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God of New Beginnings


Rest assured, this is not a post about how to set winning New Year's resolutions, the time-honored, road-weary tradition of setting ambitious, inspiring, detailed goals that sometimes fizzle over days, weeks, or months, followed by a deep dive into the bowels of shame. NO! In fact, no, no, no! Now, if you're into that, that's OK. Goals are good! God-given visionary goals are good. It's all good! But that's not what I'm writing about today. Nope. I am writing about new beginnings, which share some ground with resolutions. But I'm coming at it from the pricelessly comforting, warmly inviting, "self-leveling" new beginning narrative offered by the Apostle Peter, who along with Doubting Thomas and some other Bible figures, is my kind of motivational speaker.


A Word About Resolutions

Let me briefly reiterate that resolutions, particularly those crafted and undertaken with God's help, are wonderful things. I'm toying with a few myself. Some of what I'm covering here will fall into some definitions of resolutions. I just prefer to look at the less tidy, decidedly less empowered, for sure less self-aggrandizing variety of fresh starts.


I confess I may be injecting "resolutions" with judgements based my own experience. That is, when I've made goals and attained them, I sometimes (not always) strutted around internally (or externally) self-satisfied and when I failed, my whole identity collapsed. At least, my ego took a bit of a beating. I know my brother St. Peter will totally relate, and maybe he an I will sit and have a chat about it over coffee on Cloud #9 some day.



Peter-Peter-Problem-Peter

Peter, "the rock" on which Christ declared he would build His church, may have been totally disqualified by modern social commentators or the electorate for any kind of significant political or church office. By different accounts--or simple personal observation of what we read of him, Peter was:

  • Impulsive. Passionate and hot-headed, Peter was given to impulsive decisions without thinking through the consequences. Gulp. For instance, he thoughtlessly criticized Christ himself. Later, when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter sliced off the ear of an approaching guard, much to Christ's dismay. It's worth noting that Jesus corrected Peter and graciously repaired his damage. Peter's impulsivity was surely at least partly fueled by his tendency to be...

  • Arrogant and Boastful. Peter sometimes spoke obnoxiously or recklessly. Sigh. How I can relate! Once he claimed to love Jesus more than anybody else. Another time, he passionately asserted he would never leave Jesus. Aside from the cringey-ness of the attitude among Christ's disciples, Peter was humbled by another defect...

  • Cowardly. Soon after his vocal assurances of loyalty and rash acts of protective violence, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, the first of which was to a young servant girl, not a weapon-wielding menace. This wasn't just a moment's terror. In the third instance, we're specifically told an hour had passed when Peter denied knowing Jesus, right before Jesus' very eyes. When Peter recognized his failing--predicted by Jesus only hours before--he "cried bitterly." How painfully I identify with the feeling of facing my own failures.

  • Inconsistent. You'll remember that Peter was the apostle who leapt out of the boat to walk on water, but lost faith and floundered. He boldly declared his passionate allegiance to Christ, then dozed off when Christ asked him to pray, then denied him altogether shortly thereafter. I struggle with consistency myself and am so grateful for relatable human examples like Peter and Thomas.

In each instance, it's hard not to notice how powerless Peter seemed to be over it all.


Peter, the Rock

It's important to recognize that each of these particular failings had a positive aspect that eventually equipped Peter for the job of being "the rock:"

  • Humility. Peter was humbled by his brokenness, which tempered his defects, helped him relate more to others, and increased his dependence on Christ.

  • Confidence and Authority. Strong leaders often struggle with arrogance, but under submission to God, Peter's tendencies enabled him stand bravely in the face of very intense, life-threatening opposition in laying the foundation of the early Christian community and made him a very persuasive speaker, converting more than 3000 to faith in Acts 2.

  • Passion. The same emotions that fueled impulsivity and other human struggles, also enabled Peter to boldly persevere through the extraordinary challenges of spreading the Gospel, which he did faithfully until eventually dying a martyr.

