Fishers of Men

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” ~ Mark 1:16-17 (ESV)

As Jesus sat out on his ministry, he called different men to follow him for a new purpose in life. To Simon (Peter) and Andrew, as well as James and John, who worked as fishermen, Jesus called out to follow him and he would help them catch people.

In other words, if they devoted themselves to him, he would use them to bring people into God’s kingdom. This first call to these men anticipated Jesus’ last command in Mark’s gospel: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15), or as Jesus stated in Matthew 28:19, “Go and make disciples of all the nations.”

Though the call to be “fishers of men” may have been a play on words with these men’s occupations, Jesus places the same call on the life of each of his followers. We are to seek to expand the kingdom. As disciples of Jesus, we are to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples.

Alvin Reid in Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out says it this way: “Talk to the actual person in front of you about the Jesus inside of you; let them see and hear the change Jesus makes in you” (pg. 99). He then gives the example of a man named Alex:

Alex worked very closely with his colleagues. As much as he wanted them to know Jesus, he knew if he brought up the gospel all the time they would stop talking to him. He developed the practice of five: as he interacted with coworkers, about every fifth conversation he had with one of them he would talk about Jesus. For his context that seemed to be about right: not too preachy, and yet not negligent of speaking of Christ. Let’s face it, if you know someone really closely for years and never speak about Jesus, you are speaking about him: you are saying with your lack of words he is no big deal.

I shared Alex’s practice of five with a group of businessmen who immediately saw it as a very helpful way to think about sharing Jesus in the workplace. I don’t know what it is for you: five times, or three, or seven. I do know there is a balance between how you live the gospel and how often you speak it. (pg. 105)

When calling us to be “fishers of men,” Jesus won’t call all of us to be pastors or foreign missionaries (though he will certainly call some to that). Yet he will call all of us to use our relationships where we live, work, and play in order to share about him with others. As Reid points out, we don’t want to be overbearing and push people away, but we also cannot be consistently silent about our faith.

If we love Jesus and love others, we will want them to know and love Jesus as well.

Another thing that Reid suggests is to pray this simple prayer each day: “God, give me today (1) an opportunity to speak with someone about Jesus; (2) the wisdom to see it; and (3) the courage to do it.” (17-18)

Will you seek to bring men and women into God’s kingdom?

New posts in this series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

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Good News and the Kingdom

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” ~ Mark 1:14-15

Jesus’ ministry centered on his preaching, but this wasn’t simply some feel-good, here’s five points to follow message. No, Jesus came to declare the good news.

Good news—that’s what this word “gospel” means. Throughout the New Testament this word is used with various descriptors. It is called the “gospel of God” (here and Romans 1:1), the “gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23, 24:14), the “gospel of grace” (Acts 20:24), the “gospel of Christ / Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1, Romans 15:19), and the “gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15) among others. Most often, it is just simply “the gospel.”

Each of these descriptions point us to the same reality: We need the good news because there is bad news in the world. The bad news is our rebellion against God, decay and death, and eternal condemnation under God’s wrath, all from which we cannot rescue ourselves.

But the good news is that God has given us rescue through Jesus. He is bringing his righteous Kingdom to reign over creation, to right all wrongs, to give peace where there is enmity, and to put an end to sin and death. We are a part of this if we realize the bad news, hear the good news, and put our trust and hope in Jesus.

When Jesus said, “the kingdom of God is at hand,” he was declaring that all of these things were about to take place. The day is still future when King Jesus will return and bring the fullness of his kingdom to this world, where he will rule with perfect justice and goodness, and peace and joy will fill the lands. In the meantime, though, the kingdom is already here.

After his death and resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven and took a seat on his throne beside God the Father. Everywhere there is a follower of Jesus, the world has an ambassador representing the King and his kingdom. Everywhere the church gathers, it is a meeting of kingdom citizens.

Our task in this world is not to keep the good news of God to ourselves, but to do as Jesus did and invite others to join the kingdom ranks. We urge them to repent—to leave their rebellion against God, and to believe—to trust in Jesus as the Savior-King, believing his gospel. Every act of kindness and social justice we engage in, then, flows from this conviction and points to the King. So, let us go out and fulfill our role as kingdom representatives as those who have been entrusted with good news.

