Recently, I began a project to fix the drawers on my old desk. I’ve had it nearly 20 years. Two of the desk drawers were broken in some way. One of them was easy. It just needed some glue. The other needed one of the drawer rails repaired and was hard to open. I pulled the latter drawer out so that I could work on it and noticed it was full of file folders and large manila envelopes. One of the folders had a treasure.
They were very old letters written in 1997 and 1998 exchanged between my wife and I and the elders of a church I pastored back then. I didn’t know that Happy had kept copies of them. Intrigued, I read them again and God whacked me alongside the head.
It all began in Matthew 16. There Peter made the prescient confession in response to a question from Jesus.
Matthew 16:15) He *said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16) Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (NASB)
For this response Jesus blessed Peter. A nice moment for Peter and I’m sure he swelled with pride that he was the one who said it. Well, that didn’t last long because Jesus went on to explain that they were going to Jerusalem where He would be arrested, suffer and die. Peter was again the first to speak, no doubt certain that he would again say something that would endear him to Jesus. Not so fast, dog face!
Matthew 16:23) But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” (NASB)
Imagine being Peter there. The harsh reply of Jesus had to have startled and crushed him. I’ll bet he brooded about it. There is no sign of an apology but I know the stirrings of one was forming. Nonetheless, Peter still believed in himself which he demonstrated when Jesus told His little band of defects that He would be killed and they would scatter. In that moment, Peter tried to rise above the “common folk.” We are constantly being told to believe in ourselves. That is not always a good idea.
Mark 14:29) But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.” 30 And Jesus *said to him, “Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.” 31 But Peter kept saying insistently, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all were saying the same thing also. (NASB)
I like that last line. Everybody was saying it! There was nothing special about Peter saying it, he was just one of the guys. No he wasn’t. True, he was brave but he was also stupid.
After the arrest of Jesus, Peter had snuck (yes it is a word) into the large courtyard of the High Priest (John helped him get in) where he was confronted three times, accusing him of being a follower of Jesus. After all he was a Galilean. He dressed like one and talked like one (this is like a Texan moving to Alaska. They wear cowboy boots and talk funny. Red flag!) A couple of servant girls and a bystander all accused Peter and each time he denied it. The gospel of Mark (which contains the vivid memories of Peter and I often call it the gospel of Peter) is the only one to mention that Peter swore an oath AND cursed. (I doubt that he said “Jesus H. Christ though.) At that moment, Jesus was being led back through the courtyard and He turned and looked at Peter while a rooster crowed. Cut to his soul, Peter wept bitterly and left immediately. Those tears were important. In his case, they were a sign that the process had begun. Eventually, Peter went on to be one of (if not THE) leading spokesmen for Jesus in the ancient world.
I’ve never entirely understood the process but I have lived it and I still live it. It’s the process of repentance. I looked at my letters from 1997 and there were only small glimpses of Godly sorrow in them. If I had read them from someone else I certainly would have wondered? Is there any real repentance there or is it fake? The answer from me would have been “I don’t know.”
On the other hand, if I really knew the heart of the writer and was intimately familiar with his or her relationship with God, then I would say “Of course! God is at work.” How can I be so sure? Because, God is ALWAYS at work in the lives of His genuine disciples. He will hammer away at our stone cold hearts for decades until they crack and break. Very unpleasant for us. The agony of the soul is worse than marine boot camp and childbirth combined. Extraordinary powerful though.
So what is our problem? We take snapshots of people undergoing repentance and try to guess whether or not they are genuine. Sometimes they say all the right things immediately. (I am skeptical when I see this but then, I remind myself… it’s a process.) Mostly though, they are slowly repenting and being transformed and we impatiently decide they are not real because we can’t see a fully formed, mature brokenness. I understand this because it was done to me. I was weighed on the scale and judged inadequate. Very painful but part of my process.
In that thick file folder of letters, I found one from a man who had been my friend for many years. I hadn’t remembered it but I did to him what had been done to me. Back then, I read it and judged the letter to be inadequate. It wasn’t real and he hadn’t meant it, I decided. He was reaching out to me as a friend but hadn’t expressed himself to my satisfaction. What a grievous thing I did. Impatiently and faithlessly assuming that my old friends process wasn’t real either. God have mercy on me, a sinner!
Next week, we are going to meet and I will attempt to right the wrong. I’ve changed and I am glad for it.
It may take years and it may take a death bed, but God will shatter pride and self justification in His people, especially me. This is the faithfulness of God and the way He works the process of repentance.
Romans 2:1) Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. (NASB)
PS: we did meet for lunch today and all went well. Peace reigns.