I have shared in previous posts that my testimony has a lot to do with overcoming fear – namely, the fear of death. I have attended more funerals than I can count, and my experience with death began at an early age. Even though I no longer fear death, I still don’t enjoy having it thrown in my face, which is why I don’t really care for crime scene shows, the zombie craze, Stephen King books, or realistically violent movies.
Psalm 23, one of King David’s poems, is often read at funerals with the intention of comforting people, but to be honest, I always found it a bit creepy: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …” (v. 4, NJKV). It conjures up images in my mind of something sinister lurking behind a bush, waiting to jump out and snatch me. Shadows are menacing. After all, how many horror movies are set in broad daylight?
It took me many years to come to the realization that the “shadow of death” can be a comforting shade, not a threatening omen, to the believer in Christ. Think about it … how do we gauge parking spaces in the summer heat? The best spaces aren’t judged by distance from the front door, but by proximity to shade! Shade is simply a shadow, and we love it, in that context. Or, consider the story of Jonah, chapter 4 – God allowed a plant to spring up suddenly to provide much-needed shade for Jonah, and he was grateful (v. 6).
The “shadow of death” does not have to frighten us. As followers of Christ, we can find comfort in our mortality because to be apart from the body is to be in his presence for all eternity (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). When life tries to beat us up, we can “take refuge in the shadow of [God’s] wings,” as David wrote in Psalm 36:7.
The time is now. Jesus says to put down the fishing net and follow him. No seminary degree required! Just be willing and trust him.
After Peter denied Jesus, he went back to doing what he did in the old days: fishing. When we decide to follow Christ, let’s not look back.
Are you following Christ because it’s your choice, or are you following the footsteps of a parent, spouse, etc? The decision is yours alone.
The year was 1986. His name was Danny. He was funny, cute, never once called me “four eyes” like some other mean boys who shall remain nameless, and I had it bad. I mustered up the courage to write Danny a “check yes or no” note to see if he LIKED me liked me, or if he just, you know, plain ol’ liked me. Days and eons passed with no reply, and my self-esteem plummeted. Finally, one day on the way to P.E., he passed me in the hallway, smiled and handed me a folded note. He’d drawn a heart on the front of it.
This story isn’t about a sappy, romantic outcome, because Danny moved away shortly thereafter, and we lost touch. (Back then, there was a per-minute, long-distance fee to phone another town, and we had to use these things called stamps to correspond in writing.) What it boils down to is a question that we all need to know the answer to: Do you LIKE me like me, or do you just like me? The question goes beyond tweenage crushes and cuts to the core of our hearts, because it’s something that Christ asks each of us.
Jesus once put Peter on the spot and asked him a similar question in John 21. You may remember Peter from the crucifixion story—he’s the one who denied knowing Jesus three times over the course of one night. Our story picks up after Jesus was raised from the dead, and he appeared on the shore where Peter and others were [unsuccessfully] fishing. They realized who he was and had a meal together—after Jesus helped them haul in a miraculous catch. During the course of their conversation, Jesus posed the question three times to Peter: “Do you love me?” It was his way of reinstating Peter for denying him.
Jesus isn’t going to force us to love him or drag us along as mindless followers, without a will of our own. He offers us a choice to love him passionately and to follow him wholeheartedly. The Bible is his love letter to us, filled with grace, mercy and an eternal promise. Will you check yes or no?
(Originally posted January 22, 2012)
Like the land owner in the parable (Matthew 20), God repeatedly offers us opportunities to follow him. If you haven’t yet, what’s the delay?
Are you open to God’s call on your life? Think carefully before you answer. Are you willing to follow his lead, no matter what or where?
Despite the promises of some televangelists, following Jesus may not mean getting the corner office with a view. Will you still follow him?
We have several folks in my department who have recently retired or are about to, so I am serving on various search committees this year. In order to avoid a human resources nightmare and possibly get ourselves into legal trouble, there are usually only three reasons that we can use to justify not considering an applicant for a job: 1) they don’t meet the education requirements; 2) they lack the necessary experience; or 3) they fall short on some other aspect of the job description. When we make a final recommendation for the selected candidate, we have to explain why we chose that person over the other qualified applicants.
This painstaking process got me thinking about what Jesus went through when he selected his disciples. Granted, he has a bit of an advantage over us, since he knows our hearts (1 John 3:20, Romans 8:27), and we have to whittle down the candidate pool by reading resumes and cover letters. The four gospels include several accounts of Jesus calling his disciples (Ex.: Matthew 4:19 & 9:9, Luke 5:27, John 1:43).
Even though Jesus didn’t appear to conduct formal interviews with his would-be disciples, I did notice two things that were consistent in his search. First, Jesus expected them to follow him (see the verses in the previous paragraph for examples). Second, he expected them to stick around for the long haul. Matthew 10:38 gives us some insight into this second point. You may recognize it as the “take up your cross and follow me” verse. What does that really mean, though? The Message paraphrase puts it this way: “If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me.” Jesus wasn’t looking for job hoppers or career-ladder climbers; he was looking for committed servant-leaders.
Jesus wasn’t bothered by the same criteria that we have to abide by in search committees nowadays. He wanted people who were ready and willing to join his work. The exciting thing is that the job notice is still posted! Are you committed to following him for the long haul?
Even as followers of Christ, our behavior may not always honor God, and we can certainly disappoint him, but he will never stop loving us.