New posts in this series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

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Child of God

And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” ~ Mark 1:11 (ESV)

One way to look at life is as a series of events in which we try to figure out who we are. Though in some ways we remain the same, in many ways we become different people throughout the stages of life. The adult version of you is vastly different than the teenage or toddler version of you, though you’re still you.

Yet, through all the changes and stages of life, at the core we long for affirmation and belonging.

Before Jesus began his ministry, the Father spoke to him of both affirmation and belonging. Mark’s account to follow of Jesus’ temptation by Satan is brief and leaves out these details, but Matthew and Luke tell us that Satan struck at the identity of Jesus and sought to counter the Father’s voice. “If you are the Son of God,” Satan would say.

All the more reason that we see the Father’s words given to Jesus at this point in the gospel story. He tells Jesus, “You are my beloved Son,” or: You are my dear child and I love you deeply; and, “With you I am well pleased,” or: I am happy with who you are as a person.

These are the same affirmations we long to hear as well. We seek them from our earthly parents, how much more do we seek them from our Heavenly Father?

It does not, however, take much reflection on our part to realize just how undeserving we are of hearing those words from the Father. Yes, Jesus deserved them, because he never rebelled and always did the Father’s good will. But we rebel and fall short of God’s goodness each day.

Yet, it is precisely here that we find grace. Jared Wilson wrote, “You are a great sinner, yes. But you have a great Savior. Child of God, you are a child of God. And he will never, ever, ever leave you or forsake you” (The Imperfect Disciple).

One of my favorite summaries of the gospel story is 2 Corinthians 5:21, where Paul says of Jesus: “For our sake the Father made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus became our sin that we could become God’s righteousness. This means that he took on all our rebellion and gave us all his perfection, so that if we belong to Jesus, then when the Father said, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased,” he spoke these words over us as well.

This glorious truth frees us. We don’t have to figure out how to live in order to please God. God already made us his children, pleasing in his sight. We seek to live a life honoring to our Father, through our Savior, because he is pleased with us. We don’t lay aside our sin and pick up God’s holiness in order to earn his favor, we do so because we have his favor.

So, as Wilson said, if you belong to Jesus, then you are a child of God.

New posts in this series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

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Its His Story

And John preached, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” ~ Mark 1:7-8

Today we begin a new devotional series though the gospel of Mark. Of the four gospels, Mark’s is the shortest and most fast paced, often using the term immediately not as a brief passage of time but as a quick transition from one account to the next.

Mark began his gospel with a quote from Isaiah about the messenger who would “prepare the way of the Lord.” He then described John the baptizer and his ministry to prepare people’s hearts for Jesus coming on the scene. Though John was popular and many went to see him, his attitude was one of humility. He knew his role in the grand story of Scripture—he was not the point, Jesus was.

He also knew that Jesus’ work would be far greater than his. Whereas he called people to repentance and baptism, Jesus offered something greater. Though Jesus also called people to repent (1:15) and be baptized (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus would do something John could not: baptize people with the Holy Spirit.

Two of the first things that happen when we come to Jesus are: 1) Jesus fills us with the Holy Spirit, securing our new spiritual life, gifting us to serve others, and assuring us our place among God’s family; and 2) We begin to realize that our life’s story is not primarily about us but about Jesus.

Though John had a one-of-a-kind role in the world’s history, we are like him in that we need to humble ourselves under the exalted Jesus and we need to see ourselves as part of something bigger.

As Jesus fills us with the Spirit, may we make our life story all about Jesus. May we live to make his name famous. And may we serve others in such a way that they see us clearly pointing them to our Savior-King.

 

New posts in this series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

Put Away Your Idols

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” ~ Joshua 24:14

Toward the end of his life, Joshua called together the leaders of the tribes of Israel and issued them a final challenge. He told them to put away the gods their ancestors had served in Egypt and to follow his example in serving the Lord alone. This came with a warning from Joshua that if they failed to serve the Lord fully and turned back to their idolatry, then they would experience God’s judgment (a reality we see again and again throughout the book of Judges, as well as the people’s exile from the land many years later).

This speaks to our hearts as well. We all come to Jesus with various idols in tow. For us in western cultures, these are not so much trinkets of wood, rock, or gold that we place on our mantles for homage. Yet these are things in our lives that hinder full devotion to Jesus.

