Total Pageviews

Monday, February 25, 2019

“Delight in the Lord” (Psalm 37:1-11)

Image result for psalm 37

Rob Tennant, HillSong Church, Chapel Hill, NC
Sunday, February 24, 2019

            I am in my bedroom and it’s close to my daughter’s bed time.  She walks in and lays on my bed.  I ask if she has brushed her teeth.  She giggles.  I put my index finger right at her collar bone, one of her tickle spots.  She scrunches her neck down so I can’t get my finger in there.  And she laughs.  Then, I softly poke her belly, another tickle spot.  Giggling, she tenses her body up.  I ask, “Do you want me to stop?”  If she says, “Yes,” then I stop.  I want her to feel like if she tells a guy to stop doing something, then he will.  I want her to expect to be respected.  And on this occasion, she does tell me to stop.  But, very quickly she says, “No, go ahead.”  And I tickle her neck.  Earnestly she says, “Tickle me.”  And I tickle her belly.  And we laugh and laugh.  What is better than going to bed laughing?
            In this nightly routine,  I am delighting in my daughter and she is delighting in time spent with me.  In the first stanza of Psalm 37:4 the psalmist says, “Take delight in the Lord.”  The Psalm opens commanding us not to fret, not to worry about the success evil people seem to have. Though the wicked prosper now, verse 9 says they will be cut off from God.  The blessing comes to those who wait for the Lord.
            After the opening “do not fret, do not be envious,” beginning in verse 3, a series of positive commands are given.  Opposite the “do nots,” these are verbs telling us what to do, how to live.  “Trust in the Lord.”  “Take delight in the Lord.”  “Commit your way to the Lord.”  “Be still before the Lord.” These positive commands set our daily approach to life, both our actions and our attitudes.  For me “delight” in the Lord is a wonderful entry point into the deeper call of God in this Psalm.  When my daughter and I are deep into the tickle belly laughing, it is easy and natural for her to trust me.  She’s more willing later to be still while I read the Bible to her and read other books to her.  And she falls to sleep feeling safe, surrounded by a family who loves her. 
            If delighting in my child involves tickling my daughter, or a throwing a football around with my younger son, or going to an movie with my older son, what does delighting in the Lord look like?  What does it look like when a Christian experiences  unrestrained pleasure in his relationship with God? 
Here are a few experiences I have had.  First, a sunrise.  Imagine a cool morning that slowly becomes a sunny, warm day.  At dawn, the dark of the night, gives ways to shadows, early gray light, and then after that, the muted colors of early morning that burst into glorious golds, greens, and blues when the sun triumphantly comes over the horizon and gleams through the treetops.  If I am outside walking on a morning like that, I see God in the awakening colors.  I hear God in the sweet chatter of birdsong.  I feel God in the cool, crisp air on my arms and face.  In that moment, I am delighting in God. 
Another, very different example comes when I am stressing out because I am in the middle of trying to overcome difficulties.  At first, I don’t heed the initial command in this Psalm.  The very first words are “Do not fret.”  But I do.  Instead of praying, I talk and worry and fret.  Now, how in the world does this lead up to delighting in the Lord?  What happens is, I will find a Bible passage that helps me see God.  It hits me, and I want to read it over and over.  I want to read it to other people.  I pray it.  I pray the words of the scripture as my prayer and I pray the meaning of the scripture into my life.  For example, recently, as I have dealt with challenges, Colossians 3 has become my lifeline.  “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. ... Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (3:12, 15).  I meet God in His word, and the pressures life has imposed melt away. I delight in my Father who is there for me, always making me new.
I mentioned the way God speaks to me through nature in the early morning, the thrill of meeting God in the pages of the Bible; to that I could add the bliss of receiving grace while resting, or the peace that comes when I listen, over and over, to certain songs by David Crowder or Mandisa.  In these and in countless of other ways, I am assured of my relationship with God.  The relationship becomes tangible and I know what it means to say, “I delight in God, God the Father, my Savior the Son, and the ever present Holy Spirit.”
