Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sick of Christmas

Somehow, I'm way behind on all my usual Christmas activities. This may surprise you, but the mantel isn't decorated, I haven't located the stockings yet, and there are boxes of ornaments that haven't been opened, much less put on the tree. When the day started, not one present was wrapped. They were piled up on the guest bedroom bed, on the floor beside the bed, and still in bags at the foot of the bed.

It took hours, but all the gifts were finally wrapped and under the tree. You would think I'd be delighted, but in the midst of all that wrapping, there were tons of other household chores to do. When I finally finished with everything, I was exhausted and collapsed into my chair for a few minutes of rest. "Lord," I said, "I'm already sick of Christmas!  You need to change my attitude!" (I know you've felt that way before, too!). That Still Small Voice did not have a thing to say. Silent agreement, I guess. 

At supper time, I lit the Advent candles and opened my Advent devotional book, as usual.  I was reading day 34, and the topic was the shepherds on the way back from Bethlehem. They were so excited about finding Jesus that they could not contain their joy! They were telling everyone.  This is what I read:

" Perhaps you, too, once felt that great joy over finding your Savior. Are you still bubbling over with the joy of meeting your Savior? If not, ask God to restore the joy of your salvation so that you can share with the enthusiasm of the shepherds."  

Those words were written months ago, but tonight they were as fresh as the day I first wrote them. I laughed out loud at how God had worked. Months before, he had given me exactly what I needed for today, then orchestrated my reading so that I would see those very words. Isn't that amazing?  That's not all. He had used those words to instantly change my attitude and answer the prayer from earlier in the day!

Sick of Christmas? How could I be sick of the most wonderful Gift ever given?  Sick of Christmas? Hardly. I'm just getting started! 

Filled up

While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." (Luke 5:12 NASB)

The word translated as "covered" here, plērēs, might be better translated as "filled" or "completely permeated". For this man, leprosy was not just an infectious disease affecting his skin and peripheral nerves. His illness had, at least figuratively, "filled him up".  The consequences were more than he could stand, the public shame was too terrible to endure. He had had all he could take. 

His illness wasn't his fault, nor was anyone else to blame. It was, simply put, a terrible tragedy and only a miracle of God could change it. Somewhere between one shouted "unclean" and the next, he looked up, saw Jesus, and recognized that the miracle he so desperately needed was just within reach. He didn't stop to ask if it was a good idea. He didn't get cleaned up. He just ran to Jesus and fell at His feet. 

It is tragic that a difficult situation can become so overwhelming to us that it completely consumes us, filling all our waking moments and stealing not only our hopes and dreams but also our joy in the present. Are you "filled up" by circumstances beyond your control? Does your concern over wayward loved ones threaten to overwhelm you?  If so, take a lesson from the leper. Run to the feet of Jesus and let Him bring healing to your fear and anxiety. Turn the situation over to Him and leave it with Him. He is able to heal, to deliver, to set the captives free. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Guest Blogger

Our guest blogger tonight is Gene Merkl, a friend from childhood who lives with his wife Lee Ann in Starkville MS. he is a landscape architect by profession, gifted poet and musician, and full time lover of Jesus. He is my dear friend, encourager, and partner in prayer.

You will be so blessed and amazed by his "Tales from the Prayer Zone".  Please welcome him and share some love with him. The comments are enabled. Give him a bunch of feedback please! 

Tales from the Prayer Zone by Gene Merkl

I have learned that there are no coincidences in life; and even though it seems we never know precisely how God will use us, we must be vigilant to listen for His call and obedient to the direction we are given. The following is a true story and was shared with me September 4, 2013 in my office. Please share with others as you feel led. Since that Wednesday I have shared personally with more than 70 people in various settings. The Power of the Truth it belies just keeps on giving. 

My cell phone rang at 6:00 AM Wednesday morning, a truck driver from Tuscumbia, Al giving me notice that he would be making delivery of an order about 9:00 AM at my place of business. Sure enough, he showed up right on time but it seemed odd to me that he was driving an 18 wheel flatbed truck to deliver just 4 pallets of material (20 would be a full load).

He though it was odd, too and told me that he was originally supposed to drive a load toBirmingham that morning and at the last minute they changed his load and route.

