Category Archives: Trying to be our best inside and out!

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 (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.”

How to Get Selected to Open Disneyland

How would you like to be able to open Disneyland Park? On the day we went to Disneyland, we got selected to open the park! Would you like to know how?

Well, let me tell you. I’ve been to Disneyland four times in the past 60 years:  1.) 60 years ago, in 1958, when I was only 8 (like my grandson Reid),
and the park was only 3 years old.  2.) 30 years ago, in 1988, when our oldest son, Aaron was 13
and I was 38 (like my daughter-in-law, Carleen is now).   3.) 25 years ago, in 1993, when our youngest son was a toddler.   4.) Last week, when our oldest son’s oldest son (Reuben, on left) was almost 13.

In addition, Alan and I have been to Disney World 50+ times in the past 45 years. So, we are definitely Disney fans (or at least, Alan is!).                                Talk about fun through the generations!  However, it wasn’t our devotion to Disney that got us selected, and it wasn’t through some application process. Also, it wasn’t because we were first in line (although I gather people do attempt to be first in line for that reason).  Actually, Alan and Aaron had dropped us off at the gate and gone back to our apartment to park (and then walk back) while Carleen and I were waiting in line with our four kiddos.  We were singing a song together about the states and capitals, when a man walked up and invited us to open the park. We were totally surprised. In all my years of going to Disney, I’d never tried to figure out how to get to open the park or even thought about wanting to open the park. BUT, presented with the opportunity, the answer was YES!  So, our patron led us through the crowds to the front gate, took us in, and let us be the ones to lead the count down and yell, “Let the magic begin!”Now, I know this might seem disappointing to you, because as humans we’d think it might be more “fair” if we could somehow be selected based on merit or hard work . . . because we were such devoted fans or got up the earliest and were the very first people in line, or because we had submitted an application explaining why we were the most deserving of candidates. But human wisdom is not God’s wisdom, and for whatever reason, He allowed us to be randomly selected for the privilege of opening Disneyland last week!    Thank you, Father, for that totally undeserved and surprising opportunity! I wonder, are there any of you reading this who believe in God but feel like you’re just waiting in line, hoping to get into heaven someday? You may be real “fans” of religious things . . . go to church faithfully and try to live right. You may even believe the “fair” way to get into heaven is by being good . . . by working very hard, disciplining yourself to be an exemplary student, employee, or parent, or by loving others enough to deserve getting into heaven. Maybe . . .Hopefully . . . ?Disney may be “the happiest place on earth,” but heaven is incomparably better than Disney, and God actually wants all of us to be shouting together, “Let the joys begin!” However, God knows that no matter how hard we try, we’re not going to be “good enough” on our own even to pay our way into the park (so to speak), so He sent Jesus to make it possible!  We don’t have to be in the right place at the right time, and we don’t have to attempt to earn our way into heaven. All we have to do is say “YES!” to Jesus, who like our kindly guide, has the power to get us through the gates: Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you . . .I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture . . .10I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (excerpts from John 10:7-11).  Are you ready to begin your best and greatest adventure yet . . . something infinitely more exciting than getting to open Disneyland?Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).  

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Would You Have Liked Mr. Rogers for Your Neighbor?

Now that I’ve seen the 2018 documentary about his life, I’d have loved having Mr. Rogers live next door! How about you? He was kind, gentle, faithful to his wife, respectful of all human beings—especially children—and a loving father.  According to everybody interviewed, Fred Rogers wasn’t just “putting on a show.” He was genuine and transparent…just as gentle and thoughtful at home as he was on T.V. As he explained:  “One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self.”

Were you a fan? To be honest, I have never actually seen even one of Fred Roger’s 895 episodes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, which ran from 1968-2001, but my husband did, and I’m guessing if you were born any time after 1960, you probably enjoyed at least some of them.  I stopped watching T.V. in 1962 when I became a Christian at age 12, not because anyone told me to stop, but because I felt like what I was watching wasn’t making me a better person, and I’d become a little addicted to fantasy.  Mr. Rogers, on the other hand, was aghast the first time he saw T.V. and made a mission out of trying to provide calm, quality programming for children that reached into their hearts and helped guide them through the often confusing and frightening challenges of life. “I got into television because I hated it so. And I thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen” (Fred Rogers).Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister and an unlikely person to vie with the world for children’s attention. As his producer, Margy Whitmer, mused, “We had a director who once said to me, ‘If you take all of the elements that make good television and do the exact opposite, you have ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’: low production values, simple set, an unlikely star. . .Yet it worked, because it was saying something really important’.” Mister Rogers wanted children to feel secure and comfortable, so he always started the show by “coming home” and trading in his coat and street shoes for a comfortable cardigan (hand-knit by his mom) and tennis shoes.Through his trusty puppet, Daniel Tiger, he would share the concerns and problems that all children face…feeling unloved, sad, afraid, and vulnerable, etc. Fred was also passionate about teaching deep truths to children, such as the equality of all people and the importance of sharing and loving everyone. A gifted musician, Fred composed and played the music for his programs, most of which dealt with issues the children faced, and all of which expressed hope and the desire for peace and goodwill toward all. Although Mr. Rogers was never explicit about his faith, according to Rev. George Wirth, a fellow minister and friend, “He was a community builder. The neighborhood was symbolic of Fred Rogers’ desire for people to live together in peace, with respect and love and affirmation, and, when things go wrong, forgiveness and reconciliation.”  There were many clues to Mr. Roger’s faith. Not only was he faithful in his own church attendance, he named his two sons “James” and “John.”  According to Junlei Li, co-director of the Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania: “He wasn’t doing that [not being overt about his faith] to hide his Christian identity. I think Fred was very adamant that he didn’t want any viewer — child or adult — to feel excluded from the neighborhood.”  Another quote that I appreciated was found in LifeZette: “Ultimately, ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ was a show about hope and reconciliation, a word Li said meant a lot to Rogers. He wanted to mend broken relationships: between people, between humans and the environment, even — though he never made it explicit — between humans and their Creator” (https://www.lifezette.com/2018/07/the-undeniable-faith-of-wont-you-be-my-neighbor/). The only thing that made me sad about the entire movie was his widow reflecting on Fred’s deathbed concern over whether or not he was truly one of God’s sheep who would get into heaven. She tried to reassure him, and I suspect she was right, but for anyone who reads this and also feels unsure, I want you to know that the Bible offers us assurance that we can know we’re one of God’s sheep and on our way to heaven.My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). Have you asked God to forgive you for your sins? Do you believe in Jesus as your Savior…as the sacrificial lamb who died in your place? Are you listening for his voice? Are you following him? If so, then I  hope you can find peace in knowing that you are God’s sheep and have eternal life. If you have another minute or two, here are a few quotes that I love. All but the last one are by Fred Rogers:

