Friday, September 25, 2009

New Beginnings: How Do We Handle Change?

Every new beginning presents a unique set of challenges. Whether that new beginning occurs on a purely personal level, or extends beyond the walls that surround an individual, every new beginning creates a moment of pause.

Songwriters have always found fertile soil on the occasion of new beginnings. Lots of love songs talk about new romance. Patriotic tunes evoke images of sweeping changes that can affect the lives of thousands of people.

Not a few Christian songwriters have penned words that talk about the deeply significant changes that occur when the Holy Spirit whispers the words of Christ’s eternal love into the heart of one whom God calls to Himself.

Even the Apostle Paul talks about new beginnings with an air of excitement and determination in 2 Corinthians 5:17:

17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.

Perhaps in your life, or in mine, we stand at yet another time of new beginning. We seem to have experienced a lot of those kinds of times in the past few years. Haven’t we?

It is appropriate, even healthy, to take a moment for reflection and ask ourselves, “How will we respond to this new beginning?”

Over the course of my life, like many of you, I have observed lots of changes. A friend remarked recently that one of the few benefits of getting older comes from the fact that, if one lives long enough, he or she begins to observe certain patterns that seem to repeat themselves. I think that’s true at a time of change.

It seems as if people respond in one of three ways to change. Some people relish change, look for it, long for it, anticipate it, and glory in it. For these folks, the more change the better.

The second group of people abhor change. They do everything they can to avoid it. When change inevitably comes, they try to hide from it, resist it, flee from it, dread it, and agonize over it.

The third group seems impervious to any change. Whether things change or whether they don’t, these folks move forward at a steady pace, following their own muse, keeping on their self-determined path, oblivious to what happens around them, focusing only on their own well-defined world.

I don’t know which category you fit into with regard to change. For the most part, I’m in the second camp. I generally dislike change. In fact, I go to great lengths to try to systematize my life to such an extent that I insulate myself from even the thought of change.

But, do you know what? Change still occurs. And, more often than not, that change proves good: good for me, good for those around me, just plain good.

How about you? Does any of this resonate with how you feel about change and your response to change? If so, I think you may agree that both you and I need to take this time of “pause,” as we stare over the brink of another new beginning, and ask ourselves some questions.

To what degree are we willing to allow God to bring about change in our lives? Do we understand that, in reality, He is the One who is always in control? Are we ready to acknowledge that He has charted a pathway for each of us that He lovingly waits to reveal to us step-by-step? Will we respond to His great love for us and consciously yield ourselves daily to His purpose for us, His plan for us, His perfect will for us?

I am certain we need to pray for each other. After all, with us or without us, change is inevitable. Also, history stands as a witness that change is often healthy, beneficial, spectacular, exciting. life-giving, and good.

A song from the 1960’s says it well:
There’s a new day coming,
And it's just around the bend.
There's a new day coming
This one's coming to an end.

There’s a new voice calling,
You can hear it if you try.
And it's growing stronger
With each day that passes by.

There’s a brand new morning
Rising clear and sweet and free.
There’s a new day dawning
That belongs to you and me.

Yes, a new day’s coming,
The one we’ve had visions of,
Coming in peace, coming in joy, coming in love.

adapted from Mama Cass Elliot
And, again, from the Apostle Paul from 2 Corinthians 5:17:

17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

Copyright © 2009 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

From Fisherman to Follower

I am not certain whether or not the "Scripture police" permit a person to have a favorite Gospel, but I confess to you to the Gospel of Luke is truly my favorite Gospel.

Most of you probably realize by now that God, in His great Mercy and Grace, wisely gave us four Gospels for a very distinct reason. He simply did not want to rely on the voice of one individual telling a story as important as the one that describes how God sent His only Son to become a man, to live here on earth for a season, to die a horrible death on Calvary’s cross to pay the atonement for the sin of all mankind, and then to rise from the dead, return to heaven and make a home for all those whom He has redeemed.