It came to mind that he might be delivering more than met my eyes; my spiritual radar was right on, but I wasn’t prepared for what I would hear.

He came in to pick up a check (COD these days) and since he was from the Muscle Shoals area and looked like someone who would enjoy the club scene (like me in other words) I asked him if he knew a drummer named Eddy Russell who played in the area. He said nope, I don’t do the club scene any more. I said I don’t much either, not since I’ve found Jesus. He said I know what you mean, I used to be a drug dealer. I told him that I too had my fair share of time in substance abuse land. He said, no, I mean I was a serious drug dealer.

Really, I said? Tell me about it. He said, are you sure you want to hear this? I said, you bet, especially if it’s about Jesus.

This is the story Wesley Hood shared with me as I sat spellbound in my office:

Three years ago I was probably the biggest crystal meth dealer in the tri-cities area. I was running between 2 and 3 pounds of meth per week all over the place. Its funny, but I didn’t start out to be a dealer; I just liked the drug so much that I started buying it in large quantities and selling it at low prices just so I’d have plenty for myself. In just a few years, I had essentially cornered the market in that area. I suppose I was naïve but in that process I had trampled pretty hard on the turf of some existing dealers and I guess they weren’t too happy about it. Anyway, some of these guys invited me to a club in the area to “talk business”. We were set to meet in the wee hours of the morning and so I headed that way.

At about that time, my wife, who I had been estranged from for about 8 months awoke (about 2:00 AM) with a start. Being a faithful praying woman, she called her brother (a preacher) and others and told them we really need to pray for Wesley, he is in serious trouble.

When I got to the club, after some discussion about territories, my “friends” handed me a syringe with something special in it they wanted me to try. I went out to my car to run it up. I set up the tourniquet, took the hit and released this into my body. Immediately, I felt as if I had been hit in the chest with a sledge hammer. I knew that I was a dead man and my life flashed before my eyes, but strangely, most of it was memories of family, church and Sunday school I had known before my drug addiction. I heard a sound that can only be described as 10,000 men screaming in agony and my thoughts turned to what “I” could do to save my soul. I remembered the Cross that was hanging from my mirror and as I felt it in my hand, the screaming stopped and I passed out.

I awoke to find a bearded man sitting next to me on the seat, slapping my face and trying to revive me. He asked if I was alright; I said I think so and then I said who are you and what are you doing here? He said, I’m the guy that rigged up that fix for you. It was oxycontin and meth and was supposed to have taken you out.

You see, I’m a “hit” man, or at least I was. 5 minutes ago, I was about a hundred yards up the hill with a rifle and night vision scope and I had your head in my crosshairs. If the drugs didn’t take you out, then my plan was to shoot you, but the strangest thing happened. I have been doing this for years and nothing like this ever happened. As I watched you fall back in the seat I heard the most God-awful sound; it was like 10,000 men screaming in agony. As I got ready to take the shot, you reached for the cross on your mirror; when you grabbed it the screaming stopped. My whole life flashed before my eyes; I remembered a time when I knew God’s love and I heard a voice say I want you to help the man in that car. I want to give you another chance.

So the hit man gave me a ride home and there at the front door was my wife, waiting to welcome me home with open arms. I have since answered a call to the ministry and thank God every day for the opportunities he gives me to share what He has done in my life.

What I heard from Wesley’s witness was that we don’t have to have a needle in our arm, an overdose in our hearts or a rifle in our hands to hear that screaming. Sometimes it’s in the daily struggle of work, finding a job, a battle with disease or addiction, a car that won’t start, an argument with one’s spouse, making ends meet, ridiculous schedules, even getting the kids ready for school. The greatest Power the world has ever known is always at our disposal. When you hear the screaming, pause and let God remind you of the good things he has done for you and show you the things He’d like to change. Then reach for the Cross and the wonderful peace that always goes with that kind of unconditional Love.

Jesus is still in the miracle business; have you asked Him to help you today?

