The Call of God

Being called by God is a journey. It is not a destination. And the call is progressive as it takes us deeper into the purposes of God.

Peter’s experience exemplifies this so let’s review the historical record of Peter’s encounter with Jesus to see what you can expect as you respond to the call of God.

Peter’s Encounter with Jesus

Peter met Jesus at the time of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, at the Jordan River. While we are not told that Peter was a disciple of John the Baptist, it is evident that he and his friends were impressed and touched by John’s ministry.

That is why they had journeyed from Galilee, where they left their fishing boats idle while they went to get right with God. We can be pretty sure that Peter had been baptised by John, possibly not long before Jesus was, maybe even on the same day.

A Second Encounter with Jesus

After that initial encounter Peter, James and John had to return to their fishing boats and their livelihood. They had heard John’s prophecy about Jesus and had been introduced to Jesus as the “lamb of God”. They were among the very first people to encounter Jesus as He began His ministry. Now, however, they were many miles away from the Jordan River, back on the shores of Lake Galilee.

Jesus came to them and called them to “Follow Me”. Jesus promised to make the “fishers of men”. Peter, James and John all left their boats and their fishing nets to follow Jesus. They had come under the call of God and responded to it.

The Call of God

There are many things that could be said about the call of God. We know that when God calls us the very call itself brings with it the power for its fulfilment.

“Faithful is he that calls you, who also will do it.” 1Thessalonians 5:24

We also know that when God calls us He does not change His mind, nor abandon that call, even if we make a mess of it. The Biblical statement to that effect is that the “gifts and callings of God are without repentance”, which means God does not change His mind about it.

“For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Romans 11:29

Peter’s Journey

For about three and a half years Peter and the other disciples journeyed with Him, learned from Him, saw His miracles and were activated into the supernatural, being empowered to do miracles themselves. It must have been a heady time for them all, but most especially for Peter, James and John who were given privileged treatment. They alone saw the transfiguration and the raising of Jairus’ daughter.

When Jesus was betrayed, however, they were just like the other disciples. They all fled. Peter, to his shame, also denied Jesus three times over that dreadful night of His betrayal and trial. This must have been a deeply challenging reality in Peter’s experience, since it was fulfilment of a prophecy from Jesus which Peter had denied would happen.

A New Encounter

Following Jesus’ resurrection Peter saw the empty tomb and met the resurrected Jesus. Then came an encounter back on the shores of Galilee. There Peter experienced his second calling to follow Jesus, possibly very close to where he was called the first time, years before.

Peter and some of the disciples had gone fishing in Peter’s boat. They caught nothing until a lone man on the shore called to them and instructed them to drop net on the other side of the boat. They did so and caught a huge catch. At that point someone realised that the man on the shore was none other than Jesus, Himself. Peter swam ashore and met His lord once again.

Jesus Deals with Peter

Jesus then interrogated Peter about Peter’s love for Jesus. Three times Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” Jesus was ploughing deep into Peter’s soul and reducing him to a desperate cry, that Jesus knew him intimately and could tell that he was admitting the truth when he said “Yes”.

Since that first call to follow Jesus, Peter had experienced the heights of walking with Jesus. But he also experienced the depths of personal failure. He now knew that he had nothing to offer Jesus. He now knew that God’s call on his life was not based on what Peter brought to Jesus but on what Jesus brought to Peter.

Peter had failed Jesus. All of his arrogant self-assurance was decimated by his humiliating and bitter denial of Jesus. Yet the call of God on Peter’s life was without repentance. God had not given up on Peter nor revoked the call on his life.

Follow Me

Jesus repeated to Peter what He had said over three years before. “Follow Me!” Here we see that the call of God comes again to our life, once we have failed and faltered in our fulfilment of that call. The call comes the second time to call us to follow, not in the confidence of our ability, but in humble submission as stumbling saints. The call comes again to show us that God is not basing the call on our ability to succeed but on His choice to call us. The whole process is sovereign, on His part, not energised by what we bring to God.

Peter Gets Distracted

Peter was then told something about his own future. His impulsive response was to ask Jesus about one of the others near him. Jesus reply was a gentle rebuke that what God had in store for anyone else was not Peter’s business. By this Jesus was revealing that our part in serving Him has nothing to do with what others are doing or what others will be led into. We must do what we are called to do, irrespective of those who succeed or fail around us, and irrespective of how our journey differs from others.

Here we see that the call of God is personal. It is not something that is subject to analysis based on how ours compares with others. Instead it is something that is to be lived and pursued to the full whether we must journey alone or with a great throng. It must be pursued whether our path is unique or a carbon copy of what others are doing.

And Again, “Follow Me”

Following Jesus’ rebuke to Peter, Jesus repeats one more time the call to “Follow Me”. Here Jesus set the seal on the call on Peter’s life.