Then Psalm 37:3, “trust in the Lord,” makes sense.  Of course I trust in God.  God has already shown Himself to me and shown me my own self cast in His light.  I see myself more clearly when I see myself in relation to God.  I trust God.
I also, as verse 5 commands, commit my way to God.  What other way is there?  When I commit my way, my life has direction.  I do not just fumble along  from weekend to weekend and paycheck to paycheck.  My life has meaning.  I am God’s possession.  I exist to bring God glory and help others find salvation in Jesus.  But it’s not because I am pastor.  These commands - trust, delight, and commit - are extended to everyone who opens Psalm 37 and reads it as holy scripture.  These are commands and maybe our sense of individual autonomy causes us to recoil at such a directive.  But these commands serve to invite us to walk in relationship with the God who loves us.  
The fourth command, in verse 7, sets our story.  If “delight in the Lord” is where I enter this story, then verse 7, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” declares the world in which we live.  We live at God’s initiative, bound for the Kingdom Jesus announced.  We live for God’s pleasure.  Because we have delighted in God, we are ready to be still and wait on the Lord.
In the world, as it is today, we have to grasp and strive.  Go out aggressively and get a job.  Work hard to be first.  Put others behind you in class rankings, in a race, in securing the promotion, in gaining the position in line at the store, or the parking space at the hot restaurant. Competition has its place and even in faith there are times when we need to assertively take initiative in our living out faith.  But the command “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” reminds us to be balanced in our thinking.  The good things we have, the very best things in life, are gifts from God. 
We don’t grab gifts.  We gratefully receive them.  The Kingdom of God is inherited, not taken by force.  An inheritance is something we receive as a result of another’s extreme generosity.  Psalm 37:11 says, “The meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.”  Does that passage at all sound familiar?
Jesus alluded to this Psalm when he gave the sermon on the mount.  In the opening of that sermon, that passage from the early verses of Matthew 5 we call “The Beatitudes,” Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”  He doesn’t mean blessed are the weak.  He says meek, with an ‘M.’  We are all weak in different ways.  And we are all in the same way in that none of us can stop sinning by our own will power.  We need the Holy Spirit.  But, as a spiritual practice and as a step of obedience, we can choose to be meek.  And we must.  We can choose to wait patiently upon the Lord, and when the Lord gives blessing, gratefully receive and enjoy it.
Six times the promise in Psalm 37 is that those who wait on the Lord inherit Land.  For Jewish people in the centuries before Christ, this was a literal promise of the land of Israel.  For Christians living in the centuries after the crucifixion and resurrection, the promise of inheritance is fulfilled in Christ.  We receive Christ. 
Receiving Christ, we become members of the family of God, adopted as sons and daughters of God.  The promise of Land comes to ultimate fulfillment at the final resurrection, when we all join Christ, raised from death, raise in bodies that cannot be hurt or die.  Then, we live in eternal fellowship and love with God and with one another. 
We begin living into our inheritance, our relationship with Jesus as sons and daughters of God right now.  It starts when we confess our sins and receive forgiveness and receive Jesus into our hearts and minds as our Savior and Lord.  As I stated at the outset, a beautiful way to take this step to relationship is by delighting in the Lord.  I cited how I do that - early morning nature, praying Bible passages, certain songs, tickling my daughter.  How do you delight in the Lord? 
If you didn’t know such a thing was possible, let that be your quest this week and in upcoming months.  Walking with God can be a relationship that’s real for you.  Fix Psalm 37:4 as your prayer.  Let that verse shape you and as you dive into the beautiful pleasures of delighting in God, you’ll find trusting in him easier, committing your ways to him natural, and being still before him pleasing in its own way.  Your relationship with God will soar to new heights.  You’ll find being a Christian to be more than a box checked off on the religion section of the census.  Being a Christian will becomes the greatest joy in life.  This week, discover ways you can delight in the Lord.

