Category Archives: Bible Commentary

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (8): Follow Me . . . Ignorant Enthusiasm

If you think we’ve already discussed Jesus’ command, “Follow Me,” you’re right. The first two times I read through the New Testament looking for all the places where Jesus gave people unequivocal imperatives, I counted over 400, so it was tempting to discuss the command to follow him only once. However, each instance has unique circumstances, and Jesus calls men to follow him more times than he urges people to do almost anything else, so I think each account deserves attention. The eighth time we read of Jesus commanding someone to do something, it is when he interacts with Philip, and the story is found only in John’s Gospel  (which I’ve listed at the bottom of this post if you’d like to read it now). In this instance, Philip immediately responds by sharing what he thinks he knows with Nathanael. He identifies (correctly) that Jesus is the prophet about whom Moses wrote (see Deuteronomy 18:15: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken”).

Further, Philip (incorrectly) states that Jesus is from “Nazareth” and “the son of Joseph.” The first descriptor is partially true; the second is false! Jesus was originally from Bethlehem (although he was living in Nazareth when Nathanael met him), but he was not the son of Joseph. Jesus was conceived by the Virgin Mary overshadowed by God’s Holy Spirit in a once-in-the-universe miracle to produce a sinless offspring who was fully human and fully divine (Matthew 1:20). The Gospel of Luke explains that he was born into the family of Joseph but was not truly his son: “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli” (Luke 3:23). Because of my own experiences as a new believer, I am charmed by this account, because Philip was so enthusiastic but clearly not well taught as yet! However, that didn’t stop him from instinctively becoming a “fisher of men!”Nathanael, who was a devout and clearly well educated Israelite, questioned Philip’s accuracy based on his knowledge that the ruler of the Jews was to come from Bethlehem, not Nazareth: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). Philip didn’t know all the answers, but he had discovered the One who is the answer, so he urged Nathanael to come and see for himself!

Nathanael came, and in two simple sentences Jesus proved his omniscience. Jesus acknowledged Nathanael as without guile (deceit), which is an introductory volley no mortal could honestly lob over the net on first meeting (but was obviously true, because Nathanael knew in his heart that Jesus was correct), and then Jesus divulged that he had actually been able to see Nathanael  when he was out of eye sight, under a fig tree, before Philip had ever gone to get him! So, Jesus knew Nathanael “inside” and “outside.” If he wasn’t The Prophet, he was definitely a prophet of God, and he had Nathanael’s attention!The unique beauty of this story is that what Philip did was blessed by God, even though he didn’t yet have all his facts straight! Philip became one of the twelve Apostles and was with Jesus throughout his ministry, even sharing The Last Supper with him. He was able to lead Nathanael to Jesus—not because Philip knew all the answers, but because he urged Nathanael to come and see for himself, and Nathanael also became a follower. (We know this because  he was with the disciples at the end of John’s Gospel.) Furthermore, Nathanael was the first to acknowledge Jesus for who he really was: “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel” (John 1:49).

Dearly beloved, if Jesus is your Savior and Lord, you don’t have to wait a minute to share him with others! Tell them as much as you know, but realize that what you say may be true, only half true, or even (unintentionally) false, like what  Philip told Nathanael! The important thing is to get your friends to come and see for themselves! Bring them to Jesus; put a Bible in their hands; invite them to church. Urge them to pray to Jesus. Jesus can draw them to himself. All we have to do is testify to what little we know (or think we know)! As Jesus taught: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32).

