The Denial

cross-for-denialHe (Peter) began to call down curses, and he swore to them,
“I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”
Mark 14:71

Peter denied Jesus he denied Him three times! Mark 14:71 records Peter’s third denial. A synonym for deny is refuse. In this case, Peter refused to admit that he was one of Jesus’ disciples. I think Peter may have refused to admit that he knew Jesus because he felt confused. Making a slightly different interpretation of the word deny, I suggest that to deny can mean to forget. Did Peter have spiritual amnesia causing him to forget what Jesus had explained to the disciples about His upcoming death? When Peter witnessed what was happening to Jesus, he may have become worried about what might happen to himself. For his own safety, he may have have felt the need to deny any association with Jesus. Anxiety can cause us to not think clearly and to do strange things.

A short time after denying Jesus, Peter heard a rooster crow two times. Oh, oh! Peter then remembered the words Jesus had spoken to him as recorded in the beginning of Mark 14:72, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.”

And he broke down and wept.
Mark 14:72b

The crow of the rooster may have cured Peter’s amnesia and caused him to reconsider who Jesus truly was. Peter wept with remorse when he realized he had denied Jesus.

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
John 21:15

Fast forward to a few days after Jesus’ resurrection and we find Jesus having breakfast with His disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. Although Peter denied (or forgot) Jesus three times as recorded in Mark 14:68-70, Jesus does not deny (or forget) Peter. Jesus knew Peter and He knew his strengths and weaknesses of character. While Peter forgot Jesus three times, Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to remember who He was. I wonder if Peter needed to be asked this question three times because it took him that long to remember who Jesus truly was. Peter had to have his mind remade – he had to be re-minded.

It is worth noting that the first two times Jesus questioned Peter about his love, He used the Greek word agape for love while the third time He used the term phileo. Agape love is God’s love, a spiritual, selfless love while phileo love expresses love on a friendship level. In His first two inquiries, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him with God’s kind of love. The last time, Jesus lowered his type of love to friendship. It is also interesting to note that each time after Peter assured Jesus that he loved Him, Jesus gave him a command of something to do, such as “Feed my lambs.”

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me.
Matthew 16:24

These words of Jesus to His disciples in Matthew 16:24 are also words being spoken to me. I want to consider what Jesus has to say to me by applying Peter’s experiences with denial to what denial entails for me today.

It was not OK for Peter to deny Jesus but it is OK for me to deny myself. In fact, for me to be a disciple of Jesus, I must deny myself – I must forget about my selfish desires. Numerous times I have denied Christ by focusing upon my own accomplishments rather than His accomplishments upon the cross. If I do not deny myself, I may deny Jesus.

Peter denied Jesus only a few hours before He was crucified upon the cross. The Matthew scripture tells me to take up my cross. What does my cross look like? Most likely I will not have to die upon the beam of a cross like Jesus, but I still need to die to myself. I need to crucify my own plans and purposes to fulfill God’s plans and purposes. When the rooster crowed, Peter remembered Jesus and what Jesus had said to him. He was
re-minded. The cross has been described as a memorial, or a reminder, of who Jesus is and of what He has done for us. For me, to take up my cross allows me to be re-minded.

Although Peter denied Jesus, Jesus still had a job for him to do. Jesus told Peter to “feed His sheep.” Jesus tells me to follow Him. Only then will I know where He wants me to go and what He wants me to do.

For Peter to deny Jesus was a bad thing but for me to deny myself is a good thing.

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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Mocking Jesus and Bullying People

cross-for-mockingWe are in the middle of the Christian season of Lent, the forty days before Easter when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. During the next couple of weeks, I want to concentrate upon what Jesus experienced emotionally as well as physically in the days leading up to His crucifixion. Today, I ask you to join me in focusing upon the mockery Jesus endured while on the cross. Jesus suffered verbal pain as well as physical pain.

Jesus was mocked by ordinary people who were passing by the place of crucifixion and by the religious priests and teachers. There were two different groups of people hurling similar words of scorn and contempt upon Jesus. Listen to the words recorded in Mark 15:29-30 NLT, “The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery.  ‘Ha! Look at you now! Well then, save yourself and come down from the cross!’ they yelled at him. ‘You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days.’” Mark 15:31 NLT goes on to say, “The leading priests and teachers of religious law also mocked Jesus. ‘He saved others,’ they scoffed, ‘but he can’t save himself!’”

