us as much as He was praying for Peter. Whatever the circumstances we face. However difficult and daunting our challenges. I made a note in my kindle on these verses: “The hidden prayer life of the greatest intercessor releases unseen power that shapes our lives”. Jesus is praying for us.

Failures of flesh happen. But they are not meant to define us. Such is clear from what Jesus says to Peter: ‘And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’

We can choose our defining moments. And if we make our encounter with the grace of Christ our ultimate defining moment, we will retain His perspective over our lives. Not only that, but out of the grace we have received, we will have something precious and redemptive with which to strengthen our brothers. Let’s choose to be defined by the grace that we have found in Jesus.

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Escaping from the Escape Room

Apparently the latest must have holiday is one in which you book yourself into what is called an escape room. You are locked in a room, along with some other people and you have to find your way out of the room using clues left in the room and solving puzzles. The idea began as a virtual reality game, but in recent years has been transformed into being physically locked into a “real life” room. It’s supposed to be a phenomenon that appeals to younger people. Perhaps those of us who are older are well used to locking ourselves into or out of places simply because we have forgotten where we have left our keys.

For so many Christians, trying to live the Christian life can feel like an escape room experience. Sadly, the abundant life promised in John 10.10 begins to look more like the frustrated life of Romans 7 – wanting to do the right thing but never quite getting there.

In Ephesians 3, Paul reveals how he is praying for the church at Ephesus (14-21). He wants the lives of the members of that church to be God-filled. And the way he prays shows that he believes that is possible.

So how do we move from escape room Christianity to God-filled living?

A number of things emerge from Paul’s prayer.

Firstly, he prays that they will have this experience. That might seem an obvious point, but it is so obvious it can often be missed.

We know that in Christ we have all the riches of heaven. But having all the riches of heaven and not praying is like have millions in a bank account and forgetting the PIN number for your debit card. You cannot access God’s riches without prayer.

Secondly, he prays that they will be strengthened with power through His Spirit in [your] inner being.

Too often we try to change our behaviour on our own steam. Simply trying to make a decision to live for Jesus is not in itself enough. It is through the power that the Holy Spirit gives that our inner being is strengthened. Then as we believe God, the influence of Christ fills our lives, He dwells in our hearts by faith.

Finally, if we want to escape from escape room Christianity into abundant living, we need a profound revelation of love. In verses 17-19 of Ephesians 3, Paul empahasises love in three ways.

He wants believers rooted and established in love. That is the love of Christ for us. He wants us to grasp the dimensions of the love of Christ – wide and long..high and deep.

And he wants us to know His love that surpasses knowledge.

The picture is that of an absolutely overwhelming revelation of the love of God. And it is that revelation that brings about the God-filled life of being filled with all the fulness of God.

We don’t have to live escape room style Christianity. Abundant life is on offer. Oddly enough, Paul was in custody awaiting trial when he wrote Ephesians. It just goes to show, that even if you are confined in what feels like your own personal escape room, you can still live the God-filled, abundant life.

A tale of two kingdoms

By the end of this week we will have a new government. It might end up being a different party or parties in power. Or it might be more of the same. In fact, it might even be more of the same whoever is elected!

Whatever the outcome, the new government is unlikely to be as oppressive as the Roman government of Jesus’ day, or their local puppet, Herod.

Herod, according to Mark 6.14-29, had, albeit unwillingly, agreed to the execution of John the Baptist. It seems that John’s untimely and unjust death played on his mind. At least that seems to be the most plausible way of explaining his reaction to the miraculous exploits of Jesus and his disciples. He thought that somehow John the Baptist must have been raised from the dead.

However one understands Herod’s explanation of the outbreak of the miraculous, one thing is clear; at a time of political pressure and potential persecution, Jesus determined not only to continue to bring the Kingdom of God to the people, He multiplied His ministry. Mark 6.7-12 records how He launched His disciples into a ministry of preaching, healing and miracles.

The account in Mark 6 reminds us that whatever the political climate, God’s priority is always that of advancing His kingdom amongst the “ordinary” people. The rulers of the kingdoms of this world will make their policies and enact legislation. It is important in a democracy that we as the church play our part. What is even more important is that we do not forget that advancing the kingdom of God is always our main priority. We should neither be distracted nor intimidated by what unfolds in the kingdoms of this world.

What we might also learn from the tale of two kingdoms in Mark 6, is that Jesus decided to multiply His ministry at a time when the greatest prophet up until that time had been beheaded.

There is no doubt that Christians are being persecuted all over the world. It is also true that in our own country there is great concern about the increasingly strident anti-Christian rhetoric and application of the law in the public square.

It would be a mistake however to conclude that we have before us the limited choices of fight or flight. It is important to make our voice heard on issues that concern us. That in itself will not advance the kingdom. Nor, I believe, will it bring a return, at least in the short run, to a society based on Christian values. At the same time, retreating into our Christian shells and allowing, to use the well worn cliche, the four walls of the church building to contain our message, is not an option either.

Times of uncertainty are times not only to continue doing what we have always done. They are times to multiply ministry.

I believe that the days in which we live demand not only a church that stands faithfully for the gospel. They demand a whole army of believers who are prepared to proclaim Christ and release His healing and miraculous power into needy communities. If Jesus saw the need to multiply His ministry through releasing His disciples, how much more us?

Whatever is decided in the United Kingdom this week, the Kingdom of God will not be threatened. And whatever happens, the church should take it as a cue from God to stay focused on raising and releasing disciples into mission.