Conversion

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C.S. Lewis, after serving in the British army during the First World War, “returned to Oxford University, he received a First in Honour Moderations (Greek and Latin literature) in 1920, a First in Greats (Philosophy and Ancient History) in 1922, and a First in English in 1923. In 1924 he became a philosophy tutor at University College and, in 1925, was elected a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Magdalen College, where he served for 29 years until 1954.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/).

In his partial autobiography `Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life”, he reflected on his conversion:

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The prodigal son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?… The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and his compulsion is our liberation.

G.K. Chesterton, one of the dominating figures of the London literary scene in the early twentieth century, a journalist and social philosopher, converted to Catholicism at the age of 48. He wrote a poem titled `The Convert’ (1927):

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

As I read about their lives and encounters with God, it made me reflect on mine. When I was 16, my family moved to a new home and I shared a bedroom with my sister and we had a dressing table with a large mirror where at a short distance, you can see yourself from head to toe. It was very useful for checking out how you look or dress before going out. Unlike my sister, I hardly checked how I dressed but that did not make me less vain. Come to think of it, my vanity was more deep rooted even though my sister is 6 years older.

I was very active in school and spent most of my time out of the house. However, when alone in my bedroom, I would at times sit at the dressing table and take a look at myself. One day, I began to talk to myself at the mirror and examined my face closely. I remembered asking myself, “Who am I?” I recalled not being able to answer that question and went on to ask more questions like `What am I here for?’, ‘What is life all about?’ and `Who is God?’ Although I was raised in a family that goes to church and I went to a Methodist school (primary), it didn’t make me a believer. I know all the church speak and was involved in a lot of the activities in church since young and even excelled in them like I did for my school activities. Somehow, I had never really known why I was involved and just played along with the activities as there was nothing wrong with them. In fact you can say they were mostly good and noble stuff.

But there was always this emptiness inside, like a vacuum that couldn’t be filled with all the hype and activities going on in my life. That’s when I asked myself those questions. I took the time to stop all the `noise’ and searched my heart. Something was stirring within me and I saw bible verses at my study table that states:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:6-7 ESV).

They were the key verses I used to look at and quietly pray when I studied for my GCE O levels exams. It was more because I was in panic mode as I had not been studying and it was less than 3 months before the exams. I have been using God for emergencies only.

But back to the mirror reflection… this was something else. I could not let this go on. The best I can describe this feeling was I had no peace within me. There must be a reason for me to be born, to live and eventually die. It was not meant to be in vain or vain glorious. That was clear to me. It was when I acknowledged my human condition, the need to be saved from my wretchedness, and the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that the love of God swept in to fill that vacuum so perfectly that I could only bow down in humble adoration. This was why Chesterton could say he was Lazarus and he lives. Likewise I was dead to sin and the resurrection power of Christ has brought me back to life.

What then, was the road smooth sailing? It surely wasn’t. In fact, it gets harder as long as I am in this human condition and in this world. However, the BIG difference is, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding has filled that vacuum. Life becomes richer and clearer, and God is no longer an emergency number but a blessed assurance of a relationship with an omnipresent and loving God who walks and talks with me every moment of my life. It’s no longer I that live but Christ that lives in me.

I can only conclude this experience with this passage which I read to my grandmother by her hospital bed in 2001:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life, and
I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
(Psalm 23 ESV)

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Cock-a-doodle-doo, 3 strikes and you’re out!

Peter

Peter was one of the 12 disciples and there were many accounts on his encounters with Jesus in the gospel. One of them was the rooster crowing as a reminder of Jesus prediction of Peter’s denial of him. It was at the time when Jesus was betrayed and was about to be arrested and the following account was written in the book of John 13:36-38 ESV:

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.

And indeed, soon after Jesus was arrested and was being taken away to be brought before the High Priest, and subsequently to Pontius Pilate, a Roman governor. The accounts about Peter’s reaction was recorded:

Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. (John 18:15-18 ESV)

Peter Denies Jesus Again

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed. (John 18:25-27 ESV)

Peter seemed like an impulsive and impetuous chap, at times `cocky’ (maybe this was how that term came about). For example, when Jesus was washing the disciples’ feet:

Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:8-9 ESV)

He was the one who drew a sword and cut off the ear of one of the men who came to arrest Jesus. He was also the first to walk on water to approach Jesus:

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” (Matthew 14:28-30 ESV)

Usually such a person in our company of friends will get shunned or made fun of for being arrogant or `cocky’. Often they will be caught in fights or arguments and get into all sorts of trouble. However, how did Jesus relate with Peter during his time with him?

There were several crucial times where Jesus had chosen 3 of his disciples, Peter, James and John to be with him when he went to the house where a child laid dead with her parents (Luke 8:51), and when he went up a mountain to pray (Luke 9:28) just before he was going to be arrested. Jesus also said to Peter, “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32 ESV). It was expected that Peter would respond by saying, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33 ESV) and thereafter, he denied Jesus 3 times.

Look again at what Jesus said to Peter “and WHEN you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” He knew the heart of Peter and loved him warts and all. Later we will find that Peter became one of the great apostles and wrote some of the letters in the bible. There was a transformation over his life, he repented and was changing from being that `cocky’ chap to a great teacher and apostle of that time. Although snippets of his character do come about, he was learning and changing, ever obedient to the Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit. For example when Peter had a kind of a vision and saw on a sheet, all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” (Acts 10:12-15 ESV). Later Peter was told by the Spirit to meet a centurion (non-Jew) and to share the good news to him and the people around him. Peter realised what God was teaching him:

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. (Acts 10:34-35 ESV)

A life touched by Jesus should be one that leads to change and transformation towards being more like Jesus and abiding in his word more and more. Peter was clearly moving in that direction and indeed brought glory to God for all that he did till his death.

My prayer is that my life will continue to be transformed to be more like Jesus. That I will be able to turn and strengthen others. That through it all, I will be able to love and cherish God more and more for who he is and what he has done for me.