In The Imperfect Disciple, Jared Wilson provides a good diagnostic question to determine the idols of our hearts:

This is how you know what your god really is; this is how you know what’s really the treasure of your heart. What is it that you wouldn’t give up for Jesus? You’d give up everything in the world but this one thing. Well, that’s what you worship.

In another book, Gods at War, Kyle Idleman details nine potential idols. Three are in the “temple of pleasure”—food, sex, and entertainment; three in the “temple of power”—success, money, and achievement; and three in the “temple of love”—romance, family, and self.

When Jesus calls us to follow him, he calls us to put away all our idols and worship him alone. He calls us to lay down our very lives to pick up the self-denying sacrifice of our own crosses and follow after him (Luke 9:23). This isn’t easy, but it’s necessary.

The good news is that God gives us grace and the power of his Spirit to actually lay down our idols. The more we focus on God, his greatness, his glory, and the salvation he offers through Jesus, the less our hearts cling to the idols of our past. When Jesus is Lord over our hearts and priorities, it keeps our desires and needs in their proper place and prevents them from growing into hopeless idols.

This concludes our devotional series through Joshua. Look for a new series coming soon!

The Greatest Leadership Quality

“Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.” – Joshua to Israel’s leaders, Joshua 23:11

Toward the end of the book bearing his name, Joshua, now “old and well advanced in years,” summoned the leaders of Israel together and gave them both a promise and a warning. The promise: Much of the land had already been taken, and if the people remained faithful to God, then he would drive out the rest of the inhabitants. The warning: If the people turned from God then he would not drive out the inhabitants and would even expel Israel from the land.

In the midst of this, Joshua gave the leaders the charge to be courageous and faithful, as God had charged him, and also to be “very careful to love the Lord your God.”

This same line, taken from Moses, was later given as an answer by Jesus to the question, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Following this command is, therefore, something we all should do, but it is especially the number one attribute we should look for in leaders.

As you move from Joshua into Judges, you see that Israel’s faithfulness did not last long. This failure seemed to stem from a lack of God-loving leadership to guide the people well.

So often today, we want to treat the church as a business, the pastors as functional CEOs and the deacons as a Board of Directors. We highlight communication and administration skills and matters of personality as the highest priorities. This is not to say that leaders and potential leaders should not seek to grow in these things, but at the core of their being must be a deep love for God above all else.

It is better to have an unpolished leader who deeply loves Jesus than to have a grand executive whose love for God is spotty at best. Only with their own growing love for God will leaders be able to help others grow to love God more.

New posts in this devotional series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

The Reward of Patient Faithfulness

“And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.’” – Caleb to Joshua, Joshua 14:9

While the land was being divided up among the tribes, Caleb approached Joshua and reminded him of a promise that God had made after Moses had sent spies into the land—a story we read about in Numbers 13-14. Moses sent twelve spies into Canaan, one from each tribe, a number that included both Caleb and Joshua.

The spies returned saying that the land was a good land, flowing with milk and honey as God had promised. But ten of the spies discouraged the people by telling how mighty the inhabitants of the land were and how their mighty armies would surely crush Israel. Only Caleb and Joshua proved faithful and held onto the assurance of God’s promise to fight for the people.

The result was that every person twenty years old or older was left to wander and die in the wilderness over a 40-year period. Those nineteen and under at that point would be allowed to enter the land with their future children and grandchildren.

Caleb and Joshua were the exception to this. Both, though, still had to wander through the wilderness for four decades just like the rest of the people. But whereas their peers died, Caleb noted, “Behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses… I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me” (Joshua 14:10-11).

So, Caleb received what he was promised. The reward of his obedience was something he had to wait patiently for, but at the proper time it came. It is the same for followers of Jesus when the Bible calls us to endurance (Hebrews 10:36, Revelation 14:12).

The fulfillment of God’s promises is not often immediate. Before we experience everything God has promised us, we may have to spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness, we may have to spend a lifetime. But, the day will come when we receive what has been promised; and when that day arrives, the wait and anything we endure in the process will prove more than worth it (Romans 8:18).

New posts in this devotional series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.