It is as if Jesus had said to him in the sequence of these different calls, “Peter, Follow Me and I will make you a fisher of men.” Then when Peter had experienced both success and failure Jesus came to him again to say, “Peter, you are to Follow Me, not because of who or what you are, but because I have called you. My call is what is important, not who and what you are.” Then it is as if Jesus added, “Peter, your call is unique, so don’t look at those around you. Just go and fulfil what I have called you to do.”

God’s Call on Your Life

So that’s what the call of God is all about in your life. May God give you grace to hear His call and to respond to it in faith and faithfulness, despite your own limitations, and irrespective of those around you who have a different deal or who shame Christ or outshine you along the way. Just be what God has called you to be, with all the power and grace He gives you to fulfil that call.

The account of Jesus final calls on Peter to “Follow Me” are found in John 21.

Nudity, Purity and Sex

Australia has been distracted in recent days with questions about an art show of naked children. Police raided the exhibition last Thursday and seized some of the images of naked 12 and 13 year old children. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd spoke out against the display, while the artistic community defended the show. Questions emerge such as “was there consent” and were the images “sexualised”. Art advocates point out that the naked body has been the focus of art for thousands of years.

This is timely for me, as it raises an issue which I have recently been thinking about. I believe that nudity is, in itself, a distortion of sexuality. I believe that our personal nakedness is a divine preserve. When we become lax about the sanctity of the naked body we have already crossed an important line in the loss of purity.

In all the debate that is now going on about the child photos there is recognition that some display of nudity is pornographic and an abuse of people’s privacy. I contend that any display of nudity should be seen as a violation of a sacred preserve. Now, before you dub me a wowser, take a moment to think a little further through the issue, with the Bible as your reference point. Follow me through the following notes.

As I tackle sexual deviancy in its various forms I have come to realise the importance of teaching on ‘purity’. Purity is a lost quality in the west, where sensuality and the “what’s in it for me” mentality reign supreme.
As I teach my Straight Talk on Sex material around the world I find myself more optimistic than I should be. I keep expecting Christians to have an understanding of and a commitment to moral purity. In my own childhood, although addicted to lustful thoughts and sexual obsessions, I carried an acute sense of my own impurity. I continue to be surprised, although I should not be, when I find Christians and Christian leaders who have abandoned the key ground of purity.
So let me challenge your thinking about ‘purity’ and relate that to nudity and sex.

The Call To Purity.

The starting point of each of our lives is that we have been created by God. Furthermore, we have been created in the image of God. So we are to be holy just as our heavenly Father is holy (Leviticus 11:45,19:2). We have a creation mandate, to be holy, just like God, who created us in His holy likeness. If we are not holy we defy God, rebel against His creative purpose for our lives and destroy the very thing God sought to establish. We cannot be unholy, for any reason. No matter how unholy those around us are, we must live in the fear of God and be holy and pure before Him.
Paul the Apostle insisted on this level of purity 4,000 years after the creation, as he set things in order within the infant church. Paul insisted that believers should “possess their body in sanctification and honour” (1Thessalonians 4:4). He exhorts Christians to “cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit” and to “perfect holiness in the fear of God” (2Corinthians 7:1).
Jesus Christ demands our holiness. He instructed His followers to “be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). And the Apostle Peter added his voice to the case, saying that we are not to live by the lusts that we had before we were Christians , but are to be holy in all our lifestyle, just as God is holy (1Peter 1:14-16).
So, purity is not an optional extra for Christians. It is not something for the more devoted to think about, which ordinary Christians can ignore. No, indeed! Purity is something that is mandatory for all people who want to walk with God. And we have that from the Old Testament, from Christ, from Paul and from Peter.

The Spirit-Flesh Tension
God created us in His image. God also gave us human flesh. Our flesh is an area of vulnerability for us, as it is tempted to seek indulgence of its appetites. We are torn between our calling to be like God, and our lusts to be self-seeking and indulgent. God refers to this problem of the human condition by saying that man is “also flesh” (Genesis 6:3). The implication is that man is a spirit being, made in the image of God who is spirit, but man is also flesh, pulled by lusts. Mankind has a pull in both directions – toward God and holiness and toward self and degradation.
Christians need to be transformed from the old self-indulgent, fleshly lusts, into glorious freedom from self-indulgence. Look at the way Paul puts this case. 1Thessalonians 4:3-8 “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel (body) in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence (sensuality), even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God has not called us to uncleanness, but to holiness. He therefore that despises (the calling to holiness and the sanctity of the human body) despises not man, but God, who has also given to us his Holy Spirit.”
Now, let me package this up in a simple summary for you. You are created by a holy God and you have a divine mandate to be holy. Your flesh pulls you toward self-indulgence, lusts and degradation. Christ has paid for your sins, so you can be forgiven, and the Holy Spirit is given to empower you to put your flesh to death so you can live free of your fleshly lusts and glorify God.

Nakedness / Nudity
The human body is the starting point of purity. God created the human body to be kept sacred by each individual. Personal nakedness is a divine and sovereign element of human purity. To expose the body, or to go further toward sensual and sexual activity, is sinful and degrading.

