Friday, November 15, 2013


Peter was an ordinary man.  When he first met Jesus, Jesus changed his name to Peter (i.e. ‘rock’).  On a subsequent meeting, Jesus changed his occupation.  A lot of other changes would come about as a result of his relationship with Jesus.
No Fish or too many?  Peter was a fisherman.  His life was filled with the daily routine of caring for his boats and gear and putting out his nets.  That’s what he was doing when Jesus called him.  He fished hard all night without success, but then Jesus came and caused a miraculous catch.  “Depart from me, Lord,” said Peter.  “Follow me,” Jesus replied.

On water or under it?  On a storm tossed sea the disciples were frightened by what they thought to be a ghost, but it was Jesus walking on the water.  “Bid me come,” Peter said.  “Come,” Jesus replied.  And with eyes fixed on Jesus Peter walked on water.  But not for long.  He looked away, saw the wind, and began to sink.
Blessed or cursed?  “But who do you say that I am,” Jesus asked?  Peter was commended when he acknowledged Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  “Blessed are you,” Jesus declared!  But Jesus then warned of His pending sufferings and death.  Peter rebuked Him for it and Peter heard a different word: “Get behind Me, Satan!”

Wash or don’t wash?  The Master laid aside His garments and prepared to wash the feet of His disciples.  Peter protested, “Never shall you wash my feet!”  But then Jesus, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”  Peter changed his mind and asked for cleansing of his head, his hands, and his feet. 
Confident assertion vs. unequivocal denial.  With the cross at hand Jesus warned His disciples of their pending desertion.  Peter confidently disagreed: “Even though all may fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”  Hours later Peter emphatically and repeatedly denied even knowing Jesus.  Jesus looked at Peter.  Peter remembered what Jesus had said and “went out and wept bitterly.”

In the topsy-turvy nature of his discipleship it was his most significant failure.  Jesus had given him a new name, Peter (‘Rock’), but he wasn’t living up to it.  He vacillated between acts of great faith and wisdom and lacks of faith and spiritual foolishness.  In other words—he was just like us.  After denying Christ, Peter went back to fishing.  Jesus found him there and patiently and lovingly restored him to ministry.
It is an altogether different Peter that we read about in the book of Acts.  Previously, Jesus’ repeated predictions of His pending death made absolutely no sense to Peter, but after Pentecost he boldly proclaimed the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Previously, Peter shrunk back in fear when a slave girl asked him about his relationship with Jesus, but after Pentecost, before the Sanhedrin—who had the power to do him much harm—he boldly proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ and the sole means of salvation.

The post-Pentecost Peter is an altogether different Peter, a “like-a-rock” Apostle who stood firm and contended for the gospel in the face of unabated threats and persecution.  The fishermen was perfected the art of fishing for men.  How can we account for the difference?  What worked to bring about such a transformation? 
Prior to His arrest Jesus spoke to His disciples of the forthcoming ministry of the Holy Spirit.  He said that it was to their advantage that He (Jesus) go away, because in going He would send the “Helper.”  He was referring to the person of the Holy Spirit.  The Helper (Greek “parakletos” = “one called alongside to help”) would bear witness of Jesus, give understanding of truth, and indwell the disciples (John 14:17).  Later, Jesus spoke of the power the disciples would receive by the Spirit (Acts 1:8).  It is the Spirit of God who made all the difference in Peter’s life.  By the Spirit he was able to do things he could never have possibly done in his own strength.

And so it is for any of us.  Apart from the Spirit’s inner-working we are both unwise and impotent when it comes to spiritual matters.  As Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits not nothing” (John 6:63).  The believer is called to a walk by the Spirit.  Apart from Jesus we can’t lift a spiritual finger, but by the Spirit who works within us God is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think (John 15:5; Phil. 4:13).