The Leper's Prayer

While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." (Luke 5:12 NASB)

Leprosy. It is one of the most dreaded diseases, even today. In Jesus' times, infection control efforts were critical to avoid spreading the disease. Strict rules were in place to protect the public health. A leper with active infection was required to wear torn clothes, uncover his hair, cover his moustache, and shout "Unclean! Unclean!" as he walked through the streets. He was required to live alone, outside the town. (Read more in Lev. 13 and 14)

On this particular day, there was a man who was "covered with leprosy". He had the very worst case of leprosy possible. He was walking through the streets, shouting "Unclean! Unclean!" and dressed in tattered clothes. He saw Jesus, and hope sprang up in him. We don't know how he knew that Jesus could help him. What we do know is that he approached Jesus. There was no need to shout "Unclean!" before Jesus. Jesus already knew.

This lonely, isolated man fell  on his face before Jesus and asked to be made clean. He wasn't asking for a removal of physical dirt. "Clean" was the term used to indicate that the leprosy was no longer contagious. He wanted to be healed. Once clean, he would no longer be an outcast. He could return to his family and what was left of his life before leprosy. 

He was asking Jesus for healing and restoration. Even without leprosy, it's a much needed request. Healing of that which is unclean in God's eyes and restoration of relationship with God and with those from whom we are estranged are much needed, and only available by the power of God. 

Today, pray the leper's prayer.  Pray for healing and restoration for ourselves and our loved ones. May God cleanse all that is unlovely in our lives and hearts, mend relationships, and restore our walk (and that of our loved ones) with Him.  

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Christmas Tree

Please don't get me wrong here. I really like the look of a Christmas tree. I like the lights, the tinsel garland, and the decorations. I discovered these things called "picks" this year, and I like them a lot, too! They are like ornaments on steroids with a skewer instead of a hook. You stab the skewer into the tree and it's basically stuck in place. Because it's so big, it takes up a lot of space, so you don't need as many picks as you do ornaments. I have some highly unattractive picks, which are stuck on the back side of the tree. My pretty ones made it to the front, of course.

As I write tonight, I'm sitting in my big green chair in front of the tree, admiring the lights, garland, and ornaments. And the picks. I'm wondering, though, why we call it a Christmas tree. I could make up a lovely little analogy about the tree and relate it to the wood in the cross, but even for me that's a stretch. 

I've decided to face it. This tree has nothing at all to do with Christmas, nor with Jesus. It just happens that I put it up in December, which is the same month we celebrate Jesus's birthday.  Perhaps we could call it a December tree, or an ornament tree. There are lots of ornaments, so that might work. I have all the ornaments Ryan made, including the gold paper star with the glued-on macaroni, proudly displayed right in front. They are more precious to me than a bag of jewels, and I love displaying them for a month on this December ornament tree. In fact, they might have more to do with Christmas than any other part of the tree.

When Ryan was born, someone called me to say, "Now you really know what love is."  Indeed, I did. Loving my family and my husband in no way prepared me for the ferocity of my love for this tiny squirming bundle of joy.  As my love for him grew, so did my understanding of the depth of God's love for His children. God loves me like I love Ryan? It seems impossible, yet, if the Bible is to be believed, it is true. Now THAT is the essence of this holiday season. God loved us and sent His Son. 

This "December ornament tree" really doesn't have much to do with Christmas. Those paper ornaments, however, made by the hands of an innocent child, point me to the love of my Heavenly Father. Now that might be the most Christ-like part of this whole "Christmas tree turned December ornament tree" ritual!  A little child shall lead them. That's what the prophet said, and tonight, in the glow of the tree lights, it's exactly what he's done. 

From Master to Lord

Simon answered and said, "Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets." (Luke 5:5 NASB)

It's amazing how fast a heart can change. When Jesus told Simon to head out to the deep water, he was "epistatēs", or Master, to Simon. This is a Greek word for supervisor or overseer, and indicates recognition of some form of authority. One fishing net-full later, Jesus had become "kyrios" or the authority to whom Simon belonged. It is a word used to indicate a sovereign ruler as well as to indicate God Himself. 

Simon initially saw Jesus as a sort of professor. When Jesus entered his life with power, Simon was not only astounded, his eyes were opened to the reality of the Christ. In that instance, he was willing to pledge himself to Jesus as a possession of the King. 

