Brick Walls & Iron Gates

Have you ever hit a brick wall? You were making progress, feeling pretty good about yourself—then suddenly you encountered a seemingly impassable obstacle in your path.

This is more common than you think.

I love the story in Acts 12 about Peter’s release from prison. On the eve of his execution, he was roused from a deep sleep by an angel of the Lord. As his pitch-dark prison cell was flooded with light, Peter’s chains instantly fell to the ground. Apparently invisible to the four squads of prison guards assigned to him, he and his angelic escort left the prison completely undetected.

After Peter and the angel “passed the first and second guard posts,” it might have seemed like the coast was clear. Ah…but not so fast.

After things had gone so smoothly in Peter’s initial release, they came to “the iron gate leading to the city” (v. 10)—which seemed a formidable obstacle indeed.

However, as Peter and the angel approached the iron gate, something amazing happened: “this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through.”  

Notice that Peter didn’t have to kick the gate open or even knock. It opened “by itself” and “of its own accord.” The Greek word here is automatos, from which we get our English word “automatic.” Even before modern department stores got the idea, there was an automatic door in the Bible! God made a way where there seemed to be no way. Not my human might, nor by power, but by God’s Spirit He opened a gateway of freedom and blessing for Peter.

But it does no good for God to open a door for us if we’re too timid to pass through it. When Peter and the angel saw the door open before them, “They passed through.” They didn’t wait. They didn’t debate. They went to the other side.

Are you facing an “iron gate” experience today? Then instead of getting discouraged, get ready for the Lord to open a door before you. He has prepared “good works” for us beforehand, and all we have to do is walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

And remember: The most important door is already open—“a door standing open in heaven”  (Revelation 4:1). The heavenly voice is beckoning you, “Come up here!”

When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple was torn in two so you can enter the open door into God’s presence anytime you want. It’s a door that’s “automatically” open to all who come in faith.

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Bright Ideas & Other Memorials

Whenever the revelation of God’s glory shines the brightest, human frailty and foolishness become the most apparent. This certainly was true the day Jesus was transfigured before three of His disciples, Peter, James, and John. I love the way this amazing scene is described in The Message translation of Matthew 17:1-8: “Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light”  (v. 2).

Ordinary humans may reflect God’s glory at times, like Moses did after he had spent 40 days in the Lord’s presence. As believers, each one of us has the incredible opportunity today to reflect His glory in this way: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord”  (2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV).

But instead of merely being reflected glory, Jesus’ transfiguration wasn’t something more like “transmitted” glory: “His appearance changed from the inside out”  (v. 1 MSG). What a sight it must have been to see “sunlight poured from His face,”  as The Message translates verse 2.

Yet things began to get off track when the disciples realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him”  (v. 3). Peter always had a plan, and he just couldn’t help himself from breaking in on this holy encounter: “Master, this is a great moment! What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain—one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah?”  (v. 4)

Peter was well-meaning, of course—just as we are when we come up with bone-headed schemes to advance the kingdom of God. He probably thought Jesus would consider it quite an honor to have a memorial booth built for Him right next to Biblical dignitaries such as Moses and Elijah.

But Peter didn’t yet realize that Jesus was in a class all His own. He also didn’t realize how ridiculous and insulting it was to suggest that Jesus, the Son of God, should be confined to a box made by human hands.

Right in the middle of Peter’s rambling proposal, God interrupted him with a stern rebuke: While he was going on like this, babbling, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: ‘This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him’”  (v. 5).

It was as if the Heavenly Father was saying, “Thanks for the kindly suggestion, Peter. But instead of coming up with such hair-brained ideas, you need to sit still for a moment and LISTEN for a change!”

I don’t know about you, but I definitely have some of Peter’s tendencies. When I don’t take time to listen, I often come up with crazy ideas for helping God rule the world. Perhaps you can relate.

When Peter and the two other disciples heard this heavenly reprimand, “they fell flat on their faces, scared to death. But Jesus came over and touched them. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus”  (vs. 6-8).

I love how this story ends. Peter no longer has any bright ideas. Moses and Elijah are gone, no longer a distraction. When the disciples finally opened their eyes and looked around, “all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus.”

Don’t we all  need this kind of glimpse of Jesus from time to time? In addition to transforming us, it would save us a lot of time and energy in not having to build unnecessary and counterproductive monuments to our own ingenuity.

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Who Is Holding Your Rope?

If I asked you who was responsible for writing nearly half the books of the New Testament and over 30% of its content, you probably would say the apostle Paul. Although that’s the correct answer, I was actually thinking of a couple of other guys. If not for these “other guys,” Paul’s amazing ministry would have never taken place.

These unnamed heroes are described in Acts 9:23-25, soon after Paul’s conversion. Paul learned that the Jews were plotting to kill him, watching the city gates day and night in order to get their chance.

Keep in mind that Paul hadn’t planted any churches at this point. Nor had he written any epistles. He was just a new convert—but one with a special calling from God.

So how would Paul escape this plot? “During the night, some of the other believers lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall.”

We’re never given the name of these “other believers,”  referred to in some other translations simply as “the disciples.”  But make no mistake about it: Their faithfulness in “holding the rope” on Paul’s basket was the difference between success and failure, life and death.

This observation leads to two important questions for each one of us:

      1. Who is holding the rope for YOU? If you face tough times someday and your back is against the wall, is there anyone  you can count on to hold your rope and keep you from crashing to ground? In an age of megachurches that often don’t even provide staff members for counseling, weddings, hospital visits, or funerals, are you confident that other believers will be there for you in your hour of need?

      2. Whose rope are you holding? Are there people who are counting on you  to faithfully hold their rope, serving behind the scenes in order to ensure their safety and success? Are you willing to be a selfless, unnamed servant while God raises up someone else to prominent ministry?

The problem with rope-holding is that it seems unnecessary when everything is going well. You may be saying today, “I don’t need anyone to hold MY rope! I can navigate life just fine on my own, thank you.”

But the truth of the matter is this: We ALL need someone to hold our rope at one time or another. And if we are faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, He will surely call upon us to hold someone else’s rope in their darkest hours. Are you ready? Have you invested your time in relationships that will stand the rope-holding test? Or are you content just to “play church” and maintain superficial, noncommittal relationships?

In the days ahead, who will hold your rope? Whose rope will you hold? Your answer to these two questions will have profound implications.

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