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Some time ago I read a biography of Isobel Kuhn entitled “By Searching.”  Isobel (1901-1957) was a missionary to the Lisu people of Yunnan Province, China, and northern Thailand. She served with the China Inland Mission, along with her husband, John.  The following excerpt from her book tells of her experience of being interviewed as a prospective missionary by the council of China Inland Mission.  She was taken aback by the response of one of the council members, and was, at first, quite defensive.  But the council of a fellow believer led her to reconsider, and even though wrongly accused, God led her to respond in a more positive way which ultimately contributed to her preparation for ministry.  Her experience speaks to the truth of 1 Peter 2:18-20, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.  For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up sorrows when suffering unjustly.  For what credit is there if, when you sin and harshly treated, you endure it with patience?  But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.”
“I was in Toronto some three or four weeks before being called to meet the Council. That is a formidable occasion and I was nervous, as I am not quick at thinking on my feet. I always do better with preparation and time to consider the best answer. The meeting came and went, however, and that evening after supper I was called into the sitting-room by Mr. Brownlee to hear the verdict. He said something like this: "The Council was quite satisfied with your answers today, and we in the Home have enjoyed your presence. But the Council has asked me to speak to you upon a very serious matter. Among your referees there was one who did not recommend you. The reason given was that you are proud, disobedient, and likely to be a troublemaker. This person has known you for some years, and the Council felt they could not ignore the criticism."
"Who was it?" I asked quickly, simply dumbfounded.
"The C.I.M. does not betray the confidence of referees. We write to those who have had business associations with you as well as the referees you yourself give—and we promise to keep all reports in confidence. I cannot tell you the name, but I would like to discuss with you what havoc such characteristics can cause on the field."
He then proceeded to do so. At the end of an hour of earnest exhortation, he pronounced the verdict: "The Council decided to accept you conditionally. There is an anti-foreign uprising in China just now which is very serious and we dare not send out any new candidates. That will be our public statement on this matter. For yourself alone, and we hope you will not spread it around, during your waiting period the Vancouver Council will be watching to see if any of these characteristics show themselves. If you prove that you have conquered them, you will then meet with the Western Council and be accepted fully, and sent out with the first party that goes. As we anticipate your victory in these matters, it was voted to pay your train fare to Vancouver, as en route for China. I can assure you I have not found it easy to say these things." And indeed his face was sad and tired. I felt sorry for him, even with the misery that was numbing my own heart.
"Good night." And I went up to bed, but, as you can readily believe, not to sleep. Who could be the unknown referee?
Proud. Disobedient. A troublemaker. This was the third time the adjective proud had been attached to me. The first time was by Daddy Page himself months before. He had read me an anxious lecture on the subject, to my extreme surprise, for pride was one of the human frailties of which I felt I was not guilty. I would have taken Daddy Page's lecture to heart if he had not ended it by holding up to me, as one example to emulate, a certain fellow-student. That particular student stood high in the regard of the staff, but I happened to room near her and I knew that secretly she broke many Institute rules, also she lied about her age to her boyfriends, and so on. I was sure if Dr. Page knew what I knew, he would never have held her up as a pattern of conduct. So I concluded he did not know either of us and brushed the accusation aside. China was later to be a painful revelation to me of my own heart and frailty. From this distance I now know that Dr. Page had indeed sensed a real flaw in my life but had hold of the wrong label, that was all.
I was selfish. I had whimsically divided the world into two classes—people who interested me and people who did not. I felt I was not proud, because the people who interested me were often among the poor or the uneducated, but when it was so, my friendship for them was still as warm as for those who had social or educational advantages.
Toward people who did not interest me I must have appeared proud. I cold-shouldered them and brushed them off me as time-wasters. This was of course a serious flaw for a missionary, but I fancy its basis was selfishness rather than pride.
The next point was—disobedience. How I did get indignant! There were many rules at Moody Bible Institute which were difficult to keep. The rules have been revised since, and it is no longer so, but I had been meticulous in obeying simply because I had signed a promise to do so. I felt honor-bound to keep that promise. The little matter of laundry, for instance: we had washbowls in our rooms, but their use for laundry was forbidden. To rinse one pair of stockings a day was allowed, no more. There was no laundry in Ransom Hall, so I had to waste many weary steps going to another dormitory to do my laundry and waste more precious minutes because it was required that each time I get permission from the Matron to do so. And I could not always find the Matron. This was my most galling trial. The girl who had been held up to me as an example washed all her lingerie and sometimes even nightclothes right in her bedroom at hours when she knew the inspectors would be busy elsewhere, and dried them on her radiator! "The rule is unreasonable" was her only answer when I remarked on it. But I had promised to obey, so I dragged my weary self over to the other building every week. And now the C.I.M. had been told I was disobedient!
I had been told not to spread around this second condition of my acceptance by the Mission, but I did write a few friends. They wrote back quickly, indignant and sympathetic, and I was somewhat mollified. All except one, Roy Bancroft, a music student with a beautiful baritone voice and a consecrated heart. We had invited Roy out to St. Charles Reformatory to sing to the boys and help deal with them. I happened to be writing to him those days and impulsively told him. A letter came back quickly and I opened it with a smile of anticipation, thinking that Roy too would be indignant on my behalf.
But I got a shock.
"Isobel," he wrote, "what surprised me most of all was your attitude in this matter. You sound bitter and resentful. Why, if anyone had said to me, 'Roy B., you are proud, disobedient, and a troublemaker,' I would answer: 'Amen, brother! And even then you haven't said the half of it!' What good thing is there in any of us, anyway? We have victory over these things only as we bring them one by one to the Cross and ask our Lord to crucify it for us."
These words "stabbed my spirit broad awake." Faithful friend he was, not afraid to season his words with salt even as he did not forget to speak with grace also. I was on my knees in no time asking the Lord to forgive me.
I arose from my knees with a different attitude. Instead of resentment there was alertness to watch and see if these three horrid "Diabolutians"—pride, disobedience, rebellion—were really lurking in my camp. The town of Mansoul should not protect them, if detected. This brought me into peace, even though I always shrank from the memory that I was to be watched for their appearance in my life.
Subsequently it so happened that in a most unexpected way I learned of my detractor's identity and then I knew the reason for her hostility. It will suffice here to say that she was a teacher in a school which I had attended. She wished me to assist her in spying on my fellow-pupils. I felt that was unworthy and so had incurred her displeasure by refusing. When I learned this I was tempted to clear myself with Mr. Brownlee and the Western Council. But should I? I seemed to hear a voice say, "If that had been said of me, I'd have answered 'Amen, Brother! And then you haven't told the half of it!'" Dear old Roy—he was right. Why try to make the Mission think I was lily-white? They'd have personal experience before long as to just how earthly a person I was!”