When we first read these mocking words spoken to Jesus, our response may be that these verbal assaults were spoken over 2000 years ago and do not apply to us today. However, in his book entitled The Wounded Spirit  Frank Peretti defines the term bullying as being synonymous with mocking. We tend to label these verbal abuses with other names such as teasing, taunting, and harassing because they may sound less offensive. Peretti says, “The message a bully sends is a mockery of God’s handiwork, a lie that slanders God’s nature and negates His love for us.” According to Peretti, a question that is often hidden from the conscious mind of one being mocked is “Do you care for me, God?” I find this question similar to the one Jesus asked while hanging on the cross found in Matthew 27:46, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Bullying causes word wounds that leave secret scars upon the lives of those who have been tormented. These wounded individuals and Jesus can relate to each other because they share scars of scorn. For Jesus, there were physical scars on His hands where nails punctured His hands and feet. The thorns of the crown placed upon His head left scars. There is still evidence of where the sword pierced His side. In John 20, Jesus showed His scars to His disciples two times. In John 20:20, Jesus showed the disciples his hands and side. And then in John 20:27 Jesus said to Peter, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.” How many emotional mockery scars does Jesus have that we are not aware of? How many emotional bullying scars are upon those around us? Peretti also says, “The message a bully sends is a mockery of God’s handiwork, a lie that slanders God’s nature and negates His love for us.” Unfortunately, society is very quiet about the mocking and bullying that occurs today. However, the day is coming when we will be held accountable for our words and actions. Jesus says in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Peretti points out that ultimately bullying is related to our beliefs about the worth of individuals and the way everyone should be treated. God says that it is right to respect and love others by caring for and protecting them. In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus gives the two greatest commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Peretti writes, “It is wrong to abuse, tease, taunt, intimidate, hurt, harass, or violate anyone. Taking it a step further, to demean another person is sin.” Sin is why Jesus died on the cross. I Peter 2:24 states, “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.’”

There is one more point I want to make. Peretti explains that one of the most important steps toward healing a wounded spirit is to forgive those who caused the wounds. Once again, we must look to Jesus and listen to His words from the cross. Jesus says in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Whether it be for those mocking Jesus on the cross or those bullying individuals today, forgiveness will lead to healing even though some scars may remain.

My Reader, think on these thoughts as we approach our commemoration of Jesus crucifixion, death and resurrection.

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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Popcorn Prayers

popcorn-wordRecently I was prompted to think of a word to describe my prayers. The word that popped into mind was “popcorn.” The majority of my prayers are simple payers that I pray when someone or something pops into my mind, so popcorn is probably a proper portrayal of my prayers. Even when I am devoting a specific amount of time to prayer, my mind can jump from one need to another. I often pray about many things in a short time. I want to gain some perspective as to what he Lord may desire to show me regarding my prayer life through popcorn.

I begin with some analogies. The popcorn popper is me, the kernels of popcorn are prayer requests, and the heat and air of the corn popper are representations of the Holy Spirit.

popcorn-and-kernels-3A kernel of popcorn that has not been popped is not edible. It must burst into a fluffy puff of corn rather than remaining a hard seed. A thought that is not prayed cannot be heard by God. It must be verbalized to become a prayer. In Jeremiah 29:12, the Lord says, “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”  If I expect the Lord to hear and answer my prayers, I must put words to my thoughts whether it be silently for only the Lord to hear or audibly for the ears of those around me to hear.

popcorn-popperAs I come back to the popcorn analogy, I visualize an older hot air popper. After the kernels of corn are placed in a hot air popper and the appliance is turned on, heat and air are generated to change the hard kernels into edible pieces of puffed corn. When praying, I rely upon the help of the Holy Spirit to give life to my prayers and bring my prayers into alignment with the will of God. In scripture, the Holy Spirit is symbolized by fire (heat) and wind (air). According to Acts 2:3, at Pentecost, the descending of the Holy Spirit is described as tongues of fire. In Luke 3:16 John the Baptist foretells that when Jesus comes He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. In John 3:8, Jesus compares the Holy Spirit to wind. If I were to watch corn being popped, the popped kernels of corn would come flying out of the hot air corn popper. These kernels can be symbolic of my prayers ascending to heaven.