Monday, February 18, 2019

“Life Choices” (Jeremiah 17:5-10)

Image result for jeremiah 17

Sunday, February 17, 2019

            One of the more famous collections of Jesus’ teaching is in Matthew chapters 5-7, a sermon Jesus gave to an enormous crowd gathered on a mountainside, the Sermon on the Mount.  Toward the end he presents Life as a choice.  Each one of us does this, or we do that.  Every person must do one or the other and there’s no getting around the choosing.  He says, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man” (Mt. 7:24).  And, “everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will” be a fool (v.26).
            That’s life beginning from when we are young enough to have a sense of right and wrong.  Before we are taught anything, our conscience guides us. When we’re old enough to understand the Bible and the ways of God, then it’s a matter of the will.  Am I going to submit to Jesus’ authority and conform to the ways taught in the Bible?  We do that and we are like the wise man he describes. On the other hand, am I going to live life on my own terms?  We choose that path, and we are fools bound for destruction. 
            Note Psalm 1.  “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers.  [Instead] their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night” (v.1-2).  These who live committed to God’s ways, which the Psalmist ties to the law of the Lord, the word, are fruitful and blessed.  The wicked, those who willfully disobey and disregard the law of the Lord and ignore the word, are blown away in the wind.  They have no anchor, nothing to keep them grounded.
            And hear the the prophetic words of Jeremiah, chapter 17, verses 5-8.  “Cursed are those who trust in mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord.”  He equates reliance upon human brilliance and human ability with a disregard of God.  When we only trust in ourselves and other people, Jeremiah says we are cursed.  However in verse 7 he says, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.”  And then he refers back to the Psalm we’ve already mentioned, Psalm 1.  The one who trusts in the Lord will be refreshed and healthy and growing even in troubled times.  
            God’s way vs. the way of men and women: this tension runs through scripture.  Who do we trust for a happy life?  God or our culture’s definition of what a happy life is?  Who do we obey?  God or societal and personal influences around us?  Who is the object of our thinking and our deepest dreams, desires, and meditations?  The Lord, or our carnal desires?   As Psalm 1 puts it, in whom or in what do we delight?  Or in Jesus’ terms, where do we turn for hope in the face of certain trouble when storms arise?  
            The importance of these questions must not be underestimated. How we answer reveals who we truly are.  For example, I think of a friend from years ago.  His name is Cong.  He knew God wanted him to witness to his siblings, cousins, and parents.  His family was not Christian.  They were Buddhist.  He knew he was called into Chrisitan ministry.  He also knew, before answering that call, God called him to witness to his family.  In the church, people who didn’t come from a situation like his and did not understand it demanded that he be baptized.  He knew that if he did, his parents would no longer permit him to bring his younger family members to church with him.  
He had pressure on him from authority figures he respected, olders adults in the church, to live out his faith a certain way.  He had just as much pressure on him from adults he respected even more, his parents, to not get baptized.  When I met with him to discuss all this, he told me he lay in bed awake at night, praying to God through tears.  What should he do?  First and foremost, he had to obey God. 
The adults at the church could take away his position of leadership in youth ministry.  His parents could prevent him from bringing his young family members to church. They would not hear the gospel any more.  He prayed.  God showed him the way forward.  Year after year, he exposed his siblings and cousins to the Gospel through Vacation Bible School, youth mission trips and weekly Sunday School.  He convinced me to let him lead in youth ministry even though he had not baptized.  Thus his parents allowed him to keep coming with his cousins and his brother and sister. 
By the time they were all out of high school, I had moved here.  He invited me to come back and a gave me the privilege of baptizing all five of them.  He didn’t bow to the pressure to get baptized immediately.  Nor, did he bow to the pressure to stop coming to church.  He knew what God wanted him to do and stuck with it.
We all face choices in which we might make we people love unhappy.  Someone we respect is going to be frustrated when we discern God’s leading and follow it and they see things differently.  Each of the Biblical examples, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Psalm 1, and Jeremiah 17, shows what is at stake.
In Matthew, Jesus likens the choice to standing or falling.  Those who act on the words of Jesus and in their life do things God’s way, as Jesus describes God’s way, are, he says, “like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rains fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; but it did not fall because it had been founded on rock” (7:25).  Those who disregard Jesus’ words live in houses built on sand.  The storm blows those houses away.  The storms of life devastate those not tethered to the Lord through faith in Christ.
Jesus does not promise that when we live God’s way, no storm will come.  Just the opposite.  He guarantees life will bring the rains, the floods, and the hurricane winds.  Unemployment.  Rejection.  Failed relationships.  Cancer.  Accidents and catastrophes.  Nobody cruises through life without major struggles.  But when we are connected to God in Christ, He is with us and we thrive even in the midst of the storm.
In Psalm 1, the wicked, those who disregard God’s law, which Jesus illuminates in his Sermon on the Mount, are like the flakey part of the grain.  When the threshing happens, the weighty grain is collected, but the flighty chaff hangs in the air anchorless.  When we struggle in life and try to face without God, what is our source of help?  What is our moral foundation?  On what ground do we stand?  Who defines us?  We are lost to the whims of the wind which does not care for us and will not guides to safe ground.
Psalm 1 likens the one who delights in the Lord to a well-watered streamside tree that is always producing good fruit.  Jeremiah takes this image of the healthy, vibrant tree from the Psalms and develops it further.  The person of faith, the Christian focused on Christ at all times, has that fruit-producing vibrancy about her.  
Curiously, whereas Jesus begins with the one who obeys his word and the Psalm begins the comparison with the one who delights in the Lord, Jeremiah reverses the order.  He begins by talking about the one whose trust is in mere mortals.  That one, the prophet says, is cursed.  Why?  Human beings fail us, and when they do, we have to look for someone else to believe in and rely upon.  Then that someone else fails us.  It’s a constant struggle to gain our grounding.  Jeremiah says it is like a desert shrub.  That’s the endgame for the life of a person who relies exclusively on other people.  Prickly.  Dry.  Gasping for water.  Always taking and never giving.  That’s the life of the person who refuses to trust solely in God.
But the one who trusts in God is blessed.  That person’s life, like the streamside tree with deep roots, is refreshed.  Even in the scorching heat of the pressures of life: bills piling up; betrayals by loved ones; losses; even in hard times, that person is refreshed by God.  As the tree’s leaves stay green, the one trusting God remains vibrant and strong, fully alive, fully engaged in life, and optimistic that life will turn for good because God intends good for us.  As the streamside tree continues to bear fruit, the one whose trust is in God produces good things in his or her life.  As Jesus says in Matthew 7:20, he or she is a disciple known for the good fruit he or she produces.  And we know that fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  That’s what we see in the life of the one who trusts God.
We have to choose.  Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount says, Hear what I say and do it.  Psalm 1, delight in the law of the Lord.  Jeremiah 17, trust in the Lord over the influences of critics, cultural movements, and other human voices.  Trust God over all these.  Obey, delight, trust.
Begin by deciding to believe that the Bible promises are true.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you trust God.  Then, pick out the places where you know you have trusted in human wisdom and neglected God.  This week, turn to the Sermon on the Mount, Jeremiah 17, and Psalm 1.  Pray these scriptures.  Pray that the Holy Spirit would free your spirit and enable you to fully trust in the Lord with all the things of your life.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Where We Stand