"The Repentance of St. Peter", El Greco, 1600-1605

Peter, a Picture of Grace

Flip side aside, I find it altogether enormously comforting that Jesus renamed and declared Peter the leader of His burgeoning church and blessed him with the "keys of the kingdom" even as Peter's more glaring failings were revealing themselves. Not after he cleaned up or proved his worthiness for the job. Surely Christ knew who and what he was dealing with beforehand! Jesus kindly lets us see all this in advance.


Even more striking in practical terms, is that Jesus blessed Peter generously after his painful act of denying Christ and before any groveling. When the risen Lord appeared before the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, it was Peter who jumped into the water and hauled the bountiful netful of fish to shore, also a poetic illustration of the "fisher of men," command that both preceded and followed this scene.


Soon after, Jesus "reinstated" Peter to His role as church leader, telling Peter to feed his sheep and warning him of the cost involved. This restoration and grace was not the result of Peter's heartfelt personal apology to Christ, though Peter did repeatedly assert his love for Christ. We know that Peter was repentant because he had cried over his failure, and Jesus knew Peter's heart, but we never have a report of a confessional moment.


Watching Peter grow into his planet-changing historical role, we do see him mature. We don't necessarily know if he still wrestled with some of his defects, but we do know the apostle Paul not only struggled with his humanity, but vulnerably admitted it to all of us in the book of Romans...

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Romans 7:15-20 (NIV)

God of the Impossible

I want to open a parentheses here, to highlight an amazing reality and to punctuate my Christmas series about Jesus. Peter, a small-town fisherman, a regular guy, with a bunch of glaring character defects, was selected to be the trailblazer for the most influential faith in history. Not so much because of who Peter was, but in spite of it. Jesus is not only the God of new beginnings, but the God of the impossible. You and I don't need to shoulder the impossibilities of our circumstances or our own characters. We need to shift our focus to the God of Impossible, giving our powerlessness to Him.


Such Good News

As we wrestle with the disappointments and failings of 2022, our hopes for the future, and resolve to do better, feel better, be better in 2023, let's all be comforted by the promise of the God of New Beginnings:

  1. Remember Jesus picked Peter--and all of us--for His important commission, knowing the raw goods perfectly well. As one preacher puts it, "God uses cracked pots because cracked pots are all there are" and...

  2. If you totally messed something up and want to fix it, if you're struggling with a problem, a defect, a mission that at times seems to overshadow your life, if the enemy whispers "shame on you," crippling you, remember Peter. Cry out for help and healing and allow Jesus to do what only He can do.

Actually, remember all of apostles and many other figures in Jesus' family tree (Matthew 1) who fell wayyyyyyyyyy short of the standard of perfection to which we hold ourselves or others. Even as we aim higher in whatever area of life, let's be reminded to look on ourselves and others with the same loving compassion that Jesus showed Peter, even as He blessed Peter.


Let Peter's humanity and Jesus' gracious treatment and promotion of Peter as the rock on which he built his church be your comfort, your inspiration, your "keep going," made, attained, or failed New Year's resolutions or not.

Happy New Year!

Grace, peace, hope, love, & joy in Christ,







PRAYER: Father, thank you for leaving us such vivid and relatable examples of both extraordinary human frailty and of great spiritual heroism. As we seek to grow in 2023, shedding some bad habits and building some new ones, please help us to be both comforted and inspired by the examples you so graciously gave us.

ACTION:
Commit to spend some time honestly reflecting on:
*Your three most glaring defects and how they've hurt you and others this year. Ask Jesus to heal you and guide you in making amends, if appropriate. Let them go.
*Your three greatest strengths and how they showed up this year. Ask Jesus to help you grow them.
*Three qualities you'd like to cultivate in 2023. Ask Jesus to plant them and jot down some ideas of how you can nurture them.

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melimadesa
melimadesa
Dec 31, 2022

What a fine post is this one! I've totally loved it!

and I relate with it so much!

looking at what did with Peter I've hope that I will do something He wants me to do that it's great rooted in His power.

Happy New Year, Isabella, and thanks a lot for this wonderful & reassuring post!

Maru

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Hi Maru!

So good to hear from you. It helped me so much to write it! I’m glad it blessed you. Prayers we both are fully available to God’s work in and through us. ❤️

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