Come and See
(—Lenny LeBlanc)
“Come and see the glory of the Lord
Come behold the Lamb
Come and know the mercy of the King
Bowing down before him.
“Come and give thanks unto the Lord
Come behold the Lamb.
Come and sing the praises of the King
Bowing down before him
“For He is Lord above the heavens,
Lord of all the earth
Lord of all the angels,
Worthy to be served.
Allelujah!”
(For an inspiring rendition by the composer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIn4WG_v9m8)

The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.44 Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! 48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.51 And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1:43-51).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (7): “Fear Not”

Have you ever known a fisherman who told you about the time he caught too many fish? I haven’t. I don’t have very many fishing tales, although my two favorites involve fishing with my older brother Wolle. The biggest fish we ever caught was a three-foot sun shark that had gotten caught in a tide pool on Cape Cod; he afforded  us a bony but excellent diner! The most fish we ever caught were 43 flounder off the coast of Long Island. That day the fish were biting anything that was dangling off the side of the boat (even without bait!), and we were so busy pulling them in that we didn’t realize one was actually an electric eel until we’d hauled it aboard! Yikes! Have a fishing tale to share with us? Please do!!

. . . Now that I think of it, Alan and I caught too many smelt in April, 1973, when the slippery little fish were running thick and furious down Pendills Creek in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula one cold spring night. However, it’s only with 45 years of hindsight that I can say we caught “too many,” recollecting the endless hours of processing them, freezing them, frying them ad nauseam, and finally using them as fertilizer when we planted corn in our garden the next summer. Too many fish! But, on the night we caught them, we were ecstatic!  Such memories left me baffled for a long time as I reflected on the story from Luke 5 about the miraculous draught of fish and the seventh command of Christ: “Fear not!” We learn in Luke 5 that Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John had been fishing all night without catching a single fish. Jesus later told them to “let down your nets for a draught” (his sixth command), and Peter somewhat begrudgingly let down one net. The result was nearly a fiasco: A huge school of fish all decided they wanted to be first in their class to jump into Peter’s net! As the net was breaking, Simon Peter signaled for his partners to help him, but the fish flood overfilled both boats until they started to sink. I think this is possibly the only time in history that anybody clearly caught “too many fish.”

Fish tales and tall tales are synonymous; both share as fact stories that are fiction, and the way most people decide whether or not to believe an account is by hearing the story and judging whether or not the details sound believable. If this story of the miraculous draught of fish had ended with Peter and his buddies selling the fish for a huge profit and becoming legendary in their trade (with a 15-foot statue of them in the town square), it might be tempting to include Peter in the history books alongside Paul Bunyan and his mountain-sized blue ox.  However, Peter’s response–while the total opposite of what I would  have expected—makes the account seem frighteningly true. Why? Because suddenly Peter realized he was in the presence of someone who wasn’t just another itinerant religious guru, like Gautama Buddha. Peter was up for following a wise philosopher type, but he had no clue that this humble-looking carpenter had enough power to ruin Peter’s fishing industry by overloading him with exactly what Peter wanted but couldn’t get.

Peter suddenly realized he wasn’t looking at a man, he was looking at a deity. Peter was looking in amazement at the very face of God Almighty, who alone could do such a miracle. In fact, there had never been such a miracle in recorded history, nor has there been such a spectacularly devastating fishing success since.  The result? Three of the fishermen were dumbfounded, but Peter never seemed to be at a loss for words. He fell down at Jesus’ knees and said, “Lord! I believe! Now I understand that you are really God incarnate—Immanuel, God with us, as the angels told the shepherds when you were born, and I want to follow you forever.” Right? Well, no, actually he said just the opposite! He was afraid of Jesus and said, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  Jesus didn’t say, “Okay, I’m outta here! You are sinful; I am perfect, and I’m not going to hang around with you.” He reassured Peter and reaffirmed his calling: “Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men” (Luke 5:10). All four men had been called; they had accepted the call; they had apparently gone back to business as usual (fishing all night), had questioned Jesus’ wisdom and totally failed to recognize his authority. They were not “good enough” for Him, and they knew it. But, Jesus reached out in love; he wanted them just the way they were!  Do you ever feel like you believe in Jesus and want to follow him but you just aren’t “good enough?” Are there things in your life that are keeping you from following him completely? Like Peter, Andrew, James, and John, do you admire Jesus without appreciating his miraculous wisdom and power? Jesus Christ is not just a wise man; He is Wisdom. He’s not just loving; He is love. He’s not just enlightening; He is light. He is everything any of us needs. And, best of all, he doesn’t expect us to become perfect in order to follow him! He reaches out to us and asks us to come just the way we are! Unsure, doubting, and sinful.

