© 2016 Lynn Abbott
Fifty years later, I can’t remember what we fought about. But fight we did.
We were only 4, but even so, my neighborhood buddy and I had a true falling out. She and the girl down the street stormed to her house, and I ran to mine. I slipped in through the side gate to find a quiet place to nurse my wounds.
My mother found me there. “I thought you were playing with Jill,” she said.
It had been a terrible day, and I knew what was coming. I didn’t feel like smoothing things over with Jill…not yet.
Mom, however, believed in making peace. Always.
“Relationships are more important than most of the things people fight about,” mom reminded me.
Yet, I was too hurt to join my best buddy and our other neighbor that day. Tomorrow would be different, but today, I wanted to cry.
For this reason, instead of answering my mom with the full account, I said, “Jill had to take a nap.”
It was a little fib…with big consequences. But I simply didn’t wish to displease my mom, and I couldn’t face Jill.
She quietly walked into the house, and unbeknownst to me, called Jill’s mom. After all, it was rather late in the afternoon for a nap, and most of us had given up regular naps.
Needless to say, Mom caught me. And just punishment came swiftly. I never forgot that lesson: lying is never acceptable and it certainly isn’t the way to handle conflict.
My mother’s response that day became one of my most vivid childhood memories.
I couldn’t bear disappointing her. My stomach turned at the thought. Thus, rather than face either my mother’s or my heavenly Father’s displeasure, I steered clear of lying from that day forward.
Nevertheless, I still hated conflict, and found other ways to avoid it whenever possible. I preferred to play it safe where people were concerned.
And so, keep everyone happy and thereby maintain a tenuous peace became my default setting.
Such a stance became a bit problematic, however, when I chose to follow Jesus. Yup. I decided to follow that same Jesus who said, “…In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33). Without a doubt, I was in for a wild ride.
Trouble should come as no surprise. You and I have been fairly warned. Christ himself noted that, in a world pursuing its own path rather than Abba’s, Christ is a divisive figure, (Matthew 10:22).
We may do our best to follow Paul’s injunction to live at peace with all men (Romans 12:18); however, our very identification with Christ will ultimately place us in the middle of a spiritual storm.
Perhaps, this is why I so relate to Simon Peter.
When we think of Peter, most of us remember his bold confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Or perhaps, we recall his heartbreaking denial the night of Jesus’ trial.
What I love about Peter was his big heart. He truly loved his Savior. Yet, as I view his life in its entirety, I see someone who vacillated between great faith and tremendous fear.
Peter never did anything half-way.
Yet, from the very beginning of his earthly walk with the Savior, Simon Peter demonstrated a desire to avoid conflict and difficulty. Even so, Jesus gave Simon the name “Peter” which means “rock.”
Despite the seeming irony of his words, our omniscient Savior recognized all that Simon could and would become.
But, of course, in the beginning, Peter was no rock.
Sure… At times, he spoke boldly, but often, he waffled and advocated the safe road. Matthew 16-17, in fact, recounts a few of Peter’s pendulum swings.
After Peter boldly proclaimed his faith, Jesus began to describe the journey ahead, the Via Dolorosa. He even told his disciples that He would be killed and then, would rise on the third day.
Christ’s words didn’t sit well with Peter. In fact, Peter took Jesus aside and spoke to Him privately: “‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!'”
For this reason, Jesus rebuked Peter and identified Peter’s root issue, “…you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men,” (Matthew 16:23).
Isn’t that the way it is? When fear unsettles my faith, I’m sorry to say that I regularly consider people-pleasing over God-pleasing.
After all, persecution is not my favorite part of the faith journey. In truth, I’d rather walk on water with Jesus than take up my cross daily. Thus, when fear and faith collide, sometimes courage wins. Other times… not so much.
Understandably, you and I wish to avoid persecution. Who wouldn’t? Our humanity wishes to escape difficult, painful Confrontation, and its sister, Suffering.
And so it was with Peter. He sought a more pleasant path for his Lord and for himself. I believe his fear motivated his enthusiastic suggestion on the Mount of Transfiguration. Context seems to suggest this.
The Transfiguration occurred just six days after both Peter’s confession and his attempt to dissuade Jesus from the journey to Jerusalem. Jesus words probably unsettled the twelve for some time.