Years ago, a Bible-teacher gave me some clues to understanding the four Gospels, and I want to pass them on to you. He introduced me to a volume called A Harmony of the Gospels (Robertson, A.T. A Harmony of the Gospels. New York: Harper & Row, 1922.) You may have seen one of these interesting books. The book is set up in four parallel columns, one for each of the four Gospels. The story of Christ is listed chronologically. As each Gospel writer contributes to the story, text appears in the column for that Gospel writer. Where the writers tell the same story, text appears in each column. It provides a very interesting way of understanding the life of Christ. It also gives some insight into what events each Gospel writer chose to report.

This same Bible-teacher also gave me some insight into the purpose of the four Gospels. He explained that Matthew wrote his Gospel to the Jewish-mind. He paints an exquisite oil painting of the life of Christ. He portrays the Lord Jesus Christ as the King of the Jews.

Mark wrote his Gospel to the Roman-mind. He provides a series of candid photographs of the life of Christ. He portrays the Lord Jesus Christ as the Servant. Someone has called Mark’s Gospel the “Jack Webb Gospel,” referring to the actor in the old “Dragnet” TV-series of the 1950’s and 1960’s. “Just gimme the facts, just the facts.” And, of course, Mark is the first “streaker” recorded in Scripture. Some time take a look at scene of Jesus arrest near the Garden of Gethsemane, as recorded in Mark 14:51-52:
51A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

Most scholars believe that the young man was John Mark, himself.

Luke wrote his Gospel to the Greek-mind. He provides a motion picture of the life of Christ. He portrays the Lord Jesus Christ as the Man.

John wrote his Gospel to the mind of all men and women. He provides an X-Ray image of the life of Christ. He portrays the Lord Jesus Christ as God the Son.

Perhaps my love of motion pictures, my fondness for movies, draws me to Luke’s Gospel. Or, maybe my fondness comes from Luke’s portrayal of Jesus as the Man. In any case, I find myself gravitating to the Gospel of Luke when I seek for accounts of Jesus time here on earth.

The particular passage from Luke 5:1-11 has a unique fascination for me. I suppose that fascination comes from the unlikeliness of it all.

The passage opens with Jesus standing by the Sea of Galilee, what the New International Version rightly refers to as the Lake of Gennesaret. Luke records that Jesus was speaking to a crowd of people. It is interesting to note that what Jesus was sharing with the people was the “word of God.” How appropriate. Jesus, in this early stage of his earthly ministry, is sharing with interested listeners the word of God.

Perhaps he was sharing with them from one of the prophets. Or, maybe, he was giving a discourse on one of David’s Psalms. We don’t know exactly what passage he was opening for them, but we can be pleased to know that most appropriately, Jesus was sharing with the people the word of God.

Luke seems to give us an interesting insight into this crowd that has gathered around Jesus. We can imagine that it started by just a few people standing around him. The longer he spoke, the more people joined the crowd. The more people joined the crowd, the more tightly they pressed around Jesus.

Some of the people were moving around, trying to get a better look at Jesus. Some were trying to move closer so they could hear better what he was saying.

As the crowd grew in numbers and pressed more tightly around Jesus, he realized that he needed to draw a bit away from them so that they could see him better and hear him better.

Luke records that he spotted a couple of fishing boats at the water’s edge. The boats belonged to some fishermen who had finished their day’s work and were now doing the clean up activity of washing their nets.

In a “take charge” way that characterized many of Jesus’ actions, he got into one of the boats. He very specifically chose the boat that belonged to Simon Peter. To understand who Simon Peter was, we have to look over at John 1:35-50. John records in very simple terms the first encounter that some of the men who would become Jesus’ disciples had with their Master.

We are told in this passage that Simon Peter’s brother, Andrew was one of John the Baptist’s disciples. The other disciple of John the Baptist who is not specifically named in this passage is likely the Gospel writer, John, himself.

John and Andrew witnessed Jesus baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. They saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus. They heard the testimony of John the Baptist that this was the Son of God. In response, they began to follow Jesus.

Andrew sought out his brother Simon and reported that they had found the Messiah. This simple statement in Scripture does not begin to do justice to the enormity of this revelation.