After seeing Jesus’ power to provide for them and experiencing his reassuring love for them, all four disciples brought their ships back to land, forsook everything, and followed him (Luke 5:11). What are we afraid of? Let’s “Fear not!” and allow Jesus to make us into exactly whatever He wants us to be!

Just As I Am
(—Charlotte Elliot, 1835, Public Domain)

Just as I am – without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee—
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot—
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – though toss’d about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without—
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find—
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe—
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – Thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down;
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone—
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above—
O Lamb of God, I come!

Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: 10 And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. 11 And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him (Luke 5:6-11).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (6): Launch Out Into the Deep . . . For What??

Have you ever felt like God was asking you to climb out onto a limb . . . but you’re not sure if it’s really God or just your imagination? The quandary is: If it’s really God, then you’re willing to do something that seems futile by human wisdom, but if it’s just your imagination, then you know you’ll end up getting hurt one way or the other and probably feeling very humiliated and stupid. Yes? You know that feeling? I certainly have at various junctures in my life.

In Luke 5:4, where Jesus asked Peter to “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught,” I wonder if Peter had the same thought. Peter (aka/Simon) and his brother Andrew had been fishing all night without catching anything. I’m sure they were very tired and ready to go home to sleep. On top of that, Peter had already extended himself by letting Jesus use his boat as a pulpit from which to address the crowds who had gathered to hear his wisdom. Wise teacher? Yes! Knowledgeable about fishing? I suspect Peter had  his doubts.

Nevertheless, Peter and Andrew had already committed to following Jesus, and following requires obedience, so Peter reluctantly obeyed (at least partially; notice Jesus’ “nets” versus Peter’s “net,”—a small alteration that ultimately made a big difference, as we’ll see next Sunday): “And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net” (Luke 5:5).  Do you admire Peter’s willingness to obey? I do, even though it wasn’t complete. He was learning to trust, and I often identify with his doubts and fears. Peter stated his objections but proceeded to do as told . . . sort of. The essence of being a good follower is to state your opinion but obey your leader, whether it’s following Jesus, your husband (gasp!), or your boss. Furthermore, Jesus asked him to go deep! Are we willing to go deep with Jesus . . . out where— not only could we fall out of a tree— we could totally drown?!

In studying a passage for meditation, I like to consider many translations, and almost universally, the texts record Jesus telling Simon Peter to “Launch out into the deep.” However, in most of the modern versions, Jesus’ command ends something like this: “and let down your nets for a catch.” The most presumptuous is probably The Living Bible, which states it this way: “When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Now go out where it is deeper and let down your nets and you will catch a lot of fish!'”

This turns the command into a promise that is not in the King James Version (KJV), and although the vocabulary of the KJV  is sometimes archaic, I tend to trust its scholarship. In the KJV, Jesus tells Simon to “let down your nets for a draught.” Draught is an ancient word related to “drag” or “draw” and is usually used in terms of dragging or pulling liquid, as water through a net in fishing. (Or, in recent times, the idea of drawing out a “draught” or “draft” of beer into a cup.)

Although the difference may seem slight, I don’t believe Jesus is giving a promise of success to Peter, and I think the same is true for us today. When God tells us to launch out into the deep with him and put down our nets for a draught, He is asking us to obey him without promising any particular reward. Our nets may come up empty, or they may come up full, but the important thing is: Are we going to follow Christ and do what he asks or not? Period. Are we going to be okay if we fail by human standards and feel humiliated? Jesus didn’t promise us worldly fame or fortune, nor did he say that we’d be able to look with pride at what we’ve accomplished by following him. In fact, he predicts persecution, and if his life is our “perfect” example, then it looks like humiliation is in the mix too.

However, Jesus did promise us a life of spiritual abundance and fruitfulness if we follow him, and that’s worth more than any material gain. Are you willing? I am. Are we “able”? Well . . . that’s a harder question to answer!