To fully understand the significance of this, remember that Simon was a successful businessman. He was not in desperate straits looking for a rescue. He was certainly not looking for a new level of authority. He was accustomed to being the authority, and on his boat, his word was law. That is, until Jesus boarded the boat. When Jesus stepped on board, everything began to change, and when Simon obeyed in one little area, the action really began. 

That's what Jesus wants to do in all our lives. He wants to be more than a wise teacher. he wants to be the authority that directs, guides, leads. When we begin to obey, the action begins and the fun really starts! 

Today, pray for those first small steps of obedience that lead the way to a heart submitted and transformed by our Lord. Let your obedience be the example that shows the way. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Healing Party

It was incredibly busy at work. The schedule was jam-packed, but somehow I managed to get all the patients seen and spend a little time with every person. 

I had finally made it to the last patient of the day. By that point I was pretty tired, so I was hoping for a wound that was doing well and that did not need a procedure. 

When I walked in, he was smiling and said, "I think it's gonna look really good when you get through cutting." 

Yep. It was going to need a procedure. 

I sat down and got started. One of my favorite things in this world is to gently cut away the dead tissue and find healthy tissue beneath. Even better (but rare) is to find intact skin under all the dead tissue. I worked slowly as I cleared away the debris of the wound. A thick callus had also developed, and needed to go. 

As I cleared the callus, I realized that there was some good skin. The nurse saw my smile and leaned over for a look, but I quickly covered the wound. "Nope. No peeking until I'm done."  Another few minutes, and all the dead tissue and thick callus were removed. In their place was fragile but healthy skin. Intact skin. 

I could hardly believe it! We had been working on this wound for years. Most of that time, we'd been trying to convince the patient about the importance of decreasing the pressure on his foot and getting proper nutrition, especially protein. A few months ago, he finally understood, began following recommendations, and had enjoyed a steady improvement ever since. 

"See what you think," I said. He pulled his foot up, got a good look, and let out a whoop! "I told you it would look good when you got through cutting!!" He was laughing and smiling. 

A spontaneous healing party erupted. 

He was whooping, I was clapping, and my nurse was laughing at us both. We took pictures of the wound, pictures of patient and physician together, congratulated each other, and laughed some more! We shared the photos with every staff person in our clinic. He was as thrilled as could be. 

I may have written this before, but it's worth repeating:

What I don't understand about the body of Christ is why we don't get that excited about spiritual healing.  

When I give something to Jesus and manage to leave it with Him, I'm pretty happy. 

Celebrating is such fun to me that I celebrate something almost every day anyway, but I also celebrate what Christ does for me and in me with my friends. 

I hardly ever see a spontaneous "I gave up bitterness" celebration, though. 

If there has ever been an "I gave up unforgiveness" party, I was not invited. 

Is our failure to celebrate spiritual healing because we aren't allowing healing, we don't want to admit we needed healing, or that we don't think a healed heart is a miracle worth celebrating? 

I'd really like to know.  

Here's my challenge to you. 

Let Jesus heal something. 


Let Him have a hurt, some bitterness or unforgiveness, jealousy, greed. Let Him have anything really, as long as it's something you need to be rid of and can't do yourself. When He does it, rejoice and find someone who will rejoice with you! Have a celebration. 

I think you'll find such joy in the healing and the expressions of gratitude that you will want to give Jesus something else, just because it's fun!  

(photo courtesy of
If you've been touched or encouraged by this post, please share it. Your likes and shares, offered as a kind of digital mission work, greatly increase our reach.

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: The High Maintenance Missionary and the Frontal Assault 

Deep water faith

When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." (Luke 5:4 NASB)

(This is another passage that I have just seen in a new way. It might be my favorite of all!)

When Jesus sent Simon Peter back to the deep water, it was to do a certain task AND to have a certain result. His task was two-fold. He was to move into deep water and let down the fishing nets. The certain result was to receive the catch. Shallow water is easy, isn't it? There is very little risk there, but very few fish. It's a low risk investment, but also low yield. Deep water is different. It brings risk, not the least of which is capsizing and drowning. Deep water is risky, but oh what a yield is possible there! It's where the fish live. 

