Category Archives: Christianity

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).

Meditating on The Commands of Christ

I know the Ten Commandments were given by God Almighty to Moses during the world’s most awesome mountain top experience, and that orthodox Jews honor 613 Mitzvot (laws derived from the Old Testament), but in the New Testament, did Jesus ever command us to do anything?  I mean, did Jesus ever command anybody to do anything?  I always think of Jesus as perfection incarnate, Immanuel, God with us…full of grace and truth, mercy and humility…the first to forgive and the last to condemn…and that doesn’t seem like someone who would be quick to order people around. But, when I started reading through the New Testament to answer that question, I discovered that there are over 400 accounts of Jesus commanding somebody to do something, and I know that in each history lesson there are spiritual truths God wants us to understand and apply to our own lives today, not because he’s bossy, but because he wants us to be good…to learn how to love the Lord above all else and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Ultimately, obeying the commands (or imperatives, if you’d rather) of Christ will not only bring glory to God but make us happy too. So, I’m embarking on a study to meditate my way through the commands of Christ, which I hope to publish each Sunday, and I hope you will join me. Please, please share your thoughts too, so that this study will be as rich and complete as possible!

Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

Hidden Treasury of Religious Art at Scrovegni Chapel…Lost in Padua

The baby was due Wednesday, and Michael predicted that it might be a photo finish between Baby Cakes and me as to who would arrive first. We had a “Plan B” in place while I was in transit from America just in case the baby came and Michael couldn’t meet me at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport. However, Mike was there smiling when I emerged from the baggage claim area. That was Friday.  By Saturday, Grace was more ready than ever to deliver, but Baby was unwilling to participate in a premiere showing, so Michael valiantly offered to take care of their four kids so Grace and I could visit the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, about a 40-minute drive from home. “Intrepid” is perhaps a modest understatement of Grace’s enthusiasm for life, and she’d really been wanting to visit this acclaimed masterpiece of Western Art before they left Italy, so we decided to take our (a?) big chance and go. Having GPS is one of the world’s finest exploration conveniences…when it works. The first time Alan and I visited Venice (about fifteen years ago), our GPS kept telling us to exit off the highway where there was no exit (all new construction), and we had a terrible time finding our way to our hotel. That particular terror was in the back of my mind when Michael warned us that the GPS wouldn’t really bring us to the right spot. He said we’d have to cross the Brenta River, so that we did. Then, our GPS said we were just three minutes from the chapel, but it didn’t seem able to direct us further, so we found a parking space (which is definitely a driver’s pot of gold  in this area of Padua) and began to walk. Many Italians know a little English, but few with enough facility to actually give adequate directions, and we quickly became completely disoriented on the twisty streets. I should have thought to take photos on my camera every time we turned a corner, but I didn’t. For future reference, if you’re traveling and unsure of where you’re going, take photos, and record where you’ve parked your car on your phone’s GPS if you have a smart phone. This works great for recording trail maps, too!At one point, we saw a young, professional-looking woman and approached her, thinking at last we’d get help. She’d never even heard of the Scrovegni Chapel (aka Cappella degli Scrovegni in Italian) and wondered if it might be downtown. After bumbling about like the blind leading the blind for half an hour, we finally found the chapel, which is part of the “Museo Civico of Padua.” Whew! The Scrovegni Chapel is filled with frescoes painted by Giotto in 1305 and is the forerunner to the exquisite works that Michelangelo painted two centuries later in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Although it’s virtually unknown relative to the world-famous Sistine Chapel, people do come from all over the world to visit, and we were give a twenty-minute slot with a small group in a carefully temperature and humidity-controlled environment to view the life of Christ as depicted in this chapel. (If you’re going to visit, reservations ahead are almost mandatory! We were late, but they graciously allowed us in with the next group. Thank you, Italy!)One of the most famous scenes is Joseph kissing Mary at their wedding. I was told that this is the “first kiss” ever depicted in Western Art (perhaps the world?).The Museo Civico of Padua is filled with literally thousands of pieces of artwork.                       They even have their own Pieta, by Antonio Bonazza.Grace and I spent hours marveling at all the gorgeous religious art, and it made us all the more amazed that so many people within a few blocks of this world-class treasury seemed to have no knowledge of its existence. How could that be? Did we fail to ask the right questions? Use the right words? It reminded me of my son Jonathan trying to find an evangelical church in Germany. He lacked the vocabulary to explain what he was looking for and so stumbled around for a long time before he found a very vibrant congregation of spiritually-minded believers.                 (Thankfully, he did, because that’s where he met his wife!) At any rate, we spent a glorious day standing in reverential awe of God as we experienced this beautiful chapel/museum hidden away in the heart of Italy.I fear that all too often Americans (myself included) fail to help others find their way to Christ. It’s easy to be like those busy Italians who lived and worked outside the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel but were oblivious to its existence. They never visited, had no clue what was inside, and couldn’t tell anyone how to get there…yet people from all over the world are seeking.  Can we open our eyes to the gospel message, believe it, receive it, and share it with others? For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).