‘”Are Ye Able,’ Said the Master”
(—Earl Marlatt, 1926)

“Are ye able,” said the Master,
“To be crucified with me?”
“Yea,” the sturdy dreamers answered,
“To the death we follow Thee.”

Refrain:
Lord, we are able. Our spirits are Thine.
Remold them, make us, like Thee, divine.
Thy guiding radiance above us shall be
a beacon to God, to love, and loyalty.

Are ye able? Still the Master
Whispers down eternity,
And heroic spirits answer,
Now as then in Galilee. [Refrain]

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net” (Luke 5:1-5).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (5): Follow Me, and I Will Make You Fishers of Men

It’s striking to me that the progression of Christ’s commands as recorded in the New Testament is not simply a history of what happened two thousand years ago; it’s also perfectly appropriate for each of us in our individual spiritual journeys! First, “Repent and believe the gospel,” and next: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Or, as the event was recorded in Mark 1:17, “Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”

The context was Jesus calling his first four disciples, men who would later become the leaders among “the twelve apostles” of our Christian faith. All four men were fishermen, two sets of brothers. Simon and Andrew were casting their nets into the sea; James and John were mending their nets in preparation for more fishing.  I don’t know what made these men so special, or why they were chosen, but they were offered a job following Christ, and they all immediately accepted! It’s comforting that Jesus didn’t ask them to do something totally foreign to them. He told them to follow him, and I think it’s reasonable to assume they were already used to following. This is specifically implied about James and John, of whom it’s noted in both accounts that they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants and followed Jesus. These young men left their father and his profession in order to follow Jesus and his profession . . .  a profession with which they were familiar. They were fishermen, and catching fish in the sea had been their life. Now Jesus was calling them to become fishers of men. They could use all their carefully honed skills to go from pursuing a worldly career to engaging in a spiritual career.  What about us? Have we repented and believed the “Gospel”—the good news that Jesus, the son of God, came to earth to teach us how to live, died for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God, and rose again in victory over death, ensuring that we too, by faith, can experience resurrection from death and eternal life with Christ?!

If so, the very next step in our faith is to accept the calling to discipleship. Jesus asks us to follow him and learn from him how to become fishers of men—how to share the good news with those around us, who also need the life-giving message of God’s love, redemption, and hope. I left my “nets” fifty-five years ago . . . my dreams and aspirations for where I wanted to attend college and what I wanted for a career. Life has been very different from what I imagined before becoming a Christian, but it has been a blessed adventure, and one that I wouldn’t change for the world. It was scary to say, “Okay, Jesus, I give you my life. Take it and use it as you will,” but it was also one of the most freeing moments of my life. No more feeling totally alone and unsure about what to do next. Having God as my father and Jesus as my savior is incredibly stabilizing and fills me with joy. I can pray and ask for guidance. No need to be anxious because I’m not sure about the future, and I don’t have to have the wisdom of the ages. I am now in the care of The Wisdom of the Ages.

If  you’ve asked Jesus to save you but have never taken the next step—forsaking your own pursuits in order to follow Jesus and let him teach you how to become a fisher of men—then you’re missing out on life at its best. Please, please throw down your nets and chase after Jesus! Follow him. Become his willing disciple. It will be change your life—in the best ways—forever!

I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
(—Author Anonymous)

1 I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

2 Though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
no turning back, no turning back.

3 The world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
no turning back, no turning back.

 

Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20

And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.20 And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.21 And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.22 And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him” Matthew 4:18-22).

16 “Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.17 And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.18 And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.19 And when he had gone a little farther thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.20 And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him (Mark 1:16-20)

 

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (4): Repent and Believe the Gospel

In the book of Mark, Christ’s first public imperative: “Repent” was coupled with a second command: “Believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Sounds simple, and it is for some people, but for others, faith in the gospel seems nigh unto impossible. Why? Well, until a person repents—humbly examining himself, admitting to sin, feeling saddened by his failures, and wanting to change—he probably feels satisfied with his life as it it and perceives no need for help or the good news of the gospel. Is that where you’re at? If so, faith will come very hard for  you.