As soon as Adam ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden he knew that he was naked and he felt shame (Genesis 3:10). Adam was not ashamed of seeing Eve’s nakedness, because she was ‘one flesh’ with him, but he was ashamed of letting God see his nakedness, since nakedness is private, not for public display.

Noah’s godly sons would not look on his nakedness, because they knew that it was a sacred preserve of their father’s purity. Even though drunkenness had left Noah exposed on the floor of his tent, these sons took pains not to see his nakedness. They maintained their own and their father’s purity.

When a beautiful woman presents herself in a sensual manner, to attract the attentions of men, she demeans herself and degrades her value – she no longer holds her body as something honourable (1Thessalonians 4:4). She is toying with her nakedness, even when she does not expose it, by seeking to arouse sexual interest. She has demeaned her created holiness and lowered herself to the level of a pig. Proverbs 11:22 “Like a gold jewel in a pig’s snout, so is a fair woman who is indiscreet.”
When a man looks on a woman to lust after her, even though he does not see her nakedness his attention is drawn to exploiting it, and that lusting is deemed to be the same as committing adultery with her (Matthew 5:28). Lusts bring corruption into human society (2Peter 1:4) and those lusts actively contend within and war against the soul of a person (1Peter 2:11).
When a couple marries, God establishes a moral miracle, where the two independent bodies are deemed by God to be one body (one flesh) and so the nakedness and sexual intimacy between the couple is now moral and not impure. They are allowed to see and enjoy each other’s nakedness, even though no-one else is allowed to. Nakedness is still sacred, but it can now be shared between the husband and wife. The sexual freedom enjoyed by a married couple is undefiled, within the sanctity and privacy of their own marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4).
When a society becomes lax about nakedness it has become impure. When people stop protecting the sanctity of their own body and the body of others, impurity has contaminated the society. When people dress in an alluring manner and when nudity is exposed on movies, TV, magazines and billboards, impurity takes over. The people are despising God. When people will not treat their own nakedness and the nakedness of humanity as a sacred preserve given them by a holy God, they are despising God, Himself. It is an act of rebellion against God. I remind you of 1Thessalonians 4:8 “He therefore that despises (the calling to holiness and the sanctity of the human body) despises not man, but God, who has also given to us his Holy Spirit.”
This is what I am saddened to see in too many Christian circles. The refusal to honour the sanctity of the human body and each person’s personal nakedness is a mockery of purity and it is rebellion against God. Yet churches and church leaders are guilty of exactly that.
Christians are called to put their flesh to death, with its affections and lusts (Galatians 5:24), and they do that not by human effort but by relying on the Holy Spirit to empower them (Romans 8:13). This results in Christians living a life that is free from lusts and the pressures created by their flesh (Galatians 5:17), and they are able to live in the ‘glorious liberty of the Children of God’ (Romans 8:21). They then live in purity, and enjoy the fullness of joy which God created for them.

A disclaimer: The flesh is able to be enslaved by lusts, but God gave us our flesh and He has made provision for us to enjoy life in our bodies. Christians crucify their lusts, and then enjoy the natural life which God gave them. God intends us to enjoy our human existence in our human bodies. God created an idyllic garden resort for Adam and Eve, with the best tasting and the prettiest plants. God designed woman’s beauty as a gift for her husband to enjoy. God commends eating the sweet honeycomb. God encourages us to be ravished by our wife, to be satisfied with her breasts and to live joyfully with her. We are not sentenced to morbid existence, killing every pleasure. But we are to live in the fear of God, bringing our body under, so that we live out of our spirit and glorify God in our body and our spirit. Having done so, we will enjoy many delights through the five senses which God gave us.

Logophile – Aplomb

Which substance is behind the word aplomb?
You may hear tell of someone who displays much aplomb. You may, as I always did, associate that with someone who spoke with a plum in their mouth. The notion of determined correctness could come to my mind. A person with aplomb was always imagined by me as being severe and unpleasant.
Certainly the word does speak of someone who is unflappable. It speaks of poise and self-control. It doesn’t require a sense of severity, but of being balance and well managed.
The word derives from the idea of a plumb-line. That’s a string with a weight on the end, which is suspended from a height so that gravity keeps it straight. Builders, bricklayers and other people involved in construction might use a plumb-line to ensure their vertical structures are truly ‘vertical’.
Now, my question was, Which substance is behind the word aplomb?
The answer is, lead. It comes from the Latin word for that soft, heavy metal, ‘plumbum’. If you studied chemistry in school you will know that the chemical symbol for lead is Pb. That’s because Pb is an abbreviation of ‘plumbum’.
So aplomb is a concept that developed from the use of lead weights on a string.
Which substance should come to mind? No, not String!!! But lead.
And, for you Biblophiles (or is it Bibliophiles? – I mean “Bible lovers”), the prophet Amos saw a vision of a plumbline and heard God say the people would be judged against God’s standard. The Apostle Peter then spoke about judgment beginning at the house of God – among God’s people. So, he asks, what hope do the heathen have? (See 1Peter 4:17).