Image result for angry debates

            Ours is an era rife with painful division.  Republican v. Democrat; Pro-life v. Pro-choice; Young Creationism v. Evolution; Reformed Theology v. Arminian Theology; in too many spheres, we are defined by where we stand in relation to a hard line that’s been drawn usually by someone else. 
Finding a place in the center is not possible, nor is it commendable to try.  For instance, either you think abortion is the killing of a baby, or you don’t.  If that is what you think, then every abortion is the murder of the most defenseless of victims.  On the other hand, if you think abortion is the exercise of coercion on the bodies of women, who have had their bodies fondled, ogled, used, and abused throughout history, then your position is just as clear.  Either way, there’s no middle ground.
What reveals our character is how we handle the disagreement.  Does every disagreement prompt us to be ready to fight, to stand our ground, and to draw defiant lines in the sand?  Or, are disagreements the opportunity to show grace?  How an individual answers says a lot about who he or she is.  How you or I conduct ourselves in the conversation more clearly reveals our character than whatever stand we may take.
Titus 2:1 says, “Teach what is consistent with sound doctrine.”  Of course such an imperative strikes up a debate.  “What exactly do you mean by ‘sound doctrine?’”  An argument ensues as two views are posited.  Instead of the unending back-and-forth occurring over most litmus-test issues to day, turn back to Titus 2 and read all the way to the end of the chapter.  Verses 11-14:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,[a]12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior,[b] Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deed.

First note that grace precedes “training.” Before we even begin trying to live as Jesus’ disciples, we receive grace, that goodness from God that we desperately need, do not deserve and have not earned.  Verse 14 is absolutely clear.  Jesus gave himself up for us.  We know “gave himself up” refers to his death on the cross.  He did it so we would not be defined by sin (“iniquity”), but rather we would be seen as righteous.  Because by his sacrifice he removes our sin, we, in spite of our continued mistakes and flawed ideas, stand in position to be in a right relationship with God and each other.  That’s a relationship grounded in love, not in one’s stance on this or that issue. 
Second, because grace defines us, we are free.  We’re not bound by past mistakes.  We’re not reduced to party affiliations or the stances we have proclaimed in the past.  Instead, something else indicates who we are.  Christ, not some compromised, moderated position, is our center.  Christ is where we are located. Christ is where we stand. 
Additionally, verse 13 makes clear that in Christ, God initiates the action, not us.  This is especially hard for American Christians.  We sometimes think we are the cause of the good things we get to be part of.  But verse 13 says, “While we wait for the blessed hope and manifestation of glory.”  That “while we wait” line lets everyone know blessing is coming, but coming on God’s timing.  The idea of waiting feels frustrating and breeds anxiety, but it need not be so.  While waiting for God to act, we can allow ourselves to be shaped by the Spirit.  Instead of frustration, during the waiting we humbles ourselves, submitting to God’s timing and God’s initiative.  If nothing happens, we wait for God to make it happen. During the waiting, we willingly die to self (Matthew 10:39) to become new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). 
As New Creations, we are who God makes us to be.  We let our “gentleness be made known to everyone” (Philippians 4:4).  What would the debate look like if the debaters (no matter the issue), instead of establishing their ground, stood on Christ, formed by the Spirit, and strove to embody gentleness?  In that scenario, one can still be Republican or Democrat, Arminian or Reformed, but the gentleness of the Holy Spirit dictates how the conversation plays out. 
We Christians cannot determine the social climate.  There will be seasons of great and emotional contention and American culture is in the middle one of the most intense examples of such a season.  That just is how it is.  In the midst of the world, as it is, Christ-followers bring glory to Him by standing on him and letting that stand define how we participate in debates.  We don’t permit the debate to say what kind of Christians we are.