The first time I heard the gospel, I was overjoyed! To think that God created me (even thinking that God existed was novel), loves me with an everlasting love (as He loves all of us), and came in the person of Christ to die in my place for my sins (yes; by age twelve it was easy to recognize that I was a sinner in need of a Savior) . . . well, that was absolutely good news of great joy, and I felt like I had wings on my feet as I practically flew up the aisle to receive Christ as my savior when the invitation was given. I’ve been overjoyed ever since and have never for one minute regretted becoming a child of God that night fifty-five  years ago!

On the other hand, one of my profound early memories of sharing my joy with others was one night passing out gospel tracts with the young people from our church. We lived in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and would sometimes go down to the Soo Locks to share our faith with the many tourists who came to watch the locks operating. We usually walked down the sidewalk from Ashmun St.(the main street in our little town), passing out pamphlets and engaging tourists all along the Locks Park, and then on our way back, we’d cross the street and pass out tracts to tourists visiting the shops, restaurants, motels, and bars across from the locks. One night, someone very drunk was literally thrown out of a bar onto the street right in front of me as I was walking by. I hurried to help him up and then asked if he’d like a gospel tract that explained how he could become a Christian.

“Why would I want to do that?” he slurred.

“Well, because God loves us and wants to help us! Jesus came to save us from our sins,” I answered enthusiastically.

He hardly looked at me as he stumbled off, mumbling loudly, “I don’t need nothin’ cause I’ve never sinned.”

I was dumbfounded, but he was oblivious! Until we repent, we won’t see a need to believe. On the other hand, those of us who are willing to face the fact that we intentionally do things wrong sometimes: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), believe that the good news that Jesus died in our place so we can receive forgiveness for our sins and be reconciled to God is the best news ever! Forgiveness for sins and the gift of eternal life is better than a cure for cancer or hearing that we might live forever here on this earth (which will never happen, and could you imagine how awful that would be . . . growing older and feebler year by year but never able to die?)!

So, if you ever get to the place where you’re ready to admit that you’re not perfect, would like God to forgive you for your sins and make you his child, guiding you through this life and giving you the gift of eternal life . . . then I pray that you will believe in Jesus! As Jesus taught: “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

What exactly do you need to believe to be saved? Paul explains it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”   Most people believe that Jesus was a real person who lived two thousand years ago and died by crucifixion. The hard part is to believe that Jesus rose again from the dead. There are some great books dealing with evidences for the resurrection, such as Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell and The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. (If you need a list, just ask me.) During the first few centuries after the death of Christ, the church fathers wrote what is commonly known as the Apostles’ Creed, a concise statement of what is pretty much universally accepted as the basis for the Christian faith:“I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.” Another ancient creed from the fourth century that has almost universal acceptance is the Nicene Confession:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.” (— Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer (1979), The Book of Common Prayer(PDF). New York: Church Publishing Incorporated. 2007. pp. 326–327.)                          I hope this helps, and I hope you come by faith to Jesus!

“And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears,
Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief”
(Mark 9:24).

Ancient Message about Media That’s Perfect for Today (aka/How to Live Without Fear of the Future)

Have you voted yet? If not, I hope you get out there and cast your ballot! One of the greatest privileges of a democratic republic is the right to be involved in making political decisions, and as tensions rise over which way is going to be “the best way,” every person’s vote truly does make a difference.

The only downside of elections is the aftermath of unwanted results. The elective process is better than a hostile coup, where the new government kills or imprisons their opponents, but I know anxiety over “what ifs” surrounding today’s elections is causing a great deal of stress.In that light, I’d like to share with you the perfect “Election Day”t message, totally à propos for today, and one of the best messages I’ve ever heard at our church. It was given by our pastor, Jim Samra, who is slowly working his way through the book of Isaiah, and Sunday’s passage “just happened to be” on Isaiah 8, after King Ahaz hired the Assyrian army to defend Judah from Samaria and Syria (despite the fact that the Lord told King Ahaz that He [God] would deliver them).