(P.S.—The end of this story will have to be told next time. Do you think we found our way back to the car? Before Grace went into labor?  Tune in next week… 🙂  )

Come Celebrate CITYFEST: It’s All Free!

If you’re going to be in Grand Rapids this weekend, I’d like to invite you to join in the joy of CITYFEST Saturday and Sunday at Ah-Nab-Awen Park (just across from the Gerald R. Ford Museum at 198 Front Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504). There will be lots of exciting music by award-winning bands like TobyMac and Mac Powell, some thrilling (I hope not too scary) BMX and FMX demos, a “fun zone,” and great gospel presentations by Luis and Andrew Palau.

Here’s the link to CITYFEST’s homepage and a 60-second promo: http://www.cityfestwestmichigan.org/

Check it out, and if you’ve got some time this weekend, I hope you join in and bring a friend!

And he [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).

 

Learning to Focus at Church

Did you enjoy your Labor Day break? Are you ready for all the activities of fall?
I love this super short video! My friend (Jane A.) posted it on her Face Book page a while back, but I want my blog friends who aren’t on FB to be able to see it too. Such good advice! If you don’t have a church home at this point, this fall might be the perfect time to start going again. Growth, healing, and love are done best in community…even though no community is perfect!

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

P.S.—If you don’t have a church home and live in the Grand Rapids area, I’d love to have you visit our church, Calvary (on the Beltline). Let me know, and Alan and I can meet you there and introduce you to our Sunday school class if you have time! In big churches, being part of some smaller group—like a Sunday school class, the choir, or a life group—really helps a person feel a sense of belonging.

The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles

The title is a mouth full, but the book is well worth chewing. If you ever wonder how to interpret the Bible, this might be a good study for you. Is the Bible to be taken literally? Did Moses really exist as a person? Is the Bible just a set of untrue stories written to teach moral principles, or did all these things really happen?

Hermeneutics is the study of the methods and principles used to interpret something (in this case, the Bible, although the same techniques could be employed in a study of the U.S. Constitution for those of us who are interested in constitutional law). In short, how do you read the Bible so you can understand what the authors were trying to teach…and who were the authors, anyway? I believe the best hermeneutics require understanding the “author’s intent.” In the case of the Bible, the author is God (who inspired human authors), and our understanding of authorial intention and logic should be derived from studying the normal use of language, facts of history, context, grammar, and ultimately the individual words, guided by the Holy Spirit, who also superintended the original writings.

The book defends the evangelical position, positing that the prophetic hermeneutic of the Old Testament flows seamlessly into the apostolic hermeneutic of the New Testament, and that the intention of the writings are to provide a redemptive history for all people, so that all of us will be redeemed and love God, worshiping Him because of his mercy and good works. A truly biblical hermeneutic will spur us to grow in our faith and trust, respond to life with appropriate moral choices, and develop a worldview based on God’s redemptive works throughout the universe.

There is a wealth of information concerning particular issues in biblical interpretation, but the author also points out that ultimately his book is meant to give evangelicals confidence in embracing a literal, historical interpretation of Scripture. The biblical authors read and responded to Scripture the way they demand us to read it: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). The biblical authors were consistent, and there was no hermeneutic shifting in the Scripture.

I love Abner Chou’s conclusion: “The Bible comes with ‘hermeneutic included.’ We may not always get everything right but that does not mean a standard does not exist. Rather, the biblical writers have set that standard. For a Christian, our hermeneutic then must be one of surrender and obedience, one that bows before how the Author has demanded his children read and seek what he has confluently intended through the human author.” Amen!

Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:14-17).