popcorn-sbThe product of edible corn can now be contained in a large bowl. Hot popcorn is good to eat but it is better if salt and butter are added. Here again is symbolism. Jesus describes us as the salt of the earth in Matthew 5:13. As I pour melted butter over the popped corn, it is as if I my prayers are being anointed with the oil of the Holy Spirit. In II Corinthians 1:21-22, Paul talks about how we are anointed by God and sealed with the Holy Spirit who resides in our hearts. Salt and butter enhance the taste of popcorn while the anointing of the Holy Spirit increases the power of prayer.

popcorn-bowl-2If I have a bowl of popcorn, I enjoy sharing it with others. The Lord is waiting to receive the offering of my prayers. Spiritually, Revelation 5:8 describes the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders presenting the Lord golden bowls full of incense that symbolize our prayers. It is amazing to think that my prayers are helping to fill the golden prayer bowls in heaven. The smell of freshly popped corn is tantalizing, but the aroma of incense is more pleasing to the Lord.

popcorn-2-bowlsAll of this is exciting to me, but I also feel the Lord’s prompting to examine the contents of my popcorn prayer bowls more closely. There appear to be two bowls that I am filling with my popcorn prayers. The first bowl contains all the short unique prayers I lift up to the Lord for numerous people with various needs. The contents of the second bowl is equally full. However, this bowl is filled with prayers for one specific request that evolved during a more concentrated time of devoted prayer. Understanding that the contents of both bowls are of equal value to the Lord, I desire to fulfill the exhortation in Colossians 4:2, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” God hungers for our prayers as we hunger for popcorn. I am encouraged to read in James 5:16 NLT, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” Wonderful prayer is the outcome of conversation with the Lord just as wonderful popcorn is produced when kernels of corn are combined with a popcorn popper!

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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Spiritual Photography 101

camerasmart-phoneI love to take a spiritual picture of what I see in the natural realm. Today I am looking at photography through a holy lens. Over one shoulder, I am carrying a camera bag containing a camera that uses film. In my pocket, I have my smart phone with a digital camera. I will use both types of cameras to develop my spiritual photograph.

When I use my older camera, it takes time for me to get the picture I want to photograph into focus. I have to adjust the camera lens. If I do not do this, my photo will most likely be blurry. For myself spiritually, I want to allow God’s hand to make necessary adjustments in my character so that I reflect a clear image of the Lord. I will make it a priority each day to focus upon God’s Word and His promises.

Before taking a photo, I must decide what kind of a picture I want to take. Do I want a closeup of one person or do I want a group shot of many people? Do I need a telescopic lens or a wide-angled lens on my camera? The telescopic lens allows me to focus upon one person with the capability of enlarging the image of that individual. This is something to consider from a spiritual perspective as well. If I use a telescopic, or myopic, lens, I see only how a situation affects me. With a telescopic lens, I may be focusing too much upon myself and allowing the situation to become a bigger deal than it is in reality. If I attach a wide-angled lens to my brain, I may be able to perceive how my circumstances affect others as well as me. I tend to use the myopic lens and think only of myself while God sees a bigger picture regarding how my present situation affects many people over a greater time period. I recently read an article that pointed out that the word “lie” is found in the middle of the word “believe” – beLIEve. If I use a wide-angled lens, I will have the faith to believe what God has promised rather than focusing upon the lie of the enemy. The conclusion of John 8:44 says, “he (satan) is a liar and the father of lies.” Opposite of this, Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

If I am using my smart phone camera and want to print a copy of the picture, I can click a few keys and download a digital image that can be printed. It is quick! However, this photograph may not be as good of quality as one taken with a camera with film that has to be developed. In fact, the digital picture may turn out to be so dark that the only thing to be done with it is to delete it. From the spiritual perspective, I can say that some thoughts are so dark and distorted that they need to be deleted as well. In John 8:12, Jesus says that He is the Light of the World. Adding Jesus to the picture can produce clear thinking.