In verses 5-6, God warned that because the people and their “bad” leader, King Ahaz, had failed to trust in God—who is like a gently flowing river—to protect them, God was going to allow the Assyrians (the very people Judah hired to protect them) to sweep over them like a devastating flood (verses 5-8; the entire passage is listed below). However, in the midst of the battle, God would actually rescue those who trusted in him, “for God is with us” (verses 9-10).

Today, we find our country in a similar position— a place of jeopardy, not only because of bad leadership, but also because of our personal and corporate failure to rely on God to solve our problems, relying rather on technology, programs, alliances with other countries, drugs, education, money, etc.

Just as God did in the days of King Ahaz, so He gives us some warnings today:

1. Don’t follow bad leadership or the masses (:11)
2. Don’t worry about conspiracy theories (:12a Sound familiar?)
3. Don’t fear what other people fear (:12b; and doesn’t our country seem fearful?)

Instead, God gives us several principles to help us live without fear of the future:

1. Fear only God (:13-14a; I’ve heard that “fearing God” means to reverence Him, to trust and obey Him). God will either be a sanctuary for us if we trust him or a
“stone of  stumbling and rock of offense” if we don’t (:14b-15; see also 1 Peter 2:8).
2. Focus on what God says, not what the media has to say (:16-22; talk about appropriate for today!!). It almost made the congregation laugh, but it’s true! Notice verses 19-20: “19 When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” Jim pointed out that the correct plural of “medium” is not “mediums” but “media.” As believers, we should be testing everything against God’s Word and finding our answers through prayer, not allowing the media to define reality for us or telling us how to interpret events. 3. Fellowship with other believers and wait on the Lord (:16-17). Instead of spending all our time listening to and fretting over what we see and hear via the media, concentrate on repenting from our personal failures, loving others, and waiting on God (through prayer) to deliver us. God alone can turn darkness to light, and He does promise to deliver us if we put our trust in him (:10,17-18). Here is the complete passage from Isaiah 8:

5The Lord spoke to me again:

“Because this people has rejected
    the gently flowing waters of Shiloah
and rejoices over Rezin
    and the son of Remaliah,
therefore the Lord is about to bring against them
    the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates—
    the king of Assyria with all his pomp.
It will overflow all its channels,
    run over all its banks
and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it,
    passing through it and reaching up to the neck.
Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land,
    Immanuel!”

Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered!
    Listen, all you distant lands.
Prepare for battle, and be shattered!
    Prepare for battle, and be shattered!
10 Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted;
    propose your plan, but it will not stand,
    for God is with us.

11 This is what the Lord says to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people:

12 “Do not call conspiracy
    everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
    and do not dread it.
13 The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
    he is the one you are to fear,
    he is the one you are to dread.
14 He will be a holy place;
    for both Israel and Judah he will be
a stone that causes people to stumble
    and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be
    a trap and a snare.
15 Many of them will stumble;
    they will fall and be broken,
    they will be snared and captured.”

16 Bind up this testimony of warning
    and seal up God’s instruction among my disciples.
17 I will wait for the Lord,
    who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob.
I will put my trust in him.

18 Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.                                        “The Darkness Turns to Light”

19 When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. 21 Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22 Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness. P.S.—If you’d like to hear the entire message, it can be accessed here: http://calvarygr.org/sermons-resources/

Also, if you’re looking for a church family and live in the Grand Rapids area, please consider joining us at Calvary Church: http://calvarygr.org/

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (3): Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand

It’s popular in America to relegate all the stern commands and “Thou shalt nots” of Mosaic Law into a box labeled “Obsolete Old Testament Teachings” and stuff them under our brain beds, preferring to focus on the person of Christ, who epitomizes love, mercy, and forgiveness. However, Jesus’s first public statement—at the very beginning of his teaching ministry—was: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