In light of the disciples’ likely discussions and fears, I can well imagine Peter’s thoughts as he watched Christ, in all His glory, walk and talk with Elijah and Moses.
Here was the obvious solution to all the potential conflict. He may have thought, “Jesus can establish His kingdom from the safety of this mountain. Who needs Jerusalem?”
Peter immediately volunteered to start building shelters for Jesus, Elijah and Moses. He saw a way to avoid all the tragedy to which Jesus had alluded on their journey toward Jerusalem for the Passover.
“Let’s just avoid this cross carrying bit…and keep everyone happy,” I essentially tell myself.
But Abba responds, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” ( Matthew 17:5b).
As I reread the previous chapter, I find the Son’s words, ” If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me… What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16: 24, 26-27).
Jesus calls me to stand with Him.
So, because of love for the Savior, Peter followed Jesus to Jerusalem; Peter defended Jesus in Gethsemane… under the cover of darkness.
But then, fear openly denied Christ in the temple courtyard. Fear of man. Fear of all that comes with controversy, conflict and persecution.
Yes, the avoid-trouble-if-at-all-possible Simon showed up not long after Peter, the rock, boasted courageously, “…I will lay down my life for you!” (John 13:37b).
I get that. And I also understand the remorse he felt when Christ noted his denial with a single look.
“She’s taking a nap,” I said. But Mom knew better.
The temptation to choose self-protection over God-pleasing visits all of us at some point in our lives. Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted in all ways as we are and yet did not sin.
And yes, in that wilderness, the enemy tempted Christ to take the easy road, to self-protect rather than to trust Abba.
“Worship me,” Satan said, pointing to the world. “All this will be yours.”
Avoid the cross; gain the world.
But Abba is faithful, and “…He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it,” (I Corinthians 10:13).
Peter, the rock, crumbled. Yet, after Resurrection Sunday, Christ put that rock together again on a beach in Galilee. And in an upper room in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, Abba provided Peter and all of us with the power to escape temptation.
Peter’s life transformed with the coming of the Holy Spirit. The same Peter, who once feared people in the temple court, stood firm before the Jewish religious leaders known as the Sanhedrin.
When threatened with punishment and persecution, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29).
I’m sure that Peter silently petitioned the Holy Spirit for strength in that moment. And Abba’s Spirit upheld Peter. The rock stood steadfast.
In fact, on that particular occasion, Abba rescued Peter and the other disciples. Gamaliel, an unexpected source of grace, argued for their release before the Sanhedrin, (Acts 5:30).
They walked free. Yet, they willingly faced persecution, understanding that Abba is more than able to protect. They entrusted both their souls and physical lives to Him.
In Peter’s story, I find hope. If Peter, the pendulum, can stand strong, then so can I.
But I now know that Abba’s Spirit prepares you and me for whatever we may face. By His grace and power, we stand.
Jesus promised that when we face conflict for His name’s sake that the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say, (Luke 12:12).
Abba has reassured us that “I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” (Isaiah 41:10).
He will never leave or forsake us.
Will we always get it right? Probably not. Peter certainly didn’t. Despite the coming of the Holy Spirit, fear of people remained an Achilles’ heel for the one-time fisherman. Like all of us, Peter sometimes slipped into old habits.
Paul, in fact, mentions one of Peter’s stumbles in Galatians 2. Paul writes, “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.
Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group,” (Galatians 2:11-12).
Certainly, Peter understood his weakness. I suspect that in each of his epistles, he preached to himself as well as to his readers.
Who can forget his warning? “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around looking for someone to devour,” (I Peter 5:8).
Peter spoke with authenticity. He knew the snare. With humility and grace, he exhorted his readers to resist the devil and “to stand firm,” (I Peter 5:9). Peter wrote with compassionate understanding.
Indeed, Jesus knew Peter’s heart. He recognized that Simon, the fisherman, would become Peter, the compassionate and merciful shepherd of the early church.
Do you love me first and foremost? Will you be a God-pleaser rather than a people-pleaser? If so, your tender heart will serve me well. You will both shepherd and stand steadfast.
When Peter was led by Abba’s Spirit, weakness gave way to strength. Faith replaced fear.
Grace chose Peter to be a “pillar” of the early church.
And I, for one, am grateful for his testimony. Peter, after all, shows me the way “to stand firm.”
“‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty,” ~Zechariah 4:6b