In contrast to the digital image of a smart phone, a photo taken with film involves a negative that must be developed to produce a picture. Especially evident on a black and white negative is the fact that the dark and light images are reversed on the negative. It is only after the actual picture is printed that the image is a true reflection of what was captured on film. Negative pictures remind me of negative thoughts and happenings. In Revelation 12:10, satan is described as the accuser of our brethren. His accusations are not true and almost always negative. In contrast, Jesus says in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus offers the positive. II Corinthians 10:4-5 states, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought to captivity to the obedience of Christ.” Even in the spiritual realm, negative accusations have to be developed to become a reality. In contrast, there are positives to be divinely developed with God’s help. Romans 8:28-29 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (my emphasis) God uses all things for good. He can even turn negatives into positives. Instead of allowing negative imaginations to become images, I can let God turn these imaginations into positive images of Christ. I must cast down the false imaginations and focus on the images of the reality. Graham Cooke has said, “You can’t have a negative in your life without the opposite also being there.” Cooke goes on to say that when we are hit with a negative thought or feeling, we are to ask the Holy Spirit what the opposite is. Then he encourages us to dwell on the positive that is revealed. Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart, Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” I do not want to settle for the negative – I want to have the picture developed into a positive reality.

Both natural and supernatural photography take time. They are not just aim and shoot actions if the best results are desired. It takes time to develop a picture taken with a camera if we choose to not just print the first image seen on the screen of a smart phone. It also involves a process for God to work the negatives of our lives into positives for His glory. The story of Joseph in Genesis is a good example. I think of all the negatives Joseph encountered because of his brothers’ actions. However, by the time we read Genesis 50:20 Joseph says, “You intended to harm me (negative), but God intended it for good (positive) to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Max Lucado makes the comment in Cast of Characters – Common People in the Hands of an Uncommon God that forgiveness becomes easier with a wide-angled lens. Joseph refused to focus on the betrayal of his brothers without also seeing the loyalty of his God. The Lord desires to divinely develop a similar type of spiritual photography in all of our lives. Our first imagination may be negative, but God can divinely develop an image with a positive outcome.

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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A Ball or a Box?

ball-2box

My Reader, do you live your life as a ball or a box? This may be a strange question but it gives us a couple of interesting images to ponder. Take time to think about your initial response to my question before reading further.

If your answer was that you are more like a box, you may find that you compartmentalize your life. You may view life as one big box with numerous little boxes packed inside with each one designating a certain amount of your time for such activities as family commitments, work responsibilities, church activities, and personal relaxation. Or, maybe you have a big weekly box containing seven smaller boxes. Each day of the week you open a different box with specific jobs to accomplish. From another perspective, you may think of each task you complete as a box. During the day you may stack one box on top of another as you successfully complete a task. At the end of the day you have created a tower of accomplishments.

If you are like a ball, you may bounce around from one responsibility to another. You may begin one task but be easily distracted by something else that needs to be done. You may never fully complete anything you start. It may be easy for you to adapt to spur of the moment invitations and emergency situations, but in the process you neglect to fulfill a promise you previously made. By the end of the day, you may be depleted of air and not able to move having wasted your time and energy.

My tendency is to want to live as a box. I like to be organized and there are specific tasks I plan to do on certain days each week. God reveals Himself as a God of order when He created the earth in seven days so I try to follow His example. However, I also desire to allow my schedule to bounce around like a ball when an opportunity to do something different pops up unexpectedly. I do not want to miss any divine appointment God is placing before me.

Next, I want to make a couple of scriptural applications to our ball and box.

The type of ball I am thinking about is one we blow up for children to play with. This reminds me of John 20:22 that says, “And with that he (Jesus) breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” Just as a ball can be inflated with air, we can be filled with the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit is described as wind when He descended upon the disciples. Then Acts 13:42 says, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Relating these verses to the concept of our lives as a ball, I discover that the Holy Spirit fills us with His presence just as air fills a ball. We can be caught up in the joy of the Holy Spirit like the fun a child has catching a ball.

Now let’s think back to life like a box. Remember how I mentioned that we might tend to build our accomplishments into a tower of boxes? This reminds me of the story of the tower of Babel in the first book of the Bible. From Genesis 11:3-4 we read, “They said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks …. Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name’” As I compare a box to a brick, I sense our potential to build a name for ourselves if we keep our lives contained within boxes we build. I do not want to build my life primarily upon my self-esteem.

I consider a box more confining while with a ball I sense more freedom. I think of a box as being self-contained allowing me to be in control while a ball can take unplanned bounces in unexpected directions. A ball symbolizes more freedom in ministry for me than if I keep my life boxed in according to my own plans. I want to allow the Holy Spirit to blow me where He wants me to go and use me in the way He desires to use me for His glory. If we live like a ball, we would be wise to heed the words of Mark Batterson in All In, “You better expect the unexpected because God is predictably unpredictable.”

My Reader, I ask you again, are you more like a ball or a box? Think about this as you go about your responsibilities this week.

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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