What we need to understand is that, when Jesus calls us to "deep water faith", he has the endpoint in sight. He sent Simon to the deep water knowing the fish he would gather in his nets there. In that same way, when He calls us to "deep water faith", He knows the endpoint, the reason for which He is sending us. At any point in his journey into the deep, Simon could have turned back. Even as the nets were being dropped, he could have remembered all the empty casts from the night before, pulled back on the nets, and turned for home. No one would have blamed him. It's likely that no one would have questioned him. After all, he was a professional fisherman and Jesus was not. It took pure faith in Jesus to stay in the boat and on the water. Had he turned back early, however, he would have missed the catch. 

In our own walk of faith, it is easy to remember all our failures, decide that what Jesus asks of us is pointless, and simply move back to "shallow water faith". We could give up our hoping and trusting, but to what benefit? There is no significant gain in the shallows. The blessings and the yield are in the deep water. Perhaps you have had times of uncertainty, doubt, fear. Maybe you feel as if your loved one is "too far gone" and that God can't or won't change them. Take heart. Simon only needed that one more cast to gain the catch of a lifetime, and it was the cast for which Jesus sent him to the water in the first place. Don't give up now. Trust that our heavenly Father knows the endpoint. He knows what He can do, and what He will do. Keep trusting. Keep praying. Keep waiting. 

Pray today for faith to persevere in the deep. Pray too for the cast that yields a harvest too wonderful to believe. Pray that our loved ones will quickly welcome the Savior into their lives and join us in "deep water faith". 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Backwards Advent - part three

I've had so much trouble with that pesky Love Candle this week that I was determined to get it right today. Tonight, for the first time this advent season, I lit all my candles correctly. No love candle this time!  

This business of waiting on love until next week has been quite a problem to me. All week, I've tried to wait to celebrate love week. I really have, but it is impossible. Christmas is the problem. It's all about celebrating the birth of Jesus. If you are going to talk about Christmas, it's pretty hard not to talk about Jesus. How can you talk about Jesus and leave love out? You can't. Needless to say, I'm not sure how well I've done with Joy this week, but I've been working on Love. 

Here's how it has gone. Over the weekend, an odd thing happened. I was out shopping later than I intended. I was really hungry and decide to run through a drive-through for grilled chicken strips and waffle fries. Ordinarily I'm the most anti-fast-food person ever, so this was pretty much out of character for me. I gave my order, and started to the window. As I was pulling up, I sensed that little voice in my heart say, "Pay for their order". I looked behind me and there was a sports car with kids inside. "Those kids in the sports car?" I asked. Yep. Those kids. I was surprised, and didn't quite know how to handle it. I wasn't unwilling. I just didn't know what to do. I payed for my order, and as the girl was handing me the change, the little voice in my heart again said, "Pay for their order."  I leaned out of my car window, armed with two twenties, and yelled "hey" to the girl who was about to close the sliding window. She opened it back up and leaned forward again. "I'm supposed to pay for the car behind me too. How much do I owe you?" I asked. "What'd you say?" she asked. I repeated myself. It was just over six dollars and I was so disappointed. I wanted Jesus to ask me for a big thing, and all he wanted was a six dollar act of obedience. 

A day or so later, a friend of mine called to talk about a problem with one of her children. I wanted to be able to give her the perfect solution, but all I had to offer was to repeat the devotional I had just sent her and remind her that I am praying every day. It was smaller than I wanted to give, and I was regretted not being able to do more. 

Then, the most amazing thing happened. That very morning, I had asked God to show me something very specific. In her next sentence, she repeated back to me what I had just said to God, along with my answer! From hundreds of miles away, with a single sentence, she had met my most pressing need! To her, it was just one sentence in a conversation filled with sentences. It was a little act to her. To me, it was the biggest thing that happened all day. It seemed as if Almighty God had opened my friend's mouth and spoken directly to me through it. I'm still amazed at how incredibly specific His answer was. 

Little things done with the love of Christ can have a tremendous impact. I will never know the outcome of the six dollar obedience, but my friend's obedience was worth much more than six dollars to me. There was no way for her to know the impact she would have on my life that day, but it was immense. It's easy to think those "little things" like a timely word, a hug, encouragement for those who are struggling are not important, but they are of much greater value than we will ever know. 

Tomorrow, look for little acts of obedience that you can do in the name of Jesus. Recognition is not necessary or even particularly desirable. Make an effort to represent Christ to the world with the great love that only He can give. You may be surprised at how He uses you to reach a world that is perishing. 

