A Life Laid Down

By Kathi Pelton

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” Matthew 16:25

There are so many things that we try to hang onto— afraid to lose what we think that we need. We are living in a time that shouts, “Protect your life! Protect what belongs to you.” We need to exercise such discernment and we need the wisdom of God to navigate these days. I fully admit that after the death of my brother in late January (from the virus) that I spent a good two months pulling back— mostly to grieve but also because I watched him suffer so much that I had to work through some very real fear. There was an element of trauma that it left on my soul. I began to hesitate and count the cost— which was shocking and even disheartening to me.

I began thinking about when Jesus was arrested and Peter was gripped by a very real fear of losing his life— he ran through the streets in panic and confusion trying to get as far away from the threat as possible. When asked if he was a disciple of Jesus, he denied even knowing him— why? Because of the fear of losing his life. And yet the result of denying him probably brought more pain and agony than if he had given up his life. He was deeply grieved and disheartened by what he had done.

I am always so moved by Jesus’s response to Peter the first time they came face to face after his resurrection. While Peter had returned to fishing (for fish rather than men) Jesus waited for him to return to the shore as he cooked breakfast. After the meal he asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

He calls him Simon rather than the name he gave him, Peter— why? Possibly because in Peter’s shame and facing the death of Jesus he had returned to his old identity. He returned to boats, nets and fish. Therefore, Jesus is about to call him back to his true identity and purpose. He begins by addressing his old identity as “Simon, son of John.”

He asks him three times if he loves him— the same amount that Peter had denied him. Each time Peter answered with, “Yes Lord! You know that I do.” Then Jesus exhorts him, “Tend my sheep.”

The interesting fact, that is not well understood, is that when Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” He is using the Greek word for love, “agape.” This is the highest form of love. Yet, when Peter responds to him saying, “You know that I love you.” He uses the Greek word, “phileo,” which is a brotherly love that is more conditional (lesser form of love).

The third and final time that Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, he also uses the “phileo” form of love. When Jesus does this, Peter realizes that the Lord is revealing that Peter has loved him with a conditional love that has wanted to maintain his life. The Lord once again responds with, “Shepherd my sheep.” Why? Because a true shepherd will lay down his life in agape love for his sheep.

Jesus is not condemning him but revealing to him that his “brotherly or human love” could not do what needs to be done or even live in a way that will do what Jesus has just done— lay down his life for his sheep.

The phileo love could not support a “life laid down.” Like Peter, many of us have had to come to the end of our human love, strength, and even our beliefs that we will never shrink back. It is here, in this place of weakness and failure, that we can ask the Spirit to let his agape love flow through us and have victory over our phileo love. This is a work of the Spirit, who restores our true identity, our call and our hearts.

As we know, in the end Peter not only was a shepherd of God’s precious sheep but he too laid his life down as the agape love of his Holy Spirit strengthened him to do.

It is easy to say, “We lay it all down” until we come face to face with actually doing that. I have been convinced that I have and would lay it all down because I have left home, family, personal desires and even what I considered safety to follow him many times. Yet, in the moment of looking at, “Could I lose my life?” I hesitated. I had to look at the condition and form of my love.

Is my love phileo or agape? There is no condemnation in this question but rather an invitation to come up higher and to surrender my love for his. The question momentarily took my breath away but was immediately followed by, “Shepard my sheep.” This restores his commissioning and his faith in who he is in us.

So, how do we lay down our lives when we realize that we have phileo love? We must understand that his Spirit lives in us. His Spirit fully possesses agape love— the highest form of unconditional love (that holds nothing back and has no need for personal gain). We then allow our lives to be a conduit of his agape love that lives within us. We recognize that in ourselves we are limited to phileo love but in him we are consumed with agape love.

We cannot lay down our lives wholeheartedly without doing it by the Spirit. Peter had made passionate declarations of how he would never leave Jesus before his arrest. He was not lying but did not realize that in himself the best he could give in his own strength was the conditional phileo love that would always come up short.

Because the Spirit has come to live within believers, we now can allow his agape love to do what we could not do. Our flesh may fail but his Spirit in us will prevail. “Not by might, nor by power but by my Spirit.” This is what the Lord says and how we can lay down our lives.

As we recognize the greater need for absolute dependency on his Spirit, in everything we do and all that we lay down, we will overcome the phileo love that has limited us in so many ways. We lay down all dependency on “self!” We surrender even the best intentions and the most passionate declarations to yield to his Spirit, who can do what we cannot. We let the true Shepherd live through us and lay his life down through us again and again.

“By your Spirit— I lay my life down!”

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“It Is Well” The Story Behind the Song

The Story Behind the Song—

The lyrics to the song, “It Is Well With My Soul” was written by a Heratio Spafford, a successful lawyer, a loving husband, the father of five precious children and a strong Christian. This man faced more tragedy in a few short years than most do in a lifetime.