After identifying with mankind at his baptism, then enduring a long season of deprivation in the wilderness and overcoming Satan’s temptations, Jesus was prepared for ministry, but he didn’t need to do any research or run surveys to figure out what the people in Israel 2018 years ago (or the people living around the world in 2018) need to hear. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega . . .the One who had been with God the Father from eternity past and who was there when he heard the Father say, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26). Jesus is the one by whom all things were created, and through whom they continue to exist (Colossians 1:16-17). Furthermore, not only is he our creator and caregiver, he loves us more than we even love ourselves or will ever be able to comprehend (John 15:13). What did the One who created us, sustains us, and loves us know we need more than anything? To repent! Why? Because the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!

In case you—like I—have never stopped to ponder this deeply, let’s think it through together. The word “repent” is easy to understand, but repenting is extremely difficult to do! I love all three of Merriam-Webster’s options for the definition of repent: “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life;” “to feel regret or contrition;” “to change one’s mind.” Jesus commands each of us to “repent,” and for me personally, that command has never ceased to be appropriate. Although I truly did repent the first time I ever heard the gospel, I have never completely overcome the propensity for sinning.

The words “sin” and “repent” are almost anathema today. People get angry at the very mention of the possibility that they might be sinning and respond with things like, “Are you trying to lay a guilt trip on me?” Most people deny their own sinfulness; many deny that “sin” is even possible, since if there’s no God, there’s no basis for right and wrong . . . just “poor choices.” I hear of people at the other extreme who do not believe they are capable of sin after they become Christians. What?! I continue to struggle and often fail . . . and anticipate that I will always be “under construction” (as Ruth Graham used to say) until the day I die.

How about you? Have you become perfect yet? If not, then Jesus’s first command should continue ringing in our ears! “Repent!” Let’s be cognizant of our sins each time we fail. Let’s open our eyes, reject our pride, and change our minds about what we’ve done wrong. “I’m doing my best” is a good start, but God calls us to perfection, hard as that is to hear! Let’s not give up hope; let’s keep fighting the good fight!

Why? Because that’s what God commands. But, why is He so demanding? Because He loves us! If we could only keep that in mind, it would make facing our sins and seeking change easier. Also, Jesus gave us another wonderful reason for dedicating ourselves to the amendment of our lives: “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” What does that mean, and why should that motivate us?

“The Kingdom of heaven” is used 32 times in the Bible, and all of them in Matthew. “The Kingdom of God” is mentioned 76 times throughout the New Testament, but after studying them intensely, I believe they both refer to the same thing. The Kingdom of heaven is a spiritual kingdom which we enter at the time of our  spiritual rebirth (John 3:3), and without spiritual rebirth, we are totally dead and blind to this incredibly wonderful dimension of human experience.

Entering into the Kingdom of heaven makes us children of God, joint heirs with Jesus, and part of the family of God. It gives us access to the wisdom of God via prayer, the grace of God through faith, and the fruit of the Spirit, which develops within us love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, humility, self control (Galatians 5:22-23), righteousness and truth (Ephesians 5:9). And, beyond all these treasures, we are gifted with eternal life, which anchors  our soul during the most miserable trials and fills us with the quiet assurance that despite whatever storms overtake us in this life, the end of our story here on earth is glorious! After we have shuffled off our mortal coil in death (as Shakespeare’s Hamlet would say), we will find ourselves alive with Christ in the unending joys of heaven.

Have you ever reckoned with your need to repent? Repented? Entered the Kingdom of heaven? If so, Praise God! You’re his child and my spiritual sibling! If not, please click on the “Coming to Christ” tab at the top of this page, and/or come back next Sunday to learn more about the commands of Christ and the good news He proclaimed to the world!

Bible Passage Where This Command is Found: Matthew 4:13-17

For any of you who aren’t very familiar with the Bible, here’s a relevant passage that explains what Christ has done (and can do) for us:

Colossians 1:9-23 “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for Chim: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven.”