You must remember that every devout Jew who walked the face of the earth was waiting eagerly and expectantly for the Messiah. Especially since the scourge of Rome had descended on their land.

Here was Andrew telling his brother, Simon, “We have found the Messiah.”

So Andrew brings Simon to Jesus. Jesus tells Simon, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas.” (which, when translated, is Peter.)

The scene that John records gives us insight into the calling of the first disciples. At some point, between the record of John and the passage we have today in Luke, these disciples return to their daily occupation, that of fishermen. We do not know why they left Jesus’ side, but they obviously did. For here at the shore of the Sea of Galilee, many weeks later, we find James and John, and Andrew and Peter back at their daily work.

So, back to the Luke 5 passage. We can understand, now, why Jesus may have felt at liberty to get into Simon Peter’s boat. This was not some idle or presumptuous familiarity. Simon Peter was already known to Jesus and had been called as a disciple. However, Jesus found him at this moment back at his original job, catching fish.

Luke records that Jesus asked Simon Peter to row out a little ways so that Jesus could continue addressing the crowd. Oh, to have stood on that shore that day. To hear the very voice of Jesus teach the word of God. Whatever Jesus had to say, none of the Gospel writers have chosen to preserve those particular words. This omission likely stems from the dramatic events which followed this discourse.

After he was done speaking to the crowd, Jesus directed Peter to put out into deep water and let down the nets to catch some fish.

Do you have any idea how utterly ridiculous this request was? Do you grasp how completely taken by surprise Peter must have been?

First of all, Peter knew who Jesus was. Peter knew that Jesus was a carpenter from Nazareth.

Now, I have a very healthy respect for carpenters. While I, myself, can barely drive a nail home without bending it, my father, and his father, and his father’s father were all Scotch/Irish carpenters. I grew up in a home where the work of carpenters was revered. As a small boy, I was surrounded by craftsmen who worked in wood.

Not only was my father a carpenter, and my grandfather, and great grandfather a carpenter, my mother’s father was a carpenter, and my mother’s grandfather and great grandfather were all carpenters. And not just any garden variety carpenters, they were Swedish carpenters!

The highest complement my father could pay a fellow wood worker would be to call him a “cabinet maker.” I can remember asking my father if Bud Seagren was a carpenter.

“No, son,” my father replied, “Bud is not a carpenter, he is a cabinet maker.”

So understand, I have a very, very high level of respect for carpenters. Jesus was a carpenter. But, carpenters don’t know anything about catching fish. And, Peter knew this!

First of all, it was the middle of the day. No self-respecting Jewish fisherman would begin to fish in the middle of the day. Secondly, Jewish fishermen did not fish in deep water. They routinely fished in the very early hours of the morning, just before dawn, and they always, always fished in relatively shallow water.

These Jewish fishermen, James and John and Andrew and Peter knew the best time to catch fish was before dawn in shallow water. One did not catch fish in the middle of the day by letting one’s nets down into deep water. Absurd. Absolutely, positively absurd.

Notice how Peter responds to Jesus’ request in verse 5:
5Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets."

You see, Peter was willing to set aside everything he knew about fishing and follow the instructions of the one that he had begun to follow many weeks ago after his brother Andrew had reported to him, “We have found the Messiah.” Peter was beginning to understand, he was beginning learn, what it means to be obedient.

Notice what happens next in verses 6 and 7:
6When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

Wow! What a total surprise! You can’t catch fish in the middle of the day by letting your nets down into deep water. And, yet... And, yet, here was the biggest catch of the year, if not in their entire lives. Amazing. Simply, amazing. Imagine what would have happened if Simon Peter stuck to what he knew to be true and refused to be obedient to Jesus’ instructions.

Notice Simon Peter’s response in verses 8 through the first half of verse 10:
8When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" 9For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10aand so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners.