"This is Life: We Follow Jesus" (Luke 5:1-11)

Image result for Luke 5

Sunday, February 3, 2019

            From the baptism to the desert to the synagogue, we’ve tried to catch up to Jesus so we could walk in His light.  Seeking Him, obeying God as He obeyed God, submitting our lives to Him and living under His lordship, and caring about what he cares about: it all leads to this.  “‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ ... they left everything and followed him.”
            Jesus said, “do not be afraid,” because the way of God looks scary at times, and if we try to walk it apart from Jesus, it will crush us.  But he was not calling Peter and James and John to walk God’s way apart from him with their own resources, their own knowledge, and their own strength.  They left everything and followed him.  All that we have said about walking in the light leads to this: we follow Jesus. 
            See Peter, his life before Jesus, and see how Jesus changed his life.  As you do, see your own life and see if it becomes obvious how different things are with Jesus in it.
            Peter had a boat and business.  He worked with his hands, he caught and sold fish.  He worked outside in the sun, battling heat, storms on the Sea of Galilee, and days like the one described in Luke 5, where there is no catch.  He probably had to contend with fluctuations in prices, and with taxes from the Romans and from local government.  Some traders were dishonest and ripped him off.  He had overhead - the cost of nets and his boat.  He had men who worked for him, who expected to be paid.
            We know Peter had a family.  Mark chapter 1 mentions a mother-in-law living in his house, so he had a wife.  Did Peter and his wife have children?  Most married couples at that time did.  Did Peter’s younger brother Andrew live with them?  What about Peter and Andrew’s parents?  How many people were in that home, living off the profits Peter and Andrew made catching and selling fish?  
            It’s the life of a simple, hard working man.  How did this man go from unremarkable first century working peasant to the most noted of Jesus’ 12 disciples?  How do you go from the life you lead, known or unknown as you are, accomplished or not; how do you go from that life to the life of a person so swept up in Jesus that your life wouldn’t make any sense apart from him?  Do not be afraid.  Leave everything and follow him.
            Luke 5:3 says Jesus preached at the shore and there was such a crowd leaning in to hear him, to drink in his words, a new message, one clearly from God, that he needed space.  He got into Simon’s boat.  That can’t be easy, preaching to a crowd while sitting in a boat as it bobs in the water, but that’s what Jesus did. 
Amazingly, Peter was fine with it. I say amazingly because, Peter was just coming in from an all-night fishing session.  That would be tiring, but satisfying if it meant a great haul and great profit with it.  But that’s not how things went down.  Peter, exhausted from fishing all night, had nothing to show for his efforts.  Would all those mouths in his household go hungry because he came to shore empty?  Tired, feeling his failure, he had to face the people who counted on him and sadly shake his head “no.”  No money for bread today. 
Now this teacher, who wasn’t out fishing all night wants to sit in his boat.  Simon Peter just goes along with it.  Maybe he sensed holiness in Jesus.  Maybe he was too tired to object.  Maybe he had a sense of propriety and figured Jesus to be of a higher station socially and thus deferred. Whether an act of faith, or self-abasement, or resignation, Peter stood by as Jesus sat in his boat.  I wonder if that’s what following Jesus is sometimes, a combination of faith, humility, and resignation. 
Jesus met Peter in his broken state.  We see in verse 4 that the sermon is over and people mill about just we do on Sundays after the formal time of gathering has ended.  Jesus had finished preaching but he was just getting started with Peter.  “Put your nets out in the deep water, Jesus tells him” (5:4b).
It’s one thing for the rabbi, the son of a carpenter, to use Peter’s boat to teach.  But now, the non-fisherman is telling the professional, the defeated professional, how it is done?  Simon Peter answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.”  Hear the fatigue and exasperation in his voice?  “Yet,” he continues, “if you say so, I will let down the nets.”  He has no expectation that this will go any differently, but he goes through the work of getting the nets back into the boat, taking the boat out, and letting the nets down into the depths.  
They caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break!  With this sale, they can buy five new, better nets.  The family is going to eat tonight.  Can you hear the whoops and the hollers of the men on Simon Peter’s crew as they forget their fatigue and celebrate their haul?   I wonder if that’s what following Jesus is sometimes, unbelievable joy when you absolutely don’t expect it!
The men on both boats worked frantically.  The fish were jumping in the boats.  The boats were sinking.  And Peter couldn’t take his eyes off Jesus.  He had been a fisherman for a long time.  The previous night was not the first time he came home empty.  But this, he had never seen anything like it. He rushed ashore and threw himself on the ground before Jesus.  “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”   I wonder if that’s what following Jesus is.  We get just a glimpse of holiness and we are so awed it is terrifying, to see our sinfulness in Jesus’ light.  So we ask Jesus, as Simon did, to go away.  But, we cling to his knees while we’re asking.  His glory is a terrible thing.  His absence is much worse.  We want nothing more than to be with him.  And we are terrified of nothing more than being near him.
Then Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Fear not.”  And to you and I, in our darkest hour, he says fear not.  When I lay awake, 2 in the morning, 3, worrying; sometimes I am up most of the night unable to quiet my anxieties.  He whispers to my soul, “Fear not.”  In the hospital waiting room, the voice of the Holy Spirit, “Do not be afraid.”  Driving away from dropping your son off for his freshman year, “Do not be afraid.”  Life is full of things to fear, and the Bible promises that if we give ourselves fully to Jesus, at some point, we will suffer for doing that.  So, to us, He says, “Fear not, I am with you.”   I wonder if that’s what following Jesus is.  We hear him say, “Fear not,” and we believe him.
“Do not be afraid, Simon Peter; from now on you will be catching people.”  What does that mean?  He took the fish he caught and sold it to people who would cut those fish up, cook them, and eat them.  He wasn’t going into the slave trade business.  What did Jesus mean, “from now you will be catching people?”  I don’t think Peter knew.  I think Peter was so awed by what he had seen and what he sensed in own spirit that he knew Jesus was from God and he had to obey him.  Just as the wise men saw a star and John the Baptist heard a voice from Heaven when he baptized Jesus, when Peter saw that catch, something in him knew this was God.  So when Jesus said to him, “From now on,” all he could do in that moment was follow.  
I know that’s what following Jesus is.  We don’t understand everything.  But we see His light cast upon us and see our own sin. Yet, we don’t feel shame.  We feel love.  We feel Him extending grace and forgiveness.  And then we start to change because He begins to make us new from the inside out.  
It says they left everything and followed him.  We know later in the story they are back out on the water in a boat - Peter’s boat.  So Luke’s statement that they “left everything” doesn’t literally mean that they give it all away.  After the resurrection, they go out in the boat again.  When Luke writes that they left everything to follow Jesus, he’s talking about their center of gravity.  The rhythm of fishing, cleaning nets, selling the catch, repairing the boat: this no longer rules Simon’s life.  Those things diminish to the background as Jesus moves to the center.  
Do you teach in high school?  Or work as a dental hygienist?  Or a financial planner?  Or custodian?  Are you a student?  In 4th grade?  In graduate school?  Following Jesus, you may still teach or clean teeth or clean floors or study, but who you are fundamentally changes.  Once we step into the light, who we are is defined by Jesus.  That’s true in our jobs, in our relationships, in all the places of life.  And it’s true as we go through the seasons of life. 
I hope you’ll spend this year in spiritual disciplines that help you be observant so you can see God daily and be obedient so you can live into holiness because God calls us to be holy.  I hope we can all submit fully to Jesus and long for the justice and liberation he proclaimed.  All of it leads to this: we are God’s possessions, free to follow him throughout our lives. 
What is the path ahead?  Simon Peter certainly didn’t know.  I don’t.  Only God knows.  But, we need not know everything.  We only need to follow Jesus, every step of the way.  Follow Jesus and be not afraid.  He is with us in the dark times.  He carries us into blessing.  And, he fills us with unfailing, unending joy.