“Parents are like shuttles on a loom. They join the threads of the past with threads of the future and leave their own bright patterns as they go.”

“Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.” (That doesn’t mean God doesn’t want us to change, but that He loves us now and calls us to love others now too!)

“How sad it is that we give up on people who are just like us.”

“I think of discipline as the continual everyday process of helping a child learn self-discipline.”

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

“He really mentored me over years to show me how I could use fame as a force for positive social change and not a weight around my neck.” Yo-Yo Ma, Cellist

Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.  Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:27-29).

 

 

 

 

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.

Faith of Our Fathers…and Other Inspiring Father Figures

Have you ever noticed how some people are larger than life? I remember when my spiritual big brother’s father passed away, he said having his father in his life had been like seeing a big mountain out the picture window every day…but on the day his father died, he felt like the mountain disappeared. I’m guessing that’s how Uncle Milt’s sons must have felt when their dad passed away last week. Do you remember my writing about “Filling Cinderella’s Slippers” a few weeks ago? That story recounted the life and loss of Milt’s beloved bride of almost 72 years, and within a few weeks of her death, he also graduated to glory. Diagnosis? Well, Larry (his son and Alan’s lifelong friend) told us that his dad died of a broken heart. Uncle Milton was amazing to everybody…and that included me. Just one example: One night thirty years ago while Alan was in medical school and we were poorer than church mice, Alan and I were trying to get home to the Soo from Detroit in our leprous old car. Our little Vega was so rundown that the windshield leaked and the heater was broken, so I’d wrap our two toddling boys up in blankets and hold them on my lap while we traveled. We had just enough gas money to get home and back with nothing to spare. (These were the days before seat belt laws or credit cards.) Our car died on the freeway, but Alan was able to get it to glide off the highway and near a gas station, where he called his dad. His dad was sick and couldn’t come get us, so Alan’s mom ran across the street to Milton and Faye. Milt drove all the way down to Saginaw to pick us up and drove us home through the night. He even went to work the next morning!! The church (which he helped build) was full; the pastor’s voice cracked, and there were lots of tears shed. To know him was to love him, and everybody in Dafter knew him! Milt was also a man of quiet faith, and I want to share just one more story. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer and told he wouldn’t live six months about 17 years ago. God miraculously  healed him! I know most people die when they have a terminal illness, but I also want you to know that sometimes God chooses to extend someone’s life miraculously, and God chose to do that for Uncle Milt. If anybody deserved some extra innings, I’d say he was one of them!  When Aunt Faye passed from this life to heaven, her kids sang “Blessed Assurance,” but this time Milt’s four sons and their beautiful brides sang “Faith of Our Fathers,” and one of his grand daughters signed “I Can Only Imagine.” Uncle Milt wasn’t my father…or Alan’s father. In fact, he’s not really even our uncle, but he was like an uncle to us and a most inspiring father figure. I hope everyone who knows  him or reads this also embraces faith in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, and in whom we can have life eternal just by asking God to forgive us for our sins and save us through the blood of Christ! Uncle Milt and Aunt Faye are now in heaven together. I hope we all join them someday!!

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26)

Faith of Our Fathers
(—Frederick W. Faber, 1849, public domain)

  1. Faith of our fathers, living still,
    In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword;
    Oh, how our hearts beat high with joy
    Whene’er we hear that glorious Word!

    • Refrain:
      Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
      We will be true to thee till death.
  2. Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
    Were still in heart and conscience free;
    How sweet would be their children’s fate,
    If they, like them, could die for thee!
  3. Faith of our fathers, we will strive
    To win all nations unto thee;
    And through the truth that comes from God,
    We all shall then be truly free.
  4. Faith of our fathers, we will love
    Both friend and foe in all our strife;
    And preach thee, too, as love knows how
    By kindly words and virtuous life.