The Invasion

And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. (Luke 5:3 NASB)

Yesterday, one of my patients told me about an attempted home invasion that occurred this past weekend not far from my home. The whole idea of invasion must have still been on my mind, because I saw a very interesting thing when I started reading Luke 5 today. Jesus did a little invasion of His own!

When I read a passage of Scripture, I often have a picture of the unfolding scene in my mind's eye. What I envisioned in this passage was that Jesus walked up to Simon where he was cleaning the nets and politely said, "Hi Simon. I'm Jesus the Messiah and I've come to save you and the world. Do you mind if I borrow your boat for a little while?" I have read Luke 5 every day since we started this chapter and it has seemed exactly the same way. 

Wrong! That's not what Scripture says. Here's what it says. Jesus was standing by the Sea of Galilee (aka lake of Gennesaret) and the crowd was pressing in so much that He was about to be pushed into the water. He saw two unmanned boats, thought it would be great to teach from one of those so the crowd wouldn't run over Him, and saw the fishermen nearby. He did not ask permission first. He got in Simon's boat, and then He asked Simon to put out from the land!  

When I saw that today, I laughed out loud. Indeed, Jesus was a boat invader! In fact, He was a life-invader that day! Isn't that wonderful? He positioned Himself into Simon's circumstances in such a way that, when He did ask permission of Simon, it was pretty hard to tell Him no. 

Jesus is so very sweet to me that I often see Him as meek, gentle, and kind. Somehow, I tend to forget about this boldness of His. It is wonderful news, however! This Seeking, Saving Savior of ours is also a Life-Invading Savior!

Today, pray that we and our loved ones will be blessed with Christ-invasions of our own. Pray that Jesus will enter our circumstances in such a way that He makes it almost impossible to deny Him or turn Him away. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Backwards Advent - Part 2

That Love Candle is giving me fits. Every evening, I sit done for my private Advent service. Since we've had the third Sunday, there are three candles to light. Hope. Peace. Joy. Love is not until Sunday (nearly a week away) but I have lit Love again! I'm really frustrated, and beginning to worry that, by the time we actually get to love, there won't be any love candle left to light!  

As I was thinking, "What is wrong with me that I keep lighting the wrong candle?" it came to me, "I'm in a hurry to love."  What a crazy thought that was! But maybe not. After all, the greatest of these (faith, hope, love) is love, so we should be in a hurry to love. It seems, too, that Christmas is all about love. His great love for us is why God sent Jesus in the first place. I'm beginning to wonder why the love candle isn't the first one we light. 

This whole love candle/love week deal is seriously on my mind. Since I'm accidentally doing love week every day in the middle of joy week anyway, I think we  should all agree to go ahead and have a combination JOY-LOVE week for two weeks in a row. Isn't that a great idea? As I see it, the JOY of The Lord is our strength and we are to LOVE one another just as Jesus has loved us. When we combine those two, we should be able to make an incredible impact on the world around us. It would be a really nice birthday present for Jesus, too. 

So, what does that look like? Mother Teresa would say we should do small things with great love (and joy). Tomorrow, ask God to open your eyes to ways to express His love with joy to those around you, then actually DO what He shows you to do!

I have opened up the comments below. I'd love to hear about how God has put you to work expressing His love and what He showed you through it. Happy Joy-Love week, and merry Christmas. 

Leaving the Boat Behind (Luke 5:11)

When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. (Luke 5:11 NASB)

For days, I've been saying, "We will see..." At last we arrive at part of that seeing. 

This is who was seized by amazement:
Simon Peter
All his companions in his boat
James and John the sons of Zebedee

When "they" arrived at shore, they left it all and followed Jesus. We don't know whether or not Simon's companions were among the leavers but we do know that James and John were. The three business partners stepped out of the boat and walked away. The word for leaving here is also used to denote divorce. They made a complete break with fishing. 

Let's look again at what they left. They stepped out of the boat and left "it all" behind. What else was there? All their "stuff", including nets, fishing tackle and gear, and (don't forget) that miraculous catch of fish. I imagine one of the companions arranged for the disposition of the fish and for the distribution of the proceeds from the sale, but we don't know that for sure. What we do know is that their possessions and their wealth paled in comparison to Jesus. 