When faced with the reality of Christ’s power, Simon Peter is immediately convicted of his sin. In the face of the overwhelming righteousness of Christ, as evidenced by this miracle, Peter falls to his face before Jesus. Simon Peter asks Jesus to “go away.” He declares that he is not worthy to remain in Christ’s Presence. But in His great mercy, grace, and love, notice what Jesus says to Simon Peter in second half of verse 10:
10bThen Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men."

It seems as if Jesus says to Peter:

“Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid, Simon Peter. Don’t be afraid of my overwhelming righteousness. Don’t be afraid of my mighty power. Don’t be afraid that more and more you are beginning to realize who I am. Don’t be afraid that more and more you are beginning to realize who you are.

“Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid of this great catch of fish. Don’t be afraid. I have greater plans for you. I have better plans for you. I have more exciting plans for you. I have other work for you to do. From now on, Simon Peter, you won’t need to be concerned about catching fish.

“No, No, Simon Peter. From now on, you will be catching men and women and boys and girls. From now on, you will become part of my program, part of my process, part of my world-changing army. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid, Simon Peter. Don’t be afraid.”

Can you imagine how Simon Peter must have felt? Can you imagine the emotions that were coursing through his being? Can you feel the electricity that must have shot through his body at these words? If you had heard Jesus say these words to you, how would you have responded?

Notice how Peter and the other disciples responded to Jesus' call to them, in verse 11:
11So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Can you imagine it? They pulled their boats up onto the shore, left everything, and followed him. What a response. What an amazing response. Talk about obedience. Talk about following Jesus. Talk about devotion. Talk about commitment. Wow. They pulled their boats up onto the shore, left everything and followed him.

Would their pathway be easy from now on? No it would not. Would they cease from sinning, never to sin again? No they would not. Would their devotion continue without any slipping backwards? No it would not.

And, yet, when given a new beginning by Jesus, they did the only correct thing they could do. They pulled their boats up onto the shore, left everything, and followed him.

You see, in the case of Simon Peter, fishing had gotten into the way of being a follower. Fishing had taken an upper hand. But that would happen no longer.

This was truly a different kind of following. This was a new beginning. This was a change from the first time that Jesus had called them after his baptism. This was the charting of a new course for their lives. This was the beginning of a life-changing turn of events. And, the only correct response they could make was to pull their boats up onto the shore, leave everything, and follow him.

What about you and me today? Do you hear Jesus’ voice? Across the centuries of time do you hear Jesus’ speaking to you? Do I?

Do we see Jesus standing at the shore? Do we see him step into our boat and ask us to row out a little way into the Lake so he can address the crowd that has gathered? Do we hear him ask us to do something that is so very much against everything we know to be true that it cannot possibly be correct?

And, yet, because it is Jesus who is asking us, we decide to be obedient. We decide to let a carpenter tell a fisherman how to catch fish. We decide that we will allow the wisdom of God’s Only Son to direct us in what we are to do.

And, I ask you my dear friends, will we be surprised when our nets fill to overflowing? Will we be shocked when we have to call our brothers and sisters to come to our aid, lest the catch of fish swamp our boat so that it begins to sink? Will we find ourselves falling at Jesus’ feet, acknowledging that we are sinners, and asking him to leave us because we are not worthy to be in His Presence?

Will we hear Jesus tell us that today we will no longer catch fish, but will become fishers of men and women and boys and girls? Will we decide to respond the only correct way to respond? Will we pull our boats up onto the shore, leave everything and follow him? Will we decide that we will allow nothing in our life to stand in the way of our relationship to Him. Will we consciously, and with determination, choose to let nothing keep us from our relationship to Jesus Christ?

Will we examine our hearts and ask God the Holy Spirit to reveal to us anything that we may be holding onto so tightly that it is keeping us from a full and complete relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. And, will we release our grip on whatever it is and become fully devoted followers of the Savior of the world?

What I have been trying to share, in a sentence, would go something like this: “When people begin to truly believe who Jesus is, they determine to let nothing stand in the way of their relationship to Him.” Let me say that again, “When people begin to truly believe who Jesus is, they determine to let nothing stand in the way of their relationship to Him.”

Copyright © 2009 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.