In 1871 his only son died of pneumonia at the tender age of 4. That same year, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed a large portion of his business that he’d worked so hard to build. Then in 1873, he sent his wife, Anna and four daughters to Europe for the summer holiday, a business problem preventing him from going so he planned to join them later. On the fourth day of his family’s voyage to Europe their ship collided with a barge and his four daughters perished at sea along with almost all the passengers aboard. His wife was found in the sea, clinging to a board, and was rescued. She send her husband a telegram which simply read, “Saved alone. What shall I do?”

Heratio boarded a ship to Europe to be with his wife. Four day into his voyage the captain of the ship called to him to tell him that they were passing over the place where his daughters were lost at sea. It was there that he wrote a song – “Whatever my lot, You have taught me to say – It is well, it is well with my soul.”

I don’t know what you might be facing but I do know that there is a grace given to those who choose a grateful heart. In their deepest pain, rather than blaming God they look up and take hold of an eternal truth that neither life nor death, angels or demons can take from them. God is faithful and eternity (the Kingdom of Heaven) is near.

May we, in moments of deep pain and loss, choose to look up to the One who gave his all and gain strength with a heart that puts its trust in God alone. May we too say, “It is well, with my soul.”

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Finding Your Way Home

Kathi Pelton

Have you ever gotten lost on a walk or on a drive? I remember when I was about 20 years old, my husband and I had just moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana (where he was attending college) and I needed to go grocery shopping after a long day at work. It was dark and I didn’t know my way around the city (this was in the days before cell phones or GPS). I had gone to an area of the city that was unfamiliar to me to shop and when I was done I took a wrong turn (in a wrong direction) and suddenly was I was absolutely lost. I didn’t have any coins for a pay phone and honestly didn’t know who’d I call anyway since my husband was at a night class and I didn’t know anyone in the area.

As I drove, looking for anything even remotely familiar, I began to feel panic— would I ever find my way home. I wasn’t in the city limits anymore and couldn’t even find my way back to a populated area. I had gotten off the “beaten path” and was lost and scared. After over two hours of frantic driving I finally found a familiar landmark and my way back to the college. When I arrived I got out of the car and walked to where my young husband was waiting and when I saw him I just fell in his arms weeping— I had found home— in his arms.

2021 began a bit like this for me personally. It felt like I walked out onto my favorite path but somehow turned a wrong corner and ended up in an unfamiliar wilderness with no path, no way to communicate, no sense of direction and completely alone. Quite honestly, I was disoriented and felt a bit of that old “panic” that I’d experienced when I was lost as a 20 year old in a strange city. I just wanted to find my way home.

I began spiritually and emotionally trying to find something familiar or a sign that would lead me back to the path that I knew— the path home. I would go through each day with varying degrees of numbness, grief, longing, surrender, weeping, etc. Nights were the worst because even the beautiful “God dreams” that accompanied my sleep had become nights of bad dreams. I’d wake up even more disoriented.

Finally, I remembered the words that are told to most young children by their parents, “If you get lost, stay still and I will find you.” So, I stopped trying to find my way home— the way back to the intimacy and the “home” I’d known. I stopped and got very still, waiting for my Father to find me where I was (am).

“Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Psalm 131:2

I finally stopped long enough to remember that God has never left me or forsaken me— so I stopped looking for a way out of the wilderness and am now finding him in the wilderness. I am drinking of him and learning to “calm and quiet my soul” in his arms.

It is just like that 20 year old who found home in the arms of her young husband, I am finding home in the arms of God, even in this unfamiliar and strange place. There is not much else in this place but he is everything that I need. The verse that comes directly prior to Psalm 131:2 says this,

“LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I don’t concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp.” Psalm 131:1

I think that I had begun to concern myself with matters too great and too awesome for me to grasp. They began to be like a “master” over me. I had to humble myself and become like a child. I had to get still and remember that, “He is God.”

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

The matter of the nations had become to great for me to grasp. The matter of life and death was too awesome for me to fully comprehend and so God brought me into a wilderness place to show me “home.”

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor (Valley of Trouble) a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. “In that day,” declares the LORD, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ Hosea 2:14-16

The wilderness does not “feel” good but as I have discovered a few other times in my life— this “Valley of Trouble” is usually a door of hope that restores my soul and ushers me into a place of greater abundance. But, we must embrace it rather than fight against it.

Running frantically when you have lost your way only gets you more lost. This is where we must stop, get still and know that he is God. He is with you in the wilderness and he will feed you, hold you, restore you and deliver you from every area that has become enslaved to false “masters.” This is where you find him as “husband.” This is where you run into his arms and find home. Then, you will hear this,

“Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?” Song of Solomon 8:5

I think that all too often we take on things that “are too great for us to grasp” and they enslave us to a weight and burden that becomes a master over us. When we’ve done all we can do, it is time to get still and stand (Ephesians 6:13). Stand in who he is and stand in the arms of the One that created all. The earth is his and all that is within it. He is God— our partnership with him is in the context of “bridal covenant” not “slave and master.” That is where the enemy loses his footing and love wins.

Stop running…stop striving…stop panicking! Home is with you— right where you are. He is always with you so be still and let him hold you until you are fully restored— leaning on your Beloved!

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