These three men walked away with a miracle-working preacher who they hoped was the Messiah. They almost certainly  imagined a political kingdom and a return to the days of King David, and for a while that would seem a real possibility. These men changed their lives forever with their decision that day. Old ways were passed away. Behold, new things had come. Paul would write about that change in the believer years later, but Simon Peter, James, and John were among the first to experience it. 

What is amazing is that, more than 2000 years later, the same kind of change is still possible, and we are still called to leave the "old things" and the old ways behind. Is there anything from your life before Christ that you need to leave behind?

Today, pray that we and our loved ones will willingly walk away from whatever keeps us from Jesus and will embrace His truth, His righteousness, His ways. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Backwards Advent and Love Week

Yes. I realize this is a pitiful excuse for an Advent wreath. Once upon a time, I had a green pottery candle holder, but it is long gone (pottery shards). Usually I decorate this one with greenery and it is much more festive, but it's been a busy holiday season. Since I wrote an Advent devotional, it seemed a travesty not to celebrate Advent, so I pulled out a hodgepodge of candles and proceeded to light them and read the devotional every evening. 

Although I've celebrated with an Advent wreath for years, this year I couldn't seem to get the order right. Today was the Joy candle, and it is pink. You may have noticed that I have lit all the colored candles already. That's because I've tried to make every Sunday's candle the Love candle (hence the third purple candle) and we still haven't had the Love week! 

Doesn't that sound like a good idea?  A Love week? I don't mean a Woodstock lovefest. I mean an Agape Love week, where we who belong to Jesus would demonstrate Agape love (the unconditional love of Christ) to everyone we meet, no matter how unlovely. Isn't that a marvelous idea? It's worth considering, since Love Week doesn't actually start until next Sunday. 

I have considerably more to say about Advent, but I will save it for another day. For now, think about celebrating Love Week with me. It would be a terrific preparation for the birth of our Savior (since it's how we are supposed to live anyway). 

Love week. Seven days away. Get ready. 

A Business Man's Impact (Luke 5:10)

and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men." (Luke 5:10 NASB)

The previous verse says that Simon "and all his companions" were seized with amazement because of the enormous haul of fish. This verse says that James and John, his partners, were also seized with amazement. The earlier verses indicate that there were men in the boat with Simon, but they were not his partners. Scripture uses their names here to clearly identify Simon's business partners. These three men worked together as equals and made business decisions together. They were close, and likely lifelong friends. Simon was probably the older of the three men. (We will see later that he and Jesus were the only ones who had to pay the temple tax).  The next few verses suggest that James and John looked up to Simon Peter and respected him. 

This is not the usual way they are portrayed. I've always considered Simon the less mature, less intelligent man, and somehow subservient to James and John. Now, because they were younger, I wonder if James and John had begun as apprentices to Simon and had excelled to become partners. 

You may think, "Who cares?"  The reason I mention it at all is because of the impact of one business man on those working for and with him. Hold this thought because we will look at it again tomorrow. 

Simon encountered Jesus in a life-changing way, experienced an astounding financial bonanza, and was frightened badly by those events. The first words out of Jesus's mouth are, "Don't be afraid." It seems fear is the expected and appropriate response to an encounter with Almighty God. 

Jesus went on to say, "From now on, you will be catching men." The call to follow was made with the certainty that Simon would obey, and he did. He did not ask the opinion of his partners or those working for him on the boat. Perhaps he looked at the haul of fish and realized fishing would never be the same again. Perhaps he realized he could choose the fish or the Source of the fish, but he couldn't have both. Regardless, Simon Peter chose Christ and his life was never the same again. 

Ponder the relationship between these three men. We will get back to it tomorrow. For today, consider the impact of your relationship to Jesus on the people at work and in your circle of acquaintances. What difference are you making?   Do your encounters with Christ leave you trembling in holy fear?  When Jesus calls you, is obedience your first response? 

Today, pray that our impact on those around us will be one that draws them to Jesus.  Pray that believers in our loved ones' lives will live in such a way that they will have a profound impact on them and draw them to Jesus by the clear results of Christ in their daily life.